Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: Difficult People, American Ninja Warrior and The Strain!
Andrew Niemann is watching…
Season 2, Episode 8, “Hashtag Cats”
Hulu’s strongest original programming to date has got to be Difficult People, currently in the back half of its 2nd season. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner are comedy soulmates, who spout often mean-spirited yet hilarious insight into working amongst the entertainment fringe of NYC. In the episode “Hashtag Cats,” Julie and Billy encounter a new friend in Method Man (playing himself), who tries to help them pitch a show to various networks, including NBC, Comedy Central, E!, Adult Swim and finally, a rebranded Al-Jazeera Extreme. This is where the strength of the episode lies, when it makes a series of rapid fire jokes about TV programming (i.e. NBC constantly changing out fall TV show posters, Adult Swim shows filmed with the genre being added later). This episode weaves several insane plots together, including Julie lying about her sister dying to make a scalper feel bad for selling her fake Broadway tickets, Julie’s mother asking her sexually inappropriate hairdresser to be her very own gay best friend to make Julie jealous, and also Billy realizing his personal trainer is actually a wanted cannibal (played by Joel McHale). Difficult People is first and foremost a comedy of errors, so all of these plots come to a head leaving Julie and Billy with nothing but horrified looks on their faces and nothing but smiles on mine.
Episode Highlight: My favorite running gag was when the pair kept running into an NBC executive who kept getting demoted to successively worse jobs within a matter of days. NBC jokes never fail to amuse me.
Joe Stando is watching…
Season 3, Episode 1, “New York Strong”
America’s third or fourth favorite zombie-related series is back, baby!
The Strain continues to be a very stupid show in which enough interesting or cool things happen to keep me watching. While this season’s premiere didn’t even come close to last season’s, with its gorgeous, Del Toro-directed flashback to vampires in the old country, it was a perfectly serviceable hour of TV, even though it leans pretty hard on some standard Strain cliches (a new crew of badasses shows up, only to be immediately slaughtered, Gus can’t deal with the realities of his mother’s transformation, etc. etc. etc.). I think the most interesting part of this season is one that’s been included in the marketing ahead of time, but confirmed here: the full-scale vampire outbreak has lasted for TWENTY-THREE DAYS. This is insane no matter how you consider it. On the one hand, a battlefield culture of $80 food delivery surcharges, military quarantine checkpoints, and decapitated corpses hung as warnings has developed in about three weeks. From the other perspective, though, the most populous city in the United States, a huge hub for international commerce and diplomacy, has been in flames for three weeks and only now is the military being sent in. Time has always been elastic on The Strain, so I don’t know why they bothered to attach a number at all. Still, though, there’s enough here to keep me coming back, especially as they diverge from the events of the books more and more. I’m not saying The Strain is great, and I think they’ve made a mistake not airing it during the dry spell of good TV earlier in the summer (it suffers in comparison to most ongoing nerd shows), but it scratches a couple very specific itches.
Episode Highlight: While it was telegraphed a mile away, the bit with The Master killing most of the SEALs was visually interesting, at least, and a little more compelling than the similar sequence of Vaun and his crew getting wrecked a while back. But the star here is easily Corey Stoll, who sells Eph’s alcoholic spiral probably better than this show deserves. There’s shades of his best moments on House of Cards here, and even given the weirdly compressed timetable for the show so far, I buy his slow but rapidly worsening decline.
American Ninja Warrior
Season 8, Episode 11, “Las Vegas Finals”
We talk a lot about Peak TV, and how there are so many great television series going on at any one time across platforms that it’s almost impossible to keep up. This… doesn’t always hold, especially in the summer, so I ended up passing the time by checking out how American Ninja Warrior is going. A localization of the Japanese competition series, it features athletes in perfect physical conditions running a punishing obstacle course in hopes to last until the end and be crowned the Ninja Warrior. I was really into the original Ninja Warrior in the days of reruns on G4 and Spike TV, but I never got into the new show, and I was reminded why in this episode. While ANW is plenty fun, there’s a subtle but noticeable difference in the tone of the show.
The original Ninja Warrior presented the obstacles at Mt. Midoriyama like forces of nature, with grim determination and little sympathy for anyone unprepared for how grueling it could be. The American cousin, on the other hand, is in the tradition of American Gladiators or Wipeout!, with a lot of smiling and laughing. More to the point: audiences watch American Ninja Warrior to see people win, while audiences watched Ninja Warrior to see people lose. There’s nothing wrong with this show, specifically, and the distinctly Japanese blend of sternness and ribald, occasionally cruel announcing probably wouldn’t translate. But watching contestant after contestant complete the stage 1 trials for the final last night, I couldn’t help but miss the days of the classic Mt. Midoriyama, where winning was a rare thing every few years in the face of constant punishment.
Episode Highlight: I will admit that the narrative crafting in ANW, although overused, is still pretty strong, and watching Jessie Graff advance to stage 2 was great. ANW does have the original series beat in gender representation, and clearing this hurdle was a big step for both Graff and the series.