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: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Black Mirror and You’re the Worst!
Andrew Niemann is watching…
Season 2, Episode 1 “Where is Josh’s Friend?”
Everyone’s favorite “crazy” ex-girlfriend Rebecca Bunch is back! This show flew completely under the radar last year, so I’m glad to see it return after gaining some deserved popularity and awards. The premiere kicks off right at the end of last season with Rebecca finally admitting to Josh Chan that he’s the reason she moved to West Covina. Rebecca is incredibly manipulative in this episode, casting Josh as the person who is hesitant to commit to a relationship that isn’t just about sex. It’s maddening, if humorously so, to watch her try to make Josh move in with her, even building dresser drawers that play Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” to convince him to stay.
Greg’s douchebag behavior from last season is explained as being a side effect of alcoholism which doesn’t condone his actions but shows him to be someone who needs to work on himself in order to win back Rebecca’s love.
The musical numbers are the heart of the show and all of them in this episode are strong but none can touch the inevitable Lemonade parody that is “Love Kernels.” The song showcases Rachel Bloom’s distinctive self-deprecating style as Rebecca is showered in popcorn kernels all while blowing through the show’s budget (Daryl, for instance, is replaced by a broom). Crazy Ex-Girlfriend continues to be a strong contender for one of the best shows on network television and this season promises to be a satisfying Act Two.
Episode moment: I was caught off guard by the main title song completely changing. I also love how Rebecca confirms the theory that all the musical sequences are completely inside her head and she can even affect the individuals who exist in them.
Joe Stando is watching…
Season 3, Episode 1, “Nosedive”
Hey, it’s Black Mirror, the most insufferable person in your office’s favorite show!! Black Mirror has been called a modern day answer to The Twilight Zone, mainly because people don’t have many other context for sci-fi/horror anthologies. While I’ve been hot and cold on the previous seasons and I enjoyed the Jon Hamm Christmas special, this season seems to be continuing the larger flaws of the show, with fewer of the highlights. I’ll have a longer review coming later now that I’ve punished myself with the season thus far, but I wanted to throw particular shade at the first episode, “Nosedive.”
“Nosedive” imagines a world where people are slavishly devoted to an app that allows you to rate friends, co-workers, and even strangers. Bryce Dallas Howard stars as a woman whose attempts to raise her rating on the app spiral out of control, landing her in one mess after another as her rating drops and people become less sympathetic.
If this premise sounds familiar, it’s because Community did it almost a decade ago, and Always Sunny took a crack at it in their tenth season. This kind of lazy insight seems better fodder for a sitcom than a cutting critique for a modern satire. Look, Charlie Brooker: we know apps suck. We know that everyone is too invested in their social media presence, and that people are dicks to each other online for no reason. If “what if that Peeple app was a hit” is the cleverest, most insightful thing this show can come up with, if it’s the episode they choose to open with, then I really don’t know what else to say.
Episode Highlight: Black Mirror’s greatest strength is that its high level of (undeserved) clout lets them feature a number of incredibly talented stars, and these actors and actresses are generally working hard to sell the schlock they’re given. Bryce Dallas Howard is putting in a ton of effort here, and the best bits are when she’s given something fun to do. Similarly, Cherry Jones is great as a tough old truck driver with no time for faves. But even given that, the episode feels like a misfire. Next time they do a “fun one,” pull fresh comedic talent like Abbi Jacobsen or Zach Woods and do the whole thing as a broad farce.
Chuck Winters is watching…
You’re the Worst
Season 3, Episode 8, “Genetically Inferior Beta Males”
So here’s a weird way to start a You’re the Worst review: Have you been following this Bill Mitchell character on Twitter? He’s this dude who’s so in love with the idea of President Donald Trump he ignores the mountains of empirical evidence that suggests he’s going to get his ass kicked on November 8th, insisting that he’s going to win because of things like social media engagements and Halloween costume sales—stuff that sounds sexy and convincing but has never statistically correlated to anything in the past. Still, we’re talking about a guy that’s so in love with Trump, so shit-scared of Clinton being POTUS, that his Twitter habits demonstrate a pathological aversion to the facts that should be staring him right in the face.
I was thinking about that while watching this episode of You’re the Worst—which isn’t to say that I’ve done a sudden 180 on a show I’ve gone out of my way to worship as pretty much the best show currently on TV for six weeks running. On the contrary, I’m about to make it week seven. But I do wonder if I’ve been so dazzled by what the show has done well that I’ve missed an obvious flaw: a general lack of focus stemming from the show’s valiant effort to service its entire ensemble. It’s been covered by the cast getting what I bought was some genuinely wonderful material to work with, but “Genetically Inferior Beta Males” is the first episode this season where I’ve really noticed these seams.
You’d probably think, if you were watching, it would be the sudden re-emergence of Gretchen’s own issues with her parents, but I thought that was perfectly introduced. It was a natural question for Justina to ask in the session that comprised the cold open, and a great way to trigger the episode’s main conceit of “Gretchen tries to fix everyone’s problems to prove a point, of course it goes well.” I love the way it leads to Jimmy going outside and connecting with things he would normally dismiss as hipster garbage, and how it masterfully informs an important realization about his relationship with his father, bringing him to an unexpected and downright fascinating stage of his grief: obsessively planning a treehouse as the first step toward a brand new life, free of living in opposition to anything. It’s goddamn brilliant, and that’s why this show is, for the 7th week running, my pick for the best show on the air right now.
The signs of trouble are probably from the individual weaknesses of the supporting character threads that are becoming more pronounced over time. Lindsey’s story is particularly egregious: Her attempt to salvage her relationship with Paul started as an interesting (and funny!) full-time counterpoint to Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship (since Vernon and Becca couldn’t be around all the time; more on that later). Once Lindsey started guilting Paul into cuckoldry (or rather, her own perverted version of it), the comedy got uncomfortable in a way the show never quite was overall. By the time I saw Lindsey getting balled by her side piece while Paul sat in the corner, clearly uncomfortable and attempting to make small talk, I’d reached full Tom Servo rage. On the upshot, the story has finally reached an interesting place where even Lindsey is starting to realize what a horrible person she is for doing this to Paul, but I’m not sure the awkward slog of it all was worth the result, particularly when the story itself seems so divorced from any possible main message of the season.
The same kinda goes for Edgar. His thread—about the surprising trouble he runs into when he tries to self-medicate his PTSD with marijuana—is far more entertaining and thought-provoking than Lindsey’s. But it’s not his show; it’s Jimmy and Gretchen’s show, and they set the tone and dictate the key themes of the season, which at the moment looks to involve the ways our parents can dictate our lives long after we leave the nest. Given that, I can’t help but wonder what Edgar’s story is leading to, and how it feeds back on those key themes.
Anyway, it’s all just food for thought in the end; you could probably argue that if supporting character threads reflect intended themes too often, the show might feel too stiff. And honestly, I wonder if I wouldn’t find similar issues if I went back through the last two seasons of the show. I also wonder if, should I find those issues, that would really affect my love of it in any meaningful way. Like any zealot I guess, I’m not convinced it would.
Episode Highlight: Folks, let’s talk about Vernon Down the House for a minute. To be sure, our introduction to Vernon’s podcast was about as funny as you could reasonably expect, especially with Vernon and Becca providing bang-on psychoanalysis in between soundboard interjections straight out of the old Morning Zoo. But the most memorable thing about that scene was how well Vernon and Becca seemed to work together on the podcast. The show has gone out of its way to show that those two are together for all the wrong reasons because it contrasts well with Jimmy and Gretchen—two out-and-out trainwrecks who are together for the right reasons and actually make each other better, despite their misgivings about commitment. It’s interesting, then, that Vernon and Becca seem so in-sync with each other when they’re in the studio; it really does give them a helpful bit of shade and suggests that they’re still together for reasons besides “status.”
So like I said; best show on the air right now.