Deadshirt & Chill: April 21, 2017

Deadshirt & Chill is a weekly roundup of the TV shows, movies, soothing ASMR Youtube videos, et al our crew is streaming when it’s time to kick up our feet and relax. Consider this our version of hanging out on the collective Deadshirt couch after work.

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One Day at a Time (TV Show)

Available on: Netflix

Norman Lear doesn’t do much TV writing these days, but he still knows what works, and his rebooted, Latin-themed production of One Day at a Time, spearheaded by Gloria Calderon Kellett (How I Met Your Mother, iZombie) and Mike Royce (Everybody Loves Raymond, Enlisted), works like gangbusters.

Yes, it’s a multi-cam comedy, the TGI Fridays of TV genres: It might hold some good memories, but it’s usually loud and oppressive and the food you’re served doesn’t justify the pomp, and you always leave wondering why it’s so goddamn packed every night. It turns out, however, that when you get three people who know how to play to the genre’s strengths like Kellett, Royce, and Lear do, great things can happen.

Not only is One Day at a Time funny as hell, it’s also, in the best tradition of Lear’s comedies, absolutely vital without ever feeling obnoxious about it. Justina Machado flat-out kills it as Penelope Alvarez, a single mother and Army veteran attempting to raise her kids Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz) mostly on her own, with the help of her mother Lydia (Rita Moreno, in a fabulous performance befitting of her legend) and her hipster landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell). From this simple premise, and the hilarious stories they spin from it, it can tackle issues like our treatment of veterans, immigration, sexism, and sexuality (one of the best episodes is the one where Penelope accidentally finds porn on Alex’s laptop). Throw in the occasional head-shake at white privilege (one of the funniest single scenes involves Schneider meeting up with the family while wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt), and that’s your show. It’s not afraid to get heavy, but it never gets oppressive; the show’s always good for at least one big laugh an episode.

If more multi-camera comedies were like this, they’d get a lot more respect from guys like me.

– Chuck Winters

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“Touch the Skyrim” (Internet Show)

Available on: Youtube

The McElroy Brothers multimedia McElmpire has expanded in all sorts of different directions over the last year or so but “Touch the Skyrim” is perhaps the most consistently hilarious side project to come from one of the siblings. Hosted by Griffin McElroy and Polygon’s Nick Robinson, “TtS” is less a Let’s Play and more the video game equivalent of watching a blindfolded man stick his hand in a bowl of peeled grapes. The conceit is that McElroy has programmed fan-made mods into Skyrim, forcing Nick to discover them each episode. Skyrim, if you aren’t aware, is kind of an All-Fantasy-Everything open world RPG that’s still hugely popular despite dropping six years ago with a fully customizable character engine.

There’s a weirdly existential bent to Griffin and Nick’s exploration of the fictional continent of Tamriel, now containing giant hairless homunculi, trees that look like baby arms and Thomas the Tank Engines that unnervingly soar through the air breathing fire on the humans below. The idea is to imput so many mods that Skyrim doesn’t resemble Skyrim, making the whole exercise is like a kind of high art anti-gaming. Early on, Robinson and McElroy throw so many non-playable characters through the air that it irrevocably fucks up the internal physics of the game. The slowly drifting cabbages and NPC that gather on the screen are the kind of accidentally generated artifact that makes Skyrim so entertaining to watch, even when not deliberately being broken by nerds. 

The series is the perfect vessel for McElroy’s signature brand of oddly genteel Nice Boy humor, with Robinson acting as the straight man to McElroy’s demented Skyrim god. The two have played with a few different characters at this point but the clear winner of the bunch is Susan Crushbone, a weed-smoking scrunchie-wearing “orc sex princess” who at one point bangs a crudely-animated Crash Bandicoot.  Given that they aren’t trying to beat the game in any traditional sense, the duo come up with new goals like removing all the clowns from non-playable townspeople or having a  battle with horrific fan-created “Pokemon.” The conclusion of Susan’s story, a cannabis-fueled sex party aboard of a flying steampunk pirate ship, is a high point that’s unbelievably hilarious in its surreality.

– Max Robinson 

UnREAL (TV Show)

Available on: Hulu

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I still haven’t finished Luke Cage and I’m now over a season behind on Better Call Saul, but by god, when I saw that the second season of UnREAL—Lifetime’s drama about the sociopaths pulling the strings of a The Bachelor pastiche—was on Hulu, I dropped everything and consumed the ten-episode season in two long evenings. UnREAL follows Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby), a producer on Everlasting, a long-running dating competition show, and her mentor Quinn King (Constance Zimmer), who together wreak absolute havoc on the lives of the stars of their show in the hopes of creating transcendent drama and monster ratings. UnREAL‘s co-creator, Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, spent three years working reluctantly on The Bachelor, and has turned that experience into a scripted drama. It’s a (hopefully greatly exaggerated) look at what it takes to make a cheap reality show feel like tense dramatic television with real stakes, which itself accomplishes a great deal with a small cast and a low budget.

UnREAL is melodramatic and sometimes off-the-wall insane, but there’s a sincere emotional core to Rachel’s desire not to be a terrible person who destroys lives, despite her incredible aptitude for it. Quinn is a mother figure for Rachel who appeals to her worst side like an Emperor Palpatine to her Anakin Skywalker, trying to draw out in her the qualities necessary to thrive in the shockingly cutthroat world of reality television, while Rachel slides back and forth between achieving her dark destiny and trying to escape its draw. Rachel wants to be better, wants to do good, tell meaningful stories, make a difference with her work, but ultimately sinks back into Hell with increasingly disastrous results.

In Season Two of UnREAL, Rachel attempts to use her new position of Showrunner on Everlasting to affect positive social change, casting the show’s very first black male romantic lead (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s B.J. Britt). But her presumption to try and single-handedly fix race relations in America with a reality show quickly backfires as she works way too hard to build a narrative around something she (a white woman) doesn’t really understand, and ends up putting real lives at risk. So much of the enjoyment of UnREAL comes from its honestly shocking twists, so I hesitate to spoil anything, but I will say this—UnREAL is a very smart television show about a very dumb television show consistently biting off more than it can chew, and is a metatextual gift that keeps on giving. A third season is on its way, and trust me when I tell you that you’ll burn through the 20 existing episodes incredibly quickly.

– Dylan Roth

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