People have been talking about the new TV renaissance for long enough now that it’s probably time to prepare for the beginning of the end. But it doesn’t have to be so, and as it turns out, you might have some say in the matter.
We’re finding ourselves at a point where a lot is changing in the television landscape. For instance, you can’t have your ear to the ground without getting an earful about what Netflix is doing, how they’re crafting genetically engineered shows to perfectly enamor the modern consumer and putting knockout pills in our Wonderbread. I think it’s still fair to say that TV drama is still in a good place. High quality new dramas continue to come out each season and they go on live full and healthy lives.
But I ask you: What is going on with comedy?
It was about a decade ago when two important things happened in TV comedy. Family Guy was taken off air, only to be put back on air when executives realized the monetary potential of alternative media consumption methods and the ways they applied to the show. The same thing happened with The Office only differently. DVD’s saved Family Guy. iTunes saved The Office.
Few caught the The Office’s first season. The second season seemed doomed until word got around via video stores and message boards, and eventually, water coolers that there was something special in the show that most discerning viewers assumed to be cheap knock off of the British treasure. The Office had one foot in the grave when suddenly, iTunes (then a very new resource for TV) listed the show as “Most Downloaded” day after day. There were days when different episodes of The Office Season 2 made up the entirety of iTunes 10 Most Downloaded list. Shoot forward two years and Dunder Mifflin is a household name.
The show that was once regarded as “indie” or “edgy” gained Cosby-caliber acceptance yet it remained one of the most venerated comedies on TV. Not far on its heels was 30 Rock, another show that found its saving grace in alternative viewing methods. Now, here we are, 30 Rock has just ended its run. The Office has one more episode left to air. Aside from The Big Bang Theory, a show that never fails to deliver laughs, but also has nary a challenging moment (Ed. Note: this comment might not be totally fair. The moments in this past season where they delve into the asexuality of Sheldon Cooper have actually been pretty interesting,) where is the great comedy on TV? The answer - It’s cancelled.
Happy Endings may be the one show the networks have offered up in the past few years with the potential to reach 30 Rock/Office heights. The show seemed to be getting its due. NY Magazine featured the series as a success story in an issue last year, the players were making appearances all across the entertainment spectrum and the show was on the tip of many a tongue. Yet, there’s a good chance the show is now cancelled. So, what happened? We have a network series that’s seemingly followed the success of The Office and 30 Rock in every way, and yet it’s circling the drain. Let’s remember, neither The Office nor 30 Rock nor Parks and Recreation found success in their first season. The Office didn’t achieve mainstream acceptance until the 3rd season. Same goes for 30 Rock. Parks and Recreation wasn’t even very good until the very last episode of the first season and nobody realized it until well into the second season. Happy Endings is only the most recent and perhaps best of the great comedies of late that have met the fate of the impatient network axe.
Networks may as well get used to the new way. A successful comedy has a good first season. The first few of the taste makers get their hands on it. They start to recommend it. By the time the second season is out on DVD, it gets a buzz and it’s not until the 3rd season is almost finished airing that anyone starts to get a moist beak.
Best Friends Forever was a series that a featured real life best friends and comic Lennon Parham and Jessica St Clair. The Show featured 30 Rock-style rat-tat-tat humor with the off beat delivery of shows like Portlandia, complete with hysterical nod’s to the show’s director Fred Savage. The series aired last year, and was cancelled after only four episodes.
Ben and Kate was a single camera comedy about a brother and sister who helped raise one-another. Grown up and living together, the two raise a child of their own (not their own. What a show that would be )
The show starred Dakota Johnson (daughter of Don) and Nat Faxon and was given a mere two seasons before it got the axe. The show achieved a rare mixture of off-beat comedy and heart. Watching the series, it seemed a great example of what a family comedy should look like the modern era.
So far we’ve covered shows on Fox, ABC, and NBC. What about cable? Presumably shows on cable should get a bit more time to breathe and find their groove.
Party Down fans will be quick to tell you that it’s not so. Party Down has now begun to receive legendary status a few years after its cancellation and the fandom surrounding it is such that a movie is supposedly in the works, but once again we have a series that was cancelled after only two seasons, only this one was on Starz. While Starz has delivered some truly interesting and edgy shows of the past couple of years, they seem unwilling to let any of them live full lives. Spartacus recently ended it’s run after only three seasons despite scattered fervor over the show. Boss was being hailed as the next Sopranos, yet it was cancelled after two seasons.
Where every other TV network has yet to learn the lessons of The Office and Family Guy, there is one network seems to have read the writing on the wall. Lucky Louie may have been cancelled by HBO, nonetheless FX gave Louis CK a shot at his own show. The nature of the deal was unprecedented, CK traded his budget for complete and utter control of his show’s content. According to CK, FX doesn’t even know what an episode of Louie is about until it airs. FX have already seen the fruits of their foresight with shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Sons of Anarchy, shows that generate income outside of the usual channels and achieve cult-like followings.
What other networks have yet to learn is: in the internet age, the term “cult-like” doesn’t really apply. Cult-like is what you hope for. It’s what you need to survive.
With all the great cancelled comedies of the past couple of years, is the renaissance over as far as comedy is concerned? Are there are any good comedies left on TV?
There are a few, Bob’s Burgers continues to walk the line between edgy and accessible. It’s also perfectly cast. In an interview, Mike Judge once stressed the importance of finding the right voices for cartoon characters. In that sense, Bob’s Burgers has been tremendously successful (much due to Kristen Schaal.) Those who aren’t watching are missing out. Kroll Show on Comedy Central had a side-splitting first season and will be a major success if it continues in the same direction. The Jeselnik Offensive and Inside Amy Schumer have been so far, so good. Impractical Jokers on TruTV is an improv/reality show that provides some of the most dependable laughs on television right now.
But, there is one comedy that hits the mark, that gives us hope that the comedy renaissance is not over. To be fair, Louie could qualify here, except there’s an argument to be made that the show is something other than a comedy (don’t you dare even think dramedy) almost like Shameless (another totally unappreciated jewel) the show hits a strange and uncharted spot on the spectrum, for which there is currently no word. The League is probably the best, and most steady on its feet, top notch comedy on TV a show that is finally reaching the “wet beak” stage of its existence. There is one show currently on TV, a comedy with a touch of heart that has been utterly surprising and unique in its execution.
Legit is another series about the life of a comedian staring Aussie comic Jim Jeffries. The show’s setup features the interesting twist of its protagonist helping to care for his best friend’s brother who suffers from muscular dystrophy. The show has those moments that are funny solely because of the situation, but there are also laughs that come completely out of left field, a function of the off beat and life-like performances of the show’s ensemble.
With 30 Rock and The Office gone, Legit is a definite contender for the Best Comedy on TV title. Without a doubt it’s The Best Comedy that No One is Watching. Will it become another unfortunate example of a show that was never allowed to spread it’s wings? Luckily, Legit is on FX, which has shown itself to be one of few networks with patience, but Legit, despite it’s quality has yet to achieve any kind of viewership, and therefore it will make for an interesting case study. If you’re not watching Legit, it’s time. It’s also time to start voicing your love for the shows you do enjoy. If a couple thousand Facebook ‘likes’ would have saved Happy Endings, it would have been a small price to pay.
I’ve had a slew of Freelance Life posts go up since my last entry, as well as a recent interview. Here’s my week in writing
The Freelance Life: Finally Getting a Kindle After Years of Resistance
From day 1, I’ve resisted e-readers and wanted to believe that they would not catch on. Having finally acquired one, I weight the pro’s and cons of a digital reading world.
The Freelance Life: 3 Books Lists From Influential Book Lovers
Last year’s books lists are well compiled at Largehearted Boy, but I pushed 2 influential NYC booksters into giving me the exclusive on their personal best books lists. Then, since I never listed my favorite books of the year, I added my own list for good measure.
The Freelance Life: How To Cold-Contact Editors
One of the biggest and toughest questions for an up and comer: how do i reach out to people in power who have no reason to care, and get them to consider me? I don’t purport to have cold hard answers, but here’s some tips to help you on your way to consideration.
I’d like to wholeheartedly endorse the new novel, Fight Song and the work of Joshua Mohr in general. Mohr’s fiction is like if Charles Bukowski had the structural discipline of a Don DeLillio. His work is primal, trenchant and hard hitting. Yet, Fight Song is totally outside the realm of the kind of work he’s become known for: it’s surreal, it’s fun (at times even silly) and it’s quite ethereal compared to his earlier stuff.
I also recently interviewed Kyle Kinane for Punknews, click here. Interviews are one of my favorite parts of the the freelance writing life, but this was my first interview with a comic. It can be hard to break through the inherent desire that all these people have to make you laugh. The thing is, lots of jokes, particularly banter jokes, aren’t going to be funny in print. Luckily, Kinane wasn’t particularly guarded.
Kinane and I talked a lot about DIY culture and punk reminiscence. If you’ve not yet seen it, Kinane’s most recent Comedy Central special Whiskey Icarus is one of the best stand up specials you’ll see this year.
Last month I read at The Soundtrack Series and yesterday the story I read was posted on the SS website and released as a podcast, I’m really happy with how it went. My story is about the song Knowledge, as well my experiences with fraud, sweatpants and my grandfather the Holocaust survivor when i was 13.
I’ve also written a bit about the band, here’s my interview with Jesse Michaels who sang in Op Ivy, and now sings in Classics Of Love, his father was also an amazing and very influential author.
Here’s a review I wrote of the oral history on the East Bay Punk scene which birthed the band.
GIMME SOMETHING BETTER by Jon Reiss
(Orig at Jewcy.com)
I used to be so obsessed with Operation Ivy that I would search far and wide for bootleg audio and video recordings of their live shows. I listened to those recordings so much, so closely until I not only knew every word to every song, but I knew every word of banter that took place between songs. I listened close, hearing them make fun Green Day, and teasing a band called Isocracy, always keeping it light and fun, always joking. I eventually became hell-bent on understanding what they were talking about and who the other bands that they mentioned were, bands like, Crimpshrine and Econochrist, bands that I would go on to love.
Eventually I became obsessed with the whole East Bay/Berkeley punk scene and all the bands involved. I became pen pals with Larry Livermore, the man who started Lookout Records and I met Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day. It was my freshman year of high school and I took my girlfriend to a huge Green Day concert for her birthday. After the show, a huge crowd of people waited outside the venue trying to get Tre Cool and Mike Drint to sign autographs, this was post Dookie, after all. I walked past the mob and snuck into the venue. Once inside, a guy with a high voice shouted to me, “hey, nice backpatch.” I was wearing an Econochrist back patch, one of the bands I learned about from the Opeartion Ivy bootlegs. Billie Joe called me over and shared his beer, as we chatted for a good while about the East Bay punk scene, Gilman St., all the places that I’d never been to but idealized so much. I’d come to imagine the San Fransisco/Berkeley punk scene as a kind of utopia for punk kids who just wanted to be part of something real and I ate up every moment of listening to him talk about it. Then, Billie Joe gave me a bit of a speech, telling me that any place could be an amazing scene like Berkeley and it was up to me to kick it off. That night I went home and put on an Op Ivy bootleg video, imitating Jessie’s on-stage moves, singing “Sound System,” quietly enough not to wake my parents.
Elvis Costello once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” There is something about Operation Ivy that is completely indescribable, absolutely beyond words. Theirs was one of the first punk records I ever bought. Something about the spy logo on the cover of the album is sexy and alluring and the record from the very first note to the end of the twenty-seventh track is completely undeniable.
When I saw Gimme Something Better (Penguin), on the bookshelf, I was thrilled. It was a dream come true, an oral history of the San Fransisco punk rock scene. It was the closest I would ever have to being able to understand what it was like to actually be there.
The Oral History style is one that worked splendidly for the book Please Kill Me. For those who aren’t familiar, the style is chopped up interviews that are put in a certain order to tell a story. Gimme Something Better, contains pieces of interviews with people like: Jessie Michaels, Jello Biafra, Jeff Ott From Fifteen and Crimpshrine, Fat Mike of NOFX, Tim Armstrong of Rancid, Larry Livermore, Aaron Cometbus of Crimpshrine and “Cometbus,” Miranda July, photographer Murray Bowles and a bunch of people whose names were unfamiliar to me, including a Sheriff.
The book begins with a focus on a few major bands at the very beginning of Punk’s emergence, bands like Crime, The Avengers, the Dill’s, The Nuns and Negative Trend. Similar to the early bands in Please Kill Me, these bands were mostly people coming out of the Roxy Music, David Bowie glam scene and getting a bit rougher and more straight forward with their music and style. The kind of apathetic, “no future” outlook that permeates this part of the book is a bit irritating. There is also a fair amount of bickering between interviewee’s about who sucks, and who doesn’t.
What makes the early chapters of Gimme Something Better interesting are the cultural and historical implications of 1970′s San Fransisco. The book begins right around the time that Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk are murdered, and during the riots that came about as a result of the light sentence passed down to the man responsible, Dan White. Reading the book, I get a sense that free thought is really an indispensable part of the San Fransisco cultural climate in a way that a non-San Fransiscan, couldn’t truly understand.
As the book moves on, the focus shifts to bands that that interest me more, bands like the Dead Kennedy’s and DRI, faster and harder bands. There’s also a heavy focus on the different venues that came about, from clubs like On Broadway to makeshift party/living areas like The Vats, up to Gilman St., the utopian DIY punk space. “Maximum Rock n Roll” becomes an important part of the story, first as a radio show and then as the zine that it is today, perhaps the most prominent of Punk Rock zines. In the middle of the book, the irritating parts start to mount, people bickering about who was cool and who wasn’t and endless anecdotes of violence at punk shows. There is a part of the punk ideal, the glue-sniffing, head-kicking, pants-shitting part, which never sat too well with me. Sure, it helps to fuel the unadulterated rebellion and it attracts the kids, but who cares that people used to almost kill each other at Black Flag shows? Some people in the book recount the violence of the scene affectionately and others simply acknowledge it, but it gets tired. It’s similar to the drugs, an unavoidable, but ultimately expendable and boring part of the equation.
Finally I came to the final quarter of the book where the seeds of the late Berkeley punk scene are sewn. Gilman is built, Isocracy forms, Crimpshrine forms and finally Operation Ivy comes up. These chapters for me are heaven, everything I’d hoped for, people trying to describe the amazing force that came from Op Ivy’s music, the ineffable feeling of being part of something that felt so important. It was thrilling to read. I hoovered up every word of the last chunk of this book.
It inspired me to break out the old bootlegs. “Lint Rides Again,” is a recording of Operation Ivy’s last show. At the end of which, the band plays the song, “Unity.” The entire crowd at Gilman St. sings along to every word of the song. As it ends, the final chorus plays out but the crowd won’t let it end. The band stops playing and the crowd continues to sing, “Unity, as one stand together. Unity, evolution’s gonna come,” rushing the stage, singing as one. Someone picks up a stick and keeps a beat on the snare drum, as they sing on, unable to let go of this moment, so important and pure. Watching, it feels like something, something that even in adulthood I am always looking for, something better.
This weekend I interviewed Joshua Mohr, author of the forthcoming novel Fight Song, and three other, tremendous novels. Afterwards, I found myself thinking about interviewing, the nature of the exchange and what does or does not work. I’ve done quite a bit of it since starting out as a writer and it remains one of my favorite aspects of the job. I’ve realized that you don’t have to be a great conversationalist or an extrovert to be a good interviewer. In fact, there’s something about the role of interviewer that I think lends itself to the more socially inept of us. Think of it this way, if every time you tried to approach the opposite sex and talk, you looked at it as an interview instead. Would it not seem suddenly easier to approach and carry a conversation? Which reminds me, look forward to my new blog as dating guru, coming soon.
Next week I have another interviewee who I’m very excited to talk with. This person’s profession is one that I have not yet come across as an interviewer, so I’m excited to see how we jibe. It’s unofficial at this moment so the only hint I can give is this: He’s the opposite of “the life of the party.”
In my guide to interviewing on this week’s Freelance Life at Brooklyn Based, I referred to the infamous Nat Hentoff/Bob Dylan interview for Playboy in 1966 as one of the all time best print interviews with an artist. I’d like to continue to round up some of my favorite interviews from other authors, so look out for that next week. In the meantime, here are my favorite interviews by this guy [thumbs pointed manically at self.]
Sam Lipsyte is the author of The Ask, as well as Homeland, one of my all time favorite contemporary novels. Lipsyte is dark and funny like most of the fiction writers I’m drawn to but he’s also one of the most meticulous sentence writers out there. He also strives to break convention and expectation, which I think of as generally a plus, but not a must. There’s many writers who break convention that I wouldn’t recommend. Lipsyte’s a dynamo, bottom line. This is also the first interview I had published.
First of all, The Bad Brains are hands down my favorite band of this era and genre. However, a black cloud of alleged homophobia has hung over them since the early 80’s. I was at first afraid to bring this up, but when Daryl said to me, “I really enjoy talking t you, ask me anything you want,” I just went for it.
One of the nicest people I’ve interviewed plays one of the meanest guys to ever be jettisoned from Israel on TV.
I really thought this interview went badly until I put on paper. P.O.S is the best kept secret in hip hop if you ask me. I still believe he’ll eventually garner semi-mainstream acknowledgement.
At this party for Kathryn Bigelow I was snubbed by Nick Zinner and decided to leave Jodie Foster alone.
Rollins and I talked about two topics that have always pushed my (and apparently his) buttons: The West Memphis Three and North Korea.
Aside from being one of my favorite folkers, Sean Bonnet had a reputation
for being the nicest guy everyone who’s ever met him has ever met. I examined that reputation.
Jeff is still young and quite close to punk hero status. He’s also an interesting person to interview.
Are the people who write about the creepiest things the fuzziest of teddy bears in real life? DC knows gore, DC knows cuddling, he’s the Bo Jackson of violently sexual and subversive fiction.
For some reason I’ve always just been jealous of this guy, partly because he’s had such an admirable career so young, partly because every time I read something by him, I think “Why didn’t I write about that?” And partly because he’s just so talented and in control of his prose. I received The Gospel of Anarchy one day before the interview and read it overnight. It was storming outside the day of the phone call and I get no reception in my apartment so I sat on my stoop in a storm for the whole interview. Midway into the interview he told me he didn’t want to talk about the things I was asking him about (shop mostly.) So I’m sort of luke warm on this interview but I find some of his insights here very interesting.
The culmination of writing career up to that point. For almost the entirety of growing up (after 12) I looked up to this man the way most kids look up to either The Ultimate Warrior or Hulk Hogan. Jesse Michaels is a punk superhero.
This may seem like a lot of interviews but believe me when I say that it’s a paired down list. For a more complete list, check out the “interviews” tab. Stay tuned for great interviews from other people.
As always in the first few weeks of the new year after all the major lists have made their way to the intersphere and I’m no longer rushing not to be the last, I’ve found that I missed a few things that should have made the lists. Thus far I’m still pretty happy with where everything is on the list, with the exception of The Dirty Nil’s “Little Metal Baby Fist” EP, which should have been number 1 or 2 in the EP’s department. I also stand by the fact that my comedy list is perfect, it’s pretty in line with Jesse David Fox at Vulture’s List, if you’re comparing, and you know, it’ s Vulture. Also my music list is some what close to the music list over at Impose.
Before I go into what should have made the music list, here’s my favorite documentaries of 2012.
Best Documentaries of 2012
1. West Of Memphis
Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been obsessed with the West Memphis Three case since 2004 when I worked at Reel Life and watched the first Paradise Lost. There was about a year and a half where I simply wouldn’t shut up about this case. Paradise Lost 3 was an effective, well-made documentary but it left much to be desired in the wake of this story’s end. West Of Memphis leaves almost nothing to be desired, between the Vicki Hutcheson/Michael Carson/David Jacoby/Amanda Hobbs interviews, this movie will satisfy the most obsessed followers of the case and yet, it’s perfect for the Uninitiated as well. I have a sudden enormous respect for director Amy Berg as well. Right now I consider West of Memphis quite possibly the second best documentary I’ve ever seen.
2. The Imposter
A man convinces a a family he’s their runaway child nearly a decade after the fact. This film has all the marks of a great documentary, including the all important, story that spins out of control with twists and turns, mark.
3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
This is not a film about sushi, it’s a film about craft. It’s a film about hard work and mastery. It’s a great inspirational piece of art.
HM’s: Paradise Lost 3, (A)Sexual
What Should have Made the Music List
The Menzingers: On Impossible Past
Yes, I listed this among the bands that I just didn’t get. Now I get it. Some of these songs are incredibly catchy and fun, I still don’t hail them among the likes of Against Me and Bomb the Music Industry, but I get why this is good.
Arctic Flowers: Procession
I had no idea that this was out. Arctic Flowers is one of my favorite bands and this likely would have made my top 10, perhaps even above White Lung.
The Smith Street Band: Sunshine and Technology
Wow, this sucker seems to have come out of nowhere. It’s like the best of Frank Turner with Apologies I have none, and half of Glocca Morra behind him. It’s just a great record, nearly every song has a melodic hardcore meets post hardcore meets pop punk vibe.
Waxahatchee: American Weekend
So, apparently Swearin’ is the rest of PS Eliot, and this band is the frontwoman of PS Eliot. Well, this is maybe just as good if not better than the Swearin record, it’s just got everything I loved about PS.
Wu Block: ST
How many great rap albums can come out in a year? 2012 was a great year for hip hop, so much so that this one manage to sneak by me. Wu Block is like the second fiddle rap group, the two most underrated unsung (until recently) of both Wu Tang Clan and The LOX: Ghostface Killah and Sheek Loouch. What else can I say? I’m in.
Touche Amore/ Casket Lottery: Split
There are three bands doing this kind of music at an expert level. The kind of music I’m speaking of owes bands like You and I and Saetia a debt of gratitude. The bands are: Touche Amore, Piano’s Become Teeth and La Dispute.
Burning Love: Black Widow
Burning Love is also the name of a very funny web series that came out this year starring members of The State that spoofs The Bachelor. Burning Love the band sounds to me, exactly like this: Murder City Devils, with a bit more straight hardcore influence, minus the organ.
Happy New Year Folks!