In Sherlock Season 4, Everyone is a Wizard

By Kayla Robbins

Fans of the show know that season 4 was a landmark season for Sherlock, and possibly its last. Some viewers felt that the show really jumped the shark in the most recent episodes (especially the one where the characters are surrounded by literal sharks for much of the episode). Still, others thoroughly enjoyed the roller coaster ride. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the fact that these most recent episodes of Sherlock were a lot different from what we’re used to seeing on the show.

What made it so different?

Explosions, secrets, convoluted plot lines, and overly-long house of horror montages featured prominently in this season’s high-octane adventures. Where we once had quietly murderous cabbies, there are now ostentatious evil geniuses capable of taking over not just people’s minds, but entire islands just by being really, really clever.

Where in earlier seasons of Sherlock standalone mystery-solving episodes were the norm, this season introduces and resolves several overarching plot points at breakneck speeds. In the first episode, we confront the details of Mary’s troubled past head-on as it all finally catches up with her, tying up with finality a plot arc that some would say was already adequately resolved last season. In the second episode, the fan favorite of the set, we get a more traditional Sherlock episode, focusing on a single case and relying on the relationship between Holmes and Watson to solve it. Unfortunately, the episode takes a strange turn at the end when it’s revealed that the “big baddie” of the finale has been walking around inserting herself into Sherlock and John’s lives this whole time for no apparent reason. Then in the third episode, it all kicks off in an indulgent, Saw-esque fun house. Luckily though, the murderous inclinations of the too-smart-for-her-own-good Holmes sister can be put to rest with a simple hug.

Moffat and Gatiss tell but don’t show.

One of the biggest problems with the show is one that has always been there, but has become more and more glaring as the characters themselves grow more and more over the top. The writers have always relied too heavily on telling viewers things rather than taking the time to show them. For example, they tell us that Eurus is a super smart evil mastermind capable of controlling people with her mind, but they never show us a glimmer of how she does that. They even tell us that Mary is an incredibly skilled and capable super spy, despite the fact that what they show us is her being nothing more than a catalyst to force character development for the men in her life. For most of the show, the writers have considered “because he/she is very smart” to be an acceptable answer to almost any question. They’ve effectively turned IQ into a super power.

This is the problem with writers trying to write a character that’s smarter than they are (and in turn, a character that’s smarter than THAT character, and one more character that’s way smarter than that other character, just for good measure). While intelligent people have logical reasons for the things that they do, and can extrapolate information from their surroundings, Moffat and Gatiss’s Sherlock is essentially indistinguishable from a wizard. They think that being highly intelligent means being hyper observant, remembering everything you’ve ever read (and always having read something relevant), and being able to anticipate the plans of your arch nemesis based on the direction of the wind, so that’s exactly how they write Sherlock.

Welcome Back to Stars Hollow!

By Rae Avery

If you’re anything like me,  you’ve dreamed about enjoying a steaming mug of coffee at Luke's diner (or perhaps Emily's cob salad – surely it's on the menu by now), or maybe just diving in to an assorted jumble of takeout, junk food, and town gossip at Rory and Lorelai’s kitchen table. Fellow fans, while we’ve been subsisting solely on reruns from the early 2000’s to get our Gilmore Girls fix, Netflix has been busy cooking up a surprise just for us.

In a move as unexpected and fun as Lane's stint as a cheerleader, our favorite show Gilmore Girls is giving us a holiday gift that superfans of any beloved, yet ended, series dreams of – an additional season! Or rather, four seasons. Netflix is changing up the classic CW episodic format and giving us four 90-minute movie-like episodes, depicting “Winter,” “Spring,” “Summer,” and “Fall,” respectively.

Just about every single one of the original cast members are returning as our favorite characters, right down to Sparky as Paul Anka, Lorelai's dog! Obviously, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel are back as Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter Rory. The girls are also reunited with Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop), Luke Danes (Scott Patterson), and Lane Kim (Keiko Agena). Seriously, the list of returnees is so long (from quirky townies to Chilton alums to Yale friends, and more!) there is no way I could list them all here.

Sadly, Edward Hermann, who slayed in the role of Lorelai's father, Richard Gilmore, passed away December 31, 2014. In what will certainly be a heart-wrenching few scenes, Richard will have died on the show as well, and that impact will be tumultuously felt among the characters closest to him. 

Exes never seem to be completely removed from our lives, and this is the case on the Gilmore Girls reboot as well. Logan, Jess and Dean are all coming back, though no one knows for sure yet if any of them will be romantically linked to Rory. Lorelai's ex, and Rory's father, Christopher will also be back on the show.

But of course, the cast question on everyone's mind was whether or not comedy superstar Melissa McCarthy would return to the little show that gave her her big break now that she's a certified Hollywood big shot. And the thrilling answer is yes! Of course! Dragonfly chef and best friend to Lorelai, Sookie St. James will be appearing in the “Fall” and “Winter” episodes.

“We’re more than grateful to have the opportunity to reprise the roles. It reminds us of what we had,” said Scott Patterson, on the Gilmore Guys podcast. "We were younger then, and we were maybe a little bit naïve about the business, but now we’re more experienced, and it’s just very satisfying and it’s a good group of people to come back to. People are closer now. The friendships are deeper.”

Lauren Graham agrees. “You know how you finish college and you're a few years older and you're like, 'I wish I could go do this now 'cause I would appreciate it so much more and understand it and get more out of it'?” She mused, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “That's the opportunity I have with this, and I appreciate every day that I'm here.”

SPOILER ALERT: While news of the show is being kept practically under lock and key, some plot details have spilled out. While we already knew that Richard Gilmore likely would pass away on the show, that's been officially confirmed. The first movie-episode of the reboot is “Winter,” and takes place eight years after the end of season 7, with Emily grieving and dealing with being a widow. At the Gilmore estate, Lorelai says to her mother, “Feels like a scotch night.” (Longtime fans will note with a twinge that scotch was always Richard's drink of choice.) As of the first new episode, Luke and Lorelai are still not married. Photos on set have leaked of a gold and blue chandelier in a prop box marked “wedding” though, so make of that what you will. Keep in mind, series creator Amy Sherman Palladino has always had a penchant for doing the unexpected, so it may even be for Rory, who would now be in her late 20's. 

While Netflix has been dragging its feet on any news of a release date, As the excitement builds, a new trailer has just debuted to whet your appetite for the coming cinematic feast, along with a confirmed release date! Bust out your enormous mug of coffee, and order the takeout: Friday, November 25 is the date for our official return to Stars Hollow for Gilmore Girls: Seasons.

 

Game of Thrones Season Six Review

By Dia Ascenzi

The Season Six finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones was perhaps one of the most surprising episodes yet. As a book reader, I love finally not having to hear (or think) “That’s not how it happened in the books,” or some such snooty remark. The show risked fan outrage when they surpassed the books, and many (including myself) weren’t sure if the show would begin a downward spiral this season. However, I was not disappointed in the least, as Season Six was amazing.

So, how did the show measure up to the books, and the fans’ expectations?

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

Jon Snow and Sansa

He’s back bitches. We all knew it was coming, but it was a mystery whether he would come back as himself, or a wight, or warg into ghost, or maybe not come back at all. Nope. He just came back, as brooding as ever. But another theory was proven with this event. Jon Snow’s “watch has ended” because he “lived and died at his post.”

Sansa shows up at the Wall (she’s still in the Eyrie in the books), after being intercepted by Brienne. The Maid of Tarth fulfilled her duty. With Sansa in his company, after hearing that Rickon was in the custody of the Boltons (yeah, he wasn’t forgotten), Jon and his Night’s Watch/wildling army goes to battle with the Bastard of Bolton. In perhaps the most epic battle scene of the whole show, Rickon, Wun Wun, and countless other wildlings and crows die. But thanks to Sansa, Littlefinger, and the Knights of the Vale, Jon is victorious, and Ramsay suffers the fate he deserved.

In the finale, Jon is pronounced the King in the North, or “#Dakingindanorf,” and somewhere in there I heard the nickname “The White Wolf,” which gave me goosebumps.

Tower of Joy and R+L=J

The Tower of Joy also happened this season. We got to see young Ned be a straight up badass and hold his own against the Sword of the Morning, Arthur Dayne. Although, Dayne didn’t dual-wield in the books. He just had the one sword: Dawn. But I digress. Seeing Howland Reed for the first time on-screen, he lands the killing blow to Arthur Dayne (even though Ned could clearly take him).

In the season finale, we see what all of us book-readers knew was coming. The reveal of the biggest fan theory, “R+L=J,” took place near the end of the finale. Ned ascends the steps of the Tower of Joy to find his sister, Lyanna. The theory that Lyanna had twins was crushed, but baby Jon Snow is definitely half Targ, half Stark. Is he the song of ice and fire?

Daenerys is homeward bound

The Mother of Dragons has had some pretty boring plot lines, but this season was actually quite action-packed for Daenerys. Staying true to the books, Season Five ended with Dany flying away on Drogon, and eventually stumbling upon a Khalasar. The rest was all new to book and show fans alike.

The show left out Victarion Greyjoy (which is basically a crime), but the main idea was still there. In the books, Victarion was sent by Euron Greyjoy to basically seek out Daenerys, and bring her back to him to be his wife. However, Victarion decided that he would win Daenerys to his side on his own. Even with the absence of an entire character, the plot is still very similar. Theon and Asha (I mean Yara…) sail to Daenerys and pledge themselves to her cause. Dany names Tyrion her Hand of the Queen, and the season finale ended with a truly epic scene of a Targaryen fleet sailing from Meereen with Greyjoys and dragons in tow. YAS QUEEN!

Arya and Frey pies

Arya’s story arc had very few fan theories surrounding it. However, I think every theory involved her fully becoming a faceless woman. I was a little disappointed to see her turn down a position at the House of Black and White. Until the finale.

Arya lived up to the hype, and became an assassin in her own right. In the season finale, wearing someone else’s face, Arya assassinated one of the most hated characters in the show: Walder Frey. The show also nods to a plot in the books involving “Frey pies.” Arya serves the late Lord Frey a pie made from the flesh of his dead sons, very similar to subtle hints in the books that suggest almost the same thing. This was also foreshadowed in Season Three, when Bran tells the tale of the Rat King.

Hodor, and Coldhands=Benjen

Ok, so Hodor. That shit was devastating. It left a worse taste in my mouth that Ned or the Viper. D&D got all timey-wimey on us when explaining how Hodor became Hodor. Let me try to get this straight. Bran warged into past-Hodor back when Hodor was Wyllis (changed from Walder in the books), and this allowed him to control him in the present. While fleeing from the Night’s King (you just can’t do anything right, can you Bran!?), Hodor was told to “hold the door.” This stress on top of being warged into in two different time periods caused him some serious brain damage, and “hold the door” became “Hodor,” and that’s all he can say now. I think I got it.

Those who haven’t read the books may not have seen this next part as as big of a deal as book-readers did. The exclusion of Coldhands was devastating to all of us. A non-evil wight riding a giant elk? Too badass not to include. But enough time had gone by that we had all but gave up hope to see it.

David and Dan didn’t let us down. After fleeing from the home of the three-eyed crow, Bran and Meera were rescued by none other than Benjen Stark, undead, turned into a wight by the Children of the Forest. He wasn’t on a giant elk, but hey, I was just pleased to know the Benjen wasn’t forgotten, and neither was Coldhands. He drops the young warg off at the Wall, and they part ways.

Sam finally made it to Hogwarts!

Admit it. You had the exact same thought. Our beloved Sam, after being shunned from his home (again), steals Heartsbane and makes his way to the Citadel. Don your tinfoil hats, because I have a theory. Sam stole Heartsbane to learn how to forge Valyrian Steel at the Citadel. Maybe it was obvious.

The Hound

Another popular theory was that the Hound wasn’t really dead. Seriously, if they don’t show the death on-screen, they likely aren’t dead (lookin’ at you, Syrio). Similar enough to the Gravedigger theory, Sandor attempted to live out his days simply, living with some peasant pacifists and none other than Ian McShane as their leader. They all are murdered, however, and Sandor is an inch closer to being “the gravedigger.”

He then meets up with the Brotherhood Without Banners, and we get to see Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr once more (didn’t forget about them either, did you D&D?), but no sign of Lady Stoneheart. This set-up is too good to not have the Cleganebowl in Season Seven. GET HYPE.

Cersei and King’s Landing

Cersei is more evil, cold-blooded, and reckless than any of us could have possibly imagined. First, she straight up uses unGregor as her personal weapon. She does whatever she wants. When the Faith Militant tries to take her in, and she refuses, they were about to take her by force. But The Mountain That Rides literally just rips the head off one of the sparrows, and that was that. I was kind of hoping for a big action scene, but that was probably more frightening.

And the finale… When Margaery, Loras, Mace Tyrell, and the entire Faith Militant are in the Great Sept of Baelor, Cersei is conveniently not there. What happened next was, I guarantee, the most unexpected event to happen in the entire show. If anyone tries to say they knew it was coming is a lying bastard. Cersei went all Mad King on us and lit a ton of wildfire underneath the Sept. Naturally, the whole thing blew the hell up. Margaery, Loras, Mace, and the Sparrows are done.

Maester Qyburn, Cersei’s shady maester, takes the scene that belonged to Varys in the books. Instead of Varys’ little birds killing Kevan Lannister, it is Qyburn’s little birds killing Maester Pycelle. In one fell stroke, Cersei took out all of her enemies in King’s Landing. Bravo, you evil bitch. Bravo.

The show definitely went in some wild directions from where we thought the books would go, but who’s to say that’s not how it happens in the coming books? I for one am not disappointed in the least bit. And based on the stuff that we thought was left out, but wasn’t, it gives me hope that other plot lines will come back (Lady Stoneheart, mostly). Although, the showrunners just confirmed that there are only 13 episodes left in the entire show, so maybe not. All I have to say is this: write faster, George.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2: Shedding Skin

By Emelia Salakka

One might consider it an ambitious move by Netflix to drop Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on us right in the heart of one of the busiest times of the year in television, with big name shows like Game of Thrones about to premier a new season, and Better Call Saul’s second season coming to a close. But Kimmy Schmidt’s heavy-handed sophomore season comes to play ball, and swings just as hard. It’s living, breathing, vibrant proof that standard television constraints are obsolete. Hip-hip hurrah, streaming!

Season one was a sparkling success, having been regarded as “the first great sitcom of the streaming era” by critic Scott Meslow, and having an impressive seven Primetime Emmy nominations under its belt. Season two did not disappoint, providing eager fans with gripping character development and shaking up the plot Bond martini style. Throughout the second season, there’s a consistent tug-of-war in the writing room between maintaining the highs and lows of the spectacularly unique storyline and providing us with side-stitching humour that keeps us clicking ‘next episode.’ The result leaves us with thirteen episodes each capable of making you laugh and cry in their own right.

Finally putting Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne and the Indiana mole years behind her, Kimmy goes into her new life with her head held high, finally expecting to achieve complete control. Try as she might, Kimmy soon realizes that she can’t always get her way, and that her mole-woman past will always be a part of what makes Kimmy… Kimmy. After all, where else would she get her immense quirk that the internet simply can’t get enough of?

Alongside Kimmy we see the other main characters unfold before our eyes as we learn their truths and strifes. In the first episode, we explore Titus’ past in his brief marriage to Vonda, whom he left before they could even have their first dance. This bold move was due to his anxiety over the sham nature of their marriage (on account of Titus’ sexual orientation) leading him to escape and start a new life under the name Titus Andromedon. Despite the troubles Vonda’s return brings Titus, Kimmy’s quality as a friend comes into question when her only concern is for herself.

Season two shows us a totally new side of Kimmy that we hadn’t been introduced to in season one, as her selfishness only continues when Titus isn’t the only one who falls victim to Kimmy’s questionable behaviour. Dong, who is newly married to Sonya so that he’s able to stay in the United States, makes it clear that his first priority is to avoid deportation. Kimmy’s persistence to have more than a friendship with Dong causes her to irrationally crash the brunch held for the new couple, with Dong’s immigration officer in attendance. Needless to say, this strains the relationship between the two even further. But even with the writers’ blatant attempts to get us Unbreakable fans to dislike Kimmy, they can’t resist giving us a laugh along the way. Queue the silverfish!

Speaking of changing characters, the racy development in Jacqueline’s character’s heritage as a Native American woman had me struggling not to cringe. Not only is this arc a prime example of whitewashing, but it expects the viewers to excuse the utter ignorance and disrespect of Native American culture on the account of Jackie Lynn being a “white idiot.” This is the only turn in season two that I’m just not able to get on board with despite my unyielding love of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Unnecessary? Certainly. At least there’s some sense in this plot branch with Jackie’s parents essentially telling her to go back to her own life in New York where she belongs and her realization that money isn’t everything. I simply fail to see how the addition of this plot line adds at all to the overall story. Perhaps season three will provide an answer?

Tina Fey makes her second appearance in the show, first as an incompetent lawyer with a hilarious perm, and now as a therapist named Andrea with an insatiable thirst for the bottle. Andrea is determined to help Kimmy get to the root of her issues and her inability to face them head on. I find myself rooting for Kimmy to achieve ultimate self-discovery and understanding, but at the same time, do we really want a Kimmy Schmidt devoid of the very issues and misunderstandings that bring us those 3am giggles? Hmm.

Overall, season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt brings us to a new depth that we didn’t quite have in the first season. The plot hits closer to home as Kimmy’s issues are more relevant to the human experience than they are to being a mole-woman, and are unilinear with any coming of age story. Season two makes us feel closer to Kimmy as we explore her flaws and root for her healing, all the while being spoiled by excellently timed comedy that offsets some of the gravity of the heavy issues explored. Are we a little confused by some of these subplots? Absolutely, but that’s all the more reason to re-watch again and again until Netflix gifts us season three all wrapped in Kimmy-fied bows.

E-sports Coming to TBS

By Dia Ascenzi

Much like the world of professional athletics, esports are now becoming a phenomenon not just for the gamers themselves anymore. Viewers, gamblers, and fanboys themselves who may never have played a single online game they are becoming more and more drawn to the ultra-competitive world of high-stakes competitive gaming. And now, the mainstream media has taken notice. TBS has recognized this mania, and has decided to take it even further with the creation of ELeague.

ELeague will be a televised competitive gaming event, broadcast once a week, following tournaments and players for a massive prize pool. The goal is to make esports into something comparable to watching the NFL or the NBA, where viewers can follow competitors and the progress of the tournament over time, becoming attached and invested in the progression of the competition, and growing familiar with their favorite competitors and teams. The world of esports is already that big, it just hasn’t been recognized in that way until now. A televised, professional-style event like this is just what the esports community needs.

Esports have been around for quite some time now. Blizzcon was hosting StarCraft tournaments long before esports grew into what it is today. Since the integration of live streaming platforms like Twitch, it has grown into something much more accessible and widespread. Naturally, the next step would be to broadcast it on television.

Read the full story at our friends at e-sportsbetting.org

Text's Treatment in TV and Film

By Andrew Hendricks

If you’ve ever watched any television show or movie set after the year 2000, there’s a good chance there is a depiction of two characters texting each other. While this activity is something casual and second nature to us in 2016, there is a reason why texting may also be conspicuously absent from lower-budget TV shows or ones with less experienced directors and graphics departments. The reason? It’s really hard to have characters in a drama text each other, have that text be able to be understood by the audience, and simultaneously not have the method by which the text was displayed interrupt the viewer's suspension of disbelief. 

Doing it naturally

The first show to really make me realize what an effect texting can have on a narrative was House of Cards—a show that does texting perfectly. Rather than try in vain to make a bird’s-eye view of a cell phone being held for an awkward length of time (so the slow-reading audience has enough time to decipher this unnatural way of reading), House of Cards has its text messages pop up in a subtle line of text hovering above the texting character. While this may sound like it is a graphical element that would suspend disbelief even more so, by eschewing the screen close-up that never looks natural, a reader can simply relax and read the freaking text and understand the plot.

Sherlock is perhaps one of the other greatest examples of natural integration of texting graphics as opposed to showing a phone screen. A now three-year-old Vimeo video titled Sherlock how they handle texts has recently been making its way across a number of filmmakers blogs as the go-to example of how to not let a text get in the way of the cohesion of a scene while still letting the audience clearly see what the freaking text says! The text almost fits right into the scene as if its projected from the phone or something (which some phones actually do).

Although the “pop-up” style of texting has existed longer than Sherlock and House of Cards, these two shows have a unique way of making the text medium cinematicHouse of Cards with the addressed and time-stamped texts displaying, Sherlock with the texts merely appearing as clear-to-read text directly on the screen. Both of these methods avoid forcing the reader to focus on what brand of phone the star of the show is using, something we can’t help but doing when the phone’s icons or design take up as much of a camera shot as the more-important text content!

Read the full story at our friend's at Lovefone.co.uk.

The Best Netflix Shows to Netflix & Chill With

By Andrew Hendricks

Netflix and chill doesn’t have to mean what you dirty millennials slowly made it become. I’m fond of a good Netflix and Chili myself. 

 

Although you might not want to actually mix significant amounts of onion and garlic (as any good chili requires) to your informal date, you ought to include at least some Netflix watching lest you be rightfully dubbed a scheming schmuck. If they can’t be bothered to laugh through a single episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or 30 Rock before attempting to turn the date R-ratedthat’s a dealbreaker ladies.

Netflix boasts an exhaustive list of B-movies and Oscar-winners, but if you’re going with a proper Netflix and chill date, it’s a good idea to have a few good TV options. A two-hour film is a long commitment for a date that takes place in the dark, especially if, halfway into it, your date realizes your movie choice was terrible. Since a “Netflix and Chill” date is the only date where you won’t get chastised for showing up in your comfortable, sexy, undies, you want to make sure your programming choices are up to snuff. It may be tempting to try to show off your high-brow taste by introducing your date to critically acclaimed shows such as House of Cards or Black Mirror, just remember that this means having to watch Kevin Spacey snap a dog’s neck and the Prime Minister of the UK engage in sexual congress with a pig in each first episode, respectively. The rest of House of Cards, while amazing, does not get any less depressing, and the ultra high-quality Black Mirror also gets pretty depressing too, albeit it with less bestiality. Spoilers, I know, but you’re welcome in advance. Here are five shows you can watch a lot more comfortably.

#1. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

#2 Portlandia 

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FXX Banking on The Simpsons and Syndication

By Andrew Hendricks

Look out reruns of Friends and Seinfeld, The Simpsons is the latest and largest syndication acquisition from FX's brother-station, FXX. Starting with their marathon airing of every single Simpsons episode, including The Simpsons Movie.

After the low-ratings and eventual death of the flailing Fox channel Fox Soccer, it was announced in January 2013 that a brother service to FX would be the sports channel's replacement. FXX, as it would be called (unironically unoriginal), the new network would embrace unoriginality and went fast to work acquiring syndication rights to a number of comedy shows.

Between a mix of established, popular content like How I Met Your Mother and Mad About You to well-reviewed shows with vocal fans like Arrested Development, and Parks and Recreation, FXX hopes to cut a large swath of the most coveted advertising demographics.

With a $750 million price tag for The Simpsons' syndication rights, one can see why FXX is trying to cover all their bases in the rerun marketplace. Though some would be quick to say FXX's efforts are outdated in this new media world of on-demand content, others have pointed out that FXX is making a smart business move recognizing that while the marketplace is most certainly shifting, we are certainly not yet past the tipping point.

Television Advertising is Alive and Well reminds the title of a 2013 Forbes article. While Netflix has their subscriber model and Hulu is convincing advertisers that they're a lucrative medium, most homes still have a television, and it is still the most common way the majority of Americans view cable and network content.

A TV marathon to dwarf all others, banking on the nostalgia factor of The Simpsons was a brilliant publicity move for FXX to gain awareness that the network even exists, let alone gain the relatively-new network more viewers. Much like Yahoo purchased Community for a hefty price-tag to in hopes that the fan-base would transfer to their new medium Yahoo Screen, FXX hopes to become the dominant “general comedy” background channel. Tapping into the millions of Americans who love a good Simpsons episode playing into the background is a brilliant way the fledgling network to realize their goal.

FXX hopes that by cultivating nostalgic content you'll re-watch over and over again, rather, advertisers will see their network as the place syndicated content goes to thrive. At a $750 million dollar price tag, you can be certain FXX expects a significant return on their investment, and industry watchers say they're poised to get it.

Fans Scream! Yahoo Screen Revives Community

By Andrew Hendricks

Community is back! Six seasons and a movie is no longer just an ironic, meta hashtag by fans of the show, but at least partly, reality. The Sony-owned show that aired four seasons on NBC with meager ratings but a fanatic audience has officially been renewed by Yahoo following its tragic cancellation.

In a recent tv.yahoo post Yahoo gave concrete confirmation that Community will be revived for certain, and will be viewable on their fledgling online streaming service, Yahoo Screen. “We can't promise a Community movie,” the statement began, “but thanks to one Human Being-loving company (ahem, that's Yahoo), Community will be getting revived for a sixth season.” 

Joking about no Community longer being a “cable” television show, creator and showrunner Dan Harmon said in an interview: “I look forward to bringing our beloved NBC sitcom to a larger audience by moving it online. I vow to dominate our new competition. Rest easy, Big Bang Theory. Look out, Bang Bus!”

It was no coincidence Yahoo was hungrier than their streaming competitors to pick up the Community, with it's paltry but vocal audience. It was type of audience Yahoo was seeking. For cable television, eyeballs are all that matter, but as new-media innovators are reminding us daily, online, all users are not equal in the eyes of advertisers. Hulu expressed significant interest in acquiring Community, however Yahoo was willing to keep the show's $2 million per episode budget, while Hulu was not.

So Yahoo saved Community—but what exactly is Yahoo Screen? Well, a look at their home page

 might not give you a clear picture. A mishmash of associated content is linked to the left (Commedy Central, Buzzfeed, SNL) alongside categories including Music, Weather Sports, Live, and for some reason “Cute and inspiring” which turns out to be another random assortment of videos that at a glance appear to be 50/50 “how-to” and cat videos.

Just like Netflix is rolling out their own successful content with Orange is the New Black as well as purchasing and reviving dead content like Arrested Development. Yahoo is hoping they have can mimic that success while still having the best of all worlds with Screen's multiple functions. Unfortunately, at least for now, they have wound up with a product that looks somewhat muddled and confused. To really compete with HBO Go, Netflix, and Hulu, it seems like Yahoo has a long way to go to get people to know their service even exists, let alone use it.

Yahoo Screen began in 2006 as Yahoo Video, a streaming service similar to the YouTube model, wherein users could upload their own videos. As you have probably never heard of Yahoo Video, you can probably guess that it was not all that popular of a service. In 2010, Yahoo removed the uploading feature of Yahoo Video, and began development on a number of changes that would become Yahoo Screen the next year. Yahoo began producing their own original content, such as Burning Love which was met with enough popularity that the E! Network picked it up for syndication in 2013.

Despite NBC's willingness to dump Community after countless threats, its renewal is just one more end link] example of fans saving Community by their internet fervor. For an entire season of the show's run, NBC replaced Dan Harmon as show-runner in an attempt to boost ratings. Fans were apoplectic to say the least, and Harmon began his own podcast based on the notoriety, Harmontown. Harmon was brought back, and the overwhelming consensus of fans was an increase in quality, and a return to the unique sense of slapstick and meta comedy. Having Community without Dan Harmon is like having  Breaking Bad without Vince Gilligan. 

Harmon said in a recent Comic Con interview that the entire cast was on board: Joel Mchale, Dani Pudi, Jim Rashe, Yvette Brown, Allison Brie, Gillian Jacobs—everyone from the end of season five. Show-watchers will remember that Donald Glover's character, Troy, made an impromptu exit from the show (permanently?).

Of Glover's involvement, Harmon said, ““I told Yahoo to do everything they could do to get him back for as much as we can get him,” and that he and Glover were having regular communication on the subject and exchanging voicemails.

Whether Troy and Abed will every reunite, we will have to wait and see. Simply knowing Community will have a chance to run its full story arc is still more than most fans could have hoped for. Will Yahoo Screen be a success? Only time will tell—given their track record of innovation, they have a steep hill to climb to break into a market with such fierce competition. By pleasing a rabid internet fan base in their choice to battle it out for (and win) Community, Yahoo has at least shown that they want to try. 

Netflix and Cable: Frenemies for Life

By: Andrew Hendricks

Netflix and Hulu are currently the two largest streamers of network and studio-produced content. It’s hard to believe that Netflix has been around as a company since 1997. With the internet barely able to provide music let alone .gifs and videos, Netflix’s goal from the start to was to take on the movie rental industry. Revolutionizing the way television content is made was only a happy side effect.

It wasn’t until Netflix was already a well-known entity competing with rental video stores and directly with Blockbuster as they began their own DVD-delivery service. Yet just as Kodak died from a failure to cannibalize its own business for the future (disposable to digital), Blockbuster has finally closed up shop due to its own hubris in failing to alter their business model. Just before Netflix would begin investing heavily in technologies to perfect a streaming service, Blockbuster was approached by Netflix to be sold for $50 million in 2000, but the sale was declined.

Despite initial hiccups unveiling their streaming services and pricing model, Netflix ended up doing more than just irritate every rental store franchise owner in the country—they changed the way content itself is made.

As Netflix continued to realize its potential influence, just last year it began producing its own original content, much to the universal surprise and praise of critics. However, more than just producing a few original shows, Netflix and streaming content has literally democratized the way content is rated, made, and produced. By having instant feedback in the form of adding to your Netflix “queue” or rating something between 1-5 stars, heavily viewed and highly rated, critically acclaimed, scripted content can now immediately garner recognition in real time instead of having to claw it’s way to popularity in competition with unscripted television.

And while no one likes the “dumbing down” of American television (particularly on networks that have science, discovery, learning, or history in their name) it is important to realize that although there was a brief period during the Reality Television boom where cheap-to-produce, unscripted television was crowding out good, original content, this is no longer the case.  There is now a place for both, and the internet has spoken.

Take for instance a show like AMC’s Breaking Bad. A critically acclaimed phenomenon, and an advertiser-backed powerhouse. Universally seen as an astounding success by AMC, the actual viewer numbers compared to more mass-market appeal shows like The Big Bang Theory or Ice Road Truckers, it barely rates. But Netflix knows that people do want their high-quality, scripted television, but they also want their “guilty pleasures” too. AMC showed incredible foresight in being one of the first critically networks really put their faith in Netflix as a medium to augment a high-quality show with (at the time) mediocre numbers. This was very progressive thinking when at the same time AMC and Netflix were agreeing to such a deal, articles were being written by the dozen decrying how streaming content would destroy the entire TV industry. Now even Fox currently allows all but the newest seasons of American Dad and Family Guy to be available for streaming.

My favorite personal anecdote regarding this trend is when I noticed ABC has also wizened up to the game by putting the first two seasons of Scandal (one of my favorite shows) on Netflix. Although I watch ABC sometimes I had only seen trailers for Scandal at that time and it did not seem appealing. Yet when Netflix’s algorithm highly recommended Scandal as the type of content I would like to view, I binge-watched the first two seasons voraciously and continued the series on my basic cable, tweeting happily as #MamaPope pops up at the climactic end to season three.

New technologies don’t have to be a zero-sum game. When more people have more access to content in real-time, and are able to express their opinions on that content’s quality or watchability, literally everyone wins. Well, everyone except Blockbuster.

Orange is the New Crack -- Four Netflix Originals Worthy of Binge-Watching

By Andrew Hendricks

If you are like me, television is a huge part of your life. More than one TV producer has said we currently live in the golden age of television. With History Channel already evolved into the blue-collar-American-Job-Jesus-Alien Channel, and Reality TV’s tendrils hooked into almost every other channel, this can be a hard statement to believe on its face.

But just because there’s so much crap, we can’t forget that there are far more gems now than ever before. The Sopranos have come and gone, and now everyone has learned the lesson—it doesn’t matter if your premise is a little wonky, you can show murder, nudity, homosexuality and much more—as long as you have interesting characters and good writing. And now, it’s not just Television vs. Cable.

One Netflix executive was recently quoted as saying “We’re tying to become like HBO faster than HBO can become like us.” With their new line-up of Netflix exclusive shows, it seems like they have made good on that promise. There are a few misses, but it is astounding how many good shows they have already produced exclusively, and even better, no waiting. Netflix just dumps an entire season of a show in your lap and says “here are 13 hours of your life in which you will not be even a little productive, but you will be happy.”

Here are four of the best shows we wouldn’t have without Netflix.

1) Orange is the New Black

Netflix is advertising hard right out of the gate with their new hour-long dramady Orange is the New Black, and it’s easy to see why. The show is simply brilliant. Brought to Netflix by Weeds creator Jenji Cohen, Orange is the New Black brings back a similar feeling evoked by the 30 minute Showtime show. With the lead character Piper, another yuppie, not-quite-middle-aged, sexy-but-smart suburban white lady thrust into a female penitentiary, it’s hard to imagine how the show does not become stale immediately as an amalgam of Weeds and Oz.

Yet somehow it retains its freshness, both with hilarity and soul. You may recognize a long-unseen actress in one of the leading roles, Taylor Schilling, who was Donna on That 70s Show and now plays the black-haired, mysterious lesbian who roped Piper into the international drug cartel that landed her in prison in the first place. After Piper becomes acclimated to her new digs (though she never fully does), episodes begin to revolve around other inmates, with their previous lives in flashbacks.

The women are a mix of good and normal, crazy and cruel; some putting on a front to survive and some thriving in their simplified ecosystem. A favorite of mine is the mustachioed, vindicitive, and idiotic guard playing a substantially different role from the brooding but wise older brother of Ziggy from the second season of The Wire. The best Easter egg in this show is that when you turn on Netflix closed captions and he speaks, the subtitles refer to his character as Pornstache.

2) LillyHammer

A show that will never be as popular as the other items on this list, I am constantly telling people to give this show a chance.

If you liked The Sopranos and you love Scandanavians, you’ll be in heaven with Lillyhammer. And The Sopranos reference isn’t just because he’s an Italian mobster. The lead star of this delightful Netflix original is the tight-faced Luitenant of Gandalfini’s character. Not the memorable annoying one with grey hair. Not the relative always high on heroin. The kind of chubby one. Steven Van Zandt. Of course, he only seems chubby compared to his new cast of healthy, happy, Nordic people. Compared to Gandalfini, one would just say he was a rather stout fellow.

The show itself seems to begin with a joking nod to the Sopranos. Frank Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt’s character) realizes he’s probably about to be made a boss of the family after the boss passes away in the first episode. After some drama with another member and a failed hit on his life, Frank turns to the people no one expected him to—the FBI. They ask him where he’d want to live, and he declines any tropical paradise for fear he would be tracked down.

Instead, he opts for Lillyhammer, Norway because of his acclaimed love for it during the 1994 Winter Olympics. Without ever becoming stale, the show turns into an out-of-towner drama with the Jersey Italiano trying to make his way in the friendly, socialist haven that is Scandanavia without blowing his brains out from the bizarre, un-American way the people live. Like many anti-heroes, you never quite know if he is the good guy or the bad guy, but that doesn’t really matter, because he is written to be interesting, believable, and you want to know what happens to him.

In some of the first few episodes, Frank teams up with some of the local populace to track a wolf that has been harassing the town only to get another’s gun taken away by his neighbor, the middle-aged, but spunky sheriff woman we are first introduced to as the women freezing a goat’s head in the middle of the icy town for her dinner later. Frank respects the cop, but can’t give up his do-things-the-easy-way-with-a-little-force-if-necessary even though he’ll sometimes put that skill to good use protecting his own strange new neighbors too bogged down in polite society, rules, and structure to actually solve their own problems. He eventually opens up his own club and (of course) falls for one of the local women who has a son.

This show is a must-watch which, if the premise intrigues you even a little bit, will have you glued to the screen for hours. If the premise sounds stupid to you, then please never become a Neilson Family. Italian gangster makes a life in Scandanavia—what’s not to love about that?!

3) House of Cards

This is really the breakthrough show that opened the floodgates for Netflix putting a lot of their eggs in the production basket, as it was in the first batch of originally produced shows as well as the most heavily advertised. While it is very difficult to make something dramatic that involves Kevin Spacey and have it fail, it is not impossible (see Superman 2007). However his performance is not even debatable in this role; he is simply at the highest pinnacle of TV awesomeness that has ever existed since James Gandalfini’s death. Though the show opens more than a little dark (and ends on a similar note), there is plenty of Game-of-Thrones-esque power games and wry gamesmanship to satisfy political junkies and general nerds alike.

While this show is a remake of a popular British show (more like a miniseries trilogy), it is distinctly American in its attempt to be the next greatest Washington thriller, and it seems to have succeeded. The shows protagonist, played by Kevin Spacey, is a southern Democratic congressman and majority whip in the House, who has just been passed up for appointment as Secretary of State by a President he had assumed owed him for his political backing. What evolves through the next thirteen episodes is a glimpse into the world that the power-hungry make Washington, as well as a seedy side of the story-at-all-costs political reporting. He will stop at nothing to punish those who have crossed him, and will spin intricate webs with a smile to slowly climb his way back to the top.

A delightful breath of fresh air to the show are Spacey’s frequent aside’s to the audience to explain his thought process, as one Slate writer pointed out, much in the style of Richard III. However my immediate thought was that it was like a dark and wonderful Malcolm in the middle. However you look at them, these fourth wall breakers allow us to process a lot of the wickedness in the show objectively, as well as better understand the heart of Spacey’s character. One telling instance of this is when he has just finished talking with an old Chief of Staff of his, Remy, who now works as an oil lobbyist making far more than any politician. Spacey turns to the camera and explains how Remy has made the age-old mistake of confusing money with power and that “I cannot respect anyone who does not know the difference.”

Replete with plenty of spine-tingling one-liners like this from Spacey, the show is not without plenty of other acting talent. His wife’s character steals nearly every seen she’s in as his political confident. One of their first scenes together shows them sharing a cigarette, trading back and forth sitting near their window discussing what they’re going to do now that all their plans have been squashed with his failure to become the Secretary of State. Also a powerhouse is the tragic bald and handsome young alcoholic congressman who comes to be blackmailed by Spacey’s character, thinking he has found a friend and a savior, only to learn how dark the political world can become when someone won’t hesitate to use you and throw you away for their own goals.

Cynical, dark, funny, beautifully shot and marvelously acted, House of Cards might make you lose all faith in humanity, but it will sure as hell give you faith that Netflix executives know exactly what they are doing.

4) Arrested Development

Of course, an article praising the production of new Netflix Original shows wouldn’t be complete without hipster fawning over Arrested Development. Of course I actually enjoyed the show before it was cancelled way back when, but, like most things hipsters say, this has no relevance to what we’re talking about.

And what we’re talking about is how they pulled off the impossible with the resurrection of Arrested Development. This is a series, much like Firefly, that is infinitely more popular in the wake of its cancellation than it ever was on air (hence, its cancellation). Fan sites and subreddits lament its demise still rewatching episodes again and again for subtle, hidden jokes, metajokes, and references only fanboys will really get. I really couldn’t see how any attempt to recreate the old show would live up to the hype and not die a sad, unwelcome death (much like the alien crystals Indiana Jones movie).

Yet they did, and in spades. The show begins with only mild exposition as to what has happened in the many years between the shows end and its reboot, almost leaving you a little confused as to why they would gloss over so much just to establish a new plot. The actors all seem older, but the personalities haven’t changed a bit. Upon watching the first episode, you chuckle more than a few times, but you really have to wonder where they’re going with it. After the first few episodes, you realize that they have done something beautiful. Rather than creating a bunch of standalone, interesting episodes or an evolving story over time, this newest season of Arrested Development is essentially one long movie that switches each episode’s perspective from character to character. And with each switch, you get a more fleshed out backstory that illuminates stories to be told in the next few episodes, or the episode you just saw. It is difficult to explain, but one has to imagine a Homeland-esque corkboard with thousands of crazy strings connecting people, places, and stories into one elaborate terrorist plot. But as the WWD scare from the original Arrested Development showed us, this family is way too incompetent to be actually be dangerous. Though there are no nukes in this reboot, the family still engages what Lucille once refered to as “light treason” through their money-making schemes.

Subtle jokes like Michael Cera being mistaken for Jesse Eisenberg’s Sean Parker, referenced only through his dynamite new startup called Fakeblock, make the show an amazing treat for the close-up watcher and re-watcher without being too airy-fairy or intellectual. There are, however, plenty of gimmes to long-time fans of the show, like the gag where the chicken dance is mentioned in the show (a now insanely popular joke, that none of the Bluth family can cluck or dance like a normal chicken) and they cut away right as a chicken imitation is about to be shown.

It’s the fusion of the high-brow with the ridiculous that makes this show the best reboot I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t fall over itself trying to appease old fans, knowing that it is a new beast, and it brings to the show an incredibly unique storytelling format with its Memento-style unfolding of a long and intricate plot. We get to see Buster’s new “independent” life with his new hand, Lindy running for office, Gob alternately pretending to be gay and Christian, as well as plenty of criminal exploits by the Lucille, the Matriarch of the family, her idiot husband, and his twin brother. Breathing a second life into this show Maebe (get it?) the best decision Netflix has ever made.

 

Derek -- the New Heartwarming Netflix Original by Ricky Gervais

By Andrew Hendricks 

A recent addition to the Netflix original series roster, Derek is Ricky Gervais's new mockumentary style film in which he plays an autistic elder-care worker who is loved by all and treats others with nothing but kindness.

Ricky Gervais and mockumentary comedy? Haven't we seen this before? And sure, a mentally challenged guy with a heart of gold is a noble premise—but it isn't exactly an original concept.

Yet, despite these two immediate red flags, Ricky Gervais brings an earnestness to this role that it is impossible to be cynical about the premise when you see how artfully and genuine the actors in this new series—not just Ricky Gervais—bring the show to heights now expected in the Golden Age of television.

Among the cast is Karl Pilkington, a name that will ring familiar to long-time fans of Ricky Gervais and his work. However, in this roll, it is refreshing to see Karl Pilkington as the levelheaded “everyman” handyman and friend of Derek rather than his oft-played role of the odd-notioned buffoon existing as the butt of some of Riky Gervais's meanest spirited humor.

In typical Gervais style, Derek is replete with Abbot and Costello-type humor, wimsy, sarcasm, sexual humor, and moments of beauty and reflection that would be manipulative if not so effective and earnest.

Gervais's character, though slightly challenged, is incredibly high-functioning, and always strives to make others happy, particularly the elderly in the home it is his job to care for. The co-star of the show, his coworker, Hannah, is a woman who has dedicated her life to this profession, and though she has resolute devotion to Derek (and he loves her), their relationship is much like a sweet kindergarten teacher and her doting student. Their friendship evokes some of the cutest moments in the show; for example, in one scene, the grandson of one of the residents is an attractive and friendly guy around her age. She tells Derek “He's gay, all the good ones are taken.” Gervais's Derek hops on this, wondering how she knows. Derek says he can go ask him for Hannah, to which she refuses nervously.

“I'll ask him if he's gay,” Derek says, “But I won't tell you.”

“No Derek, that's stupid. I want to know. I just don't want him to know that I want to know.”

Derek seems to digest this for a moment, and goes up to the attractive potential-bachelor and says: “My friend Hannah, she's gay, but she doesn't want you to know.”

This mockumentary-style comedy is one where, like The Office, Ricky Gervais plays a protagonist who appears not to entirely understand the world around him. However, unlike Gervais's anger-inducing portrayal of an incompetent mid-level manager, we never get the sense that Derek is oblivious to a wider, scarier, hurtful world—we are simply given a portrait of a hard worker, good friend, and kind individual who chooses to tune out everything except for good, interesting, funny, beautiful things.

This is a show that could have easily failed a hundred different ways, but it is clear Ricky Gervais poured himself entirely into the creation of this show, and the quality of this effort shines through. In Derek, Gervais has crafted the most heroic roles he and his friend Karl Pilkington have ever played. If you are interested in a modern comedy that makes you feel just a little better about all the crappy aspects of life we all go through, then give Derek a chance, and see the smug, pompous Ricky Gervais morph into the most likable fictional character you will ever encounter.