Belly Laughs & Lofty Goals

Television sketch comedy is having a moment.  Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and the recently departed Kroll Show are just a few of the shows growing a genre dominated for 40 years by SNL. Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel’s most memorable late night bits could easily belong on a Second City stage. Netflix is bringing back Mr. Show alums Bob Odenkirk and David Cross for a new sketch project. Even Louie, which follows a more narrative structure, is often dominated by stand-alone vignettes.

Sketch isn’t just for comedy nerds anymore. Twitter is lousy with videos the day after these shows air, delivering bite-sized content for quick workday consumption. “haha sooooo funny,” the dumbest person from your high school class posts. “omg lol PREACH!!!” writes a former Potbelly co-worker with whom you’re still inexplicably friends. Everybody is sharing, liking, and commenting all over social media, so that SNL’s sketch skewering sexism in The Avengers is trending next to breaking news on Boko Haram.

These videos aren’t going viral just because of the chuckles, funny though they may be.  These comedians are using razor-edged satire to Say Something. For every Key & Peele College Bowl sketch (genius, but fluff), there are social or political commentary pieces like Amy Schumer’s “A Very Realistic Military Game.” Nick Kroll has sharply parodied the empty-headed bimbos (and mimbos) all over reality TV, reminding me just how embarrassed I should be for eating up Real Housewives of New York with a spoon (I continue to watch, but with more chagrin: “I need something to unwind to,” I say, pouring an extra-large glass of pinot grigio). SNL’s shining moments—noticeably fewer in the age of more polished comedy programming—are mostly satire as well.

Season three of Inside Amy Schumer, in particular, is killing. Schumer digs deep into feminist, age, and body image issues, often using herself as the punching bag. In “Last Fuckable Day,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette celebrate Louis-Dreyfus’ final moments as a desirable woman in the eyes of the media.  Schumer puts her own appearance on trial for a full twenty-two minutes in “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” an impeccably crafted parody of 12 Angry Men. Seriously, forget about whatever you’re doing right now, and watch it. It’s perfect.

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Schumer comments so often on her appearance, in fact, that after watching an episode start to finish, her sketches are diminished by a tedious sameness. I’m often left thinking, “Ok, ok, we get it. People tell you you’re fat and ugly, and you’re taking control of that image.” But not everyone gets it—the danger of devaluing women in both the media and the world at large is a message that bears repeating. And for me, Schumer’s sketches are better consumed independently from each other to maintain their edge.

It’s not enough for comedy to provide an escape anymore. We’ve ignored what’s going on outside our doors for long enough, and while we were hidden away inside, the ice caps melted and the NSA learned we sexted our exes. Horrifying police brutality further divided cities and races. Nail salons littered throughout major metropolitan areas systematically exploited immigrants. The world is (almost literally) exploding, and the best comedy on TV right now is making us face that. There’s still a place for jokes solely as entertainment, but we don’t need that as badly right now. We need change.

Bob Odenkirk’s well-publicized comments speak to sketch’s fleeting popularity. There’s a bubble, and it’s going to burst. I don’t disagree. At some point, sketch will fall out of fashion, as all styles do.  (Bye, multi-cam sitcoms!) But in the meantime, it’s speaking clearly and loudly for the greater good.

—Alison

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Urethra!

Kimmy Schmidt For President

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No surprises: Netflix is having a busy couple of weeks. Or rather, Netflix users are having a very unproductive stretch of days.

House of Cards, season three dropped first—more than a week ago, so if you haven’t finished the season yet, don’t even bother talking to people. You have violated the most basic modern-day social contract.

On Friday, March 6th, Netflix released season one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, fresh from the Tina Fey and Robert Carlock go-team of excellence.

I choose Kimmy. (I’ve obviously already watched full seasons of both.)

The very basics: Kimmy is rescued from a bunker, where she has been living for fifteen years with three other women—all “wives” to an apocalyptic doomsday preacher. She emerges a buzzing ball of optimism and decades-old cultural references. Crazy, New York-based antics (chock-full of amazing cameos) ensue.

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Not-hot takes (the show has already been covered by most major pop culture and television critics): Kimmy Schmidt is funny and friendly without the goo. Where Parks and Rec was sometimes saccharine, and Modern Family is screechy and annoying, Kimmy Schmidt is just—smart. Its dark premise is leavened by a 30 Rock sensibility and relentless gags. There are forty hilarious throwaway jokes per show.

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Meanwhile, new episodes of House of Cards are basically boring (also the consensus in the Twittersphere)—except for one terrifying “sex” scene that I really don’t want to think about anymore. With nowhere for upward-looking President Underwood to climb, the show tumbles down like a house of cards (terrible, I’m so sorry).

Actual, original things I want to say (though I too observed the previous items upon watching, I don’t think-and-type fast enough for the Internet—also, I do work, have a few hobbies and at least one friend named Alison): Kimmy is not all that naïve. As the show reminds us every once in a while, she was abused and enslaved for more than a decade—that she retains a sense of wonder is a mark of her strength and spirit, not stupidity. The girl is often confused, but never overcome.

Coming of age stories are everywhere. In many of these, experience is distorted by a simultaneous “journey of self-discovery”—kissing a boy for the first time while also trying to understand your feelings about it. Kimmy is coming of age at thirty, and filtering our insane world through her intelligent, sexually and (mostly) emotionally mature gaze. She knows she wants to kiss a boy. Go on a date. Be the center of attention on her frigging birthday (I, too, am insane about my special day). She’s spent fifteen years getting to know herself—there was nothing else to do down there! She’s not worried about it, like the rest of us are all the time.

So Kimmy is actually a lot freer—and more powerful—than Frank Underwood, sad Claire, really sad Doug and inexplicably poor hacker, Gavin. Kimmy is ready to do, throwing her whole heart and self into everything she thinks, feels and sees. With often hilarious results.

You can binge-watch season one of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. The show has just been renewed for a second season!

–Elise

‘Tis the Season

“I can’t believe it’s December already,” said every single person at your office this morning.

We can’t believe it either. It’s almost time to start planning what entertainment to binge-watch over the holidays, while trapped at your parents’ home with no car. Thankfully, we came across this list of titles that Netflix is adding to their streaming service this month. Here are some of our faves and to-dos on our bucket list.

ALISON

Broadchurch, Season One – Ahahahaha swooped in on this one before Elise could. If you’re into cop drama/mysteries, the BBC, or David Tennant, this is for you. Gracepoint on FOX is essentially the exact same show, but (I can only assume) worse.

Troop Beverly Hills – Don’t take my word on this one, because I have no idea if it’s held up. I would never bet against Shelley Long, though. I watched it approximately seven thousand times on vacation in Lake Tahoe as a kid, because our rental cabin had the Disney Channel Beverly Hills, what a thrill!

The Wolf of Wall Street – Never saw this. Guess I will now. I know enough not to watch it with my parents.

ELISE

The Honourable Woman, Season One – Do you enjoy the idea of Homeland, but wish it were better in every way? Continuously confused/frustrated/angered by the Israel/Palestine conflict? This. Is. The. Show. Was aired by the powerhouses of dark, intelligent and finely-tuned emotional devastation, BBC in the UK and SundanceTV in the US, this past July.

Marco Polo (the show, not to be confused with the enormously entertaining swimming pool game) –  I just heard about this! All television needs do to make me happy is be vaguely historical and include men with accents, wielding swords. This Netflix original series, about the famed explorer making his way to Kublai Khan’s court (who now?), looks very promising.

Ditto The Wolf of Wall Street – Feel obligated to watch, though will probably switch to Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (also available this month!) by the fourth or fifth hour.

thank-you-netflix

Stream Me!

Let’s pretend, for a second, that HBO and Netflix are two of the more important relationships in my life.

I know, what a stretch!

Beginning next year, HBO will offer unbundled subscriptions to an unnamed streaming service (probably HBO GO, but HBO loves being mysterious, and so, has not specified).

This is, obviously, not an emergency. HBO will not take over the Internet, nor will Netflix go the way of Blockbuster and die a scary, excruciatingly drawn-out death, one strip-mall location at a time. As smarter folks than I have already observed, streaming services are “not a zero-sum game”—there is enough audience to go around. If anything, there’s a surplus of content—and literally not enough hours in the day or platforms in the world to accommodate it all.

HBO GO, Netflix and I spend a lot of time together. And, as my mom might say about my sister and me: I love them both equally, for very different reasons.

HBO GO is like a sophisticated, enigmatic older boyfriend. He thinks he’s smarter than me, but I’m weirdly into that. He’s vaguely pretentious; enjoys both Beyoncé *and* Olive Kitteridge; and eats at fancy restaurants where hamburgers cost $26, but taste amazing. He’s also kind of a dick sometimes.

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Then, there’s Netflix. Netflix is my roommate. She’s seen me stumble in at all hours, jonesing for twenty minutes of mindless entertainment, before passing out on the couch. She’s seen me gross and teary after a date gone horribly awry, and on those Friday nights when I hate people and all I want to do is drink quietly and watch Clueless. She’s hilarious and laid-back and knows me so well (Recommended For You: Profound Indie Comedies Featuring A Strong Female Lead And Many Delicious Baked Goods).

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Netflix recently made every season of Gilmore Girls available for streaming—and has announced that it will do the same with Friends. Basically giving me unlimited, on-demand access to all the warm fuzzies and gooey feelings in the land. Why even make in-person friends anymore?

These shows are my security blankets—easy to watch, often hilarious, and have comforted me during some genuinely upsetting moments. Friends and Gilmore Girls are both about building the relationships that matter, and learning from the people you love. Friends is not real life, sure—but the characters care about each other. Speaking as an often cynical, sometimes self-absorbed, always confused twentysomething, that’s not an easy, nor an unremarkable thing.

So, I’ve got my moods: Want to feel smart, but also laugh, but also feel vaguely depressed, and Introspective? The Comeback!

Want to be a little judgy, and get a little trashy, but not care because I’m among friends? The Queen of Versailles! (Documentaries always make you smarter, anyway).

HBO may be a high-maintenance date, and at times confounding (can we talk about The Leftovers? I mean, really—what was that?), but he is always reliable, and has a good heart. Netflix can be a touch cheesy, but is always down for a good time. There’s plenty of love for everyone in my web browser. Amazon and Hulu, included.

So long as my parents don’t change their passwords.

 

-Elise