"How can a show like this last more than a few seasons?" That's the very question I asked myself when How I Met Your Mother started up back in 2005. And while the show's star power and ratings success has it at eight seasons and counting, the show's cute and clever concept lost steam faster than you can say "legendary." It's a simple story that shouldn't take this long to tell.
So how can the new HBO comedy Family Tree, which also has a simple story at its core (here, it's chasing down one's roots), not befall the same fate of outstaying its welcome? Well, it's actually even more simple: you have comedy genius Christopher Guest at the helm and the charming Chris O'Dowd front and center.
Feeling lost after a devastating breakup and getting fired, the adorable, but admittedly kind of sad sack Irish bloke Tom Chadwick (O'Dowd, bringing back all those Bridesmaids charms that made him a breakout star) looks for something — anything, really — to give him purpose and begins tracing the origins of his wacky family.
Of course, it's no surprise that Tom comes from a bizarre brood after meeting his boorish British father Keith (the always-great Guest go-to Michael McKean) with a demented girlfriend and his sister Bea (the very talented Nina Conti), a woman who communicates her every un-PC thought through a monkey puppet named Monkey. Tom, by being the most normal one of the bunch, turns out to be the real black sheep in a family comprised of them.
With his dopey best friend Pete (Tom Bennett) by his side, Tom takes off and begins to trace the origins of his family, one crazier than the next. This is, after all, a Guest production. And that, aside from O'Dowd's all-around likability, is truly what makes Family Tree work.
In most Guest ensemble productions, the audience is the only one laughing at the absurdity and earnestness of the characters in his films like Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman, but here Guest gives us a straight man in the midst of all the madness. It shakes up Guest's usual M.O., while still staying true to its roots. (The ensemble is injected in brilliant ways, including the faux, albeit terrible, mainstream sitcoms Keith howls with laughter watching).
While the pilot episode may not be enough to hook a more casual viewer (Guest fans, on the other hand, should be sold from the start and won't be disappointed in his venture into television), you should really stick it out: episodes two, three and four will have you howling with laughter. Tom will eventually run out of kooky family members to find, but the guy is just so damn sweet and funny at his core, you'll stick it out for a long while to see what else happens to him beyond his familial quest.
No, it's not perfect, but what family is? It's the heart that matters (and the comedy delves deeper into its emotional core as it goes along) and being able to laugh with them...and sometimes at them, which is exactly what this Family does.
Family Tree airs on HBO on Sundays at 10:30 PM ET.
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With its third episode, Bachelor Pad decides to drop all pretenses. The mansion is a high school, and all the cast members merely students. We've got the cool kids, the wannabes and — after this episode — the prom king and queen. We also have the backstabbing, the raging hormones, the uncalled for tears, and the backstabbing (did I already say that? It warrants being said again).
To kick things off, Chris Harrison invites the Padmates — Padders? — to a desserted field. Yes, desserted. The players are greeted to a pool of ice cream, a hot fudge slide, and a whipped cream field. Oh yeah, and some nut sucks. I present to you: Hot Sludge Funday, the meanest, messiest obstacle course in town. Who will reign victorious, and who will develop an eating disorder? After an early lead, Team Jamie and Ed can't stomach the fudgy, sludgy (disgusting) mountain of goop and finish last. Rachel and David win by a nose and secure their places in the Pad for yet another week. Good thing for no-necked David, too, because no one really likes him and it's clear that he's going home the first chance the ladies get to vote him off the island.
With the icky challenge out of the way, it's time for our contestants to get their date on. Dave's date is up first and he picks Jamie, Blakeley, and Erica to join him for his mysterious evening of love and magic. Picking these three ladies, who clearly hate one another, means that Dave is either a glutton for punishment, a masochist, or just plain stupid. Does he realize there will be crying on his date? Because there definitely will be. Maybe he likes crying? Eh, I think he's dumb.
Oh golly gee willikers, David's date is a prom. Complete with pastel balloons, a cheesy photo station, and a second-rate band. My bad, that's country music sensation Katie Armiger. Oh, and the ladies get to change into ugly dresses. Cue the return of Erica Rose's tiara. This may be the only semi-appropriate tiara-wearing circumstance Erica Rose has ever attended. Where have you been, tiara? I've missed you so!
Hold the phone, breaking news from Blakeley. She is not here to find love, she is not here to make friends. Repeat, she is not here to make friends. And Jamie is trying to steal her partner. Jamie is a snake, and she better watch out because Blakeley is a Scorpio (I can't make this stuff up, people). Jamie retorts, "What Blakeley doesn't realize is her personality isn't always attractive." Them's fighting words. You can't take that back Jamie; you're going to have to live with what you said. I hope your evening of extended arm, middle school dancing with a guy you're not attracted to is worth the Wrath of Blakeley.
Back at the mansion, it's Orgy 2.0. The alcohol is flowing and the music is blaring like it's the freakin' weekend and everybody's about to have them some fun. In the midst of it all, Reid is being a Sneaky Pete and trying to recruit peons in his revenge plot against Ed, who at that very moment is carrying a slippery Jaclyn on his back like a sack of potatoes from the pool to his opium den of Xena Warrior Princess battle calls for what one can only imagine will be crazy, but not necessarily mutually satisfying, animalistic sex. Cut to a commercial.
The very next day is Rachel of the Blonde Bangs' date. Rach of course picks loverboy Michael Stagliano to join her and throws pity invites to both Tony the Crying Dad and Nick Who Are You Anyway. The four of them head off to the most romantic of locations, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Oh I'm sorry, did I say "romantic"? I meant creepy and completely inappropriate. To make things even sexier, the foursome will spend the date pretending to be wax figures and scaring the s***t out of unsuspecting Bachelor/ette fans. Tony has the added joy of hearing a chubby teenager call him, "The nicer word for pathetic." That's gotta smart.
In due time, Rachel gets rid of the riffraff and finds a snuggly corner in the dark recesses of the wax museum to cuddle under a scratchy blanket with the one, the only, Mr. Michael Stagliano. The two spend the next few hours passing notes that read "Do you like me? Check 'Yes' or 'No,'" and giving one another Eskimo kisses.
The lights fade on Rachel and Stags and rise again to reveal everyone in their Rose Ceremony's finest, ready to lie and cheat and steal their way into another week of this friendly game. Before casting their votes, everyone speaks in superlatives ("Reid just made the biggest mistake of his life") and gets irrationally surprised to discover that everyone is lying, cheating, and stealing. I'm sorry, but have you watched this show? During an especially high strung conversation between Jaclyn and Ed (I think?) I can't help but get distracted by the lovely jade lanterns on the ottoman in front of them. These beauties really steal the spotlight. Can I pick them up at Pier One Imports?
From the weeping, hyperventilating, and whisperwhispersecrets I'm able to glean that the voting will all come down to Ed vs. Reid and Blakely vs. Donna. As always, Chris Harrison calls the names one-by-one, allowing the knowledge of the doomed contestants' demise to slowly dawn on them like the morning before a storm.
Siyonara, Donna and Reid. It's been real. We'll miss you, but maybe (probably) not really that much. Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone [Photo Credit: ABC] More: 'Bachelor Pad' Recap: 'This is Such a Circus Freakshow' 'Bachelor Pad' Recap: 'Where's the Heat?' 'Bachelor Pad': Are Lindzi and Kalon Partners in Crime and in Bed?
S6E3/4: Last night, we got a double dose of 30 Rock, so excuse me while I do my best two deliver two recaps combined to make one giant one. And it seems that my observations during the Season Six premiere continue to be true: the veteran NBC series has lost its insane pace and incredible penchant for timely commentary, and instead has settled into the comfort of middle age. It’s where 30 Rock belongs these days and the sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll all be.
First up on the roster is the conclusion of last week’s story with an episode appropriately titled “People are Idiots Three!” We find out just how far Jack will go to convince Liz her boyfriend is a loser, how obsessed Devon Banks (Will Arnett) is with besting Jack, and that Kelsey Grammer is a very convincing Abraham Lincoln. There were parts of the episode that were clearly reaching, but watching the fatherly realm enter into the Jack/Devon rivalry was disturbingly touching, and thinking we were about to see Liz Lemon lose everything once more just before it turns out alright was a refreshing change.
“He inserts himself into my business and now he’s inserting himself into this.” –Liz
That’s what she said.” –Criss
James Marsden is still around as Liz Lemon’s adorable, but potentially ambitionless boyfriend. She tells him he has to give Jack’s money back (and he tries to!) but not before it causes a rift between the pair. But hell, if Liz Lemon screwing things up with her boyfriend always resulted in her drinking scotch, staring out a window and saying “Good God, Lemon” then I’d be a lot more inclined to see the woman break up time and again. Jack won’t let Criss return the money an instead tells Criss that he is officially disapproving, basically breaking up with him for Liz. Criss – the only adult in the room is apparently the guy who’s trying to open a hot-dog truck – asks Liz what she wants. Liz is once again visited by her ghost Jack and a princess-jedi version of herself to help her make the decision, but she says she wants to stay with Criss as long as he fixes all the things Jack disapproves of. Wrong move, Lemon.
“We’re new, we’re called PEEN.” –Devon
“What is that an acronym for?” –Jack
Devon has a clip of Tracy saying everything that could possibly be offensive to anyone and he threatens to expose the clip, re-opening the can of worms that is Tracy’s issues with the media, unless Jack calls in favors to get his “gaybies” into the most exclusive preschools in New York. He admits that Jack won, so now he’s trying for at least a few consolation prizes. It’s great to see them at each other’s throats as usual, but the real treat came when they had to pretend to be pals. Jack and Devon act like buddies to get a member of the preschool’s board to get Devon’s triplets into the school, but the big wig wants a donation from the Giess Foundation – which is still run by Kathy Giess. Her request in order to relinquish the money: NBC’s new mascot is a unicorn. Why not? Maybe people would pay attention to the network for once. “NBC: We have a magical horse?” isn’t testing that badly, after all.
This gets Devon off of Jack’s back, but the schemer points out that he just tricked Jack out of all the favors he should have used for Liddy, but Jack finds the upper hand. Devon came from wealth and Jack came from nothing, yet Jack still came out on top in his life. So Liddy may not attend the best preschool, but she’s a Donaghy, so she’ll best Devon’s kids – besides she’s got more brains already and Devon’s education sounds like 15 years of smoke-blowing. It was refreshing to see Jack abolishing his elitist ideals to be realistic for once; perhaps Papa Jack is a new Jack? (Though not completely new, we hope.)
“Pete’s our friend, Kelsey.” -Jenna
“Damnit, no names!” –Kelsey Grammer
In order to get Pete out of his drug haze – which they still think they caused by breaking fluorescent bulbs though it was really caused by Pete’s self medication – without allowing the blame to fall on them, Kenneth and Jenna team up with Kelsey Grammer. His brilliant plan? Distract the TGS staff with a rousing one-man show about Abraham Lincoln. At intermission, Kelsey helps them put Pete in his office with a dirty magazine and the fixings for autoerotic asphyxiation. Pete wakes up and says it was Kelsey Grammer, but his Lincoln performance serves as the perfect alibi. The Best Friends gang strikes again – even if Subas turns on the lights and proves the whole thing was completely unnecessary! The only reason this plot didn’t make me angry is that Grammer – as much as reports of his personal life make me want to dislike him – is just so damn good at what he does. Offscreen he may be a daunting presence, but onscreen, he can turn a lackluster plot into something hilarious, merely by showing up and doing his job.
“Tracy, I have been calling your cell all day.” –Liz
“My ring tone is the chicken dance, if I answer it, I can’t hear the whole song.” –Tracy
Meanwhile, Tracy and his idiots organization are still protesting against Liz for her “harsh” comments about, well, idiots. And they have some demands, my favorite of which is broadcasting Denise Richards’ music video “J’adore La Piscine” – a direct and well-played dig at the Real Housewives of New York’s Countess LuAnne and her terrible video, “Chic, C’est la Vie.” The biggest request is that Liz reads the apology they wrote for her. She can’t bring herself to read the Idiots’ speech, instead blaming them for things like The Golden Globes and the fact that there may be an Entourage movie (take it back, take it back!). And in the course of her speech, she spies Criss and realizes that she’s the idiot (aww).Criss lets her win at Monopoly and actually likes all her quirks – plus, he’s played by James Marsden, so there’s that. After Liz makes up with her man, Jack finally gives Criss a better approval rating, with three months to become a man worthy of Liz. We think this is pretty reasonable, so long as Jack doesn’t expect Criss to legally change his name, get a degree from a college other than Weslean and stop being so boyishly good-looking. We’re going to assume he’s talking about the getting his business off the ground part so we can “aww” over how much Jack cares about ol’ Lemon.
And while I said the series is hitting the notes it needs to hit, I can’t help but be scandalized by some of these changes. Jack not promoting elitist ideals over everything else? Liz Lemon choosing happiness over Jack’s opinion? Where are we? Who are these people? They’re still funny, but they’re just so…different.
Next up is “The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell” which is an episode I didn’t hate, but I feel like I should have liked it more. The concepts were hilarious, but I found myself appreciating them and smiling occasionally instead of laughing out loud like I normally do.
“Jenna has become a huge star on this network. She’s bigger than Malik Pancholy on Whitney.” –Jack
Jenna shows everyone the trailer for her new movie: Marin Luther King Day. This is also where we find guest stars Andy Samberg and Emma Stone as the platonic friends who could be more at the center of the cut-and-paste film in the style of New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. I would be annoyed that the show has managed to work in two big jokes about the Gary Marshall movies in a matter of weeks, but after sitting through New Year’s Eve I will gladly listen to any ridicule these writers want to throw its way. That movie is so bad it may single-handedly bring about the demise of our nation. But I’m getting sidetracked. The movie has blown Jenna’s ego out of proportion; she’s cutting off Liz’ ponytail and going to Jack to go over Liz’ head. Jack’s solution: use the friendship to read Jenna and best her.
But two can play that game. Jenna is using leeches for her skin and using blood weight – along with the Demi Moore reference that garners more weight now than the writers likely anticipated when they wrote it. Yikes. Liz suggests they do lunch like they used to – provided Jenna hilariously removes the leeches from her face. They dine on bloomin’ onions at Outback, but it’s all just a ploy for Jenna’s endorsements. Plus, she’s being chased by paparazzi and lets Liz take her winter wear in order to distract them while Jenna gets away. While Liz does the Jenna impression that I feel is far to infrequent on this show, she is hit with red paint and Jenna taunts the PETA people for drenching “a nobody.” Liz determines this is nuts and breaks up with Jenna – and we find out yet another sad sack Lemon story about college. Jenna is fine, she’s got celebrity friends like the fourth Kardashian sister (who I wish would have been played by Nasim Pedrad – come on, she’s just down the hall at SNL, you guys!) and Charlie of “Charlie Bit My Finger.”
Liz tries to befriend a group of girls meant to parody Sex and The City - really, 30 Rock writers? But they just serve to help Liz figure out that she’ll more likely meet a new best friend like her in places she would normally go – like the Barnes and Noble bathroom. (Oh hey, a reference to life in New York! Imagine that.) Liz and her new best friend, Amy, spend 10 minutes complaining about everything – but it feels like hours – and Jenna is overwhelmed by the extreme narcissism of her three new “famous” best friends. They both realize that they need their vapid besties, but at least they have the decency to dramatically run down Fifth Avenue to get back to them. Now this was cute and funny in the golf-whisper laugh sort of way, but once again, I was appreciating the idea and the commitment to the characters more than I was laughing, which is a strange way to watch 30 Rock.
“There is a story that turned out to be true about a virgin and her son who had some pretty wacky ideas. That virgin was my sister and her son Lyle has a learning disability.” –Kenneth
This quote is my way of saying Jack is shutting down the Page Program, hoping that a bold cost-cutting move to impress Hank Hooper. Kenneth makes a plea for keeping the pages, Jack says they can automate all the pages’ duties, orders them to leave their uniforms. Jack offers to find Kenneth another job at NBC because he’s such a hard worker, but he isn’t interested, and he’s found the one thing machines can’t do for the pages: give tours. Enter Not Kenneth, the robot voiced by Rachel Dratch who knows everything about NBC. Once again, it’s cute, but I’m not lizzing over it.
But it turns out Jack does need pages. Hank Hooper is upset because Jack didn’t send a Businessversary gift, but he did, he just accidentally sent it to the 6th floor instead of the 60th. Jack made a dumb mistake Hank is not pleased that he made a “woman’s mistake.” Plus, his attempt to post up memos saying that the automated system confuses 6 with 60 is easily thwarted by Lutz. Let me say that again: LUTZ. Obviously, Jack needs the pages back.
“Tray I hate seeing you like this. Sitting in her, listening to your depressed thoughts CD.” –Dotcom
Tracy is upset because the invitations for his birthday party say “donations to charity, no presents” because he already has everything. He really wants the presents but the notion that he already has everything starts to make him ask, “What’s the point of living?”
To bring him back from the edge, Dotcom and Grizz go to Long Island to find the old lady who used to make pies in Tracy’s old neighborhood, and have her bake him a banana crème pie to show he doesn’t have everything because the shop is now closed and he wouldn’t have been able to get one of those pies. But, it turns out that he really just wanted to make his point about them telling guests not to bring presents to his birthday. His schedule “was light this week” – an apparently, so is the well of Tracy jokes. This plot was a bit weak, writers.
“Dump sir, dump all over me.” –Jack
And it all comes full circle when they use the soundtrack from Martin Luther King Jr. Day to play while Jack and Kenneth making up by Kenneth taking all the blame for Jack’s mistakes, Liz and Jenna hugging and becoming friends again, and Tracy getting all the presents he already has. Like I said, that was cute 30 Rock, but where were all the laughs?
Get at me with all your rants or raves on Twitter @KelseaStahler
You may have heard of it, you may not have, but there’s this little half-hour sitcom on FX called The League. It runs through (fantasy) football season and comes on right after the lovably low-brow FX staple, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but chances are you aren’t watching it. That’s a bigger mistake than leaving Eli Manning in your lineup on a bye week.
The producers of Curb Your Enthusiasm created this semi-improvised comedy that centers on five friends and one of their wives as they compete week-by-week in a serious-as-a-quarterback-sack Fantasy Football competition that bleeds into every aspect of their regular Joe lives. Fear not, before the anxiety can sweep you up, know that you’ve only missed one episode this season and that if you take my advice, you can tune in tonight and make up for your past mistakes with the second episode of this third season.
Why You’re Not Watching
You don’t “get” Fantasy Football First of all, half the people who play Fantasy Football don’t “get” it, but their buddies are playing so they join in out fear of exclusion. Don’t deny it; there are many of you out there. The great thing about this series is it both glorifies and completely demolishes the prestige of succeeding in Fantasy Football. Just as one champion is touting his or her victory, it’s all shot to hell when the trophy ends up where the sun don’t shine – and yes, this has actually happened twice already on the young series. You will, however, have to get used to hearing football players’ names shot back and forth like they’re common knowledge, but you may learn a thing or two, so it’s alright.
Wait…who are these people?
It’s what’s-his-name from that MTV comedy show (Human Giant)…and is that the chick from that Dax Shepard movie on Netflix (The Freebie)? Is that El Chupacabra (Reno 911!)? Sure Paul Scheer, Katie Aselton and Nick Kroll aren’t household names. Sure, with the exception of Aselton, everyone on this show looks surprisingly like your real life buncha losers from the office, not a group of pretty people worthy of television. But that’s not the point. These ruffians disguised as well-to-do adults with real lives are nothing more than the dudes you used to hang out with in high school. And college. And last week at happy hour. From the out-of-touch tag-a-long brother, Taco (Jonathan Lajoie); to the falsely-confident friend with a surprisingly good job and disturbingly terrible fashion sense, Andre (Scheer); to the couple so obsessed with the game they inadvertently teach their five-year-old daughter trash talk like “take a ride on my suck stick,” Kevin and Jenny (Stephen Rannazzisi and Aselton); these characters are like your friends, only funnier. So who cares if you can’t manage to remember Mark Duplass’ (Pete) or Nick Kroll’s (Ruxin) names? You’ll be laughing at their hilarious quips either way.
It’s on during the Jersey Shore
Alright, fan of low-brow television. I get it. You like things to be messy and dirty. You enjoy programming that feels like a train wreck and makes you feel better about your own life. I get it, because I love it too. But to that point, I offer up this sitcom: an incredibly lowbrow comedy without all the shameful side effects. How many times do really need to see Snooki smush Vinny? Whatever your answer is, I’m putting my foot down: you’ve seen enough. How many times did the Jersey Shore folks steal someone’s wedding tape because it may have caught footage of their disputed foot race? How many times does Sammi try to get Ron to do what she wants by using a dog training manual on him? How many times does the Situation blindfold his lady so he can sex her up and secure his Sunday lineup without her knowing? The answer is never, because these are the actions of members of The League. Both Thursday night shows can be despicable, but only one is realistic enough to include awful actions you’ve probably thought about doing yourself. You can admit you relate – we won’t tell anyone.
What You’re Missing
A sharp take on the uncouth antics of the typical boys’ club Dr. Pepper may only be for men, but this show is equal opportunity, if you dare. If you were the type of person who rolled his or her eyes at the kids daring each other to run naked through the quad or putting peanut butter under the handles of each other’s cars in high school, you aren’t going to enjoy this show very much. If, however, you were the sort of person who never did that sort of thing, but relished the opportunity to get a laugh as a bystander, the series presents a bit of a sweet spot. It’s incredibly self-aware of its antics and their immaturity – like the ones that opened Season 3 which include Andre growing his hair long and dancing around downtown Chicago like the Pied Piper as part of his punishment for taking last place in the league – and the series lets that awareness inform the comedy.
Some of the best trash talk you’ve ever heard
Looking for a good comeback? Watch this show. Seriously. Half the dialogue is trash talk – glorious fictitious-appendages-in-places-no-object-should-ever-go trash talk. And what makes it even better is that much of the show’s dialogue is improvised, which means these little gems often come straight from the inner-geniuses of the talented comedians behind our scrappy characters.
It ain’t pretty. It’s not illustrious. It makes lawyers and doctors into jackasses and one housewife a salty sailor. It’s the truth. The reality is there are lots of husbands watching porn on their iPhones while it’s wrapped in a Ziplock bag in the shower, like Kevin did last season. The reality is your friends are probably big enough jackasses that they’d rig the draft to keep you out of first place when you show up late, like the league did to Ruxin in the Season 3 premiere. The reality is there's always one member of the group who’s a little off, yet gets a mind-boggling amount of tail, like Taco. And finally, my favorite “the reality is:” even the housewifiest housewives aren’t all reading Goop.com and trying out Ina Garten’s latest recipe. Some of them are just as brash and glued to ESPN as their husbands are. It’s not reality in a look-isn’t-it-cute-that-I-don’t-believe-in-marriage-and-wear-my-hair-in-a-ponytail, Whitney Cummings sort of way, but rather the often unrepresented woman-with-a-real-pair-of-huevos sort of way.
You can improve your own Fantasy stats…probably
Maybe it’s just that the insane level of competition inspired me to up my game, but after watching The League, I’m a bit more judicious in my Fantasy team choices. That’s because while the series is focused on laughs, it is still first and foremost a show about Fantasy Football. They don’t skimp on the details, and while you won’t get any real tips on who to play next Sunday seeing as the series was filmed long before the games actually happen, you will learn valuable lessons like don’t be a slave to the rankings, don’t have your daughter call into a Fantasy Football radio show from which you’ve been banned, or don’t make your league password something non-masculine like “the king of chardonnay.” These are all valuable lessons in the arena of Fantasy Football and all things you can learn from The League.
The Bottom Line
It’s comedy, not rocket science It doesn’t take a genius to know when something’s funny and last episode’s “Shiva Bowl Shuffle” aside, this show is simply good comedy at its basest level. It’s potty humor crafted in a smart way and it works. Besides, what other viewing option could possibly make more sense after an episode of It’s Always Sunny?
The League airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on FX.