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Undateable: NBC’s New Comedy Set in Detroit… that Doesn’t Want to Talk About Detroit

Undateable

Jonathan May

NBC’s Undateable is set in present-day Detroit, Michigan and plays this fact for laughs approximately one time in the six episodes that have aired so far. This is its main fault; most great comedies make great use of the cities in which they’re set. Curb had Los Angeles, Seinfeld had New York City. Often the nature of a show is dependent on where its set, but the fact that Undateable is filmed in front of a live studio audience makes it somehow more germane and less specific to Detroit and its comedic possibilities.

Like other sitcoms, this one is set in a bar and follows its fastidious, young owner Justin, his sexy, swaggering roommate Danny, and their motley crew consisting of Danny’s sister, a gay man, a black man, a openly misogynist nerd, and a hot female server. While the variety of the group unfolds many possibilities, unfortunately these roles are mostly played to stereotype. While I laughed out loud many times over the past six episodes, I can’t help but feel empty about most of the characters; the two main men find ladies very early on, and the ancillary characters languish listlessly in the background, ready to serve up another clever off-color joke or ubiquitous cultural reference when needed. But the show doesn’t seem to be addressing any central problem that would give it more focus. No one is really in jeopardy; nothing much is at stake. And ultimately, for a show to be set in Detroit in 2014, as the city goes through the insane bureaucratic process of insolvency, and not address any of this is the worst kind of audience letdown.

For a show like Undateable to make it another season (and possibly the rest of this one), it will need to establish a problem, preferably one which connects to Detroit’s problems at large, giving it a more empathetic context. Perhaps its characters might not seem so flat if they discuss, openly struggle, and make fun of the crippling issues of public service, safety, corruption, and government failure that they could. A comedy like Broad City highlights the complexities of getting around, working, and living in New York City, but in Undateable, we miss out on all the potential fun, being constricted by the format to scenes set in the apartment and the bar. I’ll be tuning in for the laughs, but I just wish the show would give us something memorable.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Image: NBC

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Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 13

Hannibal season 2 finale

Jonathan May

Mega-spoiler alert.

So of course after asking for Cynthia Nixon’s character to come back for weeks now, the story gods deliver in the most obscene way possible, tightening the plot’s noose with bureaucratic nonsense. Of course Jack and Will are stymied now and must move forward by themselves. And then Abigail reappears! And then she kills Alana! And then Hannibal murders Jack, Will, and Abigail! People were killed with such rapid abandon I thought I was watching a short, homoerotic Shakespeare production with mood lighting. But let’s not kid ourselves, Shakespeare this wasn’t.

Like, what? The first thirty minutes were boring, boring, boring, and then the swift successive murders of the cast at large? I don’t even know what to say. Perhaps now is a good time to view properly Hannibal as a critique of the aesthete, free from financial concern. He literally walks away from the action, like so many bankers and traders during the recent financial collapse. I’m not going to claim that financial ruin as the results of others’ actions is tantamount to murder, but they share tragic qualities. If Hannibal simply walks away now, the chase is on. Maybe for the third season, Cynthia Nixon will helm the ship in pursuit of Lecter; perhaps we’ll go to Italy.

As for this season as a whole, I feel like too many tertiary characters were introduced only to be broiled. The lack of resolution with Jack’s wife Bella upsets me, as well. It’s as if by not showing her death, she experiences purgatory, always suffering in that bed. The only other one who makes it out of the fray (seemingly) is Freddie Lounds; she knew to get when the getting was good.

So folks, I’ll be tuning in for the beginning of season three, and if it’s a bunch of malarkey, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 12

Hannibal, episode 12

Jonathan May

Spoiler alert, as always.

This episode was the kick in the pants that this season needed heading into the finale. What made this episode so big and bold? Gillian Anderson. She rocked her role as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, revealing everything in the suggestions and silences. Her ghostly, incantatory tone as she spoke there in the interrogation room gave me chills. And finally clarity was added, showing us what Jack and Will have been up to this whole time. Bedelia was fated to return as soon as she uttered her belief of Will’s innocence to him in the asylum. By bringing in someone who hasn’t been sullied by the lacklusterness of the past six or seven episodes, we, and the show’s characters, are able to take a step back and reevaluate the madness into which we’ve been drawn. Jack and Will are trying to bait Hannibal? Seriously? Though it’s easily their worst conceived plan, it does give great excuse for Will’s obsequious fanboy attitude toward Hannibal these past few weeks. What had bordered on the homoerotic now can be easily enough explained as an attempt at intimacy. And intimate we get.

Bedelia states that Hannibal can be made prey to his own aesthetic whimsy, a clever choice of words on her part, given how Hannibal views his victims. Ultimately this could be a critique of the aesthete, that echelon of society outside of financial worry, wherein one has time and means to enact one’s fantasies. How this will become a trap for Hannibal isn’t immediately apparent, but I predict they will have to dispense with this advice if they actually want to catch the bastard.

The scene where Hannibal convinces Mason Verger, by way of amyl nitrate, to scrape off his own face is wholly incredible; I was literally disgusted by the wet noises and the voice thinning out. Without the veiling of chiaroscurist darkness, this certainly wouldn’t have been able to air on network television. But this scene showed off what the production of this show can really do. And the episode as a whole was well shot; we had lots of close-ups of faces and people seen through the negative spaces left by others. These kinds of choices really make us examine everyone in a new light, which is perfect as we head into the final episode for this season.

So, what’s going down tonight? We know, via the first episode, that Jack and Hannibal will have their showdown. The catalyst for this could be anything, but I think it will have to do with Alana, who’s been strangely absent. Hopefully we’re over this whole Mason and Margot business. Now that NBC has bought a third season, we know this charade must continue. But if we’re left tonight with some horrible impossibility or vagueness, I might not be tuning in next time around.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 11

Jonathan May

Spoiler alert, as always.

With two episodes left and the reappearance of Freddie Lounds at large, the question on everyone’s mind is, what’s going on between Will and Hannibal? Is Will playing Hannibal, or playing everyone else on his behalf? Is Dr. Bloom next on Hannibal’s menu, and is that what it will take for Jack to finally wake up? This week, I present the tweets each character would have sent during the action of episode 11.

@Will_Graham: A certain someone was in my dream again last night J

@Will_Graham: Wtf? I have to eat a songbird whole?

@FBI_Jack: Does anyone else think Will and Hannibal are….closer than normal?

@Mason_Pigmaster: I said I only want Tanqueray. Wtf do I pay these people for?

@Alana_Bloom: Hey guys, just running over to Will’s. Someone call me in like an hour.

@Hannibal: If I have to listen to this piggishness further, I might have to whip up a nice Paupiettes de porc later… @Will_Graham will I see you there?

@Will_Graham: I’ll bring the wine.

@Hannibal: You know I like to pick the wine L

@Freddie_Lounds: And then I said to her, How was my funeral, bitch?

Hannibal, episode 11

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 10

hannibal, episode 10

Jonathan May

We always open inside Will’s head lately, and this episode was no different. (Here’s hoping we’re not Roseanned at the end!) He conflates his slaying of last week’s serial killer in a dream of also killing Hannibal, which ties in with the incredibly slow David Lynchian conflated sex scene wherein Dr. Bloom is “had” by Hannibal literally and Will projectively. The use of conflation in this episode is important because Will and Hannibal are finally merging. Before they do fully, however, we will be prone to their flirting (serial killer-style) with one another in front of Jack and Dr. Bloom and everyone else. I didn’t expect Will’s transformation to be so obsequious in regard to Hannibal, but if we take the whole sex scene a step further, then Will, by projecting that he has sex with Dr. Bloom through Margot, is able to “have sex” with Hannibal through that projection. I know, I know, I’ve been reading too much Harold Bloom. In any case, the episode ends with both Will’s and Hannibal’s faces conflated into one another, like some kind of ghoulish Chuck Close painting. If the effect is to heighten the “merging” aspect of these two, the production is laying it on a bit thick.

So, Will gets to (presumably) kill Freddie Lounds, ending the life of yet another part of the closed circle. But Margot and her sinister, pig-obsessed brother are uncovering the dark of the wings and heading for the limelight as we speak. As old ancillary characters die, so must new ancillary characters live. Will murdering Freddie didn’t bother me; she already had figured out, as Alana is coming around to now, what the game is. And tonight, it should come around to Jack, prompting (perhaps) the showdown with Hannibal that began the season. But I think we have to deal yet with further piggishness before we can get down to the bones. Other prediction for tonight: The whole Will and Margot (though I wouldn’t rule out Alana and Hannibal) pregnancy thing is another emotional red herring. Don’t let’s add another complication, Story Gods! This isn’t Passions.

My favorite moment of the episode: when Will is eating (presumably) a part of Freddie, that look on his face—transcendence.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 9

Hannibal episode 9

Jonathan May

(Massive spoilers, and I totally called Will being groomed by Lecter into becoming a serial killer like three episodes ago. C’mon, story gods!)

Everything in this episode acts in opposition to what has been. This week’s killer suffers from what Hannibal terms species dysphoria, but, on the whole, the episode operates thematically under what I like to call reverse personification. The killer, wanting to be an animal, acts not only in opposition to nature, but to his own nature as well. Will, on the other hand, finally actualizes as a killer, acting against what he knows to be good (akrasia) and aligning with what he knows to be wrong. When he brings up the question of right and wrong to Dr. Lecter, the good doctor responds that those are inconsequential to a God who enjoys human suffering and joy the same, and that he thinks of God when he kills; I think he’s really just thinking of himself, having been “resurrected” from the cross by Jack and Dr. Bloom in the foiled plot by Will against him.

When Will arrives at Hannibal’s door at the episode’s end with the killer’s body in tow, it’s as if he too has become animalistic, like a dog or cat bringing home a dead bird for the master. I almost expected Hannibal to pet him. So we know, or at least we think we know, that Will is now apt student to the good doctor; could this be a ploy on Will’s end to finally expose Lecter, or is this a genuine turn in character? I only bring up the former possibility because this season’s arc has been a bit wobbly, and I wouldn’t put it past the story gods to throw a big “Gotcha!” at us. But, as Will stated, now they’re both “even Steven.” All that said, I stand by my thoughts from three weeks ago: Will is becoming the monster Hannibal always meant him to become, his most successful therapeutic result. My predictions for tonight’s episode are that Will finally realizes some artistic killing projects of his own, something morbid will happen to Dr. Bloom or Jack’s wife (or is she dead? so far, we don’t know!), and Margot will continue to bore me to death. Did the production really need another affluent person to sit around the story’s perimeters this late in the game?

Minor note: Whoever put on Hugh Dancy’s eye makeup this week needs to calm down.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 8

hannibal, episode 8

Jonathan May

(As always, massive spoiler alert)

This episode was unremarkable in a number of ways that I do not care to elucidate. We have the character of Margot thrown in, an unnecessary and late-coming red herring if there ever was one. Like most of the women in this show, she merely acts as a soundboard to the male characters, in this case Hannibal. As if to beat a dead horse (ha ha), we also have gratuitous (and not in terms of skin shown) scenes between Hannibal and Dr. Bloom, who has become yet another glass fawn in Lecter’s menagerie.

The dance between Will and Hannibal starts off slow enough in the episode and remains at an agonizingly slow tempo throughout; we learn no new information about their relationship. We head no further down the road of resolution, as we soon should given there are but five episodes left. We still, as I dutifully remind, need to catch up to the frame that opened the season between Jack and Hannibal.

The whole business with Will attempting to kill the social worker sociopath on behalf of the brain-damaged man was abysmal; Hannibal’s explanation of the event concurrent to its unfolding was equally banal. Unless we’re to learn something new through all of this madness, I don’t see the point. The image of the live bird inside the dead woman inside the dead horse was disarming, but just that.

We need to get back to the solid storyline: Hannibal’s eventual discovery and the chase. Throwing in characters at the last minute doesn’t bode well for the arc of the storyline. Let’s hope the story gods bring us back around this Friday.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Image: NBC

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 7

hannibal, episode 7

Jonathan May

(As always, massive spoiler alert)

Every 15 minutes or so, I let out an audible groan while watching this latest episode. Miriam Lass returns after being found by Jack, only to kill Dr. Chilton out of an impulse she can’t control. Oh Miriam, made into just a simple plot device. Oh Dr. Chilton, made into just a simple plot device. So now we have a freed Will, a Hannibal no longer under suspicion, and a bewildered audience.

We still haven’t caught up to the frame with which the season opened, so we know the showdown between Hannibal and Jack is imminent. What will bring them together in this way? What will finally open Jack’s eyes? He jumped on the Dr. Chilton Is Guilty Train pretty hard, but when he finally catches the poor bastard in the snow, we see immediately that Jack knows Chilton is innocent. Miriam’s impulsive killing of Chilton is obviously the result of psychological transference on Lecter’s part; by using recordings of Chilton’s voice and light-disruption therapy, he was able to train Miriam into believing that Chilton, not Hannibal, was the Chesapeake Ripper and her captor. Hopefully Will can bring Jack around to this, forcing his move against Hannibal.

Some may misinterpret the depiction of the Wound Man in this episode as an obvious symbol of superiority, drawn from medieval medical books and rendered lovingly by Hannibal on graphite in his office. However, the Wound Man operates more as a bastardization here of the Hanged Man, a pittura infamante that quite literally symbolizes resurrection. Hannibal sees this opportunity through Chilton as a way to resurrect as a new creature and move on; though I doubt he’ll give up the grisly trade, he sees this as an opportunity to escape. Will’s appearance at the end, though, signals that we are not finished with this reddish business by a long shot. Will would like to resume his therapy, and we shall see where it takes him.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Symbols and Sociopaths: Hannibal Season 2, Episode 6

closeupepisode6

Jonathan May

(As always, massive spoiler alert)

Just a reminder: We’re only halfway through the season and have yet to catch up to the frame of this tale. In the first episode, we open with the struggle between Jack and Hannibal, then flash back eight weeks. So we’re still catching up (quickly, I posit) to a showdown. Also, we haven’t touched on Jack’s wife in the past two episodes really, so I’m sure they will kill her off any episode now in the most maudlin fashion imaginable.

Fact: Mads Mikkelsen played Igor Stravinsky in the gorgeous period film Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2009). I saw the film in theaters, and the recreation of the opening night of The Rite of Spring in Paris is probably one of my favorite moments in film history. You eventually see Stravinsky and Chanel naked in the many stages of coitus (one memorable scene includes some sex on the piano bench). So it’s a little jarring to open with Hannibal at the harpsichord, composing music to “move past” what Will “did” to him and even more disturbing to later see Dr. Bloom and Hannibal giving it the old college try on the harpsichord bench. Mikkelsen brought some of Stravinsky into this episode with an awareness of his own mortality, and ultimately the end game is revealed by this awareness. As Hannibal becomes more afraid of Will, he must be able to get to him, so he “frees” Will through exoneration by committing a murder using pieces of Will’s supposed victims. Will, by virtue of this whole ordeal, burns in revenge, being trained by Lecter into becoming his replacement. What will complete this transformation is the eventual murder of Dr. Bloom by Hannibal.

In addition to Stravinsky, we have not-so-subtle references to the movie Hannibal with Will stating that Lecter thinks of his victims as pigs and later in the scene where Abel Gideon eats his own thigh (à la Liotta). I have no idea why they gave such a close adaptation of that scene; the affinities between them only made this incarnation seem weak with a bloated Eddie Izzard succumbing willingly to death. However, the preparation of Gideon’s thigh in clay was lovingly rendered on film. The strongest moments in the series consistently involve food, and this is definitely a strong moment, but then it’s ruined by Gideon trying to be funny. Perhaps the most arresting visual of the episode was the tree-person made by Lecter, like a perverted Daphne ripe with flowers.

Bringing back Miriam Lass at this point seems inanely cruel. We already know who’s committing the murders; Jack’s wife is going to die of cancer, so will her reappearance really matter that much? Call me callous, but I feel like this will end up being another emotional red herring, and honestly, I wish we’d just stick to the point. With Will now free to claim vengeance, the race is between Will killing Hannibal or Jack locking him away.

Note: Hopefully the “history” between Drs. Bloom and Lecter will be elucidated for those of us who don’t write the show, if the story gods are listening.

Jonathan May watches too much television, but he’s just playing catch-up from a childhood spent in Zimbabwe. You can read his poetry at owenmay.com, follow him on Twitter at @jonowenmay, or email him at owen.may@gmail.com.

Hannibal airs Friday nights on NBC. You can read our pieces about previous episodes here.

Why Aren’t People Watching Parks and Recreation?

Parks and Recreation- Season 6

Alex Russell

Remember when Liz Lemon was everywhere?

For a few years it seemed like you couldn’t load Tumblr or Facebook without seeing at least five Liz Lemon memes. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; 30 Rock was a tremendous show. It was a lot of things, but above all else it was the critically-acclaimed anchor to NBC’s very weird (but very great) Thursday night that included The OfficeCommunity, and Parks and Recreation.

The Office faltered late, as everyone knows. 30 Rock managed to do OK just because it was consistently being hailed as the best show on television. Community‘s story is still unfolding, but the fanbase is rabid enough that it will probably end up fine. But what of Leslie Knope and the Liz-Lemon-meme-worthy Ron Swanson?

Let’s tell it straight: People are not watching Parks and Recreation anymore. Numbers-wise, the show has done a little bit worse every season, especially after losing The Office as a lead-in. Everyone who loves Parks and Rec will tell you that it doesn’t really find its footing until the end of the first season, but America really disagrees. The first season held a huge percentage of Office fans, even though it debuted after one of the dumbest storylines in Office history (“Michael Scott Paper Company” was the lead-in episode for the pilot).

Season two of Parks and Rec is some of the greatest sitcom TV of the last fifteen years, but it did a little bit worse (between four and six million people per episode) than the weird first season. Second three — which followed the final Michael Scott episodes of The Office and was the first season with Rob Lowe and Adam Scott as regulars — did even worse, sometimes dropping below four million. The three seasons since have done worse in the ratings, and sometimes far worse.

A lot of this is on NBC. 30 Rock did even worse than Parks and Rec during its decline and even The Office, the one your mom liked sometimes, barely managed four million viewers a night by the end. Community seemed unstoppable, but it’s tanking this year in the ratings. Parenthood, once one of NBC’s most reliable shows, is doing the same.

Thursday night on the other networks? Fox has Hell’s Kitchen and American Idol. CBS has The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. ABC has Scandal. NBC’s support for its sitcoms is Hollywood Game Night.

It’s impossible to convince someone to definitely watch something unless they already might, but you really should be DVRing Parks and Rec. The show stumbled a little with an ambitious plot for main character Leslie Knope, but it’s still one of the only consistently funny, consistently great sitcoms on network TV. NBC renewed it for next year, but based on the competition and the current trend, Parks and Rec is dead in the water. Come stay awhile with it every week, like you would an elderly relative. Ron Swanson is still there Ron-Swansoning around, and that really should be enough to earn your 22 minutes a week.

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

Image: NBC