As readers of this blog know, I am the queen of the one hour scripted dramas and not a big fan of comedy. However, in the past couple of years, a new genre of comedy has arrived and for lack of a better word, these shows are often referred to as “dramadies”. They are mostly one-half hour shows that fall into the comedy category but have very serious plotlines and complex characters. The best of them include You’re the Worst, Casual and Catastrophe. Transparent also falls into this genre. What these shows deliver are stories addressing difficult topics including depression, unplanned pregnancies, disintegrating relationships, gay/transgender cast and drug/alcohol dependencies with a comedic twist. The half hour format allows for crisp writing, succinct storytelling and no time to prolong the often-difficult subject matter. Most are only 6-8 episodes per season so they are easy to binge or catch up on. No shows are wasted or “fillers”.
Some argue that this format has replaced the one-hour scripted drama as the best work being done on television. While I agree there is some fine work being done here and certainly the Network scripted dramas have become very weak, my favorite shows on television are still The Americans, Rectify and Game of Thrones. I haven’t abandoned my one-hour dramas yet but I’m really liking some of these shows! Four new dramadies are premiering over the next two weeks and are getting rave reviews. They are Amazon’s “One Mississippi” and “Fleabag”, HBO’s “Insecure” and FX’s Better Things. Two are covered below along with You’re the Worst.
You’re the Worst (FXX) ( first two seasons available on Hulu, Amazon, Itunes)
I love this show. It is about 4 completely dysfunctional people who are in relationships that they shouldn’t be but you come to love them and at least cheer for the lead couple, Jimmy and Gretchen, played by Chris Geere and Aya Cash. These are two seemingly despicable people who are in a relationship filled with hedonistic activities. Jimmy is a writer who is a total narcissist and Gretchen suffers from debilitating depression. Due to the brilliant, edgy writing, you actually come to hope that they will be together forever.
Season 3 premiered last week and the first two episodes were good but not quite as great as Season 2, which knocked it out of the park. It has raked in its share of Critic’s Choice Award nominations and I hope it gets back to the level of last year. Even if it doesn’t, I’m just happy to have Jimmy and Gretchen back in my life again.
One Mississippi (Amazon)
One Mississippi is one of the “dramadies” discussed above and was dropped on Amazon September 9th. It grabbed me from the fist few minutes of the show and I watched straight through the six, thirty-minute episodes. It was great. The show is based on the life of comedian Tig Notaro who apparently endured cancer, the death of her mother and a relationship breakup in the same year all of which happen on the show. There are comedic moments (both this show and Better Things (below) are produced by Louis C.K.) but it is a story of family, grief, memories, and how to cope with life when it deals you a series of sucker punches. I can’t believe I have to wait at least another year for Season 2. Again, it is just great and I love that there is a Lesbian lead character.
Better Things (FX)
Better Things premiered this week and while it is difficult to make a determination about it after one 30-minute show, there was definitely enough to keep me coming back. It is the story of Sam Fox who is a single mother of three girls trying to make it as an actress while holding it all together. There are moments of hilarity along with the day-to-day struggle of making a living and being a parent. Not only does Sam have to deal with Hollywood attitudes towards middle age womem, she also has feelings of failures as a parent. There are moments every parent can relate to (particularly working and/or single parents) around which battles are worth fighting with your kids in order to survive. Several stars popped up with cameos in this first episode including Julie Bowen, Constance Zimmer and Bradley Whit ford which were all fun. I think this show has a ton of potential.
Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Masters of Sex was one of the best shows on television its first two seasons and then it went off the rails in season three. Horrible writing and plotlines overshadowed the great acting by Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen. This is a common thread, unfortunately, for Showtime dramas. However, Homeland was able to turn around after a couple of very poor years so what the heck, maybe this show might as well. I was not encouraged by the fact I could find NO reviews for this season the day before the premier. If critics aren’t talking about your show, it is not a good sign.
I tuned in to the premier on Sunday night and was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t perfect but it looks like the showrunners are trying to fix the mistakes of last year. It was important to get Masters and Johnson back together again but Johnson’s slip decent into darkness was a bit overkill and the reconciliation happened pretty quickly. Whether to continue with this show will be a week by week decision. On to next week.
The Last Ship (TNT)
I don’t know why I actually watch this show. I guess because it came on a few years ago during summer and there wasn’t much else to watch. It was never bad enough to abandon it but never quite good enough to really recommend it. This summer, TNT announced that it is renewing it for the next two seasons so I’m thinking that there are a lot of people out there watching this show. The initial premise was that a disease had destroyed the world and the crew of the Navy ship Nathan James was left to float around the world until a cure could be found and they could safely land somewhere. The cure was conveniently discovered by a doctor on their boat and they came back to deliver it to everyone left on earth.
I wasn’t sure where the show would go once the disease was cured but the show runners managed to figure out a plausible plot based on the disintegration of the world’s governments. The Nathan James and her Captain (played by Eric Dane) helped solidify a centralized democracy and military in the USA. This season was interesting with the dissolution of the government and the Nathan James once again being “homeless” and set adrift in Southeast Asia to fend for itself. It wasn’t bad, there was plenty of action and intrigue. The finale had the ship returning with yet another exiled President in an attempt to take the country back from the bad guys. A handful of good guys took the entire government down with only one major character death. We’ll see what lies in store for the Captain and the ship next year. For sure, poor Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) will not be Captain for long (again) as Tom Chandler’s retirement will be short-lived. If you are looking for something a little lightweight but offering some suspense, it is an ok show for summer. McSteamy isn’t bad either.
Jane the Virgin Season 1 and 2 (Netflix)
I did it. I actually got through the first two seasons of Jane the Virgin and I’m hooked. This didn’t come easily. When the show premiered two years ago, I watched a couple of episodes based on great reviews. I didn’t care for it at all. A comedy with shades of a Telenovela was so outside my wheelhouse that I didn’t connect to anything. I quickly gave it up. However, the critics that I have the most respect for didn’t leave it alone. For two years, they keep coming back to it as one of their favorite shows so I had a couple of weeks that were slow this August and tried it again. I must admit it took probably 5-6 episodes for me to really appreciate this show but after that, I was hooked.
Jane the Virgin is packed with great writing, acting and storylines. The characters are complex and continually evolving. The Telenovela aspect becomes just plain fun as the show’s narrator takes you through the similarities between Jane’s family and a real Telenovela. While all this is amusing, it is Jane who is the heart and soul of this show and how she deals with being mistakenly artificially impregnated, in love with both her fiancee and the baby daddy and her struggles to establish a writing career tug at your heart and soul. The most important aspect of the show is the relationship between Jane, her mother and grandmother, which forms the basis of an amazing female family unit. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be totally in love with these characters and best of all, you’ll just feel happy when you watch it.