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I used to be a much bigger TV buff than I am now, but I still catch a few shows every now and then.


Kids on the Slope

The music was fantastic and there were some real moments of beauty (the first big jam sesh; the school talent competition; the final scene in the church). But the story's melodrama (even if true to life — I imagine a lot of the love triangle aspects would have felt more 'real' if I was watching this back in high school or college) dragged for me, especially given the time-jumps which meant the crux of every episode was less "slice of life" and more "how did protag fuck it up this time?" I'm grateful for finally having watched it, even if it left me cold more than it warmed me up.



Committed performances and occassionally great direction do not do enough to rescue this series of terribly written plot points and character decisions, the egregiousness of which would have certainly been mitigated by a two-hour runtime instead of a seven-hour one.


What We Do In The Shadows (Season 4)

Wonderful and silly, like a very low-stakes live-action anime: there's a rich and inconsistent (but delightful) world, an emphasis on laughing with over laughing at, and a bunch of weird vampire stuff. It is not High Comedy and it is not perfect but I struggle to think of a single episode that we regretted spending the time to watch.


Full Circle


Command Z


The Bear (Season 2)


The Vinland Saga (Season 2)

I thought the first season of this anime was good and entertaining but certainly not anything to write home about, a slightly tropey anime with interesting character work and a novel setting.

The second season did something that I (to my recollection) have never seen in an anime, and rarely see in television writ large: a complete re-examination and re-declaration of the show's thesis. It was slow, atonal, and deeply penitent: it was an incredibly rewarding and rich meditation on freedom, violence, and the human condition. Absolutely blown away by the work done, and I found myself both deeply satisfied in the show's narrative arc — by all accounts a complete success — and thrilled by the prospect of a third season.


The Diplomat


Bocchi the Rock


I Think You Should Leave (Season 3)

Something I don't think I fully appreciated about the first two seasons of this show, that becomes more obvious in time, is how well the truncated runtime (each sketch is only a few minutes; each episode is only ~15 minutes; each season only six episodes) works with the one-note nature of the sketches. The show is very funny, and its stupidity exits as soon as you think it might get stale.


Jury Duty

What was the goal of the show? What were we supposed to think about as viewers? This was a thing I struggled with a lot while watching this half-mockumentary, half-reality-show. I do not think it was quite funny enough to justify its own existence (and the final episode, a sort of behind-the-scenes feel-good victory lap, made it feel like the real triumph of the show was the ornate backflips it required to keep the 'contestant' from discovering the ruse), but it had a couple justifiably terrific moments — most of them involving James Marsden, an under-appreciated delight.


The Night Manager

We watched this off of the heels of another (albeit more oblique) homage to le Carré, The Ipcress File, and it's remarkable where this succeeds and where this fails in comparison. I do not think that neither Hiddleston nor Laurie did a terrific job in their respective roles, but they were servicable (and certainly the budget — which must have been astronomical for 2016 BBC standards — was put to good use).

But the sacrifices made to le Carré's original plot in order to make this a little bit more television-y are felt, especially in the final two episodes. Hiddleston's character acts in a way that is patently absurd, and Laurie's refusal to just kill him outright is equally daft. The necessity of the showrunners to tie everything up in a neat bow is... so very American, and feels like a betrayal of the source material.


Sometimes a show can be redeemed by a single scene, and here is what I will remember about The Night Manager: four minutes of Laurie gleefully detonating bombs and dispersing napalm, streaks of red and orange across a pitch black sky. Tremendously good cinema, beautiful and chilling in equal parts.


Party Down (Season 3)

(This writeup is just of the third season; I watched (and liked very much) the first two seasons back when they originally aired close to a decade ago.)

"Why did this need to come back?" This is the ur-question every television revival must answer, and most fail to do so beyond "because the cast was available, because it was easy IP, and because the network is intellectually bankrupt."

I don't think Party Down had a particularly satisfying answer to this question — you could really stretch and say something about how the first two seasons of the show are largely around people who think they're on the cusp of making it despite that cusp having passed them by many years ago, and how that text interacts fairly interestingly with the large amount of success that the cast has gone on to have in the following years, but it's not a question the show is interested in answering after the first episode 1.

The key difference, though: Party Down still has its fastball. The cast (including newcomers!) were terrific and comfortable in their old roles; the scriptwriting might have been even better than its original run. (Most notably, the show was able to do a first-ever in my book: a "everyone is on drugs!" episode that is actually funny!)

It was a short season, and ended on what felt like a bit of a different show (one with more traditional, sit-commy instincts) but it was a fun ride and I'd be excited for another season.


  1. There is some stuff on the margins around Scott's character being truly at home in this world as opposed to in Evie's, but that felt like a hackneyed plot device.


Russian Doll (Season 2)

I thought the first season of Russian Doll was a small joy: inessential, artsy television with a clear sense of direction, self, and purpose.

The second season had very few of those things — though it still had the joy! And it's hard to accurately assess a work that is so clearly a product of executives saying "okay, you want another season? here you go!" and working backwards from there into a coherent narrative. Neither Nadia nor Alan are particularly compelling characters (Alan in particular is given nothing to work with this season: it's not obvious to me why he's even given the level of screen time he is, despite wanting to give the actor some screen time); the show leans into the lack of direction to varying degrees of effect, leaving you with a sense of having enjoyed greatly certain performances and scenes without having any sense of investment or propulsion in the story (or lack thereof.)

Despite those misgivings, this show had a lot of interesting and compelling moments. The last few scenes in particular — a long, languid series of shots focused on Lyonne with Shine On You Crazy Diamond playing in the background — were amongst the best television I've seen this year, and felt for the first time like Lyonne was doing more than playing a compelling caricature of herself.


Mob Psycho 100 (Season 3)

I wrote of season two:

This show is still not in my top tier of anime — I think it's going to be hard for a seinen to ever really hit that — but it's

I think all of that remains true for season three, but more so. It was not my favorite of all time, but I had a blast watching it and it really nailed the ending, an important and fairly rare thing in series like these. Some of the inciting incidents that led to arcs (a car hits Mob? C'mon.) were a bit over the top, but the show earns its pathos.


Poker Face

Two pithy "damning with faint praise" reviews of this show:

  1. There are shows that are Very Good, and there are shows that are very Good, and this is the latter;
  2. This is a show that I respect and admire more than I like, and one that I like more than I consider great.

It is hard to watch a show like this (which: Natasha Lyonne as Columbo) and not think of Poirot. And so all of my quibbles with the show are grounded in the fact that it is not Poirot, or perhaps more accurately my relative antipathy towards the "howcatchem" genre as compared to the "whodunit."

And yet! It is delightful. The performances are fun (if not occassionally a bit too wink-wink-nudge-nudge); the writing is servicable; the plotting rarely tracks, which is the real problem (the core of why Poirot works is that everyone has a certain level of motive and humanity and rationality, and most of the murders investigated here fall into the category of "I am a sociopathic genius but also a huge dumbass"). There are moments of real beauty (the ending of Exit Stage Death, say, or Benjamin Bratt just rattling off some Blues Traveler). There is a lot to love.

It does remind me, of course, of Glass Onion ↗, both intellectually and subjectively. This is not Great Art: this is comfort food, taken to its logical (and fiscal) extreme. And there's no magic threshold that it crosses, bringing it into the rarified err of art, but it's still a good time.


Cunk on Earth

I have recommended Cunk on Earth a lot to friends over the past week, which was exactly how long it took for Haley and I to devour the five-episode miniseries, a writer's-room sendup of David Attenborough-style documentaries that averages a joke a second and a laugh a minute.

I complain often of modern comedies being unwilling to stick to their lane, so to speak: most critically acclaimed comedies of the past ten years have great writing but also, like, plots about the long-term effects of parental trauma (Bojack Horseman ↗) or debilitating mental illness (You're the Worst). There is nothing wrong with this: I love those shows.

But also I admire a comedy that steers all elements in service of making you laugh, and there is a reason that my two favorite comedies of all time are 30 Rock ↗ and Happy Endings ↗ — they are vehicles for getting you to laugh as much as possible, and everything they do is in service of that goal. Cunk on Earth is a comedy in this vein: it is deeply stupid, and hits the same six or seven genres of joke over and over again, and if that is what you are looking for — if you are tuned into its frequency, so to speak — you will have a great time.


Industry (Season 2)

I liked-but-did-not-love the first season of this show: I thought it was a show that wanted to be like Mad Men but was largely the first season of Mad Men (with its emphasis of style over substance) and a bit of The Skins: a slick, well-acted soap opera that knew how to dip into the well of industry jargon to punch above its intellectual weight. I use the phrase "guilty pleasure" more than few times.

I'll be honest, gang: I think the second season addressed almost every nit I had about the show. The showrunners largely abandoned some of the adolescent exploits (the k-hole count is down significantly) and really focused on the workplace drama of it all. It's a soap, but largely a workplace soap in much the same way Mad Men was, a larger mediation on what the split between one's personal and professional identity filtered through the world of high finance.

And, of course, it is compulsively watchable.

The final few episodes — where a number of well-balanced swords fall down blade-first — were legitimately great television. Beyond that, the only thing stopping me from rating it more highly is a fundamental lack of affection for the characters — you find yourself rooting for the ancillary characters more than the ostensibly protagonists. Yasmin and Harper are incredibly well-acted but I find them to be the kind of people who I would not like in real life — which is of course how I felt about Pete Campbell until much later in Mad Men's run.

Can't wait for a third season; I have no reason to believe it's going to be even better than this one.


Attack on Titan (Season 2)

I ended my review of the first season with the following:

I'm enjoying the story enough to want to continue; I wish the story was delivered with more speed and grace.

The second season adds neither agility nor grace to its storytelling, and in many ways feels like a worse version of Lost — it accumulates interesting mysteries and plot wrinkles with deftness and alacrity, but without any desire or satisfaction in resolving them. Indeed, the show seems to only be interested in causing the viewer to go "wait, what?" as many times as possible: characters act in ways that are completely at odds with their established personalities, and the show's own internal logic tends towards incoherence.

I evoke Lost because I think that's a good show with many big flaws, and the secret to that show's success is that you fall in love with enough things — the charming characters, the bonkers lore, the drastic and gorgeous setpieces — about it to forgive the flaws. AoT has some of those things: there's certainly a vivid sense of character design for the Titans (and I actually admire how restrained the human character design tends to be). But I am not rooting for any of these characters besides maybe Mikasa and Armin, whose main virtue appears to be competence.

I am certainly not rooting for Eren, who has demonstrated no growth over the past two seasons and rivals Shinji Ikari for the title of "most annoying protagonist in anime". (Which is not to say that I am rooting for the Titans, either, but certainly at this point they seem like they deserve to win.)


Mob Psycho 100 (Season 2)

This was a very strong second series, having liked the first series a lot after getting used to the show's warmth and humor.

It felt like it was at its weakest in the final arc, when it was trying to cosplay a little as My Hero Academia; a focus on a slew of new characters who all happen to have quirks (sorry, esper abilities) that show well in a fight, and a final battle that was visually arresting but, like, not why I am particularly invested in the show.

Thankfully, that was only the final arc — I really enjoyed the first arc's slice of life emphasis, and the second arc's diving into Reigen (who grew, in my estimation, from an S-tier character to an S+-tier one over the course of the season.)

This show is still not in my top tier of anime — I think it's going to be hard for a seinen to ever really hit that — but it's still a very fun time, and offers a good blend of pathos and entertainment.


Chainsaw Man (Season 1)

I had heard of Chainsaw Man for a while from following some folks on Twitter who are much more plugged into the manga scene than I am 1, and to say I was dubious would probably be an understatement.

If you, like me, hear the title "Chainsaw Man" and feel some sort of way about it, I can assure you that the show is not what you think it is. It's almost a bit of a shonen deconstruction in much the same way Ousama Ranking ↗ or Mob Psycho 100 feels like a twist on the genre, but this is... more so. The comparison I reach to, almost involuntarily, is something like 100 gecs — brash, overconfident, maximalist, fun. It's a very weird show with whiplash pace, gorgeous animation, and more pathos and humor than I expected of it or its genre.

I don't think there's a single season of anime that I am more excited for than the second season of Chainsaw Man. It's funny, beautiful, and interesting.


  1. I have read exactly two manga in my life; nothing against the form, I just don't really have the space or inclination for it.


Andor (Season 1)




Mob Psycho 100 (Season 1)

It took me a little time to get keyed into the idiosyncratic humor & ethos of this show, but once I did I really did. It's very much a shonen, but a shonen in a way that feels more committed to deconstructing stereotypes than Ousama Ranking ↗ and with characters that are at least right now (having not started the second season at all, though with great excitement to do so) feel more interesting and fluid. The animation and style is, while low-budget at times, always exciting and interesting (reminding me of some of the risks and chaos that made The Tatami Galaxy ↗ so enjoyable); the show never overplays its hand or leans too far into either comic relief or melodrama.

Also, Reigen is just the best. I struggle to think of an anime character who I like more than Reigen.


Attack on Titan (Season 1)

What I liked:

  • The titan designs, which manage to be consistently bizarre and terrifying in a way that I really appreciate (and also abhor)
  • A sense of legitimate narrative propulsion and danger; nobody (besides the protagonists) is safe, nobody (besides the protagonists) can really be trusted. I don't have a good sense of where the plot is going besides "the Titans are more than they seem and probably created by the humans in a Xenoblade Chronicles ↗-esque sense".

What I don't like:

  • A lot of people make obviously poor decisions for no reason other than "it serves the plot"
  • I don't really have a good sense of what the power levels are at play here; Titans very quickly go from being a world-beater threat to being something of which multiple humans have multi-hundred body counts; any given conflict, like the above bullet point, seems to be decided more by what serves the plot than what realistically would happen in a combat scenario
  • There is a lot of filler and monologuing in the stereotypical shonen sense

I'm enjoying the story enough to want to continue; I wish the story was delivered with more speed and grace.


Archer (Season 11)

I loved Archer in my college years, and I've been spending a lot of time with H. Jon Benjamin during Haley and I's months-long marathon of Bob's Burgers ↗, so I figured it would be interesting to dip my toes back into the ol' ISIS waters.

This was, to be clear, not good television, and while I don't think Archer was ever truly great 10/10 comedy it had a lot of charms and foibles and merits. It knew what it was as a show and it stuck to it (and then fell victim to Flanderization, which I have to commend the aforementioned Bob's Burgers for largely escaping.)

There were bits of promise in this season — I thought the hook of "everyone in the show becomes competent and evolves past Archer while he spends three years in a coma" was interesting, but largely it meant that as the season goes on the show becomes more and more like a cover band playing the previous era's hits. There are still some good one-liners, but it's hard to point to any single episode — any single sequence — that hasn't been outshone by something the show's already done.

Still, easy filler for working on administrivia. If you want a solid three hours of comfort food (well, a very specific brand of comfort food), it's worth a shot.


The Rehearsal

As many people have mentioned, this show owes a lot to Synecdoche; New York (a film that I have very strong memories of and for despite having only seen once, in a haze, ten years ago.) It's also a show in the discourse, which I think belies a little just how deeply weird it gets. This isn't quite a comedy (though there are very, very funny parts — "it's days like these that I curse the Chinese for inventing gunpowder" and the silent birthday party are two of the hardest times I've laughed this year), nor is it quite reality television. It's a show that is very adroitly aware of criticisms that would be leveled its way, and the way it neither absolves itself nor dodges those criticisms in the final two episodes is delightful.

I just said a lot of positive things, and none of those things included what the show itself was about, or what I thought the thesis of the show was. I'm not entirely sure how to answer either of those questions; the closest I think I can get is what it's like to take an absurd premise to its even more absurd conclusion. But it was certainly a unique show, and one that I enjoyed spending time with, and one that I will probably spend a lot of time over the next few weeks thinking about.


Irma Vep

What a delightful show. I did not know where it was taking me; I do not think the show knew where it was going.

I don’t mean that even to be coy, or to avoid spoilers. How do you spoil a show like this? The “plot”, such as it is, is pretty minor — you enjoy it for the things that it is trying to tell you about the process of being an artist and enjoying art, and how those two things transform you. It is funny and odd and bizarre. I’m not sure how to sell someone on it, but this is how I would try:

A bunch of extremely talented actors do weird metafiction stuff.

Again, not a great sell. But I had a very good time with it.


Industry (Season 1)

I think the pitch I had internalized about this show, having learned about it from The Watch (whose taste in television I once treated as sacrosanct, and still mostly do even though I listen much less frequently), was a soapier, more British (and of course modern-setting) take on Mad Men — a workplace drama that uses the office to meditate on identity and mobility.

It's easy to forget how hackneyed Mad Men was in its first season — so fixated on the "gee shucks, it's the sixties!" and the "who is Dick Whitman" shenanigans that it took some time to settle into its slow, short story-oriented groove. But these two pieces of television have very little in common with one another, except maybe the standout use of audience-surrogate-cum-outsider (Harper/Peggy) and their relationship with their mentor figure (Eric/Don).

This show is a soap opera. It is very interested in k-holes and love triangles and its protagonists generally spend their time doing whatever is the most impulsive, least coherent thing possible for them to do. (Which is problematic within the thesis of the show, since the show tries to argue at points that success in this world is mediated by one's ability to coolly and calmly navigate treacherous waters.) Few of the characters are likeable; few of them are even understandable. The finance industry being used as a setting often feels like more of a Star Trek deployment than anything substantive — a shibboleth for these characters being smart and driven and powerful. (Again, compare to how well Mad Men deployed advertising and shifting trends to speak more broadly about the world and norms it interrogated!)

The show is also quite fun. It's a soap opera, but it's slick and stylish and well-acted. The soundtrack is great; the direction can be a little jarring, but lets you inhabit the characters particularly well. I think we'll be going in for a second season, but less as an exercise in thoughtful consumption and more as an exercise in indulging in guilty pleasures.


The Bear (Season 1)

What a good show!

I knew after like three episodes that this was a good show (not pretending to be particularly iconoclastic with this take), and when I was rhapsodizing to other people about it the thing I kept on saying over and over again was “it’s just a good show.”

This perhaps speaks more to my anemia with television as it exists today: as something that has to be part of a larger zeitgeist or extended universe or renaissance or whatever. The Bear is very aggressively just four hours of really really well-done television. It portrays a unique world with vividness and specificity, with terrific direction and acting. It was a great time.

And then, in the last fifteen minutes or so you realize that the entire season is not just a complete story unto itself but a prelude to a different story. I can understand quibbles with that; I thought it was a bit hackneyed and deus ex machina but these characters had earned a bit of a victory. (And, in fairness, it was well-foreshadowed.) And I’m pretty dang excited for the second season. But also if there was no second season, if this was the (please excuse me for my single food pun in this writeup) sole course, I’d still be incredibly satisfied.

(One note is that the show absolutely ‘suffers’ from “everyone is good” syndrome, which depending on your worldview or what you want out of your art can be deleterious to your viewing experience. I hear that and I get that, but also I don’t care: I could see this being a problem down the line in much the same way it was for Parks and Recreation, where by the third or fourth season everyone has their edges rounded off and is the same Flanderized lovable scamp, but that doesn’t feel quite as dire of a problem for this writers’ room.)


Spy x Family (Season 1)

This show harbors no illusions about what it is or what it's trying to be, and I really admire it for that — this is a crisp season of silly, saccharine television. All of the characters are either extremely cute & charming or vehicles to highlight the charm and cutes of other characters; the stakes are highlighted to be as low as humanly possible, and the aesthetics are beautiful (some of the details on the set design are really impeccable.)

It's not exactly 'slice-of-life' — there is a core plot, and there are action sequences — but it feels indebted to the ethos of 'slice-of-life', which is largely around feeling cozy around a bunch of characters. And it succeeds winningly at that. This is generally not the kind of show I love, but it works really well as a palate cleanser for heavier material.


Tokyo Vice (Season 1)

Okay, I'm a little heated. I don't know why exactly, but I assumed this was a miniseries in the typical HBO vein: eight episodes of a book adaptation, straight shot. And there was so much I liked about it — Ansel Elgort not being part of that, but otherwise this was a laundry list of great things: incredible setting, incredible direction, beautiful cinematography, knockout performances by Ken Watanabe and Show Kasamatsu (the latter whom I have never seen before, and if this show doesn't propel him into atmospheric orbit I will be devastated!). I was easing into what was sure to be a glorious finale, with a number of thick and fascinating plot threads all set to collide.

And then. Nothing happened.

I can't say nothing happened — things happened. The final hour of this first season of television had a lot of pieces moving on the ol' chessboard; it also had a truly gratuitous ten minutes devoted towards two leads tweaking on meth. You know what didn't happen? A single iota of plot resolution. There was no gestalt! I'm not a purist — I don't think a season of television has to be a complete entity unto itself — but I was legitimately shocked when the episode ended as it did and we discovered that no, there is no more story for it to tell, try again next summer.

Again, I'm heated. Perhaps this is an overreaction, because as a mood poem this show works so well. There is a lot to like about it, and I had a great time watching it. But I spent eight hours following this thing with nothing to show for it; the chessboard has progressed, but no single plot thread has reached any sense of closure or climax. It feels cheap; I was promised a story, not an unceasing arc of rising action.


Azumanga Daioh

My understanding is that Azumanga Daioh is the ur-"cute girls doing cute things" anime, and I 100% get why it spawned an entire subgenre unto itself. There is no substantial drama or stakes, just, well, high schoolers being very dorky high schoolers.

The word "dorky" is important, I think. At this point in my life I reflexively cringe from almost anything set in a high school unless its very deliberately and self-referentially insane (c.f. Riverdale); the storytelling, whether it veers into YA writing or into melodrama, tends not to be very good.

What I think made this show so fun and so believable is that these are a bunch of massive dorks just hanging out. They veer into archetype every now and then, but they all feel like legitimate friends and legitimate people in their own right (besides perhaps Osaka, whose utter weirdness is so entertaining it comes off as earned.) That combination of realistic sweetness and the show's utterly perfect sense of comedic timing is potent!

I can absolutely understand this show as the perfect comfort food, and as something that would set me down a long quest to find a similar vibe. I'm still not the biggest slice-of-life person — there's nothing wrong with it, it's just not what I want out of the medium. Also Kimura's inclusion alone brings this down — feel like there should be a Machete version of this show that has him excised outright.



By far Dorohedoro's greatest strength is its incredible and unique world, which feels grimy and lived-in and unlike anything you've seen before. The closest comparison I can think of is... Planescape: Torment ↗, maybe? It's an absolute delight, and most of the 'rules' don't make sense and it doesn't matter. You want to spend time with the world and you want to spend time with the characters in the world, who are all pretty fascinating & well-developed.

The overarching plot is interesting though at times intentionally circuitious. The anime has a lot of fun playing around with conventions (the mafia episode! the carnival episode! etc.) and the violence feels stylistic; it's a fairly warm show when you strip away all the blood.



I'll start with what the show does obviously and unequivocally extremely well: the staging & cinematography, the acting, the set design, the sound design. Other people who write about television for a living can do a better job extolling all of the virtues Severance has in those departments, and they are all absolutely right.

(The one bit I'll add — I am obviously a huge Adam Scott fan. One of the biggest. I did not think he had the subtle chops it required to play two versions of yourself in the way that he does here.)

The show, as of writing, is in the nexus of "critical darling" and "all of my friends are obsessed with the show." I get it: it hits the sweet spot of prestige, good actors, weird, Reddit-pilled, corporate dystopia, Ben Stiller. And Haley and I loved it — we binged through it over the course of two weeks, our excitement level starting high and only growing higher over the nine episode run.

What I am worried about — and what I'm hoping they do well in season two — is that the show is really focused on giving answers and making it a thriller. It started out really working the message (what does this say about us?), and I think that was perhaps slower from a pace and payoff angle but is a much more interesting and rewarding show than the show it became in the last three episodes, which was more about the plot (what's going on to these people?) Maybe that's what you have to do, but I hope there's an endgame in mind that doesn't involve explaining each and every little detail and mystery, robbing the weirdness of all its potency.

(One of the things that Legion ↗ did really well here I think was give you enough background shenanigans to very obviously paint a picture of something is not right here, we are unmoored from reality without agonizing over having explanations for every single aberration.)

And, for the record, Haley and I predicted one of the two big plot twists. That's the ideal ratio, I think: predicting two means the show's obvious, and predicting zero means the show's illegible.


What We Do In The Shadows

(We watched seasons one through three.)

Wonderful and silly, like a very low-stakes live-action anime: there's a rich and inconsistent (but delightful) world, an emphasis on laughing with over laughing at, and a bunch of weird vampire stuff. It is not High Comedy and it is not perfect but I struggle to think of a single episode that we regretted spending the time to watch. (The first season starts a little slow, and then finds its form.)


Ousama Ranking

This felt like the best possible version of a bildungsroman anime: incredibly sweet, memorable characters and a penchant for surprisingly deep characterization, lovely art and a simple-but-not-too-simple plot. (Bojji and Kage are the absolute best, and their bond somehow never feels too saccharine.)

There were probably two things that I didn’t quite love (and I think it’s fair to say that this was a show that I 80% loved to the moon and 20% didn’t like, which is often more interesting than a show that I 100% thought was pretty good):

  1. The back half of the show got into Dragon Ball levels of “talking during fights” and power level creep. It was hard to take a given fight scene (or indeed, an episode involving fight scenes) particularly seriously once it became obvious that nobody was going to die and the outcome of the fight didn’t matter. (The fight scenes themselves were still fun, though!)
  2. The show has a bias towards redeeming and forgiving literally every single character, which I think played nicely with the first few folks who looked to be trope-y and then were revealed to be detailed (the snake handler, the step mother). But going from “this evil witch did a genocide and wanted to kill everyone” to “we’re going to marry the evil witch” was… too much for me.

How I Met Your Father

I can’t find the exact tweet, but someone described this as “a weird experiment where you take people in the year 2022 and you force them to make content with the comedic stylizing of 2012.” That’s exactly correct. There’s nothing particularly offensive about the show beyond its intense commitment to a brand of milquetoast, comfortable comedy that is just slightly below replacement level. The acting is not terrible but not particularly good (the British Barney stand-in is probably the stand-out, for at least a commitment to the over-the-top emoting). The hackneyed and, frankly, desperate callbacks to the original series don’t really hit any emotional notes beyond “oh, I remember that!” We might watch a second season of this if it comes out, but less out of excitement and more out of “well, sure, might as well.”


Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō

I struggle to think of analogues for this — four short, sweet episodes about “the evening of the world”, a quiet and blissful post-apocalyptic slice-of-life. It is ethereal and wistful and deeply, deeply warm — not an easy task for an anime which stars two robots and two humans, none of whom really talk or develop that much. The only two complaints I can level against the show: it was too short (give me more of this in the same vein!) and this felt so clearly like snapshots of a rich and veiled world, rather than a number of things that added up to a gestalt.


Emily in Paris (Seasons 1-2)

Two things I will share about Emily In Paris, a truly bad show:

  1. It is at least an entertainingly bad show. It has no illusions about being good, and it is quite fun to yell at it: the writing so awful, the characters so cliche, the production so silly. (My favorite part of the entire thing is how the characters talk to themselves in English even when the protagonist — who is mocked and hated for speaking in English — is not around!)
  2. The one saving grace of a show like this could be the music and yet it is somehow so deeply uninspired and lazy. I truly don’t understand it.

Cowboy Bebop (2021)

This was neither as bad as I thought it could be nor as good as I hoped it might be. The vast majority of the blame I think has to go towards the scriptwriting, which has a Joss Whedon-esque self-referentiality to it that completely undermines the philosophy of the original and, more than that, is just bad on its own merits. ("Welcome to the ouch, motherfuckers" should not get past the writer's room.) The most interesting swing-and-miss of the show was the decision to dedicate a huge amount of time and energy towards Vicious and Julia. The anime's depiction of them — scant — works because we don't need to know that much about them. They're caricatures whose nuances we can paint in on our own. By the time the season wrapped up, I actually enjoyed some of the shades we got — the flashback episode was perhaps my favorite in the show, and ironically it's the one where they weren't forced to hit the same plot beats of the original — and then the characterization of the finale is tired, a hook for a second season.

I am not sad that this show didn't get renewed: it didn't deserve it. At the same time, I don't regret watching it: I groaned and sighed a lot, but it was fun. (And the acting I thought was really well done; the core three cannot be m


Akudama Drive

I think this was a classic case of high highs and low lows. The animation & aesthetic is incredibly fun, even if it's only "cyberpunk" at a visual level (big metropolis! lots of neon! paramilitary cops!) and the sheer amount of propulsion on a scene to scene basis means you're never bored. The ending episode or two are also delightful, and the show does a really great job of having interesting and satisfying arcs for every character (especially the protagonist, whose evolution over the short thirteen episodes is predictable but fun). Where the show really lost me was the middle section: every episode had two too many plot twists, and it's clear that the screenwriting lost some of the forward drive after the original heist that brought the cast together was completed. Can't help but wish this was a movie instead (I think a tight 110 minutes would have been wonderful), but still worth watching.


Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

This is a very sweet, fun, imaginative, delightful show. I'm not really sure what else to say about it: it did not change my life, but every single episode made me either laugh or grin out loud. I am, in general, not a huge fan of slice-of-life (or perhaps to phrase it more accurately: non-fantastic) anime, but this was a clear exception, mostly because it takes great use of anime as a medium to explore the bounds of imagination and creativity.


30 Rock

I've watched the thing front to back three times, including once during the show's initial run. There are things that haven't aged well — much hay has been made about a contrast between Amy Poehler's tendency to punch up and Tina Fey's tendency to punch down — and the show, like most seven-season network sitcoms, simply runs out of stories to tell after a certain point, but here's the thing: it is simply a very funny show, that remains funny and interesting after three watchings, and it never thinks of itself as anything else than a show whose job it is to be as funny as possible, a task at which it almost overwhelmingly succeeds.



I wanted to like this one so much. It seemed tailor-made to what I love in anime: interesting, anachronistic setting; weird alchemy stuff; a huge slew of characters and viewpoints; framing devices within framing devices.

Instead, it felt...scattered? The character design made things muddled, and the disparate points of view made it difficult to tease out the tangled web of loyalties and interpersonal relationships. None of these things would be that big of a deal if the core action was coherent and propulsive enough, but it... wasn't, and many of the climactic showdowns felt inert.

(None of my complaints apply to Isaac and Miria, who for my money are probably my two favorite anime characters...ever? Certainly my two favorite comedic characters.)


Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket

This is the first Gundam show I've watched since my Toonami days, and it was — excellent. There was nothing silly or sophomoric; it was a mature and frankly brutal miniseries on the cost of war. What was surprising to me was how "un-Gundam" it was; there were maybe two or three mecha battles and really there was nothing unique about them that couldn't have been expressed in, like, climactic shootouts of any other sort.

Also, the music was great


Danganronpa: The Animation

It is rare for me to complain that I wish a show was longer, but: I wish this was longer! The tropey interplay was fun but there wasn't that much of it because 13 episodes meant an extremely tight arc, and the most fun aspects of these sorts of shows — getting to try and figure out the mystery before the show reveals it — is nigh-impossible because the actual investigation scenes happen in the span of seconds. The setting is weird and fun and the characters are great, but too brief — really all this did was act as an effective advertisement for the game on which it was based.



What a weirdly unsatisfying season of television. I did not love WandaVision but it was something that was obviously meant to be television: episodes were self-contained, interesting, and true to form.

This was a six-episode-long movie, and not a particularly well-paced movie at that. Hiddleston was okay! Jonathan Majors was excellent (and should have been inserted much earlier than the finale.) Owen Wilson was fun but underused, and none of the other characters particularly mattered. Some of the special effects were particularly bad, and the script-writing was just....yeesh.


The Vinland Saga

A bit of a slow-burn start with a few too many tropes, but I think the back half of the season — once we got into an interesting and multifaceted cast of characters and a sense of real unchartered territory (both literally and in terms of plot) it really blossomed into something great. (Also, Thorkell is just a classically excellent character, a JRPG protagonist come to life, and his ethos and compass keeps the show from being a melodrama.)



Perfect series. The Bojack comparisons are obvious, but what this show really demonstrates is a warmth and humanity for every character in its orbit (okay, with maybe one or two exceptions). The central crime & tensions is very fun — and the protagonist's demeanor makes the entire thing feel very Murakami, even if that's an obvious comparison — the music is great, and it's just a rollocking good time all around. I loved it, I thought it was flawless, I thought it nailed the landing, I think


The Tatami Galaxy

Incredible, incredible anime. The visual aesthetic alone is terrific, and the core premise is fun-if-not-revelatory, but the show's sense of humor and chaos (perhaps best encapsulated in Ozu, who reads most as like some sort of Shakespearean imp) just had me straight up grinning in every episode. I loved it, and it was fun, and it was delightful to watch.


Killing Eve

The first season was messy and a bit spottily plotted but glorious: the acting was top notch, the subversions were all there, and it was just joyous. The plot alone would have been great, and the acting alone would have been great, and the aesthetic & costuming just brings everything over the top!

The second season, though... much less so. No characterizations make sense; Sandra Oh’s character becomes uninteresting and unconvincing, and the plot feels... like fanfiction. (Someone called “The Ghost”? Really?) It left a bad enough taste in our mouths that we’re not interested in a third season, which is a shame. (I am going to start calling this the Mandalorian Effect.)



Incredible music and some very fun (if more than a little MHA-inspired) character design but good lord is the plot stale. The soundtrack is really really delightful and I would watch a spin-off starring the mercenary crew who were vastly more fun and interesting than the titular protagonist or the


The Grinder

A one-season show that was not exactly a wonder, but it knew exactly what it was: low-prestige silly television. It had a terrific commitment to bits; Rob Lowe was terrific (essentially playing himself). Timothy Olyphant was terrific literally playing himself. Fred Savage and Mary Elizabeth Wilstead were solid and game-y! The kids and side characters were poorly fleshed out but that would have been ameliorated with more time. I am going to miss this show; it deserved a second season, and the level of metacommentary it hit in the last few episodes (in particular the final scene of the show!) was worth the price of admission on its own.


Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

I knew the film more than the series, and a lot of what I was expecting is colored by that lens. The first season in particular was less cerebral and more, uh, traditional — not in a bad sense, but besides the subplot of the Tachikomae slowly becoming supercomputers (which I loved, and every character beat was pleasant and earned!) it felt something like more of a low-rent CBS drama. NCIS: Cyberpunk Japan.

The second season was much better in almost every realm. The standalone episodes were less “The Major Goes On An Adventure” and more focused on fleshing out the rest of Section 9; even truly one-off episodes, like the Taxi Driver pastiche, were finely crafted. I cared less about Individual Eleven / Kuze than I did Laughing Man, but the general plot and atmosphere felt like a step up.

It’s not as good as the film, but that’s a high bar to reach. It is good cyberpunk anime that didn’t always nail the landing (the finale of both seasons was less gripping than the actual lead-up and middle plot), but was worth watching.

(Also, the music was uniformly great. Yoko Kanno at her peak.)


Friends From College

A remarkable show (in the literal sense.) Clearly a talented writer's room that learned way too late that the plotting and characters they had set up were absolutely insufferable, and by the time they started to course-correct in the second season it was too late. Billy Eichner's straight-man character was really well-done, and there are a couple moments of genuine glee (the first half of the finale!), but it was drowning in a sea of melodrama and uncharitable assholes.



What to say about this show that isn’t damning with faint praise?

The first three episodes were terrific, and amongst the best things Marvel has done. Every time after that we exited “the universe of the show” it sucked! Why are we dealing with the most generic bad guy in the world! Who gives a shit about these awful action scenes? Why do we have to pull the most obvious subtexts into the foreground?

The answer, of course, is that because this is a Marvel property, and I am not the perfect audience — I liked this despite its MCU heritage, not because of it. But there was a path for this show to be truly great, and it’s a bummer that they steered away from it. (Maybe what I wish is that this show was Legion, which this certainly took a few beats from.)



The show owns! I liked the back half much more than the front half, but the transition from silly slice-of-life to thriller was really well done, and the "working backwards" of it all turned out incredibly well I think. You grow attached to almost every character — even the protagonist shifts from anime annoying weirdo to someone you genuinely feel for — and the show made me legitimately laugh pretty often. Just very very well done!


Terror in Resonance


Serial Experiments Lain

This was a series with lots of flaws, but it was so relentlessly interesting and unsettling — in aesthetic, in content, in message — that I don't think I will stop thinking about it or connecting with it for a very long time.



Season one: terrific, and my favorite piece of Star Wars content ever. I get that it's just a space veneer around Westerns, but its done so damn well — the characters are engaging and interesting, the direction & score is fantastic. I can't really think of any huge complaints.

Season two: they certainly doubled down on the Star Wars, didn't they? This was a bit of a disappointment: the music was lovely and there were a couple of really great emotional beats (the final ten minutes of the season were wonderful not because of the big spoiler but because of the tearful goodbye Mando gave), but overall this felt too fanservicey. Too many gratuitous action scenes; too many backdoor pilots; too much Star Wars talk.



This is probably my least favorite season of Fargo and it was still really solid.

  • Terrific acting. Chris Rock (and Glynn Turman) were spectacular.
  • The Wizard of Oz episode was a singular triumph and one of the best episodes in Noah Hawley's quiver.

But the entire thing was just too long. This was eleven episodes that could have been trimmed down to eight fairly easily; it feels like a consequence of Hawley's stature within FX being so sacrosanct that nobody can tell him no. (That's projection, of course, but if he was going to be indulgent I would have preferred him to be at least interestingly indulgent.)


The White Queen


Agatha Christie’s Poirot

Delightful. I’d recommend pacing out your consumption a bit more than we did — like the books themselves, and perhaps like the format writ large, the formula wears a bit thin and obvious when you’re giving yourself ninety minutes of it each night — but Suchet’s acting is delightful, the production elegantly scales from low-budget camp to high-budget elegance, and sometimes you just want to curl up with a whodunit.

It is not an elevatory iteration of the form, but it is perhaps the purest version of it possible, and consistently well-executed.


Happy Endings

This, to me, is the perfect sit-com. It’s that simple: for two seasons (skip the first season; you don’t need it and the show tries to be too conventional) it shits out an outrageous level of humor with a cast that has a perfect chemistry. There is a tiny bit of “aw, shucks” relationship drama and camaraderie, but mostly it’s just about an insanely high number of jokes. This is the apex of the “six friends hanging out” show; there are shows that go in different directions with it (like How I Met Your Mother ↗ and their innovation/reliance on pseudo-postmodern narration) but I have yet to encounter a show that improves upon the formula.


Arrested Development


Bojack Horseman


Brooklyn 99


Burning Love




Game of Thrones

Okay, so, Game of Thrones.

I don't think I have a lot of interesting material to cover here: no show before or since will ever be so completely trampled upon by the content-industrial complex quite like this one. Yes, I hated the ending — I was "out" on the show a few seasons more than the average person, I think, mostly because I was always more interested in the "High Fantasy Sopranos" angle more than the "Dragons & Zombies" angle and the plot understandably shifted from the former to the latter over time.

That being said: still a good show! I don't regret spending time with it, and if someone somehow appeared in the world without a preconception about it I very easily and very quickly recommend them the show.

The thing that will stick with me about Game of Thrones, though, is the first few seasons, and the pitch or lens that I'm sure is relatively common but I can't find the original source where I encountered:

Take the most stereotypical fantasy premise possible: a king has become insane with power and a loyal group of warriors unite to overthrow him and improve the world. Now what happens after that?

I love that, and that vaguely postmodern genre lens fulfills its promise and then some. Game of Thrones was — is — at its best when its deconstructing the genre with equal parts adoration & malice.




Master of None


New Girl


Russian Doll


Sports Night

Sports Night is, in the final calculus, a not very good show that is the obvious prequel to West Wing (a show which itself is probably Not Very Good but I love it dearly, perhaps especially for its flaws.) I think you can excuse many of its faults — it was a “prestige show in a network landscape” before that was really a thing, and there is no sharper hallmark of such a descriptor than the gradual move away from the laugh track over the course of the first season. I think if you grade it as a sitcom it’s actually fairly easy to love, and if you grade it as a sort of beta test for West Wing it’s fairly easy to appreciate (though the number of monologues Sorkin directly airlifted from this to the latter is comical).

When I think of Sports Night, I think of the finale of the show, and the deus ex machina television executive yelling brashly and firmly:

Anybody who can't make money off Sports Night should get out of the money-making business.

What a very sweet and awful way to send off a show. You can litigate Sorkin to hell and back, but you can never fault him for earnestness.


The West Wing


Tuca and Birdie

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© 2023 Justin Duke • Thank you and be well.