Want To Know When Doctor Who Gets Good? How To Binge 6 Shows
Pilot episodes for TV series are a lot like '70's pornos: Everyone is awkward, the acting isn't as good as it should be, and no one really believes in the relationships being established. Sometimes, it takes entire seasons before a series finds its footing and becomes remotely enjoyable. Hell, it took Family Matters 12 episodes until they found Urkel. Can you imagine anyone actually sitting through 11 Urkel-less episodes of Family Matters? What would they even talk about if every other sentence wasn't punctuated with a "DID I DO THAT?"
Thankfully, while you guys were busy "interacting" with "other people" in "positive ways," I was binging these six TV shows to ensure that when you finally got around to watching them, you wouldn't have to stumble through the weaker opening episodes. These are six shows that are waaaay more enjoyable when you don't start them from the beginning.
Parks And Recreation Adds Two Cast Members And Feels Complete
Parks and Recreation first began as The Office In Indiana. We were introduced to Leslie Knope, a strong, independent fool who was too busy fawning over a guy that she'd slept with once to get anything done. Well, maybe the guy she's into is memorable? Nope. He acts like he's performing comedic lines at gunpoint.
"You can kill me off if you want to. Say I'm visiting family, or invented time travel. Whatever it takes."
Well, maybe it's a case of the side characters being more entertaining than the leads? Nope again. They're a mishmash of character traits, and not a single one stands out amongst the others. Hell, Jerry "I dislocated my shoulder reaching for a dropped burrito" Gergich isn't even Jerry "Fart Attack" Gergich yet, and a Jerry Gergich that's not Jerry "I know you're laughing at me, but aw, shucks, you're just too nice" Gergich is not a Jerry Gergich that I want to see.
God. Shut up, Jerry.
Where You Should Start: Season 2, Episode 23
Luckily, things pick up at the beginning of Season 2, when Ron Swanson goes from being a lame uncle to a cool uncle, Andy goes from being a deadbeat boyfriend to being a comedic battering ram, and the rest of the cast manages to find their place. And with the introduction of Adam Scott's nerdy, bewildered Ben and Rob Lowe's ultra-positive, health machine Chris, Parks And Rec transitions from having a collection of funny characters in it to having an actual cast. Somehow, the addition of Ben and Chris manages to not only provide two new additions, but round out the personalities of everyone else.
At Season 2, Episode 23, Parks And Rec goes from being a good sitcom to a damn good sitcom, because it makes that leap that all sitcoms have to make before they become something worth getting excited over. You can have as many funny people in a room as you want, but if they're not a cohesive unit yet, it's just jokes being thrown around. And jokes are usually great, but they're so much better when they come from people you care about.
"Aww. They care about me?"
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia Adds A Character To Improve A Character
It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia has never been bad. There probably isn't a comedy show in the last two decades that knew what it wanted to be from the opening second as well as It's Always Sunny did. The only problem was Charlie Day, who was seemingly delivered from heaven to ensure that a joke's delivery always worked. He was amazingly funny, but he was less of a character as much as he was a humor delivery service. And that could've worked for a dozen seasons with no problems. He was, and has always been, the condiments on the burger that is Always Sunny. Sure, it would be tasty without him, but sprinkle Charlie Day on literally anything and it gets better. We're looking at you, Pacific Rim.
Honestly, Pacific Rim 2 should be Kaiju fighting a three-hundred-foot Charlie Day.
And then Danny DeVito showed up, and holy shit.
Where You Should Start: Season 2, Episode 1
A lot of actors nowadays have resurgences in their careers through the prestige drama TV roles that they take. Were you popular in the '90s, but faltering in the 2000s? You're going to be the most praised actor in the world after you play this mob boss/conflicted father/ruthless businessman/bad guy with a heart of "Eh?" Now, Danny DeVito has never not been a precious commodity in Hollywood, but while all of his peers were dressing up in whatever period piece costume HBO had assigned to them, DeVito was eating garbage, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Plus, we don't exactly know where Danny ends and Frank begins.
As Frank, DeVito is a mix of old-school wrestling promoter, The Penguin, and roadkill-eating lunatic, and this portrayal has allowed Charlie to find his niche. With the weight of having to be the go-to guy for every "Insert crazy joke moment here" slightly taken off his shoulders, he's free to strengthen his own character. Plus, it gives Charlie an equal to play off of. The other characters look down on him, but now Charlie has Frank to rival his insanity. And with that pair established, Always Sunny became a show that I hope outlasts all other shows. A hundred seasons would be too few.
30 Rock's Seventh Episode Establishes Exactly What It Wants To Be
30 Rock was one of the better laugh-track-less TV comedies that popped up in the mid-2000s. However, in the beginning, things felt a bit off. Is there a heart to these characters? Is this just a straight-up satire of the TV business with no real emotional core? Is Alec Baldwin the villain? Is he meant to be the love interest of Tina Fey? I hoped not. They're both good performers, but the minute a tender scene between Fey and Baldwin would've popped up, my first reaction would be "WHO IS FORCING YOU TO DO THIS? WHERE ARE THEY? WE MUST STOP THEM. OR AT LEAST EMAIL THEM WITH GUSTO."
My letters about this will be furious and grammatically correct.
Where You Should Start: Season 1, Episode 7
However, this turns around entirely with "Tracy Does Conan." Why? Because, for the first time, all of the characters feel like they have a purpose in the lives of the other characters. By the time this column ends, you're going to hear me talk a lot about the importance of contributing to the lives of others, and I swear to god, it won't end with a call for all of us to hug. But a great sitcom, like I mentioned with Parks And Rec, rounds out its cast by ensuring that everyone kind of has a piece of everyone else. And 30 Rock was at its best when the failings or successes of one character affected the failings or successes of everyone else, emotionally or otherwise.
The phrase "They're a family" is overused to the point of absurdity nowadays. Even Olive Garden, for years, had the catchphrase "When you're here, you're family," even though we all knew that really meant "When you're here, the waiters won't insult you for getting your fourth round of Endless Soup And Salad." But "Tracy Does Conan" finally allows us to know the roles that everyone has in the 30 Rock family. No matter what she does, Liz will always have to put out fires, Jack will be the staunch jackass, Tracy will be the petulant child, Jenna will never not need affirmation, and Kenneth will be the odd cousin destined for who-knows-what. In "Tracy Does Conan," audiences were given something that they could latch onto, rather than the simple parody premise of "Hey! Aren't these jobs sooooo wacky?"
Acting, man! It's ... it's ... soooo wacky!
The IT Crowd Killed Off The Boss And Became Great
As a TV series tries to find the right amount of conflict, one of the first things to usually go (especially in a workplace sitcom) is the boss. It has become a well-known TV trope, where the boss is killed off or arrested and the new boss comes in and creates friction for his new underlings. If you want to see an amazing spectrum of human emotions and reactions, watch what happens when someone they don't know tries to tell them what to do.
In this particular case, it worked out really well. The original boss in The IT Crowd was Denholm, who was just an overbearing, aloof asshole. I don't want to call that characterization lazy, but it's the same kind of archetyping that has brought us generation after generation of sitcom dads that, dang it, just can't seem to remember their wives' birthdays.
Goodbye, Denholm. You were ... definitely in the credits.
Where You Should Start: Season 2, Episode 2
And then he died, and was replaced by Douglas, his lazy, horny, egotistical son who embodied the worst aspects of every possible personality trait, and the show could breathe a little bit. Richard Ayoade has nailed any role within his reach, but it took a little while for Chris O'Dowd and Katherine Parkinson to kind of find their footing as the rest of the lead trio. This wasn't all due to the change in boss, but it certainly helped to vary up the work plotlines, now that they all didn't have to be "Man, that guy's a jerk. And if you've seen any episode of television since 1954, you probably know what's coming next."
Doctor Who's Reboot Finds Its Heart In Series Two
With 50 years, several spin-off shows, radio dramas, and a bunch of specials, it's a daunting task to even begin thinking about starting the Doctor Who saga. It's not just the massive amounts of material either, but what's in the material and what they expect you to take in -- Daleks, regeneration, wooly scarves, etc.
Starting from the very, very beginning is insane, and I don't think any person who has a sense of self preservation would. But even if you're like one of the seven trillion people who jumped into the reboot, I still don't think you have to start at the beginning of even that.
Where You Should Start: Series 2 (Reboot), Episode 1
That's why you need to begin with David Tennant's first appearance. Season two of the reboot is the best gift that you can give someone that says "It's a skinny dude with a pen and some bad special effects. Why is this so popular?" Tennant is delightful, the plots contain just the right amount of sincerity and self-awareness, and you can watch it all the way through because David Tennant could tell me that my grandmother died, and I'd be like, "Awwww, thanks David Tennant. I love you."
"Also, could you punch me in the face? That would be so awesome."
Now I understand that a lot of fans are going to be pissed off that I skipped over the first series (England people call it "series" because England people are weird ... also, I call them "England people"). I understand that. The first series of the reboot was pretty damn good. It's what kick-started the resurgence of that show's popularity, and it deserves all the praise in the world. But the reason I didn't say to start there is because it didn't really nail down who the Doctor is (and yes, I intended that pun all to fuck). The first Doctor in the reboot was more of a thug -- grittier and punchier -- which isn't exactly what makes Doctor Who the Whoest doctor in Whoville. Series two is reckless, goofy, stupid, fun, and serious in all the right places. Series one is a brilliant scifi punchfest ... Series two is Doctor Goddamn Fucking Who.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Gave Us One Of The Best Star Wars Stories Ever
Star Wars: The Clone Wars started off with a movie that is worse than any part of the prequel trilogy. You can sit through the prequels. You can make fun of the prequels. You can rewatch the Darth Maul fight scene from the prequels over and over again, and pretend that the prequels are just a six hour version of that lightsaber duel.
But the Star Wars: The Clone Wars movie is so ceaselessly unenjoyable that you wonder if it might just be George Lucas' "I must kill the monster that I have created" moment. And the first few episodes of The Clone Wars TV show are better than the movie, but ominously bland. This is a series about laser sword fights and magic gnomes. WHY AM I BORED BY THIS?
Where You Should Start: Season 1, Episode 5
And then the fifth episode "Rookies" comes up, and you want to apologize for every Jar Jar Binks joke you've ever made.
I'm sorry. I was young, and Jar Jar was just so, so stupid.
No, Jar Jar is not in it, because Jar Jar is, quite literally, Gungan cancer, but "Rookies" is the best Star Wars thing since Empire Strikes Back. A small group of Clone troopers find themselves outnumbered and hunted on a lonely moon. There are no Jedi, no important moments from pop-culture-friendly characters, and no extended moments of brevity to ensure you that your child isn't watching Apocalypse Now In Space. It's a simple story about unprepared soldiers facing near impossible odds, and it makes up for the whole decade where Star Wars was labeled under "Something that was good a long time ago in a galaxy that is sad and right here."
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Think Nana and Pop-Pop's loving 60-year monogamous relationship is quaint and old-fashioned? First off, sorry for that disturbing image, but we've got some news for you: the monogamous sexual relationship is actually brand new relative to how long humans have been around. Secondly, it's about to get worse from here: monkey sex.
On this month's live podcast, Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Dr. Christopher Ryan, podcaster and author of 'Sex at Dawn', onto the show for a lively Valentine's Day discussion about love, sex, why our genitals are where they are, and why we're more like chimps and bonobos than you think.
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