Happy Friday (on Monday)! The Friday Spotlight is back and we’ve got some swell shows to talk about. A series finale of one of our favorites, a brand new and long overdue show, and the season premiere of an unfairly overlooked gem. It’s time to get talking about TV!
Halt and Catch Fire – The series ended this week with a two-hour episode and it was exactly the finale Halt deserved. Before we got to the end, there was a brilliant antepenultimate episode about the gang dealing with Gordon’s sudden death. (Which we didn’t write about at the time, but holy smokes. It’s been this ticking time bomb since Season Two but with all the time that passed over the course of the series, it seemed like he was going to be OK.) It was maybe one of the most honest portrayals of grief we’ve seen on TV. Ostensibly it was an episode about dealing with the day to day and packing up Gordon’s stuff and trying to move on, but we watched Cam and Joe and Donna and the girls dealing with that hole in their lives. Gordon wasn’t perfect and everybody there butted heads with him and he disappointed most of them at one point or another, but it didn’t matter. Simple things like Cam boxing up the Super Nintendo or the way they forgot to eat, or how laughter seems so incredibly inappropriate in those times but it’s so necessary.
And then the two hour finale was about everybody moving on, professionally and emotionally. Both Comet and Rover failed, as they had to because in a show filled with references to AOL and Netscape and Yahoo!, well, the Internet services you’ve never heard of didn’t make it. And it’s all about boxes. People move and pack and leave their jobs and everything goes in boxes. Bos goes through his old boxes to find a Cardiff radio as he muses on the likelihood that he’s going to see the 21st Century, back when that seemed like an infinite future. There are walls of boxes separating Joe and Cam. Cameron spent much of the season picking up boxes of stuff from her failed marriage. And it all goes back to the beginning, when big hunks of Season One went to discussions of how they were going to sell the computer Joe and the team were building, right down to what the box would look like and how big it would be. Sure, the metaphor has stretched and changed over the seasons, notably focusing on the idea of castles. But a castle is really just a huge collection of carefully placed boxes. Look at those boxes they used to illustrate their idea of the Internet, the cubicles, or even that old school cursor. It’s all boxes and it’s a show about people who, well, thought outside of them.
And speaking of those people, it was always clear that the main four could accomplish amazing things together, but they also couldn’t be together for any length of time. They could enjoy moderate success and less tension in smaller groups, but to truly be brilliant, they needed all four. As much as their skills complemented one another, they brought out the worst in one another as people. And even in those moments when it seemed like they could be happy, the future Cameron envisioned with Joe never lined up with the future he wanted with her. So Joe went off on his own to teach a new generation (and end the series with the same words that began it). Cameron and Donna very nearly said their last goodbye until Donna came up with an idea that won Cam over – we didn’t get to hear the explanation, we just watched her get inspiration looking around a diner. Are they inventing e-commerce? iTunes? We’re never going to know, which also gives us the chance to believe they succeeded.
There’s more to say than we can cover, but even though Halt never caught on like a certain other AMC period drama, it was a genuinely wonderful show. Funny and insightful, dark and beautiful, dense and honest and devastating, it started with a premise that was hard to explain and took us on such a rewarding trip. The repeated line from Season One was “It’s not the thing. It’s the thing that gets us to the thing.” Well, Halt and Catch Fire was the thing.
At Home with Amy Sedaris – This new TruTV series feels like something that should have existed years ago. Not because it feels dated (though the Martha Stewart-style homemaking shows don’t really exist like they used to), but because it’s so obvious. Sedaris (Strangers with Candy, BoJack Horseman) has published a couple of books with the same idea – quietly deranged crafts and homemaking – and it just feels like somebody should have given her this show a long time ago. But it’s here now, and it is a delight.
Sedaris knows how to go big and broad – just check out her work as Jeri Blank or most of her talk show appearances, but At Home is almost subtle in its insanity. If you tuned in at the right time, it might seem like a nice lady is really presenting genuine craft tips in a pleasant tone of voice. But then suddenly she can’t get any glue out of the bottle. Or the second bottle. Or the third and fourth. And then the fifth bottle spews a metric ton of glue and her hands are covered and she’s trying to finish the craft and assures us that it’s fine because “glue dries clear”. And instead of playing her characters as grotesque (a favorite Sedaris trick), her weirdness trickles in around the edges. You see a bald spot from one camera angle or she makes an offhand reference to something truly insane. It’s very funny but if you’re expecting every scene to become the Julia Child sketch from SNL, it’s not that. It’s better, but it’s not that.
There are broader moments, certainly – there’s an educational film about the dangers of the craft room that’s silly and hysterical and it begins with Amy warning children “When you enter the craft room, you have to be prepared to die”. One episode opens with Amy getting her own head in a box from a courier service. It bounces from the big silly moments to bits like Amy’s unrequited crush or the sight gag of an assistant constantly dragging her purse through a recipe in progress. We get some great guest stars too – Scott Adsit plays the aforementioned crush. Nick Kroll plays a local creep who altered the handmade coupons Amy gave him (“One Crafting Session” “One Lunch with Mom”) to include “with full release” on each one. And Sedaris’ longtime collaborator Stephen Colbert showed up to play Stephen Colbert, friend to turtles.
It’s a very funny show that can be both sly and broad. We’ve already seen recurring characters like The Lady Who Lives in the Woods. She seems to have a continuing story that could form the continuity of seemingly unconnected episodes. Basically, we’re saying this is a good and funny show that is good and funny in surprising ways.
Stan Against Evil – We were big fans of this IFC horror comedy in its first season, but it had the unfortunate problem of running at the same time of year as Ash vs. Evil Dead Season Two and that’s a lot of horror comedy at once. But with the new Season Two, Stan has a wide open field and we can all appreciate it for what it is. Created by Simpsons vet Dana Gould, Stan stars John C. McGinley (Scrubs) as the titular former sheriff of Willard’s Mill and Janet Varney (Burning Love, Thrilling Adventure Hour) as Evie, the new sheriff. The basic premise is that a curse meant that every sheriff of Willard’s Mill died horribly for almost four hundred years. But Stan, unbeknownst to him, married a witch and she used her powers to keep him safe. When she died, he had a breakdown and left the force. But now that means the curse is back and 172 evils have been released on Willard’s Mill. That’s a lot of backstory but it’s mostly just setup for fun monster of the week episodes.
Of course, this week’s premiere picked up on last season’s cliffhanger with Evie stranded in the 17th century about to be burned at the stake by Constable Eccles (the man who was the original reason for the curse). With time in flux, Stan didn’t really remember Evie in the present but some modern day magic users were able to help him out. Of course, Stan only barely gives a crap most days and putting himself at risk to rescue somebody who might not exist wasn’t high on his agenda. And it’s as true now as it was in the Scrubs days – there is very little that’s funnier than watching McGinley just be mean to people.
Once Stan could get back in time to help Evie, a process which involved fighting a wraith and using its eyes to go to the past, things seemed to be fixed. Except that Evie would spontaneously stop existing. They resolved this by the end of the episode, though it involved the loss of a potential ally. Also, Stan got his hands on some more wraith eyes and it looks like he may be planning to try and prevent his wife’s death.
With only eight episodes a season, there’s not a lot of room to delve into the mythology, and this premiere cast doubt on the whole reason for the curse in the first place, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a fun ride with some very funny people and those trickles of worldbuilding are just icing on the cake. And it’s a little unfortunate that Evie was sidelined for so much of the two-parter, though she took center stage for the first part of the cliffhanger last season. And next week’s episode involves her ex and a were-pony, so she should have a lot to handle.
It’s a great series that was overshadowed in its first season and probably hurt by IFC’s bizarre decision to run two episodes every week when a show already has a short season. You blink and you miss it. But with the first season streaming on Hulu, it’s easy to get caught up and jump in.
OK, we hope to get this back on a weekly schedule because we want to talk about the fall finales of The Good Place and Great News and check in on some favorites. If there are any new shows we should be watching, let us know! And in the meantime, a smattering of quotes from over the last couple of weeks.
“Islamophobia is really on the rise right now. It never really went away, but it’s really having a moment right now. Islamophobia is kind of like Will and Grace – it was huge a while ago and then we thought it was gone and done, and now it’s back and bigger than ever. Thursdays on NBC.” — Kumail Nanjiani, Saturday Night Live
“Your riddles suck. ‘This place may make some people lie, some people speak, and some people cry’. That could mean anything. Lying! Speaking! Crying! You’re just describing a range of human behavior!” — Penguin to Riddler, Gotham
“I’ve read everything on your syllabus and, how do I put this delicately, it’s all stupid garbage.” — Michael to Chidi, The Good Place
“Went to the doctor. Got a clean bill of health. He said I should live well into the 21st Century. Can you imagine that? Jetpacks and robot overlords.” — John Bosworth, Halt and Catch Fire
“Let me start by asking you a question…” Joe MacMillan, the final line of Halt and Catch Fire
“She made me play Go Fish with her nudie cards! I won by getting four butts!” — Carol, Great News
“This place is full of ding dongs doing all kinds of baloney.” — Kevin, Stan Against Evil
“It’s more of a waiting room for farts.” — Gene on the teachers’ lounge, Bob’s Burgers
“The Jumbotron guy… he wouldn’t cut away. He just… hung there on me, just sobbing.” — Leroy on his failed public proposal, Ghosted
GORDON: “I think someone was trying to send you a message.”
PENGUIN: “What sort of message?”
GORDON: “The killer placed a severed pig head over Metzger’s own.”
PENGUIN: “So not a very clear message.” — Gotham