Happy Friday! We’ve reached the end of the work week, and that means it’s time to take a look at the Best TV Shows on TV. Every week, we watch so much TV that, I don’t know, some sort of side effect happens. (Look, they’re not all going to be classic intros!) Then we pick out our favorites and tell you why they were the best shows on TV this week. We do it because we love you. So rub that in everybody’s face at the high school reunion!
Before we get into this week’s best television shows, EJ wanted to say a little about James Gandolfini. The Sopranos star passed away unexpectedly yesterday. There’s something about the death of a TV icon – it immediately feels more personal than somebody known for movies. They’ve been in your house every week for years. And Tony Soprano was more personal than most; we sat in on his therapy sessions and watched his marriage fall apart and saw him try to form a relationship with his kids and, on rare occasions, try to be a better man.
The Sopranos is one of my all-time favorite shows. It’s the show that officially switched me over from being a film nerd to being a TV nerd. And James Gandolfini’s performance is a huge part of that. I can’t picture anybody else playing Tony Soprano. In fact, it’s hard to imagine somebody even creating Tony without having James Gandolfini in mind. His massive presence, his intimidating posture, his gift for comedy, his wild emotional swings – who but Gandolfini could have brought that character to life?
There’s a vibe that you get from Tony Soprano. He’s sort of like a bear. He’s big and might seem friendly and huggable, but all it takes is one little thing to go wrong and he will tear you apart. Gandolfini could go from the dumbest joke to that amazing dead-in-the-eyes look in no time at all. His performance reminded us that Tony was always dangerous, always one second away from violence.
And somehow, we rooted for the guy. We really just wanted for everything to be OK. Gandolfini was the only reason for that, too. Make no mistake, Tony Soprano was a legitimate monster. He deserved any bad thing that came his way, but Gandolfini gave him a weird vulnerability. It’s a cliche to say it, but he made it clear that there really was a damaged little boy inside a killer’s body. Without his performance, Tony Soprano is a straight-up villain and the show never becomes a classic.
It’s surprising and sad that he was only 51. He was younger than I am now when The Sopranos premiered, which kind of freaks me out. I feel like he always looked 51. Way back in Get Shorty (where he played a gay bodyguard who only wanted to be a stuntman) he looked 51. But in his small role in last year’s Zero Dark Thirty and his role in his old boss’ Not Fade Away, he still looked 51. It made him feel eternal. Like there was no reason our children wouldn’t be watching him far off in the future, still 51 years old. It felt like one of those Internet hoaxes when the news broke. And then I watched some favorite Sopranos episodes,
Even if you didn’t watch Sopranos, television is so much better because of James Gandolfini and Tony Soprano. Not only did it open the floodgates for cable channels to begin producing high-quality original programming, but Gandolfini’s performance, both endearing and terrifying, allowed a whole different kind of protagonist on TV. We wouldn’t have Walter White, Don Draper, Vic Mackie, Al Swearengen, Jackie Peyton, Kenny Powers, Sookie Stackhouse or so many other characters without Tony Soprano. And without James Gandolfini, we wouldn’t have Tony Soprano.
My sympathies go out to his family. I obviously only know him as a presence on my TV, but I loved him for it.
We’ve already talked about Mad Men and The Venture Bros., both of which were so good that we freaked out a little. But there’s still plenty more to talk about, so let’s dive right in!
NTSF:SD:SUV:: – The new season hasn’t started yet, but our favorite procedural satire still boasted a sort of new episode this week. Last year, there was a Speed parody that ran online, and this week it aired on TV. A terrorist planted a bomb on a bus that would detonate if it went faster than zero miles an hour, which meant Trent Hauser had to prevent the bus from moving. Naturally, his first instinct was to shoot the driver. There is no problem that Trent can’t solve with ultraviolence. There was a bit with a baby carriage full of cans (and also a baby), Piper survived blowing up, and the phrase “Jason Mraz Memorial Park and Chill Zone” got funnier every time they said it. It all ended with a stirring anti-public transit message and got us all riled up for the new season.
Futurama – The new season began this week. We’d generally be more excited about this, but it’s also the final season. Granted, we’ve been through a final season before, and then a final original movie. This is not our first rodeo. But denial might not be the best way to go here. So instead, we’re going to treasure our final flights with the Planet Express crew. We got two new episodes this week. The first had Professor Farnsworth falling in with a hot rod gang after rebuilding the ship. It was one of those weird episodes where the 31st Century is also exactly like the 1950s. Besides a funny bit with one of the hotrodders talking about her abusive father, eventually specifying “verbally abusive” and then downgrading to “It wasn’t what he said, it was what he didn’t say”, there were some delightful science jokes like the Mobius Dragstrip and a whole segment that threw the main characters into the second dimension. Any time Futurama plays around with animation styles, it’s going to be good. And in the best throwaway joke in a very long time, we saw the cops arresting “Pimparoo”, a kangaroo pimp. (Which is to say a kangaroo who is also a pimp. Not a pimp who helps one procure the services of kangaroos.) This might be the greatest gift Futurama has given us since the Hypno Toad.
In the second episode, Fry and Leela enjoyed a romantic weekend at a resort for two people. Until Leela’s oft-mentioned but never before seen ex-boyfriend Sean stopped by. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew delivered to a planet of simians (including Professor Banjo and the long-forgotten Gunter), and then it turned out that Fry and Leela were actually an exhibit in the human zoo. Actually, it was pretty thin on plot. You know the Harlem Globetrotters episode where they announce “There are no stakes”? That was kind of this one — Fry and Leela got to leave when they were ready, so there wasn’t really even manufactured tension. It was still funny – we’re suckers for monkey jokes, and Fry’s irritation with Sean is pretty great. There just wasn’t much to it beyond that. (Other than “It’s me, Zoidberg. From work? And LinkedIn?”) It worked as the second half of a double feature, but as a stand-alone episode it was a bit light. However, we still love Futurama with all our hearts, plot or not.
MasterChef – This was one of the weirder episodes of a cooking competition show that we’ve seen in a while. They spent half the episode on the set of Glee, cooking for the cast and crew and nearly shutting down production with some undercooked chicken. Amazingly, Jane Lynch just stayed in character as Sue Sylvester the whole time, delighting Gordon Ramsay. Even better was the first half of the episode, where all the chefs had to cook using foreign delicacies. The catch is that nobody told them what these delicacies were. There was a lot of “Well, this is definitely meat”. One contestant played around with something before concluding “Yeah, that’s a bag of hair.” So at the end, the judges had to explain to the chefs what they actually made. That was a lot of fun, and it featured an appearance from Judge Joe Bastianich’s adorable mother. We never really thought of him has having a mother. He just seemed like he appeared full grown and angry.
Inside Amy Schumer – Amy’s sketch show has been great all season – we’re still in love with the interview segments (this week, she talked to a small child!), and this time out there were some standout sketches. In one, she was called in to roast a terminally ill child. Which sounds terrible, but it was really funny. And then there was the bit where her boyfriend (Kyle Dunnigan of the Professor Blastoff podcast) was addicted to skipping (and she refused to join in by doing the Electric Slide). We’re on board whenever somebody foils a crime by skipping, especially if they do a live-action Donkey Kong reenactment along the way. It was a good one!
Daily Show – John Oliver has been doing a great job filling in for Jon Stewart, a fact which has not gone unnoticed by the WWE. There’s been an immigration story running on Smackdown over the last several weeks (yes, really), and this week John’s name came up as an example of a foreigner stealing American jobs. And when somebody calls you out in the world of professional wrestling, there’s only one thing you can do: Cut a promo. With the help of Mick “Mankind” Foley (who is the actual best), John went to war with the WWE, and the results are hilarious. (Also? Mick Foley is directing a documentary about Santa Claus? How can that not win every award?)
The Fosters—For every two or three completely vapid and shallow ABC Family shows that work as a guilty pleasure or fodder for The Soup, there’s a genuinely good one that comes along like this. There’s a bit of old fashioned cheesiness at the show’s core, but it’s got a great cast and pulls you into this family (consisting of two moms, one biological child, four foster kids and the bio kid’s dad) pretty quick. Newcomers Callie and Jude have had more than their share of pain in their childhood, getting moved around and abused; Twins Jesus and Mariana have a biological mother who gave them up but asks Mariana for money, which she gets by selling her brother’s ADD meds at school; Bio son Brandon is struggling with his girlfriend’s jealousy over his connection to Callie and the quiet battle between his parents over where he will live. The Moms have their own issues as well. We don’t have Bunheads to obsess over this summer, so we’ll take this one instead!
Hot In Cleveland—The Betty White-led show returned this week for the second half of their fourth season with a live episode. Being a multi-cam sitcom, this was in no way the free for all we’ve come to expect in the era of 30 Rock live shows. It was like watching a cute little playlet starring some funny ladies and gentlemen. The plot was something involving White’s Elka selling discount Canadian prescription drugs, with Danny Pudi being the former Cleveland “kingpin”. Brian Baumgartner showed up as the brother of Joy’s friend and, while he was still goofy, he was not playing Kevin, which was nice. Pudi was clearly having fun with the gang, and though he was nerdy, he was still much cooler than Abed. Nice to see both guys showing some comedic range! William Shatner showed up as some wacky Ohio mobster and Shirley Jones played his mother (oddly enough, she’s three years younger in real life). It was silly fun that we like knowing is there to fall back on.
The Colbert Report—Stephen has been out since his mother’s passing last week, and this Wednesday was his first show back. He kept it light overall, with a hilarious segment about the validity of Cap’n Crunch (real name: Horatio Magellan Crunch) and a visit from indie band The Postal Service. But he started the show out of character, eulogizing his mother in the loveliest way imaginable, often pausing to choke back tears. He clearly adored the woman and made us wish we’d gotten to meet her. You just have to watch:
That’s it for this week! Next week, Big Brother returns and we’ll be obsessing over that. We’ve also got the season finale of Mad Men, the season premiere of Copper and more. And if you have some summer TV shows to watch, let us know and we’ll check them out!