Tag Archives: netflix

Netflix Review: Dan Cummins, Colin Quinn

Dan Cummins: Crazy With A Capital F

Dan Cummins had a decent Comedy Central special almost a decade ago, and his style hasn’t changed one bit in the interim. Short, well-constructed jokes told by a part-time sociopath. (“I hate pet sympathy cards. I wanna write one. ‘I hear you’re torn up about your dead cat. At least you’re not literally torn up like your dead cat.”) Cummins loves to construct crazy scenarios and take them to their conclusions, like getting a thousand garden gnomes into your yard and letting neighbors wonder (“I can’t control those bastards forever!”), or giving the finger to the elderly (“Once. Well, twice. She deserved it once.”)

A solid hour of comedy. Recommended for a rainy day.

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short

A good friend of mine once called Colin Quinn “tragically unfunny,” an assessment I don’t generally disagree with. In this special, Quinn seems to have overcome this obstacle for an hour of competent if not surprising comedy. Taking an Eddie Izzard approach, Quinn walks us through the history of Western Civilization and jokes along the way. The historical take is surprisingly insightful, and the jokes are well above “tragically unfunny.” They require a little too much context for me to repeat them here, but it’s a watchable one-man show.

 

 

Netflix Review: Tom Segura, Lewis Black

Lewis Black: Old Yeller

I’ve never been a huge fan of Lewis Black, but that’s because I prefer comedians who tell jokes. It’s been a long time since Black told one of those, and his curmudgeonly act has worn pretty thin. In Old Yeller, we might be seeing him cross into downright hack material (which historically he hasn’t done). Facebook is silly! People spend too much time staring at their phones! This is hardly groundbreaking stuff, even when yelled by an angry old man. I won’t say I never laughed – Black is very good at what he does, I just happen not to like it – but I also can’t recommend it. Considering his success, of course, I’m probably in the wrong here.

Tom Segura: Completely Normal

I had never heard of Tom Segura before but at this point Netflix will offer me any standup comedian they have. Segura is clearly a veteran with a strong stage persona, a weirdly demure and low-key R-rated (and worse) style. In parts he’ll venture into Lewis Black territory (“The worst persons are those waiting outside the grocery store with a clipboard for you to sign.”) but rather than count on his anger to bring the humor he actually develops a story (“Do you want children to die in the streets?” “Now that you ruined my day, I do. I want you to die first, but then all of them.”) His storytelling style is hard to quote but he establishes the right mood for the jokes to work.

Worth checking out. Adults only.

NetFlix Review: Myq Kaplan & Steve Byrne

Kaplan over Byrne, if you have to choose.

Myq Kaplan: Small, Dork, and Handsome

Myq Kaplan is another Last Comic Standing veteran that developed into a pretty good comedian. His material is subtle and smart (“You think the Wright Brothers knew how many people would have their junk touched because they invented the plane? I bet they thought the answer was 2.”), and sometimes borders on edgy (“If Jews with time machines keep traveling back in time to kill Hitler, all he ever knew were angry Jews trying to kill him, so his process starts to make more sense.”). Ultimately, though, Kaplan is a nerdy everyman with excellent material and an energetic delivery.

Recommended.

Steve Byrne: Champion

I wasn’t really clear on what Steve Byrne was about the first time I watched a special of his – he starts out pretty tame like any comedian. Pretty soon, though, he has you hooked, and he descends into much edgier material. It’s not necessarily funnier, though that’s mostly a credit to his tamer material. It’s just a lot more honest. Byrne launches into every race, creed, religion, and both genders, in a delightfully honest and politically incorrect way. I won’t quote much of it here, solely because out of context I could be in real trouble. (“When you use a stereotype, you’re not saying ‘all [of them].’ You’re saying ‘most of them.'”) The peak of the set is Byrne going through a fight with his wife about whether he’s yelling or not – one that’ll sound familiar to everyone who’s ever had to defend the volume of his voice.

Decent set, and certainly better than Byrne’s TV show.

NetFlix Review: Morgan Murphy & Women Who Kill

Morgan Murphy: Irish Goodbye

I had never even heard of Morgan Murphy until Jim Gaffigan plugged this special on Twitter, and I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did.

Murphy’s is a low-key, deadpan, sarcastic performer, with an edge that says “I know I need to get my life together.” Her topics range are pretty usual – relationships, bars, and general dysfunction (“If I’m attracted to you, it’s not a compliment, it’s a diagnosis.”). She will cross into unquotable (google her name and the phrase “have you ever stolen anything”), but she doesn’t need to – her material is tight and funny without the shock value. Her self-deprecation rings true, and she plays in the space between who we wish we were and who we really are like a pro.

Highly recommended.

Women Who Kill

This hourlong special gives us about 15 minutes each with four comediennes, although some of these sets felt longer than others.

Amy Schumer: I’m a little biased since I saw her live very recently, and I’m enough of a fan to give her the benefit of the doubt. She is clearly a talented writer – her sets are always polished – but I’ve yet to seen her venture beyond her comfort zone. The topics are still sex, dating, sex, ethnicity, sex, and dating ethnic people for sex. It’s good stuff, usually, but I wonder if she will have to stop going to that well at some point soon.

Rachel Feinstein: This was easily my least favorite set of the four. I don’t recall laughing at anything in particular, and I hope that Feinstein just swung and missed this time.

Nikki Miller: Miller was electric on the @Midnight episode I saw her, and I enjoyed her set here as well. She’s best described as a softcore Amy Schumer, merely dancing near the lines that Schumer proudly crosses. She has a certain sweetness that she uses to offset her more edgy material, and it works.

Marina Franklin: My first encounter with this comedienne, and while she didn’t wow me, I can see her potential. Her material is polished and well-constructed, and she’s obviously smart. I’ll keep an eye on her in the future.

Netflix Review: John Mulaney & John Caparulo

John Mulaney: New In Town

I tend to watch standup while I’m doing something else, usually on a computer, so I tend to prefer comedians who stick to the usual standup comedy paradigm (topic, setup, punchline, topper) over guys who tend more toward storytelling. One of the more disappointing developments in comedy has been the rise of comedians who are so well known that they can rely on their personality to carry a story to make it funny. That doesn’t mean it’s not funny – Louis CK is the posterchild for this and I love his comedy – but it asks more of the audience than comedy that’s funny no matter who delivers it.

John Mulaney tends toward the storytelling end of the spectrum, and it took me a second watching of this set (without a laptop in front of me) to fully appreciate him. His unmanly-man persona brings a lot of comic possibilities, and he takes advantage of them all. His rendering of a discussion with a friend regarding the death penalty that involves the hypothetical of running into Hitler is Mulaney’s storytelling at his best. (Also his attempt to get Xanax.) Mixed in are shorter stories that work as standalone jokes, but Mulaney asks you to stick with him for extended pieces. Most of the time, they work.

“I know I’m a bad driver. I hear you honking, and I also don’t want me to be doing what I’m doing.”

“I don’t look like I used to do anything. I looked like I sat in a room eating saltines for 28 years.”

Recommended.

John Caparulo: Meet Cap & Come Inside Me

John Caparulo is a blue-collar Ohio boy whose first Comedy Central Presents episode is one of the best sets of standup comedy I have ever seen. Caparulo’s energy is up there, and his pacing can be excellent. He’s also very good at playing off the crowd (“I used to help with garage sales at home, anyone else?” ~silence~ “That’s okay, I came here to feel worse about myself.”) and keeping the audience engaged without a lull. The CCP set I mentioned is a distillation of his best material and his best delivery.

Meet Cap is the set closely following the CCP episode, and it captures much of what’s great about Caparulo: self-deprecating jokes and anger at the stupidity of others, arrogance and loserhood combined into a volatile but funny mixture. The jokes are tight for the most part, and even the stories go over well.

Come Inside Me, the follow-up to Meet Cap, is not unfunny, but it’s less tightly scripted and more meandering. The reliance on “you had to be there” stories goes up, which breaks the flow of the show, but Cap’s energy is as high as it’s always been. A step down from Meet Cap, but if you like his stuff, this won’t disappoint.

Recommended in part and take-it-or-leave-it in part.

Netflix Review: Terriers

After my praise of the idea and execution of the one-season show, a friend recommended Terriers, which lasted 12 episodes on FX a few years ago. I remember when this show was first promoted on FX, and the show is nothing like I expected based on the previews, of which I only remember silence and the opening notes of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Down Boy.” I wish I had given it a chance when it aired, though I wouldn’t have saved it from cancellation. FX (or whatever it’s changed to now) has put together an excellent lineup of shows, and Terriers is no different. There was plenty of critical praise heaped upon it when it first aired, and much of it is deserved.

terriers
Ex-cop and recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) partners with his best friend, former criminal Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond-James), in an unlicensed private investigation business. Dolworth’s ex-wife Gretchen (Kimberly Quinn) and Britt’s girlfriend Katie (an excellent Laura Allen) are the ladies of the piece, but the cast also features a deep bench: Hank’s former partner Mark (Rockmond Dunbar), who provides ties into the police department, and the pair’s lawyer Maggie (Jamie Denbo) stand out.

The setup is that simple, but the plotting and pacing are very well executed. The show is almost entirely serialized (which didn’t help it survive), and the master plot (regarding some shady land dealing in the San Diego exurb of Ocean Beach) ties the episodes together. There are shorter plots involving the pair’s PI jobs, which are good in themselves and are inserted into the larger plot without slowing it down. (Whoever wrote this show wasn’t struggling to buy time to fill a season.) I could get into the details of the various large and small plot movements, but the show is at it best as a whole, so I won’t get into details.

As for characterization, the show dares to give you complete characters across the board, including many of the minor recurring characters. Logue particularly excels as Hank, and I’ve already mentioned Laura Allen as Katie. You quickly get a sense that you’re dealing with real people, with all the complication that brings. The show handles it very well.

Recommended.

NetFlix Review: Better Off Ted & Breakout Kings

The two shows below are both available on NetFlix, although I saw them both when they aired originally. They probably both deserved more than the two seasons that each got, but alas, life is not fair.

Better Off Ted

Better Off Ted is a workplace comedy centered on Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a single father and head of a research and development department at a soulless corporation (does Hollywood know another kind?) Veridian Dynamics.  Surrounding him are his boss, Veronica (a delightfully amoral Portia de Rossi), co-worker and love interest Linda Zwordling (a cute Andrea Anders), his daughter Rose (Isabella Acres), and laboratory scientists Phillip Myman (Jonathan Slavin) and Lem Hewitt (Malcolm Barrett).

The show walked a tight rope between complete farce and serious workplace comedy, and by common agreement, it nails it. Think Archer meets The Office, and you start to understand the general feeling of this show. It’s at times ridiculous – Phil and Lem’s research projects can be downright ludicrous, at times touching (Linda and Ted have these moments). The cast’s chemistry is off the charts, and it’s used very well; the pairing of Veronica and Ted is particularly fantastic, and Ted and Linda’s will-they-won’t-they rings true because the actors just work well together. I found Ted’s daughter to be more of a distraction than an asset, but it did give the show more options.

This is a well-crafted comedy, highly recommended, and at 26 episodes, a nice weekend watch.

Breakout Kings

I never saw Prison Break so I have no idea if and how this show features into that universe. As a stand-alone show, it’s pretty average fare that kept me engaged because it had high potential which it reached just often enough to make me stick it out for a few more episodes. The writing was uneven, but at its best, it was some of the most thrilling TV I can remember. The last episode of the second season – what turned out to be the show’s last episode – was one of the best-written, plotted, and paced hours of television I’ve ever seen, and you know that’s not faint praise. I remember just one false moment in the entire episode, and that’s only because I hate how TV characters use threats to get information in a way that doesn’t really happen in real life.

The show centered around a US Marshal who puts together a team of convicts with a history of escaping to assist with catching other escapees (something that seems to happen a lot). Every successful recovery gets the cons a month off their sentence and a stay in a cushy minimum security facility, while any attempt to escape would double their sentence in a maximum security prison. Our cast is:

  • Laz Alonso portrays Charlie Duchamp, a Deputy U.S. Marshal and head of the task force. He’s under pressure to make the task force work.
  • Domenick Lombardozzi portrays Ray Zancanelli, a former Deputy U.S. Marshal who lost his job after he was convicted of stealing money from a crime scene to buy his daughter a car. He has a spotty reputation with the Marshals’ Service and some of his bosses have it out for him as a result.
  • Malcolm Goodwin portrays Shea Daniels, a former gang leader whose criminal enterprises (drug smuggling, weapons trafficking, etc.) covered most of the United States. His experience and “street smarts” allow him to provide a working knowledge of how convicts think and move.
  • Serinda Swan portrays Erica Reed, a bounty hunter and expert tracker. She was convicted of a gun charge when her killings of the men who killed her father could not be proven in court.
  • Jimmi Simpson portrays Dr. Lloyd Lowery, a former child prodigy and a behaviorist with a Harvard degree. He uses his psychology skills to anticipate escapee behavior. He was jailed when a prescription he wrote illegally (to fund his gambling) killed a college girl. He’s also very entertaining and a mama’s boy.
  • Brooke Nevin portrays Julianne Simms, a former top student in the law enforcement training program who suffers from various anxiety disorders that make it difficult for her to function in the field. She is, however, adorable.

The show, as I mentioned, is uneven. It is at its best when the convicts actually use their insider convict knowledge to do their job. At its worst, it’s like any other procedural where you wonder why the marshals even bother with the cons, since they don’t contribute anything that other marshals couldn’t. The show struggles at times to justify the presence of the cons, but when it does, it’s good television.

The serialization part of the show is well-executed, though usually in the background of the case-of-the-week. The dynamics between three people who get to go home at the end of the case and three people who go back to a jail cell are believable – Goodwin and Lombardozzi in particular nail the two sides, with the former’s bitterness and the latter’s annoyance at the ingratitude coming to the forefront.

The second season gives the show its first real “Big Bad” and it’s used to a pretty good effect. With more time under its belt, there could have been more there. The show ended on a massive cliffhanger – one that I wasn’t sure the writers could resolve believably. As it is, they never had to.

I wouldn’t recommend this, per se, but I also wouldn’t say to stay away. It’s a fun enough show, but there is just so much good stuff out there that I can’t fault anyone for not having time for this.

PS: The reason I started watching Breakout Kings, other than Jimmi Simpson, is the song used in a preview, reproduced here in its entirety.

Netflix Review: Maz Jobrani, Marc Maron, Bo Burnham

Chicago’s lovely winter weather means more time indoors which means more time to fill with various streaming services. Once it gets nicer outside or my travel schedule resumes, these reviews will probably slow down.

Bo Burnham – Words, Words, Words & what.

Both Bo Burnham specials are available on NetFlix and they’re both worth watching. Words, a genre-bender filled with wordplay and msuical comedy, looks downright ordinary compared to what, a huge performance involving sound effects, light shows, music, and again more wordplay.

Burnham’s writing talent is immense, and his jokes (especially in Words) are fast-paced and complex. Pay attention – he has a tendency to have punchlines and setups alternating from sentence to sentence, switching topics as he goes along. His brain works fast, and yours will need to, too, to pick up everything he throws at you. (The constant shifting, of course, also means that if you miss something, you can pick up the new thread in a hurry.). He also faces the usual challenge of musical comedy, which is timing the punchlines in his song in a way that doesn’t let the laughter drown out the next set of lyrics, and this is noticeably better done in what.

Burnham’s other strength is his essential vulnerability and the obvious mask he wears in front of it. (Nowhere is this more apparent than in the poem of heartbreak entitled “I Fuck Sluts.”) There is a false self-confidence underlying his art, made that much funnier by the fact that you know it’s false, and he knows you know it’s false, and so ad infinitum. Burnham takes advantage of this layering that lets him jump from awkwardness to arrogance without sounding fake.

Both sets are recommended, in order, but what. is such a well-choreographed performance that, if you only have time for one, go with that one.

Marc Maron – Thinky Pain

I hope it doesn’t sound too hipster to say this, but I enjoyed Marc Maron more before he became Marc Maron. As a standard standup comedian, he riffed on life in an interesting way and was just funny. Now, he’s developed a much deeper persona than just a comedian: Marc Maron is a Louis CK analogue, a performer who has cornered a particular set of neuroses and has set up his comedic camp there. Maron is still funny, of course, but he’s added a depth to his set that doesn’t always work for me. I understand this is just a personal thing: either this particular set of thoughts appeals to you, or it doesn’t, and for me it tended to wear thin. Storytelling as comedy is a risky venture, and Maron nails it more often than not. There are just enough holes in this set for me to notice it.

It’s an interesting piece, but if you’re looking for straight comedy, this isn’t it.

Maz Jobrani – I Come In Peace

I’m not usually a fan of comedy that relies solely on racial or ethnic stereotypes, but I’ll admit I laughed several times at it during this set. Jobrani, of Iranian origin, plays on every stereotype from Iran through northern Europe to America, and it works better than I would have expected. (Usually. Not always.) Perhaps it helps that Jobrani brings a sense of commonality to the differences he highlights, combining jokes about needing white friends to vouch for him at airports with jokes about his young children who confuse their nanny for their mother. Jobrani also does quite a bit of crowd work (the set is in Stockholm) which I don’t usually enjoy, and yet it also works.

A nice set of comedy that doesn’t particularly stand out but makes you laugh. Which is enough.

Netflix Review: Running Wilde & The Finder

I’ve advocated for one-season TV shows in this space before, and we’re fortunate enough to have examples of these: cancelled shows. I saw a couple of these recently on Netflix, and one of them actually executes the idea to near-perfection – I imagine with more lead time it would have been wrapped up even more neatly. I’ll take that one first, and then the one that doesn’t really work for me.

Running Wilde

I remember this show getting good reviews but poor ratings when it was on the air (2010-2011), and it makes sense: it’s a funny, tightly written, well-executed show. Fans of Arrested Development in particular will enjoy it, as the show shares the same commitment to an unreliable narrator, internal consistency, subtle humor, and premature cancellation.

running-wilde-121The small cast features:
Will Arnett as Steven Wilde, an oil tycoon’s son and spoiled rich brat in love with his childhood friend.
Keri Russell as Emmy Kadubic, the childhood friend and environmental activist.
Robert Michael Morris as Mr. Lunt, Steven’s handler.
Mel Rodriguez as Migo Salazar, Steven’s other handler.
Stefania LaVie Owen as Puddle Kadubic, our narrator and Emmy’s daughter. It’s notable that her father isn’t named.
Peter Serafinowicz as Fa’ad Shaoulin, Steven’s rich friend of unspecified Middle-Eastern origin.
David Cross, who guest-stars as Emmy’s green fiance.

The story centers on Emmy’s return to whatever rich school district Steven lives in, which makes her daughter happy, her fiance sad, and the rain forest tribe she is trying to save from Steven’s father indifferent. She is trying to use him to save the tribe, and he wants to win her over, so he convinces her to stay. That’s the basic setup, and the result just works.

I’ve already praised the writing, which is just plain funny and captures the essence of the actors and characters very well. Arnett is fantastic as the manchild genuinely trying to be a better person, a persona not unfamiliar to Arrested Development fans. Meanwhile, the real surprise of the show for me was Keri Russell: her character could easily have been a holier-than-thou judgmental type that took momentum from the funnier characters. Instead, she sells the committed activist tempted by the comforts of civilization as a real person, and a funny one at that. The conflict between what she thinks she should want and what she really wants is a fun one to watch, and the show isn’t shy about calling her out on hypocrisy when appropriate. (Women who are in some way losers are a humor goldmine, as I’ve written before.) There is a throwaway line in which she admits that not even the native tribe wants to live in the rain forest, an admission that she’s “protecting” their land there mostly to feel good about herself. It’s an admission that she’s as flawed as Steven, and the show is that much stronger for it.

The supporting cast is pretty good, too. Steven’s handlers provide a mixture of everyman perspective and familial devotion, and they’re at their funniest when used sparingly. My personal favorite is Serafinowicz’s Fa’ad, a Steven without Emmy and the resulting desire for self-improvement. He provides Steven with the temptation of Steven’s easier life with parties and women, and the viewer with some excellent comedy. Episode 5, in which we learn of Steven and Fa’ad’s competition to have the most unnecessary and thus extravagant party, is probably the funniest of the show. (“The unnecessoiree is tradition! What’s more unnecessary than a huge party on a night that already has a huge party?”)

The show lasted only one season, and thus the end of it feels a little rushed. That said, the course of the show would have probably just strung out the first season longer than necessary.

Highly recommended, and, at 13 episodes, could make a cold afternoon a little more enjoyable.

The Finder

This show began with a backdoor pilot (from Bones) and only survived for 13 episodes in early 2012. There are many worse shows that lasted far longer, but I suppose that The Finder just wasn’t different enough from other shows of the present day to persist. Its characters weren’t different enough, or engrossing enough, to last.

the_finder_32063The cast includes, per Wikipedia:

-Geoff Stults as Major Walter Sherman, U.S. Army (former). Due to brain damage suffered in Iraq, Walter is paranoid, suspicious and quirky, but it also somehow resulted in him now being able to find anything, seeing patterns where others wouldn’t.
-Michael Clarke Duncan as Leo Knox, a widower and former attorney. He owns the bar, “The Ends of the Earth”, located on Looking Glass Key, and he also serves as Walter’s manager and legal advisor, and sometimes bodyguard.
-Mercedes Masohn as Deputy U.S. Marshal Isabel Zambada. While Walter’s antics frequently get on her nerves, she and Walter have a “friends with benefits” arrangement.
-Maddie Hasson as Willa Monday, a Romani juvenile delinquent. Willa is very talented with computers, but she is prohibited from using a computer for the duration of her probation. Sherman takes her in.
-Toby Hemingway as Timo Proud, a Romani and Willa’s “cousin”. While Timo and Willa have been betrothed (by their mutual “Uncle”, Uncle Shad) since she was 5 and Timo was 10, Timo is himself in love with a mutual “cousin” of theirs, Magdalena.

The show is a pretty ordinary procedural, in which the team takes cases that require them to find things like a ballplayer’s lucky socks, a magician’s assistant, and a crashed alien craft. The serialization is a very minor part and focuses on Willa and her Romani family. It’s also perhaps the weakest part of the show, as none of the characters involved are particularly interesting, and their motives are usually vague or nonexistent. Perhaps there could have been a payoff down the road, but there wasn’t in the first season.

Duncan’s Leo Knox is perhaps the most interesting character, owning most scenes he’s in. His calm and strong presence is a nice balance to Stults’ twitchy and energetic character. The show was Duncan’s last.

I would write more here, but it’s been a couple of months since I’ve seen this and I remember very little, which should tell you everything you need to know about the show.

NetFlix Review: That ’70s Show

That ’70s Show lasted 8 seasons and had some of the best ratings on TV in its prime years. Did you know that? I didn’t know that. Upon binge-watching it this past month, I get it. It was well-written and reliably funny, and it offers more characterization than most of its contemporaries from the late ’90s. It’s not perfect – it uses the usual sitcom tricks in which a major development can be foreshadowed in the first act and come to fruition in the third, and at least one character disappears without explanation (though with a wink). However, the show has fun with cinematography and the dialogue is very good. I’ll limit myself on the first seven seasons below, as the eighth season features cast changes and a different focus than the first seven. As always, I’ll abstain from spoilers as best I can.

70sThat ’70s Show is set in the fictional town of Point Place, Wisconsin, from May 17, 1976, to December 31, 1979. The main teenage cast members were:
-Eric Forman (Topher Grace), the scrawny nerd whose basement serves as the main gathering place of his group of friends. He likes Star Wars.
-Jackie Burkhart (Mila Kunis), the pretty and popular cheerleader. She’s superficial and fashionable, and often says she’s too good for the group. She rarely acts that way.
-Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), the stupid and pretty one. I found him grating, and he didn’t get any better as he got stupider over the years.
-Steven Hyde (Danny Masterson), the cool, anti-authoritarian one. Badass with a heart of gold.
-Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon), the female romantic lead. Good all-around girl.
-Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), the foreign exchange student from an unspecified land. Carries the show in its later years.
The main adult cast members were:
-Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp), a sweet woman just trying to have a normal family.
-Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith), Eric’s stern father and veteran. Hates commies and will stick his foot in your ass.
-Bob Pinciotti (Don Stark), Red’s well-meaning but slow neighbor.
-Tommy Chong, Tanya Roberts, and various others have recurring arcs on the show, with varying degrees of success.

The show features several running jokes, including Eric’s Vista Cruiser, the “circle” that shows the gang getting high, and frequent “what if” dream sequences. The latter two are interesting and well-executed visually. In fact, the show is excellent at experimenting with visuals, especially when drugs or dreams are involved. not all of these land perfectly, but many do.

The best part about That ’70s Show, however, is that it is not a ’70s show. It’s a show that could have just as easily been set in almost any decade, a show that deals with the usual problems of adolescence and parenthood. There are period jokes, to be sure, though the show doesn’t often get cheap laughs by contrasting the beliefs of the time with what present-day viewers know. Perhaps I miss some of the references – I know I don’t recognize a few names each season – but it’s fortunate that the show relies on writing, not anachronisms, to generate laughs. The music and drug cultures sometimes devolve into caricatures (Tommy Chong’s character, mainly), but it doesn’t ruin the show.

Most of the issues translate to the present day. Adolescence, love, and sex are handled in ways that would be recognizable to teenagers of the present day. At 17, when your brain things whatever happens today is the most important thing in the world, and your body wants to have sex today, dealing with the fact that life is still mostly ahead of you was as confusing then as it is now.

The roles of men and women, while different from today, face the same questions as they do today. This is especially clear from Red’s continued economic uncertainty: the disappearing factory jobs, big box stores, foreign trade – these are still topics today. They’re not handled in a sophisticated manner, but they aren’t today, either. Red, while often written as a “tough dad” one-trick pony, is often a fascinating character. A veteran of two wars, he has to deal with the fact that his homeland isn’t honoring him the way he thinks it should, a son he’s trying to toughen up for a rough world, a slutty daughter, an alcoholic wife (who is hilarious), and repeated job-losses. The show’s best emotional beats occur when Red deals with a changing world, and his son.

The teenagers, who are the supposed center of the show, probably deserve more than I’m willing to write here. As a group, however, they’re what you’d expect: the pretty ones, the nerds, the tough ones. They have relationships among themselves, they fight, they make fun of each other. If you’ve ever watched TV, you can guess mostly how this works out. It’s just executed well enough to be funny. Most importantly, the show doesn’t rely on easy laughs – Fez is foreign, they do drugs – too much. If I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Fez, who is perhaps the second-most cartoonish but also funniest character. Kutcher’s Kelso is the most cartoonish and by far the most predictable character. He develops little depth over the years, and his “stupid” shtick is rarely as funny as he seems to think it is.

If you’re looking for comedy, this deserves to be near the top of the list. I know, it surprised me, too.