Tag Archives: review

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.

Aziz Ansari (Chicago Theatre)

Someone on Facebook graded Ansari’s performance as “Delivery A, Material C-.” I wouldn’t go to such extremes, but there is little doubt that Ansari as a performer is far stronger than his material. He is basically a storyteller at heart, which is actually a difficult form of comedy that has taken off in recent years (see, generally Louis CK and Kevin Hart) after the far more formulaic comedy of the 1990s. I generally prefer the older style, as only the best can pull off storytelling with reliable punchlines, but Ansari does it well enough to be entertaining. (Unfortunately, storytellers are more difficult to quote, since so much of their stuff is contextual.) His opener, Joe Mande, uses a similar style and exposes the risks and rewards: a well-crafted story can be amazing, but if the audience doesn’t follow you down that path (as I didn’t, at least once) you lose them until the story is over. Mande does get points for my favorite joke of the night, explaining to his “foodie” friend that everyone is a foodie – you have to be, or you die. Food is essential.

The key to his performance, and this is something that’s been developing over his now four specials, is that Aziz Ansari has mellowed from being Tom Haverford, his character on Parks & Rec, to being Aziz Ansari, the oldest Millennial. I mean this as a compliment: I’ve found Ansari’s early arrogant, name-dropping, shock-value shtick distracting from his genuinely funny core. This time around, Ansari isn’t hanging out at Kanye’s house; he’s frustrated when a girl flakes out on dates made via text message, dealing with the temptation of other women once he’s in a relationship, and navigating the challenges and opportunities of living in a world that’s constantly connected. At his best Ansari is this generation’s Jerry Seinfeld, observing the world around him with bafflement and participating in its silly rituals anyway. (“We hate people who say they’re too busy. And we are those people! I do that all the time to get out of things.) And last night, he was mostly there.

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: 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.

Amazon Video Review: The Closer

The CloserThe Closer is one of those shows that you’re aware of but you don’t realize that it’s been around forever until it comes across your screen and you realize it’s been around for seven seasons (plus two for its spinoff). I watched all seven seasons this past winter, and came away with mixed feelings about the show. It’s perhaps most accurate to divide the show into three parts: Seasons 1-2, 3-5, and 6-7. I’ll analyze each in turn but first the necessary character intro.

The show consists largely of an ensemble of detectives who make up the LAPD’s fictional Major Crimes Division, a renamed version of the Priority Homicide Division that preceded it. The titular closer is Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, played by Kyra Sedgwick. Johnson is a Georgia woman with CIA training brought in to lead an elite division of detectives to solve important crimes in LA. Her boss, Assistant Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons), and Robbery-Homicide Commander Russell Taylor (Robert Gossett) try to and struggle to control her when she pushes the envelope (yes, she’s a rule breaker). Her FBI agent boyfriend Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) has the same problem.

Her squad consists of a racially diverse group of men, including:

David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) is the youngest (mid-30’s) member of the squad, and Johnson serves as a mentor to him in some ways. He’s also handsome.
Louie Provenza (G.W. Bailey) is the elder statesman and Johnson’s second in command. he’s a relaxed, old-school type who steps up in unexpected ways when someone on his team makes a forgivable mistake. He also provides some grandparent-style comic relief.
Andy Flynn (Tony Denison) is a Provenza-lite, with a harder edge and more resistance to Johnson. It takes several seasons before he’s fleshed out, and it serves the character well.
Julio Sanchez (Raymond Cruz) is a Hispanic detective whose extended family is one of the earliest glimpses at any character besides Johnson. It’s a good development for the show.
Michael Tao (Michael Paul Chan) is the forensic guy on the team, a nerdy Asian type who is frequently cut off before he use some scientific words. We don’t see him much outside the office.
Irene Daniels (Gina Ravera) was apparently around for four whole seasons even though I remember little about her except her interoffice affair.
Buzz Watson (Philip P. Keene) is a civilian who handles cameras, phone taps, and similar things. He’s woefully underutilized.
Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) joins the cast in season 5 as an internal affairs type, and she sticks around as an able counterpoint to Johnson. Great addition to the cast, and part of the reason for the show’s late-run renaissance.

There are also frequent visits by Willie Rae Johnson (Frances Sternhagen) and Clay Johnson (Barry Corbin), Brenda’s parents – fairly stereotypical elderly Southerners.

Seasons 1-2

The early seasons establish Brenda’s relationships with her squad, focusing on the struggles of Brenda as both a woman in a man’s world and as a newcomer to an established pecking order. The show does a good job balancing Brenda’s competence with her personality, because sometimes those two things fight each other. She’s good, but she’s obsessive and controlling, and that leads to struggles with her subordinates. The focus is almost exclusively on Brenda – we also follow her relationship with agent Howard – and as a character study of a strong woman in a man’s world, it’s the early going where the show is at its best. The squad reacts in different ways – some surprising, some not – to the usual allegations leveled at a powerful woman.* The other characters get relatively short shrift as individuals, as they mostly play off Brenda.

The cases of the week are pretty standard police procedural fare, though there is some imagination to the plots.

*Bitch slept her way to the top.

Seasons 3-5

The middle seasons represent a slow but inexorable decline for the show. Once the gender- and newcomer-status of Brenda fades, as it does in season 2, we’re dealing mostly with a case of the week that becomes simple and predictable by season 5 – you can pick the killer once the suspect pool has been introduced if you’ve paid attention to casting. The serialization, to the extent there is any, is focused on Brenda’s obsessiveness that begins to interfere with her personal life – agent Howard becomes resentful of Brenda’s frequent hijackings of his cases, and her parents, whose visits are surprisingly frequent, complain about her workaholic tendencies. In a way everyone appears unreasonable, and you end up rooting for the scene to end so they can get back to the murder of the week, which could at least be productive. Brenda’s personality becomes shrill instead of strong – not in the way that strong women are called bitches, just in the way that is unnecessary and not fun to watch.

We get glimpses of the lives of the detectives for the first time, and that helps break streaks of very boring episodes, but the characterization is shallow and predictable: at not point are you worried that one of the detectives could be a bad guy. (Separately, the show writes itself out of a few administrative corners at the LAPD with well-timed deaths.)

The problem that plagues these seasons is a lack of real stakes: in the early seasons, the team is unstable and it’s unclear if Brenda’s arrival will work out or not. In the middle seasons, there is no such threat; the team is well established. There is little conflict that matters, because the show never makes you worry about the long-term consequences. Fritz is angry, but he’s not going anywhere. Procedure is violated, Pope is angry, and no one will get fired.  It’s unfortunate because it feels like a waste of possibilities, considering what happens in the last two seasons.

Seasons 6-7

At first, season 6 feels like a continuation of the decline until you get to season 7 which pays off all the setups of season 6. Brenda and her team begin going further and further in pursuit of suspects, repeatedly using questionable tactics to get convictions (or other victories). Until season 7 comes along, you wonder just what the show will let the squad get away with. (The writers clearly have a law & order fetish that justifies quite a few legal violations by the people we’re supposed to like.)

The cast changes in the late years work, too. Captain Raydor, who made an initial appearance in season 5, joins as a somewhat permanent internal enemy of Brenda’s, and it is an excellent addition to the show. Mary McDonnell sells the character perfectly, and her changing roles over the last two season ring true. Most importantly, the show provides some stakes that were missing in the predictable middle years.

I’m happy to admit it was worth sticking around for season 7, which redeems season 6 and sets up real stakes, a real serial plot, and some genuine payoffs for most of the characters. (Some insight into Andy Flynn also provides good episodes.) The show even gets a real villain for the first time, to great effect.

Verdict: Watchable (though clearly aimed at an older audience), and I warned you about the middle seasons.

Netflix Review: Cheers

Cheers has been a fuzzy spot in my pop culture knowledge for years. I’ve always been familiar with all the players, as anyone who has lived in the US in the past three decades must have seen a few episodes, but it wasn’t until recently that I watched the whole series from beginning to end to fill in the gaps.

Cheers - 6 to 11Cheers tells us the story of Sam Malone (Ted Danson), a womanizing former Red Sox pitcher and recovering alcoholic who owns Cheers, a lowly Boston bar. His old pitching coach Ernie “Coach” Pantusso (Colasanto) works for him (too quickly replaced by Woody Harrelson’s Woody), as does sharp-tongued waitress Carla Tortelli (Rhea Pearlman). Among his regular are barfly Norm Peterson (George Wendt) and talkative mailman Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger). Diane Chambers (Shelley Long), a graduate student/waitress and Sam’s main love interest, defines the first half of Cheers – after her departure in season 5, Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley) joins as an attempted hardass but ultimately likeable corporate loser. Of course, Frasier Crane’s character first appeared in season 3 and stuck around forever – apparently as the writers’ attempt to annoy Shelley Long whom they hated and who hated Kelsey Grammer.

The biggest surprise in watching Cheers is how well it holds up. The writing is excellent, and most jokes will still make you laugh. There is, of course, the occasional topical punchline, but there are very few episodes that no longer make sense at all. The biggest exception is probably Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all, who would today be quieted by anyone with a smartphone. The plots are fairly standard sitcom fare – romantic troubles, boss troubles, neighbor troubles, rival troubles – but the dialogue is still consistently funny. I don’t often laugh out loud while watching TV, but Cheers delivered across all eleven seasons. Woody is a small step down from Coach, but he makes the character his own eventually. Frasier is an excellent addition, and the addition of Rebecca gave the show a female loser character that I’ve previously said is an underutilized comedy goldmine. There are times when Clavin’s act grows tired, and Carla’s mean sarcasm that ventures into cruelty is rarely as funny the more measured takedowns that are constantly exchanged between the others. Overall, however, Cheers stands up there with some of the better sitcoms of our day.

More importantly, there is surprisingly serious character development at least in the person of Sam Malone. A recovering alcoholic and serious womanizer, the later season show us a Sam Malone trying to become more than he is. It’s hardly the focal point of the show, but it lends a certain meaning to the otherwise pointless events in a basement bar. Oddly enough, superficially, Sam is the character who changes the least – the others go through job changes, serious relationships, marriages, children, divorces, etc. Yet it’s Malone’s inner life that we see and that gives us moments of legitimate personal growth and, at times, pathos.

Cheers is recommended even decades later – you’ll just have to wade through a few scenes and episodes that don’t hold up. This is still a group of people worth hanging out with.

Hulu Review: The Wrong Mans

(I’m adopting the British custom of referring to a season of TV episodes as a “series” despite the confusion created by the fact that an entire TV show can be called a series, but never mind that now.)

The Wrong Mans (series 1) recently came to Hulu after premiering in the UK for a six week run starting in late September. I’ve seen all six episodes (you can watch the whole series if you have HuluPlus) in little more than a day. It’s unlike the Linehan comedies that I loved, but it’s intriguing in its own right.

Mathew Baynton plays Sam Pinkett, a nerdy cubicle worker who pines after his ex-girlfriend Lizzie (Sarah Solemani) and doesn’t seem to have much in terms of life or prospects. James Corden co-stars as Phil Bourne, a mailroom employee who reminds me in both ambition and appearance of many a Jack Black character. The cast fills out from there and grows quickly, but Phil and Sam and your central duo.

The_Wrong_MansThe show begins with a very hungover Sam Pinkett on his way to work at Berkshire County Council. He witnesses a car crash and picks up a phone he believes is the driver’s. A voice warns him to show up by five lest his wife be killed. At work, Phil overhears Sam checking a voicemail confirming the kidnapping. Phil’s reaction is to use this opportunity to break out of their dreary workaday lives and become heroes, and his exuberance convinces a dubious Sam. Thus begins a frantically paced series of events involving multiple groups of criminals, many cases of mistaken identity, double-crossings, and more. Despite the the underlying criminality, The Wrong Mans remains fairly light: the frantic pacing that sweeps up the two protagonists takes the viewer with it, too, and there’s little time to reflect on what just happened as the plot has already moved along. I honestly couldn’t tell you the exact machinations of the plot, even though it all made sense at the time.

The humor is subtle but consistent, and the show employs callbacks to great effect. The duo at the center is a quickly-forged friendship that is immediately baptized by adventure, and Sam in particular reminds the audience frequently how ridiculous their lives have become. This detached resignation is played for laughs, and rather well. Phil’s excitement at being part of something that could have been on TV is occasionally infectious as well. The development of their friendship is interesting, considering how few episodes there are.

Recommended, though I wonder whether this show has already run its course. What could happen next year that isn’t either a repeat or a betrayal of the premise?

Netflix Review: Red Dawn (2012)

I’ve written before about the effect that our relatively safe, peaceful, and ultimately boring modern times. I should have noted that only a few decades ago, a nuclear confrontation between two world powers was considered not just possible but even probable. I think the likelihoods were much lower than the average citizen perceived them, but the mere possibility opened up storytelling possibilities about the scenario. The year 1984 gave us one such story in Red Dawn, a World War III story focused on a Soviet/Cuban invasion of the United States mainland. Perhaps it’s telling that the story was told when the Cold Was nearing its end – maybe it was only okay to consider the endgame when it was becoming unlikely.

The 2012 Red Dawn remake has a tougher challenge to establish its legitimacy. The opening montage shows the fallout of the recent financial crisis, the European depression, the rise of the militant right in Russia, and North Korean aggression. It’s a valiant attempt to justify a Russo-Korean* invasion of the American coasts, but it remains a far-fetched scenario. That said, it’s as good a case as you can make for an invasion of America, with its military stretched thin abroad and the mainland vulnerable.

*The Chinese invaders were changed to North Korea in post-production so as to keep Chinese moviegoers happy, which tells you just how much the world has changed in three decades.

The background established, North Korean troops invade the West coast, and we turn to a group of Spokane teenagers, led by a a marine older brother of one of them. Chris Hemsworth, the older brother, is solidly Thor-esque, and his brother, played by one of the other actors (possibly Josh Peck), is appropriately annoying as the screw-up younger bothers. Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan form the rest of the guerrilla group that resists the Korean occupation. They attack military posts with car bombs, improvised explosive devices, and sniper rifles; in essence, they engage in terrorism. The movie isn’t thoughtful enough to make you wonder whether Iraqis or Palestinians or Libyans or Egyptians or Syrians view their guerrillas the same way we’re expected to view the Wolverines. In fact, the movie is unlikely to make you think at all. The action is relatively simple and sometimes entertaining but rarely memorable.

It’s a serviceable film for a weekend afternoon if you’ve got something else to do while you’re watching it, but it doesn’t, and can’t have, the cultural impact or meaning of the original. We should all be grateful for that.

Netflix Comedy Review: Ansari, Gulman, Madigan, Bodden

Thoughts on a recent Netflix standup comedy binge enabled by some late nights at work, in rough order of quality.

Aziz Ansari – Buried Alive (2013)

I waited a while to watch Buried Alive because I had not particularly enjoyed his first two albums. Dangerously Delicious and Intimate Evening seemed less designed to tell jokes but to create the character Superstar Aziz Ansari. For Parks & Recreation fans, Ansari basically became Tom Haverford if Tom Haverford’s wildest dreams had come true. All I remember from those two albums is Ansari telling celebrity stories with no discernable punchline, unless you consider “I hang out with famous people” to be a punchline.

Buried Alive is mostly a different sort of animal, a polished and mature set of well-crafted comedy (but yes, there are celebrity stories). Ansari’s character hasn’t changed much – he still finds marriage and family to be terrifyingly permanent concepts – but his subject matter and delivery have developed. Mocking the traditions of engagement as the requests of a psychopath – “I want you to to swear to this priest and to god that you’ll never leave me!” – or the obligations of childbearing – “Have fun with your kid, I’m gonna go do literally anything I want.” – still come naturally, but with much less reliance on Ansari’s persona and more on well-written material. Anzari’s timing is nearly flawless now that he’s largely abandoned the stream of consciousness delivery.

As a fan of the craft of standup comedy, I’m glad that Ansari has made this step. Recommended.

Gary Gulman – In This Economy (2012)

I’ve followed Gary Gulman, an affable loser of a comedian, since I noticed him on Last Comic Standing a few years ago. He’s an experienced comedian in classic mold, part Jerry Seinfeld’s observations, part Dane cook’s disection of the tiniest absurdities – his first special, Boyish Man, featured a dissertation the failings of the sugar cookie. (“All cookies have sugar. A cookie without sugar is a cracker.”)

In This Economy is a belated take on dealing with recent economic uncertainty. Gulman loves Netflix – “If you’re not streaming, you’re losing money” – but hates what it recommends for him – “The Cove. It’s about dolphin slaughter. I’m unequivocally more on board with manslaughter”. His take on inter-billionaire rivalries is also excellent, as his Bill Gates looks down on lesser rich men – “Oh, Trump. It’s cute how you still use the decimal in $2.9 billion.” In between, Gulman covers lots of everyday topics with sharp and fairly funny insights.

Recommended, and significantly cleaner than Ansari.

Kathleen Madigan – Again (2013)

Madigan, like Gulman, first came to my attention through Last Comic Standing a few years ago. A milder female version of Ron White, Madigan is one of the few exceptions to Christopher Hitchens’s largely true assertion, but Again is not one of her better efforts. There are still laughs to be had, of course – Madigan’s take on the failing of Detroit (where the special was filmed) are hilarious. Unfortunately, Madigan relies too much on ignorance to get laugh – her visit to Afghanistan with the troops, for example, relies on the audience knowing nothing about the country or its culture. Considering we’ve been involved with those parts of the world for decades, it’s a pretty small target audience. As you know, I don’t like art that relies on ignorance. The long pauses between real jokes interrupt an otherwise decent set of comedy.

It’s not going to be the worst standup you watch, but also a significant drop from Ansari and Gulman.

Alonzo Bodden – Who’s Paying Attention (2011)

I suppose Netflix noticed I was on a Last Comic Standing kick, since that’s where I know Bodden from as well. Unfortunately, Who’s Paying Attention, almost three years old now, is already too dated to be funny today. Talking about the wars, Obama, Republicans (and why they’re bad), and the economy, Bodden’s material is no longer particularly novel or surprising. For some of it, I wonder if it ever was.

Not really recommended anymore.

Restaurant Review: Las Vegas Cheaper Eats

I spent Thanksgiving weekend in Las Vegas, with a side trip to the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. The meals were split between relatively cheap places off-strip for lunch and expensive resort restaurants for dinner. I’ll go over the lunch places here and do dinner places in a separate post.

Firefly Tapas (westside)

Firefly has a couple of locations in Las Vegas, one near the strip and one out west on Sahara. We went to the latter, which eliminated the crowds and dropped the prices a bit.

Artichoke ToastThis place came highly recommended and it held up big time. The four of us shared several dishes, and none really disappointed. The highlight of the meal for me were the Boquerones – french bread with anchovies and peppers. I’m not usually an anchovies guy but these were delicious and, at $5.50, a great deal. Other standouts were the spicy beef salad, patatas bravas, and the tinga empanada. The table also liked the pulpo asado (grilled squid) and the lamb chops. We also had the baked tetilla and artichoke toast, and they were very good but faded in direct comparison to the boquerones. The desert platter, in particular the tres leches cake, is also worthwhile.

Highly recommended if you’re there.

Lotus of Siam

A Thai place on Sahara just east of the strip, Lotus of Siam is stuck in an unassuming strip mall but it features some excellent dishes. I’m not a great judge of Thai authenticity, so I’ll stick to saying it’s very good rather than authentic.

The chicken dumplings appetizer is excellent, and the most popular entree we had was the duck curry. The drunken noodles with chicken were also excellent, and both are highly recommended. The tom kah kai and spicy vegetables soup were spiced just right, and the pad thai was probably the best I’ve had (although again, my experience is limited). The nua nam tok beef was good, though as far as quickly cooked meats go, it didn’t stand out in any particular way.

Recommended and reasonably affordable, considering how close to the strip it is.