TV Reviews

TV Roundup 3/12/20: Thomas Watched DAVE, Carter Watched HILLARY

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Dear reader, we live in uncertain times. A global pandemic is putting our nation’s shortcomings on full display, not to mention the ongoing presidential election that would leave anyone with a cold sweat. But one thing is for certain: I, the TV Editor of Merry-Go-Round, will always be here to make people watch shows I think they’ll hate. Enjoy this week’s latest from the small screen!

TV roundup Dave

DAVE (FX)

Hey everyone, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood Editor-in-Chief Thomas Seraydarian. Remember a little publication that could called Crossfader? I know, I know, it’s but a distant dream, but on this said little publication that could, you may remember me for saying some words about Lil Dicky. Do I like Lil Dicky’s music? I do not! On the other hand, and for the life of me I can’t find it despite several Google searches, there was once an excellent thinkpiece I read about how every white music journalist that has ever vehemently criticized Macklemore and Lil Dicky does so for the subconscious desire to be considered a voice that matters in the genre’s field because they feel out of place and as if they have something to prove. Revenge and my ass are dishes both served to me cold. All of this is to say that, hey, we all grow up, we all change and calm down, but trust me, I know: I absolutely despise the fact that DAVE is good. Yes, you heard me right. I’ll give it a moment to sink in: DAVE is good! I know it’s hard to process, but I promise that I’m here for you. If I were a gambling man, I would point to Jeff Schaffer, of SEINFELD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM fame, as the reason for this: against all odds, Schaffer and company have somehow turned one of the most nausea-inducingly perceived come-up narratives in hip hop history into regularly laugh-out-loud, Larry David, wrong-place-wrong-time comedy, albeit if Larry David was instead a Jewish comedy rapper trying to make it big in the ‘10s instead of… well, Larry David.

When Lil Dicky’s music is removed from the context of a mainstream album attempting to sell units, festival dates, etc., taking time and attention away from projects that are actually attempting to make a statement other than the tongue-in-cheek, there is quite a large amount of inherent comedy present, especially when it opens itself up to poking holes in its own estimation. David Andrew Burd is able to walk the tightrope of being self-deprecating and self-aware without being whinging and hand-wringing far more successfully than Lil Dicky ever has, offering himself up for the tight situational writing to lay waste to him at every turn in a way that’s commendable. It’s kind of funny that Dave is mistaken for the studio intern by YG’s entourage and asked to fetch food, leading to its own comedy of errors. It’s pretty funny that he has to ask his parents to send him his long-banked bar mitzvah money to get a lucrative feature, only for it come about that his first songs on YouTube were made with unlicensed beats, leading to his parents accusing him of stealing as he attempts to explain this is common mixtape practice. It’s funny that he argues with his girlfriend Ally (Taylor Misiak) about Tweeting that Lil Dicky got head when, in fact, he did not get head, spiraling out into debating what point is trying to be made as the spectre of a phone call from her mother hovers overhead. It’s very funny when Lil Dicky is asked to perform at the funeral of a late elementary schooler who idolized him only to be upstaged by the real-life Macklemore, the web of vibe checking of this scenario fully communicated via what’s left unsaid, in a true bit of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM cameo. So… yeah. I guess that’s the message I’m leaving you with: DAVE is humorous, well-written, and generally smart overall, gamely acknowledging all of the major criticisms lobbied against Lil Dicky and not ever taking the easy way out by attempting to shut them down. As such, it seems as if it’s a comedy that encourages you to laugh at it as much as you laugh with it… considering the subject in the crosshairs is Lil Dicky, it’s actually quite an endearing way to go about the proceedings. Still shouldn’t have made that song with Chris Brown, though. [Thomas Seraydarian]

DEVS (Hulu)

Techno-pocalypse isn’t currently number one on the list of possible ways the world will end. Right now the smart money is on pandemic, or possibly climate catastrophe. But the good people over at FX and Hulu would like us to imagine a world where our favorite tech giants grow uninhibited and computer science freaks become gods of the new world.

DEVS kicks off with Sergei (Karl Glusman) delivering a tech demonstration that predicts the exact behavior of a nematode 10 seconds into the future. This earns him a promotion to the mysterious Devs team. There’s a lot of tech jargon interspersed with grandiose shots of sleek future-type buildings set to ominous slow chanting. The Devs building contains some particularly well-done visual spectacles, everything gilded and glowing.

There’s some segments of thick techie speak that slow it down, but DEVS ultimately comes through with delightful chills and thrills. Nick Offerman gives an especially haunting performance as Forest, an authority of uncertain caliber who pontificates on the deterministic nature of the universe before sentencing Sergei to die a decidedly low-tech death via plastic bag. His partner, Lily, (Sonoya Mizuno) senses something strange about Sergei’s disappearance, and thus begins the main plot arc of the series. I’m hopeful that DEVS can stay focused on suspense and not get lost in the weeds of trying to explain computer science to dummies like me. [Dan Blomquist]

HILLARY (Hulu)

I’m not entirely sure who the HILLARY series is for. If you are a die-hard Hillary supporter, you already know her backstory and legacy. If you’re anti-Hillary, you have next to no reason to want to sit through hours and hours detailing every aspect of her life. Clinton is undeniably one of the more important figures in American political history, but allowing her to tell her story on her own terms does not make for particularly insightful or original commentary on her position in history. What is so frustrating about trying to talk about Hillary, and something that the opening of the series acknowledges directly, is that there is no way for people to set aside their instinctual presuppositions about her. If you have an opinion about her at all, you most likely fall into one of three camps: you believe that she is a pragmatic public servant who had an election stolen from her through a combination of sexism and Russian meddling; you believe that she’s the devil incarnate who carelessly allowed soldiers to be slaughtered in Benghazi; you see her as a cynical opportunist who lost the easiest presidential election in history to a racist game show host.

I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton in the slightest; I agreed to watch this first episode of HILLARY as a favor to Kate. I have to admit upon forcing myself to watch it, I was struck by the generation Clinton came up in, the world of sexism she was forced to navigate that seems almost inconceivable in a modern era. There is a solid 10 minutes at the beginning of this documentary where you can almost begin to really empathize with the compromises Hillary has had to make through her life in the public eye in order to stay in power while attempting to advocate for justice. But then things quickly go off the rails as the episode takes a hard, sudden pivot to discussing Clinton’s private email server and you find yourself jarringly reliving 2015 and being reminded of why she became so unlikable during that election cycle. As much as HILLARY is clearly attempting to portray Clinton favorably, it’s impossible to not bring your own baggage as a viewer to the experience. It’s difficult to watch this documentary with an open mind as Clinton invokes Martin Luther King and the influence the civil rights movement had on her, while knowing she lived in a governor’s mansion where she was served by incarcerated black men and that she was instrumental in popularizing the term “super-predator.” My opinions on Clinton are not going to be changed by a well-produced documentary about her, and the funny thing is that I don’t think her supporters will feel any differently about her by the end, either.

American politics have entirely become an elaborate game of public relations smoke and mirrors, and no one embodies the pitfalls of this approach to politics as perfectly as Hillary Clinton. By having a public persona that has been meticulously poll-tested and crafted for decades, it feels nearly impossible to perceive a person for who they actually are. As much as HILLARY presents itself as the unvarnished and honest approach to telling Clinton’s life story, there is undeniably the sense that you are being presented with the slick and carefully polished version of Clinton. If there’s anything to be gained from watching HILLARY, it is a reminder of why her approach to politics has failed us in this current moment. The structural systems that have allowed the Clintons to remain not only political elites but also financial elites inherently cause them to be deeply unrelatable at a certain instinctual level. I do, of course, believe that sexism played an enormous role in Clinton’s failure to win the presidency, but it is frustrating that people seem so unwilling to recognize how the very existence of this expensive documentary/vanity project is exactly the kind of thing that makes Clinton untrustworthy to many people. The investment in the documentary makes perfect sense for Hulu and there’s a built-in audience that will no doubt enjoy this series, but for the broader optics of Clinton’s image and her troubled relationship with the public, it’s yet another grave miscalculation. [Carter Moon]

TV roundup Mythic Quest

MYTHIC QUEST (Apple TV+)

There was a short, beautiful, and frankly odd time when Rob McElhenney was attached to direct a MINECRAFT movie. A property that never asked for the feature treatment with a creative who never seemed like the right fit for that kind of family-friendly fare. The film never materialized, but McElhenney’s interest in video games did end up producing content. Rob McElhenney and his IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA team of Megan Ganz and Charlie Day teamed up for one Apple TV+’s  few outright comedies, MYTHIC QUEST: RAVEN’S BANQUET. The show follows the adventures of Ian Grimm (McElhenney), the cocky creative director of one of the most popular video games of all time, as he and his team attempt to keep their fan base happy. The cast includes some fun characters like the game’s executive producer David Brittlesbee played by David Hornsby, Cricket from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY, Rachel, a QA tester, and the head writer of the game, C.W. Longbottom, played by legendary actor F. Murray Abraham.

Apple wanted to quickly bring in an audience with their new streaming service, so hiring the team behind one of the longest-running comedy shows ever makes more than a little sense. And there’s some obvious similarities between IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA and MYTHIC QUEST, like a clear Frank-analogue in Longbottom and a problematic sociopath character not too dissimilar from Dennis. This is the glaring problem, however, for as fresh the subject matter is, MYTHIC QUEST tries far too hard to be like IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, but without the teeth that makes that show great. Anything approaching an “edgy” moment doesn’t fit with the tone of the show, which attempts to be more about a goofy team of developers navigating the game development landscape than a Darwin’s Waiting Room of sadistic idiots. However, when MYTHIC QUEST: RAVEN’S BANQUET engages with the specifics of its characters and dives into themes of toxic video game players or creative freedom, it excels. While McElhenney is a strong lead for the show, Charlotte Nicdao as Poppy Li steals it. She does a great job of hitting the correct, silly tone the project operates best at. Film and TV based on video games are rarely well-realized, but MYTHIC QUEST: RAVEN’S BANQUET proves that a television show about video games can be funny and entertaining, even as it struggles within the confines of Apple’s family friendly image. [Wyatt Lemoine]

Bandcamp Picks of the Week 3/12/20

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