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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

TV extravaganza: 46 reviews in 50 minutes! (transcript)

Published May 6th, 2017

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Well yes, sure, here we are in the midst of the chaos and cacophony that has become life in the world in the 21st century. Now what? Well, right now, at this very moment, you’re ankle deep in THIS IS NOT A TEST, with me, your guide through the nuclear wasteland, your intrepid compatriot and right hand half-man, Michael Phillips. And a glorious day it is to be alive, whatever else is happening, because any day alive is better than a day dead. I think we can all agree on that, regardless of any other delusions or fantasies we may believe or live in.

I’ve been on vacation all week, but I didn’t go anywhere. I guess I should say I’ve been taking vacation time away from work. I have all these weeks of vacation available, but I never go anywhere so I rarely use them. But now they’re saying use it or loose it, you dig, so if I don’t take the time off it just evaporates, disappears, into the mist of nothingness, and that’s no good. That’s like giving away little bits of sanity. You never get them back. So yeah, here I am. Just took a week off and I still have four more weeks of vacation I can take this year. Well, we muddle through somehow, don’t we, with our privilege and our wealth. Relative wealth. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

I’ve talked about watching TV in the past, and about a few specific shows, but now that we’ve got DVRs and automated recording lists we can see all the shows we watch in one horrifying list. Or at least the ones we record. And really, who watches live TV anymore? Shut-ins who can’t work the remote and prisoners. I think that’s about it. So I thought I’d take my list, Carol and I’s list, and review every show on it for you. The good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s do it alphabetically, for the anal retentive among us. As a gift to them. Okay. And I’ll give them letter grades like the school report card you dreaded bringing home to your parents. Okay, okay, let’s go already. Number one according to the English alphabet is –

Alaskan Bush People
This is such a piece of crap that I feel like an idiot every time I watch it, but I can’t stop. It’s so corny. The premise is a large family lives in the Alaskan bush – out in the middle of nowhere, and they have very little contact with modern society. The reality is they have a lot of contact with modern society and they always have, even more so now because they’re all making money from being on a TV show for years. This is one of many so-called “reality” shows on the list, none of which reflect or show any actual reality. This one rates a D+. Next!

Alone
Funny, this is also a reality show about people surviving alone in the wilderness. Only these people really are alone – for the most part – and they really have to survive with very few tools and no help. This is an excellent show, it’s really just about people, and their true reactions to hardship and I could watch it all day. That will be a recurring theme here, shows about how people interact with each other, or I guess in this case, their surroundings. This gets an A. But on a completely different tip we have –

American Horror Story
Which is just what the title claims, usually, though it’s hard to be horrified by anything when you’re sitting on your couch eating popcorn or tamales and looking at a 42 inch screen. This is one of those modern type shows that has a different premise or story every season, so some are better than others. The witches were good, the sideshow one was okay, this last one with the house, not so much. In fact the last one was horrifying in its awfulness. One point of interest for this show is while the story is different every year, the cast is pretty much the same. That’s a cool little twist that will keep me coming back even after a worthless, borderline unwatchable season like this last one. B-

The Americans
This is very good. Russian spies living in Washington D.C. in the 1970s and 80s. The spies are a couple who didn’t meet each other until they got to America, then they were married and had two kids and generally run around doing more things than a dozen people could do in a day. It’s cool though, and I get the feeling a lot of the methods they use are based on reality, as far fetched as they may seem. But Russia and the U.S. were both behaving in pretty far-fetched ways at the time. At the time? Now too, obviously. Well, if you like wigs, and people in really transparent disguises, this show should be at the top of your list. A

Baskets
Zach Galifianakis plays a sad clown. Sounds fascinating doesn’t it. No, it sounds like a nightmare of awfulness, but it’s just the opposite. It’s funny as hell, and the unexpected breakout star is Louie Anderson. Yes, the stand up comedian from the 80s. I mean he’s not from the 80s, but that’s where you know him from. Unless you watch Baskets, in which case you know him as Zach Galifianakis’ mother. Yes, his mother. Anderson play it straight – like all good comedians do – and he is hilarious. Galifianakis also plays his identical twin brother, and they have two other brothers that are identical twins, but they’re black. Louis C.K. had a hand in this show, either creating it or running it. He actually has a hand in a few of the shows on this list. Baskets is a must-watch, and it gets an A.

Better Call Saul
Is a spin off from Breaking Bad. We didn’t start watching Breaking Bad until the end of the next to last season. Then when we started we watched the whole thing in a few weeks. That’s the beauty of modern television, and the ultimate horror of it. That many of these seasons come out all at once, all episodes on the same day, and they’re all available on Netflix or Amazon if you missed, say, the first eight seasons of something. Honestly, the seasons are so infuriatingly short now that when we come across a show we like I almost want to stop watching it, and just wait until it’s finished. That way you can decide when to watch it, and you don’t have to wait 12 to 16 months – or more – between each ridiculously short “season.” Anyway, Better Call Saul is an entire show about one of the less interesting characters from Breaking Bad, and a few of the marginally more interesting ones. It’s still well done and it draws you in, but it pales in comparison to the show it was leeched from. C+

Big Brother
Well I’ve talked about Big Brother before because we went to a taping once, and because we watch it all summer, and now in the fall too with an online version they launched last year. What can I say about this? It’s a group of people plotting and scheming to eliminate each other from the game, one at a time. Not an original premise, but one that I find endlessly watchable. The formula remains the same year after year, but different people are plugged in each time so it’s always different. The games and competitions are 90% stupid, but sometimes very clever and dastardly. Side note, the guy who designs these competitions also designs the much better Survivor competitions. Anyway, the dynamic is always shifting and morphing on Big Brother, and sometimes it’s everything that’s great about “reality” TV. And there isn’t much that’s great about reality TV, so BB gets a B+

Blindspot
Blindspot features an attractive young woman who was found in a duffel bag in Times Square tattooed over 95% of her body. She doesn’t know how or why she was tattooed and dropped off like that – not at first, anyway – but there she is. She’s found by agent Kurt Weller, who talks like this and is incredibly intense and an expert crime-fighter. This show is everything that’s lousy about TV – the people who speak in rapid fire conversation without pausing a nanosecond to consider anything they’re saying, yet everything they’re saying, in reality, would require 15 minutes of research or consideration. You know what I’m talking about. NO ONE TAKES A FUCKING BREATH ON THIS SHOW. And it also wallows in the second most ridiculous Television crime show trope: the ruthlessly efficient law enforcement organization. In this case it’s the FBI, whose futuristic, transparent computers can track, trace and display anything instantly, and crack teams that are always speeding to a location in an armada of blacked out Escalades or whatever the big black Ford is. The real life FBI – or any other law enforcement organization – is about as far removed from this fantasy as they can be. But we continue to make hundreds of TV shows that perpetuate the lie. I guess it’s what the USA! USA! chanting types want to believe, so that’s what they give them. C-

Bloodline
We started watching Bloodline on Netflix, and so much time has passed since the end of the last season and the upcoming beginning of the final season, that I only vaguely remember what it’s about. I do know it’s one of those shows where every character is unlikable. Everyone is a piece of shit who you wouldn’t let yourself be around for more than five minutes, but who someone, somewhere thinks makes awesome television characters. It’s hard to grade Bloodline since I don’t remember it, so let’s say a C. I probably like it more than that, but who knows. Next!

Broad City
Two stoned young ladies who are also, when you get right down to it, despicable characters, but they’re playing it for laughs, so who cares. I think the only time you can get away with all the characters being self-absorbed creeps is in broad comedy like this. I mean, look at Seinfeld. Those characters were self-absorbed creeps, and it was hilarious. Broad City is a show that started as a web series, and there are a few of those on this list too. I guess that’s the way you get your foot in the door now. I know that’s how they find singers and comedic writers and etcetera and etcetera. Broad City isn’t about anything, which is the same thing they said about Seinfeld, so just imagine Seinfeld if Jerry and George were young women, and instead of talking about Superman comic books and soup, they talked about smoking weed and their vaginas. There you go. Broad City: A.

Catastrophe
This is an understated Amazon show about a man and woman who meet while he’s in her country, England, on business, they hook up for a night or two and then he leaves. Which is what they both wanted, only she becomes pregnant, and he moves over to England to be with her and the baby. Time passes in odd intervals on this one. So the beginning of one season is sometimes years later from where you left off in the story, but it doesn’t really seem to matter somehow. Like I said, this one is understated, and I can’t blab anything too super enthusiastic about it, but it’s nice to watch. It’s clever and funny and only a little annoying. C+

The Curse Of Oak Island
Wow, this one. This is…well, I’ll put it this way, Carol mocks and ridicules me for watching this one, but often when it’s on, she’ll sit down and watch it too. It’s one of those. It’s two brothers looking for some pirate treasure – or is it Rosicrucians, or Knights Templar – who knows, but they’re looking for what is rumored to be some huge treasure trove on a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Now people have been searching for this treasure for hundreds of years, and they’ve dug up most of the island and not found shit, but these guys think they will find the treasure because they are rich and can afford to spend millions of dollars every year searching. SO they are idiots. And every year they dangle all these possibilities and every year they come up with nothing, yet I keep watching, because it’s a fucking treasure hunt! And you know, if the treasure is found, well, that would be something, wouldn’t it. It won’t be, but if it was… I give this one a C for “Curse.”

Fargo
I don’t know what to make of this one. This is one of those shows that has a different premise or story every season, but they all follow the tone of the Fargo movie. Meaning the characters are mostly backward Minnesota idiots who are geniuses in some little way. Or not. The first season of this was good, and I think the second one was okay too. This one, it’s too soon to tell, but it feels not-so-great. We’ll see. Just for the fact that they based a TV show that changes every season on a popular movie, I have to give them a B- for this. I mean, who would have been stupid enough to even try that? Gotta hand it to them.

Flaked
This is a Will Arnett show, and he’s supposed to be a really funny guy, but so far in the shows he’s starred in, this and some canceled show with Christina Applegate, he comes across as an arrogant douchebag man-child who you kind of wish would go somewhere and die quietly. He was in Arrested Development before, but I never saw an episode of that, so I don’t know if you want him to die while you’re watching that too, so I can’t comment. I like watching Flaked because it’s shot in Venice, and I like to see how nothing looks like it did when I lived there. As I mentioned a million times in the last episode of this compelling production. Season two of this show had been a long time coming too, so I’m not sure how I’d rate it at the moment, so far removed from my last viewing, so let’s say C for average until they prove they deserve better. And then there’s –

Fleabag
Which is another Amazon show, and a really good British production about a young woman who doesn’t always make what we might consider the right decisions. So her life is a chaotic mess, and this is one of those comedies that isn’t necessarily funny, but it’s very watchable and engrossing. And gross. I really look forward to season two, which will probably premiere 10 years from now, the way these things go these days. B

Good Girls Revolt
This is a new one – and yet another Amazon series – about women working at a New York magazine in the late 60s, and how screwed they were, which I think we all knew, but it’s still good to see it played out and spelled out. It wasn’t so long ago when women were seen as secretaries and not much else, and that’s the era this one covers. It suffers from cliche-itis, but then most entertainment does, so I can’t be too hard on them for that. This takes place in the 60s, so they show way too many people smoking cigarettes than is really necessary. But every period show since Mad Men feels the need to club you over the head with the fact that people actually smoked at work by showing you half the people in a room smoking at the same time. Which, as someone who worked in an office where people smoked, is overkill. But everyone does it now. Like the lights that make extremely loud mechanical sounds when they are turned on for some inexplicable reason, of the microphone that always feeds back whenever anyone speaks into it an any show in the history of television of movies. There are dozens of other cliches that people engage in because they don’t have any imagination, but we don’t have time to talk about them here. Good Girls Revolt: C.

Grace And Frankie
A Netflix comedy that isn’t ever lol funny, but it’s kind of smiling funny. It’s got everyone in it, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Sam Waterston, Martin Sheen, and some younger people who are probably also famous, but I don’t know who they are. This one is interesting because I started watching it because someone I followed on Twitter is a writer on it. Or a story editor or some such Hollywood bullshit job that has something to do with something. But again, kind of smiling funny only rates a C.

Halt And Catch Fire
This is one of only three shows on this list that I watch by myself, without Carol. There’s no reason to mention that, but there it is. I’d say she’s more discerning than I am, but I rate all three of the shows highly, so it’s more likely just a taste thing. Halt And Catch Fire is about the early days of the home computer industry. One of the main characters is supposed to be a Steve Jobs type visionary, but he falls pretty flat in that characterization. The other main characters are a brilliant young punk rock female coder (who wouldn’t have existed in those days, sorry, not being sexist, just an observation) and a corporate guy who worked for what, in the series anyway, was supposed to be Compaq computers. The show is kind of dumb, but there’s nothing else out there about that era, and I think they’re going to be getting into the Internet in this coming season, so it might be interesting, or at least funny to see how much they dumb down or just get wrong. Despite its flaws I give Halt And Catch Fire a B-.

Ink Master
A dozen tattooers – I won’t call them tattoo artists because some of them clearly have no artistic skill – compete to see who’s the best at tattooing people with designs they don’t necessarily want. This show intrigues me because every episode they have people – they call these people “canvases,” in order to dehumanize them so when they give then a horrible tattoo they don’t feel as bad about it – but they have people who come in and volunteer to be tattooed with a design they often don’t get to pick, by tattooers they don’t know. That, to me is the greatest part of the show. That week after week people show up to get, what to them is a free tattoo, but is such a crap shoot that I find it hard to believe anyone would volunteer for it. What does a tattoo cost, a few hundred dollars? Is it worth saving that few hundred dollars to possibly – or maybe probably in the earlier episodes of a season – get permanently marked with some unintelligible bullshit? The mind boggles, so I give it a C-.

Insecure
is an HBO series that is based on a web series, this time by Senegalese-American Issa Rae. I had no idea she was Senegalese until I Googled the show to get her name right. Her web series was called “Awkward Black Girl,” and the HBO version lives up to that. Her character is awkward, and self-centered, but, you know, she’s just tying to get by. There has only been one season of this one, so it’s hard to say how it’s going to pan out, but it was well done and I look forward to more. B-.

Jessica Jones
I think this one is on Netflix, so again, it’s been like decades since the first season ended and I have no idea when the second season is going to appear. It’s superheros, which isn’t something we usually watch, but we like Krysten Ritter and she kicked the shit out of someone in the first episode, so we watched it. If it ever comes back we’ll probably watch it again. C.

Last Man On Earth
Will Forte from Saturday Night Live created this for himself, but he’s overshadowed by Kristen Schaal and Mary Steenburgen in the story of, well, the last man on earth. At least he thinks he is, but as the show goes on more and more characters show up. This is a network show, and one that, like Blindspot, splits its season into two parts separated by several months, which is the latest annoying thing that television has come up with to alienate and anger it’s watchers. Anyway, when Forte was alone, really the last man on earth, the show was better. It becomes less interesting as each new character is introduced. C. Next!

Love
is a great Netflix series which just released its second season. It’s a guy and girl who are not at all compatible but who get together anyway – hmm, where have I seen that before? Well, for a formula “romantic comedy” it is very well done and very much worth your time. Claudia O’Doherty completely steals the show as the cheerful roommate. Check it out. B.

Married At First Sight
I despise this show with every fiber of my being, but it’s about people who agree to marry a stranger who they don’t meet until they’re on the altar saying “I do.” How can you not watch that? Well I can’t not watch it, though I always wish that I could not watch it, because I hate it. Like most low budget reality shows half of the narration is cobbled together from many different scraps of dialog, so they’ll take half a dozen conversations with the person and cut words out of each to form a sentence that the person never said. It’s obvious they are doing that, they don’t try to hide it with any audio trickery. It’s a how that I think hates its audience as much as its audience hates it. Though 50,000 people auditioned for the current season, so…so what? I don’t know. F-.

Master Of None
Netflix show from Aziz Ansari, who you know from Parks and Recreation and 40 or 50 hours long stand up shows on Netflix. I think I liked this. Hard to remember. It’s another one I feel like I watched half a lifetime ago. I guess I’m looking forward to the next season? C.

Mozart In The Jungle
This one is Amazon, I believe, and I like it because it’s about musicians. Classical musicians, yes, not rock musicians, but you might be surprised to learn that musicians are musicians, whatever type of music they’re playing. It stars Gael García Bernal as Maestro Rodrigo, and everything about the character should be annoying, but Bernal must be a fucking genius, because he makes the character extremely likable. A

One Mississippi
Comedian Tig Notaro goes home to Mississippi. Do you need to know more? Watch it. A+

Orange Is The New Black
I think we watch this one because of inertia. It certainly used to be better, but even in its not-as-good recent seasons it’s a well drawn thing, it pulls you in, makes you keep coming back. And I do like the fact that it’s barely about the main character anymore. That’s an odd approach that I haven’t seen since the HBO series Oz. Which was a long time ago. C+

Orphan Black
Jesus christ. This one. This is a tour de force by actor Tatiana Maslany, who plays about a dozen different characters on the show. The characters are all clones. That sounds cheesy and gimmicky, doesn’t it? Well it’s not. Even the fact that the story line is kind of sci-fi-y can’t hurt this one-woman juggernaut. Maslany is so amazing in this – the clones are all her, but they don’t all look the same. And it isn’t makeup, it’s acting. Brilliant acting, if there can be such a thing. In one episode she was playing a clone that was pretending to be one of the other clones…it’s a dozen layers of complexity but she pulled it off. You really had the feeling you were watching someone imitate someone, but with all the original characters mannerisms…it’s astounding watching this show. And the final season starts in June. Watch it, watch it, watch it. A++

Peaky Blinders
Gang violence at the turn of the last century. What could be better? I’m totally engaged in this show because again, the acting is excellent. Because without good acting, all you’ve got is another show about criminals, just like the other 4,381 shows about criminals. Why is that, anyway? Why can’t television writers think of anything other than crime, doctors or groups of friends around a table. Where is the fucking imagination and creativity? Yes, talented writers and actors can make cops and criminals and doctors and people sitting around a restaurant interesting and engaging, but for fuck’s sake man, there’s a whole world of people out there, and most of them are not in medicine or law enforcement. Wake up. But yeah, Peaky Blinders is great. A-.

Portlandia
Well you know what this is. It’s the same thing over and over and it’s funny as hell over and over. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are masters of the broad parody that is Portlandia, and I can’t say I’ve ever seen an episode that has disappointed me. In fact we re-watched a bunch of older episodes recently, which is not something we usually do, and they were just as funny the second time around. Top shelf stuff, A+

Project Runway
I liked the first season or two of this, but the formula ran dry for me a long time ago. I watch it because Carol likes it, and it does have some of the throwing-a-bunch-of-people-together-to-see-what-happens aspect to it, but maybe not enough of that for me. C-

Ray Donovan
Come on man, it’s Ray Donovan. If you never heard of it, it’s on HBO – or Showtime, I can never keep those two straight – and it’s about a guy who’s a “fixer.” Meaning he does all sorts of horrible, illegal things to make rich people’s problems go away. And sometimes his own problems too. Like when he murdered a priest. Which is always the kind of thing I like to see. Oh stop it, the priest had it coming, trust me. Ray Donovan: A.

Search Party
is Alia Shawkat – is that a real name? It’s awesome whether it’s real or not. Well it’s Alia Shawkat trying to track down someone who has disappeared. Or has she? It’s well done, entertaining, funny, and I look forward to season two. B-.

Shameless
Another HBO or Showtime, I’m not sure, show that is good for what ails you. And it’s not about doctors or cops! In fact it’s about people who basically live in poverty and aren’t too picky about whether what they do is technically legal or not. It seems like this show has been on for 10 years, but t probably hasn’t, and it’s still really good each time it comes back. Not many shows can maintain quality or hold your interest over a long period of time, but Shameless does that. A

Silicon Valley
Extremely funny show about nerds launching an Internet company. It’s 100% cliches, this thing, and all of them are absolutely true. The only thing I don’t like about it is it’s only 30 minutes long. A

Sister Wives
I want to take a shower in rubbing alcohol and boric acid after every episode of this, but it’s about a guy with four wives and 18 kids, so, again, how can you not watch it? D-.

Sneaky Pete
Is a good caper show on Amazon. I guess you could classify it as a crime show, but it’s interesting enough and it has the requisite twists and turns and interesting characters. Looking forward to season two someday. B

Survivor
The king of all reality shows. Not the first, but the best. How better to get down to how people really are than to stick them on an island and get them filthy and starve them. Now that’s entertainment! Another one that follows the same predictable patterns, but the people are the draw, not the games and stupid staged shit. You have to be cut throat to win Survivor, and 95% of the people who play it don’t seem to have a grip on that fundamental reality. A+

The Fall
Moody British thing starring Gillian Anderson from the X-Files. It’s crime. Cops. And it was really something when it started, then it became something much less than something, and now I await the final season so I can quit watching it. I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to it or not. Since the grade is for the show overall and not the best or worst season, I give it a C+.

Transparent
Loved the concept for this and the first few episodes, but I hate it now. Not a single character you can care about, just a lot of entitled white people bitching and bitching and whining and bitching. Oh, and the father is trans. So what. You can’t even get me to care about that at this point. D

True Detective
What the hell is this show? The last of the shows, on this list anyway, that has a different premise or story every season, the most recent season being a big, stinking dog turd or awfulness. The first season though, now that was good. So you can see we have a conundrum here. There’s another season coming up at some point this year, and we’ll probably watch it, but if it ain’t good, there’s going to be hell to pay. Not really, we’ll just turn it off and delete it from our list. So again, since we’re grading on a curve, C.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Kind of funny Netflix show that I never look forward to watching, but then when I do watch it, it’s really funny. It’s a stupid premise – a woman that was confined in an underground bunker, then released, so everything is new and amazing to her – but a really talented cast make this a comedy winner. See, I could write reviews for a magazine or something, I know the lingo. B-

Unreal
A dark and soulless show about the production behind the reality show “The Bachelor.” I mean, they don’t say it’s the Bachelor, obviously, because this is ostensibly fiction, but it is about the Bachelor, and the show’s black, or absent soul appeals to my dark side. It’s cynical, it’s uncomfortable to watch, it’s kind of perfect. B.

Vikings
Gang Violence a thousand years ago, what more could you possibly want? I love this show, I’ll tell you right now. It’s Sons of Anarchy, only they’re the Sons of Norway or something. The lead actor even looks like the lead actor on Sons of Anarchy. I started watching this by mistake. I saw a new show on the History channel called “Vikings,” and I thought it was a documentary. Those are my people, those Scandinavians, so I recorded it. I sat down to watch what I thought was going to be a documentary and saw all this…acting, and I was like, “Gah, what the fuck!” But it was particularly brutal and unflinching, the extremely violent first 10 minutes of the series, so I kept watching. I’m glad I did. Vikings! Fuck the world! A+

You’re The Worst
Another girl meets boy who isn’t right for her so of course they get together, just like the show Love that I talked about a few minutes ago, and a hundred other things. But the writing and acting on this one set it apart. It’s cream of the crop romantic sitcom material, which doesn’t have a lot of cream, so you should take it where you can get it. A

Well that’s it. Shit man, I thought that would take about 20 minutes, but apparently we watch a lot more shows than I realized. I know we watch more shows than humans probably should, but we probably watch less than a lot of other people. You know, people who just leave the TV on even if no one is watching it? I never understood that. Well, I know one person who used to do it, but she had CNN playing all day, so you could walk into the room and get something out of it. But the people who just have some random channel playing old sitcoms all day…that I can’t fathom.

But there are a lot of things I can’t fathom, so it’s just something I’m going to have to try to not think about. Like most things in the world. Hey, no time to play you any phone messages this time around, but maybe next time. Don’t forget, you can call and leave comments, messages, threats or suggestions at (628) 333-4860. Or if you want to spell it out, oat fed gum 0. That’s so easy to remember. Anyway, write it down – (628) 333-4860. But if you don’t want to hear your wonderful voice here on the podcast, don’t call. Because I reserve the right to use your voice, you, your first born, your descendants and ancestors and all of your oat fed gum. Zero. Okay kids, until we meet again.