We’re living through the Melamedassance.

You can’t throw a stone or turn on an indie movie or TV show without hearing the silky, booming voice (and then seeing the flecked, impeccably groomed beard) of one Fred Melamed. Ever since In A World… came out a few years ago, the alt-comedy community has been casting him as Stern, Overpowering Male Figure in everything. New Girl and Casual stand out to me, since I watch those shows regularly, but his IMDb page is bursting at its electronic seams. He’s cornered the market.

Which is why his role in Lady Dynamite is so refreshing. He’s a Male Figure, sure, but he’s neither Stern nor Overpowering. In fact, the show plays with the implicit gravitas of his voice and forces him into a role you wouldn’t expect. He is Bruce-Ben Bacharach, agent and fanboy to Maria Bamford, and it’s utterly delightful. The dignity he oozes in literally every other part he’s done is completely erased here, and what’s left is a nervous, bumbling, obsequious, occasionally high-pitched (read: tenor) man who’s still figuring out his shit. He’s a terrible agent.

Melamed is also my favorite part of Lady Dynamite, which I hate to say I found both hit and miss. I love Bamford deeply, and I echo nearly every comedian’s sentiments when I say that she’s one of the most brilliant standups alive — seriously, go see her, it’ll change your life and your perception of how vocal chords work — but as I’ve said about other brilliant standups, sometimes the stage is their best medium for a reason. Bamford knows herself incredibly well, and knows what she’s capable of handling — which is actually something she addresses really poignantly in the show, about how it’s okay to say no to gigs — and I completely get why she took this opportunity to make a show. But the way her mind works is almost too complex, too multi-dimensional, too far-reaching to fit within the confines of a TV series. There’s nothing that can do justice to her comedic genius besides standup.

Admittedly, the subject matter she chose to cover didn’t make it easy. She decided to explore her own journey with mental illness, an incredibly brave and important selection, and aspects of the show were incredibly enlightening. I loved, for example, how the lighting, tone and wardrobe of the show changed according to which stage of her life she was in. Back in Minnesota, going through her lowest bouts of mania, the screen and her pajamas were every shade of grey. In LA, in her high points of mania, the colors seemed exaggerated, as did her smiles and her hair and even the enthusiasm with which she spoke. In present-day LA, everything evened out. But switching between these three timelines got confusing very quickly, especially because Bamford played herself in all three scenarios. I’m glad she did, but because she’s got this incredibly youthful face and presence, it was difficult to tell which storylines preceded the other, and therefore if she was still experiencing a manic episode.

Netflix also didn’t bestow the show with a huge budget, which is unfortunate because I think it would have been beneficial to have a little more money, especially considering the scope of the storytelling. A lot of scenes fell flat because of bad CGI, giving the show an undeserved campy feel. Bamford deserves better than that, as evidenced by the huge number of guest stars who obviously weren’t doing the work for money — Mary Kay Place and Ed Begley, Jr. played her parents, Ana Gasteyer played another agent, Lennon Parham and Bridget Everett played her “friends,” Jason Mantzoukas and Jenny Slate played therapists, Mo Collins played her sister, Dean Cain and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson played love interests. The list goes on. I think she also deserved to give some of the good lines to herself. On stage, she has such a singular presence, but on the show she’s basically a straight woman to the zany antics of those around her. Ólafsson, as her boyfriend, seems to be the only one who’s more grounded than she is, which is maybe why they’re perfect for each other. He lets her be the funny one.

“Loaf Coach” is my favorite episode of the lot, since it contains appearances from the very precious Mantzoukas and Slate. It also made me laugh aloud more than other installments, which is unfortunate. Bamford live makes you laugh and gasp on a loop — it’s a visceral experience. I wanted more of that from her TV show, but most of what I got was a few chuckles and sighs. Maybe Season 2 will be better.

Hi. I’m a Rory.

I’ve been called a Miranda before. I’ve admitted to disliking Hannah the least. I’ve fantasized about growing up to be Ilana. But the truth is, I am a bona fide Rory.

Given the direction of 2016 Rory’s life in “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life,” this admission isn’t exactly something I’m proud of. In talking with friends about the four new Netflix episodes, I found their opinions (and those of the internet) were almost unanimous — the whiny-but-tolerable qualities Rory possessed in the original series (2000-07) have been comically magnified over the past nine years, and she’s mutated into an insufferable adult.

I don’t disagree. 32-year-old Rory claims to be a journalist, but she’s coasting on praise from one New Yorker byline. She takes a stab at a thinkpiece for GQ, but she backs out after missing the point of the piece entirely and fumbling her way into a one-night stand. She asks for a meeting with the eponymous head of Sandee Says (a clickbait media outlet that’s been pursuing her), expecting it to be an ego boost and a sure thing, but she can’t generate a single pitch for the site. Oh, and she’s also stringing along some guy, Paul, who deserves much better than a woman who keeps forgetting to break up with him and is still involved with her engaged, overseas ex. She’s a spoiled brat.

All this after being raised with supportive friends and family and financial privilege, graduating Valedictorian from Chilton, ascending to Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Daily News and reporting on Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign trail immediately after college. Rory had so much potential. You’d think she would have made something of herself.

You’d think I would have, too.

Growing up, I made friends that I’m still close to and had parents that put my needs before theirs. I was Valedictorian of my middle school class and attended a prestigious college prep high school. I double-majored in Mass Communications and Linguistics and was the Arts and Entertainment Editor of my college paper. My first job out of college was as a TV critic. There was a path, somehow, and I was following it.

And then, I don’t know … I wasn’t. The recession happened, a layoff happened, a tech job emerged, said tech job with a salary and benefits was taken, and five years later I found myself restless. Or, rather, I had been restless the whole time, but I finally admitted it. I decided to leave the Bay Area and move to New York, hoping the restlessness would morph into productivity.

It’s been two years, and it still hasn’t. I’m 29. The only job I’ve been able to get here is the one I currently have — I’m a copy editor. I earn a very modest hourly wage that forces me to drain my savings in order to live comfortably, I work night and weekend shifts that almost completely negate my social life, and I’ve had to rely on Obamacare because I’m considered a seasonal (read: part-time) employee.

I’m not asking for pity here; I know if I did, my membership card to the Ungrateful Club would arrive yesterday in the mail. I’m grateful to be employed, grateful to live in this absurd metropolis and even more grateful to have the aforementioned savings. I’m not asking for help or advice, either; I’ve received plenty of it, mostly in the form of links to job listings and “informational interviews” that generations ahead of me have insisted upon over the years.

Watching Rory biff it in those meetings hit really close to home. I’ve been in that room, with those people, with that fear and insecurity. I, too, thought I could float along on my intelligence, my conversational charm and my handful of “impressive” Huffington Post bylines. But that shiny teenage cockiness dulls exponentially when you spend your twenties letting your resume gather dust. (Then again, I also spent my twenties being in my twenties. That’s not such a bad thing, considering I hardly spent my teens being a teen.)

I’m a Rory because I, too, marched blindly into the abstract “Plan A” of journalism. Except journalism wasn’t my “Plan A.” I didn’t even have a plan, lowercase, let alone an uppercase one with a letter affixed to it. Entering college, I was told I’d be good at journalism. I ended up being decent at it, but mostly I was just better at it than math or biology or clarinet or grilling meats or snowboarding, and it never occurred to me to just try something completely different. I liked the idea of being good at journalism, and I assumed I’d always be good at it because being good at stuff was what I was good at. “Being good at being good at stuff” isn’t a life skill, though; it’s a way to get A’s in high school.

I gravitated towards Arts writing in college because I liked movies and music more than politics, and those were my choices when I applied for the paper. Arts also allowed me to say what I thought without having to listen to what other people thought, i.e. “interview sources,” i.e. “avoid most phone conversations.” I churned out a couple of reviews that I’m still proud of, but I often felt like a fraud for getting free concert tickets while my fellow writers, editors and photographers were pulling all-nighters to cover City Council meetings and student government elections.

Honestly, I didn’t even think beyond the actual word “journalism.” I definitely had no “Plan B,” because I didn’t think I had to. I still don’t have one. I don’t think Rory did — or does — either. We’re both floating, unmotivated, unable to kick our own asses, unable to find creative fulfillment because we’d have to take a risk and be bad at something in order for the good to emerge. We’re also unqualified for a lot of the jobs that we’re trying to apply for now, because in college, we envisioned careers that don’t really exist anymore. As frustrating as Rory was for most “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” viewers to take in, I felt relieved knowing my true kindred spirit — albeit a fragile fictional one — is out there.

Of course, given that she’s fictional, she also comes with her own convenient plot twist and resolution: an unplanned pregnancy (which, ironically, could have been prevented with “Plan B”) and a book. I’m not in the market for a baby, but I have been mulling over the idea of a book. Maybe I can draw some inspiration from my soulless sister. We’ll see. (Don’t ask me about it.)

You might know a Rory. You might know me. You might feel the urge to give us help or advice because you’re nice and you think we have potential.

Thank you, but don’t. We’ve been hearing that word, potential, our whole lives, and we’re sick of the pressure that comes with it. If we ask for help, that means we trust you, and we will ask.

We need to know that we’re mediocre at most things, and we need to just be mediocre. We need to fuck up. No one has let us fuck up before. Fucking up is perfectly fine. Turns out we’re good at fucking up because we’re good at being good at stuff. How’s that for a plot twist?

Oh, and if you’re wondering, Team Jess ‘til I die.

Love (Season 1)

Judd Apatow shows and movies have always had a way of making me feel uneasy. Even the really great ones, like Freaks and Geeks. There’s something so piercingly real about everything he touches. It’s hard to purely enjoy his comedy because it’s rooted in something too accurate not to relate to.

I didn’t entirely identify with the characters in Love, but I did so enough to feel guilty about it. It’s the story of a really new relationship between Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust), whose chemistry I didn’t really buy but whose individual performances I enjoyed thoroughly. Mickey is selfish and deeply unlikable (as was Britta on Community, for which she’s probably most known) but Jacobs really commits to it, clearly drawing from real experience with at least one genuine asshole. The character makes poor, immature decisions in almost every aspect of her life — doing drugs and dumb dudes, to name the obvious — so it’s hard to see why Gus even likes her.

But where Mickey at least knows how to have a good time, Gus kind of doesn’t. He’s got cool friends, but he himself is very vanilla, very conflict-averse, very low-risk. Had he been played by a different actor, I probably wouldn’t have liked him, either, but Rust holds a special place in my heart, thanks to this occasional brilliant feature on Comedy Bang! Bang!

Anyway. Somehow, these two find each other and attempt to incorporate each other into their lives. It’s mostly unsuccessful, and because of that, I actually take issue with the title of the show itself. There’s a clear affection there, but it’s not love. It’s curiosity. I admire the show for eliminating the romantic idealism that runs rampant through non-Apatow shows and movies — something Apatow seems hell-bent on destroying — but I actually think there has to be some of that there for a relationship to work, on-screen or not. Mickey and Gus are annoyed with each other most of the time. They only marginally enjoy each other’s company. One or both of them is depressed. Their communication skills are appalling, though the show does address the newfound frustrations and challenges of when and how to text someone you’re interested in.

The undeniable bright spots are Mickey’s roommate, Bertie (Claudia O’Dougherty), and Gus’ silly group of friends. Most of these people are also CBB regulars, which is why I was so happy to see them — and disappointed not to see more of them. I haven’t yet made up my mind if I’ll check in on Season 2 of this show, because it didn’t give me enough to hook into. I wanted to love Love, but… you know.

Casual, Season 1

I am in love with this show. Or, the first two-thirds of it, anyway.

Casual, found on that Hulu thing we all have, is worth watching despite its shortcomings, because the list of ’em is relatively just that — short. Let me get to the good stuff first, though. At the top of that list is Michaela Watkins, just the loveliest person to watch on screen. She has such a dead-on “fed-up” face, one that evokes sympathy that you’ve actually felt for a real person, because everyone she portrays feels real precisely because she is playing them. (I loved her on Trophy Wife, too. And the new Wet Hot episodes. And everything else I should have seen her in by now but haven’t.) Her Val has this probably too-close relationship with her brother Alex (Tommy Dewey), but it’s so enviable and honest to watch that you push aside anything that seems gross about it for the sake of enjoying it more. They operate on cynicism and oversharing, but not in a petty way. They’re not only casual about dating (as the title refers to) but also casual about life. They complain, but only when they really need to. They judge, but they recognize the futility of it. They take themselves zero percent seriously, and for that reason, they’re not bad people at all. They — and the whole show, really — also know when to be silent. The patter is quick, but natural, too. Dewey’s portrayal of Alex is wonderful, too, especially because he’s an outwardly functional depressed person. That doesn’t happen often on TV, and it should. It’s not only more fascinating and better television, but it’s important for the sake of erasing stigmas and building awareness of depression, even in fiction.

The rest of the slate is solid, too — Frances Conroy as their mother is genius casting, of course, especially considering the resemblance between her and Watkins. Fred Melamed steals every scene as their father with his basso profundo. Nyasha Hatendi as Leon is… frankly, just better seen than explained. Eliza Coupe as Emmy, Alex’s love interest, oozes the same casual as he and Val, which makes her blend in perfectly. And Tara Lynne Barr as Laura, Val’s daughter, reminds me of a less vain version of Haley on Modern Family. She makes dumb teenage mistakes, but she’s a hell of a lot wiser than she acts.

However, Laura is the jumping-off point for the one-third of the show that I didn’t love. See, all the while, we follow these folks in their complicated lives, and they return to each other with their issues and sort them out (or not), but they all consider each other safe havens, especially Val, Laura and Alex, because they live under one roof. They’re united against Val and Alex’s parents, at least for a time, and they have each other’s backs. But when a love triangle emerges between Val, Laura and Laura’s teacher, it shatters the show’s already-fledgling sweetness. Yes, it’s a disruptive plot point, but it’s a cliche, unnecessary and unbelievable one. Val is a therapist, for shit’s sake, and she may not have it together enough to know how to date, but she sure as sheep should know to stay away from her daughter’s teacher no matter what. The show exacerbates the situation by having Val sleep with Emmy, too. By the end of the season’s run, I ended up hating Val and loving Alex — the reverse of the start — and felt let down by its promise. The point of it is their special sibling equilibrium, and without it, Casual becomes just like every other half-hour sitcom — predictable.

I’m curious to see how the writers will dig themselves out of the first season’s hole, but I’m also confident that they’ll be able to do it, because the first chunk is so strong and unique and likable. Let’s hope they downplay the drama and get back to the title again.

Dexter, Season 7

Every time I dip back into Dexter, without fail, I’m reminded why I missed it and dumbfounded that I still haven’t finished it yet. I guess it’s a savoring-what’s-left type of situation. After this, only one more season remains.

When Season 7 debuted, I remembered hearing grumblings about how Dexter had truly jumped the shark — but not because of the big reveal to Deb (Jennifer Carpenter). Something else happens this season between Dexter (Michael C. Hall) and Deb that actually trumps the entire crux of the series, which is that Deb confesses she’s in love with Dexter. It’s a weird, gross twist, but after thinking about it for a very long time, I realized that it’s not completely far-fetched. Given how unconventional their relationship was from the get-go, how involved they are with each other’s lives, and how much of his story was known to her as they were growing up (he was adopted after his mother died), someone like Deb would wrestle with difficult, complicated, taboo feelings and have no idea how to process them or reveal them. And it’s not like they actually made out or anything on the show. She talked about it with Dexter, it was a really uncomfortable moment, and then it tonally affected the rest of their scenes together. Given the circumstances, that seems pretty accurate to me. It also served as a way to distract from the thing we all knew would happen, which is that she’d find out he was a serial killer. I have to hand it to the show for creating surprise out of an extremely built-up, possibly predictable element of the show.

Carpenter keeps getting better and better throughout her Dexter run. Hall does, too, but Carpenter really was the underdog here, especially considering the fact that the two of them were divorcing as this incestuous plot was coming to light. Hall had the fortuitous benefit of being able to hide behind Dexter’s emotional wall, whereas Deb only got more unstable, more raw, more exposed the more information she was given. From far away, the season might appear like a soap opera, but up close, it’s far more nuanced than that, because there are so many qualifiers and details that led the Morgans to this point. Had Deb not fallen for the Ice Truck Killer, who was Dexter’s biological brother, she might not have forgiven herself for falling in love with Dexter, too. And had Dexter himself not already taken an interest in someone else, he might have been just vulnerable enough to indulge Deb’s feelings, because he wouldn’t know what else to do. Despite the bizarre, unfortunate turn that their relationship took, Dexter manages to be more human with Deb than with anyone else, because he knows he’s got no other choice. They control each other’s fates, so they may as well continue to be on the same team.

That “someone else,” by the way, is Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski). I hadn’t seen Strahovski in anything before, though I know she was one of those fan-favorite types on Chuck, and now I see why. She has a very obvious sweetness to her, but she also convincingly understands Dexter’s “Dark Passenger,” while also admitting how nauseating that phrase sounds when said aloud. (Only took the show seven seasons. Seriously, what a deplorable combination of words.) Dexter actually fumbles around her — he loses whatever control he had, mostly over his romantic inclinations but also over his ability to actually feel feelings — and it’s both superficially cute and deeply revelatory. After 40-plus years of being a clenched person — a term that the late, wonderful Heath Ledger used on Ellen to describe his character, Ennis Del Mar, from Brokeback Mountain — Dexter unclenches a little, and the results are actually not terrifying.

The downside to Dexter and Deb’s plotlines being totally unique and unpredictable this season, however, is that the rest of the characters’ plots can be telegraphed from several states away. Of course sad-sack Joey Quinn (Desmond Harrington) is going to fall for a stripper. Of course Maria Laguerta (Lauren Velez) is going to get too close to figuring out Dexter’s secret. Of course Angel Batista (David Zay
as) is going to consider retirement and buy a freakin’ restaurant. And of course Vince Masuka (C.S. Lee) isn’t going to get anything interesting to say beyond “that’s what she said” jokes. They all play a little too much into the personalities we’ve grown to love, and they don’t offer any change or growth or progress. It’s very disappointing, because the characters (and actors!) are quite lovable. They’re just not given much to work with. At least we can revel in the glory of Laguerta and Masuka‘s costumes. Laguerta redefines the pantsuit. Eat your heart out, Hillary.

Oh, and here’s a tweet I tweeted when I was actually watching Season 7. I stand by its sentiments still.

Strangers with Candy, Season 1

Strangers with Candy came out in 2000, and good goddamnit, I wish I had seen it the second it premiered. I think it would have explained middle school to me, and I would have been a weirder, funnier kid.

But I can’t go back in time, so instead, I’ll attempt to tell every middleschooler I know (currently none) — and every grown adult — to devour this series. Late-90s and early-00s Comedy Central was, to paraphrase one of the hilarious fellas who recommended this show to me, an untapped gold mine. Brilliant, unfiltered comedy ran at hours odd and even, and most of the jokes died before anyone had ever heard the punchlines. Hulu, thankfully, allows us to resurrect some of ’em ad infinitum.

Amy Sedaris — who’s a helluvan IG follow, by the way — plays Jerri Blank, a 46-year-old high school freshman whose backstory you’ll hear in pretty much every single episode, as the show is very open about how passionately it’s skewering after-school specials. Everything about her is exaggerated — her overbite, the pleats on her pants, the assholish nature of her brother, the uninvolvement of her parents — and yet she’s the most relatable, dare I say heroic, “teenage” character I’ve ever come across. Because she’s got the perspective of a person 30 years removed from high school, she rarely puts weight on what her classmates think of her — instead, she sees their disapproval, or whatever you want to call it, as a sort of challenge. She’s not particularly dissuaded when people don’t respond positively to her because she’s seen worse. If only we could all have had that perspective during puberty.

And then there’s the rest of the cast. Greg Hollimon, as Principal Onyx Blackman, is incredible. His voice has the richness and power of James Earl Jones’, so it contrasts perfectly with the absurdities he spouts. The running joke of him always appearing onscreen with his own likeness, in a photo or a painting or whatever, never gets old because it’s so damn consistent. He’s the principal you wish you had, at once intriguing and completely oblivious.

Paul Dinello as art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck is probably my least favorite part of the show, and he’s still amazing. He’s really the only sensitive part of the show, and probably the most likable character because of it. (Which, I suppose, is why I don’t love him quite as much as the others. My favorite show in the world is Seinfeld — I love despicable people.) He’s the only person in the whole school, really, besides Orlando (Orlando Pabotoy), who reveals any sense of true humanity. And yet he’s a terrible role model all the same.

But if you know me at all, you know that Stephen Colbert is the be-all, end-all in the world of Strangers. He is perfection then, now and always. To see him in this show is to truly understand his comedic genius — he’ll never stray too far from the straight man, but he can play the straight man an infinite number of ways. Here, he’s history teacher Chuck Noblet, Jellineck’s sometime lover and Jerri’s completely irresponsible, insulting mentor. Colbert’s delicate physical comedy is worth watching the entire show for.

glasses

I’m actually resisting not watching the rest of the show — there are only two more seasons, and they’re short — because I want to savor it. It’s delightful in a way no other show is, in that it’s dark, unsettling, gross, and completely surprising. It’ll make you laugh out loud instead of saying, “Oh, that’s funny,” to yourself. By the end of each episode, you’ll wonder how the story wound up there, and you’ll smile at the cast as they non-sequiturly dance over the closing credits.