List, Television

TOP 5 CURRENT US SITCOMS

The 5 US sitcoms you should be watching right now.

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5. Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt

rawIt won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a fantastic Netflix sitcom that stands out from the majority of other shows due to its premise. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (AKA the minds behind the brilliant 30 Rock, which ran from 2006 to 2013), the show begins with 29 year old Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) being rescued from a bunker where she has spent 15 years in captivity after Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) led her and three other women to believe that they had survived the end of the world. Becoming known as one of the “Indiana mole women”, Kimmy decides to break free and start a new life in New York City, despite not knowing much about the 21st century world.

The fact that Fey and Carlock have taken a decidedly dark premise and made it into something as bright and cheerful as this show is a credit to them, but even moreso to Kemper for making the character of Kimmy so endearingly likable – she feels like an extension of her role as Erin in NBC’s The Office, which can only be a good thing. The cast is brilliant in that it moves away from the typical group of friends who met in high school/college hanging out and instead presents an eclectic range of people who appeared in each others lives randomly, from Kimmy’s broadway yearning roomate Titus (Tituss Burgess) or eccentric landlady Lillian (Carol Kane), to the ever hilarious Jane Krakowski as a wealthy Manhattanite.

Whilst the show could perhaps become a little grating, there is no denying that it is totally unique and hilariously funny – something which has seen Netflix renew it for a third season before the second has even begun streaming (season 2 is set to make an appearance on the 15th of April), and the fact that it was nominated for a total of seven Emmy awards. If you haven’t already seen it, what are you waiting for – all 13 episodes of season 1 are available on Netflix right now!

4. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

tumblr_ndwxelm1Cg1qdt9vko1_400Another show that is an acquired taste, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a cult hit that has been broadcast on US network FX, then sister channel FXX, since 2005 (it is available to stream on Netflix for those of us in the UK). Now in it’s 11th season and renewed for a 12th, the sitcom was developed by Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, who both star as members of the ‘gang’ that the plot revolves around.

Described as “Seinfeld on crack”, the show takes the typical ‘group of friends hanging out’ trope and flips it beyond recognition. Revolving around the exploits of a group of people who own a bar – Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and his twin sister Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and from season 2 onwards the twins ‘father’ Frank (Danny DeVito) – the show is about as far removed from Friends (1994-2004) as you can get.

It would be a stretch to describe the gang as friends – co-dependent alcoholics, sure, but friends is probably too light a term. The show really hit its stride with the inclusion of DeVito from the second season, and there is no issue safe from the shows satirical gaze. Taboo topics are the norm – it’s almost like a live-action South Park (1997-) at times – meaning that the show is not one for the easily offended.

The comedy is derived from the fact that the characters are all hugely self centered and damaged in their own ways – from Charlie’s anger issues and glue sniffing to Dennis’ increasingly obvious sociopathic tendencies – and it is amazing that they can continue to come up with such inventive ideas after over a decade. In season 7 episode The Gang Gets Trapped, Dennis perfectly sums up the shows premise in one of this trademark rants:

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten…somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another. Until, finally, we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve broken into somebody’s house – and the homeowner is home.”  

If you like your comedy jet black and packed with too many pop culture references to count, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the show for you.

3. Broad City

746b285916fc5f9e55c0b334e38d7a39Broad City is a show that, since it began airing on Comedy Central in 2014, has drawn endless comparison to Lena Dunham’s Girls (2012-). Whilst both tell the story of women in their twenties living in New York City, the two shows are in fact very different beasts – each with their own distinct strengths.

Starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jackson as fictionalised versions of themselves, Broad City began life as a web-series before being picked up by Comedy Central. It is due to begin its third season, with the second in particular garnering critical acclaim. Glazer and Jackson met whilst taking classes at the famous Upright Citizens Brigade, and no other than Amy Poehler took notice of the web incarnation of the show, now serving as an executive producer on the series.

First and foremost, Broad City is hilarious. Charting the exploits of self-centred, work-allergic stoner Ilana and wannabe illustrator Abbi as they get themselves into all sorts of weird but strangely relatable situations is a mine of comedy potential , and the duos writing is consistently strong. The cast is rounded out by some eccentric supporting players, including Ilana’s lover Lincoln (Hannibal Burgess) and Abbi’s roomate’s oddball boyfriend Bevers (John Gemberling).

Broad City also manages to be progressive at the same time as funny – usually the best sort of progressive, really. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, the show was described as “sneak attack feminism” and Jackson was quoted as saying:

“If you watch one of out episodes there’s not a big message, but if you watch all of them, I think, they’re empowering to women.” 

And she’s right. Watch one episode of Broad City and you will be treated to some real comedy gold – a favourite of mine includes Ilana trying to track down a TV remote she lost months ago in order to cancel a subscription – but if you watch the entire series, you will be treated to a show where women do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want (and they don’t answer to anyone – man or woman). Roll on season 3!

2. Brooklyn Nine Nine

130d218593d8b917c20a9dc277f87818Brooklyn Nine Nine is without a doubt one of the best sitcoms around at the moment. Currently airing its third season on Fox in the US (catch it on E4 in the UK) and featuring an eclectic ensemble cast, the show has received critical acclaim since it began airing in 2013.

Essentially a fusion of two arguably tired genres – the cop show and the sitcom – Brooklyn Nine Nine has taken the best from both concepts and created something fresh and hilarious. With an ensemble cast that includes Andy Samberg, Chelsea Peretti, Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, the show manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of modern sitcoms and uses the police precinct setting to generate totally different storylines.

The show hit the ground running and it has only been up from there, with season three shaking up the status quo and showing that creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur aren’t afraid to mix up the dynamics. Goor and Schur are known for their work on the equally acclaimed Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and Schur also worked on the US version of The Office (2005-2013), so there is no doubt that the pair know what they are doing when it comes to hilarious sitcoms.

The writing is fast paced and hilarious, and the workplace setting means that, much like the success of Parks and Recreation and The Office, personal lives do not factor in so much as to be overbearing. There is plenty of workplace action, and the characters all have totally different backgrounds, with the contrasts and relationships between them driving the comedy.

There’s been no word yet on a fourth season renewal, but Fox would be deluded to cancel a show that has been so well received and seems to only be getting better with time – expect to be seeing plenty from the Nine Nine in years to come.

1. New Girl

giphyWhilst the rest of the shows on this list are great because they generally invert or avoid sitcom tropes and stereotypes, New Girl is included because it not only embraces them but pulls them off well. The Fox show began airing in 2011 and is now in it’s fifth season. Originally based around the Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a teacher in her early thirties who moves into a loft with three men – Nick (Jake Johnson), Shmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) – after a messy break-up, showrunner Elizabeth Merriweather soon saw the potential in her cast and established New Girl as an ensemble that also included Jess’ best friend CeCe (Hannah Simone).

The tropes are all there – the will they/won’t they couple (two actually – but recent events have established an imminent Ross and Rachel/Monica and Chandler situation), the group of friends hanging out, the bromance etc, but when it’s done this well, they don’t seem so tired (look to The Big Bang Theory for a modern example of when the tropes don’t work). Unlike most of the entries on this list, New Girl is the sort of show that has the universal appeal of Friends – it’s a simple concept made great by a brilliant cast – special mention to Jake Johnson and Max Greenfield in particular.

One thing that does set the show apart is that when we first meet the characters they are already in their early thirties – most sitcoms begin with young fresh faced twenty-somethings – meaning they have already lived a lot. This provides a whole new take on comedy – these are characters who are falling in love, but not for the first time, and they are moving up in the career ladder rather than starting out on the bottom rung. Whilst only a small deviation from the classic sitcom set-up, when paired with the fantastic writing it’s enough to set the show apart from the rest.

New Girl is available in the UK on Netflix (seasons 1-3) and on E4.

What are your favourite US sitcoms currently airing? Let me know in the comments section!

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Film, List

5 GREAT FILMS THAT WERE BOX OFFICE FLOPS

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When it comes to mainstream cinema it’s all about the numbers, and the box office performance of a film is often what dictates whether it was successful or not. This can lead to sequels of bad films – Terminator Genysis, for example, is pretty sure to have a sequel in spite of appalling reviews and poor box office turnout in the USA due to the fact that it proved itself to be a money making machine in the gargantuan cinema-going demographic that is China. It can also lead to films that are actually pretty excellent only getting recognition years later due to a poor financial performance. Here are five films which performed poorly at the box office in spite of being great films…

Honourable mention…

Steve Jobs (2015)


Director:
Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

maxresdefault (2)An honourable mention due to the fact that it is still out in cinemas, Steve Jobs significantly underperformed upon it’s initial US release earlier this year. The film, structured like a three act play, stars Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and goes behind the scenes in the time leading up to three significant product launches. Penned by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) the film has garnered $18 million since its release. On a budget of $30 million, the film still has a way to go before even making its money back.

There are a few contributing factors which may explain why the film has been a financial flop in spite of excellent critical praise. Director Danny Boyle blamed the marketing strategy, believing that the film had to wide of an initial release and did not generate enough word of mouth. There is also the issue of Steve Jobs fatigue – the Apple founder has been the subject of dozens on films and documentaries, and the critical and commercial failure of the Ashton Kutcher starring Jobs (2013) is still fresh in the minds of US audiences. The film was released by Universal, who reportedly still have faith that the film can recover if it stays in cinemas until closer to awards season.

Amy Pascal of Sony passed on the film, seeing it as too big of a risk after the likes of Christian Bale did not agree to star, and rumours suggest that Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell actively tried to stop the films warts and all portrayal. Both Sorkin and Boyle have been very vocal about their belief that the film is not a biopic, but Powell’s sway in the tech community may be another factor as to why the film didn’t perform well.

5 – The Iron Giant (1999)

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal

iron-giant-hogarthBased on the Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man (1968), this Warner Brothers Animation changes Hugh’s English setting for Cold War America. Set in 1950’s Maine, the film charts nine year old Hogarth Hughs (Eli Marienthal), a young boy who discovers a fifty-foot tall metal eating iron giant. The film was the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who is now best known for his work with Pixar, which includes The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), and incorporated a mixture of traditional animation and elements of CGI.

The film made around $23 million on a $70 million budget, making it a financial failure in spite of critical adoration. The film had a pre Fast and Furious Vin Diesel in the titular role, as well as roles for America’s sweetheart Jennifer Aniston and Fraiser’s John Mahoney, but selling animations on their star power are more difficult than live action films. The film also used a washed out colour palette and held some pretty strong anti-government themes. Take into account that the film is a non Disney animation and that Bird was yet to make his name, as well as the fact that it came out the same year as Toy Story 2 (1999) and that Pixar were making CGI films popular and it becomes clearer why the film made a loss.

The film received a limited rerelease in cinemas this year ahead of the release of the Blu-Ray edition, which contained two minutes of new footage, and the film is considered one of the best non-Disney animations. Bird’s work at Pixar also went on to be some of the most financially successful for the studio, so it’s not all bad.

4 – Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty

Heathers2Heathers is an excellent black comedy/satire from Michael Lehmann. The film stars a young Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannon Doherty, and is pretty fearless in its approach to tackling issues such as bullying and teen suicide. The film was made on a very low budget of $2 million but still only managed to make back around half, meaning it was still a financial flop.

The film was very well received by critics, but a couple of noted individuals such as Roger Ebert took issue with the films extremities. The film came out in the late 80’s – making it a great showcase of the fashion of the era – which means it came out in the midst of the John Hughes era. Seeing as the film was a total subversion of everything a Hughes teen film stood for, this is probably a significant reason as to why the film did not fare well commercially.

The films stars Ryder and Slater were also yet to make their names – Ryder was only 16 upon filming and had appeared in Beetlejuice (1988) the same year, but only really became better known in the 1990’s with roles in the likes of Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Mermaids (1990). Similarly, Slater was 19 when the film came out with only a few credits to his name. Notoriously difficult Shannon Doherty also hadn’t had a chance to prove how notoriously difficult she was, with her roles in Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed coming in 1990 and 1998 respectively. This lack of percieved star power is another reason the film failed to gain any financial traction.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers

tumblr_inline_nmh0a4Ufom1r4j8j1_500Frank Capra’s holiday classic, based on 1939 short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, is one of those rare films that it is very difficult to find anyone who dislikes it. However, whilst it may be hard to believe, the film was a letdown at the Box Office, debuting in 26th place. Made on a $3 million budget, the film only made $3.3 million in its initial run despite starring the hugely popular Jimmy Stewart in the central role of George Bailey, a man who is contemplating suicide and is visited by an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers) who shows him what life would have been like had he never been born.

The story doesn’t end there however – it was due to a copyright issue that the film went on to become a festive favourite. The film originally had a 28 year copyright claim, and when it expired the rights were not put up for renewal. This meant that in 1975 the film entered the public domain, leading to it having heavy circulation on television during the holiday season. This led to the film being reevaluated as a classic, and it has since garnered over $60 million in DVD and home video sales. NBC now own the rights and there is a good chance they won’t be giving them up anytime soon.

An interesting side note is that the FBI actually pinpointed the film as communist propaganda. A 1947 memo entitled ‘Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry’ argued it was propaganda due to its populist theme and negative portrayal of rich bankers. The film was not blacklisted in the infamous McCarthy era, but it is interesting to think that the FBI were concerned about the feel-good classic.

2 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

shawshank-musicThe seven times Oscar nominated film written and directed by Frank Darabont and based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is one of the more surprising entries on this list. The film is currently at the top of the IMDb Top 250 Films list. The film was made on a $25 million budget, but debuted in ninth place on its opening weekend with only $2.5 million.

The film is regularly quoted amongst favourite films/top films of all time lists, so why did it fail to gain any traction? Producer Liz Glotzer has argued that the film didn’t achieve any word of mouth promotion due to people being unsure how to pronounce the title. It could also be argued that the title gives too much away, though it’s not as though it gives away the main details of the plot (we are looking at you The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), the winner of the most spoilerific title of all time).

Things become even more confusing when we see what The Shawshank Redemption was up against at the Box Office. Opening on 23rd September 1994, other films that opened that day included It Runs in the Family, Shadows of Desire and Terminal Velocity. Not exactly bonafide classics. However, it is also worth noting that NBC’s beloved sitcom Friends debuted on the same date, drawing in some 22 million viewers for its pilot episode. Did this stop people going out to see the film on its opening night?

The film is similar to It’s A Wonderful Life in that it became more popular after its original cinematic run, and TV circulation and word of mouth in recent years has seen the film become the classic we know it as today, but exactly why The Shawshank Redemption underperformed on its initial run will always be a point of cinematic speculation.

1 – Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bohem Carter

the_coolest_inside_facts_about_22David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club, based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name, made only $37 million on a $63 million budget. The film came out four years after his critically acclaimed and financially successful Se7en (1994), which also starred Brad Pitt in a main role. However, Fincher followed up the film with The Game (1997) starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, which was again critically successful but saw significantly less box office returns compared to Se7en.

Fight Club has gone on to achieve cult status due to the fact that it was hugely successful when released on DVD, selling over 6 million copies and making its money back in that way. Whilst the film is now regarded as a modern classic, it was extremely divisive amongst critics upon its initial release. The films depiction of violence and counterculture led to criticisms from some critics, including Roger Ebert who said years later that it was “beloved by many, not by me.”

Another issue came in the marketing. Fincher reportedly had very specific ideas about how he wanted to market the film, but executives at 20th Century Fox didn’t like the film when they viewed it. The company were unsure of how to sell a film that is so openly critical of consumerism. The films release was delayed several times, and the film eventually came out after the Columbine High School Massacre, meaning that audiences were arguably much less open to a film with such graphic violence at its core. Brad Pitt was undoubtedly the most bankable star in the film, but Fincher refused to have him as the focus of the marketing campaign for fear of misrepresentation, and the lacklustre campaign is arguably the biggest factor in Fight Club’s poor box office performance.

The film was without a doubt one of the most talked about the of the year, and the controversy that surrounded its violent nature is arguably what made it successful in DVD sales, meaning it was not a total failure.

Which films do you think are great in spite of a less than stellar box office performance? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Television

FRIENDS CHRISTMAS EPISODES: RANKED:

Friends-say-Merry-Christmas-friends-2964228-762-549

Christmas is coming! It’s December and the countdown is officially on – only three weeks or so until we can all chow down on far too much turkey. One of the best things about Christmas is all the excellent television. Friends is one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, but it was surprisingly light on the festive cheer across its ten year run. This was probably partly due to the fact that two of the characters – Ross and Monica – were Jewish, and that the show tended to have a Thanksgiving episode most years. That’s not to say that Christmas didn’t play a significant role in the show – eight out of the ten seasons feature the holiday in some way, shape or form. Here is the definitive ranking of the Friends Christmas episodes (Ok, so it might not be definitive – let me know what your ranking would look like in the comments section!):

8 – THE ONE WITH ROSS’ STEP FORWARD

friends-s8e11-800x450Season eight was a strange time for Friends, and this was partly due to Ross’ relationship with the eternally bland Mona. There was nothing particularly wrong with Mona, but the fact that she stayed with Ross for so long not only highlighted her poor judge of character but also led to some really lacklustre storylines attempting to incorporate her. This festive themed episode sees Ross freak out when Mona suggests they send out a holiday card together (obviously it was way too soon, what’s your deal Mona?), and a series of unfortunate Ross-like attempts to iron out the whole situation end up with him giving her a key to his apartment and then changing the locks. Classic Ross. The episode takes last place because it’s not very Christmassy and MONA SUCKS.

7 – THE ONE WITH PHEOBE’S DAD

holy crap is it hot in hereThis season two episode is the first time the show referenced Christmas. The holiday takes the backbench, but we see the gang shopping, holding a party and decorating the apartment, and there is an excellent scene at the end where Joey and Chandler give their gang the Christmas gifts they picked up at a small convenience store. Gifts include wiper blades, cans of soda and condoms – the things everyone is hoping to see in their stocking. This one ranks low due to Christmas not being at the forefront of the episode, but it’s background involvement raises some laughs.

6 – THE ONE WITH THE GIRL FROM PHOUGHKEEPSIE

maxresdefault (1)Season four featured Ross and Rachel getting used to life after the end of their relationship, and this episode centres around Ross dating two girls and battling between convenience and actual attraction. It has very little to do with Christmas at all, but there is an amusing subplot where Phoebe tries to write a festive song dedicated to the gang. She runs into various rhyming stumbling blocks, particularly when dealing with Chandler and Rachel. The final product (which you can see at the end of this list) is the epitome of Phoebe’s kookily awful songwriting skills, and a bonafide Christmas classic.

5 – THE ONE WITH THE ROUTINE

friends-season-6-episode-10This is a classic season six episode where we are reminded (as we quite often are) that Ross and Monica were massive geeks before they grew up to be David Schwimmer and Courtney Cox. The pair are invited to be extras at the filming of filler shots for Dick Clarke’s Rockin’ New Years Eve along with Joey and his dancer room-mate Janine (Elle Macpherson). Their increasingly desperate attempts to get on camera go overlooked, culminating in them dusting off an old dance routine which we are treated to viewing in it’s entirety. This is a scene that only gets better with age, with the increasingly dated but not yet quirky costumes of the late 90’s adding to the overall hilarity. This episode rates pretty high on the festive factor, with a subplot featuring Phoebe and Rachel attempting to find Monica’s christmas gifts for the group. Chandler is outraged, moreso when they discover and deride his gifts, but the girls wear him down and they set to finding the presents. This is a great episode which has just enough festive frolics.

4 – THE ONE WITH THE CHRISTMAS IN TULSA

640x360_eb3678de-ddeb-44c2-954e-d114a86dfb91This one drew to a close the strange storyline where Chandler had to split his time between Tulsa and New York in season nine. This episode sees Chandler being forced to spend Christmas in Tulsa, leading to him recalling happier festive times with the gang – allowing the perfect opportunity for a flashback episode. This one panders to the nostalgia that we all tend to get at Christmas time, and also serves to remind us of just how great Friends was.

3 – THE ONE WITH THE INAPPROPRIATE SISTER

tumblr_nh19ahddc31qddkt4o5_400Again, Christmas doesn’t play a massive part in the episode, but it makes its way into the top three due to the fact that the small subplot where it does feature is comedy gold. Phoebe has landed herself a role as a bell ringer/fundraiser and is given a prime location outside of Macy’s. Her spreading of festive cheer proves harder than she thought when people decide to instead utilise her collection bucket for pretty much anything other than donations (ashtray and urinal are some of the worst uses). We see her having to take desperate measures and revert to her ‘Street Phoebe’ persona, making us laugh along the way.

2 – THE ONE WHERE RACHEL QUITS

friends_episode058_337x233_032020061505This season three episode has a great little Christmas subplot which sees Joey taking some temporary work selling Christmas trees. When Phoebe announces that she is against the concept of the festive trees, Joey takes her to workplace to calm her down, only for her to become further outraged at the fact that old trees are put in the chipper (“I bet that’s not as happy as it sounds”). Monica and Joey then go on to make her Christmas by decorating the former’s apartment with the dead trees, in spite of the fact that Monica is a massive clean freak (this shows the extent of her goodwill and sacrifice, obviously). It’s a really sweet festive moment, landing it the number two spot on this list.

1 – THE ONE WITH THE HOLIDAY ARMADILLO

tow-the-holliday-armadillloCould it be any other episode? This gem from season seven is a pop culture favourite which sees Ross attempt to teach his son Ben about Jewish holiday Hanukkah, but finds it hard to compete with the man in the red suit. Ross then finds himself unable to find a Santa suit on short notice, leading to his hilarious ‘holiday armadillo’ improvisation. It’s already funny, but things get downright hysterical when Chandler shows up in a Santa suit, later followed by Joey in a Superman outfit, leading to one of Chandler’s finest lines:

“My favourite part was when Superman flew all the Jews out of Egypt”

So there you have it, the eight Christmas episodes of Friends ranked. Do you agree? What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments section!

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