SciFi Weekend: The Top 20 New Shows of 2015

Once again, as I did last year, I’m concentrating, I’m concentrating on the top new shows of the past year (but will include some comments on returning shows below). This is for a few reasons:

  • Not having the time to devote professional time to television as professional television critics do, there are many shows I have not watched purely due to lack of time. Limiting to a single year reduces the impact of this.
  • Limiting to new shows eliminates the problem in many “best of” lists of including the same shows every year.
  • Talking about new shows could be of greater value. It is more likely that readers know about the top shows which have been on for the last several years, but might not be aware of some of the shows which started more recently.
  • If readers are inspired to catch up on a show from a list such as this, it is far more practical to catch up after one season than several. I know this from personal experience. This is why I cannot say much about the series finale of Justified, which has received great reviews, as I’m years behind. It was much easier to catch up on Manhattan and The 100 after missing the first season, allowing me to say more about them below.

Besides being limited to shows I have watched, this is also biased towards genre shows. Therefore, what might be the year’s biggest hit among new shows, Empire, is excluded from consideration on both counts. Rankings are also quite arbitrary, and some shows could easily be a few spots higher or lower if I were to redo this fifteen minutes later. Still, this gives a general idea of which I consider among the best as compared to those ranked lower. It is a sign of the increased number of good shows coming out, partially due to the increased influence of steaming video along with cable, that I have expanded from a top fifteen list last year to a top 20 list this year.

Top 20 New Shows Of 2015

Last Man On EarthCa

20. Last Man on Earth (ABC)

This would have ranked far higher if it could have maintained the quality of its original premiere, but adding new characters just led to it devolving into a number of more standard sitcom tropes. Still, while many gave up on the show, I continued to have interest in the first season finale and into the second season.

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19. Childhood’s End (Syfy)

Adapting a novel from Arthur C. Clarke seemed like a sure winner, but there were problems I didn’t expect from doing this until I viewed the miniseries. It seemed far more dated in 2015 compared to when I read the novel in the 1960’s now that we have seen so many shows with alien visitation to earth. This story worked out much better as a novel as they could not capture important aspects of the story, including the magnitude of the ending, on television as compared to in prose. The show also failed to make the new world created in the miniseries seem believable, compared to the far better adaptations in a couple of other shows listed below. We heard about all the changes on earth, but rarely saw them, and what we did seem, such as mankind giving up science, didn’t seem believable.

Togetherness

18. Togetherness (HBO)

An excellent sitcom showing how cable and streaming have replaced the “must watch TV” from NBC and the other broadcast networks.

The Expanse

17.The Expanse (Syfy)

Syfy returns to space, with a mystery and quite a bit of world building in the series based upon the novels by James S. A. Corey. I have only seen the first two episodes so far, so my opinion of the show could change once I see more. It was just recently renewed for a second season.

Fresh off the Boat

16. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC)

Both Blackish last year and Fresh Off The Boat this year offer new variations on Modern Family. Constance Wu makes the show.

Casual

15. Casual (Hulu)

Yet another twist on a family sitcom, done far better by Hulu than the networks.

12Monkeys

14. 12 Monkeys (Syfy)

A time travel show which took aspects from the movie, but improved upon them for a weekly series. The series did an excellent job of building on its mythology, providing surprises, and moving in a new direction in the season finale.

Programme Name: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - TX: n/a - Episode: Ep2 (No. 2) - Picture Shows: Mr Norrell (EDDIE MARSAN) - (C) JSMN Ltd - Photographer: Matt Squire

13. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (BBC One/BBC America)

An excellent adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s novel, making a world in which magic exists seem real.

Supergirl-TV-Show-Actress-Melissa-Benoist

12. Supergirl (CBS)

Another show from the produces of Arrow and The Flash, with his being much closer to The Flash in style. The show had an excellent pilot, but for a while seemed like a weaker version of The Flash. It started getting more interesting toward the end of the fall season as the show had an opportunity to develop. Spoilers ahead: Major events before the hiatus included the revelation that Hank Henshaw is the Martian Manhunter. Calista Flockhart is excellent as Cat Grant, but considering her profession can she be trusted now that she figured out Supergirl’s secret identity? So far Supergirl doesn’t know about Hank, but it is inevitable that she learns who he is. A shape shifter could be useful to show both Supergirl and Kara in the same place to fool Cat.

Sense8 Will and Riley

11. Sense 8 (Netflix)

A very ambitious show, which took time to develop its story, but well worth the wait. Enjoy the scenery from around the world while trying to figure it out in the early episodes.

agent-carter_promo-cast-photos-616x462

10. Agent Carter (ABC)

This shows how much better a network show can be when limited to a single eight-episode story.  Maybe that is why it is the only network show which cracked the top ten. Of course a network still could not compete with streaming when entering the Marvel universe.

kimmy23f-6-web

9. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

This shows how the networks have surrendered quality sitcoms to streaming and cable. The show was originally produced by Tina Fey for NBC, but they passed on it and it was picked up by Netflix. It will be interesting to see if the show is even better when the second season is produced, knowing it will appear on Netflix rather than NBC.

Daredevil Matt and Karen

8. Daredevil (Netflix)

The first of a series of shows from the Marvel universe. Dardevil was darker, grittier, and more violent than any of the superhero shows before this. The series also took advantage of the streaming medium, often telling a continuous story, but sometimes including a more conventional single episode on a specific topic (which was still part of the greater story for the season).

Master of None

7. Master of None (Netflix)

Aziz Ansari shows how good a comedy could be on what I bet is a low budget if there is excellent writing. Besides comparisons to his character on Parks and Recreation, the show is often compared to Louie. I also see a lot of early Seinfeld in it.

Catastrophe

6. Catastrophe (Channel 4/Amazon)

The British show, also made available in the United States from Amazon Prime, was the best new sitcom of the year. It was this year’s, You’re The Worst, with Sharon Horgan playing what felt like could be an older version of Aya Cash’s chacter, and the nationalities of Jimmy and Gretchen’s nationalities reversed.

Man In The High Castle Poster

5. Man In The High Castle (Amazon)

While changes were made for the new version, Man In The High Castle was an excellent adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, providing a realistic look at what could have happened if Germany and Japan had won World War II and occupied the United States. Changes were made in some characters, and there were plot differences to turn this into an ongoing series. Hitler remaining alive in the 1960’s provides for a difference in the politics. Instead of a book with an alternate history in which the Allies won, using film reels worked better on television. While the main storyline was tied up, the finale raised new questions, making me very happy that it was renewed. Spoilers ahead: As happened earlier in the book, the finale did show a character crossing over into an alternate universe looking like ours, partially explaining the meaning of those news reels. I still have a lot of questions about them, and if the book gave any further hints, I read it too long ago to remember. The finale did wrap up the major storyline and led to an unexpected character living in a “high castle” who was interested in the news reels. Is he really the title character, and how is he connected to the films?

Humans

4. Humans (Channel 4/AMC)

Yet another British import on this list which was also shown in the United States presented a look at how robots (Synths) could change our society, along with a thriller storyline involving a small group of  Synths which were more than they seemed. I’m not sure if the second season could be as strong as the first now that all the secrets have been revealed, but they definitely left matters open to continue the story.

MR. ROBOT -- "Pilot" Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Rami Malek as Elliot, Christian Slater as Mr. Robot -- (Photo by: David Giesbrecht/USA Network)

3. Mr. Robot (USA)

A cyber-thriller which is totally different from what anyone would expect from a show on USA. The show gave a lot of hints about one element which was not confirmed until later in the season, but still came up with surprises along the way. The season finale also left room for a lot more.

Better Call Saul

2. Better Call Saul (AMC)

Better Call Saul greatly exceeded expectations, standing on its own in addition to being a prequel series to one of the greatest television series of all time, Breaking Bad.

Jessica Jones

1. Jessica Jones (Netflix)

Netflix exceeded what was accomplished on Daredevil with Jessica Jones, staring Kristin Ritter in the title role. The series, even more than Daredevil, was like a single long movie, with only brief breaks in the narrative to fill in viewers on the back stories of the major characters. This works as a stand alone story, but also has references to The Avengers, a character from Daredevil, and sets up future shows, especially Luke Cage.

Spoilers ahead. The show did so many things well.  While many super hero stories suffer from trying to create yet a bigger danger to the entire world to fight, Jessica Jones was a personal story between Jessica and the villain, with David Tennant doing a fantastic job playing Kilgrave. Without their powers, this is essentially the story of an abused woman who once again confronts the man who abused her. Add on the super powers, and it becomes a story of a man who can have whatever he wants and does not understand why Jessica does not love him when he is nice to her.

Most of the supporting cast was also excellent, including Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Rachel Taylor as Trish Walker. One neighbor initially seemed to be a stereotypical drug addict, but turned into a significant figure. The brother and sister also living in the same building were the weakest characters, but the sister was useful to allow Kilgrave to escape. The length of the story did require a series of  near-captures, captures, and escapes. Plus it was necessary to change the situation so that the ending could take place, when earlier Jessica had reason to not only capture Kilgrave alive, but provide proof of his powers.

Honorable Mention

Grace and Frankie Season 1 netflix handout .... Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the Netflix Original Series "Grace and Frankie". Photo by Melissa Moseley for Netflix.Ê

Grace and Frankie (Netflix) Any show staring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and Sam Waterston has to be good, even if some of other new sitcoms were more consistent.

Blindspot (NBC) A fascinating premise made the early shows feel like something unique from network drama, but far too often it is just a gimmick to introduce the case of the week. Whether the show becomes a great will depend on whether the underlying mystery of the show remains compelling. Also on NBC, Blacklist almost felt like a new show with Lizzie now on the run, reminiscent of how Person of Interest evolved into more of a genre show last year on CBS.

Limitless (CBS) A lighter genre show which shows potential to be entertaining, but I doubt will rise to greatness.

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (Netflix) A prequel to the movie.

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS) and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (Comedy Central) were two excellent additions to light night television, a genre which I arbitrarily left out of the rankings. They help make up for the loss of David Letterman and Jon Stewart. I haven’t actually watched much of Larry Wilmore but he has been hilarious when I’ve seen clips. I’m looking forward to seeing him host the White House Correspondents’ dinner.

The Republican Debates have become an amusing reality show, featuring reality television star Donald Trump. His previous reality show had a similar format in gradually eliminating candidates vying for a job.

Besides the above changes on late night television,  this year marked the end of many excellent shows including Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Hannibal, Parenthood, Continuum, and Justified. Downton Abbey concluded in the UK with the Christmas special, but the final season is just now beginning in the United States. (No spoilers, but the series ended well).

Last year I left out some shows only because I had not had a chance to see them yet. These included The 100 (CW) and Manhattan (WGN). These turned out to both be extremely high quality shows. and both would have made the top five if I had seen them when compiling last year’s list.

Among shows I’ve heard excellent things about, and very well might deserve to be ranked among the top shows but I have not had a chance to see so far are Narcos (Netflix), Wolf Hall (BBC Two/PBS), and The Jinx (HBO). While not as critically acclaimed, I have received a plug for another genre show, Wayward Pines (Fox).

Late Night Television: Jon Stewart Does Donald Trump Impression & Presidential Candidates Condemn Trump For Proposed Muslim Ban

Over the last few months, Stephen Colbert has established himself as the best late night talk show host. He is a worthy successor to David Letterman on The Late Show, while also in a sense both succeeding himself from The Colbert Report. For many liberal television viewers, watching the monologue and initial segment on The Late Show has also replaced watching Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

The one downside is that having the most openly liberal show on the major broadcast networks is  alienating Republican viewers, resulting in a drop in ratings. While conservatives knew that David Letterman was not one of them, he was never as blatantly political as Colbert. From the perspective of a viewer that is fine with me, but it does raise a concern as to whether CBS will continue him on the air long term.

For as long as it lasts, The Late Show is the late night television home for fans of Letterman, Colbert, and Jon Stewart. Thursday night we got a chance to see two of the three together. Jon Stewart joined Stephen Colbert in the monologue, calling for funding for medical benefits for 9/11 first responders–as he previously did with a guest return to The Daily Show. Video above.

Stephen Colbert offered advice to Jon Stewart to “Trump it up” when he thought that the pitch was boring. Colbert advised, “Face it, Jon, the media won’t pay attention to anything, it won’t pay attention to anything at all, unless you are Donald Trump.” (Others have argued the same).  This led to Colbert bringing out a Donald Trump wig which he keeps on hand just in case he has to say anything important, and Jon Stewart did his impression of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has also been criticized for his statement that he would ban Muslims from entering the country by many politicians, including on late night television. Bernie Sanders condemned Donald Trump as a demagogue on The Tonight Show (video above).

The straight-talking senator lashed out at Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country on NBC’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Tuesday night, calling the Republican poll topper a “demagogue.”

“What somebody like a Trump is trying to do is to divide us up,” Sanders said. “A few months ago, we’re supposed to hate Mexicans; now we’re supposed to hate Muslims. That kind of crap is not going to work in the United States of America.”

Hillary Clinton, who previously did an impression of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live (video here), also commented on Trump. As a guest on ate Night With Seth Meyers, Clinton condemned Trump, saying she no longer finds him to be funny (video above);

“I have to say, Seth, I no longer think he’s funny,” she told the host in an interview that aired early Friday morning. “You know, I think for weeks you and everybody else were just bringing folks to hysterical laughter and all of that, but now he has gone way over the line.”

Clinton said the real estate mogul’s recent call to bar Muslims from entering the United States is not only “shameful and wrong” but “dangerous.”

“This latest demand that we don’t let Muslims into the country really plays right into the hands of the terrorists. And I don’t say that lightly, but it does,” she continued. “He’s giving them a great propaganda tool, a way to recruit more folks from Europe and the United states.”

Martin O’Malley, plus multiple Republican candidates have also condemned Trump’s statement. Even Dick Cheney criticized Trump’s statement. If you are too far right for Dick Cheney, you are really outside of the American mainstream.

Related: Stephen Colbert, Larry David, and Bill Maher On Bernie Sanders & The Democratic Race (a collection of videos)

SciFi Weekend: Orphan Black; Outlander; Roy Leaving Arrow; Oliva Munn, Super Hero; Gotham; Veep; Daredevil; The Americans; Sopranos Ending Explained; Jon Stewart On Why He Is Leaving The Daily Show

Orphan Black Helena Dream The Weight Of The Combination

Orphan Black returned on Saturday, beginning with a fun scene for the fans. It was another scene with Tatiana Maslany playing multiple seestas at once in Helena’s dream of perfect baby shower, reminiscent of  the clone dance party scene last season. The theme for the season is girl clones vs. boy clones, which sort of sounds like a season of Survivor. So far I have far less interest in the male clones. They didn’t get the chance to be introduced gradually as the girl clones were and, as most were raised in the military, there also probably is not as much difference these clones. One does have a mustache and one does have a scar to help tell them apart.

The conspiracy aspect continues to grow as once we learn about one group another turns out to be above them. Now we are dealing with Topside, who sent a “cleaner” named Ferdinand, who was secretly plotting with Rachel in a plan called Helsinki to kill all the female Project Leda clones.  After finding out about this I didn’t feel sorry at all for Rachel, who wasn’t recovering very well after Sarah poked a pencil through her eye and into her brain. She was also at the Mercy of Delphine, who is the new Rachel at Dyad, and can also be rather evil when necessary. Ferdinand’s arrival set up scenes where Sarah pretended to be Rachel, requiring Alison to pretend to be Sarah.

The New York Times Magazine looked at the filming of Orphan Black recently.

Outlander Devils Mark

The Devil’s Mark had major revelations on Outlander. Geillis revealed that she is a time traveler and this was the third show recently (besides The Americans and Game of Thrones) where someone apparently died by burning to death, although her death was not actually shown. I fear that this is an exception to the television rule that if you don’t see the body the character most likely didn’t really die, but maybe we will see her again. Hopefully Geillis’s confession won’t come back to harm Claire, and any other time travelers who might show up from the 20th century, after she claimed that her smallpox vaccine is the Devil’s mark.

Claire was saved by a combination of Jaime showing up and Gellis claiming to be true witch, followed by her telling Jaime. Surprisingly Jaime accepted it all, and even took her to the stones to make the decision as to which husband to be with. It appears she chose Jaime, although I imagine it is possible she tried to return home and failed. The possibility didn’t seem to come up that if she did travel in time again by touching the stones, there was no guarantee she would return to her original time. (It would have really been awesome if she turned up in the splinter facility on 12 Monkeys.)

Arrow Broken Arrow

On Arrow we learned that Roy’s sacrifice to save Oliver was part of a plan which left everyone alive and out of prison, but left with Roy needing to leave town to keep anyone else from realizing he is still alive.  While this leaves Oliver free, I still wonder how they are going to get the Arrow back openly in action. The moment the Arrow is spotted Detective Lance has new justification for following up on his knowledge that Oliver is really the Arrow.

Deadline spoke with  co-creators/executive producers Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim on Colton Haynes leaving the show as a regular (but will already be returning for an episode later this season).

DEADLINE: When did you know that Colton Haynes was leaving after Season 3?
BERLANTI: When we made the deal. We made a two-season deal that had a clock on it, we always knew that. When he was coming off Teen Wolf, we described the role to him, and we agreed to do it for a couple of years. At that particular moment, he had a lot of opportunities to do things, and we’re lucky he chose us. He brought a lot of notoriety and viewership to Arrow when we were growing, and the show wouldn’t be the show it is without him. He is such a talent and such a nice guy, everybody from the crew to the writers were so enthusiastic to have him for the time we had him. We are sad to see him go but excited to see what he does next.

DEADLINE: How and when did Roy’s Season 3 storyline came about?
BERLANTI: We knew based on what had happened last season. Roy has struggled with guilt after killing a policeman. In saving Oliver, he sees a chance to absolve himself. Hopefully it was surprising for the audience as some thought for a moment that he might die.
GUGGENHEIM: We were able to deign his arc for the season with the end point in mind. We always knew he would take a heroic stance and redeem himself for his actions. It’s always a blessing when you know where exactly you are going to end up.

DEADLINE: Did you consider killing off Roy?
BERLANTI: We wanted to do something different. These characters are so young, they represent the next generation of superheroes, and we love the idea of having them just out there. And as a person we like Colton so much, we all would love to see him back. Such a talented, great guy.
GUGGENHEIM: The hope is that he’ll continue to be part of the universe we are building. We love working with his so much. We’ve talked to him about returning to one of the three shows, and if available, he has expressed interest. He is gone but definitely not forever.

DEADLINE: What will the impact of Roy’s departure be on Team Arrow?
BERLANTI: It’s always affecting the show when one character is moving on to the great beyond. That allows the show to grow and change, with the state of loss providing high stakes. The end of this season is very much a punctuation mark on the first three seasons. Third season will feel like the end of a trilogy, with elements and pieces coming together. We are heading into a big, epic, climactic battle, and I’m not not going to give away who is going to make it. Everything will be changed after this season.
GUGGENHEIM: The third season finale is among our best episodes, with each twist more shocking and surprising than the next.

Olivia Munn Suck It Wonder Woman

Geek Olivia Munn finally gets to become a super hero character. She will play Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse

Jada Pinkett Smith’s charter, Fish Mooney, was a good addition to the Batman back story on Gotham, but they don’t seem to know what to do with her since Oswald Cobblepot got control of her nightclub. I am glad that they seem to have ended her recent storyline on the island, which seems pointless as it was totally unconnected to anything else going on. It doesn’t help matters that she escaped so easily (once setting up a distraction) thanks to a helicopter being unguarded and ready to go. Jada Pinkett Smith has said she will be leaving the show after her contract runs out this season but the producers have hinted that they might find reason to keep her around. It better be a better story line if they do.

HBO has renewed Veep and Silicon Valley just after their current seasons began and Netflix has renewed Orange Is The New Black for a fourth season before the third season has become available. Selina Meyer in now President on Veep and Hugh Laurie will be guest staring later this season. The Hollywood Reporter has interviewed Veep series creator Armando Iannucci about the current season.

There were complaints previously that blind people could not appreciate Daredevil, a show with a blind hero, because Netflix did not use audio description as some networks do. Netflix has  remedied the problem to make the show more accessible to the visually impaired.

The-Americans-I-Am-Abassin-Zadran-Season-3-Episode-12-08

The penultimate episode of The Americans, I Am Abassin Zadran, may have concluded one story line but leaves many story lines open. The producers have said they plan to carry some over to next season. The situation with Paige is pretty obviously ongoing. It is hard to believe they will wrap up Nina’s storyline in Russia. There has been very little of Kimmy recently and, while this conceivably could be wrapped up in the final episode, I suspect they are intentionally moving slowly on this to wait until next season.

Of course the big cliff hanger of the episode occurred when Phillip slowly removed his wig and revealed how he really looks to Martha, who was sitting on the bed with a suitcase, on the verge of leaving town. At least two quite different interpretations for this come to mind. Maybe he is revealing himself to her prior to giving her the Annelise treatment and packing her up in her own suitcase. Maybe he is thinking of how he came clean with Paige, and is also planning to tell Martha a variation of the truth in a last attempt to get her to trust him. This could be either to continue spying for him, or to get her to safety before the FBI figures out that she was the one to plant the bug. If that is his plan, he is taking a bigger risk. Previously if she was arrested she might have given the FBI a description of Phillip in disguise. Now there is the risk she will give a description of how he really looks, and just maybe Stan will recognize him.

It was also good to see Margo Martindale return in her scene in the diner with Gabriel as they discussed background information going back to last season when Jared killed his parents, along with how Americans have too many choices for their tastes. I was surprised to see that Gabriel was so sympathetic to Phillip’s desire to protect Paige.

Tony Soprano Finale

David Chase gave a fascinating description of what he planned scene by scene in the finale of The Soprano’s. Here are the descriptions of the final scene, but check out the full article for his description of the scenes leading up to this:

This is the last shot of the family, or the three of them anyway. Framing is extremely important. I think it makes you feel so much below the level of verbiage and words. What they’re talking about is how good those onion rings are. For me, food is always central to a feeling of family and to a feeling of security and happiness. A.J. had remembered a moment at the end of the final show of the first season when they were all sitting down, eating in Vesuvio’s Italian restaurant and Tony said, ‘Just remember … value the good times,’ the moments, there really aren’t that many of them. And this is one of the very good times. And yet there’s something wrong with it because Meadow is not there. So the family isn’t really together. I think on some subliminal level that raises the tension. We know the family should be together and they’re not.

I said to Gandolfini, the bell rings and you look up. That last shot of Tony ends on ‘don’t stop,’ it’s mid-song. I’m not going to go into [if that’s Tony’s POV]. I thought the possibility would go through a lot of people’s minds or maybe everybody’s mind that he was killed. He might have gotten shot three years ago in that situation. But he didn’t. Whether this is the end here, or not, it’s going to come at some point for the rest of us. Hopefully we’re not going to get shot by some rival gang mob or anything like that. I’m not saying that [happened]. But obviously he stood more of a chance of getting shot by a rival gang mob than you or I do because he put himself in that situation. All I know is the end is coming for all of us.

I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don’t stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That’s what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don’t stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it’s all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we’re so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it’s really worth it. So don’t stop believing.

So apparently when Chase has said in some interviews that the final scene had a definite meaning, the meaning was more along the lines of “don’t stop believing” than whether Tony was killed here or at some other time.

Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart spoke with The Guardian about why he is leaving The Daily Show:

“Honestly, it was a combination of the limitations of my brain and a format that is geared towards following an increasingly redundant process, which is our political process. I was just thinking, ‘Are there other ways to skin this cat?’ And, beyond that, it would be nice to be home when my little elves get home from school, occasionally.”

He has a 10-year-old son, Nathan, and a nine-year-old daughter, Maggie; Stewart and his wife, Tracey, have been married for almost as long as he’s been doing the show, after Stewart proposed to her via a crossword puzzle.

If anything, it was the prospect of the upcoming US election that pushed him to leave the show. “I’d covered an election four times, and it didn’t appear that there was going to be anything wildly different about this one,” he says.

Ah, but who could have anticipated the excitement over Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails?

“Anyone could, because that story is absolutely everything that it’s supposed to be about,” he says, with a groan; as a revelation, it managed to be at once depressing and completely unsurprising. “I also felt that, for the show, you don’t want to leave when the cupboard’s bare. So I think it’s a better introduction when you have something providing you with assisted fuel, like a presidential campaign. But really, the value of this show is so much deeper than my contribution,” he says.

This means he will no longer have to watch Fox, but he did answer a hypothetical question as to a situation in which he might watch again:

Now that he is leaving The Daily Show, is there any circumstance in which he would watch Fox News again? He takes a few seconds to ponder the question. “Umm… All right, let’s say that it’s a nuclear winter, and I have been wandering, and there appears to be a flickering light through what appears to be a radioactive cloud and I think that light might be a food source that could help my family. I might glance at it for a moment until I realise, that’s Fox News, and then I shut it off. That’s the circumstance.”

Dan Aykroyd told The Huffington Post that “America is flat-out gun crazy.”

Question of the Day: Jon Stewart On Lies About Iraq

Jon Stewart

“Never again will Brian Williams mislead this great nation about being shot at in a war we probably wouldn’t have ended up in if the media had applied this level of scrutiny to the actual f**king war.” –Jon Stewart

This again raises the question–if Brian Williams is now being punished for lying about Iraq, what about Bush and Cheney?

SciFi Weekend: The Americans; The Flash; Arrow; Agents of SHIELD; Doctor Who (The Doctor Dates Cinderella); 12 Monkeys; Big Bang Theory; Two And A Half Men Finale; Mad Men In The 70’s; Orphan Black; Kristen Bell; If Ayn Rand Wrote Harry Potter; Birdman Parody; Politics And The Oscars

The Americans Nina Gulag

One of the things which makes The Americans one of the top television shows now on is the manner in which several story lines involving different characters are carried out so well. Whether or not the different story lines become intertwined, one storyline often has lessons for another. On Dimebag, while Elizabeth and Phillip fought over whether Paige should become a spy, neither seemed to have thought that if Paige had been trained they could have used her to get information from Kimberly, the young daughter of the CIA’s Afghan group, instead of Phillip seducing her. Neither realized initially the degree to which they were in danger of losing Paige to her church–hardly acceptable if she were to be a good Communist. There is some similarity to how Pastor Tim is “recruiting” Paige to how Phillip is using Kimberly and the Russians want them to recruit Paige. Meanwhile in Russian, Nina might be saved due to Oleg’s family relationship to the future Russian oligarchs, and she went to work on her cell mate as Elizabeth would work on getting information. On top of this, the episode included a defector who might be double crossing them, an EST meeting, and a visit with an AA sponsor.

Keri Russell discussed the relationships with her character’s daughter and mother this season, and described the scene earlier this season in which Annelise’s body was packed into a suitcase:

IGN: I have to ask about that second episode and the scene of having to get rid of the body in that hotel room. First of all, there’s the “Oh my god!” of it all. And then also is it interesting for you to play a character who already had to compartmentalize everything, but this is a woman that her husband was sleeping with as a part of the job, and now she has the reality of that in front of her?

Russell: All I have to say is so many naked girls! Naked, beautiful actress, naked beautiful contortionist, yeah. Then on a second unit day of reshoots, a second naked beautiful girl. I was like, “There’s a lot of pretty, naked girls on this show!” Yeah, so bizarre! Really gruesome. I haven’t seen it. Does it play?

IGN: Oh yeah, it plays.

Flash Firestorm

Last week The Flash was both a back door pilot for Firestorm and further advanced the idea of time travel for Barry Allen. We saw once again how far Harrison Wells is willing to go, and his motives remain unclear. We should be learning more when the show returns in March.

Also on CW, we saw a reversal on Arrow, as the flashback took place in Starling City while the present day action took place back on the island. It was strange to see Oliver from the period when he was missing back around his home. Seeing Oliver snooping around Queen Consolidated gave the feeling of a time travel story in which a character is in their past but cannot risk being seen.  Meanwhile, on the island, there was a deliberate reference to Star Trek II, The Wrath of Kahn with Slade’s comment, “I’m going to leave you as you left me.”

Agents of SHIELD returns March 3. Marvel has released this synopsis of the episode:

After discovering an alien city with ties to his resurrection, Coulson and his team destroyed it before the forces of Hydra could claim its secrets, eliminating the villainous Whitehall (Reed Diamond) in the process. But new threats to the world have arisen, including Skye’s father, Cal (Kyle McLachlan), who now seeks retribution against Coulson for stealing his revenge against Whitehall; a disturbing alliance between former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Ward (Brett Dalton) and Agent 33; the enigmatic Raina (Ruth Negga), who struggles with her transformation into something inhuman by the alien Obelisk and seeks vengeance; and Skye (Chloe Bennet), who developed mysterious new powers from the Obelisk but whose lack of experience with her new abilities may threaten the safety of those she loves.

Meanwhile, Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Mack (Henry Simmons) begin the next phase of a plan which seems to have grave repercussions for Coulson and his team, who are unaware that there’s another mysterious force moving against them. And as Hunter (Nick Blood) is forced to make the biggest choice of his life, Coulson will find his mission threatened by this shocking endgame.

In the midseason premiere, “Aftershocks,” Coulson’s team must deal with the consequences of their war with Hydra as shocking revelations threaten to tear them apart, and Hydra makes a dangerous move that may involve a traitor in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s midst.

Adrianne Palicki has been promoted to a series regular on Agents of SHIELD, which probably means that Will will not be getting back together with Doctor Sam on About a Boy anytime soon.

Lily James Matt Smith

The Doctor is dating Cinderella–Matt Smith has confirmed that he is dating Lily James. I don’t know if it has occurred yet in the US broadcasts of Downton Abbey so I won’t give any specifics, but I did like her character’s triumph in a late season episode. Of course anything is better than revisiting certain past events yet once again.

In other Doctor Who and related news, The BBC has announced that Michelle Gomez will return as Missy in a two part episode to open the next season of Doctor Who. Add Eve Myles to the list of those interested in another season of Torchwood.

Speaking of Lily James in Cinderella, Ellen DeGeneres has presented a mash-up of Cinderella and Fifty Shades of Grey. Video above.

I thought there was a chance that 12 Monkeys might be able to make it into the upper tier of genre shows with The Night Room last week but The Red Forest couldn’t keep up the same quality this week. Not that it was a bad episode, but it was too easy to fix the timeline when it simply came down to Cassie getting captured in our present, and saving her would fix things. There are still a number of questions raised last week which could provide interesting episodes. Plus they now know how important Cassie’s role is and will make sure that they do not change history involving her, ensuring that she can deliver the message for Cole before she dies.

Amazon has renewed Mozart in the Jungle (which I recommend watching, now about half way through the first season) and is going ahead with the adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I have intentionally held off on watching the pilot, preferring to wait until Amazon shows are released in full as opposed to watching the pilot months earlier, but reviews have been excellent for the pilot.

Last week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory seemed to throw far too much into a single episode, including the reopening of Stuart’s comic book store, a cameo by Nathan Fillion, and (the most amusing part of the show), Sheldon telling Penny how Amy was doing experiments on her. Then we learned what the episode was really about–a tribute to Carol Ann Susi, the voice of Mrs. Wolowitz, who died in November. There is a toast to her in the video above, and there is an unseen tribute to her in every episode:

After we had that impromptu memorial the morning she passed away, Johnny and I were hugging—like everybody was—and right then we found our prop person and asked to get a little picture of Carol Ann and we put it on the refrigerator [in Leonard and Sheldon’s kitchen] so she’s there in every episode now. It’s so small you wouldn’t even see it, but on the fridge is this tiny little wallet-size picture of Carol Ann that’s been there since the day she passed away.

It also appears that The Big Bang Theory is so subversive that China doesn’t want its citizens to be able to watch the show.

We are going into the final week of one of the best network sit-coms in recent years, Parks and Recreation. Last week we had the finale of Two And A Half Men, a multi-cam sit-com which over the last twelve years has shown everything wrong with the format. If anyone cares, Chuck Lorre explained his intentions for the finale. There were no apologies to the nation, but at least our great national nightmare is over.

Mad Men 70's

Mad Men enters the 1970’s for its final half-season, and from the music playing in the trailer it might even be doing a time jump to the mid 70’s. After that, I’m looking forward to the inevitable spin-off. Better Call Sally. Just kidding but considering how good Better Call Saul has been so far as a spin-off of Breaking Bad, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if AMC went that route again.

AMC purchased 49 percent of BBC America, and this has implications for the promotion of the third season of Orphan Black. The show probably has many less viewers than a show of this quality might otherwise have due to not being seen on BBC America. In the hopes of increasing exposure, the third season premiere will be shown on all of AMC’s channels, including AMC, Sundance TV, IFC and We TV. The one problem with this strategy is that Orphan Black is not a good show to come into late. Perhaps they should have been rerunning the first two seasons on some other channels prior to the start of the third season.

Forget any thoughts of John Oliver taking over for Jon Stewart. HBO, perhaps thinking along those lines and wanting to lock him in, has signed Oliver for two more seasons of This Week Tonight, with 35 episodes a year. Meanwhile Jon Stewart, after having to put out new shows daily, near year round, might envy Oliver’s deal.

Kristen Bell has no tolerance for anti-vaxxers, and won’t let them around her children. “It’s a very simple logic: I believe in trusting doctors, not know-it-alls.”

morena_baccarin
Morena Baccarin (of Gotham, Firefly, V, and Homeland) has been cast as the female lead in another superhero adaptation, this time the movie version of Deadpool. I don’t know if this will impact her work on Gotham, but we know that sooner or later Jim Gordon has to get back with Barbara, or else Batgirl will never be born.

BoingBoing has pointed out an example of Harry Potter fan fiction by Mallory Ortberg, written as if it was written by Ayn Rand. Thus there are passages such as, “It’s also why I never water my plants in Herbology. They must learn to survive with or without me. Self-sufficiency is not just a human virtue. It is the highest virtue.”  Plus don’t miss the link to Mallory Ortberg’s reviews of children’s movies as if they were written by Ayn Rand. For example:

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. —No stars.

“Bambi”

The biggest and the strongest are the fittest to rule. This is the way things have always been. —Four stars.

“101 Dalmatians”A wealthy woman attempts to do her impoverished school friend Anita a favor by purchasing some of her many dogs and putting them to sensible use. Her generosity is repulsed at every turn, and Anita foolishly and irresponsibly begins acquiring even more animals, none of which are used to make a practical winter coat. Altruism is pointless. So are dogs. A cat is a far more sensible pet. A cat is objectively valuable. —No stars.


Big Bird meets Birdman in the video spoof above. Birdman is considered a heavy favorite to win an Oscar for best movie.

When actors go on stage to accept Oscars tonight, many of them are contributing to the Democrats, and some to the Republicans. The Hill reports:

Democrats are the biggest winners when it comes to raking in political donations from Academy Award nominees.

Some of the Oscars’ most famous contenders — including this year’s hopefuls Reese Witherspoon, Edward Norton, Mark Ruffalo, Bradley Cooper, and Meryl Streep — are delivering big bucks for the left.

Norton plays an egotistical movie star in “Birdman,” — which snagged him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at Sunday’s awards — but the real-life film star is one of Hollywood’s biggest Democratic donor…

Witherspoon, who earned her second Best Actress nomination this year for “Wild,” has also donated generously to Democrats, according to Federal Election Commission records. The 2005 Oscar winner gave $1,500 to Warren’s camp in 2012. She’s also given in excess of $6,000 to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and $1,500 to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

While Clint Eastwood, the director behind Best Picture nominee “American Sniper,” is known for his support of Republican candidates — famously delivering his “empty chair speech” at the 2012 Republican National Convention — the film’s star, Bradley Cooper, gave $750 to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid. Cooper is vying for Best Actor for his portrayal of real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in the record-breaking movie.

The article later discusses how Democrats often use celebrities in fund raising campaigns while “Republicans have capitalized on conservative celebrity activists by encouraging them to run for office.”

Jon Stewart Leaving The Daily Show

Jon Stewart

Comedy Central has confirmed reports that Jon Stewart will be leaving The Daily Show by the end of the year when his contract expires.

As with most major news these days, the mainstream media was bypassed, and this was released on Twitter:

There is no news as to what Stewart plans to do next. Considering he plans to be free prior to the first primaries, maybe Stewart plans a last minute challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Or perhaps he will replace Brian Williams at NBC News. It is only fair that Williams be punished for lying about Iraq, but I’m still waiting for Bush and Cheney to receive their punishment.

John Oliver Exposes Pharmaceutical Marketing

John Oliver and Last Week Tonight returned on HBO last weekend with a biting expose of the pharmaceutical industry (video above). Like Jon Stewart, Oliver’s comedy version of the news is far more revealing than what is seen on most actual news reports. Last Week Tonight also has the advantage of spending more time on a single story than either Jon Stewart or actual news shows.

Oliver pointed how how Americans are addicted to prescription drugs, spending almost $330 billion on them. He suggested that Walter White of Breaking Bad could have made a lot more money cooking up drugs for rheumatoid arthritis instead of meth. He lampooned the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to influence the prescribing habits of physicians, describing their ethics with this comparison:  “Drug companies are a bit like high school boyfriends; they are much more concerned with getting inside you than being effective once they are in there.”

Oliver concluded with a warning about doctors who take large amounts of money from the pharmaceutical industry with a mock public service commercial, Ask Your Doctor:

Here’s how it works. Money combines with the cash receptors in your doctor’s wallet to create fast-acting financial relief, so your doctor can rest easy and enjoy life.

Common side effects of doctors taking money may include chronic overprescription, unusually heavy cash flow, dependency on free samples, inflammation of confidence, affluenza and an increased tendency to suggest off-label prescriptions, which in turn can cause heart attack, stroke, loss of feeling in arms and legs, seizures, blurred vision, grinding of the teeth, temporary deafness, total blindness, numbness, sudden bursts of rage, angry erections lasting over 17 hours, and death.

Ask your doctor today if he’s taking pharmaceutical company money. Then ask your doctor what the money is for. Ask your doctor if he’s taken any money from the companies that make the drugs he’s just prescribed for you. Then ask yourself if you’re satisfied with that answer.

The story was quite accurate. If this was a documentary as opposed to a comedy show my only complaint is that it concentrates on one side of the story in portraying doctors who take money and are susceptible to pharmaceutical sales pitches. Many doctors actually are quite aware of the problem and many do not take any meaningful amount of money from pharmaceutical companies.

For example, Oliver quoted a drug rep as being disturbed when a doctor asked her for advice on treating a patient as she is just a poli-sci major. I often feel the opposite, when pharmaceutical reps act as if they are qualified to give me advice (invariably involving greater use of their drug), knowing how little pharmaceutical or medical background most of them have. While I do accept samples in order to help out patients, which requires me to have some contact with drug reps, I am certainly not going to consider anything they say to be anything other than advertising. One time I even had a drug rep run out of my office crying when I didn’t play long with her sales pitch. We also have not been too welcoming to the rare drug rep who attempts to get back into our sample room in order to put his drugs in front and hide the samples form the competition.

Andrew Sullivan On The Vacuity of Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton Book Presentation

I almost feel like we are back in the 2008 primary battle seeing how Andrew Sullivan is really letting Hillary Clinton have it in a post entitled The Worrying Vacuity Of Hillary Clinton.

I’d like to find a reason to believe she’s a political force who stands for something in an era when there is a real appetite for serious change. She could, after all, decide to campaign vociferously in favor of the ACA this summer and fall (universal healthcare is, after all, one of her positions), but that might siphon money away from her foundation and candidacy. She could get out there and start framing a foreign policy vision. But, again, too risky. I see nothing that suggests a real passion for getting on with the fight – just the usual presumptions of a super-elite, super-rich and super-cocooned politician of the gilded age.

So I did watch the Daily Show interview last week, and was not surprised. As in most of her softball media appearances, she was both unctuous and vapid. But even I was aghast at the sheer emptiness and datedness of her one attempt to articulate a future for American foreign policy. She actually said that our main problem is that we haven’t been celebrating America enough, that we “have not been telling our story very well” and that if we just “get back to telling” that story about how America stands for freedom and opportunity, we can rebuild our diminished international stature. One obvious retort: wasn’t she, as secretary of state, you know, responsible for telling that tale – so isn’t she actually criticizing herself?

Next up: could she say something more vacuous and anodyne? Or something more out of tune with a post-Iraq, post-torture, post- Afghanistan world? Peter Beinart had the same reaction: “As a vision for America’s relations with the world,” he wrote, “this isn’t just unconvincing. It’s downright disturbing”:

I cited even more interesting comments from Beinhart on Clinton in this post: Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Sullivan concluded:

My fear is that she doesn’t actually mean any of this. She just needed to say something, and so came out with a stream of consciousness that is completely platitudinous and immune to Fox News attacks. It’s a defensive crouch that is always her first instinct. Think of the Terry Gross interview – and her discomfort in grappling with actual disagreement, from her own base that time. Her goal is always safety. And safety won’t cut it in a populist age.

So if she runs, my guess is she’ll wrap herself tightly in the maximalist concept of American exceptionalism and make this her appeal as a post-Obama presidency. See? she’ll say to the same voting groups she went for last time. I’m a real American, and I believe in America. And yay America!

Maybe this is merely a function that she isn’t running yet (and still may not). Why stir the pot if your goal at this point is merely selling books and raking in more corporate, Goldman Sacks dough? But when, I wonder, has she been otherwise? She remains scarred by the 1990s, understandably so. But the country has moved on in a way she seems to find hard to comprehend.

BooMan also sees the world as changing but still doesn’t go along with Sullivan:

In the next couple of decades, America is going to have to grapple with two major changes. The first is that there are going to be new first-world powers, like China, Brazil and India, that we will have to reckon with. The West will not be driving things the way we have been accustomed to since the end of World War Two.

The second is that the American electorate is going to be more diverse and left-leaning, more like Europe.

In both cases, Hillary Clinton seems ill-suited to be our leader. The future is more Bill de Blasio than Andrew Cuomo, and the Clintons probably don’t get that. Still, Andrew Sullivan’s dripping contempt of the Clintons is irritating. He opposes them for all the wrong reasons and none of the right ones.

While I think the Clintons are a bit “out of time,” I don’t necessarily think this is a terrible thing for a country that is going to have some serious difficulties adjusting to new realities. Clinton could serve as a bit of a buffer, allowing the country to adjust to the changed world in way that doesn’t put too much shock into the system.

See the post I linked to above for many of what I would consider the right reasons.

The Secret To Success In The Senate

warren paul

Congress has a record low approval rating, which perhaps is why the most successful Senators appear to be those who haven’t spent much time there. Barack Obama sure didn’t waste much time in the Senate before successfully running for president. Hillary Clinton is a special case as her time in the Senate is only a small part of her resume, but she didn’t spend very much time there either. The most popular Senator from each party today very well might be a freshman. Both have ignored the old tradition for new Senators to be fairly quiet.

On the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren has received the most enthusiastic support. There is even a Ready For Warren web site, despite her statements that she has no plans to run for president. She has spoken out the most on economic issues, but is now wading into social issues as well with her comments on the Hobby Lobby case:

I’ll be honest – I cannot believe that we are even having a debate about whether employers can deny women access to birth control. Guys, this is 2014, not 1914 . Most Americans thought this was settled long, long ago. But for some reason, Republicans keep dragging us back here – over and over and over again.

On the Republican side, Rand Paul has generated the most excitement. As his foreign policy views are out of step with those of his party, there are real questions as to whether he has a chance to win a Republican presidential nomination. Gallup found that he falls just slightly behind Mike Huckabee among potential Republican candidates at this time. Aaron Blake looked at other polls to show that Paul is in a strong position to possibly win in both Iowa and New Hampshire, which certainly would give him strong momentum towards winning the nomination. Should Paul manage to win the nomination, a Quinnipiac poll shows that Paul is the strongest Republican candidate against Clinton in Iowa. Of course that might not hold nation wide.

A Huckabee versus Paul race for the Republican nomination would certainly offer a choice of different views. A presidential race between Paul and Warren would do the same, and most likley excite many on both the left and right far more than, say, another campaign between a Bush and a Clinton. Of course a race between Clinton, as opposed to Warren, and Paul is far more likley considering the state of the Democratic race. As I discussed previously, this would lead to a reversal in partisan foreign policy perspective, with the Democrats having the hawk as a candidate. As Peter Beinart pointed out, she sounded more like George Bush than a Democrat on foreign policy on her recent appearance on The Daily Show.

Updates: Digby also questions Clinton’s statement. Politico reports that Warren rallies the base. John Dickerson thinks a Warren run would be a good thing–but primarily to provide a worthy conversation and to “force Clinton to draw clear lines about what she believes, why she’s running, and why her message is something more than ‘It’s my turn.'” I would be more interested in a challenge to Clinton from the left which could actually beat her for the nomination, but that doesn’t look likely.

Quote of the Day: John Stewart on Dick Cheney

“I guess now Dick Cheney knows what it feels like when someone you thought was a friend shoots you in the face.” –Jon Stewart after Megyn Kelly grilled Dick Cheney on Fox about being wrong on Iraq.