The 2014 Dear TV Questionnaire
or, jump to PART II
1. What was your favorite show of 2014?
Honorable mention: Blackish. Still finding its feet but off to a very promising start, this show is deftly splitting the difference between network sitcom comfort fare (like its lead-in Modern Family) and the edgier, more honest reckoning with race happening these days on cable (on shows like Key & Peele, The Eric Andre Show, and the late, lamented Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell). For a variety of reasons there’s currently an opening for a 21st century Cosby Show, and unless things go to seed after showrunner Larry Wilmore leaves to go host The Minority Report, Blackish is it.
Lili: Transparent. For the phrase “vaginal learner,” for its claustrophobic, forgiving, clannish portrayal of intimacy and for the leaky, secretive Pfeffermans. The supporting cast is ridiculous: Judith Light! Carrie Brownstein! Kathryn Hahn, who Phil praised so memorably for a strangely similar part. And Melora Hardin as Tami is a hard, bronzed delight; hips and empty swagger. Maura condemns her children of selfishness, and it’s not that Maura’s wrong, but she’s so selfish too that an analysis that could have been brutal in the hands of a more saintly (and less interesting) version of the character fails to find purchase. In practice, people on Transparent see beyond themselves all the time; the problem is that they’re highly intelligent readers who see badly. How vision gets distorted by expectation and intimacy and love on the show is fascinating and, to my mind, a better version of the aesthetized neuroses Woody Allen made famous. Less brittle. I’m thinking of how Maura transitions from accusing her kids of disappearing at her debut to excitedly discussing details of the wig and eyelashes in a way that undercuts Davina’s dire prediction that in five years she’ll have no one. I’m thinking of the way Ali’s experience with Dale highlights her truly frightening failure of perception, her blind spots when she prides herself on seeing clearly, was one of my favorite parts of the whole season.
Also: Orphan Black, Getting On. Netflix’s Happy Valley was fascinating — Batya Ungar-Sargon breaks it down here. (Orange is the New Black had a mostly great second season, I thought, but I’m listing it last because of the uncharacteristically preachy finale. I wish the show hadn’t turned on Vee quite so hard — even Pennsatucky gets sympathy, and OITNB is better than cardboard villains.)
Phil: The Good Wife. The Good Wife. A thousand times, The Good Wife. This is a television show. This is a television show. This is a television show I love. In an era of cable production that tries to liberate itself from the commercial and industrial limitations of network TV, Good Wife uses limits to its advantage. It plays with episodic form and point of view certainly more than any network show and more than a lot of cable shows for that matter. It has a cold open so long and tense you think the show’s almost over before its first commercial break. It’s got fully-clothed elevator rides 100,000% sexier than anything that’s ever happened in Westeros. For that matter, it knows how to use a commercial break — witness “The Trial” which bookends each commercial break with two angles on the same scene. And it knows how to recover from a mistake — Mad Men spent a whole season in 2013 recovering/escaping from its flashback problem, but The Good Wife fucks up and just keeps walking like The Rock after he’s exploded something. The Kings have 22 episodes. They can let a handful of them end in a fireball.
It has the absolute deepest reserve of supporting players and cameo arcs on planet Earth. Carrie Preston and Alan Cumming and Kyle MacLachlan and David Hyde Pierce for the love of Frasier! And, great heavens, Alicia Florrick. I don’t know whether she’s a heroine or an anti-heroine. Florrick is confident, cynical, selfish, ***flawless, loving, lusty, listless, and trying, when she thinks of it, to be good. (It’s got episode after episode of material about what it even means to be good. It’s a network drama that thinks about goodness as a concept.) This woman receives prophecies directly from Gloria Steinem. All hail the Great and Terrible Alicia Florrick!
Jane: Did I watch any television in 2014? Maybe I’m not equipped to answer this question! And, for all that I did apparently watch, those shows all got swiftly cancelled. I’m a strong proponent of slow television (just finished season finale of Transparent yesterday, and Orphan Black the night before; Broad City was binged all in one night in early November), so my impressions are still settling. All of those shows were great, but they’re also somewhat singularly marked by their mode — or in the case of Orphan Black, origin — of distribution.
So to diverge a bit, here are three new network shows that I would recommend for viewing: 1) Jane the Virgin for its ability to overwhelm the viewer with winking metafictionality while also expressing real tenderness, and for its marvelous bus scenes. (Dear readers, the comedy of remarriage gets its renaissance in a real way here); 2) The Flash for giving the enormously charming and talented Grant Gustin a vehicle (literally). The joy of the superhero genre: not just for the big screen. And it’s actually quite brilliant that DC Comics decided to translate Barry Allen’s narrative for a more serial form like television, considering how the source texts are serial comics! 3) How To Get Away With Murder: IS IT A CRIME THAT I ENJOY THIS MORE THAN SCANDAL?
Sarah: Game of Thrones and I’m not even going to pretend to talk about anything else. Prepare yourselves.
2. What was your favorite single-episode performance?
Evan: Bill Murray in Olive Kitteridge. This is the man’s best non-photobomb work since Lost in Translation.
Lili: Tatiana Maslany in the season finale of Orphan Black, which has so many good moments that I can’t allude to because they’re spoilery. The
clone dance party has rightly gone down in history as a crazy brilliant technical achievement that manages also — which is rare for highly technical achievements — to feel JUST SO GOOD.
This answer is so easy for me, it’s practically silly: Carrie Coon, The Leftovers, Episode 6, “Guest.” I’m almost alone in loving The Leftovers as much as I do (Hey, Sepinwall!), but I am not alone in thinking Carrie Coon is the best thing on it. “Guest” is one of two single-character-focused, field trip episodes in the first season, and it zeroes in on Coon’s Nora Durst, a woman who lost her whole family in the show’s Rapturesque event and now works as an insurance claims investigator, interviewing people who’ve also lost loved ones. The Leftovers loves making everyone — characters and viewers — feel uncomfortable, and Nora’s job is one of its scab-pickiest conceits. But “Guest” is our first extended time with Nora — who had previously existed mostly in the show’s mysterious periphery — and it is as genuinely bonkers an episode of television as I’ve ever seen. Nora straps on a bulletproof vest and hires a prostitute to shoot her in the chest, travels to New York for a professional conference of people who work in the Rapture industry, has her identity stolen, goes to a drug-fueled semi-orgy of apocalypse professionals, grinds on a fake corpse, and PayPals a significant amount of money to be hugged by a fugitive prophet. There are a lot of plates that need to be kept spinning during this particular underworld odyssey, and Coon — with her glassy eyes, gruff rasp, and vulnerability that oscillates wildly between the fragile and the explosive — puts on a clinic. It’s a risky trick of the show to keep a performance like this in its pocket for six episodes. If Coon’s Nora, along with her unassailable humanity, had been more prominent in earlier episodes, I wonder if critics would have still found the series so inaccessible? Either way, it’s a performance of such desperate life and such phenomenal, strutting talent, that it completely tilts the show’s axis. The season eventually ends on a shot of Nora’s eyes, and that’s appropriate, because after “Guest,” they’re practically the only thing that matters.
Jane: Zach Woods in Silicon Valley:
Sarah: I'm going to go out on a limb here: it was Sam (John Bradley) in the annoying battle episode, "The Watchers on the Wall." I loved him lumbering around.
3. What was your favorite sustained (multi-episode) performance?
Evan: Three-way tie: Laurie Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James in Getting On; Frances McDormand as the title character in Olive Kitteridge; Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow Johnson in Blackish.
Lili: Three-way tie: Niecy Nash as DiDi Ortley in Getting On; Tatiana Maslany as almost everyone in Orphan Black, Samira Wiley in Orange is the New Black.
Kate McKinnon is a stupendously good Saturday Night Live cast member cursed to be doing her best work in a transitional period. There’s no lack of talent on the show — Taran Killam, Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant, and now even Leslie Jones — but, for whatever reason, this show is in a funk, and none of those performances have been able to save it. It’s like a great baseball team that just can’t figure out how to win, and McKinnon is the ace. Like all great SNL performers, she’s perfect and weird and comfortable behind the Update desk, and she is almost always the best thing about a sinking sketch. Her Angela Merkel impression, despite becoming something of a recurring character, hasn’t devolved into Stefon-level formula jokes, and “Dyke and Fats,” her cop show parody with Aidy Bryant, is one of the smartest, funniest, most self-aware bits that’s aired on this show in the post-Wiig age. She deserves to be a superstar in a better era, and hopefully that’s about to happen.
Runners-up: Nicole Beharie, Sleepy Hollow; Max Greenfield, New Girl; Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker as Louie’s daughters on Louie.
Jane: Tatiana Maslany, for sustaining multiple performances over multiple episodes.
Sarah: This one is tough! However I’m going to take the opportunity to praise Pedro Pascal for making Oberyn Martell (RIP) a bright spot in a dark world, but not a weird messiah-fantasy-wish-fulfillment bright spot like Daenerys.
4. What was your favorite scene?
Evan and Lili: Key & Peele’s “Gay Wedding Advice” sketch:
Phil: I’m a sucker for good musical cues and good dance sequences and — despite or maybe because I don’t have siblings — good sibling chemistry. So, this was my favorite convergence of those three areas of interest on a show that features a lot of such convergences. The end of “Moppa” — episode four of Transparent — features Gaby Hoffmann and Jay Duplass having a sleepy, sad, impromptu dance party. The song — “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” by Bettye Swann — is the best. If they hadn’t started dancing, I was going to. Most of all, though, it’s a subtle display of what a beautifully-edited show Transparent is. The scene is edited as a series of jump cuts, and the semi-documentary camera makes it all feel organic but still — with some smooth rack focus — elegantly and intentionally crafted. It’s an ending that does quietly what Transparent does best.
Jane: “Swiftamine” sketch:
Sarah: The protracted duel/misery fest that was Brienne’s battle with The Hound remains on the short list of most emotionally wrenching television I have ever seen, which I guess means that it is “my favorite.” But I still can’t really think about it without twitching.
5. What was your favorite line of dialogue?
- Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Louie / “Elevator, Part 3”
Charles Grodin: “Look at this dog.”
Louis CK: “What’s its name?”
Charles Grodin: “Doesn’t have a name. How many legs does it have?”
Louis CK: “Three.”
Charles Grodin: “The answer is it has plenty of legs.”
Sarah: Surprisingly hard to decide! I had to send a group of friends a whole series of badgering texts in the middle of a workday to get nominees, and we basically decided that while the writing on Game of Thrones is narratively strong, it does not lend itself well to snappy quotable dialogue (which, perhaps, is why I still remember Cersei’s brilliant “Power is power” line two seasons later). But here are the two moments I, with help, picked.
6. Finish this sentence: "It's not TV, it's…"
Phil: The New Republic 4K Ultra HD.
Jane: "...Serial Television"
Sarah: “The world’s most difficult spelling bee.”
7. What was the most underrated show of 2014?
Evan: Getting On.
Lili: Getting On.
Phil: Is it possible to underrate Mad Men? I think we all had a hangover from what was, in retrospect, a bummer of a season in 2013. The show has been totally shut out in the recent Golden Globes nominations, Elisabeth Moss couldn’t even get a courtesy nomination at the Emmys, and it feels like the split season is making a lot of people very tentative about what was a really really strong showing in 2014. Don’t sleep on Mad Men, people!
Jane: Because I have had literally zero conversations about this show with anyone I know: The Flash. (Special mention: Silicon Valley.)
Sarah: The most underrated plotline was Meera Reed, though I am not sure if she was underrated by George R.R. Martin or the screenwriters. But anyway I would have liked to know more about her.
8. What was the most overrated show of 2014?
Evan: Transparent. There’s potential here, for sure: a terrific ensemble cast (as Phil has noted) and plenty of fresh territory to explore. But the episode-to-episode continuity and plotting is hella messy, and there’s way too much time spent on extremely familiar story arcs (Gaby Hoffmann’s Ali finding herself, Amy Landecker’s Sarah detonating her marriage) at the expense of what’s new and exciting about the show. “They are selfish,” Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura says of her children, in an oft-quoted line from the pilot. “I don't know how it is that I raised three people that can't see beyond themselves.” I wish Transparent would find a way to see past them, too.
Lili: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee — a pale imitation of Maron’s WTF (and The Nerdist and The Dork Forest) with a fraction of the intimacy, depth and insight. And of course True Detective. Hands down.
Phil: This may be an instance of me really stepping in it, but I think Louis CK gets a genius pass sometimes. I was with the teeming hundreds who helped declare the last season of Louie an almost unbearably good season of television, but CK’s foray into a longer narrative arc this season was a lot less successful I thought. (Lili’s got the only argument that’s made me think otherwise.) He’s an artist whose mistakes and missteps are still more interesting than most people’s perfect executions, and I still loved a lot of this season — Charles Grodin’s Greek Chorus and Louie’s daughters were a highlight (see above) — but I don’t think CK’s always in control of his material, I think we grade Louie on a curve, and I feel like I got a lot less from Louis CK than Louis CK promised this year.
Sarah: The most overrated plotline was the build up to the battle of the wall, and specifically the people who overrated it were the makers of the show, who kept acting as though I would automatically care about it when I did not.
9. Which series gets the "Most Improved" award?
Evan: Community (for obvious reasons).
Lili: Inside Amy Schumer.
Phil: As is the case with all Michael Schur-related shows — The Office, Parks and Recreation — the second season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been a total delight. Additionally, just as it was fun to watch Chris Pratt become a big star and still play a lovable supporting doofus on Parks and Rec, it’s going to be a blast watching the ascendant Chelsea Peretti burn a hole through the margins of this show.
Runner-up: Black-ish got through its occasionally awkward first episodes real quick. That’s less of a criticism of those first episodes than a compliment about how fast this new show has become great.
Jane: Mindy Project, which was ALWAYS GOOD fyi, but just keeps GETTING BETTER.
Sarah: The dreaded Stannis Plotline gets Most Improved, THOUGH IT PAINS ME, but only because the last episode was so great (synchronized horse dismount!) and also because the plot line had been so irritatingly bad, “better” was the only possible direction.
10. What show disappointed you most in 2014?
Evan: Marry Me, which goes to show that an impeccable comedy pedigree (Happy Endings, Party Down, Tim Meadows, et al.) only gets you so far.
Lili: The Bridge, which had such an incredibly smart and ambitious pilot and a really decent first season.
Phil: True Detective. I feel like I disappointed myself.
Jane: A to Z. Ginsberg!!!
Sarah: Obviously the most disappointing episode was this season’s “big battle” at the wall in the penultimate episode, which disappointed because it a) failed to make any sense, b) veered tragically into “Robin Hoods: Prince of Thieves” territory with Ygritte’s stupid backlit death, and c) could not generate any battle excitement, even with mammoths.
11. Describe a mistake or misstep by a show you otherwise like.
Evan: The Knick started off terrific, and the direction by Steven Soderbergh sustains a level of intensity and inventiveness for all ten episodes. But the fact that the entire series was written in a mere ten weeks begins to show by mid-season, and the script quality really falls off a cliff at a certain point. Still, I’m looking forward to season 2, which the writers (Jack Amiel, Michael Begler, and Steven Katz) will presumably have more time to perfect.
Lili: Benched has so much going for it but I’m afraid it might be bending into its love triangle way too soon. I’m also worried about Girls and Louie. (Louie, I defended what I thought you were doing so hard, but I was wrong, and that finale was a mess.) I’m a big fan of the Bletchley Circle, but season 2 felt — maybe inevitably — slow and unfocused, a letdown in comparison with season 1.
Phil: Remember when Game of Thrones shot a rape scene, and then everybody involved with that show acted like they didn’t? (Side bet: Five bucks says Game of Thrones is going to steeply decline in quality this coming season. Like, Homeland-style. Anybody?)
Jane: Silicon Valley just needed a FEW MORE WOMEN who were good at computers. It was still the show that made me LOL the most this year.
Sarah: It’s more GRRM’s fault than the show’s but I really hated the treatment of Shae this season.
12. What was your favorite live televised event (sports, award show, etc) of the year, and/or moment in said event?
Evan: I had high hopes for Allison Williams in That’s Why I Chose Neverland whoops I mean Peter Pan, but it turned out to be boring. So… no comment.
Great awards show joke, or greatest awards show joke?
Jane: Every time Drake did something cute at a basketball game:
Sarah: EYE-PLOSION! OMG, there has never been anything like the Oberyn/The Mountain showdown!!! SPECTACULAR!
13. What TV trends would you like to see continue in 2015?
Evan: Limited series which tell a complete story in four to six episodes (à la Olive Kitteridge, Top of the Lake, and True Detective season 1).
Lili: Ensemble series that share the spotlight and avoid taking any one character or point of view too seriously.
Phil: Single-director series! Cary Joji Fukunaga got so much annoying cinephile-bro attention for that long steadicam shot that I think his overall contribution to True Detective has been overlooked. It’s a mistake for them not to get a single-director for the second season. And Steven Soderbergh’s direction absolutely held The Knick together. Plus, Lisa Cholodenko directed all of Olive Kitteridge, and Jill Soloway directed almost all of Transparent. My belief is this: bad or middling series will get better, and good series will become great if networks are willing to figure out how to get solo directors to helm full seasons. We have more than enough evidence to prove that this is a good idea.
Jane: Taylor Swift’s epic performance of “All Too Well” at the Grammy’s of course:
Sarah: I would like to see a trend wherein I never have to see the Bastard of Bolton do anything ever again.
14. What TV trends would you like to see die out in 2015?
Lili: Broken antiheroes.
Phil: I am finished with Michiel Huisman. Orphan Black, Game of Thrones, Treme, Nashville, that Chanel No. 5 commercial with what sounds like a chopped and screwed Michael Buble singing the finale from Grease — enough!
Jane: Is “two straight white men solving crimes” a bona fide genre yet?
Sarah: I would like to see Melisandre stop vamping around so annoyingly. I feel that she could be kind of awesome if she stopped trying to live in Taylor Swifts “Blank Space” video all the time.
15. What were your favorite (non-Dear TV) pieces of television writing this year?
Evan: Grantland’s TV coverage in 2014 was consistently excellent, with the perfect proportions of snark, silliness, passion, insight, and social conscience. Highlights included Andy Greenwald’s “25 Thoughts on the 25th Anniversary of the Seinfeld Premiere”; Rembert Browne and Wesley Morris’s thoughtful exchange about the Bill Cosby debacle; Eric Thurm’s “How I Watched The Newsroom with My Mother”; and pretty much everything by Molly Lambert, but especially her exemplary recaps of True Detective and Mad Men.
Lili: Though not strictly TV, I love Wesley Morris’s really brilliant essay on Foxcatcher and Serial. (Sample line: “At the same time, Foxcatcher’s mix of solemnity, dread, and detachment is a kind of cowardly snobbery, a director presenting the weird and the awful while also holding his nose.”) Also Emily Nussbaum on the Female Bad Fan. Willa Paskin’s meditation on True Detective after she’d defended it against charges of a “woman problem,” Ross Scarano on the finale of Louie.
Phil: For reviews, I am a big fan of basically everything Margaret Lyons writes for Vulture and everything Sonia Saraiya writes for Salon. For episodic criticism, Molly Lambert on Mad Men at Grantland and Danielle Henderson on Scandal at Vulture are the best in the game. And, as far as think-pieces go, Emily Nussbaum’s essay on formalism and TV was a big deal done really well, and Willa Paskin wrote a suite of perfect essays on sex and the Bachelor(ette) franchise.
Jane: Molly Lambert’s archive is the only thing I consistently read. Obviously.
Sarah: This might be cheating but I think that Lili’s piece about Game of Thrones, television criticism, and social ethics was spectacular. I would also periodically stumble into GoT recaps on sports radio and I thought that was super fun.
16. How did you do the bulk of your viewing this year? (i.e. watching live, DVR, streaming on web, with friends and family or solo, etc.)
Evan: A mix, with streaming steadily gaining on DVR.
Lili: Web, solo.
Phil: I live in a (temporary!) commuting relationship with my partner Melanie because we’re academics and thus, rubes. We have one TV, and it’s with her in St. Louis, so I watch a majority of my TV streaming on my laptop, floating in a pool of sadness, until I fall asleep, alone. However, there are a few shows we exclusively watch together. Those shows may have an unfair advantage.
Jane: Solo laptop screening. With the odd group, TV streaming.
Sarah: On the couch with friends, cringing in terror.
17. Is time a flat circle?
18. What filmmaker do you most want to see get into television in 2015?
Evan: Another three-way tie: Spike Lee (doing a fictional series rather than a documentary); Mike Leigh; Arnaud Desplechin. All of these directors specialize in making movies that are bursting at the seams with ideas, characters, and subplots, sometimes to a fault. I would love to see what any of them would do with six to eight hours’ worth of screen time to populate.
Lili: Charlie Kaufman (writers count, right?), Lone Scherfig, Pablo Larraín (whose 2012 film No about the plebiscite in Chile which was so smart and stylized — shot on vintage Sony U-matic video cameras — and explored the power of advertising with more nuance than Mad Men!).
Phil: It seems silly to say Spike Lee, in part because it’s so obvious and in part because he’s tried so many times already, and it never works out. But I think I’ve figured it out. I’d love to see him do an anthology series: Spike Lee Presents… A new six-episode series every year, every episode directed by him, a new genre every season. And he could bring in TV-ready actors from the extended Spike Lee repertory: Edward Norton, Anthony Mackie, Giancarlo Esposito, Rosario Dawson, Delroy Lindo, Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington. This is a perfect idea. Somebody please do this. FX? I feel like this one’s for you.
Jane: Todd Haynes.
Sarah: I would like Kelly Reichardt to guest direct an episode told entirely from the direwolves point of view.
19. What novel should be adapted into a miniseries?
Evan: John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy, filmed Boyhood-style over the course of 40 years.
Lili: The Luminaries!
Phil: The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer. It’s about a group of friends from an artsy summer camp as they grow older and apart, and the series, like the novel, would toggle back and forth between camp and the decades after. Functionally, it would be structured like True Detective, but it would be a big ensemble limited series with two, possibly three, separate casts: one teenage cast, one twenties/thirties cast, one late middle-age cast. I like the idea of doing this multiple chronology thing with not a lot at stake. No murder investigation, no mystery, just a group of people at three stages of their lives.
Jane: I’d love to see how one would serialize Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.
Sarah: If I were to write some literature/television slash fic, it would be about Tyrion-in-exile getting really in to Henry James and spending a lot of time talking with Varys about Olive Chancellor.
20. Use this space to cast your dream sitcom.
Evan: Greta Gerwig, Jane Krakowski, Hannibal Buress, Albert Brooks.
Lili: Lucy Lawless and Essie Davis play twins. Tamsin Greig, Hugh Laurie and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are unhappily married. Samira Wiley, Jemaine Clement, Jessica Walters. I’m picturing a Blackaddery take on Downton Abbey if Downton Abbey were the Starship Enterprise.
Phil: I realize some of these people are on other shows, but: Kathryn Hahn, Parker Posey, Viola Davis. It’s a dramedy. They play three longtime friends who are also spirit mediums in upstate New York. That’s all I’ll say.
Jane: Felicity Jones, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Kirsten Dunst, and Anna Kendrick solve mysteries.
Sarah: Tyrion and Arya work together at a coffee shop in Brooklyn; Cersei is a regular customer and Stannis is their completely worthless manager.
21. Abbi or Ilana?
Evan: Abbi. It’s close, but her parkour skills clinched it for me.
Lili: NOT CHOOSING.
Phil: Ilana Wexler and Alicia Florrick are equal and opposite forces. You know how I feel.
Sarah: Omg both please, Arya needs better friends.
22. Hannah or Marnie?
Evan: Marnie. This is the most captivating prolonged hazing of a television character since David Fisher on season 4 of Six Feet Under.
Sarah: Neither. Hannah wouldn’t last five minutes in Westeros, and Marnie is only a poor man’s Margaery.
23. Tyrion or Daenerys?
Lili: THE DRAGONS FREE THE SAD DRAGONS
Phil: Daenarys is sleeping with Michiel Huisman. She’s dead to me.
Sarah: Grey Worm.
24. What was your favorite animated show of 2014?
Evan: Bojack Horseman. Shout out to Mr. Peanutbutter!
Lili: Seconding Bojack Horseman! MARIA BAMFORD AMY SEDARIS!
Phil: Bojack Horseman! Lisa Hanawalt is a national treasure.
Jane: Bob's Burgers.
Sarah: There are lots of weird animated Game of Thrones things but I have no particular favorites. I am taking suggestions.
25. What was your favorite web series of 2014?
Evan: High Maintenance. I wasn’t sure about this show initially: the first batch of micro-episodes struck me as sub-Dunham mumblecore-of-manners, lightly ribbing privileged New Yorkers who doubtless deserve much worse. But as I watched the later “seasons” and the show grew less satirical and more Altmanesque, collaging together pencil sketches of many lives into a larger portrait of The Way We Get High Now, I started to get on board. There are still installments that don’t quite work, but in a weird way the fact that the show is so inconsistent is the best thing about it.
Lili: Gringolandia. Start here (you might want to turn on subtitles for the Spanish bits). For so many reasons, not least of which is that my dream — a completo-cart that sells hot dogs as they ought to be, piled high with avocado, tomato, mayo and ketchup — has come one step closer to reality. Picture Flight of the Conchords if the Conchords had entrepreneurial spirit. Favorite quote: Koke Santa Ana’s character Peter says of his girlfriend Stacey (Nicole Schneider): “es un masaje en el puntito de mi pupila.” Writers Cristobal Ross and Paulina Torres put their fish out of water through plenty as he adjusts to life in New York. The series also gently skewers American ideas about Chile (which include thinking that Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring is a remotely plausible Chilean which HE IS NOT).
Phil: I love Just the Tips. It’s a Skype talk show in which two women undertake implausible-seeming craft projects they find on the internet and in women’s magazines. But it’s also kind of a great show about long distance friendship. Also, Dear TV alum Annie Petersen knows these people!
Sarah: I’m hesitant to fully endorse it but “Gay of Thrones” is kind of amazing.
26. What was your favorite music video of 2014?
Lili: Solange’s wedding.
Phil: Again, you know how I feel. Here’s a sentence I actually said out loud today: “We are privileged to live in the age of Beyoncé.”
Sarah: Again no standouts. Nothing has come close to the now-cliché 2012 Game of Fucking Thrones.
27. Summarize 2014 in 3 GIFs or fewer.
Sarah Mesle (PhD, Northwestern) is faculty at USC and Senior Humanities Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Prior to arriving at USC, she held postdoctoral fellowships in English at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a 19th-century Americanist by training and is interested, generally speaking, in the long history of the American popular novel and in the many ways pop culture can excite, estrange, and surprise.
With Sarah Blackwood, she is co-editor of Avidly.org. You can follow her on Twitter.
Lili Loofbourow is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley working on Milton and 17th-century theories of eating and reading. She tweets at @millicentsomer, blogs at Excremental Virtue, and writes TV criticism over at Dear Television along with Jane Hu, Phillip Maciak, and Evan Kindley. You can sometimes find her at The Awl, The Hairpin, and The New Inquiry.
Phillip Maciak (@pjmaciak) is the TV editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. His essays have appeared in Slate, The New Republic, and other venues, and he's co-founder of the Dear Television column. He's the author of The Disappearing Christ: Secularism in the Silent Era (Columbia University Press, 2019) and Avidly Reads Screen Time (New York University Press, 2023). He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.
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