West Wing 7×04: Mr. Frost

[Writer: Alex Graves | Director: Andrew Bernstein | Aired: 10/16/2005]

“We stay on message, we stay in control.” – Josh

Before sitting down to rewatch this episode for review, I had to subconsciously remind myself of the title. It was “Mr. Frost.” It was not, as my mind kept urging me to believe “Mr. Snow.” (Nor was it “Mr. Plow”; that title is reserved for an episode of an entirely different show and an accompanying, inexplicably catchy jingle.)

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West Wing 7×03: Message of the Week

[Writer: Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 10/09/2005]

“He’s what’s wrong with the party. He’s the problem, not me!” – Vinick

The West Wing was never designed to be timeless, but it also wasn’t intended to affix itself to a specific point in American political history. Produced in the waning days of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first, it certainly drew inspiration from the news of its era, but for much of its early seasons, it kept a safe distance from the world outside our TV sets. Under Sorkin’s tenure, key names and places were fictionalized, the better to avoid controversies and to keep the stories from aging too poorly.

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West Wing 7×02: The Mommy Problem

[Writer: Eli Attie | Director: Alex Graves | Aired: 10/02/2005]

“I need to hear it all.” – Santos

At a time when many serialized dramas (The Sopranos, The Wire, Buffy) were being meticulously mapped out for seasons in advance, The West Wing was largely written on the fly. Sorkin famously spun Bartlet’s MS into an episode simply as a detail; it was only during the break between the first two seasons that he began considering its implications in the larger framework of the series. Plenty of other arcs were introduced as the need allowed, even as some of them built off events and even lines of dialogue from seasons past.

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“Soul” is Pixar’s Most Mature Film, and One of Its Best

For years, Pixar earned a reputation for the unique way it spun its animated stories – they were adult films masquerading as children’s entertainment. Start with a cute, child-friendly concept (toys come to life; monsters in the closet; a family of superheroes) and then use it as a platform to explore deep and thoughtful questions about life, relationships, and maturity. These films lured audiences in with the promise of a fun day at the movies, but gave so much more than they advertised.

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West Wing 7×01: The Ticket

[Writer: Debora Cahn | Director: Christopher Misiano | Aired: 09/25/2005]

“Yeah, but I won.” – Josh

It begins unlike any season before. Not in the present, or the past, but the near future – three years hence, when a now ex-President Jed Bartlet reunites with his former staffers at the opening of his own Presidential library.

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The Ten Best TV Shows of 2020

If you’re wondering how long the year we’ve just experienced was, use the 77th Annual Golden Globes as a yardstick. The ceremony, hosted by Ricky Gervais, aired back in the first week of January. That’s right – Gervais’ controversial monologue, Bong Joon-Ho lecturing us about subtitles, Ramy Youssef explaining that people don’t know who he is – that all happened this year.

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The Ten Best Films of 2020

There are many words that historians will use to describe 2020, most of which are unprintable on this website. But in my continued quest to focus on the positive (last week’s snarky deviation notwithstanding), let’s turn to the pop-culture that kept us going through these rough times.

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The Ten Worst Films of 2020

There was much to hate about the past year, which featured too many awful, destructive, and just plain stupid events to cover within the scope of this website. One area that does fall under my jurisdiction, however, is the world of cinema, which was unlike any previous year in the medium’s history. As theaters across the nation shuttered in response to the pandemic, Hollywood was caught flatfooted, as hopes of a blockbuster year at the movies almost instantly evaporated.

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How “The Queen’s Gambit” Became 2020 Comfort Food

It’s… been quite a year, hasn’t it?

I know there’s a running gag to refer to each new year as “the worst one ever,” but in retrospect, it feels like we were tempting fate. We’ve never experienced a calendar year like 2020, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that after we rip our calendars to shreds, burn them to ash, and salt the earth upon which they were cremated, I hope we never, ever experience one like it again.

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The “Animaniacs” Reboot Swings and Misses

The best scene in Hulu’s new Animaniacs reboot occurs right in the opening of the first episode. Parodying Jurassic Park, the scene features Steven Spielberg as a Professor Hammond stand-in, revealing to a group of slack-jawed scientists that he has “reanimated” the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister!) for the first time since the late 1990s. As the show’s version of Alan Grant notes the characters’ “clean, vectored outlines,” a nearby Hulu executive gloats that they’re going to “make a fortune” from these new characters.

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10 “Animaniacs” Episodes that Were Zany to the Max

It never fails.

I’ve heard the theme song well over a hundred times. I know every lyric by heart (and can decisively state the original line is “pay-or-play contracts”). But it doesn’t matter. Every time I get to the final verse – “We’re Animan-y… totally insane-y…” – the penultimate line always catches me off-guard. It could be common standby of “Here’s the show’s name-y,” but the writers could just as sneakily sub in “Chicken Chow Mein-y,” “Dana Delany,” “Citizen Kane-y,” or any number of other rhyming or quasi-rhyming phrases. Anything goes.

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“Teenage Bounty Hunters” Deserves a Second Chance

At some point in the last few years, the phrase “cancelled too soon” began to feel like a TV anachronism. We’d seen many TV shows get cut before their time in a hyper-competitive television environment, but as cable and streaming services began to broaden the horizons and increase the hunger for market-friendly content, the medium became a breeding ground for TV resurrections.

So it was that when FOX cancelled Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it was picked up by NBC; The Expanse went from SyFy to Amazon; Designated Survivor from ABC to Netflix; and One Day at a Time from Netflix to PopTV. We seem to have finally reached an age where TV shows only need a niche audience to guarantee their continued endurance for as long as the creators and cast are willing.

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What Will Happen in the 2020 Election?

It’s that time again. Once every four years, Americans put their differences aside and come together to do the one thing that ensures we keep our differences – voting! Technically, it’s not just a four-year commitment – a lot of people do this every two years. And believe it or not, there are some pedantic folks who actually cast their vote every year, sometimes in two different months. (Do not let these people near your home.)

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Movie Roundup: Chicago 7, Social Dilemma, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

While indexing all my film reviews into a comprehensive archive last month, I came to a perturbing realization – my penchant for film reviews had taken a hit. The last movie I gave a full review to was Onward back in early April – and even that was partly motivated by the need to continue my trend of reviewing each new Disney/Pixar film as it’s released.

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“The Boys” is a Sharp Superhero Satire

The words “satire” and “parody” are often used interchangeably these days, but they shouldn’t be. A satire offers humorous commentary on the world using a popular or familiar creative work as its vehicle. A parody, however, lampoons the creative work itself, with social or cultural commentary rarely a focal point of humor. Put simply, a satire is a critique that features comedy; a parody is a comedy with specific critique. (This being October, it may be apt to draw examples from horror films: Scream = satire, Scary Movie = parody.)

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Emmys 2020: Which Shows Will Win?

There was the time that Alan Alda cartwheeled his way to the stage. There was the time Helen Mirren dropped an uncensored expletive on live TV. There was the time when Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy cohosted and delivered a rather non-politically correct opening monologue.

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Will Peacock Take a Quick Bite of Apple?

Peacock Apple

It was only a few short years ago that the number of major streaming services could be counted on one hand. Yes, back in the halcyon days of the mid-2010s, people began buzzing about the possibility that Netflix and its few competitors would mean the end of traditional TV. After all, who needs a cumbersome and expensive cable bundle when you can get thousands of hours of entertainment with just two or three online services?

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The Rise of the Video Game Movie

Sonic

I don’t know the exact number of Sega or Nintendo games I’ve played in my life, though the combined number is likely situated somewhere in the single digits. (Most definitely the low single digits once you rule out the games that star Italian plumbers.) That may not come as a surprise to many longtime readers; though I’ve written extensively about TV and film over the last several years, I’ve never once had cause to post a piece about the gaming world.

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JK Rowling and the Limits of the Outrage Mob

NY Premiere of HBO's "Finding the Way Home", New York, USA - 11 Dec 2019

There’s a time-tested logic puzzle known as the irresistible force paradox. Perhaps you’ve heard of it (maybe on that boxing episode of The Simpsons): What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

The question itself defies logic (“unstoppable” and “immovable” things cannot coexist), but it’s fun to ponder, and particularly fun to apply to various scenarios. Back in high school, my friends and I enjoyed discussing one version: Could Green Lantern’s power ring (unstoppable force) be used to pick up Thor’s hammer (immovable object)? It was a creative thought exercise, although my own final answer (GL would never get the chance to lift Thor’s hammer, due to copyright conflicts between DC and Marvel) did suck some of the air from the balloon.

But this weekend, we got another display when something perceived as an unstoppable force… actually proved to be somewhat stoppable.

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Not What They Stream: Why Some Beloved TV Shows Aren’t Coming to Netflix

EdTV

We live in an incredible era – one where thousands of television shows are instantly at our fingertips. On top of the hundreds of DVD sets that studios continue to churn out each year, we have a treasure trove of new and classic TV awaiting us on over a dozen (and counting) streaming services. Gone are the days when we needed to wait to catch a rerun – DVD boxsets have allowed long-running TV shows to fit comfortably on our bookshelf, and Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and their ilk have provided us with massive libraries of their own. All in all, we have a seemingly endless world of TV to choose from.

But there’s the question: Is it really endless? While the streaming boom has made it easy for a new generation to become enraptured with shows like Cheers and The Sopranos and Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, not every show is as easy to find on a streaming platform. In fact, there are some TV shows – including some fairly popular ones! – that have never received a proper online release, or even a proper DVD set… and probably never will.

What follows are five such TV shows. We’ll go through each, one by one, and try to learn why they don’t have a shot at a legal release. (Operative word there being legal – most of these shows can probably be found on bootleg DVDs or through low-quality YouTube uploads. But an official, authorized release is virtually impossible.)

We begin with…

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West Wing 6×21: Things Fall Apart

6x21 Things Fall Apart

[Writer: Peter Noah | Director: Nelson McCormick | Aired: 3/30/2005]

“No one signs up to come in second.” – Santos

Back in college, I took a class that at one point assigned us to read from Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The book, for those unaware, is set in a Nigerian village that is forced to deal with late 19th-century colonialism. I’d be lying if I said I remembered much from the book, but then, I don’t remember much from most of the classes I took during college (apart from the fact that they were constantly distracting me from this website).

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Fifty Years Later: How Green Lantern and Green Arrow Changed Comics Forever

LanternArrow

The year was 1970, and America was chaos.

The country was fractiously polarized along every line – age, race, religion, politics. The world still reeled from the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. A troop of National Guard soldiers opened fire on an unarmed group of college students. “Vietnam” was a hot-button word wherever you went.

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Gargoyles: An Ambitious Animated Series Ahead of Its Time

Gargoyles

As stated previously, I’ve begun writing pieces about great (and often overlooked) TV shows you can stream while cooped up at home these days. Enjoy, and keep washing those hands.

The early ‘90s were a prosperous time for American animation. The merchandise-driven cartoons of the ‘80s (sorry, He-Man and GI Joe – you wouldn’t be on TV if they didn’t have toys to sell) had given way to a more serious quality of storytelling and production in children’s entertainment. Now studios were investing in better writing and animation to tell stories for the young generation that would someday be known as Millennials.

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Deadwood: HBO’s Greatest Drama

Deadwood

As stated previously, I’ve begun writing pieces about great (and often overlooked) TV shows you can stream while cooped up at home these days. Enjoy, and remember to wash your hands.

It may seem odd that I’ve waited this long to write about Deadwood, but my resistance can generally be boiled down to two factors: (1) The multitude of writings about this series across the Internet, both on series and episodic bases, meant that a lot of things I could say about the show have probably been said already, and (2) the rather colorful dialogue would make it difficult to write about the series in detail without violating this website’s relatively family-friendly guidelines. (Attention to any kids who, against all odds, follow my work: Don’t watch Deadwood. Yet.)

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Extras: A Showbiz Satire from Across the Pond

Extras

As stated previously, I’ve begun writing pieces about great (and often overlooked) TV shows you can stream while cooped up at home these days. Enjoy, and remember to wash your hands.

One of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes comes from the show’s final season, a convention-breaking entry called “Lower Decks.” Rather than focusing on Picard, Data, or any of the show’s other colorful leads, the episode turns the camera on a group of side characters, the oft-nameless “Redshirts” who populate the background shots of the Enterprise and rarely if ever get a line. These characters were typically used as cannon fodder in the original Trek, but “Lower Decks” takes an extended (and unexpectedly poignant) look at a few of the Starfleet officers beyond the Bridge, reminding us that even the most inconsequential background extras have lives of their own.

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