Dec 27, 2012

2012 in Comedy & TV: Guest Lists

Paul Krueger's Year In Comedy:

Paul Krueger is a writer, book importer-exporter, and occasional stand-up comedian.  He lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which means his opinions on pop culture matter more than yours. (Ed. Note: This is Paul Krueger's claim that is not verified by the Wine & Pop editorial staff) He will be joining the Wine & Pop staff in 2013.

Comedy, it’s said, is a subjective art.  As anyone who’s shown a friend a “hilarious” YouTube video will agree, that which elicits hilarity from one man will only result in four minutes of agonizingly stony silence from another.  But sometimes, there are shining examples of comedy where the quality of the material is undeniable, the point of view refreshing and unique, and we here at Wine & Pop wish to give these standouts their due.

Or, in short: these albums are good, and if you disagree then you are wrong.

With that said, here’s a catalogue of Tig Notaro and all the comedians who aren’t going to place as highly as she:

8. Jim Gaffigan, Mr. Universe 

Within seconds of beginning his latest album, Gaffigan trots out his favorite comedic prop, the high-pitched voice he uses to simulate audience reactions to his material.  You have just enough time to think, “Oh, he’s doing that voice already?” before Gaffigan, like he just put your mind on stereo, chimes in with, “Oh, he’s doing that voice already?”  Mr. Universe is at its strongest when Gaffigan stays ahead of his audience like this, leading them down twisty pathways of meta-commentary.  When not in this mode, the material he displays is par-for-the-course Gaffigan: he’s lazy!  He’s fat!  He has an awful diet!  Hooooot Pockets!

Actually, the phrase “Hot Pockets” occurs not once within Mr. Universe, and perhaps that’s a microcosm of why it makes this list despite being otherwise typical Gaffigan fare.  Though he treads a lot of the same ground (see: his ten-minute riff on McDonald’s), Gaffigan also leaves certain old conceits behind.  It gives listeners the tantalizing promise that he’s begun moving his writing in a different direction, and that promise alone is refreshing enough.

MVP track: “Whales”

7. Aziz Ansari, Dangerously Delicious

Listening to an Aziz Ansari set can be an exhausting experience.  Ansari performs with all the energy of a fresh-from-the-kennel puppy on a sugar high, and when Dangerously Delicious is over it leaves one wondering how come you’re exhausted and he’s not.  The proper answer is that laughter is its own workout, and if we treat it as a form of exercise, then Ansari is as stern a taskmaster as any quinoa-fueled personal trainer.

As he has in the past, Ansari riffs heavily on celebrity and fame, taking the sorts of themes that Kanye West has explored so thoroughly in his music and bringing them to the stand-up stage.  West merits a mention here because he appears memorably in Ansari’s anecdotes, along with a host of other tabloid royalty.  Ansari’s profile is already sky-high--look at his resume, and at the people with whom he rubs elbows--but Dangerously Delicious could use a shred more restraint.  A little more variation in tone and a little more trust that the audience will follow him, and Ansari could easily produce an effort that would challenge any of the other names on this list.

MVP track: “50 Cent Grapefruit Story”

6. Paul F. Tompkins, Laboring Under Delusions (Live in Brooklyn)

Tompkins aired Laboring Under Delusions as a special earlier this year.  Since I’m reviewing audio recordings in this, I’m restricting my opinions here to the Live in Brooklyn CD he released shortly thereafter.  I’ll say right out the gate that the reason this ranks where it does is because the listening experience doesn’t quite do it justice.  Obviously, all comedians are aided by the visuals of their gestures and expressions, but some translate better to sound-only than others.  Tompkins, a dynamic stage presence, loses some points because his own medium handicaps his strong suits.

Which is not to say this album is not good.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  Focusing his stories on the interesting variety of jobs he’s held over the years, listeners are treated to anecdotes about life as an employee of a hat store, the soul-grind that was VH1’s Best Week Ever!, and working alongside legendary Method actor Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood.  Listeners of the album will get to enjoy ten minutes of riffing not present on the aired special, which alone make it well worth the purchase.  But any who enjoy Live in Brooklyn should do themselves a favor and seek out the original, as well.

MVP track: “There Won’t Be Blood”

5. Tenacious D, Rize of the Fenix

I couldn’t believe these guys were still around, either.  College and high school students that grew up with the D’s first album know sing-along classics like “Fuck Her Gently” and “Tribute” by heart, but the epic bomb that was 2006’s Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny left the comedy-rock duo silent for some years.

“Epic” serves fittingly to describe their comeback album.  Stepping back from the balls-to-the-walls rawk sound of their previous efforts, the duo varies their genres to solid returns.  And while the lyrics and concepts are funny, the real secret to Rize of the Fenix is that on top of that, it’s just a really good listen--the kind that will have you drumming along in your lap as you bob your head to it on the subway.  So many music-comedy albums can have trouble finding the balance between each part of their genre (see the boom and bust that was Stephen Lynch), but the D’s latest effort shows that they know that their comedy and music are one whole, not just two halves to be reconciled.

MVP track: “The Ballad of Hollywood Jack and the Rage Kage”

4. Louis CK, Live at the Beacon Theater

When it comes to year-end best-of retrospectives, Louis CK is the New York Yankees: the question isn’t if he’ll place or not, but how high.  After an untoppable year in 2011, Louis CK went and topped himself anyway in 2012, turning in another great season of television and using this special to upend the entire business model of stand-up comedy single-handedly.  He is, without a doubt, currently the fulcrum upon which the art of stand-up rests.

So why doesn’t he place higher?  In any other year, chances are he’d top this list.  But the competition, perhaps spurred on by his example, has never been stiffer.  A combination of new voices (Mulaney) rising to prominence and old voices (Notaro, Kinane) finding wider exposure leaves Louis CK as something of a comedic benchmark: if you’re above him, you’re amazing.  If you’re below him, don’t worry; pretty much the rest of humanity is, too.

MVP track: “White People”

3. Kyle Kinane, Whiskey Icarus

Eschewing the observational style used by most working comedians today, Kyle Kinane positions himself as a storyteller, the fun uncle at Thanksgiving who only needs a glass or two of Wild Turkey and the right question to get him going for the rest of the night.  He doesn’t shy away from how bad some of his stories might make him look (for instance, his album-opening tale of spending $100+ on taking a taxi to a Wendy’s because he was too drunk to drive himself), creating an odd and enjoyable atmosphere of pride at some of his own debauchery.

The album’s true centerpiece, however, is an epic tale of an occasion upon which Kinane witnessed a man eating a bag of pancakes on an airplane.  With gravelly gusto, Kinane attacks the absurdity of the situation from every angle: wondering about the chain of events that might have led that man to be on that airplane and have that bag of pancakes, dissecting his choice of container (a Foot Locker shopping bag), and giving listeners a moment of, “My god, he’s right!” as he points out that “Pancakes got x-rayed that day.”  Whiskey Icarus is a good album to bring along to your holiday gatherings--chances are your actual uncles aren’t this interesting.

MVP track: “God of Thunder” (Kinane named all his tracks after those on the KISS album Destroyer)

2. John Mulaney, New In Town

The first two tracks of New In Town are a slow burn compared to everything that follows.  But they are essential for introducing Mulaney to his audience, and all of his quirks: the way his voice vacillates between the polar extremes of “excited child” and “Phil Hartman,” his attention to odd or small details, and the way these all congeal to create, in his words, “a very silly person.”

The confidence with which he tells his jokes is key to grounding that silliness.  At one point, in a story about the aftermath of a party gone awry, the host asks Mulaney if he’d been there.  “I said no,” Mulaney says, and then adds with a sly wink to his audience, “You know, like a liar.”  A Chicago native, he brings a midwestern matter-of-factness where others might be tempted to just make a hard run for “edgy” and never look back.  That willingness to let some situations speak for themselves takes Mulaney far in New In Town, and probably will for whatever he’s got coming up.

MVP track: “Delta Airlines”

1. Tig Notaro, Live

It’d be easy to say that the only reason Tig tops this list and a lot of ones like it is because she has cancer, and with it critical sympathy.

It’d be easy to say that, that is, if this album weren’t a goddamn masterpiece.

There’s very little I can say about Live (pronounced like the verb) that hasn’t already been said by better critics than I, so I’m just going to throw a word salad of descriptors at you now: hilarious.  Heartbreaking.  Insightful.  Painfully true.  Transcendent.  Devastating.  Optimistic.  Vulnerable.  A shining exemplar of stand-up comedy’s potential as an art form.

Listen to this damn thing already.

MVP track: Some things shouldn’t be listened to piecemeal.  This is one of them.  Also, it’s all one track, so...yeah.

Some other names you should probably YouTube for maximum hipster cred:

Mike Lawrence had his network debut this year with an appearance on Conan, and weeks ago was given the ultimate industry spotlight in the form of a turn on Marc Maron’s WTF?! podcast.  A sort of second-generation Patton Oswalt, Lawrence has all the geek wisdom of the former, but trades in Oswalt’s New York Times-Sunday-crossword verbosity for a Woody Allen-esque mode of self-deprecation.  He also maintains the Nerd of Mouth podcast, as well as an active Twitter feed that can be relied upon for sharp commentary on basically anything, filtered through the lens of that guy you always see in your local comic shop.  You know the one.

Joe Machi comes to the stage with wide eyes, a slow, mouse-like voice, and jerky movements, all of which serve only to sharpen his surprisingly dark punchlines.  “This isn’t a put-on, folks,” he assured viewers during an appearance on Jimmy Fallon this year.  “I actually talk like this.”  This is quickly followed up with: “A guy told me I sound like a cartoon.  I said, ‘I wanna bang your sister.  Ever hear Buzz Lightyear say that?’”  He expertly plays the expectations his appearance creates against his caustic worldview, and the resulting dissonance creates a rich seam for comedy that Machi adroitly mines.

Now go, ye readers, and comment below about how poor my taste is, which obviously amazing albums I left out, and share in my general wonderment at the continued existence of Tenacious D.

Mike Horky's Top TV Guest Stars of 2012:

Ray Stevenson on Dexter:
Every season of Dexter has one or two guest stars as the primary antagonist(s). Some have been superb (John Lithgow, Jimmy Smits), and some have been laughably unbearable (Edward James Olmos, Collin Hanks). Ray Stevenson's Isaak Sirko is undoubtably the best antagonist and guest star Dexter has seen in quite a while. Stevenson brings so much to his character, a Ukrainian mob boss whose life is shattered when Dexter kills a loved one of his. He brings such malevolence to Sirko, and feels like the only person who could be a true threat to our friendly, neighborhood serial killer. But Sirko is also one of the few characters on Dexter that feels remotely human. He's not just a killer, he's a human being, with morals, charm, and class. This is all due to Stevenson's magnificent acting chops, making the audience feel for a ruthless killer, who deep down is much more civilized than anyone could have possibly imagined. Stevenson commands the screen, and captivates, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, waiting for his ticking time bomb of a character to explode. He's a brilliant, and much needed addition to a show that was starting to lack originality and substance.

Guillermo Del Toro on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia:
It can only take a man as creatively talented as Guillermo Del Toro to take a brief cameo (Pappy McPoyle in "The Maureen Ponderosa Wedding Massacre"), and make it so damn funny that one can barely breathe from laughing so hard. It's fun when directors come out from behind the camera and act in bit parts, and Del Toro nails it. His random babbling about eating a baby in this episode makes little sense, but fits in so well with the absurdist brand of humor that It's Always Sunny is known for. It's neat and overall surprising that an director known for fantasy films could have such comedic talent. This show has had its share of guest stars in the past, but none resonates as much as Del Toro's performance.

Kate Hudson on Glee
Remember when Kate Hudson was the talk of the town? Well, that was about twelve years ago when she starred in a film called Almost Famous. Then she sort of dropped off the radar, until this past season of Glee. Playing the relentless, hellish dance teacher Cassandra July, Hudson provides a razor sharp bitchiness that makes Sue Sylvester look like an innocent puppy. Her character is reminiscent of so many professors who expect more from their students than is possible, and she adds a further layer to this commonly portrayed stereotype. She gives her character a sense of disappointment in herself, which progresses throughout the season. She is a flawed character, taking out her anger and past failures on her students. Here, Hudson walks a fine line between the nihilistic joy of watching her students suffer, and the rough determination to make her students succeed. She's a terrible person living out her dream through her students, and Hudson owns her role. I cannot wait to see what her character brings when Glee returns in the spring.

Parker Posey on Louie
Whenever a love interest for Louis C.K. appears on Louie, it usually ends in tragedy for our down-on-his-luck protagonist. With Parker Posey's two-part episode arc, she proves this fact to be true, but not without some character development for Louis. Posey's character Liz brings a whole new level to the show that Louie has become, and proves that perhaps Louis might not be destined to be sad, depressed, and lonely for the rest of his life. It's Liz that brings excitement, joy, and an appreciation for life that Louis has had yet to experience until this past season. She's important for the development of Louis, who can now understand that his life isn't a piece of shit, and that the little things in life are the most important (this is also evident in the New Year's Eve episode, but without Liz's indie flare). Parker Posey is one of the most eccentric and lively actresses that Louie has presented to its audience. She balances on the fine line of free spirit, and insane lunatic, which causes us as an audience to constantly doubt that she is the right fit for Louis, and might instead be the worst influence in his life. She commands every scene she's in, bringing her tragic humor to the foreground. For a while we forget we're watching Louie, and instead we're watching the Parker Posey show. Posey is a breath of fresh air, and it's sad and darkly funny when her character leaves the show for good. But her character was so brilliant, and so tragically flawed, that her departure was indeed necessary, leaving a lasting imprint on Louis' and this reviewer's heart.

David Lynch on Louie
Much like Del Toro in It's Always Sunny, Lynch's two episode arc in Louie was one of the most pleasant surprises of television in 2012. Playing Jack Dall, an acting coach of sorts, Lynch is like the wise old man giving advice to the younger, less knowledgeable Louis. It would seem like an odd choice to place Lynch in an offbeat comedy show like Louie, but then again it probably makes the most sense. His gravely, nasally voice and deadpan delivery make for some of the most hilarious scenes I have ever witnessed on the show. His character is old fashioned, to the point, and very demanding, which is the attitude a director such as Lynch has become accustomed to. This is why he works so well, and why he is often as funny as Louis C.K. They work so well off of each other; Lynch demanding Louis to be funny on the spot, and C.K. being baffled out of his mind were timed so well, and acted so brilliantly, it was hard to believe these two were acting out a written scene, and weren't just improving some kind of random audition. Lynch brought a sense of realism to his character, making Dall appear as someone you might encounter in your life. He wasn't over-acting, or completely outrageous, he was simply a normal character. Like Del Toro, Lynch proved that playing against-type can yield a truly funny and impacting performance.

Jesse Plemons on Breaking Bad
When Landry Clarke said he wanted a life outside of Dillon, I'm doubting cooking meth is what he had in mind. This is what makes Jesse Plemons' startling turn as Todd on Breaking Bad so resonant. Playing totally against-type from his nerdy football player in Friday Night Lights, Plemons commands the screen as a fumigator turned assistant cook in Walter White's partnership. The transformation of his character is truly a sight to see; from a seemingly normal exterminator, to a man capable of killing someone in cold blood, and it's amazing that we are watching the same actor who played such a low key football player not two years ago. Plemons gives Todd a hidden malevolence, digging deep into his character's unflinching attitude. His most shocking, and despicable action on the show proves that Plemons can live up to the task of being as cold and ruthless as Walter White, all with the simple pull of a trigger.

David Morrissey on The Walking Dead
There are so many characters (good and bad) that have been introduced in The Walking Dead (and many more to come, as the comics suggest). But this past season, David Morrissey's portrayal of The Governor was a treat to say the least. Morrissey brought the show and our surviving clan its biggest threat (even more so than walkers and the underwhelming Merle), bringing a balance of menace and charm that was refreshing in a show where character development has been a challenge. From the start, The Governor does not appear to be a trustworthy person, and he never turns out to be one, yet Morrissey really keeps his audience guessing, constantly questioning his moral structure and ultimately his hidden agenda. It isn't until we encounter The Governor staring with such emptiness and dread at his wall of zombie heads, and tending to his already zombified daughter, that we realize how tormented and insane this character truly is. Morrissey has been an absolute gem this past season, bringing some much needed character to a show with characters as dull as the zombies they're killing. But even now, with season 3 bringing us a lot of great scenes, and better character development, no one stands out as much as The Governor. Morrissey treads a fine line between insanity and justifiable behavior. He makes us believe The Governor wants the best for his people, and perhaps he does. But his savage obsession with eliminating outsiders and trying to turn his loved ones back into living beings makes each of his actions less credible. Here, Morrissey shines, especially in his scenes tending to his already turned daughter, where we get a glimpse of a man conflicted, and ultimately becoming more insane as the days go by. Whether The Governor is a madman, or simply just another person overwhelmed by this zombie apocalypse, we'll have to wait for the second half of the season to see. 

Ben Feldman on Mad Men
Playing Michael Ginsberg, Ben Feldman has given Mad Men another interesting and surprisingly funny character. As a new creative mind to Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, Ginsberg represents the new blood to the ad game, and an immediate threat to Peggy. Feldman brings a refreshingly blunt persona to Ginsberg, as a character speaking his mind every chance he can get. He is so direct with his delivery of lines, that it's sometimes hard to determine whether Ginsberg is being serious, or directly sarcastic (as evident by his stint about being a martian). What's also great about Feldman's portrayal is how level-headed he comes across as. Constantly questioning how certain members of the company can get away with almost anything, Ginsberg appears the most rational, even if his extroverted persona tends to get the better of him. In addition, Feldman adds a subtle layer a sadness to his character, allowing us to feel for his character, as he captivates us with his mannerisms. I truly hope that Ginsberg sticks around next season, as he is too good a character to simply throw out the door.

Jeremy Davies on Justified
Jeremy Davies first came to attention playing a nervous, twitchy World War 2 private in Saving Private Ryan. Then he played a nervous, twitchy time-traveling scientist on Lost. Now on Justified as Dickie Bennett, he plays a nervous, twitchy member of a drug-dealing family. Sure, he might be typecast, but there is nothing wrong with that. Each episode of Justified had me anticipating the moment Bennett would show up because Davies' portrayal is ultimately brilliant. Granted, he might not bring as much to the show as Margo Martindale did last season, but he does bring a hell of lot. The mannerisms, quirks, and ticks that Davies brings to Dickie are great. He embodies this character, a poor, sorry excuse for a criminal who is trying to live up to the expectations his mother set forth in their drug-dealing empire. Raylan Givens said it best when addressing Dickie, "You're just a stupid, craven hillbilly piece of shit", and in the acting game, if you can convincingly, believably pull that off, praise is bound to come your way.

Ed Asner on Regular Show
I really shouldn't count voice-acting on this list, seeing as every other performance has been in a live-action show. But darn it if Ed Asner didn't tickle my funny bone portraying Santa Claus in the Regular Show's Christmas Special. His voice takes a whole new spin on the traditional, grandfatherly voice of Santa. Here's a Santa that's a total badass, beating up evil elves, and not being afraid to speak his mind. From the moment he shows up, it's clear that he's a force to be reckoned with. Asner gives him a hardened, weathered voice, like a man who's gone through war. He doesn't take crap from anyone, especially Mordecai and Rigby. His berating of them upon their first meeting is hilarious, especially his delivery of the word "dude". It's how I pictured any grumpy old man scolding two goofball kids. While his voice was the only part of his acting I could witness, it was enough to sell me on one of the best performances of the year, and a standout in an episode filled with other great guest actors like Thomas Haden Church and Kurtwood Smith.

Ryan Pigg on What Makes Community Different:

Since the show Community first aired on NBC in the fall of 2009, I felt it was something more than an ordinary television show. I fell in love with it, which doesn’t happen often with me. 

Community’s humor is similar to that of Arrested Development and Scrubs’. The comic situations and themes within these shows are usually far out of the box and unbelievably clever. 

The fascinating thing about Community is it doesn’t bullshit its viewers. It plays with the insanity of fictional aspects while still keeping one foot in reality. 

Their world is much like ours as far as relationships amongst the characters. The endings to each episode are both unexpected and hilarious. 

With that said, there are some elements to this show that go beyond the traditional sitcom. There has been a horror Halloween episode, a musical episode, an western with paintball gun fights, zombies, alternate realities, a Law & Order episode, a Civil War documentary episode, a Hearts of Darkness episode, a claymation Christmas episode, Dungeons & Dragons, video games, and much more. They’ve killed off a few characters, broken a few hearts, and made just about every character openly weep on more than a few occasions. 

But no matter what sort of randomness occurs, they always have a reason and it always connects with the characters and the viewers on a deeper level going beyond the parody.

While watching this show I fell in love with seven amazingly unique, flawed, and psychologically disturbed characters:

-Shirley, the loveable Christian housewife who gave up her dreams years ago and has returned to community college to see that dream through. 

-Pierce, the misunderstood, offensive, old man who can feel left out at times continuously pushing him to his breaking point. 

-Britta, the struggling ex-rebel still trying to figure out what she wants out of life. She has such a strong desire to help people, but no matter how hard she tries she keeps managing to make problems worse. 

-Troy, ex-prom king who has to accept his flaws and insecurities in order to fully transition into adulthood. 

-Annie is the youngest who is possibly the smartest with the most ambition, but is often pushed over the emotional edge between all the stress of trying to be perfect and the stress of trying to get others to like her for more than her brains and boobs. 

-Abed is possibly the most unique character ever created for television. It’s possible Abed suffers from Aspergers, which explains why at times he can seem emotionally disconnected from the others. Abed is the glue that holds this group together, through his freak outs, his paranoid adventures, and he’s also the one that invited them to be in the study group.

-Jeff Winger was a self-centered, dirt-bag lawyer keeping criminals out of jail and living off of one-night stands. Unfortunately for him, the law firm found out his degree was a fake. 

Now Jeff must join the other six on their epic journey to survive Greendale Community College where they will ultimately learn more from one another than they will in a classroom.

You know there’s something special about Community based on their fans. These people have felt the emotional tie with the show like I have. They will do anything for the show: they’ll make artwork, create video games and montage videos, they’ll attend Q&As and rallies. 

As you can see, this show goes beyond the concept of seven misfits attending a community college together. This sitcom has become much more epic than other traditional shows on television. It’s revolutionized how a simple idea for a sitcom can evolve into something so much more significant.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, there’s something special about connecting to a television show emotionally. Community may not be your cup of tea, but you can’t watch two episodes and call it quits. That’s like turning off Die Hard after the first ten minutes cause there’s not enough action yet.


No comments:

Post a Comment