What were we going to watch? We agreed that old rules would apply. By the old rules, I am talking about the system where each of us is allowed one condition that everyone else has to observe. Here were ours:
Beautiful Alice: "No superheroes!"
Me: "Please, let's keep it funny."
Kevin: "Oh, hell. I don't care. Really, I don't. Fine. No Gilmore Girls!"
Kevin had no reason to worry about his rule. Alice and I have a near-blood sisterhood bond over our shared hatred of Lorelei, Rory, and all things Stars Hollow. In fact, if pressed, I will tell you the only character I ever remotely liked on that show was Paris. The rest of them are dreadful people who need to be ground into soylent green smoothies and fed to hipsters. I'm sorry. I know some of you hate me now. I have, in the name of friendship and appeasing relatives, tried to watch The Gilmore Girls. Ya'll hear witty banter. I hear gnawing sounds and protohominid chittering.
So what are we reviewing for September?
- The first four episodes of "Difficult People" a Hulu Original series produced by Amy Poehler. (We love her!)
- Season One and part of Season Two of CBC's "Little Mosque on the Prairie" (aka "Little Mosque")
- Other Space, Paul Feig's sci-fi comedy for Yahoo's growing lineup of scripted streaming TV.
I hit the pause button and reminded her of the one and only time we attended a gathering of writers who were united by three things: we were all southern, women, and funny. You'd think something like this would be a room filled with light, the sounds of genteel laughter and "Oh, bless her heart!" lilting like ambient harp music as women nibbled their pecan pie and smiled beatifically at each other. It was, for about eight minutes.Then one writer sighed and wondered if she would get more readers if she developed an eating disorder or convinced her doctor to say she was bipolar. She was answered by another writer who figured it would be less trouble to take up cutting. That was pretty much the tenor of the rest of the afternoon. Believe me, I get it. The industry, such as it is, compels writers, especially women writers, to be brave souls dealing with a burden that has us laughing through our tears. It makes us (in the words of the agent who insists I have it in me to be cuddly) "relateable."
"Difficult People" is kind of like that, only funnier. Regardless of what field you work in, at some point you've looked at the current golden child and thought, "Him (or her)? Really?" For the lead characters, that "some point" is all the time. Situated at the heart of the middle school hothouse that is comedy, Billy Epstein and Julie Kessler bear witness to the successes of former classmates, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, and they are not about to take them lying down. There are times when their efforts are crass, insensitive, and completely without merit and yet we can't help but root for them to succeed.
Why? They can be so mean.
Kevin shrugged. "We all feel like that sometimes. They're saying what we're thinking."
I agree, but the snark component is only a part of what is so polarizing about "Difficult People." I think it has more to do with how identified they are by what they do. Being writers and performers is quite simply who and what they are. It makes them professionally chauvinistic and relentless. What keeps Julie and Billy from being Britcommy cartoons of nasty climbers are the actors who breathe life into them. Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner are likeable and just darned fun to watch. Their chemistry as friends is perfect and their interaction with the rest of the cast creates a world we enjoy visiting. The cast is rounded out with supporting characters who not only act as foils and catalysts, but often serve as pointers to the show's heart. James Urbaniak twitters and fusses around the periphery of the action as Julie's long-suffering boyfriend, Arthur. Andrea Martin plays Julie's none-too-supportive mother, Marylin, and we've met the surviving members of Billy's sometimes scary, sometimes adorable family and his boss and coworker, played by Gabourey Sidibe and Cole Escola.
"Difficult People" is an acidic, often outrageously funny excursion through the side door of show business and the sometimes irritating footpaths of city life. Overly sensitive people might clutch their pearls at the F-bombs and the anti-social behavior. For the rest of us, it's a chance to laugh at ourselves when we're being our worst. Billy and Julie are fellow travelers, mouthy, nervy Virgils to our Dantes as we negotiate treacherous social and professional circles.
Beautiful Alice B-
The premise is pretty simple. An Episcopal minister strikes a deal with a contractor to rent part of his building to the local Muslim population. In the pilot episode, the interim imam is replaced by a brand new guy from Toronto. Former lawyer Amaar experiences all of the fish out of water tropes. He's pulled aside at the airport for FWM ("Flying While Muslim"), he gets the side-eye from the imam he replaced for not being devout enough ("He doesn't even have a beard!), and he nets eyerolls for not being progressive enough from Rayyan, the mosque's resident feminist.
Our observations are going to be based on viewing some of the series and reading over the notes, it feels very "in progress" right now, We are roughly three-quarters through the second season. In the unlikely event that we get a comment, I'll add that we are trying to avoid finding out in advance what happens. We love our twenty-two minute increments of Mercy niceness and want them to have that new show feel.
What do we think so far?
All of us love Yasir and Sarah's relationship.(Carlo Rota and Sheila McCarthy) They're the nice couple next door. While this is not extraordinary in real life terms, it must have been a huge deal to see this on a sitcom. Alice is a little bothered by Sarah because she doesn't seem too into her faith. I've seen plenty of converts of all flavors who go from indifferent (insert original religion here) to SUPER- (new religion), so it's a little refreshing that Sarah isn't written that way. At the same time, I get Alice's issue with the episode where Sarah really has a hard time keeping up with her prayers.
I asked a friend who works full time for Big Giant Tech how she handles her five prayers a day and wudu (washing before prayer, something I learned about from this show). Her response was that the prayers are brief and she can always find a discreet, quiet place, the file room, an empty conference room, etc. to do what she needs to do. "The aggregate time it takes out of my day is probably less than a half hour. Quicker than your rosary." Okay. Maybe Alice is on to something and I should give Sarah the side eye.
Then again, maybe Alice is a little jealous. Thanks to Kevin, we are now aware of that voice, excuse me, That Voice (TM Kevin.) Our Boy has informed us on more than one occasion that he would listen to Carlo Rota read "Prosser On Torts." I'm not sure I'd go that far. Maybe I'd listen to him read the Yellow Pages or Serena Nanda's trippy "Cultural Anthropology" Here's a video of Rota to show you what I'm talking about.
The cast is rounded out with an ensemble of well-acted characters who are charming (sometimes in spite of themselves) and who make for engaging watching. The local right wing talk radio guy, Fred Tupper (Neil Crone) is a regular at Fatima Dinssa's (Arlene Duncan) cafe, where they banter. Kev thinks he's sweet on her. Alice isn't sure. I'm with Kevin. What we all agree on is we adore devoted and often befuddled dad Baber and his tween/teen daughter, Layla Siddiqui. (Manoj Sood and Aliza Vellani). Kevin nailed our weakness for him the first time he appeared onscreen and Kevin said, "Jas, it's your dad!" Yes, Baber looks and sometimes acts like my dad, rest his soul. It would be reductive to say it's all a case of recognizing Middle Eastern/Central American Girl Problems. If we're lucky (and I was) we get the family dynamic that goes beyond ethnic identity because we've lived it.
Would we recommend it? Pretty much. Kevin an Alice love the small town feel. I wanted to be a minister for a portion of my misspent youth and am a sucker for shows about clergy. Some of my favorite scenes are those with Amaar and Reverend Magee (Derek McGrath). It's a comfort watch and a pleasant habit.
We're still watching, so here are our grades for "Little Mosque" right now:
Other Space (Available via streaming on Yahoo.com) We fired this one up because of Paul Feig and then had fits of fannish squee when we found out the cast included Joel Hodgson and Trace Bealieu as a space slacker-type and his robot friend. We're MiSTies. Deal with it. Actually, they're part of an arcana of characters in this tongue-in-cheek tale of misifits lost in alternate space. So was there enough Feig goodness and MST3K charm to keep us watching for eight episodes?
The good news is yes, there was. The meh news is that it grabbed some of us more than others. I may be the only one coming back for Season Two. Alice held it up to two very long yardsticks, "Red Dwarf" and various iterations of "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" and found it lacking. Kevin liked it, but found it hard going to watch when it got too jokey and gimmicky. This is a risk anyone takes when creating genre specific comedy. Was it too geeky or not quite geeky enough?
"I'm not sure that's really the issue," said Kevin. "Some of the writing felt, hmmm...floppy? I wanted to like it more, and I think the cast was great, but some of story lines felt either forced or phoned in. It just didn't draw me in the way I thought it should. In all fairness, I wonder if part of it wasn't the short season."
Alice had her own issues with the show, but disagreed with Kevin regarding the season length, "Some of the best series had short seasons. Look at 'Red Dwarf'. I watch it and see why it's good, but I'm just not feeling it. Part of it may be the fact that I'm just not liking the characters, part of it might be that the whole thing feel very (scare quotes) trope-y. We've seen every one of these characters before in other science fiction shows, on "The Office" and "Parks and Rec... Like Kev said, I didn't like as much as I thought I would."
Okay, it wasn't the greatest thing I'd ever watched, but I liked the characters, thought the cast was good in their roles, and the situations were funny. There were some genius touches. There's a twist on shared language recognition, an unlikely romance, and I thought the Lipinski siblings made the show. The fact that Karan Soni and Bess Rous in no way resemble each other physically or in temperament was half the fun, And maybe I'm on the spectrum and don't know it or maybe I just have a soft spot for over-achieving female characters, but I think scary Karen Lipinski is pretty awesome. Let me amend that, she's oh-some. For those of you trying to figure out where you've seen Karan Soni before, he's one half of the geek engineer duo in the AT&T commercials that have run for the better part of 2015. And yes, Kevin, Alice, and I have been imitating his pronunciation of "awesome" ("OH-some!") all these months before we watched "Other Space".
So, a the very least, I'll be back. It's nice to see Hodgson and Beaulieu doing their thing again. And I want to see more of the new kids. They amuse me.
So let me beam you our grades for this joint:
That's it for a while from The Three Couch Potatoes. We'll probably be back with more kvetching and kvelling and fisticuffs over the remote. Until then, praise the Roku and pass the popcorn!
copyright 2015 Jas Faulkner/Zen Dixie