For Galentine’s Day, Consider ‘The To Do List’

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Galentine’s Day, the Leslie Knope-created pre-Valentine’s Day celebration of Female Friendship, is Saturday. While the Bouqs, Travelocity, PureWow, and GrubHub wring their hands over your Valentine’s Day plans, I’ll wring mine over your Saturday night.

If going out with your Gal Pals isn’t your thing, may I humble suggest The To-Do List? (If hitting the town is your thing, by all means, get hand-crafted cocktails at a speakeasy and hit the theatre for How to Be Single.) Grab a bag of chocolate hearts from Duane Reade honey, and chill the rose, because this two-hour ode to feminism and female sexuality can’t be beat. (The double entendre stays!)

It’s 1993 and high school valedictorian Brandy Clark is bound for Georgetown University. Socially awkward Brandy is a virgin with a crush on hunky Rusty Waters (Scott Porter!) and feeling like she could be more well-rounded as an incoming freshman, Brandy vows to become sexually experienced.

She does that the only way she knows how: treating her sexuality as a homework assignment.

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This is a pretty good idea, actually. Brandy is a smart and thorough student, and this way she is able to approach her goals in a way she can handle and understand. (Ultimately, the boys in her life can’t handle her self-actualization, but she can!)

Brandy is aided by the women in her life. Her promiscuous sister Amber (Rachel Bilson) provides advice and guidance, her best friends Wendy and Fiona are not initially supportive (Sarah Steele and Alia Shawkat in perfect casting), but mistakes and apologies are made. Because Wendy and Fiona will always be more important than Rusty Waters.

In a review I wrote in 2013 for Blast-O-Rama, where I am an erstwhile staff writer, I called it “a funny, honest, charming film that showcases Aubrey Plaza while trumping teen film stereotypes and boosting feminism in cinema.” I believe that now; if anything, the jokes are sharper and more prescient two years later.

Ladies and their gal pals will appreciate the themes and humor of The To Do List, I guarantee it.

Available for rent through Vudu and purchase through Amazon and iTunes.

The Music Behind…The Pharcyde on Black-ish

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Black-ish is a show about stereotypes, and on Wednesday’s episode, the Johnson Family dealt with preconceived notions about swimming in its own inimitable manner. Dre fumes about being snubbed by their white neighbor for her pool party because he believes she assumes he cannot swim because he is African-American (of course, Dre can’t, but that’s far from the point). The greatest moment of “Sink or Swim” comes near the beginning when Anthony Anderson narrates a montage of the history of segregation in pools — including a hotel draining theirs to prevent movie star Dorothy Dandridge from “dipping her feet.” It’s a righteously angry rant which is backed by perfect soundtrack — a song by off one of hip-hop’s most surprisingly brilliant albums by a group whose glory days were sadly brief and who get short shrift these days when examining the greats of the game  — “Runnin'” by The Pharcyde.

In 1993, The Pharcyde scored a minor pop hit (and a #1 rap hit) with “Passin’ Me By,” from its debut album Bizarre Ride II Tha Pharcyde. The engaging classic featured an anthology of acrobatic rhymes about getting rejected by women — all told with a brave-for-rap vulnerability and self-deprecation. The entirety of the foursome’s debut record was a playful collection of thoughtful rhymes and silly skits.

While it was a clever, critically-well-received record, it would be hard to predict that the former dancers’ next record would be the remarkable Labcabincalifornia — a stunning collection of introspective but fierce songs about self empowerment, struggling relationships, racial stereotypes, and, essentially, being human. The second single, “Runnin'” — a slowly unveiled thesis on standing up for one’s self without allowing fame to blow up the ego, lain over a laid-back guitar-and-sax groove produced by the late J Dilla — was a minor crossover hit with a provocative video clothing the members of Pharcyde in seersucker suits overseeing a plantation of caucasian slaves. It’s a breathtaking single that perfectly backs up the Black-ish episode’s themes of subverting racism and building an unflappable sense of self which cannot be fazed by others’ perceptions.

Unfortunately, The Pharcyde never had another moment like that as inner strife split the band apart and they would not release their next album for five years, by then the band and Plain Rap and its follow-up, Humboldt Beginnings, were mostly overlooked by fans and critics alike, despite the overwhelming popularity of intellectual rappers like Outkast. However, in 1995, they achieved a classic moment, perfectly recalled and used by the producers of Black-ish. Enjoy the video below.

 

What We’re Streaming: Triumph Thinks We Have A Wonderful Collection of Presidential Candidates…

Triumph’s Election Special 2016

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If you ever wanted to see a rousing political panel show including the Dell Dude, Chocolate Rain Guy, and Sanjaya from American Idol, this is about as close as you’re gonna get. Midway through Triumph’s Election Special, those footnote figures of yore share the stage, and are given equal footing, with professional guest commentators such as Ron Fournier and Professor Alan Dershowitz. At center, moderating this motley bunch, is Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, that resilient canine puppet birthed from the uber-eccentric Conan O’Brien universe in the 1990s and voiced by comedian/cartoonist Robert Smigel.

That a two-decade running gag predicated on a certain type of Catskills personality — one mostly dormant since the halcyon days of Don Rickles — could feel timeless is a magical feat. Whatever the sleight of hand employed, it works as Triumph’s Election Special is consistently crass and furiously funny. While much of the humor is rooted in now well-worn stereotypes of the endless election season — Christie is fat, Sanders is old, Trump is crazy, Cruz is creepy, O’Malley is… is… well, exactly — Smigel is lightning swift on his feet and a master of crowd work and takes the tropes in wild and imaginative directions — from training an admittedly game Mike Huckabee on matching barbs with Trump to a downright quaint exchange with a local Iowan who used a stall directly after Christie.

He’s also genius at reading the room, sensing levels of discomfort, and milking the awkwardness in between. The longest bit comes when he visits the University of New Hampshire, home of a handbook on bias-free language, to confront a group of woefully unprepared PC-touting students in the world’s most delicate, yet emotionally deadly, game of Scared Straight. He senses blood in the water after offering a very personal, brutal, and genuinely funny, example of “trigger words,” passes out name tags with phrases like “Renaissance Faire Groupie” and “Future Psycho Nanny” and launches into an extended riff culminating in a hilarious experiment on the dangers of weaselly language. Frankly, I tend to find jokes about PC lazy and an excuse for casual bigotry, but Smigel, through Triumph, finds the natural essence of truth in such humor.

Even the only semi-flaw in the endeavor, the show’s loose structure, adds to the unpredictability and nervous energy. In addition to Triumph’s travels — from visiting a Trump rally (with shockingly good-sport attendees) to stalking an elusive Cruz from diner to hall to field — TES2016 features funny, non-dog-puppet moments, including Tim Meadows giving his all spouting insanities like “I won’t even visit Washington if elected” to credulous restaurant patrons, and FoxNews-style attractive women fanning out with mics seeing just how big a whopper Republicans will buy (and they manage to pull in Rick Santorum, although Rand Paul sees through it).

While he can seem brusque and overbearing at times, like Michael Moore, Triumph’s greatest triumphs (sorry) draw from letting celebrities and regular souls reveal themselves. Triumph’s Election Special 2016 is both a Daily Show: Indescision-level font of political insight and a raucous, ribald barrel of laughs.

Watch it on Hulu.

 

Deep In the Dial: Imitation of Life (1939)

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Welcome to Deep In the Dial, where we highlight films and television that satisfies, surprises, and wasn’t developed in a writer’s room this year. Tonight I heartily recommend Imitation of Life, with a side of flapjacks (I’m serious).

TCM airs the first adaptation of Fanny Hurst’s weepy story of mothers and daughters tonight at 8 p.m. (The best known adaptation, the Lana Turner-starring 1959 film by Douglas Sirk is absolutely worth your time.)

Claudette Colbert is single, white widow Bea, who befriends and takes in black widow Delilah as a boarder. They become fast friends and find success on the Atlantic City boardwalk thanks to Delilah’s pancakes. Many years later Bea’s spoiled daughter falls in love with her mother’s boyfriend, a plot conflict I only understand thanks to Jane to Virgin (because Xo’s love for Jane is communicated so gracefully, not because Jane is after Xo’s boyfriend).

But more significant is the story of Delilah and her daughter Peola, who struggles to navigate a racist world while passing and denying her parentage. I hope you’re ready for a good cry, because the film’s finale will destroy you.

What to Watch: 02/11/2016

It’s a busy night of Winter Premieres and gearing up for said returns (and we also recommend a love story that transcends time and rain and charmingly humorous movie psas), so let’s get right into the action:

NAVANI’S PICK(S):
Scandal/How to Get Away with Murder (or Shondaland) [ABC,10p]
Shondaland returns with midseason premieres for both Scandal and HTAWM which means tons of drama. It’s been six months seen Olicia and Fitz called it quits, let’s see how she is adjusting and if it will stick this time. On HTGAWM, everyone is trying to deal after the events of that awful night Annalise was shot.

JASON’S PICK:
Inside the Actors Studio [Bravo, 8p]
As if Talking Dead weren’t enough, Chris Hardwick dons a mustache and beard and breathes life into his classic character “James Lipton” as he invites Robert Kirkman and a most of the main Walking Dead cast into his teaching studio to see what word(s) Kirkman or Steven Yuen associates with “audience punking.”

KATHERINE’S PICK:
The Notebook [ABC Fam, 7:45p]
Follow Allie and Noah’s love affair in the ‘40s. Is it kind of messed up and abusive? Yeah! But Happy Valentine’s Day, you’ll never have a love like that, suckers!

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • Project Runway returns, sort of. It’s that lite version of it, Project Runway: All Stars, where Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum are replaced by Zanna Roberts Rassi and Alyssa Milano, and designers get a second chance to impress. While the winners are less celebrated, it’s fun to see new fashion from old favorites and the competition is usually (stress on usually) more amicable. Personally, we’re excited to see the deft tailorship and effervescent cheer of Season 13 finalist Kini.
  • FX’s Baskets, along with being one of the most original (and confidently paced) shows of the last few years, exhibits a refreshing brand of kindness in its nihilism. That may be tested tonight as a family dinner should bring together Chip Baskets, timid friend(?) Martha, mom Louie Anderson, and successful brother Dale (with Zach Gaifiniakis as both Chip & Dale…ah, ha, Chip & Dale…just got that).
  • What better day to start a four-narratives-weaved-into-one narrative than on its Valentine’s Day episode. The delightfully low-key Life in Pieces is that fabled rarity: a CBS sitcom worth remembering.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a fan of latching onto a show a day or two after its cancellation, you’re probably safe with Angel From Hell (CBS again). Despite a promising cast (Jane Lynch, Kevin Pollak) and potentially rich premise, the forces behind the show decided to play broad instead of edgy and wound up mostly flat (and often confusing).
  • Taut puzzle for Losties, Colony, continues its dystopian thrillride with episode five on USA tonight.
  • Workaholics and Idiotsitter continue to be their reliable quirky one-two punch on Comedy Central.
  • Finally if the cutesy cutaways to Kardashian Babies on American Crime Story have you longing for the reality series chronicling their adult days…well, first, you’re a different person than us. Also, you’re in luck as Keeping Up the Kardashians returns (in a sense) on E! with a sneak preview tonight.

Wednesday’s Best Reviewed: Younger

While you could argue TV Land began as something of a trail blazer, it forged forward in a backward-facing manner — as a showcase for television’s past aimed to appeal to Baby Boomers’ penchant for lapping up nostalgia. When the fledgling network moved to add original programming, it (rather rightfully) earned a reputation for unchallenging fare — at its best, the charming-enough Betty White one-liner fest Hot in Cleveland, worst case scenario, it’s “tired sitcom” (per NewsdayRetired at 35. However, the still relatively young network has recently been aces at renovating its image with sharp, well-received series such as The Jim Gaffigan Show and Younger — both of which have been wisely renewed despite less-than-stellar ratings.

Younger is an inspired show featuring Sutton Foster as 40-something divorcee Liza who, to combat age discrimination as she re-enters the workplace, gets herself made over to pass for 26. It triumphs in last night’s critic wars with an episode where Liza and her pals face a final battle with a ruthless social media-savvy foe. Otherwise, it’s a somewhat quiet night as few shows even garner write-ups from multiple logged sites.

Wednesday, February 10th’s Best: Younger (8.7/10)

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Younger juggled many plotlines this week while maintaining beaucoup drama. AV Club‘s Alexa Plane acknowledged some lack of development in the busy week, but contended the episode “has its fair share of quality laughs, character moments, and narrative propulsion.” Carissa Pavlica at TV Fanatic summed it up simply and sweetly in her 4-word opening paragraph: “Well that was fun!”

The Rest of the Night:

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – 8.0

While good ol’ Dennis Perkins at AV Club dreaded last night’s Frank-centric episode, observing that Danny DeVito’s character “is the grunting, rutting, sexist, gluttonous old bigot whose schtick works best in small doses,” he was surprised to find the episode “works.” IGN‘s Matt Fowler came from the other direction, exhorting “being inside nutso Frank Reynolds’ head for a day certainly sounds like a grand idea. Ultimately, he feels it “didn’t really land well” but he “applaud[s] the idea of changing the blueprint.”

American Crime – 7.5

A little discord between grade and review at AV Club, where a “trend of brilliant but brutal episodes” apparently only warrants a “B” grade from Pilot Viruet. Since in my mind, she’s arguably the premiere TV re-capper on the planet, I’ll take her word for it. Samantha McAllister at TV Fanatic distinctly connects with an episode where “things are really starting to heat up!”

Arrow – 7.2

After winning the night last week, taut comic-book serial Arrow falls back a bit on an episode which in many ways functions as a bridge towards the season’s end. It’s best assessment comes from TV Fanatic‘s Carissa Pavlica, who affirms “there were certainly some surprises,” but “unless we’re being fooled, it seems as though we have been given a pretty good indication of where the remainder of the season is heading” (mind you, not a bad thing). IGN’s Jesse Schedeen dipped it into its “Okay” category, but acknowledges that while the episode was “fairly uneven … it certainly set the stage for huge things to come.” In any case “certainly” seems to be the adverb of the day where Arrow is concerned.

Black-ish – 7.0

The Anthony Anderson-fronted sitcom tackles its primary subject stereotypes, in this case the focus is swimming, and the reception is not particularly bad. AV Club‘s LaToya Ferguson enjoys how “everyone goes into full Johnson mode,” while Vulture‘s Nichole Perkins had misgivings but was relieved by the “boatload of assumptions that lead to some much-needed laughs.” Both reviewers, however, agreed on playfully including buckets full of watery puns.

Supernatural – 6.7

Matt Fowler of IGN expertly referenced the episode title’s musical source(s), but was not overly impressed by much else — despite narrowly placing the episode in the “Good” category — labeling the hour “a middling-yet-apropos monster hunt that incorporated this week’s Valentine’s Day theme with a touch of It Follows.”

What We’re Streaming: Dope

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One of 2015’s best films, out for rent since December, is finally available to stream on Netflix. Malcolm, obsessed with 90s culture, and desperate to go to Harvard, is inexplicably stuck with a bag of dope in this charming, funny, and uplifting comedy.

It has humor, heart, and adult situations only a Harvard-bound teenager can survive.

Pairs well with House Party and Dear White People (available at Hulu).

Watch it at Netflix.