Stupid Bitch

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes a sitcom-y episode and elevates it with the self-loathing ‘You Stupid Bitch.’

The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has admittedly been something of a hit-or-miss affair for me.

Being a straight male, I don’t always find relatable situations within the comedy that engage me as a viewer. Sure, the insecurities and emotional trauma of lead character Rebecca Bunch (Golden Globe-winner Rachel Bloom) can be seen as universal. Yet, the nuance of the situation (as described in the main title song) is perhaps better received by those who have more directly experienced the same struggles.

Last week’s episode, “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!,” kind of changed all that. At its core, it was a standard sitcom affair: Rebecca inadvertently sent an amorous text intended for a gal pal to her crush Josh Chan. Hilarity ensues. That is, until Rebecca belts out what could be the signature number for the series – “You Stupid Bitch.”

The moment was a game changer for the series.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend plays with the title quite a bit through the series. When Rebecca moves to West Covina, California, (Only two hours from the beach! Four in traffic!) she dumps a litany of meds down her garbage disposal. It’s an attempt at a clean start after a near-complete mental break in the dull grey world of New York City. One could argue (fairly convincingly) that the subsequent elaborate musical numbers featured in the series are all depictions of Rebecca’s tentative grasp on reality. Maybe… although some of the songs are sung without Rebecca in the scene. Anyway…

The concept of Rebecca as the “crazy ex-girlfriend” is tricky ground to navigate. The main title song even refers to it as a “sexist term,” and that’s not wrong. Still, after watching the eleven aired episodes, “crazy” is too facile a term to apply here. It is much more nuanced than that. Rebecca Bunch is a deeply unhappy individual. Her “craziest” act is to pin all of her hopes and dreams on the unworthy Josh Chan and the one happy summer they shared at summer camp.

But what does “You Stupid Bitch” have to do with any of this? Let me explain.

As I’ve mentioned, “That Text Was Not Meant for Josh!” initially comes across as an extended sitcom. It’s another situation where Rebecca, having sent the text meant for her best friend, decides to break into Josh’s apartment to erase the offending text from his phone. Of course she’s caught by Josh. Her preferred way out of the situation is to build lie upon lie until she’s caught again, causing Josh to flee the situation deeply disturbed. It’s then that, amidst a pile of thematically and literally broken glass (don’t ask), Rebecca imagines herself on a dark stage, Chicago-style, belting out “You Stupid Bitch.”

Stupid Bitch

It took me a while to process the song and its meaning within the context of the series. On the surface, it’s a masochistic torture song. It’s a deeply, deeply uncomfortable moment despite the high-class trappings of the broken glass chandelier and her shimmering (if a tad too tight) ballgown. But it’s a watershed moment for the series. It’s the first time in the show that reality creeps into Rebecca’s musical fantasyland. “You Stupid Bitch” isn’t the offensive anti-feminist musical number it may appear to be on the surface. It’s Rebecca’s admittance of her deep-seeded emotional issues. It’s not a celebration of that, per se, but it’s an dramatization of that voice in your head (yes, even I’ve heard it) that effectively says, “You’re fat. You’re ugly. You’re worthless. And you ruin everything.” It’s the same inner voice that Amy Poehler describes in her book Yes, Please!

“Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, ‘You aren’t pretty,’ and you go, ‘I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.’ Sometimes you say, ‘Demon, I promise you I will let you remind me of my ugliness, but right now I am having hot sex so I will check in later.’ ”
Amy Poehler, Yes Please

Rebecca doesn’t quite yet have such an agreement with her inner demon. It controls her. It demands her attention. It radiates from every pore on her body with a nauseating aroma of self-loathing. Often, Rebecca is able to mask it. Mostly. But “You Stupid Bitch” is an ode to the demon, an ode to self-loathing. I’d argue it’s not even really Rebecca singing the song. It’s the demon, taunting her. The moment becomes all the more effective when an unseen audience joins in the song. They knew the tune. They’ve sang it before. They were all too willing to join in on the chorus.

That Rachel Bloom carries this moment off so effectively is a testament to her skill as an actress. It’s a raw, ugly moment, but she still manages to pull it off. “You Stupid Bitch” at once becomes the most uncomfortable cabaret act you’ve ever seen, the kind where it’s clear that the singer is about three pills away from being in a really dark place. I’ll posit that Rebecca isn’t crazy, but she’s a very damaged soul. “You Stupid Bitch” emerges as an anthem for everyone who’s ever doubted themselves. For someone who’s put themselves forward and failed. For someone who’s screwed things up and knows it’s all their fault. It’s an instantly relatable classic for anyone who struggles with self-esteem.

Whether or not “You Stupid Bitch” becomes buzzy enough to break into a viral moment remains to be seen. But it and the whole of “That Text Was Not Meant For Josh!” provides compelling evidence that Rachel Bloom is possibly one of the most broadly talented comic actresses working on television. The risk of culminating an otherwise comic episode in such a brave, ugly, beautiful, haunting, and vaguely self-indulgent song could have laid a giant turd on the audience. It did not. I actually walked away from the episode thinking, “Shit, that was brave.”

The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. Will Emmy take notice of this “Stupid Bitch?” The chances are growing stronger with every episode. It would be a remarkably bold choice on the part of the Television Academy, and, if Crazy Ex-Girlfriend aired on Showtime as originally intended, then it would be a no-brainer. As it stands, Rachel Bloom needs every ounce of buzz she can get.

Here’s me adding my voice to the chorus singing her praises.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend airs Mondays on the CW at 8pm ET. Check local listings. The show is also available on CW.com, Hulu, Amazon, and iTunes.

Mulder and Scully

Post the “201 Days of The X-Files” experiment, ADTV takes a look at the legendary love between Mulder and Scully

It’s taken me a really long time to wrap my head around this piece about Mulder and Scully. There’s no doubt that all manners of love exist between the two characters. It absolutely does. But it’s more complicated than that. How do you capture, in honor of Valentine’s Day, a relationship that’s now 20-odd years in the making? How do you write about a relationship between two characters that works on such deeply emotional core that it’s rarely explored outright?

I would argue that there is a deep, abiding love between Mulder and Scully, Fox and Dana. It’s often buried in protocol and alien abductions and conspiracies and flippancy and exasperation. But it’s definitely there. It is in every glance David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson share. It is in Mulder’s immense respect for Scully’s raw intelligence. It is in Scully’s playful banter with Mulder as his seemingly casual flippancy counteracts her Type A dominance. Yes, there’s the much-anticipated Big Kiss from the “Millennium” episode (read my reaction here). But their connection goes way back before that.

Mulder and ScullyIn the first episode (“Pilot“), Scully is added to the X-Files to keep tabs on the seemingly disconnected Mulder. On first impression, she is immediately bemused by him. He’s an odd creature, one potentially deserving of the FBI Academy nickname of “Spooky.” Yet, as the episodes progress, Scully becomes more and more infatuated by Mulder. Initially, she needs to protect him – the mother figure becoming mindful of the petulant and wayward child. Quickly though, the attraction morphs into something more. Something based on admiration and respect. It takes a while for Scully to fully give herself into Mulder’s wild conspiracy theories, and their playful banter based in intensely palpable chemistry is the stuff of legends. By the second or third seasons, you begin to understand her attraction for Mulder. She’s infatuated with his love of the X-Files. She’s been gob-smacked by his passion for the truth. To Scully, Mulder’s quest is an intoxication. It’s something she harbors for decades.

Mulder’s affection for Scully is far more clear. He’s an awkward geek, and she is a geek goddess. That’s about as plain and simple as it gets. As Scully tries to grow a personal life outside of her relationship with Mulder, he casts off flares of jealousy. It’s a jealousy that is entirely reciprocated as Mulder explores relationships of his own. However, neither is able to sustain a long-term relationship. Their attentions are focused elsewhere. They’re obsessed with each other.

There are countless examples through the series of the blossoming love between the two characters. There’s “Arcadia” where they pretend to be a married couple buying a house in suburbia. There’s “Requiem” where Mulder cuddles affectionately with a sick Scully. She squeezes his hand for reassurance in “Pusher.” He teaches her to switch a baseball bat in “The Unnatural.” They slow dance, gazing into each other’s eyes in “The Post-Modern Prometheus.” They share an intimate moment over their newborn son, William, in “Existence.” By the time we reach the proper series finale in “The Truth,” the dozens of “meet cute” moments shared between the two culminate in a clinging hotel room embrace as the scene fades to black. The series has accepted the two as a couple, and they venture out into that dark night as one.

Mulder and Scully

That is until The X-Files returned with its limited run this January. After spending years together as a couple, Mulder and Scully have separated and gone their separate ways. Granted, they seem to remain sparingly in contact with each other. The estrangement is reflected by the absence of the X-Files in Mulder’s life: he’s lost his passion, and she has lost her passion for him. When the two are yet again thrown together with the reopening of the X-Files, their connection grows to be as strong as in the heyday of their relationship. They have fun again. They enjoy rekindling their deep friendship – one that, I suspect, never truly went away. Even the strongest of fires eventually fades into simmering ashes. But there is no doubt the passions are still there between the two.

In “Home Again,” Scully’s mother has a heart attack. Scully rushes to her side, but the prospects appear hopeless. Mulder continues working their case (the Trashman episode that poorly mixes monster-of-the-week horror with dying parent pathos), but he cannot stay away from his partner in pain. As Scully stands heartbroken near Margaret Scully’s death bed, she receives a phone call from Mulder. All he says is “I’m here.” She looks up, and there he is at the door. He embraces her, and she melts into his arms. It may all sound very dime store love story, but the truth is that their long-standing passion may have waned but has never been snuffed out. They need to be needed by each other the way any great romantic pair would. They are two sides of the same coin, fused together eternally like the coin from “Dreamland” that stayed in Mulder’s desk until the end of the series.

In all of television romances, there isn’t one as perhaps as humanely real as Mulder and Scully. Their central story isn’t always a happy one. They flirt. They acknowledge their connection. They even connect for a brief period. They break up. They revolve around each other like the Earth and its moon. They are an intoxicating pair of lovers whose deep affection goes beyond hookups and one-night stands. They are eternal and immortal, the pair of them.

Mulder says it best…

“Scully, you have to believe me. Nobody else on this whole damn planet ever does or will. You’re my one in… five billion.”


ABC’s Lost is known for its labyrinthine mythology. It should be known for its great romance.

Television has celebrated couples like Rachel & Ross and Joey & Pacey. These are couples I have never cared about or related to. The only time I have dedicated my time to find out if two characters fall in love was when I was obsessed with Flavor of Love. I racked my brain to think about a romance I passionately rooted for. I initially only thought of Golden Girls’ Dorothy and Stan. After taking love a little more seriously I contemplated How to Get Away With Murder’s Conner & Oliver. In the end I went with a couple from one of my first television phenomenons: Lost’s Rose & Bernard.

The two were introduced as recurring characters that never contributed to Lost‘s mystery. Rose was introduced as a woman grieving her dead husband on the beach clutching his wedding ring. Jack comes to comfort her when she reveals that she knows Bernard is still alive. I (and just about every viewer) dismissed her as a lover in shock and grieving. Later on it was revealed that Bernard is still alive and it introduced the most inevitable moments on the show, their dramatic reunion.


The setup was stereotypical, Rose and Bernard were on opposite ends of a luscious tropical beach and the second they locked eyes and moved into the most genuine embrace. If this were any other show, then the scene would have climaxed with the two running into each other’s arms and making out while waves crashed in the background. ABC was never going to allow a moment like this to go to a couple in the fifties or sixties, however. Instead that moment went to Sun and Jin. What made Rose and Bernard’s moment genuine was the look of pure relief on their faces. Everyone told them they were wrong and would never reunite in that lifetime but all they wanted to know was whether or not the love of their life was safe.

Rose battled cancer, and Bernard was almost left alone in the world after waiting a lifetime for his soulmate. Before the famed Lost plane crash, Rose was ready to give up and prepare for death but the island gave the couple a second chance at life. Once they figured out the island was keeping Rose alive they made the easy decision of living the rest of their lives together in paradise. Leaving the material world behind, they ran away from the other survivors and built a hidden hut in the wilderness and even took Vincent with them.


Rose and Bernard were above petty storylines. They were never involved in any love triangles or “will they or will they not” storylines. As characters, they never involved themselves with the bullshit of the other Lost survivors. One of Rose’s final moments of dialogue was even an exasperated “it’s always something with you people,” a line that not only fits the main characters of Lost but also every modern young couple on television. So while everyone else remembers the love triangles of Brenda, Dylan, and Kelly I will be on the island with Rose and Bernard (and Vincent too)!

brad and ted

Megan celebrates Brad and Ted from Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude for Valentine’s Day

I’ve never been much of a Ross and Rachel shipper. To me, they never had very much chemistry on Friends and were better apart (“We were on a break!”) than they were together.

I know this is pop culture sacrilege, since “Ross and Rachel” are often put in the TV canon next to couples like “Sam and Diane” and “Bert and Ernie,” but they never held a candle to my favorite TV will-they-or-won’t-they pair of all time: Brad (Kelly Brown) and Ted (David Lascher) from Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude, who flirted and fought as co-workers at the Bar None Ranch from 1989 to 1991.

Even though I watched this show as a youngster, I knew this was truly a special TV couple. While some may assume I’m relying on ‘90s nostalgia for my memories of Bred (just officially coined this hybrid couple name), I can tell you that I own all five seasons of Nickelodeon’s second live-action series ever, and that this couple still holds up upon multiple viewings as an adult.

I’ve always hated when television shows tell you that you should want a couple together, rather than making you want it to happen (kind of like the way Gretchen kept trying to make fetch happen in Mean Girls). TV love is meant to happen naturally. For example, in 30 Rock’s last season, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) marries Criss Chros (James Marsden). The show kept trying to convince us they were a good couple (admittedly, the “Han Solo’d” bit is cute), but mostly it felt like we were being cajoled into this thought because it was the show’s last season. She and Marsden had about as much chemistry as Tracy Jordan and Nermal.

But with Brad and Ted, it was so easy to want them to be together because of their witty banter and the ways in which they understood each other, even when they hated each other. When they’re handcuffed together in the appropriately titled episode “Ted and Brad Get Handcuffed,” Ted connects himself to Brad with what’s supposed to be the Great Zamboni’s trick handcuffs (they belong to the Tulsa Police Department) and hilarity ensues. The two serve dinner together (“He’s a trainee. You can just ignore him. I try to.”) and end up having to spend the night in a bunkbed (“Arm spasm!””Leg cramp!”). In the end, Brad learns that her words can sting and that it’s not so bad spending time with Ted, while Ted learns that sometimes there’s a reason why no one wants to be around him. They may have only been conjoined together for one night, but the connection builds after this episode.

brad and ted Later on in season 5, when Ted is accused of stealing Brad’s birthday money in “Presumed Stupid,” Brad apologizes for jumping to conclusions with a sheepish grin. Ted responds, “I know.” It’s a subtle, lovely moment, even on a kids TV show.

The strength of Brad and Ted as a couple lies in Brown and Lascher’s acting, and also in the writing team that consisted of Graham Yost (Justified) and Lisa Melamed (Manhattan).

Since Brad and Ted, I evaluate most TV couples based on the Hey Dude scale. Some come close (Luke and Lorelei from Gilmore Girls), others not so close (Lily and Marshall from How I Met Your Mother), and others start out great and then get annoying (Jess and Nick from New Girl). But not one couple has a special place in my heart like Brad and Ted. 

ADTV’s Aspects of Love series continues through Valentine’s Day.

The Simpsons

One of TV’s most bittersweet loves is that of Ralph Wiggum for Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons

When you think of famous couples on television, your mind probably goes towards romantic comedic pairings: Ross & Rachel, Ricky & Lucy, Carrie & Big. As the big V-Day approaches, I am most reminded of a couple that didn’t make it in the love department. In the fourth season of The Simpsons, creator Matt Groening introduced us to a couple that would not be: Lisa Simpson and Ralph Wiggum.

Until “I Love Lisa,” Ralph Wiggum hadn’t really been featured front and center, but writer Frank Mula was able to capture the innocence of a realistic first crush hilariously in this episode. I’m not sure how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in elementary schools nowadays, but I distinctly remember making a mailbox to sit on my desk for Valentine’s Day cards to be delivered. In “I Love Lisa,” the middle Simpson child feels bad when Ralph Wiggum receives nothing in his mailbox (what kind of pre-It Gets Better world do these little bastards live in anyway?). Instead of looking the other way, Lisa quickly delivers a Valentine to Ralph, and he’s immediately smitten.

The Simpsons

Ralph Wiggum is an easy target for ridicule. Within the first 5 minutes of the episode, he admits that he’s eating a crayon, and he glues his head to his shoulder while constructing his Valentine’s Day mailbox. Some of his more notorious moments on The Simpsons involve other characters laughing at him, and that’s what makes “I Love Lisa” such a special entry in this massive animated canon.

“I Love Lisa” perfectly captures the feeling of a first crush. When Lisa acknowledges Ralph’s loneliness and pain, she reaches out to comfort him in a seemingly innocent way. When Lisa wishes Ralph a Happy Valentine’s Day, he sighs in such an enamored way that it reminds us of our own schoolyard crushes. Later in the episode, Chief Clancy Wiggum tells his son that a way into a girl’s heart is persistence. Ralph manages to get tickets for the Krusty the Klown anniversary special. When he accidentally humiliates her on live television, she lashes out at him in such a cruel way that we can “actually pinpoint the second his heart rips in half.” Who hasn’t felt this way? Who hasn’t felt the complete and sudden evaporation of those feelings?

In his heartbreak, Ralph then delivers a Tony-caliber performance as George Washington in the Presidents’ Day play. It may sound cheesy, but it’s totally an example of how heartbreak can drive you to achieve great things. Ralph may not have wanted to be a great actor, but his rejection led to an acting breakthrough—and he was only 8 years old!

Lisa Simpson and Ralph Wiggum may not have ridden off into the sunset together (Milhouse is still holding out hope), but “I Love Lisa” is a perfect example that you don’t always need a storybook ending. Sometimes you can have fleeting feelings or brief crushes and you come out the other side a more experienced person. Falling in love doesn’t always guarantee an ending, but it can shape who you are.

ADTV’s Aspects of Love series continues through Valentine’s Day.

Editor’s Note: Robin kicks off our Valentine’s Day week series Aspects of Love where we take a look at great television couples and the various forms of love they represent. Our first is dedicated to the famed love affairs of Sam/Diane and Sam/Rebecca in the classic sitcom Cheers.

The decades of television that have graced our homes has given us, the audience, all manner of romances between characters we love. Love stories fuel all genres of TV as they do in our own lives. You don’t need to be astute to find branches of romance in detective series and documentaries, yet more directly they thrive in commercials and reality TV these days. The popular discourses of drama and comedy of course make love stories a thing of habit and necessity. When we look back over the years at the shows that have captured our very own hearts and minds, we can all pick our favorites. In recent decades, Friends‘ Ross and Rachel saga has become, and was then, one of the all time great TV romances. In similarly effective fashion, The Office‘s Pam and Jim was built on the enduring waiting game – that they were unable to be together for so long.

Ross Gellar and Jim Halpert, though they had to work hard to be lovingly acquainted with Rachel Green and Pam Beasley respectively, would live happily ever after as far as we were allowed to experience. Let me, then, bring Sam Malone to the table. The charismatic, social predator and retired Red Sox pitcher-come-bartender has not one, but two, prospering romances he can brag about. Both of Sam’s love stories depicted in the American classic Cheers were hard-earned, bittersweet, and perhaps ultimately, not meant to be. They also formed a great stem of the show’s successful comedic narrative that spent over a decade on our small screens.

Watching the pilot of Cheers again and the titles rolling, I get warm, wondrous chills. We meet Diane Chambers right away and discover she is due to be married. Entering the bar, Diane immediately gets an idea for Sam’s casual relations with women when she is put on the spot, having to lie to a woman calling for him. Of course, Diane does not like this. She is a noble, well-to-do woman – we already know Sam and Diane are worlds apart.

Diane’s husband-to-be Sumner (don’t laugh) is an intellect, educated, and credible – none of those traits jump out when asked to describe Sam. Long before her fiancé returns to the bar we already feel attached to Diane. As sophisticated as she may be, this better life with a professor may not be for her in actuality. Who is she trying to kid? She does not know it yCheerset, but the familiar surroundings of the bar appear more alluring, even if Diane would never have accepted such a situation in her wildest of dreams. Or nightmares. Diane calls Sumner (I told you, don’t laugh) distinguished, Sam calls him goofy. Both are right, but this is going to be hard work. For both of them.

I know Cheers was not pitched as a romance, but the seeds are deeply sewn early on. Clear intentions that this opposites attract relationship is going to be a significant part of the comedy’s appeal. As the cast of now regular characters roll into the bar in that first episode, characters we feel we know better than some of our friends, talk of sports are not an instant mix with the book-reading Diane. She is an outcast here, almost a pristine feline amidst a pack of amiable wolves. She will somehow fit right in. Even as wise or well-bred as she may be, Sam has bartender’s intuition, and this tells a more direct, honest take on relationships and the people in them. Including hers. Sam has kindness it seems, too, seeing the despair in this woman, offering her a job as a waitress. Although she deems beneath her at first, we discover she is not qualified to do anything – but has something of a photographic memory for cocktail drinks apparently. Perfect. Plus, that charming, well-meaning persona of Diane could give the Cheers bar a new dynamic.

Some five seasons on, times are a-changing at Cheers bar with the corporate take-over, including those new staff uniforms. Going to take some getting used to. With the re-branding comes a supposed change of scenery for Sam as he ventures off on his boat with the money he made from the bar’s sale. His relationship with Diane coming to a close after such a long journey. For all of us. Except Sam returns, a lot like Diane in the pilot, his intended plans go awry and the Cheers bar will be his docking station or saving grace.

This time around the new lady in his life, Rebecca Howe, is the boss, and her no-nonsense, confident manner means she’ll be domineering and strong also in their eventual romantic to-and-fro. This will be a tough chase for Sam in much different ways to how his conforming to Diane meant varying degrees of self-awareness and change. Rebecca shuts down Sam’s immediate advances when they first meet, and, in fact, she claims she is repelled by him. Not a good start.


Rebecca’s hard shell will eventually be cracked, not just by Sam, starting with his openly nostalgic feelings towards the bar – made the more interesting given that she can read him and his sly ways like a book. It seems his own male pride is something of an obstacle too. Sam was once a womanizer, sure, but he is likable partly because of his show of emotions from time to time, be it to manipulate or actually express how he feels. With Rebecca, behind the power suit and big hair, she carries an emotional weight of her own. She clearly has some neurotic issues of insecurity of her own hidden away. When Sam latches onto this he will not let go. Their see-saw cat and mouse game of love is just beginning made more empowering by the forward-thinking, brash similarities between Sam and Rebecca. Though both fail to acknowledge this just yet. In fact, Rebecca is very unlucky in love indeed until she final caves in to Sam’s advances.

To add, with Rebecca, the creators of Cheers clearly wanted not necessarily a polar opposite of Diane, but a very different woman indeed. Not just for the show’s progression but likely to give Sam a brand new challenge in his romantic escapades. Kirstie Alley’s character was so far from Shelley Long’s in many ways, the hair, the poise, the profession, physical appearance. Shall I go on? Long’s departure was the choice of the actress in the end, but the writers incorporated this into the comedy’s blood without losing the fans or the ratings. In my view, Alley was a great replacement,  enticing and funny, and again in different ways to Long. Rebecca was perhaps my favorite as a boy growing up loving Cheers and developing crushes on TV women. I, though, had an easier ride than Sam Malone.

Both of Sam’s relationships had countless occasions of flirting one minute and bickering with each other the next, constantly reminding themselves and their love interests they were not right for each other. This may be just as well. Look at how even the great TV love stories like Ross and Rachel and Jim and Pam had little place to go once the couples were finally joined to live happy ever after. Cheers showed us that TV romance can blossom in the attraction, the chase, the antics of two people who we want to be together, but in the end won’t be.

Whether it is meant to be or not, love is wanting to be where everybody knows your name.

And they’re always glad you came.

American Crime

American Crime was one of the most critically acclaimed shows of last season, and it generated quite the conversation when it debuted. Not only did it feature an all-star cast, but it eventually became one of the most buzzed about awards contenders of the last season. Both Felicity Huffman and Timothy Hutton turned in noticeable performances, but it was Regina King who walked away with an Emmy win a few months ago. It’s one of the few limited series programs that isn’t overly flashy with its season-to-season storylines, and it certainly helps with the premiere of season two. If this premiere is any indication, we are in for a compelling season of drama.

Instead of continuing with the story from the first season, the actors get to switch gears to play other people, and the storyline of Season Two of Crime is totally different. Set in Indianapolis, the pilot centers on Taylor Blaine, a high school athlete who finds himself the subject of humiliation when pictures of him drunk at a party circulate around his prestigious private school. When confronted by his single mother,  Anne (an emotional Lili Taylor), her son confesses that he was sexually assaulted by his fellow basketball teammates. Or at least he thinks he was.

When we originally reviewed the first episode of the first season, the gang at ADTV seemed a bit intimidated by Crime’s drama. It immediately delved into a horrific murder and rape that might have also scared off viewers. The second season deals with a traumatic subject, but it doesn’t push your face in it. We are immediately questioning a lot of the characters’ motives and interactions, and that’s partially what makes this a curious hour of television. Huffman stars as the headmistress of school, and one can’t help but raise their eyebrow when she says, “we mean what we say” to Anne to assure her that the alleged rape will be investigated.

The relationships between parents and their children is obviously going to be a running theme throughout this season, and the familial dynamics are already very established. Regina King’s Terri expects her athlete superstar son to make sure he makes a name for himself and criticizes him for passing the ball at a key moment in a basketball game. In the next scene, Taylor makes his tearful confession to Anne, and she is heartbroken to find out that no one helped her son when he was obviously drunk and confused. It’s also very clear that these parents will do whatever it takes to protect and guard their children. Huffman has always been a favorite of mine, but her supportive headmistress has her school’s reputation at stake. Watching her through this season will be exciting.

Coming after the television debut of the CNN documentary (and Oscar hopeful) The Hunting Ground, American Crime’s choice of subject matter is timely and disturbing. The Kirby Dick documentary briefly mentions that young men and boys are not “expected” to become victims of rape or sexual assault, but Crime is clearly not afraid to discuss these topics. Surely, this season will touch upon homophobia and the unrelenting culture of sex that we live in and are barely capable of controlling. It may be dramatic, but it is also vital.

The Affair

Showtime’s Golden Globe-winning drama The Affair wrapped up its critically acclaimed second season on December 20 and achieved exactly what a season finale should. It answered questions asked by viewers since its first season and whetted viewers’ appetites for a third season by putting one of its main characters into even more dire straights, resulting in series-high ratings. It was a fitting end to a season that deftly avoided the dreaded sophomore slump thanks to the sharp eye and gentle guiding hand of show runner and series co-creator Sarah Treem.

It’s amazing to consider that The Affair is Treem’s first series as show runner. After writing and co-producing HBO’s acclaimed In Treatment as well as How to Make It In America and writing episodes of Netflix’s House of Cards, Treem guides her series with the confidence and foresight of someone well beyond her experience. Additionally, her work is perhaps best appreciated for showcasing a wide array of female experiences, a rarity in a medium long dominated by men. The Affair is a richer experience because of the perspectives she brings.

Sarah Treem recently discussed The Affair‘s second season with AwardsDaily TV and offered a few hints as to what to expect from Season Three.

Note: Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t yet seen the finale.

ADTV: The finale had one thing in common with last year’s finale in that two major events are seen in completely different lights. In the Season Two finale, you have Alison making a confession Noah about Joanie’s parentage in two dramatically different ways. Is this a recollection issue, or are the narrators spinning the truth for their own gain?

Treem: This season they weren’t telling their stories to the detective, per se, so it’s not about spinning the truth for gain. What I try to get at, when the POVs diverge, is the emotional truth of moments, instead of the literal truth. From Noah’s POV, Alison told him about Joanie’s paternity in order to save their relationship. That’s why she’s crying on the steps as she tells him. She’s sorry and she wants to be forgiven. From Alison’s POV, she tells him the truth in order to leave him. In order to break the relationship apart. Now the “truth” is probably somewhere in the middle. Alison probably wants to be forgiven and she wants to escape. Most of the time, especially in relationships, we want both things at the same time. We want to be forgiven and punished. We want to be joined and freed. Like last year, I wanted to push the storytelling differences at the critical moment beyond the literal – so the audience wouldn’t waste time trying to figure out “what really happened.” It doesn’t really matter, does it? Whether it was night or day. Whether she was on the steps or listening to Scotty sing. What matters, at least to me, is not how Alison tells Noah… it’s why.

The Affair

ADTV: Season Two saw the much-publicized broadening of the show’s perspectives beyond Noah and Alison, and the critical and audience reaction to this change has been overwhelmingly positive. Looking back over the season, what was the biggest challenge for the writers with this shift?

Treem: I’d say servicing everyone’s stories. Suddenly we had four arcs to do justice for, not two, and so the amount of storytelling we need to accomplish increased exponentially. That’s why we also added on two more episodes this year. We just needed more time.


ADTV: The ninth episode actually had no dueling perspectives, instead relying on the four main characters’ vantage points during a hurricane. What drove your creative team to abandon the standard structure for this particular outing?

Treem: We’ve always been interested in doing a 4-way split, and this seemed like the episode to do it because the hurricane was a way to unite their experiences even if they never interacted. I was surprised by how quickly people assumed that the various story lines were suddenly being told by an “objective” POV because we didn’t label the character’s screen time by name. That was actually something Showtime wanted me to do but I thought, by this point in the storytelling, the audience understood that nothing in this show is ever objective. And I wanted to make sure everyone knew this episode was being told in continual, progressive time. So we put the times of day on screen instead of the character names. That seemed to confuse a lot of people.  Live and learn.


ADTV: My personal favorite episode in Season Two has to have been Helen’s (Maura Tierney’s) stoned comedy of errors resulting in her arrest. Tonally, this episode felt completely different than anything else you’ve done over both seasons. What led you down this path with Helen?

Treem: Helen is like so many women in that she has spent years and years taking care of everyone else before herself. And that’s her way to keep control over her life. If she plays by all the rules and puts herself last, she feels like she somehow deserves what she has. When that system breaks down, Helen’s boundaries break down with it. And because she has no practice fucking up, she’s not very good at it. So one bad decision leads to another and then another until a juggernaut ensues and the consequences become disastrous. So that was the idea behind the story of the episode. But credit for the execution goes entirely to the writer, Anya Epstein, the director, John Dahl, and Maura herself, who is naturally a very funny actress. She’s fearless.

The Affair

ADTV: One of the things I love most about the show is the Season Two focus on such amazingly strong and robust female characters. One running theme through the series has been variations on motherhood. Alison and Athena. Helen and Margaret.  Cherry and her boys. What do you think the show ultimately says about motherhood, and is this a theme you’ll continue to explore in Season Three?

Treem: I also love all the mother-and-daughter axises at play this season. One of my favorite lines from the season is when Athena says to Alison “How long are you going to spend seeing every decision life offers you as another opportunity to prove you’re not me?” And Helen and Margaret, of course, have that epic showdown where Helen accuses Margaret of sabotaging her happiness, which then has reverberations in Helen’s relationship with Whitney… and Alison now has a daughter…. so all these women in our series are continually wrestling with their matrimonial legacies. I read once that the child learns to understand herself through her relationship with her mother and the world through her relationship with her father. That might be pop psychology mumbo-jumbo, but it always struck me as truthful. In terms of Season Three, I don’t know. I don’t like to retread territory. I have a feeling Season Three may be more about fathers and sons.


ADTV: Speaking of the Lockharts, now that you’ve dug into their past a bit, they’re starting to feel like a raucous Greek tragedy. Are there more Lockhart secrets to uncover and will you continue to explore the Lockhart family roots? Will Cole continue to struggle with “the curse” on his family?

Treem: I’m not sure. I’m very much interested in the idea that all four of these characters are trying to separate from their parents and not repeat their mistakes and all of them are failing at it. I don’t think Cole’s relationship with Cherry has been explored in enough depth yet. There was originally a scene in the finale which gave us more insight into Cherry’s character but we had to cut it for time. So I definitely don’t feel like that well has been exhausted yet.


ADTV: My personal take on Season One versus Season Two is that we’re shifting from a season of excitement over the new sexual encounters between Noah and Alison to a season of reality as they (and their extended family) deal with the fallout of their actions. Through this, most viewers seem to loathe Noah. Was that by design initially? Where did you want to take Noah over the second season?

Treem: In the first season, the reason I think viewers like Noah more was because he seemed so put upon. His in-laws were horrible, his wife didn’t stuck up for him, he was constantly being emasculated. But this season, all of those external obstacles fell away and he got everything he ever wanted. The fact that he didn’t say no to any of it – that he became self-absorbed and myopic – really bothered people but that was the plan all along. Give a man everything he’s ever wanted and see how he responds. Usually, that scenario doesn’t end well. Noah says in the first episode that he liked being married because “you give up certain civil liberties to live in a secure state.” He demonstrates a lot of insight into his own character in that line. He knows that he, like most of us, needs boundaries. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. The second season was intended to be Noah learning that lesson the hard way.


ADTV: Episode 10 saw Cynthia Nixon appear as Marilyn, Noah and Alison’s couples therapist. It was an enlightening and frank way of exploring Noah’s conflicting appetites as well as a neat throwback to your HBO series In Treatment. Will we see more characters in therapy over Season Three?

Treem: Probably not. I think it worked well because of where it was placed in this season – on the heels of the episode where Noah had finally hit his nadir. We figured, by that point, the viewers would be incredibly hungry for a window into Noah’s head. And Anya (who, again, wrote that brilliant episode) and I had both worked on In Treatment, so we were excited to pay homage to our experience on that show, which had been so meaningful for both of us. But as much as I want to bring Cynthia Nixon back to this universe, I don’t see her therapist’s office becoming a regular set.

The Affair

ADTV: If Season One is about exploring a blossoming relationship between Noah and Alison and Season Two explores the outcome of their actions, then what theming can we expect from Season Three?  

Treem: I think if Season One was the affair itself, and Season Two was the immediate aftermath, Season Three is the legacy of the affair. How what happened has altered the DNA of all these characters respective psychologies forever. As Helen says to Noah about Whitney in Episode 8, “There are some mistakes that a person doesn’t recover from and I think this is one of them.” I don’t mean to say that all the characters are now forever screwed. But they’re altered. They’ve lost their collective innocence.


ADTV: Finally, I have to ask, what made you choose “House of the Rising Sun” for Scott (Colin Donnell) to perform? Was this is grand farewell from the series, or will there be more Scott flashbacks in Season Three?

Treem: No, Scotty is gone. But “House of the Rising Sun” is basically a warning… don’t live the way I have lived or else. The truth is that Scotty is probably the least morally complicated character on the show…. he was just a hustler and not a very good one. But all the other characters have reason to question their choices and fear the consequences. Everyone always wants to know if The Affair will prove to be a morality tale … like “don’t cheat or your life will fall apart.” I don’t see it that way… I’m not that interested in the morality of monogamy. But I am interested in archetypal stories. In the idea that we share a collective unconscious and we are all sort of tragic characters blindly replaying the same scenes over and over again for the pleasure of the gods. So there was something about the tone of “House of the Rising Sun” that appealed to me on a kind of primal level. That and it’s in the public domain. So it was cheap!

The Affair‘s Maura Tierney is up for a Supporting Actress Golden Globe, which will be announced in a televised ceremony on Sunday, January 10. Both seasons of the acclaimed drama are available on Showtime’s streaming service with Season One available on iTunes and Netflix. Season Three will premiere on Showtime in Fall 2016.

Downton Abbey

Editor’s Note: Minor spoilers of Downton Abbey’s sixth season ahead.

Given it’s genre, style, and period scale, Downton Abbey does not demand a lot from its audience, and in return we do not expect a cluster of story-lines involving explosions, suspense and anything of the supernatural variety. Even Edith at one point during the show’s sixth and final season seems bewildered why people would want to come to the house to look around when an open day for charity is arranged. Edith and other such characters don’t fully grasp the interest we everyday folk could have in their daily lives, the breadth of arbitrary drama of the higher and lower classes in 1925. The truth is, Downton Abbey has captured television audiences from day one, or rather from its fictional depiction starting in 1912. We have sat down in our homes and spent so much time with these good people, balancing the discourse of lifestyles between those that live downstairs and serve, and those that live upstairs, considered the privileged ones.DA2

There have been murmurs that Downton Abbey was becoming rather formulaic, more appropriately losing some audience attention and commitment, over the previous season or so. That the announcement of the final season was met in some circles with a mopped brow and a phew. That is to say, it was a timely decision perhaps. As I have said before audiences are a fickle bunch. We get bored. Perhaps then we can leap into the last ever season of Downton Abbey with a clear attention span, sit back and enjoy with an open mind. Let’s get some none-cynical perspective then. Even incredibly popular shows like Mad Men and Friends had their dips, and ultimately had to close their doors to the public eventually. Shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad nailed the final curtains in style and with dignity intact, whereas shows like Dexter and the over-done How I Met Your Mother made a real mess of their final episodes. A shame. I am here to inform you, then, that Downton Abbey‘s final invitation to the grand house is a jolly good success.

Downton Abbey sweeps into the sixth season with a light breeze, continuing perhaps too familiarly where we left off. Although the show has a tendency to stay on safe grounds, you can’t accuse the show-makers of jolting their narrative or production style for the sake of saving itself. Downton Abbey is nothing if not consistent and respectful to its audience. Its drama keeps afloat at a compelling enough, steady pace, and has little reason or right to rock the boat. As season six opens we are gift-wrapped the story strands we just about remember – Carson and Mrs. Hughes getting married; the Green murder still hanging over Anna and Mr. Bates; Lady Mary is unaware of little Marigold’s true status. I could go on, but you know the drill.DA3

As the final episodes roll along, also including a Christmas special more timely to UK audiences, Downton Abbey begins to effectively and gradually tie up the loose ends – though the writing has always been and is now very tightly woven. There’s some new sprinkles of conflict and resolution added here: a recurring worry about economy and that the service industry as they know it is close to an end; characters are introduced to ailments such as the palsy or pernicious anaemia; there’s the opposing inner family intentions for the local hospital becomes a source of squabbling and scowling. So on and so forth.

Bickering and disapproval and general things frowned upon are common and engaging at Downton. There’s mercifully more of the double act that is Isobel and Violet, providing a high level of sarcasm and iron fist mentality. Carson and Robert continue to dampen general conversations with their droll outlooks, though both have good reason to simmer down and wise up here. Even Daisy has her moments, unable to keep her mouth closed she mixes minor, uncontrolled tantrums with an innocent common sense. As for Edith and Mary, the unhealthiest sibling rivalry around, there’s certainly more cat-fights before the redemption.

There’s plenty of love to go around though. Future husbands and wives all over the place. I know, there’s always some form of pairing off in process, but the final season seems to be heading full throttle in true match-making fashion to get as many of these will-they-wont-they suspicions to their rightful conclusion. I won’t give too much away of course, except to say it was obvious race driver Henry would be an object of Mary’s affections this time around – though in true Mary style she is hardly going to make it easy for herself. Edith bumps into an old acquaintance but struggles to completely relax with the Marigold situation hanging over her. Downstairs the wedded couples do allow some light relief, with Mr. Bates and Anna finally getting some good news, and the comic turbulence of the Carson newly weds settling into what will eventually be married bliss. There’s also the chemistry between Molesley and Miss Baxter to keep an eye on, and the more stubborn exchanges between Daisy and Andy. Even Mrs. Pattmore finds she may be on the receiving end of some wooing.

DA9I would implore those following Downton Abbey already to stay tuned. More so I am speaking to those who perhaps thought they had given up on the show. Don’t. The last season is an accomplished farewell on all counts. On most counts. Not always spectacular for sure, but it can not be said the handling of the drama, the wit, the subtle history lessons, be called tedious or unfulfilling. Quite the opposite, Downton Abbey gives us just what we would want from a legacy so ingrained with fine writing, production, characters, cast. Never does it stray, heading forward to a future the very characters themselves are still seemingly wary of.

They needn’t fret, for the closure of Downton Abbey to the TV audience suggests a much more prosperous kind of social triumph for many concerned. I’ll leave it up to you to happily endure the final episodes of what has been a remarkably well-drawn out television production, one you feel you’re going to miss even before you’ve finished watching it. As I myself was close to the end I impulsively put my Emmy hat on, wondering if a loved show with such a complete-feeling season could actually be victorious this year. Given Downton Abbey‘s decent showing historically with the voters so far, as well as their kindness to television goodbyes, it might be a sensible choice. Hats off.

Some of the most memorable television episodes from the past year are dramas dressed in comedy clothing or feature twists and turns no one could see coming.

Here are my 10 favorite TV episodes of 2015:

10. “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” Inside Amy Schumer

While this particular episode was a little derivative of the focus group sketch from 2014, it drove its point home about sexism by featuring typically “unattractive” character actors like Paul Giamatti, John Hawkes, and Jeff Goldblum, and taking its classic premise beyond the sketch format.

9. “The Truth” Wayward Pines

The episode where the reality behind the town of Wayward Pines is revealed and everyone’s minds both on and off screen get blown. I feel like I’ve said too much already.

8. “The End” Parks & Recreation

We see the futures of every life Leslie Knope touches, from April and Andy’s domestic bliss to Jerry’s long and happy life. Plus, the show coyly hints at Knope’s fruitful political career. It was a happy ending for everyone, and you couldn’t have imagined it concluding any other way.

7. “Parents” Master of None

Master of None is an uneven 10 episodes, but when it’s on, it’s on. While “Indians on TV” is the episode everyone talks about, “Parents” is a heartfelt and heartbreaking look at family that spans cultures, generations, and highlights Aziz Ansari’s dad as a breakout star.

6. “Person to Person” Mad Men

There were many theories about how AMC’s juggernaut would end, and as it turned out, Don Draper was one of the brains behind one of the most iconic commercials in history. “Person to Person” refers to the phone calls Don makes in the episode, including that to his daughter, to Betty, and to Peggy. But it also describes how quickly this finale spread into a viral phenomenon.

5. “Happiness, Pillow Fight, Imaginary Friend” Review

While I won’t soon forget Forrest MacNeil having Mile High sex in front of his son or starting a cult in his father’s backyard, the one episode I always go back to in season 2 of Review is this one, which introduces us to Forrest’s best (imaginary) friend Clovers, who meets an untimely and violent demise.

4. “eps1.5br4ve-trave1er.asf” Mr. Robot

In “eps1.5br4ve-trave1er.asf,” Elliot (Rami Malek) spends most of this episode trying to free Fernando Vera from prison, in order to save Shayla’s life. While many people might remember the Sound and Color scene from the final episode as the quintessential moment of the series, the final scene in this episode is the one where I knew I was hooked on finding out how Mr. Robot would turn out.

3. “The Word” Black-ish

This episode came along when we truly needed a laugh in a racially charged year. Jack (Miles Brown), the youngest member of the Johnson clan, drops the N bomb during his talent show rendition of Kanye West’s “Golddigger,” and it opens up a whole can of worms about the use of the word. Not only was this episode hilarious, but it also encouraged a thoughtful discussion.

2. “Knockoffs” Broad City

Just as Black-ish yielded thoughtful discussion of the N word, Comedy Central’s Broad City penetrated cable with commentary on “pegging.” Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) finally lands a dream date with Jeremy (Stephen Schneider). . .and he wants her to wear a strap-on. Plus, this episode features Susie Essman and an epic underground twerk sequence from Ilana Glazer. It may have been called “Knockoffs,” but this episode is legit.

1. “LCD Soundsystem” You’re the Worst

I typically don’t look to comedies for my favorite dramatic moments of the season, but Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) face at the end of this episode is one of the best emotional sequences of the year. The title of this episode refers to the band that family-man Justin Kirk’s character references while hitting on Gretchen with his wife Lexi (Tara Summers) in the next room. Gretchen loves the idea of seeing a perfect family, and when Rob makes a pass at her, this crushes her belief and her already dwindling spirit.

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