Scene’s Year in Review 2018: Television
Today, Scene continues to chug along its end-of-year lists by looking at 2018’s best of the small screen. Some shows brought us to tears of laughter while forcing us to reexamine the importance of social media. Other shows told stories of segments of society, such as the extended LGBTQ+ community and communities of color, that usually don’t get much airtime. Still others were about female wrestlers in the ‘80s that offers a feminist view of the often-sexist world of wrestling. It was a crazy year for it all, but delightful nonetheless.
“American Vandal” was too good for this world
By Jake Winningham, Scene Writer
Netflix canceled “American Vandal” earlier this year after two seasons of some of the best comedy I’ve seen in any form — there is really no good explanation for this. The show was acclaimed, and, if social media is any indicator, fiercely beloved. “American Vandal” embraced the conventions of high-school movies while upending them. It was as filthy as “Superbad,” as acerbic as “Clueless,” as honest as “American Graffiti” and better than all of those. There has never been such an accurate depiction of high school onscreen; the show’s greatest strength was its fidelity to the experience it depicted and the precision of its satirical target. Which isn’t to say the show had a narrow focus: in its superb second season, “American Vandal” took topics as disparate as catfishing, Catholic school charity trips and the amatuer basketball circuit and put them all under the same exacting microscope. Even though the show elevated gleeful obscenity to a higher plane than anybody since George Carlin, it had a heart of gold and showed sympathy to the morons at the center of its story. We only got 16 glorious episodes of “American Vandal,” and I’ll rewatch those for years to come. But we deserved more.
“Homecoming” is a pure genre delight
By Nicholas Ottone, Scene Writer
Directed by “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail and based on the smash fictional podcast, “Homecoming” is a knockout pleasure from start to finish. Carefully calibrated performances from superstar Julia Roberts, fresh-faced Stephan James and stoic Shea Whigham bolster a twisting mystery box, set in the present and future, revolving around the titular military transitional facility. Styled like a throwback Hitchcock flick and emulating paranoid thrillers from the 70s, “Homecoming” benefits from Esmail’s impeccable direction and visual panache, seamlessly adapting the words of the podcast into indelible imagery. Its climatic eighth episode contains a breathtaking dolly zoom, strengthened by Julia Roberts’ pitch-perfect performance. “Homecoming” impressively unspools one continuous story across ten tight thirty-minute chapters, each substantive and considered in their own right. And the thematic thrusts of trust and memory are well-worn territory, much like its genre, yet “Homecoming” shockingly feels startlingly fresh. It is the most enjoyable series, on a moment-to-moment basis, of the year.
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”: A genius use of a jockstrap
By Martin Kennedy, Scene Writer
Season five of “Last Week Tonight” was more outrageous and exciting than any other season yet. John Oliver continued with his format of a long, well-researched topic about current events in the world, ranging from the career of Rudy Giuliani to the Brazilian elections to a recurring topic Oliver calls “Stupid Watergate” — which, according to Oliver, is the criminality and collusion of the Trump Presidency, similar to that of Watergate’s, though everyone involved in it is “really stupid.”
What put “Last Week Tonight” over the top this season was its crazy projects done on top of the research pieces. When Mike Pence released a children’s book following his pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, exploring the White House, Oliver released his own book on the same day: “A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.” This children’s book, eerily similar to Pence’s, followed Marlon Bundo, a male bunny who falls in love with another male bunny, much to the chagrin of Pence. In other episodes, Oliver also created his own crisis pregnancy van, tried to force the Church of Scientology to pay him for advertising their church on the show, and buying Russell Crowe’s jockstrap from the movie “Cinderella Man.” Oliver bought the jockstrap and gave it to one of the last remaining Blockbusters, located in Alaska, in hopes of saving the business. Sadly, the Blockbuster closed. Luckily, to thank Oliver for purchasing the jockstrap, Crowe bought and dedicated a koala chlamydia ward in Australia in Oliver’s name (Which is real).
“GLOW” highlights feminism and diversity in the ring
By Martin Kennedy, Scene Writer
“GLOW,” which stands for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, released its second season on Netflix in June and was even craftier and more hilarious than the first season. This season followed Alison Brie, playing scrappy Ruth Wilder (who wrestles as Soviet villain Zoya the Destroya) and her other wrestling coworkers/friends as they create their low-budget “GLOW” television series in the 1980s. Some names of the other female wrestlers include Britannica, Machu Picchu and Shelia the She Wolf (who identifies as a wolf in the show). What really puts this show over the top is its purposeful inclusion for diverse, female actors. The majority of the cast is female, all coming from diverse backgrounds in terms of race, sexual orientation and age. Allowing this platform for underrepresented groups makes “GLOW” a happily progressive show. Furthermore, the comedy in “GLOW” is not cheap or fast. Its comedy entails slowly-crafted, witty and over-the-top laughs, very similar to the smart comedy of the HBO show “Veep.” My favorite scene of the second season features the wrestlers recording an anti-kidnapping, 1980s-style PSA video, begging kidnappers to instead “just go for a walk or something.” “GLOW” is a must-watch television show to witness society’s progression in addressing issues of feminism and diversity in television, as well as enjoying many, loud belly-laughs.
The resiliency of “Pose”
By Matthew Munhall, Scene Writer
At the end of “Love is the Message,” the standout episode of the first season of “Pose,” Pray Tell (Billy Porter), the drag ball emcee who has just lost his boyfriend to AIDS, explains the promise he made to continue living with joy: “We are living in a world where all of us could truly be gone one day. … I don’t know how soon ‘til I’m in a box on the end table of some crying man’s bed, but until then that love and that promise are who I claim to be.” That ethos pervades the excellent FX melodrama, set in the Harlem ball culture of the late 1980s amidst the AIDS crisis. At times heart-wrenching and others joyous, the series chronicles queer and trans people of color building their own chosen families, overseen by house mothers Elektra (Dominique Jackson) and Blanca (Mj Rodriguez). “Pose” is historic, both in its production—it has the largest ever cast of trans actors and featured the first episode of TV written and directed by a trans woman of color — and its storytelling, showing the devastation wrought by the Reagan administration’s inaction on HIV/AIDS and the resiliency of queer and trans people of color in the New York ballroom scene.