Tube stakes

Posted on 25 Dec 2015 at 6:00am

The best (new) things on TV … and the Internet


STREAM QUEENS | Taraji P. Henson and Jussie Smollett from ‘Empire,’ top; James Wright creamed over a store-bought pie, opposite top; and gay ambush interviewer Billy Eichner, opposite below.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Executive Editor

Dallas Voice has referred to its television coverage as ‘Tube” for decades — long before YouTube, XTube and the tubes over which we stream entertainment were conceived. So it makes sense that we broaden the definition of what Tube coverage is strictly from what you see on cable and Neflix to the whole panoply of entertainment that comes directly to your portable device. So, our Year in Review roundup this time includes a hodgepodge of things we watched in 2015 — broadcast, streaming, on Facebook and Twitter. The scope was amazing. (We limited the traditional Tube shows to new series, to narrow the universe a little.)

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10. The Muppets (ABC). Maybe it’s the inner-child in all of us that makes The Muppets irresistible after more than 40 years. This reincarnation — moved from a Vaudeville house to the set of a late-night talk show — shows the Henson Creature Shop still knows comedy, and how to convince audiences that foam rubber frogs have real emotions. (Cheers, too,  for Fozzie’s gay joke: “When your online profile says you’re a ‘passionate bear looking for love…’ you get a lot of wrong responses.”)

9. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst (HBO). Few documentaries have uncovered the truth as dramatically as this miniseries from Andrew Jarecki, which profiled the strange, cross-dressing Texan who chopped up his neighbor but claimed self-defense. The finale, where Jarecki accidentally recorded Durst on tape confessing to murder, was the most compelling moment of television most people have ever witnessed.

8. Documentary Now (IFC). The Jinx wasn’t the only documentary that had us delighted, although the spoof series Documentary Now — from Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers — entertained for completely different reasons. In six episodes, the improv comedians skewered half a dozen “classic” documentaries with humorous twists (the best was the first: Grey Gardens, which morphs slowly into The Blair Witch Project). It was nerd humor for movie geeks.

7. Serial (Podcast). One final documentary makes the list, but this one a treat for the ears, not the eyes. The emergence in late 2014 of the Podcast Serial, chronicling the journey of Adnan Syed who seemed to have been railroaded into a murder conviction years ago, practically put Podcasts on the map. It returned just a few weeks ago with Season 2, which delves deeply into the facts and psychology of Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier captured by the Taliban — was he a traitor, a deserter, or a hero? We can’t wait to hear it all.

6. Matt Ballasai’s Whine About It (Buzzfeed). The Buzzfeed employe uncorks a bottle of wine and gets progressively drunker while railing about everything from “ways to ‘win’ at Thanksgiving dinner” to “the worst things about holiday office parties.”

5. Billy Eichner (YouTube). Eichner’s madman-on-the-street ambush interviews combine the out comedian’s manic friendliness with his sense of outrageous camp as he corners unsuspecting pedestrians and quizzes them about minutiae.

4. Gary Janetti’s Twitter feed (Twitter). The Vicious creator and Will & Grace producer tweets his bitter-queen observations constantly, with 140 characters full of venom and oh-no-he-didn’t humor.

3. Patti LaBelle’s Sweet Potato Pie (YouTube). Vlogger James Wright has recorded his ravings for a while, but he hit the stratosphere when he bought a Pattie LaBelle Sweet Potato Pie at Walmart and ate it live on camera, offering his review… which turned into an orgasm of culinary conversion, and put a pastry on the damn pop culture map.

2. Empire (Fox). Taraji P. Henson as Cookie became our favorite hero-villain, and Jussie Smollett an instant icon of the gay community, when Fox released this nighttime soap opera set in the world of hip hop music — an African-American Dallas with gay sex. I don’t use the term “guilty pleasure,” but if I did, the definition would have a picture of this show, co-created by out producer-director Lee Daniels.

1. The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt (Netflix). Tina Fey may be this generation’s most distinctive comic voice, as she proved on NBC’s 30 Rock and confirmed with this Netflix series about a girl kidnapped and imprisoned by a cult leader for a decade, only to emerge Rip Van Winkle-like and determined to make a new life for herself. Titus Burgess provides exceptional comic support, but the writing and tone are the stars.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2015.


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