by Julian Spivey
Conan O’Brien brought his third late night TV talk show, “Conan,” to an end on TBS on Thursday, June 24 after more than 10 years at the network with a lot of great memories.
It’s hard to believe O’Brien, one of the funniest comedians in the history of late night talk shows, had been at the network for more than a decade since his unceremonious departure from NBC, which was his home for almost two decades, when the network and Jay Leno frankly screwed him out of “The Tonight Show” gig.
I’ve always been a great admirer of O’Brien. When I was in my teens in high school and college, I would love flipping over to NBC to see his wacky version of smart-dumb humor on ‘Late Night’ after finishing up my all-time favorite David Letterman’s ‘Late Show’ on CBS. Particularly in college toward the end of his run on ‘Late Night’ I greatly enjoyed watching his antics with my brother/roommate and friend/roommate.
But I must admit I didn’t keep up with “Conan” that much on TBS and it’s something I frankly regret. He kinda became the forgotten man over on basic cable for me as I spent my time watching the network late night talk shows on CBS and NBC (mostly because this website has had a decade-plus running awards for broadcast network shows, which “Conan” didn’t qualify for). O’Brien never changed at TBS. He was still one of the funniest guys on TV, I just became either a worse fan or more likely an adult with a full-time job and life that made it harder to keep up with all my likes and interests. While I didn’t keep up with “Conan” enough I did become a huge fan of his podcast “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” over the last couple of years and I highly recommend it. It’s truly one of the funniest and best all-around podcasts out there. I’m also thankful his “Conan Without Borders” specials are available to stream on HBO Max, because they are an absolute delight, and I haven’t seen even a fraction of them and intend to go over to the platform and catch up.
Between his gigs at “The Tonight Show” and “Conan” O’Brien did a comedy tour, in which a highly entertaining documentary “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” came out of and that title couldn’t be truer of the lovable Irish boy-giant. You see O’Brien isn’t ready to give up and retire. The end of “Conan” is more TBS giving up on the talk show game and O’Brien taking his talents over to streaming on HBO Max for a new show that will be more variety show than anything his done in his nearly 30 years on late night TV. There won’t be guest interviews and such, which is kind of a shame, but it’ll likely give O’Brien plenty of opportunity to ham it up as he does best. The show doesn’t yet have a premiere date or even a title, but I can’t wait for it.
Back to “Conan” though.
I did tune in for Thursday night’s finale because I felt like I owed O’Brien at least that much and it’s always emotional to see someone you like bring something that’s so close to them to an end.
The finale was your standard type of late night talk show finale like we’ve seen in the past. O’Brien showed a whole lot of clips of his best moments on TBS, which really made me regret not keeping up with the show enough this past decade. He thanked his crew and his family for all the hard work and sacrifices made to allow him to make the show. There were terrific tributes from Will Ferrell via Zoom and Jack Black, his final guest in studio. It was an all-around lovely sendoff for his final late night talk show.
In the final minutes of the show in a moment that made him a bit misty-eyed, and honestly did the same for me too, O’Brien left his audience with this lovely thought: “Try and do what you love with people you love. If you can manage that, it’s heaven on earth.”
by Tyler Glover
The hit NBC comedy “Friends” has always held an incredibly special place in my heart. As someone who never really had many friends in school, “Friends” offered me that chance for a connection. I felt I had something in common with each of them: Rachel’s sense of fashion, Monica’s attention to detail, Phoebe’s quirkiness, Chandler’s sarcasm, Joey’s humor and Ross’ intelligence. Therefore, it was so sad when in 2004, “Friends” took its final bow and we had to say goodbye to all our friends who had been there for us for 10 seasons ... until now.
Last year, HBO Max planned to release “Friends: The Reunion” at the launch of its streaming platform. It was going to be one of the main draws to get people to sign up for at least a 30-day trial period. However, COVID-19 happened and changed everything. The reunion had to be put on the backburner until it was safe for it to be filmed. “Friends: The Reunion” premiered on HBO Max last month on May 27th and we could not have been more excited, but was it worth the wait?
For true diehard fans of “Friends,” this is a reunion special to be happy about. Does everything work in the special? Not really, but everything is done with such pure intentions that is easy to look over that. The moments where the special really shines is when the stars: Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer are interacting with one another and reminiscing about the show. It truly brought tears to my eyes to see their genuine excitement to see each other back on the reconstructed set.
The host of this special is James Corden, and he does ask some questions that we all wanted to know the answer to: like if there were crushes on set and who broke character the most. However, there aren’t enough of these questions to really feel fulfilled by the end of the special. A lot of the questions can be answered in simple: “oh it’s great and it was great” which doesn’t really help us delve into the past of the show. Something that really makes up for that though is that there are lots of guest appearances from recurring guest actors and actresses that keep us on our toes and remind us just how great the show was.
My favorite part of the reunion special is when the actors play a “Friends” trivia game in the style of the game the characters play in the episode: “The One with The Embryos.” This provides the most moments of fun and laughter and I wish this segment would have lasted a lot longer than it did. The other highlight is when the actors get around a table and do table readings of past episodes. It really is wonderful to see how much they still got it.
While it was great to see Lady Gaga show up and sing “Smelly Cat” with Lisa Kudrow, I would have preferred to see Kudrow perform it alone.
The biggest thing that felt like filler for me was a fashion show that shows off some of the fashion choices of “Friends” over the years. It did not add anything to the show and more time could have been spent on other things to make this truly an amazing special.
While “Friends: The Reunion” was not flawless, it was there for its diehard fans. It was definitely worth seeing how our friends have been doin.’
by Julian Spivey
The terrific first season of “Hacks,” an HBO Max original, came to an end on Thursday night when the final two episodes of the 10-episode debut season dropped on the streamer.
“Hacks” is about a stand-up comedy legend Debra Vance, who’s longtime Las Vegas casino show is coming to an end, and Ava Daniels, a twentysomething television writer recently fired for a controversial tweet who’s only job prospective now is being hired to modernize or punch-up some jokes for Vance. Debra is played by TV veteran and multiple-time Emmy-winner Jean Smart. Ava is played by newcomer Hannah Einbinder (the 26-year-old daughter of original “Saturday Night Live” cast member Laraine Newman).
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Debra’s manager, Christopher McDonald, the owner of the casino that hosts Debra’s show, Kaitlin Olson, as Debra’s daughter DJ, and Paul W. Downs as the agent of both Debra and Ava.
The primary focus on the first season of “Hacks” is the unusual boss/employee relationship between Debra and Ava that over the course of the season develops into more of a friendship. It’s unusual because there’s so many generations between the two – Debra is old school and Ava is a modern twentysomething woman. Both are stubborn to a fault, and this leads to butting heads and eventual mutual respect.
Prior to the last two episodes of the season Ava has convinced Debra to drop her normal act for her final casino show and to do a one-woman show about the struggles faced during her life as a female comic. But, despite their growing relationship and mutual respect, Ava still is desperate to get out of Vegas and return to a cushier L.A. writing job and takes an interview without telling Debra. This is a knife in the back moment for Debra, who fires Ava right before her final show when Ava tells her she must leave because her father has died and Debra views it as another lie and betrayal.
Debra decides to go back to her normal act prior to the final show, but once she hits the stage, she changes her mind once again and goes forth with her more personal one-woman show.
Ava is surprised when Debra shows up at the funeral of her father. Debra realized how much she needed Ava and rehires her. Debra’s final show had bombed, but it made her feel something she hadn’t felt in many years and believes the show will work with some edits and a tour to flesh it out a bit more. The season ends with the two boarding a plane back to Debra’s home in Vegas when Ava receives a phone call from their mutual agent about an email, she had fired off in anger to the TV folks who had interviewed her for a writing job on their show about a horrible boss, which will certainly lead to immediate drama when the show returns for a second season.
“Hacks,” which was created by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky, has been hitting on all cylinders from the very beginning. The on-screen chemistry between Smart and Einbinder is A-plus stuff as the two bounce off each other brilliantly. Both characters are completely realized from the beginning of the series, which truly allows the viewer to jump right in and just enjoy the ride. “Hacks” is certainly one of the highlights of television in the first half of 2021.
In the Heights – HBO Max – Premieres: 6/18
I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one for more than a year now. “In the Heights,” based off the stage musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes (who wrote the screenplay), was supposed to hit movie theaters last June, but of course was delayed due to COVID-19. As part of the HBO Max/Warner Bros. deal to open films this year in theaters and streaming simultaneously “In the Heights” will stream on the service for 30 days beginning on Friday, June 18. “In the Heights” tells the story of a New York City bodega owner, played by Anthony Ramos (who had multiple roles in the stage performance of Miranda’s “Hamilton”), who’s saving money in hopes of a better life. Miranda has a supporting role in the cast. “In the Heights” is directed by Jon M. Chu, who piloted “Crazy Rich Asians” to much success in 2018.
Fatherhood – Netflix – Premieres: 6/18
Kevin Hart is one of the biggest comedians (if not the biggest) in the world, but many of his comedic films are a bit too slapstick-y for my taste, but based off the trailer “Fatherhood,” which premieres on Netflix on Friday, June 18, this film seems like one with a lot of heart. The dramedy, directed by Paul Weitz, and is based on the 2011 memoir Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Matthew Logelin about a widowed father struggling to raise his daughter. The supporting cast of “Fatherhood” which features Alfre Woodard, Lil Rel Howery and Anthony Carrigan looks fantastic.
Evil – Paramount+ - Premieres: 6/20
I was blown away by “Evil” when it premiered in the fall of 2019 on CBS, and it instantly became my new favorite show at the time. Season two would’ve likely premiered in the fall of 2020 on CBS, but it was much delayed by COVID-19, so much in fact that the network was finally going to air it this summer. However, for some reason I don’t quite understand, CBS decided to give the series which follows a team of a forensic psychologist, a Priest to be and a skeptical technical expert investigating supernatural religious phenomena, to its streaming service Paramount+. Honestly, the show was too good for CBS, which seems only interested in procedural cop dramas now. It’s been a long wait, but I can’t wait to get back into this story on Sunday, June 20.
The Good Fight – Paramount+ - Premieres: 6/24
The week of June 20-26 is going to be a terrific one for show creators and runners Robert and Michelle King with their shows “Evil” and “The Good Fight” premiering new seasons just days apart on Paramount+. After a pandemic shortened fourth season in 2020, “The Good Fight” returns for its fifth season on Thursday, June 24 and will follow the lawyers of Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart as they potentially wrap the Memo 618 storyline from the shortened fourth season while getting used to a post-Trump America. The best thing about season five is it will season the return, at least for a while, of Delroy Lindo and Cush Jumbo, who were originally set to leave the series after its fourth season but have signed back on to give their characters a true farewell.
The Mysterious Benedict Society – Disney+ - Premieres: 6/25
I’m not a huge fan of animated films and shows, superhero films and shows, children’s films and shows and the “Star Wars” universe, so of all of the popular streaming services Disney+ is the one least likely to have programming catch my attention, but the upcoming series “The Mysterious Benedict Society” seems like it could be interesting (and, of course, fun for the whole family). The biggest draw for me is Emmy-winner Tony Hale, of “Veep” and “Arrested Development” fame, in a dual role as an eccentric benefactor (played by Hale) who recruits four orphans for a secret mission against a villain who happens to be his twin brother. I’m not familiar with the young adult book series the show is based off, but the trailer shows it could be a fun watch.