by Aprille Hanson & Julian Spivey
10. Streaming Services Save the Day
Nothing is worse than one of your favorite television shows getting canceled, which makes the new phenomenon of shows being resurrected by streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Yahoo one of the greatest things a TV fan can hope for. Multiple fan favorites were saved this year like Yahoo giving “Community” a sixth and final season, Hulu giving “The Mindy Project” second life with two new seasons and Netflix saving “Longmire” from an unsatisfying ending with its best season yet. The only problem with streaming services doing this is that every time a beloved show is cancelled too soon fan bases expect it automatically to be saved (we saw this isn’t always the case with NBC’s “Hannibal”). By the way, Netflix I’m begging you to save “Person of Interest” when CBS makes the worst decision ever come May. -JS
9. James Corden's Carpool of Stars
James Corden had some big and weird shoes to fill. When “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on CBS signed off, it left the late show desk empty, but it wasn’t as if there was really a guideline. Ferguson’s show was so uniquely him, from his puppets to Secretariat to Geoff, the dead robot. It was his own weird style of comedy and it wasn’t something another comedian could just carry on with. However, we’re lucky that “The Late Late Show with James Corden” came along. I had no idea what to expect from this chubby, lovable, extremely talented singer/performer/comedian that is Corden. It was a clean slate and he’s brought more to late night than I ever expected. Like his predecessor, the style and set-up of the show is uniquely him. One of the best bits however is his “Carpool Karaoke” where he “carpools” to work with some pretty notable singers -- including Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Carrie Underwood -- while singing along to their hits on the radio and chatting like old friends. Everyone watching just wishes they could be in the backseat of that car. - AH
8. Chris Stapleton Says 'Hello America' with Justin Timberlake's Assistance
Every year you’ll usually find one or two musical performances either on an awards show or late night talk show that just absolutely stuns you. There were a few this year: Common & John Legend performing their Oscar winning “Glory” during the Oscars telecast and Nathaniel Rateliffe and the Night Sweats on “Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon,” but the most jaw-dropping was the Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake mash-up that absolutely owned the 2015 CMA Awards. Few, even in mainstream country music, knew who Stapleton was coming into the CMA Awards (despite three nominations that he’d all win). Then he took the stage with pop megastar Timberlake on his cover of George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey” and absolutely stunned the nation. The two continued to drop jaws on Timberlake’s soulful “Drink You Away.” It automatically became one of the greatest performances in the history of awards shows. - JS
7. 'Big Bang' Coitus for Shamy
It had been five years. “Shamy” -- the romance between genius Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and smart in her own right, neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler -- took a nosedive in the ninth season of “The Big Bang Theory” when the two broke up. Quite frankly, they needed to -- Sheldon had no idea how special his relationship was with Amy and didn’t respect her like he should have. However, he realized he loved her and for her birthday present, he was finally ready to have “coitus.” It might not seem plausible that they’d wait five years, but for Sheldon, who cared nothing of social norms and likely could have gone the whole show without ever finding love, it made sense. The scene was sweet and really perfect for the two virgin characters and with the backdrop of Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Howard (Simon Helberg) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) seeing the new ‘Star Wars’ movie, it made “The Opening Night Excitation” episode one of the best in the show’s history. - AH
6. Viola Davis Makes Emmy History
It’s hard to believe, but in the almost 70 years of the Primetime Emmy Awards there had never been an African-American woman win the award for Best Actress in a Drama Series until this year when Viola Davis took home the honor for her fantastic performance on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder.” The history making moment was obviously important, but that in and of itself likely wouldn’t have gotten Davis on this list – what did was her incredible acceptance speech, which automatically became the highlight of the Emmys telecast and one of the greatest speeches in awards history. The speech can be seen (and should be) HERE. - JS
5. One of TV's Best Comedies Gets Heavy
FXX’s “You’re the Worst” was the best new comedy of 2014 with the incredibly horrid personalities of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen (Aya Cash) meshes in their horribleness to form a funny relationship. The second season in 2015 added a perfect mixture of drama to the comedy when it was revealed that Gretchen suffers from depression. Cash’s performance instantly became one of the best and bravest on television. It was truly fascinating to see a comedy take on such a dramatic and important topic as depression and succeed so effortlessly in doing so. - JS
4. 'SNL' Turns 40
The greatest sketch comedy series in the history of television “Saturday Night Live” celebrated its milestone 40th season in February of 2015 with a three-and-a-half-hour spectacular that was one of the greatest television specials ever put together. The show featured a mixture of live sketches and all-time great clips with most of the greatest cast members and hosts in the show’s legendary history returning for a spectacular evening of laughs and memories. The show deserved the best for its milestone occasion and it didn’t disappoint. - JS
3. Jon Stewart Signs Off One Last Time
Even if you never watched an episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” you know who Stewart is. That’s because his presence goes far beyond a television show host. He gave us the news, with humor and blatant honesty that just isn’t possible on news channels because of the nature of journalism. He took on politicians for their BS and spoke his views in a way that was relatable. Shows come and go like the wind, but Stewart was at the helm of his from 1999 to Aug. 6, 2015. Stewart’s show spun-off “The Colbert Report,” with Stephen Colbert, now host of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” who took over after David Letterman’s retirement. Both shows ended this year, leaving a big hole for Comedy Central, despite technically “The Daily Show” continuing, now with Trevor Noah. It’s hard to imagine a comedian, a fake newsman could actually be voted by a 2009 TIME online poll as the most trusted newscaster in America. The poll came out after Walter Cronkite died, with the younger generation looking to “The Daily Show” for news. He changed a format and the way everyone looked at news over his 16-year run. Stewart’s departure this year was a true ending of an era. - AH
2. Television's Greatest Family Says Goodbye
NBC’s family drama “Parenthood” lasted a fantastic six seasons despite the odds. It didn’t pull in the ratings and undoubtedly cost a ton to pay the stellar cast that made up the Braverman family -- including, Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Erika Christensen, Bonnie Bedelia and Craig T. Nelson. You cannot get more real than this show, which was entirely fiction. What the Braverman’s went through in each episode is what we go through in our own lives. Some of the most poignant moments of the show centered around the breast cancer diagnosis for Kristina Braverman (Monica Potter) and her ongoing chemotherapy; Kristina and Adam’s (Krause) son Max (Max Burkholder) dealing with severe Asperger’s syndrome; Julia Braverman-Graham (Christensen) and her husband Joel (Sam Jaeger) adopting a son and later trying to avoid divorce; Crosby (Shepard) finding out he has a son and ultimately finding out how to grow up; and Zeek and Camille, the patriarchs fighting time dwindling away and trying to hang on to the past. This doesn’t scratch the surface of the moments in this show, some of the best also including Hank (Ray Romano), Sarah’s love interest, who struggles with a slight form of autism as well. Despite the complete snubs when award season rolled around, it was one of the best shows ever on television. Seeing it sign off was so hard, but it also produced one of the best finales in TV history. - AH
1. David Letterman's Farewell
After almost 22 years of gracing “The Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS, the comedian who influenced them all signed off for the last time on May 20. There’s not a late night “monkey on a rock” whose comedy hasn’t been shaped in some way by Letterman. Even Jimmy Kimmel on ABC refused to air a new episode of his show to pay homage to his comedy hero. His last episode was filled with laughs and tears, but no tears for Letterman. He was ready, so he says and signed off in the best way possible: “The only thing I have left to do, for the last time on a television program, thank you and goodnight.” The episode featured Letterman’s favorite band the Foo Fighters performing his favorite song “Everlong” to the backdrop of a montage of the show, plus a nod to his wife Regina and son Harry -- a reminder of why this very private man wanted to sign off for good. It was the best way to end a career and cannot be matched. - AH
by Julian Spivey
Spoilers. The pesky little plot tidbits about movies and television shows that are likely the most overblown and controversial aspect of entertainment. Something many viewers seem to dread, avoid like the plague and are willing to start fights – both verbal and even physical over.
I have a few thoughts on spoilers and they all seem to be incredibly irritating to the many – likely majority – of viewers who hope to avoid them.
Let’s start with the only true way to avoid spoilers…
The only true way to avoid spoilers is to watch the thing you don’t want to be spoiled ASAP. If you don’t want a television episode spoiled by someone as soon as it airs or the next day at work by the watercooler than watch the episode live as it airs. I understand this is the day and age when nobody, including myself, watches television live and instead waits to view it on a DVR or online, but people who have seen an episode of your favorite show shouldn’t be expected to keep their traps or social media feeds silent about it just because you’ve yet to see it.
There are a couple of reasons why this should be understood. 1) We don’t know what your television viewing schedules are like and 2) How long should we have to wait before we can talk about something? A day? Two days? A week? A month? Or if you’re waiting for the season to come on Netflix should we be expected to wait a year? This is frankly asinine. Waiting long after the fact to talk about something you’ve seen would frankly make it irrelevant or at least untimely.
If you don’t want a movie spoiled, you need to get to the cinema as quickly as you can to avoid it. If you wait a week or more before seeing a movie you run the risk.
Some people seem to be under the assumption that there is no time limit for when something can be spoiled. If this were the case nobody would ever really get a chance to talk or write or tweet about their favorite television shows or movies. And forget the “spoilers ahead” tags – those may work for full length reviews of television episodes or movies or even possibly verbal conversations, but they don’t work for 140 character tweets where you’re going to see the tag, but also be unable to avoid the spoiler.
It may be controversial, but you are the only one who can truly avoid spoilers. And, sometimes you’re going to have to use extra precaution to do so, especially if you’re waiting a while to watch something. You can’t expect the rest of the world to stay mum for as long as you need them to on television shows or movies. It’s not just ridiculous, it’s frankly selfish. If you don’t want to be spoiled you’re going to have to do things like avoid all social media sites or entertainment websites and forums, because you don’t (and shouldn’t) have control over what’s posted on them.
Blaming others for seeing spoilers – whether you see them directly after a television episode ends or months after the fact – is simply weak. It’s blaming others for your own inability to do your due diligence in avoiding the spoilers. Unfortunately, if you’re spoiled on a TV show or movie it’s ultimately your own fault.
To use an example I believe works better than any other – I’m a huge sports fan and occasionally I have to DVR a sporting event that I want to see because I have to either work or do something else during the event. Sports fans are notorious for talking about sporting events on social media while they are taking place. Because of this when recording a game I try to avoid all things Internet or sports cable channels until I can watch the recorded event. Friends and I will even text each other that we’re unable to watch live so we don’t accidentally text results or moments to one another. If I get on social media or turn the TV to ESPN I’m taking responsibility for the fact that I may have the result spoiled (which is actually way more of an issue than having a specific scene or moment from a movie or TV show spoiled, because the outcome of a sporting event is the entire point of it). It should be no different for people who are waiting to see television shows or movies.
My most controversial opinion on spoilers is that they ultimately don’t make a difference in what you’re watching. Sure, knowing something ahead of time can change one’s reaction to it, it can dim the surprise factor, but what it doesn’t do is affect the quality of what’s onscreen in any way whatsoever. Knowing about something ahead of time doesn’t change the result of it. For instance, knowing what Rosebud is in the classic film “Citizen Kane” (one of the biggest spoiler moments in the history of entertainment) doesn’t change the significance of it.
Our culture has become too concerned with spoilers. It makes sense why it’s something that wasn’t commonplace in the past, but all of a sudden is – because in the past if you wanted to watch a television show you had to do it live and there weren’t social media websites like Facebook or Twitter where one could post their stream of thought about what they were watching. Social media and being able to DVR and watch TV shows online has somewhat made our entertainment culture selfish and at the very least unreasonable when it comes to consuming and discussing our favorite shows and movies. It has basically turned discussing anything other than if you liked or disliked a movie or show without going into details criminal. Isn’t that asking too much of people? Should we really be expected to remain completely silent on our favorite movies and shows until we’re 100 percent certain every single person on Earth wanting to see it has done so?
I think you know the reasonable answer to those questions.
by Julian Spivey
10. “Grace & Frankie”
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” was the new Netflix comedy that garnered most of the headlines and acclaim in 2015, but I think it was actually outshined by the new Netflix comedy “Grace & Frankie” starring Jane Fonda and Golden Globe and Emmy nominated Lily Tomlin as two retiree ladies who recently found out their lawyer husbands (the brilliant Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) are gay and in love with each other and have been for years. Grace and Frankie previously didn’t care much for each other, but their unusual circumstance thrusts them into quite the hilarious and odd friendship.
ABC’s “Black-ish” was the best new comedy of the 2014-2015 network television season and has continued to be strong through the first part of its second season. The sitcom focuses on Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson), who has made a successful life for himself, and the struggles he has with his kids being spoiled and trying to teach them how to at least live somewhat “black-ish.” The show is incredibly funny while also providing a much needed focus on race in America through episodes that approach such often controversial topics as the “N-word.”
8. “The Blacklist”
NBC’s “The Blacklist” was one of the two or three best dramas on network television over its first two seasons, but may actually be getting better in its third season now that Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) is America’s Most Wanted Woman and on the run with America’s Most Wanted Man in James Spader’s always brilliant Red Reddington. The hunt for these two before they are able to bring down the nefarious Cabal has made for heart-pounding action the entire third season.
7. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” continues to be the best sitcom on network television and the Fox comedy about a precinct of New York police detectives honestly has been at that level since it debuted in 2013. The ensemble is the best comedic ensemble not just on network television, but likely of any comedy on television in general. The always wacky Andy Samberg leads this ensemble perfectly, but the real highlight and the biggest laughs always come from Andre Braugher’s hilariously stoic Capt. Raymond Holt.
6. “Late, Late Show with James Corden”
I was a huge fan of Craig Ferguson and didn’t feel like anyone could adequately replace him. James Corden and Craig Ferguson are about as different as late night talk show hosts can be – Corden a boy-ish, jolly fellow who likes to sing and dance and be awe-struck by guests and Ferguson being sarcastic and not giving a damn about who he pleases – but Corden has done something incredibly interesting in his debut year as host of CBS’ “Late, Late Show.” Most late night talk show hosts struggle to gain footing in their first year, but Corden came blazing right out of the gate and has honestly hosted the best late night talk show since David Letterman retired in late May. His style of interviewing multiple guests at once has also rejuvenated a staled late night format.
5. “You’re the Worst”
I distinctly remember saying after the first two or three episodes of the sophomore season of “You’re The Worst,” which was my favorite new comedy of 2014, “the second season of the show has not been up to par with its first.” And, then the FXX show did something that we’ve never really seen a comedy do – it wrote depression into the script, and not in a comical way, but a realistic, rip your heart out and identify with kind of way. Aya Cash’s performance as Gretchen in the midst of a depressive meltdown for the remainder of the season completely changed the course of the season for the better and really the show, in general, adding a good dramatic factor to it. It’s a performance that I hope Emmy voters remember next year.
I remarked on Twitter a while back that if “Manhattan” were on AMC rather than WGN that it’d be nominated for all of the television awards (and if I may brag the tweet was ‘liked’ by “Manhattan” creator Sam Shaw). It’s the kind of superbly acted and written prestige time period drama, a la “Mad Men,” that should have everybody watching and talking, but because it was one of the first scripted dramas on WGN few seem to know it exists. The show, in its glorious second season, is about the race to build the world’s first atomic bomb in hopes of bringing World War II to a quick end. Season two sees our scientists getting closer and closer to the fruition of the Manhattan Project and with it the drama building more and more with each passing episode.
I never knew how much I really missed “Longmire” until I went a year and a half without it and it used its new found life of being saved by Netflix, after cancellation by A&E, to produce its best season yet. Season four of “Longmire” opens with the not-all-too-shocking death of Deputy Branch Connelly at the hands of his own father and our titular hero Sheriff Walt Longmire (the always fantastic Robert Taylor in a truly understated and yet macho performance) is thrust into another personal case. The performance of Taylor, which is old school heroism at its finest and reminds me of Gary Cooper at his absolute best, along with tightly wound mysteries of the Wyoming modern west really makes for a pleasant Netflix binge.
2. “Person of Interest”
“Person of Interest” continues to be the best drama on network television, despite the fact that CBS seems ready to put the show out to pasture due to declining ratings over its fourth season. The ratings might be going down, but the quality is still fantastic (if not actually better than ever) as the fourth season saw super computer Samaritan trying to hunt down fellow super computer The Machine, John Reese (Jim Caviezel), Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) and the gang before the season culminated in a string of incredibly action-packed and entertaining episodes that left everything in shambles going into a fifth season that CBS picked up, but for some reason is seemingly unwilling to schedule. Whenever the show does return it’ll likely be the final season, but it’s not too late to jump on board and try to rejuvenate the ratings.
1. “Late Show with David Letterman”
I’ve seen a lot of “best of 2015” television lists with “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” which I’ve found mostly disappointing at its start, among the year’s best shows. Shockingly, I haven’t seen a single one feature the final year of “Late Show with David Letterman,” which wrapped in late May after more than 20 years on CBS. The final few months of Letterman’s show were among the very best late night television I’ve ever seen (and I consider myself a late night connoisseur) and the television legend truly went out on top. Letterman visiting with some of his favorite guests from over his 30 years on television truly made for late night television moments that I will never forget.
'Star Wars' Fans, Miss Universe Viewers: Enjoy Your Entertainment, But Don't Breathe It
by Julian Spivey
This is an entertainment website, meaning that myself and the other people who write for this website take entertainment very seriously. Artistry should be taken seriously. However, I can’t help but think that some people take what really amounts to a few hours of escapism far too seriously and multiple things about this past weekend have proven this to me.
Everybody knew going into last weekend that the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was going to lead to record-breaking box office madness and it did. However, some of the madness is far too over the top. People act like the ‘Star Wars’ universe is so much more than a fictional movie. They treat it like it’s a beloved member of their family and reach over-exuberant levels of excitement with it and when something goes wrong with it, like a movie projector failing midway through a showing, they frankly turn a little bit insane.
This happened over the weekend at an Arclight Cinema theater in Hollywood when a movie projector stalled and then later began the film 15 minutes later in the movie. What ensued was a group of adults pitching an epic fit that would put preschoolers fighting over the same toy to shame. Footage of this was uploaded to social media by multiple moviegoers at the theater. Note videos captured here just involve fans yelling and don't even capture the hysteria that took place when the film jumped 15 minutes in time. Supposedly fans were even running out of the theater with their eyes closed so not to spoil anything in the movie. It’s also important to note that some of the yelling and outbursts were likely intentionally over-exaggerated for comical effect.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A projector malfunctioning is something that’s happened to many of us before during a movie and it’s always at the very least an annoyance. I can imagine how that would be magnified by it occurring during a movie someone’s waited a good decade to see. But, it’s not something that should be capable of “ruining our night” as one moviegoer told a local television affiliate.
If ‘Star Wars’ fans going crazy over a malfunctioning projector wasn’t bad enough, then there was the Miss Universe Pageant hubbub on Sunday night. Comedian Steve Harvey, host of the pageant, mistakenly named Miss Columbia the winner of Miss Universe instead of actual winner Miss Philippines and the entirety of the Internet seemed to react as if Harvey had murdered one of the contestants on stage instead of simply misspeaking. Something that was an honest mistake and shouldn’t have garnered any traction at all blew up into one of the biggest viral stories of the year thanks to over-exaggerated reactions from people watching the pageant at home (by the way why do so many of you actually watch these beauty pageants?).
The only people affected by Harvey’s mistake were himself, Miss Columbia and Miss Philippines and yet so many people are acting hurt or offended by an easy to make flub – what does that truly say about this country?
That really brings these overreactions to my main point. There are so many truly horrible things going on in this world, many of which we could attempt or try to fix or at least make better and instead of caring about the long list of things we can fix we worry about blockbuster movie franchises and beauty pageants like they have some do or die relevance on our lives.
We all overreact to things from time to time in our lives. I’m not trying to be holier than though and act like I’ve never done something similar about something that others would find trivial. It’s just that these two moments occurring in the same weekend, especially during the Holiday season, have me wondering if the priorities for this country aren’t completely backwards or at least off-kilter.
Let’s try to do something good or important and not worry about the little things that ultimately have no bearing on our lives. And, enjoy your entertainment, but don’t live and breathe it.
Bill Murray's Whimsical, Quirky Netflix Christmas Special a Welcomed Addition to Holiday Fray
by Julian Spivey
I think Bill Murray and writer/director Sofia Coppola were drunk texting one night about what if Murray’s Bob Harris from the Oscar-nominated 2003 film “Lost in Translation” was stranded in New York City during Christmastime in a massive blizzard and somehow this conversation led to an hour-long Christmas special for Netflix.
Now, that might sound like a negative criticism. But, I quite enjoyed the idea and that’s what “A Very Murray Christmas” felt like to me – like the great karaoke scene from “Lost in Translation,” but extended to an hour and filled with nothing but Christmas carols.
Upon viewing the special I saw that the rating system on Netflix only had the special with two out of five stars and I believe the reasoning for this is people saw Bill Murray’s name attached to it and expected a laugh fest. Hell, I kind of expected a laugh fest. But, what we got instead was something more sweet than humorous and I feel like it worked for the Holiday season. This sweetness was more of a gift from Murray than had we gotten a series of sketches instead of Christmas-y sing-a-longs.
The plot of the special is Bill Murray is scheduled to do a televised Christmas special when a massive blizzard hits New York City and none of the A-listers who are supposed to do the special with him can make it in. The early part of this special has a few highlights with the opening of Murray singing “The Christmas Blues” and then corralling the reluctant Chris Rock, also trapped in the city, for a performance of “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” which provides some of the special’s few laughs – mostly just because it’s something you don’t expect out of Rock and the way he plays this up. The blizzard knocks out the power toward the end of the performance and Rock vanishes faster than one of the ghosts from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The power outage cancels the televised special and allows Murray to sulk away to a local bar where he interacts with a few strangers also stranded in town – this segment really makes the special work. It allows Murray to perform a comical rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with musician Jenny Lewis, playing a waitress at the bar. One of the two best moments of the show also occurs during this segment when Maya Rudolph appears as sort of a Motown washout lounge singer accompanied by three backup singers for a version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
There are two reasons I really loved this performance: 1) I have a massive crush on Maya Rudolph. I just absolutely adore her. 2) Every year for as long as I can remember I’d settle in around this time of year for David Letterman’s annual Christmas episode that featured a performance of this song from Darlene Love. Letterman’s retirement in May meant that this would be the first year without that tradition and it turned out it was something I really needed to hear.
During a performance of The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” performed by the cast of the special in the bar an intoxicated Murray passed out on the floor and this lead to the third and final segment of the special. Murray, while passed out, imagines himself in an actual Holiday special (this special, if you can’t tell already, is pretty meta) done right with A-list guests George Clooney and Miley Cyrus. The segment allows Cyrus time to shine vocally on “Silent Night” and a duet of “Sleigh Ride” with Murray, but the true highlight of the segment and the special as a whole is Murray and Clooney performing “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’,” with Clooney’s vocals on the chorus while peering through white Christmas trees providing the biggest laughs of the entire special.
Ultimately, “A Very Murray Christmas” is a throwback to old Christmas variety shows filled with songs and merriment, but done in Murray’s unique way. It’s sweetly whimsical and quirky and in a world where Christmas specials can grow tiresome with the same few airing year after year it’s a welcomed addition to the fray.
Bruce Springsteen, Maya Rudolph Salvage Lackluster 'SNL' Co-Hosted by Fey, Poehler
by Julian Spivey
When I heard about a month ago that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler would be co-hosting “Saturday Night Live” with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as musical guest I realized this was the pairing that dreams were made of – it had an opportunity to become an instant classic.
Unfortunately, my anticipation got the best of me. The episode couldn’t even muster enough laughs to be the best episode of the first half of the show’s 41st season (that would be Tracy Morgan’s triumphant return to the show in October).
It did have its highlights, though.
The show kicked off with an impressive take on the most recent Republican Debate with Darrell Hammond thankfully reprising his great impression of Donald Trump (Taran Killam has previously been impersonating Trump this season). Killam gave up Trump for the night to do a Ted Cruz impression that sounds very little like the real Cruz, but I was completely fine with it because Hammond as Trump is gold. The sketch also featured Jay Pharoah’s impressive take on Ben Carson, but it seems we won’t see it too many more times as Carson’s light is fading fast in the real world of politics.
The only real highlight from the early portion of the show was Kate McKinnon as modern day Hillary Clinton meeting up with Amy Poehler’s Hillary Clinton circa 2008 in her dreams and excitedly telling her that she was finally going to get the chance to become President thanks to the craziness of the Republican Party. Speaking of Republican Party crazies … the best part of the sketch was when Tina Fey showed up in Hillary’s dream as Sarah Palin, which would instantly turn any sweet dream into a nightmare.
Weekend Update was particularly weak this week with only one guest coming in the form of Kate McKinnon’s “Somebody’s Mom” Deenie, who recapped the year of her favorite soap opera. It was comical, as is almost anything McKinnon chooses to do, but it wasn’t one of her best characters. The jokes throughout Update were relatively weak this weekend and they kind of blew a great opportunity with former Update anchors Fey and Poehler as co-hosts. Both were given the chance to tell one joke apiece on the segment, but it truly proved to be a wasted opportunity.
Typically, fans get really excited when favorite cast members from the past return to host. This was part of the reason I was really anticipating this episode for weeks, but Fey and Poehler, usually comedic gold together, really disappointed in mostly poorly written sketches. In fact, they were both outshone and outperformed by another former cast member and good friend Maya Rudolph who appeared as a drunken ‘70s variety Christmas special performer slurring her way through a gibberish version of “12 Days of Christmas.” That really just goes to show how truly hilarious and underrated Rudolph is when she can utter absolute gibberish and be funnier than an entire night of comedy goddesses Fey and Poehler.
Rudolph would find more time to shine in the final sketch of the night when she and Poehler performed the old-favorite Bronx Beat with Fey also getting one of her few funny bits of the night as a guest from Philadelphia who baffled the Bronx gals with her accent.
While Fey and Poehler – and the show’s writing staff – failed to live up to their side of the bargain on Saturday night the musical performances from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were as legendary as usual with the Boss and company performing ‘River’ era songs “Meet Me in the City” and “Ties That Bind” from the box set re-release of his 1980 album The River, which includes cuts that didn’t make the original album.
The true highlight of the entire episode was the very end during the scrolling credits when Springsteen and the E Street Band performed their memorable cover of the Christmas classic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with Fey, Poehler, Rudolph, the entire ‘SNL’ cast and special guest Paul McCartney. You could tell everybody on that stage was truly having a blast.
The show, overall, wasn’t nearly as special as I’d hoped for, but the highlights gave enough smiles to mostly make up for it.
by Aprille Hanson
Just as decorating a Christmas tree, stringing up lights and singing Christmas carols are imbedded in our celebration of this beautiful holiday season, so is tuning in to watch the timeless TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” This year, ABC paid tribute to the beloved Peanuts gang for the 50th showing of the Christmas special with, “It’s Your 50th Christmas Charlie Brown” hosted by the cute-as-a-button Kristen Bell.
The hour-long tribute aired Nov. 30 and included stars performing classic and new renditions of songs surrounding the special and other Peanuts specials that came about because of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
It wasn’t in front of an audience, at least a real one, but rather, the Peanuts characters cheered as this mix of real life and cartoon clips made for a magical, sweet tribute. Between performances, Bell shared some trivia that some hardcore Peanuts fans already know and some that is largely unknown. For example, in the 1980s, Stacy Ann Ferguson, known today as pop sensation Fergie, voiced Sally Brown in two Peanuts specials. But the real focus was, of course, the Christmas special.
A clip from the 1965 documentary on Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz aired, seguing into how that documentary started it all. While Lee Mendelson, as he explained, tried to find a way to market the documentary, Coca-Cola reached out to see if they’d be interested in creating a Peanuts Christmas special. Mendelson agreed, asking Schulz to come up with the script the next day and the collaborators did just that. Bill Melendez was brought onboard to be the director and animator. Clips were shown on how the animation was made, through drawings overlaid onto the stationary backgrounds. Jazz composer Vince Guaraldi was brought in, creating the most cherished music for the special.
CBS aired it on Dec. 9, 1965, though as Bell explained, executives were worried about the audience’s reception to Linus’ now-famed reciting of the Bible verse, Luke 2: 8-14, of what the true meaning of Christmas was about. Not much was really said about it on the tribute, other than Schulz pushed for it, but it was certainly a defining moment for the time, pointing out how the commercialization that the holiday was and is still becoming isn’t really what it’s all about. The special is still a quiet reminder of the simplicity and the celebration of the birth of Jesus, rather than the rush of shopping and gifts and therefore, speaks to our innermost child.
Live performances of Guaraldi’s classics, including “Linus and Lucy,” performed by David Benoit Trio, were played throughout the tribute as scenes from the Christmas special and other Peanuts specials played. Sarah McLachlan gave a sweet performance with the All-American Boys Chorus of “Christmas Time Is Here” and Matthew Morrison performed an original song “Just Like Me,” amid a set of Christmas trees, as a tribute to the tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree. While Morrison’s performance in any other setting would be lame, it worked for this tribute. Boyz II Men picked it up, performing a medley of “Joe Cool” and “Little Birdie” which was fun, paying homage to the always cool Snoopy.
While other Peanuts specials were highlighted, from an ode to baseball with San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner and catcher Buster Posey to the unrequited love of various Peanuts characters including the Little Red-Haired Girl, it was the clips of the Christmas special that warmed the heart. One of the best was showing a montage of Charlie Brown talking in a variety of languages during the special, including German, French, Italian and Japanese. It even mentioned how the Apollo 10 mission featured call signs of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, making the comic strip characters somewhat mascots. It shows just how widely beloved it’s been the past 50 years.
Not only is the special internationally adored, it even garnered attention from the White House. A taped message from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama shows just how important this Christmas special is -- the only critique would be the lighthearted joke about how most of Washington sounds like all adults do on the Peanuts specials (waaa waa waa) was harmless, but maybe out of place. The last thing the audience needs to be reminded of is the fractures in politics while reflecting on Charlie Brown.
By far though, the best moments of the special came courtesy of the darling that is Kristin Chenoweth, who won a Tony for her portrayal of Sally Brown in the 1999 Broadway revival of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” and the crazy good stylings of Pentatonix.
Chenoweth, accompanied by Andrew Lippa, performed a beautiful rendition of “Happiness” from the Broadway play. It was tradition at its finest, but the tribute was about to be hit with cutting edge, when the acapella group Pentatonix took on “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in a pop-rap-fun kind of beat with the All-American Boys Chorus backing them. But not to worry -- the chorus first performed a little of the classic ‘Hark,’ to satisfy the traditionalists, which was also amazing.
The special concluded with the airing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” for the 50th time. The tribute was much like the special and comic strip in general -- simple, yet celebratory; a perfect ode to the most lovable unloved Charlie Brown.