Your SEARCH for a New TV Sensation Is Over

WHO:

  • Creator: Michael Showalter (Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, Hello, My Name Is Doris)
  • Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development)
  • John Reynolds (the mustachioed police officer in Stranger Things)
  • Meredith Hagner (the hack artist who changed her name to “Montana” in Younger)

WHAT: This dark comedy series from the minds of Michael Showalter, Sarah-Violet Bliss, and Charles Rogers satirizes NYC millennials who get caught up in an absurd disappearance mystery. The hilariously named Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) goes missing, and pictures of her appear throughout the city. Wayward Dory (Shawkat) recognizes her as some girl from college she barely had contact with, and the spark to find her missing “friend” is born. But her disaffected friends Elliott (John Early) and Portia (Hagner) along with her bland boyfriend Drew (Reynolds) seem to be completely uninterested in Dory’s case of intrigue. As amateur sleuth Dory grasps at clue after clue, her friends’ lives weave in and out of the story, as a larger picture appears to form.

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WHY: Shawkat’s relatable take on Dory has us just as convinced as she is that she alone can solve this case. Piecing together the clues along with her is half the fun in this series. Although the downside is that they throw in as many frustrating red herrings as they do actual clues, leaving us, the at-home Poirots, to flounder when they don’t pan out. But the hijinks of her little clique help smooth out the otherwise rough season. The struggle to balance comedy with the dark side of the disappearance case is something the writers don’t quite perfect until the end of the season. But, when they finally do, the payoff is so extraordinary that I was in a fit of laughter for hours.

The satirization of millennials is so on point that it almost feels like they were just going for authenticity. Hagner especially is the breakout star in Search Party. Playing a struggling (heterosexual, white, blonde) actress who ends up getting cast as a Latina cop in a popular series leads to quite the few colorblind jokes aimed at the industry. (Bonus shout-out to her mother who is played by Broadway actress Christine Ebersole!) But, like any successful series, it is the dynamics of the four of them as a group that keep you coming back for more.

If you start the series and find the mismatching tones too dissonant, just stick with it. I promise you it’s worth it (if not for the great surprise guest stars along the way). And know that the season finale combined with the premiere of season two (already airing) is one of the funniest hours of television that I’ve seen.

WHERE: TBS (and Amazon)

WHEN: Season 1 is streaming online; season 2 airs Sunday nights at 10.

BONUS PAIRINGS:

  • for a similarly darkly comedic take on millennials: You’re the Worst (2014-present)
  • for a blend of dark comedy and criminality: Weeds (2005-2012)
  • for a deeply sarcastic amateur sleuth: Veronica Mars (2004-2007)

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CHASE Down HARRY WINSTON on Audibook

It’s all been downhill since Lauren Weisberger’s successful 2003 bestselling debut novel The Devil Wears Prada (whose film adaptation is even more successful and beloved than the novel—or supposed roman a clef—was). Her second novel Everyone Worth Knowing was fun and readable though hardly substantial, but her third novel Chasing Harry Winston is quite possibly her worst book to date (even more so than the drivel that is Revenge Wears Prada). However, as terrible as the book Harry Winston is in textual form, a curious thing happens when you listen to the audiobook: it becomes highly entertaining and engaging!
Chasing-Harry-Winston-275375The audiobook is voiced by Lily Rabe, who is singlehandedly the reason the book is so successful in this format. Rabe dives into the story, bringing unique voicing to the trio of women who serve as protagonists for the novel. Her Emmy is squeaky and unsure of herself going into her thirties as a recently dumped single woman. Adriana comes off as chic and confident and endlessly entertaining with Rabe’s deep, throaty, sultry voice for the character—sounding like a completely different person. And Leigh, in Rabe’s “normal voice,” is the stubborn one whose struggles with her impending marriage and her job as an editor feel the most fleshed out and relatable. Overall, Rabe sounds like she is having so much fun acting out the story that you can’t help but enjoy it, even at its most eye-roll-inducing.
And Harry Winston induces eye-rolls in spades. The crux of the novel involves these three women make a pact to change their lives—through anonymous sex or hunting for a serious relationship—which sounds like the beginning of any romantic comedy ever. And the story’s devolution into a mash-up of clichés merely begins there. While blessedly spared of extraneous details and dialogue that make reading the book so tedious, the abridged audiobook actually feels too short and quick. That’s how incredible Lily Rabe is. She actually leaves you wanting more from Entertainment Weekly’s “#1 Worst Book of 2008.”
I will forever love and read Lauren Weisberger if only for the nostalgia of when I first read her novels and loved them with all the joy of a guilty pleasure. But her novels translate better into audiobooks, letting strong actresses (like Merritt Wever!!) bring out the best, entertaining aspects of the novel. And Chasing Harry Winston is such a treat as an audiobook.

That Awkward Moment When I (Sorta) Defend THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

hr_That_Awkward_Moment_4That awkward moment when you really like a bad movie. There are many reasons you do: you like the actors, you like the setting, you like the fresh(ish) take on a tired genre, you like the theme which somehow resonates with you on that day in that moment. There are plenty of reasons to like a bad movie. But if you really enjoyed the film (dare I say, connected with the film), how bad can it actually be?
That awkward moment when the film feels horribly miscast. The biggest flaw of the film is the lead actors’ ages. Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Michael B. Jordan are playing characters in their vague mid-20s (certainly 2-3 years out of college); yet the last we saw of them, Teller was graduating from high school (The Spectacular Now); Jordan was a tragic 22-year-old (Fruitvale Station); and in the trailers before the film we saw Efron portraying a frat boy (Neighbors). Their youthful looks make them appear far too young to be in their mid-20s with some form of a career. But are they? (Maybe they’re just trying to break out of the mold they’ve been cast in.)
That-Awkward-Moment-Motion-Poster-Zac-EfronThat awkward moment when you realize all three leads are actually 26-years-old—more or less the accurate age to be playing these characters. Efron, whom we’ve seen mature over the years, is the most instantaneously believable in his role as Jason (a decade-younger Barney Stinson). While verbally sparring with Efron, Teller has enough buddy chemistry to make us buy him as being Jason’s best friend Daniel. But it’s overly-serious Mikey who, despite Jordan’s adult-seeming facial hair, feels like the odd man out. He’s a married guy facing divorce while sporting the youthful looks of a college student. His story is the least believable, and pushes him onto the fringes throughout the film.
That awkward moment when Mikey looks down on his best friends and their frivolous lifestyle. They enjoy going out each night, bedding different chicks, building up a “roster” of booty calls, yet dreading the moment when a girl gets too attached and says, “So.” So, where is this going? So, what are we? It’s a hum-drum dilemma, but they are in their mid-twenties; and it’s not their fault that Mikey got married when he was, what? 21? And how bad of a husband was he if he got Jessica Lucas to cheat on him? I don’t believe Lucas has ever played a character with a single mean bone in her body (maybe this was her attempt at breaking out of the mold).
That awkward moment when writer/director Tom Gormican seems to recognize that Mikey doesn’t quite fit in, and pulls the focus on the other two boys. Unfortunately, he has them bond over a trivial pact that haunts nearly every romantic comedy. The three amigos decide to celebrate Mikey’s impending divorce by not getting girlfriends. That’s something that Jason and Daniel have been consciously doing for years, but now that they they’ve clinked their coffee cups to it, it’s an official bro pact. And so the characters fall into the classic dilemmas we expect from a rom-com: they fall in love—Jason with the bewitching Imogen Poots (whose Ellie is far more endearing than her Allie in Greetings from Tim Buckley—but then again, Efron is a far more endearing romantic counterpart than Penn Badgley was) and Daniel with the guys’ good friend (and Robin-like wingman, I would like to add) Chelsea, played by Mackenzie Davis (whose helpful role involves telling a hot chick that she likes her shoes and then doing her version of “Have you met _____?”). Mikey is still dealing with his marital issues and doesn’t have time for the frivolous sexual relationships his buddies engage in.
maxresdefaultThat awkward moment when you like a film despite its flaws. The story may not be groundbreaking, yet it still feels fresh. I’ve been clamoring for a rom-com from the male point-of-view. And I’m not referring to bro-coms where it’s about two dudes bonding (although this film has that). This is a film about immature guys maturing in their romantic endeavors, not an easy task for “the selfish generation” as Jason aptly refers to us. It’s like getting the reverse point-of-view that we’ve seen from every other romantic comedy (about time, I tell ya!). Sure, it still falls into the formulaic pratfalls of its forebears; but what exactly did you expect when you sat down to watch it?
That awkward moment when you see yourself in the characters. These guys may be jerks who only want to hook up, but we all have those phases (unless you’re a Mikey and only accustomed or comfortable with the committed lifestyle). And maybe it’s because I’m currently in such a phase that I felt connected to Jason and Daniel’s dilemmas. It can (and does) seem so simple in the context of the film, but in real life, the lines are far blurrier, and it feels like Gormican is grasping at that. He makes these characters balance the fine line between smarmy and charming, and that’s where the casting comes in handy. For Efron and Teller are just the kind of buddies that you want to see succeed but understand when they fail. (Sure, Jordan does a good job; but I really didn’t care for him and his crumbling marriage—mostly because Gormican throws us into the divorce without establishing a resemblance of a relationship between them.)
That awkward moment when you think the movie’s theme may be a condemnation towards couples. Amidst learning to embrace being in a relationship, Jason must deal with the relationship he already has with his best friends. His (and Daniel’s) fear is that being in a relationship will make his friendship suffer. And, to some extent, that’s a correct expectation. Most people vanish into their newly founded relationships. But it is possible to balance the two (and the film hints at that). When everything inevitably goes to the toilet, Jason realizes that it’s because he devalued his relationship with his best friends. It’s the opposite effect of what happens when people do go into relationships, and it’s an interesting perspective to present (that is sadly buried in a mediocre film).
That Awkward Moment is not a good film (it was released in January). But That Awkward Moment was a very enjoyable film to watch. It addressed stories that I look for in a film, and I never once fell asleep (CONFESSION: I took 10-minute naps during American Hustle and Twelve Years a Slave). Plus, it exploits Efron’s body in a way that you hope and expect it to. If this film could be the start of something new (or at least different) in the romantic comedy genre, then it is wholly worth the price of admission (at least at matinee pricing).

Side note: As a New Yorker (can I say that yet?), I’ve been fully submersed in the Grammercy Park myth that so many of us strive for; and I fully enjoyed how the film approached it.