Television Man | Aidan Morgan
“And so, as we look back on this year of uncertainty, we thank Television Man for his tireless service to the nation, and hope that he will never leave us to form our own opinions about what’s good.” —Lester B. Pearson, who did not say this.
FADE IN on a well-appointed and extremely upholstered living room. An enormous black-and-white television set is showing a crackling fireplace. TELEVISION MAN reclines in a chair, smoking a pipe and watching the screen. Occasionally he jots down notes in a leather-bound journal. He turns to the camera.
TELEVISION MAN: Why hello there. I didn’t see you pushing in on me. I’m half blind on account of staring at this television all day. Excuse me for a moment as I freshen up this fire.
TELEVISION MAN fetches a fresh piece of lumber and tosses it at the television. The log bounces off the screen and falls to the carpet. TELEVISION MAN shrugs.
TELEVISION MAN: 2023 was a heck of a year, wasn’t it? We laughed, we cried, we took a lot of edibles. But mostly we watched television. Okay, we watched YouTube reactions to television shows. Okay, we watched clips of YouTube reactions to television shows on TikTok. Let’s take a look at some of those clips we caught.
Big Budget Sci-Fi Stuff
2023 was the year that non-Netflix streaming services poured ungodly sums of money into massive spectacle. There were some duds (Apple TV+’s Invasion is still unwatchable in its second season; Monarch: Legacy of Monstersneeds a better ratio of monsters to snarling, uncommunicative characters), but several surprised me.
Silo (Apple TV+): Despite some pretty feeble worldbuilding (They all live in a silo and aren’t allowed to know anything about the past? Okay), Silo is still effective at turning a small mystery into a lever that pries open the structures of this dystopian silo-based society. The cast is tremendous, starting with Rebecca Ferguson (Missions: Impossible 5-7) and going straight on to Tim Robbins, Common, David Oyelowo and Will Patton. Best of all is Iain Glen’s (Game of Thrones) horrific American accent. Why? This isn’t America, it’s a silo! Let Iain roll out his plummy estuary tones.
Foundation (Apple TV+): The first season of Foundation had its highs (Lee Pace, Jared Harris) and lows (all the scenes without Lee Pace and Jared Harris), but its second season is nearly all highs. Season two benefits greatly from the introduction of Isabella Laughland (Four Lives) and Dimitri Leonidas (The Monuments Men), who bring Asimov’s lofty ideas down to earth with the gravitational pull of their chemistry. Turning Asimov’s examination of what makes civilizations tick into a grand space melodrama is an odd choice, but it’s a massively entertaining one.
The Last of Us (HBO/Crave): I’ll be honest with you: I have no idea if The Last of Us is any good as a television series. All I know is that I loved the game. In 2013, it felt like playing through a big-budget movie. In 2020, the sequel felt like playing through a prestige mini-series. In 2023, the series debuted with two of the most likeable actors in Hollywood. Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) and Bella Ramsay (Game of Thrones) give their absolute all as two broken people making their way across a broken America. Do they become whole through their love of each other? Or do they simply become a single co-dependent entity, a twisted hybrid as terrifying as the fungal zombies that stalk the landscape? Watch and find out! Or, I dunno, play the video game.
I Think You Should Laugh
Barry (HBO/Crave): We can all agree that the two funniest things in art are assassins and lousy actors (according to the terms and conditions of this blurb, you must agree with my premise). What if you combined those twin poles of comedy and threw Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) into the role? Now you’re talking. The laughs grow sparser and more grim as characters sink into the vortex of their terrible choices, but Hader and co-creator Alec Berg create an unearthly mix of satire, drama and psychological horror. Somehow it still provokes laughs.
I Think You Should Leave (Netflix): Three seasons in, Tim Robinson’s shtick as an id-fuelled imp never gets old. “The Driving Crooner”, “Eggman Game” and “Darmine Doggy Door” are some of the funniest sketches the show has ever produced. Above all, the show understands that we’re all scratching at the walls of our own bizarro versions of reality.
Reservation Dogs (Disney+): You could argue that Reservation Dogs isn’t a comedy. But it’s a hell of a good show, and incredibly funny.
How To with John Wilson (HBO/Crave): The best thing about John Wilson’s idiosyncratic guides is their jaw-dropping unpredictability. Every episode tackles an innocuous topic, but somehow he ends up in a doomsday bunker or on a road trip to Burning Man.
Blue Eye Samurai (Netflix): Don’t start this series in the evening or you’ll end up sleep-deprived and semi-crazed in the early hours of the morning from binging all eight episodes at once. Created by Amber Noizumi and Michael Green (Logan), this is a beautifully animated tale of revenge set in seventeenth-century Japan.
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off (Netflix): For creator Bryan Lee O’Malley, the figure of Scott Pilgrim is like a sore tooth or a phantom itch; he just can’t stop poking at it. The eight-episode anime, which reunites the cast of the 2010 movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, reinvents the story by turning it inside-out and forcing the peripheral characters to the fore. Above all, the series belongs to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Ramona Flowers, who must confront her evil exes and make peace with them in order to move forward. ■