Happy Friday. Due to a few important, but slightly tiresome events (The Game of Thrones premiere! The release of the Mueller Report! The Fab Five guys dunking on Antoni for liking the Strokes!) this felt like a really long week. I, for one, am looking forward to coasting into the weekend and watching some TV. If you have similar plans, here are three recommendations for what to watch: a sitcom, a drama, and a late night show.
A refreshingly funny sitcom debut
ABC’s new sitcom Bless this Mess takes a tired premise — city slickers moving to the country — and injects it with a giddy energy and enough solid jokes to keep the action interesting. The first episode is one of the most entertaining pilots I’ve seen in a long time, and its success is largely attributed to the many talents of writer, director, producer, and star Lake Bell.
Although Bell is perhaps best known as one of the leads in HBO’s short-lived drama How to Make it in America, in recent years, she’s been flexing her comedy muscles with recurring roles on Comedy Central’s Children’s Hospital and Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer series. Six years ago, Bell also wrote, directed, and starred in the quirky comedy In A World, about an actress trying to break into the male-dominated field of movie trailer narration. And now, in her sitcom debut, Bell plays Rio, a quick-witted Manhattan therapist who throws her career on the fire to move to Nebraska with her husband Mike (played by Dax Shepard), who recently inherited a dilapidated farmhouse.
As Rio and Mike quickly find out, the house is in dire need of repair, a strange fellow named Rudy (Ed Begley Jr.) lives in a barn in the backyard, and a cattle tycoon (David Koechner) is vying to snatch up the farm and turn into a meatpacking facility. Shortly after arriving in Nebraska, the couple also meets Constance (Pam Grier), the no-nonsense town sheriff who also runs the local hardware store and teaches theater at the high school, among other odd jobs. Rio and Mike’s interactions with the locals further highlight just how little they know about farming and country life in general. But the former Manhattanites want to make it work, and the locals are willing to at least let them settle in before casting too much judgement in their direction.
Armed with a barrage of clever one-liners, the cast has a lot of fun bouncing off each other. In one of my favorite moments of the pilot, Max tries to convince Rio that he’s got what it takes to be a farmer by bragging about his organic shopping abilities. “You’ve seen me at Whole Foods,” he tells her. “I always walk straight up to the right heirloom tomato — I know the best one, I grab it.” I also laughed out loud during a scene where the couple welcomes the cattle herding family into their home by offering them leftover snacks from their trip: gluten-free turmeric crackers and an “ashwagandha hot drink.” And in what is perhaps the silliest moment of the pilot, Rio attempts to scare away an errant cow by telling it, “I’m a child of divorce, alright?”
If Bless This Mess can keep up the energy and snappy jokes, it might prove to be a bright spot on ABC’s sitcom lineup. The pilot is now available to stream on Hulu.com, and new episodes air Tuesday nights at 9:30 p.m.
Streaming recommendations du jour
The gist: Like Mad Men, another show about toxic relationships between New York creative types, FX’s new miniseries has a lush production design that evokes Manhattan in the ’60s and ’70s. But what strikes me about this new series is just how unglamorous the lives of these famous New Yorkers look compared to the characters in the ad agency drama.
In the first two episodes, choreographer Bob Fosse (played by Sam Rockwell) has dinner with a Hollywood big shot (Paul Reiser) at a swanky restaurant, actress Gwen Verdon (Michelle Williams) takes a business lunch at a picture-perfect Midtown diner, and the stars host a boozy cocktail party in their spacious Manhattan apartment to celebrate the release of his directorial debut. These scenes are all rich with period detail, and yet it’s hard to focus on anything but Bob’s perpetual agitation, and Gwen’s nimble reactions to the chaos unfolding all around her. Like one of the cigarettes that’s always hanging out of Fosse’s mouth, the tension just smolders, slowly throughout the show.
The showbiz world that Fosse and Verdon occupy is fascinating, and both Rockwell and Williams deliver nuanced, magnetic performances. My only issue with this series is that Fosse is such a troubled character at his core — a tap dancing Don Draper, essentially — that it can be hard to stay invested in his creative struggles during his many meltdowns. The Peak TV Era has, I think, reached its saturation point with these kind of incorrigible dudes.
Desus & Mero, “News Adjacent”
The gist: The new series from podcasters-turned-YouTube stars Daniel Baker (AKA Desus Nice) and Joel Martinez (AKA the Kid Mero) has a much looser vibe than any other late night show on TV right now. Desus & Mero are so good at casually riffing off each other that you don’t feel like you’re watching a comedy show so much as two pals joking around in front of the TV in their living room.
In addition to commenting on the major news stories of the week, the hosts also survey viral videos and interview a few celebrity guests. Last week’s episode features a crunchy chat with former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, where the politician reveals her secret to cooking perfect grits (add sugar and cream in addition to salt). Desus & Mero also give Pitch Perfect franchise star Anna Kendrick a highly entertaining tour of the Bronx that includes a trip to a strip club, a discussion of Container Store’s rewards program, and a seafood feast at City Island fixture Sammy’s Fish Box.
In other entertainment news…
- Congratulations to Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat star Samin Nosrat, who landed on the Time 100 list of most influential people of 2019. Chrissy Teigen and Massimo Bottura also made the cut.
- In other Samin Nosrat news, the author and TV star makes a surprise cameo in the latest installment of Reply All. This podcast episode might actually be my favorite cultural anything of 2019 so far.
- Donald Glover released some weird food-themed videos on his Instagram account this week.
- Netflix’s hit baking show Nailed It! is getting three international spinoffs.
- And finally, the latest episode of SNL ended with a very goofy sketch about a celebrity winery.
Have a great Friday evening, and if you’re looking for some weekend reading material, I highly recommend checking out the profiles of the Eater Young Guns Class of 2019.