Which overhyped show should you watch? In Showdowns, Defamer's Beejoli Shah and Gawker's Rich Juzwiak tackle the tough issues: Which show each night this week sucks the least during the premiere season of this "Golden Age of Television."
Last night, we took on ABC's Tuesday night battle: drama versus comedy. Rich watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., while Beejoli watched The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife.
Rich: Where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is concerned, I think I am an ideal viewer and a deficient critic, given my background. I *like* Joss Whedon, an exec producer and co-writer of the pilot, but I don't love him. Never got into Buffy, like Cabin in the Woods, hated The Avengers (at least the first two thirds of it). Additionally, I have never read any S.H.I.E.L.D. comics.
Beejoli: I watched exactly 30 seconds of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I already know it's going to kick my comedies' asses.
Rich: So I come in sort of wowed by the concept, because the idea of a government agency handling superheroes is really smart.
Beejoli: Yes! Is it the American government? I know exactly ZERO about the Marvel universe having seen none of it, film, TV, or graphic novel. (Can we not say comic book anymore?)
Rich: We can say comic book. So yeah, it's a U.S. government agency devoted to dealing with superheroes, and this is connected to The Avengers franchise. They reference the NYC disaster at the end of The Avengers (aka the only part of that movie worth watching). S.H.I.E.L.D. swooped in and cleaned everything up "before anyone could ask questions," which is a little dubious, since people would still be asking, "What happened to my mom?" Because obviously hundreds of thousands of people died in the destruction, but that's neither here nor there for our immediate purposes. I mean clearly a lot of people died. You don't hollow out an entire city without some causalities.
Beejoli: That's the only part of S.H.I.E.L.D. I saw, when Coulson walked back in and goes "Now you have Level 7" clearance after that other guy said he had Level 6 clearance and knew Coulson had died.
Rich: Yeah! And the superheroes have Level 6 clearance, too. Which is cool — these guys are ranked higher than the superheroes. So all of that backstory stuff is great. Immediately compelling. I haven't really seen anything like this considered before. And then, the script is so damn sharp. Self-effacing. Witty. Reverential. It skewers our sort of superhero culture in a very benevolent way. You know, without being bitchy or hypocritical. Which I suppose is Whedon's gift. The ability to be irreverent and reverent at once.
Beejoli: I mean, I love Joss Whedon. And Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen sort of go unmentioned when Joss is involved, BUT THEY ARE SO GOOD.
Rich: “With great power comes…a ton of weird crap that you are not prepared to deal with”
Beejoli: Real line?!
Rich: Yeah! That's what a hacker-type says to a man who was made into a superhero in a weird experiment.
Beejoli: YES. I love that.
Rich: And there are a lot of clever one-liners like that in there. If anything, the show was TOO much. Sort of a vomited stream of exposition while having to be a show. It was overwhelming. I didn't fall behind, but I felt like I was at risk. I need a hero to help me watch this show.
Beejoli: Do you think some of that was to catch people up on that large of a world though?
Rich: Oh of course. I'm just saying, it was A LOT. There was no other way, really.
Beejoli: I'm not even editorializing for the sake of this chat, I am legitimately excited to watch it—moreso, now. And I say this as someone that has seen absolutely ZERO of any comic book franchise: TV or film. And I like Joss Whedon but I'm not a devotee like others.
Rich: Yeah. And you know, it makes so much sense as a TV show. I'm really pleasantly surprised. I did not expect to fall in love dipping my dick in all these new shows. but just when you least expect it...
Beejoli: I feel like you just wanted to say dipping your dick, but carry on.
Rich: I did I did. Granted, I have no idea how it rates on the nerd scale. I know it was huge at ComicCon.
Beejoli: I know. Hold on. We should ask a nerd...just to legitimize this. WHERE'S MAX [Read, deputy editor of Gawker, king of the nerds]?
Rich: Hahahahaha. He's busy playing the lute and smoking something weird out of a long pipe.
Beejoli: He's a nerd, not a hobbit. Well...maybe both.
Rich: He's totally a hobbit. Oh yeah, also included in this show were the threat of human combustion, a flying fucking car, and Chloe Bennet's cleavage. Nonstop party.
Beejoli: And yet it wasn't too campy?
Rich: No! It's real moderate on every front.
Beejoli: I was worried it would be too campy OR too precious, with all those one-liners
Rich: Nope. Just witty. Just nicely balanced between smarts and id-fishing.
Beejoli: Agents of R.E.S.T.R.A.I.N.T. An overlooked superhero quality in the TV world.
Rich: Yeah, exactly. It really is. This show achieves what superhero movies have sort of forgotten and abandoned as they are either way too serious about themselves (see: The Dark Knight Rises) or not serious enough (The Avengers and its offshoots). I give this a solid A. I'm hooked and as it explains more, I have a feeling it's only going to be a richer experience.
Beejoli: I can't convey how legitimately excited I am about this without sounding dry BUT I AM.
Rich: Go for it. Watch it. I hope everyone does. I hope people get this. I'm thinking they might. People are really thirsty for stuff that's smart. At least some people are. I worry *slightly* if Whedon's absence from the future scripts is going to make a difference. But I'm onboard.
Beejoli: I'm telling you, have faith in Jed & Maurissa who are the showrunners. My understanding is when the three of them are together, they are actually the ones who do much of the heavy lifting (which is great). And they did Dr. Horrible's Sing A Long Blog which was the best take on campiness I've ever seen.
Rich: Real-life Avengers assemble. Anyway, tell me about your 'medies.
Beejoli: I mean, is there any point now? JK THERE IS. Okay, so I watched The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife. I absolutely fucking LOVED The Goldbergs.
Rich: Oh really?
Rich: The posters really turned me off.
Beejoli: They were 80s fab!
Rich: The sort of 80s fetishism is done to death. I mean, The Wedding Singer was what, 15 years ago? Make like Taylor Dane and prove your love.
Beejoli: I could have taken or left the opening montage that mentioned things from the 80s, sure, but the show is really well-written. It oddly did NOT fetishize the 80s as much as I thought it would. Flava Flav joke? Sure. But all of the problems [in the show] were relatable.
Beejoli: Flavor Flav, too, did end up reverberating for decades. So that's not, like, irrelevant. Flav is still part of us. Part of our national fabric.
Beejoli: The reason I love it is because usually network comedies DO fixate on the "thing" that makes them different: 80s! Buffoons raising babies! Left at the altar awkwardness!
Rich: Right Everyone needs an angle.
Beejoli: But Adam Goldberg, who based the show on his actual family, mainly just focuses on the family, which I know sounds so obvious, but network comedy really, really does not nail that. There are a lot of characters: the overbearing mom, the angry dad, three siblings, and the crazy/sexy grandfather, and usually with that many you learn nothing about any, but with the exception of the sister, they actually got into each character without it feeling forced. Like, I was shocked it was only a 23 minute episode because nothing felt forced/rushed/shoehorned in, and I still sort of got the whole family dynamic. It's impressive they got it out that quickly because usually pilots struggle for that reason: it takes at least 6 episodes to establish the world and then everyone bitches about how slow the start was.
Rich: I mean, can you describe it? Why should I care about that family?
Beejoli: YES. Well, I'm biased because it reminds me of my family, but you have this dad who communicates by yelling (they do this cute thing where sometimes when he yells something like "I raised a moron" they'll put a subtitle of "I'm frustrated by your actions"), which Jeff Garlin plays perfectly. But you also then see this softer side of him when he's determined to teach his idiot kid how to drive, for better or worse. And that soft side shows up twice - not just a 10 second throwaway wrapup to make viewers happy at the end of show.
Rich: Ok, that sounds deeper than I would expect from a sitcom. The subtitles sound fun, too.
Beejoli: Wendi McLendon-Covey as the mom is HILARIOUS - I can't describe her better than just as funny as Bridesmaids. She had this nice heartfelt moment at the end of the episode about her stress that her kids are all growing up. It sort of came out of nowhere, but in a GOOD way! Like she could have just been a smother-y mom and had it be unexplained at the end and it would have been fine, but it added in this cute humanized moment at the end when her and Jeff Garlin are outside of the house, smelling the kids' baby blankets, and you get a 10 second explanation of WHY she's a crazy mom, instead of just accepting it. Right now the kids are all a little bit caricatured to me: nerdy younger brother wants to be cool with the ladies, misunderstood, middle brother wants freedom but miiiight also maybe be gay? Hard to tell in the 80s. Cool older sister, naturally.
Rich: You're blowing my mind here.
Beejoli: And George Segal as the grandfather was just really fucking funny. Had those same humanizing moments the parents had. I don't know I was just so, so pleasantly surprised by how good it was, and how much you got to know the characters without sacrificing jokes or story. It's a really hard balance to hit. I loved it, and it's likely only going to get better.
Rich: I'm going to watch that then.
Beejoli: Last thoughts on The Goldbergs: 1) I think it's relatable to all families which is great, not just loud yell-y families. 2) He puts clips of his own family videos at the end (the youngest son is based on the creator himself; both in the show and in real life he had a VHS camera strapped to his hand forever) and they are FUCKING HILARIOUS.
Beejoli: Adam actually is actively asking people to send in equally hilarious 80s and 90s family videos—he emailed me after we wrote something nice about The Goldbergs last week and I almost lost my shit—so if you have any, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll put you in touch. [ed. note: We are in no way affiliated with, or sponsored by, The Goldbergs, the show creator reached out on his own after a previous good review on Defamer]
Rich: Oooh, I have some!
Beejoli: On the flip side...Trophy Wife. Blerg. Malin Akerman, who cannot act her way out of a fucking paper bag, is Bradley Whitford's third wife.
Rich: I like Malin Akerman! She was so good on The Comeback. It's just like Ghost World innoculating me from ever disliking Scarlett Johansson or Thora Birch.
Beejoli: This show is an absolute waste of Bradley Whitford. I don't know which West Wing alum should be more disappointed in themselves: Allison Janney for Mom or Bradley for this.
Rich: Hahaha, well decide. This space is yours to determine such things.
Beejoli: Allison Janney, still. Bradley Whitford spends a lot of this pilot sighing heavily because he is very put upon, and I'd like to imagine that's a real life trait because his agents told him this was a good idea and he quickly realized it wasn't.
Okay so this show makes no fucking sense. It's about the trophy wife, Malin, but the entire B story revolved around Bradley and his second wife, Michael Watkins—delightfully nutty here, but in the same role she plays in everything—trying to replace a hamster for their adopted Chinese son. Then you have Marcia Gay Harden, who is Brad's first wife, and the mother of their awkward teenage twins. Marcia's only character trait is bitchy.
Rich: Sometimes that's enough. That's what reality TV taught me.
Beejoli: This is why The Goldbergs is good, Rich! It actually took those characters and when development execs say "make it more nuanced," HE DID. Trophy Wife, did not. So you have Malin and Marcia in the A-story, and Malin is trying to make the cunty daughter teen not hate her, to no avail.
Rich: Now she knows how Valerie Cherish felt!
Beejoli: Omg a moment to acknowledge how brilliant The Comeback was. Long live Aunt Sassy! Okay, resuming: The daughter teen is very cunty to Malin, probably because the daughter teen and the son teen (twins, bt dubs) both suffer from the same shitty hairdressers that the Parenthood kids had forever. The teenage haircuts on this show are AWFUL, while the parental ones are exceptional, much like Parenthood. That was truly the only flaw Parenthood had in its first 4 seasons.
Anyways, the show is just trope upon trope: Sexy trophy wife is stupid! Sexy trophy wife may be stupid but uses her drunk stupidity to foil the smart mean wife! Okay that's not a trope per se, but the idea of "stupid beating smart" is. And none of the storylines connect. I don't know what the show is! Is it a show about a blended family, blended by wives? If yes, it was not sold that way. And Malin Akerman is truly AWFUL in it. The chemistry between her and Bradley is non-existent. It's REALLY saying when I'd rather watch Jeff Garlin in tightie-whities kiss Wendi McLendon-Covey, than watch Josh Lyman romance a sexy blonde.
Rich: Chemistry is an elusive quality in these kinds of narratives. It's weird. But yeah, I feel you.
Beejoli: Agree. It is very hard to bottle, there's no formula for getting it right. But past that, it didn't bother being more interesting than a show about "Divorce is hard! Hot girls are stupid JK they're not!" And no one one the show seems to care about why they're there, so why should I?
Rich: That kind of apathy is palpable. There's way too much shit too watch.
Beejoli: It just felt like this show was a hodgepodge, even though all the characters are related.
Rich: Yeah It sounds like a mess.
Beejoli: Agree. Maybe it gets better? I don't think so, but I don't feel like giving it another chance
Rich: Lousy lay, move on.
Beejoli: Also, unnecessary use of voice overs. Like, don't voice over something happening IN REAL TIME. It's just such a lazy fucking use of exposition. I get it when some shows do it—The Goldbergs do, and I'm 75% convinced it's okay because most of it isn't even backstory, it is the things like "When my dad yells 'you break everything,' he means 'blank'"— but when you do it just to not have to have your actors get the story out...Lame. You suck at writing and shouldn't have a TV show. I'm very angry about this the more I think about it. I need to watch S.H.I.E.L.D. to calm down. Clear winner: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Rich: I dunno, you make a compelling case for The Goldbergs. But yeah, I mean, fair enough. S.H.I.E.L.D. is special.
Beejoli: You're right. Goldbergs definitely gets extremely honorable mention, and should be watched. But this is the hard part of showdowns! There can only be one winner!
Beejoli: Like if there was a Rich/Beejoli chat showdown, it was real nice knowing you but I'd cut a bitch to win. I'd hire Whedon to cut a bitch to win.
Rich: Words are like weapons, they wound sometimes.
Beejoli: I didn't mean that!
Rich: Yes you did. And I meant my Cher quote.
Beejoli: Please watch S.H.I.E.L.D., The Goldbergs, and then...Burlesque. In that order.
WINNER: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., because Whedon magic is really just unbeatable, no matter how hard you try.