The Universal Appeal of ‘Gilmore Girls’

Everyone’s talking about the return of Gilmore Girls. The show has amassed what could easily be described as a cult following, enjoying fan resurgence recently thanks to Netflix streaming all seven seasons and facilitating many hours of binge watching. I’ve come across Gilmore Girls fans of all genders, ages, shapes and sizes, and feel as though it’s worth considering the ‘formula’ that seems to make the show so relatable to so many differing types of people. How can a show still be as addictive, timeless and engaging, as it was when it was first broadcast sixteen years ago?

First, it’s worth considering how the show came into existence and the woman behind its conception…

A STROKE OF HUMUNGUS LUCK, AND MINIMAL STUDIO INTERFERENCE

It’s a sad fact: TV studio executives think that we are all stupid. They think that all audiences want to see when they switch on their idiot box at the end of a hard day’s work is dumbed-down, easy to digest, predictable and unimaginative trash, preferably shows that feature stupid or deplorable people that will make them feel slightly better about their own miserable lives. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t want to see anything new or interesting or cleverly written. We just want to be able to switch our brains to ‘standby’ mode as we bathe on our sofas in the hallowed glow of the TV screen, kill a few hours before we crawl into bed and weep ourselves to sleep in the dark.

Okay, so this may be slightly less applicable to televisual output in the last decade or so, during which more intelligent writing has found its way our screens (largely thanks to services such as Netflix and Amazon-funded original series). But things were different when Amy Sherman-Palladino pitched Gilmore Girls to The WB in the late 90s, and by her own admission, she got lucky. During the meeting with the studio’s executives, after several of her other carefully-prepared pitches had failed to capture their attention, she threw out one last, half-formed idea: a show about a mother and daughter’s friendship. To her amazement, they snapped it up. She hadn’t yet conceived any of the characters, had no setting and had not written a single word of the pilot’s script. After enlisting the help of her husband, Daniel Palladino, to write the scripts, and getting inspiration for the show’s locale from a holiday in Connecticut, everything ‘fell into place’. And, perhaps most lucky of all, the studio’s interference with the writing process was minimal; they trusted Palladino to produce something that viewers would love, and relate to. And she did; the show ended up being one of the network’s biggest successes.

Palladino’s dialogue and style of writing is uniquely her. It’s hard to imagine something like Gilmore Girls, something so unlike anything else, making it to air now, or even making it past the pitching stage. The fortuitous circumstances of the show’s production allowed Palladino’s voice and vision to remain un-tampered with; her mega-scripts (which were twice the length of a normal TV episode script) packed with surplus dialogue actually making it to screen uncut. The climate of fear in the TV (and movie) studio board room, fear that audiences might not ‘get it’ or that the show’s witty repartee might alienate ‘the precious 18-24 demographic’, would be enough to stop it in its tracks today.

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GENDER EQUALITY

You would think that a show called ‘Gilmore Girls’, with its female-focused relationships and overtly feminine DVD covers, would neglect to explore its male characters as acutely as it does its leading ladies. Indeed, I think it’s what turns a lot of men off the show, as it is easy to assume that Gilmore Girls should be classified alongside Sex and the City or Desperate Housewives (shudder) as just another ‘chick-show’ pandering to stereotypes and painting men as lesser beings. But as any man or woman who has watched it will attest, Gilmore Girls is more about ‘people’ than it is about ‘girls’. Its lead males are as strong, quirky, intelligent, oddball, career-focused, relationship-focused, romantic, unromantic, troubled, immature, baggage-laden, financially prosperous, broke, and generally as well-rounded as its females. The show’s characters have been devised by someone who knows and writes people, not someone who set out to make some grand feminist statement or regurgitate lazy stereotypes when forging character bios (as countless TV comedy writers so often fall into the trap of doing). By making, say, the town mechanic a female, or having a male character (who is heterosexual) be more fashion-obsessed and body-conscious than the women he is working alongside, Palladino not only subverts our expectations but also creates an environment where a character’s action cannot be easily predicted, at least not based solely on their gender.

DIALOGUE, DIALOGUE, AND MORE DIALOGUE

I’ll be the first to admit it: roughly half of the pop culture references in Gilmore Girls are lost on me. When I picture the inside of Amy Sherman-Palladino’s mind, I picture a vast and unending encyclopaedia of movies, books, TV shows, and random factoids. However, rather than just being written as a vehicle for Palladino to vent the clutter of clever jokes and information that must form her psyche, each character has been lovingly crafted to have a unique voice of their own (although it’s probably fair to say that Lorelai is Palladino’s closest match, in dialogue and in style). Characters are not just defined by one trait, and are as flawed and multi-faceted as you or me, so their dialogue is believable despite the fact that it is full of complexities and references to obscure movies. Each line spoken by a Gilmore Girls character is non-transferrable and is never there just to serve an expository function, or move along the plot. As mentioned by Palladino and cast members in interviews, the plot is not the focus of the show. In fact, if you go back and watch the pilot episode (as admitted by Palladino and Graham), ‘nothing happens for the first 25 minutes!’ The small moments are what define Gilmore Girls, and the dialogue is a huge part of building up the larger picture, giving the show its identity.

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THE CHERRY-PICKED CAST

For a show like Gilmore Girls to work, the right casting is an imperative factor, part of the glue that holds everything together. This is most true of Lorelai Gilmore, who probably has the most screen time, as well as double the dialogue of every other character (and is required to deliver it at twice the speed). And it really feels as though Lauren Graham is Lorelai; in her performance we get to witness that rare and wonderful thing, where an actor and character blur into one in such a way that we forget we are watching an actor playing a role. Lorelai is the purest manifestation of Palladino’s voice, and it is impossible to imagine any other actress bringing the same level of spirit and commitment to the role or identifying with Lorelai so discernibly.

Alexis Bledel’s performance as Rory Gilmore is given space to flourish as the actress, and character, comes of age and finds her path in the world. Bledel was a model when hired for the role (Gilmore Girls was her first acting job), and this lack of experience is something that really helps to shape the character of Rory from the pilot episode. While directing her carefully-picked cast, Palladino had the sense to allow Bledel’s vulnerability to shine through and make Rory an enigmatic on-screen presence, juxtaposed perfectly with Lorelai’s sass and worldliness. Rory is an introvert, she likes to read and study and is not there to steal the limelight, and this set-up for her character fits in perfectly against the backdrop of Stars Hollow and its many resident extroverts and oddballs.

The Stars Hollow inhabitants all bring something unique to the show, something that couldn’t be found elsewhere. Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann, who play Lorelai’s disapproving upper-class parents, are a force to be reckoned with. And it’s also worth mentioning the many men who play the Gilmore Girls’ various love interests, characters that are all written to match whatever stage of life or state of mind Rory and Lorelai are in. They are men that resonate with realism; the too-perfect first boyfriend; the guy you go out with just to piss of your parents; the troubled bad-boy in a leather jacket; the one you can always rely on in the end. Palladino has said that she often cast actors she ‘fell for’ to be featured in Gilmore Girls before she had even written characters for them, and this really shows by how naturally every actor seems to fit into their role, and into the universe of the show. Each performance is suffused with love and care and deeper understanding, which is one of the main reasons the show is so compulsively watchable. It’s fun to watch people who are clearly having a lot of fun acting their parts.

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AND FINALLY…A SIMPLE PREMISE

I think a large part of the show’s success, and people’s relatability to it, is its core premise and Palladino’s dedication to her original vision. There is nothing else like it on TV – and although it can’t easily be classified, it appeals to almost anyone thanks to its explorations of universally ‘human’ themes: family; relationships; career; friendship; academia; food; coffee, coffee, and coffee! Its plot and writing is never formulaic, and Palladino has obviously put a large part of herself and her own life experience into its creation (as all great writers do, whether they are writing TV shows or books or blog entries). And everyone has their own personal reasons for connecting to it; I used to watch the show every day with my mum, and so when I watch it now, I’m reminded of the closeness of our mother-daughter bond, tied in so deeply with Lorelai and Rory’s. Within the wealth of themes and sub-plots and character experiences that the show explores, viewers can recognize their own life experiences; and this universality is what is central to the success of Gilmore Girls, and the love expressed by its legions of fans.

 


 

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life will be premiering on Netflix on 25th November!

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Twin Peaks: The missing piece in TV’s modern landscape?

Bad Pasty

By Jade O’Halloran

Nestled somewhere in time, in a place both strange and wonderful, it has been lying in wait. In this rich, dark, Lynchian place, the birds sing a pretty song, and there’s always music in the air. Characters dance alone in diners where the coffee is always hot. Coincidence and fate figure largely. Things are not always what they seem.

“I’ll see you again in 25 years.”

Few TV shows have provoked such a level of speculation and, like much of David Lynch’s work, inspired such discussion as the legacy of Twin Peaks. Fans have demonstrated an unrivalled level of dedication to keeping the fire of Twin Peaks burning for over two decades, a testament to the power of Lynch’s universe. And finally, their dedication has paid off, with their reward coming in the form of nine episodes of what will no doubt be something extraordinary: a continuation…

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7 reasons to be excited for the return of Rick and Morty

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It feels like forever since Rick and Morty first amazed us when it aired on Adult Swim. In fact it’s been a year and a half since we were introduced to Rick, a foul-mouthed alcoholic scientist, and Morty, his grandson, who acts as Rick’s sidekick and is often unenthused to be taking part in his grandfather’s life-threatening intergalactic adventures. The pair hop dimensions, travel through alien worlds, and encounter a scope of weird and wonderful creatures along the way. Behind their many exploits, the wider family carries on as normal, burdened with the obstacles of their day-to-day lives and wholly unimpressed by Rick’s genius (unless it benefits them in some way, of course).

The creators of Rick and Morty have managed to come up with a show that feels completely original, full of new and ridiculous concepts and refreshingly crude characters. That’s no easy feat, particularly in animation, today. Each episode is sure to dazzle, evoke uncontrollable laughter, and leave us asking ‘what the f***?’ quite a lot.

Here are just 7 of a plethora of reasons that this season is going to be mind-blowing…


Boundless possibilities 

The intergalactic adventures of Rick and Morty span multitudes of timelines, dimensions and universes, so the pair can quite literally go anywhere, and the possibilities for storylines are unlimited, much like the boundless exploits of the show’s semi-titular models, Doc Brown and Marty McFly. On the other hand, this flexibility is juxtaposed with the normality of everyday family life and storylines around the household which take place in our world (i.e. ‘Earth Dimension C-137’). We encounter secondary subplots concerned with things like Beth and Jerry’s marital difficulties, Summer’s quest for popularity and Morty chasing after his high school crush Jessica, giving the show a necessary grounding and space for ‘worldly’ jokes, along with all of the mad stuff. It’s the perfect mix of clever wit, utter gross-out gags, humdrum humour and fantastical science fiction-adventure. There is something for everyone in the show’s varied content!

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Beth and Jerry 

Voiced by the wonderful Chris Parnell and Sarah Chalke, both perfectly cast in their roles as Morty’s realistically dysfunctional parents, Beth and Jerry ground the show in comic realism as they attempt to keep alive their flagging marriage in the midst of the chaotic household. Jerry is tormented by insecurities and feels frequently emasculated, whilst Beth is marred by contemplations of what could have been had she not got pregnant and married Jerry at such a young age…she longs to be a ‘more complete woman’, and both appear unfulfilled in their marital life. Due to the spot-on voice acting and fly-on-the-wall style of writing, Beth and Jerry are charming in their imperfections and selfish tendencies, and we are rooting for them to stay together because they make the perfect dysfunctional couple. At NY Comic Con last year, Sarah Chalke hinted that one of her favourite episodes in the new season involves Beth and Jerry going to off-planet couple’s therapy, so we get to root for them evermore.

Gorgeous and otherworldly animation

The animators of Rick and Morty must never be bored, because they are challenged to create new worlds and settings in every episode. Whereas episodes of The Simpsons or Family Guy usually take place in the same settings and so can use the same backgrounds and character templates, Rick and Morty travel to new and intricate worlds in each show, encountering strange creatures and unknown life forms along the way. Therefore the animators are constantly designing, and their prowess can be seen in the final result. Surreal creatures from Season 1 such as the Zigerions, Gazorpazorpians and pretty much all of Rick’s weird party guests in ‘Ricksy Business’, and lavish landscapes such as Anatomy Park, Scary Terry’s dreamscape, and Dimension 35-C in the pilot episode, set the remarkable tone for what we have to look forward to in Season 2, which promises to be even more visually impressive.

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Its many broad influences

Co-creator Dan Harmon has described the show as a cross between The Simpsons and Futurama due to its balancing of science fiction and family life. It’s fair to say that The Simpsons is the mould for the majority of animated shows being aired today in terms of writing and style (particularly family-based sitcoms), and Rick and Morty feels like a worthy candidate for its successor. It also does a great job selecting some of Futurama’s strongest components and running with them, taking concepts to new places whilst dirtying-up the humour for a more adult audience. And as well as the obvious Back to the Future, other sci fi influences such as Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can also be felt in Rick and Morty’s concepts and aesthetic. Mix this with a modern-Simpsons animation style, (blended nicely in the recent couch gag crossover) which also borrows from contemporaries Regular Show and Adventure Time, and you have the perfect fusion of references.

Pop culture sensibility

Rick and Morty is one of those shows that magically makes us all feel as if we’re part of an in-joke, with wit and timing that is sharp as a pin and jokes that can be scrutinized for their brilliance long after they’ve landed. It also has a knack for peppering pop-culture references sparingly and cleverly without detracting from the fantastical nature of the show. The dig at Inception in Season 1 (‘if this is confusing and stupid, then so is everyone’s favourite movie’), for example, fits so well with the show’s tone (sounding like exactly something Rick would say), and remains funny long after it’s ‘relevant’. With shows like Family Guy relying so heavily on cutaway gags and dumb references, audiences are primed for some intelligently written dialogue along with general cartoon silliness. Rick and Morty balances otherworldly concepts with self-referential gags and base humour, trusting its audience to ‘get it’ and keep up with the rapid pacing of joke-telling for the duration of the ride.

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Complete weirdness

It has to be one of the weirdest shows airing today, and we’re often left wondering how on earth the writers came up with some of the show’s concepts and characters. No attempt is made to normalize or tone down the surrealism to appeal to a wider audience, and that’s why we love it. Because it’s ok to be weird! Some of the crazier ideas from Season 1 include King Jellybean (a large transparent jelly bean man who tries to sexually assault Morty in the bathroom), the world of anthropoid chairs who sit on people and talk into pizza, and a man advertising his store who happens to perpetually have ants in his eyes. All ideas that are as hilarious as they are mad. There is no doubt that Season 2 will be stuffed with surrealism and ridiculousness, that we will get to wallow in and reference in our daily lives for a long time to come.

Return of Evil Morty? 

The writers have alluded to the fact that Season 2 will consist of all-new storylines and concepts, and that any open plot threads from Season 1 have been discarded in favour of fresh material. This is a great thing, an indication that the show’s creators are dedicated to keeping the show from going stale or relying too heavily on in-jokes and rehashing (a slew of other shows currently on-air could take note). However, the penultimate episode of Season 1, ‘Close Rick-counters of the Rick Kind’ ended with a superbly Keyser Söze-esque twist and the introduction of an eyepatch-wearing evil version of Morty disappearing into a crowd of Mortys after being rescued by the council of Ricks. It is implied that he was controlling Evil Rick all along, and is infinitely more cunning and intelligent than any of the Ricks in existence. If any concept from Season 1 is to be revisited, this should be the one, as Evil Morty could be the only worthy foe for Rick!

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Rick and Morty is back on our screens on Sunday 26th July. Wubba lubba dub dub!

The 20 best Simpsons guest stars

In no particular order…

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Phil Hartman

The late, great Phil Hartman voiced some of my favourite characters on the show, the most well-known probably being Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz. Known for his work on Saturday Night Live and appearances in film and TV, Hartman brought so much to The Simpsons, and after his death a noticeable void was left in the show. He said of his multiple appearances: “It’s the one thing that I do in my life that’s almost an avocation. I do it for the pure love of it”…and you can hear the passion and glee in his performances, which is perhaps why his are some of the best on the show.

Kelsey Grammer

No matter how far downhill The Simpsons has gone in recent years, there are two kinds of episodes I will always watch and enjoy: Sideshow Bob episodes and Treehouse of Horror episodes. Sideshow Bob is an extremely well-written and well-acted character, and we have Frasier star Kelsey Grammer to thank for that. Grammer already has a pretty brilliant voice, and just turns it up a notch for playing Bob. He is a superb villain – to me, the most memorable of his performances is in the episode Cape Feare – who else could make the sound of stepping on rakes so hilarious?

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I’ve had the joy of being exposed to a lot more Albert Brooks this year, mainly thanks to his brilliant performance in 2011’s Drive. It took me a while to discover that Bernie Rose was played by the same actor that voiced possibly my all-time favourite character in The Simpsons, super-villain Hank Scorpio. He has made a few other enjoyable appearances in the show as well as The Simpsons Movie, but he will always be Scorpio to me. Like Phil Hartman, you can hear the fun that Brooks is having, and we get to share in it. Not much more needs to be said about this great man. Perfect character and perfect episode.

Dustin Hoffman 

Lisa’s Substitute is an episode that gives me a lump in my throat, and only a few Simpsons episodes do this. This is largely thanks to Dustin Hoffman’s performance as substitute teacher Mr Bergstrom, a kind, gentle and passionate character portrayed brilliantly by a brilliant actor. It is also Yeardley Smith’s chemistry with Hoffman that makes the episode stand out to me, and that’s the great thing about the regular voice cast on the show – pair them up with the right co-star and you get an episode that is not just funny, but touching.

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The Last Temptation of Homer is quite a serious episode, dealing with the not-very-funny subject of infidelity. Luckily the writers are able to tackle serious matters while still retaining some humour, and so are the actors. Michelle Pfeiffer was brought in to play Homer’s temptress, Mindy Simmons. If you listen to the commentary on the episode, it’s pointed out that rather than playing her as a flirtatious seductress, Pfeiffer just acts ‘normal’, in no way trying to tempt Homer. It’s just a very real situation, of two compatible people trying to resist each other in the workplace, and Pfeiffer fits into this perfectly (and does an excellent Homer ‘drool’ noise).

Joe Mantegna

I can’t imagine anyone other than Joe Mantegna playing gang leader Fat Tony, it is a performance that is suitably scary and funny. His background in film and TV often playing ‘funny gangsters’ makes him the perfect actor to play this character, and you can see why the writers brought him back again and again.

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I find Stacy Lovell, the inspiration for Malibu Stacy, a funny character to start with – she’s a drunken has-been with a string of lovers living in Stacy’s Dream House. But Kathleen Turner makes it even better by just being hilarious. She’s showed that she’s a great comedienne in the dark John Waters comedy Serial Mom, and like Waters, she fits into the Simpsons world seamlessly.

James Woods

James Woods is great at playing James Woods. In Homer and Apu, he takes over the running of the Kwik E Mart in preparation for a movie role and brings the perfect amount of frankness, arrogance and comedic timing. He’s reprised his ‘role’ of James Woods in Family Guy, continuing to show how well he works as a voice actor.

Winona Ryder

I had to include Winona Ryder for purely selfish reasons – being that Lisa’s Rival is one of my favourite ‘Lisa’ episodes. It’s often difficult for adults to effectively portray a child’s voice, but Ryder does it flawlessly and subtly. And again, she works well alongside Yeardley Smith, turning a character that could be quite annoying into something more.

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I am a massive John Waters fan, not just because of his style of cult filmmaking, but because he seems like such a nice guy. And this comes through in his performance (he is pretty much playing himself as a shop owner). He fits seamlessly into The Simpsons world, and the subject of homosexuality and homophobia is tackled openly and frankly, largely thanks to him and Dan Castellaneta playing off eachother. Genius.

Anne Bancroft 

The Graduate is one of my all-time favourite movies, so naturally I think Anne Bancroft in The Simpsons is brilliant. Her comic timing is surprisingly very good for quite an underplayed character, a Doctor helping Marge conquer her fear of flying. It’s subtle, but still very funny – and works really well with the animation and writing style.

Patrick Stewart 

Homer the Great is a classic in Simpsons writing history. And Patrick Stewart is a classic British actor and also brilliant voice actor (see: American Dad). So put the two together and you have perfection. Stewart’s booming, Shakespearean voice is superb at delivering comedic lines and as usual, he’s entertaining from start to finish. “Now let’s all get drunk and play ping pong!”

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Marge Be Not Proud is a favourite episode of mine, and Reservoir Dogs actor Lawrence Tierney gives his wonderfully gravelly, dirty voice playing a security guard. The realism of this episode is very well written, a kid being caught stealing – and Tierney is suitably scary and imposing. The character also comes out with some odd mannerisms (“Capiche?”) and his voice sounds great delivering them.

Donald Sutherland 

Donald Sutherland has one of the best voices in Hollywood. I could listen to him all day; to me he’s on par with Morgan Freeman. So to be honest, any character he played in The Simpsons I would love. And his performance as a museum curator doesn’t disappoint – again it’s another one that works so well thanks to the main voice cast and Sutherland’s adaptability.

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The coyote in El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer has become somewhat of a cult icon in Simpsons world. I’ve seen tattoos of him – that is the effect he has. This may just be because the episode itself is quite iconic, completely subverting conventions visually and within the narrative. But Johnny Cash gives a superb performance as Homer’s spirit guide, partly because his voice is just awesome, but also because he is extremely funny and grounded for such an odd character.

Steve Martin 

Steve Martin is always going to give a great ‘angry man’ performance, and is perfect for the role of Ray Patterson, Springfield’s sanitation commissioner who is overthrown by Homer. He is one of those characters who is brought in mainly to comment on the fact that Homer is a complete idiot, and yet the townspeople are oblivious to this (see: Frank Grimes). And he does it so well that you may not even notice that it is Steve Martin, and to me that’s always the mark of a great performance; when the actor does not overshadow the role.

Ron Howard

It’s always great when a guest actor is not afraid to poke fun at themselves. Ron Howard, playing himself, isn’t portrayed in the best light – often angry, alcoholic and plagiarising. When You Dish Upon a Star is an episode exploring the vanity and fakery of Hollywood and Ron Howard plays into this perfectly. His deadpan delivery of the line: “Homer! We’re out of vodka.” will always be one of my favourites.

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David Hyde Pierce plays Cecil, brother of Kelsey Grammer’s Sideshow Bob, and of course the two play off each other brilliantly. Cecil is quite a gentle character (apart from being slightly evil) and Bob is, of course, very angry – so the two give a great joint performance. It’s even better that in this episode, Cecil turns out to be the villain and Bob is actually good. It’s just another direction that Bob is taken in, and Pierce works alongside him like a pro.

Mark Hamill

I love Mark Hamill. Who doesn’t? I mean, Star Wars, obviously – but I love him even more for his voice acting. He’s most notably played the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, and plays Skips and others in Regular Show, but in The Simpsons he’s mainly playing Mark Hamill. And again, he’s another actor who’s not afraid to poke fun at himself and the franchise that made him famous.

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I wasn’t a massive fan of The Simpsons Movie – it had its moments, and some great voice acting, but was far from the show that I grew up watching. However, the very brief appearance of Tom Hanks made me laugh profusely. Any appearance by Tom Hanks will brighten my day, so I had to include him on this list for restoring my faith in the ‘new’ Simpsons. Thanks Tom!

This was an extremely difficult list to narrow down. So the runners up are…

Paul & Linda McCartney, Barry White, Luke Perry, George Harrison, Rodney Dangerfield, Jack Lemmon, Martin Sheen, Jim Varney, U2, Pierce Brosnan, Ramones, Spinal Tap, Gillian Anderson & David Duchovny, Helen Hunt, Jane Kaczmarek, George Carlin & Martin Mull, Ernest Borgnine, Stephen Hawking, Penn & Teller, Lisa Kudrow.

Best TV of 2012

There’s been a lot to rave about this year…

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Boardwalk Empire

This season of Boardwalk has by far been the best. The character development, writing and acting on the show has worked its way up to near perfection, with a season full of ups and downs, laughs, and plenty of violent outbursts. Gyp Rosetti has been a truly terrifying and wildly unpredictable adversary to Buscemi’s Enoch Thompson, and it was exhilarating seeing Nucky lose everything this season and have to claw his way back to the top. I also loved Margaret and Owen’s affair, and this is coming from someone who generally hates any kind of romantic storyline, but those saucy Irish folk are just…steamy! The finale had me chewing my nails off from start to finish. Truly a show that has raised the bar and, like Nucky, showed us all who’s boss.

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It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

This show is still going strong after 8 seasons. With characters like these, anything is possible and they can never sink low enough. Charlie and Dee Find Love and Charlie Rules the World have been on par with seasons 3 and 4, whereas some of the other episodes have lacked something. But I’ll look past that, because these are characters that I have really grown to love and I’ll watch with glee at any horrible, excruciatingly embarrassing situation that they are thrown into.

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Breaking Bad

I’m running out of wonderful things to say about Breaking Bad, because although I know how good it is, I’m still shocked that it’s still this bloody good. And it just keeps getting better. When the final season airs I’ll probably explode because my mind won’t be able to comprehend it. Two words: DEAD FREIGHT. One of the most nail-biting, scarily amazing episodes of anything I’ve ever seen on TV. Or just…ever. Pure perfection…perfectly paced, perfectly staged, filmed, acted, written. And the ending to the season was like a punch in the face (in a good way, of course). This show is blowing my mind so much that I can’t even create proper sentences to sum it up. So I’ll just say…Walt Whitman!

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Portlandia

Although Portlandia has only just returned to our screens, it got off to a brilliant start with a sketch about sun-chasers. I hate Summer as a general rule, so this just about summed up my frustrations at people dashing out in shorts with BBQs the minute one ray of sun appears. Especially apt in this country. And that’s what I love about Portlandia…having moved to Bristol earlier this year, so many of the sketches illustrate the way of life here, the kind of shops, the irritating cyclists etc…Bristol is like the UK’s Portland. But Portlandia has Kyle McLachlan as its mayor (whose first appearance in this season I am keenly anticipating).

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Regular Show

The first episode of this season of Regular Show was a half-hour special bringing back all of the best ‘baddies’ from previous seasons and making tonnes of references purely to please the fans. I love you, JG Quintel. Exit 9B was awesome, and all of the episodes since have followed suit. And we’ve been treated to a few more specials with Terror Tales of the Park II and the Christmas Special. They’ve also managed to do the impossible, and introduce a new character who has fit in seamlessly. It’s definitely apparent that Regular Show cares about its fans, and I for one feel spoiled.

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Fresh Meat

Anyone who has ever lived in a student house should love Fresh Meat. The writers of Peep Show have done it again – made a realistic, tonally ‘British’ show that embodies the cynicism of our country without being depressing. It’s the same kind of set up as Peep Show (everything essentially goes wrong for each character in every episode). The characters are all extremely well written and are all people that you have met if you’ve ever been to Uni – I think they have all been really well developed this series and built up more as people. It has the anarchy of The Young Ones, the realism of Peep Show, and the comradery of The Inbetweeners.

Dexter Season 7…the opposite of an anti-climax.

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It’s a shame about Dexter. There was a time when it was my favourite show, something I looked forward to every week and managed to get my heart racing with every new, brilliantly written episode. Now…it’s just something I carry on watching in the hopes of it getting better. I enjoyed last season, I thought Colin Hanks was a great villain and the whole ‘religion’ angle felt fresh and realistic. It was a relief, because I hated season 5 and didn’t make it more than halfway before giving up on it out of sheer boredom and frustration.

This season has been a bit of a mixed bag. The majority of it has just been a mess. The problem is that it seems as if the writers couldn’t decide on one storyline…like they had a few half-ideas floating around and just threw them all in for good measure. It started off well, with Deb discovering Dexter’s true self and her conflicted attempts to deal with it. I think Jennifer Carpenter has really grown in strength and Deb feels like one of the most fully-formed characters now.

But then too many plot threads started opening up. I had to Wikipedia this season to actually remember them all. There was Louis Greene (remember him?) and his attempts to fuck with Dexter. The Koshka brotherhood plot was then introduced, and that itself had a few storylines: Isaak, Novikov, Quinn’s stripper…I thought Ray Stevenson as Isaak was one of the best things about the season, and the scenes between him and Dexter were tense and exciting. It seemed as though they had finally found an adversary to match up to John Lithgow’s Trinity in season 4. But then he was wasted! He was just killed off in a very anti-climactic way. Why not make him the main storyline? Why bother with the Koshka brotherhood? So many wasted opportunities for such a brilliant performance.

It seemed like there were just too many possible ‘baddies’ knocking around in this season…I have no idea why they bothered with the Arsonist plotline. That was extinguished (har har) pretty quickly. Dexter’s focus was on Hannah McKay, and I thought this was the only well-paced and developed storyline out of all of them. I thought the scenes between her and Deb were great too, but again, not enough of them. And the ending for Hannah McKay was a bit underwhelming…I can’t see the point in them letting her escape unless they’re bringing her back again next season, and her hanging around Miami wouldn’t make much sense if she’s on the run. It would have made more of an impact just to kill her off.

And then we get to LaGuerta. The big finale. This was exciting, tense, and suitably climactic. But why cram it all into the last few episodes? It also seems unlikely that LaGuerta would fall for Dexter’s trap in the last episode, and turn up to the shipping container alone – she knows he’s dangerous, and this is pretty much the same trap that she laid for him in the episode before. One thing I LOVED about this storyline was the return of Thomas “you’d better get on your knees and start kissing anything that resembles an ass” Matthews. What a great, frank, no-fucking-around character. I wish him and LaGuerta would have teamed up from the start so we could have seen more of him. I also liked the flashbacks with Doakes; although they didn’t really add anything to the plot, it was nice to be reminded of better times.

In short, the final episodes are what the whole season should have been. It didn’t need all that padding and go-nowhere characters. The love interest, Ray Stevenson, and LaGuerta (and Masuka’s party jacket) were the season’s strengths, and should have been given all of the focus. I really hope they sort out the pacing for next season, although these last couple of episodes seem like a pretty good setup for some crazy shit to go down. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen to Deb after what she’s done. I just hope they throw out the storyline of her having the hots for Dexter…it’s contrived, messed up, and doesn’t need to happen. There’s potential there for an amazing final season. All I ask is that Ghost-LaGuerta joins forces with Harry as Dexter’s moral compass…

8 reasons why Regular Show is awesome

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1. The episodes are only 11 minutes, which makes it extremely easy to watch and the perfect ‘filler’ show – I tend to pop an episode or two on during my lunch break or if I’m waiting for something else to come on. It’s also fun to watch in bulk (great marathon hangover TV).

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2. The characters. Once you get past the fact that the main characters are a blue jay, racoon, yeti and (perhaps most bizarre) a gumball machine, you can see how well written and well developed they are. And they are all people I know, or have known: angry boss, loveable slacker, eccentric…err…lollipop?

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3. Its structure. Each episode begins fairly normally, but by about the halfway point has spiralled off into some mad supernatural world, making it almost like a crazy daydream. But somehow it still manages to be grounded, and seem real. Huh?

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4. The animation is gorgeous. The characters, despite being animals or inanimate objects brought to life, still retain some humanism and expression. And the backgrounds are like hazy, watercolour dreamscapes, which matches the tone of the show perfectly.

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5. It’s a world without boundaries, which means endless and unpredictable possibilities. Characters have died and come back to life, baby ducks have grown into a giant muscle man, the world has nearly ended on several occasions…but then there have been episodes about setting up chairs or getting an annoying song stuck in your head. Anything is possible.

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6. Its influences. It’s got the comic prowess and timing of The Simpsons, the crazy misadventures of The Mighty Boosh, and the realism of The Office, while still having its own unique look and feel.

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7. The show is extremely (sometimes annoyingly) quotable. And the quotes aren’t even fully-formed sentences! Noises like ‘OHHHHH!’, ‘Hm hm hm’ and ‘hamBONING!’ have made it into my regular vocabulary. And nobody knows what I’m on about.

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8. The voice actors. There doesn’t need to be any surrealism in the voices because of all the crazy visuals and storylines, so the characters sound pretty normal and low-key. Which fits really well. And Mark Hamill plays Skips, need I say more?