I can only stare in awe at how they managed to write a show in which, apart from one or two conscious time jumps, every single episode followed on directly from the previous one.
And the actors managed to give the characters enough life for you to want to follow them.
Bryan Cranston had shown that he could be unlikable, but given a character who was, deep down, a truly bad man, he somehow made Walt compelling.
How I Met Your Mother.
It went on too long, and as a result the ending was highly unsatisfactory (the alternate ending was far superior), but this show was, for a few years, like a beloved garment that I’d put on each evening and relax into.
I’m currently enjoying it all over again because whereas I used to watch it with my wife, now I watch it with my daughter. I sometimes think that 55% of the brilliance of HIMYM was the casting, in that it’s impossible to imagine these characters being portrayed by anyone else: Josh Radnor’s willingness to be a dork; Jason Segel’s goofy chivalry; Alyson Hannigan’s laid-back weirdness (she’s the Ringo of comedy acting); Cobie Smulders’ level-headed charisma; Neil Patrick Harris’ brilliant minimalism, suggesting all of Barney’s egomania with the tiniest flick of the head, the straightening of a tie and the suggestion of a wink. ‘…Please.’
I’ve raved about this show before. Let’s just say that it got me hooked with the awesome R&B pastiche ‘The Sexy Getting Ready Song’, in which the obligatory random rapping dude wanders into the frame and starts talking about asses and [censored]s and…then his gaze falls onto the array of cosmetics and devices that the protagonist uses to make herself look beautiful, and he falters, and asks her ‘This is how you get ready?’ She nods happily. Horrified, he declares it ‘some nasty-ass patriarchal bullshit’, announces that ‘I got to go apologise to some bitches. I’m forever changed by what I just seen,’ and walks out of the song.
The Good Place.
In which Michael Schur, who’d already scored big with Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, reaches the peak of his powers. A young woman wakes up in a perfect afterlife among wonderful people and is informed that, due to her exemplary life helping innocent people to get off death row, she is one of the lucky few to have reached ‘the good place’, and is given a cute house and a charming and intelligent soulmate. Only problem is, as she immediately confesses to her soulmate, they’ve got the wrong person: she’s not a human rights lawyer, she’s a lazy, cynical, selfish saleswoman from Arizona. And that particular revelation comes halfway through the first episode. This is one of the funniest and most consistently intelligent shows on TV; I don’t know of any other sitcom ever in which the characters solve problems by discussing Kant in such a way that it’s actually relevant to the plot. Plus it’s got a fabulous cast and a brilliant late-career showcase for the majestic Ted Danson.
I do love a good sitcom, and B99 is another Schur creation. One of the things I find impressive about Schur’s shows is that he finds a way to make good characters interesting, by depicting them as battling against their worse instincts. Jake Peralta is a good cop, but when he remembers that it’s not all about him, he’s a really good one. Detective Amy Santiago is a genuinely nice person, but when the niceness cracks, for whatever reason (such as that someone stepped on her almond when she’s dieting), she’s a bundle of appetites like everyone else. But my favourite character is Raymond Holt, the most brilliant parody ever created of the tough, no-nonsense Captain. Andre Braugher’s deadpan has the power to make me wish he’d stop talking because I’m laughing too much. ‘Sergeant, are you familiar with the Hungarian fencing term, Hosszú görcs?’ ‘You must realise that my answer is no.’