Donald Glover, Atlanta Review

Donald Glover is a hard man to pin down. Most know him for his role as Troy Barnes in the cult-ish hit comedy show, Community, while others know him best as his rapping alter ego, Childish Gambino. He even tried his hand at stand-up comedy, releasing his hour long special, Weirdo, in 2012. While Glover has mostly excelled at everything he tried (I am partial to his work as Childish Gambino), nothing seemed to be able to fully encompass his vast skill set. After watching the first four episodes of his new show on FX, Atlanta, it is obvious that Glover finally found the perfect vehicle to put it all together.

Atlanta is best described as Louie meets The Wire, or more accurately, Master of None meets Ray Donovan. The scenes that make you laugh, can just as easily make you cry. The comedy strikes on a very real, no frills level. As creator, writer, and star of the show, Glover is completely unleashed to flex all of his considerable talents. He plays a character that is determined to raise his position in life, and sees opportunity when his drug dealing cousin, Paper Boi, gets a little bit of fame from his rap video. The story follows Glover’s attempts to manage his cousin to the top of the Atlanta rap game, while truly focusing on the struggles that many people face in the black community. The show has a message, and Glover isn’t afraid to use comedy, drama, or violence to tell it.

Not only is the writing excellent, but the acting deserves to be mentioned with the very best on television right now. Glover perfectly plays his role of the level-headed heart of the show, tiptoeing around one disaster after another. Brian Tyree Henry plays the character of Paper Boi, and while it would be easy to play a drug dealing rap star over the top, Henry keeps it very real and down to earth. Last but certainly not least, Keith Stanfield plays Paper Boi’s best friend and business associate, Darius, and he easily steals just about every scene he is in. He plays the prototypical “funny friend,” but still manages to give the character heart and depth.

Atlanta is the perfect storm for Donald Glover, where it feels like everything he has done in life was meant to lead up to this moment. Every episode is so well thought out, each having its own message and story to tell, while still fitting into the bigger picture. If you weren’t already a fan of his, you will be after giving this show a shot. Atlanta airs on FX every Tuesday at 10 pm, and you can watch all of the episodes On Demand whenever you want.

By Michael Halpern (@MichaelCHalpern)
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Andrew Dice Clay, Showtime’s Dice Review

The world is a very different place than the one Andrew Dice Clay rose to prominence in during the 80’s and 90’s, and while the world changed, Dice remained the same. You simply can’t say some of the things he used to say on stage anymore. Since his fall from grace, it has been over a decade of mostly futile attempts to regain his foothold in the entertainment industry. His best and most memorable work over that time span were his interviews on the Howard Stern Show. But in his new Showtime comedy series Dice, Dice’s old brash and Teflon act have been replaced by a more vulnerable and self-aware side. He is still the same Dice, but a Dice who the audience can root for.

The very first thing you will notice about Dice, is that the style, tone, and pace are all similar to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Many shows have been heavily inspired by Curb. Some work, some don’t. Dice most certainly works. The show centers around Clay’s life in Las Vegas as an ex-superstar who is now scraping the bottom of show business. He was once selling out Madison Square Garden, and he is now coming up with schemes to get out of paying the $5 ATM fee at a Vegas Casino. He gets into fights with an Elvis Impersonator, accusing him of being bad luck. It is far from the glamorous lifestyle he used to live, but it is a much funnier and relatable one.

Clay absolutely nails the role of playing himself, even in scenes where we are supposed to laugh at him, rather than with him. The only other characters to appear in every episode are his take no crap girlfriend, played by Natasha Leggero, and his lackey/best friend, played by Kevin Corrigan. Both have easy chemistry with Clay, and are hysterical in their own right. The guest stars are also a real strength of the show, with some of the best episodes being carried by Adrien Brody, Michael Rapaport, and Lorraine Bracco.

Dice is exactly the vehicle Clay needed to get back into the public consciousness. It is a funny, well-written show that perfectly plays on the unique circumstances of his life. Showtime hit a homerun with this one. Season 1 has only six episodes, but in this day and age of 1,000+ channels and every show ever seemingly at our fingertips, quality is much more important than quantity, and Dice is quality. “Hey asshole face,” do yourself a favor, and give this show a shot.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Top 5 Curb Your Enthusiasm Scenes

With the surprise announcement that the greatest TV comedy of all time, Curb Your Enthusiasm, will be returning for a 9th season, I did anything but curb my enthusiasm, as I dove headfirst into the Youtube archives in search of the show’s very best scenes. After watching several hours of hysterical clips, I dumped all of that data into my personal super computer (my brain), and produced a highly scientific top 5 ranking based on three key factors: Hilarity, Relatability, and Memorability. Here are the top 5 Curb Your Enthusiasm scenes:

1) The Weatherman – “I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that you’re predicting rain to clear the golf course for yourself.”

Hilarity – No one scene captures the essence of the show like this one.

Relatability – Even if you don’t play golf (I notoriously don’t), everyone can relate to getting screwed over by a crappy weather report.

Memorability – My friends still randomly send me clips of this scene (you know who you are … Blake).

2) Big Vagina – “He said the problem didn’t lie with his small penis, but rather, with your big vagina.”

Hilarity – Larry’s hand sign for “big vagina” is now embedded in pop culture.

Relatability – Well, I guess it depends on how big your penis and/or vagina is.

Memorability – How can anybody possibly forget this scene?

3) Larry refuses pie from Ted Danson – “Take this fucking piece of pie, and get it out of my face!”

Hilarity –  Watching this scene makes you instantly remember how great this show was/is.

Relatability – Most of us just take a bite when people push food on us … but not Larry.

Memorability –  It isn’t the first scene that comes to mind when you think of Curb, but the clip was too funny to leave out of the top 5.

4) Susie yelling about a doll’s head – “Get me the fucking head, alright, both of you, cause I’ve had it, you four-eyed fuck and you fat piece of shit. Get me the head!”

Hilarity – I’m literally dying of laughter as I’m writing this.

Relatability – I seriously hope this scene isn’t that relatable for you.

Memorability – Susie was a great character, and this scene was probably her most memorable.

5) The Larry David Sandwich – “You have two fishes in the sandwich?”

Hilarity – I’m just now realizing the “hilarity” category is kinda useless. The entire show is hilarious.

Relatability – White fish, sable, cream cheese, capers, and onions. Who wouldn’t want to get rid of that sandwich?

Memorability – Jeff’s little asides in this scene are classic.

*) Larry stare down compilation – Bonus scene (more like scenes) of Larry’s many stare downs, often times accompanied by a well placed, “hmmmmmmm …”

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

truTV, Comedy Knockout Review

truTV has been throwing comedic haymakers at the established comedy world for the past few years now with hilarious hit show after hilarious hit show (Impractical Jokers, Those Who Can’t, The Carbonaro Effect, Fameless, Billy on the Street), and now they are channeling that underdog, fighting spirit into one aptly named show, Comedy Knockout.

In front of an audience filled with people who seem like they were just explained what comedy was minutes before the show started, three of the most hardened, stage tested New York comics go head-to-head-to-head in a battle of wit, ingenuity, and roasting ability. Nothing is off limits as they go hard at each other, at the audience, and just generally do whatever they can to be funny. The show is broken down into 3 rounds, and after each round the audience votes via the highly scientific crowd noise method for which comic they liked the best. The host, Damien Lemon, then pretends to detect who got the loudest cheers, and anoints a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in each round. The winner at the end of the show gets a plastic trophy, and the loser has to read an embarrassing, prewritten (not by them) apology for sucking at comedy.

The show is still a little rough around the edges, but when the comedians really get into it and are on their game, it can be hysterical. Episode 2 with Kurt Metzger, Matt Kirshen, and Yamaneika Saunders was straight gut-busting and hilariously vicious. It is a perfect representation of what this show is at its best. In episode 3, Kerry Coddett and Dave Hill had a classic head-to-head showdown, with both of them literally fighting over the mic to get their jokes in. I became an instant fan of all of them. Veteran, fan favorite comedian Jim Norton also killed it in the episode he appeared in, of course.

Comedy Knockout might not be as refined as some of truTV’s other hit shows, but it perfectly represents the comedic energy that has brought truTV to the top of the comedy world. The voting audience stuff seems a little out of place, and the show is still trying to find its footing in general, but there are moments of greatness when everything comes together. At the very least, it is a great show to watch if you want to discover under the radar comics or just expose yourself to a bunch of names you may have never heard of before. Season 1 is currently airing right now, and there is a new episode on tonight, Thursday, May 26, after Impractical Jokers.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Top 5 Stand-Up Comedians

When writing about the very best stand-up comedians in the world, it can be a daunting task to come up with a funny opener. So please forgive me for straight passing. Without further ado, here are the top 5 stand-up comedians in the world right now:

1) Chris Rock – Chris Rock is nothing short of a living legend, the King. Hell, he’s also the Queen, the Prince, and the Princess. He’s the entire royal family of comedy. He absolutely killed it hosting the Oscars in primetime with millions watching around the world, and the last time I was at the Comedy Cellar, he showed up out of nowhere and did an hour of brand new material that had the entire room buzzing. There is no question that Rock deserves the #1 spot.

2) Louis C.K. – Louis C.K. has been a major catalyst for the stand-up comedy explosion in recent years. He is an inspiration and trailblazer for creative people in every field. It doesn’t matter what venue he is performing at; he can take down any room. I have seen him at the Comedy Cellar multiple times, as the headliner at Irving Plaza, and at a Wounded Warriors Project charity event, and he had the audience in stitches each time. He has also conquered television, starting with his underrated 2006 HBO show, Lucky Louie, through his hit show on FX, Louie, and now as a co-creator of the show Baskets. That is a resume only Chris Rock can top right now.

3) Bill Burr – Here is what I wrote about Bill Burr in my F is for Family Review, “Burr is a mastermind at finding comedy in how men think, and why we act like we do. While being funny is surely his number one goal, what makes him great are that his insights cut on a much deeper level. Some try to pigeonhole Burr as the typical Neanderthal man, but it is that exact stereotype that Burr loves to play on, and ultimately rejects using ‘hilarious wisdom.’” Hey, if comedians can repeat their material every now and then, so can I.

4) Jim Gaffigan – Jim Gaffigan performed at the same Wounded Warriors Project charity event that I mentioned earlier, and being completely objective, he might have actually outdone Louis C.K. on that night. The entire theater was putty in his hands. He is the undisputed champ of “food comedy,” and if you haven’t seen his famous 5-minute bit on Hot Pockets, just stop reading this article right now and watch it. Gaffigan has been doing his thing for years now, and he is slowly but surely climbing his way up the stand-up comedy ranks.

5) Gary Gulman – Gary Gulman is the underdog of the group, an up and comer who is destined for a big breakout in the near future. He is a tall, handsome man with an athletic build, whose stand-up comedy style is that of an awkward, overweight kid who got no ass growing up. Just watch his hilarious bit about Donald Trump, Bill Gates, and Billionaires from his 2012 comedy special, In this Economy, and then go on Netflix and watch the rest of that special, along with his 2016 special, It’s About Time. I guarantee you become an instant fan.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Top 5 Underrated TV Comedies

It seems like all of the very best comedies on television are underrated these days. They are on these obscure channels, that are the sister channel, of the sister channel of a major network. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the best comedy on TV, is on FXX. Even FX was too mainstream for them! Fox had to create an entirely new channel with an extra “X” on it just for them! All of the comedies in my Top 5 TV Comedies article that I wrote last December can be included on this list too, and in fact, I could have easily titled that article, “Top 5 Underrated TV Comedies,” as well. So, for this article, I had to dig even deeper. Here are the Top 5 Even More Underrated TV Comedies:

1) Maron – Bet you don’t know what channel number IFC is on without looking? But that is where you will find Marc Maron’s brilliant show, Maron. The show takes all of Maron’s signature neuroticism, anger, and insecurities, and packages it in a style similar to Curb Your Enthusiasm. There are even a few wisdom bombs dropped in here and there. Season 4 premieres on May 4, and I highly recommend giving this show a shot.

2) Grace and Frankie – Netflix might be easy to find, but you will have to pay an extra $9.99/month to get it. It is worth it, as they are starting to cultivate some of the very best comedies on TV, and Grace and Frankie might be the best of them all. And the most underrated. You wouldn’t think a show about four senior citizens would be in my wheelhouse, but funny is funny, and this show is funny. The material is all very new and fresh, and the acting is nothing short of outstanding. Season 2 premieres on May 6.

3) Episodes – Another underrated show on a premium channel, Showtime. Episodes is a hybrid British/American comedy that satirizes Hollywood. The show stars Matt LeBlanc, who is surprisingly very funny in it, but it is really more of an ensemble cast, and all of them play their roles perfectly. It is a very understated and witty show that deserves more attention. Season 5 is currently in production, and a release date has not been announced.

4) Review – You can find Review on Comedy Central, which is as close to mainstream as it gets for this list. Review is a show within a show, where one man attempts to review all of life’s experiences, both the good and the bad. It is truly very unique and there is nothing to really compare it to, other than the Australian TV show that is was adapted from, but you get my point. Season 3 will be their final season, and a release date has not been announced.

5) The Carbonaro Effect – truTV is the most underrated TV channel, period. This spot could have easily gone to Those Who Can’t, Billy on the Street, or Fameless, but the new season of The Carbonaro Effect is on right now, and they are absolutely killing it. It is a prank show, where a magician goes undercover and creates hilarious illusions to fool unsuspecting marks. The show makes you realize how easily people’s minds can be blown when they see a great illusion that they were not expecting to see. Like I mentioned earlier, Season 2 is airing now, and truTV is constantly marathoning all of their shows, which is awesome.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

SyFy, 12 Monkeys Review

In theory, I should be a huge fan of the SyFy channel. I love reading Sci-Fi novels (two personal favorites are Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart and 2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America by Albert Brooks) and I love watching Sci-Fi movies (too many to even begin to start naming them), but every time I have attempted to get into a show on the SyFy channel, I was left seriously unimpressed. So, it was with great trepidation that I once again went down the SyFy rabbit hole, and tested my luck on a show titled 12 Monkeys. This time, I was not disappointed.

12 Monkeys is the television adaptation of the 1995 movie starring Bruce Willis. It is a fast paced, time traveling roller coaster ride.  Long story short, a deadly virus wipes out humanity in the future, and a small group of survivors build a time machine in order to send someone back in time to save the world. The story, special effects, and direction are all on point, but what really makes 12 Monkeys special, is the excellent acting. Aaron Stanford plays the man responsible for saving the world, Amanda Schull plays a doctor from the present who reluctantly becomes Stanford’s ally, Kirk Acevedo plays Stanford’s partner and best friend, Emily Hampshire plays a mental patient who is the catalyst to spread the virus, and Barbara Sukowa plays the scientist who built the time machine. I would love to highlight a few of them for outstanding performances, but all of them absolutely kill it in their roles. It is movie quality acting all around.

If the action-packed plot and brilliant acting aren’t enough, the season 2 premiere includes a fun surprise for fans of the show Impractical Jokers. Brian “Q” Quinn makes his acting debut by playing a very eligible bachelor at a speed dating event, and wouldn’t you know it, he unsuspectingly helps to save the world! If you read my Who is the Best Impractical Joker? article, you know I am a big fan of the show, so it was pretty cool to see Q pop up out of nowhere.

SyFy finally got one right with 12 Monkeys. There might be a few plot holes here and there, and maybe they cheated a little bit by adapting an already successful movie, but I’ll still count it. It is an extremely entertaining show that you will not want to turn off. Season 1 is currently not available anywhere for free, but you can watch the season 2 premiere here.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Will Arnett, Netflix’s Flaked Review

It is hard to imagine Will Arnett playing any other character than the imbecile. He did it so well as Gob Bluth in Arrested Development, and he has since built an entire career on that character archetype. He once said the reason he got into comedy in the first place, was because his attempts at dramatic acting were met with laughter anyway, so why not go with it. But a decade after Arrested Development got cancelled, it was high time for Arnett to jump back into the dramatic deep end, and he has done just that with Netflix’s new dramedy Flaked.

The first act of Flaked comes off like a watered down version of Californication. Arnett plays a recovering alcoholic, living a romanticized deadbeat lifestyle in Venice Beach. He is an easy going ladies’ man, and everyone’s best friend. He has a smooth line for every situation. But the show is much more than it appears on the surface. There is a deeper, darker side to both Arnett’s character, and the seemingly directionless storylines that are first introduced. You need to let this show grow on you, as it might not catch you right from the get go.

Whatever reservations you will most likely have seeing Arnett play a (semi) serious character, you won’t have the same issues with the supporting cast. All of them absolutely nail their parts. David Sullivan plays the role of Arnett’s bumbling best friend, Ruth Kearney plays his main love interest, Robert Wisdom is cast as the wise friend (maybe there is something to this changing your last name business, after all), and veteran actress Heather Graham brings some gravitas to the show in her role as Arnett’s ex-wife. As for Arnett himself, after the initial shock of seeing him deliver sincere lines that are actually meant to be taken sincerely, he does eventually win you over, and makes it easy to buy into, and even sympathize with his character.

Flaked is best categorized as a slow burner, with each passing episode adding new layers to the previously surface level only interactions. You can’t fully appreciate the nuance of the show until all of the cards have been laid out on the table. It isn’t perfect, and it might take some time to get used to Arnett in this new type of role, but the payoff is worth it in the end. I’ll give Flaked 4 out of 5 stars, and definitely recommend that you give it a shot, if you haven’t already.

By Michael Halpern
Twitter: Imaginary Brick Wall (@ImaginaryBrickW)

Jim Gaffigan, The Jim Gaffigan Show Review

Jim Gaffigan is a pioneer in the stand-up comedy world, blazing a trail for food obsessed people everywhere. He made “food comedy” a category all unto itself. You have to only watch his famous 5-minute bit on Hot Pockets to see what I mean. But Gaffigan is more than just a food comic. He has quietly built a reputation as one of the best stand-up comedians in the world. And he has now taken that finely tuned comedic material, and poured it into his new, aptly named show, The Jim Gaffigan Show.

The Jim Gaffigan Show centers around Gaffigan’s life as a stand-up comedian living in Manhattan with his wife and five children. The major themes of the show are food, family, friends, work, religion, and well, more food. In one scene, Gaffigan’s wife mocks him for getting banned from Big Gay Ice Cream, an ice cream shop in New York. His idea of cheating in Las Vegas is eating an entire red velvet cake in his hotel room alone at midnight, and then sheepishly lying to his wife about it, telling her he only ate half of the cake at midnight and the other half in the morning. He gets into a fight at the airport after eating another person’s momentarily unattended fries off their plate. The man has a problem, and it is hysterical.

While Gaffigan is certainly the star, Ashley Williams kills it in her role playing his wife, and carries more than her fair share of the weight. She is so convincing, that when I first saw the show, I thought it might have actually been Gaffigan’s real wife playing the role. Adam Goldberg plays the role of Gaffigan’s best friend, portraying a typical New York comic like Dave Attell. Michael Ian Black plays the role of Gaffigan’s wife’s gay best friend and ex-boyfriend. The obvious tension this creates between Gaffigan and Black is hilarious.

The Jim Gaffigan Show has flown mostly under the radar, which is odd because Gaffigan is an extremely popular stand-up comedian. Maybe it is because the show airs on TV Land, which despite its name, has yet to make much of a mark in the TV world. But the show deserves more exposure, and in the current comedy landscape where depraved humor is flourishing, it is nice to see a legitimately funny show that also has a heart. You can watch the first five episodes of Season 1 here. The schedule for Season 2 has not been released yet.

By Michael Halpern

Who Is the Best Impractical Joker?

Hold up … before you crucify me for daring to pick a favorite Impractical Joker, which is like being forced to pick your favorite child, or pick your favorite dish at a Chinese restaurant (ok, this one might be just me), I want to highlight this is not about picking a favorite in that way. My favorite Joker can change episode to episode, and even within episodes. And we all know the key to the show is the genuine friendship between the guys, with the whole being greater than the individual parts.

This ranking is about appreciating the underlying skill, art, and performance of Joe, Sal, Murr, and Q, which often gets overlooked. We all watch the show to laugh, but there is a competition going on, as well. In order to find the “best” all around Joker, I broke it down into 4 categories: Versatility, Reactions, Guts, and Performance. I rank each Joker (1-4) within the categories, and the Joker who ends up with the least amount of points is our winner. Let’s get started:

Versatility – Whether saying stupid stuff to strangers in the park, or giving a business presentation to people dressed in suits, the Jokers need to blend in seamlessly in order to get the thumbs up.

1) Murr – One second he looks like “the government in a suit,” and the next he transforms perfectly into a pedophile lurking on the outskirts of a playground, or a pervert hiding in the bushes. A true chameleon.

2) Joe – Like Denzel Washington playing himself in every movie, Joe plays his different roles in a similar manner. He doesn’t change his personality around the role, he changes the role around his personality. It is a great shortcut if you have the ability to do it, and both Denzel and Joe do it well (I know you never thought Denzel Washington and Joey Gatto would be mentioned in the same sentence, but you were wrong).

3) Q – Will not overact a role, which makes him very believable. Finds a way to stay grounded in reality, no matter how crazy he is forced to act.

4) Sal – Wears his heart on his sleeve, and it does not lend well to blending into the more formal, business oriented tasks. He just can’t keep a straight face, but we love him for it.

Reactions – The Jokers can’t control how the public is going to react to their antics, but it is nonetheless a key part of the show. This category is for the Joker who gets the best reactions out of people.

1) Q – “Don’t call me mustache.” Need I say more?

2) Sal – This is where wearing your heart on your sleeve pays off. No matter what Sal says or does, people still feel comfortable around him, and very rarely clam up.

3) Murr – His ability to slip into any character is the same skill that makes people act a bit careful around him. He is almost too slick. But watching people slowly step away from him can be hysterical in its own right.

4) Joe – His own worst enemy, as he is just too damn funny. The people he is trying to get a reaction from, laugh just as much as we are laughing at home (and just as much as the other Jokers behind the camera as well).

Guts – Pretty self-explanatory.

1) Joe – Manages to keep his dignity no matter what he is forced to do. In fact, he is a master at turning whatever situation he is thrown in around in his favor.

2) Q – You can see Q flip a switch in his mind and decide he will do whatever it takes to win a task. He tried to grab another man’s crotch in the middle of a public park. If that won’t slow him down, nothing will.

3) Sal – You can sometimes see the hesitation on his face, but it does not prevent him from conquering his fears, and he seems to have a few of them (heights, germs, claustrophobia, hairless cats, etc …).

4) Murr – Random things will make Murr tap out when you least expect it. He will say some of the most offensive, crazy stuff on the show, but then refuse to say something relatively tame. The unpredictability lands him 4th in this category.

Performance – Although it is a competition, it is a TV show as well, and the masses must be entertained.

1) Sal – Can sing. Can dance. Has quick wit when he is not falling over in laughter. The total package.

2) Murr – Always has the big picture in mind. You can see him try to balance winning the task, with entertaining the fans at home.

3) Joe – Funny when he isn’t even trying. Dives belly first into every task, with comedy his number one goal.

4) Q – Has laser-like focus on winning the task, and might not always ham it up at the risk of a thumbs down.

Joe – 10
Sal – 10
Murr – 10
Q – 10

A four-way tie! This completely scientific study proves that it is in fact impossible to pick the best Impractical Joker. I should be ashamed for even trying.

By Michael Halpern