Sunday, August 07, 2011

FX bets big on comedy, plus what Werner Herzog's bringing to Toronto

With its 10 p.m. Thursday comedy block of "Wilfred" and then "Louie," FX has put together pretty easily the brightest spot in summer TV (and yes, that means I've never seen "Breaking Bad," not out of any particular animosity toward it, but simply because there's only so much TV one man can watch, even me.)

And now, in not terribly surprising but still welcome news, comes word that the network has just renewed them both for 13 episode runs, "Louie" its third and "Wilfred" its second, and also given a rather amazing eighth and ninth season orders to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

"Louie," in particular, has really grown in its second season to become one of the best sitcoms around, with star (and writer, and even editor, too) Louis CK rightly nominated for an Emmy for best actor in a comedy.

Using his status as a "comedian's comedian," he's had Dane Cook and even better, Joan Rivers, on for memorable stints, with the latter producing both some of the year's funniest and most uncomfortable moments, all within the space of about 10 minutes. Best of all, however, have been Louis' particularly pathetic attempts to pitch woo to Pamela Adlon, who also played his wife on "Lucky Louie" and is clearly the closest thing he has to a comedic soul mate.

As for "Wilfred," if you've never seen the rookie sitcom starring Elijah Wood as a stoner slacker who just happens to be able to talk to his neighbor's dog, Wilfred, you're really missing out on something fun.

The show wisely started out about as dark as possible, with Wilfred being a tormenter determined to bring out the absolute worst in Ryan (Wood) at every turn, before slowly evolving into a mix of guardian angel and demented devil (though thankfully, still much more often the latter.) Showrunner and star Jason Gann, who dons the rather ridiculous dog suit to play Wilfred, said on the Television Critics Association tour that as the show was starting, they presented him with a photo of Ian McKellen's Gandalf with his arms around Wood's Frodo, but with Wilfred's face superimposed over Gandalf's. Seen through that prism, the show just gets even funnier.

And thankfully, just as those steadily improving shows wrap up their current seasons, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" will return the following week, with season seven premiering at 10 p.m. Sept. 15. Season seven? Really? How in the world did that happen, and with it getting two more seasons, did it manage to become the longest-running sitcom in basic cable history?

The answer is that it never gave an inch toward developing any kind of conscience at all, with its gang of characters not just embracing but reveling in their vileness (Mac, Dennis and Frank) or patheticness (Dee and Charlie, and yes, I know that's not actually a word), and all five in their depravity. The promos for season seven, one of which I've included below, give the show a very funny Hallmark effect, with the ending title card particularly spot-on. Enjoy, and stop by the FX site to see all of them.

OK, in one more short bit about TV before moving on to what Werner Herzog is premiering at this year's Toronto Film Festival, the Television Critics Association gave out its awards Saturday night, and got at least two things exactly right.

There's still too much and very predictable love for "Modern Family," which I still sometimes tune in for but delivers perhaps two real laughs a week, but also in comedy they righted a serious Emmy wrong by giving an "Individual Achievement in Comedy" award to Ron Swanson, aka Nick Offerman, who also hosted the awards presentation. If you've somehow missed Ron Swanson, the true hero of "Parks and Recreation" and Libertarians' patron saint, be sure to make up for that by tuning in when the show returns this fall.

And as much as I hate that great shows often don't get any critical love until they're already gone, it was certainly nice to see the critics give their "Program of the Year" award to the recently departed and already sorely missed (at least by me) "Friday Night Lights." I really don't believe any of the noise I've seen from Peter Berg about continuing with a "FNL" movie, and really, why bother? The show clearly went out on top, and it's just nice to see smart people recognize that. Here are all the winners.

Individual Achievement in Drama: Jon Hamm (Mad Men, AMC)
Individual Achievement in Comedy: Ty Burrell (Modern Family, ABC) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation, NBC)
Outstanding Achievement in News and Information: Restrepo (National Geographic Channel)
Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming: The Amazing Race (CBS)
Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming: Sesame Street (PBS)
Outstanding New Program: Game of Thrones (HBO)
Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials: Masterpiece: Sherlock (PBS)
Outstanding Achievement in Drama: Mad Men (AMC)
Outstanding Achievement in Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)
Career Achievement Award: Oprah Winfrey
Heritage Award: The Dick Van Dyke Show
Program of the Year: Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)

And finally today, not surprisingly, Werner Herzog will bring surely one of the most challenging and genuinely powerful movies to the Toronto International Film Festival in September with "Into the Abyss," his new documentary focusing on American inmates condemned to death row. He also interviews their families as well as those of their victims for what should be a well-rounded but awfully hard to watch portrait of the American criminal justice system. Enjoy these three short clips, and have a great end to your weekend. Peace out.


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