This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as grits don’t work on me…
Kirstie Alley died Monday after a brief bout with cancer. She went off the political deep end in her later years — life sadly imitating art, since Rebecca Howe had wanted to marry a Donald Trump type, and Alley went full MAGA — and had a long association with Scientology. So there’s some definite “can you separate the art from the artist?” going on with her.
But my lord, she was blindingly great on Cheers, as I wrote a bit about here. The Shelley Long years are the show at its absolute best, but I was too young to watch most of them live. So the Rebecca era is “my” Cheers, the one I grew up on and have a deeper sentimental attachment to. It’s also in many ways the more durable version of the show; had Long stayed, it’s hard to imagine the writers getting more than a couple of additional years out of the latest ups and downs of Sam and Diane’s relationship. Rebecca was never the love of Sam’s life, even before he abandoned his pursuit of her entirely(*), so it was easier for the series to pivot into much more of an ensemble piece, and to lean more heavily on Wendt, Harrelson, Perlman, Ratzenberger, Neuwirth, and Grammer than had been necessary in the early seasons.
(*) I keep losing track of how many times Sam and Rebecca actually hooked up, especially if you separate out the quickly-abandoned story about them trying to conceive a child together as friends. I guess that’s a sign of how unimportant that relationship ultimately was.
In a way, though, Alley was almost too good at playing Rebecca as a hot mess. Because it was so easy to get a laugh out of her crying, the writers made the character increasingly pathetic over the years, to the point where it could feel mean, if not just misogynist. When Lena Dunham and I watched Cheers for Too Long; Didn’t Watch, I remember how pleasantly surprised she was that the pilot didn’t seem in any way sexist, given what she vaguely knew about the show. Then we watched the finale, and the contrast in tone between how Diane was portrayed/treated at the beginning and how Rebecca was by the end was striking.
A great performance, though, regardless of what Alley did outside of it.
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‘Little America’ is back!
Today marks the return of Apple TV+’s Little America, nearly three years after the first season debuted. In case you don’t remember — or, more likely, were never aware the show existed in the first place —it’s a scripted anthology where each half-hour episode tells the true story of an American immigrant. Sometimes, these are big stories spanning many years, and other times, they are extremely compact. (One of the new episodes, for instance, takes place over a couple of days at a car dealership for a Hands on a Hardbody-style endurance contest.) It is sweet, thoughtful, and for the most part a very good time, even though there is often sadness laced throughout.
Probably my favorite of the new season (I’ve seen 6 of the 9 episodes) is the fourth one (pictured above), “Camel on a Stick,” about a young man from Somalia scrambling to prepare his food to be served at the massive Minnesota State Fair. On the one hand, it’s both frantic (albeit not quite at The Bear levels) and fun to see all the work that has to go in to potentially make this happen, and all the obstacles along the way. And on the other, our protagonist and his friends and family in Minneapolis’ Little Mogadishu neighborhood talk a fair amount about the terrible events back home that led to them fleeing to America. It’s a tricky balance — which I talked about with executive producer Lee Eisenberg during the first season — that the show continues to pull off with aplomb. I’m glad to have it back, and look forward to watching the remaining episodes whenever I magically have time.
And speaking of which…
You’re the best… around! Nothing’s gonna ever keep you down! (Unless HBO cancels you, that is.)
The big thing I want to discuss is my list of the 20 best TV shows of 2022, which published on Wednesday. Some random making-the-sausage thoughts:
This could perhaps be more accurately titled “the 20 best TV shows I saw in 2022.” As you may have heard, there just isn’t time to see everything. I loved the first two seasons of My Brilliant Friend, for instance, and I gather Season Three was of equal quality; I just never found a window to watch it, especially with the extra focus required of a one-hour subtitled drama. I know AMC’s Interview with the Vampire and Apple’s Bad Sisters have their fans; didn’t get to them. And I don’t really watch unscripted TV at all anymore, though the episode and a half I’ve seen of Ethan Hawke’s Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward docuseries was pretty great. So this is me doing the best I can under increasingly impossible circumstances.
I’m not sure I can remember the last time there were four shows at the top I loved quite as much combined as this particular quartet, and that felt so closely bunched together. I cannot entirely explain why Reservation Dogs Season Two felt like the top choice over the others, except to say that once I watched the last few episodes, I never really imagined it any other way.
There was a lot of movement in the back half of the list. Fleishman Is In Trouble and As We See It were both on there for a while, for instance, and then not. I thought long and hard about The Rehearsal before deciding that the finale left too bitter a taste in my mouth to do it. And the order kept shifting. All of this happens pretty much every time I make a list, where if my deadline was a day earlier or later, a half dozen things might be different.
Part of my temptation to include As We See It was as a protest vote of a sort for Amazon canceling a lovely little show whose budget is probably less than the arrows cost on Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Instead, I wound up making an inadvertent protest vote, locking the hilarious, delightful Los Espookys into a spot a day before HBO announced that it was canceled. We did not deserve something so peculiar and clever, I guess, but the two seasons are a complete experience if you haven’t watched it yet.
While nine of the shows on the list were also on my best of mid-year list, I ultimately couldn’t justify including Station Eleven again, since it only aired three episodes in 2022. And I loved Station Eleven.
Some of the shows that are not on the list will be appearing later this month on a separate piece on the year’s best TV episodes.
Anyway, the comments are now open to your complaints. Fire away.
I'm just so happy you took on the mantle of #1 booster for Better Things during its extraordinary run. Far too few people will ever watch this incredible show but for those of us who are wading through the shitstorm of motherhood, it was unlike anything else on TV.
Alan, how do you keep track of all the shows you need to watch? Just as a consumer, I have a tough time remember which shows are on which streaming apps, and remembering which shows I started, etc. (I liked it when HBO and Hulu were on TiVo, so I could save the streaming episodes there in my queue.)