See ya in the next year, Jack!
'Letterkenny' says goodbye, and so does 2023. Plus, more best-of lists, 'Fargo,' and 'For All Mankind'
This week’s What’s Alan Watching? newsletter coming up just as soon as I turn out to have incredible puppet-making skills...
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A new home for the new year?
I’m going to be pretty brief this week, because it’s the holidays. However, I have to make note of the rapidly shifting winds here at Substack, where management’s attitude towards Nazi ideology being published on their platform has me looking for a new home. I started this newsletter in part because a once-great social media app was also welcoming Nazis. (The other place has been much more openly welcome than Substack is, but anything short of “We don’t want Nazis here” is not an attitude I endorse.) This is a free newsletter, and thus Substack makes no real money off of me. But I nonetheless don’t feel hugely comfortable here anymore, and am looking for another service that offers most of the same functionality we get here. Some of the alternatives suggested to me so far, for instance, don’t offer the opportunity to comment, and it seems like this is a thing people want. I’m open to suggestions. And the good news is, no matter where I end up going, the mailing list for this will just go with me, so none of you should have to do a thing to follow me to wherever that is.
That’s what I appreciates about Letterkenny
There are shows I love to write about, and shows I just love to watch. Letterkenny falls into the latter category. The Canadian comedy — set in a rural Ontario town largely made up of “hicks, skids, and hockey players” — has produced 12 seasons, all of which I’ve greatly enjoyed to varying degrees, yet I only ever wrote about it once, way back in 2018. That’s because I said what I had to say there, and the show has for the most part been very consistent over the years. There have been some changes. The ensemble has only grown and grown. The show has gotten much better about letting the female characters be well-rounded and funny, rather than just being there for the guys to gawk at. Some seasons have clearly been produced on the cheap, taking place entirely indoors on minimalist sets. And in recent seasons, there’s been a bit more pathos mixed in with all the clever wordplay, particularly regarding the surprisingly complicated feelings Wayne has for his friends, his family, and the various women in his life.
Mostly, though, Letterkenny has been Letterkenny. I’m going to miss it, but I’m glad Jared Keeso and friends made as much of it as they did. The final season is very good, and ends on just the right note.
What’s Alan writing?
As promised in last week’s newsletter, I wrote three additional superlatives lists for 2023. In the first, my Rolling Stone film counterpart David Fear and I teamed up for a combined list of the best TV and movie performances of 2023. (I was glad to see David picked Lily Gladstone from Killers of the Flower Moon, because I was very sorely tempted to include her for her Reservation Dogs finale cameo, she was that brilliant in it.) Then I picked 10 of my favorite TV episodes of the year, and finally 10 strong new shows that didn’t make the overall top 10 list. Lots of binge suggestions across the four lists.
This week’s The Curse was a mixed bag for me. A lot of individual scenes work, but I continue to struggle with how the show is depicting how both Whitney and, especially, Asher choose to interact with Dougie. He is such an obvious creep, and treats both of them terribly (Asher more than Whitney), and yet both seem desperate to be friends with him. It’s strange. As we near the finale, I’m curious if anyone is still watching, and how you feel about the show so far.
Fargo recaplet: “Linda”
After Dot was entirely absent last week, she returns in a big way for “Linda.” There are other storylines, notably Gator foolishly trying to get revenge on Ole Munch, and instead accidentally killing an old woman. But most of the episode involves Dot’s attempt to get the title character — Roy’s first wife, who allegedly maneuvered Dot in front of Roy so Linda could escape her abusive marriage — to help her bring their monster of an ex-husband to justice. This takes her to a refuge for abused women, who all refer to themselves as “Linda,” and who work through their trauma by making puppet shows about their former relationships. On the one hand, it’s a powerful and deliberately odd look at the psychological wounds from abuse that linger long after the physical injuries have healed, and it’s probably Juno Temple’s best showcase of the season so far. On the other, the episode’s conclusion seems to reveal that the entire thing was a daydream Dot had while sitting at a roadside diner. And I believe that the bar has to be very high to justify an episode going, “It was all a dream!” The emotional catharsis was still real in Dot’s head, but it doesn’t appear that she ever saw Linda, much less convinced her to speak to the authorities with her. So I didn’t love that.
(Though if we continue with the idea that both the Coens and Noah Hawley pepper their works with Wizard of Oz references, then this isn’t the first Dorothy who had an unusual and rewarding journey that turned out to be a dream.)
For All Mankind recaplet: “Legacy”
“Legacy” was a pretty big letdown after the all-timer conclusion to last week’s episode. All heist stories are convoluted in some way, but this one feels more convoluted than most, with all the technobabble about why the asteroid’s flight has to be controlled from Earth, various hacks Dev’s team can try, etc. My eyes glazed over multiple times through those sequences, especially since a lot of the plan starts to revolve around Miles and Sam, two characters who have appeared a lot throughout the season without ever feeling complex or interesting in the way so many key FAM characters have in the past.
Instead, most of the best material was happening back on Earth, with Sergei leaving his comfortable life as a high school science teacher in Iowa in an attempt to contact Margo. The Margo/Aleida relationship has had to do a lot of heavy lifting this season, and the scene where Sergei tells Aleida the full extent of why Margo helped the Soviets feels pivotal for where things are going.
That’s it for this week! Happy New Year, everybody!