The Best Games on the 3DS

I wasn’t expecting this to be the post for this month, but Persona 5 has ended up taking much longer than I expected to play through and gather my notes on, so this will have to serve to tide me over until then. Despite the success of Nintendo’s most recent portable console, the Switch, I find myself still being drawn to my 3DS. This might be because of the lack of games on the Switch now that I’ve finished saving Hyrule, but it’s also because of the remarkable staying power of the 3DS, which might be the greatest portable console ever made. So, to reflect on the 3DS’ remarkable lifespan, here is a short list of my favourite exclusive games for the console, in no particular order.

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Attack of the Friday Monsters

You might never have heard of this game, and that’s a damn shame, but probably completely reasonable. Released as part of a compilation of experimental games on the e-shop by Level 5, Attack of the Friday Monsters puts you in the shoes of the young boy Sohta, who lives in a small Japanese town. There, every Friday, giant monsters battle it out while the residents look on. Or do they? The game never deigns to answer this question, because it doesn’t matter. It provides a variety of interpretations to its titular question, but never wants to distract you too much from the meat of the game. This is a day in the life of Sohta, running errands throughout the Ghibli-esque town, meeting its residents and solving their various problems. It’s a game fuelled by Sohta’s childlike imagination, which makes him a somewhat unreliable narrator, but allowing yourself to get swept into his world creates the sort of nostalgic feelings for someone else’s childhood that only a few rare games and films manage to achieve. There’s also some vague tacked on gameplay in the form of a clever little card game, but it never outstays it’s welcome. The same cannot be said for the game itself, which could really do with a bit more meat on its bones. It humbly finishes up its story within a few hours, but it needn’t. The amount of times I’ve replayed this game speaks volumes to the amount of time that we could have spent in Sohta’s world.

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Shin Megami Tensei IV

The contrast between the tone of AotFM and SMTIV couldn’t be starker. AotFM plays out in a small, idyllic Japanese suburb. SMTIV spends half of its time in the feudal land of Mikado, controlled by a strange religious leader and populated by subjugated masses who long for their slim chance to join the upper classes. The other half takes place in the somehow even more depressing post-apocalyptic Tokyo, where most of the population has moved underground in order to escape a ravenous demon horde who are only partly controlled by a faction of the Yakuza. You play as a Samurai of Mikado, a warrior trained to battle demons, but your quest to find the mysterious ‘Black Samurai’, who is corrupting the minds of the Mikado peasants leads you to some unfortunate realisations about the world you live in. Like other games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, the story splits into three routes; Law, Chaos and Neutral, and none of them here have much of an uplifting ending. But SMTIV remains engaging despite this, although the plot is only half the fun.

I’ve seen some people criticise the ‘shallow’ characters of SMTIV, but I don’t think that gives them enough credit. I wasn’t ever blown away by the writing, but it has a certain subtlety to it (at least as subtle as SMT can get), and the plot itself, while slow paced, has enough intrigue in it to carry you through. What makes SMT games really stand out, however, is the turn based battle system. SMTIII pioneered the ‘press-turn’ system, which Persona players will be familiar with, which allows you to exploit enemy weaknesses for an extra turn in battle. Of course, enemies can exploit this as well, which can turn battles into either satisfying chains of attacks that don’t allow the enemy to get a move in edgeways, or frustratingly watching as you watch your team get decimated by a threatening boss. The enemies you fight in SMT are demons, who you can collect Pokemon style through an annoyingly obtuse and random negotiation system, and fuse together to make stronger demons. SMTIV offers the best fusing method of the series, giving you helpful recommendations while still allowing customization.

I don’t think SMTIV is a perfect experience, but the benefits of it being on a handheld, combined with an engaging story and refined battle system make it my favourite SMT game that I’ve played (although Persona 5 is certainly edging closer), and I thoroughly recommend it as a starting point for the series.

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Spirit of Justice/DGS

I’m a huge fan of the Ace Attorney franchise, and while I would love to put the amazing Ace Attorney Trilogy on this list (which is better than both of these games), it’s not a 3DS exclusive, and I have standards while making these lists (I can only assume). I’ve written full reviews of both Spirit of Justice and Dai Gyakuten Saiban, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I will provide a brief spoiler free rundown of what to expect. Ace Attorney is a series about crime solving lawyers, and Spirit of Justice is simply the sixth game in the series, this one involving the spikey haired protagonist Phoenix Wright travelling to the mysterious land of Khura’in for more crime solving adventures. I would recommend playing the previous 5 games in the series before this one, and I’m sure you’ll not regret playing four of them.

Dai Gyakuten Saiban has much less baggage to it, but at the moment is sadly only available in Japanese. This spin-off title takes place in Victorian London, and is notably written by the author of the original trilogy. Most people will have to wait for the upcoming fan translation to get a taste of this one, but for those who speak Japanese, or don’t mind watching a subtitled play through on Youtube, those options are also available.

Basically this entry was a cheat to tell you to play the Ace Attorney Trilogy on 3DS/DS, but my over-reliance on arbitrary rules that I imposed on myself prevents me from doing that.

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A Link Between Worlds

This and the next entry are the only two non-eshop exclusive titles on this list, although what this says about my taste in games you’ll have to work out for myself. Link Between Worlds is one of the best Zelda games out there, and certainly the best top down Zelda there is. Purists might argue in favour of the original Link to the Past, but those that do are clearly stuck in said past. A Link Between Worlds revisits the Hyrule of A Link to the Past, but adds an extremely clever new puzzle solving mechanic in wall merging. The way this changes up the game is staggering – it allows for so much free form exploration and puzzle solving that it’s almost comparable to the introduction of climbing in Breath of the Wild.

The other way in which this game influenced Breath of the Wild is in its non-linearity. Where A Link to the Past gave you numbered checklists of dungeons to visit, Link Between Worlds lets you rent out items to access specific dungeons and tackle them in whatever order you want, while still being able to stagger the difficulty through splitting up the dungeons into sets. It’s also a lot faster paced than any 3D Zelda, and perhaps any 2D Zelda, with item swapping on the fly thanks to the 3DS touchscreen, combat and exploration are all seamless and feels natural. Think of this as the proto-Breath of the Wild for those who want a top-down Zelda experience.

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Kid Icarus Uprising

 Remember how maligned the controls in this game were when it first released? Sakurai himself clearly had so little faith in them that he had to include a stand with boxed copies of the game. I really hope that didn’t put anyone off Kid Icarus Uprising, because it’s such a joy to play that it’d be a real shame to miss. Freed from the shackles of Smash Bros, game director Sakurai was able to create a game that’s half incredibly entertaining on-rails shooter and half slightly less entertaining but still fun 3rd Person Action Adventure game. What bolsters the game past simply entertaining is a quality story with great voice acting and writing, and a fuck ton of content.

The writing present in KI:U is surprisingly good. It has the annoying traits of being self-aware, but never reaches the actual point of annoyance by carefully treading the line. Some characters are obvious stand-outs, such as Hades, but the core cast is an enjoyable group of people to have whisper sweet one-liners into your ear while you play. Much like Smash Bros, Sakurai has stuffed the game to the brim with optional extra modes, some of which are pointless, yet amusing (such as a mode where you pay money to have a character walk slowly towards you), and some are extremely complex, such as the weapon fusing system. The game also employs one of the cleverest approaches to difficulty I’ve ever seen; asking you to gamble more currency on higher difficulties for the chance of greater rewards and treasure. One of the stand outs of the 3DS’ early library that continues to stand tall.

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Box Boy

I don’t really have much to say about BoxBoy, the small title from Hal Laboratory, creators of Kirby. It’s extremely simple; you are a Box, who can produce more boxes from his body. You then have to use those boxes to solve simple puzzles. It’s sort of like if you crossed a standard 2D platformer with Tetris, and it’s absolutely genius. It’s one of those rare games that I feel will be used to teach the basics of good game design for years to come. An extremely simple mechanic pushed to its limits during the course of the campaign, and then pushed even further in bonus levels, some of which become properly difficult to solve. Two sequels would add on a few extra boxes and mechanics, but the original remains a brilliant example of pure game design at its best.

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Happy 1 Year Anniversary

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Well, it’s been a tough year for the world, but there has been some good in 2016 at least. Clearly the best thing though was the continuation of Toatali Reviews, which started one year ago today. There’s been a lot to write about, from long searching reviews of Ace Attorney games to shorter reviews of Pokemon games that I wish I hadn’t made myself do. As well as video games, I’ve made some brief forays into film criticism and made a guide to modern TV comedy , while also reviewing some comedy shows as stand alone pieces.

Yeah, it’s been an alright year blog wise, but I do have some plans going into our second year. I’d like to write more about comedy, with some longer reviews, covering both individual seasons of a show and whole shows. I think while Quick Reviews take less time and enable me to get a higher volume of posts, they are also less satisfying to read and write, so let me know whether you want more of those or not. In terms of upcoming reviews, I will be doing some for The Last Guardian and Pokemon Sun and Moon, as well as for The Good Place’s first season and People of Earth. That’s all I have planned for now, but of course, all suggestions are welcomed.

Just to finish, here are a few of my favourite posts from the last year, please do have a read, and here’s to a great 2nd year for Toatali Reviews!

ERASED vs The Whodunit

Review: The Grinder

Review: Zero Time Dilemma 

Review: Pokemon Platinum

Review: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

Review: Dai Gyakuten Saiban

Backlog Review: Bored to Death Season Two

Top 16 of 2016

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This time of the year is when everyone and their mum comes up with their best things of the year, but you should listen to me because… um, I write it down I guess? In all seriousness, this year has been pretty good for entertainment, even if it hasn’t been so good for the rest of the world. This post will focus on the stuff that takes your mind off of it all though; Films, Video Games and TV. So without further adieu…

Best Films of the Year

Before I get into this; no, obviously I haven’t seen every good film this year. In fact, some films I’ve heard are great haven’t even come to the UK yet (see; La La Land). Also, the order is pretty arbitrary.

6) Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Spinal Tap will never be topped as musical mockumentary, but this film comes pretty damn close. Much like the David Brent movie, the songs are one of the best things about this film, but even outside the Lonely Island’s usual musical comedy genius is a nifty little film that starts as a modern pop-star parody and ends in a glorious and over the top musical number starring the power of friendship and Michael Bolton. The film’s genius comes in hiding perhaps a rather standard plot in a guise of flashy songs and surreal humour, much as how it’s star Conner4Real masks a simple personality behind the veil of his superstardom. Perhaps the funniest gag in the film though is when Nas says of the song Karate Guy; ‘that song changed my life’, in the most deadpan tone he can manage when talking about a song who’s lyrics contain ‘We’re rolling with our friends, All over town, But we’re all in the car, We’re not rolling on the ground’. Brilliant.

5) Train to Busan

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I don’t watch many zombie films, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know a good one when I see it. Train to Busan takes a simple premise (zombies, but on a train) and extends it to its natural conclusion. The zombies move around in a thrillingly creepy way, their bodies twisting in a way that makes them seem like they were filmed in stop motion. The train itself is a fantastic setting, and it makes sense that the film is reluctant to move far away from it; it condenses the action into tight corridors and spaces, and makes the horde of zombies piling over each other an ever more terrifying sight as there’s only one way to run. The traditional zombie movie clichés may all be present, but the setting helps make them feel fresh, as does the acting and cinematography. These things come together in a surprisingly effective little package that breathes a little bit more life into the genre. (I could have made a zombie joke there, but that would be dead stupid)

4) Hell or High Water

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I don’t have much to say about this one to be really honest. A really solid film that harkens back to old Westerns while revolving around a modern day series of heists. Great performances from the main cast, and fantastic direction. Not necessarily the easiest film to watch, but well worth seeking out.

3) When Marnie was There

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No, this might not end up being Ghibli’s final film, but if it was it wouldn’t be a tragedy. In fact, When Marnie was There ends up a touching mini masterpiece that shies away from grand narratives and focuses on a small town and a relationship between two people, one of whom’s existence is called into question by the viewer and the protagonist herself. Really, however, the crux of the film rests on the protagonist. Throughout the film we question her sanity and reliability but she remains a fascinating lens to which to see the beautifully animated world through. As a Ghibli swan song, this may be a whimper rather than a bang, but in this case, that isn’t a negative.

2) 10 Cloverfield Lane

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You really shouldn’t know anything about this film before going in, but suffice to say while my expectations going in were low, this film blew me away. Sharing a similar dynamic to last year’s Ex Machina (three people alone in a remote location), 10 Cloverfield Lane feels more like an indie experiment than a sequel to a blockbuster monster movie, but it’s all the better for it. Claustrophobic direction courtesy of Dan Trachtenberg, combined with the masterful performance of John Goodman are what makes this film click as a tense psychological thriller. The ending has proved controversial but I rather liked it, and if you don’t, just forget it happened and enjoy the rest of one of the best films of the year.

1) Hunt for the Wilderpeople

I said the ratings for this were arbitrary, but for this entry they aren’t. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is my film of the year, hands down. The art of directing comedy seems to be lost on most mainstream comedy films, but a few directors still have the knack. One of these directors is Taika Waititi, and this is on full display here, even more so than in his last film What We Do In The Shadows. While that film had a premise that perhaps didn’t quite deserve the run time, Hunt for the Wilderpeople has both the heart and comedy to sustain a full film length. The humour is the gentle kind that Flight of the Conchords (another New Zealand comedy) mined brilliantly, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople has some lines that are up to par with that show’s comic genius (“You’re more like Sarah Connor. And in the first film, before she could do chin-ups.”). Julian Dennison, who plays Ricky, is a talented child actor of the kind any director would be lucky to find, and his chemistry with the gruff Sam Neill is pitch perfect. A real treat, and my unrivalled best film of the year.

Best Video Games of the Year

Another arbitrarily ranked list. Don’t expect any AAA titles on here, I didn’t play many of those this year. Instead, treat this as a list of quirky games you may have missed otherwise (but only if you own a 3DS)

N/A) The Last Guardian

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I can’t give this a ranking yet, because I haven’t finished it and I plan to write a full and comprehensive review when I have. However, The Last Guardian has completely won me over. It’s a broken game in parts, with a messy camera and an unstable frame rate. However, I simply found myself not caring. The coup this game pulled off was to get me to care about Trico, the giant dog/bird monster who guides you through the game’s mysterious world, and it did this successfully through every means available; cutscene, gameplay, animations and scripted sequences. This one’s shaping up to be a true classic.

4) Pocket Card Jockey

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Mobile games are a difficult thing to do well. They tend to be shallow little experiences, fun for a few minutes before becoming mind numbingly tedious. Pocket Card Jockey avoids this by taking the classic card game of solitaire, the ultimate boredom killer, and attaching it to fast fun horse racing with enough skill that winning feels like an achievement and enough luck that anyone can pick it up and play. Plus the game has a whole host of other little side options that make it feel well worth the price tag.

3) Rhythm Paradise Megamix

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Strange surreal mini-games played to the beat off catchy J-pop tunes. This one contains all the mini games from past Rhythm Paradise games as well as a host of catchy new ones. It’s fun, it’s addictive, but its ultimately bogged down on an initial play-through by a needlessly inserted story. Luckily forcing your way through that opens up a treasure trove of mini treats. Enjoy!

2) Kirby: Planet Robobot

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Occasionally, you have to celebrate a game for having not much more than really good level design. Kirby: Planet Robobot has that in abundance and I would have never even played it had it not been for a sale at a game shop I stumbled into. I’m not the biggest fan of the game’s steampunk aesthetic, but it solidifies it into a cohesive experience and links to the game’s new core mechanic. Unlike other gimmick Kirby power-ups, the Robobot armour isn’t used to solve obvious puzzles, but as a new way to traverse the level, sometimes even cutting off valuable collectables in exchange for a quicker path through. It has it’s own copy abilities, and it’s fun to control through the tightly designed corridor levels traditional to the Kirby series. Even the story is a step up from usual, a weird little muse on the ethics of colonialism. Well worth a play.

1) Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

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You can read my spoilerific review here, but for those yet to play it: the best addition to a fantastic series since Trials and Tribulations back in 2004.

Best New TV shows of the Year

Comedy dominates this list because it’s what I’m a specialist in, but I’ve heard there were lots of good drama shows as well. I’m just not the guy for that. Also, this is just new stuff, so no second series here (sorry Crazy Ex Girlfriend, It’s Always Sunny, Brooklyn Nine Nine and many more).

4) The Good Place

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Mike Schur is one of the most reliable names in comedy, so I had little doubt that The Good Place would be, well, good. What I didn’t expect was that this comedy would be so great even in its first season. Sure, there’s room for improvement but even as the series went on the quality of episodes kept increasing. Set in the afterlife, Kirsten Bell plays a woman who has been sent there mistakenly, while Ted Danson plays the afterlife’s oddball ‘architect’. Like Schur’s other comedies, the show rests on a balance between main and supporting cast both pulling their weight, and luckily they do. What’s different about The Good Place is that it feels less like a traditional sitcom – it’s much more structured and planned, each episode ending in a cliff hanger. For that reason, I’m excited for each new episode not just for the comedy, but also to see where the plot goes next.

3) Lady Dynamite

I already wrote about this one, and here’s what I said; With shows like Master of None; Love; Grace and Frankie; Bojack Horseman, as well as non-Netflix shows in a similar vein, this genre has become the new big thing. As a comedy fan and a Netflix user, I’m glad to see this uptick in odd comedies supported by a major streaming service. However, not all of these really hit the spot in what I’m looking for. Master of None probably came the closest (perhaps because of my innate Aziz Ansari bias), but I don’t know if it would have deserved a spot on this list. Then along came Lady Dynamite, created by Mitch Hurwitz of Arrested Development fame (another show you should really check out), and Maria Bamford, of strange stand-up semi-fame. Lady Dynamite edges out those other shows because its actually really funny, as well as building a convincing character portrait thorough a clever structural device of three timelines that chart Bamford’s fall into mental illness to her recovery. Lady Dynamite is extremely surreal, with buildings having names on them (Maria’s house has ‘Maria’s House’ written on it), and talking pugs, but this fits with Bamford’s often manic personality and surrealist humour. The show mainly focuses on Maria’s attempts to work her way into Hollywood fame, first by trying to capitalize on her eccentricities, then, after her breakdown, by trying to avoid this. In a way, the show itself provides an epilogue to the events that take place inside the show; in making Lady Dynamite, Bamford has manged to make the perfect show the fictionalized version of her dreams of creating. Thanks, Netflix.

2) Search Party

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This one was a real surprise to me; I had no real idea about it until it aired, but I binged the entire show in two nights. This is an almost perfect package of a show, a fascinating psychological study of Dory (played brilliantly by Alia Shawkat), a woman struggling to find purpose in her dull life until she gets swept up in a missing persons case involving an old acquaintance from University. Some see this show as a critique of so-called millennials, others shun that interpretation. In my opinion this show acts more as a reflection on contemporary characters; it’s too loving towards some of its key players and too engaged in their culture to be a simple critique, but too damning of their efforts to be a celebration of it. Whatever it is, I’m sure everyone can agree that this is smart, funny television that can exist even without social context as it’s own thing.

1) The People vs OJ Simpson

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Like many viewers of The People vs OJ Simpson, I was not alive to witness the original trial. However, the cultural memory has lingered in the imagination long enough for lines like ‘if the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit’ to exist apart from the original tragedy. FX’s show The People vs OJ Simpson brings back the trial to TV screens and is every bit as gripping as what I’ve heard of the original. The cast playing the roles are all superb, even David Schwimmer surprises as Rob Kardashian (more like Ross Kardashian), but Sarah Paulson is the undeniable best performance of the show as Marcia Clark. The show looks at the case from multiple angles, each as intriguing as the last, and slowly guides you into understanding how the shock verdict came to be. This one stands at the top of many a ‘year’s best’ list and for good reason. I wish I could write for longer about this one but I feel I’ve already gone on long enough. This is one of the best TV shows not only of this year, but that I’ve ever seen, and it deserves to be remembered as a faithful and telling depiction of tragedy and the role of law in public life.

So that was my top 16 of 2016. Obviously I’ve not seen everything, and if you disagree with any of my suggestions, or want to recommend me something to review, please say in the comments. Additionally, if you want to hear my full thoughts on any of these, drop a comment and I’ll try and write a longer review. Thanks, and here’s to a better 2017!

The Toatali Guide to Modern TV Comedy

If there’s one thing I know a lot about, it’s modern TV comedies. I’ve spent way too much of my life watching 20-30 minute TV sitcoms, and while I haven’t seen them all, my knowledge is pretty extensive. So, today I present a small guide to what you should be watching if you want to get into the now flourishing world of (mostly American, I admit) TV comedies. Before we begin, though, a few ground rules.

  • No rankings – This isn’t me telling you what the best and worst shows are, it’s more of a series of recommendations, depending on what you want to watch. Obviously, all of these shows are great, or I wouldn’t be recommending them, but don’t take the order I put them in as some sort of ranking system.
  • What is modern? – Any show that finished post 2013. This is pretty arbitrary, but such is life.
  • My favourite show isn’t on here… – Tough. Maybe I haven’t seen it, or maybe I didn’t like it. If you want, put a show recommendation in the comments, and I’ll try and get round to watching it.

What to watch if you want awkward comedy.

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Maybe putting Curb your Enthusiasm under the label of awkward comedy is a disservice to the show so let me calm your fears – if you hated Meet the Parents, there’s still a good chance you’ll like this. Curb is often called one of the best TV comedies of all time, and while I don’t think that’s the case, there’s still a lot to be said for it. The show hinges on the performance of Larry David, who plays a fictionalized version of himself. Each episode sees him getting into another dilemma, that he handles (mostly) extremely badly. Where the show succeeds is in the relatability of these problems. While most of them you won’t run into unless you’re a successful Jewish comedian living in L.A., you almost always side with Larry, and that makes the situations he gets himself into even funnier than they might otherwise be. Larry is an annoying guy, but seeing everything from his perspective is seeing a different Larry to the rest of the characters in the show.

The supporting cast also excel; Jeff Garlin is perhaps my favourite of them, but Cheryl Hines also pulls her weight as Larry’s exasperated wife. The semi-improvised nature of the script allows more more natural conversations than any fully scripted show would give. I talked in my review of The Grinder about how characters didn’t speak like normal people, but here they do, and it was the right choice for this style of comedy. The show may too often divulge into screaming, but this isn’t really noticeable if you don’t binge watch, and instead take your time. Curb Your Enthusiasm was recently renewed for a ninth season, 5 years after the last episode aired (which just makes it eligible for a spot in this list), and if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend watching all 8 brilliant seasons to prepare.

What to watch if you want a Netfilx dramedy

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Yes, Netflix dramedy gets a spot on this list. With shows like Master of None; Love; Grace and Frankie; Bojack Horseman, as well as non-Netflix shows in a similar vein, this genre has become the new big thing. As a comedy fan and a Netflix user, I’m glad to see this uptick in odd comedies supported by a major streaming service. However, not all of these really hit the spot in what I’m looking for. Master of None probably came the closest (perhaps because of my innate Aziz Ansari bias), but I don’t know if it would have deserved a spot on this list. Then along came Lady Dynamite, created by Mitch Hurwitz of Arrested Development fame (another show you should really check out), and Maria Bamford, of strange stand-up semi-fame. Lady Dynamite edges out those other shows because its actually really funny, as well as building a convincing character portrait thorough a clever structural device of three timelines that chart Bamford’s fall into mental illness to her recovery.

Lady Dynamite is extremely surreal, with buildings having names on them (Maria’s house has ‘Maria’s House’ written on it), and talking pugs, but this fits with Bamford’s often manic personality and surrealist humour. The show mainly focuses on Maria’s attempts to work her way into Hollywood fame, first by trying to capitalize on her eccentricities, then, after her breakdown, by trying to avoid this. In a way, the show itself provides an epilogue to the events that take place inside the show; in making Lady Dynamite, Bamford has manged to make the perfect show the fictionalized version of her dreams of creating. Thanks, Netflix.

What to watch if you want to laugh

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Unfortunately, TV comedy these days isn’t primarily concerned with making you laugh. It wants you to think, to cry, maybe to chuckle inwardly at the strangeness or the awkwardness of a situation, but very few shows simply put the jokes first. Then there’s Angie Tribeca, which puts the jokes before everything else. The plot is paper thin; it’s a spoof of cop shows, and the characters are one line stereotypes. But it doesn’t matter. At all. Because Angie Tribeca is really, really, funny. It succeeds in creating what one reviewer called ‘an atmosphere of comedy’; not every joke is funny on its own, but the sheer volume and speed means that by the end of each episode, you’ll be belly laughing. (It’s worth noting here that the second series is much better than the first). Rashida Jones plays the title character, and while her deadpan tone might lead you to believe that she plays a ‘straight man’ role, you’d be mistaken. Angie is just as silly as the rest of the cast, but like them, she doesn’t take any notice of the absurdities that are going on around her. Because of the joke based nature of the show, it’s hard to write much about, so please, just watch it.

What to watch if you want a musical

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A lot of the shows on this list are ‘character studies’. This is a natural consequence of TV shows that take themselves more seriously, and are usually headed up by one main comedian/comedienne. Ensemble casts seem to have, for the most part, disappeared. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is another ‘character study’ show, but this one has a big difference; it’s a musical. Really, it’s the songs that carry this one into a place on this list. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend follows Rebecca Bunch (played by Youtube star Rachel Bloom), as she moves to West Covina (California (Only two hours from the beach (four in traffic))), in order to win back her summer camp love, Josh Chan.

Vulture called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend their best show on TV right now, and while I don’t agree with that (you’ll see what mine is later), it’s pretty damn good. Rebecca Bunch is an amazing comic creation, a product of Disney films who imagines musical numbers in her head that spring off from songs and genres we all recognize (much like Flight of the Conchords, which sadly missed this list by about 4 years), and reveal a fascinating look into her psyche. The supporting cast, much like the viewer, is drawn into Rebecca’s quest to win back Josh, including her new best friend Paula, who reveals herself even more damaged than Rebecca in her mad-cap schemes to get Josh. But perhaps the best thing about CEG, is that it doesn’t rely on you reading too much into it. It throws everything to the surface in its musical numbers, which even without a knowledge of the plot are simply enjoyable. It’s not the best show on TV, but it comes close.

What to watch if you can’t stand dips in quality

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These titles are getting a bit crazy now… Anyway, with most long running shows, there’s often a noticeable dip in quality towards the end (see Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Friends etc). It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been going for 11 seasons now and each season has at least a few classic episodes. Even in its latest season, where you can see the show runners following one of their character’s advice (“Well, I don’t know how many years on this earth I got left. I’m gonna get real weird with it”), it still had some really great episodes.

I said that the ensemble comedy was slowly dying, and this show is the only real one on my list. Luckily, it takes the ensemble cast model, which is often used for ‘cosy’, friends living together type shows, and makes it a dark comedy about a group of friends who run a bar together, and the various despicable schemes they get up to, all funded by Danny DeVito’s Frank Renyolds, who supports the strange ideas of Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton’s characters, who drag along and abuse Kaitlin Olson’s birdlike Dee Renyolds. The various schemes would be funny by themselves, but the way the cast play off each other and the way various rifts between them pull their ideas apart really makes each episode click. The other good thing about IASIP is that none of the characters change, or become better people. This may seem like a downside from a story-telling perspective, but IASIP only works because of the character dynamics, and the writers know that old adage ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. The character’s various flaws become more exaggerated, but only to expand on pre-existing traits and mine them for comedy. Plus it’s all on Netflix, and perfect for binging. So there’s that!

What to watch if you want something British

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As an Englishman, I should really be more supportive of modern British comedies, but aside from a few stand out shows (Toast of London, The IT Crowd), America seems to be dominating the sitcom right now. The best British comedies tend to be panel shows; I love Would I Lie to You, and Have I Got News For You is great satire in the British tradition. But the one British sitcom that really stands out among the crowd is Peep Show. Known for its unique first person view, the show is much more than a visual gimmick. In a way, Peep Show functions as a combination of many of the shows I’ve talked about here; it borrows some of the awkward comedy from Curb your Enthusiasm (although that’s probably a side effect of David Mitchell’s exaggerated British-ness), the dark schemes of IASIP, and the deep character studies of awful people from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Dream team David Mitchell and Robert Webb play Mark and Jeremy, two mates who live together, but whose lives are mostly failures. Mark works at a dead-end job and is always trying to win the affections of some women he creepily stalks, and Jeremy is a wannabe musician whose endeavors are mostly failures. Sometimes it hurts to see the odd couple fail in such spectacular ways, in a similar way to the UK version of The Office (I still find it hard to watch the book launch for Business Secrets of the Pharaohs), but the show so rarely misses the balance between horrifically unwatchable and funny, that it often manages to reach the heights of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s masterclass of comedy. Anyone who liked that show or wants to check out something that encapsulates what many people think of as ‘British’ comedy should definitely check out Peep Show.

What to watch if you are a human being

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It’s ReviewReview is not just my favourite modern TV comedy, it’s my favourite TV show, full stop. If you haven’t seen Review, read this at your own risk, because what I would advise is to leave this blog post right now, and go and watch both seasons. If your life isn’t changed for the better having watched a spectacular piece of television whose ambitions seems to rival that of a groundbreaking drama like Mad Men, but told in the form of small sketches rather than hour long mood setting smoke-a-thons, then I’ll forfeit my job as a critic.

For those who still need convincing (really?), Review centers around Forrest MacNeil, played by comedic genius Andy Daly, a man who reviews various life experiences for his TV show, from eating 15 pancakes to blackmailing a person. The show’s genius revolves around how each review (there are usually three an episode) changes and shapes a part of Forrest’s personality – try as he might, he cannot separate his life from his reviews, or his reviews from his life. Gradually, they start to destroy him and the lives of the people around him, but without him really ever noticing. The menace of the show Forrest runs creeps up on him as it creeps up on the viewer, but it never becomes another omnipresent character like Veridian Dynamics in Better Off Ted, because the show is so tied up in Forrest himself, even when he tries to convince himself there’s a true bad guy behind the operation. Review deals with a multitude of topics, from the problems with being a critic, to the problems of being Batman, but the show links each little thread back to the quilt that is Forrest’s messed up life, and if that sounds too dark for you, don’t worry, because it still manages to be funny. Some reviews go so over the top or deal with such silly things, that even at it’s darkest it still reminds you that this is a comedy. Andy Daly has always explored unassuming characters with seriously dark sides, but here he buries it so deep and plays it so perfectly that it’s no wonder Forrest is his only character to make it to a full TV show, instead of just a guest appearance on Comedy Bang Bang! I love Review, and I’m sure anyone who watches it will too.

So there it is. My guide to modern comedy. I wish I could have written for longer on each of these shows, but then this post will have really overstayed its welcome, and I don’t want that. Thanks for reading, and I hope anyone who did got something out of it.