By Davin Wilson
Let’s face it. We could all use a little break right now. After enduring months of political advertising, Facebook and Twitter rants, the most brutal presidential election in American history and soul-sucking, faith-in-humanity shattering Black Friday shopping experiences, we all need a moment to hit the restart button.
Retail therapy or a trip to the Bahama’s will be the catharsis for some, while others will get blackout drunk and pass out in their recliners. Teenagers and single people without kids will find relief in getting super-silly stoned off kind bud or dropping mushrooms and watching “Fantasia.” Meanwhile, those of us who are broke and can’t afford exotic vacations or drugs, will rely on our tube TV sets to hit the restart button.
For those of us turning to the boob tube for relief, we need the perfect programming. We could use something weird, disarming and a bit absurd. Maybe a lot of absurdity with a little surrealism mixed in. We need a show where drug dealers handcuff a briefcase full of money on their way to a drug deal only to find out once they arrive, they’ve left the keys at home. Or maybe something that asks existential questions such as why can’t a grown man order a kid’s meal at a fast-food restaurant.
No matter what the poison might be, we’ve got you covered on this list. These shows dominate the cultural conversation, prize innovation and jump the rails of traditional TV. They’re all unconventional comedies that color outside the lines and provide a cleansing and cathartic experience.
Master of None is the perfect title for Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s excellent Netflix vehicle. Ansari’s Dev, a 30-year-old aspiring actor navigating the pillars of maturity, is skilled at using his smartphone and laptop to find the perfect taco, but is unable to decide which place he wants to go. He lands several dates, including one with a South Park obsessed kleptomaniac, but has trouble maintaining a long-term relationship. He’s good at listening, but not comprehending – watch the excellent seventh episode, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” to peep Dev’s reactions to his friends being followed by creepy dudes.
The show is a coming-of-age tale for older Millennials trying to transition into adulthood, long after the days of college and dorm room bong rips are done. Each character has trouble deciding what they want to eat, much less figuring out the direction for the rest of their lives. No other character represents this idea better than Dev’s best friend, Arnold (Eric Wareheim), a little kid in a giant man’s body. On a trip with Dev to his grandfather’s house, Arnold tries avoiding hanging out with his grandad by telling a story about his shark-shaped kite getting stuck in a tree. At first, it seems like a lame excuse, but we discover – at his grandfather’s funeral no less – that he really does have a shark-shaped kite and it really is stuck in a tree. The hilarity ends with Arnold’s dad telling his 30-something son they’ll buy him a new kite.
Ansari and Yang could’ve followed the traditional laugh-a-minute format full of cheesy one-liners and zingers. Instead, they’ve created a show where the laughs don’t come every minute and one-liners don’t zing past the viewers’ heads like mosquitos, while they’re standing in a shallow puddle of water. The duo tackles serious topics such as race, sexism, and generational differences, but does so in a way that bursts with intelligence and gut-busting laughs.
Atlanta, the “Twin Peaks with rappers” tale of three young men navigating Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, has earned some of the highest distinctions for an FX show in recent memory and it damn well has earned every one. It’s profoundly human – showing the gray areas of struggle and success – and is also a bit strange, featuring a potent blend of oddball comedy, social commentary and surrealism rolled into one big Swisher Sweet. Created by Donald Glover of Community, 30 Rock and Childish Gambino fame, it features Glover as the lovable man-child, Brian Tyree Henry as his drug dealing/up-and-coming Atlanta rapper cousin and Lakeith Stanfield as Henry’s absurdly existential partner/roommate. Katt Williams has stated weed is for people on the grind, well, Atlanta is the TV version of krypto-chronic-cut-a-lite for people on the grind.
The humor in Glover’s excellent vehicle is drier than the Mojave Desert and pricklier than a thousand roses, but damn does it make for some entertaining TV. Glover ditches the traditional format of set-up, joke, set-up joke comedy that television has been doing for years. It’s more along the line of Master of None and Louie, where the comedy arises from the situation and each one has its own unique point of view. In “Go for Broke,” the terrific third episode, money, or the lack of it, and the struggle is the point of view. In one particularly excruciating scene, Earn tries ordering a kid’s meal – the only thing he can afford – from a conservative fast-food cashier. The scene isn’t funny, but we laugh anyway – not at Earn – but with him as it’s a place most of us have been before, ordering a kid’s meal with a Whopper appetite.
On the other end, the show also portrays life’s victories, even down to the smallest one, which one has to treasure, especially when only being able to afford a kid’s meal. The season ends with Earn, after giving his baby mother Van (Zazie Beetz) rent money along with dough for their daughter, lying on a bed in a storage unit, staring at two, crisp $100 bills. Earn stares at the bills with an ounce of hope, feeling like there is light at the end of the tunnel. For most of us in the struggle, that’s all we need.