Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Top TV Episodes of 2014

This is the fourth year writing these silly TV articles and they are some of my favorite things to work on every year. In the previous one, it’s just me ranting about a ton of great shows. This one is easily more fascinating each and every time. Why? It’s because my friends are fascinating.

Critic polls always are a great way to look at a year of art but they are limited by the fact they all are critics. That is what their perspective is. TV is a medium that everybody watches and has an opinion on. Since there are so many installments of a show and so much time is devoted towards the story and characters, everyone is a little bit of a critic as they decide whether they should keep going or not.

Every year I’ve increased the number of people I have writing in this because I’m greedy. I want to read more and more thoughts about what is exciting my friends. So this year I do have some excellent film critics, but I also have lawyers and news producers and video editors and actors and directors and students and marketing experts. I have people who work at a film festival. I have people who work in Spain. I have people who work in sports, in politics, in advertising, in publishing and for colleges and nursing homes and community resource centers for LGBTQ people. I have authors who write about cowboys and skeletons and fools. What connects them all—besides their regret about having me as a friend—is their love for art.

So without further ado, here are everyone’s Top TV Episodes of 2014!

The Americans – “Echo”
(Season Two, Episode 13)

Editor’s note: There are spoilers for the dramatic reveal featured at the end of the second season in the second paragraph. If you don’t wish to be spoiled skip ahead.

The second-season finale of The Americans — cable’s best current series never nominated for a meaningful Emmy — climaxes with a long reveal. Perhaps it’s a tad too long for the usual badge-of-honor believability of the show, which follows Philip and Elizabeth, married undercover KGB agents undermining 1980s America from inside and played by the astonishingly versatile Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell.

Jared, a mortally wounded teen whom we thought cruelly orphaned by a rogue element, reveals that he killed his KGB-operative parents. He retaliated for their rejection of his decision to become a second-generation spy, made after a lithe, comely female KGB agent lured him. Later, we learn this insidious KGB initiative has its sights set on Philip and Elizabeth’s teenage daughter, Paige.

This atypical rush of exposition hardly matters when it so beautifully crystallizes the (sometimes overly) slow burn of themes that dominated the season’s other two best episodes: “Behind the Red Door,” in which Elizabeth demands Philip make love to her like his married alter ego “Clark” to destructive ends; and “New Car,” in which America’s unfettered confidence wilts Philip’s own greener-grass curiosity about iconic American culture.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top TV Shows of 2014

Every year I talk about how good TV is on this blog. It’s almost like I don’t know how to originally think of a way to start these articles. But the level of quality is getting ridiculous. Instead of a Top 20 this year, I have a Top 35 and there are still a dozen awesome shows that I’m not able to write about. In 2014, I watched over 100 shows while only dropping a handful of them. (Fun unrelated fact, I was unemployed for a few months this year! I’m better now!) Next year marks the end of plenty of beloved shows but as you can see from the influx of new shows on my list, the quality just keeps coming.

Yet remarkably I did sleep a couple of times this year so I wasn’t able to see everything. I’m either very behind on or haven’t seen Babylon, Derek, Father Brown, Getting On, Happy Valley, High Maintenance, The Honorable Woman, The Knick, Line of Duty, Manhattan, Over the Garden Wall, Parenthood, Peaky Blinders, Penny Dreadful, The Real Husbands of Hollywood, Shameless, Silk and A Young Doctor’s Notebook. I really liked the pilot for Mozart in the Jungle but that season isn’t dropping on Amazon until December 23rd so…

This is going to be impossibly long so I should quit stalling and get right to…

Key and Peele 
(Comedy Central)

“Do we throw something other than rice?”
“What would you throw?”
“I don’t know. Cous cous. Skittles.”

Why this is one of the greatest sketch shows is because it’s a show that refuses to be lazy. It doesn’t just look at topics that are popular, but challenges the perspective we have in our society. When a sketch is able to have a successful reversal it’s because they’re creating richer characters than expected. Something can have the illusion of controversial but they’re creating an actualization of a threat that could only exist in a cartoonish form. My favorite of the season is taking the idea of a family being uncomfortable with gay marriage but the family is only uncomfortable with how much they are unrealistically trying to be accommodating. In a season where they abandoned their comfortable format and characters to keep delving deeper, this remains one of the most exciting comedies on TV.

Billy on the Street 

“Now they’re going to try and find Dori. Here spoiler alert: SHE’S DEAD. HOW LONG DOES A FISH LIVE?”

Thanks to his role on Parks and Recreation and his appearances on late-night shows, the Emmys and a great one-off in New Girl, this was the year of Billy Eichner. Yet none of those can compare to the delightful madness of the game show where everyone wins, even if Billy is yelling at you. This season was even stranger with a chorus of people thanking Adam Levine for this tweets, Joel McHale being trapped in a giant hamster ball while arguing career choices, Billy’s Meryl Streep obsession culminating in the Meryl-Go-Round and one of the best things that has ever happened: Lena Dunham plays a game with Billy’s tiny nemesis Elena which caused Billy to break character for the first time all series. For other people this would be hell, but through the eyes of Billy he is making New York a better place. And I’m too scared to argue with him.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Organizing Crime 2015 Edition

What is my latest excuse for not blogging enough? Well I moved to Chicago, I have a full-time job, I'm working on producing a new play, I'm writing scripts and--oh yeah--I published a (sorta) new book!

ORGANIZING CRIME 2015 EDITION is the third version of our guide to active mystery series. This is a book that Jim Huang and I have been updating for over five years. With this edition, we brought in Nikki Phipps who was instrumental in the companion book ORGANIZING CRIME CLASSICS. 

These books are list books covering active mystery series so you can keep track of what you've read, what's next in the series and find new recommendations. 

So why should you buy this book when we've already done this twice? First of all, come on, man. Secondly, we make every edition worthwhile. We wait about two years between books because we design it so the information can be up-to-date as long as possible. Then every new edition will update every series in the book, but we'll also keep adding more and more authors. We want this to be as definitive as possible. Our 2010 Edition had 300+ authors. The 2012 Edition has 400+ authors. This time we have 800+ authors. Also there are new jokes in the introduction! 

This is the perfect gift for mystery lovers. Our favorite part of going to different conferences where we sell these and find people who have returned with a book they bought a year before filled with checkmarks and additional notes and a lot of love. The spiral bound book makes this easy to take with you to bookstores and libraries to find the next mystery you want.

I don't want to overstate this but this may be the greatest book of all time

You can buy a copy directly from The Crum Creek Press website and enjoy the joy of free shipping! 

Or you can buy it at some great independent bookstores like The Poisoned Pen, Murder by the Book or Uncle Hugo's. Also there's something called Amazon, but support local! 

Also I'm very happy to tease that we're developing an app version of this book. It is currently in beta at the moment. If you would like to be invited to test the beta please email me at Austin @ (No spaces). The beta is only available for Androids but it will be on iTunes as well when it's finished.