TIME Television

Review: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Is Must-Stream Comedy


NBC's loss is Netflix's gain, as Ellie Kemper delights in Tina Fey's oddball cult-survivor comedy.

When they prepare the In Memoriam reel for the next Emmy Awards, let’s hope the academy sets aside some space for NBC’s Thursday comedy block, God rest its soul.

It was born in 1981, when the network aired the first in a set of comedy lineups that would include Cheers, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Friends, The Office, and many more legends. It died of old age and neglect on Jan. 22, 2015, with the little-noticed expirations of Bad Judge and A to Z. (Parks and Recreation outlived its cohort slightly, exiled to Tuesday.) It is survived by the night’s current occupants, espionage dramas Allegiance and The Blacklist, and The Slap, the upscale-parenting-drama miniseries that is a comedy only unintentionally.

NBC that euthanized its trademark block, but it is not solely guilty. The Must-See-TV brand indicted a kind of sitcom that at its best was both sophisticated and popular. But as cable grew and the outlets for comedy multiplied, individual audiences shrank. The finale of the urbane, witty Cheers drew over 80 million viewers, the finale of the urbane, witty 30 Rock, not quite 5 million.

CBS still succeeds with retro comedies (The Odd Couple), ABC with family sitcoms (black-ish), Fox with youthcoms (New Girl) and animated shows (Bob’s Burgers). But the kind of challenging, idiosyncratic comedy NBC was known for has other outlets now: HBO’s Veep and Silicon Valley, say, can be filthily hilarious without the slightest nod toward keeping their characters relatable.

Adult Swim, Comedy Central, FX and FXX–all these homes for comedy have sliced-and-diced the audience into ever-more specific niches, which has been great for comedy but not so great for a network like NBC, which requires millions of weekly viewers to keep a show afloat. Today, NBC doesn’t seem sure what its comedy identity is, but it’s ceding “quirky” to others.

Netflix, for instance. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (season one premieres March 6) might have aired on NBC’s Thursday in another era–like last spring, when the network first picked up the comedy, about an escapee from an doomsday cult making a new life in New York City. (Between this and Last Man on Earth, the apocalypse has emerged as 2015’s hottest comedy trend.)

It had a Must-See Thursday pedigree, with 30 Rock‘s Tina Fey and Robert Carlock as co-creators. It had a Must-See Thursday star, Ellie Kemper of The Office. But by the time 2015 rolled around, there was no Must-See Thursday to schedule it on. So NBC, whose parent company produces Kimmy, made an unusual decision: it essentially pre-cancelled the show and sold it to the streaming service.

The deal was a sad statement about the potential for comedy at the new NBC. (Earlier last year, the network canceled the inventive Community, which will stream its sixth season on Yahoo starting March 17.) But it was probably the best thing possible for Kimmy, which is delightful but strange even by the standards of 30 Rock, and could have easily, quickly died on network TV. Netflix commited to two full seasons of the show before the first even aired.

The pilot opens in an underground bunker, where Kimmy (Kemper) is decorating a Christmas tree. She’s celebrated the holiday with the same three women since the ’90s, when she was 14 and kidnapped by an Indiana cult leader who claimed to be saving them from a nuclear apocalypse. After a SWAT team raids the bunker, the “Mole Women” are whisked to Manhattan for a Today show interview (a relic of cross-promo-obsessed NBC), after which Kimmy finds herself on the street, trying to figure out what to do with her life. She stumbles across a roommate share with broke actor Titus (30 Rock‘s Tituss Burgess) and eccentric landlady Lilian (sitcom legend Carol Kane). Alien in every way, still 14 at heart, Kimmy sets out to explore the terrae incognitae of the big city, the 2010s, and adulthood.

Kemper and Kimmy make one of TV’s most natural matches of actor and character since someone decided to make Lou Ferrigno the Hulk. She’s a terrific physical comic, able to combine naivete with a sense of cunning, and she’s contagiously joyous–it’s as if Lucille Ball had a baby with a rainbow. Kimmy knows almost nothing about today’s world, which means she doesn’t know enough to be jaded about it. When she spies a costume in the corner of Titus’ apartment–his day job is handing out arcade flyers wearing a copyright-violating Iron Man costume–she squeals with amazement: “Is that a real robot? Do people have robots now?” We may be watching a sitcom, but she’s living a sci-fi story.

Fey doesn’t appear in the series, but Kimmy occupies a lower-rent corner of the same cartoon-NYC universe as her last NBC show. The show’s zaniness, broad characters and rapid-fire jokes are pure 30 Rock, as is its overall aesthetic. (It even has similar jaunty incidental music, composed by Fey’s husband Jeff Richmond, who also wrote 30 Rock‘s.) When Kimmy finds a job as an under-the-table nanny, her vacuous one-percenter boss, Jacqueline Vorhees, is played by Jane Krakowski, who for all intents and purposes is doing Jenna Maroney 2.0 right down to the plastic-surgery connoisseurship. (“Feet are the new butts, Kimmy!”)

Kimmy’s a sunnier presence than Liz Lemon, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt also has a darker core. Kimmy’s bunker experience is played for laughs (she “made a pet cat out of dryer lint”) but it was also abuse by a misogynistic cult leader who convinced the women their “dumbness” brought on the world’s end–all but Kimmy, who couldn’t be broken. The show’s feminism is even more pronounced than 30 Rock‘s; even Mrs. Vorhees has become who she is out of low self-esteem and desperation to hang on to her always absent, philandering husband.

On its own, the show’s concept might have just been a throwaway 30 Rock subplot; what sustains it is how it applies the concept of unbreakability beyond Kimmy. Each character is a survivor, including Titus, who comes across sashaying and stereotypical at first, but is also grappling with growing older as a struggling actor and a single gay man in New York. (“Am I a bear now?” he wonders after failing to seduce a younger man. “Or a daddy? Or a Huxtable?”)

Like Fey’s other work, Kimmy is intersectional; it’s connecting and contrasting the experience of outsiders, black and white, straight woman and gay man, sister-wife and trophy wife. And like 30 Rock, it draws comedy from the myriad ways an expensive, competitive city like New York beats people down. Think of the scene in 30 Rock‘s “Cleveland,” in which Liz, imagining growing old in Manhattan, watches a handsome elderly woman who strides down the street declaring, “There is nothing like New York in the spring!”–then gets pushed into a pile of garbage.

Kimmy is shot from a more distinctly garbage-eye point of view, yet it’s more optimistic. Whether she’s trying to connect with the spoiled Vorhees kids or to earn a GED in a school that has “a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan teaching gym,” Kimmy is undaunted: if she can do 15 years in a bunker, she’s got this.

It will be interesting to see how Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt will do on Netflix, which has focused mostly on binge-friendly serial dramas. It doesn’t quite have a model yet for comedy, which may lend itself more to grazing than bingeing.

If Kimmy would have been too odd for NBC, it’s oddly conventional for Netflix. When the streaming service revived Arrested Development, it was as a complex, non-linear narrative. Kimmy is structured like a typical network sitcom–more or less 22 minutes an episode, no swearing–with one notable difference. After the pilot, the end of most episodes introduces the plot of the following episode, the better to get viewers to click “Play Next.” (This, curiously, even though NBC produced the first season before ditching the show.)

For the six installments sent for review, anyway, it worked on me. In the end, I can’t blame NBC for not taking a chance on a show it probably did not have a place for. But I’m glad that Kimmy the show, like Kimmy the character, found itself in 2015, where Netflix could pull an odd misfit out of the bunker of network-TV limbo and bring it, blinking, into the light of day.

Read next: Watch the New Trailer for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Smartphones

The Galaxy S6 Is Samsung’s Best-Looking Smartphone Yet

Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy S6 was announced Sunday amid trouble for the company’s smartphone division. The Galaxy S5 didn’t sell as well as expected, and competition from HTC and Chinese manufacturers like Xiaomi and OnePlus has also had an impact on sales. To rub salt in the wound, Apple has gone from strength to strength since the release of its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

It’s unsurprising, then, that Samsung went to great pains during its Mobile World Press press conference in Barcelona, Spain to convince the world the Galaxy S6 is better than the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. A reference to Apple’s possibly overstated troubles with bending iPhone 6 Plus units and side-by-side comparisons of photos taken with the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy S6 were heavy-handed examples of Samsung’s efforts here.

So the Galaxy S6 is Samsung’s great white hope – well, it comes in “Gold Platinum,” “Black Sapphire” and “Green Emerald” as well. And this time around, Samsung has changed its approach. Instead of packing every feature under the sun onto its flagship smartphone, Samsung has focused on design and desirability.

That’s not a totally unexpected move. Both last year’s metal-framed Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy Alpha hinted at things to come. There’s no denying it — the Galaxy S6 is a good looking phone, far nicer to hold and look at than any of its predecessors, although it feels a little too light. It looks like a cross between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 4 – two design classics, but it doesn’t quite have the right heft and feel. It’s undoubtedly made of high-quality materials, but like previous Galaxy phones it doesn’t exude class when you hold it.

Samsung has realized that people want more than a functional phone: They want a desirable one, too. But has it gone too far? The S6 is handsome. A smooth metal frame is sandwiched between two pieces of the latest and toughest Gorilla Glass 4. The back is surprisingly grippy for glass, but it’s also a magnet for fingerprints. Every use required a wipe to remove the fingerprints while we were filming. That’s not something you want to see on such an expensive handset.

With the Galaxy S6, plenty has been sacrificed in the name of design. Gone is the removable back cover and with it the replaceable battery. That won’t be missed by too many. What will be missed is the microSD slot. This is one differentiating feature that Samsung fans had to lord over iPhone owners, but no longer. Instead, the Galaxy S6 comes in three storage variants: 32GB, 64GB and 128GB.

There’s a lot more to talk about than the design. A brand new camera has been fitted to the back that packs 16 megapixels and optical image stabilization – a feature that helps you get better shots in the dark. Selfie-lovers are well catered-for too, with a five-megapixel front-facing camera.

The front camera has larger pixels, like the HTC One M9, and we were pleased by the test shots we took. Less convincing was the rear camera that protrudes significantly from the rear of the phone. The image quality of our shots was a little blurry – on first impressions the HTC One M9 may well have the better camera.

We haven’t had a chance to fully test the capabilities of the Galaxy S6 yet, but early signs are promising. A brand new eight-core processor manufactured by Samsung powers the S6, helping it zip through menus and opens apps instantaneously. It’s probably quicker in benchmark tests than Apple’s iPhone 6, and perhaps quicker than its other great rival announced just hours before – The HTC One M9.

(Read more: The HTC One M9 Could Be One of the Best All-Around Phones of the Year)

It’s efficient, too. Samsung claims the S6’s guts are 30% more efficient than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor on the Galaxy Note 4. Combine that with quick charge technology — Samsung says the S6 will fully charge in half the time it takes the iPhone 6 to do the same — and wireless charging, and the S6 should last a while and be easy to charge on the go.

One area that makes the Galaxy S6 stand out is its glorious screen. With a pixel-packing 2K resolution, it’s far sharper than the iPhone 6 or HTC One M9. Is all that sharpness necessary? Arguably not. But both its competitors are plenty sharp. Where the S6 really pulls ahead is with dark scenes and colors. These look fantastic on the S6’s 5.1-inch AMOLED screen – far better than the LCD screens on the One M9 and iPhone.

The fingerprint scanner is now a match for Apple’s Touch ID, too. On the Galaxy S5, it was a clunky affair that only worked with precise swipes. Now simply resting your thumb on the home button springs the S6 to life. We didn’t get a chance to see quite how well it works for ourselves, though.

The Galaxy S6 also packs Samsung Pay, a variant on Apple Pay that looks like a winner. It allows payment through the magnetic strip used in older card readers, so doesn’t just rely on Near-Field Communication (NFC) like the iPhone and Apple Watch.

And now to an area that has traditionally held Samsung back: TouchWiz. TouchWiz is Samsung’s interface – a layer that goes over Android (5.0 Lollipop, in this case) to make Samsung phones look and feel unique. It’s not bad, but it’s never been as slick as Apple’s iOS operating system or HTC’s Sense layer.

Samsung has rebuilt TouchWiz from the ground up, attempting to make it a better all-around experience. Has it succeeded? It looks a lot better. Once again, Samsung has emulated Apple, so icons have become text buttons. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes of use, we got a faint indication of the annoying momentary lag we’ve experienced with TouchWiz on previous Galaxy phones. It’s too early to reserve judgment now, though.

Has Samsung done enough with the Galaxy S6? That’s the big question. It may have gone too far in its attempt to emulate Apple, and could alienate the very fans that bought a Galaxy phone for the sheer amount of features they provide. The behemoth Samsung marketing machine will go into overdrive to ensure the S6’s success, and on first impressions there’s no reason it shouldn’t do well. This is a good-looking phone that packs top-notch specs.

Finally, Samsung also announced a Galaxy S6 Edge variant at Sunday’s event. The Edge packs the S6’s features into a phone with a screen that curves around the edges. It’s pretty, but the side screens aren’t as useful as they are on Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge. It’s a little difficult to hold a phone with narrow sides, and the extra functionality the edges provide here – notifications when the phone screen is off and quick access to up to five contacts – feel like a solution waiting for a problem. Add a few hundred dollars to the cost and there’s no reason to opt for the Edge over the S6, unless you really want to be different.

 Galaxy S6 Edge
SamsungSamsung Galaxy S6 Edge

Both devices will be released in the U.S. and 25 other areas on April 10. Pricing has not yet been confirmed, although rumors suggest the S6 Edge will cost significantly more than the S6.

For Trusted Reviews’ full hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S6, visit Trusted Reviews.

Read next: How to Slash Your Cell Phone Bill in 7 Minutes or Less

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Review: The Last Man on Earth Is One of a Kind

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH:  Will Forte as Phil Miller in the first half of the "Alive in Tucson/The Elephant in the Room" special one-hour Series Premiere episode of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH airing Sunday, March 1 (9:00-9:30/9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.   ©2015 Fox Broadcastiing Co.  Cr:  Jordin Althaus/FOX

Will Forte's unusual, postapocalyptic sitcom takes some big chances. And it's worth taking a chance on.

This article contains spoilers. Click here to reveal them.

Last year, when Fox released a trailer for Will Forte’s comedy The Last Man on Earth–which is about exactly what it says–I wasn’t sure how that premise could hold down a TV series, but I wanted to see more. Having seen the double-length March 1 premiere and one episode after that, I’m still not sure how the premise can sustain a series. And I still want to see more, so consider me sold.

It’s 2020. Everybody is dead from a virus. Everybody, that is, except Phil Miller (Forte), who for two years has been driving cross-country, in a scavenged tour bus, looking for signs of human life. We find him, scraggly-bearded, crossing off states one by one until he returns to Arizona, where he spray paints “Alive in Tucson” on a road sign and repairs to an abandoned mansion that he’s made his home. (There are no corpses, skeletons or signs of unrest left behind by the plague: we’re talking comedy apocalypse here, folks.)

The first half-hour of the premiere feels less like a comedy series than a well-made Funny or Die video, riffing endlessly on the idea of what a dude might do, in a world with no humans and no rules, to keep himself alive, entertained and sane. He brings home a collection of art treasures and the Oval Office rug. He goes bowling in a parking lot, using lamps as pins. He has long, rambling talks with God. (“Apologies for all of the recent masturbation. But that’s kind of on you.”) Inspired by the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, he makes him self a posse of friends by drawing faces on balls.

It’s a funny stretch, heavy on audacious sight gags. (You might expect that from producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of The Lego Movie.) But what sells it is the understatement. Forte (who also created and writes the show) is dry and a little melancholy as Phil; there’s something almost Bill Murray-esque about his performance. The pacing of the pilot–directed by Lord and Miller–is deliberate, like a short film, with lots of lovely still-life shots to accentuate Phil’s solitude, and the soundtrack makes good use of wistful Kinks classics (“Apeman” and “Shangri-La”). You don’t usually use “beautiful” to describe a sitcom pilot, but this is one beautiful postapocalypse.

The show, as it begins, is kind of a parody of the bachelor fantasy life. There is nobody to make Phil clean up (bereft of running water, he’s reassigned one pool at his mansion as a toilet) or follow rules. He can loot porn mags and $10,000 bottles of wine. The world is his man cave.

And it’s driving him crazy. Months pass, and Phil, despairing of finding another person, decides to kill himself. And here–though information about the show and its casting has been in the press for a while–is where we must enter the spoiler zone (click the link at the top of this review if you don’t care about surprises):

Phil is discovered. He’s the last man on Earth–so far as he knows–but there’s a woman, Carol (Kristen Schaal), who’s discovered him via his spray-painted sign. They’re not exactly soulmates. Where Phil is laid-back, Carol is driven, pushy and determined to improve their lot. (Schaal, who’s specialized in comically intense characters–most recently the voice of the delightfully shouty Louise on Bob’s Burgers–is true to form here.) She moves to the neighborhood, plants a garden, and declares that it’s her and Phil’s job to repopulate the Earth–and therefore, that they need to get married.

The second half of the premiere is shakier, mostly because Carol skates so close to a shrill, bossy, buzzkill stereotype. But the following Sunday’s episode catches its balance again as Phil and Carol try to figure out whether the entire planet is big enough for the both of them. Phil, after all, is no prize himself, and the episode plays up how the weirdness of each of them can be off-putting, even as they also, weirdly, complement each other. And then that episode ends with another terrific twist which I will not spoil even within a spoiler.

Needless to say, I have no clue where all this is going, even with a giant tour bus and all the canned beans in the world. But it’s taking a chance, and in an era when NBC is shipping the likes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt off to Netflix, it’s good to see a broadcast network taking a chance; even better one that’s strange, funny and surprising enough that I want to take a chance on it.

My recommendation comes with a caveat: there is no roadmap for this kind of show, and it could easily fall apart quickly. But I will say this for The Last Man on Earth: it does not seem like the sort of thing that would be a primetime network sitcom. And that’s precisely why it should be one.

Read next: Everyone on the Internet Wants to Know What Color This Dress Is

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Fake It When You Make It: The Sad Sex of The Americans

How FX's espionage drama is upending the sexy-spy-fantasy cliché.

Spoilers for The Americans, “Salang Pass,” below:

From its beginning, The Americans both fit into the tradition of sexy spies and and pushed against it. On the one hand, Elizabeth and Philip’s tradecraft always involved plenty of bedcraft: they teased, screwed and, in Philip’s case, even married targets to get favors and information. They could each rock a good-looking wig and a pair of ’80s jeans.

On the other hand, the show has always been careful not to use sex simply for glamor and wish-fulfillment. (Nor for one-sided male fantasy: Philip has to trade his body for secrets as much as Elizabeth does, and last season’s striking 69 scene between them emphasized how sexually egalitarian the show is.) And as suburban parents, the duo have much more prosaic lives than Emma Peel or James Bond.

From the get-go, it’s been clear that sex in the line of duty is work–both for him and her–and messy, complicated work at that. Targets are used sexually, killed and packed into suitcases. In the pilot, we see that Elizabeth’s initiation into the program included her brutal rape by a KGB superior. Their own marriage begins as a sexual and romantic sham, one that isn’t entirely free of acting even as they’ve grown close to each other. Sex here comes with entanglement and suspicion–as in the second season, when a jealous Elizabeth asked Philip to have sex with her the way he does with his deceived wife Martha.

But none of this approaches this season’s storyline in which Philip is expected to “cultivate” Kimberly, a 15-year-old fan of weed and Yaz whose father is a valuable CIA target. It’s disturbing, to us and to him, not just because Kimberly is underage and vulnerable, but specifically because she so recalls daughter Paige, whom the KGB also wants to develop as an operative. When he scrupled at seducing her in last week’s “Dimebag,” saying “We’ve never used someone this young before,” the double meaning was not lost on anyone.

There’s an air of corruption around the whole operation, of youth being exploited cynically by the old. (And not just by spies or the Soviets; “Dimebag” included an actual Love’s Baby Soft ad, debuted in the 1970s, that depicted a woman as a “baby that grew up sexy,” sucking a lollipop and staring vacantly at the camera. If the KGB doesn’t get the kids, capitalism will!) As Gabriel (Frank Langella) advises/cautions him, Philip has a conscience; but he must never forget that the people he deals with (has sex with, considers adopting children with…) are secondary to the mission.

With that setup, Philip’s “date” with Kimberly in “Salang Pass” is one of the most unsettling sequences so far, in a season that has already included the aforementioned suitcase-packing and a DIY tooth extraction. It’s unsettling as much for what doesn’t happen as for what almost does, if the two weren’t interrupted by someone coming home. Hanging out in front of the TV, trading bites of rocky road ice cream, having a Jiffy Pop fight in the kitchen, they could be father and daughter having fun on a weekend night.

They could, that is, be Philip and Paige. (Even Kimberly, who in her adolescent confidence is sure she knows what she wants from “James,” transparently yearns for a father, someone to hold the big rake.) Philip carrying a stoned Kimberly up to her bedroom is a positively paternal sight, until she wakes up and kisses him. And he kisses her back.

It’s disturbing. It should be. It’s disturbing because of they way she’s being used, of course, but also–even though he’s the adult here–for the way he is, by his homeland. All this is underlined later when Philip comes home to Elizabeth and brings up their “training”–specifically, in faking sexual pleasure, “making it real”–and flashes back to coupling in a spare room with women, young and old, and a man. “It’s probably different for a man,” Elizabeth says. And probably it is–we still remember her rape at the beginning of the series.

But still, “Salang Pass” shows, the strain of keeping up multiple lies–each of which involves a convincing emotional investment–has utterly drained Philip, who walks through the episode like a zombie, aching at the faint memory of authentic life. Philip and Elizabeth both have given themselves to their country. All of themselves: their bodies, their emotions, their sexual volition. And with it, they’ve given up a sense of identity, even in their most private intimate moments. “Do you have to make it real with me?” Elizabeth asks. “Sometimes,” he admits. “Not now.”

If it weren’t already clear, The Americans is no shagadelic spy fantasy. In bed or out, there is always the awareness, as Gabriel says, that the person is secondary to the mission. When the mission is done with them, will any of the person be left?

TIME Television

Parks and Recreation Watch: Find Your Team and Get to Work

Parks and Recreation - Season 7
Colleen Hayes/NBC

This finale, like the whole series, was about making the world better one small gesture at a time.

Spoilers for the series finale of Parks and Recreation follow:

“When we worked here together, we fought, scratched and clawed to make people’s lives a tiny bit better. That’s what public service is about: small, incremental change every day. Teddy Roosevelt once said, ‘Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is a chance to work hard at work worth doing.’ And I would add that what makes work worth doing is getting to do it with people that you love.”

The most prominent feature of Parks and Recreation’s finale was the flash-forwards, extending the characters’ lives as far ahead as 2048. But there was another recurring visual, smaller but at least as important. Before each character’s flash-forward begins, Leslie Knope touches them–a hug, a hand clasp, a warm pat on the shoulder.

Parks began as a much sharper-edged, satirical comedy, closer to the spinoff of The Office it was kinda-sorta conceived as. It ended as something much warmer, more expansive and optimistic–and, toward the end, became a kind of loopy near-future science fiction. But it was always, above all, about that hand.

Leslie Knope–not unlike her icon and returning Parks guest Joe Biden–was a toucher. Both in work and friendship, she believed in reaching out, prodding, getting in people’s space. In the show’s beginning, that seemed to mark her as delusional: a small-town civil servant who believed that by being proactive and positive she could actually change the world.

But as the series went on, it showed that Leslie was crazy enough to be right. She could be a quixotic politician and an exhausting friend–approaching both roles with bursting binders of research–and she didn’t win every battle she picked. But she also showed, one Harvest Festival and Pawnee Common at a time, that if you reached out to people and assumed the best of them, you really could leave them better than you found them.

“One Last Ride,” the series finale (co-written by Amy Poehler and co-creator Michael Schur), was about the sum total of all the gestures and connections Leslie made over the course of the series, and how they rippled out into the future. If, as I wrote last week, Parks’ final season was really a single finale told over thirteen episodes, then “Ride” was its coda, the final few minutes of Six Feet Under expanded into an hour.

There were tradeoffs to treating the final season as an extended finale. It allowed the last episodes to give extended sendoffs to our favorite characters and the expansive world of Pawnee without feeling rushed. But it also meant that, once the Pawnee National Park arc was resolved, there was no significant central conflict driving the story. (Not coincidentally, I think, the episode that ended that arc, “Leslie and Ron,” was the best of the season and one of the best Parks has ever done.) In its place came a lot of ever-afters and mostly happy endings; to use a comparison nerd Ben would appreciate, it was like The Return of the King, with a whole lot of postscript and goodbyes after the fall of Sauron.

Even by the standards of sitcom endings, this one was more sweet than bittersweet–at times, it hit the Sweetums a bit hard–with the characters not just finding happiness in the future but succeeding wildly in ways that were appropriate to them. Like Dorothy’s companions in The Wizard of Oz, they get the gifts that suit them: fame for Tom, coolness (despite parenthood) for April and Andy, contentment (and 51% of the Lagavulin Distillery) for Ron, and so on. The one Parkster who dies, Garry, does so on his 100th birthday, after living an essentially perfect life.

(Sidebar: are we all assuming that, by the time Ben and Leslie visit Gerry’s graveside in 2048, she’s now President? Or is he, since the Secret Service agent seems to be addressing both of them? Nice touch–assuming it was intended this way–to toss in the reveal offhandedly, in such a way that you could conclude either Ben or Leslie could be POTUS. One assumes, like Bill and Hillary, they’ll each take a shot at it in some order.)

It’s interesting, though, that while Parks gives its characters happy endings, they don’t inhabit a perfect world. Like the 2017 of the rest of the final season, “One Last Ride” is set in a kind of comedy dystopia: there are eight corporations left, the country has run out of beef, and schools don’t teach math.

MORE Read What Amy Poehler Had to Say About the First Episode of Parks and Recreation

That’s typical of Parks: it’s combines a sense of satire about the larger world with unashamed positivity about the smaller individuals in it. What makes the endings happy here is the characters’ mutual support for one another. Ben steps aside for Leslie to run for governor, as she had earlier backed his run for Congress. Tom comes up with the idea for his self-help empire by seeing each of his coworkers as a different personality model for success. April helps Donna help her husband finance his school’s fancy math-learnin’.

Maybe the sweetest, and cry-makingest, of all these is Ron coming to Leslie as she did to him years ago, asking for direction in his life, and her helping him find it, in the least objectionable sector of the federal government, the National Parks System. (Ron, after all, once said crying is acceptable two places: funerals and the Grand Canyon. With this scene, I would add a third.)

It’s friendship, of course, but there’s another concept that the finale hits repeatedly: the team. When April is wavering over having kids, Leslie says that it would be a way for the couple to expand their great team. And it’s how Gov. Leslie Knope describes public service to the students at Indiana University: “Now, go find your team and get to work.”

It’s an interesting choice of terms. On the one hand, who doesn’t love teams? On the other hand, the whole concept of team spirit–in politics, on the Internet, in the culture at large–can be divisive: blind loyalty, us vs. them, Team This and Team That.

The final gift that Leslie Knope gives us here is to reimagine that team mentality in a healthy way. In her eyes, it’s not about defensively finding a gang of people to circle the wagons with out of suspicion of the rest of the world. It’s about finding your matches, your soulmates, your Galentines. It’s not about an idea of loyalty that means you deny flaws in yourself and your friends; its about making a pact to make each other better, even if it sometimes means getting in each other’s business. It’s about–to use another term that’s become politicized–community.

And speaking of teams: I haven’t gone through the transcripts of every episode, but I’m pretty sure this finale was the first time we learned, via Leslie being approached by the DNC, that Leslie Knope is a Democrat. (In a 2012 Huffington Post interview, Schur said that “we have never said the words ‘Republican’ or ‘Democrat’ on the show and we never will.”)

It’s not as if Leslie’s general philosophy has ever been hidden, anyway. But the spirit of Parks, captured in its beautiful final minutes, has been to express a political idea in personal, nonpolemical terms. Like Leslie, the show believes that people have an obligation to help other people; unlike Ron, it believes that government is one, imperfect means of doing that.

It believes, to return to that image that the finale returned to over and over again, in extending a hand. But not to push, or to drag someone else along. It believes in seeing the best in other people, helping them become their best selves, so that they in turn will be able to do that for someone else. (Just as April, in the foundation job she got indirectly through Leslie, was eventually able to help Donna.)

That’s what the future is, for Leslie Knope and for this finale: a chain through which one person touches another who touches another who touches another. You may, as the Parks gang discovered over and over with the citizens of Pawnee, never get thanked. But it makes the world a tiny bit better, and it makes you a tiny bit better.

In the end, what Parks and Recreation thinks about friendship is what it thinks about public service. It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up.

Now for a final hail of bullets:

* Another nice thing about the final days of Parks and Recreation is how, though Leslie and Ben had triplets, it avoided falling into the sitcom trap of focusing on how Kids Change Everything. All that said, I was happy that we got to meet Burt Snakehole Ludgate Karate Dracula Macklin Demon Jack-o-Lantern Dwyer, and glad that April and Andy wrestled with the decision to become parents in the most April and Andy way: “Yes, I would love all the awesome stuff my body would go through…”

* Don’t ask me why, but Craig and Typhoon’s flash-forward to their vacation on a transparent airplane reminded me of Six Feet Under‘s Rico collapsing on the futuristic cruise ship in his own flash forward. It’s amazing the things your brain stores in a life of TV-watching.

* “Gameplay magazine called it ‘punishingly intricate’!”

* I’m still trying to work out the timeline on that possible Ben-Leslie Presidential succession timeline. Maybe she ran in 2036 and 2040 (her “new unknown challenge” after leaving as governor in 2035), and he ran in 2044? Am I overthinking this? I’m overthinking this.

* I know that the episode could only flash so far forward but I do hope that Gerry’s passing meant that Brandi Maxxxx got her shot at the mayor’s office at long last.

* I have so much respect for Ronald Ulysses Swanson that I will even forgive him his casual swipe at my Michigan Wolverines. But just barely.

* OK, allow me one tiny quibble: I had always thought that, given how important the Pit was to the first season and to getting so many of these characters together, that the finale might have built toward some kind of closing storyline involving Pawnee Common. Fixing the slide, I guess, sort of paralleled that first project, but did anyone else miss it?

* Speaking of which: if I were a better organized person, I’d have been keeping a list this last season of which Pawnee personages and landmarks the show managed shout-outs to. Is there anything you noticed the final season leaving out?

* “Don’t get emotional, Von, you’re embarrassing yourself.” You and me both, Von. You and me both.

Read next: Twitter Gave Parks and Recreation a Very Sweet Send-Off

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Review: Two and a Half Men Stays True to Its Wicked Heart

Michael Yarish/CBS

CBS's raunchy, long-lived sitcom went out not with a "Farewell, old friend" but with a "See you in hell!"

Spoilers for the series finale of Two and a Half Men follow:

A disclosure: I wasn’t much of a fan of Two and a Half Men most of the 12 seasons it ran. So reviewing its finale is a bit like giving the eulogy at the funeral for somebody who was not actually a friend.

Then again, that seems exactly in the spirit of Two and a Half Men, which killed off Charlie Harper in 2011 (or as it turns out, “killed” him), then threw him a funeral full of speeches from people he screwed over, or simply screwed, and left with bitter memories and venereal diseases.

But as it turns out, I don’t need to speak ill of the dead, or at least of Two and a Half Men‘s dying. Because taken as an hour in itself, its bawdy, sentimentality-free goodbye was a funny and deeply weird hour of score-setlling, fourth-wall-breaking, hugs-and-tears-denying TV.

It may be that the finale worked better for me precisely because I wasn’t that invested in the sitcom, hadn’t been a regular viewer for years, didn’t have a dog in the fight between Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre nor much burning desire to see Sheen come back. Probably anticipating a fair number of lookie-loos and onetime viewers returning just for the ending, the finale did a lot of recapping and self-referencing. (“You mean from the pilot?” asked Melanie Lynskey’s Rose when asked to update us on her history with Charlie since she reported him dead years ago.)

Maybe a more dedicated fan–especially a dedicated Charlie Harper/Sheen fan–might have been more bothered by the comedy thumbing its cocaine-smeared nose at its longtime lead character. But the finale was a rare thing in TV land. Often even the most hardboiled of series feel obligated to trowel on the sap as they come to an end–whatever the characters have done over the years, the actors, crew and audience have an emotional history with the show.

Not Two and a Half Men, which went out dark and weird. It filled in Charlie and Rose’s history with a bizarre animated sequence which found the two in Paris, where Charlie nose-Hoovered up a table of spilled sucre and ended up in a menage-a-chevre involving a goat. It ran down the characters’ prodigious sex history. (“You slept with my mom!” “That was just a handie in a hotel bar. I am a gentleman!”) And it addressed, over and over, knocks against the show from critics and fans, bringing on Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare, “This whole thing has been going on waaaaay too long.”

The whole business captured a strange paradox of CBS sitcoms, of which Two and a Half Men was the most brazen example. They’re the most retro comedies on TV in terms of format–see the revival of The Odd Couple–and yet they’re also often broadcast TV’s most adventurous comedies in terms of both raw content and tone. Even critical darlings like Parks and Recreation hew close to the mandates of likeability and warmth. To find anything like Two and a Half Men‘s commitment to mercenary, misanthropic meanness, you have to go to a cable sitcom like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

For years, Sheen’s Charlie Harper was the dark coal that fueled the show. And maybe inevitably, the finale recognized that the sitcoms was always his, for better or worse, even after he left it. Lorre could have just chosen to forget Charlie Harper–to move on as the show itself largely had during the Ashton Kutcher years. For most of the rest of the world, after all, Sheen’s meltdown and departure from the show is just a bizarre pop cultural memory.

Instead, this was a final hour built around an actor who wasn’t even there (though in a title card at the end, Lorre said he’d tried to get Sheen to return in person for his piano drop). The gonzo final storyline involved an unseen Harper’s maniacal breakdown, complete with “tiger blood” reference. And toward the end of the hour, Alan mused on his former roomie’s future in a way that left little doubt which Charlie he was really talking about: “He’ll sober up, reflect on his past mistakes, apologize to everyone, and then do something worse.”

Lorre’s one gesture of generosity was to have himself crushed by a grand piano too, moments after uttering Sheen’s catchphrase, “#Winning.” It was self-referential and self-indulgent, but a nice gesture in its own, blackhearted way: the show went out not with a “Farewell, old friend” but with a “See you in hell!”

Was it appropriate? Classy? I just know I laughed. Great TV or no, Two and a Half Men ended its many lucrative years in a way true to its nature: going for the punchlines, laughing at death, as expensive objects rained from the sky.

Read next: ‘Two and a Half Men’ Producer Explains That Weird Final Episode

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Review: More Power, More Problems in House of Cards

Netflix's D.C. drama isn't great TV. But the sudsy new season at least gives POTUS Frank Underwood greater headaches.

This article contains spoilers. Click here to reveal them.

The greatest trick Frank Underwood ever pulled was convincing the world that he was Tony Soprano. House of Cards arrived on Netflix two years ago with the fanfare of being TV’s next Big Ambitious Drama, with a big star, a big budget, a big director (David Fincher) and big themes.

What it was missing was the small stuff–the nuances, shadings and complications that distinguish the HBO series that it challenged. As Underwood, Kevin Spacey was lustily mendacious, but his villainy had no layers; it was demons all the way down. He was surrounded by self-serving political operators, distinguished only by their levels of competence or weakness. Its worldview was cynical and popular in a nonpartisan way–they’re all bastards in Washington!–but what it wasn’t was surprising. Its sensibility was summed up by the title sequence, whose scenes of the capital were glossy, thrumming with activity, but devoid of actual people. The show had chess pieces, not characters; it had blood but no pulse.

If House of Cards was not a great TV drama, it had potential as a not-great TV drama–a brassy potboiler with a strong cast, full of twists and delicious betrayals, fully committed to cruel spectacle. Seen that way, season 1 was a good time, a high-class laundry-folder made for bingeing, simple and meaty as a plate of the juicy barbecue that then-Congressman Underwood favored. But as Underwood connived his way to the Vice Presidency, it ran into trouble–namely, that Frank didn’t run into enough meaningful trouble. His inexorable march to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was more like a saunter. His triumphs in season 2 came too easy, as he flattened obstacles and adversaries like that Metro train flattened poor Zoe Barnes.

Season 3, in the six episodes I’ve seen (the full season goes online Feb. 27), does not give Frank better enemies or challenges than season 2 did. But it gives him a lot more of them, and that helps.

They say in politics that becoming President is the easy part; it’s being President that’s the killer. As we rejoin Frank, it’s been six months since he engineered the resignation of President Walker. Unemployment is raging, his poll numbers diving. His ambitious jobs bill is languishing in Congress. The Russian president, Petrov (Lars Mikkelsen, in a deft Putin near-imitation), is frustrating his international efforts. A sharp new reporter on the White House beat (Kim Dickens) is scoring damaging leaks. His own Democratic party, sensing a rout in 2016, is rebelling. And his attempts to set up First Lady Claire (Robin Wright) to eventually continue the dynasty are thwarted.

(On the bright side: It’s spring 2015 but Stephen Colbert is still on The Colbert Report in this universe–it’s one of scads of media-star cameos in the season–so the Underwood Administration is doing something right!)

Somehow it turns out more effective to have Underwood nibbled by ducks than to have him slash through a succession of paper tigers. It makes House of Cards a bit of a different show, much more process-oriented, and maybe some fans will wish for the old days, when Frank was pushing people in front of trains, not pushing around FEMA appropriations.

But the series needed a change-up and season 3 provides one, a bit; Frank is not fighting to get somewhere but to stay where he is, and his enemy is not so much a single Big Bad as it is the processes of government and diplomacy. When he’s off-balance, we are, and that makes the plot turns more interesting.

Other things haven’t changed: the series’ long arc–the coverup of Underwood’s murder of Peter Russo during his rise to power–is still rolling slowly along. And the show is still self-serious, didactic and risibly melodramatic. The first scene of the new season has Frank visiting his father’s grave; he hated the old man, Frank tells us in a trademark aside to the camera, but “you have to be a little human when you’re the president.” Then, in case that was too subtle, he urinates on the headstone–underlining the point, as it were, with his Presidential pen. (Later, there’s an even more goofily histrionic church scene, which plays like The West Wing‘s “Two Cathedrals” episode if President Bartlet were possessed by the devil.)

But there’s something new mixed in among the mustache-twirling and predictable iconoclasm: a strain of earnestness, especially as the storyline becomes more involved in real-world issues like the persecution of gay Russians. It’s not always a good fit, and it results in some draggy, speechy storylines. But it’s a change, and that’s something House of Cards can use. Frank finds himself genuinely weighed down by the responsibilities of the office, and as Claire takes a prominent foreign policy role, she begins to feel a call to do good for people not surnamed Underwood, which brings her in conflict with her own husband. (Wright continues to be the show’s MVP, giving her character more shading than House of Cards‘ limited set of charcoals usually permits.)

All this suggests a potentially potent enemy for Frank Underwood: conscience. Three seasons in, I can binge on the plot of House of Cards while recognizing the show doesn’t have the stuff of greatness. But it could at least keep things interesting by giving Frank a brush with goodness.

TIME Television

Parks and Recreation Watch: Chopped!

This show started with turning a pit into a park, but its next-to-last night reminded us that everyone is a work in progress.

Spoilers for the penultimate night of Parks and Recreation follow:

As satisfying as much of the final season of Parks and Recreation has been, its structure puzzled me. It started off with a Leslie-vs.-Ron storyline that seemed like it would carry through the season, then resolved the arc in the fourth episode. The remaining episodes have had the throughline of Ben’s run for Congress, but they’ve often felt like an epilogue–funny, heartfelt epilogue, but epilogue nonetheless.

But the last two episodes before the finale changed my thinking in a couple ways. First, if it means getting an entire episode of the Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show, who the hell cares? (Seriously, except for casting issues and the occasional bit of dangerous advice to children, there’s no reason you could not produce the show tomorrow as one of the best kids’ programs on TV.)

Second, the unusual structure in retrospect seems to be a clever bit of problem-solving. Any long-running sitcom has a lot of unfinished business to take care of in the finale: characters to send off, history to nod to, segments of the fan base to service. Take a show that’s built as expansive a universe as Parks & Rec and you’re looking at a very, very crowded finale–a situation which can often make final sitcom episodes into weird, hurried affairs.

The solution: make most of the final season into a kind of extended finale, one episode at a time, one character at a time.

The brilliant first half-hour of Tuesday’s double-shot focused, of course, on Andy. Thanks to Chris Pratt’s eager-puppy performance, he’s served up some of the show’s most reliably outsized comedy, but as the episode reminded us, he also has a thematic role in the series. As Leslie points out in his sendoff, it was Andy–originally Ann’s loutish boyfriend in the show’s early days–who helped set the whole story in motion through the Pit project.

But more than that, Andy was a project in himself. Over the years he evolved from a hapless slacker with unrealistic dreams to a caring adult with unrealistic dreams (some of which–like becoming Burt Macklin, even in fictional form–he achieved). He was able to channel his oversized-kid energy into a career as an oversized kid, but also developed enough awareness of other people to give up his local fame to move with April to Washington.

(This, by the way, continues the parallels between Parks and its touchstone Friday Night Lights, whose finale also turned on Eric Taylor’s agreeing to move to Philadelphia for Tami’s career–the importance of partnership in a relationship is a big theme of Parks, and not just when it comes to Ben and Leslie.)

The theme extended to the second half-hour, “Two Funerals”–with the long-awaited guest appearance of Bill Murray as the late Mayor Gunderson–which put a cap on Tom Haverford’s evolution from playerhood, as Leslie helped him find a typically dramatic, Haverfordian way to put a ring on it. (The episode’s focus was a little broader than “Johnny Karate,” as it also gave Garry/Jerry/&c a little respect–but not too much!–by making him Pawnee’s interim mayor.) Like Andy, Tom began as a much rawer-edged version of the character we now know, and he’s found a way to mature without denying what makes him himself.

Along the way, the episodes included too many callbacks and references to list (let alone the Johnny Karate legal disclaimer). But above all, they were reminders that Parks and Rec has always been about more than just public-works projects. Each character–even sufficient-unto-himself Ron–is a project, a lot with potential for improvement, just as we all are. The way to complete those projects, the show suggests with Andy and Tom, is not to become another person but to become the best version of yourself. It can take some digging and several years, Parks and Rec suggests, but with effort and a little belief in the ridiculous, you can turn a pit into a person.

TIME Television

Review: CBS’s The Odd Couple Is a Revival Without a Reason

Sonja Flemming/CBS

Stellar casting can't save this regrettable retro reboot.

In The Odd Couple, CBS’s re–OK, hold on a minute. What kind of “re-” is this new Odd Couple (actually the second new Odd Couple, not counting a 1975 cartoon), anyway?

A reboot? That seems too lofty for a sitcom that doesn’t really do much tinkering with the 1970-75 comedy, based on the 1965 Neil Simon play (by way of a 1968 movie), beyond updating the technology and some of the pop-culture references. A reimagining? There have been too many variations on the “opposites forced to live together” theme over the decades for that to count–currently, for instance, CBS’s Two Broke Girls, not to mention Two and a Half Men, the bitter-single-guys sitcom before whose finale this bitter-single-guys sitcom premieres (Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET).

This Odd Couple is really something more like a revival–in the Broadway sense of staging a nostalgic reproduction of a show like Guys and Dolls: come see the stars of today singing your beloved favorites of yesteryear! The characters are the same. The premise is the same. The theme song is essentially the same. (If anything, the new version feels somehow more retro than the original, played over a Saul Bass-like title sequence.) Many of the gags play as if unearthed from a time capsule (there’s a bookie joke in the first minute of the pilot). The unimaginative result is less a sitcom than a cover band performance, mostly competent but entirely unnecessary.

The casting, at least, is right. Matthew Perry fits right into the lived-in clothing of Jack Klugman’s Oscar Madison, now upgraded from sportswriter to a sports-radio jock, broadcasting from his slovenly post-divorce pad, complete with long-suffering assistant (Yvette Nicole Brown) and a video all with a sports ticker. But it’s Thomas Lennon who is the inspired choice as the new Felix Unger. who shows up–nasal honking and all–on Oscar’s threshold after a breakup with his wife. Lennon plays Felix’s raw loneliness and crisp fussiness without ever seeming like he’s doing a Tony Randall impression (those nasal sounds notwithstanding).

The new pilot plays out as you’d expect; Felix upends Oscar’s comfortable pantsless life, Oscar comes to see that he may need Felix more than he suspects. But there’s a sourness to the whole enterprise, partly because of the script’s Unfrozen Caveman Bachelor sensibility. There was at least something mildly of-the-moment about the original sitcom in the early ’70s: two casualties of the divorce era, reassessing their place in a post-Ward-and-June-Cleaver world. But now this show just seems clunkily updated, yet distractingly more dated than the series it remakes.

This is, in 2015, a sitcom built on jokes about how a fastidious man who cooks must be gay, in which Oscar hosts a poker night for his married buddies who commiserate about the emasculating ball-and-chains they have to go home to. (One, played by Dave Foley–so much great talent wasted here!–answers a question about his health habits with, “You’ve met my wife. Why would I want to live longer?”) When the pilot introduces a female supporting character into this den of Old Spice and misery, it’s eccentric sad-sack neighbor Emily (Lindsay Sloane), who we’re supposed to accept is the insecure ugly-duckling sister to Casey (guest star Leslie Bibb) because–I don’t know, she’s a brunette or something.

Who is this new Odd Couple for, exactly? To fans of Two and a Half Men not versed in the original, it will probably just seem like a stodgier version of the same concept. Other viewers may love the terrific cast members from their earlier work, but shows like CBS’s The Millers–and pretty much Matthew Perry’s entire post-Friends career–prove that that affection will only get you so far. And viewers who loved the original series can surely get their grandkids to show them how to stream the archives on Hulu. Call it re-creation or reboot, rerun or retread, the first episode of The Odd Couple offers little reason to return.

TIME Television

Review: The Slap Beats Its Viewers Over the Head

The Slap - Season 1
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

NBC's "event series" about parenting and class conflict is provocative, all right. But it's as subtle as a smack across the chops.

Whatever else you can say about NBC’s The Slap (Thursdays), it is a miniseries people will be talking about. From its premise (man hits someone else’s kid at family party, legal action ensues) to the hot buttons it pushes (income inequality, entitlement, kids today, parents today) to the didactic script, it is pretty much a getting-people-talking machine. This show will get people talking about it even if it has to personally smack every viewer upside the head.

I doubt, however, that they’ll be talking much about how good the show is.

It’s not for lack of talent attached, starting with director Lisa Cholodenko, who most recently filmed the remarkable Olive Kitteridge for HBO. Where that miniseries told the story of an emotionally reserved woman in rural Maine, The Slap focuses on emotionally expressive, affluent cityfolk in Brooklyn.

The title event–if you somehow missed NBC’s ubiquitous ad campaign–takes place at a 40th-birthday barbecue for Hector (Peter Sarsgaard), a sad-sack public servant who, unbeknownst to his wife, Aisha (Thandie Newton), is agonizedly considering an affair with their teenage babysitter, Connie (Makenzie Leigh) and has just missed out on an expected promotion at work. (The missed promotion, at least, is cushioned by the evidence of their sumptuous Brooklyn brownstone, which at an eyeball appraisal is worth a few million on the 2015 market.)

The shindig brings together Hector’s extended Greek family, including his pushy, successful car-dealer cousin Harry (Zachary Quinto), and Hector’s friends Rosie (Melissa George) and Gary (Thomas Sadoski), the artsy, permissive parents of Hugo (Dylan Schombing), an exceptionally bratty boy who reacts to striking out in a backyard baseball game by swinging the bat around threateningly. Upon which Harry confronts the child, rears back, and gives The Slap its title.

Cue the lawsuit. Cue the recriminations (the incident unearths a trove of old family tensions and resentments). Cue the arguments over whether Harry was too cruel or Hugo’s parents too soft. And cue a torrent of reflections on class, morality, and social mores, penned by playwright Jon Robin Baitz, that land more bludgeoningly than little Hugo’s baseball bat would have.

I wasn’t behind the scenes, nor do I know how many of the flaws come from the source material (an Australian TV series in turn based on a Christos Tsiolkas novel). And Cholodenko’s camera does its best, flitting among the characters in the seminal party scene (which also involves surreptitious canoodling between Hector and the sitter), registering their differing reactions and dynamics. But The Slap feels like a broadcast network took an HBO-style project–provocative premise, specific cultural milieu–and then killed it with a pile of “Make the subtext more explicit!” notes.

The first warning sign is a ponderous voiceover that constantly tells us what the series should be showing. (“Hector considered what might happen if he allowed things to go any further with Connie.”) But the narration is positively subtle next to the dialogue, which often sounds less like conversation between human beings than a questions-for-further-discussion list in a school textbook. “What’s happening to this country?” Harry yells in a fit of on-the-nose rage. “The weak suing the strong for being strong!”

Each episode of The Slap is shown from the perspective of a different character. The second follows Harry, and it pulls off a truly impressive feat: it spends an entire hour fleshing out a single person and ends him leaving him less complex than when it started. Harry, it turns out, more than just a rich type-A-hole who slaps other people’s kids. He’s also a rich type-A-hole who pushes around his wife (verbally and physically), berates his own son to be more competitive, and is a sleazebag at work, where he also happens to be sleeping with a saleswoman. (Just to underline the class-war theme, not for the only time, his lawyer assures him that a guy like him will never be punished in court: “This is not how it works, my fellow one-percenter.”)

But Harry’s adversaries are no more likeable, and they too only slip further into crunchy-parent clichés—Gary a bitter, poor artist resentful of anyone with money, Rosie a coddling hysteric who, naturally, still breastfeeds her son of advanced age, like Lady Lysa from Game of Thrones. (The parallel is only strengthened when Harry visits in a grudging attempt to apologize, and a petulant Hugo takes a pause from suckling to identify him as “The bad man who hit me. He’s going to jail.” Make the bad man fly!)

It’s a shame, because The Slap has the ideas and the assembled talent to make a better, subtler character exploration, but it’s brought down by hamhanded characterization and an assemblage of bourgeois-Brooklyn types that it’s impossible (even for another bourgeois-Brooklyn type) to care about.

The one thing I can say for The Slap is to defend it against anyone who would condemn it for its subject matter. The series certainly doesn’t trivialize violence or revel in it. I have seen two episodes, and there is thus far only one actual slap. You will wish there were far more.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser