TIME Television

The 10 Best Episodes From NBC’s Parenthood

From left: Miles Heizer as Drew Holt, Lauren Graham as Sarah Braverman, Mae Whitman as Amber Holt and Ray Romano as Hank Rizzoli in the "How Did We Get Here?" episode of 'Parenthood'.
From left: Miles Heizer as Drew Holt, Lauren Graham as Sarah Braverman, Mae Whitman as Amber Holt and Ray Romano as Hank Rizzoli in the "How Did We Get Here?" episode of Parenthood. NBC—Getty Images/2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

From the 'Pilot' to this final season, our favorite hours with the Bravermans before the series wraps

10. “Pilot”

Season 1, episode 1

The Bravermans are confused and likable and flawed—and the pilot does a good job of letting viewers know that from the get-go thanks to this drama-filled, sentimental episode. Quite a bit happens—it’s responsible for introducing each character, after all—but the highlight comes at the end when the entire family gathers together at the baseball field to see Max play after a particularly trying day. None of the problems presented in the hour are solved by then, but that’s not the point: No matter what issues plague the Bravermans, they’ll still be there for one another in all their messy glory. —Ariana Bacle

9. “My Brother’s Wedding”

Season 3, episode 18

The season 3 finale begins with Adam and Crosby physically fighting it out in front of their entire family and ends with Adam delivering a tearjerker of a speech at Crosby and Jasmine’s wedding. The tussle is a reminder that even the Bravermans, a family every viewer probably wants to be a part of, isn’t perfect all the time—and the brothers’ reconciliation is a reminder that everything works out eventually. Meanwhile, Julia and Joel are dealing with Zoe’s decision to keep the baby. It’s a happy ending for them, too, though, when the season ends with a social worker dropping off Victor, who later becomes an official member of the Braverman-Graham family. —Ariana Bacle

8. “Limbo”

Season 5, episode 17

There’s nothing quite like the combination of marijuana and marital issues to create an unforgettable hour of drama. Bringing in the comedy for the episode, Drew and Amber turn to drugs to help them deal with their relationship woes, before Joel and Julia are forced to face their own struggles when it’s time for Aida’s baptism. Just as Joel is ready to bow out as both Aida’s godfather and a part of the Braverman clan, Zeek shows up to reassure Joel that he took him on as a son when he married Julia, and that hasn’t changed. And if the waterworks haven’t already started, Joel showing up at the baptism will do the trick. —Samantha Highfill

7. “One More Weekend With You”

Season 4, episode 8

During Max’s first sleepover, the effects of Kristina’s chemo finally start to set in. As a result, Monica Potter shines in one of her character’s roughest hours, eventually ending things on a comedic note when Kristina finds her release in some medicinal marijuana. Elsewhere, Amber realizes the trauma Ryan’s been dealing with when they attend the funeral of one of his friends who recently killed himself. It’s a dramatic hour that ends on a happy note when Amber and Ryan take a brief detour on their drive home to find some sanctuary in the ocean…and the arms of each other. —Samantha Highfill

6. “I’m Still Here”

Season 5, episode 21

Ray Romano joined the cast as Hank, Max’s mentor and Sarah’s sometimes boyfriend, in season four, and proves himself an awkward, lovable asset to the Braverman clan (and the show) when he drives Amber the eight hours to San Diego so she can be at Ryan’s side in the hospital. Affection doesn’t come naturally to Hank, so seeing him go full-on caretaker is surprising and sweet. What’s less sweet is the death of Kristina’s cancer-stricken friend, Gwen. Kristina struggles with grief, but later finds some solace when she opens a gift from the late Gwen that ends up comforting—and inspiring—her. —Ariana Bacle

5. “The Offer”

Season 5, episode 18

”I think I am a freak, ” Max tells his parents after a classmate pees in his canteen. This episode has a handful of important, emotional moments—Zeek and Camille’s honest conversation about selling the house, for one—but it’s Max’s heartbreaking realization that he’s not like the other kids that stands out the most. He sits alone in the backseat, asking why he’s different, until Kristina crawls from the front to hug him despite his protests. The scene isn’t uplifting by any means, and that’s what makes it so poignant: Kristina and Adam’s veneers finally crack, revealing how powerless they feel—and how deeply they care about their son’s happiness. —Ariana Bacle

4. “Road Trip”

Season 3, episode 12

In a very rare scenario, the entire Braverman clan spends the hour together on a road trip to visit Zeek’s mother for her birthday. Well, all but Kristina and Max who only join the fun after Max learns a very important lesson about what names you can’t call your mother. On the road, shenanigans ensue, but as per usual, they end on a meaningful and heartfelt note when the all-powerful Zeek is realized to be nothing more than a young boy trying to impress his mother. And the moment when his mother finally tells him she loves him is nothing if not sob-worthy. —Samantha Highfill

3. “How Did We Get Here?”

Season 6, episode 10

Parenthood isn’t big on withholding information, but when it does, it’s for good reason: This episode begins with Zeek being wheeled away in an ambulance, followed by short, silent scenes of his children responding to phone calls and heading to the hospital. We don’t know how bad it is, and they don’t know either, making this opening one of the series’ most powerful. They spend the rest of the episode waiting to see how Zeek is while the bad (a Luncheonette crisis) and the good (Hank proposes to Sarah) continue happening around them—just like life. —Ariana Bacle

2. “Hard Times Come Again No More”

Season 2, episode 22

The aftermath of Amber’s car accident begins on a powerful note—the family gathering at the hospital—and eventually climaxes in what might be the greatest Parenthoodspeech of all time when Zeek tells Amber, ”You do not have permission to mess up my dreams.” But that’s not all this hour has to offer. Alex confesses his love for Haddie to Adam, Julia decides she wants another baby, Kristina announces that she’s pregnant, and Sarah’s play forces Amber to realize what she nearly lost in her accident. —Samantha Highfill

1. “There’s Something I Need to Tell You”

Season 4, episode 5

In an hour that represents the very best that Parenthood has to offer, Julia’s struggle with balancing work and motherhood results in her quitting her job, Hank kisses Sarah for the first time, Ryan is introduced to Amber, and Haddie calls home to get the real story about Kristina’s cancer from her father. To top things off, the final two scenes uplift—Victor gets a hit at his baseball game!—and then devastate when Haddie’s unexpected return home results in Kristina having to tell the family about her diagnosis. But in true Parenthood fashion, viewers don’t even hear Kristina say the words, but rather it’s the reaction of her loved ones that leaves the biggest impact. —Samantha Highfill

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

TIME Television

Watch a Hilarious Takedown of Subway ‘Manspreading’ on The Daily Show

Kristen Schaal talks directly to Jon Stewart's testicles to prove a point

On Wednesday night’s episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart brought up the hot-button issue of “manspreading.” That is, when men take up too much room on public transportation by spreading their legs, often taking up multiple seats and denying other passengers the opportunity to sit. (New York City’s transit authority recently started a campaign to encourage men to stop this practice.)

Stewart agrees that manspreading is no good, so he brings on senior women’s issues correspondent Kristen Schaal to back him up — but her take is a bit different than he expects. She totally goes on a pro-manspreading rampage. She even speaks directly to Jon Stewart’s crotch, all to prove a point.

TIME

Watch Fox’s Megyn Kelly School Mike Huckabee Over ‘Trashy Women’ Comments

"We're not only swearing, we're drinking, we're smoking, we're having premarital sex"

After Mike Huckabee said that New York women were “trashy” for cursing in a professional setting, Megyn Kelly set him straight.

Huckabee said in a Jan. 23rd radio interview that he was shocked at the way professional New York women threw around f-bombs. “This would be considered totally inappropriate to say these things in front of a woman, and for a woman to say them in a professional setting, we would only assume that this is a very, as we would say in the South, that’s just trashy.”

The presidential hopeful said that there’s a “cultural divide” between people who live in the “bubbles” on the coast and the people who live in “the land of what I call god, guns, grits, and gravy,” which, incidentally, is also the title of his book. He goes off on a diatribe about the “culture of crude.”

Kelly listened politely to the former Arkansas governor before telling him what she really thought of his “culture of crude.”

“I do have news for you before I let you go,” Kelly said. “We are not only swearing, we’re drinking, we’re smoking, we’re having premarital sex with birth control before we go to work, and sometimes boss around a bunch of men.”

“Aw, I just don’t want to hear that!” Huckabee responded.

 

TIME Television

Better Call Saul: Portrait of the Con Artist as a Young(er) Man

Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman - Better Call Saul _ Season 1, Gallery - Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC
Ben Leuner/AMC

The makers of Breaking Bad created a great TV drama. Their challenge now: to follow it up with a pretty-good TV drama.

In this week’s print TIME, I talk to Bob Odenkirk and co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould about their Breaking Bad prequel featuring the man who would be Walter White’s lawyer—Better Call Saul (premieres on AMC Feb. 8)—and review the new show. The article is for TIME subscribers, so I can only share so much of it pro bono. But I will say that I was skeptical of the idea—as I say in the article, it had shades of 2001’s The Lone Gunmen, the superfluous, dark-comic X-Files spinoff that Gilligan also ran—yet after three episodes, I have to say it’s… pretty good.

And in fact, “pretty good” might be the right ambition for this series, even if it necessarily risks unflattering comparison to the grand sweep and ambitions of Breaking Bad. On its face, Saul is a similar show with a similar arc: Jimmy McGill (Saul, before he adopted his nom de bus bench) is a struggling but essentially law-abiding guy who, we know, will slip-slide the crooked path to criminality, or, at least, criminality-enabling. (The reverse, ironically, of the redemption and name-changing of the New Testament’s Saul.)

What distinguishes it in the early going is precisely that it has different aims–it takes the character seriously, but it’s more of an entertainment, more picaresque. And ultimately, it’s about a different kind of figure:

But we’ve seen enough brooding bush-league Walter Whites in cable antihero dramas that that’s a good thing. Saul is in the same universe but a different tradition, that of the irresistible trickster. It’s a monument to malarkey. There is something in people that loves a BS artist–the rogue, the flimflam man who carries no gun but gets by on his words, on what he makes, literally, out of thin air.

Jimmy McGill has elements of James Garner’s TV rascals (Bret Maverick, Jim Rockford) but filtered through Odenkirk’s ah-jeez Midwestern appeal. (Like Odenkirk, Jimmy hails from Chicagoland.) You may not admire him or his clients, but he embodies a certain human spirit of ingenuity. “I love that he’s indefatigable,” Odenkirk says. “You can’t stop him. It’s funny to see him dig a hole as he tries to dig himself out of a hole.” Or as a scary character puts it after Jimmy tap-dances his way out of a threatening situation, “You got a mouth on you.”

I don’t want to claim to have Better Call Saul entirely figured out after three episodes; Breaking Bad, after all, was itself a more comic show in its early going, making more of the absurdity of a chemistry teacher in his tighty whities figuring out how to become a meth dealer. (OK, to the extent that you can consider a show that involves dissolving a dead body in acid to be comic.) It changed its tone and aesthetic as Walter White evolved, and maybe its prequel will also. Or maybe it won’t, and maybe it will simply remain a diverting, well-executed lagniappe–not one of the greatest series on TV, but that’s certainly no crime.

For now, I simply tried to measure Saul by the yardstick: would I want to watch this show if I knew none of the references, none of the characters’ back stories? I was a doubter. But for now, Saul, or should I say Jimmy, has fast-talked me into believing.

TIME Reviews

This Is the Best TV You Can Buy Right Now

Sony X950B Series Sony

The Sony X900B series has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

the wirecutter logo

If you’re looking for a really great, solid TV, the Sony X900B series is the one we recommend for most people, plus it has near universal praise from the top reviewers. It has a colorful, rich, vibrant image that is lauded by experts from across the web. It has the most lifelike picture of any TV on the market, and has few (if any) real issues.

It is, however, very expensive: $2,800 for a 55-inch television. So if you don’t absolutely need the best picture quality available today, we have a cheaper recommendation too.

Who should get this TV?

Someone looking for the best picture quality currently available without spending even more per-screen-inch on an OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV.

If you just want a good-looking TV, one that doesn’t have quite the X900B’s contrast, brightness, or resolution, check out our pick for Best $500 TV.

If you’re looking for something bigger, consider a projector in $500, $1,000, or $2,500 “Awesome” forms. These will give you a great and significantly larger image than any TV.

Our pick

The Sony X900B starts at about $2,800 for the 55” version. It has an incredibly dark black level compared to the rest of the competition, creating a powerfully contrasty image. It’s less like you’re watching a TV, and more just a movie floating in your room. The colors are lifelike and accurate. While there are many great TVs on the market this year, in review after review, the X900B edges out the others (often by just not doing anything wrong).

It also has great sound quality thanks to a rather large, built-in speaker array. Think of it as having a halfway-decent soundbar built into the TV. Those without an existing setup will appreciate the fact that it actually sounds good, but if you already have a sound system, it’s just an unnecessary added expense that takes up extra space.

David Katzmaier, from CNET, gave the X900B 3.5/5 stars, including a score of 9/10 for performance (though only 5/10 for value). In his review, he says “the Sony XBR-X900B series provides the best picture quality of any 4K TV we’ve tested so far, competing well against the better plasmas.”

Who else likes it? Robert Heron reviewed the X900B for HDGuru.com, concluding, “as a product that delivers an audio and visual experience with 4K, HD, and streaming sources, I cannot think of another LCD television that has impressed my ears and eyes more than the Sony XBR-X900B series.”

The X900B comes in 55- ($2,800), 65- ($3,800), and massive 79-inch models ($8,000).

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Those ears, man. Those ears. Each side of the X900B’s screen features big speakers. They’re incorporated well, but make the TV much bigger than it needs to be, and are rather useless for anyone adding a soundbar or surround sound system (which we always recommend). You’re not paying extra for the speakers (at least not any meaningful amount), so it’s really just the aesthetics that are the issue.

The X900B is also on the expensive side. With the demise of plasma, the sweet, sweet low-priced, high-performing television is gone. LCDs that were close to plasma’s picture quality were always much more expensive. They needed features like local dimming and high refresh rates to compete with plasma’s inherent strengths. So the next step down, into what we’ll call the “mid-range” of LCDs on the market (say, $1,000-$1,500 for a 60-inch), is a big step down in price, and a fairly sizeable step in picture quality.

A Budget Pick

If the X900B is out of your price range, check out the Vizio M-series ($1,150 for a 60-inch). It’s not perfect, but there’s no single standout for the “best” mid-range LCD. The M-series offers very good picture quality, a little better than its competitors, and is a great price for its size.

There are two main issues with the M-series. The first is its motion resolution, which means objects that move onscreen, like a car driving from the left of the screen to the right, will blur more than a stationary background. And Consumer Reports says the motion blur reduction feature “also activates the smooth-motion effect that gives movies a “video-like appearance.”

That “smooth-motion effect” is also called the Soap Opera Effect (SOE), which many (including me) can’t stand. It makes everything look like an ultra-smooth soap opera. This is often the tradeoff with LCDs: poor motion resolution, or SOE. Some higher-end TVs have additional settings that reduce motion blur but don’t cause SOE, but the M-series doesn’t have those. Sports and gaming won’t look weird with SOE enabled, but movies and TV shows will. If you’re bothered by motion blurring, and you hate SOE, but don’t want a plasma (which don’t have this issue), consider the Samsung H6350.

The other issue with the M-series is that it’s only a little better-looking than Vizio’s less expensive E-series. CNET thinks “[the] picture is not significantly better than less-expensive E-Series.” They rate the two the same, Consumer Reports gives one extra tick to the M-series. So if you want to save a little money, the E-series is about 30% cheaper for only slightly worse picture quality. The consensus is the M-series does look a little better, though.

If money is no object…

OLED technology has been on the cusp of a breakthrough for many, many years. OLED’s biggest improvement over plasma and LCD is an even better contrast ratio, which is the most important part of a TV’s picture quality. The contrast ratio on OLED is effectively infinite. The image is better—it’s more lifelike and “window-to-another-world” than you’ve ever seen on any TV technology.

At an MSRP of $3,500, this year’s OLED, the LG 55EC9300, is significantly cheaper than last year’s, which was $15,000 when first available (that model is now on clearance at $3,200).

CNET’s David Katzmaier is effusive in his praise of the new TV, saying in his review that it has “the best picture quality” of any TV he’s reviewed, with “perfect” black levels, and “exceedingly bright whites.”

Our take on 4K TV Ultra High Definition TVs

Yes, our pick is a 4K TV, but we didn’t pick it for that reason—it’s a beautiful TV, that just happens to also be 4K. Resolution, in itself, isn’t a reason to upgrade your TV; it’s just one aspect of picture quality. The best 4K TVs do look good, but that’s because they also have all the best technologies their manufacturers can put in them (local dimming, etc). Cheap 4K TVs only have resolution going for them, so you’re getting a mediocre TV. Or to put it another way, you’re getting a Kia with Pirelli P-Zeros on it. It’s still a Kia. Wouldn’t you rather a Porsche for a little more money?

Further, the claims about an increase in picture quality due to the increase in resolution are somewhat dubious as well. Your eye can’t resolve the increased resolution in anything but very large screen sizes. Wirecutter contributor Chris Heinonen has an excellent 4K calculator to determine if you’ll get any benefit going with a higher-than-HD resolution display. Basically, if you’re sitting where most people are (9 or 10 feet from your TV), then you’ll need way more than 70-inch TVs before you even start to see a difference.

For a 50-to-60-inch TV, 4K is just going to be a waste of money, unless you’re sitting really, really close. If you want to dive into the science behind it, check out my articles over at CNET.

Wrapping it up

If you’re looking for the best TV, I recommend the Sony X900B in 55-, 65-, and 79-inch sizes. It has the best picture available right now. Too expensive? Check out Vizio’s M-series.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

TIME Television

Mehcad Brooks to Play Jimmy Olsen in Supergirl

Mehcad Brooks
Actor Mehcad Brooks arrives at the 2013 People StyleWatch Denim Party at the Palihouse on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 in Los Angeles. Paul A. Hebert—Invision/AP

The True Blood actor is set to play Supergirl's love interest

The upcoming CBS superhero series Supergirl will feature Mehcad Brooks as young photojournalist Jimmy Olsen.

The 34-year-old Austin native will be playing the love interest of Supergirl (played by Glee star Melissa Benoist), according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Jimmy Olsen character is a staple of the DC Comics Superman series, where he is traditionally portrayed as a youthful Daily Planet reporter who idolizes Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

As for Brooks, he was last seen playing an egocentric football player in the recently canceled Necessary Roughness. But he is most famous for his role as “Eggs” on the hit series True Blood.

[THR]

TIME Television

Here’s the Real Reason Why Taraji P. Henson Almost Turned Down Empire

Empire
Taraji P. Henson plays Cookie on Empire. Chuck Hodes

...And it wasn't the homophobia storyline

Lee Daniels’ breakout hip-hop drama Empire (Wednesdays on Fox) draws more than 10 million people a week — thanks in large part to Taraji P. Henson. The actress plays Cookie, the scene-stealing ex-wife of a gangster-turned-record-exec (Terrence Howard) who’s coming for her share of the company after finishing a 17-year prison stint — that is, when she’s not hurling shoes and giving other characters a vicious tongue-lashing.

TIME caught up with the actress to talk about Cookie’s already-iconic style, her shadiest insults and the show’s take on political correctness.

TIME: Empire‘s huge ratings have risen steadily since its premiere, which is incredibly rare. Why do you think that is?
It’s making people think, making people upset, making people talk, and I don’t think you’ve had a show like this on primetime network television in a long time. This feels like a cable network show, but you get to watch it for free!

What are people most upset about?
Barack Obama.

You mean the scene in which one of Cookie’s sons calls Obama a sellout during a drunken rant?
It was to prove a point about how reckless young kids are nowadays. Some of them are out of control! They don’t understand hard work — what it took for that man to get in office. But people get so offended! It’s art, baby! People out there think like that. I’m sure our president doesn’t believe everyone in the world likes him. I’m not stupid enough to believe that about myself.

What’s it like playing a character who’s so not politically correct?
I like it! “Politically correct” is really BS. It’s not the truth. You’re forming it in the way so that you don’t offend anybody. Well, I’d rather deal with the truth. Tell me what it is. I’d rather know if you like me or not, for whatever reasons. Then I know what I’m dealing with!

Putting a character like Cookie on TV isn’t necessarily an endorsement of everything she says or does, either.
I think people get Cookie. She’s not a malicious person. She’s just real. She shoots straight from the hip, and I think the majority of people really respect that and like that and look up to it. Nine times out of 10 she’s right! It’s not like she’s flailing off at the mouth and saying dumb stuff.

People are saying Cookie is the Halloween costume of 2015 already.
Let me tell you something, they have been tweeting me pictures of the babies in Cookie swag. The women have already started getting ready. It’s like a Cookie craze. Terrence said, “You became an icon in two weeks.”

Which outfits do you wish you could take home?
All her stuff I want to take home because all of it is very expensive.

Even the animal prints?
As long as it fits and looks good and makes me feel like a woman, I’m all about it.

Cookie must be fun to play, but is it a challenge to make sure you don’t go too over-the-top?
I always have to rein her in. The writers are so excited because I’m so uninhibited — they write really big. I make a conscious effort to sit on it. What happens if you play her big all the time? Then she becomes a stereotype and no one cares.

Cookie drops some of the shadiest insults on TV. What’s your favorite?
Oh honey, there’s so much shade to come. So far, it’s booboo kitty. That’s like saying bitch without saying it. That’s the best shade you could throw right there.

What makes it good shade?
Somebody not sharp enough or not savvy enough might think, “Aww, she called me booboo kitty!” No, sweetie, that’s actually not what I called you.

Do you come up with your own insults?
Booboo kitty was mine. “Shut up, Dora!” was mine. I didn’t even think they would let me use it. I just ad-libbed it for the scene. Lee was like, “No, no, keep it! Say it every take!” They’re saying “Shut up, Dora!” is the new “Bye, Felicia.”

How much do you improvise?
I mean, I have Cookie. You can’t out-Cookie me. I know who this woman is. Terrence said it best: “Taraji will take what the writers write, and then she will take and dip it in some extra-special gravy sauce.”

When you play such an intimidating character, do people get scared of you on set?
Sometimes, but I am such a bubbly person between takes making everybody feel welcome. If there’s a scene where I really have to slice someone with the tongue and go off — because sometimes I black out and just go — then I’ll come and hug the person. “You know it’s just Cookie, it’s not me! Let me buy you a drink.”

So she’s your alter ego in a way.
She totally is my alter ego. She’s my Sasha Fierce to Beyoncé. You’re absolutely right.

My editor says I bring up Beyoncé too much in interviews, so thank you for sneaking her in.
Why not bring up Beyoncé? Shit, all hail the queen.

Terrence’s character says music saved his life. When did music help you through a hard time?
All of Mary J. Blige’s songs got me through every heartbreak. All of them. If it wasn’t for Mary J., I would probably be in a padded room. She speaks right to your soul, right to your heart.

This show has a lot to say about the state of the music industry. Do you even buy CDs anymore?
I download on iTunes because it’s so convenient. I Shazam everywhere. I could be anywhere. I’ll be in an Italian restaurant like, “What’s that?” I’ll Shazam it and download it right away. I do still collect wax.

What are you listening to these days?
I’m always concerned about what the young hip-hop kids have to say. What is their message, what are they talking about. Right who has my ear is J. Cole and a kid out of Brooklyn, Joey Bada$$. He’s so young, but he has such an old school hip-hop flavor about him.

Did you see the photo of Malia Obama wearing his group’s shirt?
I did! I was like, “Well I know she’s not on the ‘Gram, so how did that happen?”

He thinks his phone has been tapped.
It probably has now!

Why did you almost turn down Empire?
When I read the script, Terrence Howard wasn’t cast. I initially thought me and Terrence Howard. If it couldn’t be Terrence Howard, I didn’t want to do it. That’s why I almost turned it down. I just felt like I would have served the project better with my choice of leading man. Thank God they listened to me!

Sounds like a Cookie move.
That’s what Lee Daniels said. “She just Cookie’d me!”

Some articles suggested you were concerned about the homophobia storyline.
That didn’t play into my hesitation at all. In fact, that’s what made me want to do it. I hadn’t seen the subject matter addressed in our in-your-face let’s-talk-about-this manner. I welcome that part. That didn’t scare me. It was the president [comment]! That scared me. I also didn’t know how people would respond to Cookie. She’s so real and raw, and people like that you either hate or love. There’s really no middle ground because she acts 100 all the time, and some people can’t deal with that. At the end of the day, my job as the artist is to make them understand her. That’s why it’s important I dont play her big all the time. Like I said, if she’s a stereotype, no one cares. If you show why people are the way they are, people will have more compassion for that person.

Were you nervous about using a gay slur in one episode?
No! I have a lot a gay friends, okay? I was the art kid! I’m a drag queen, basically. So I understood that word, and I understood Cookie’s use of it. It wasn’t a term for gay at all. If anything, she was calling Lucious that, and that’s how I played it. I never played it like I’m using the F-bomb to degrade gay people. That was shade. That was total shade to Lucious. I also ad-libbed “Pretty hair, bitch, I see your son gets it from you,” but they cut it.

Before this show, you were content with not going back to TV. Why?
Just being stuck playing one character. When I did Person of Interest, I went in there not wanting to do a whole seven — you know, you sign for season sevens if it gets picked up and goes that long. I was really hesitant of doing that because I love to do film. When you get on a show that shoots for nine months out of the year, when am I going to have a chance to do a movie? That was always my concern. With this show I am not only getting a breakthrough character, I’m also getting an amazing schedule because we only shoot five months out of the year.

What about Empire lured you back?
The character, the script, the cast, the company. I mean, the producers! The fact that Fox was willing to take a chance and push the envelope. Being a part of great change, and being a part of history, really. We’re breaking records. This is something I felt all along when I read the script: “This is something special.” It was the same feeling when I read Hustle and Flow, and the exact same feeling when I read Benjamin Button. I think I’m dead on with my instincts. What do you think?

I’d say so. But you’re not worried about getting bored of Cookie in a couple of years?
I don’t think you can get tired of Cookie. The wardrobe is always fresh, the hair is constantly changing, she’s always evolving. She’s been away for 17 years. There’s a lot she needs to catch up on. She’s going to change a lot.

TIME Television

Why The Americans Still Resonates Decades After the Cold War

THE AMERICANS -- "EST Men" Episode 301 -- Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX
Keri Russell stars as Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans Michael Parmelee—FX

The FX drama, which returns Wednesday night, is one of a growing number of shows to smartly address identity and assimilation in America

In the second season of The Americans, Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) pulls into his driveway in a brand new Camaro Z-28, rock and roll blasting through the open windows. His wife Elizabeth (Keri Russell) looks on, incredulous. The car was an unnecessary splurge, given that their previous ride ran just fine, and Elizabeth expresses her dismay later that night.

“Don’t you enjoy any of this?” Philip asks, admitting that despite his commitment to Communism, a touch of capitalist excess here and there isn’t so bad. “That’s not why I’m here,” she says, and walks out.

The Americans, which returns for a third season Wednesday night, is about a lot of things: loyalty and deception, ideology and sacrifice, marriage and, increasingly, parenthood. But at its core, the show is about identity — the tension between the false identity on display and the true identity within. The name of the show, itself, is a play on this tension: “The Americans” are who Philip and Elizabeth pretend to be, but not who they really are. Their struggle to conceal themselves without fundamentally changing themselves — hence Elizabeth’s side-eye at the new car — is what propels the drama forward.

For those who haven’t been following along: Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are KGB operatives living undercover in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C., in 1981. They’ve been stateside for 20 years, in a professionally-arranged but not loveless marriage that produced two children. The Jenningses’ ability to fulfill their responsibilities to the motherland hinges on their blending in seamlessly with their neighbors — any hint of an accent, or a too-enthusiastic reaction to a taste of Beluga caviar, and their cover could be blown.

The tension between their real and fake identities plays out most dramatically in their relationships with each other and their children. It’s palpable in Elizabeth’s disapproval of Philip’s assimilation, her fear that his fitting in so well isn’t just a professional strategy, but a weakening of will. And it’s apparent in both parents’ regret that their children — unaware of their own Soviet heritage — are growing up with the exact system of values Philip and Elizabeth risk their lives daily to topple. Having children was, initially, just one more item on their checklist of playing a believable American family. The result, though, was an actual American family.

What makes this show so resonant today, despite the fact that the Cold War has been over for as long as Taylor Swift has been alive, is the framework it provides for the issues of identity and assimilation that have only intensified in the intervening years. There’s something universal about the way Philip and Elizabeth maintain public and private personas, struggling to hold onto their ideals in a hostile environment. Participation in many of this country’s institutions requires assimilation; assimilation requires compromises some people are unwilling to make. When these quandaries extend to raising children, who are more susceptible to the influence of peers and advertisers than their own parents, the stakes only get higher.

The Americans isn’t the only show on TV right now honing in on the complicated nature of layered and conflicting identities. Blackish, Transparent and Fresh Off the Boat are just three recent (and, in the case of the latter, forthcoming) shows that place identity — not identity politics, but the thorny web of actual lived American identity — at their centers.

There is no singular process by which the characters on these shows attempt to reconcile their identities. In Blackish, patriarch Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) redirects his frustration at being commodified at work — named vice president of his advertising firm’s “Urban Division” because he is perceived, despite his affluent suburban lifestyle, as “urban” — into an overzealous attempt to steer his son away from traditionally non-black pursuits like field hockey.

In Transparent, Mort Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) conceals his true identity as a woman until he finds the courage to reveal it to his children, beginning to match his outward appearance with his inner life. As Maura, Tambor’s character trades the privilege of her former maleness for the freedom of true self-expression. She achieves a more harmonious relationship between the once-clashing dual identities of physical appearance and gender, but the reaction of the outside world is not unanimously kind.

How Fresh Off the Boat will tackle its young protagonist’s identity as the Taiwanese-Chinese-American son of immigrant parents remains to be seen, as the show doesn’t premiere until Feb. 5. But based on tidbits from Eddie Huang, on whose memoir the show is based, it will, among other things, depict the ways in which the dominant culture made a young Huang feel “almost shamed into assimilation.”

The crucial difference between these shows and The Americans, of course, is that Philip and Elizabeth are white and cisgender; the very identity they assume, even if it causes them distress, is one that affords them great privilege. Unlike Andre or Eddie or Maura, the identity they present to the world isn’t met with racism, commodification or bewilderment. It is not subjected to pressure to assimilate, because it already is assimilated.

Still, Philip and Elizabeth struggle with their identity, because they look — and act and dress and eat — exactly like their white, middle-class neighbors. Where Eddie and Andre want desperately to be seen as they are, Philip and Elizabeth are trying desperately to keep it concealed. And unlike the characters in those shows, the Jenningses’ double lives are ones that they chose. There’s an out for them, even if it means giving up everything and moving to Lichtenstein. Their ideology and national allegiance might feel as much a part of them as the color of their skin, but ultimately, it’s not immutable.

The Americans isn’t about assimilation in the same way that those other shows are, but they all reflect a growing desire among viewers to engage with the question of what it means to be American: how many different ways there are to be American; how we transmit these to future generations; how many questions there are to ask ourselves about what we’re willing to do for a sense of belonging, and what we expect in return.

The dualities of our lives — whether we choose or inherit them, confront or ignore them, benefit or suffer from them — are a huge, and universal, part of the human experience. It’s no coincidence they make for great TV.

TIME Television

Netflix Releases Teaser for Wet Hot American Summer Series

The counselors are back

Netflix’s Wet Hot American Summer series finally has a subtitle and a teaser. And while the teaser doesn’t contain much info aside from the names of cast members, that subtitle—First Day of Camp—says a lot.

The video’s YouTube description has a little more detail: the eight-episode series will take place on the first day of camp during the summer of 1981. As you’ll recall, the original movie took place on the last day of camp that same summer. That means Wet Hot‘s returning cast members will be playing (very slightly) younger versions of roles they played back in 2001. Good thing Paul Rudd basically hasn’t aged.

And don’t worry: In addition to Rudd and Michael Showalter, who will co-write the series as he did the movie with director David Wain, the likes of Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, David Hyde Pierce, and Bradley Cooper will be back as well.

Would you have guessed 14 years ago that Cooper would have been nominated for multiple Academy Awards by now, and that Rudd would be Ant-Man? Times do change. According to the teaser, the series is coming this summer.

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

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