Weekly Web Series Review: The Handlers

Be sure to check out our most recent interview with Bryan Cranston, the star of “Breaking Bad,” where he discusses “The Handlers” and a host of other topics!

The absurdity of political maneuvering is ripe for comedic satire, and the Comedy Central original web series “The Handlers” takes full advantage of this. our most recent interview with Bryan Cranston, star of TV’s best show, “Breaking Bad,” plays Jack Power, a state senate hopeful with a team of spin doctors (or “handlers”) watching his every move in order to spin his blunders to the campaign’s advantage. Sarah (Andrea Cansler), Miles (Matt Braunger), Tim (Josh Dean) and Goodman (Gary Anthony Williams) are experts in the field of bullshit, and when they’re not busy covering Jack’s ass, they’re twice as hard at work covering their own.

The series starts strong with its first episode, “The Focus Group,” in which Jack’s boring speech delivery style is hurting his poll numbers as well as his team of handlers watching the speech from campaign headquarters. However, when Jack experiences a slip of the tongue pronouncing a certain state name, his polls soar, and the handlers land on a brilliant strategy for the campaign. Ending with a jaunty theme song briefly introduced at the beginning, this episode nicely sets the tone for what’s to come, and the series continues strongly with a similar idea in its second episode, “Prostitute.” An innocent mistake in which Jack tries to help a woman in need, only to be railroaded by the media when she turns out to be a hooker. Perhaps the best moment of the episode comes when Jack asks his handlers, “Is a good person helping out a stranger so hard to believe?” and the answers comes back as a resounding “Yes!”

After the third episode, “Poster,” which features a really well-done sight gag at the end, the series takes a slight dip in quality. The fourth episode, “Mustache,” is well-played but basically just builds to a very predictable joke, and the same could be said of the fifth episode, “The Announcement,” which is even weaker. This is sort of the problem with the web series format, at least for this series; the characters and situation are strong enough to build an actual, full-length sitcom from, but the two-to-four minute episode format of the web series only leaves room for essentially one joke per episode. Some of the jokes work better than others, but Cranston and company always give it their best, and “The Handlers” is worth a look, especially in its first three episodes.

  

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Picture of the Day: Crystal in her schoolgirl outfit

Here’s the lovely Crystal in a sexy schoolgirl outfit in a photo taken in LA. Crystal used to be one of the Juggies on Comedy Central’s “The Man Show.”

  

The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Maurice LaMarche (“Futurama”)

Maurice LaMarche has been my Facebook friend for several years, but I’d never actually met him, talked to him, or even traded email with him until a few days ago…which means, of course, that he really wasn’t my friend at all. I mean, not really, anyway. After I found out that he and I would be chatting in conjunction with the return of “Futurama,” however, I decided I’d tag him on my status update about our upcoming conversation. In turn, I drew Mr. LaMarche’s attention at long last…or, at least, one of my “likes” did.

Eh. Either way, Maurice LaMarche kinda sorta knew who I was when I got on the phone. I’m chalking it up as a win.

Maurice LaMarche: Now, I’m looking here on your Facebook page, and…who are your likes? Because I see you’ve got “The Newsroom,” and then you’ve got this guy with really tightly cropped hair, but then when I go into your page, you’ve got something like 1,200 “likes,” so I can’t tell who he is. Do you know who I’m talking about?

Bullz-Eye: Yeah, he’s…I’m blanking on his name right this second, but he’s part of the cast of USA’s “Suits.”

MLM: Hmmm. Because he looks like a guy who used to be on a show that I loved that got cancelled, a show called “Jake In Progress.” He played a magician, I think, but…God, that’s gonna drive me nuts now. I’ve got to look up “Suits” now! [Laughs.] Sorry! Then we can start. I’m a little compulsive…

BE: Well, look, I’ll help you out: that’s the same guy. His name is Rick Hoffman.

MLM: Yes! I love him! He’s so good. So funny. I love that guy.

BE: Yeah, I think I first saw him on “Samantha Who?”

MLM: Okay, so you never saw him on “Jake in Progress,” then…? Oh, “Jake in Progress” was my favorite show, and it just was treated so… [Puffs up his voice.]  …ignominiously by ABC. Reminiscent of the way they treated a certain futuristic cartoon show, one might say.

BE: I’m sure I don’t know what you’re referring to.

MLM: I’m sure I don’t, either. [Laughs, then puffs up voice again.] But Comedy Central has treated us much better.

BE: Yes, “Futurama” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like a zombie: Fox tried to kill it, but they couldn’t get rid of it.

MLM: That’s right. We just keep coming back at you. And we’ll try not to do any zombie storylines, so…thank you for your patronage. [Laughs.]

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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A Chat with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (from Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele”)

Although it ran for 14 seasons and 31 episodes, Fox’s “Mad TV” never delivered the kind of instant name recognition that the alumni of its Saturday night competition on NBC tend to get, but dedicated viewers will no doubt recall the faces of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele from such recurring sketches as “Coach Hines,” “Funkenstein,” “The Superstitious Knights,” and more. Now, the duo are reuniting for their own sketch comedy series on Comedy Central, and thanks to advance clips from the show going viral, the buzz about “Key & Peele” is tremendous. Bullz-Eye talked to Key and Peele about how they met, the origins of their comedic collaboration, what and viewers can expect from the first season of their series.

Jordan Peele: We’ve done a couple of these so far, Will, and I’ll just go ahead and pre-empt your request to have us announce our names…

Bullz-Eye: I don’t know what you’re talking about. It never would’ve occurred to me to ask you to identify yourselves before speaking.

JP: [Laughs.] Well, this is Jordan speaking, and…I guess I’m the one that sounds more like Bert. And he’s the one that sounds more like Ernie.

BE: I’ll try to remember that during transcription.

Keegan-Michael Key: [Laughs.] Yeah, just put B for one, E for the other. That shouldn’t be too confusing.

BE: Yeah, especially not when “BE” is the abbreviation for Bullz-Eye.

JP: [Laughs.] Well, just to be safe, we’ll keep announcing ourselves, anyway. You can also identify me as the tired one. I’m Jordan.

BE: Right. If someone’s slurring, it’s probably Jordan.

KMK: He’s Eeyore, I’m Piglet.

JP: Piglet? Oh, come on. You’re Tigger.

KMK: Oh, God, what am I talking about? Of course I’m Tigger. [Laughs.]

BE: So you guys obviously worked together for many years on “Mad TV,” but did you know each other at all prior to that series?

KMK: We did. Yeah, we met in Chicago when Jordan was at Boom Chicago, which is an improv theater in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. [Laughs.] As opposed to Amsterdam in New Mexico or something, right?

JP: Hey, there’s also an Amsterdam in New York.

KMK: All right, all right. [Laughs.] Anyway, I was at The Second City, and our casts had a swap. There’s two theaters at the Second City, so one of our casts went to Amsterdam, and Jordan’s cast from Boom Chicago – which is just a really incredible theater – they came to Chicago. So they flipped, and that’s where we met: I was performing on the second stage at Second City, and Jordan’s cast had come in to visit us for a week.

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