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  2. What I learned from my frenetic Fringe binge

    A seasoned theater professional dives headfirst into the world of mimed masturbation, weapon-wielding clowns, and talking grapes that is the New York International Fringe Festival

     


  3. Your weekly streaming recommendation: Hannibal

    Amazon recently added a number of HBO TV shows to its Instant Streaming service, giving subscribers who haven’t seen The Sopranos or The Wire a chance to see what they’ve been missing out on. But what about the TV shows that were already exclusive to Amazon Prime? All month, we’ll be counting down some of Amazon Prime’s non-HBO exclusives. This week: NBC’s  Hannibal.

    There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of NBC’s Hannibal — a police procedural chronicling the relationship between FBI agent Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The series premiered more than 20 years after Hannibal’s heyday, when The Silence of the Lambs swept the Oscars in 1992. Each subsequent entry in the Hannibal franchise had been significantly weaker than the last, culminating in 2007’s laughably toothless prequel Hannibal Rising. And the gruesome murders on which the series is built seemed like they would probably need to be neutered for cable — let alone a Big Four network like NBC.

    Due to the superlative work of a creative team led by Bryan Fuller, all those concerns turned out to be entirely unfounded. Hannibal isn’t just a competent translation of the Hannibal Lecter story for the small screen; it’s the darkest, sharpest, and most gripping Hannibal Lecter story ever told on page or screen.

    The brilliance of Hannibal begins with the time period it chronicles: the years before anyone has figured out that Dr. Lecter is a cannibalistic serial killer, when he serves as a key consultant for the FBI’s homicide team. As the series begins, the FBI is attempting to solve a string of murders committed by a man known only as the Minnesota Shrike — and Dr. Lecter delights in pretending to be a friend and ally while doing everything in his power to throw them off the trail.

    Despite Hannibal's title, the show rests just as heavily on the shoulders of Hugh Dancy, who plays Will Graham. In 2002's Red Dragon, Edward Norton turned in an utterly forgettable performance as Will Graham (though the bland script didn’t do him any favors). But Dancy’s take on Will Graham is a fundamentally different animal: a man whose almost supernatural ability to solve murders lies in his ability to empathize with the motivations of psychopaths, which continually threatens to push him over the edge of insanity. 

    Hannibal is a textbook example of how to adapt a beloved piece of material while cutting or changing all the things you don’t need anymore. Mads Mikkelsen’s chilling, occasionally feral performance as Hannibal easily distinguishes itself from Anthony Hopkins’ more genteel take. Major Red Dragon characters like Jack Crawford, Dr. Alan Bloom, and Freddy Lounds are reinterpreted into deeper, darker, contemporary versions of their literary counterparts. And the series’ warped, inventive crime scenes — corpses turned into a mushroom garden, or molded into a kind of tower — allows for a lush, unsettlingly gorgeous visual style that’s sure to keep viewers on edge.

    Best of all, Hannibal's story is tweaked just as much as it needs to be — enough that the core of author Thomas Harris’ original narrative remains intact, but full of surprises for those who have read the books and think they know where the story is going.

    Hannibal's second season concluded last week, and despite middling ratings, NBC picked it up for a third. Fortunately, the entire first season is currently available for Amazon Prime members to stream, so you'll have plenty of time to catch up before season three premieres next year.

     


  4. Like last week’s “The Strategy,” Mad Men’s midseason finale “Waterloo” was so rich and satisfying that it could have been the series finale….With its ultimate end in sight, Mad Men has been firing on all cylinders, and “Waterloo” is a textbook example of this show at its very best.
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    A sad loss also marks a new beginning for both Don Draper and Sterling Cooper
     


  5. Your weekly streaming recommendation: Drunk History

    Amazon recently added a number of HBO TV shows to its Instant Streaming service, giving subscribers who haven’t seen The Sopranos or The Wire a chance to see what they’ve been missing out on. But what about the TV shows that were already exclusive to Amazon Prime? All month, we’ll be counting down some of Amazon Prime’s non-HBO exclusives. This week: Drunk History.

    Drunk History's concept is so simple and so endearing that it's amazing that it took so long for someone to invent it. After consuming large quantities of the tipple of their choice, the narrator attempts to coherently recount the story of a major historical event. The audio is then recreated by a wide range of talented comedic actors — including Kristen Wiig, Jack Black, Jason Schwartzmann, and dozens of others — who don costumes and act the entire story out, word-for-word, down to every boozy digression. 

    Though the actors remain completely straight-faced in their recreations, the goal is less “let’s learn something about history” than “let’s have a wacky time telling stories” — so any facts you end up “learning” should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

    Drunk History began life as a web series on Funny or Die, where entries were usually around five minutes long — but the concepts works perfectly in the 30-minute chunks of a Comedy Central series. Each episode features three drunken narrators who work under a consistent theme. One episode might tackle notable events in Atlanta’s history, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s meeting with J. Edgar Hoover or the invention of Coca-Cola; another might focus on highlights from the peak of the Wild West era, including the exploits of Billy the Kid or the legendary battle at the Alamo.

    By the time you’ve seen a few segments, the fun of Drunk History is so infectious that you’ll probably want to join in — so grab a couple bottles of wine, invite some of your funniest friends over, and use the series as an entry point to your own evening of boozy storytelling.

     


  6. Your weekly streaming recommendation: Pushing Daisies

    Later this month, Amazon will be adding a number of HBO TV shows to its Instant Streaming service, giving subscribers who haven’t seen The Sopranos orThe Wire a chance to see what they’ve been missing out on. But what about the TV shows that are already exclusive to Amazon Prime? All month, we’ll be counting down TV shows you should binge-watch while you wait for HBO to arrive. This week: the gorgeous, whimsical Pushing Daisies.

    There’s never been anything quite like Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies on television — and unfortunately, nothing like it since. This romance-mystery-crime-dramedy, which aired on ABC from 2007 to 2009, is one of the most idiosyncratic series to premiere on a network in years.

    Pushing Daisies tells the story of Ned (Lee Pace), a professional pie maker with a strange gift: He can bring the dead back to life just by touching them. There are, however, a few important caveats: If the person he revives stays alive for more than 60 seconds, someone else around them will die. And if he ever touches someone he revives again, they’ll go back to being dead — and this time, it’ll be for good.

    With the help of a private detective, Ned has found a unique use for his gift: raising the recently murdered, asking who killed them, sending them back to death, and collecting the reward for solving the case. But when his childhood crush Chuck (Anna Friel) winds up murdered, and Ned ends up reviving her, he can’t bring himself to send her back to death — sparking the beginning of a new relationship in which the couple will never be able to touch again.

    Pushing Daisies is pure modern fairy tale, filled with delightfully offbeat performances by actors like Kristin Chenoweth and Chi McBride, gorgeously colored visuals, and Jim Dooley’s lush score, which contains some of the most gorgeous music ever composed for a TV series.

    In lesser hands, the whimsy of Pushing Daisies could feel phony and oppressive — but the show finds both its foundation and its heart in the irresistible love story between Ned and Chuck. Lee Pace and Anna Friel have an absolutely magnetic chemistry, and the central tension at the center of their relationship is achingly romantic.

    Unfortunately, possible plans to continue the series — as a comic book, miniseries, movie, or Broadway musical — haven’t come to pass. But whatever its future, the two seasons of Pushing Daisies, that were produced tell a beautiful, unforgettably original story that has lost none of its power in the years since it went off the air.

     

  7. Watch the first teaser for The Simpsons' LEGO episode

    This Sunday’s episode will transport Springfield to the LEGO universe, offering block versions of many of the show’s familiar characters

     

  8. Jimmy Fallon challenges Emma Stone to a joyfully eclectic lip-sync duel

    Whoever on Jimmy Fallon’s staff came up with the lip-sync battle really hit on a crowd-pleaser

     


  9. There are very few absolute rules in Game of Thrones, but one remains exceptionally clear: Don’t do anything to make Daenerys Targaryen angry.
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    Game of Thrones recap: ‘Oathkeeper’

    If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place

     


  10. Your weekly streaming recommendation: Terriers

    For each week in the month of April, we’ll be recommending a binge-watchable TV show you might not have check out yet. This week: Terriers, an FX dramedy about a pair of scruffy PIs.

    One of the great virtues of video-on-demand is the opportunity to devour a TV show that deserved a lot more love when it originally aired. UnlikeFirefly, Arrested Development, or Veronica Mars, there’s virtually no hope for a belated revival of FX’s one-season wonder Terriers — but anyone who makes time for the 13 episodes we did get will be richly rewarded for it.

    Terriers follows a pair of scruffy, unlicensed private investigators attempting to scrape by in a small California beach town. Donal Logue plays Hank Dolworth, a recovering alcoholic who’s mourning the self-inflicted losses of both his career and his marriage; Michael Raymond-James plays Britt Pollack, a onetime criminal who has managed to turn his life around. As the partners fumble and banter their way through the lowest of low-rent cases, they accidentally uncover a larger conspiracy that could threaten everyone and everything around them. It also had one of the best TV theme songs in recent history.

    Terriers is alternately funny, tense, heartbreaking, and as twisty as any classic noir, with two stellar lead performances. Unfortunately, the show’s innate complexity also meant that FX never quite figured how to make it. Even near-universal critical accolades couldn’t attract enough viewers to earn Terriers a second season renewal — which is all the more maddening when you consider that the rise of DVR and video-on-demand platforms might have been enough to earn Terriers a loyal audience and another season if it had premiered just one or two years later.

    Fortunately, Terriers' first season works just fine as a standalone piece of television. The TV landscape is overrun with shows about cops, detectives, and killers, but Terriers stands out by making the dynamics between the characters far more compelling than any crime they’re solving. If you’re intrigued by the idea of a series that captures the beachside noir of Veronica Mars, the thoughtful character work of Mad Men, and the quick, savvy banter of Joss Whedon at his best, do yourself a favor and give Terriers a spin.

     

  11. Are you a fan of Veep and salty language? You should check out The Thick of It.

     

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  13. The Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts