by Julian Spivey
10. Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (Netflix)
I know it’s a bit weird to include one comedian stand-up special on my best television shows of the year, but Norm Macdonald meant a lot to me – and his final comedy special “Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special,” which was filmed in his home during the pandemic in 2020 and released in late May this year following his 2021 death, was, in fact, special. It was funny, it was sad, it was thought-provoking, and it was comedy the way only Norm Macdonald could do it. I also appreciated the after-show where his friends and comedy legends like David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Adam Sandler, Dave Chappelle and more discussed both the show and their friend.
9. The Last Movie Stars (HBO Max)
I was absolutely enthralled with all six episodes of Ethan Hawke’s “The Last Movie Stars” documentary for HBO Max on the career and relationship of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Newman is one of my favorite movie legends, so I was always interested, but I learned so much about Woodward and their relationship through this documentary. The way Hawke chose to tell it via using modern celebrities like George Clooney, Laura Linney and others to read actual transcripts that had been done with Newman, Woodward and those surrounding them in the early ‘80s intended for a book that never came to life truly brought a passion to their story. The Newman-Woodward relationship wasn’t perfect, but it was real love. “The Last Movie Stars” is the most beautiful and in-depth documentary I’ve ever seen on Hollywood legends.
8. Reservation Dogs (Hulu)
“Reservation Dogs” was one of my favorite finds of 2021 when its first season aired on Hulu. The FX Production created by Sterlin Harjo returned with a strong sophomore outing this year following the lives of four Indigenous teens and those surrounding them in rural Oklahoma. It’s a fantastic slice of life about people we often don’t see on television. “Reservation Dogs” is the closest show I’ve seen to the excellence of its story-telling antecedent “Atlanta.”
7. Barry (HBO)
There had been nearly three years between seasons two and three of HBO’s “Barry” and I really should’ve done a re-watch of the first two seasons before starting season three because I felt a little cold on the series early on in season three. But it’s still one of the greatest series currently on TV and it’s probably the single most unique show on television – in that it’s at times incredibly dark and dramatic and then at other times you’ll find yourself laughing hard than you have at any scene all year. The performances by Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan and Stephen Root are all fantastic (though I could’ve used more Root in season three) and Hader is fearless in his writing (along with co-creator Alec Berg and an amazing staff) and direction.
6. Stranger Things (Netflix)
The two-year hiatus without Netflix’s science fiction drama “Stranger Things” had us greatly anticipating what season four would hold in store. It also allowed the teenage cast of the show to grow infinitely, which was somewhat of a shock to the system. Season four gave us maybe the best villain the show has had yet in Vecna, one of the best one-season characters of any show in recent memory in Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson, it gave a second life to a Kate Bush classic in one of TV’s all-time great musical moments and still scared, shocked, entertained despite feature-length film sized episode runtimes. Was the season perfect? No. It would’ve been nice to have the bulk of the cast together instead of spread out all over the globe, but the pros greatly make up for the cons.
5. Atlanta (FX)
It’s really strange that FX’s “Atlanta” aired its final two seasons – seasons three and four – in the same calendar year. Even stranger the show hadn’t aired an episode since its second season finished on May 10, 2018. Nearly four years passed between “Atlanta” episodes but the talent both behind the scenes and in front of the camera didn’t wane. Many fans of the show were irritated with the third season, which aired from late March to late May of this year because half of the episodes were anthology-like not focusing on the main characters or setting of the series. I could understand the fan’s dislike of this more if most of those episodes weren’t absolutely amazing – the writers and directors of “Atlanta” proved they could make high-quality, instant-classic episodes even without characters we’re accustomed to seeing. Season four, which aired from mid-September to mid-November, brought the cast and setting of “Atlanta” back to the forefront for another fantastic 10 episodes. “Atlanta” brought black stories and genius to television in a way we’d never quite seen on TV before and will live long in television history.
4. This Is Us (NBC)
It’s so nice that NBC gave creator Dan Fogelman six seasons to tell his story of the Pearson family from start to finish and during multiple time periods. It’s also nice that Fogelman had this idea and stuck with it, not attempting to prolong it longer due to success. The sixth and final season of “This Is Us” aired in early 2022 and landed the plane when it came to successfully giving us viewers the story of Pearson and the end of Rebecca’s (Mandy Moore) life, which we’d known was coming for some time now. The performances from the entire cast were excellent and the show continues with its heartwarming and heartbreaking at times look at an all-time great television family.
3. Hacks (HBO Max)
“Hacks” had a near-perfect season one on HBO Max in 2021, which is why it ranked No. 2 on this list last year. Its sophomore season was as good, if not even better, than season one. The first season ended with a killer of a cliffhanger where comedy writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) sent off this fiery email about her boss, comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), before the two reunite. Season two begins with Deborah finding out about the email and suing Ava, though also keeping her on as a writer for her tour. The relationship between Ava and Deborah is my favorite non-couple relationship on television right now – the two play off each other so well, especially with their differences in generation with Ava Gen Z and Deborah a boomer.
2. Severance (AppleTV+)
In many years AppleTV+’s sci-fi/thriller/black comedy “Severance” would be a No. 1 show. I was absolutely enthralled every second of this series’ first season where employees go through what’s known as a “severance” process to have their memories wiped when entering and leaving their workplace. Their workplace bodies have no idea what they’re like in the outside world and their outside selves know nothing of their job. The series created by Dan Erickson and sublimely directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle is mostly told through the “innie” (what their worker selves are referred to) perspective with the workers wondering what they’re really doing and why. The cast of Adam Scott, Britt Lower, John Turturro, Zach Cherry, Tramell Tillman, Patricia Arquette and Christopher Walken is pitch-perfect the whole way through.
1. The Bear (Hulu)
I was completely blown away by the Hulu (via FX Productions) series “The Bear.” I didn’t know what to expect going in – primarily because you expect a workplace sitcom going in – due to the trailer and the 30-minute or less format. The creator/writer Christopher Storer gave us the single greatest work of fiction about the restaurant industry ever with incredibly naturalistic performances, especially from Jeremy Allen White, Ayo Edebiri and Ebon Moss-Bachrach. Carmy (White) has overtaken his deceased brother’s sandwich shop in Chicago with the intent to turn it into something bigger and better while struggling to keep it alive amidst some staff who don’t want change and coping with the death of his brother. It’s eight taut, captivating episodes of perfection.
What was your favorite TV Show of 2022?
by Julian Spivey
10. Dear Billy – Stranger Things
The fourth season of “Stranger Things,” which saw many of its episodes fleshed out to feature film-length runtimes, had a handful of stellar outings, but the one that stood out most to me is “Dear Billy,” in which Sadie Sink gives maybe her best performance of the series as Max, who is in grave danger under Vecna’s spell and at the time of watching the episode I wasn’t sure she’d survive the encounter. Meanwhile, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) and Robin Buckley (Maya Hawke) end up at a local insane asylum to interview Victor Creel, an excellent guest star in horror film legend Robert Englund, about his house and experiences with Vecna. These are told in excellent flashbacks to 1959 where we watch his entire family being horrifically mutilated. It’s this trip where they find a key to defeating Vecna’s spell is one’s favorite music. So, we get two excellent musical moments: Ella Fitzgerald’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” in the scariest scene you’d ever expect to hear it and Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” in an effort to save Max.
9. Cancer Attack – Atlanta
“Atlanta” hadn’t aired an episode since season two wrapped up in 2018 due to ongoing projects within the cast and then the pandemic in 2020. Then all of a sudden half of the entire series aired in a roughly eight-month span with season three debuting in late March and ending in mid-May and the fourth and final season debuting in mid-September and ending in mid-November. It was a whirlwind of “Atlanta” and there were so many excellent offerings to choose from for this list. The third season was quite controversial for airing about half of its episodes without the main cast of characters, but I feel many of these episodes were among the series’ best and the season was unfairly maligned. My choice for this list – “Cancer Attack” – comes from season three and features one of my favorite Brian Tyree Henry performances as rapper Paperboi. In the midst of Paperboi’s European tour, he’s doing a show in Budapest when his phone goes missing. The kicker for me during this episode is Earn (Donald Glover) and Paperboi attempt to play good cop/bad cop with the person they suspect of stealing the phone.
8. The Demon of the Road – Evil
I continue to feel three seasons in that Paramount+’s supernatural/horror/thriller drama “Evil” is the least watched best series on television (though that could also be said of Hulu’s “Reservation Dogs” and a few others). Few episodes of “Evil” truly scare me – it’s more of a creepy horror than jump scare horror, but nothing on television in 2022 gave me such piloerection as “The Demon of the Road,” which sees investigators Father David Acosta (Mike Colter), Dr. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) and Ben Shakir (Aasif Mandvi) trying to get behind a mysterious phenomenon leading to loss of power of vehicles, blood-curdling screams on the radio and lights following drivers.
7. The End of Eli Gold - The Good Fight
One minor criticism I’ve had of Paramount+’s “The Good Fight” throughout its excellent run, which wrapped this year, is we haven’t seen any real main characters from its predecessor “The Good Wife,” except for, of course, its lead Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski). So, I was thrilled when Alan Cumming reprised his role as attorney and political power broker Eli Gold in a couple of episodes of the show’s final season. “The End of Eli Gold” is the most nerve-wracking episode of a season filled with frayed and fragile nerves and truly speaks to today’s political climate in a frightening manner.
6. How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? – The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Many critics seem to be off of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” train with season four, which came in early 2022 after a two-year hiatus, but there were moments in the recent season that rank among the show’s best in my opinion. One of those moments is the season four finale “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?,” which I believe should have won Luke Kirby the Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy for his portrayal of Lenny Bruce. Bruce has put in a good word for Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) to open at the famed Copacabana for Tony Bennett, but much to his chagrin she turns the offer down. After Bruce’s epic performance at Carnegie Hall, he invites Midge backstage and rebukes her for turning down the gig, as well as pretty much any other performance that could help her career. It’s the pep talk she needs to get the engine revved up again and hopefully will lead to an amazing final season of the series.
5. Miguel – This Is Us
There were a handful of episodes during the second half of the final “This Is Us” season on NBC that could’ve made this list, especially the penultimate “The Train” or “Day of the Wedding,” but I absolutely love that late in its final season the family drama gave the character of Miguel his time to shine in an episode sharing his name. “Miguel,” tells the entire story of Jon Huertas’ character from boyhood in Puerto Rico until his death and in the midst of it his friendship with Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and his relationship with Rebecca (Mandy Moore). It’s a beautiful episode that really gives fans all they ever wanted for probably the show’s least-covered character.
4. The We We Are – Severance
Every episode of AppleTV+’s sci-fi/drama/thriller/black comedy (there’s truly a bit of so many genres wrapped into this show) “Severance” is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat watch. But the season one finale “The We We Are” sees our Lumon Macrodata Refinement gang on the cusp of figuring out some crucial mysteries behind the company they work for and the “severance” program they’ve undergone which separates their work life from their personal life. It’s also nice to finally get to see what Helly (Britt Lower) and Irving (John Turturro) are like on the “outside.” The episode ends in a cliffhanger so delicious I can’t wait for season two in 2023.
3. The Captain’s Wife – Hacks
The second season of HBO Max’s “Hacks” had back-to-back episodes in the first half of its season in “Trust the Process” and “The Captain’s Wife” which are the best back-to-back episodes of any show I saw in 2023. “Trust the Process” could’ve easily been in this spot. But “The Captain’s Wife” is probably my favorite Ava (Hannah Einbinder) episode ever and the character and Einbinder’s performance really shined in season two. “The Captain’s Wife” finds stand-up comedian Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) accidentally booked on a lesbian cruise (a crowd she historically hasn’t done well with). However, things are going better for her than expected until her comedy set when she offends essentially everybody onboard. Ava, who’s bisexual, is having the time of her life on this cruise and Deborah’s offensive set getting the two of them kicked off via a dinghy at sea provided maybe the most laughs of any TV episode all year.
2. 710N - Barry
The “710N” episode of “Barry” easily could’ve been the No. 1 TV episode of the year. The moment it ended I was pretty sure it would be. It feels like it’s more of a 1B than a No. 2. The episode begins with us thinking Fuches (Stephen Root), Barry’s mentor turned nemesis, might be dead. It ends with the possibility (though being the titular character an improbability) that Barry might be dead. In between, we have one of the funniest scenes on TV all year in which Sally’s (Sarah Goldberg) career is falling apart and her agent Lindsay (Jessy Hodges) and a TV executive (Vanessa Bayer) have the most ridiculous meeting and maybe the greatest car chase scene (even though it’s all on motorbikes) in the history of television that is likely the single best scene on television all year long. This episode shows Hader is an absolute auteur in the making as a director.
1. Review – The Bear
As soon as it aired some critics were saying the season one “The Bear” episode “Review” was so great it would one day be taught in film school. The episode, written by Joanna Calo and directed by series creator Christopher Storer, is the most nerve-wracking, tension-filled episode of television I may have ever seen. Much of what makes it this way is it’s amazingly done as a single shot from the time the credits finish to its end. The camera follows the ins and outs of an absolutely horrible day at the restaurant and the performances from the entire cast are at their peak. “Review” is also the penultimate episode of the season and sends us into the finale on such a creative high, but also a devastating gut punch.
by Julian Spivey
10. Mark Scout – Severance
Listen, I had to have a character from “Severance” on this list because my God was it one of the best shows of the year, but honestly, I could’ve put nearly the entire cast on the list. Patricia Arquette’s Harmony Cobel was the scariest performance I saw on TV all year. Britt Lower was amazing as the conflicted Helly. John Turturro as the strict company man Irving developing an against-policy relationship with a co-worker. Tramell Tillman’s bubbly, but stern when necessary henchman trying to make everyone happy. But I ultimately chose Adam Scott’s portrayal of Mark Scout (or Mark S. as his innie is called) for the list because he’s the focal point of the series and the only character whose life we see both on the inside and outside of work in the sci-fi/black comedy/drama he has the most time to shine as an actor.
9. Lenny Bruce - The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Lenny Bruce is the only real-life character on the list this year, which means actor Luke Kirby has to be pretty terrific with his performance to stand out. I’ve always loved Kirby as Bruce on Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” but in the most recent season (season 4) he’s given the most spotlight, whether it’s his burgeoning relationship with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan), his feeling that he doesn’t belong in her upper-class life and his triumphant appearance at Carnegie Hall. Kirby plays Bruce as sly, which was true to life, but he also plays him as sexier than he likely ever was. It doesn’t hurt the performance, though, in fact, it probably adds intrigue. My only disappointment is with the show ending with its fifth season I don’t feel we’ll get to the end of Bruce’s tragic life on the series – though I might be in the minority who wouldn’t mind seeing that on screen.
8. Eddie Munson – Stranger Things
It’s so hard for a show to bring in a new character when the regular cast has been clicking for multiple seasons only to have that newbie completely steal the show – but that’s what happened to Netflix’s “Stranger Things” in season four with high school outcast Eddie Munson. With his love for Dungeons and Dragon, heavy metal music and black clothing Munson is a clear call-out to the real-life “satanic panic” that took over some communities in the ‘80s. Munson might look scary, but he’s got a big heart and actor Joseph Quinn plays the character brilliantly throughout the season. Munson’s epic performance of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” instantly became one of the series’ all-time greatest scenes.
7. Barry Berkman – Barry
The darker Barry Berkman – a hitman who just wants to be an actor but can’t escape his past – gets the more intriguing HBO’s “Barry” gets and the more you realize as a viewer how incredible of an actor Bill Hader truly is. Barry’s world is absolutely turned on its end in season three and Hader perfectly plays the character’s descent into madness, culminating in a finale that has him completely defeated and viewers wondering what’s next.
6. Al “Paper Boi” Miles – Atlanta
Brian Tyree Henry’s performance of Al “Paper Boi” Miles throughout the four-season run of FX’s “Atlanta” was my favorite performance on a show with nothing but terrific performances. Al just wants to be Al. Paper Boi is his rapper persona. It’s what he does to make a living. But he doesn’t want the celebrity lifestyle. He just wants to be comfortable. Henry shows all of this in an understated, natural way complete with eye rolls and sighs. Henry probably does more without dialogue than any other actor on television – just watch him taking on death via tractor and wild hog in the penultimate episode “Andrew Wyeth. Alfred’s World.” Just let Al be Al!
5. Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto – The Bear
It’s a testament to creator and writer Christopher Storer that so many characters in Hulu’s (via FX Productions) are completely realized and fleshed out from the very beginning of his eight-episode dramedy “The Bear.” Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto was one of the best chefs at one of the best restaurants in the world when he took over the family beef sandwich restaurant in Chicago left to him in his brother’s will. He’s a genius, but he’s also a mess. He wants to turn the restaurant into something amazing, but he must figure out how to make it survive first with a group of rag-tag employees that range from just barely getting by to having dreams of being the best of the best. Jeremy Allen White plays Carmy to perfection – you see the genius turning in his head, while also dealing with the pain of losing a loved one and trying to make the family business survive. He also gives the best monologue of any TV episode in 2022 in the season one finale at the Al-Anon meeting – with that camera closing in on his face the entire time. It’s a masterful performance.
4. Richie Jerimovich – The Bear
Richie Jerimovich is a hard guy to like. He’s honestly an asshole. But there’s something in the performance of Ebon Moss-Bachrach that makes you like the character. I think it’s in his eyes. Moss-Bachrach does so much with his eyes and face, even when there’s no dialogue that you can’t help but feel for him. He’s a dinosaur amid so much change around him – both in the restaurant of “The Bear” and the surrounding community. He sees gentrification and abhors it. He also has some of the single funniest moments in all of 2022 on television like when he’s accidentally stabbed by Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and maybe my favorite TV quote of the year when trying to break up an almost riot between arcade game nerds when he refers to them as: “incel-QAnon-4chan-Snyder Cut-motherfuckers.”
There’s been nothing but dudes on this list so far … but my three favorite TV performances of 2022 are all women.
3. Sydney Adamu – The Bear
It’s truly hard to pick the best character from FX’s restaurant dramedy “The Bear,” which is why I’ve listed the three main characters of Carmy, Richie and now Sydney back-to-back-to-back on this list. But I came away after two viewings of this series believing Ayo Edebiri’s performance as the young, inexperienced but immensely talented with huge dreams Sydney Adamu as the best of the three, if ever so slightly. Edebiri is relatively new to acting with a background in stand-up comedy and put forth one of the most naturalistic acting performances of the year. Sydney reminds me so much of people I’ve known in my adult working life and the character is completely lived-in and believable. Edebiri seems effortless in this role, and I can’t wait to see her moving forward.
2. Rebecca Pearson – This Is Us
The final season of NBC’s “This Is Us” was beautiful as we come to see Rebecca Pearson as the family’s rock after years of the Big Three reckoning with the untimely, tragic death of their father Jack. Mandy Moore always had to do the heaviest lifting on the series playing Rebecca throughout her entire adult life and she portrayed the character with so much love and beauty that it felt like an honor getting to know her and losing her felt as devastated for the viewer as it did her children.
1. Ava Daniels – Hacks
Ava Daniels on HBO Max’s “Hacks” might be the most modern of any character currently on television. She’s a brash bisexual comedy writer more attuned to meta, non-humor humor with a completely different style of comedy than her boss, legendary stand-up Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), leading to a clashing of generations that makes for the funniest partnership of any kind on TV. I love everything about Hannah Einbinder’s performance, especially the dry delivery of her lines, and there was nothing funnier on TV in 2022 than her being kicked off a lesbian cruise (thanks to Deborah) when she was having the absolute time of her life.
Who was your favorite TV character of 2022?
by Addison Hemingway
Netflix recently released a new Christmas movie, “Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Special” directed by Laura Murphy and starring Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph and Jason Bateman. This hour-long comedy combines murder, Christmas and improv for a hilariously haywire holiday experience. The story centers around Terry Seattle, played by Arnett, a holiday-hating detective who must find out who killed Santa Claus and save Christmas with the help of his two trainees played by Rudolph and Bateman.
The premise of the movie is hilariously creative: every actor was given a script except the two guest stars. Bateman and Rudolph were simply led onto the set blindfolded and told to improvise. Rudolph explained: “I actually love it because I don’t have to learn any lines.” Following the evidence and Arnett’s’ lead, the two guest stars must find the killer and save Christmas, a difficult task when given absolutely zero information before being dropped on set.
Arnett, Bateman and Rudolph are called to City Hall to investigate the scene of a murder. The victim: Hall of Fame football player, Johnny Blaze, dressed as Santa Claus. The only clues left behind were a smudged name tag and the murder weapon: a sharpened candy cane. Bateman, Rudolph and Arnett worked their way through the witnesses at city hall until they came up with three main suspects. Blaze’s miserable assistant, a sportscaster who owed Blaze a large sum of money, and a business partner who felt betrayed. Bateman and Rudolph were still unsure of who the murderer was and they were running short on time, so to make things even more chaotic, Pete Davidson was dropped onto the set with 13 minutes left in the special. Witnessing Rudolph and Bateman scramble to explain the investigation to Davidson in 15 seconds was comedy gold. With the spirit of Christmas in the balance, the three guest stars announced who they believed the murderer was.
“Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery” is a super funny, new kind of Christmas movie. It’s a refreshing and novel experience to actually laugh at a holiday movie. The classic Hallmark movies we enjoy every season have their chuckle-worthy moments, but the comedic genius of Rudolph and Arnett made a genuinely funny Christmas special.
Netflix also has six episodes of “Muderville” available for streaming. Each episode features a new guest star who must improvise their way through a murder investigation and they are all hilarious.
Dear Taylor Sheridan,
What’s your deal with animals? Because I’m starting to think you’re a bit of a psychopath.
I don’t often talk aloud while watching fictional TV series or movies, but while watching the latest episode of your Paramount Network drama series “Yellowstone” on Sunday, December 11 I verbally uttered “what the fuck?” as a Secret Service character shot a dog, it claimed was a stray, but the character of Mo, played by Moses Brings Plenty, knew to be someone’s pet, because it apparently posed some kind of threat to the President of the United States’ upcoming speech at the show’s Broken Rock Indian Reservation.
I shouldn’t be surprised, Taylor, because your show has always had a penchant for being unnecessarily cruel to animals. I’m sure you have a reason for including this moment in your show – maybe trying to make a point of the evil of politics or potentially law enforcement (though that seems a stretch for you) or even the world at large? Maybe it was something else?
The second dog murdered moments later didn’t do anything but further piss off some of your viewers. Search ‘Yellowstone dogs’ on Twitter if you need proof.
This has been an issue I’ve had with you and your show for a long time now – hell, the very first scene of your series sees Kevin Costner’s John Dutton putting an injured horse out of its misery via gunshot – but it seems to be getting worse.
Earlier this season – the show’s fifth – the character of Rip Wheeler, played by Cole Hauser, also had to put an injured horse down via gunshot. I understand these scenes, even if they might occur more than necessary, because accidents happen in ranch life and it’s inhumane to let an animal suffer.
I know for a fact you love horses – maybe more than anything – being the real-life cowboy you are when it comes to competing in horse related sports.
I can give you a pass for the (fictional) horse deaths.
But just this season in addition to the horse and the dogs you’ve also killed a buffalo via car accident (I’m sure it could happen) and multiple wolves, which are protected Yellowstone National Park wolves equipped with GPS collars for tracking.
The fact that the show can’t seem to go a string of more than a few episodes without animal death, sometimes seeing multiple types of animals killed within the same episode, is weird. When it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the storyline as with the dogs in the most recent episode it comes off as incredibly cruel and callous.
I understand many who read this will likely accuse me of being “woke.” They’ll likely tell me I should stop watching the show. They might even compare me to your character Summer, played by Piper Perabo.
But I mostly want to understand what’s wrong with you Taylor. If you somehow see this – let me know, will ya?
Sincerely, Confused Viewer
by Aprille Hanson-Spivey
There are not many comedians who could make a crowd bust out laughing sharing a story about how they awkwardly told someone a turtle slipping into a pond on a chilly day “must be cold,” only to not understand they are cold-blooded. And then explaining they never spoke to that person again because how do you even come back from saying something that stupid?
But that’s the odd, self-deprecating, simple yet masterful humor of comedian Nate Bargatze. The 43-year-old headliner brought “The Raincheck Tour” to Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., Dec. 3, with openers Mike Vecchione and Dustin Chafin. One of the “clean” comedians out there, Bargatze has his weird brand of humor, like his classic stories of ordering at Starbucks and the infamous dead horse. There are a lot of “dirty” comedians that make me laugh, but honestly, it’s just a higher brand of humor when you can make everyday life funny without throwing in cursing or sex stories for shock value. It’s just tougher. And those life stories are what had the crowd in stitches solidly for his set, which lasted over an hour.
It was certainly a good thing because his openers were a bit all over the place. Vecchione, a former Philly teacher turned comedian, hit hard and fast with the redneck Arkansan jokes — complete with asking the waiter with the ankle monitor at Waffle House if he could talk with the Grand Wizard. Not to mention all the jabs at pick-up trucks and “low-income whites,” leaning over every so often as if speaking to the crowd like they were children to let them know essentially to lighten up, it’s a comedy show. It was a shock of an opener for Bargatze and he was absolutely hysterical. The crowd needed to chill out. He pivoted eventually with a joke about a bug who just wouldn’t die and how it was essentially his role model. It was comedy gold. Because of the lukewarm response from the crowd, Chafin had a tough gig. He had to warm them up a little more for Bargatze, but it just didn’t hit in the way that Vecchione’s humor did. He made some fun of people in California (where he lives) and there were some cringe-worthy religious girl jokes that ultimately had some of the crowd laughing, but others not entirely on board. It was an odd mix. I laughed and he’s clearly talented but sandwiched in between Vecchione and Bargatze wasn’t a great place to be.
Right out the gate, Bargatze probably started with probably his most controversial joke of the night but delivered it in a way that had everyone laughing at the pure absurdity of how easily a store in the South let people look and hold guns. He talked about how, in a Nebraska mall, cell phones were fastened tightly to the counters at one store, and yet he was able to ride up and down the escalator with a shotgun, guns laying on the floor. Obviously exaggerations, but it worked to bring a likely divided crowd on the same page. It was as humorous to gun-nuts as it was to us who want more gun control. It righted the ship, so to speak.
Bargatze shined in making fun of himself and his lack of education, from his lack of historical knowledge and his pronunciation of the “Silver War” to at one point owning a pet alligator who might be swimming in a lake in his hometown of Old Hickory, Tenn. He talked about his parents, who were born-again Christians when they had him and how that impacted his life growing up. It was never in a way that made fun of it – in fact, he said he appreciated his upbringing. But now, his youngest sister was a bad influence on them, calling them a “tatted-up gang.”
I appreciated how he flipped the male stereotype and how his wife really handles scheduling the household repairs, like his hilarious bit about his awkward conversation with the plumber about their broken water heater. There’s something just so genuine about Bargatze’s humor.
Before the show, my husband asked me if I considered Bargatze a redneck comedian. My mind immediately goes to the great Jeff Foxworthy and others on the Blue Comedy Tour, but also the more modern-day edgier ones like Trae Crowder. I can safely say after watching his latest tour, Bargatze falls into that in-between category of a Southern comedian — he’s not a caricature of the South, but certainly influenced by it. It makes him relatable to more than just southerners. But regardless, Bargatze’s comedy is only getting better.