Time to share what I watched over the stretch from mid-November through New Year’s Eve. Although some holiday programming is included here, I’ve only included things that were new or unique to this year.

Pursuit of Happyness
The first movie that S watched that I got pulled into during this stretch. I enjoyed this but, good God, it was sooooo freaking depressing. I like sad songs but movies that last two hours and are just constant downers are too much. B

Knight Before Christmas
Ugh. S started watching this one morning when it was snowing and I was feeling too lazy to move off the couch. It’s was pretty much a Netflix-ified version of a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. Goofy and safely romantic. Not all that good, at parts straight-up dumb, but not terrible, either. C

Cheers, seasons 3–5
Every October or November I think to myself, “I should really watch all of season five of Cheers rather than just watching the “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode. And every year I don’t do it. This year, though, was different!

In mid-October I picked up where I had left off in watching every Cheers episode a few months back, early in season three. Doing some quick math, I found if I watched two episodes each day, I would land on “Thanksgiving Orphans” the night before Thanksgiving. Challenge accepted!

Man were these good. All three seasons are super strong, even allowing for the changes in cast. Nicholas Colasanto was in poor health for much of season three. He missed several episodes and eventually died before filming ended. As the season was shot out of order, Coach would disappear then reappear, which was a little strange. His death was awkwardly addressed in the open of season four, when Woody Boyd, a friend of coach’s, shows up looking for him. Sam tells Woody that Coach had passed and that’s that.

Season three is filled with the Diane-Frasier romance, ending with her leaving him at the altar. Season four is a little unsteady as they attempted to work Woody into the cast, but ends on a strong note with Sam in a relationship with a local politician. The finale ends with him calling someone on the phone and proposing. Ah, the good old days of the summer-long cliff hanger! Of course, as the opening scene of season five reveals, it was Diane rather than the politician and we’re off on the most intense of Sam’s on-again, off-again romance. The couple set off on a season-long battle about whether they would actually get married or not. Woody comes into his own in season five, getting some of the biggest laughs.

Really everything came into its own in season five. The writers were locked in. The cast was confident and settled. After saturating the screen with bitterness in season four, Fraser becomes a reliably hilarious character in season five. And the show was an official hit, meaning the studio audience laughed a little louder and longer at jokes, which makes them work better.

Season five is my favorite of the Diane era. It is filled with wonderful episodes. Obviously, “Thanksgiving Orphans,” is one of my favorite pieces of TV ever. Even after 30 years, “Dinner at Eight-ish” made me laugh until I cried. And there is a long list of others that I would put on a Must Watch list.

I’m taking a break from the show for awhile but eventually will pick back up with season six.
Season three, A-; season four, B+; season five, A+.

Jack Ryan, season one.
I forget how many of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books I read, but I was really into the series in the late 80s and early 90s. The Hunt for Red October was one of the great action movies of its era, between a smart script, Sean Connery, and a young Alec Baldwin as the perfect Ryan. Harrison Ford seemed too old to be Ryan when he took over the franchise, but Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger were both solid. When Ben Affleck and Chris Pine took over the role, I didn’t bother watching. I had a hard time getting my head around John Krasinski as Ryan for the Amazon series a couple years back – he will forever be Jim Halpert to me – and put off watching it until now.

I thought he tackled the role nicely. He’s probably a touch too old for where they have Ryan in his life, but he pulls it off well. I don’t know that I totally buy him as a former Marine, but he also didn’t look completely out of place in the action sequences. He shined in those moments when a little Halpert came through, especially in the scenes with his romantic partner, Dr. Cathy Mueller.

As for the story, like so many streaming series, it seemed overly compressed to get it into an eight episode window. I guess some folks like being able to binge it quickly, but I would prefer 2–4 more episodes to tease things out, add more depth, etc. The supporting cast was very good. You can’t go wrong with Wendell Pierce. Ali Suliman and and Dina Shihabi were excellent. And I’m a big fan of Abbie Cornish (Dr. Mueller). I think it’s hilarious that she’s a rapper back home in Australia. I also laughed at how she couldn’t pronounce the word “helicopter” in an American accent

Overall a solid first season. I’ve heard season two is better. B+

Dolemite is My Name
The first project of Eddie Murphy’s new relationship with Netflix was quite good. It was funny, although not filled with non-stop laughs. It was surprisingly sweet. And knowing it was based on true events – surely brushed up and sanitized for the times – added some heft to the story. Right in Eddie’s wheelhouse. Oh, and Wesley Snipes is RIDICULOUS! B+

Office Christmas Party
This was part of AMC’s Best Christmas Ever movie series. I caught a few minutes one night after Elf or Christmas Vacation, laughed, checked the cable guide and set the DVR to record its next airing. That was a solid choice. This is a truly dumb and kind of awful movie. But it also had enough big laughs to keep me watching. C- on quality but B+ on enjoyment.

I Think You Should Leave
I had read about this Netflix sketch series a couple times over the last month and watched it in the week between holidays. Some sketches are crazy funny. Some are filled with so much awkward humor that didn’t connect with me that I was looking forward to them being done. Tim Robinson is a different dude. B-

Die Hard
For years I’ve been saying, “I should really watch Die Hard over Christmas. Then I never did it.[1] I finally got to it this year, albeit the weekend after Christmas. I don’t think I had watched Die Hard in 20–25 years? Which is crazy as it was the single best “watching a movie in a theater” experience of my life, and I rewatched it routinely through the 90s. It holds up pretty damn well. I bought it, so it will go into the December movie rotation. Not sure if the girls will get to watch it anytime soon, though. A+

Spies in Disguise
Two Will Smith vehicles in six weeks! L and I went to the theater to see this over her break. We both really enjoyed it. Funny, clever, smart but accessible for kids. Just about everything you can ask from an animated movie aimed at tweens. A-

Believe it or not I had never seen this all the way through. Last summer I read an oral history of its making and have been meaning to sit down and watch it ever since.[2] On New Year’s Eve, with M in the basement with her friends, C at a friend’s house, S watching a movie on her laptop, and L playing Xbox, I decided that was the time to do it. It worked out perfect as I started it at about 10:20 so I finished it about ten minutes to midnight.

Since there were youths around, I watched on my iPad with headphones on. Most of the time I was sitting next to L while she played Madden. She got a little frustrated with me for laughing so much, so hard.

I liked it, but my reaction was similar to how I feel about The Big Lebowski: it was funny and I enjoyed it, but I don’t necessarily see it as an all-time classic. Not even sure it’s among my top 4–5 Will Farrell movies. But perhaps, as with Lebowski, it takes repeated viewings to really fall in love with it. A-

  1. I sense a trend!  ↩
  2. BTW, oral histories of movies when the main actors don’t participate kind of suck.  ↩