Bingeable: College Edition

We are well on our way into the month of September, and that means that back to school season is upon us. Target has been stocked with the newest school supplies for months now, and while new sixth graders excitedly choose themed notebooks (I couldn’t resist picking out some ‘Where’s Waldo’ ones for myself), the new high school graduates hound the dorm décor section, picking up twinkle lights, twin XL sheet sets, and mini fridges to adorn their new shoebox size homes at a college where they will spend their next four years. When I went off to college, five years ago (to live in my own little shoebox), it was my DVD collection that I brought with me that proved to provide the most comfort in my first years away from home. While it has been noted that college shows don’t generally do as well on television as high school programs, these five shows deserve a spot in every college student’s television repertoire:

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 Felicity

Favorite Episode - 01X01: "Pilot"

Felicity, created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, premiered on the WB in 1998 and put Keri Russell on the map, as a high school graduate who makes a momentous last minute decision to attend NYU after learning that the boy she has harbored a secret crush on, Ben, will be attending school there. While her motivation for making such a rash decision seems poor at the outset, it ends up leading to her reclaiming her sense of identity from her parents, who have always expected her to live her life in a particular way. Despite the fact that this show is over 15 years old, the dilemmas that Felicity and her friends face (both lighthearted and heavy) continue to be relatable for current generations. More importantly, it evokes 90s nostalgia in the best way possible. 

 

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Greek

Favorite Episode – 01X12: “The Great Cappie”

As someone who was in a sorority, Greek holds a very special place in my heart when I look back on my college experience.  DVDs of the show were gifted to me by my mom when I first joined my sorority, and provided endless hours of entertainment for my friends and I on lazy Sundays when we were fighting massive hangovers. The show is sweet and the characters lovable. Even if you have no ties to greek life, the show still resonates through the perspective of Rusty, who is completely new to the world, and slowly begins to gain his footing over the course of four seasons.

 

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Gilmore Girls

Favorite ‘College’ Episode – 04X06: “An Affair to Remember”

As I’ve written about before, Gilmore Girls was my go-to for motivation to study in college, and even became the subject of my final research paper. I’ve seen the college episodes more times than I can count, and watching them now makes me ridiculously nostalgic for cold rainy winter days holed up in the library with my film notes and a huge cup of coffee. At the time it wasn’t fun as much as it was stressful and required, but from time to time I miss the deadlines and the rush of adrenaline when it came time to get things done. Plus, Gilmore Girls finally comes to Netflix on Oct. 1, so it’s the perfect time to discover the brilliance that is Lorelai and Rory Gilmore if you haven’t already.

 

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The Best Years

Favorite Episode: 02X05: “Destiny”

The Best Years was a Canadian show that ran on ‘Noggin’ during my final year of high school, and quickly became a favorite, as I got ready to head off to college myself. The show is a ‘teen drama’ that chronicles the college life of (former foster kid) Samantha Best, and her friends in Boston. It’s a cheesy take on the college experience, but also will get you psyched about dorm décor and a new roommate, so it’s worth a watch.

 

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Undeclared

Favorite Episode: 01X01: “Prototype”

The follow up to Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared takes the same relatable approach to the trials of high school and applies it to college. The show follows college freshman Steve Karp and his dorm-mates as they embark on one of the greatest experiences of their lives. However, unfortunately for Steve, his lonely and recently divorced father is tagging along for the ride. Like its predecessor, Undeclared features a bunch of actors (including Charlie Hunnam, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel) in “before they were famous” roles, and is light heartedly entertaining. 

Why 'Girl Meets World' Is Important for Disney Kids Everywhere

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I was a 90s kid and therefore I was a Boy Meets World kid. As a kid who was never all that into animation and wasn’t allowed to stay up past 8pm on any given night, I generally was drawn to watching daytime reruns of live-action shows, of which Boy Meets World was my favorite. During my high school years as I got more interested in television, I made a diligent effort to go back through the series and make sure I saw every episode. What is special about the show to me is that even now in my early twenties I can watch and enjoy the episodes, recalling just how it felt to be facing my pre-teen years. Because I have had this experience with the show, along with programs like Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens, I had a hard time seeing that most of the programming that was available to my younger sisters revolved around obtaining and maintaining fame in some way. There really was a lack of shows that dealt with general and relatable childhood experiences. While I was skeptical about the creation of Girl Meets World, I also was hopeful that it might function to fill that void in Disney channel’s lineup, and after watching the pilot of the show multiple times I can honestly say that I believe it does just that.

Riley Matthews is just a regular kid. She is young, awkward, and trying to find her own place in the world, just as her dad Cory did on Boy Meets World. Her relationship with her parents is strong, and there is a good level of give-and-take as they encourage her to branch out on her own and “make it her world” without going too far. Her best friend Maya is a troublemaker, but also a victim of circumstance who must lean on Riley and her solid family structure at times (she is also a reminder that a thirteen year old can be significantly cooler than I am). There is a cute boy, a dorky boy and a comedic little brother, but the most important element that carries over from the original is the show’s heart. It presents issues of identity and relationships in a way that will be relatable to a whole new generation of kids who have grown up with a landscape of child pop stars and dogs with blogs.

The first episode airs tomorrow night. I truly do hope that this show will be a hit for Disney. I know that I’ll be watching. 

A Few Thoughts on Enlisted

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I was late to jump on the bandwagon with Enlisted, the Fox show created by Kevin Biegel, and for that I am regretful. I let the episodes build up in my Hulu queue while I finished out the seasons of the other shows that I had fallen hopelessly behind on. Then, over the past two days I watched all 13 episodes. Despite my best attempts to not get too attached to the characters (knowing that the show was cancelled by Fox), I became hopelessly involved in the relationship between the Hill brothers, and I am walking away from the show having a much higher standard for storytelling in half hour comedies.

Not only is Enlisted perfect in its comedic depiction of family relationships through Pete, Randy, and Derrick Hill, but it also creates a heartwarming and hilarious underdog story about the soldiers in a Rear Detachment unit of the army. The show succeeds on the merit of its story about the oldest Hill brother, Pete (the perfect Army hero) being demoted to the Rear Detachment unit in Florida with his brothers: the sarcastic middle child, Derrick and the emotional, shark-loving Randy. They are joined by the rest of the unit: a colorful cast of quirky characters that rival the ensembles of shows like The Office and Parks and Rec.

The series is filled with poignant moments, like when Randy throws Pete a “silent” trailer warming party, or the unit marches in the base parade as the cleanup crew. There are smile inducing hand-on-head “hugs” and great moments of teamwork among the unit. But in the end, what makes Enlisted so strong is its ability to portray a particular group of people in a comedic way without taking away any of the integrity of what they do. Yes, the unit is portrayed as a group of  (at times) pathetic soldiers, who in the eyes of the system have “failed”. But on the other hand, the writers of the show always make sure to pepper the episodes with moments that demonstrate the importance of the unit and the hard work that they are doing at home in order to support the troops abroad.  While these characters may not be up to par as soldiers, the show effectively portrays them as good people that everyone can relate to in one way or another.

I truly hope that Fox (or another network) can see the need to give this perfect little show a little more time to shine, and give it another season.

An Ode to Special Features

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In the past few years Netflix has made binge watching television a trendy thing to do, but the self-proclaimed “hipster” that I am loves to point out that 8 years ago (pre-Netflix Instant) I was watching episode after episode on these circular devices called DVDs and I was obsessed.

Because of my obsession, most of the gifts that I received during high school were DVD box sets for various shows that I wanted to completely immerse myself in for weeks at a time. While I enjoy doing the same via Netflix these days, what online streaming doesn’t yet offer are the “Special Features” included with most DVD box sets. We’re talking deleted scenes, commentary, behind the scenes documentaries, quizzes, panels, interviews, and gag reels that enable anyone to become an obsessive fangirl. Therefore, from time to time, I find myself breaking out my trusty old DVDs (that serve as lovely shelf decoration in my apartment btw), and marathoning a show the right way – complete with special feature interludes at the end of each season. In my opinion, this is the best way to enjoy binging a show.

So take it from me, sometimes the DVD box-sets are worth the investment! How do you get your dose of special features?

Bingeable: Gone Too Soon

I mentioned in my last post that last week was a tough one for TV creatives, who were hearing the fates of their shows. But while last week focused on pilots, I wanted to put a spotlight on some of the current shows that were cancelled to make room for new programming. There has been a lot of talk about the fact that the broadcast networks have a hard time sticking with their half-hour comedies and giving them a chance to really succeed, and I agree. Ratings are important, but there have been success stories for shows that were given a chance to pick up an audience (i.e. The Mindy Project on Fox). At the ABC upfronts earlier this week, where the network presented its new slate, Jimmy Kimmel warned the audience: “Don’t get attached to any of these shows – it’s like adopting a kitten with cancer.” And while I am excited for most of the new shows being broadcast this fall, I’ve chosen one show from each network that was my kitten with cancer this year. I highly recommend giving these shows a binge watch if you haven’t already seen them. Plus, since they’re not coming back next year there is very little commitment involved.


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Trophy Wife (ABC)

Favorite Episode – 01X08: “Lice and Beary White”

Easily my favorite new comedy this year, and one that racked up loads of critical acclaim in the TV world but didn’t rope quite enough viewers. I strongly believe that had it been given the post-Modern Family slot, we would be seeing a season 2, but that’s a mute point now. Created by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, Trophy Wife is the story of a reformed party girl (Malin Akerman) who finds herself caught up in a crazy family after falling in love with and marrying a man (Bradley Whitford) with three manipulative children and two judgmental ex-wives (Marcia Gay Harden and Michaela Watkins). The show is hilarious and sweet, and a perfect showcase for three extremely talented child actors: Albert Tsai, Bailee Madison, and Ryan Lee. Like I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for an unconventional family, and this one is an absolute crack up.


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Surviving Jack (Fox)

Favorite Episode - 01X06: “She Drives Me Crazy”

I’m always drawn to comedies about parents raising teenage children, and the fact that this one is set in the 90s made it a must-see for me. With the tagline “Putting the F back in fatherhood,” Surviving Jack is a story told by Frankie (Connor Buckley), as he recalls his teenage years being raised by his intimidating, unconventional father (Christopher Meloni), who has never been dealt a problem that he couldn’t solve. While Christopher Meloni (one of my favorite actors) carries the show, the stories that develop between the Dunlevy family: Jack, Frankie, Joanne (Rachael Harris), and Rachel (Claudia Lee) are relatable and hilarious. Jack is a new take on a TV dad, who isn’t completely oblivious or entangling himself unnecessarily in his children’s lives. I’m sad to see this one go when it had so much potential.


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Friends With Better Lives (CBS)

Favorite Episode - 01X05: “The Bicycle Thieves”

Every season there is an attempt to make a comedy that has a similar draw to Friends. They very rarely work out, and I believe that this comparison dooms them from the start. However, I love ensemble casts, and I love the demonstrations of friends that are so close that they have no problem walking through your front door whenever they damn well please. Therefore, this show greatly appealed to me. Yes, it’s cheesy, but most comedies are, and if you strip away the halo of perfection from Friends, it was too. FWBL is centered around six 30-something friends who each think the other has it better. There’s the married couple (Kevin Connolly and Majandra Delfino), the engaged couple (Brooklyn Decker and Rick Donald), the divorced one (James Van Der Beek), and the perpetually single one (Zoe Lister Jones), who make up a group of friends that all think the grass is greener on the other side. It’s funny, cheesy, and worth a watch.


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 Sean Saves the World (NBC)

Favorite Episode - 01X02: “Busted”

I’m aware that I’m in the minority of people who love this show, and that’s probably because my love for Sean Hayes blinds me to the issues this comedy had. But once again, I’m drawn to the fact that it’s a show about raising a teenager in an unconventional family model. The show centers on Sean (a gay man), who must figure out how to parent his 14-year-old daughter, who just moved in, while navigating a temperamental new boss at work. He receives help (often times unsolicited) raising his daughter Ellie (Samantha Isler) from his mother (Linda Lavin) and his best friend Liz (Megan Hilty). While his mother always advises as an experienced parent, Liz is always available to be the fun, cool, ‘older sister’ type voice in Ellie’s life. I especially love this dynamic, and think it promotes funny and interesting dialogue about raising a teenage girl in a space that has not been previously explored. I think that the struggles this show faced was in its depiction of the workplace, which always fell a little short.

Bingeable: Don't Judge a Show By Its Pilot

If you follow television news, you know that the networks are currently in the process of making decisions about what their lineup is going to be looking like in the fall. This includes deciding which shows will be coming back, and more importantly, which new shows they’re willing to take a chance on. When it comes to dealing with the major broadcast networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and to a certain extent the CW), many pilots will be ordered but only a few will make it on the air. Of those few that do make it, it will be a miracle if more than one gets picked up for a second season. Because of this antiquated ritual that we call “Pilot Season,” pilot episodes of shows are (1) shot long before episode 2 and the rest of the season, and (2) crammed with information and jazzed up to be as flashy and high concept as possible in order to gain the networks’ attention. Therefore, while pilot episodes function to set the tone of the show, they often end up feeling slightly different than the other episodes when you look at a series as a whole. Don’t believe me? Go watch the first episode of your favorite network show again.

So in honor of all the TV creatives pacing their living rooms waiting for news, here is a list of a few of my favorite pilots that are an exception to that rule, and worthy of being the representative for their series:


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The Newsroom 01X01: “We Just Decided To”

I’ve seen the pilot of The Newsroom about 10 times, and the power of the opening scene always completely captivates me. Although there are mixed opinions on the series (it’s a love it or hate it kind of situation), I find it to be the most engaging and socially relevant program currently on television. The speech that Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) gives to an auditorium of college students (as a response to the question “what makes America the greatest country in the world?”) in the first scene of this episode could practically stand alone as a pilot for the series. It throws everything we need to know about Will (and his relationship to the news that he reports) directly at us, and provides the catalyst for how he will change himself and the news organization that he represents over the course of the series. It’s powerful, it’s clear, and it’s Aaron Sorkin at his best.


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Cheers 01X01: “Give Me a Ring Sometime”

It may be over 30 years old, but the jokes in the pilot episode of Cheers still hold up today, and make it a stronger comedy than most of the new pilots that will air for the first time this fall. Over time, the show and its characters developed and it became hard to remember a version of Diane who pretentiously told Sam that she’s “not in the habit of talking to bartenders,” but even so, Cheers was always the place where everybody knows your name.


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Mad Men 01X01: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”

As a period piece, Mad Men must build the world of New York City’s advertising industry in the 1960s, and this pilot is so important because it successfully brings us into the world without compromising our ability to relate to the characters. Throughout the episode seemingly insignificant elements force us to remember that although the time period may be different, these characters and their relationships are not exclusive to the 1960s. For example, at one point Don (Jon Hamm) lays on the couch in his office and watches a fly caught in the light. Despite the fact that we may not have a couch in our office next to a bar cart full of booze, we’ve all zoned out watching a fly buzzing around a light. Suddenly our world doesn’t seem so different than Don Draper’s.


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New Girl 01X01: “Pilot”

Despite the fact that I’ve recently started to lose interest in New Girl (currently airing its third season), the pilot still stands as one of my all time favorites. It begins with the camera on the face of Jess (Zooey Deschanel), as she describes the typical plot of a horror movie - because, in her mind, her story is kind of like that. The reveal is that her audience is made up of the three guys that will become her future roommates in this quirky, “adorkable” comedy that became an instant hit for Fox. This pilot is particularly successful because of the way that it gives you an in depth understanding of the characters and the reason that they’re friends without too much exposition.


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House of Cards 01X01: “Chapter 1”

Technically speaking, the first episode of House of Cards is not a pilot because Netflix doesn’t abide by the antiquated tradition of pilot season, and gives their shows straight to series orders. However, I wanted to include it as part of this list because the first time I watched it I was completely caught off guard by its unique use of direct address. Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) becomes our tour guide in the complicated world of DC politics, looking right at us through the screen, and welcoming us to Washington. With the breakdown of the fourth wall, we become a member of the inside crowd, and exist as part of an exclusive elite group for 13 hours a year (preferably binge watched in one sitting).

 

On a Side Note: I was pleasantly surprised to see that only one of the shows on this list named their first episode “Pilot” which is resorted to all too often in my opinion

Bingeable: One Hit Wonders

Sometimes a weekend with no plans is the perfect opportunity to veg out and dive into a new series. However, for those with limited free time, there might be a little hesitation in making a serious commitment to a TV show that spans several seasons. For those minimal bursts of availability, I recommend a series that only lasted for one season. While there are hundreds of shows that didn’t make it to a second season, I’ve weeded through the excess to find the diamonds in the rough, the “one hit wonders” if you will. So sit back, grab some snacks, and get ready for a quick escape:


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Freaks and Geeks

This show is often cited as being “gone too soon,” and has made its way into the hearts of so many people who have discovered it via Netflix in the past year. Created by Paul Fieg (of Bridesmaids and The Heat fame), the show aired in 1999, but was about two unique groups of teenagers dealing with life in high school in the 1980s. Judd Apatow produced the episodes which starred James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segal, Linda Cardellini, John Francis Daley, and many more in “before they were famous” roles. The NBC tagline for the show was “what high school was like for the rest of us,” and definitely lived up to portraying that concept with a relatable and genuine show that makes it okay to be uncool.


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The Return of Jezebel James

If you liked Gilmore Girls, you will also love The Return of Jezebel James. Amy Sherman Palladino’s half hour comedy employs the same hilarious and witty dialogue that the Gilmore’s used, and plays on the concept of a newly single, professional woman (Parker Posey) who learns that she is unable to conceive, and looks to her estranged younger sister (Lauren Ambrose) to carry her baby for her. The show is quirky, cute, and a perfect excuse to forget the real world for a day.


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Tell Me You Love Me

Tell Me You Love Me is the story of three couples who share the same therapist as they work through the issues in their relationship. Airing on HBO in 2007, the series is poignant and intriguing, with captivating performances from Tim DeKay Adam Scott, Michelle Borth, and Ally Walker that definitely won’t disappoint. It’s a little bit heavier of a topic, but worth a watch.


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Bent

Bent follows Alex (Amanda Peet) and Pete (David Walton) who find themselves attracted to each other despite their traits that would normally derail them from moving forward. Alex hires Pete to be her contractor, but threatens to fire him if he causes any trouble. It’s a light and fun romantic comedy that’s worth spending an afternoon watching.


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Conviction

My favorite asset from Dick Wolf’s dramatic empire, Conviction features ADA Alexandra Cabot from Law and Order: SVU as the bureau chief for a group of young ADAs. The show unfortunately only lasted one season, but was meant to be a “charactercedural” in which the episodes dealt extensively with the characters’ back stories and personal lives unlike the detectives in the L&O franchise. To that extent, you will fall in love with the featured characters, and the season finale will ultimately leave you wanting more.

Bingeable: Top 5 High School Shows

High school is a rough time for pretty much everyone. If you don’t fit in with the popular crowd (or even if you do) there is still a sense of alienation that creeps into the self-doubting minds of teenagers all over the world. Sometimes all it takes is immersing yourself in a televised world to make you feel like you belong. So let’s get right to it, here are my Top 5 high school shows:


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8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter

8 Simple Rules (AKA Kaley Cuoco: the early years) was one of my favorite shows in high school. It appeared as part of ABC’s TGIF Friday night lineup, and after cancellation was quickly added to my DVD collection (and to this day still appears in syndication on ABC Family). Created by Tracy Gamble, the show is an adaptation of a book by the same name, concerned with a father raising his teenage daughters. Everyone has a different relationship with their parents in high school, but mine was a pretty great one and I related to the hilarious banter between Cate and Paul Hennessey and their daughters Bridget and Kerry. This show was often a favorite of mine to watch with a cup of coffee in the morning while I got ready for school.

Favorite Episode: 1X08 “By the Book”


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One Tree Hill

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, One Tree Hill holds an extremely special place in my heart. During high school it was my comfort, and accompanied me during many insomniatic nights as I redecorated my bedroom. I wanted desperately to be Peyton Sawyer, and have a love like Nathan and Haley. My DVD box sets of the show are well loved and falling apart. One Tree Hill made me fall in love with music in a whole new way, and introduced me to the fact that it’s okay to not always feel like you fit in. Beginning most episodes with a quote from literature, each carried a strong message regarding the struggles of growing up and facing high school.

Favorite Episode: 1X02 “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most”


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Freaks and Geeks

I didn’t watch this show for the first time until it popped up on Netflix my senior year of college, but it’s definitely one of those shows that I wish had been on my radar during my high school years. Although it only lasted one season, it made being uncool in high school okay, and had me relating to Lindsay Weir more than you could possibly know (let’s just say I immediately went out and bought an oversized army green jacket). With amazing cameos from stars before they were famous, and seriously relatable situations, this show definitely lands a spot in my top 5.

Favorite Episode: 1X04 “Kim Kelly Is My Friend”


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Friday Night Lights

I grew up in what I considered a football town. High school football was important to a certain extent and signs with players named littered yards with sayings like “Hard Work Pays Off”. I thought we were a football town until I watched Friday Night Lights, and then I found myself wishing I lived in Texas, in a small town called Dillon that lived and breathed football. This show was my introduction to the genius that is Jason Katims, and his original style of program that led to my current favorite show Parenthood. The relationships of the characters rival those of most high school shows and the casting is on point. Just trust me and go watch it. CLEAR EYES. FULL HEARTS. CAN’T LOSE.

Favorite Episode: 1X20 “Mud Bowl”

 

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The O.C.

The O.C. is one of those shows that people love to hate, but I have two words for you: Seth Cohen. Seth Cohen was my ultimate crush. He was cute, nerdy, and sarcastic, and I was obsessed. I also have a thing for unconventional family situations and the Cohen’s taking Ryan in truly warmed my heart. Sandy was the perfect strong and loving family patriarch, and as the daughter of a public defender who emulated Sandy in many ways, I found his relationship with his boys to be comforting throughout my high school years. Most importantly, it has a killer soundtrack and catchy theme song!

Favorite Episode: 1X13 “The Best Chrismukkah Ever”