Last night, Adult Swim’s longest-running series aired its final episode, just a few hours after the debut of a show inspired by cable’s most popular drama. That’s how it’s been with television this year: Each “welcome” alternates with yet another “we’ll be seeing ya” ride off into the sunset. We barely have time to process our feelings about the departure of an old friend before we have to meet the new neighbors.
So in this installment of Rolling Stone‘s weekly appreciation of TV’s best and most-talked-about, we’ll be saying some more hellos, to the characters we’re looking forward to spending more time with over the next few weeks. But we’re not going to let the end of a cult favorite pass by without bidding it farewell, or without thanking it for making the 2000s more tolerable in its own weird way.
5. The voice of reason speaks on Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)
We’re expecting good things from this Walking Dead prequel/spin-off, both because of the creators’ track record and because they have the mighty Kim Dickens playing the show’s primary protagonist. But we can’t deny that Sunday’s slow-moving premiere could’ve used more characters like Tobias (played by Lincoln A. Castellanos), the jittery high schooler who’s one of the first to recognize the signs of the impending apocalypse. Because this younger-sibling show is set so early in the zombie uprising, the audience knows way more than the heroes — which would be a bigger problem, storywise, if not for this kid, who tells Dickens’ teacher about the viral videos he’s seen of the undead in action. At least we know there’s someone in this show who’s not dumber than we are.
The kid also helps put what’s about to happen in context. When Dickens insists that the authorities will inform the populace if anything really bad happens her students should focus more on college applications, he snaps back, “No one’s going to college.” That pessimism gives the Fear the Walking Dead pilot its first real jolt of emotion: This won’t be some temporary emergency. The world as these people know it is about to end, and the sooner they start paying attention to the teenager, the better off they — and the show — will be.
4. A new ‘do for Survivor’s Remorse (Starz)
In the same week that HBO’s disappointing sports comedy Ballers ended its first season, Starz’s underrated show about a pro basketball player launched what already looks to be a winning sophomore year. The premiere, “Grown-Ass Man,” featured the two things that make this show pop: rapid-fire banter (including a spirited debate about whether bowling is cool because it’s about “black things knocking down white things.” or lame because “the scoring is confusing as shit”); and a refreshingly honest look at how a rookie pro athlete juggles the needs of his team and his entourage.
Jessie T. Usher continues to give an ingratiating performance as Cam Calloway, who wants the NBA dream but not the phony, time-sucking glad-handing that goes with it. Creator Mike O’Malley also devotes a lot of screen time to the rising star’s cousins, sister, and mother, who in “Grown-Ass Man” have their own subplot about how hard it is for a black woman to transition to a natural hairstyle. Without making too big a deal about it, every aspect of this episode is about people trying to be true to themselves, while still striving to look good to the folks who matter. Sharp, original, and unafraid to challenge perceptions, Survivor’s Remorse could become a much bigger deal this season. It’d be best to beat the crowds and declare your allegiance now.
3. Tig Notaro gets comfortable on stage in Boyish Girl Interrupted (HBO)
If you didn’t know it was coming, it’s unexpectedly wonderful: About halfway through Tig Notaro’s first HBO special, she doffs her jacket and her shirt, and does the rest of the gig completely topless, with her double-mastectomy scars on full display. What’s even odder is that she actually seems less self-conscious half-nude than she does fully dressed. If anything, the bare-torsoed Notaro looks like a punk-rock badass — like Iggy Pop doing stand-up, all wiry and battle-tested.
She’s also funnier. The first part of Boyish Girl Interrupted is all self-deprecating personal stories, gentle and well-told. But once she’s physically exposed, Notaro stops talking about her love life and her much-publicized bout with cancer, and instead launches into some raunchy, riotous jokes about airline safety and swimming with diarrhea. Once she’s defused all curiosity about her medical history, the comic goes to work. It’s exhilarating to watch.
2. Saturday Night Live alums go vérité with Documentary Now! (IFC)
Even the most fervent fans of the Maysles brothers’ 1975 Grey Gardens questioned why ex-SNL stalwarts Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers would parody the movie — beloved by film fanatics, obscure to most comedy nerds — for the debut episode of their new IFC series. It’s not like these guys are just winking at the original; they’ve slavishly copied its look and tone, from the autumnal lighting to the shrill bickering of two eccentric ex-socialites in a crumbling East Hampton estate. But the full extent of the gag doesn’t begin to come into focus until after Hader’s “Little Vivvy Van Kimpton” falls through a hole in the attic. (“You got floor all in my lima beans!” Armisen’s character “Big Vivvy” gripes.) From there, the episode becomes increasingly bizarre, shifting into a riff on found footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project.
This whole project seems a little like what Armisen, Hader, and Meyers used to do on Saturday Night Live with sketches like “The History of Punk,” where some giggly impression they’d amuse each other with around the office would somehow make it onto the show. But it’s rare for an extended inside joke like this to have such a great WTF payoff. What starts as an inexplicable (albeit lovely) goof turns into an actual story, with a stinger ending. There are five more of these faux-docs remaining this season. May they all be this surprising and hilarious.
1. Meatwad gets married, Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Adult Swim)
After 14 years and 11 seasons, Adult Swim’s profoundly strange, sneakily influential Aqua Teen Hunger Force bowed out this past Sunday night, with an episode that sent two-thirds of the cartoon superhero team into oblivion. The floating box of french fries, Frylock, suffered a fatal nosebleed. Master Shake ventured under the sea to save his buddy’s life, and was nibbled to death by shellfish. Only the moronic Meatwad survived, and in a bittersweet climactic montage, he got married, had kids, and became a mild-mannered middle-age schlub complaining about the water bill. (“Does $127 sound right to you?”)
If none of the above makes sense, you must not have watched Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim much over the past decade. Aqua Teen Hunger Force helped establish the template for every late-night animated comedy that’s followed in its wake — much like how co-creators Dave Willis and Matt Maiellaro fed off the surreal pop-culture slurry that nourished the channel’s 1990s breakout hit Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, where they both got their start. The show hasn’t been as vital in the last few years as it was in the early days, when it was a big enough deal to have its own feature film. But it’s remained gleefully trippy and raunchy, and the kind of avant-garde happening where Patti Smith can sing a tribute song over the finale’s closing credits and no fan bats an eye.
There wasn’t much chatter online about ATHF‘s legacy as it wound down; the last episode adopts a sadly resigned tone toward itself, with Frylock saying, “There comes a time in a popular character’s life when it’s just over.” Yet during a decade-plus of war, natural disaster, and economic collapse, this loud, free-associative cartoon about talking food made about as much sense as anything else on TV. Wasn’t it T.S. Elliot who said, “This is the way the world ends… not with a bang, but with a sentient milkshake getting eaten alive by clams?”