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Top TV Episodes of the Month: Conan, Man Seeking Woman, and Feud

Fact: If you're not tuned into FX these days, you're out of your element

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Ladies and gentlemen, FX is not fucking around.

With Legion barreling toward the end of a stellar first season and The Americans returning to claim its crown as the best show on television you’re probably not watching, it’s easy to forget that this is also the network of Baskets, Man Seeking Woman, and It’s Always Sunny. Think that’s a lot? Check back in April, because Fargo’s almost back, and so is Archer. Jesus Christ, FX, what are you putting in the water? This month’s top TV roster could have included only episodes from the aforementioned series and it would still have been a knock-down, drag-out fight.

Still, one network alone does not an excellent month of television make, and March was a great month for television. Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and Seth Meyers all dug into the bottomless political muck with angry relish, and for this, we salute them. The CW’s Supergirl and The Flash went musical, while Legends of Tomorrow quietly continued to be one of the most shamelessly entertaining shows on air. American Crime came back, and so did the blissful Review. The Good Fight made signing up for CBS All Access worthwhile, Underground kicked off its second season with three great installments, and Girls dropped an episode that’s among the best in its history. Bates Motel! Superstore! Jane the Virgin! The list goes on.

Oh, and praise be, RuPaul’s Drag Race has returned. Better still, it’s moved from Logo to VH1, so it’s likely that your cable package finally includes the best reality show around.

Nevertheless, we’ve picked five of the best episodes from a deliciously crowded field, omitting all of the gems above and plenty more we didn’t mention. A piece of advice: start chipping away at that DVR backlog, because FX isn’t the only network with great things on the horizon. Better Call Saul, Brooklyn 99, The Handmaid’s Tale, 13 Reasons Why, iZombie, MST3K, and Peter Capaldi’s final season of Doctor Who are all incoming. We may never leave our couches again.

–Allison Shoemaker
Senior Writer

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Conan

“Conan Without Borders: Made in Mexico”

You know who’s killing it right now? Conan O’Brien. It’s been a rocky decade for the late-night host, admittedly, but he’s found his footing over at TBS. His sketches are getting weirder by the week, he’s charmed the socks off nerd culture with a brand of self-awareness that’s essentially non-existent with Nerdist commander-in-chief Chris Hardwick, and he’s become the tongue-in-cheek yang to Anthony Bourdain’s punk rock yin when it comes to global expeditions. After his landmark expedition to Cuba in March of 2015, which marked the first time an American late-night talk show filmed in the country since Jack Paar interviewed Fidel Castro on The Tonight Show in 1959, O’Brien has since shifted his attention to eyes and ears in far-off places, specifically countries like Armenia, Qatar, Korea, Germany, and most recently Mexico.

Conan Without Borders: Made in Mexico couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Less than two months after Donald “We’re Gonna Build a Wall and Make Mexico Pay for It” Trump took office, O’Brien visited our neighbors south of the border and offered a timely glimpse into a country that’s currently being threatened by our new administration. Not only did he perform an entire monologue in Spanish, but he also wrestled with important issues alongside Rogue One hero Diego Luna and former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who turned the interview into a rousing campaign against Trump, complete with a pair of swanky new boots for O’Brien to bring back home. Though, as with any Conan episode, the real thrill was seeing him out on the streets, and his border wall fundraising and Spanish sing-a-longs were a delight. Guy’s a natural wherever he goes.

¡Mantener en lugar fresco mis bebés! –Michael Roffman

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Feud

“Pilot”

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“Men age, they get character. Women age, they get lost.”

The promos for Feud teased a Ryan Murphy series in the vein of American Horror Story, minus the horror: camp, glamour, and shade in abundance, with just a touch of the grotesque. Think AHS: Coven, but with bitches instead of witches. Now, that series sounds great, but it isn’t Feud. It’s not even close. Instead, Murphy is serving up something much closer to American Crime Story than to its gaudier, gorier cousin. Camp be damned. Let’s dig into ageism, sexism, and mortality instead.

The series opener sets up these themes with grace, leaning into the ever-so-meta conceit of having two beautiful aging actors play two beautiful aging actors—Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis—and then, for good measure, focusing on the film they made about two beautiful aging actors, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Lange and Sarandon both do incredible work, never resorting to mimicry of their often mimicked characters.

Sure, there’s still the occasional one-liner, but Feud hits hardest in its quietest moments: Joan sticks her face into a sink filled with ice and witch hazel, Bette watches footage of her performance as Jane for the first time, both quietly agree to not be goaded into a spat by a predatory columnist (Judy Collins). Throw in some of the best costuming on television since Mad Men and an incredibly stacked supporting cast, and you’ve got a hell of a show. –Allison Shoemaker
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Man Seeking Woman

“Blood”

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Television history is paved with the bones of under-appreciated shows, so it’s hard to be too down on the three-season run that Man Seeking Woman just completed. Sure, it didn’t capture big ratings or awards or even much critical discussion, but it managed to be quietly good for its entire existence, and consistently got better. This year’s season rectified one of the show’s biggest issues — that it was too much about the “man seeking” and not enough about the “woman” — by giving protagonist Josh (Jay Baruchel) a steady girlfriend for all 10 of the episodes. As such, viewers would see dating and relationships through Lucy’s (Katie Findlay) eyes as often as they would through Josh’s, and the program felt more pointed as a result of it.

There’s no word on whether the show will be back for a fourth season, but the recent finale treated matters as if it could be the end, with Josh and Lucy pulling off their secular wedding despite God himself attending. And in a great callback to the show’s first episode, where Josh’s girlfriend dumps him and a raincloud with falling birds follows him around, the opposite happens for the show’s final shot. Josh and Lucy embrace under rays of sunlight while rain (and birds) fall everywhere but where they are standing. Man Seeking Woman is a show that has been unafraid to be real, to the point of cynicism toward modern romance. Concluding on a note of unabashed optimism felt like a thank you to fans who’ve been with them the whole way. –Philip Cosores

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Love

“Shrooms”

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So much of modern television works off the conceit of expanding certain genres and mediums in film. For Love, creators Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust more or less took the concept of a romantic comedy and have stretched it out over 12, 24, or how many episodes Netflix plans to order. As such, the budding romance between co-leads Gillian Jacobs and Rust is a very slow burn, one that takes its time enjoying the many peaks, valleys, prairies, and meadows they’re thrown into during any given episode. Granted, this may prove frustrating for some viewers, especially those who like their relationships fast and easy, but hey, not every narrative is for everybody, and part of the intrigue to this series is how we’re able to see something that’s traditionally so unnatural on the silver screen play out at a more human, tangible pace.

Sometimes that evolution includes outrageous chapters, sharp left turns that allow the writers to have a little fun, while also embellishing certain characters. “Shrooms”, the fourth episode of Love‘s exceptional second season, is one such chapter, a snappy half-hour that finds Mickey (Jacobs) watching over Gus (Rust), her roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty), and her roommate’s sluggish boyfriend Randy (Mike Mitchell) as they trip on shrooms. Naturally, the night turns a little crazy — no thanks to one curious coyote — but it gets the characters out of their respective comfort zones, forcing them to confront a number of hurdles they otherwise wouldn’t see. To her credit, director Maggie Carey eschews much of the druggy cliches that come with the territory, keeping things fairly grounded and allowing the story to bring the weird.

By the end, you’ll be itching to watch Die Hard again. –Michael Roffman
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Planet Earth II

“Deserts”

When the BBC and David Attenborough team for a nature documentary, the results are traditionally classic. That’s why the groundbreaking 2006 series Planet Earth deserved this sequel. (Though, technology’s rapid evolution and the planet’s continual decline certainly makes its own respective arguments, too.) There’s something about these programs that’s beyond beautiful and informative, that actually reveals something in the audience by focusing on the environment around us.

Maybe the best example of this is during the “Deserts” episode. Now, for most of us with a beating heart, we tend to root for the prey in scenes when a predator is out looking for a meal. We don’t wanna see a gazelle get munched on or a mountain goat get chomped down by a pack of wolves. We might be a little less sympathetic to the pigeon’s being ambushed by ravenous catfish, but in a battle of baby lizard versus band of soulless snakes, we’re obviously cheering on the lizards.

But in “Deserts”, this type of rallying is flipped on its head. Shit’s hard in the desert, and the animals are super hungry. When we see a pride of desert lions miss on a herd of oryx, Attenborough lets us know that “each failed hunt brings them closer to death.” So, when they immediately decide to take down a fuckin’ giraffe, the viewer’s traditional code goes out the window. The lions are faster but the giraffe has more endurance and size that could easily kill a lion with a strong kick, and for once you think maybe the predator will get a hard fought bite to eat. Instead, we all just get a life lesson that rings too true.

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