Erik Bates | September 28, 2017
So, what shows are you folks into these days? And why should I like and/or try them?

Really, I'm just trying to data-mine you all so I have some point of reference when you create an obscure goo.*

My (probably incomplete) list of shows I currently find myself enjoying and/or looking forward to:

- Walking Dead
- Fear the Walking Dead
- Grey's Anatomy
- Modern Family
- Black-ish
- Fresh Off the Boat
- Survivor
- Dancing With the Stars
- So You Think You Can Dance
- Great British Bake-Off
- American Housewife
- Broadchurch
- Designated Survivor
- Speechless
- Star Trek: Discovery
- Victoria
- The Crown
- This is Us



* OK, not really. But really... tell me all about the obscure shows you like and the obscure actors associated with them and any clever puns you can think of regarding their names and/or achievements.

Scott Hardie | September 29, 2017
There are so many! Five years ago I watched many movies and few shows. Then Netflix started producing tons of great shows, and I got into Hulu too, and now I watch many shows and few movies. I have no particular interest in writing "Thorough Television Reviews" but I would probably have more material.

Somehow still watching after all these years:
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
- Mystery Science Theater 3000
- South Park
- Survivor

I look forward to continuing these "ongoing" shows if more episodes ever actually happen:
- Arrested Development
- Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Good and great shows in the last few years:
- BoJack Horseman (don't judge it by the first few episodes; it gradually becomes Netflix's best series)
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
- Grace and Frankie
- Jessica Jones
- Luke Cage
- Orange is the New Black
- Rick and Morty
- Stranger Things
- The Good Place (this also becomes a much better show after its early episodes, but hot damn, avoid all spoilers!)
- The Hollywood Masters
- Ultimate Beastmaster (not my typical show but I tried it on a whim and wound up liking it)
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Digging these brand new shows:
- Star Trek: Discovery
- The Defenders

Recent shows that I loved so much and were so perfect that I can't bear to watch any more lest the spell be broken:
- Bloodline (episodes 1-12 are a complete masterpiece; I gave up after 14 because it was trending downward)

Shows that I'm still watching but cannot really recommend because they're just not good any more:
- Daredevil
- House of Cards
- Sherlock (what happened? series 1-2 were great, but 3 was so bad that I'm dreading 4)
- The Match Game

Ugh, why am I watching these?:
- Big Fan
- Designated Survivor
- Dinner with Dad
- Iron Fist
- The Characters

So what would I recommend most off of this list?

If you have Netflix, the new version of Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson is outstanding. If you have Netflix and also a tolerance for bleakness mixed with animal puns, try BoJack Horseman but give it at least a full season to grow on you.

If you have Hulu, get into the weird and delightful The Good Place now before anyone spoils its many twists for you. :-)

Scott Hardie | October 1, 2017
Add The X Files to my list, since that's still ongoing too, as weird as it feels to write that in 2017.

We tried The Orville yesterday. It's not great, but worth sticking around for a few more episodes at least. I'm surprised at how few jokes are in it; these days it feels like every comedy has to cram a joke into every single second of air time, but The Orville takes its time and is more interested in world-building than joke-telling, at least in the pilot.

Samir Mehta | October 1, 2017
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Scott Hardie | November 4, 2017
I have abandoned Designated Survivor. There are just too many good shows out there to keep up with this one too; it's not enough fun to get away with being so dumb. What a waste of a terrific premise.

I keep wanting to drop Special Victims Unit because the show has turned into a terrible soap opera about the underdeveloped personal lives of its detectives, but after all these years it can still be pretty good when it focuses on cases and police work and trials. I wish it would focus exclusively on its strengths.

I started Netflix's heavily advertised Mindhunter. It's as polished and meticulously detailed as every other David Fincher production, but after watching six of the ten episodes, I still have no idea what point the show is trying to make artistically. It's not about anything. It has FBI agents interviewing serial killers at a pivotal turning point in American law enforcement in the 1970s, which could be interesting material. But it's so dryly done, and the characters do so little growing or changing, and the show seems to lack any viewpoint whatsoever about its events (even whether the interviewing accomplishes anything), that I sit there constantly wondering, what's the point? It's one of the most mechanical, purposeless shows I've ever seen. Maybe the last four episodes will be all payoff, but I doubt it; most shows don't spend this long beating around the bush.

Samir Mehta | November 4, 2017
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Scott Hardie | November 5, 2017
It's based on the famous doomsday scenario of course, with Keifer Sutherland playing a gentle-natured HUD bureaucrat who finds himself suddenly becoming not just president but basically the only surviving official in the federal government. And not only does he have no training and no help, but on day one he has to deal with the biggest terrorist attack ever, after the Capitol was blown up during a State of the Union address, with no knowledge of what else the terrorists plan next.

Half of the show is a feel-good, morally simplistic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington kind of drama, about how this outsider gets everyone in Washington to stop fighting, listen to his heartfelt speeches, and come together in bonhomie to govern well. It's sort of a liberal fantasy like The West Wing, but that show was distinguished by its intelligence, and this one is... not. It's like a grade-school depiction of how Washington works. The other half of the show stars Maggie Q as a federal agent tracking down the terrorists, whose investigation leads her to all kinds of cliffhanger endings and plot twists, and frequently puts her or her helpers in peril. It's much darker and tonally different from the Washington material, but just as dumb. She's constantly going into dangerous buildings alone with no phone and no one knowing where she went so that she can get her dumb ass captured and set up the next episode, that kind of thing. My favorite scene is where she's taken prisoner while exploring shipping containers at a harbor, and she spends an episode being tortured inside of a dark shipping container, until she breaks out and runs through a maze of containers only to reach a railing and discover that (gasp) she's on a ship in the middle of the ocean! As if she did not notice the loading of the container onto the ship, the motion of the waves, the smell of the ocean air, or any other dead giveaway up to that point.

Erik, you mentioned watching the show, so I'm sorry to pick on it. I really, really wanted to like it. Great cast -- besides Sutherland and Q, it has Virginia Madsen and Natasha McElhone and Kal Penn (who actually worked in the Obama White House) and Rob Morrow. All of them could do much better if they were given much better material. I know that the showrunner was fired at the end of the first season and someone was brought in to right the ship in season two, but I thought about it for a long time and could not think of a way for the show to save itself; what made it unique was its premise, but season one so thoroughly wasted the premise that there's little point in continuing. Often I amuse myself with thought exercises where I imagine myself becoming showrunner on programs that i enjoy and asking myself what I would do to improve them, but being showrunner on this series would be the worst.

Scott Hardie | November 5, 2017
If you'll forgive me more meanness: Kelly and I have given up on The Orville. It just kept getting dumber and dumber. The seventh episode, a blatant ripoff of Black Mirror, got so horrible that we turned it off and deleted the series from our queue. As longtime Trekkies, we really wanted to like it, but it feels like it's pitched at children. It feels exactly like the kind of shitty, dim-witted sci-fi shows that I loved when I was a kid who had zero discriminating taste. Eight-year-old Scott would have been head over heels with The Orville.

The other new Trek series on the air, the name-brand Discovery to Orville's generic knockoff, has varied from good to great so far. One of the episodes is hands-down one of the best hours of Trek I've ever seen. If you're married to Roddenberry's original vision of a utopia where everyone is nice, you might not like it, since it's much closer to the tension and moral complexity of DS9, but otherwise I definitely recommend it.

Erik Bates | November 6, 2017
Scott, I'm with you on Designated Survivor. I'm on the brink of letting it go. But, much like the final seasons of Dexter, I feel compelled to watch it until the bitter end. Letting go of a show is difficult for reasons I can't comprehend. It's not like if I stop watching it, Keifer Sutherland is going to show up at my door, in tears, asking me why I stopped loving him. I managed to pull myself away from Fresh Off the Boat and Once Upon a Time, though, so maybe there's hope for me yet...

But yes, it's getting ridiculous. It's half watered-down West Wing, and half shitty 24 knock-off. (I'm assuming. I never really watched either of those shows)

And, I swear to God, if we don't get a handle on this concept of "it's uploaded to the cloud" bullshit, I'm going to scream.

Oh, and Maggie Q running into abandoned buildings with no phone and no backup is nothing compared to the fact that she's doing it in stilettos.

As for The Orville, I'm only a couple episodes in, and I'm not hooked. I may give it up.

Star Trek: Discovery, on the other hand, I'm really liking. Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd was phenomenal, in my opinion. I'm still hoping, however, that they'll find a way to explain why this amazing navigation technology they have just 10 years prior to TOS suddenly ceases to exist and never be spoken of again. If you're going to go nuts with new technology in a prequel, you have got to have an exit strategy.

Samir Mehta | November 6, 2017
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Erik Bates | November 6, 2017
I think it was last week that we took it off of our Hulu list. I don't know... it just started to lose it's shine for me. I found that I was laughing less and less each week, and just coasting through each episode out of obligation.

Black-ish, on the other hand, has been consistently good, though I am concerned about the spin-off, Grown-ish. Ultimately, I think Zoey the one of the weaker characters on the show (though still a good character - don't get me wrong), so I'm not sure how this is going to work.

Scott Hardie | November 7, 2017
Erik, I know what you mean! If I have watched a show for long enough to grow fond of it, it's hard to let go. That's a big part of what keeps me going with Special Victims Unit and Survivor. I have a feeling that if I tried to let them go, I'd feel an itch to watch them again within a year and fall right back into them.

Since you say you haven't watched it, may I recommend The West Wing? It really is as good as its reputation, and you'll see quite quickly why Designated Survivor feels like such a poor imitation.

I added Fresh Off the Boat to my queue, but I have no idea when I'll get around to seeing it. There's just so much out there to see!

Erik Bates | November 8, 2017
I shouldn't say I never watched The West Wing. I started watching it a while back, and got through most of the first season. It's a good show so far, and it was gaining steam for me, but sometimes knowing that you have seven 22-episode seasons to watch, it can get a little overwhelming, so I just paused for a bit and caught up on the more current shows on my list.

Scott Hardie | December 13, 2017
I've seen three pretty good shows lately.

The Great British Baking Show is very popular and doesn't need my endorsement. Everything that people say about it is true.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency did not find a wide audience but deserves to be seen. It's complex and weird and funny and full of mystery, the kind of show where even the marginal characters come to life through great casting and a sense of eccentricity. It's based only loosely on Douglas Adams's books, but captures their whimsical, illogical spirit. You can see the show on Hulu or Amazon, but beware that the first half-episode is off-putting; it's worth sticking around for more.

Dinner with Dad is a web series now on Hulu. It's little five-minute vignettes with Jason Alexander and his son Gabe Greenspan, playing themselves and bantering about acting and Los Angeles and Alexander being famous. They wrote the show together and have a good ear for dialogue. It feels like Seinfeld long before Seinfeld gets mentioned.

Erik Bates | December 15, 2017
Ok, now that that the Mary Berry goo has been revealed, I'd like to make note of a new Great British Baking Show masterclass that came out in the past week or so, featuring Paul and Mary, back again to make some Christmas treats. You can watch it on PBS.

Also, if you haven't seen the other Master Class episodes (available on Netflix, I think), you really should.

Scott Hardie | December 15, 2017
Yeah, I spotted that on Netflix and queued it immediately. I don't bake but I still look forward to watching it.

Scott Hardie | June 3, 2018
More Netflix shows:

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is hilarious. Kelly and I laughed so much watching it, and often the little-known guests produced bigger laughs than the big-name stars. And each episode is only 12-15 minutes, so it's not a big time commitment.

Broadchurch was a huge disappointment; I expected better from its reputation. The acting and technical elements are so excellent that they mask how bad the writing is. It starts like a sharp murder mystery but devolves into a crappy soap opera with wildly inconsistent characterization. I turned it off in the second season because it was getting painful.

The Joel McHale Show Starring Joel McHale is a lot of fun; we busted out laughing numerous times. I have similar high hopes for the new The Break with Michelle Wolf.

The Crown is outstanding. There's so much subtle nuance in every scene, every look, every gesture. You really have to pay close attention to get the full effect. After so many cheap corner-cutting superhero shows on Netflix (oh look, more silhouettes fighting in the dark again), it's jarring to see millions of dollars lavishly spent on-screen in a Netflix show.

One Day at a Time is ok. It's better than an average sitcom, so I can see why so many media outlets praised it, but it's still a sitcom, which means the need for jokes still drives the plot which drives the character behavior, instead of the other way around.

Nailed It is very funny, the perfectly unserious antidote to The Great British Baking Show and other exacting competitions. I agree with everything in reality blurred's review.

The first episode of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, featuring Barack Obama, is excellent. I can't say as much for the rest.

Has anybody else seen anything good lately?

Scott Hardie | July 8, 2018
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Punisher. The character can be so grim and joyless, and Daredevil certainly portrayed him that way. But his own series behaved like entertainment first and drama second, relying on thrilling action scenes and a few strategically-timed jokes to keep the series from sinking into a depressing muck. Changes I would like to see in season two: Multiple varied stories (one stretched out over thirteen episodes is too slow), and the Punisher himself narrating the story via his war journal (a frequent element of his comics that feels missing on TV).

Erik Bates | July 21, 2018
We recently started watching Comedians in Cars.... So damn good. We're just kinda picking and choosing our way through the series.

I thought Broadchurch was good in the first 2 seasons, but season 3 left me somewhat disappointed.

Nailed It is indeed refreshing. The host is pretty funny, but I find her antics to be a little over-the-top and forced, sometimes.

Ah... The Crown. I'm loving this one, and I'm intrigued to see how the transition to the new cast works out. I did greatly enjoy Olivia Coleman in Broadchurch, and Helena Bonham Carter rarely disappoints.

Scott Hardie | July 21, 2018
Olivia Colman was indeed great in Broadchurch. In the final episode of season one, she has two big scenes, and makes the absolute most out of them.

We've been watching Key & Peele and Superstore. The former does comedy that follows illogical people and situations to their logical conclusions, which is the kind of humor that I really like. The latter does embarrassment comedy in which characters are forced to feel awkward by making minor reasonable errors, which is not at all my kind of thing. To each their own.

Scott Hardie | September 7, 2018
I'm glad that I stuck with Superstore beyond those first few episodes that got on my nerves; the show has become very funny. If it's sometimes too broad, there are also lots of subtle jokes in the wordplay and in the background. We're looking forward to the next season.

Also good lately: Netflix's The Toys That Made Us, which is fun and light. I had no idea the various toy lines when I was a kid were so interconnected and influential on each other, but it makes sense.

Disenchantment is ok. I wish it was a little edgier with its satire. I like the anarchic closing credits music.

Denise Sawicki | September 17, 2018
I've been checking out a few foreign things on Netflix. Terrace House: Opening New Doors is a Japanese reality show about 6 strangers living in a house together and pretty much going about their normal lives. It feels much more subdued and "real" than similar US reality shows I have seen. It is weirdly addicting.

Dark is maybe superficially a bit like Stranger Things, but, well, much darker and in German.

Scott Hardie | September 19, 2018
I see three Terrace House shows on Netflix. According to Wikipedia, the original series is the only one of the four made that is not on Netflix. If Opening New Doors is a fine enough place to start, I'll queue it.

I am so glad that Netflix stepped up to air more Great British Baking Show after PBS gave up on it, and that they will soon air the earliest, unseen-in-America seasons, too. Over the last few days, I quickly watched the newest-to-Netflix (2017) season and loved it, loved it, loved it. I want to hug that show. It's just pure happiness. Someone once said that the job of journalists is to make important things seem interesting, not the other way around, and I think about that idea often when I'm contrasting, say, NPR with Fox News. Great British Baking Show takes a topic that I would normally find totally frivolous and boring, and makes it seem fascinating. And the new season's additions make a good show even better.

Am I the only person slightly miffed/confused by the phrase "a Netflix original series" referring to things for which Netflix bought exclusive streaming rights but did not produce? It's really jarring to start an episode of Great British Baking Show and see the words "an Netflix original series" followed by the words "produced for BBC One by Love Productions." Those two titles cards contradict each other. What's wrong with "a Netflix exclusive series" or just "a Netflix series"?

Erik Bates | September 19, 2018
I'm with you. It's not a Netflix original if it didn't originate with Netflix.

I'm also with you on my love of GBBO. That show is single-handedly responsible for me taking up baking as a hobby.

Denise Sawicki | September 19, 2018
I got invested in the characters right away with Opening New Doors... that was the first one I watched. I only saw a wee bit of an episode of Aloha State and it didn't really grab me. As for Boys&Girls in the City, I am currently working on that one. It wasn't too exciting to me honestly until the infamous "meat incident" but then it picked up a bit :).

Scott Hardie | October 28, 2018
BoJack Horseman's recent season 5 was another excellent run. I was talking to Kelly about this last night and I think I figured out one reason why that show is so good: It treats every season like its last. I have often thought that long-running shows like The Simpsons and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit lose their edge because they shift into a protective mindset, keeping their characters in a safe stasis for as long as possible. Their showrunners would do well to ask themselves, "What would we do if this season was going to be our last?" They'd resolve open storylines, they'd bring closure to characters, and they'd go out with a bang with some big artistic flourishes. Every season of a show should be like that. BoJack is like that. It doesn't care who lives or dies, what relationships are ruined forever, what gets burned down; it's just interested in telling the best story it can at the moment, future seasons be damned. That's liberating.

There's a science lecture series on Netflix called The Inexplicable Universe, six half-hour lectures given by Neil deGrasse Tyson about astronomy, physics, and chemistry, with a running theme about the mysteries of the universe. I liked it. In the middle it steps a little far into speculative science for my taste (like exobiology), but most of the series is pretty good, sort of a low-budget Cosmos. Tyson isn't a college professor, but this feels like he is and like you have a front-row seat for his class.

Scott Hardie | November 6, 2018
What I just wrote about BoJack Horseman: Ditto for Star Trek: Discovery. That show does not let concerns about longevity or continuity get in the way of telling a good story.

Scott Hardie | November 20, 2018
This self-contained episode, which we just watched last night, exemplifies what I'm talking about with Discovery. It's a thousand years in the future, the ship is derelict, the crew are all dead/missing, and the ship's computer has developed sentience. The show does not bother to explain what happened or how this fits into series continuity; it does not give a damn at all. It just wants to tell a good story. (The fact that one of my favorite authors wrote this episode is a coincidence. Much of Discovery is like this.)

Scott Hardie | January 14, 2019
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Castlevania anime series on Netflix. It's been years since I took any interest in either those games or that genre, but the show was really entertaining, with sharply written dialogue to match its grand visuals.

Also not my type but I liked it anyway: Pink Collar Crimes, a reality series about ordinary housewives committing felonies. It knows how to spin good material into a great story, and the subjects addressing the camera directly is a refreshing change for the genre.

Not so good: Blacklist. I love James Spader, and I was up for a whip-smart spy series... and this turned out to be the opposite. The characters did unbelievably dumb things to further the plot, making mistakes that even an ordinary person wouldn't make, let alone a trained professional. I had to turn it off after a few episodes.

Kelly and I are currently enjoying The Fix, a comedy panel series on Netflix. It's minor but we find several things to laugh out loud about in each episode.

Scott Hardie | January 14, 2019
After watching the first season, I am of mixed opinion about Chef's Table. The show looks absolutely stunning, and the music is often exquisite as well. But the show is ultimately only as interesting as the chefs that it profiles, and some of them are either untelegenic and boring, or worse, unbearably pretentious. (Oh how I hated that pompous Patagonian ass in the third episode.) The first episode is by far the best and worth seeing; you get mixed results after that. I will keep watching the second season, with expectations of more of the same.

Scott Hardie | March 22, 2019
Erik, if you're interested, Spotify has the GBBO soundtrack album, for inspiration while baking. :-P I just enjoyed the 2012 season, newly released on Netflix, but it's hard to enjoy the old classic seasons due to it being common knowledge that the winner of a certain week always went on to win the series until something like 2017. The ending can't be a surprise any more.

Erik Bates | March 22, 2019
That's awesome.

For me, it's not so much about knowing who wins... It's the journey (and the baking inspiration).

:-)

Scott Hardie | March 22, 2019
I was in a hurry and overstated that. It's mildly disappointing not to be surprised at the outcome. I still enjoy the baking and everything else. (That said, the baking was not as elaborate or impressive in the early years, but it was still a good show.)

Scott Hardie | June 9, 2019
Good Omens is one of Kelly's favorite books, so we had to watch the 6-episode Amazon TV series as soon as it came out. It's clever and witty and pleasantly weird, with a good number of celebrity cameos in small roles. I definitely recommend it.

I can't say the same for Netflix's Formula 1 series. It has some thrilling race sequences, but apparently there are a lot of assholes in Formula 1 racing, and it's a sport that rewards being an asshole. It kind of sucks seeing the jerks triumph over and over while the nice guys are sidelined.

We've been watching the entire run of Drunk History on Hulu and loving it. The surface appeal is seeing famous people get drunk and re-enact drunken stories, but the secret buried appeal of the show is its loose, familiar, relaxed vibe. It's like Cheers or any other hang-out show. You feel like you're at a private after-party with clever people who get drunk and tell funny stories.

A show striving for that drunken hang-out vibe is NBC's Abby's, which got a lot of attention for filming outdoors. It's not great in its early episodes so far, but the characters are growing on me, and it succeeds in making me want to hang out at that neighborhood bar even though I don't drink. And for a multi-camera sitcom, it has a magnificent set; the production designer deserves Emmy consideration.

Scott Hardie | July 20, 2019
I was really disappointed in Instant Hotel, the AirBNB-inspired Australian reality show on Netflix. I kept hearing good things about it, including from two critics whose writing I've followed for years, so I checked it out. After a pleasant beginning, it gradually got meaner and nastier with every episode, and I have no interest in watching people insult each other to the point of tears. I bailed after episode 7 and looked it up online, and confirmed my suspicions that the show is mostly fake: These are not actual rental homes (most of them are the lived-in homes of the contestants and have never been rented out), and the producers forced conflict, relentlessly pressuring contestants to insult each other and do things they didn't want to do that made them look like idiots on TV. In other words, Australian reality TV sounds just as trashy as American reality TV. I have no idea what those two critics were thinking, but I trust their recommendations a lot less now.

Another writer who I follow online recommended Somebody Feed Phil and its precursor series I'll Have What Phil's Having, both on Netflix, where sitcom producer Phil Rosenthal visits foreign cities and eats delicious food and tells us about it. This is far more pleasant entertainment, but full of fremdscham: I was embarrassed by Phil, doubly so because he had no idea how embarrassing he was being. His sense of humor consists almost exclusively of clumsy dad jokes, and he has a handsy, huggy, overly flirtatious demeanor with attractive women, especially when he drinks, that just makes you wince when you think of his family watching this. Speaking of his family, his parents appear via Skype in every episode, possibly to prove to the audience that Everybody Loves Raymond was indeed based on Phil's real family, but these scenes contribute little to the show. This minute pretty much sums up the series: Beautifully shot images from Paris, but with awkward jokes and a yawning pointlessness: What does Phil jogging have to do with Parisian cuisine? What is the audience supposed to get from this montage?

Kelly and I are watching Our Planet now. I wouldn't say that we're enjoying it exactly, because the constant reminders that climate change is killing so many of these animals is more than a little depressing. But holy shit does the show have some amazing high-definition photography. You've no doubt seen animal documentaries before, but scenes like this and this and this look incredible in HD; the YouTube compression doesn't do them justice. It's an astonishingly good series just from its photography alone.

Scott Hardie | September 15, 2019
Kelly and I absolutely fell in love with Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, an Australian detective series set in the Roaring Twenties with a contagiously fun-loving heroine. I stumbled upon it on Netflix one night and we got hooked, and then we discovered that it was leaving Netflix in two weeks and we binge-watched the whole three seasons. It's still on Amazon Prime and I can't recommend it enough. There's a feature film supposedly coming out later this year and I can't wait. There's also a spinoff series set in the 1960s that looks fun too, but we're saving that for later.

Also fun: Hyperdrive, Netflix's attempt to do American Ninja Warrior with cars. I'm not a car person, so I was surprised to find myself really enjoying this game show. It's exciting, it looks like a zillion bucks, and there's just enough variation in the obstacle course from episode to episode to keep me watching. It also helps that one of the hosts is an automotive journalist who knows cars and explains them so that laypersons like me are in the loop: What makes this car distinct in the competition, why that car is on the verge of breakdown, and so on. The show wouldn't be half as much fun without him.


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