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With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ending, Great News might be your next go-to

With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt ending, Great News might be your next go-to

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Both Tina Fey series show how Netflix is turning other networks’ discards into success stories

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There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.

What to watch

“Honeypot!,” a season 2 episode of the late, lamented NBC sitcom Great News, created by Tracey Wigfield in conjunction with 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt honchos Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Launched with too little fanfare in January 2017, the wacky workplace comedy ran for two seasons and a total of 23 episodes, telling the story of ambitious MMN cable news producer Katie Wendelson (Briga Heelan) and the company’s latest intern: her 60-something helicopter mother Carol (Andrea Martin). In “Honeypot!” Carol struggles with her new position as “head intern” because she can’t convince the post-millennial kids in the office that she deserves their respect. In the episode’s main plot, Katie finds out that her boss / mentor Diana St. Tropez (played by Fey) has been promoted to an overseas position, just as MMN’s male employees have been accusing Diana of sexual harassment.

Why watch now?

Because the second half of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s final season debuts today.

After NBC unexpectedly dropped Kimmy from its schedule, unaired, after the entire first season was completed, the show quickly became one of Netflix’s staples, winning major awards and landing on critics’ best-of lists. It never flagged in quality, although the fourth (and last) season didn’t generate much buzz when its first half debuted in May 2018. The series has always presented an exaggerated, absurdist take on a That Girl / Mary Tyler Moore Show-style “eager young woman takes on the big city” sitcom, cut with the more poignant story of its heroine’s bizarre past as a kidnapping victim and cult member. As the show wraps up, star Ellie Kemper has been doing some of her best work, bringing heart and an endearing kookiness to her portrayal of a recently arrived New Yorker who’s had her soul healed by a deeply flawed, frequently ridiculous metropolis.

Great News never got much traction with viewers during its two years on the air. But now that it’s on Netflix — with recommendation algorithms suggesting it to people who like Kimmy — it’s been getting discovered more regularly. In the same way, there have been plenty of stories in recent weeks about You, a Lifetime drama that bombed on cable, then became a Netflix sensation. This has become an increasingly common phenomenon, where viewers accustomed to firing up their streaming devices when they turn on their TVs end up stumbling across former network and cable flops. They then become fans, often assuming they’re watching Netflix originals.

Great News has the hallmarks of another of those belated Netflix favorites. It’s so rocket-paced that it almost demands multiple viewings to catch all the one-liners and oddball cultural references. Some of the best jokes in “Honeypot!” are asides. When conceited MMN anchor Chuck Pierce (John Michael Higgins) excitedly announces that he’s the new spokesman for the tomato juice council, he shares their slogan: “Tomatoes: Take a Sip. Please?” When fussy British producer Greg Walsh (Adam Campbell) hears Katie talking about Law & Order, he says he prefers the English version, Barristers & Decorum. “Honeypot!” (with a script credited to Fey and Sam Means) has two or three of these little wonders every minute.

Not all the gags are digressive, though. Carol overhears her teenage colleague Moana complain about how out-of-touch she is — “When I told her to Venmo me the $5 she owed me, she gave me these weird paper tickets,” Moana says, holding up a handful of dollar bills — in a funny moment that also cuts to the heart of the modern generation gap where people on either side of the divide aren’t even speaking the same language. Meanwhile, the main story in “Honeypot!” puts a provocative twist on our current #MeToo / Time’s Up moment, as Katie attacks Diana’s accusers to protect a woman she admires.

Who it’s for

Tina Fey fans and lovers of snappy sitcoms.

Great News found its voice and rhythm fairly quickly, thanks to Heelan’s lead performance as a relatably frazzled young professional: in over her head but desperate to plunge in even deeper. The veteran comedian Martin is at her best on this show, too, playing an aging meddler who worries she won’t have a purpose if she doesn’t micromanage her daughter’s life. Both these characters are filtered through the sensibilities of Wigfield, Carlock, and Fey, who use the Wendelsons to put a human face on what it’s like to be a 21st century woman in the media, juggling career expectations and messy personal lives while working in a stressful, rapidly evolving industry.

“Honeypot!” riffs hilariously on this, from the perspectives of both Katie and Diana. (It’s not really spoiling anything to say that the boss’s harassment is part of a larger scheme to get some time off from work and a Bill O’Reilly-like “golden parachute” package.) There’s real sweetness in the ladies’ interactions as Diana tries to put a happy face on a promotion that’ll take her farther away from her kids. (“On the weekend I’ll be able to meet my children halfway, on an aircraft carrier, in the Bering Sea. Children love the Bering Sea.”) Meanwhile, Katie asks if MMN has “Mufasa technology” that’ll let her mentor appear in the clouds occasionally to give her advice. When the women finally do part, with “a pervert’s high five” (an index finger poked through an “okay” sign), it’s like the over-stressed working woman’s version of an old boy’s secret-club handshake.

Where to see it

Netflix. Hulu, meanwhile, has Fey and Carlock’s 30 Rock, the original model for all these other shows. Hulu also has the full run of The Mindy Project, which Wigfield worked on as a writer, producer, and guest star.

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