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“At The Movies” about as good as it could be.

“At The Movies” about as good as it could be. (photo)

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We’re a long way from Siskel & Ebert, but the new “At The Movies” — featuring The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott and The Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips — is on the air. They are, of course, the replacements for the short-lived, universally reviled duo of the Bens (Lyons and Mankiewicz); Mankiewicz himself didn’t seem to get people too fired up, but Lyons was such an aggressively stupid guy that a site specifically devoted to relentlessly dogging him (a Web site that’s the first result to pop up when you Google him no less) was the least of the protests.

There were some suggestions that Scott and Phillips were perhaps not the most naturally telegenic of hosts — two middle-aged dudes talking calmly and dispassionately about film? Filmed NPR? (A special “shut up” goes to Defamer’s Richard Rushfield for using “erudite” as if it were a pejorative and whining that the preview video suggested a kind of “The Grad School Profs Still Talking Hours After the Dinner Has Been Cleared And Not Noticing Their Wives Have Passed Out in Their Seats.” The John Hughes fan club will be here for the next decade, dude.) The early segments are in though — reviews of “9,” “Big Fan,” “The Burning Plain” and “All About Steve” — and everything looks fine.

Let’s be clear: I’m not the target audience for a show whose maximum review time for a movie is around 3:30, which is apparently all that’s allowed. Also, by the very nature of a show designed to engage a mainstream audience, Scott and Phillips aren’t going to sit around and chat about Apichatpong Weerasethakul; “Big Fan” is about as far into the arthouse they’re going to go. Which is fine, but those are the show’s terms. And, by those standards, the show is not bad at all.

There are some things that are stupid, like the intro and outro music, which sound, respectively, like some horrendously misplaced Super Nintendo cue and some tragic ’80s local news leftover. But I enjoyed the briskness of Scott’s diving into the program — “Let’s get to it and do what we came here to do” — and his predictably elegant phrasing, such as dubbing Mike Judge “our poet laureate of stupid.” Not that Scott and Phillips point out anything about “Extract” that hasn’t been noted in every single intelligent review of the film already, but how could they? There’s no time, and the point is that Scott and Phillips are perfectly capable of boiling their respectable taste into a kind of brief primer on the main talking points for mainstream releases.

I also immensely enjoyed watching Scott mock “The Burning Plain”‘s stupid jumbled chronology by delivering his review out of order: “Is her name Sylvia or Mariana? Skip it! Birds fly through the air.” I hear Phillips and Scott can be quite funny, and hopefully they’ll have more chances to loosen up and show that erudition and humor aren’t mutually exclusive. And they know how to keep it in check: talking about “9,” Scott namechecks “Eastern European animation” as a reference point, which I presume is code for “Jan Švankmajer,” which would admittedly confuse 99% of viewers. So it’s all good. While this isn’t the kind of show I’ll be watching on a regular basis, it is certainly a good thing for the overall TV landscape, and perhaps it will encourage non-cinephiles to not dismiss critics who don’t like “Transformers 2” as whiny egghead elitists. But don’t hold your breath. Here’s Scott torching “The Burning Plain”:

[Photo: “The Critic,” Columbia Pictures Television, 1995]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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