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“Vikings” Renewed for Season Four

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 26 March 2015 10:27 AM, PDT


One’s of TV’s great houses may be shutting down, but Ragnar Lothbrok’s Kattegat will remain open for another year. History has renewed “Vikings” for a fourth season, with production set to begin this spring in Ireland.

“Vikings’s” pick-up is a bit of a no-brainer for History, given that it has averaged 4.3 million viewers each week over season three’s first five episodes. The success of the channel’s first major scripted drama has inspired History to expand its slate to greenlight other originals, including the upcoming series “Knightfall,” co-produced by Jeremy Renner‘s company The Combine, which will dive into the world of the Knights Templar.

The news about “Vikings” arrives on the heels of PBS and Carnival Films’ announcement that “Downton Abbeywill end after season six.

New episodes of “Vikings” air Thursday nights at 10pm.

 


Showtime Picks Up “Billions” to Series

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 24 March 2015 1:11 PM, PDT


Damian Lewis is returning to Showtime for “Billions,” a one-hour drama which also stars Paul Giamatti.  On Tuesday, the premium cable channel announced it has picked up 12 episodes of the series, currently slated for a 2016 premiere.

Described as “a complex and contemporary drama about power politics in the New York world of high finance,” “Billions” pits Giamatti’s politically motivated U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades against hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, played by Lewis. The cast also includes Malin Akerman, Maggie Siff, Toby Leonard Moore, Condola Rashad and David Costabile.

Many films and TV series have drawn inspiration from the shark tank of politics and high finance, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s an environment teeming with morally-bankrupt characters, greed, backroom deals and, sometimes, good old-fashioned murder, all of which provide the makings of potential appointment viewing.

What makes us especially hopeful for “Billion’s” prospects is that executive producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien (who shared writing credits on Ocean’s Thirteen and Runner Runner), and financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin, who wrote the book upon which HBO’s 2011 movie Too Big to Fail was based, will be shaping its stories. We also can’t wait to experience the fireworks Giamatti and Lewis will create together in their adversarial roles.

“Billions” is Showtime’s latest addition to a scripted lineup that’s steadily growing in strength and reputation, led by the Emmy- and Golden Globe-award winning series “Homeland” and “The Affair.”  It also marks Lewis’s first regular series role since leaving “Homeland” after season three, although he’ll soon appear as Henry VIII in “Masterpiece’s” miniseries “Wolf Hall,” premiering at 10pm Sunday, April 5 on PBS member stations across the U.S.

Click here to see photos from “Billions.”


“Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” Enough Said.

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 18 March 2015 4:14 PM, PDT


Syfy’s third entry in its deliriously ridiculous “Sharknado” franchise finally has a premiere date and an outstanding official title: “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!

“Sharknado 3″ premieres at 9pm Wednesday on July 22 on Syfy, and has already made headlines for casting announcements so whackadoodle that we have no choice but to watch. Honestly, even if you’re one of those viewers who prides herself in only viewing the very best in television programmes there’s probably some part of you — a part of your shadow self, deep down inside — that wants to see Jerry Springer get chewed into hammerhead chum.

No? What about watching Ann Coulter or David Hasselhoff become shark snacks? Or Bo Derek? Mark Cuban, anybody? These celebrities and others are set to take part in Syfy’s third annual celebration of The Death Aquatic, which once again stars Ian Ziering as Fin Shepard and Tara Reid as his right-handless lady friend April Wexler. The Hoff will play Fin’s father, by the way, while Bo Derek portrays April’s mom.

In “Sharknado 3,” thousands of angry, hungry CGI sharks will rise from the ocean in toothy funnel clouds to dine their way through our nation’s capitol before chomping down on the Eastern Seaboard, ending their bottomless people buffet by making a dessert out of Florida. If Syfy is smart, the channel will find out some way to incorporate Mega Python and Gatoroid into the storyline. That way, at long last, the United States can have its own chaotic, heroic monsters to cheer on as they fight other chaotic monsters, because that worked out incredibly well for Japan.

In other TV news, Fox has picked up “Sleepy Hollow” for a third season and named Clifton Campbell as the series’ new showrunner. Campbell previously created and executive produced “The Glades” for A&E, as well as serving as a co-executive producer on USA’s “White Collar.”


Amazon Renews “Bosch”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 18 March 2015 11:14 AM, PDT

Well, that was fast. Less than a month and a half after its debut, Amazon Studios’ hourlong cop drama “Bosch” has been renewed for a second season.

Although a second season pick-up was not necessarily a foregone conclusion, “Bosch” was one of the more highly-anticipated titles to premiere this year. It arrived with a ready-made fanbase of readers who have long been hooked on  Michael Connelly‘s best-selling Harry Bosch novels, and the casting of Titus Welliver in the title role further sealed the deal.

According to a Studios press release, “Bosch” had the biggest debut weekend among all of Amazon’s original series and became the most-watched title on Prime Instant Video in its first four weeks. The series stars Welliver as Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective Harry Bosch, who started season one on trial for the fatal shooting of a suspected serial killer.

Co-stars Jamie Hector, who plays Harry Bosch’s partner Jerry Edgar, as well as Amy Aquino (Lt. Grace Billets), Lance Reddick (Deputy Chief Irvin Irving) and Sarah Clarke (Eleanor Wish) are all confirmed for season two.

Today’s release also revealed the second season’s main plot arc: “In the second season of “Bosch,” the relentless LAPD detective will investigate the murder of a Hollywood producer who laundered money for the mob. He will also pursue serial killer Chilton Hardy and the investigations take Bosch from the Hollywood Hills down through the gritty back streets of L.A. and Las Vegas, threatening those closest to him—his teenage daughter and ex-wife.”

Those who have read Connelly’s Bosch novels Trunk Music (2013) and The Drop (2012) may be familiar with these storylines. The first season combines plot details from Connelly’s books City of Bones (2002), The Concrete Blonde (1994) and Echo Park (2006).

Amazon’s original series are available for Prime members to stream at Amazon.com/originals, at no additional cost to their membership. Pilot episodes for all of Amazon’s series can be viewed now by all customers.


Syfy’s “12 Monkeys” Gets a Second Season

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 13 March 2015 6:39 PM, PDT


The monkey business will continue on Syfy. The cable channel has picked up “12 Monkeys” for a second season, set to air in 2016, with co-executive producers Terry Matalas and  Travis Fickett  moving up to take over showrunner duties from Natalie Chaidez, who is stepping away to develop another Syfy series, “Hunters.”

Using the 1995 theatrical film directed by Terry Gilliam as a jumping off point, “12 Monkeys” expands the tale of a man sent back in time to stop a virus from destroying humanity, with Aaron Stanford playing as James Cole, the role originated in the movie by Bruce Willis.

The same-day ratings for “12 Monkeys” have been modest, at best, nine episodes into the season. But numbers gleaned via delayed viewing on DVRs have been impressive, which likely led to the March 6 episode achieving its highest rating  at that time, scoring a six percent increase over prior weeks with 1.5 million viewers tuning in.

Syfy has yet to reveal whether “Helix,” “12 Monkeys’” primetime partner on Friday nights,  will get a third season.


The CW Sets May Finales, Fox Announces Summer Premieres

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 11 March 2015 12:56 PM, PDT


That wonderful, terrible time of year has arrived again. It’s time to get excited about the shocking revelations and cliffhangers to be served up in the season finales of our favorite TV addictions, before sinking into our annual late-May, early-June funk at knowing we have to wait for months to see new episodes. The good news is that the whole season finale thing has a bit of a false ring to it these days, what with so many other shows premiering in late spring or early summer to see us through to the fall.

Here’s the quick breakdown of The CW’s big season finales — besides “The 100,” of course, which ends its second season tonight at 9pm.

Monday, May 11 brings the finales of “The Originals” at 8pm and “Jane the Virgin” at 9pm. Then, “Arrow‘s” season finale airs 8pm Wednesday, May 13, followed by the Thursday, May 14  finales of “The Vampire Diaries” at 8pm and “Reign” at 9pm.

Meanwhile, “Arrow’s” successful spinoff, “The Flash” ends its season run on Tuesday, May 19. That leaves “Supernatural.” The Winchester brothers will put Baby in the garage for the season at 9pm on May 20.

Not long after The CW’s season schedule comes to an end,  a number of premieres will hit broadcast and cable primetime schedules — including Fox’s, which was revealed in part earlier this week.

In addition to the previously announced May 14 premiere date for “Wayward Pines” (which has a 9pm timeslot), Fox set a two-hour premiere for “Masterchef” starting at 8pm Wednesday, May 20. Fox also is returning “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” to its schedule at 8pm Tuesday, May 26 followed by the 9pm premiere of the network’s summertime staple “Hell’s Kitchen.”

Monday, June 1 brings the two-hour return of “So You Think You Can Dance” at 8pm. Later in June comes the new quiz show “Boom!”, debuting at 8pm on Thursday, June 25.

Additional premiere and finale information will be coming soon from all the networks, so check back for updates.


AMC Gives Two Season Order to “Walking Dead” Spinoff

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 9 March 2015 12:33 PM, PDT

First the prison. Then, Woodbury. Now, AMC itself is going to be overrun by walkers.

The cable channel is perfectly content with that. So content, in fact, that it is launching the yet-to-be-titled spinoff of “The Walking Dead” with a two-season order, with the first six-episode season to air later this summer, followed by the second in 2016.

Not much is known about this companion series other than it will be set in Los Angeles and feature new characters and storylines. As previously announced, Cliff Curtis, Kim Dickens, Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam Carey will star.

The executive producers of the original series, Robert Kirkman, Gale Anne HurdGreg Nicotero and David Alpert, serve as EPs on this spinoff, which also is produced by AMC Studios.


HBO To Launch Standalone Service in April

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 9 March 2015 11:53 AM, PDT


HBO just gave cord cutters another reason to celebrate. The premium cable channel announced that its standalone streaming service, HBO Now, is set to launch this April on Apple platforms, just in time for subscribers to catch the “Game of Thrones” fifth season premiere.

Although the service is initially being made available exclusively to Apple customers for $14.99 a month, along with a 30-day introductory trial period for those who sign up through Apple during the month of April, the network “continues to be in discussions with its existing network of distributors and new digital partners to offer HBO Now,” according to an HBO press release. HBO Now can be accessed via Apple TV or on iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices. Subscribers will also be able to access HBO Now on iOS devices and PCs.

This move has been expected for quite a while, particularly following HBO CEO Richard Plepler’s declaration last year that he wasn’t worried about existing subscribers sharing their HBO Go codes with their freeloading friends, declaring to BuzzFeed, “We’re in the business of creating addicts.” If this move has worked, $15 a month to secure one’s “Game of Thrones” fix doesn’t seem unreasonable.

With HBO having thrown down the gauntlet, how soon other premium providers like Showtime and Starz will follow suit? Cable customers have been clamoring for a la carte channel packages for years. With subscription costs on the rise and so many digital options available to purchase seasons of favorite series piecemeal, we may soon see a tipping point where it makes more sense to pay for a regular streaming service such as Prime Instant Video, Hulu and Netflix and augment with services like HBO Now versus paying for a full cable package.

But we may be getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s see if customers take a bite out of HBO offer. Oh, what I am saying? Of course they will.

What’s be interesting to see, though, is what happens to the rogue sharing of those Go codes after Now rolls out.


NBC Sets Summer Premiere for “Hannibal,” More

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 6 March 2015 3:17 PM, PST


Hannibal” fans, we know you’ve been hungrily waiting for a season premiere date. NBC has served it up at long last, setting the table for 10pm Thursday, June 4.

Here’s some more fun: the title of the third season premiere is “Antipasto.”

This announcement is one of several summer premiere dates that the network revealed on Friday. A week prior to “Hannibal’s” return brings the two-hour series premiere of “Aquarius,” starring David Duchovny, at 9pm Thursday, May 28.  With that drama at 9pm and “Hannibal” airing at 10pm beginning on June 4, NBC has put together the complete serial killer package for viewers who are into that sort of thing.

“Aquarius” is set in 1967 and follows Duchovny’s LAPD Sgt. Sam Hodiak as he begins investigating the disappearance of an attorney’s teen daughter. As he follows the case, he soon finds himself on the trail of a magnetic figure who is seducing young women, a man the world will come to know as Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony).

Meanwhile, season three of “Hannibal” takes Will Graham’s (Hugh Dancy) hunt for Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and his surprising new partner in crime Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) to Europe, where Hannibal has assumed a new identity but still has…singular tastes. Not to mention many lovely open-air markets from which he can select the freshest ingredients. Mangia!

On the unscripted front, NBC is kicking off its summertime slate with the return of “American Ninja Warrior” at 8pm Monday, May 25, followed by the premiere of a new season of “America’s Got Talent” at 8pm Tuesday, May 26.


Review: ABC’s “American Crime”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 5 March 2015 4:55 PM, PST

Acclaimed film directors choosing to work in series television isn’t a new development. What’s new is that more of them are choosing to work in broadcast, a different and very demanding animal, as opposed to cable, where they can usually exert more control over their product. Cable channels can make series renewal decisions based on what’s good for their respective brand.

The broadcast TV machine, on the other hand, requires a show to pull in big audience numbers consistently, over the course of many weeks and months. To achieve that feat, a series has burn story at just the right pace and give us characters we want to welcome into our homes. Knowing how to roll out a story in two hours is a very different challenge from doing it over many weeks, and possibly multiple seasons.

This is not to imply that film directors can’t hack it in broadcast television; Oscar nominated-director Lee Daniels scored a monstrous hit for Fox with “Empire,” which he co-created with Emmy-winning screenwriter Danny Strong.  But “Empire” is a sizzling new take on a tried-and-true TV genre, the primetime soap. “American Crime,” on the other hand, is a hourlong drama created and executive produced by Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley with aspirations of being a Very Important Film, spun out over 11 hours of television.

An examination of race and class dynamics passed through the prism of a murder case, “American Crime” is likely draw more than a few comparisons to series such as “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire,” series that treat each episode like chapters of a novel, presenting characters with literary levels of depth.

But the stories and the people populating “American Crime” are dirty, raw and real, and the way the titular crime plays out makes the easily tied up cases of “Law & Order” look like a child’s fantasies. Nobody in this show comes out completely clean or unsympathetic– not the outwardly respectable family of the murder victim, or the haggard cops; not the hardworking Hispanic father whose son gets sucked into the vortex of the legal system; not the gangbangers, the meth heads or any of the criminals taking the blame for the crime.

Similarly, nothing about the crime in question is black and white, beyond that it happened, and that certain aspects of the case end up connecting very different people. Our gateway into this story is Russ Skokie (Timothy Hutton), who is summoned to Modesto, California to identify the remains of his son, Matt. The cops inform Russ that Matt was murdered in a home invasion and that his daughter-in-law, Gwen, sustained a brutal assault and is in a coma.

From there, Russ reaches out to his embittered ex-wife Barb (Felicity Huffman) and Gwen’s parents Tom (W. Earl Brown) and Eve (Penelope Ann Miller). As more details about the case emerge, the couples quickly become adversarial as they battle over details about their kids, and their relationships with each other, that have nothing to do with the crime.

The most interesting character in this faction is Huffman’s Barb, who is deeply damaged by her failed marriage to Russ. Barb wants to take out her grief-fueled anger on Russ and the suspects, and very soon her racial prejudices boil to the surface. But the police aren’t sure who is to blame: A menacing Latino gangbanger (Richard Cabral) looks good for the crime, but he quickly implicates an unstable meth head (Elvis Nolasco), an African American man in a co-dependent relationship with a white girl who’s also an addict. The police scoop up everybody, and for a while, it looks like nothing will get in the way of cleanly prosecuting the case. Until something does.

Drawn into this morass is the family of Alonzo Gutiérrez (Benito Martinez), a Mexican-American business owner trying to raise his kids by himself, who proudly distinguishes his hard-working family from illegals. He soon sees that society at large doesn’t honor that distinction when his son Tony’s (Johnny Ortiz) small act of rebellion ends up implicating him in the murder.

There’s a lot of story to service in “American Crime,” and with it, a ponderous amount of social commentary to parse. To his credit, Ridley interweaves and develops each storyline with a thoughtfulness and intricacy  rarely seen in primetime.

“American Crime” also illustrates the flaws in the system that favor citizens of higher economic status and penalize the working class. The Gutiérrez storyline, in particular, exposes how efforts to cooperate with police and do what one thinks is the right thing can end up incriminating the innocent nevertheless. More heartbreaking is the fallout of Alonzo’s actions, which lead to rifts within his family.

This is a series that allows its actors to flex every bit of their range to illuminate the case’s complexities. But the cinematic artistry at work here, particularly visible in the framing of each camera shot, makes “American Crime” something truly extraordinary in broadcast. One of the best elements of each episode is the camera’s insistence on maintaining tight, off-center shots on one actor during intense dialogues, as if to peek over the other actor’s shoulder; it makes the view a participant in the tension and tragedy within those moments.

The big question is whether “American Crime” is too methodical and too serious for Ridley to achieve the level of mass appeal that Daniels and “Empire” have. This is a very real concern; vital as it is for Americans to have conversations about racial inequity and class favoritism, especially given recent events in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere, it may be too much to expect the average viewer to dive in to this excellently rendered but extremely depressing story week after week.

Viewers who appreciate serialized storytelling that inspires conversation, and expands our perception of what broadcast television can be, will have a wonderful new fascination with “American Crime”. The rest of you can continue being seduced by the struggles and schemes of another fascinating TV character who’s done hard time. I’m referring, of course, to “Empire’s” Cookie.
American Crime” premieres at 10pm Thursday, March 5 on ABC.


“The Daily Show” Exodus Continues: Samantha Bee Exits

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 5 March 2015 2:59 PM, PST

Comedy Central’s  “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is experiencing a talent drain right now — not surprising, since longtime host Jon Stewart announced his intent to depart.  But get this: only a week after fake news correspondent Jason Jones revealed his plan to star in a scripted comedy for TBS, the “Very Funny” cable channel announced another deal with longtime “Daily Show” correspondent Samantha Bee, Jones’s wife, to host and executive produce her own show. According to a press release, TBS envisions the show as a platform for “Bee to apply her smart and satirical point of view to current and relevant issues.”

Meaning, Bee will helm what sounds like another basic cable (sorta) fake news show, perhaps similar to what her former “Daily Show” colleague John Oliver is doing over on HBO with “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” (Although, as many have pointed out since Oliver’s show began, “Last Week Tonight” isn’t truly fake news since he’s practicing real investigative journalism to serve its comedy.)

This development also means that Bee is officially out of the running to be “The Daily Show’s” new host. Or, we should say, it ends any speculation that she was in the running to begin with. As discussion continues to swirl over possible replacements for Stewart, Bee’s name frequently has been mentioned as a candidate, and why not? She’s been with “The Daily Show” since 2003, making her the longest-serving correspondent in its history. She’s created some of “The Daily Show’s” most memorable bits, and she’s very well-liked.

But if the goal for the new “Daily Show” host is to maintain the show’s appeal to younger viewers and stay in the chair for the long haul, Comedy Central probably is hunting for a candidate in his or her late 20s or early 30s, and who isn’t Jessica Williams. (Williams adamantly declined being considered for the hosting job on Twitter, although she does show up as its host in a bit within Hot Tub Time Machine 2.)

TBS intends to keep Bee and Jones busy. In addition to the couple sharing executive producing duties on Bee’s show, Jones and Bee co-created and are co-executive producing Jones’s yet-to-be titled scripted comedy, which is scheduled to debut at the end of this year, and has Jones playing the head of a family that’s taking a road trip to Florida. Co-starring are Natalie Zea, Ashley Gerasimovich and Liam Carroll.


“Outlander”: New Posters

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 4 March 2015 1:51 PM, PST

When we last saw Claire Randall, er Beecham — well, now she’s Mrs. Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) — Captain Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) had her captive and about to endure a nightmarish assault, but her chivalrous husband Jamie (Sam Heughan) popped up just in time to secure her rescue. Claire’s no shrinking violet, though; her Highlander allies taught her how to use a knife, and she’s already field tested it successfully.

This brings us to the two new posters Starz released today in support of “Outlander‘s” midseason return. One shows Claire bravely brandishing her dagger at an unseen foe with Jamie drawing his sword behind her, while the other features the person Claire is staring down. No surprise there…it’s that jerk Black Jack Randall, ready to cut her down.

The posters are meant to recall the series premiere key art, which shows Claire reaching out to the husband her time jump forced her to leave behind, as Jamie stands with his hand outstretched, waiting for her. These new images show that Claire has settled into her life in 1743, but we can bet she’s not going to stop trying to return to her beloved Frank (also played by Tobias Menzies).

What do you think about the latest posters?

Outlander” returns at 9pm Saturday, April 4 on Starz.

 


Netflix Sets Premiere for “Orange Is the New Black” and More

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 2 March 2015 4:37 PM, PST


 

It’s going to be a great summer to binge-watch shows on Netflix. The streaming service has set a June 12 premiere date for season three of “Orange Is the New Black,” saving the series debut of “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” for July 17.

New drama “Sense8” rolls out before “Orange Is the New Black,” on June 5. Another new series, “Between,” has been assigned a May premiere, although no specific date has been set.

Netflix announced these dates on Monday in addition to releasing dates for upcoming stand-up specials featuring Chris D’Elia (“Chris D’Elia: Incorrigible” premieres on April 17), Jen Kirkman (“I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine)” debuts on May 22) and the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? which premieres on June 26.

 


Review: CBS’s “Battle Creek”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 27 February 2015 2:38 PM, PST

CBS’s primetime lineup is a comfortable den filled with reliable procedurals. These crime shows can be thrilling, to be sure. But viewers watch the twisted perps on “Criminal Minds,” “NCIS, “CSI” and all of their related spinoffs do horrible things, with the knowledge that determined law enforcement specialists probably will bring them to justice by the end of the hour, usually with the help of NASA-grade technology.

Contrast these whizbang adventures with the caseload of “Battle Creek‘s” overworked cops, who work in a department so poorly funded that in one drug bust, a detective sends his informant to face a dangerous criminal with a baby monitor because the department’s other surveillance equipment doesn’t work. They do get their man, but not before their star detective gets a nasty shiner for his efforts. (Their Tasers don’t work either.)

Welcome to Battle Creek, Michigan, the world’s breakfast cereal capitol and the quirky setting for a breezy new cop drama from executive producers David Shore, the creator of “House,” and Vince Gilligan, who gave us “Breaking Bad.” “Battle Creek” injects humor and heart into each episode, highlighting the comedic chemistry of its ensemble cast. Sunday’s premiere  is directed by Bryan Singer, who worked with Shore on “House” and directed that show’s pilot.

 
The star of Battle Creek’s brokedown cop shop is scruffy, grumpy Detective Russ Agnew (Dean Winters), a guy who’s fond of spit-shining his commendations but more than a little tired of being forced to make do with substandard equipment. When  handsome, charismatic FBI Special Agent Milton Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel) opens a satellite branch across the hall from Battle Creek P.D.’s offices, the rest of the department is in awe of having a federal agent so nearby, and with such shiny new stuff to boot.

Milt, of course, is happy to help the town’s cops. But Russ almost immediately resents him. Naturally Russ’s boss, Commander Guziewicz (Janet McTeer), teams him with Milt at the agent’s request, creating an odd couple dynamic that outshines that which  Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon are peddling on the same network, albeit on a different night.

Television viewers love to love difficult men, a truth Shore and Gilligan have taken to the bank with their previous shows. Milt and Russ are a lot easier to love than Gregory House and Walter White, of course; Russ is cranky and a little too married to the “old school” way of doing things for his own good, but he wears his working class roots and emotional vulnerability like armor. Winters, whose unshaven, roguish demeanor was marketed to the hilt in numerous insurance commercials (Mayhem!) pairs handsomely with Duhamel’s Dudley Do-Right — although the allure of Russ and Milt’s unconventional buddy cop act is that Boy Scout Milt might not be as trustworthy as he strives to appear.

Nevertheless, Russ and Milt are outstanding together, and they’re even more fun to watch as their relationship develops — especially in later episodes when Duhamel and Winters work with oddballs played great guest stars, including Patton Oswalt and Candice Bergen.

Where other crime shows focus more on the cases than the people solving it, “Battle Creek” appeal is in its wholesale commitment to the absurdity of their heroes’ situation.  Winters and Duhamel forge a solid center here, but the entire cast, which includes Kal PennGrapevineLiza Lapira, Aubrey Dollar and Damon Herriman (who, fresh of his bumpkin act on “Justified,” plays named Niblet) work overtime to make “Battle Creek” a place worth visiting every Sunday.

Battle Creek” premieres at 10pm Sunday, March 1 on CBS.


CBS Sets Its Summer Premiere Dates

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 26 February 2015 12:24 PM, PST

CBS has set late June and early July premiere dates for its summertime series “Extant,” “Under the Dome,” its new drama “Zoo” and the return of “Big Brother.”

The third season of “Under the Dome” kicks off the Eye’s scripted schedule with a two-hour premiere at 9pm Thursday, June 25 before settling into its regular time period the following week at 10pm Thursday, July 2. Marg Helgenberger guest stars in an extended arc, although how nobody noticed that the former star of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” was trapped in the gigantic terrarium surrounding Chester’s Mill along with the rest of these folks before now is, like the Dome itself, beyond understanding.

New summer series “Zoo’s” premieres at 9pm Tuesday, June 30. Based on James Patterson‘s bestselling novel, “Zoo” follows a biologist played by James Wolk as he strives to determine the cause of a worldwide pandemic of animal attacks against humans.

The new season of “Extant,” starring Halle Berry, kicks off at 10pm on Wednesday, July 1. Jeffrey Dean Morgan joins the cast for the show’s second season as J.B. Richter, who aids Berry’s character Molly Woods in a quest to save humanity after she discovers that her actions have “unwittingly put the human race on the path of destruction.”

Meanwhile, summertime staple “Big Brother” returns with a two-night premiere at 8pm Wednesday, June 24 and Thursday, June 25. Thursday’s live eviction show moves to its regular time period of 9pm on Thursday, July 2, leading in to “Under the Dome.” The show’s Sunday edition premieres at 8pm on June 28.


A Chat with “Banshee’s” Geno Segers

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 19 February 2015 3:59 PM, PST


Banshee‘s” Chayton Littlestone has one of the more ironic surnames on television. The actor who plays the Native American gang leader, Geno Segers, is a six-foot-three-inch wall of muscle, and his height is particularly noticeable during season two’s “The Warrior Class,” the first episode in which Chayton appeared.

In “The Warrrior Class,” Sheriff Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) takes on Chayton in single combat, only to be thrown around like a rag doll. Chayton goes down eventually, but not before withstanding two Taser blasts and being choked out with a flashlight. Even then, the sheriff’s department couldn’t keep Chayton in custody for long; the man crashed a police cruiser during an escape, vanishing to parts unknown only to resurface with a vengeance in season three.

“Littlestone”? Not so much.

In Chayton, Segers has created a chaotic force made flesh, driven by rage to start deadly battles on behalf of a lost cause. But the key word in that sentence is “flesh.” Chayton can withstand as much damage  as he can dole out, but “Banshee’s” most recent episode ended with him as an FBI fugitive suffering from a deep knife wound and, possibly, a gunshot. From what we can see in the photo accompanying this post and an exclusive clip Cinemax gave to IMDb, he’s far from invulnerable.

Chayton’s personality is the polar opposite of Segers’, a kind, baritone-voiced man whose last major role before “Banshee” was that of a fun-loving dad on Disney XD’s “Pair of Kings.” Segers has an easy laugh and a deep appreciation for all of the opportunities that playing a frightening Kinaho gang leader has brought his way, including the role of the villain Boar Tusks in the upcoming horror Western Bone Tomahawk.

We spoke with Segers about how he makes the transformation from nice guy into “Banshee’s” deadliest villain, whether Chayton Littlestone can be redeemed, and which TV series he thinks Chayton would most relate to.

Please note: If you haven’t seen the most recent episodes of “Banshee,” stop reading now — this conversation discusses events that are major spoilers.

IMDbTV: Chayton has such a formidable presence, and he seems like a completely different character than who you actually are. Can you talk a bit about what it takes to get into the skin of Chayton Littlestone?

Segers: … I try to start with me and get rid of all the things that won’t serve the character: politeness, concern, a warm interest in people – I have always had a love for people. So I really had to take all that away and sort of just start with what I had that served Chayton. I have some formidable size, I have some athleticism, I have a scary voice, when needed. …I started peeling all that back and realized that I was nothing like this guy, deep down.

So I started looking at people who I thought Chayton would line up with ideologically: I looked some Native American activists, some African American activists. But I even thought about looking at Hitler, in terms of his ideas of purity and a pure race of people. I just looked at everybody, you know…I pulled pieces of this and that, pieces of a couple of family members — (Segers laughs) — to pull this guy together.

…The wonderful aspect of Chayton is that they didn’t want him to be a thug, just a scary, unintelligent guy. He became more of a formidable thinker as opposed to a guy who’s just going to hurt you. He was thinking strategically, which made him much more interesting to me.

IMDbTV:  Chayton has also done some terrible things – he killed a beloved regular character.

Segers: (sighs) Yeah.

IMDbTV: That must have been an interesting day on the set.

Segers: I couldn’t say enough about Trieste [Kelly Dunn]. She’s an amazing performer, and she made it really easy for me to build up that energy, to take the steps we needed to take to get there. She was actually quite happy that Chayton was going to kill her character….she was happy because her character was, of course, a series regular. The fact that Chayton is the one that takes her character’s life is going to make it even more impactful for the Banshee community.

What’s a better way to go than to be killed by this arch-antagonist, as opposed to killed by a random flying bullet?…No one’s going to remember that. But because it was Chayton, everyone is going to remember it and our characters are forever linked as a result of that event.

IMDbTV: We’ve gotten hints that Chayton has a shred of emotional vulnerability, but there is a moment coming up where we actually see that he is physically vulnerable. Is it possible for Chayton to earn back a bit of empathy from viewers?

Segers: I think that viewers are going to see Chayton in a way they’ve never seen him before. They’re going to see him physically vulnerable. They’re even going see him emotionally vulnerable. They’ve never seen real, genuine fear come from Chayton. So they’re going to see this fear come from Chayton in a way that they’re not expecting.

…That said, Chayton has a chance to earn some of that empathy back. But as the episode goes on, he will of course ruin it. He will ruin any chance of that, I believe.

IMDbTV: A lot of people who watch cable know you as the dad on “Pair of Kings,” which was so different. Is it more fun to be the happy, go-lucky guy, or to play a character like Chayton?

Segers: Chayton has probably, to date, been the most challenging character to take on, because we’re so different from one another. I would love to take on more bad guys, because it stretches me as a performer. It’s so not like me. Now, Mason [Makoola] was relatively easy because he’s a lot like me. It was fun, don’t misunderstand me – I enjoyed every moment of [playing] Mason. But it was enjoyable for different reasons. It wasn’t as huge a stretch for me to play Mason as it is for me to play Chayton. But I will say, in all honesty, I probably enjoy Chayton a little bit more because it’s challenging.

IMDbTV: You have Bone Tomahawk coming up. Can you give us some hints about that project?

Segers: I was really skeptical about Bone Tomahawk until I really started thinking about the challenges to me as an actor. Boar Tusks, the character that I play, is the lead antagonist. And he doesn’t speak. So that makes him difficult for me to muster, because I’m so used to relying on my voice to express and to just help me be present in what I’m doing. … It brings all of the performance right to your eyes, and your face, and your expression.

… I thought, “That’s really going to be a challenge.” I wanted to see if I can help bring this Boar Tusks to life and make him as formidable without saying a word as I’ve been able to make Chayton formidable, vocally. That said, one of my favorite scenes with Chayton, he doesn’t say a word. That’s when he goes to retrieve his brother’s body. He doesn’t say a word, but all of the emotion, all of the pain, the vengeance, the anger and the sadness, came through just from him thinking it. That’s probably my favorite scene of season three.

IMDbTV:  Do you think that there is an chance at redemption for Chayton?

Segers: I will say this: Chayton gets exactly what he wants. He can’t have his land back. He can’t beat every single soldier in the United States Army. He doesn’t have the time. So he’s going to take what he can. And Chayton, in the end, gets what he wants.

IMDbTV: Now, the IMDb question. I’m guessing Chayton is very much anti-TV series and movies. But if there were ever a time that he did watch a television show or a film, which film or TV show would he relate to the most?

Segers: He would probably relate to “The Walking Dead,” because he would feel right at home in that scenario, being alive and fighting your way out, fighting your way to live the next day. I think Chayton feels as though he is underwater and he is constantly under siege. He literally has to run, fight, scratch, kill his way to the next day. And I think that’s the beauty of “The Walking Dead.”

A new episode of “Banshee airs at 10pm Friday on Cinemax.


Amazon Picks Up Three Primetime Pilots, Renews “Mozart in the Jungle”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 18 February 2015 2:09 PM, PST


Amazon has picked up “Mad Dogs,” “The Man in the High Castle,” and “The New Yorker Presents” to series, in addition to renewing its comedy “Mozart in the Jungle” for a second season. Amazon Studios also picked up two children’s series, “Just Add Magic” and “The Stinky & Dirty Show.”

“Mozart” is the third half-hour series from Amazon Studios to get a second season, following in the footsteps of “Alpha House” and two-time Golden Globe-award winner “Transparent.”

Among the new Amazon Originals, two are executive produced by veteran showrunners. “Mad Dogs” comes from Shawn Ryan, creator of FX’s groundbreaking drama “The Shield” in addition to executive producing number of other acclaimed and shorter-running dramas. (Rest in peace, “Terriers“…we will never stop missing you.)

“The Man in the High Castle,” which Amazon reported was the most watched of all of its pilots to date, is written and executive produced by Frank Spotnitz, who also was an executive producer on “The X-Files” and created the Cinemax series “Hunted.” It’s based on a novel by Philip K. Dick that explores an alternate version of American history, in which the Nazis won World War II.

“The New Yorker Presents” pilot, produced by award-winning documentarian Alex Gibney, presents a combination of documentary style reporting, an interview with performance artist Marina Abramovic, and a sketch that starred Alan Cumming and  Brett Gelman. Without a doubt it’s one of the more unique selections among Amazon’s Pilot Season crop, not to mention pilot season in general. (HBO’s “Vice” and Showtime’s short-running version of “This American Life” come to mind as points of comparison.)

Amazon’s original series are available for Prime members to stream at Amazon.com/originals, at no additional cost to their membership. A free trial of Prime is available for non-members by signing up at www.amazon.com/prime. Pilot episodes for all of these series can be viewed now by all customers on Amazon.


“The Mentalist” Comes to an End (For Real This Time)

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 17 February 2015 5:22 PM, PST


Some shows go out with lots of fanfare. Many others fade to black with barely a whimper in protest. Then there are those like “The Mentalist,” a neatly packaged procedural fueled by a grim, serialized arc in the form of Red John, the faceless killer who seemed to be everywhere and no place. Who was he? Would Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) ever catch him? “The Mentalist” served up a buffet of red herrings in answer to those questions for more than five seasons.

Maybe its producers stretched out the Red John mystery a beat too long. (Understandable — when the show was in its stride, Red John was one of the most fiendish adversaries on TV.) Maybe CBS, in its desire to keep a once-potent procedural going, couldn’t bring itself to let the show end where it should have. Whatever the case may be, “The Mentalist” will be remembered by a sizable portion of its audience as having two finales: one being the ultimate resolution of the Red John storyline, which aired in November 2013, and the other being Wednesday night’s official series finale “White Orchids,” which gifts fans with a wedding and one last serial killer case for old times’ sake.

Mind you, there are plenty of devoted viewers who stuck with “The Mentalist” all the way through its run. But I also suspect there are a fair number who, like me, intend to watch this week’s finale in spite of the fact that we closed the book on Patrick Jane in 2013.

A season or two ago, “The Mentalist” was inescapable — or, I should say, I couldn’t get away from it. My husband was late in discovering the series, and happened to drop in just in time for the arc that led to the “Strawberries and Cream” episodes, a two-parter that looked like it was going to pay off with Jane finally coming face to face with his nemesis. If you haven’t seen those episodes I won’t reveal whether Jane actually does meet Red John, but they made me like the show much more than ever before.

Not as much as my husband did. Thanks to syndicated repeats on TNT, my spouse became a “Mentalist” junkie; the show made an appearance on our television at some point almost every night, no exaggeration. He even managed to find an episode in dubbed Spanish while were were traveling in a foreign country, and watched from start to finish. The man doesn’t even speak the language.

He didn’t need to. “The Mentalist’s” mysteries have enough of a comfortably recognizable pattern to them that the action transcends language barriers. But a good deal of my husband’s love affair with the show had to do with the idea of Patrick Jane, a former faux psychic/con man turned police consultant who was part trickster, part Richard Kimble, and obsessed with achieving vengeance for the murders of his wife and daughter. There was an element of danger to Jane, but his refined tastes and the care he showed toward his California Bureau of Investigation partner Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney), made him more gentleman than scoundrel. That, and his ability to solve crimes using tactics reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s oeuvre (including dramatic speeches that begin with, “I have gathered all of you here because someone in this room…” dramatic pause…”has committed murder“) shrunk whatever dubious qualities he had down to quirks.

All of that was then. Now? Yesterday I let my man know that “The Mentalist’s” two-hour series finale was airing this week and I asked him if he was excited to watch it. “I already did,” he replied. “I saw it, what, two seasons ago?” Actually, it was more like one and a half.

The beauty of procedurals like these is anyone can drop in at any time and not miss much, and the same is likely true of “The Mentalist’s” finale. There have been changes, of course.  Two of the original CBI team, Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman) and Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), moved on after Red John was unmasked, but Kimball Cho (Tim Kang) is still around to deliver deadpan fashion advice to Lisbon’s bride-to-be.

Beyond that, there’s a mystery to solve and survive, and a look at Jane and Lisbon on their way to happily ever after… one hopes. Easy to follow and solve as “The Mentalist’s” cases may have been, series finales are often quite unpredictable. If this show proved one thing, it’s that partnering with Jane on the job and in life comes with risks. That’s enough of a reason to tune in for “The Mentalist’s” series finale, even if you already watched the end of the show 15 months ago.

The Mentalists” two-hour series finale airs at 8pm Wednesday on CBS. Click here to see a featurette of the show’s cast saying goodbye to fans.

 

 

 


Cinemax Renews “Banshee,” Picks Up “Outcast”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 12 February 2015 2:38 PM, PST

Cinemax’s roster of original programming continues to expand. Not only did the premium cable channel greenlight a fourth season of its action series “Banshee” (a personal favorite of mine), it also picked up “Outcast,” a supernatural-themed drama based on a comic book series by “The Walking Dead’s” Robert Kirkman.

A debut date for “Outcast’s” 10-episode first season has yet to be announced, while “Banshee’s” eight episode four season is set to premiere in 2016. That’s a reduced order from “Banshee’s” previous seasons, each of which have consisted of 10 installments.

According to Cinemax, there’s nothing sinister to be interpreted in that reduced episode order; it’s just what series creator  Jonathan Tropper wanted. But the shorter season may have something to do with the availability of “Banshee” executive producer Greg Yaitanes, who has been a driving force in shaping “Banshee” since its beginning. Yaitanes has signed on to direct and executive produce “Quarry,” which was also picked up by Cinemax recently. That show is going into production at the end of March.

As described in Cinemax’s press release, “Outcast’s” main character is Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit), a man who has spent his entire life wrestling with demonic possession. Because of this, Kyle has exiled himself from his family and friends to prevent himself from hurting them. As the series begins, Kyle sets out on a journey to get answers about his condition and, perhaps, restore some normalcy to his life. But he soon discovers that his fate is tied to the fate of the world.

The series also stars Philip Glenister as Reverend Anderson, a hard-drinking West Virginia preacher who thinks of himself as a soldier in God’s holy war against the forces of evil on Earth, and Gabriel Bateman as Joshua Austin, an eight-year-old who also appears to be possessed, although in a very different way than anything Kyle has experienced.

A new episode of “Banshee,” titled “We Were All Someone Else Yesterday,” premieres at 10pm Friday on Cinemax. You can preview scenes from the episode here, but be warned: If you haven’t seen the last two episodes, one of the clips includes significant spoilers.


Review: AMC’s “Better Call Saul”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 30 January 2015 12:49 PM, PST

 

Central to “Breaking Bad’s” appeal was the idea that any person, even a mild-mannered teacher who had been kicked around all his life, can twist into a villain. Walter White, the man who became the Southwest’s meth king, started out as a decent husband and father. He was slow to anger, hardworking, undervalued and underpaid.

But let’s not forget that the person who watered the seed from which Walt’s vast meth enterprise sprung was a shady lawyer named Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Remember? Saul approached Walt in his classroom not long after one of Walt’s dealers was pinched, and advised the teacher not to quit manufacturing crank, but to go bigger.

“I’m no Vito Corleone,” Walt insisted.

“No sh-t — right now, you’re Fredo!” Saul replied. “But you know, with some sound advice, and the proper introductions, who knows?”

No kidding. Not even Saul could have guessed how far down Walter White would go.

That exchange, and so many that followed, make it tough to imagine Saul Goodman as anything more than a devil on a troubled man’s shoulder. But that’s the proposition that AMC’s prequel “Better Call Saul” sets before us. Its 10-episode first season, which premieres 10pm Sunday, February 8 before settling into its 10pm Monday night timeslot on February 9, introduces us to  Saul’s previous incarnation as a struggling court-appointed attorney named Jimmy McGill, a good(ish) man who endured a few slips and falls in life but is just trying to get up and stay up.

Jimmy’s the sort of lawyer that gives public defenders a terrible rep: a sad sack in cheap suits who drives a rust bucket and runs his practice (if you can call it that) out of a dank space behind a nail salon. He’s terrific at putting on a show in court, even for lost causes, but can’t manage to get out of a municipal parking lot without problems.

There’s a touch of nobility to Jimmy McGill nevertheless. A major subplot involves Jimmy railing against the influence of a high-powered law firm, a place built in part by someone close to Jimmy, of whom the firm is trying to taking advantage. Jimmy is desperate for the firm to do the right thing. So, he’s not completely lost as the series begins. But he soon heads in the wrong direction.

“Better Call Saul” was initially pitched as a comedy, but the final product is more dramatic than light.  Some scenes in the opening episodes are outright horrifying but, as is Vince Gilligan’s way, you’ll have plenty of time to see them coming, making them that much more powerful.

In the same way that these tones carried over from “Breaking Bad,” the humor inherent to Odenkirk’s characterization of Jimmy remains immensely satisfying. Much of the comedy in “Saul” stems from the absurdity of Jimmy’s dealings with the legal system itself, a system has left him with few other options than to do the wrong thing to pay the bills. But the series also shows the myriad ways in which the same system that allows wiggle room for wrongdoers to go free if they have legal counsel from, as Jesse Pinkman once put it, “not just a criminal lawyer but a criminal lawyer.”

“Saul’s” not a pure prequel, either. The premiere opens after the events of “Breaking Bad,” with a short prologue stuffed with enough ominous tension to set the show’s intent to jump around in time. “Breaking Bad” used the same device to hint at the terrible places where Walt was headed; here, it grants us a glimpse at the end of the descent before we join Jimmy for his legal career’s perilous climb.

Odenkirk’s performance plays with a lot of variables, and he provides enough shades of Saul to make taking the trip into the darker territory of Jimmy’s grey ethics worthwhile. But “Saul’s” greater accomplishment is that it gives “Breaking Bad” fans a new set of chapters to savor while being accessible to viewers who have never seen the landmark series. Naturally you’ll get a lot more out of “Saul” if you have seen “Breaking Bad” because of the familiar faces popping up — including Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who shows up in the very different role as a parking lot attendant.

Our look at Mike’s past self gives “Saul” a bit of a bizarro-world feel at first, since it’s tough to imagine the leathery fixer as anything else. But we can trust that Gilligan and his fellow showrunner Peter Gould know precisely how they’re going to shape Mike the lot attendant into the character “Breaking Bad” fans knew and loved. The pair has a firm hold on the story’s development which, based on the three episodes made available for review, becomes clear as the season rolls on. And remember,  “Breaking Bad”  improved by leaps and bounds after its shaky first seven episodes. It’s reasonable to grant “Saul” the same patience to find its footing as well.

AMC wisely scheduled the first two episodes of “Better Call Saul” to air closely to one another, debuting the series on a Sunday before moving it to its regular Monday night timeslot. By the end of that second episode, you’ll probably be glad that AMC has already picked up “Better Call Saul” for season two.

Better Call Saul” premieres 10pm Sunday, February 8. Regular timeslot is 10pm Mondays starting February 9, on AMC.


Premiere Dates Set for “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, “Salem”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 28 January 2015 4:02 PM, PST


Gentlemen..and ladies…and ladyboys…start your engines! After forcing us to gag through months of speculation as to when “RuPaul’s Drag Race” would be back, Logo finally announced that season seven will hit the runway airwaves at 9pm on Monday, March 2.

This announcement has been a long time coming, especially after Ru teased that the season would be starting sometime in January on a podcast episode that aired a few months ago. For all you poor, deprived souls who are still unfamiliar with the glory that is “Drag Race,” previous seasons are available on Prime Instant Video, so for the love of all that is good, catch up.

Until then, allow me to explain why the wait has been so painful: New seasons of “Drag Race” usually kick off in January or February, just in time to banish the midwinter blues. A March premiere means that we’ll be deep in the throes of cabin fever and clawing our wallpaper by the time we get to see it. However, extra treats await us in the form of new judges Carson Kressley and Ross Matthews, whose combined forces of snark could be so powerful that our TV screens will simply explode into a cloud of sequins and glitter by the end of the season… or, they could be too-too much. We’ll see.

(I’m particularly partial to Kressley, who not only provided wonderful style advice and comic relief to “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” back in the day, but also won my heart by tending to ladies with low self-esteem on Lifetime’s short-lived series “How to Look Good Naked.”)

Among the guest judges appearing in this season’s “Drag Race”episodes are Ariana Grande, Demi LovatoJessica Alba and John Waters.

By the way, if you need to satisfy your jones for all things Ru, you can always check out the podcast he hosts with his best friend and fellow “Drag Race” judge Michelle Visage.

Moving on from queens to witches, WGN America’s “Salem” also has a premiere timeslot, returning for its second season at 10pm Sunday, April 5. That particular night will be busy, as it’s also when “Odyssey” premieres on NBC and “Mad Men” returns to AMC with the first of its final episodes.

Joining “Salem’s” 13-episode second season as recurring guest stars are Lucy Lawless and Stuart Townsend.

Check out our regularly updated midseason premieres list to find out when your favorite show is coming back.


Watch Amazon’s “Transparent” For Free on Saturday

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 22 January 2015 5:31 PM, PST

 

If you haven’t seen the Amazon Original series “Transparent” yet, ask yourself why you’re allowing the best things in life to pass you by.  Then, take comfort in knowing that on Saturday, you can watch the entire series for free on Amazon.com, even if you’re not a Prime subscriber. The free sampling window will be available on Saturday between 12:01am ET and 11:59pm PT by using the Amazon Instant Video app for TVs, connected devices and mobile devices, or online at Amazon.com/Transparent.

Last week “Transparent” became a two-time Golden Globe award winner, scoring hardware for Best Comedy series and a Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Globe for its star Jeffrey Tambor.

In addition to this sampling opportunity, Amazon Prime memberships will fall to $72 on Saturday, in celebration of the 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards.

Created by Jill Soloway, a producer on “Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara”, “Transparent” is a thought-provoking glimpse at sex and identity as filtered through the prism of a family dramedy, and also stars Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker. Tambor plays the family’s patriarch Mort, a man whose decision to make a gender transition leads to each of his children examining their own lives.


Review: Fox’s “Backstrom”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 21 January 2015 10:02 PM, PST

The Husband and I have an affectionate nickname for the crime procedurals we watch: pudding.  These are not shows that innovate the procedural genre in any way, but represent the lighter, character-driven side of things. They go down smooth and easy, thanks to charismatic leads that make them distinguishable from, say, the bleak “Law & Orders” and “CSIs” of the world.  Depending on the day or the mood, “Let’s watch some pudding” could refer to “Castle” or “The Mentalist” — more often,  it’s “Castle.”

Fox’s “Backstrom,” premiering Thursday at 9pm, could have been pudding. But “Backstrom” gets something wrong in the mix, and unfortunately that something wrong happens to be its lead character, Everett Backstrom (Rainn Wilson).  Backstrom, the leader of Portland’s Special Crimes Unit, is an unkempt curmudgeon who sees not just the worst in everybody but, as he says at one point, the everybody in everybody. That means he’s not blinded by the weeping damsel in distress or villains posing in heroes uniforms. He sees the perp behind the pretty which, of course, makes him very good at his job. Of course!

Among the qualities that come standard with this model of television character is very little consideration for his health and well-being, and zero cares about offending everyone around him. Backstrom is even fond spewing out racist insults if he knows he can get a rise out someone. (Which is a wonderful trait to show in a cop at this moment in time, what with all the protests about police brutality…am I right?)

The argument for “Backstrom’s” existence and in favor of its possible appeal is that he’s just like Gregory House. There’s something to be said for that; “House” ran for eight seasons before it tendered its resignation, so clearly there was something viewers loved about that frustrating, thoroughly unlikable doc. Wilson does miracles with the dialogue he’s given, although the hammy exposition in the opening episode could make the more discerning viewer cringe. There’s also the device of Everett verbalizing his way through the process of profiling someone, which gets old pretty fast.

That said, the show’s style of humor, dark though it can be, is the kind of thing executive producer Hart Hanson  sells quite effectively on “Bones.”  A few of the punchlines here have an odder landing, especially when they’re served to lighten up a bleak moment, but if “Bones” is your bag, you’ll probably enjoy “Backstrom.”

The show prospects aren’t entirely dim, thanks to its supporting cast. Backstrom’s team members, played by  Kristoffer Polaha, Genevieve Angelson, and Beatrice Rosen, complement of Wilson’s character perfectly, making the detective look at lot more palatable than he should be, and Page Kennedy as Moto, the team’s dimwitted beat cop muscle, creates some really funny moments. The character most worth tuning in for, however, is Dennis Haysbert‘s Det. Sgt. John Almond…not because of anything he says or does, but because of his profile: Almond is a formidable cop who also happens to be a pastor, and Haysbert is the guy so many still love as “24 ‘s” President Palmer. In my opinion, those are the perfect ingredients for some tasty procedural pudding.


Featured Recap: “Justified’s” Season Premiere

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 21 January 2015 11:45 AM, PST


 

TV Editor’s Note: This blog entry contains analysis and a recap of  Justified‘s” season premiere, titled “Fate’s Right Hand.” If you have an aversion to spoilers, please stop reading now.

More intoxicating than high-class bourbon, more thrilling than a silent stand-off between gunfighters, Raylan Givens’s unshakable self-confidence (honed to perfection by Timothy Olyphant‘s performance) is the special ingredient that makes “Justified” worth watching, even following a deeply flawed fifth season. It pains me to write that, but it’s true — season five was not just a disappointment, but almost entirely skippable*.  I only say this because if you’re coming in to the series completely fresh, with the intent of binging previous seasons to catch up with the rest of us, save yourself the time. The “Previously On…” pre-season six recap does a fine job of skimming the details; besides, that season only postpones the inevitable showdown between Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) and Raylan, which season six is building toward.

(Editor’s note: I changed my verdict to “skippable” after using a term that, upon second thought, was probably too harsh. We are hardest on the ones we love, after all. )

“Justified’s” sixth season premiere, “Fate’s Right Hand,” is a riveting prologue to the face-off Raylan knows is coming — and, based on what we see during this hour, Boyd clearly suspects is on the horizon. Before getting into IMDb user DeanSpeir‘s excellent recap, a few additional thoughts…

  • We’ll say it many more times before the final season ends, but one thing I’ll certainly miss about “Justified” is the excellent writing. Although the late, great Elmore Leonard, who created the character of Raylan Givens for his short story “Fire in the Hole,” is no longer with us, series executive producer Graham Yost and his writing team still make sure the soul of Leonard’s prose embroiders every scene. It’s clearly there in the portentous exchange between Raylan and Ava (Joelle Carter) on the bridge, and it’s there as he visits a recovering Art (Nick Searcy) to share some bourbon and news. Art and Raylan’s exchange was a simple one, but infused with such quiet emotion, as Art asks Raylan to consider the possibility of one Boyd’s bullets finding him instead of the other way around. If there were ever a time for Raylan’s luck to run out, it’s during the last season of this show.
  • Speaking of the tendency to clean house during a drama’s final season, while we enjoyed watching the idiotic exploits of the character who departs in this episode, it was time for that person to go.
  • Huge credit goes to Goggins for making Boyd such a multifaceted, sympathetic murderous thug. He’s the reason we really hope that Boyd, in spite of everything, somehow avoids the fate he so obviously deserves. But his love for Ava is true, and the ways he shows it in this episode are touching. Yet the final frame of “Fate’s Right Hand” makes me wonder how deeply Boyd’s descent will go as the season rolls along.

Keep reading for  DeanSpeir‘s full blow-by-blow recap of the season premiere.

****

Wynona (Natalie Zea) talks to her and Raylan’s baby daughter Willa, wondering when he’s going to make his long-overdue appearance with them in Florida.

Rylan is down in Nuevo Laredo in a bar looking for a Federale named Aguilar (Rolando Molina) who comes on real hard-arse when the visiting U.S. Deputy Marshal, assuring the man that he’s not looking to cause anyone any trouble, wants some information about men who might have walked away from a truck smuggling heroin in the Mexican desert. When the man is especially insulting to Raylan and his Marshal’s badge, Raylan takes a hint and, conversationally telling Aguilar that he’ll see him later, saunters out of the bar.

That “later” is at closing time when an inebriated Aguilar staggers to his official car, and as he is leaving the parking lot, is slammed into by Raylan’s vehicle. He comes to later that day in Raylan’s trunk at a deserted desert location on American soil. It’s rarely to anyone’s benefit to play hard-arse with Raylan Givens!

Boyd Crowder wakes up in the middle of the night, cleans himself up and heads out. Picking up confederate Earl (Ryan Dorsey) later, he heads into town and visits a bank where he rents a safety deposit box from Bank Manager Joyce Kipling (Pamela Bowen). After she escorts Boyd into the safety deposit box vault and helps him access his new rental, she is distracted by Earl as Boyd takes a spray can and “paints” a section of boxes with some sort of clear substance.

Ava awakens to find Boyd performing maintenance on their front porch. He talks to her in general terms about their future, while she tells him she’s returned to her old job at the local beauty parlor. After chiding Boyd for drinking so early in day, she surreptitiously takes a long pull of vodka straight from the bottle while retrieving Boyd’s requested beer.

At the U.S. Marshal’s headquarters, acting Chief Deputy Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel) and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Vasquez (Rick Gomez) explain that Dewey Crowe is about to be set free and that Raylan’s not allowed to harrass him or come within 1,000 feet of him, the result of Dewey’s successful civil case (“Justified: A Murder of Crowes (#5.1)“).

Dewey leaves prison and is met by Raylan who runs a bluff on Dewey about him being extradited to Mexico for killing Johnny Crowder (“Justified: Raw Deal (#5.7)“). Dewey hangs tough and sets off on the prison bus to start the rest of his life.

Returning to his favorite bar/brothel, he finds it shut down, seized by the U.S. Government. Out back, he is overjoyed to spot one of his “prized possessions,” his ceramic turtle dog, in a refuse pile. Reclaiming it, he heads to a local diner where he is waited on by “Mina,” a former employee of Audry’s who’s resumed her given name, Abigail (Aubrey Wood).

Raylan visits Ava at work and takes her outside to remind her that her freedom is dependent of the information she provides about Boyd’s activities. The chain-smoking Ava is worried, and talkssome, but doesn’t come clean about Boyd’s grand escape plan for leaving Harlan and making a new life for them in some place like Mexico or Costa Rica.

Boyd goes to the late Johnny Crowder’s bar and asks Carl (Justin Welborn) where Earl and “The Pig” are. He tells Boyd that Dewey is in the back. Boyd has Carl frisk Dewey then interrogates him about how he isn’t in prison, Dewey explains the circumstances, and tells Boyd that he “just wants back in,” and desperately wants Boyd to trust him again. Boyd has Carl throw him out the back door.

Raylan checks in with Deputy U.S. Marshal Tim Gutterson (Jacob Pitts) at Arlo’s house where the marshals have set up a command post while tracking Boyd’s activities. Tim has recent photos of Boyd and a known drug dealer. Just then they notice an unknown civilain in a pricy foreign sedan in the driveway. Raylan, flanked by Tim, goes out and gives the visitor (Garret Dillahunt) a hard time for trespassing, but the man has a plausible story about seeing the “For Sale” sign and wanting to purchase the property, for cash, on the spot. Raylan is not only unimpressed at the man’s briefcase full of cash “Forgive me if I ain’t the run-of-the-mill tater tot whose eyes go all pinwheel at a stack of stolen money” but makes it clear that he wouldn’t sell to him in any case. The man leaves, telling Raylan that if he changes his mind, he won’t be hard to get in touch with. Raylan tells him, “You have no idea!”

Tim and Raylan go off “to pay a call on Cyrus,” and use Crackpot (Cascy Beddow), a local addict, to gain access to the heroin dealer’s (Bill Tangradi) premises where, after an aborted escape attempt they press him for information.

Back at the bar, Carl reports to Boyd that while Earl has returned, Cyrus has gone missing. A frustrated Boyd hears Dewey out in the bar shooting pool. He strides purposefully into the bar and tells Dewey, “You want back in? I got a job that needs doing.” “Anything you say, Boyd,” the mildly surprised Dewey says, “Anything. Hell, yeah!”

Raylan and Tim surveil Boyd, Carl, Dewey and the rest of Boyd’s crew, and watch as Dewey drives away in Boyd’s yellow wrecker with a banged up car on its hook. Tossing a mental coin, Tim elects to follow Dewey who, after a time, comes upon a Kentucky State Police roadblock which he decides to bluff his way through. Refusing KSP Officer LaPlante’s (Chet Grissom) direction to get out of the truck, Dewey announces himself and his belief that he’s an untouchable due to his successful civil suit. He runs the roadblock, has a tire shot out, and with the Deputy Marshals in pursuit, leads them on a brief chase until he loses control and crashes. While Raylan roughly gets Dewey under control, Tim finds a large duffle bag in the trunk of the car on tow. They force Dewey to open it just as the KSP vehicles arrive.

Much to everyone’s surprise, including Dewey’s, it’s full of nothing but clothing. The Deputy Marshals realize that following Boyd and his crew would have been much more productive for at that same moment, they are taking down the bank Boyd had visited earlier.

With hooded ski masks and shotguns, Boyd and his crew barge into the bank, fire some buckshot into the ceiling, put everyone on the floor and use their winch-equipped pick-up truck to rip out the bank of safety deposit boxes which Boyd identifies with an ultraviolet light from the substance he had sprayed on previously.

After the robbery crew makes a successful escape, Raylan and Tim join the responding police to inspect the scene, and ruefully second guess Tim’s decision to trail Dewey rather than Boyd and his crew.

That evening Raylan reaches out to Ava and they meet on the bridge. He leans on her for not holding up her end and not providing information about Boyd’s banking activities. She’s having a crisis of confidence, so Raylan gives her a pep talk about her already proven abilities, citing the “acting job” she’d done just before killing her first husband Bowman. She leaves the bridge with renewed confidence.

In the rear of the Crowder bar, Boyd, The Pig (Shawn Parsons), Earl and Carl inspect their take from the broken open safety deposit boxes. There doesn’t seem to be any money. Boyd, however, thinks the ledger they have retrieved was worth the effort but doesn’t explain.

Raylan pays a call on Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen (Nick Searcy), recuperating at home from his near fatal gunshot wound (“Justified: The Toll (#5.11)“). The problem child has brought Art a fine bottle of aged bourbon, but the man cannot partake. The wise old Chief knows this isn’t really a social call about Raylan’s daughter being baptized a Catholic, and with no prodding, in general terms Raylan explains his dilemma. Art reaches for the bottle, pours a short glass and refines the problem, pointing out that if Raylan kills Boyd in a confrontation, while that would take care of the Boyd problem, Raylan would lose both his badge and his liberty, and would only see Willa through the glass of a prison visiting room window. He also notes that the “other thing” could happen in a showdown, that the bullet could find him.

A distressed Dewey barges into Boyd’s back room and complains that Boyd set him up. Crowder responds forcefully that Dewey was hired only to do a job, and that he did it. Dewey is despondent, and complains, “I’m tired! I want to go back.” He lets loose with a plaintive reminiscence about how he way things used to be, a happier, simpler time when they were a bunch of white supremacists living together is Boyd’s church, drinking ‘shine, listening to rock ‘n’ roll and raising hell, having fun.

Boyd sends Carl for a couple drinks for him and Dewey, then confides in the man that he’s tired as well. He points to an ancient photograph on the wall of a bunch of grimy-faced miners from the early days of a prosperous Harlan County, and the promise of the future in their eyes. He encourages Dewey to take a closer look. The dit-witted Crowe, never suspecting he’s moments away from the eternal slurry nap, leans in and is shot in the head by Boyd.

An alarmed Carl rushes in and aghast, asks Boyd the WTF? question. Boyd simply says, “I could no longer trust him,” then directs Carl to wait 20 minutes, then wrap Dewey’s body in a carpet and dispose of it where it will never be found.

Later, Ava lies sleeping while a troubled Boyd sits beside their bed, pondering their situation.


TCA: FX Sets Premiere for “Louie,” Billy Crystal’s “The Comedians”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 18 January 2015 10:47 AM, PST


 

FX Network’s CEO John Landgraf knows the way to a critic’s heart: pie charts. Or, certain kinds of pie charts. Great shows are the true key to our happiness, and news that the wait for “Louie‘s” return would be over on Thursday, April 9, when it premieres at 10:30pm on FX, with Billy Crystal and Josh Gad‘s new series “The Comedians” making its debut at 10pm, delighted a number of us in the room.

But back to the pie charts. We don’t love them all, or most of them really, but we do love it when they stroke our egos. The industry’s most avuncular executive preceded his Sunday morning question and answer session at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour with a barrage of stats about FX’s strategy and strengths, then displayed slides breaking down the representation of series on critics’ end of 2014 Top 10 lists by network. Explaining that the popular perception remains that HBO represents the highest quality programming on television, Landgraf had his staff crunch the numbers not by ratings, but acclaim. They found that FX far and away comes in second place to HBO among professional TV viewers, with AMC’s programs scoring a more distant third place.

“We’re not trying to be the highest rated channel on television,” Landgraf said to critics. “We’re trying as hard as we possibly can to be the best channel in television, whatever that means.”

To that end, the basic cable network is attracting talent such as Crystal, and others like Denis Leary are choosing to return to work for FX again. Leary’s “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” which stars John Corbett (who previously worked with FX on “Lucky“) is premiering this summer, and a comedy pilot from Donald Glover, “Atlanta,” is set to film this spring.

Joining the roster of pilots in production is “Better Things,” created by and starring Pamela Adlon, and directed by Louis C.K. The story follows Adlon’s character Sam, a working actor and single mom who, according to the press release, is “trying to earn a living, navigate her daughters’ lives, have fun with a friend or two, and also – just maybe – squeeze in some sex once in a while. ”

FX has also acquired the television rights to air C.K.’s next standup special, “Louis C.K. Live From the Comedy Store.” Before it airs on FX, C.K. will make the special available on his website, LouisCK.net, after his run of shows at Madison Square Garden.

“Better Things” is part of a deal FX has Louis C.K. and his production company, Pig Newton, to create series for the FX family of networks.


TCA: Fox Renews Three Early, Frightens “Sleepy Hollow” Fans

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 17 January 2015 2:09 PM, PST


Summer or winter, on any given day during a Television Critics Association’s Press Tour we get a mixed bag of news. Such was the case during Fox’s Saturday morning session, when top execs announced very early second season pick-ups for “Empire” and “Gotham,” as well as a third season renewal for “Brooklyn Nine Nine.” All fine and good. Then came the not-so-great news when a journalist inquired about the fate of “Sleepy Hollow.” Fox co-Chairman and CEO Dana Walden, who appeared before critics beside fellow top exec Gary Newman, said in the nicest way possible that it’s future is still not certain.

Naturally they remain optimistic about a third season for “Sleepy Hollow” — network executives tend to be optimistic about a struggling show’s future when they’re facing a room filled with television reporters –although they’re not positive enough to greenlight season three prior to May upfronts. Walden insisted, however, that the show’s fate is not sealed.

“As part of our diagnostic process that we do on any show, we looked at what was working and not working,” Walden told critics in attendance. She went on to praise “Sleepy Hollow” for attempting to balance its high level of storytelling difficulty, explaining that “it’s a relationship show, it’s a period drama, you have iconic characters, you’re trying to solve mysteries. And the show got a little overly serialized this season.”

Walden reiterated that the network only wants to return the fun to the series, and is proposing that the writers strive for more closed-ended stories versus leaning too heavily on serialized elements. That’s certainly fair, and fans would probably agree that a few ingredients in the “Sleepy Hollow” mix need to either be changed or, perhaps, recede to the background. (Like, say, Katrina?)

However, whenever a network executive starts talking about formula-tinkering, fans are correct to be concerned, especially when the conversation centers upon reducing the serialized elements of a show whose central idea is fueled by serialized storytelling. (This is the kind of conversation that led to a largely pointless third season of “Veronica Mars.“) “Sleepy Hollow” is a show about fending off the Apocalypse and stopping the Four Horsemen. We’ve already spent time with two of them. How much more contained do the execs want its episodes to be?

Returning to the morning’s good news, “Empire’s” renewal makes perfect sense, even though it has only aired two episodes. The drama’s initial whopping ratings success, in which it surpassed “American Idol” in the network’s target 18-49 demographic, and the fact that it increased its ratings in the demo by 5 percent in week two, is enough of an indicator that Fox has hit on something with “Empire.” It also has the benefit of potential revenue from album sales; Timbaland’s production influence is all over each episode, and the featured tracks the show has debuted so far are impressive.

The renewal of “Gotham” was pretty much a foregone conclusion among many industry insiders, given the sustained power of the Batman franchise. The Monday night drama still has work to do on its storytelling and pacing; the writers go through massive contortions at times in order to connect Bruce Wayne, James Gordon and the rest of these familiar characters. But strong performances by its stars Ben McKenzie, Jada Pinkett Smith, Donal Logue and particularly Robin Lord Taylor’s breakout portrayal of The Penguin, are enough to earn “Gotham” more time to find its footing.

Walden also praised “Brooklyn Nine Nine” for its ability to fit into the network’s mostly animated Sunday night line-up, an accomplishment that has eluded many live-action comedies Fox has previously tried out on Sundays.

In addition to these announcements, Fox announced that Lea MicheleJoe Manganiello, Keke Palmer and Abigail Breslin  have joined “Scream Queens,” the next project from Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, and Brad Falchuk that currently has Emma Roberts attached. Ariana Grande will also recur as a guest star. Execs also revealed that Julianne Hough is set to play Sandy in the network’s previously announced “Grease: Live” event telecast, with Vanessa Hudgens cast as Rizzo.  “Grease: Live” is set to debut Sunday, January 31, 2016.

Fox suits also teased that there have been discussions about doing another limited-event series version of “24” without Jack Bauer — think about that for a moment — and confirmed that they have been chatting with Chris Carter about possibly rebooting “The X-Files” for a new generation of viewers. Carter recently created another supernatural-themed series, “The After,” for Amazon; it was picked up to series, but Amazon declined to move forward with the project.*

Correction Note: The title of “The After” was incorrect in a previously published version of this article.

 


TCA: NBC’s “Hannibal” Moved to Summer & More

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 16 January 2015 12:28 PM, PST

“There is no need for unnecessary suffering. Human emotions are a gift from our animal ancestors. Cruelty is a gift humanity has given itself.”

From your lips to NBC’s ears, Dr. Lecter. On Friday morning, NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt dealt a blow to rabid Fannibals, revealing that the third season of “Hannibal” will not premiere until summertime. At least viewers who have patiently wondering when a premiere date announcement would be made now have a ballpark estimate for its return.

On the other hand, this is January. That’s a long wait.  But remove the passion from this news, and look at the show’s business sheet. Highly respected as “Hannibal” may be among critics and loyal viewers, it is never going to gain a huge audience. That Gaumont International Television produces the drama means it’s less of a financial burden for NBC; Gaumont also markets the series globally, which makes up for its ratings shortcomings in the U.S.  And there is a bright side: summertime is not the burn-off season that it once was.  CBS has scheduled high-profile originals such as “Extant” and “Under the Dome” for the summer, for example, and cable has always premiered some of the best-loved shows on television during the year’s warmest months. “Hannibal” will likely be a stand-out on the schedule.

“Hannibal’s” scheduling, such as it is, was revealed during the executive session on NBC’s day at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour, currently underway in Pasadena, following a number of casting and production announcements.

Remember “Heroes Reborn“? The still-happening event series now has Zachary Levi joining Jack Coleman in the cast, although NBC has yet to set a premiere date for that, either. And while Greenblatt did not have specific news about NBC’s plans for this year’s live musical, he did say the network has secured the rights to “The Wiz,” which means that musical has joined the running for consideration alongside “The Music Man.” As a reminder, ABC broadcast a movie version of the musical in 2003 that starred Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth, although that didn’t exactly become an indelible classic.

The network also has ordered 13 episodes of a single camera comedy titled “Telenovela,” produced by and starring Eva Longoria. (Longoria, who appeared during an earlier Press Tour session to talk about a documentary she’s executive producing for ESPN, hinted then that an announcement about her return to being in front of the camera was forthcoming.) The sitcom looks at the escàndalos that occur behind-the-scenes of a very popular Latin American series.

NBC also is creating an eight-episode miniseries called “Freedom Run,” based on Pulitzer Prize finalist Betty DeRamus’s book “Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories From the Underground Railroad,” to be executive produced by Stevie Wonder. Greenblatt added that NBC is developing a series of two-hour TV movies to be based on the songs, stories and life of Dolly Parton.

NBC execs reaffirmed the network’s straight-to-series commitment for “Shades of Blue,” the cop drama starring Jennifer Lopez , about a single mother and a detective recruited to work undercover for an FBI anti-corruption task force. Greenblatt teased that Lopez’s role would be reminiscent of the character she played in the film that made her a movie star, 1998′s Out of Sight.

Before that arrives, we’ll see David Duchovny‘s vehicle “Aquarius,” which casts the “Californication” star as a ’60s-era cop tracking the notorious Charles Manson.

 

 


TCA: The Importance of Diversity & ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat”

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 14 January 2015 6:41 PM, PST

Press Tour wouldn’t be Press Tour without a few stunningly thoughtless questions posed to panels of actors and producers.

Most of the terrible questions that get asked as part of the Television Critics Association’s press conferences don’t turn up in articles. We keep them as Press Tour war stories to be hauled out for our own entertainment later on. Plus, we’re all just trying to do our jobs here. Nobody’s perfect. Cover this beat long enough, and attend enough TCA events, and a person is bound to bungle a few questions. Besides, to the millions of folks who aren’t here, a minor gaffe at an industry event simply isn’t interesting.

But every now and again, someone sputters out a verbal air biscuit that leaves the room reeling while also speaking to a larger conversation about a show. This is precisely what happened Wednesday morning during the panel for “Fresh Off the Boat,” ABC’s midseason sitcom based on the bestselling memoir by celebrity chef Eddie Huang.  Starring Randall Park and Constance Wu, “Fresh Off the Boat” is the only sitcom on television that stars Asian actors and captures one view of what it’s like to grow up Asian in America.

And what, some may ask, makes that experience unique among minorities? For the “Fresh Off the Boat” cast and producers, nearly all of whom were born in the U.S., it means getting a question like this in a forum where people really should know better: “I love the Asian culture. And I was just talking about the chopsticks, and I just love all that. Will I get to see that, or will it be more Americanized?”*

Yes. That happened.

This may be the most ignorant question spoken in this room in a long time,  but it also demonstrates why television desperately needs “Fresh Off the Boat” and more shows like it. Comedies and dramas that deftly employ universal themes and humor that resonate with the wider audience, featuring minority-led casts that don’t ignore said cast’s ethnicity, are still uncommon.  In fact, ABC is the home to more series featuring non-white leads than any other broadcast network. Think “black-ish,” “Scandal,” “Cristela,” and “How to Get Away with Murder.”  Amazingly, in 2015, ABC’s insistence on diversity is met with a sense of awe, and an implication that what the Alphabet network is doing is a bold experiment.

In the case of “Fresh Off the Boat,” maybe it is. Networks have a long history of waxing and waning on the diversity front, though the occasional industry-wide pushes for diversity every few seasons tends to benefit African American and, to a far lesser extent, Latino actors. “Cristela” and “black-ish” may not be monster hits, but they still have mass appeal, and are not required to divorce the culture of their characters from the story. Credit the success of Norman Lear‘s comedies in the ’70s, “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son”, and just as significantly, “The Cosby Show” in the ’80s, for that.

Can you remember the last time a series gave us a view of life from an Asian American perspective? There was 1994′s “All-American Girl,” the short-lived and quickly whitewashed sitcom vehicle for Margaret Cho that nearly killed her. (It also aired on ABC.)  The show only focused on Cho’s character and her family briefly before revamping into a weak “Friends” clone, then disappearing altogether. For years after its demise, shows cast an Asian friend now and again, but it took until 2005 before audiences got a deeply complex, powerful Asian character in “Grey’s Anatomy‘s” Cristina Yang. So yes — there have been strides.

Then again, see: “2 Broke Girls.” As long as characters like Han Lee are still on TV, well, one can understand why somebody would think that it’s perfectly reasonable to ask a cast of Asian actors if their eating utensils will play a prominent role in a comedy about so much more than their cultural experience.

“The thing is it’s important to have, for me, [is] a qualified support for the show, to make sure the show stays authentic, the show stays responsible to the book and the Asian community and people of color in America in general,” Huang explained to the TV reporters in the room. “I believe the show is doing that, and I believe the show is very strategic and smart in how it’s opening things up.”

In its first episode, “Fresh Off the Boat” dives into the absurdity that can be found when one moves from a large, multi-ethnic city (Washington D.C.) to a homogenous Florida neighborhood; the universal appeal of hip-hop to outsiders and its caché within the dominant culture; and the odd, clique-ish behavior that exists within suburbia. The same episode also shows what happens when its young central character,  Eddie Huang (played by Hudson Yang), gets slapped by a racial slur.

Through it all, the rap music-obssessed Eddie has the same concerns as any kid his age would have. He’s trying to fit in at his new school but he doesn’t eat the right food, or wear the right shoes. He just out there trying to survive. No wonder he idolizes Nas and Biggie Smalls — their music extols the virtues of hustling to get rich and getting over, ideals that many consider to be the at the heart of the American dream.

“In America, I’m a foreigner because of my Korean heritage,” Cho once said. “In Asia, because I was born in America, I’m a foreigner. I’m always a foreigner.”  Nowadays Cho is a personality known for her comedy and for her outspoken support of gender equality and LGBT rights. She’s currently a co-host of a TLC’s weekly series “All About Sex,” where she serves as the show’s expert on alternative sexuality.  With time, and more television series that expose viewers to artists like Cho and stories like the ones told in “Fresh Off the Boat” — American stories with a different flavor — the day will come when Asian culture is fully recognized as an aspect of American culture. On that day, nobody’s going to care about the chopsticks.

(*I want to make it clear that this question was not posed by an official TCA member; the networks are free to credential anyone they like. In most cases, it works out fine and in fact, a number of the non-TCA folks in the room ask very intelligent questions on a regular basis. But sometimes, we get moments like this. )


Amazon Sets “Bosch” Premiere

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 14 January 2015 2:49 PM, PST


Hot off of “Transparent’s” two Golden Globe wins,  Amazon Studios announced the premiere date for its cop drama “Bosch,” starring Titus Welliver. All 10 episodes of “Bosch” will be available for streaming on Prime Instant Video beginning Friday, February 13. The series will be available to viewers in the US, the UK, and in Germany.

Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling books, “Bosch” stars Titus Welliver as Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective Harry Bosch, who is on trial for the fatal shooting of a suspected serial killer as the series begins. Bosch can’t bring himself to stop working, and during the course of what should be a shift, he stumbles upon a cold case involving the murder of a 13-year-old boy.

‘Bosch” co-stars  Jamie Hector as Harry’s partner Jerry Edgar, Amy Aquino as Lt. Grace Billets, Lance Reddick as Deputy Chief Irvin Irving, and Annie Wersching  as Julia Brasher. Sarah Clarke and Jason Gedrick also star, along with guest star appearances by Scott Wilson as Dr. Guyot and Troy Evans. The series was developed for television by Eric Overmyer, who serves as an executive producer along with Connelly and Henrik Bastin.

The first season combines plot details from Connelly’s books City of Bones (2002), The Concrete Blonde (1994) and Echo Park (2006).

“Bosch’s” pilot episode is available now on Amazon.


TCA: Showtime Brings Back Dale Cooper & More

Posted by Melanie McFarland on 12 January 2015 5:46 PM, PST

Confirmed: Kyle MacLachlan will once again be entering the town of Twin Peaks, five miles south of the Canadian border, twelve miles west of the state line. The actor appeared onstage at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour, officially reclaiming the role of Special Agent Dale Cooper when Showtime’s resurrected version of “Twin Peaks” premieres. Sadly, that case won’t open until 2016, but as far as press announcements go? That is a damn fine cup of coffee.

The premium channel also announced a 10-episode pick-up for “Happyish,”starring Kathryn Hahn and Steve Coogan. The new comedy premieres at 9:30pm Sunday, April 26, leading into the highly-anticipated second season premiere of “Penny Dreadful.” Two weeks before that, the channel kicks off the final season of “Nurse Jackie” at 9pm Sunday, April 12.