Life can be tough for an Object of Unknown Origin, better known to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” viewers as a 0-8-4. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say life looks tough for living Objects. This observation is based on what has happened so far to Skye (Chloe Bennet), the S.H.I.E.L.D. team’s newest member and its resident 0-8-4. A superior hacker with a wry sense of humor, Skye has been thrust into a number of highly dangerous situations, the most recent of which left her clinging to life in a hyperbaric chamber.
Having spoken to Bennet on the “S.H.I.E.L.D” set a few episodes after the cast had filmed the shocking incident that nearly killed her, we could have told you that she would recover. But where would the fun lie in spoiling that?
The entire “S.H.I.E.L.D” team does everything it can to spoiler-proof the series, and Bennet is no exception. The actress did not give up significant scoop about what was in store for her character. Nor did she drop many hints about where the show’s “Uprising” arc is leading, beyond sharing fan excitement for next Tuesday’s episode: Earth is getting another visit from Asgard, this time from Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander).
Indeed, sharing any “S.H.I.E.L.D”-related information passed along by a member of the cast is to understand that she can’t tell you very much, and only half of what she does say will be true. Everything about this show is cloaked in secrecy – so much so that in order to gain access to the set, reporters were asked not to reveal the name of the studio or its location. Having established that, here’s the information we were able to decode from Bennet during a recent classified set visit.
IMDbTV: What’s it like to be a part of a production that is surrounded by so much security and so much secrecy?
Chloe Bennet: It’s interesting. I came from doing “Nashville,” where you can just tweet anything and talk about anything. Then, here…well, you know. It makes it feel very cool because you’re like, ‘Well, I can’t talk about that.’ But then it gets kind of annoying because I have a lot of friends who are excited and they want to know about things! It’s kept this way for a reason, so that people can be surprised. Even though people say they want to know, you don’t really want to know. You want to find out when you see the episode. It’ll be better for you. It’s like eating your vegetables. You don’t really want to, but you do it because you want to feel good. I think of it that way. It helps me. It’s good for you to wait to see it.
IMDbTV: I know you can’t reveal anything, but there’s been a lot of speculation about what’s going on with your character. Do you know what’s happening with Skye?
Bennet: I know a little bit more than what you guys know, but that’s about it. What we found out in a recent episode is that she’s an 0-8-4. And everyone’s like, oh, what’s it like to find out all of this new information? Well, that information opens so many more doors… there’s even more unknown about her. So, I could be an alien. I could be an Asgardian. I could be…Spider-Woman! Who knows? There’s so many different things. I’m very excited to find out. I’m waiting for the next script like it’s my birthday!
Bennet: No. Oh, I try to trick them all the time. I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, yeah…Act 1! So funny! What happened there?” And they say, “Nice try.”
IMDbTV: Since it was announced that Sif was going to appear on the show, there was some online speculation that she may be related to Skye.
Bennet: Yeah…I didn’t put that together…Sif is a very loyal soldier to Asgard. So whenever she comes down, I think she’s cleaning up a bit of a mess for Odin.
IMDb: Is that a hint?
Bennet: Maybe. That’s all I can give you.
IMDb: Well, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is part of the The Avengers universe, but from the very beginning one thing that the producers were careful to say was that there wouldn’t be many crossovers… However, one main Avengers subplot is that there are powerful, intergalactic objects that have been kept separate from each other. Have you heard anything about whether that plot will possibly play a part in the show?
Bennet: I have…but… I can’t! I can’t say anything.
IMDb: Wait, you have?
Bennet: Maybe I have, but it’s all top secret. I’m very good at digging myself in a hole. Clark was just talking to me about getting out of questions like that. Was that smooth?
IMDb: Not at all. But even if it’s nothing, at least you gave me a red herring.
Bennet: You’re welcome.
IMDb: Are there things you can talk about?
Bennet: It’s tough, because I’m just as much of a fan as the viewers are, and I want to yell what happens in the next couple of episodes… From here on out, it is nonstop.
New episodes of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” air 8pm Tuesdays on ABC.
Let’s get this warning out of the way, shall we? “Hannibal” creator and executive producer Bryan Fuller is a man who doesn’t unnecessarily stretch out storylines or hoard nail-biting thrills in the bottom of the freezer. Like his main character, Dr. Lecter, Fuller would rather serve up his stories fresh, pulsing and rare enough to bleed.
So if you don’t want to be spoiled regarding any twist coming this season on “Hannibal”… well, we hope you haven’t seen any of the ads for it on NBC, and you’d better stop reading this story now.
Consider yourself warned.
Those who have seen commercials for the drama, returning at 10pm Friday, February 28 on NBC, already know that Hannibal’s mask is going to drop, forcing at least two key characters to fight for their lives. Even if you’ve somehow managed to avoid those ads, Fuller won’t make you wait to witness one of the season’s most brutal conflicts: Friday’s premiere opens with a grueling fight scene previewed in the trailer, with Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) viciously attempting to fillet Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) in his kitchen.
Fuller’s decision to kick off this season with that adrenaline-spiking sequence came in part from knowing the show’s fan base could handle it, while also being aware of the wider culture’s familiarity with Hannibal Lecter’s curriculum vitae.
“The audience knows that he’s going to be incarcerated, eventually,” Fuller explained in a recent interview. “I wanted to see this fight sequence from the get-go. The other part was, it’s kind of good to tell the audience, ‘You’re not going to be jerked around. We have an end game. We’re not just making it up as we go along. We have a plan.’
“It goes back to that idea of, the bomb is under the table,” the executive producer added. “It’s the basics of Hitchcock: Show the audience the bomb. Don’t just have it go ‘boom’. Show the audience the bomb and make them nervous. There’s something very exciting about telling the audience that this is going to be ending horribly for all of these characters in different ways.”
As if anyone believed anything different.
“Hannibal” is one of those surprising television entries that could have vaporized into ratings oblivion in its freshman run. Tough as it is to get any series off the ground, it’s infinitely harder for new shows to find lasting purchase on a broadcast network in the midseason.
But “Hannibal” passed the test with a devoted portion of viewers, whether they were fans of Thomas Harris’s iconic characters or coming in cold. “There was so much perception of, like, ‘Oh God, another Hannibal Lecter story,’” Fuller recalled. “… I thought there was an opportunity to do something with Hannibal Lecter that hasn’t been done before. There are chapters in his life that we haven’t really seen and explored. That was exciting for me. What was also exciting was creating a visual vocabulary for the show that was very distinct. I love cinema, and I love beautiful imagery.”
Fuller’s reverence for the cinematic medium and aesthetics is front and center in “Hannibal,” which is presented in a style he’s frequently characterized as operatic and “purple.”
Like Mikkelsen’s impeccably dressed, emotionally cool Lecter, the show itself is a work of elegance, inviting the audience to indulge in lush visuals and not simply consume the story, but digest every morsel of it. Every moment consciously plays with the juxtaposition of gorgeousness and visceral terror with the effect, at times, of slowly luring the audience into a sense of being in collusion with Hannibal.
“It’s breaking down those moments and trying to make them sensual, and finding ways to tell story purely with cinema,” Fuller explained. “We have an episode where a major character dies, and almost half the act is non-dialogue, with just people reacting. Part of it was, do we really want to write another scene where somebody says, ‘Oh it’s sad’? When those things happen, words aren’t your tools for communication. It is so internalized and traumatized. I just wanted to see people’s devastated reactions, because that’s how you feel. You don’t feel words. That was kind of the impetus there.”
Taken in concert, the vision realized by “Hannibal’s” production staff, as well as nuanced, powerful performances by Fishburne, Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Caroline Dhavernas and an array of portrayals by guest stars including Gillian Anderson (returning this season as Lecter’s confidante and fellow therapist Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier) blend perfectly to create a very quiet, thought-provoking show that never drags.
Within the first two episodes of this season, for example, is a scene that is as pleasing to the eye as it is horrendous to see. This is intentional, Fuller explains. When the writers are weaving story, he invites them to be inspired by great filmmakers like David Kronenberg, David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick…as well as other cinematic sources one might not expect.
“Taking inspiration from Busby Berkeley and coming away with a human mural is part of how our brains work in the writers room,” Fuller says with a laugh. “I’m approaching the story from a place of filmmaking and psychology. I always forget that the audience isn’t in on the process of creating it, so they don’t know how we got there. So it is much more abrupt and visceral for the audience than it is for us…I guess that’s my apology.”
Not that any fan is for asking for it. On the contrary, some may wonder why we aren’t getting longer seasons of “Hannibal”. Season one and season two are each only 13 episodes long, and Fuller is happy to hold to that commitment.
“When I watch a show, you know the episodes that are treading water. You’re like, ‘Okay, nothing really happened in that episode. There’s interesting character development, but where are the big plot points?’ In this season, we were very adamant about…needing to keep things moving, keep things exciting for ourselves.
“I think in terms of chapters,” he added. “Season one was one chapter. Season two is actually two chapters, and season three may be two chapters as well. Originally I was thinking, ‘Season four is going to be Red Dragon.’ But then I thought, ‘Oh gee, how do you spread Red Dragon over 13 episodes and keep it effective and keep the momentum? Wouldn’t it be interesting if we compressed it to seven episodes, to six episodes?’ Then we could…not waste any time or mess around. So it’s really about the gift of doing fewer episodes and being able to strategize what’s going to be the most impactful.”
Fuller was careful to add that NBC hasn’t given the official word that season three is being picked up. There’s no harm in being prepared for that scenario, of course. On the off-chance that – perish the thought – “Hannibal’s” road were to end with the season two finale, however, wouldn’t it be interesting to see Fuller add his signature to the list of producers and directors who brought the character to be big screen? Anything is possible. For the moment, though, Fuller seems content to explore the limits of of television’s palette.
“We’re in the Golden Era of television right now, but we’re kind of in a Tin Era of cinema,” he observed. “Television is kind of running circles around most movies.”
The second season of “Hannibal” premieres at 10pm Friday on NBC.
If Michael Hirst’s work has a calling card, it is passion. The heat of it made Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Elizabeth I glow with power and sensuality in Elizabeth, and made Henry VIII believably seductive and lusty in “The Tudors”.
Watching Hirst imbue his signature sense of passion into the world of History’s “Vikings” is a completely different feat. In building the world of “Vikings” Hirst, the drama’s creator and executive producer, had no documentation of court intrigue or parlor games to call upon. Nor did he have much in the way of preserved gowns or suits of armor in museums from which to draw inspiration.
“Vikings” has challenged Hirst to delve into largely unexplored historical territory, the Dark Ages, to bring us the perspective of a culture portrayed as savages by the Christian monks who recorded their encounters with them. Much in the way the drama’s hero Ragnar Lothbrok dares to raid and explore other lands and their cultures, Hirst is looking beyond the overwhelmingly negative portrayals passed down in written records of the Vikings to create characters who are spiritual, thoughtful, flawed and heroic.
“Vikings have always been the bad guys. They’ve always been the ‘other’,” Hirst explained in a recent phone interview. “They’re always the guys who break into your house at night, and rape and pillage,” Hirst added. “So it seemed a big challenge to have them as the heroes, or the lead guys. But they are a wonderful culture, and I have had very, very little historical criticism about the show, which has been amazing.”
Listening to Hirst chat about “Vikings” is to hear a man in love with a treasure trove of unfamiliar stories he’s discovering for the first time – and not just the ones in history books. There’s an electric thrill in his voice as he talks about upcoming episodes, challenges his heroes will be made to face and transformative plot twists. When he refers to an upcoming confrontation as “one of the best things ever seen on television”, you can hear the belief and unshakable confidence in his voice.
Interpret that bravado as you will, but odds are the fans will agree with him. They’re a fiery, loyal bunch. The first season of “Vikings” averaged 4.3 million viewers over the course of its run, with 3.6 tuning in for the season finale in April, and made a rising star out of the man viewers know as Ragnar, Travis Fimmel.
Much of the success of “Vikings” may be credited to its action sequences; no other show on basic cable right now features bloody swordfights on the battlefields and life-or-death duels. The season two premiere gives us all that in addition to a moment of family strife that makes soap opera squabbles look like playground slap-fights.
At the same time, a central part of the story revolves around deep discussions about the role the Norse gods play in the lives of these characters, and that belief system’s stark contrasts with Christianity.
“The funny thing to me is that, of course, [to Viking culture] the Saxons were the enemy, the Saxons were the ‘other’. That’s our culture. We’ve always thought of ourselves as much more cultured and religious and spiritual and good,” Hirst said. “So I’m messing around with stereotypes, and I’m doing that quite deliberately, because I love many aspects of Viking culture. I love their gods. I love the fact that their treatment of women is much more enlightened by the Saxons and the Franks, and they’re much more democratic.”
Indeed, the women in “Vikings”, particularly Ragnar’s wife, the shieldmaiden Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) and the ambitious Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), the wife of a deposed ruler desperate to regain power, provide the focal point of significant family drama and romantic entanglements in the series – especially the clashes coming up in season two.
Hirst had not counted on that aspect of “Vikings” catching on when he first started writing the series. Initially, Lagertha’s role was not as significant as it is now, he admits. “But when we cast Katheryn and when I started to worth further on the script, she became a huge character and someone who brought a big female audience to the History Channel and to the show.
“That was fantastic to me, because one of the things I do is write female characters – from Elizabeth to Lagertha,” he continued. “I realized I had something totally unusual on American TV: I had a female character who is a mother and wife, and who kicked ass.”
She’ll be challenged to call upon all of her strengths in season two. Without giving away too much, both Lagertha and Siggy must contend with a new player on the scene, the mysterious and demanding princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland).
Anyone who watched season one knows that Aslaug’s arrival in Ragnar’s Great Hall is going to be quite problematic… for Aslaug. Lagertha’s fan base is quite vocal on social media, and at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con the mention of a transgression committed against her led to a chorus of booing from the crowd.
“In the second season, I take Lagertha to darker places, where she still has to prove that she’s a very strong character,” Hirst said. “But also, Aslaug, who in theory is a much more sort of bourgeois or obvious female character, she faces dilemmas later down the line – probably around episode six or seven – in which she shows totally unexpected strength, a new sense of who she really is.
“Actually, by the end of the second season, you will really respect Aslaug in a way that you never thought you would while still thinking that Katheryn is the best thing since sliced bread. Which, of course, she is.”
It’s too early in its lifespan to prophesy what kind of impact “Vikings” will have on television’s pantheon; season two of “Vikings” starts this week, and although nothing has been officially announced by History, Hirst is currently writing the roadmap for season three. But at the very least, History and Hirst can be satisfied with shedding light and sparking deeper interest in an under-appreciated culture in a way that’s respectful, exciting and entertaining.
“If you walk out of your office in New York or Los Angeles, you get three blocks, you’ve passed about 30 Vikings,” Hirst said. “They’ve left an indelible legacy, and I’m just trying in a way to plug into that legacy and at least explain a little bit about the impact that they’ve had.”
The second season of “Vikings” premieres at 10pm Thursday on History.
In SundanceTV’s upcoming drama “The Red Road,” the clash between the people of a Lenape Native American tribe and the non-Native American occupants of Walpole, NJ, a small town close to New York City, creates drama all by itself.
But when town pariah Phillip Kopus returns home, the very sight of him sets the place on edge. In “The Red Road,” which premieres at 9pm Thursday, February 27, on SundanceTV, that sensation of foreboding is palpable from the moment that Kopus (Jason Momoa) first casually strolls past a tribal gathering.
It’s been a long journey to get to a project of “The Red Road’s” caliber for Momoa, who was first introduced to television viewers via “Baywatch”. He would go on to play Ronon Dex on “Stargate: Atlantis” and star in Conan the Barbarian, updating a role that made Arnold Schwarzenegger into an action flick legend. Of course, that role is now eclipsed by the character that changed everything for the actor: Khal Drogo, Daenerys Targaryen’s fierce husband, a horse lord who was only featured in one full season of “Game of Thrones” but whose spirit still rides within the hearts of millions.
If you’re one of those still-smitten “Thrones” fans, take note: As deeply as Momoa respects that universe and the role it had in transforming his career, he recently told a group of reporters attending a press conference that “Red Road” is “the greatest thing, (the) greatest scripts I’ve ever read.”
“As far as, like, fantasy, ‘Game of Thrones’ is amazing,” Momoa said. “… But I’ve never yelled at a script and been like, “No!” And flipping to the next page and just freaking out that I’m so excited by just reading the script…I’m really pumped for everyone to see it! And it burns. They burn story. It’s fun.”
Within the first few scenes, “Red Road” paints Walpole as a town of blended and dueling traditions, containing a dark history of cultural tension and tragedy simmering just beneath the surface. When that tension is exacerbated by a shocking crime that weighs heavily on the town’s sheriff, Harold Jensen (Martin Henderson), the tenuous peace within the town starts to crumble.
Kopus’s return does nothing to calm the place. Quite the opposite – soon, he’s asserting himself within the local underworld and stepping in to make Sheriff Jensen an offer he is in no position to refuse.
Momoa’s enigmatic portrayal of Phillip Kopus challenges the viewer’s perception of who is truly the antagonist. He’s an outsider among outsiders, an imposing man whose face seems to be incapable of softness, whose nature is predatory but whose spirit radiates pain from a deep, open wound. Momoa makes him unnerving, dangerous and tragic all at once, which ultimately makes a person curious to see how — and if — Kopus will evolve.
“A lot of things, when you see the story unfold, you just see why he was done wrong, and why he is the way that he is. Like ‘Game of Thrones’, you assume that Drogo’s a bad guy. But you’re going to find out what Phillip Kopus is made of.”
Speaking to the question of whether redemption is possible for Phillip Kopus, Momoa said, “It’s going to find him. Some of the best lessons in life are when life teaches you, and not when you are searching for something and you don’t find it. He’s definitely not searching for it.”
In addition to his starring role in “The Red Road,” Momoa has also spent the last couple of years writing and directing Road to Paloma, a film about two bikers on a journey to the Teton Mountains. Both projects also gave the actor the opportunity to work with his wife Lisa Bonet, who plays a tribal lawyer in “The Red Road” and his love interest in Paloma.
“It’s an honor, and I always wanted to work with her,” he said. “It was great, because she’s my love interest in that. …I think Sundance, when they saw that, they really liked the chemistry. We’ve got a good chemistry. We’ve got two kids to show for that chemistry.”
The challenge of working with his wife on “The Red Road,” Momoa observed, was throwing cold water on that chemistry. “Even though (our characters) grew up together, and we’re kind of smitten with each other, he won’t cross that boundary. He’s a pretty complicated guy. Who doesn’t want to go be with her? He’s messed up. He won’t cross that line, being that she’s on the other side of it and he’s just in this grey area.”
For the present, Momoa can rest in knowing he no longer has to search for another peak in his career. “I knew I was going to get here,” he said. “It was just a matter of convincing you guys that I had it in me.”
“The Red Road” premieres 9pm Thursday, February 27, on SundanceTV.
Last week, “The Walking Dead” returned to the air with another grim episode, as Carl (Chandler Riggs) blamed Rick’s refusal to claim his leadership position for The Governor’s attack on the prison. Meanwhile, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was barely able to breathe, and Michonne (Danai Gurira) was left wandering alone in the wild with only a pair of armless, toothless walkers and nightmares of a beautiful life ripped to shreds to keep her company.
In this exclusive image from Sunday’s episode “Inmates,” it looks like Beth (Emily Kinney) is fortunate to have Daryl (Norman Reedus) as her guardian. AMC’s official description of the episode reads, “The group encounters many obstacles in their quest to find stability and safety, but sometimes all they have to guide them is hope.”
What do you think has happened to the rest of the group? Do you believe Judith is still alive? Will we see Carol again? Share your theories with us in the comments section!
A new episode “The Walking Dead” airs 9pm Sunday at AMC.
While spending time in the Midwest over the holidays, the subject of Jay Leno’s exit from “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” happened to come up in conversation. My mother-in-law, a lady who is very friendly with her television, described herself as a Leno viewer who tunes in just about every night. However—and this is important—she made of point of saying she is not a Leno fan. She found him to be dull.
That said, when it came to hosting “The Tonight Show,” my mother-in-law unequivocally preferred Leno to Conan O’Brien. “All that carrying on with that masturbating bear,” she sighed, shaking her head and wrinkling her nose. “I don’t get it. It went on and on. Was that supposed to be funny?”
Then, without prompting, she weighed in on Jimmy Fallon—what a nice young man he appears to be, how accurate his impersonations are. To her, Fallon simply exudes entertainment and fun.
There, in a nutshell, is the main reason that Leno’s second passing of “The Tonight Show” torch to a new host—now, it’s Jimmy Fallon—will take this time. Fallon trades in the kind of fun that goes down easy, especially from the warmth under one’s comforter at bedtime, while being keenly aware of the importance of taking his best bits viral the morning after.
All signs point to “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”, premiering at midnight Monday night on NBC, before settling into its regular timeslot (11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m. ET/PT Mondays-Fridays )* being anything but dull. In addition to moving “The Tonight Show” back to New York, Fallon is adding a full moon to its logo and the “Starring” back to its title, as Jack Paar and Johnny Carson did before him. The very first guests on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” will be Will Smith and U2. Later in the week, the show will feature performances by Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, Tim McGraw and Justin Timberlake, with Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Michelle Obama and Bradley Cooper scheduled to sit in the guest chairs.
Indeed, Fallon could be just the man to take “The Tonight Show” franchise back to what it was in its heyday—spiritually speaking—when Carson was the King of Late Night.
Fallon knows that fun can be harmless and have broad appeal while still highlighting creativity, edge and intelligence. Think of his “Classroom Instruments” series, or his recurring “Let Us Play With Your Look” skits. But Fallon, at 39, is very much attuned to pop culture trends both lasting and ephemeral. Some of his most successful “Late Night” bits call upon very distinct slices of pop culture know-how. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Neil Young fan, or if you’ve don’t know any of his work. All that matters is whether watching a crunchy folk singer cover the theme to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” with all the earnestness of a mourning song makes you laugh. That kind of thing generally hits on a broad scale.
Mind you, this is not to disparage O’Brien’s talent or to insinuate that “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” would not have eventually flourished. Yes, the ratings took a hit during O’Brien’s seven months in the “Tonight Show” chair, a situation which was not helped by NBC’s terrible decision to schedule “The Jay Leno Show,” a talk show vehicle that failed out of the gate, at 10pm. Had O’Brien been given the time to tweak his style to suit the timeslot’s audience, we would not be writing this blog post.
But what O’Brien never got a chance to perfect, Fallon is already doing. He has found a way to bridge the gap between young viewers and old, by bringing back entertainment variety to the format. Just as Carson gave us characters like Art Fern and Carnac the Magnificent, Fallon employs the skills he honed on “Saturday Night Live” to execute flawless celebrity impersonations. Fallon showcases his wide-ranging musical tastes and abilities in incredibly creative ways, starting by naming The Roots as his house band when he assumed control of NBC’s “Late Night” franchise.
Like Carson before him, Fallon also has a tremendous talent for bringing A-list celebrities down to Earth simply by getting them to play along with him. Can you think of any other host who could have persuaded Tom Cruise to break an egg over his head and not look like he wanted to kill the guy who made him do it?
Those same ingredients, mixed in perfect amounts, are a significant part of made Carson a legend, as I previously wrote in 2005:
“In contrast to the showy emcees before him, the low-key Carson and his sidekick, Ed McMahon, made us feel comfortable enough to hang out with them in rumpled pajamas. Calming as he was, though, the man was rarely a snore.”
Fallon seems to understand that. “I wish that Steve Allen and Johnny Carson were still around just to see what we’re going to do with the show because I think, when they invented this show, it was all about being fun and silly and goofy… It should be goofy and fun and make everyone laugh,” Fallon recently told critics at a press conference in California. “Everyone works too hard, and we’re the first thing after your local news. You watch us, and you get a good laugh, and you go to bed with a smile on your face. And that’s our job.”
But the days of late night television viewers coming together under one big tent are long gone. There are “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” viewers, David Letterman devotees, fans of “The Colbert Report,” “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and, yes, TBS’s weeknight talk show “Conan”. Fallon has the advantage of entering the fray as the host of the top-rated show in late night, and his debut is expected to enjoy a nice boost from all the promotional time he’s been getting during NBC’s coverage of the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. He will certainly enjoy a large slice of that pie.
Long after the novelty of his new kid status on “The Tonight Show” fades away, viewers will have a better sense of what Fallon’s “Tonight Show” legacy will be. Jay Leno, for all of his flaws, is a workhorse who lasted 22 years in the job. The guy before Fallon lasted seven months. Even if Fallon’s reign ends up falling somewhere in between, if he can restore a sense of classic, Carson-style fun to “The Tonight Show,” that can be considered to be the real win. More than a few mothers-in-law will be counting on him to do so.
*This post has been updated from an earlier version that incorrectly listed the premiere time for “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”.
That John Silver is a cheeky schemer, isn’t he? At this point in “Black Sails,” we can’t say for certain whether he’ll be a worthwhile addition to Captain Flynt’s crew, but at the very least Silver (Luke Arnold) has made sure that he’s more valuable to Flynt (Toby Stephens) alive than dead. In this exclusive photo of a scene from Saturday’s episode of “Black Sails,” Silver seems to be assisting Flynt plan his mission to find and pillage the Urca d’Lima…but who knows?
What do you think is happening around that table? Weigh in with your comments, and check out a new episode of “Black Sails” 9pm Saturday on Starz.
A day after NBC axed “The Michael J. Fox Show,” arguably the most high profile comedy to join its schedule last fall, Amazon has released its next round of pilots.
One might ask what one event has to do with the other. In concrete terms, the answer is nothing. Taking in the larger industry landscape, however, Amazon’s practice of allowing users to determine which of these two dramas, three comedies and five children’s shows will go on to become series could markedly change the way the industry does business. After all, if a pilot launches and nobody cares to see more of it, does it really need to happen?
The counterargument is that a pilot represents a concept’s potential. There are no guarantees that a great pilot will become a tremendous series, and there are many much-loved and critically-acclaimed series that launched out of middling or even terrible pilots. If this system were adopted throughout the industry, the good but not great “Michael J. Fox Show” might never have gone to series. Then again, nor would we have gotten to experience “Seinfeld” in its fully realized glory.
Keep that in mind as you take in and give feedback on Amazon’s new comedies “Mozart in the Jungle,” “The Rebels” and “Transparent,” and its dramas “The After” and “Bosch.” Here are the series descriptions as well as one viewer’s first impressions.
Mind you, my take on these pilots is just that – one person’s take. Ultimately Amazon’s users will decide which of these pilots will become full-fledged series, not critics. Watch all of them and share your thoughts with Amazon Prime – and, as always, feel free to leave your thoughts in our comments section, too.
Official description: “An LA family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone’s secrets to spill out. “ Created by Jill Soloway, a producer on “Six Feet Under” and “United States of Tara”; stars Gaby Hoffmann, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker and Jeffrey Tambor.
IMDbTV’s take: A successful pilot steadily builds from its opening scenes to the climactic finish and makes the viewer want to see more episodes. Rarer are those with characters that get their hooks into our emotions by simultaneously frustrating and surprising us, leaving us impatient to experience the next chapter. “Transparent” is that second kind of pilot – a thought-provoking glimpse at sex and identity as filtered through the prism of a family dramedy. Fans of “Six Feet Under” will recognize a similar dramatic cadence at work in Soloway’s vision of this close-knit brood of individuals, whose profound secrets keep them mired in a stifling state of existential inertia.
Landecker plays Sarah, a rich, bored housewife who gets a chance to reclaim a part of her wilder youth, while Duplass’s Josh is a self-involved music producer who bounces between sex partners but cannot grasp the concept intimacy. Hoffmann’s Ali, the youngest daughter, lives off of the good graces and cash of her father Mort, but struggles to find a direction in the world, while Tambor’s Mort can’t bring himself to reveal an important revelation to his children.
Mort’s struggle illustrates the concept driving “Transparent”: all of us try hide aspects ourselves that we would rather not show to anyone else, but often those closest to us end up looking right at them, whether we like it or not. If “Transparent” has the chance to build from this auspicious beginning, it may grow into the kind of must-watch online series that inspires enthusiastic discussion and devoted fans – which is precisely what every TV content producer wants and needs.
Official description: “Sex, drugs — and classical music — see what happens behind the curtains at the symphony.” Created by Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Alex Timbers , based on a memoir by Blair Tindall. Stars Saffron Burrows, Malcolm McDowell, Bernadette Peters, Gael García Bernal, and Lola Kirke.
IMDbTV’s take: If you’re surprised at the decadent, bohemian partying that goes on offstage in the world of New York’s classical music scene… well, clearly you weren’t paying attention to that last part of Michelle Flaherty’s tales about what happens at band camp in American Pie. Mind you, “Mozart” is a lot classier than that theatrical romp, with higher dramatic stakes at play and more honest emotion. It’s interesting to see Bernal flirt with comedy in his role as the hot shot young conductor to McDowell’s elder statesman whose star is fading, but it’s the interplay between Burrows’ libidinous cellist Cynthia and Kirke’s Hailey, a talented oboist looking for a shot at a symphony chair, that creates some of the pilot’s best chemistry. Having said that, it’s not quite clear how much of a comedy “Mozart” actually is, and let’s just say some of the dialogue should have been rehearsed a bit more before having the actors commit it to the screen.
Official description: Julie is in over her head when her husband suddenly dies, leaving her as sole owner of The LA Rebels, a pro-football team. Created by Jeremy Garelick and Jon Weinbach. Stars Natalie Zea, Hayes MacArthur, Affion Crockett and Billy Dee Williams.
IMDbTV’s take: The first test of any comedy is whether it actually makes you laugh, and this one passes. Nevertheless, if the pilot is any indication, “The Rebels” has a long way to go before it can play in the same league as, say, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” or “House of Lies”. And that’s OK. There’s something to be said for taking advantage of the freedom available online to push even the broadest comedy into bizarre places. This one has Billy Dee Williams as the team’s coach, extolling the virtues of the spray feature on the general manager’s toilet; a monkey in a diaper firing a gun at a party after snorting cocaine; and dialogue unafraid to play with unnecessary roughness for the sake of entertainment. Plus, everybody loves a good underdog story. This one might just move down the field.
Official description: “Eight strangers are thrown together by mysterious forces and must help each other survive in a violent world that defies explanation.” Created by Chris Carter. Stars Aldis Hodge, Andrew Howard, Arielle Kebbel, Louise Monot, Jamie Kennedy, Adrian Pasdar, Jaina Lee Ortiz, and Sharon Lawrence.
IMDbTV’s take: During the decade-plus since 9/11, there have been a number of TV series about unexplained disasters threatening to bring humankind to the brink of extinction. Some of these are manmade, some come from alien invasion, and some come from…the beyond. Carter’s feels a lot like a hodgepodge of any of these shows minus the zombies, which is a little disappointing coming from the guy who gave us “The X-Files” and “Millennium”. Also, any genre fan who looks closely at the details within shows like these should strap in for a bumpy ride, because this story is chock full of potholes and loose ends. That said, “The After” could prove to be catnip for genre fans looking for a fun distraction on a weekend afternoon, and when it finally does unveil the weirdness – yes, there is weirdness at play, but it doesn’t really pop up until minute 50 of a 54 minute episode – one could be coaxed into hanging around to see where this show is headed.
Official description: Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling book series, Bosch, an LAPD homicide detective works to solve the murder of a 13-year-old boy while standing trial in federal court for the murder of a serial killer. Written by Michael Connelly and Eric Overmyer . Stars Titus Welliver, Lance Reddick and Jamie Hector.
IMDbTV’s take: This viewer loves Titus Welliver. I really do. If only I loved him in this. It appears that Welliver sought to give us a hard-boiled character in Bosch, a detective with a crusader’s soul and a haunted past. Instead, the character just seems emotionally stagnant and flat, as if Bosch is wallowing through his personal tribulations and his other story arc, the murder case. But then, the script doesn’t seem to venture down any paths that many other detective shows haven’t already trodden time and again.
The police procedural is a tried and true genre for a reason: audiences love being led through good mysteries solved by a great, if compellingly flawed, detective. Given the chance, “Bosch” could grow into a series that gives us plenty of the former, and Welliver undoubtedly has the chops to mold Harry Bosch into a compelling character. Regrettably, those assertions are being made based on faith as opposed to much concrete evidence displayed in the pilot.
Every year, everyone makes a very big fuss over the fall TV season. Understandable, given the tradition surrounding it. Before cable grew into the gigantic, content producing Cthulu-esque beast that it is these days — ever expanding, never resting! — broadcast networks rolled out season premieres of their returning series and debuted new entries to their schedules during the week following the Emmys. Midseason, for what it was worth, was the dumping ground for any series that couldn’t quite find a place in the fall. With the exception of the odd success story such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” broadcast midseason shows came and went.
Cut to the present day, and midseason is just as active as fall — moreso, in fact, on cable. Take a peek at our list of midseason premieres, for example. It’s a partial list, and it’s nearly 100 titles strong. Suffice it to say, viewers have a lot of television to choose over in the coming months, whether we’re talking about new shows or returning ones. The returning series are much easier for viewers to juggle, of course; you’re already invested in your favorites. But what about the new shows?
At the recent Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, reporters, editors and critics who cover the medium were able to preview a number of new comedies and dramas due to premiere over the next few months. Among these upcoming series debuts are a few destined to have a place on several “Best of 2014″ lists at year’s end. Others will become guilty pleasures, while some may go as quickly and quietly as they arrive.
To help IMDb users navigate the midseason landscape, I’ve created a list of a few stand-outs among the new shows presented at the Winter TCAs. While I can’t guarantee all (or any) of them will earn huge ratings or critical acclaim, I am intrigued enough by what I’ve seen of these series to put them on my Watchlist for at least a few episodes.
The list is arranged chronologically in the order of each series’ premiere date. However, for the sake of further narrowing down the field, here are the five that I am most eagerly anticipating.
Fargo. One can be forgiven for wondering how, exactly, a series version of Fargo was going to work. But then, a person might recall that the joy of that movie wasn’t simply in solving the crime but in getting to know the characters and the specific flavors and cadence of the place.
This is where the first hour of “Fargo” the television drama excels. Yes, there are terrible crimes committed, but the characters are brilliantly brought to life by some very famous actors, some of whom are barely recognizable in their roles. However, the two highest profile actors in the bunch, Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, far and away steal the show. Expect to see this series to get plenty of notice during the run-up to the Emmys and the Golden Globes.
Series Premiere: 10pm Tuesday, April 15, on FX.
Penny Dreadful. Series creator John Logan says he was fascinated by the idea of taking classic Universal horror monsters of the ’40s — the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula — and creating a mythology where they could exist on the same stage and taken seriously. In doing so, he also seeks to create a visually sensual, erotically-charged experience. Done correctly, this show could be anything but dreadful. We’ll just have to find out. The series stars Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, and Josh Hartnett.
Series Premiere: 10pm Sunday, May 11, on Showtime.
The Red Road. In the course of exploring a profound culture clash that exists within a small town, we’re treated to deeply moving performances by Martin Henderson, playing the conflicted sheriff, and Julianne Nicholson as his wife. But Jason Momoa‘s enigmatic, sinister portrayal of Phillip Kopus challenges the viewer’s perception of who is truly the antagonist. Within just the first couple of episodes, Momoa’s Kopus seems unnerving, dangerous and tragic all at once. It’s unclear whether he’ll ultimately gain any empathy from viewers, but he certainly makes us curious to see where this story will go.
Series Premiere: 9pm Thursday, February 27, on SundanceTV.
Vicious. While film stars crossing over to work on TV series is still somewhat novel to American audiences, it seems to be more fluid over in Europe. That said, it’s fairly surprising to see classical actors Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen headlining a sitcom created by Gary Janetti, a writer best known for his work on “Will & Grace” and for writing several memorable Stewie-centric episodes of “Family Guy“. Accordingly, “Vicious” is very broad, British farce that in the hands of lesser actors probably wouldn’t work. But Jacobi and McKellen are clearly having the time of their lives here, helped along by some wonderfully quotable dialogue.
Series Premiere: 10:30pm Sunday, July 6 on PBS.
Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey Science is not exactly top-of-mind with the American public these days, sadly, but watching this series’ attempt to change that is thrilling. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a gregarious host, dazzling the viewer with the wonders of the universe as beautiful graphics illustrate his narration. Though some may cringe at the idea that Seth MacFarlane is producing this update of “Cosmos,” his animated contributions to each episode augment the sense of childlike wonder within the subjects Tyson tackles. While history tells us “Cosmos” probably won’t survive for long in Fox’s Sunday primetime line-up, we’ll happily watch for as long as it lasts.
Series Premiere: 9pm Sunday, March 9, on Fox.
How “Sherlock”, “Downton” & “Mr Selfridge” Helped “Masterpiece” Solve The Case of the Vanished Funding
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood of Pasadena, California, where PBS has kicked off three days of presentations at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour. That’s a good thing, because outside of the Langham Huntington Hotel, where the TCA Tour has been underway since January 9, a crowd of “Sherlock” fans have gathered in the hopes of glimpsing the great detective himself — or rather, his alter-ego Benedict Cumberbatch.
“It’s kind of extraordinary and a little unnerving,” Cumberbatch admitted to critics when asked what he thought about the assembly his presence inspired. “…They are so supportive, loyal and, by and large, intelligent.” For the most part, Cumberbatch added, his fans in America and the U.K. respect his privacy. He still takes public transportation, for example. Then again, there are the occasional times that his stardom gets in the way of enjoying simple things. He shared the tale of a restaurant server who recognized him and made a simple dinner order of a chicken dish take half a hour to complete.
Cumberbatch’s live appearance at Press Tour comes a day after “Sherlock’s” premiere on PBS after a nearly two -year hiatus from American television. Although it did not return to “Downton Abbey” numbers, the season three premiere attracted an average of 4 million viewers, according to numbers provided by “Masterpiece” series executive producer Rebecca Eaton. (“Downton”, meanwhile, was up from its premiere, garnering 8.4 million viewers for last night’s airing of the second episode.)
The successes of “Sherlock” and “Downton” with American audiences have obviously proven very beneficial to PBS but, between those titles and the addition of the Jeremy Piven-led series “Mr Selfridge” to the schedule, the “Masterpiece” franchise is in better financial shape than it’s been in a long time. Prior to the “Masterpiece” panels for “Mr Selfridge” and “Sherlock”, Eaton shared that the series’ underwriting slots are sold out through 2014 thanks to Viking Cruises and Ralph Lauren.
That’s a remarkable turn of events from just a few years ago, when Masterpiece’s continued existence was hanging by a tether following the departure of its previous and sole underwriter ExxonMobil, which withdrew its support of the series in 2004. (Viking Cruises eventually stepped in as an underwriter in 2011.)
While Masterpiece has benefited from the rising fortunes of the PBS schedule’s crown jewels, “Sherlock’s” star also has gained a great deal of prominence from occupying the role, as have the series’ executive producers Steven Moffat and his wife Sue Vertue. The producers told critics that the BBC’s head of drama will keep picking it up as long as they want to keep making it, and Moffat joked that they’ll keep on wanting to make more “Sherlock” episodes until Cumberbatch “gets too famous or precious.” The team is currently working on diaries for the fourth and fifth seasons.
“Why is it always me?” Cumberbatch shot back in jest. Well, probably because he was the half of the “Sherlock” duo who was in the room. Martin Freeman, the Watson to Cumberbatch’s Holmes, is currently in Calgary shooting “Fargo” for FX.
In his absence, however, Cumberbatch spoke highly of his co-star and the unique onscreen chemistry that they share. “There’s something that just happens. When Martin walked into the room, I raised my game… Chemistry is what happens when you’re learning from the people around you.”
New season three episodes of “Sherlock” are currently airing on PBS member stations around the U.S. on Sundays at 9:58pm ET/PT. Check your local listings.