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 Penn, Grapevine, Liza 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.
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.
“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 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.”
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.
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 Mentalist‘s” 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’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.
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.
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.”)
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.
Check out our regularly updated midseason premieres list to find out when your favorite show is coming back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Michele, Joe 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.
“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.
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.
(*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. )
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.
“Bosch’s” pilot episode is available now on Amazon.
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.
Colbert Nation, we finally have a CBS premiere date for your leader… or, rather, for the man who used to portray him. Stephen Colbert, the real one, will make his debut on “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on Tuesday, September 8.
That means nine months will have passed between the night Colbert’s fans said goodbye to the fictionalized version of himself on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report“, and his start as CBS’s main late night show host.
CBS Chairman Nina Tassler announced the news Monday morning during the network’s executive session at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour. Tassler revealed that Colbert’s “Late Show” staff, consisting of many of the writers who worked with him on “The Colbert Report,” just moved into the new show’s offices and are beginning to work on its format right now.
“Stephen has said… it takes nine months to make a baby, so he said maybe we should learn how to make a baby, which is what he’s doing,” Tassler told critics.
She went on to share a few details of Colbert’s nascent plans, confirming that he’ll have music on the show and, of course, guests. His focus remains upon being as entertaining as the people sitting across from him in the chair, she said, and he’s still keeping the focus on topical discussions of current events. But he hasn’t decided whether he’s going to have an opening monologue.
“Clearly he knows that he is introducing himself, the real Stephen Colbert, to his audience, and he’s really putting a lot of attention on making sure that the show is still topical, is still relevant, still dealing with current events. That’s really all he’s said so far,” Tassler told critics.
In contrast, James Corden‘s takeover The Late Late Show with James Corden begins much sooner, on Monday, March 23. The British star, who is part of the ensemble cast for Into the Woods, appears to have a much more casual attitude toward the impending launch of his late night show.
“We’ve been working on the show for exactly four days,” Corden deadpanned, jokingly asking for suggestions, “because we have almost no ideas.”
“We could prep for the show for a year, but it’s only in the doing of it that’s going to tell us what the show is,” Corden added. “…We want to make a warm show, a show that never feels spiky.”
It’s a good time to be on The CW.
The network might not attract huge audiences for its programs, but they’re definitely aligned with the pop culture zeitgeist. Currently on its schedule are two of the most respected superhero series on television, three supernatural series (one of which has witches, werewolves and vampires in the mix) and a teen-targeted period drama that actually works. While previous seasons saw the network pick up and flush away a number of its shows from year to year, today it boasts a solid schedule.
Reflecting that stability is The CW’s early renewal of eight of its series, including “Jane the Virgin” (starring Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez), “Reign,” “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “The Vampire Diaries,” “The Originals,” “The 100,” and “Supernatural,” which will be going into its 11th season for 2015-2016. Additionally, the network set premiere dates for its midseason series “iZombie” (premiering 9pm Tuesday, March 17) and “The Messengers” (9pm Friday, April 10) as well as revealing “Supernatural’s” midseason return date, which is 9pm Wednesday, March 18.
The announcement came during Sunday’s executive panel at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, currently underway in Pasadena, CA.
Television analysts usually don’t assign a whole lot of meaning to the Golden Globes. While it’s significant for a series or a performer to win one, the Globes have little bearing on Emmy predictions, owing to the fact that the two awards ceremonies are around seven or eight months apart. The Globes also tend to reward stardom more than programming content, or so the classic thinking goes.
But last night’s telecast of The 72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards showed how much the television landscape is evolving, granting unexpected victories to a number of surprising nominees. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is the first awards organization to give Amazon Studios its first two major honors, as “Transparent” scored a win for Best Comedy series and star Jeffrey Tambor clinched the Globe for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy.
Last night also saw The CW win its first Globe ever, with “Jane the Virgin” star and relative newcomer Gina Rodriguez getting the Globe for Best Actress in a TV Comedy. Factoring in Kevin Spacey win for Netflix’s “House of Cards,” digital series distributors went home with more Golden Globes than broadcast network series last night; Rodriguez represents the sole winner for the nets. (Joanne Froggatt also secured a Supporting Actress Globe for her work on PBS “Downton Abbey.”)
Meanwhile, Tambor and Rodriguez joined Showtime’s “The Affair” and FX’s “Fargo” at the top of the list of major upsets, as “The Affair” took Globes in Best Drama and Best Actress in a Drama categories, thanks to star Ruth Wilson‘s individual win over such heavy-hitters as Viola Davis , Claire Danes , Julianna Margulies and Robin Wright. “Fargo,” meanwhile, beat HBO’s “Olive Kitteridge” and “True Detective” in the Best TV Mini-Series or Movie race, while its star Billy Bob Thornton won a Best Actor in his category, besting “True Detective” star Matthew McConaughey.
Indeed, while awards magnet HBO enjoyed multiple nominations, the premium cable channel only claimed one win: Matt Bomer’s Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Mini-Series or Movie for The Normal Heart. That means Amazon Studios, FX and Showtime each scored more victories last night than the channel that popularly represents TV’s gold standard. Television is indeed changing with the times — and last night, the Globes recognized that.
It’s a pretty good time to be Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, co-creators of HBO’s unconventional family comedy “Togetherness”. Having made their bones in independent film, the Duplass brothers are now in demand on TV both in front of the camera and behind it. This year, Mark will wind up his stint on FX’s “The League”, and Jay will return into season two of Amazon Studios’ acclaimed comedy “Transparent.” The pair also play the memorable. insufferable male midwives Brendan and Duncan Deslaurier on Fox’s “The Mindy Project.”
“We never planned any of this,” Jay admitted. “We honestly just thought that we would just make stuff on the side, that we would just probably be editors or something. That’s what we did in our early 20s.”
“Or teachers, even,” Mark added.
“We just feel crazy lucky!” said Jay.
Their latest project, “Togetherness,” premieres 9:30 Sunday, January 11. Jay executive produces while Mark, also an EP, stars as Brett Pierson, a sound editor living in a lovely Los Angeles house with two kids and a solid, if sex starved, relationship with his wife Michelle (Melanie Lynskey). When his best friend Alex (Steve Zissis, who co-created the show with the brothers) decides to give up on his stalled acting career and head back to Detroit, Steve coaxes Alex to move in with his family instead. At the same time, Michelle’s sister Tina (Amanda Peet) decides to stay on indefinitely.
Sounds like, say, “Full House”. But it does not play out that way, not by a longshot. “Togetherness” is one of the most thought-provoking new shows on television and a stand-out among new comedies, with characters who are as hilarious as they are flawed and heartbreaking. It may also be one of the most relatable portrayals of human connection, and disconnection, that TV has shown in a long time.
We sat down with Jay and Mark Duplass at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour, currently underway in Pasadena, California, to talk about what inspired the stories viewers will see playing out over the show’s eight-episode first season.
IMDbTV: This is one of those shows that if you walked it into a broadcast network pitch meeting, they’d say, “Oh! This is like ‘Modern Family’!”
Mark: All of the elements on paper technically could make for the sh-ttiest network sitcom ever. But Jay and I talk a lot about how we make things. We actually try not to reinvent plot and story. We tend to think, ‘Use those to your advantage.’ What we like to do is pick out the chess pieces inside of the plot and replace them with different kinds of elements and let them interact in a way that’s more unique. So you’re still sending the viewers on the rollercoaster that they’ve gone up before, but hopefully the way we deliver it is unique.
IMDbTV: The last time that HBO did a show that had the same kind of typical network comedy conceit was…do you guys remember “Lucky Louie”? In retrospect, it was very much underappreciated for what it was. When you two were conceiving the show, was there any trepidation about using these frameworks that have been used previously, as Louie did?
Jay: Not really. We are so insanely picky about what excites us and what we want to be doing. We only realized later that we conceived something that could be pitched to a network, when we start talking about it objectively. The way that we talk about things is way non-conceptual.
Mark: It’s a little more myopic.
Jay: I’ll come to Mark, and I’ll say things like, “Steve (Zissis)’s” life should be a TV show.” Think about Steve, he was the guy from our high school who was the president of our high school. He got all the girls. He was the lead in all the plays, just like he says in the show. And now, he’s chubby and bald, and he’s dying in Hollywood. He’s afraid that he’s going to die with his magic inside of him, and no one’s going to get to hear or see what he’s capable of.
…Our style is documentary and verite. The stuff that we write about tends to come from our lives. At the time, we were in our late 30s, and we had young kids, and we were getting our asses kicked by these kids. But everyone was looking and us like, “You have everything. You have a house, and you have wonderful wives and family, and you have an incredible career.” But at the time…we were trying to find some kind of balance where we could be great dads and good husbands, and also keep our careers going, and we felt like we were drowning the whole time.
The more we talked about it, the more we started laughing about it. And then other people, we’d start talking to other people and they’d start laughing at us and say, “Oh yes, same stuff happened to me.”
… It was the type of thing where we were just like, “Oh my god, this is a phenomenon that’s happening to us right now, and everyone we talk to about it can relate to it.” You know, normally we would do a movie but this thing just kept going on and on. There was so much material. We were like, “Maybe we should go back and talk to HBO again.”
IMDbTV: The extraordinary thing about “Togetherness” is that there are so many comedies on right that are either about people just starting out in adulthood, or about the family. There’s not really any other situation comedy on that speaks to the mud that gets into relationships, the muck of knowing other people and having them be integrated into one’s life.
Mark: Yeah. There’s definitely something to be said for the fact that your average show either shows the beginning of the road trip, where everyone’s packing, or the last five miles of the road trip. But you don’t often get to see mile 250 of the 500 mile trip, which is kind of what our show is to a certain degree… It’s hard to describe this, but when you’re taking this sort of approach we’re discussing, which is a like, a naturalistic, honest and ideally realistic approach in portraying relationships, that storytelling is normally 100 percent dramatic and almost didactic at times. …It really felt like, there’s really not much out there that is a “hard-hitting,” naturalistic, realistic portrayal of this time in life, that also has a sense of humor about it too. That’s kind of how we see the world, so it isn’t like we had to fabricate that. It’s, luckily, what we kind of like doing.
IMDbTV: Shows that start out like “Togetherness” does – as in, there are lots of laughs, and you’re really getting to know these characters and falling in love with them through humor, and then it becomes serious without growing heavy – it seems to be very difficult to pull that kind of thing off on TV. When some shows do that, the audience almost feels betrayed.
Jay: “Hey! I’m coming to have fun on a Friday night, dude. Don’t f—k with me!” Yeah, that’s our obsession in general. We want to laugh, but we also want to go deep. That’s where tons of our energy goes. We don’t have to talk it that much, but when we start talking about tone and riding that right line, that’s when Mark and I really start to dial in exactly what we want. It’s interesting, because we don’t have to do it that much on set. On set, we’re just trying for truthful performances and we’re trying to create scenarios that are going to make people laugh after the fact. In editorial, that’s when we really start talking about, how do we dial in the right amount of pathos and the right amount of comedy here?
Because sometimes, you just want to stick the knife in and let it sit there for a little while.
Mark: Well, and sometimes the knife is funny, too. That’s when it’s the best, you know, when the moment encompasses both these things and you don’t have to think: “Time for a little comedy here!” “Time for a little drama!” Where there’s a moment where you’re like, “I know that this is sad and hard for them, but I don’t know why, I want to laugh. That’s my favorite stuff.”
IMDbTV: Yes, and I think the idea of comedy of coming from pain can be hard sell on network television.
Mark: It’s certainly celebrated in independent film, which is where we come from, so it’s not strange to us. But I don’t disagree with you – it’s not easy to find, particularly on network television. Look, TV is an enormous investment. They want to know what they’re getting. They want it more f—king dialed in, because they’re scared to lose money on it. That’s why it’s great to be at a place like HBO, where they believe in us, and support us, and let us cast our friend from high schooland make the show that we want to make — which is unheard of, really.
IMDbTV: And this year, you may find yourselves competing against each other when the Emmys roll around. Are you two ready for that?
Jay: We talked about it.
Mark: We each brought our own therapists into the room, and we decided to just let our therapists have a boxing match and figure out what would happen. (Laughs.) I honestly have not even thought about that. Honestly, my first instinct is that it would be horrible if Jay and I were nominated in the same category for different shows, so that can’t happen. But at the same time…
Jay: If we’re both nominated, it’s like, what are you talking about? It would be the coolest thing in the world! I mean, honestly, the fact that I’m going the Golden Globes is insane to me. I’m going to be sitting with Jeffrey Tambor this year.
Mark: And you’re going to watch him in a Golden Globe.
Jay: I hope so. It would be amazing.
IMDbTV: Last question: If anyone were to sit down with you and ask you to recommend a TV series – besides the obvious answer – what would you tell them?
Mark: Go buy – immediately – “The Staircase”. It’s a 2004 series from the Sundance Channel. For those of you who are fans of Serial, get ready to have your minds blown wide open.
Jay: I agree with that. That was huge.
Get your whiskey and your rocks glasses ready, ladies and gentlemen. AMC has scheduled the seven-episode last call for “Mad Men” to begin at 10pm Sunday, April 5.
“Now that it’s sort of over, it’s such a relief that it’s not over,” series creator Matthew Weiner quipped to to the television reporters covering the show’s final panel at the TCA Winter Press Tour. Jon Hamm, who will forever be known as Don Draper, seemed equally hesitant to say goodbye. This is understandable for a long list of reasons, not the least of which being that Weiner and “Mad Men” pulled Hamm and the rest of the show’s actors out of near-obscurity to make them a huge stars. “I will be happy when the shows air and I won’t have to talk like I don’t know how it ends, or make up some story about robots or zombies or something. But I will never be able to have this again,” he said. “That’s a drag.”
They can all cheer up. Though “Mad Men” didn’t score any nominations in major categories for this round of the Golden Globes (which airs tomorrow at 5pm PT/8pm ET on NBC) the series is expected to get its due on Emmy nominations morning this year. To date, “Mad Men” has won four Outstanding Drama Emmys, having been nominated in the category seven times.
The departure of “Mad Men” leaves a void not only in our hearts, but on AMC’s schedule. Though the network also announced today that it has an eight-episode mafia-origins miniseries in production, titled “Making of the Mob: New York,” “Mad Men” is the show that established AMC as one of basic cable’s premium content destinations. Losing both this show and “Breaking Bad” means tougher times ahead in the ratings during any period of time that “The Walking Dead” is not on the air. (Thus, the “Walking Dead” spinoff.) The network has yet to find an inheritor to “Mad Men’s” mantle, although it’s not for lack of trying. But neither “Halt and Catch Fire” nor “Turn” has caught on with audiences.
For the time being, AMC is pinning its hopes upon “Better Call Saul” to recapture some of “Breaking Bad’s” magic. “Saul” is the first original that AMC is airing on Monday nights; it settles into its regular 10pm Monday timeslot on February 9 following a special Sunday night premiere at 10pm on February 8. Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad” and its prequel, knows that both fan and network expectations for “Saul” are high.
What is Norman Bates capable of? We may find out during season three of A&E’s “Bates Motel,” which premieres at 9pm Monday, March 9. The third season premiere serves as the lead-in to the series premiere of “The Returned,” a remake of the French series “Les Revenants,” at 10pm.
Although “Bates Motel,” which stars Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore, did not present at TCA, the press release revealed a few details about season three: “After a blissful summer of closeness with his mother, living within the safe confines of home and the Bates Motel, Norman’s fears about what really happened with Blaire Watson resurface and Norma questions what really happened. Forced to look at the truths about Norman for the first time, their deeply intricate relationship continues to evolve. Norma finds herself turning to the other man in her life, Norman’s half-brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot) and begins to rely on him in ways that she never expected. This relationship inevitably triggers jealousy in Norman and a new kind of love triangle between Norma and her two sons erupts.”
A&E’s version of “The Returned” is executive produced by Carlton Cuse and Raelle Tucker and has a strong cast that includes Mark Pellegrino, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Sandrine Holt, Jeremy Sisto, Kevin Alejandro, India Ennenga, and Michelle Forbes.
Here’s the official network description: “The Returned”… focuses on a small town that is turned upside down when several local people, who have been long presumed dead suddenly reappear, bringing with them both positive and detrimental consequences. As families are reunited, the lives of those who were left behind are challenged on a physical and emotional level. Interpersonal relationships are examined with intrigue and depth as strange phenomena begin to occur.
The premiere announcements were made during the A&E Networks presentation at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour on Friday morning.
“Game of Thrones“ fans, now our watch begins. It shall not end until… 9pm Sunday, April 12, when the ten-episode fifth season premieres on HBO.
The return to Westeros kicks off a night of big premieres on the premium cable channel, leading in to the second season premiere of “Silicon Valley” at 10pm and the fourth season premiere of “Veep” at 10:30pm. The premiere dates announcements were made during HBO’s presentation at the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour on Thursday afternoon.
HBO also announced the renewal of “Real Time with Bill Maher” for that show’s 14th and 15th seasons, each with 35 episodes, set to premiere in 2016 and 2017 respectively. On the documentary front, the Laura Poitras-directed Edward Snowden documentary “Citizenfour” makes its HBO debut at 9pm Monday, February 23. Prior to that doc’s premiere, however, comes the premiere of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” airing Sundays between February 8 and March 15. Directed and produced by Andrew Jarecki, and filmed by Marc Smerling, the Oscar-nominated pair who brought us Capturing the Friedmans, this is expected to be a high profile cinema verité series that’s drawing comparisons to the overwhelming popularity of the podcast Serial.
It’s also the second cable production that explores the story of Robert Durst, the billionaire who was accused of three murders over the past three decades but has never been convicted. Investigation Discovery’s upcoming series “Vanity Fair Confidential” will present an episode on the Durst case. (That series premieres on Monday, January 19 at 9pm.)
Over on Cinemax, the network confirmed that “Strike Back” is set to return this summer for its fourth and final season, and the channel’s breakout drama “The Knick,” starring Clive Owen, will return for a second season in the fall. Exact premiere dates and timeslots have yet to be announced.
Missing from today’s announcements was a premiere date for the highly anticipated series “Westworld,” due to premiere on HBO later this year, but the channel’s upcoming comedy “The Brink,” with a cast that includes Jack Black, Tim Robbins and Pablo Schreiber, will be on the air this summer.
January means a lot of different things. For many, it’s the start of a long quest to make and keep resolutions. For others, it means post-holiday relief, followed by the descent of the post-holiday blues like a coastal fog.
Meanwhile, Pasadena, California, braces for the Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour, which began Wednesday, January 7 and runs through January 20. The Press Tour occurs twice annually, and gives broadcast and cable networks, PBS and online distributors including Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Studios (which is not presenting this time), the opportunity to showcase the latest additions to their line-ups. More than 220 journalists are members of the Television Critics Association, and a significant portion of them are attending the 2015 Winter Press Tour to cover all the news that breaks — including yours truly, IMDb’s Television Editor.
We’ll be providing live coverage of the Winter Press Tour starting today, Thursday, with HBO’s afternoon session. Live coverage can be enjoyed by following our Twitter feeds at @IMDbTV and @IMDbMelanie, and check IMDbTV’s Facebook page for regular updates.
Here are highlights from the tour so far:
Netflix sets premieres for “Daredevil,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and more. A late addition to the Press Tour line-up, Netflix presented panels for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Bloodline,” and the second season of “The Fall,” and announced premiere dates for a number of its originals, as well as a second season pick-up for “Marco Polo.” Perhaps the most surprising announcement was that the series premiere of “Daredevil” is much closer than many originally thought: All thirteen one-hour episodes of the action hero series, which stars Charlie Cox and Deborah Ann Woll, will box on Friday, April 10, at 12:01am PT.
Arriving sooner is Tina Fey‘s hillarious new comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” which made the jump from NBC to Netflix and stars Ellie Kemper as an optimistic doomsday cult survivor. All 13 episodes premiere on Friday, March 6. I’ve seen three of them and I have to admit, I might just take that day off so I can binge-watch the other ten. Seriously funny comedy. (I sat down with a few other reporters to talk to Fey and Kemper; those interviews will post closer to the premiere.)
“Bloodline,” a dark family drama from the creators of “Damages,” boasts a cast of major film and television talent that includes Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, Linda Cardellini and Sam Shepard. It bows on Friday, March 20.
Out of all the new series premiering in midseason, Fox’s “Empire” may be one of the best bets and the biggest gambles. Though set in the world of the hip-hop industry, and buoyed by an infectious soundtrack produced by Timbaland, the show is less about rap and R&B than it is about power and deep-seated family conflict, played out in a very glamorous, high-profile arena. These are familiar themes to anyone who has ever been hooked on a primetime soap like “Dallas.” If that’s your bag, you should definitely check out “Empire.”
But it’s been a very long time since Fox or any network backed a drama led by an African-American cast for an extended amount of time. As diverse as the 2014-2015 season may be — and most of the credit for that goes to ABC, let’s be honest — “Empire” feels like one of those terrific shows that premieres with a splash but face an uphill battle in the ratings after that. That said, I sincerely hope that this show wins over an audience that’s passionately fascinated with it.
“Empire” does have a lot working in its favor. The show’s pedigree is impressive, with auteur director Lee Daniels helming the series and Emmy-winning screenwriter Danny Strong co-executive producing beside him. (The pair previously worked together on Lee Daniels’s The Butler.) Hip-hop also is one of the most lucrative cultural products on the planet, permeating the further flung corners of the world in various forms, from Banksy’s murals to Jay-Z’s stadium shows. But it all comes back to the music, which is at its best when its poetry is raw, philosophical and speaks to every layer of society.
“Empire’s” pilot examines dichotomy between the deep soul and shallow excess existing within hip-hop through the prism of one man, Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who rose from his start as a street hustler to become the CEO of Empire Records. At the height of his game, Lucious is diagnosed with a debilitating disease that will leave him a shell of his former self within three years. So he turns his focus on deciding on which of his sons will inherit the company, and this threatens to spark a war between the three of them.
Lucious has hunger and genius in him, and so do his sons Andre (Trai Byers), Jamal (Jussie Smollett) and Hakeem (Bryshere Gray). But while Andre, the eldest, channels his business acumen into growing the family business, his youngest brother Hakeem is living the rich rapper stereotype – drinking, spending tons of money and sleeping around.
Even so, Lucious favors him over Jamal, the child who displays profound musical talent and production skills, even saving his wayward brother from recording a terrible track that could end his career before it starts. Jamal’s gifts are where the money can be made in the long run, but Lucious is too blinded by his shame over Jamal’s homosexuality to cultivate his career.
Another wrinkle arrives in the form of Lucious’s ex-wife and former drug dealing partner Cookie (Taraji P. Henson), who took the fall for Lucious. She gets an early release from prison and returns to claim a financial stake in the label – one of many secrets is that it was built on a foundation of drug money — and to bring Jamal under her wing as his manager. But Cookie is as mercurial and cunning as Lucious, and shows signs of being less interested in protecting and nurturing her son than using him as a tool to destroy her ex and take over the company.
Henson and Howard are still great together onscreen. The pair previously won acclaim for their work in Hustle & Flow, and each brings a signature fire “Empire”. The scenes they have together are more of a tense, electrified tango than a dialogue exchange, capturing the spirit of a pair of exes who still respect one another but hide knives in their sleeves just in case.
“Empire” has a winning cadence, and like any good nighttime soap, it’s probably about as accurate a portrayal of the music industry as “Falcon Crest” was about the winemaking business, but that’s beside the point. What’s novel about this show is the way that it uses the family drama hook to examine some of the uglier aspects of one of pop culture’s most lucrative and celebrated platforms. Hip-hop culture has taken its knocks (rightly so) for its cavalier promotion of sexism, materialism and excess, but although discussions about the culture’s tacit acceptance of homophobia bubble to the surface now and then, this may be one of the most public arenas in which it plays out.
One devastating scene in the pilot shows Lucious’s rage-filled reaction to seeing Jamal, shown as a young boy, emerge from his parents’ bedroom to show off in front of houseguests while wearing his mother’s heels and a scarf on his head. Making it particularly shattering is the fact that it’s based on a real event from Daniels’ life when he did the same thing, leading to his father angrily tossing him into a garbage can.
That this is something that we’re seeing this is a primetime show, along with a number of other details that ring true, is a small revolution in itself. How intelligently and effectively these issues are explored in subsequent episodes will be the real test – and I hope Fox gives this show time to develop these stories as well as all the Lyons’ family drama.
“Empire” premieres at 9pm Wednesday, January 7 on Fox.
Anyone who delighted in seeing Jason Bourne do serious damage to a knife-wielding opponent while armed with nothing but a pen, knows how satisfying it is to watch an expert fighter work magic with mundane devices. One can savor a similar thrill tonight during the first of two episodes of “Agent Carter‘s” eight-episode run on ABC, when the determined Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) efficiently beats a villain senseless with a stapler. I should mention that she does so while wearing a platinum blonde wig and full length evening gown. What’s that famous quote from the late, great Texas governor Ann Richards about women being just as capable as men? Ah yes: “Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards, and in high heels.”
After World War II and Captain America’s disappearance, Peggy Carter dances as nimbly as ever… though the world is no longer playing her tune. Sidelined within the boys club that is the Strategic Scientific Reserve, aka the SSR, Agent Carter is relegated to answering phones and fetching coffee. But watching our heroine grapple with sexism isn’t the main thrust of this show. Rather, we’re invited along for the ride as Peggy Carter demonstrates all of the ways that she refuses to let a dour manly man’s world keep her behind a desk, or from saving the day. Seeing Peggy get her fire back as she resumes her life as an operative, unbeknownst to her clueless co-workers, makes “Agent Carter” exciting television.
Remember how shakily “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” began? That show struggled to find its identity at first, striving to balance its role as a bridge between the Avengers theatrical releases and working as a freestanding vehicle. It only began to find its footing until late into season one. “Agent Carter’s” vision is much clearer out of the gate, and her story stands on its own brilliantly. Although snippets from Captain America: The First Avenger appear in tonight’s opener, the Chris Evans cameos woven into these episodes serve as the nylon on the show’s legs. No, this is Atwell’s vehicle to drive; the confident, sly smile on her face after Peggy pulls off a particularly jolting escapade is enough to make a person commit to seeing this limited series through to the end.
Her undercover work is at odds with her day job however; this time, she’s battling to clear the name of Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, also reprising his role from Captain America). In 1946, Captain America has been transformed from a flesh and blood hero into a cartoon character at the center of his own radio serial. In the same way that his exploits have blurred into legend during the deep exhale of peacetime, Agent Carter’s colleagues think of the woman who guided Steve Rogers and the Howling Commandos as nothing more than the Captain’s girlfriend. Chad Michael Murray, Kyle Bornheimer and Shea Whigham play Carter’s less enlightened peers, although one of her fellow agents, Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) treats her with a level of respect and chivalry reminiscent of the Captain. That could have something to do with the fact that Sousa’s co-workers have all but kicked him aside too, thanks to a crippling injury sustained in the war.
The only person who truly prizes Carter’s know-how is Stark, and he enlists her assistance after a few of his deadliest inventions are stolen and begin popping up on the black market, making him as public enemy number one. While he’s on the run from the authorities, Stark lends Carter the services of his manservant Edwin Jarvis (a well-cast James D’Arcy) who, like Miss Carter, maintains a sense of propriety even in the most life threatening situations. D’Arcy and Atwell play off of one another quite well, particularly as it becomes clearer that Stark’s woes are only part of a deadlier master plan woven by forces that may be beyond their ken.
Perhaps not: One clear mission that “Agent Carter” embarks upon is in showing the heroism in normal people with nothing superhuman about them. Peggy Carter wears a mask and costume every day in the office, and in one gorgeously staged scene, she’s neatly dressed up in her lost hero’s red, white and blue while the world around her hums along in pale jackets and beige uniforms. Her pulse-racing adventures in espionage happen when she’s off the clock and in the dark, making her the secret weapon nobody expects. She works the fact that her colleagues underestimate her at every turn to her advantage.
This also is the case, one suspects, when it comes to wider expectations for this show. ABC hasn’t scored a decisive win out of midseason for some time, and spinoff can be tough to sell to winter-weary audiences. But if the remaining episodes of “Agent Carter” are as tightly executed as the first two, one hopes Marvel fills Peggy Carter’s dance card with more adventures in the future.
“Agent Carter” premieres with back-to-back episodes on Tuesday, January 5 at 8pm on ABC.
There’s a curious frustration I reserve for a show like ABC’s “Galavant,” a musical comedy that gets pretty much everything in the prescribed formula right, yet still comes up agonizingly short of being recommendable. Granted, two words in the previous sentence disqualify this fairy tale…spoof? Parody?…outright, and that is the phrase “musical comedy.” Said term makes some viewers itch at the very reading of it, and if you’re one of these people, nothing that anyone says will convince you to watch this show.
But those viewers are less of a concern to ABC than whether “Galavant” will connect with everyone else — particularly those of us who, for reasons we can barely remember now, used to be head over heels in love with the only other musical series in recent memory to find success in primetime, “Glee.” If this odd comedy fails, it won’t be for lack of trying. That, at least, deserves appreciation.
If nothing else, you should watch Sunday’s premiere if only to appreciate the fact that something as out there as this show made it into the primetime line-up at all. One could guess that somebody sprinkled too much of Tinkerbell’s pixie dust into the water at ABC’s offices during last year’s pilot season, but we’re talking about a network that’s desperate to find any new comedies that work. Why not “Galavant”? Why not, indeed? We’ll get to that soon enough.
First, let’s explain “Galavant”: The title character is a brave hero (played by Joshua Sasse) whose exploits are celebrated in song and lyrics throughout the land. “Square jaw and perfect hair/cojones out to there!…Yay! He rules in every way! A fairy tale cliché!” Galavant’s greatest challenge arises when his lady love, Madalena (Mallory Jansen) is kidnapped by the evil King Richard (Timothy Omundson) who intends to force her to be his queen. Therefore Galavant rides to the rescue of Madalena, only to discover that she doesn’t really want to be rescued.
As demonstrated by the kidnapping business, King Richard is kind of a rhymes-with-Rick whose most recent exploits include conquering the nearby kingdom of Valencia. That kingdom’s princess, Isabella (Karen David), seeks out Galavant to help her reclaim her land and free her people. Unfortunately by the time she’s found Galavant, he’s a sedentary drunk who can’t even be moved to rise from bed by his squire Sid (Luke Youngblood, recognizable to “Community‘s” fans as Magnitude). Eventually he manages to stand up again, and they take the fun on the road.
On paper “Galavant” reads like a show with promise; on the screen, it looks like the loony love child of “The Princess Bride” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Each musical number also is filled with crisp humor that’s family friendly yet rich with double entendres, many not particularly subtle, brought to us by combined talents of executive producer Dan Fogelman (who wrote “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and co-wrote “Tangled“), lyricist Glenn Slater (also of “Tangled”), and celebrated Broadway musical composer Alan Menken. Most of the cast is a hoot, as are the guest stars; it’s a treat to see Vinnie Jones hamming it up as King Richard’s muscle Gareth, and Ricky Gervais shows up to play a magician in a future episode. This Sunday, John Stamos makes an appearance as Galavant’s nemesis, an equally handsome and skilled knight named…Jean Hamm. Get it?
All of this sounds like a bounty of fun, right? As successful as most of the punchlines are, though, they land with the subtlety of an artillery assault — and behind all of these zingers, you’ll find very little heart or real warmth. Even the most sugary meringue of a successful Broadway musical is tethered to Earth by genuine emotion; it’s the ingredient that gives rise to all of those catchy melodies that sell soundtracks. “Galavant,” though, is so set on winning over the skeptical primetime audience with its wild uniqueness that it forgot to fill its colorful settings and armor with a dose of humanity and soul. The jokes grow old very quickly.
At the moment the series is only eight episodes long. That may be tidy enough for a number of viewers to stick around and see if “Galavant” eventually arrives at some version of happily ever after. But don’t be surprised if you get to the end of the first episode, or maybe the second, and find yourself willing to close the book on this brave little comedy with a succinct and simple, “Good luck with all that.”
“Galavant” premieres 8pm Sunday, January 4 on ABC.
Before we dive into the meat of “Homeland‘s” season four finale, written by IMDb User MikeSaros, let me just say that I would be perfectly fine with season five turning its focus from Carrie (Claire Danes) to Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend). Sure, we like Carrie quite a bit, and she’s our constant in this series, but at this point Quinn feels like an interesting character that I’d love to know more about. “Homeland” has already proven its ability to shed central characters in the name of moving forward with renewed focus on the next mission, so maybe it’s time give Ms. Mathison a rest for a while to explore what makes Quinn tick.
Am I alone in this?
Ponder that possibility after you’ve read the full blow-by-blow recap of this episode.
We open “Homeland’s” fourth season finale with Carrie back in the United States preparing for her father’s funeral at her sister’s place. Dar Adal shows up looking for Quinn. Carrie hasn’t seen him and assumes he’s still in Islamabad hunting down Haqqani. Adal tells her that Haqqani has disappeared, with full protection of the Pakistani military.
Saul is also back stateside, having been given a full year’s severance from his private sector gig. He wants back into the CIA but Mira doesn’t think that’s a possibility.
While at the park with Fannie, Carrie runs into a friend of her father’s. She learns that her father believed in her and always knew she’d return to take care of her daughter.
Carrie returns to her sister’s and is shocked to find her mother Ellen in the kitchen. Carrie wants no part of the woman who has been gone from their lives for 15 years and chases her off.
Saul has a meeting about perhaps getting back involved with the CIA. The biggest obstacle seems to be the video of him with Haqqani. The sense is that as soon as it surfaces Saul will be “persona non grata.”
Carrie gives a moving eulogy at Frank’s funeral. She talks about her father helping raising her daughter when she couldn’t be there. Outside the church she spots Quinn. They embrace. On the way to her house he said after Haqqani disappeared his German friend helped him get out of Pakistan. She tells him about having a shot at Haqqani and Khan stepping in. She tells him about the visit from Adal. They agree Quinn should steer clear.
Later Saul takes Carrie aside and says there was no official contact between the US and Pakistan. Saul never mentioned Adal by name and thinks the two of them should keep Adal’s presence in Haqqani’s vehicle to themselves for the moment.
After a night of cocktails and reminiscing, Carrie walks Quinn to his car. They kiss, but she immediately says she thinks a relationship would be a mistake, that she would mess it up somehow. Quinn has seen her at her very worst and wants to give it a shot. He says he needs her to help keep him away from the CIA and begin a normal life. She agrees only to consider the possibility of a relationship.
That night Carrie goes though some old pictures of her father. She has a revelation and the following morning tells her sister she’s going to drive to St. Louis and track down Ellen. She wants her mother to tell her face-to-face why she left.
A member of Quinn’s CIA group pays him a visit in person and tells him about a mission to get some IS agents. It leaves the following night. Quinn passes, but he gives him a pretty strong guilt trip about how the mission has a significantly reduced chance of success without him.
After driving all night Carrie arrives at Ellen’s door. She’s greeted by a teenage boy who tells her Ellen’s at her work. Carrie says only that she’s “a friend.” At her school Ellen tells Carrie the boy she met was her half brother. They agree to talk later that day when Ellen gets off work.
Saul and Adal meet. Adal says with Lockhart about to step down he think he can get Saul’s name to the top of the list as the next director. Saul doesn’t think it’s possible given the video. Adal hands him a copy of the video, saying Haqqani has given him the assurance it will never see the light of day. Adal says he “reached out” Haqqani. The deal was that if Haqqani didn’t harbor terrorists Adal would take his name off the kill list. Haqqani’s surrender of Saul’s video was a gesture of good faith. Adal asks him to “come back, lead us.”
Quinn calls Carrie, having heard she drove to Missouri. Carrie doesn’t give him an answer about a relationship, but when he offers to fly out and see her she says she has too much on her plate at the moment.
Ellen tells Carrie she left the family after becoming pregnant with Carrie’s half-brother, Tim. Frank didn’t know about the pregnancy, but Ellen admits she’d had several affairs and they ultimately ruined the marriage. She blames herself for what happened. Carrie tells Ellen about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and not having a mother when she most needed one. She was under the impression Ellen left because people with the illness Carrie and Frank share are incapable of maintaining long-term relationships. Ellen assures her that’s not the case.
After the conversation with her mother Carrie is desperate to speak with Quinn. When she finds his phone has been disconnected, she calls Adal.
We see Quinn show up at the airstrip. He’s headed out with his team.
The following day Carrie drives to Adal’s home. She demands to speak with Quinn, but he tells her Quinn’s team has gone dark. The mission sounds dangerous and it’s unclear when Quinn will return. Carrie threatens to expose Adal’s meeting with Haqqani to the media if she isn’t granted access to Quinn. She thinks a deal with Haqqani dishonored those killed at the embassy and if Saul knew about it “he’d spit in your face.” Adal responds that she should asks him herself and takes him out back where Saul himself is sitting. Carrie looks absolutely stunned and leaves the house without another word. The season ends with Carrie driving away.
Before Walter White was merely a shade in Saul Goodman’s nightmares, Saul was a schlubby ambulance chaser named Jimmy M. McGill. In this exclusive photo from AMC’s upcoming series “Better Call Saul,” starring Bob Odenkirk, it’s clear that even though Jimmy wears a cheap suit and has an office in a strip mall, the man who will become Saul Goodman still cares about the details — right down to the monogram on his cheap leather briefcase.
“Better Call Saul” premieres at 10pm Sunday, February 8 on AMC. Are you excited to watch the “Breaking Bad” prequel?