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People of Earth gives TBS some space


People of Earth also has a deer in the headlights. TBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 31st at 8 p.m. (central) on TBS with back-to-back episodes
Starring: Wyatt Cenac, Ana Gasteyer, Oscar Nunez, Michael Cassidy, Brian Huskey, Luka Johes, Alice Wetterlund, Nancy Lenehan, Tracee Chimo, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Bjorn Gustafsson, Ken Hall
Produced by: Conan O’Brien, Greg Daniels, David Jenkins, Larry Sullivan, Dan Halsted, Jeff Ross, David Kissinger

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
My Favorite Martian. Mork & Mindy. ALF. 3rd Rock From the Sun. And Saturday Night Live’s “The Coneheads.”

Aliens from above have a long history of being played for laughs. TBS’ People of Earth takes this baton and wryly trots with it. There’s no laugh track and the humor tends to be on the down low. But by the end of the first four episodes made available for review, People of Earth has built a small-town universe with just enough quirks and intrigue to keep its premise in play. It has both heart and a sense of the absurd, making it increasingly “accessible” with the proviso that you’re just not going to get a laugh riot.

The central character, Ozzie Graham (former Daily Show writer/correspondent Wyatt Cenac), is a soft-spoken big-city journalist who’s sent to little Beacon, NY for what’s supposed to be a one and done story on wackos who think they’ve been abducted by aliens. He quickly learns that “experiencers” is the proper terminology, and that he’d better not say “abductors” ever again.

A small Catholic Church serves as the meeting place for this exclusive Star Crossed support group, with Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer) conducting the sessions as a former professional psychiatrist who now toils at the Crockery Hutch. All the experiencers have a common recollection. They were told “You are special” before being set free. A milquetoast middle-ager named Richard Shenk (Children’s Hospital alum Brian Huskey) arguably is the most unhinged of the bunch. Episode 3 provides him with an optimum chance to prove that. Luka Jones is very marginally more stable as toll booth worker Gerry Johnson, who bids to become Ozzie’s new best friend.

Ozzie has his own demons. Did he really hit a deer in the middle of a remote highway en route to Beacon? Or is something else at work? It doesn’t help his psyche when a talking deer head recurrently pops up to creep him out.

People of Earth also spends some time aboard a spacecraft. This is where a “conventional” looking alien with bug eyes and a bulbous head (Ken Hall as Jeff the Grey) tries to control the events down below with Don the White (Bjorn Gustafsson), a Nordic-looking extraterrestrial with long blonde hair. But they might as well be two humans kvetching at each other, which makes it all the more amusing, considering they’re not.

Meanwhile, Ozzie’s irksome big-city boss, Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy), has both matinee idol looks and an appetite for more “fantastic click bait” about Beacon’s “experiencers.” He has other reasons as well, but let’s just leave it there because you’ll learn soon enough.

The show’s principal executive producers, Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels, seem to have found just the right earthling in Cenac. His reactions to the bizarre goings-on around him tend to be deadpan without being comatose. A certain presidential candidate would deem him “low energy,” but People of Earth wouldn’t be well-suited to a high-pitched Don Knotts-ian approach. No worries, though. Cenac is quite a bit more animated than deadpan comedy king Steven Wright.

It all fittingly begins on Halloween night with back-to-back half-hours. And if you settle in with them, People of Earth just might abduct you. Er, pull you in as a faithful new “experiencer.”


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Docs in smocks fight these battles in CBS' "Bunker Hill"-set Pure Genius


An idealistic billionaire and an ace surgeon put their heads together at a state-of-the-art medical emporium in Pure Genius. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 27th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Augustus Prew, Odette Annable, Reshma Shetty, Aaron Jennings, Ward Horton, Brenda Song
Produced by: Jason Katims, Michelle Lee

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The prognosis for a solid, quality drama series is at least cautiously optimistic when Jason Katims is at the controls.

His recent executive producer credits include Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, both for NBC. Pure Genius is for CBS, and it’s also Katims’ first medical drama. Compared to the network’s frenetic and ongoing Code Black, it’s also a bit of a chill pill. The patients are rolled out at a much slower pace, and there’s ample time to ruminate on how to fix them at cutting edge, damn-the-costs Bunker Hill hospital.

Billionaire James Bell (Augustus Prew), who’s also very smart, built the place to puzzle out solutions to an array of life or death crises. All of the experimental treatments are free, which saves a lot of paperwork.

Bell, who has a so far incurable degenerative disease of his own, wants a maverick surgeon named Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney) as his new chief of staff. Wallace, who’s both resistant and refreshingly low-key, is first seen being dismissed by a hospital board of directors for performing an unauthorized procedure that didn’t pan out. But this is exactly the kind of forward-thinking sawbones that Bell wants. “Welcome to the revolution,” he says while Wallace mulls his options throughout most of Thursday’s premiere episode, the only one made available for review.

Bunker Hill’s super-dedicated staff includes a doctor with the longest surname in TV history. She’s Talaikha Channarayapatra (Reshma Shetty), described in CBS publicity materials as “an idealistic, maddeningly literal neurosurgeon.” To say nothing of her mind-bending Twitter handle.

Dr. Zoe Brockett (Odette Annable) is also in the house as a “fearlessly frank physician” who makes Bell’s heart go pitter pat. Not that he can bring himself to tell her this -- not just yet anyway.

The rest of the racially diverse staff is made up of Dr. Malik Verlaine (Aaron Jennings), a former “gangbanger;” Ivy Leaguer Dr. Scott Strauss (Ward Horton); and “3-D printer programming whiz” Brenda Song (Angie Cheng).

Pure Genius has a suitably impressive high-tech look to it, and the two major cases on opening night are both pretty involving. A pregnant woman with a cancerous tumor that’s choking her heart faces the grim prospect of two lives lost. A teenage girl who’s been in a coma for six months is still a pet project of Bell’s. But is it time to pull the plug rather than continuing to tell her parents that all will be well someday?

The cancer/pregnancy storyline unfortunately takes a rather predictable turn in terms of the woman’s suspiciously hard-praying husband. But the dynamics between the willful Bell and his staff are well-played throughout. And of course, Dr. Wallace is wooed in the end, just before Bell has a touching encounter with his possible future self.

The arrivals of Pure Genius and the sitcom The Great Indoors (ugh) signal the end of this season’s abbreviated Thursday Night Football package on CBS. Some potential viewers will simply migrate to the still somewhat obscure NFL Network for the next three Thursdays before the far more accessible NBC partners up for a five-week TNF run that begins on Nov. 17th.

Both new CBS series will get hit hard when the Peacock happily adds Thursdays to its NFL portfolio. But Pure Genius may prove compelling enough to lock down its own nice-sized fan base by that time. Here’s to its long-term ratings health as a medical series that, unlike Code Black, has an overall calming effect.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

McHale's nadir -- as the star of CBS' new The Great Indoors


Joel McHale takes the money and slogs through The Great Indoors. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 27th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Joel McHale, Susannah Fielding, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown, Stephen Fry, Chris Williams
Produced by: Mike Gibbons, Chris Harris, Andy Ackerman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ageism isn’t only aimed at today’s elders. In the sad case of CBS’ The Great Indoors, it can also be applied to millennials.

Joel McHale once knew the glory of NBC’s arguably over-praised Community. For whatever reason (money), he’ll soon be thudding his way through a “traditional” multi-camera CBS sitcom filmed before a live studio audience and equipped with an annoying laugh track sweetener whenever necessary -- which is often. Still, we may have a TV first here in next week’s Episode 2. Has a declaration of masturbation ever been greeted with joyous whoops from the audience? It takes so little these days.

McHale, who in real life will reach the ripe old age of 45 next month, stars as bragging adventurer Jack Gordon. The poor guy is summoned back from the wild to preside over an untamed brood of young dweebs. They’ll be primarily responsible for ushering in the new age of Chicago-based Outdoor Limits magazine, which is ending its print days and going exclusively online. So far, their most re-tweeted post is “Best Outdoor Gear for the Zombie Apocalypse.”

Clark, Emma and Mason (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown) are all utterly insulated from the “real world.” The millennials in turn view Jack as an ewww-inducing primitive.

“He has no Twitter, no Facebook,” says Emma. “It’s like he doesn’t exist.”

Jack tries to interest them in the plight of an endangered species of bear, but makes no initial progress.

“You guys don’t know what it’s like to look at a creature that is the last of its kind,” he says in exasperation.

You guys know what’s coming next. “Yeah, we do,” Clark, Emma and Mason say in unison.

The Great Indoors otherwise sprinkles in three supporting characters. Roland (Stephen Fry) is the paunchy, punchy, Scotch-swilling founder of Outdoor Limits. His cute daughter, Brooke (Susannah Fielding), with whom Jack of course once slept, will now be his new immediate boss. Away from the workplace, Jack drinks old school cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon at a less than five-star Irish pub run by his best pal, Eddie (Chris Williams). “You look sick to your stomach,” Eddie tells Jack early in Episode 2. “I told you never to eat the food in here.”

Most of the punchlines land with the dexterity of a nerd trying to catch or throw a baseball, although batty Roland occasionally gets off a halfway funny one. The show overall is so relentlessly one-joke and stereotypical that one wonders how it can possibly carry on for more than a few weeks.

“I can’t exist in this world. And I can’t get through to these kids,” Jack inevitably laments before trying anew in a second episode built around dating apps and his strong aversion to them. He soon finds himself being described as a “confused old man” who got “grandpa’d out even harder” than anticipated.

Jack technically is a Gen Xer. But he might as well be the Quaker Oats man in the eyes of millennials getting the same broad brush treatment. It’s a wonder they can even feed themselves in a comedy that force-feeds its concept and swallows McHale whole in the process.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

What the deuce? BBC America's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency careens into view


Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett propel the crazed Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, adapted from the Douglas Adams novels. BBC America photo

Premiering: Saturday, Oct. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on BBC America
Starring: Elijah Wood, Samuel Barnett, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, Fiona Dourif, Mpho Koaho, Aaron Douglas, Richard Schiff, Neil Brown Jr., Miguel Sandoval, Dustin Milligan
Produced by: Max Landis, Robert Cooper

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Trying to comprehend the intendedly absurd goings-on in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency may be completely beside the point.

Those who have devoured the swervy, same-named Douglas Adams books could very well find themselves immensely entertained. Those who haven’t -- guilty as charged -- at least can admire the energy, cheekiness and slick production values without caring all that much how everything comes out. BBC America is offering eight Season One episodes of this twisted tale, which has been described by the author himself as “a thumping good detective-ghost horror-whodunit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.” Not necessarily in that order.

Three episodes were made available for review of a series that begins with a straight-ahead horrific crime scene in a posh Seattle hotel suite. Stumbling upon it is put-upon bellhop Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood), who desperately needs his next paycheck in advance to start putting a dent in his mounting debts. Instead he’s fired for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wood, whose last TV series, FX’s Wilfred), found him in the strange company of a dude dressed as a dog, has perfected the art of looking utterly exasperated. He’s called on to do this often when the eccentric and effete Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) breaks into his apartment and pronounces himself a “holistic detective” who gets “intrinsically connected” to cases without having any firm ideas on how to solve them. “I’m a leaf in the stream of creation,” he tells Todd in Episode 2.

Despite his protestations -- “I’m not your Watson, asshole!” -- Todd gets roped into puzzling out the murder of millionaire Patrick Spring, who was among the hotel suite corpses. The duo is also looking for Spring’s kidnapped daughter, Lydia, who -- wouldn’t you know it? -- has somehow adapted the identity of a dog while in the captivity of a very high-strung guy named Gordon Rimmer (Aaron Douglas).

Todd otherwise is a recovering “Pararibulitiis” sufferer whose sister, Amanda (Hannah Marks), still has the hallucinatory disease. This is a somewhat mild affliction compared to what Bartine Curlish (Fiona Dourif) is going through. Dirt-and-blood-encrusted with badly stained teeth as well, Bartine is a self-described “holistic assassin” who can’t be hurt and has “never killed the wrong person. I have killed a lot of people, though.” A terrified computer hacker named Ken (Mpho Koaho) ends up being her very reluctant partner during a careening search for Gently, who’s on Bartine’s hit list.

The series also has a pair of semi-comical investigative teams headed by veteran character actors Richard Schiff (The West Wing) and Miguel Sandoval (Medium). A marauding, knuckle-dragging group known as The Rowdy 3, which actually is a foursome, adds extra layers of mayhem as vampires who exist on the “electrical energy of the human mind” in lieu of blood. And so on.

Barnett is quippy and somewhat endearing as the crazily intuitive Gently, whose mysterious past is slowly peeled away. When Todd again protests his presence -- “Dirk, this is my apartment” -- the lad replies, “Oh, is that why you’re here?” This exchange occurs in Episode 3, which also has am impressively fantastical visual sequence involving the still very afflicted Amanda.

We’ll leave you with a quote from BBC America president Sarah Barnett, who says in publicity materials: “Fans of Doctor Who, Monty Python, Sherlock and Barton Fink will find things to love in this sharply original yet reverent gigantic puzzle, at the heart of which are funny, messed-up people you really care about. And there’s a kitten/shark. Perfect for BBCA.”

If you’re so inclined, go for it.

GRADE: B-minus (mostly for its shear energy and exuberance)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

LeBlanc's back with CBS' likeable Man With A Plan


Matt LeBlanc and Liza Snyder turn on the charm in Man With A Plan. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 24th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Matt LeBlanc, Liza Snyder, Kevin Nealon, Grace Kaufman, Matthew McCann, Hala Finley, Diana Maria Riva, Matt Cook
Produced by: Jeff Filgo, Jackie Filgo, Matt LeBlanc, Michael Rotenberg, Troy Zien

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
There’s nothing new under the conventional sitcom sun in CBS’ Man With A Plan.

This doesn’t unduly matter if the cast clicks and the writing is decent enough to hold up its end. Make that two plusses for this amiable, amusing outing fronted by everybody’s favorite Friend, Matt LeBlanc. OK, not everybody’s, but you can definitely make a case.

LeBlanc has grayed and gotten chunky since one of NBC’s all-time biggest comedy hits left the network in 2004. All that means is he’s human. And in Man With A Plan, LeBlanc’s character, contractor Adam Burns, gets to play opposite the very appealing Liza Snyder as his wife, Andi.

Snyder doesn’t fit the off-putting prototype of a thin, beauteous spouse paired with a beefy, better-known star. Instead she’s plumpish and “accessible,” a refreshingly real-looking woman who instantly meshes with LeBlanc and makes Man With A Plan a much easier sell than it might have been.

Andi is returning to the workplace, as a hospital lab technician, after years of stay-at-home mom-dom. Adam, who’s in business for himself, is left to make the transition from “Daddy Fun Times” to the guy who takes their three kids to school, picks them up and keeps things in working order until Andi returns home.

It’s a shopworn premise to be sure, but the delivery system overcomes much of that. LeBlanc fine-tunes his doofus Joey persona and smoothly rolls with it at home, at school and in the workplace he shares with older brother Don (a serviceable Kevin Nealon). Snyder nurtures one and all, but is no pushover. Her character is a winning proposition, even if some of her propositions have to do with rewarding Adam with sex whenever he’s a good boy. The hubby as panting dog isn’t going anywhere, particularly on set-in-its-ways CBS, the only Big Four broadcast network still firmly betrothed to laugh tracks and live studio audiences.

Monday’s premiere episode sets the hook before the following week’s storyline is built around a misunderstanding of who’s going with Adam to enjoy prime seats at a Pittsburgh Steelers game. Both episodes also feature sparring between Adam and Mrs. Rodriguez (Diana Maria Riva), a strong-willed school administrator. A nebbish stay-at-home dad named Lowell (Matt Cook) also is occasionally stirred into this mix.

LeBlanc flopped with NBC’s Friends spinoff Joey before regrouping as a broadly drawn version of himself in Showtime’s critically praised Episodes. At age 49, he seems to have a fairly firm grip on what works for him. Man With A Plan suits this guy, and his co-star makes it an even better fit. Viewers could do far worse, and some have by watching Kevin James ham his way through CBS’ appreciably inferior Kevin Can Wait, which recently received a full-season commitment. LeBlanc also is angling for one last long sitcom ride, and Man With A Plan seems like a decent bet to give it to him.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net