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A Trump is a Trump -- then and now

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Trump & offspring at Jan. 2007 TV “press tour” session. NBC photos

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Anybody still waiting for The Pivot to a “presidential” version of Donald Trump?

As recent events again have shown, you’re more likely to see him with a crewcut.

Today’s Trump is pretty much a carbon copy of the guy who appeared before a hotel ballroom full of TV critics 10-and-a-half years ago during NBC’s portion of the annual winter network “press tour.” Not only that, but son Don Jr. and daughter Ivanka joined him onstage for what may have been the trio’s first and still only joint press conference.

The Television Critics Association, of which your friendly content provider is a longtime member, has transcripts dating to the winter 2005 tour. Sifting through them, I hoped to find a Trump appearance on behalf of The Apprentice. Eureka, it occurred in January 2007, with papa Trump holding forth with the show’s new “boardroom” advisors, Don Jr. and Ivanka.

This turned out to be a last-ditch effort to save the original, conventional version of The Apprentice by originating it from Los Angeles for the first time and also changing up the format. But this sixth edition flopped in the ratings, drawing the show’s smallest audiences to date. It prompted the emergence of The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008.

The future President (and no one on planet Earth envisioned that) exhibited all of the traits he’s since deployed in the Oval Office. He exaggerated, meandered, self-aggrandized, boorishly entertained and happily rekindled his latest feuds when asked. At the time his targets were Rosie O’Donnell and Barbara Walters of ABC’s The View.

O’Donnell had ripped Trump for backing reigning Miss USA Tara Conner (he owned the pageant at the time) and giving her a second chance after she admitted to heavy drug and alcohol use while wearing the crown. O’Donnell slammed Trump as a hypocritical serial adulterer and “snake-oil salesman” who was anything but a “moral compass.” Walters sided with her, at least on the air. In private, Trump claimed she earlier had told him of her distaste for O’Donnell and plans to fire her soon.

Of course these subjects came up anew, as Trump knew they would. He first gave O’Donnell the old wham-bam.

“I think I exposed her for what she is, and she’s terrible,” he said. “She’s a terrible, disgusting human being. Not very smart and she’s got a lot of problems, to put it mildly. And I believe you’ll see that whole thing (The View) blow up, and please give me a little bit of the credit when it does.”

He also termed O’Donnell a “bully” and a “slob.” Furthermore, “The one thing I have learned, I learned it in high school. I learned it before high school. When you’re attacked by a bully, you hit the bully right between the eyes. Hard and fast. And that’s what I did.”

Sound eerily familiar?

Also true to form, Trump claimed sole responsibility for keeping The View afloat by calling attention to the show.

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen,” he said. “In two weeks, you people won’t be asking this question anymore, and the ratings on The View will tank. Barbara Walters hates Rosie O’Donnell . . . Sadly, I’ve increased the ratings of The View. Because, you know, I watched it the other day for the first time in a long time. And I’ve been on The View many times, unfortunately. In fact, Barbara Walters chose me last year as one of her 10 most whatever-the-hell people.”

Holding a train of thought, then and now, is not one of Trump’s strong suits. His two kids were more succinct at this particular session, with Don Jr. in particular speaking volumes after I dared to ask what he and Ivanka thought of O’Donnell.

“She demurred -- “We’re not going to give a good ‘sound bite’ “ -- before Don Jr. chimed in.

“I think ultimately we’re always going to defend our father no matter what he does,” he said. “That’s what family is about. That’s the way we were brought up. And you know, in our eyes he can do no wrong, and I think he handled himself perfectly.”

Dad readily agreed with a son who hasn’t changed a speck on that score. Whatever dad says or does, provide cover for him and fire back.

There was this, too.

Trump’s gut-punching tactics throughout the crowded Republican presidential primary elections were crystallized in this otherwise typically less-than-focused but telling observation.

“I watched a politician this morning,” he began. “He’s announcing for President. And they were asking about somebody else that’s going to be running. And I said -- I just hate it -- I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I was a very, very good student, top student. And you know, so I understand like, life, and I understand also the academics. And I understand what I have to understand.

“But I watched this politician. They said, ‘Well, what about your opponent?’ ‘Oh, he’s a fine man. He’s this. He’s that.’ Everything was perfect. I’m saying, ‘What the hell you going to vote for this guy for? Let’s vote for the other guy.’ It was called being politically correct.

“The reason that this feud (with O’Donnell) became so big is that I was so unpolitically correct. I was non-political. I said it like it is. And I think people liked that, and that’s why it kept going.”

Less than a decade later, during Trump’s, name-calling, take-no-prisoners 2016 campaign, America was witness to Lying Ted. Little Marco. Low Energy Jeb. And finally, Crooked Hillary.

And they now call Trump “Mr. President.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Marlon brings on too much Marlon

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Marlon Wayans very much dominates the throwback sitcom Marlon. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 16th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Notlim Taylor, Amir O’Neil, Bresha Webb, Diallo Riddle
Produced by: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez, Christopher Moynihan, Michael Rotenberg, Andy Ackerman

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The rest of the cast oftentimes might just as well be cardboard cutouts.

NBC’s Marlon, getting a belated late summer launch, is very much a vehicle for star and co-executive producer Marlon Wayans. So much so that the theme song has just one word -- his first name repeated rapid-fire. That’s before all those new vistas in scenery-inhaling, with Wayans holding forth with loud, animated man child riffs on whatever sets him off.

An accompanying and very cooperative laugh track, sprinkled with occasional awwwws or unwarranted applause, gives the entire enterprise a decidedly yesteryear vibe. NBC is burning off the 10-episode order at the rate of two per Wednesday, although that’s not necessarily a death knell. Two Augusts ago, The Carmichael Show got the same treatment by NBC after an even smaller order of six episodes. It ended up running for three seasons before star Jerrod Carmichael decided to cut bait and pursue other projects.

The Carmichael Show dared to be current in addressing hot-button issues of particular concern to many African-Americans. Marlon has no such intentions, based on the first four episodes.

Marlon Wayne (Wayans) is mostly intent on hanging out at his amazingly tolerant ex-wife’s house, where their two kids also reside. They divorced after the freewheeling Marlon demonstrated a strong proclivity for skirt-chasing. But Ashley Wayne (Essence Atkins) mostly laughs all of this off, allowing Marlon to come and go as he pleases -- which seems to be 24/7.

This allows Marlon to freak out at length when Ashley allows herself to re-enter the dating pool by going to dinner with a hunky dude. Or when daughter Marley (Notlim Taylor) dares to have her first crush on a boy she invites over to the house. Or when Marlon is forced to clear out a storage unit that’s been untouched since 1997 because he wants to hold onto past memories. Or when Marlon frets at length over joining a “38 percent club” of exes who have had sex again.

Also in this mix is Ashley’s typically tarty best friend, Yvette (Bresha Webb), and Marlon’s roommate Stevie (Diallo Riddle), a more intellectual sort but basically a freeloader. The Waynes’ son, Zack (Amir O’Neil), is pretty much lost in this shuffle. But in reality, the entire cast is extraneous whenever Marlon goes off. Furthermore, each episode begins with the star very much in the camera’s face with a snippet from his “The Marlon Way” webcast.

The closing minutes of Marlon are also strictly rinse and repeat. After much bombast -- “I ain’t sayin’ you a ‘ho’, but that’s on the spectrum” -- Marlon melts down into puddles of sensitivity, a l a Jackie Gleason’s volatile Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners.

“I’m just afraid to lose you,” he tells Ashley at the end of the premiere episode. Marlon says this even though he’s immensely proud of being on “hundreds of dates” since their divorce.

Atkins, as his ex-, logs a lot of time reacting to whatever pours out of Marlon’s mouth. On cue, she smiles, laughs and occasionally takes mild offense. It’s a notably mechanical performance in deference to the star’s numerous star turns.

Wayans certainly doesn’t lack for energy, and some of his discourses are lightly amusing in fits and spurts. There’s an overall staleness, though, to both the format and the humor.

“I’m just going to make a perfect divorce ‘perfecter,’ “ by having sex with his ex-, Marlon proclaims to Stevie in Episode 4 before very predictably getting cold feet when Ashley comes on stronger than he expected. Worried that this is suddenly a case of “tap it and trap it” rather than “Lube her and Uber,” Marlon hides out in the bathroom and then makes another excuse: “I didn’t get to wash in there. I just took a ‘ho’ bath.”

Don’t expect to take any ha-ha showers. Marlon isn’t up to that task either. Instead it over-blows everything in service to a star who doesn’t know how or when to stop.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Epix deserves to come up big with Get Shorty

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Get Shorty again goes Hollywood, but with its very own unholy trio. Epix photo

Premiering: Sunday, August 13th at 9 p.m. (central) on Epix
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Ray Romano, Lidia Porto, Sean Bridgers, Megan Stevenson, Lucy Walters, Goya Robles, Carolyn Dodd, Sarah Stiles, Antwon Tanner
Produced by: Davey Holmes, Adam Arkin, Allen Coulter

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Epix’s spanking new Get Shorty series comes from good bloodlines and has ample bloodletting amid its hard and soft toss one-liners.

It’s otherwise “re-imagined” in what turns out to be the best sense of that lately over-used word. The barest of basics are retained from the late Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel and a well-played 1995 feature film. Otherwise all of the characters’ names are changed except “Shorty,” which is used in a completely different context.

Premiering Sunday, August 13th on Epix, Get Shorty is intended to be the premium cable network’s bold effort to stamp itself with a signature show after less than optimum results with Graves and Berlin Station. The first six hours from Season 1’s 10-episode order were made available for review. And they’re really quite something, with Chris O’Dowd (The IT Crowd) breaking through in a big way as enforcer/hitman/body disposer Miles Daly after John Travolta headed the film cast as loan shark Chili Palmer.

That was some cast, by the way. Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, James Gandolfini, Delroy Lindo and Dennis Farina also were included while Harvey Keitel and Penny Marshall had cameos as themselves. DeVito, who played actor Martin Weir, is the Shorty of the 1995 film. In the Epix version, it’s an off-hand reference to Miles’ 12-year-old daughter, Emma (Carolyn Dodd), who still loves her daddy but mostly lives with his estranged wife, Katie (Lucy Walters).

Beholden to a bad mama mobster named Amara (Lidia Porto), Miles and his sardonic sidekick, Louis Darnell (a very good Sean Bridgers), are based in nondescript Pahrump, Nevada. It’s home turf for Amara’s Silver Dust casino and her very ruthless drug-running operation. Unpaid debts or tardy protection payments are not tolerated, as is demonstrated early on. But the opening minutes are devoted to Miles and Emma, who emerge from an action movie that she enjoyed and he didn’t.

“Dad, it’s in 3D. It’s not supposed to mean anything,” she tells him off-handedly. Right then and there, the sharp writing establishes its first foothold.

Miles and Louis are soon sent to Hollywood to collect on a $50,000 debt run up by a struggling screenwriter. This results in a purloined script, among other things, with film connoisseur Miles fated to hook up with producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano continuing to expand his drama portfolio).

Rick, who once had grand aspirations, has backslid into an unkempt hack whose B-movies invariably go straight to video while also making small profits via overseas sales. Miles is thinking much bigger than that with the stolen and now blood-spattered script for The Admiral’s Mistress, a period piece requiring a substantial budget to meet his grand expectations. Complications kick in when Amara is persuaded to sign on as a minimal investor at first. Miles persuades her that a profit he guarantees can easily be laundered abroad. The grisly fun has only just begun.

Get Shorty toggles between Nevada and Tinseltown, with a brief flashback, in Episode 3, to Amara’s traumatic early transition from Guatemala to the States back in 1969. The action otherwise is in the here and now, as The Admiral’s Mistress gains traction via deceit, the blackmailing of a studio executive (Megan Stevenson as April Adams) and other forms of strong-arming when necessary.

Miles, who’s not quite as nonchalantly brutal as the oft-dense Louis, has his eyes on the prize of becoming respectable in hopes of winning back his wife and daughter. But Amara’s jealous, cutthroat nephew Yago (Goya Robles) would much rather see him dead.

Although the violence is recurring and particularly considerable in Episode 5, Get Shorty is never too far from a brisk one-liner, As when Rick’s tart receptionist, Gladys (Sarah Stiles) orders, “Put the plant over by the window. It’ll die slower.”

Mobster Amara also has a very strong affection for the work of John Stamos, with Episode 4 subtitled “From Stamos with Love” for reasons that prove critical to Miles’ survival.

There’s no obvious weak link among the featured cast members, although Romano’s recurring use of the word “Yeah” to begin or end sentences is a familiar remnant from both his standup act and his signature sitcom role as Ray Barone. In a manner of speaking, he should be aware of this by now and strive to act accordingly. Then again, perhaps that’s too much of a nitpick.

The star-making turn in Get Shorty clearly is from Chris O’Dowd, whose efforts to curb his violent tendencies are akin to a heavy smoker trying to quit. He also flexes a high-appeal softer side in a performance that registers both physically and comedically. This is a guy who definitely shouldn’t be crossed, but also a man of taste and hardscrabble refinement. Porto’s Amara, her forelock resembling a prime surfing wave, is also a force throughout, but with rougher edges.

In short, a lot is very right with Get Shorty, which may well come calling again during next year’s awards season.

Hulu finally landed its first signature series this year with an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which likewise spent years in waiting following a decades ago feature film. Epix very much hopes that this lightning will strike again. And purely on the merits, it should.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Heading west for another bout with the summer TV Critics Association "press tour"

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A little piggy in a blanket, Uncle Barky? And so it begins yet again. Photo: Ed Bark

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The Television Critics Association’s annual summer “press tour” gets underway this week, and your friendly content provider is heading west once again to arduous Beverly Hills.

The damned thing will stretch all the way through Aug. 9th, when FX typically puts an end to it with a full day of interview sessions. I’ll be there almost for the duration, missing just a handful of early panels on Tuesday, July 25th after arriving in mid-afternoon on that day.

Unclebarky.com will go dark during that time, with all of my dispatches being filed for the New York City-based tvworthwatching.com. You can read them here. (Note to readers: The publishing mechanism I use makes it very complicated to publish via a laptop or other device. And I’m not about to mess with it.)

My first press tour was in the summer of 1980, well before cable networks became a force and also pre-dating the launch of the Fox network, the Internet and latter day streamers such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Only ABC, CBS and NBC “presented” during that 1980 tour. Now it’s an almost impossibly crowded field.

So please wish me luck as I strive to remain both ambulatory and of reasonably sound mind. Unclebarky.com will fire up again in mid-August.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Getting darker: USA network's The Sinner further distances the network from a recently discarded sales pitch

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The Sinner puts Jessica Biel in anything but 7th Heaven. USA photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 2nd at 9 p.m. (central) on USA network
Starring: Jessica Biel, Bill Pullman, Christopher Abbott, Abby Miller, Dohn Norwood, Patti D’Arbanville
Produced by: Jessica Biel, Michelle Purple, Derek Simonds, Antonio Campos, Charlie Gogolak

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Darkness prevails at the USA network, which formerly championed a “blue sky” approach that welcomed banter-laced, light-stepping dramas such as Psych, Royal Pains, White Collar, Fairly Legal and the pathfinding Monk.

A “We the Bold” branding dating to spring 2016 has cleaned house and re-furnished USA with the likes of Mr. Robot, Shooter, Queen of the South and Damnation, which is coming this fall. Set in the 1930s, it’s billed in part as a “bloody struggle between big money and the downtrodden.”

But let’s get really bleak. Closer to the here-and-now, USA’s The Sinner launches on Wednesday, Aug. 2nd as an eight-part, “close-ended” series fronted on-and-off camera by former 7th Heaven co-star Jessica Biel. Based on the 2007 book by German author Petra Hammesfahr, it’s something of a fictionalized form of the acclaimed Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer. But in this case, there’s absolutely no question whodunit. Instead, investigating the whys and the wherefores is paramount.

The initial 15 minutes or so of The Sinner’s opening episode are almost excruciatingly slow-paced. But then moody Cora Tannetti (Biel) commits an out-of-nowhere murder that won’t be further detailed here so as not to ruin the jolt. This occurs in broad daylight and in full view of an abundance of eyewitnesses. What’s the motive, though? Was this gruesome crime pre-meditated? Might Cora be completely unstable and unfit to stand trial despite her seemingly conventional marriage and motherhood? (This is a rare instance, by the way, in which TV has lengthened rather than simplified the surname used in the book, which was Bender.)

Husband Mason Tannetti (Christopher Abbott from the first two seasons of Girls before he abruptly quit) and Cora run a family-owned heat and air specialists business. They also have a little boy who’s a bit on the quiet side.

Once the murder is committed, it’s up to plainclothes detectives Harry Ambrose (Bill Pullman) and Dan Leroy (Dohn Norwood) to sort through it all. They’re assisted in part by uniformed cop Caitlin Sullivan (Abby Miller) while Cora is incarcerated and initially firm in her declaration of total guilt.

The accomplished Pullman, best known for playing the president in Independence Day, quickly registers even if he’s not instantly recognizable in a full beard. He hadn’t done any TV since the awkward and short-lived 2013 NBC comedy series 1600 Penn, in which Pullman also was president.

This time out he’s anything but. Pullman’s Ambrose is unhappily separated from his wife and paying occasional visits to a plus-sized semi-dominatrix. He’s intensely thorough in his detective work and also cosmic in his musings about “an eco-system out of balance.” Until Biel starts to establish herself, Pullman easily is the best thing about The Sinner.

USA has made the first two hours available for review. And as the flashbacks accelerate, so does the pulling power. Without spoiling too much, it’s clear that little Cora was made to feel constantly guilty by her religious fanatic mother, Lorna (Enid Graham). This is primarily because her baby sister, Phoebe, is sickly, and Cora gets blamed for earlier wreaking havoc on mama’s womb. God forbid, literally, that Cora even eat an unholy candy bar. Hellish upbringings generally do not make for stable adults.

Still, how much is the adult Cora fabricating in terms of how well she may or may not have known her victim? And might the dogged Ambrose himself go off the deep end while trying to unravel this case?

It’s anything but breezy entertainment on a network where ill winds now blow. Even so, Pullman and Biel are solidly in charge of their pivotal roles in a drama where “close-ended” presumably means a firm conclusion and no Season Two. So at an economical eight episodes, all this gloom and doom at least has the benefit of also being foreseeably finite. Expect your tolerance to be tested, though, particularly in the first half of Episode One. But if I were you, I’d proceed.

GRADE: B (with the possibility of a higher mark if the story and performances hold firm)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net