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ABC's Dirty Dancing tries to floor it on the final night of the May "sweeps"

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Abigail Breslin/Colt Prattes are the new “Baby” & Johnny. ABC photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Announced and scrapped twice, ABC’s “re-imagined” Dirty Dancing finally slides into prime-time on the closing night of the May “sweeps” and on the heels of the network’s latest Dancing with the Stars season finale.

Then comes NBC’s new World of Dance, which steps out on Tuesday, May 30th before Fox’s long-running So You Think You Can Dance returns for Season 14 on June 12th. Can’t a ballroom catch a break?

Three decades ago, the Dirty Dancing feature film became a surprise monster hit and made international stars of Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. CBS tried to turn it into a weekly series in the following year. But its Dirty Dancing, starring Patrick Cassidy and Melora Hardin, became a wallflower after just 11 episodes. It also served as another rude awakening for McLean Stevenson (cast as summer resort owner Max Kellerman), who never recovered career-wise from his impulsive decision to leave M*A*S*H.

In the here and now, ABC’s Dirty Dancing has been bloated to a 2 hour, 10 minute running time (plus 50 minutes of commercials and promos) within its three-hour slot. The original was a half-hour shorter, and better for it.

Abigail Breslin is a notably chunkier Frances “Baby” Houseman in the new version while the basically unknown Colt Prattes steps in as sculpted Johnny Castle, the resort’s misunderstood, trouble-prone lead dancer.

Appreciably more familiar to audiences are Debra Messing and the ubiquitous Bruce Greenwood as Baby’s parents, Marjorie and Dr. Jake. They have a much bigger storyline here, with Jake’s rigidity and distaste for “vulgar” displays clashing with Marjorie’s longings to cut loose and have sex again after a year’s deprivation.

It’s odd, then, that the family car drive to Kellerman’s Lodge is a far looser affair, with Marjorie, Baby and her older sister, Lisa (an unconvincingly cast Sarah Hyland from Modern Family) breaking into “Big Girls Don’t Cry” before rather easily persuading Jake to join in. After that, though, he’s about as much fun as lumbago.

Onetime Woody Allen movie staple Tony Roberts is sprinkled in as Kellerman, although at age 77 he now eerily resembles Keith Richards. Billy Dee Williams has a few scenes as bandleader Tito Suarez while Katey Sagal gets more to do as the divorced and duplicitous Vivian Pressman, who’s well-practiced at luring Johnny to her lair.

Former Dancing with the Stars champ Nicole Schwerzinger (she won the 10th edition) plays the more prominent role of Johnny’s partner/lover, Penny Johnson. As the movie wears on, she proves to be rather amazingly understanding about Johnny’s growing interest in Baby.

There’s much singing and dancing, and just about everyone gets to do it, even Greenwood’s stolid Jake. He’s actually something of a revelation as a piano man/crooner, knocking out an affecting “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” after Marjorie at last lowers the boom.

Breslin and Prattes are more or less adequate in the pivotal lead roles, but certainly no match for the smoldering chemistry that Swayze and Grey displayed both on and off the dance floor. Prattes’ abs are more than a match for Swayze’s, though. As for Baby, well, let’s just say that Breslin’s physique is “different.”

The ABC remake bookends itself with New York City, circa 1975. A 30-year-old Baby is in the audience for a Broadway performance of Dirty Dancing: The Musical before she wistfully recalls her coming-of-age summer of 1963. After all of that plays out again, the film returns to 1975 for an epilogue that rather ham-handedly reconnects the two principals instead of letting things end with the original’s climactic group performance of “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” (an Oscar-winner for Best Original Song).

The new Dirty Dancing, cast with an eye toward diversity, ends up being neither disastrous or necessary. Still, it’s not as though ABC is daring to remake Citizen Kane or The Graduate. Some things should just be left alone, but Dirty Dancing wasn’t a classic of its time. It was an entertaining, energetic, unexpected commercial smash that 30 years later is getting a dusting off. Younger audiences experiencing Dirty Dancing for the first time might find this one fun to watch -- except for the extra screen time ABC devotes to the grownups and their tired, calcified marriage. Yuck!

GRADE: C

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

What was that? It's Showtime for Twin Peaks

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Kyle MacLachlan is more front & center than ever in new Twin Peaks. He can be seen in three guises in first four episodes. Showtime photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Well, that was really weird.

Well, why would it be otherwise?

Showtime’s continuation of Twin Peaks premiered Sunday night without any advance review opportunities and with a 2-hour chunk before the premium pay network made the next two episodes available On Demand and on its streaming site.

I succumbed to all of them as someone who had the highest regard for this series when it first hit ABC on April 8, 1990. Veteran fetishist David Lynch, who is directing all 18 new episodes and also co-writing them with co-creator Mark Frost, again seems to be determinedly going nowhere -- and certainly nowhere fast. In Episode 4, his hard-of-hearing FBI character, deputy director Gordon Cole, speaks volumes in telling his partner Albert Rosenfield (the late Miguel Ferrer), “I hate to admit this, but I don’t understand this situation at all.”

Likewise, I’m sure.

Twin Peaks and its initial central mystery -- “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” -- began as a transfixing, quirky, nothing-else-ever-like-it addition to ABC’s prime-time lineup. Midway through a very meandering and preposterous Season 2, the killer was revealed at the network’s insistence. It turned out to be Laura’s father, Leland (Ray Wise), who had been possessed by the demonic “BOB.” In the final episode, burned off by ABC on June 10, 1991, the “shadow self” of FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) emerged from the nightmare-infused, red-curtained Black Lodge. The closing scene showed his “doppelgänger” to be the new host of the long-haired killer BOB. It all made perfect sense -- as long as you were on an acid trip.

Lynch subsequently made a big-screen Twin Peaks prequel, Fire Walk With Me. MacLachlan wanted little to do with it, and was seen only sporadically. This is decidedly not the case with Showtime’s Twin Peaks. As the first four episodes show, MacLachlan is all in, even if he’s yet to even be in the Pacific Northwest town from which the series draws its name.

MacLachlan’s vivid performances, as the suit-and-tied Cooper, the long-haired, possessed Cooper and in a new guise as “Dougie Jones,” are the principal respites from Lynch’s gelatinous pacing. His camera lingers -- and lingers some more. Some of the new supporting parts are acted out with a mechanical, porn film depth. And Lynch remains hopelessly devoted to mondo bizarro, prolonged special effects, with the start of Episode 3 showing him at either the top or bottom of his game.

Lynch’s twisted brutalization of women likewise continues. There’s a decapitation. And later a punch to the face followed by a gunshot to the head after a lengthy scene of physical restraint and mental torture. Another woman also is dispatched via a bullet through her brain. It all seems to be part of the director’s basic playbook. And it’s past time for him to be called out on it.

The very limited scenes within the actual town of Twin Peaks mostly revolve around goofy and largely purposeless goings-on at the sheriff’s office. Michael Horse, Harry Goaz and Kimmy Robertson all return, respectively as Tommy “Hawk” Hill, Andy Brennan and his wife, Lucy Brennan. Andy has become particularly aggravating, and then some. Michael Ontkean, co-lead in the original Twin Peaks as Sheriff Harry S. Truman, declined to return. Robert Forster steps in to play his lawman brother, Frank, while Harry is said to be ill.

Other members of the charter Twin Peaks ensemble drop in and out briefly on an assembly line. Wise’s aforementioned deceased (or is he?) Leland Palmer is seen for barely a few seconds in the Black Lodge. He has two words for Cooper: “Find Laura.”

Those who make it all the way to Episode 4 will find it fairly rich in guest stars. Richard Chamberlain, Michael Cera, Ethan Suplee, Naomi Watts and David Duchovny (who has transitioned to FBI agent Denise Cooper) are all part of the party mix. Cera, as the Brennans’ wayward son, Wally Brando, is completely extraneous in terms of “plot” advancement, but seems to be enjoying himself as a mockup of Marlon Brando’s defiant Johnny Strabler from The Wild One.

Episode 4 also showcases Cooper’s reincarnation as Dougie, a combination of Frankenstein’s monster (without the scars or bolts) and the simpleton Chance from the Peter Sellers vehicle Being There. How he got to be Dougie is basically impossible to explain in print. But watching Dougie’s evolution into “Mr. Jackpots” at a Vegas casino may be the most fun anyone will have with these first four episodes.

Besides Ferrer, two other returning Twin Peaks cast members, Catherine Coulson (“The Log Lady”) and Warren Frost (Dr. Will Hayward), died after their brief scenes were filmed. The re-do wrapped in April of last year, with everyone sworn to the utmost secrecy. Not that they could have explained what takes place during these first four episodes, or likely henceforth.

In its glorified early episodes, the original Twin Peaks was something to behold. But in the nearly 26 years since it left ABC, a number of other TV auteurs have emerged and surpassed Lynch, who’s now well beyond middle-aged crazy at age 71. Vince Gilligan (FX’s Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul), Noah Hawley (FX’s Fargo and Legion) and Ryan Murphy (FX’s American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Feud anthologies) are among those with a talent for blending the absurd with the basically plausible.

Lynch perhaps has no interest in such “conventions” -- or is incapable of them. But Twin Peaks is rambling on anyway, providing little morsels of enjoyment amid all the numbing nonsense. Viewers can be virtually assured that little if anything will be made clear in the end. And if that’s all right with you, then take the ride while remembering this: “When you get there, you will already be there.”

Those are watchwords from Episode 3 -- uttered shortly before a whole lot of vomiting kicks in. Enjoy.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW catches reboot fever with Dynasty

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Natalie Kelley/Grant Show play a pair of new Carringtons. CW photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Follow the bouncing reboots. Earlier in the week, ABC officially became the new network of American Idol after Fox rode it to ratings gold for 15 mostly glorious seasons.

Now The CW, intent on broadening its audience beyond 18-to-34-year-olds, is hoping to make a soapy splash with one of ABC’s onetime hits. Dynasty is joining the network’s new fall lineup, with former Melrose Place heartthrob Grant Show now grown into the role of business tycoon Blake Carrington while Nathalie Kelley (The Vampire Diaries) steps in as Krystle Carrington. Except it’s now spelled Cristal. The original roles were played by the late John Forsythe and Linda Evans.

Dynasty ran from 1981 to ’89 on ABC, which also offered an appreciably less successful spinoff, The Colbys.

The CW otherwise is adding the military drama Valor this autumn. It still fills only two hours of prime-time on weeknights, so the cancellation corral again is smallish. Not invited back are Reign, Frequency, The Vampire Diaries and No Tomorrow (indeed).

Here are The CW’s two new fall series:

Dynasty (drama) -- Vixen Fallon Carrington (Elizabeth Gillies) thinks she’s set to become her father’s COO until his fiancee, Cristal, pops into the picture. Fallon immediately begins scheming to bring her down, with help from her father’s biggest rival, Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke). There’s also Cristal’s nephew, Sammy Jo (Rafael de la Fuente), who blows into town with a “suitcase full of secrets” from his aunt’s past. In the original Dynasty, Sammy Jo was a woman played by Heather Locklear. So far there’s no Alexis Carrington Colby, portrayed with storied scenery-chewing intensity in the old Dynasty by Joan Collins.

Valor (drama) -- Matt Barr, formerly a recurring character on the newly canceled Sleepy Hollow, quickly bounces back as commanding officer Leland Gallo, whose Shadow Raiders helicopter unit just had a very bad outing. Only Gallo and the unit’s lone woman pilot, Officer Nora Madani (Christina Ochoa), return from a top-secret mission to Somalia. So what really happened and did anyone else survive? Gallo and Madani soon “find themselves torn between duty, honor and desire” while wondering who to trust.

Here is The CW’s night-by-night fall lineup:

Monday
Supergirl
Valor

Tuesday
The Flash
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow

Wednesday
Riverdale
Dynasty

Thursday
Supernatural
Arrow

Friday
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Jane the Virgin

These are The CW’s two announced midseason series:

Black Lightning (drama) -- Charter high school principal Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) has a secret. Nine years ago, he used to be Black Lightning, a masked superhero with the power to harness and control electricity. Then he got burned out. But then crime, corruption and gangs began re-infesting New Orleans. So here we go again.

Life Sentence (comedy/drama) -- This one has an awfully long and tedious description. Suffice it to say that for eight years Stella (Lucy Hale) thought she was dying of cancer, but suddenly isn’t. Now she must face the long-term ramifications of all those impulsive “live in the moment” decisions she made.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS picks six, including a Big Bang Theory prequel, for new fall schedule

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Iain Armitage plays a 9-year-old, East Texas brainiac in Young Sheldon, a spinoff prequel of The Big Bang Theory. CBS photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
No. 1 in total viewers for nine consecutive seasons and 14 of the last 15, CBS nonetheless is adding more newcomers to its fall schedule than any of its rivals.

The network’s six freshman series are one more than ABC and three more than either NBC or CBS. Even so, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays will stay the same in the early stages of next season.

A trio of new action dramas and a like number of comedies are being readied for this fall, with The Big Bang Theory prequel Young Sheldon likely to draw the most attention. The two shows will be paired on Thursdays following CBS’ five-game NFL football schedule, with Young Sheldon first getting a one-shot Monday night preview on Sept. 25th. Newcomer Iain Armitage plays nine-year-old Sheldon Cooper, whose big brain already has advanced him to an East Texas high school. Big Bang star Jim Parsons narrates in an approach reminiscent of ABC’s The Wonder Years, veteran CBS scheduler and senior executive vice president Kelly Kahl said in a Wednesday morning briefing.

CBS has renewed five freshman series -- Bull, Kevin Can Wait, Man With a Plan, Superior Donuts and MacGyver, although Matt LeBlanc’s Man with a Plan isn’t scheduled to return until midseason. There’s still room in the cancellation corral, though, for 2 Broke Girls, The Great Indoors, Training Day, Doubt, Pure Genius, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and The Odd Couple.

The network also plans to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of 60 Minutes throughout next season while adding Oprah Winfrey as a correspondent. NBC has scheduled Megyn Kelly’s new newsmagazine show directly opposite 60 Minutes, but “we won’t take too many early shots at Megyn Kelly -- yet,” CBS Corporation chairman/president/CEO Leslie Moonves told TV critics.

Moonves also confirmed that CBS had talks about rebooting American Idol before ABC ended up buying it for a midseason launch. “We looked at it very seriously, but the economics made absolutely no sense to us,” he said.

One big stumbling block: CBS “wouldn’t have any piece of selling the ‘back end’ “ Moonves said. He earlier noted that for the first time in history, less than 50 percent of CBS’ revenues are from advertising. “The back end is now worth more than the front end.”

In other words, CBS now is making more money selling the rights to its shows in rerun syndication, to streaming services such as Hulu and to other “platforms.” In that context, the network has at least part ownership, via CBS Television Studios, of all five of the freshman series it picked up for second seasons, Kahl said. CBS Television Studios also is a profit-sharing production partner in all of the network’s new fall series except Young Sheldon, which is solely the property of Warner Bros. Television.

Here are CBS’ six new fall series:

SEAL Team (drama) -- David Boreanaz bounces from a long run on Fox’s Bones to playing the commander of an elite special ops unit specializing in “unwavering patriotism and fearless dedication.”

S.W.A.T. (drama) -- “Hondo” Harrelson rides again, with Shemar Moore (Criminal Minds) starring in the role made reasonably famous by Steve Forrest in the 1975 original on ABC.

Wisdom of the Crowd (drama) -- Jeremy Piven (Entourage) returns to series TV as “visionary tech innovator” Jeffrey Tanner. How so? He creates a “cutting-edge crowdsourcing app” to solve his daughter’s murder and thereby “revolutionizes” the art of catching criminals.

Young Sheldon (comedy) -- It can be tough fitting in as a pre-teen at an East Texas high school “where church and football are king.” But li’l Sheldon is gonna make it after all, as we already know.

Me, Myself & I (comedy) -- It’s an obvious effort to piggyback on the success of NBC’s time-spanning This Is Us, with Saturday Night Live veteran Bobby Moynihan the principal star as a “present day” 40-year-old version of a guy named Alex. Other actors will play Alex at the ages of 14 and 65. Jaleel “Urkel” White also is in the cast as present day Darryl.

9JKL (comedy) -- Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains) stars as divorced actor Josh Roberts, a character inspired by his real life. Languishing between projects, he finds himself living in a New York apartment “sandwiched between” his meddlesome parents and a competitive brother and sister-in-law, plus their new baby. TV vets Linda Lavin and Elliott Gould play the pain-in-the-butt parents.

Here is CBS’ night-by-night new fall lineup.

Monday (during Thursday Night Football)
The Big Bang Theory
9JKL
Kevin Can Wait
Me, Myself & I
Scorpion

After Football
Kevin Can Wait
9JKL
Me, Myself & I
Superior Donuts
Scorpion

Tuesday
NCIS
Bull
NCIS: New Orleans

Wednesday
Survivor
Seal Team
Criminal Minds

Thursday
Football from Sept. 28 to Oct. 26 before a regular lineup of:
The Big Bang Theory
Young Sheldon
Mom
Life In Pieces
S.W.A.T.

Friday
Macgyver
Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

Sunday
60 Minutes
Wisdom of the Crowd
NCIS: Los Angeles
Madam Secretary

CBS also announced these two midseason series:

Instinct (drama) -- Alan Cumming (The Good Wife) plays a former CIA operative who gets pulled back in to help apprehend -- what else -- a serial killer. He’d otherwise been a college professor teaching psychopathic behavior courses to “packed classes of adoring students.”

By the Book (comedy) -- Shades of ABC’s new The Gospel of Kevin, with Jay R. Ferguson (Mad Men and ABC’s recently axed The Real O’Neals) playing a wayward “modern day man” and New York film critic who decides to live “strictly in accordance with the Bible.” The cast also includes TV vet Camryn Manheim.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Two paws up for ABC's Downward Dog

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Martin (left), Nan and Jason of Downward Dog. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, May 17th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC before moving to Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Starring: Allison Tolman, Lucas Neff, Samm Hodges, Kirby Howell Baptiste, Barry Rothbart
Produced by: Michael Killen, Samm Hodges, Jimmy Miller, Sam Hansen, Kathy Dzubiek, Kat Likkel, John Hoberg

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The following favorable review of Downward Dog is not influenced by my surname, although you still might want to consider the source.

After all, I was among a bare handful of TV critics who didn’t actively dislike ABC’s earlier talking creature sitcom, Imaginary Mary, which since has been canceled. We all have our outliers from time to time. But Downward Dog is a genuine gem that also prompts the question, “Why did ABC wait so long to give it a slice of prime-time?”

The key figures are Martin (who gets his hangdog voice from co-executive producer Samm Hodges) and his owner, Nan (breakout star Allison Tolman from Fargo, Season One). He’s a ruminating mutt who laments his various fates and impulses while she toils for a basically impossible boss at a Pittsburgh-based ad agency.

ABC’s series version is adapted from a short form web series, and this time the transition is smooth. The four episodes of Downward Dog made available for review are snarky, charming, funny and recurrently philosophical when Martin “talks” to the camera. Here’s a dog who drops the the word “reductionistic” in Episode 3 and frets in Episode 4 that “sometimes ‘dog culture’ feels almost like a breeding ground for anti-intellectualism.”

But Martin’s gooiest yet resonant observation comes in Wednesday’s premiere half-hour after he reflects on the time he spent behind bars in a shelter before Nan chose him.

“It’s so vulnerable to love somebody this much,” he says of his oft-frazzled owner. “Like to know that no matter what they do or how mad you get at them, you always come running back to them. Like, I literally can’t quit her.”

Not that Martin doesn’t have his meltdowns. Balking at being left alone too much, he acts out by chewing up a pair of Nan’s boots and later something far more important to her. He also resents being locked in “the sex room” whenever Nan and her nominally ex-boyfriend, Jason (a heavily bearded Lucas Neff from Raising Hope), succumb anew to one another, usually after heavy consumption of wine.

Jason primarily is a layabout, but also a sweet-natured good guy who enjoys taking Martin for walks and other outings while Nan strives to convince her jerky boss Kevin (Barry Rothbart) to accept one of her ideas. By happenstance -- and with an unintended strong assist from Martin -- she comes up with the slogan, “Look At How Beautiful You Are” whatever your body shape or looks. Kevin instantly hates it, but a visiting corporate potentate sees the potential. Subsequent episodes deal in part with the formulation of the campaign, with Nan and her best pal, Jenn (a well-cast Kirby Howell Baptiste), scheming on how to push it past Kevin.

Tolman brings an abundance of natural appeal to the role of Nan while Martin bares his emotions and then wonders about them. An electronically operated dog door (with its battery attached to his collar) convinces Martin that his mind is a dormant super-power. But in a later episode, he discovers that being trained to do tricks just isn’t his thing. “I think I’ve finally let go of that desire to be impressive,” Martin concludes.

Downward Dog obviously could have gone very wrong. Instead it gets almost everything irresistibly right, whether it’s Martin’s simple yet challenging life (“I’m only human,” he reasons) or the accompanying two-legged human endeavors that shift his mind into overdrive and this series into the realm of the near-sublime.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net