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It's not rocket science: Young Sheldon takes flight as a near-perfect prequel to Big Bang

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Young Sheldon stars Zoe Perry, Iain Armitage, plus narrator Jim Parsons, at the Television Critics Association summer “press tour.” CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 25th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS with a special preview before moving to Thursdays on Nov.2nd
Starring: Iain Armitage, Zoe Perry, Lance Barber, Raegan Revord, Montana Jordan, Annie Potts, with voice-overs by Jim Parsons
Produced by: Chuck Lorre, Steven Molaro, Jim Parsons, Todd Spiewak

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Intentionally patterned after The Wonder Years, CBS’ spinoff of The Big Bang Theory sticks its landing with impeccable casting, sharply funny dialogue and a distinctly different vibe than the long-running mothership.

The fall season’s best new comedy, set in the fictional East Texas town of Medford circa 1989, has its own charm and a breakout kid star in Iain Armitage as brainy, persnickety nine-year-old high school freshman Sheldon Cooper. He’s very winningly assisted by former child actor Zoe Perry (Laurie Metcalf’s daughter) as his nurturing mom Mary. They’re immediately attuned to one another in Monday’s sneak preview pilot episode. After that, Young Sheldon has a five-and-half-week respite before returning Nov. 2nd in a Thursday slot following Big Bang.

This is executive producer Chuck Lorre’s first and so far only “single-cam” comedy without either a laugh track or “live studio audience” component. He says it’s been a tough transition for him after creating and producing a string of “multi-cam” sitcom hits, including Big Bang, Two and a Half Men and Mom. But there’s no indication of that in Young Sheldon’s first episode, which begins with narrator and Big Bang star Jim Parsons telling viewers that “I’ve always loved trains” while his pre-teen self plays with one.

Sheldon also is very fond of bow ties and Radio Shack (subject of a terrific episode-ending joke), has a germ phobia at the family dinner table and is fastidious about adhering to his high school’s official dress and conduct codes.

“Lord, look after my son. Don’t let him get stuffed in a gym bag,” mom says under her breath while driving Sheldon to his first day of class.

As in The Wonder Years, Sheldon has an older brother who just wishes he’d go away. His name is Georgie (Montana Jordan) and he’s named after his football coach father (Lance Barber). A second antagonist is Sheldon’s tart-tongued twin sister Missy (Raegan Revord), who assures him he’s gong to get his “ass kicked” at his new school, where poor Georgie has to share classes with him. He vents his pent-up frustrations on the football field in one of the first episode’s occasional serious moments.

Look closely and you’ll also see a cameo by Bob Newhart, who’s guested on Big Bang as one of Sheldon’s childhood heroes, “Professor Proton.” New series regular Annie Potts isn’t in the pilot, but has been added as what CBS publicity materials describe as Sheldon’s “beloved Meemaw, his foul-mouthed, hard-drinking Texas grandmother.”

She supposedly appreciates her grandson’s “unique gifts,” but East Texas as a whole does not. “The only Newtons they cared about were Wayne -- and fig,” narrator Parsons sniffs at the start after referencing famed physicist Isaac Newton. Let’s subtract a point or two for condescension, although it quickly passes.

Sheldon’s dad may not know an isotope from a popsicle, but he’s not a lunkhead, either. Barber’s George Sr. instead is a decent sort who tries to relate to his younger, brainy son and contributes his own warm moment near episode’s end. All in all, this is the most appealing new set of TV parents since ABC launched The Middle back in September 2009.

Young Sheldon ends up having a mind of its own, even if it’s a prequel to a long-established hit. Armitage and Perry in particular are a perfect pair as precocious son and protective but not overbearing mom. There’s an awful lot to like here, with high expectations not only met but exceeded.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' time-spanning Me, Myself & I seems to be in too much of a hurry

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Jack Dylan Grazier, Bobby Moynihan and John Larroquette all play the same person, Alex Riley, in Me, Myself & I. Really? Really. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 25th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Bobby Moynihan, John Larroquette, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jaleel White, Kelen Coleman, Brian Unger, Christopher Paul Richards, Skylar Gray, Mandell Maughan, Reylynn Caster, Sharon Lawrence
Produced by: Dan Kopelman, Aaron Kaplan, Dana Honor

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Perhaps CBS should add “This Is Us Presents” to the title of its new time-traveling, generation-spanning comedy.

Me, Myself & I is similar in concept if not execution. It’s decently crafted, devoid of an irritating laugh track and has a quartet of familiar TV faces in Bobby Moynihan, John Larroquette, Jaleel White and Sharon Lawrence. But Monday’s premiere episode, which is all that’s available for review, oddly seems to resolve just about everything of consequence in a half-hour’s time.

Add this: Moynihan, Larroquette and Jack Dylan Grazer (now appearing in the new feature film version of Stephen King’s It) look nothing alike even though they’re playing the same character, Alex Riley. Our looks change as time marches on, but this is like morphing from Frankie Muniz into Kevin James into Christopher Walken.

Grazer plays 14-year-old Alex, an only child and devoted Chicago Bulls fan who’s uprooted to Los Angeles when his mother, Maggie (Mandell Maughan), gets remarried to a pilot named Ron (Brian Unger).

Forty-year-old Alex (Moynihan), who has a pre-teen daughter named Abby (Skylar Gray), is newly divorced and soon down on his luck after catching his wife (guest star Allison Tolman) cheating on him.

Sixty-five-year-old Alex (Larroquette) is a multi-millionaire businessman who decides to retire after suffering a heart attack. At this point, adult Abby (Kelen Colman) has become general manager of Alex’s beloved Bulls.

Pilot Ron turns out to be a very good, supportive guy, and his son, Justin (Christopher Paul), is a nice kid, too. So there’s not a lot of conflict here, except when Alex’s heart is broken via an unfortunate occurrence at the school dance while he’s dreamily dancing with his seemingly unattainable dream girl, Nori Sterling (Reylynn Caster and in later years, Lawrence).

We’ve got one more square to fill. Mid-life Alex’s best friend is Darryl (White), in whose garage he’s living while trying to invent a product that will make him rich. “When I grow up, Im gonna come up with an idea that changes the world!” young Alex has already declared.

Well, by episode’s end, the various stages of Alex are either newly triumphant or unexpectedly fulfilled by a chance meeting. And unlike This Is Us, there’s no attendant mystery over how and when a pivotal character dies.

In other words, Me, Myself & Irene appears to have boxed itself in. The opening episode is pleasant enough to watch, although not really very amusing. But the prospects for a sustainable series seem highly limited by all that unfolds here. Maybe Alex, Alex and Alex can still pull off some revelations in terms of how they get to where they’re going. The show’s mantra is to “keep shooting,” just like Bulls legend Michael Jordan did. But the degree of difficulty going forward looks to be more like a half-court shot than a layup. Go ahead, though. Surprise me.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's The Good Doctor is both an autistic and artistic triumph

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Freddie Highmore stars as an autistic surgeon in The Good Doctor. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Antonia Thomas, Nicholas Gonzalez, Chuku Modu, Hill Harper, Beau Garrett, Richard Schiff
Produced by: David Shore, Daniel Dae Kim, David Kim, Sebastian Lee, Seth Gordon

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
After playing Norman Bates for five years on A&E, Freddie Highmore knows what it is to have an out-of-body mind of his own.

Norman was bent, spindled and mutilated. But autistic surgical resident Shaun Murphy is mental without being disturbed in ABC’s affecting The Good Doctor. Monday’s premiere is a case study in how to build empathy for your lead character without getting all mushy about it.

Young Shaun’s “savant syndrome” potentially makes him a medical marvel, but without a halo. As deftly played by Highmore, he’s innocently sweet-tempered, but also cuts to the chase and can cut his “superiors” down to size when the occasion demands.

Adapted from a same-named 2013 South Korean series, The Good Doctor is shepherded in large part by co-executive producer Daniel Dae Kim. He previously worked for ABC as a co-star on Lost before clashing with CBS over his demand that he be paid the same salary as Hawaii Five-0 co-stars Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan.

That didn’t happen, so Kim left the series after seven seasons to further advance his fledgling 3AD production company, which is partnering with ABC after CBS programmers earlier passed on The Good Doctor. They may well end up regretting that.

The show clicks from the very start, with self-sustaining Shaun going through his presumably unvarying morning routine before leaving his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming and quickly landing in San Jose, CA, home of St. Bonaventure Hospital. He comes upon a kid soccer match while still in Cheyenne, prompting a memory of being beaten on that field as a child before his true-blue brother came running to his rescue.

A medical emergency then quickly takes hold after an eight-year-old boy is hit by a falling San Jose airport sign being installed by workmen. An older doctor intercedes, but puts pressure on the wrong spot to stop heavy bleeding from the child’s jugular vein. “You’re killing him” by stopping his breathing, Shaun says calmly. He then takes over.

Scenes of his highly improvised ways to rig up life-saving devices are intercut by an animated debate among St. Bonaventure’s hierarchy. It turns out that the hospital’s president, Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff in potentially his best role since The West Wing), made a unilateral decision to hire Shaun. Now he’s facing strong opposition.

“He’s not Rainman. He’s highly functioning,” Glassman pleads. “He sees things and analyzes things in ways that are just remarkable. In ways that we can’t even begin to understand.”

Dr. Marcus Andrews (Hill Harper) is among those having none of this. Meanwhile, in an unfortunate Grey’s Anatomy-ish lapse, doctors Jared Kulu and Claire Brown (Chuku Modu, Antonia Thomas) are shacking up in his rest area. It’s why she hasn’t been answering her pages. Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen -- someone dying?

The Good Doctor continues to toggle between the hospital and airport while also periodically flashing back to the tragically short-lived but lasting bond Shaun forged with his brother. “Never forget, you’re the smart one, and can do anything,” Shaun was assured.

Things eventually converge at St. Bonaventure, with Shaun insisting that his patient needs an “echo-cardiogram” while the staff doctors all think he’s daft. Among them is head of surgery Dr. Neal Melendez (Nicholas Gonzalez), an imperious sort who also happens to be a hunk.

Shaun emerges triumphant, of course, but the “you don’t belong here” rebuffs are only beginning.

Highmore plays his lead role to near-perfection amid all the considerable medical jargon and jockeying for position among his supposedly more enlightened colleagues. The Good Doctor engagingly drops Dr. Shaun in their midst as both a lamb and a lion with a muted roar. The story possibilities are readily apparent on a number of fronts in the best broadcast network medical drama since Hugh Laurie contrastingly bruised his way through House.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's The Brave force marches its way through international terrorism

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Get the point? Injecting the enemy on The Brave. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Mike Vogel, Anne Heche, Natacha Karam, Demetrius Grosse, Noah Mills, Sofia Pernas, Tate Ellington, Hadi Tabbal
Produced by: Dean Georgaris, Matt Corman, Chris Ord, Avi Nir, Alon Shtruzman, Peter Traugott, Rachel Kaplan

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Three broadcast networks figure they can’t go wrong this fall by fighting heartless, soulless terrorists in new hard-charging combat dramas.

NBC is first to the battle front with The Brave, which premieres on Monday, Sept. 25th in a to-die-for time slot following The Voice. CBS’s Seal Team is just a few steps behind with a Wednesday launch while The CW’s Valor must wait until Oct. 9th for its marching orders.

“People like this are why we come to work every day,” says The Brave’s order-issuing, safe at home ringmaster. Her title is deputy CIA director, her name is Patricia Campbell, and she’s not referring to tracking down Twitter trolls.

Anne Heche plays the role in notably heavy makeup, but still in grieving mode. Her son was killed in combat just 10 days earlier, leaving Campbell with a heavy heart upon returning to the business of exterminating the world’s vermin and rescuing their captives.

First up is Dr. Kimberley Wells (guest star Alix Wilton-Regan), who’s nobly a part of the Doctors Without Borders team in Damascus, Syria before being kidnapped while talking to her husband back home.

Special Ops squad Capt. Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) and his dedicated but sometimes sniping team of undercover specialists are immediately summoned from their base in Turkey. They must be “wheels up within the hour” because the hostage-takers aren’t interested in ransom demands. Instead “they chop off heads,” Campbell says, in this case as revenge for the recent presumed slaying of a terrorist kingpin known to U.S. forces as “Baghdadi.”

Unfortunately for the taut drama at hand, “Baghdadi” sounds funnier each time his name is invoked, which turns out to be a lot down the stretch. Not to spoil the obvious, but some terrorists have unbelievably amazing recuperative powers, as do their wives.

The Special Ops team also includes cocky, condescending Joseph “McG” McGuire (Noah Mills), who’s prone to taking verbal shots at fellow operatives Jasmine “Jaz” Khan (Natacha Karam) and Amir Al-Raisani (Hadi Tabbal).

Asked derisively by McG if she was “raised a Muslim,” she retorts, “I was raised a New Yorker.” He’s briefly chastised but later doesn’t think much of Amir’s prayer rug.

Ezekiel “Preach” Carter (Demetrius Grosse) is the other Special Ops risk-taker while domestic front CIA analysts Noah Morgenthau (Tate Ellington) and Hannah Rivera (Sofia Pernas) dig out invaluable information on who’s who and their whereabouts. Whatever the case, Campbell is steeled by the certainty that “we are fighting people that want to wipe us off the planet. That means we have to be as ruthless as they are.”

As in the first episode of Seal Team, rescuing a woman held hostage ends up intersecting with bigger fish in the grand global scheme of things. Can the team pull off two missions at once? Will there be “go go go go” derring-do in the process? Suffice it to say that no self-respecting, heroic anti-terrorist team will ever submit solely to the “greater good” if it might mean leaving a terrorized hostage behind. Get it? Got it? Good.

Vogel is solid as The Brave’s hero among heroes, as are the show’s production values. But Heche initially seems ill-suited to the task of being a taskmaster. She recurrently looks distraught or shaken in the line of duty. Even seasoned professionals, of course, can be deeply affected by the loss of a child. Which also begs the question of why on earth Heche’s Campbell is back so soon in this unforgiving, pressure-cooker of a job.

NBC made just the pilot episode available for review. In the following week, according to the network’s storyline description, the Special Ops team heads to Russia after a CIA officer is “attacked by rebels.”

The opening hour ends with an unexpected, big boom of a cliffhanger designed to bring viewers back for more. In that it’s unique. Otherwise The Brave is broad-stroked and pro forma in highly volatile times both at home and abroad. On network television at least, international terrorism indeed can be thwarted on a weekly basis via The Brave, Seal Team and Valor. Take that, “Baghdadi.” Take notice, “Rocket Man.”

GRADE: C

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Prime-time Emmys pound away at Trump (and also give away some awards)

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Dolly Parton notably declined to go with the flow when co-presenters Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda tore into Donald Trump at Sunday night’s 69th annual Prime-Time Emmy Awards. Photos: Ed Bark


By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Let’s first dispense with the night’s biggest winners before turning to the real headline-maker from Sunday’s 69th annual Prime-Time Emmy Awards on CBS.

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and HBO’s Big Little Liars were the top trophy-takers with five each, including respective nods as best drama and best limited series. NBC’s Saturday Night Live finished close behind with four Emmys while HBO’s Veep and its star, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, continued their winning streaks.

Dreyfus was voted best actress in a comedy series for the sixth straight year, making her the all-time Emmy winner for playing a single role, in this case vainglorious vice president/president/ex-president Selina Meyer. Candice Bergen won five Emmys as the star of CBS’ Murphy Brown. Veep also three-peated as best comedy series.

Little of this is likely to resonate above and beyond Sunday night. That’s because the three-hour ceremony, hosted by Stephen Colbert, will be better remembered as a night-long demolition of Donald Trump, who so far has declined Colbert’s opening invitation to tweet any response. It was the most politically charged Emmy telecast since the 1992 ceremony, when Vice President Dan Quayle took a verbal beating for his pointed criticisms of Murphy Brown after its lead character had a baby out of wedlock.

“Boy, Quayle is just getting stomped here,” co-host Dennis Miller said near the end of that year’s Emmys, which also took some sharp jabs at President George H.W. Bush and the problematic Reagan family dynamics of those days. But these were love taps compared to Sunday’s Trump-athon.

Louis-Dreyfus happily joined in the festivities after first promising an eventful and funny final season of Veep. “We did have a whole story line about impeachment,” she said, “but we abandoned that because we were worried that someone else might get to it first.” The audience whooped loudly in approval.

Earlier in the night, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin went political as no presenters ever have during their “reunion” with Dolly Parton 37 years after they made the feature film 9 to 5 together.

In 1980, “we refused to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Fonda began, referring to the tyrannical office boss played by Dabney Coleman.

“And in 2017, we still refuse to be controlled by a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot,” Tomlin added to cheers and applause.

Caught in the middle, a stunned-looking (see above photo) Parton wanted no part of this, instead falling back on a couple of trademark jokes about her breasts.

Colbert began tamely with a song and dance number featuring the refrain, “Everything is better on TV.” After a traditional host jab at the assembled Hollywood swells -- “Us celebrating us. Tonight we binge ourselves” -- Colbert at first gently waded into Trump by noting there’s way too much television to be watched by any single person -- except the President, apparently.

Like it or not, Trump is the biggest star of the year -- “and Alec Baldwin, obviously,” Colbert said of the actor who later won an Emmy for his numerous SNL send-ups of the President. “You guys are neck and neck. And Alec, you’re up against a lot of neck.”

“You can’t deny,” the host added, “that every show was influenced by Donald Trump in some way.” But he named only two -- House of Cards and American Horror Story: Cult -- before citing “next year’s Latin Grammys, hosted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio,” whom Trump recently pardoned.

Trump’s former NBC “reality-competition” series, The Apprentice, was twice nominated for Emmys, but never won, Colbert noted.

“Why didn’t you give him an Emmy?” the host wondered. “I tell you this, if he had won an Emmy I bet he wouldn’t have run for President. So in a way, this is all your fault. I thought you people loved morally compromised anti-heroes” (such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White). “He’s just Walter much whiter.”

Trump has never forgiven the Academy for this snub, Colbert said, offering stunning real-life proof in a clip from one of his debates with Hillary Clinton. When she upbraided him for contending that even Emmy voting was rigged against him, Trump said,” I shoulda gotten it.”

“But he didn’t,” Colbert said, building to a big finish. “Because unlike the presidency, Emmys go to the winners of the popular vote.”

This predictably received one of the night’s bigger roars of approval, promoting Colbert to seemingly ad lib, “Where do I find the courage to tell that joke in this room?”

It had been a very long monologue that also included a game assist after Colbert displayed a 2014 Trump tweet in which he said Seth Meyers would be a “total joke” as that year’s Emmy host because “he is very awkward with almost no talent. Marbles in his mouth!”

Did Meyers have a response? Seated in the audience, he let a mouthful of marbles spill out. It would have been the sight gag of the night, save for what quickly followed when Colbert asked no one in particular, “Is there anyone who can say how big the (Emmy) audience is?”

Out came deposed White House press secretary Sean Spicer and a podium on wheels. “This will be the largest audience to witness the Emmys -- period,” he said, lampooning his grandiose estimates of the crowd for Trump’s inauguration address. “Both in person and around the world.”

The camera then caught Melissa McCarthy, who last week won a guest comedy actress Emmy as “Spicy” on SNL. She seemed hesitant to applaud, but grudgingly did so. A bit later in Sunday’s ceremony, Colbert referred to HBO’s The Wizard of Lies as “The Sean Spicer Story” after noting that its nominated star, Robert De Niro, was in the audience. For the record, De Niro played ponzi scheme crook Bernie Madoff, but didn’t win. The Emmy instead went to Riz Ahmed for The Night Of on a night when diversity and television’s surge in quality roles for women were celebrated during those times when Trump wasn’t being filleted.

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Loss leaders: Host Colbert & rival Jimmy Kimmel both came up empty in the late night Emmy competitions, with HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver emerging as the big winner. Only NBC won among the Big Four broadcast networks. CBS, ABC and Fox were shut out.

Colbert’s CBS Late Show joined De Niro and many others in the losers’ circle while HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver won two Emmys.

The host and Jimmy Kimmel, also a nominee, commiserated by drinking Emmy’s faux signature cocktail, “The Last Week Tonight.”

“It’s so high quality, apparently they can only make one a week,” Colbert said tartly.

“Mine has extra bitters in it,” Kimmel added.

Colbert’s CBS Late Show rose to No. 1 in the after-hours total viewer ratings after he began devoting almost all of his opening monologues to ridiculing Trump. But this rather surprisingly didn’t pay off on Emmy night, even though Oliver’s triumphant Last Week Tonight also is anything but shy about ripping Trump in its weekly half-hours.

Donald Glover, creator and star of FX’s Atlanta, notably took home two Emmys for acting and directing. After winning for acting, Glover credited the President with an assist: “I want to thank Trump for making black people number one on the most oppressed list. He’s the reason I’m probably up here.”

He also was the primary reason for SNL’s big haul, which included acting Emmys for Baldwin and Kate McKinnon plus a statue for best variety/sketch series.

“I suppose I should say, ‘At last long last, Mr. President, here is your Emmy,’ “ Baldwin jabbed before somewhat joking that wearing an orange wig as Trump seemed to be the equivalent of birth control. In his particular case, it stopped a streak of Baldwin and his wife having three children in three years, he said.

Trump supporters can and no doubt will use the latest Emmys as proof positive that Hollywood is out of touch with “the real world” -- or whatever it’s called these days in our super-polarized times. From this view, the Trump beat-down was predictable, but maybe not to this extent. And it ate away at the value of the awards themselves, which are not what people will be talking about on a night when Colbert also chipped in with a brief filmed interrogation by Westworld co-star Jeffrey Wright.

“Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” a bow-tied but otherwise “naked” Colbert was asked.

“Every day since November 8th,” he replied.

Mopping up, here are a few non-Trump developments from “television’s biggest night.”

*** Host network CBS and two of the other Big Four broadcast networks, ABC and Fox, went away empty-handed. But NBC ran second overall with six Emmys while HBO led with 10. Besides the four nods to SNL, the Peacock’s The Voice won as best “reality-competition” series while Sterling K. Brown received a best lead actor in a drama series Emmy for This Is Us.

*** Hulu, part-owned by NBC Universal, won its first major Emmys ever, all five of them for The Handmaid’s Tale. Besides the best drama series trophy, star Elisabeth Moss got to the winner’s circle for the first time in nine tries.

*** HBO’s Big Little Lies was its biggest winner while the premium cable network’s Westworld (which tied SNL for the most overall Emmy nominations with 22), went without any major wins. FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan and Netflix’s Stranger Things, both with 18 nominations, also were shut out in terms of the 27 major Emmys distributed Sunday night.

***Just five networks -- HBO, NBC, Hulu, Netflix and FX -- collected all of the Emmy hardware during the Academy’s main event.

A complete list of Sunday night’s major winners can be found here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net