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Dallas rides again, with TNT announcing a Season 3 for Larry Hagman-less Ewings


Young blood Ewings Jesse Metcalfe and Josh Henderson. TNT photo

Larry Hagman’s death and a big ratings dip in Season 2 haven’t deterred TNT from ordering a 15-episode Season 3 of Dallas.

The network made it official Tuesday afternoon, with TNT programming head Michael Wright saying in a statement, “Dallas has built a passionately loyal following with its expertly woven story lines, clever twists and turns, and numerous outstanding performances by a cast that spans generations. Although we said goodbye to Larry Hagman and his iconic character J.R. Ewing this year, Dallas has many more stories left to tell, and the Ewing clan will continue to honor J.R.’s memory by keeping its audience surprised and delighted.

Season 3 will launch early next year, TNT says. In its second season, Dallas averaged 3.8 million in the Live +7 Nielsen ratings, which account for delayed viewing over a week’s time. Season 1 averaged 6.4 million viewers in this measurement.

In same night viewing, Dallas fell from an average of 4.5 million to 2.6 million viewers. Co-produced by Cynthia Cidre, Michael M. Robin and Robert Rovner, the second coming of Dallas has been filmed entirely in the North Texas area.

While on the subject of renewals, let’s catch up on a few other recent network announcements.

NBC has given 22-episode renewals for next season to Parenthood, Revolution, Grimm, Chicago Fire and Law & Order: SVU.

CBS will bring back Two and a Half Men for an 11th season, with Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher both inked to one-year deals while Angus T. Jones at best will be a recurring presence after denouncing the series as “filth” late last year.

The No. 1-rated network is pretty much re-upping everything for Fall 2013, with only CSI: NY, Criminal Minds, Vegas, Golden Boy and Rules of Engagement still “on the bubble” among series currently airing. Criminal Minds is expected to return, however, after contractual details are worked out.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Family Tools another hammer-headed sitcom


The main men of Mr. Jiffy Fix on Family Tools. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, May 1st at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Kyle Bornheimer, J.K. Simmons, Edi Gathegi, Leah Remini, Johnny Pemberton, Danielle Nicolet
Produced by: Joshua Sternin, J.R. Ventimilia, Mark Gordon, Andrea Shay, Paul Buccieri

Tossed into prime-time during the waning days of the 2012-’13 TV season, ABC’s Family Tools is to comedy what a chainsaw is to birthday cake cutting.

It doesn’t work well and makes a mess.

Which means that Family Tools pretty much fits right in with another overall bad batch of first-year comedies on the Big Four broadcast networks. Only Fox’s The Mindy Project has been officially renewed for a second season. The cancellations and sure goners are Fox’s Ben & Kate, CBS’ Partners and NBC’s Animal Practice, Guys with Kids and 1600 Penn.

All of the possible returnees are so-so at best, with none emerging as even a semi-ratings hit. Namely, ABC’s Malibu Country, The Neighbors and How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) and NBC’s Go On and The New Normal.

Family Tools, slotted on Wednesdays between ABC’s infinitely superior The Middle and Modern Family, sags under the very tired premise of a sad sack son returning home to run the family business after his grouchy, demeaning dad has a mild heart attack. Jack Shea (Kyle Bornheimer) has just been kicked out of seminary school, and returns to the town of Mapleport in a gray hoodie with a big purple cross on the front.

“I’ll die right now just to stop hearing you talk like such a Froot Loop,” Tony Shea (J.K. Simmons from The Closer) tells Jack from his hospital bed.

Bornheimer has been this route before, playing a hapless son-in-law in waiting on CBS’ appreciably better 2008 sitcom, Worst Week. In that case, his fiancee’s dad insulted him on a weekly basis. Both of these outings were adapted from U.K. originals, with Family Tools morphing from White Van Man.

In ABC’s clunky re-do, Jack gets a stereotypical black partner named Darren Poynton (Edi Gathegi), who’s both a jive talker and, dare it be said, by and large shiftless in the premiere episode.

Furthermore, “he’s crude, unprofessional, arrogant and he stinks up the van with his coconut skin cream,” Jack protests at the Shea dinner table. But to no avail.

Darren has a wheelchair-bound, oxygen tank-reliant grandpa named Ellis (Lee Weaver). Family Tools chooses to use him as a recurring sight gag while also making sport of a flat-screen TV thief who’s a friend of Darren’s and thereby entitled to proceed on his merry way.

By the way, the Shea family fallback exclamation is “Mother of God!” and the family business is a one-van operation known as Mr. Jiffy Fix. Trapped after being bounced from The Talk is former King of Queens co-star Leah Remini, who plays Jack’s Aunt Terry. Her son is a girl-shy misfit named Mason (Johnny Pemberton). And Darren has a sister, Lisa “Stitch” Poynton (Danielle Nicolet), who works in a Home Depot-ish store and for some reason seems sweet on Jack.

The opening episode at least ends amusingly, with Jack briefly accompanying Mason on the flute while he strums and sings one of his original compositions. In a subsequent episode sent for review, Jack and Darren are installing something or other at a snooty ad agency where an old classmate of Jack’s ends up stealing Darren’s impromptu “Taste these sour balls” tagline for a new campaign. Meanwhile, Jack tries to impress her by claiming to be something he’s not. It’s a grindingly bad half-hour with some even worse finishing touches.

Family Tools will have been on ABC for just two episodes when the network announces its new fall lineup on Tuesday, May 14th. That’s not enough time to fully determine whether this series somehow will grow on viewers. But ABC already seems to be kissing it off anyway. At least they could have called it Lug Nuts.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Jaggedly uneven but not entirely unwatchable: a review of Netflix's Hemlock Grove based on seeing all 13 episodes


The not entirely human leading lads of Hemlock Grove. Netflix photo

Premiering: 13-episode Season 1 up and running on Netflix
Starring: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgard, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Dougray Scott, Kandyse McClure, Freya Tingley, Nicole Boivin, Lili Taylor, Aaron Douglas, Joel de la Fuente
Produced by: Eli Roth, Brian McGreevy, Deran Sarafian, Michael A. Connolly, Lee Shipman, Mark Verheiden, Eric Newman

It too often plods or meanders. Vomit is spewed in abundance when principal characters aren’t inhaling either cigarette smoke or various body parts. There’s a sense throughout that a long-term investment will at best yield the equivalent of a penny slot machine payoff.

And yet I watched the whole damned 13-episode first season of Hemlock Grove before making a final judgment. It went up in its entirety last Friday (April 19th) on Netflix, which earlier made a very favorable first impression with its Americanized version of House of Cards.

It’s a new way of looking at things -- and very time-consuming as well. And if House of Cards turned out to be a pleasure, Hemlock Grove is more of a dutiful slog. But it does have moments of spine-tingling intensity, with Episode 10 a powerhouse in that respect.

Hemlock Grove’s leading man is horror-meister Eli Roth, whose previous behind-the-camera credits include not-for-the-faint-of-heart outings such as Hostel, Hostel II and Cabin Fever.

As with an unsettling great majority of TV blood-fests, the series principally preys on young women. So did the early episodes of Fox’s The Following and NBC’s Hannibal. In this case, a terribly mutilated coed corpse puts the small Pennsylvania town of Hemlock Grove on full alert. It’s initially believed that only a four-legged animal could do such damage. But what if it were a werewolf? And what if a new-in-town gypsy duo -- high schooler Peter Rumancek and his mom, Lynda (Landon Liboiron, Lili Taylor) -- were capable of such horror?

“You’re weird, and kind of mean. But good material,” aspiring kid novelist Christina Wendall (Freya Tingley) tells Peter outside his suitably ramshackle trailer home. She’s got part of that right.

Adapted from the 2012 novel by Brian McGreevy and filmed in all-purpose, more cost-efficient Canada, Hemlock Grove slowly weaves in a menagerie of off-kilter characters.

Famke Janssen gets top billing as domineering, evil-seeping Olivia Godrey, heir to a mysterious, very guarded medical research facility that towers over the town after the old Godfrey Steel Mill went under. She has two kids, the constantly belligerent Roman (Bill Skarsgard) and his mute, stooped, deformed younger sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin), who’s the height of a pro basketball center and has one eye with a pupil the size of an egg yolk.

But Shelley’s otherwise a good kid, absorbing the taunts of schoolmates while Roman shows a softer side by protecting her. It helps when you’re equipped with a steely stare that can make people do whatever you want. And Roman’s only collateral damage is a relatively minor nose bleed perhaps exacerbated by frequent coke-sniffing.

There’s also psychiatrist Norman Godfrey (Dougray Scott), brother of Olivia’s deceased husband J.R., who killed himself. Scott in particular never seems to get his role right on any level, particularly when laughing mechanically in the way a hurry-up-and-act soap star might do. Norman gets prototypically grim-faced, however, upon learning that his daughter, Letha (Penelope Mitchell), is pregnant and believes an angel is the father.

Roman and outcast Peter eventually form an uneasy and at times combustible alliance in hopes of tracking down whoever’s killing the young women of Hemlock Grove.

“I get this feeling sometimes, like something really important is about to happen,” Roman says ominously. This series regularly takes too long in getting to something even halfway important, although its pulse is quickened somewhat by the arrival in Episode 3 of Clementine Chausser (Kandyse McClure). She’s a religious-minded, lesbian hunter of otherworldly beings masquerading as a Fish and Wildlife Service agent.

Clementine in effect is the Agent Dale Cooper of Hemlock Grove, at one point asserting, “I’m not here for your coffee and pie” in an obvious nod to Twin Peaks. She also dubs Roman and Peter “the Hardy boys,” although a more current reference would be to the demon hunters of CW’s long-running Supernatural.

Flashbacks fill in some of the principal characters’ gaps, but an overall languorous pace repeatedly tests a viewer’s staying power. Executive producer Roth and company keep going for ominous but too often lapse into tedious. Some of the prolonged dialogues in Hemlock Grove sustain interest and advance the story. But episodes repeatedly bog down when the cutting room floor would have been a much better option.

The overall mood music is effectively eerie at times and over-bearing at others. And in the end, Hemlock Grove sort of answers some Big Questions while also making one’s head hurt with some of its bizarro tangles and turns.

The producers hope to do a Season 2, and Hemlock Grove almost assuredly will have more appeal for younger viewers than all those older adults on House of Cards did. Those who go the distance might find themselves getting the most mileage out of the characters Peter, Shelley and Clementine, all of whom are appealing in distinctly different ways.

There’s ample gore as well, with a transformational scene in Episode 2 about as stark and good as it gets in the horror genre. Hemlock Grove overall falls well short of anything resembling sustained brilliance. Still, each episode may well push just enough buttons to pull you along to the next one.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Great expectations fulfilled in Sundance Channel's Rectify


Land of his “freedom”: Aden Young stars in Rectify. Sundance photo

Premiering: Monday, April 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Sundance Channel, with subsequent episodes at 9 p.m.
Starring: Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, Luke Kirby, J. Smith Cameron, Clayne Crawford, Adelaide Clemens, Bruce McKinnon, Jake Austin Walker, Michael O’Neill, Hal Holbrook
Produced by: Ray McKinnon, Mark Johnson, Melissa Bernstein

It’s been a bountiful TV season for freshmen dramas, again with scant assistance from the traditional big broadcast networks.

On Monday night, Sundance Channel’s Rectify joins a short list of potentially all-time great newcomers, with FX’s The Americans already solidly entrenched and Netflix’s House of Cards also in the conversation.

That may not seem like much. Still, it’s a bumper crop. Most TV seasons yield only one or at best two extraordinary achievers. Dramas on the order of Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad and Justified.

Rectify, whose executive producers include two key members of the Breaking Bad team, has just six episodes in its first season. Sundance Channel has sent all of them for review, with the first two airing back-to-back. And the final scenes of Episode 6 are more than enough to make your jaw drop. Surely it can’t end this way. And of course Sundance is very hopeful that audience interest will generate at least several more seasons to come for what’s billed as the network’s “first wholly owned original scripted series.”

Aden Young (The Starter Wife) stars as Daniel Holden, who’s been locked in solitary confinement for almost 20 years for the rape and murder of a teenage girl. He’s maintained a semblance of equilibrium by hungrily reading books, communicating with a next door cellmate and walling off any expectations that he’ll ever be freed from his window-less six by nine foot box.

But contradictory DNA evidence eventually speaks louder than Daniel’s (coerced?) confession. And so he steps out into the sunlight, a stranger in a strange land otherwise known as his hometown of Paulie, Georgia.

“I’m not sure what to make of this drastic change of course in my life. I’m certainly not against it,” Daniel says at a news conference held just outside prison walls. He’s accompanied by family members and the young Atlanta attorney who fought to get him freed.

The principal force behind Rectify, creator/writer/producer/director Ray McKinnon, has gone behind the camera after a long list of acting credits that include Sons of Anarchy (as Linc Potter) and Deadwood (Rev. H.W. Smith). He succinctly lays out his objectives in Sundance publicity materials: “I wanted to explore his (Daniel’s) oft times surreal return to ‘the living’ on a moment to moment, experiential basis. How would he adjust? Could he adjust? Would he dare to try? And could those around him also adjust or even accept this dead man walking among them again?”

Daniel finds himself in both a lion’s den of doubters and amid nurturers who want to make him whole again.

His sister, Amantha (standout work by Abigail Spencer), is a vigilant protector while their mother, Janet (J. Smith Cameron) struggles to cope with the resurrection of a son she had given up for dead. Janet’s second husband, Ted Talbot Sr. (Bruce McKinnon), is sturdy and kind, but his son, Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford), is not.

Junior’s wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), is a lithesome, devout Christian with an eye toward “saving” Daniel. But their scenes together are neither condescending nor played for comic relief. Instead they’re affecting and at times almost heartbreaking, particularly in Episodes 2, 4 and 5.

Luke Kirby plays Daniel’s attorney, Jon Stern, who still has much work to do on behalf of his client. His arch foe is state senator Roland Foulkes (Michael O’Neill), a small-time powerbroker who took credit for Daniel’s conviction and yearns to have him re-incarcerated. Hal Holbrook drops in briefly, during Episode 3, as Daniel’s former lawyer.

There’s also a teenage half-brother named Jared (Jake Austin Walker), who reaches out in his own way by setting up a DVD player for Daniel and offering to help guide him through all the movies he’s missed. He recommends Dazed and Confused for starters. “I like the title,” says Daniel. Understated little moments and scenes like this are very much a part of what makes this series special.

Rectify also occasionally flashes back to Daniel’s incarceration and his dialogues with fellow death row inmate Kerwin Whitman (Johnny Ray Gill). These scenes likewise resonate, never more so than in Episode 6.

There remains at least a slightly open question as to whether Daniel actually committed the heinous crime for which he was convicted. But the series seems to be moving steadily away from that possibility while not entirely closing the door.

Although its principal supporting players are first-rate, Rectify would be lost in transition without Young’s stellar work in the lead role. It’s a fearless, fully immersed, Emmy caliber performance tinged with sadness, searching, primitive pleasures and even a little comedy.

But all the while, the figurative noose is tightening. The small-town front page newspaper headline, “Holden Set Free,” is in fact little more than a taunt in a starkly different series with the potential to be a classic.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

R.I.P. Pat Summerall: May 10, 1930 to April 16, 2013

He played in the long-anointed “Greatest Game Ever Played,” kicking a field goal and two extra points for the New York Giants in their epic 23-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL Championship.

He also announced some of the greatest games ever played: 16 Super Bowls, the 1967 “Ice Bowl” between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, and the Cowboys’ first big score with Jimmy Johnson as head coach when they upset the San Francisco 49ers in the Jan. 17, 1993 NFC Championship Game.

Pat Summerall, who also peddled True Value hardware with the best of ‘em, died on Tuesday, April 16th at age 82. Succinct, knowledgeable and glib when the occasion called for it, he was the smooth-as-silk play by play man in memorable partnerships with both Tom Brookshier and John Madden.

The voice: unsurpassed. The diction: letter-perfect. The run at the top: unparalleled.

Here’s Summerall doing the voiceover buildup for the aforementioned Cowboys-49ers championship game before he’s joined in the CBS booth by Madden. He seemed to always know just what to do.

HBO's Mary and Martha grips without being graphic


Brenda Blethyn, Hilary Swank bond in Mary and Martha. HBO photo

The title sounds biblical, and the film itself is an old-fashioned testament to the message-driven sob-story.

That’s all well and good with HBO’s Mary and Martha, an affecting, thoroughly G-rated look at two disparate women who join forces after their sons die of malaria in Africa. Directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, Patriot Games), the film premieres on Saturday, April 20th from 7 to 8:45 p.m. (central). It’s a fictional account grounded in the fact that malaria continues to kill more than 1,400 kids a day.

Oscar-winner Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) and Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies) respectively play the disparate title characters.

Mary Morgan is an interior designer living a prosperous life in a picturesque Virginia coastal town with her husband, Peter (Frank Grillo), and their pre-teen son, George (Lux Haney-Jardine). Martha O’Connell is a middle-aged British housewife married to a largely indifferent husband (Ian Redford as Charles). Their son is 24-year-old Ben (Sam Claflin), whose aimless life is emboldened by his sudden decision to volunteer as an orphanage teacher in Mozambique.

Ben ventures on his own to Africa while Mary decides to embark on a remedial “Swiss Family Morgan” adventure after learning that her son is being bullied at school. George is prototypically reluctant at the outset of their planned six-month stay in Africa. But of course he warms to the situation, with mom constantly beaming before tragedy strikes in the form of a mosquito flying through a small hole in their preventive tent netting. George dies wrenchingly on-camera while Ben does not.

Virtually everything about Mary and Martha is formulaic in terms of the two lead characters’ pain-stricken journeys toward a shared cause. Mary even has an emotionally cold, estranged father, played by James Woods, who comes through at crunch time by flexing some of his political connections in Washington.

Still, the film grows in power, with both Swank and Blethyn engaging a viewer’s sympathies through the force of their performances apart and eventually together after a chance meeting.

A number of scenes resonate, none more so than Martha’s first meeting with Ben’s African girlfriend, Micaela (Nokuthula Ledwaba). Swank is also first-rate as a self-blaming mother in an emotional abyss.

Mary and Martha is a U-turn from the graphic sex, violence and language deployed in HBO series such as Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire. The film could air untouched -- and reach a larger audience -- on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox. But all four have long been out of the made-for-TV movie business, save for a very occasional dibble dab.

HBO subscribers thereby are the beneficiaries of a film with star power and staying power. It won’t surprise you with its outcome -- or for the most part, how it gets there. But it may well have more of an impact than anticipated. And all without the usual R-rated HBO additives.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Five minutes with Robert Redford -- and the clock is ticking


Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford in 1976’s All the President’s Men.

Pleasant surprise. It’s Robert Redford on the phone for a five-minute one-on-one interview that wasn’t supposed to be -- until the last minute.

A half-hour conference call with “select reporters,” as an email invitation put it, was being set up for Thursday, April 11th in connection with Discovery Channel’s All the President’s Men Revisited. It’s a 90-minute documentary film premiering Sunday, April 21st at 7 p.m. (central).

Your friendly content provider felt pretty good about being included in the mix, but didn’t really expect to get a question in. Realistically, unclebarky.com tends to be pretty low in the pecking order in these circumstances. They’re understandably going to take the bigger fish first.

But shortly before start time, another email said the format had been changed. Redford’s representatives would be calling directly, and I’d get five minutes of my very own with him among the six reporters participating from far media entities such as The New York Daily News and The Huffington Post.

“You get the ‘sound bite’ “ segment, Redford said affably as we went on the clock with his publicist keeping time.

The Discovery film, for which Redford is narrator, interview subject and co-executive producer, looks back at the making of the 1976 film All the President’s Men while also gathering many of the surviving real-life principals for new interviews. Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart, who respectively were one- and 11-years-old when President Richard Nixon resigned on Aug. 8, 1974, are also included in the parade of talking heads.

It’s Stewart’s belief that a Hollywood studio wouldn’t have green-lighted All the President’s Men for the big screen without its over-riding cloak-and-dagger figure.

“I tend to think that no ‘Deep Throat,’ no movie,” he says. “I just think there is something so incredibly Bond-ish about it.”

Redford, who co-starred as Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward, won’t go quite that far.

“I think he makes a good point,” he says of Stewart. “Obviously, I was very excited about the issue of Deep Throat. It took four years to make this film. And I was thinking all along, ‘God, I hope it doesn’t come out who Deep Throat is.’ But I think there would have been enough there anyway. Because it was really about what these two reporters (Woodward and Carl Bernstein) did, showing journalism from the inside and how hard work produced good results. So I think there still would have been a film. But it certainly was enhanced by Deep Throat.”

Redford and co-star Dustin Hoffman reunite for the Discovery film, sitting in deck chairs after exchanging pleasantries. But very little of their conversation made the final cut amid all the other talking heads and archival footage. Redford seems a little vexed by this.

“Yes, there will be more that we can say on the DVD (version), with Dustin and I talking about the work we did. Because a lot went into playing that, starting with the fact that they (Woodward and Bernstein) at first didn’t get along. I thought that was pretty powerful, and the (Discovery) film didn’t have time to show that. A film has got to know where to end. Right now I think it goes on further than it should. I would have stopped it earlier.” (The director is Peter Schnall, whose credits include George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview and Secret Service Files: Protecting the President.)

The Discovery film notes a near-fatal error made by Woodward and Bernstein during the early stages of their sleuthing. They erroneously fingered Nixon’s right-hand man, H.R. Haldeman, as the fifth man exercising control over “hush money” being funneled by the Committee To Re-Elect the President. In Bernstein’s words during the Discovery film, “We made a mistake. We (expletive) up.”

Watergate dawned long before the blogosphere and its innumerable partisan attackers. Would Woodward and Bernstein have been cut off at the neck the way Dan Rather was in the immediate aftermath of his 60 Minutes II report on George W. Bush’s questionable Texas Air National Guard service?

Redford thinks Rather’s reporting on Bush might have lived to fight another day back in the 1970s. “There are so many voices out there now,” he says. “And so many are making mistakes right and left. Everybody’s claiming the truth. You don’t know where the truth is anymore.”

It’s also Redford’s belief that the “toxic” atmosphere in today’s Washington would have blocked the nationally televised Senate Watergate committee hearings that led to Nixon’s resignation.

At least one of the former president’s men remains steadfastly loyal to his old boss. Ben Stein, who graduated with Bernstein in 1962 from Maryland’s Montgomery Blair High School, went on to write speeches for Nixon and also serve as one of his lawyers. Archival footage in the Discovery film shows him tearfully watching Nixon say goodbye to his staff. And Stein weeps anew in the new interview for All the President’s Men Revisited.

I don’t think any president has been more wrongly persecuted than Nixon, ever,” Stein says. “I think he was a saint.”

Redford says it’s “great to have that kind of emotional outburst from somebody who still couldn’t accept it. We didn’t have to show that. But I wanted to show it.”

The phone line was left open after the half-dozen interviews had run their course. Told that he was done, Redford replied, “Boy, am I done. You have no idea how done I am.”

But he’s not finished talking yet. Redford is scheduled to promote All The President’s Men Revisited on NBC’s Meet the Press this Sunday. And before that, there’s an invitation-only April 18th screening of the film at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., with Redford, Woodward and Bernstein participating in a follow-up Q&A.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

A comic in full prime: HBO's Louis C.K.: Oh My God


Louis C.K. at heart is still a standup guy. HBO photo

“Red-Hot Comic Returns to the Network for his Fourth HBO Stand-Up Special,” says the come-on.

And who might that be? Louis C.K. without question. Because no comedian is red hotter right now. Chris Rock. Jerry Seinfeld. Dave Chappelle. All took their turns in the red hot seat. But for the past year or so it’s been Louis C.K. by a mile, with his FX series Louie striking the match on behalf of a somewhat slovenly 45-year-old guy with everyman looks and no airs about him.

HBO’s Louis C.K.: Oh My God (Saturday, April 13th at 9 p.m. central) is another work of art from a guy who’s taking an extended hiatus from Louie to do what he damned pleases for a while.

Filmed in February at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, the one-hour special is bracingly unvarnished and gets quickly to the point.

“This is easily the nicest place for many miles in every direction,” Louis says of his theater-in-the-round surroundings. After the first wave of laughter recedes, he adds, “That’s how you compliment a building and shit on a town in one sentence.”

His delivery is crisper than the bacon he adores. One riff leads seamlessly to another, whether he’s talking about the sanctity of divorce, parents who post their kids’ every moves on Facebook or the beauty of age over youth. As in, “A 55-year-old garbageman is a million times smarter than a 28-year-old with three PhDs.” We won’t get into further details of why he thinks this is. Other than to say that life experiences add up, no matter how base they might be.

Much of the material is graphic. But whether using a blunt instrument or a scalpel, Louis invariably succeeds in making his pointed points. After a brief discourse on animal and aquatic life, he says to big laughter, “Must be awful to be other kinds of stuff. I’m glad I’m this.” Mainly because it’s a “massive upgrade” when you are “out of the food chain.”

This doesn’t come off the top of his head. Composing and crafting an hour of new material is no small task even for the most resourceful of comedians. Louis remains a master at it, though. He doesn’t do impressions -- although he does make a few animal sounds. Nor does he aim at easy targets in the pop culture universe, leaving Honey Boo Boo to others.

Here’s a guy who just talks about what he perceives as the commonalities of being human. Louis C.K. shoots from the lip and keeps scoring. The beauty is the seeming ease with which he does this. And the knowledge of how hard it really is.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Syfy's Defiance a visual plus but often an audio minus

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Left to right, the right and wrong sides on Defiance. Syfy photos

Premiering: Monday, April 15th at 8 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Grant Bowler, Julie Benz, Stephanie Leonidas, Tony Curran, Jaime Murray, Graham Greene, Mia Kirshner, Jesse Rath, Nicole Munoz, Trenna Keating
Produced by: Kevin Murphy, Michael Taylor, Rockne O’Bannon

The ripping good special effects of Syfy’s Defiance harken to Fox’s recently failed and likewise futuristic Terra Nova, which also popped the eyes.

In each case, the bigger your DVD screen, the better. Another shared trait: the scripts and story lines tend to be cliche-heavy and sense-dulling predictable.

But Defiance, premiering Monday, April 15th with a two-hour episode, is decidedly different in one new worldly respect. Syfy, owned by NBC Universal, is touting it as a “transmedia event” being launched “as both an original series and a multi-platform video game . . . Each week viewers will follow an immersive character drama set in the boom-town of Defiance, which sits atop the ruins of St. Louis, while in the game, players will experience the new frontier of the San Francisco Bay area.”

Furthermore, “events in the show will impact the game, and events in the game will impact the show, creating an unprecedented interactive storytelling experience,” according to Syfy publicity materials.

Frankly, that sounds like a little too much work. But go for it if you’d like while these spaces stick to a review of just the show.

Here are the basics. A huge incursion of seven different alien races led to a “Terraformed Earth” 33 years into the future. All-out war has left a lot of devastation. But in Defiance, formerly St. Louis, the famed arch remains while various groups of aliens and humans strive to live peaceably. Alas, they’re also subject to periodic attacks by vicious outside forces.

Viewers are first introduced to former Marine and latter day “tracker” Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler from Lifetime’s recent Liz & Dick) and his fiery adopted daughter, Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas). She’s an Irathient by birth, and they often don’t get along very well. Still, dad and daughter manage to act in perfect harmony during a spirited and quite prolonged sing-along to Johnny Cash’s “Jackson.” It’s their road music for a salvage mission that yields a blue, glowing ball. It looks like a thrift store castoff but supposedly is worth millions. And this time Joshua promises to parlay any riches into Irisa’s dream trip to the promised land of Antarctica, which she has seen only in a postcard book.

Meanwhile, Defiance is being run by new mayor Amanda Rosewater (Julie Benz), who delivers what’s supposed to be a stirring speech (but isn’t) on Armistice Day. The scheming Albino-like Castithan couple of Datak and Stahma Tarr (Tony Curran, Jaime Murray) are in attendance, as is grumpy mining magnate Rafe McCawley (Graham Greene). Another central character, Amanda’s sister, Kenya (Mia Kirshner), runs the NeedWant bar and brothel.

Rafe’s rebellious daughter, Christie (Nicole Munoz), wants to marry the Tarrs’ son, Alak (Jesse Rath). Friction ensues between the families while Defiance also girds for a major invasion by the bad-nasty Volges. Will Joshua stick around to help out after the mayor delivers a paint-by-the-numbers pep talk to the citizenry? Might he end up being the town’s new “Lawkeeper?” You already know those answers.

Bowler tries hard to be a jaunty, glib Joshua, but the script does him no favors. And the way he says “Yeahhhh” Sunday night is very reminiscent of Gary Cole’s delivery of that word as the unyielding bossman of Office Space.

But the mayor and Greene’s Rafe get stuck with most of the clunkier lines. In next week’s Episode 2, hear the old man bellow, “If you walk out that door again, there’s no coming back.” And later: “Predicting the future’s a sucker’s game.” Viewers also will learn that Rafe’s dad was “Chow Down Brown,” a prosperous dog food merchandiser. It’s downright painful when Joshua sings the company’s jingle while Rafe grouses some more.

But at least Irisa, also known as “Little Wolf,” emerges as a standout character in the three episodes sent for review. And the Tarrs can be some fun with their quirky ways and villainous sneers. Wife Stahma also rocks some outfits that would be even too abbreviated for Dancing with the Stars.

All the while, Defiance certainly doesn’t look cheap. The big battle climaxing Episode 1 is pretty much a wowser. Landscapes are breathtaking throughout and those big bad “Hellbugs” in Episode 3 are also impressively rendered. The accompanying, frequently deployed mood music doesn’t fare nearly so well. Particularly a lengthy “Ooh, ooh child, things are gonna get easier” tableau at the end of Episode 3. It’s one big “Please stop!” groaner.

Defiance is definitely a treat for the eyes, though, if not always the ears. It’s good to see a cable network aspiring to do something big and bold rather than again dipping into America’s seemingly bottomless pit of “real-life” hillbillies, bumpkins and big-bearded non-bathers. So thanks for that, Syfy. Now please get to work on the basics.


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"Leo" bares his chest, struts his 15th century stuff in Starz's Da Vinci's Demons


A fleshed-out ”Leo” Da Vinci coupling with Lucrezia Donati. Starz photo

Premiering: Friday, April 12th at 9 p.m. (central) on Starz
Starring: Tom Riley, Laura Haddock, Elliot Cowan, Blake Ritson, Eros Vlahos, Blake Ritson, Lara Pulver, James Faulkner
Produced by: David S. Goyer

Robin Hood had Little John, Batman had Robin and now Leonardo “Leo” Da Vinci has doughy, diminutive Nico.

The latter sidekick actually goes on to be an A-lister in his own right, although the Starz network is asking reviewers not to foretell his somewhat distant future. Not that Da Vinci’s Demons is big on believability or historical accuracy. The eight-part series, premiering Friday, April 12th, is patently ridiculous on those fronts. But it’s also an often energetically entertaining and handsomely mounted romp through 15th century Florence, Italy.

Tom Riley as Da Vinci is a handsome mount as well, whether on horseback or atop the manipulative Lucrezia Donati (Laura Haddock), who in a howler of a bedroom scene tells the famed Renaissance man, “You saw me, you drew me, you fell in love. It’s as simple as that . . . Now (f-bomb) me again, Leonardo.”

No need to be so formal. His friends call him “Leo,” and he’s prone to fits of temperament and leather outfits that invariably expose a goodly amount of our hero’s muscular chest. Forget about those familiar portraits of an old, fulsomely bearded Da Vinci. This one is very much (male) modeled on Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ portrayal of a slim, trim Henry VIII in the Showtime series The Tudors.

Starz, like Showtime and HBO, is not beholden to any advertiser constraints. So in just the first five minutes of Sunday’s opener, we’ve already had male nudity, female nudity and an industrial strength expletive.

The male on display is none other than Hugh Bonneville, who stars as Earl of Grantham Robert Crawley in PBS’ Downton Abbey. Don’t get used to him as the Duke of Milan. He’s barely had time to dispatch a young likewise nude male lover before encountering a quick and unexpected end to this walk-through.

Da Vinci’s Demons is created, written and directed by David S. Groyer, who co-wrote the big screen’s Dark Knight trilogy and has sole credit for the penmanship on the upcoming Man of Steel. He seems intent on quickly proving that his Pope Sixtus IV (James Faulkner) is more diabolical and amoral than Jeremy Irons’ Pope Alexander VI on Showtime’s The Borgias, which returns for its third season on Sunday, April 14th.

Sixtus is first seen in a big indoor pool, holding a young nude man at knifepoint. He then emerges with privates dangling in full view before ordering his pool mate’s throat slit. Not a nice man. And he’s also the not-so-holy father of villainous Girolamo Riario (Blake Ritson), who arrives full force in Episode 2.

Da Vinci tends to be full of himself, although he prefers to call it confidence. Sidekick Nico (Eros Vlahos) is regularly used as a guinea pig for his latest invention. And early in Episode 1, Nico flies picturesquely high while strapped to a giant kite pulled along by Leo aboard a horse-drawn cart.

Odd-looking oracles drop in and out, informing the title character of mysteries he must uncover and challenges he’ll face. Because, after all, “the knowledge you are destined to learn will upend the established order of things.” One of these seers comically says he’s staying at the local Inn of the Black Swan, maybe because the Ugly Ducking Lodge had no vacancies. Da Vinci’s Demons is never too far from a silly or over-blown slice of dialogue. Still, it’s not boring.

One of Leo’s principal challenges is a despotic father who’s enraged by his growing influence with the fairly nasty Lorenzo Medici (Elliot Cowan), for whom the young visionary wants to build state-of-the-art siege weapons.

“I see things as they are, not as they might be,” says a shackled Leo, whose father responds with, “Beat him for another hour. Then toss him back onto the street with the rest of the garbage.”

He emerges incredibly and remarkably unscathed to reunite with Nico and other pals. And in Episode 2, Leo also survives his father bellowing at him, “You’re the bastard son of a servant girl I spilled my seed into.” That’s cold.

Da Vinci’s Demons halfway succeeds on the strength of its vigorous, devil-may-care approach, even if it’s also almost thoroughly preposterous in terms of the central character’s deductive powers and abilities. The overall intent, it seems, is to present Leonardo Da Vinci as a dashing, glib-tongued comic book action hero with an eye for the pretty ladies and they for him.

“The whole point of progress is over-reaching,” he declares. Which this fable certainly does.


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R.I.P. Annette Funicello: Oct. 22, 1942 to April 8, 2013

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Young lads growing up during television’s toddler years were virtually unanimous when it came to Mouseketeer Annette Funicello.

She made us secretly or not so secretly like girls, even though they were still supposed to be icky to a seven-year-old kid like me on the afternoon of Oct. 3,1955.

That’s the day The Mickey Mouse Club premiered in all its black-and-white after-school glory. And of the nine original Mouseketeers -- also including Cubby, Karen, Bobby, Darlene, Tommy, Sharon, Lonnie and Doreen -- Annette stood out like a Popsicle on a vegetable plate. She died on Tuesday, April 8th at age 70 of complications from Multiple Sclerosis, which she had endured since 1992.

Annette’s fellow Mouseketeers also had their moments. But her attributes, both talent-wise and otherwise, took her to another level that never really leveled off.

It’s a fun trivial matter to note that Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Keri Russell, and Ryan Gosling went on to become stars after first appearing in latter-day incarnations of The Mickey Mouse Club.

But Annette became a star of the first magnitude during her 1955-’59 year stint as a Mouseketeer. Those subsequent hit Beach Party movies with Frankie Avalon were driven by her already huge popularity. The first one, in 1963, was a mega-event in those days for both tweens and teens.

Despite her remarkable popularity, Annette never hit the skids or had a scandal. She was personally discovered by Walt Disney, and always revered both the man and the wholesome family entertainment he so skillfully packaged. That made her a square with some eye-popping curves that had about as much chance of being bared in the pages of Playboy as Hugh Hefner has of guest-hosting The 700 Club.

In 1995’s The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book by Lorraine Santoli, Annette recalls the 16th birthday present she received from Disney: “He knocked on the door of the little red trailer where I was going to school and said, ‘Annette, I’d like to see you for a minute.’ So I went outside and he presented me with a script and said, ‘Happy Sweet Sixteen, you’re appearing on Zorro.’ I was so touched I started crying. He knew how I felt about Guy Williams (who played the title character). I mean, who could ask for a better boss?”

Annette also wrote the Foreword to The Official Mickey Mouse Club Book. People often ask her where her original Mouska-ears are, she said. “And I tell them they’re bronzed and sitting in my living room. I had them bronzed so every time I pass by, I’d be reminded of wonderful memories. I owe everything to those ears and feel so lucky to have been one of the chosen few who can call themselves original Mouseketeers.”

She no doubt meant every word of this. Through superstardom, ill health and even in 1965’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Annette Funicello was ever-gracious, never salacious. Her passing means she’ll feel no more pain from a debilitating disease.

It’s also cause for some of us to remember the way we were -- and the way she was -- during her time as the biggest kid star on the planet.

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Mad Men's anxiety-laden Season 6


Don Draper (Jon Hamm) with wife, ex-wife, daughter. AMC photo

It’s the Christmas season again on Mad Men. Tidings of comfort and joy need not apply.

This may or may not constitute a “spoiler” in the mind of uber protective creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner. He’s again sent a letter to TV writers with chapter-and-verse instructions on what not to reveal as Season 6 gets underway with a two-hour episode subtitled “The Doorway” (Sunday, April 7th at 8 p.m. central on AMC). Let’s tick off his five no-no’s:

The year the season begins
Well, Season 5 ended in the spring of 1967, with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) alone in a bar contemplating whether to be unfaithful to his apprentice actress wife, Megan (Jessica Pare). There are references Sunday night to an upcoming Cotton Bowl with Alabama and Texas A&M and a Super Bowl in which the Green Bay Packers will play either the Oakland Raiders or Houston Oilers. You’re on your own from here.

Status of Don and Megan’s relationship
It’s already been leaked that they begin the season on holiday in Hawaii. AMC also has released some beachfront photos. Don and Megan look happy together.

Whether the agency has expanded to an additional floor
This is a ridiculous demand on Weiner’s part. Yes, it has.

New characters
Let’s just note that James Wolk, former star of Fox’s short-lived, Texas-made Lone Star, is newly added to the cast. Most producers are happy to divulge cast additions and their roles. But not Weiner, so we’ll leave it at that.

New relationships or partners
This is mainly aimed at Don Draper. And yes, there’s some activity on this front.

The Season 6 premiere in general terms is very much about soul-searching, anxiety and specters of death. These are two fairly slow-paced hours, with at least one odd and rather clumsily executed side trip involving Don’s ex-wife, Betty (January Jones). Her brief but creepy bedtime discourse with second husband Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) is likewise out of the blue. Maybe Weiner really doesn’t know what do with this character anymore -- and should have written her out.

Meanwhile, Don and Betty’s only daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) is growing up fast and getting more restive and insolent by the minute.

Two of Mad Men’s principal supporting characters, Pete Campell (Vincent Kartheiser) and especially Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), are given little to do in these opening two hours. But Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), now working for a rival ad agency, comes strongly to the fore while Don’s longtime partner and commiserator, Roger Sterling (John Slattery), struggles to re-charge his batteries and give a damn.

The ad agency goings-on, so vital to Mad Men in its early seasons, have receded somewhat but are hardly out of the picture. There are still important clients to satisfy, with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and Koss headphones of paramount concern Sunday night. An ad campaign for the latter is waylaid by an inopportune standup comic’s joke on The Tonight Show, prompting Peggy to make on-the-fly adjustments. The review DVD sent to TV writers has her unleashing an f-bomb that presumably will not make air. If it does, it’ll make news on an advertiser-supported network.

Whatever the sub-stories, the state of Don Draper’s psyche will always be Mad Men’s end-all, be-all. And as the second-to-last season begins, he remains an impeccably dressed, tightly wound bundle of damaged goods who can’t seem to square himself with the establishment-defying, free-form closing years of the ‘60s.

Save for the bed-hopping, of course. That’s always been his specialty, with looks that still kill while Draper keeps dying inside. Weiner’s end-game for his leading man does not appear to be brightly lit. Nor is Season 6 of Mad Men off to a particularly sparkling start creatively while we wait for the worst to come.


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Rogue lands with a thud as DirecTV's first original scripted series


Former ER co-star Thandie Newton in Rogue. DirecTV photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 3rd at 8 p.m. (central) on DirecTV’s Audience network
Starring: Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Kavan Smith, Sarah Jeffery, Claudia Ferri, Joshua Sasse
Produced by: Matthew Parkhill

Dreary in tone and storyline -- and mostly dimly lit as well -- Rogue is a decidedly uninviting vehicle for DirecTV’s first original scripted series.

The satellite service sent the first two episodes for review, but one definitely seemed like more than enough.

Thandie Newton, a regular on NBC’s ER during the show’s latter seasons, plays an Oakland undercover cop named Grace Travis. But for the first 15 minutes or so, it’s hard to know exactly what she is. A viewer’s patience is initially tested and eventually goes unrewarded in an opening hour that also trades heavily on a one-note crime boss named Jimmy Laszlo (Marton Csokas).

Travis is helping to arrange drug deals for him while also apparently trying to reel him in. But along the way her pre-teen son is murdered by forces unknown. And four months later, a strung-out, grieving Grace is determined to find the shooter, even if most viewers may not care if she does.

Grace is also surly, profane and estranged from her teen daughter, Evie (Sarah Jeffery), who snarls, “Oh good, another promise. I’ll add it to my collection.”

None of this really clicks. And the script is no help with lines such as “We sit tight until my say!” That line comes from meanie Jimmy, whose son, Alec (Joshua Sasse) is a restive thug who wants more respect from the old man.

The Audience network arm of DirecTV, which will house Rogue, is not burdened by commercials. So characters are free to drop f-bombs with abandon, which they do. Newton also gets briefly naked in a shower scene.

DirecTV is best known to date as the noble rescuer of quality dramas such as NBC’s Friday Night Lights and FX’s Damages. Both series deservedly received longer leases thanks to DirecTV’s intervention and partial funding.

Rogue mostly needs to rescue itself from itself. And that does not look like it’s going to happen.

GRADE: C-minus

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Springtime for Leno: next year's will be his last as host of Tonight Show


Jimmy Fallon’s no longer riding in late night sidecar. NBC photo

Jay Leno officially and unwillingly walked the plank Wednesday, ceding The Tonight Show to Jimmy Fallon on a yet to be announced date in spring 2014.

Still No. 1 in both total viewers and advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, Leno squared his ample jaw and said in an official NBC statement: “Congratulations Jimmy. I hope you’re as lucky as me and hold on to the job until you’re the old guy. If you need me, I’ll be at the garage.”

Fallon, currently the host of NBC’s followup Late Night show, said in turn: “I’m really excited to host a show that starts today instead of tomorrow.” In Eastern and Pacific time zones, that is.

As previously reported by The New York Times’ Bill Carter, Tonight will be returning to its New York roots after Johnny Carson took the show West in 1972. And Lorne Michaels will be the new producer, adding that responsibility to his long-held stewardship of NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

NBC also said that “programming plans” for Fallon’s current Late Night slot “currently are in development and will be announced soon.” The presumed successor is Seth Meyers, currently a key writer on SNL and also anchor of the show’s “Weekend Update” segments.

Meyers’ loyalty to both Michaels and NBC would appear to be rock-solid. But at 39, he’s a year older than Fallon, an unusual situation in terms of a late night pecking order that historically has had a younger man in waiting for the big job. In that context, it might make sense for CBS to make a big play for Meyers as the man to succeed the soon to be 66-year-old host of its Late Show with David Letterman. Just a thought.

NBC Universal’s chief executive officer, Steve Burke, lauded Leno as “entertainment icon” whose “long reign as the highest-rated late night host is a testament to his work ethic and dedication to his viewers and to NBC.”

Nonetheless, “We are purposefully making this change when Jay is #1, just as Jay replaced Johnny Carson when he was #1,” Burke said. “Jimmy Fallon is a unique talent and this is his time. I’m thrilled he will become the sixth host of The Tonight Show at exactly the right moment, in conjunction with our coverage of next year’s Winter Olympic Games from Sochi, Russia.”

The situations aren’t nearly parallel. Carson announced his retirement on his own terms. Leno, who will be 63 on April 28th, clearly is being forced out after NBC basically panicked at the thought of ABC’s 45-year-old Jimmy Kimmel eventually sucking up the majority of 18-to-49-year-olds after being promoted to the 10:35 p.m. (central) slot earlier this year. So far, though, Leno is still outdrawing his younger rival in this key demographic.

Leno’s joke about being “at the garage” (he owns a fleet of vintage autos and motorcycles) is not likely to be the reality for him. His late night options on the surface appear to be limited. But Fox, which couldn’t persuade its affiliate stations to buy into Conan O’Brien as a late night host, might possibly see Leno as a more established late night attraction with a strong “mainstream” appeal that Kimmel and Fallon still can’t match. His drawing power among younger viewers is more limited, but Leno is still winning that war as well.

O’Brien, who seems to have faded into relative obscurity with his TBS late nighter, is still very much in favor with his network. Earlier this week, TBS extended Conan through November of 2015, lauding O’Brien for leading “the late-night crowd when it comes to online activity and engagement, with the show and its host drawing more than 8.3 million followers on Twitter, 2 million fans on Facebook, 2 million unique users each month on TeamCoco.com and 15 million video views each month on TeamCoco.com and YouTube.”

That may be the real future of late night television, which in effect has become anytime TV in the social media arena. Both Fallon and Kimmel are likewise adept in this environment while Leno and Letterman have virtually no presence and seemingly no real interest in having one.

Should Letterman survive, he’ll have competition in New York on late night’s main stage for the first time since joining CBS in 1993. Leno succeeded Carson in 1992. Save for a brief, ill-fated fling in prime-time, he’s been the Tonight host ever since.

As NBC noted in Wednesday’s publicity release, the Tonight Show has “ranked #1 ahead of its ABC and CBS time-period competition in 18-49 viewers and total viewers for each season since Leno’s return in March 2010 and for the 14 seasons before his departure in May 2009.

NBC is making a switch anyway. And in the Peacock’s oft-tortured way of thinking, that makes perfect sense.

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NBC's Hannibal not a happy meal -- or a particularly fulfilling one


You are what you eat. The ensemble cast of Hannibal. NBC photos

Premiering: Thursday, April 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams, Gina Torres
Produced by: Bryan Fuller, Martha De Laurentiis, Jesse Alexander, Chris Brancato, Sara Colleton, Katie O’Connell, Elisa Roth, Sidonie Dumas, Christophe Riandee

There’s a lot to digest in NBC’s Hannibal, much of it distasteful and, worse yet from a storytelling standpoint, increasingly impossible to swallow.

This becomes more evident as this NBC series deteriorates from a graphic but promising first episode to a third hour that basically falls apart from any rational credibility standpoint.

Hannibal also gorges itself on the murders and mutilations of mostly young women. It’s become an apparently incurable epidemic on the increasingly desperate Big 4 broadcast networks. And Hannibal, in its fifth hour, presents the stomach-churning sight of a nurse crawling on all fours after having her eyes gouged out. She ends up as a crime scene exhibit, impaled by far too many sharp instruments to count. Guess she got lucky. In Thursday’s premiere, a coed is found on nude display in the great outdoors, perforated by a dozen or more deer antlers on a sacrificial altar of sorts. She’s the 10th of 11 female victims in the first hour alone.

One wasn’t expecting a Good Ship Lollipop. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Mads Mikkelsen this time around) is the now renowned serial-killing cannibal popularized in the Thomas Harris novels and several feature films. So a certain amount of gore is expected if not demanded, even if Lecter isn’t directly responsible for most of the dead bodies piling up in the first five episodes sent to TV critics.

Lecter instead is the Arnold Schwarzenegger-accented psychiatrist brought in to help criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) get a grip on himself. He has the unfortunate -- for him at least -- ability to see into the psyches of serial killers and put himself in their shoes as they wreak mayhem.

A vivid demonstration of this is right up top in Episode 1, complete with pounding/screeching music and three vertical light bars whenever Will in a sense, “hulks out.” This allows him to personally reenact, in gruesome detail, the murders of an innocent homebound couple. And there’s no scrimping on the fake blood budget.

Insular, anti-social Will also schools cadets at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, where he demonstrates the hows and whys of killers. But he’s reluctantly on call to taciturn FBI Behavioral Science Unit head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne in a segue from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation). For starters, Crawford wants to catch whoever’s abducted eight female Minnesota students, seven of them already presumed dead.

“They’re all very Mall of America,” Will says drily. Guess that’s supposed to be funny.

Hannibal in fact is pretty engaging in the first two episodes. Dancy nicely inhabits his tortured soul role and Mikkelsen is interestingly cryptic as well as an accomplished gourmet cook whose guests really have no idea what they’re eating. “Next time bring your wife,” he tells Fishburne’s Crawfrod near the end of Episode 2. “I’d love to have you both for dinner.”

But it all starts tumbling down in Episode 3, with amoral blogger “Freddie” Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) of tattlecrime.com repeatedly gaining laughably easily access to crime scenes and key players.

You think the cops on Fox’s The Following are bad at protecting people? Not compared to these law enforcement types. Even the unhinged brother of one of the deceased is able to easily stroll in and threaten the surviving daughter of a deranged killer father. It then gets even more ludicrous when Lecter manages to intercede and blackmail her. This whole storyline is then abruptly dropped by Episode 4, even though the daughter in question is still presumably suspected of possibly being an accomplice in her father’s foul deeds.


Dinner’s served: Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter.

Episode 4 begins with Will walking down a highway in his underwear, with an imagined moose trailing him. In other words he’s increasingly troubled and haunted by gruesome crime scenes and the killings he’d reenacted. Another gross-out double murder is just around the corner, though. Hmm, wonder how the perpetrator eventually managed, all by himself, to . . . well, never mind. You’ll probably ask the same question when and if you see him in his final state.

Hour 5 includes a guest appearance by Eddie Izzard as the aforementioned nurse-slayer. Housed at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he committed the murder, he’d now also like to take credit for being the vile, still at large Chesapeake Ripper. The episode also includes flashback scenes tied to Crawford’s ill-fated grooming and mentoring of a budding young female FBI profiler.

When not succumbing to over-the-top, ooh-scary mood music, Hannibal takes multiple stabs at being thought-provoking on the subjects of life, death and even the Creator. Lecter and Will have what’s meant to a pithy exchange at the close of Episode 2.

“Killing must feel good to God, too,” Lecter says after Will struggles with feeling oddly exhilarated about blowing away his first bad guy. “He does it all the time. And are we not created in His image?”

“That depends on who you ask,” Will replies.

Lecter: “God is terrific. He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshippers last Wednesday night in Texas while they sang a hymn.”

Will: “Did God feel good about that?”

Lecter: “He felt powerful.”

If you think about it, that’s a lot of mumbo jumbo disguised as deep-think. Hannibal starts out in stronger shape than that before becoming gratuitous with its carnage and too often ludicrous in getting from A to B. Still, the performances are solid for the most part, with Dancy looking every bit as drained and haunted as Kevin Bacon does on a weekly basis in The Following.

That Fox series has gotten bogged down of late. Even so, it’s still in better shape at present than Hannibal will be by the end of Episode 3. It makes one appreciate Showtime’s Dexter all the more. After seven seasons it’s still got a pulse. And at least Dexter Morgan’s serial killing victims are mostly murderous men who richly deserve being sliced, diced and thrown overboard.


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ABC longs for a hit sitcom with one of the longest titles ever -- How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)


Throw another oddball family on the grill in new sitcom. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 3rd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Sarah Chalke, Brad Garrett, Elizabeth Perkins, Jon Dore, Rachel Eggleston, Stephanie Hunt
Produced by: Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo, Claudia Lonow

ABC still has an occasional thing for elongated sitcom titles.

8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter.

The recently canceled Don’t Trust the B -- in Apartment 23.

And now How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).

The above 12 words are seven more than the two current runner-ups on broadcast network TV -- CBS’ How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men. The norm is one-to-three words. And most of the big ratings hits over the past three decades -- Seinfeld, Cheers, Friends, Frasier, Newhart, Roseanne, M*A*S*H, Three’s Company, Happy Days, The Jeffersons, Family Ties, Home Improvement, Murphy Brown, Laverne & Shirley, The Cosby Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace, etc. -- have conformed to these very simple rules.

So what the hell does ABC think it’s doing -- in so many words? Well, the network is tempting fate, and likely will end up on the losing end again with How to Live (hereby shortened for its own good).

It has a principal cast of three accomplished pros. And they’ll sometimes show you the funny in the three episodes available for review. This isn’t a flat-out terrible comedy series. Still, it tends to labor for laughs in a manner befitting its laborious title. And the basic premise -- adult kid reluctantly moves in with wacky parents -- seems shopworn to the point of no gainful returns. But at least there’s no laugh track.

Sarah Chalke (Scrubs) plays Polly, the recently divorced mom of a hard-to-please six-year-old named Natalie (Rachel Eggleston). Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) is her stepdad, Max, and Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds) her mother, Elaine. Polly shows up on their doorstep during a rainy day -- oh the symbolism -- and remains in residence six months later while also finding a job at the local little Fresh Side market.

The parents are unreconstructed free spirits who love to drink, dink and dunk. And they say the damnedest things, of course, with testicular cancer played for laughs in Wednesday’s premiere shortly after Elaine proclaims, “I am very proud of my orgasms.”

Max is still upset about a remedial operation in which “you let them take my ball.” Elaine replies, “Oh, I think you look so much better with just the one.”

Polly’s amiable but doofus ex-husband Julian (Jon Dore) drops in and out to serve as a confidante or hapless punching bag. “Do you have any idea how lucky you are to have two working balls? Don’t squander them,” Max counsels.

Another episode, currently scheduled for April 17th, is built around Max’s and Elaine’s annual over-the-top Oscars party. This gives Polly an opportunity to talk about her pair of attributes, neither once removed.

“I call these babies Kyra and Sedgwick,” she says. “Ya wanna know why? Because they are The Closer.” A hunky old acquaintance dubbed “Hot Scott” (the recurring Reid Scott) is the target of opportunity. Oof.

A couple of exchanges at the party, both of which have to do with the Oscars themselves, provide some odd out-of-body moments. Max laments at one point, ”You think I want to be out here missing the Irving Thalberg Award?” Hmm, that particular trophy is now handed out separately from the main event at an earlier non-televised ceremony.

Max and his brother-in-law later get into an argument over including Andy Griffith in the “In Memoriam” segment.

“Why is Andy Griffith in there? He’s a TV guy,” the brother-in-law protests before Max lectures him about Griffith appearing in director Elia Kazan’s A Face In the Crowd before becoming a pillar of the small screen.

This is true. But in fact the Academy took considerable heat this year for not including Griffith among its recitation of the dead. These errors could still be fixed, but will How to Live even bother? Or is it just too lazy?

A third episode, set for May 1st, is the best of the bunch. It focuses on the rebellious nature of little kids, with Max harping on Polly for “capitulating to a munchkin terrorist.”

Hot Scott’s two sons also turn out to be in their bratty stages. There’s some fun, although not an abundance of it, in watching all concerned trying to tame the little, er, darlings.

How to Live is decently performed in light of the oft over-reaching material at hand. And sometimes a fairly sharp exchange breaks though, as when Elaine tells her daughter in Episode 1, “I know what’s going on.” To which she retorts, “Ooh, that’s a nice change of pace for you.”

Another line likely is more to the point, though. Polly’s closing narration Wednesday night ends with, “I wonder if they have wi-fi at the homeless shelter.”

That may well also be the fate for How to Live to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life). Many sitcoms have come, and only a relative few have been chosen in the annals of network television. None of the eventual long-distance runners has ever been saddled with a title as long as this.


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