03/15/12 09:30 AM
Premiering: Thursday, March 15th at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Ashley Judd, Cliff Curtis, Adriano Giannini, Nick Eversman, Tereza Voriskova
Produced by: Gregory Poirier, Gina Matthews, Grant Scharbo, Stephen Shill, James Parriott
By ED BARK
ABC, official network of empowered women and runarounds, serves up another double dose with Missing.
This time it's Ashley Judd, in her TV series debut, playing action mom Becca Winstone. She's forced to re-tap her inner Chuck Norris after 18-year-old son, Michael (Nick Eversman), suddenly disappears while studying architecture in Rome. In Thursday's first episode alone, look for two prolonged kick/fist fights, another shorter one, a gun battle, a motorcycle chase and a shooting that leaves Becca with a literal sinking feeling in the closing scene.
Unfortunately the script can be a beating, too. As when a comically hard-charging deputy CIA boss named Dax Miller (Cliff Curtis) barks to his minions, "I want Becca Winstone in my office before this coffee gets cold!" Or, "Those are the ones we got to look out for. The thinner the file, the better the agent."
Beccca, you see, is a former CIA operative who quit cold turkey a decade ago after her CIA agent husband (a very briefly seen Sean Bean from Game of Thrones) was blown to bits in Vienna while their then eight-year-old son looked on helplessly. It turns out he was offed by "neo-fascist Russian terrorists."
Mom since has renounced her CIA ways and opened a flower shop. But the bloom is off her roses after Becca reluctantly agrees to let college age Michael go abroad on his own.
Thursday's opener also includes a very brief glimpse of Keith Carradine, who can't even be said to drop in for a cup of coffee. It's more like a sip from an espresso. And one wonders why he bothered.
Once apprised of her son's perilous situation, Becca jets off to Rome to very quickly begin deducing things. Missing doesn't mess around in this respect. A mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do. And this one will take lickings, keep ticking and regularly weep in anguish when not setting her jaw and declaring, "I am not CIA. I am a mother looking for her son!"
ABC just can't seem to self-contain itself when it comes to one-hour scripted series. They tend to be either serial soaps (GCB) or murky mystical tours like The River, which has yet to find more than a very smallish audience for its Lost-like trip to the Congo in search of a missing dad with a voodoo vibe.
Missing offers layer upon layer of CIA intrigue, with unknown forces out to get Becca, who in turn is wanted by Dax's brigade, who in turn are flogged by a CIA chieftain in Washington. Dax and Becca eventually join forces to a degree. But as she tells him, "I really don't have time for games." Thud.
A second episode available for review predictably slows down the frenetic action pace while also playing out predictably. Becca re-connects with an informant known as "Hard Drive" (Lothaire Bluteau), who's been in hiding with his horses. He still has the goods on the "all kinds of crooked" Antoine Lussier (Joaquim de Almeida), who also happens to be a deputy CIA director in the Paris bureau.
But Lussier seemingly knows how to find Michael. And Becca the avenging mom is willing to make a trade, even though she's of course very vexed about it.
This hour ends as you'll pretty much know it will. Still, the final scene pack some punch, and not of the physical kind.
Missing's clue unraveling is barely believable when it's not simply preposterous. And an old pal of Becca's named Giancarlo Rossi (Adriano Giannini) just happens to pop up whenever she needs him.
Through it all, Judd and her stunt doubles keep hammering home the point that she's a lioness of a mom with tear ducts. That's not enough to make a sale. But you might want to browse on occasion in hopes of catching a little picturesque scenery or a fight scene.
03/09/12 01:44 PM
Premiering: Tuesday, March 13th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Elle Macpherson, Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie, John Varvatos, three retail buyers and 14 designers
Produced by: Ben Silverman, Elle Macpherson, Jane Lipsitz, Dan Cutforth, Rick Ringbakk, E.J. Johnston, James Deutch
By ED BARK
Very early in Tuesday's 90-minute premiere of NBC's Fashion Star, an off-camera announcer bills it as an "epic journey."
It's so easy to be Homeric these days. In reality, though, this latest "reality competition" series is merely about putting clothing in play. So that you, the viewer, can buy it the very next day, either online or directly from select Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue or H&M stores. The show's mantra: "Watch it today and wear it tomorrow."
From a raw marketing standpoint, this may prove to be quite the brilliant idea. And who better to be the main man behind it than former NBC entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman.
During his stormy tenure at NBC, Silverman constantly looked for ways to integrate "product placement" into the network's prime-time and late night programming. And in some ways, Fashion Star amounts to QVC, with fashions from 14 competing designers showcased in mini-runway shows before the three resident buyers decide whether to make an offer to sell these goods virtually on the spot.
The other glitz -- beyond "bubble cocktail dresses" and "James Dean jackets" -- is provided by host and former supermodel Elle Macpherson (who's also an executive producer) and celebrity mentors Jessica Simpson and Nicole Richie. A third wheel, John Varvatos, adds a leveling "who's he?" factor. Pulse-pounding pop songs and lots of leggy, strutting models top it all off.
Two of the 14 aspirants are from Texas. And neither lacks in self-confidence, even though 37-year-old Oscar Fierro of Lewisville weeps a lot when he's not prancing around.
"I sort of look like a cartoon," says Oscar, whose specialty is "an orgy of over-the-top things." One of the prospective buyers of his clothing, a scowling Saks taskmaster named Terrone Schaefer, says pointedly, "I'm just worried about you being more of a comedian than a designer."
But between crying jags, Oscar doesn't seem to be worried at all. "I certainly know I'm better than anybody else," he says.
There's also Ross "God, I'm good" Bennett of Austin, a 27-year-old bow-tied designer of cocktail dresses and formal wear. His principal mentor is Simpson, who lets him know that they both graduated from Richardson's J.J. Pearce High School.
"There's no one who puts on a presentation like I do," he says.
Not to give a whole lot away, but big talkers don't always carry the day on Fashion Star. And those who come away without offers from any of the three buyers are up for elimination in a climactic round that ends with one of them being told, "You're not our 'Fashion Star.' You're going home." In the extended premiere, eight of the 14 designers find themselves in final jeopardy.
Simpson used to be famous for both dating Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and being perplexed about Chicken of the Sea brand tuna during her Newlyweds reality series with former husband Nick Lachey. But she's survived, is expecting her first child (with boyfriend and former NFL player Eric Johnson) and comes off as pretty well-spoken on Fashion Star.
Simpson's baby is due this spring, and she was very much showing in January during a network "press tour" interview session for Fashion Star. But the premiere episode was taped a while back, so her "baby bump" isn't nearly so pronounced.
Tuesday's principal flashpoint comes when designer Nicholas Bowes of L.A. tells the two women judges that they aren't really qualified to judge his line of biker jackets for men. This is not a wise choice of words when two of the three mentors and two of the three buyers are women.
Simpson says she's offended before telling Bowes she'd like to "hit you across the face." But she says this with a smile. And it's pretty much a no-brainer to deduce that the rest of opening night will not go at all well for this guy.
After the elimination round, before which the buyers and mentors talk amongst themselves, the show's "digital correspondent," Jeannie Mai, trills for a bit about what viewers can buy the next day.
This possibly could work, and isn't entirely unwatchable. And it's one of the few shows on television where a guy -- namely mentor Varvatos -- can say with a straight face, "I thought they were fun and beach-y." Knowing nods ensue.
Let it entertain you: HBO's politically charged Game Change is fair game for now (But how about a Barack/Hillary sequel?)
03/08/12 08:31 AM
By ED BARK
Reviewing HBO's adaptation of Game Change is pretty much a losing proposition in this politically polarized election year.
Having seen only the trailer for the film, Sarah Palin is on the record -- and on Fox News Channel, of course -- with a denunciation that she says also speaks for her 2008 running mate.
"I'm not gonna go see the movie," she vows, as if it were playing at a multiplex near you rather than on home screens Saturday (8 p.m. central). "Either is the good senator, John McCain. We've discussed this and realize that Hollywood lies are Hollywood lies."
Furthermore, "their machine happens to be a very pro-leftist, pro-Barack Obama machine there at HBO that created this movie," she recently told FNC anchor Uma Pemmaraju (who previously worked at D-FW's CBS11 as an anchor-reporter).
HBO, for its part, has taken the unusual step of issuing a one-page letter in defense of Game Change, which is drawn from the McCain-Palin segments of the same-named 2010 bestseller by veteran political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.
The network says Game Change also uses material from Palin's own book, Going Rogue. And that both McCain and Palin declined to talk to the film's writer, Danny Strong, while also rejecting HBO's offer to "see the finished film."
Furthermore, "HBO has a long track record of producing fact-based dramas, going to great lengths to get the story right . . . The result is a balanced portrayal of the McCain-Palin campaign."
Neither side is going to budge. But maybe the lately embattled Rush Limbaugh is the real fall guy of Game Change. In its closing minutes, as McCain (Ed Harris) prepares to deliver his concession speech, he tells Palin (Julianne Moore) that she'll have important responsibilities as one of the Republican Party's new leaders.
"Don't get co-opted by Limbaugh and the other extremists," he warns her. "They'll destroy the party if you let them."
This is not a tack-on line tied to Limbaugh's current problems. The film was finished and screened for television critics in January, with the Limbaugh line included.
I've since watched it again. And as an entertaining, briskly paced political yarn, it's right up there with HBO's Emmy-winning Recount, a depiction of the 2000 Florida imbroglio that also was penned by Strong.
Moore emerges as a dead-on replica of Palin, even more so than Tina Fey. And although the real-life Palin can find plenty to cringe at, this is by no means an entirely unflattering portrayal.
Harris falls a bit short in the look-alike department. But if McCain decided to clandestinely watch Game Change he'd no doubt be buoyed by its treatment of both his candidacy and his moral compass. Repeated f-bombs are part of this mix. As is some G-rated compassion for both his opponent and Palin.
Still, the film's scene-stealer is Woody Harrelson, who bridges the McCain-Palin camps as senior campaign strategist Steve Schmidt. Bald, assertive and beset by the ticket's mounting problems, Schmidt is the Elmer's Glue of Game Change. And Harrelson is letter-perfect, whether barking orders, throwing up his hands or commiserating with McCain as his "Stevie boy."
Schmidt and one of Palin's principal campaign advisors, Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson), have not been shy about talking up Game Change in various TV interviews. They're no doubt two of the people Palin was targeting when she told FNC's Pemmaraju that those staffers who "threw John McCain under the bus should feel some shame."
She neglected to mention that the first-person Going Rogue also details her problems with some McCain campaign staffers. It too became a bestseller.
Palin rightly can criticize HBO's one minute, 47 second trailer for Game Change, in which she's pretty much depicted as a high-maintenance moron. But a trailer does not a movie make. And the film, to its credit, also portrays Palin as a loving mother and wife whose mushrooming discombobulation on a national stage at times makes her more empathetic than hopelessly in over her head.
Game Change includes several scenes of Palin with her husband, Todd (David Barry Gray), and their children. But it never puts the family in its crosshairs by ridiculing or diminishing them as cartoon characters. Quite the contrary. It's affecting, not cynical, when mom and little Piper Palin (Taya Miller), pray together. And Sarah Palin's brief phone conversation with her only son, Track (Kevin Bigley), is underscored by her relief that he's survived another day in Iraq.
"My son is safe," she says, smiling with relief.
Detractors of Game Change, whether they've seen the film or not, have a point in noting that the book on which it's based in fact devoted more pages to the battle for the Democratic presidential nomination between Obama and Hillary Clinton. And in good conscience, HBO someday should make a film focusing on their bare-knuckled showdown. There are ample juicy details in the book, which also is devastating at times in its reporting on the failed Democratic candidacy of John Edwards.
Edwards is briefly twitted in the film via a real-life youtube clip in which he's caught combing his hair. McCain and his aides chortle in unison while aboard another campaign flight.
The movie is bookended by CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewing Harrelson's Schmidt before leaving this question hanging: "If you had to do it over again, would you have her on the ticket?"
Most of the other TV newsies are glimpsed only in archival clips, with the parade including the likes of Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity, Brian Williams, Pat Buchanan, Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. The latter two had signature one-on-one interviews with Palin, both of which furnished material for Fey's sendups on Saturday Night Live.
Much of the principal dialogue in Game Change comes straight from the book. As when Palin says, "It's God's plan," after Schmidt tells her, "You seem totally unfazed by this."
Then comes the big surprise announcement of McCain's out-of-nowhere running mate after he initially was intent on picking Al Gore's 2000 sidekick, Joe Lieberman (Austin Pendleton), who's seen only briefly and cartoon-ishly.
"Joe's perfect," McCain reasons. "We're both Mavericks that are hated by the assholes in our own parties."
But Palin instead gets the call, while at an Alaska carnival, after Schmidt says there's no chance of beating Obama without a game-changing curve ball.
"We need to create a dynamic moment in this campaign, or we're dead," he argues.
The film convincingly recaptures the initial rush of Palin mania, capped by a bravura convention acceptance speech that has McCain exclaiming backstage, "She's incredible!" Told that her TelePrompTer broke down halfway through the speech, McCain adds ruefully that if that happens to him, "I'm (f-bombed)."
Storm clouds soon gather, with Schmidt finding Palin to be alarmingly clueless on foreign policy issues. Still, she's eager to learn.
"This is flippin' awesome," she says of a crash course in international affairs.
Still, Schmidt considers Palin to be a consummate "actress" when it counts, a "red light performer" who pretty much turns it on during the Gibson interview save for her unfortunate observation that Russia can be seen from Alaska.
Game Change can be a little too heavy-handed with its foreboding music and crinkle-cut looks of concern as Palin heads toward what Paulson's Nicolle Wallace eventually terms a "mini-meltdown." Palin also is shown as being obsessed with her current standing in Alaska, demanding that the campaign conduct a poll to determine whether she's still held in high esteem.
"Oh my god, what have we done?" says key campaign advisor Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan), who had argued against picking Palin.
McCain likewise is vexed, profanely wondering why the media keep bashing him while saying of Palin, "That poor girl. She wasn't ready for this."
But Palin rallies after McCain makes the call to reunite her with Todd and the children at his Sedona, Arizona home. Schmidt streamlines her preparations for an important debate with Obama's running mate, Joe Biden. And the campaign once again is thrilled with her performance before Palin decides that she, not McCain, is the Republican ticket's superstar.
"If I am singlehandedly carrying this campaign, I'm gonna do what I want," she tells Schmidt before prototypically "going rogue."
McCain in turn is turned off by the increasingly ugly nature of some campaign rallies. When a woman decries Obama as an "Arab," McCain emphatically tell her that's not true.
Palin and her allies won't much like the film's closing stages, in which she's intent on making her own concession speech in tandem with McCain. Schmidt tells her in no uncertain terms that it's never been done that way, and won't be on the night when America has elected its first president of color. It's a signature scene, with Harrelson playing it to the hilt.
He later apologizes to McCain for advocating Palin.
"I'm so sorry I suggested her," Schmidt tells him on election night.
"Don't be," McCain replies. "(F-bomb) 'em. What were we supposed to do?"
McCain's Limbaugh line soon follows, leaving those who have no use for Game Change with ample ammunition that they'll gladly use.
No real-life person ever entirely agrees with the way they're portrayed on-screen in a TV or feature film "docudrama." So that's a given, and Game Change cannot even remotely hope to please everybody.
Nor can Palin claim that none of the film's unflattering moments are factual. There's just too much evidence to the contrary.
In the end, fans of well-paced political potboilers will find much to like about Game Change. As will those who simply want to be entertained by a crackling good melodrama.
Or as Harrelson's Schmidt matter-of-factly puts it in the end, "It wasn't a campaign. It was a bad reality show."
HBO now owes us a Barack-Hillary film cut from some of the same cloth.
03/05/12 12:21 PM
By ED BARK
Uncanceled by the same network that exhumed Family Guy, Fox's Breaking In likely will be out of options if it doesn't perform as the caboose on a place-holding comedy Tuesday.
While Glee takes its latest winter/spring break -- with an April 10th return scheduled -- Fox is filling the night with a quartet of incumbent and returning sitcoms, starting on March 6th.
Raising Hope becomes Tuesday's new lead-off hitter, moving all the way up from 8:30 p.m. (central). Following in order are the return of I Hate My Teenage Daughter, New Girl (the only comedy to stay in place) and Breaking In.
Your friendly content provider gave the latter series a Grade of F when it first appeared on April 6th of last season. Fox eventually dropped Breaking In in mid-May when it announced its 2011-12 programming plans. Then came second thoughts, which certainly proved to be wise in the case of Family Guy. But this isn't likely to be an instance of lightening striking twice, even with the addition of Megan Mullally as the new head of Contra Security.
There are signs of improvement, though, even if Mullally tends to over-do it in the "brash and bold" department while holdover Christian Slater remains in place as the downgraded former head dude known only as Oz.
"Greetings and salutations," he says for openers while blowing smoke from a stogie. "I'm happy to see you finally came to your senses and gave us another shot."
He's talking to a former client who's back in the Contra fold while also giving a shout-out to Fox and any viewers who might be back on board.
Mullally, whose career has experienced some downhill sledding since Will & Grace, looks fit and ready to go in this new very broad role. Her Veronica Mann at first is undercover as Contra's new "sassy receptionist." But she's really part of Optimal Consumer Products, a far-flung corporate conglomerate specializing in takeovers. OCP swoops in after Oz finds that his lavish lifestyle has left him broke.
Breaking In's three principal young break-in specialists -- Cam, Cash and Melanie -- all return to this revamp, as do the actors playing them -- Bret Harrison, Alphonso McCauley and Odette Annable.
But Annable is dubbed a "guest star" in Fox publicity materials, so perhaps some of her screen time is being forfeited to Erin Richards as Veronica's cat-cradling British assistant, Molly. She's billed as a new series regular. There's also Contra underling "Creepy Carol" (Jennifer Irwin), who's said to "smell like soup." Which means that everyone's cruel to her in ways that seem pretty unseemly.
Tuesday's first episode of the revamped Breaking In is mostly shorn of its predecessor's constant headache-inducing jump-cuts. This helps on a journey from Breaking really bad to Breaking not as bad -- with apologies to AMC's Breaking Bad.
Mullally's presence both bolsters and afflicts her first episode. At times she and the writers seem to be trying way too hard. At other times she hits the mark, with Cash fretting about Veronica "givin' me a fear boner."
It's still hard to envision Breaking In as anything close to a long-distance runner. But for now it's back from the dead -- and not as deadly as its last time around.
03/02/12 06:54 AM
GCB's Annie Potts during ABC's portion of TV critics "press tour." Photos: Ed Bark
Premiering: Sunday, March 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Amanda Vaughn, Annie Potts, Kristin Chenoweth, David James Elliott, Jennifer Aspen, Miriam Shor, Marisol Nichols, Mark Deklin, Brad Beyer
Produced by: Darren Star, Robert Harling, aron Kaplan, Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, Victor Nelli
By ED BARK
Broader than Dallas at its broadest, ABC's GCB won't be selling smart, stylized urban sophistication when it premieres Sunday night.
Whether scripted or unscripted, no network TV series would ever dare do that. So Big D again gets the once over, with ABC publicity materials bragging, "The soap returns to Dallas in this delicious fun, wicked new drama."
There is some fun to be had, particularly when Annie Potts is on screen as a pistol-packin', creature-comforted, tart-tongued Highland Park mama (for the purposes of GCB it's Hillside Park) whose prodigal daughter Amanda (Leslie Bibb) is back in town 18 years after being a high school bee-yotch. Her Ponzi-scheming, two-timing husband inadvertently drove off a cliff while a girlfriend was going down South on him in the front seat of his moving motor vehicle. Things happen.
Potts, who drawled her way through multiple seasons of Designing Women, knows this territory and knows it well. As Gigi Stopper, she starts off her festivities by wondering aloud to Amanda, "Why would anybody in their right mind leave Dallas for Southern California? We've got the same weather without the liberals."
Well, yeah, except that . . . never mind, what's the dif?
Adapted from Kim Gatlin's Good Christian Bitches, the sanitized soap (in title at least) replaces ABC's grounded Pan Am and follows another scheme-based distaff serial, Desperate Housewives.
The GCB pilot was filmed in Dallas, as demonstrated by its multiple exterior shots of the city. But the rest of the series is being shot in L.A., and the second episode made available for review is shorn of Dallas skyline shots.
Amanda, now the widowed mom of a teenaged boy and girl, is determined to remain in L.A. and away from her "mentally overbearing, smothering nightmare" of a mother. No sooner does she say this than she's back, with one of mama's snarling Dobermans serving as a greeter.
Gigi, who recoils at being called grandma, lives next door to Carlene and Ripp Cockburn (Kristin Chenoweth, David James Elliott). He's a millionaire whose well-kept, surgically enhanced wife ("A little work? That's a tear-down," Amanda observes) is determined to make life miserable for the "mean girl" who used to make her feel like an ugly duckling.
She has ample help from fellow former classmates Crickett Caruth-Reilly (Miriam Shor) and Sharon Peacham (Jennifer Aspen). But another of their ilk, realtor Heather Cruz (Marisol Nichols), gradually finds herself on the fence during the ongoing mission to make Amanda pay for all of her high school misdeeds.
"Was I that bad back then?" Amanda asks her mom.
"Oh, darlin', you were a bitch with teeth," she's assured.
Whatever their differences, everyone gathers at the Hillside Park Church on Sundays to further sharpen their claws. This brings a nicely tuned sequence during the opening minutes of Episode 2, with lead choir singer Carlene belting out "Jesus Take The Wheel" before Amanda dresses her down.
"Well, well, well, Carlene, I think Amanda just out-Christianed ya," Cricket says. Hallelujah.
But alas, poor Amanda. With the girls conspiring to waylay all of her job opportunities -- Dallas is a small town after all -- she impulsively resorts to becoming a waitress at the Boobylicious bar-restaurant. It's a Hooters-like emporium where the outfits are skimpy but the tips are tops. It also just happens to be one of the many businesses owned by Carlene's hubby, who has tried to keep this on the down-low.
Back at the manse, Gigi is busily remaking Amanda's daughter into a properly outfitted young lady with a bra more suited to her burgeoning needs. In another line that keeps GCB humming, Gigi has this to say to a mortified Amanda: "And the best part? Hers are real. That's gonna save you some money, missy."
It does start to bog down, though, amid all the many layers of hypocrisy, teen boob jobs, companion breast jokes, Sharon's compulsive over-eating in virtually every scene and uniformed, mute Hispanic maids ("Carmelita, get in here!")
Episode 2 includes a queasy scene in which Cricket's teenage daughter is nearing her debut as Hillside High's head cheerleader. But her costume is now over-stuffed, prompting mom to lecture, "You can't wear that uniform with this year's breasts."
Sharon's jealous daughter also wants an enhancement. "Christmas is comin!" she's assured before Cricket's artificially endowed daughter inevitably has a major wardrobe malfunction at the big game. The moms shriek in horror while the basketball players applaud. Perhaps you've already seen this scene in on-air promos for GCB.
Remember, it's "deliciously fun," as ABC says. Indeed, some of it is. And you can always count on Potts to deliver the goods, whether she's cocking a silver-plated shotgun in Episode 2 or telling her daughter in Sunday's premiere, "God often speaks to me through Christian Dior."
Which means she can't stand having Amanda shop at the thrifty Armadillo Mart, but will melt down enough to help her daughter during a time of need at Boobylicious.
It's all in a day's stereotyping, with GCB also holding the big annual Longhorn Ball at the State Fair of Texas. Everyone dresses the part, and Bibb's Amanda looks great in a spangly silver cowgirl outfit. Yeah, we must be in network TV's eternal vision of Dallas. At least they could have kept shooting the damn thing here and pumped up the area economy.
03/01/12 08:39 PM
Care to know all there is to know about J.R. Ewing's make believe family tree?
Well, TNT has gone to extraordinary lengths on behalf of its its rebooted Dallas TV series, scheduled to premiere this June.
The network has revved up an official Dallas Facebook page with a timeline that traces the original's 14 seasons and what's happened since the show left CBS in May, 1991. It's all in the head of Larry Hagman's J.R. Ewing, who says for starters, "It's time for the world to experience the true story of the Ewing family. Some of what I've posted might shock, or offend you...but if if that's not a good enough reason for exposing my family, I don't know what is."
You can find it all right here as ABC prepares to launch its Dallas-esque soap, GCB, on Sunday, March 4th.