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Scaring up The Simpsons' 28th annual Treehouse of Horror

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Maggie Simpson achieves liftoff in parody of The Exorcist. Fox photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The horror, the horror . . . The Simpsons’ 28th Treehouse of Horror.

Boo, it’s coming again on Sunday, Oct. 22nd at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox, where Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have been taking up residence since a Dec. 17, 1989 Christmas special. It’s so long ago that ABC’s original MacGyver and Dynasty series were still on the air and since have reemerged as reboots on CBS and The CW.

Fox sends the latest Treehouse every October, always with an accompanying vessel full of Halloween candy. Your friendly content provider of course can’t be bribed, but, er, most of the candy will be re-gifted to trick or treaters (well, at least half of it) and it’s been quite a while since I’ve paid any attention to this annual rite of lightly coated scariness.

As usual, the latest Treehouse has a new opening sequence and then three tales, each disembodied from the other.

This time out, the five Simpsons are first seen as four Halloween candies -- and a yucky apple. Bart gets to be a “Barterfinger.”

Then comes “The Exor-Sis,” a parody that assuredly will be seen by more viewers than Fox’s severely struggling Friday night regurgitation of The Exorcist. Little Maggie ends up being possessed, with a quintessential Irish Catholic priest called on to bring her out of it. “If you can’t trust a Catholic priest with a child,” he reasons, “who can you trust?”

“Coralisa” finds Lisa venturing to meet her “other family” through a portal at the direction of the Simpsons’ cat, Snowball. The show’s 3d animation technique is deployed to good effect here.

The showcase segment, “MM Homer,” carries a viewer advisory from Lisa: “What you’re about to see is so disgusting, you’ll watch Game of Thrones to calm down.”

It proves to be only a wee bit stomach-wrenching, though, when Homer begins consuming himself as a “Me-gan” after being left home alone and to his own devices. Among the offshoots are a chain of “Kentucky Fried Simpson” restaurants. Apparently there’s an awful lot of Homer to go around.

Treehouse of Horror easily is the longest-running annual holiday special in TV history. But remember, as Fox says in a “Dear Human TV Critic” letter, “nothing is as terrifying as what’s going on in real life.”

It’s signed by Kang & Kodos, the aliens from planet Rigel VII. Look to see them again -- but don’t blink -- in the opening Halloween candy segment, which also is in 3D and ends rather badly for the Easter bunny. OK, you’re now on your own. And it’s always fun to go out on these limbs.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Megyn Kelly's woes are typical of high-priced news talent poached from rival networks

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Putting on a brave front with Megyn Kelly Today. NBC photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It’s not going as planned for NBC. But for some of us, it’s going pretty much as expected.

Pirating a star player from a rival network and then paying that person enough money to balance the federal budget has a long tradition of not working. As is currently the case with Megyn Kelly, the former Fox News Channel force who hasn’t been much to reckon with at NBC after first fronting a little-watched prime-time news magazine and now a 9 a.m. extension of Today with her name affixed.

Ratings and reviews for both showcases have NBC News executives wondering what they’ve done to themselves. Megyn Kelly Today, which launched on Sept. 25th, so far has been digging an increasingly deeper Death Valley ratings-wise in its slot between the longstanding Matt Lauer/Savannah Guthrie-hosted Today and Today with Kathie Lee and Hoda. The latter hour also has seen its numbers erode without a more compatible and higher-rated lead-in from the junked 9 a.m. Today hour with Al Roker and Tamron Hall, who quickly left the network in a huff.

Some say that Kelly simply doesn’t “translate” from the conservative-minded Fox News Channel to NBC Universal, which oversees both mainstream NBC and left-leaning MSNBC, archenemy of FNC. There may be some truth to that, although the history of such moves raises other questions.

Are everyday viewers impressed by someone who’s being force-fed to them while at the same time making what in fact is an obscene amount of money? These same viewers hold the priceless trump cards. They can help to ensure failure merely by not watching.

Incumbent staff resentments in turn breed an understandable contempt for the incoming savior. The knives already are out at NBC, with Kelly being portrayed as a disaster or worse by eager unnamed sources within the network’s walls. After all, “one of their own” didn’t get a chance to move up. Instead, Kelly moved in.

In the long history of network television news, just one high-priced “Big Get” has proved to be well worth the hefty price.

But it took Barbara Walters a while after she first got snubbed by holdover ABC News anchor Harry Reasoner. Walters was poached in 1976 from NBC, where she’d been a prominent, trailblazing member of the Today team. ABC’s carrot was the chance to become the first woman ever to co-anchor a network nightly newscast. But Reasoner deeply resented a desk mate, and a woman at that. Their partnership ended in failure, but Walters went on to become a megastar as the co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20, the host of numerous high-rated prime-time specials and the founder of daytime’s The View.

Otherwise the track record is dismal. Ask CBS. The network has struck out three times after pirating Bryant Gumbel, Connie Chung and Katie Couric -- all from NBC.

Gumbel bombed as anchor of a prime-time news magazine called Public Eye, and then as co-host of CBS’ morning show.

Chung also failed big-time, first with her own prime-time news hour and then as co-anchor of the CBS Evening News with a growingly discontented Dan Rather.

Couric’s five-year tour as sole anchor of the CBS Evening News arguably became the biggest flop of all, given all of the attendant publicity. She’s since bounced from ABC News to a syndicated daytime talk show to Yahoo! News to a podcast.

Meanwhile, it’s been proven time and again that news networks are better off nurturing their own homegrown talent and then moving them up the chain. Two of the three current network evening news anchors -- ABC’s David Muir and NBC’s Lester Holt -- were promoted from within. Two generations earlier, Ted Koppel went from a little-known correspondent at ABC News to the household name of Nightline. Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Charles Gibson, Bob Schieffer, Andy Rooney, Lesley Stahl and many more also came up through their respective network’s ranks.

CBS currently is in the process of deciding on a “permanent” anchor of the CBS Evening News after Scott Pelley was dropped. Veteran correspondent Anthony Mason has been filling in, and he’s not a likely long-term choice. But whatever you do, CBS, resist the urge to pay a king’s or a queen’s ransom for someone else’s supposedly hot commodity. It’s just not the way to go. And that’s the way it is.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Audience network's Loudermilk is as fresh as its title character is sour

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Ron Livingston (2nd from right) plays title character in Loudermilk. Audience net photo

Premiering: Tues., Oct. 17th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Audience
Starring: Ron Livingston,Will Sasso,Laura Mennell, Anja Savcic, Eric Keenleyside
Produced by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Mort, Christopher Long, Bart Peters, Mark Burg, David Guillod

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ron Livingston has made a series of strong impressions -- mostly on HBO -- in Band of Brothers, Sex and the City and Boardwalk Empire. Add the cult movie Office Space, a gift that keeps on giving.

Even so, here’s an actor who, at age 50, deserves his own show and a defining role. Loudermilk, which joins Hit the Road in premiering Tuesday, Oct. 17th on DirecTV’s Audience network, shows strong signs of becoming what both he and we deserve. The venue remains comparatively obscure, but Livingston’s first front-and-center TV vehicle turns out to be a real find.

He plays Sam Loudermilk, an irascible recovering alcoholic and former rock ’n’ roll journalist who’s a brusque substance abuse counselor when not doing janitorial work at a Seattle bank. Each of the four episodes made available for review begins with him carping about something or other to someone or other. In the opening half-hour, a woman with a long list of specialty coffee orders puts Loudermilk off his feed. It’s one thing to step aside and open a door for her but quite another when she then gets in line ahead of him.

He otherwise lets off steam at the Immaculate Heart community center, where the oft-disapproving head priest, Father Mike (Eric Keenleyside), compares Loudermilk to “an Ikea chair” on the comfort front.

“I’m not a miracle worker, like the bearded guy that you love so much,” Loudermilk retorts. It’s one of many lines that work to perfection in a comedy that exudes a winning, rough charm.

If Loudermilk wants to keep ramrodding these meetings, though, he’ll have to make a personal house call on a parishioner’s drug addicted teenage daughter, Claire Wilkes (Anja Savcic). Father Mike insists on no less, and he also expects a good faith effort. Otherwise the church will be closed to him.

Claire ends up becoming a series regular after Loudermilk very grudgingly allows her to crash in an apartment he shares with his sponsor, Ben Barnes (Will Sasso). But first he asks, “Why can’t you just find a park bench or an abandoned railroad car?”

Also co-starring is Laura Mennell as apartment building newcomer Allison Montgomery, who moves in across the hall. Loudermilk has more than a platonic interest in her, but complications ensue.

The lead character’s sour ball demeanor is somewhat reminiscent of Ted Danson’s comportment in Becker, which now seems to be eons ago after wrapping its six-season CBS run in 2004. Loudermilk shares Dr. John Becker’s annoyance with the world at large, but in more graphic and pointed terms.

Several of Loudermilk’s “patients” also are fleshed out during these first four episodes, including a former rock band drummer with stunted arms and a wayward father who hasn’t communicated with his daughter in 10 years. None of the resolutions, such as they are, come off as sappy. This series is too savvy for that.

Livingston excels as the point man, making Sam Loudermilk both his own worst enemy and a guy who would be damned interesting to be around. This is one of the ongoing TV season’s better new comedies. All it needs now is to be more readily available, which is nothing that a same-season streaming deal with Netflix, Amazon or Hulu couldn’t bring about.

For now, though, DirecTV’s Audience network primarily is interested in building its brand and coaxing consumers to buy into it. Loudermilk is a firm step in that direction.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Jason Alexander gets his Costanza on in Hit the Road's unrepentant sendup of The Partridge Family

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And their band plays on, with Jason Alexander as manic maestro. Audience Net photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Oct. 17th at 7 p.m. (central) on Audience
Starring: Jason Alexander, Amy Pietz, Natalie Sharp, Nick Marini, Tom Johnson Jr., Maddie Dixon Poirier
Produced by: Jason Alexander, Peter Tilden, Dean Craig, Bart Peters, David Guillod, Mark Burg, Melissa Aouate, Henrik Bastin

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It’s hard to imagine the timing being much worse for a sitcom whose first episode finds two principal characters providing sexual favors in return for anticipated career advancements.

Yes, the stench of Harvey Weinstein wafts over the Audience network’s Hit the Road, which was filmed and developed long before he became Hollywood’s latest most virulent scourge. Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame stars. And he nonetheless is pretty riotous throughout the first two episodes of what amounts to George Costanza maniacally micro-managing a very ribald mockup of The Partridge Family.

Wait a minute. Audience network? What’s that? Well, it’s commercial-free, owned by AT&T Inc., and is available only to DirecTV (Ch. 239) and AT&T U-verse subscribers. The investment in original programming has been ramped up considerably of late, with Hit the Road premiering in tandem Tuesday night with Loudermilk after Mr. Mercedes (adapted from a Stephen King novel) launched in August and completed its Season One, 10-episode run earlier in October.

On the scripted comedy series front, only Julia Louis-Dreyfus has scored big following Seinfeld, with HBO’s award-showered Veep making her a perennial Emmy winner. Jerry Seinfeld’s numerous specials and hosting role on Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee have kept him very much in play while Michael Richards has been a vanishing act in recent years.

Alexander since has gamely tried and failed as the star of ABC’s Bob Patterson and CBS’ Listen Up!. But his prowess as a hapless schlub with grand plans is still in working order. Visibility-wise, Hit the Road may not amount to much more than a gravel driveway. Work is work, though, and Alexander really works this one.

He plays Ken Swallow in a TV-MA comedy with the tagline, “A Family Band. Not A Family Show.”

That it’s not. As a touring group with decidedly limited success, Swallow deploys Ken as manager/drummer/dreamer/schemer. Playing and singing along are his wife, Meg (the under-appreciated Amy Pietz); promiscuous oldest daughter Rita (Natalie Sharp); dense, marijuana-peddling son Alex (Nick Marini); asthmatic, hyper-sensitive adopted son Jermaine (Tom Johnson Jr.); and activist little daughter Casey (Maddie Dixon Poirier). Watch for Pietz’s deadpan delivery of “That’s a kick in the bean bag,” which immediately should become a catch-phrase.

Episode One finds Swallow in performance as the opening act for weathered rocker Duncan Freedom, who meets an untimely, unintentional end with nubile Rita straddling him in the interests of breaking free. This is unfortunate, because Ken has just invested in a well-used, cramped tour bus emblazoned with “Swallow” (and various, obscene, scrawled add-ons). “There’s no number two on the bus,” Ken orders. That’s a time-honored rock ’n’ roll tradition.”

Desperate to keep the tour on track, Ken begs a local radio station for publicity and in turn is propositioned. “We’ve all done things for the sake of the family,” he lamely explains to his wife. Forgive me for laughing almost uproariously throughout this whole seamy sequence, which Alexander manages to sell as few comedians could or would.

Episode 2 finds the entire band camping out in pursuit of a front-of-the-line spot outside an audition hall, only to find that the entrance is at the other end of the building. During the process of finagling his way back to the front of the line, Alexander fires off Costanza-esque riffs on the digestive evils of “street meat.” Also included is a running bit on The Godfather, climaxed by “You Fredo’d me” in reference to the late John Cazale’s classic portrayal of lesser, ill-fated brother Fredo Corleone. Meh.

Hit the Road is relentlessly broad and determinedly offensive. It’s also quite funny in fits and spurts, primarily when Alexander is throwing the fits and having the spurts. So I’d watch it again -- if I had DirecTV. Many would-be samplers also will have the same overriding problem.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Showtime's White Famous overplays its racial component but may have a star player in Jay Pharoah

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Jamie Foxx/Jay Pharoah collaborate in White Famous. Showtime photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 15th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on Showtime
Starring: Jay Pharoah, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Jacob Ming-Trent, Cleopatra Coleman, Lonnie Chavis, Meagan Good
Produced by: Jamie Foxx, Jamie King, Tom Kapinos, Tim Story

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It’s an easy sell, and now even more so, to depict Hollywood as one big, soulless, immoral den of iniquity.

That’s one of the basic premises of Showtime’s expletive-drenched White Famous, which supposedly is based on principal executive producer Jamie Foxx’s real-life experiences.

OK, fine. The harder sell is White Famous’ over-playing of the race card as an oppressive force in the life of Floyd Mooney (Jay Pharoah), a halfway gainful standup comic looking to get ahead on his own terms. It doesn’t entirely negate the effectiveness of this comedy’s oft-coarse humor -- or offset Pharoah’s balls-out and very energized approach to his lead role. Still, White Famous would benefit by easing up on rather than ramming home what’s rapidly becoming a dated proposition. Cesspool? Hollywood remains very much guilty as charged. Fount of racism, intended or otherwise? Evidence abounds on our home screens that television in particular increasingly is nothing of the sort.

Floyd’s flailing agent, Malcolm (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who’s of Middle Eastern descent, is fully capable of bending the truth in service to his client and himself. But he not lying in telling an unconvinced Floyd in Episode 2 that “it is pilot season in the golden age of diversity.”

In other words, television roles of import have become plentiful for people of color. These are times when the landscape is brimming with examples ranging from Donald Glover’s Emmy-winning Atlanta on FX; to ABC’s thriving black-ish; to HBO’s Insecure; to The CW’s de-whitening of its Dynasty reboot -- to name just a very few examples. Even CBS’ upcoming remake of S.W.A.T. will have an African-American, Shemar Moore from Criminal Minds, in the lead role of hard-charging “Hondo” Harrelson. Game shows, once as white bread as they come, are now humming along in prime-time with Steve Harvey, Anthony Anderson and Michael Strahan as hosts.

Malcolm does want Floyd to relent and “cross over” a bit in the interests of becoming a “white famous” star. Even that notion has become increasingly dated, though. And this is no period piece. It’s set in the here and now rather than the 1990s, when Foxx’s career took root in The Jamie Foxx Show.

Nonetheless, Episode One of White Famous includes a labored encounter between Floyd and a prominent Hollywood producer named Stu Beggs (the recurring Stephen Tobolowsky), who mistakes him for a valet before awkwardly apologizing and digging himself even deeper while being upbraided. The “incident” goes viral after being posted on youtube. And Floyd’s career suddenly has new momentum, with Foxx (who occasionally will play himself) taking notice and offering a role in his latest movie.

Foxx should be credited, I guess, with portraying himself as a super-quirky Lothario who’s first seen copulating with a naked woman in his trailer before Floyd sees that he’s wearing a cheerleader’s skirt. What follows is even more bizarre -- and basically distasteful.

Supporting characters, all of whom work into the mix pretty well, include Floyd’s proudly corpulent best friend, Ron Balls (Jacob Ming-Trent), his estranged wife, Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman) and their appealing seven-year-old son, Trevor (Lonnie Chavis). Floyd dotes on his “Little Ninja” while also hoping to reconnect with Sadie, who’s relented in the past when the mood is right. These aren’t entirely booty calls. His affection for Sadie seems genuine, even if Floyd also is prone to other women’s advances.

Hollywood as a whole has no redeeming qualities, though. The rot from within is epitomized by filmmaker Teddy Snow (the always crazed Michael Rapaport), who uses staged racism, among other things, to bait Floyd into taking on a role as the renegade leader of a ’90s punk band called Angry Black. No one can be trusted to be even remotely on the up and up. All of Hollywood is self-interest personified. Screwing someone to get ahead -- literally or figuratively -- is a given throughout White Famous.

Pharoah nonetheless brings the juice. Never more than a peripheral member of the Saturday Night Live cast, he plays Floyd without reservation and with an assured, cockeyed conviction. White Famous can be faulted in its conceits and concept, but Pharoah is fully invested and funny at times, too. As when Floyd balks at Sadie’s determination to enroll their son in a prestigious private school by extolling the battered public school system as a “prison” that spurred him to break out and be somebody rather than going soft.

Through the first three episodes made available for review, White Famous struggles to get its grounding and sometimes falls hard after slipping on its own banana peels. But It doesn’t look like a lost cause just yet. It looks like a show that could mature into something more than it is now, with Pharoah as a sturdy building block.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

How serial killer profiling began: Netflix's Mindhunter has an appetite and an aptitude for that

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FBI agents Bill Tench and Holden Ford don’t deal in pretty pictures. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Oct. 13th on Netflix
Starring: Jonathan Groff, Holt McCallany, Hanna Gross, Cotter Smith, Anna Torv, Cameron Britton, Stacey Roca, Joe Tuttle, Alex Morf, Duke Lafoon, Peter Murnik, Sonny Valicenti, Happy Anderson
Produced by: David Fincher, Charlize Theron, Josh Donen, Cean Chaffin

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Harkening back to pivotal gestation periods, conventional TV networks and latter day streamers have offered quite an education lately for those who want to enroll.

Earlier this year, FX’s Snowfall began dramatizing the origins of crack cocaine, circa Los Angeles in the early 1980s.

On the heels of that, HBO’s The Deuce offered a Porn 101 course, circa New York City in the early 1970s.

Beginning on Friday, Oct. 13th -- which is pretty creepy already -- Netflix’s Mindhunter (originally commissioned by HBO) offers an extreme closeup of how the FBI’s criminal profiling practices began in earnest. This one starts in the late 1970s, but is not confined to one locale. Disparate agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff from Broadway’s Hamilton, Spring Awakening) and Bill Tench (Fight Club alum Holt McCallany) instead journey far and wide. Both are based on real-life characters drawn from the John E. Douglas book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit.

Netflix has been extra-vigilant with Mindhunter, making just the first two of Season One’s 10 hours available while also requiring a signed agreement to hold reviews until the day before the series launches. Also, no major “spoilers” -- or else.

In this case, the limitations are tolerable because Mindhunter’s principal maestro is heavy hitter David Fincher (in partnership with Charlize Theron), who put Netflix on the original programming map in a big way with House of Cards. He’s also directed the feature films Fight Club, Gone Girl, Zodiac, Seven, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button among others. So attention must be paid.

Seven and Zodiac also mined the serial killer terrain. In Mindhunter, Ford (TV and filmdom’s latest mockup of Douglas) initially uses the term “sequence killer” in Episode 2 during one of his prison interviews with convicted “Co-Ed Killer” Edmund Kemper. More on him later.

Fincher certainly, and sometimes unsteadily, takes his time with all of this. The 29-year-old Ford, a veritable Dudley Do-Right in dark suits and white shirts, is straitlaced to the point of being figuratively wrapped in a tourniquet, He’s first seen trying to talk down a shotgun-brandishing nut who’s holding a woman hostage and believes he’s invisible. The venue is “BRADDOCK, PENNSYLVANIA” (all of the locales are spelled out in screen-filling white block letters). And the outcome isn’t ideal, even if Ford’s stern, Quantico-based boss, Shepard (the durable Cotter Smith), says otherwise.

Ford then is reassigned to teach classes in hostage negotiation at Quantico’s FBI Academy, where he preaches that “we must establish communication. Non-threatening communication.” He’s also increasingly consumed with the psychological motivations driving killers to do what they do without any easily discernible motives. “It’s a different era. No more ‘Just the Facts, ma’am,’ “ a fellow instructor tells him.

En route to these awakenings, Ford has a chance meeting in a bar with the comparatively worldly Debbie (Hannah Gross), who’s studying for a PhD in sociology. Their getting-to-know-you dialogue is clipped and sometimes awkwardly so. It’s also blemished by Ford’s “Wait! What?” reaction when Debbie pulls him onto the dance floor. There’s a scripting epidemic of this lately, with Ford later reacting with a “What! Why?” in Episode 2. I’m pretty sure that neither line was in usage during the late ’70s. But whatever the case, let’s retire them along with the cable news networks’ addictions to ’“Double down” and “We’ve got a lot to unpack here.”

Ford and Tench don’t hook up until late in Episode One, via another chance meeting in the FBI cafeteria. The flinty vet (based on real-life agent Robert K. Ressler) is looking for someone to go on the road with him and help teach local police officers about the fine arts of investigation. This is when Mindhunter starts to pick up the pace, with the two agents both clashing and commiserating in a manner somewhat reminiscent of True Detective’s stellar first season.

During a stop in Fairfield, Iowa, Ford rankles both Tench and veteran, former L.A. detective Frank McGraw (Muse Watson) by stressing the importance of understanding that Charles Manson’s very traumatic upbringing contributed heavily to his “Family’s” famed killing spree.

“Circumstances affect behavior,” Ford preaches before Wench later gets off one of Mindhunter’s better lines: “You need to know who you’re talking to before you tell a sob story about little Chucky Manson.”

But Ford remains undeterred in his zeal to understand the current-day criminal mind. During a stop in San Francisco, he arranges an interview with the aforementioned Edmund Kemper (a superbly nuanced and chilling performance by Cameron Britton), an outwardly gentle, bespectacled giant of a killer whose grotesque murders of college co-eds are fully detailed in Mindhunter, but won’t be here.

“It’s not easy butchering people. It’s hard work,” says Kemper, who was a real-life serial killer and also the product of an abusive mother in his telling.

Tench initially wants no part of this, playing golf instead while Ford keeps returning for more helpings of Kemper. But he eventually comes around, in a rather predictable manner. And the two agents are kindred spirits upon returning to Quantico to tell Shepard about their breakthroughs.

“It is not our job to commiserate with these people. It is our job to electrocute them,” he barks angrily before threatening Ford in particular with censure, followed by suspension, followed by transfer.

It’s left for Tench to save the day with the money quote from both a previously released Mindhunter trailer and also of these first two episodes: “How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?”

Oh, all right then. But their little hobby can take up only 10 hours of their 50-hour work weeks.

At this point, Mindhunter is finally rolling. And in real-life, John E. Douglas (on whom Ford is modeled, remember) interviewed a whole passel of convicted killers, including Manson, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Speck, James Earl Ray and Sirhan Sirhan in efforts to divine their madnesses.

Mindhunter already has been picked up for a Season 2, so expect most if not all of these murderers to factor in at some point. A Netflix publicist assures that Ford and Tench also will be putting their newfound findings to use by doing some sleuthing of their own before the end of Season 1.

Patience is recommended, because it takes a while for Mindhunter to embed its hooks and acclimate Groff, who at times seems to be almost painfully “finding” his character after a career based largely in musical theater and as a recurring character in Glee. The weekly opening credits likewise are slow-moving, musically nondescript and mainly consist of various tight shots of a vintage tape-recorder. But the closing credits rock, particularly with the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” playing off Episode 2.

Netflix could have, and probably should have, made more episodes available for review. Based on what we have, Mindhunter is plodding at times but promising in the main. And given the still fresh wounds of the mass Las Vegas killings, there’s more need than ever to get inside the minds of a growing list of heinous perpetrators.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Dynasty does prime-time again (but will The CW's target audience even know it used to be a thing?)

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Marrying a Carrington is never wise, but Cristal’s got her gown on. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Oct. 11th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Elizabeth Gillies, Nathalie Kelley, Grant Show, James Mackay, Alan Dale, Robert Christopher Riley, Sam Adegoke, Rafael de la Fuente
Produced by: Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage, Sallie Patrick, Brad Silberling, Esther Shapiro, Richard Shapiro

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The lily whiteness has been washed out but the dirty dealing remains both rampant and ramped up.

Arriving a few years after onetime arch-rival Dallas had a three-season run on TNT, The CW’s “modern re-imagining” of Dynasty seems like an odd fit for a network with a core target audience of 18-to-34-year-olds. None of them were even born yet when ABC launched the original Dynasty back in January of 1981.

For that matter, neither were most of the remake’s principal cast members, save for graybeard Grant Show. The 55-year-old veteran of Melrose Place succeeds the late John Forsythe as billionaire Blake Carrington. Cripes, he’s even old enough to vaguely remember The Big Valley. Ick.

Blake presides over a rather dramatically changed Dynasty landscape. His frisky, power-seeking daughter, Fallon (Elizabeth Gillies), is secretly sleeping with Blake’s chauffeur, Culhane (Robert Christopher Riley), while also plotting some potential bedroom moves with her dad’s top business rival, Jeff Colby (Sam Adegoke). Culhane and Colby are both played by African-American actors. In the original Dynasty, a major character of color didn’t show up until Season 4, when Diahann Carroll’s conniving Dominique Deveraux made the scene.

There’s this, too. Willful sex kitten Sammy Jo, previously played by Heather Locklear, is now a duplicitous gay man in the person of Rafael de la Fuente. After sleeping with Blake’s gay prodigal son, Steven (James Mackay), he shows up unexpectedly at Blake’s super-posh wedding to Cristal Flores (Nathalie Kelley), who was Krystle Jennings in the ABC version. Sammy is now Cristal’s nephew instead of her niece. Re-imagine that.

We pause briefly to note that ABC’s Dynasty was a really big deal in its day, even edging out Dallas as prime-time’s most popular series in the 1984-’85 TV season. Although they were already known to many, the show’s three main attractions, played by Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins, became far bigger stars than they’d ever been. Even Gerald and Betty Ford, and Henry Kissinger eagerly played themselves in cameo appearances while the likes of Rock Hudson, Ali MacGraw, Billy Dee Williams and George Hamilton all traipsed through in supporting or recurring roles.

The CW’s new version isn’t likely to have nearly that clout or pulling power, although maybe a guest shot by Paris Hilton could be arranged. Otherwise, the biggest stars -- the Trumps, the Kardashians and the Murdochs -- are briefly shown in file footage during Fallon’s lengthy opening narration. “Like it or not, we live in an age of dynasties,” she says. There’s also some fake Carrington home movie footage, during which little Steven can be glimpsed playing the evocative Dynasty theme song for the handful of CW viewers that actually recognize it.

Fallon fully expects to be named the new COO of her father’s sprawling, oil-driven energy company, now based in Atlanta instead of Denver. But her would-be triumphant return home turns sour when Fallon and Steven inadvertently pop in on their father and lover cavorting on his office desk top “This is Cristal. My fiancee,” he announces. Bare the claws.

ABC’s Dynasty eventually upped -- or lowered -- its game to a series of Krystle-Alexis (Collins) cat fights, the most famous one in a lily pond. Fallon and Cristal get into it a bit of a physical tangle on her wedding day after she deliciously bites the head off of the bride atop the Carrington wedding cake. It’s easily the new version’s deftest touch.

Blake’s snooty British butler, named Anders (Alan Dale), likewise doesn’t care much for Cristal or her influence on his boss. Sammy Jo isn’t likely to be a favorite either, particularly after he asks Anders, “So what kind of butler are you -- more of a Bates or a Belvedere?” That’s gonna soar over a lot of heads.

Some fun possibly can be had here amid all the back-stabbing, sneering, secrecy and infidelity. And there’s certainly no point in twitting Dynasty for over-doing it -- when that’s all it’s ever done.

Through it all, Show does his best to bring a modicum of presence to his pivotal role, even if he sometimes might feel a bit like Wayne Newton at a Justin Bieber-themed birthday party. Or to put it another way, Wayne who?

GRADE: C

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW's Valor soaps up its military motif

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Sworn to duty, secrecy and sack time in Valor. CW photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 9th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Christina Ochoa, Matt Barr, Charlie Barnett, W. Tre Davis, Corbin Reid, Melissa Roxburgh, Nigel Thatch
Produced by: Bill Haber, Anna Fricke, Kyle Jarrow, Michael Robin

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ten-hut. Here comes the last -- and the soapiest -- of this fall’s gung-ho, special ops military dramas.

Judging by the early ratings returns, NBC’s The Brave already is looking like it might be an aborted mission while CBS’ SEAL Team could be marching toward longevity on the sturdy shoulders of David Boreanaz, the Gen X equivalent of Mark Harmon.

Valor, firing up Monday, Oct. 9th on The CW, has younger, prettier people and more “drama” on the domestic front in addition to its exploits overseas. As did SEAL Team, it starts with a Middle East operation gone wrong -- and then keeps flashing back to it.

Valor’s two featured warriors, Warrant Officer Nora Madani (Christina Ochoa) and her commanding officer, Capt. Leland Gallo (Matt Barr), are both members of the elite Shadow Raiders helicopter squad. They’ve conspired to make up a cover story after returning home without one of their own, Jimmy Kam (W. Tre Davis), whose whereabouts remain unknown until revealed later in the opening episode. Meanwhile, his wife, Jess (Corbin Reid), and their seven-year-old son are left in limbo.

Madani also is still recovering from a leg wound suffered on the mission, but has returned to duty a month later in still unstable condition. Home base is Fort McPherson, GA.

The two leads also have active sex lives, which are documented early on. Madani’s boyfriend ostensibly is 1st Lieutenant Ian Porter (Charlie Barnett), whom she straddles in her kitchen. Gallo’s latest conquest cuffs him to his bedpost -- which he prefers. “You’ve been drinkin’ all night, Cowboy,” she informs him after he lets loose with a couple of orgasmic “Hooahs!”

Alas, Madani and Gallo must then re-regiment themselves and be decorated with Distinguished Flying Cross medals for their bravery in Somalia. No Hooahs this time.

Since this is The CW, the Valor’s female CIA analyst is a sultry purring kitten, but with claws, compared to the more ripened characters respectively played by Anne Heche and Jessica Pare on The Brave and SEAL Team. Known only as Thea (Melissa Roxburgh) and described as “enigmatic” in CW publicity materials, she greets Porter with, “Anyone ever tell you, you look like an action figure? You’re adorable.”

Both she and he might want to act on that impulse in future episodes because, well, things get pretty heated between Madani and Gallo after she takes his advice to release tensions by whacking holes into a wall with a metal rod. Madani also has a newly purchased drum kit at home to let off steam, and soon is pounding the skins.

This all probably sounds ridiculous, and pretty much is. Even so, Valor is more entertaining and accessible in its own way than network TV’s two other hard-charging combat hours. Ochoa and Barr blast off in their lead roles and also play well together. And the series’ serial elements, both combat- and romance-wise, are intriguing and very much unresolved at the end of the first episode.

The CW hasn’t offered anything beyond the pilot for review, leaving an urge to come back for more revelations while also reveling in Valor’s steamy out-of-uniform activities. So it’s forward march and half a hooah from me -- at least for another hour or two.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Shocking upset: ABC's The Mayor elects an entertainer with no previous training, but there the resemblances stop

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There’ll be some new platforms in The Mayor. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Oct. 3rd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Brandon Michael Hall, Lea Michele, Yvette Nicole Brown, Marcel Spears, Jermaine Hardaway
Produced by: Daveed Diggs, Jeremy Bronson, Jamie Tarses

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
An aspiring rapper with no political experience throws his name into the ring as a publicity stunt and stunningly gets elected.

Naw, that could never happen.

Fictional Courtney Rose (Brandon Michael Hall) and the all-too-real Donald Trump otherwise have nothing in common.

In the new ABC comedy series The Mayor, Courtney is a 27-year-old African-American whose recording studio is his bedroom closet. He wasn’t born to wealth and relies on his hard-working single mother, Dina (Yvette Nicole Brown from Community), to keep him in line. Their home base is a humble apartment in fictional Fort Grey, CA. Running for mayor and getting into a televised debate with hack politician Ed Gunt (guest star David Spade) is seen by Courtney as a way to be “blowing up on the charts.”

“Why does anyone in my generation do anything? Attention,” he tells his disapproving mom.

The Mayor wastes very little time in getting him elected after he lectures and belittles Gunt about the latter’s campaign pledge to clean up the garbage-strewn Fort Grey Commons, where Courtney used to play as a kid.

“Don’t tell us about our reality, Mr. Gunt,” he says to cheers. “Because we live our reality every day.”

Segue immediately to election night, with Courtney winning and wondering what he’s gotten himself into. A sitcom “Moment,” complete with piano tinkles, then kicks in when mom takes her son out on the balcony for a heart-to-heart about the sanctity of both ballots and elections.

“You know what, ma. I think I got this,” Courtney assures her.

Gunt’s former campaign manager, Valentina Barella (Lea Michele), is instantly on the prowl, hiring herself to be Courtney’s top advisor while his two homies, Jermaine and TK (Bernard David Jones, Marcel Spears), remain by his side. The rest of the episode is built around their intention to make a first big splash by cleaning up Fort Grey Commons while offering a companion party as a community enticement.

Things go awry, of course, when Courtney gets an offer that could prove to be a big jump starter for his rap career. It’s later left to mom to deliver another pro forma lecture: “Your actions have consequences for a lot of people. Our people.”

The Mayor can be preachy and predictable, but is also spirited and reasonably amusing in this opening scene-setter. Hall brings considerable charisma to the lead role and Brown supplies the needed anchoring presence. Michele, the former Glee star, still seems to be finding her way, though, in a role that at the moment doesn’t really fit her.

ABC has made just the pilot episode available, and it’s OK for starters on a network where “diversity” rules while the messaging can sometimes get in the way. For now, the Rose administration is off and running in directions unknown.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Touched by ABC's Kevin (Probably) Saves the World

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He’s no angel & she is in Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Oct. 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Jason Ritter, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Chloe East, J. August Richards, Dustin Ybarra, India de Beaufort
Produced by: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Given all the tragedies at hand, none among us should object to what’s essentially a remake of Touched By An Angel.

So rather than solve more heinous crimes or ramp up another backstabbing, scandal-ridden prime-time soap, ABC has a peace offering called Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, retitled from the originally announced The Gospel of Kevin.

A God-invoking, tough loving Earth angel remains very much a constant, though. Her name is Yvette (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) and she’s determined to mold the wayward Kevin (Jason Ritter) into a strong-willed purveyor of good deeds and high hopes.

Ground Zero is Taylor, Texas, a real-life little city located a short drive from Austin. Kevin’s recently widowed twin sister, Amy (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), lives in a rural setting there with her daughter, Reese (Chloe East), who’s shut down emotionally after dad’s death. Kevin, with nowhere else to go at the moment, comes calling after trying to commit suicide and then busting up with his girlfriend. It’s going to be all about lost and found, even if not all of the pieces neatly fit together in the Tuesday, Oct. 3rd premiere episode. That’s because Saves the World has been “reworked” since the pilot was filmed.

It all re-begins for Kevin after a meteor strikes in the dead of night shortly after Amy’s been picked up by a chopper. She has something of a secret identity and mission that won’t be fully revealed here. But it has to do with 35 worldwide meteor landings in a single day -- and whether this poses a clear and present danger.

While she’s away, Kevin and Reese head off to where the meteor struck Texas and discover a huge hole in the ground plus a glowing space rock of some sort. He touches it, gets hurtled high into the air and hears the words “Transform yourself” from somewhere on high. It doesn’t take long before Yvette, who only Kevin can see, pops up in the kitchen the next morning. “Haven’t you always felt that you had a higher purpose, that you were meant for something greater?” she asks before informing Kevin that he’s the only “righteous soul” remaining out of 36 while she’s a bonafide “messenger from God.”

Let’s pause briefly to note that Taylor, Texas is in Williamson County, as you’ll eventually see emblazoned on the side of a police car. And that the creator of Touched By An Angel, which ran for nine seasons on CBS before ending in 2003, is none other than Martha Williamson. She’s otherwise not involved at all with this series. Unless you believe in extreme coincidences, though, this is Saves the World’s way of paying homage to her.

Yvette also can be seen as a stand-in for Della Reese’s supervising angel Tess from Touched. Both are/were saucy African-American women with little patience for nonsense. “Pull your head out of your ass. We’ve got work to do,” Yvette barks in the face of Kevin’s befuddlement. She’s stuck with him, though, because “coming here was a one-way ticket. I gave up paradise for you.”

Supporting characters include deputy sheriff Nathan Purcell (J. August Richards) and high school history teacher Kristin Allen (India de Beaufort), both of whom respectively had “things” for Amy and Kevin during their days as classmates. There’s also a diner employee named Tyler (Dustin Ybarra), who’s big-bearded and seemingly hapless. None of the three get much to do in the premise-setting premiere episode.

Ritter brings solid appeal to the title role while Herbert Gregory has a strong grip on her “warrior for God.” Even so, Saves the World can be overly goofy at times and remains murky in terms of just what Kevin represents or is supposed to do as “the last of the righteous.”

Whatever the potholes in the plot, Saves the World commendably aspires to be bracing and uplifting in times when a second coming of Touched By An Angel might just do a world of good. CBS, for one, has a re-do of S.W.A.T. coming in early November. In that context -- and in this very troubled world -- I’ll side with the angels any time.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Another Marvel to behold in Fox's The Gifted

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Mutant kids cause major problems for their parents in The Gifted. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Stephen Moyer, Amy Acker, Natalie Alyn Lind, Percy Hynes White, Sean Teale, Jamie Chung, Coby Bell, Emma Dumont, Blair Redford
Produced by: Bryan Singer, Matt Nix, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Jeph Loeb, Jim Chory

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Fox gets its Marvel on for the first time with The Gifted, which jilted North Texas after the pilot and fled to Atlanta.

Marvel’s big on fleeing anyway. Some nefarious agency or police force invariably is hunting down a new batch of misunderstood mutant fugitives. So the premiere of The Gifted begins with a chase scene that acquaints viewers with another batch of powers vs. powers that be.

One of the runaways, Polaris/Lorna Dane (Emma Dumont), is captured and chained at the “Garland Detention Center.” It’s the only remaining North Texas reference or remnant, with the opener otherwise scrubbed clean of its initial origins after Fox opted to shoot the rest of the series in tax-friendlier Atlanta and environs. (FYI, Garland also is the world headquarters of unclebarky.com and its mutant purveyor of television news and reviews.)

Summoned to interrogate the insolent Lorna is Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer), a district attorney’s office prosecutor who’s main assignment is nailing mutants. It’s been a busy day for Reed, who earlier stares down a Belleview Acres High School principal after he and his wife, Caitlin (Amy Acker) are called in to be apprised of their son, Andy’s (Percy Hynes White), bullying at the hands of oafish classmates.

“Andy needs help,” says Reed. “And if he doesn’t get it, I will sue this school into oblivion.” OK then.

It turns out that Andy can take care of himself after the bullies drag him into the restroom at a high school dance for a little water torture. When really upset, he hulks out and makes everything around him vibrate and eventually shatter. The only problem is he can’t control his rages. But sister, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind), unbeknownst to her parents at first, has a handle on her abilities to create force fields that act as barriers. And she’s intent on helping her little brother perfect his power, first via a motel vending machine sequence that ends with an amusing little touch.

Let’s cut to the bigger chase. The entire Strucker clan is fated to go on the lam after the suitably sinister Sentinel Services, headed by Agent Jace Turner (Coby Bell) begins hotly pursuing them. Can Reed cut a deal with leaders of Atlanta’s hidden Mutant Underground? Well, yes. But one of the Struckers is fated to be left behind.

The Gifted’s principal characters also include Eclipse/Marcos Diaz (Sean Teale); Blink/Clarice Fong (Jamie Chung) and Thunderbird/John Proudstar (Blair Redford). With the X-Men having “disappeared,” they’re left to wing it on their own.

Fox’s decently crafted one-hour opener, which will be paired with the returning Lucifer, features a nifty action scene involving mechanized creepy crawlies dispatched by Sentinel Services. Look also for a brief Alfred Hitchhock-esque sighting of Marvel godfather Stan Lee. Hint: he’ll be walking out of a bar before Reed Strucker walks in.

This latest Marvel concoction is better than ABC’s Marvel’s Inhumans, which launched on Friday of last week. Still, an overall weariness prevails, perhaps even among the most fanatical Marvel diehards. How many times can one drink at this trough of Marvel this/Marvel that on both big and small screens? Fox very much hopes that its maiden whirl with Marvel somehow is only the beginning.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The address is so typically CBS in 9JKL

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Elliott Gould and Linda Lavin bedevil their son in 9JKL. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 2nd at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Mark Feuerstein, Linda Lavin, Elliott Gould, David Walton, Liza Lapira, Matt Murray, Albert Tsai
Produced by: Dana Klein, Mark Feuerstein, Aaron Kaplan, Wendi Trilling, Dana Honor, Pamela Fryman

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Here’s a comedy that just reeks of CBS.

Earlier this fall, the mostly set in its ways network took two walks on the wild side with new “single-cam” sitcoms (Young Sheldon and Me, Myself & I) that are shorn of laugh tracks and filmed out of view of a “live studio audience.” But its third freshman, 9JKL, is traditional to the point where the characters might just as well have the CBS Eye logo stamped on their foreheads. The piped-in guffaws are plentiful and mostly unmerited during this paint-by-the-numbers exercise in same old/same old.

Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains) stars as poor, hectored Josh, who’s returned to his native New York City after the cancellation of his TV series, Blind Cop, and the dissolution of his marriage. In a thoroughly dog-eared premise, he’s delivered unto his aging, mega-doting parents, Judy and Harry (Linda Lavin, Elliott Gould). The price of moving in next door to them (where Josh lives rent free while getting back on his feet) is to be constantly smothered by mom and dad’s affection, needs and embarrassing utterances.

Complicating matters: Josh’s goofy brother, Andrew (David Walton), his wife, Eve (Liza Lapira) and their new baby son also live next door in an apartment whose doorman Nick (Matt Murray) alerts Judy to whenever Josh returns. A wisecracking kid named Ian (Albert Tsai) hangs out with Nick for the purpose of -- well, there really is no purpose.

Gould is prototypically batty once again, with some of his lines beyond cringe-worthy. Out on the terrace and wearing a dress shirt, tie and tighty whities, he declares proudly to his son, “Ever since I had that varicose vein removed from my testicle, I produce a lot more semen.”

Josh of course is repeatedly mortified, particularly when trying to score with his first date in 10 months, a former college classmate named Christina (guest star Sally Pressman). Their attempted kisses are thrown for losses or intercepted more the New York Jets.

Feuerstein says the show in part is based on his real-life experiences, which for some reason he felt the need to share. He brings exuberance and a certain likability to the role as a good son who’s still trying to please his parents. But geez, what a grind 9JKL is. You’ll find more originality in the recipe for cream of boiled water soup.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net