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The late night talk show host beard-athon (past/present)


A current-day Dave strolls streets of Manhattan. Splash News photo

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There’s a growth spurt among past and present late night talk show hosts -- and it has nothing to do with how many there are to choose from.

Simply put, beards are busting out all over, led by the above rather shocking and now widely seen picture of a retired David Letterman taking his full-blown facial hair for a walk.

Jon Stewart, who recently left Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, has gone the same route. It’s often what happens when one no longer has to keep up appearances, is licking some wounds or is between shows.

Conan O’Brien grew a beard while recuperating from his Tonight Show crash. He also wore it for quite a while on his follow-up TBS show.

Stephen Colbert came forth with a notably white facial attachment while biding time between The Colbert Report and his new CBS show. Even Jimmy Fallon went with a beard for a while after returning to his former NBC Late Night show following an extended break.

But beards aren’t just for show, tell and shaving any more. Jimmy Kimmel lately is wearing whiskers on the air, as is CBS’ new Late Late Show host, James Corden.

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Current day bearded laddies Jimmy Kimmel and James Corden.

Late night talk show hosts of yore, such as Jack Paar, Joey Bishop, Dick Cavett, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson, went bare-faced under all circumstances (save for the time Johnny returned from a 1985 vacation with a jarring short beard that he ditched after a week). But among the latter day alumni, only Jay Leno has never worn whiskers in public. Consider, though, that this is the ultimate creature of habit, a guy whose very basic off-camera uniform is still a blue denim shirt and jeans.

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Conan and Colbert both monkeyed around between shows.

Letterman dared to sport a silver beard on Late Show upon returning in 2008 after a writers’ strike. But he quickly had it shaved -- on the air for maximum effect. Generally speaking, late night talkers are reluctant to show even a few specks of gray in their facial accompaniments. After all, that might make them seem older than their shows’ advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-old target audience. It’s quite possible that at age 47, Kimmel might be resorting to a little dye to keep up appearances. But for now, he looks very sporty in a beard.

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Stewart at the Emmys, Fallon on his old NBC Late Night show.

There’s a minority report amid all these bushy looks. Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore, the men of color who replaced Stewart and Colbert, so far have remained resolutely smooth-faced both off-camera and on-. Not that this is necessarily a permanent state of affairs when it comes to non-white hosts. Arsenio Hall went with a mustache during his first successful go-around as a late night talker. And former TBS late nighter George Lopez has broken out some facial hair since that show was canceled in 2011.

We’ll leave you with those images while wondering if any of this means anything at all. For now, though, you’re something of a late night outsider if you don’t get hairy. Letterman clearly has taken it to the next level in his dotage. But he’s always been a tough act to follow anyway.

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Code Black is latest candidate to end CBS' long medical drought


Marcia Gay Garden ramrods the ER in Code Black. CBS photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 30th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Marcia Gay Harden, Bonnie Somerville, Raza Jeffrey, Luis Guzman, Melanie Chandra, Harry M. Ford, Benjamin Hollingsworth, William Allen Young
Produced by: Michael Seitzman, David Marshall Grant, Bretty Mahoney, Molly Newman, Ryan McGarry, Marti Noxon, Linda Goldstein Knowlton

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Crime dramas? CBS long has had a boatload of ‘em, with the CSI and NCIS franchises in particular spinning off multiple successful descendants in the past 15 seasons.

On the medical front, though, that same 15-year span has quickly put these CBS medical hours in the morgue: City of Angels, Presidio Med, 3 lbs, Dr. Vegas, A Gifted Man, Miami Medical and Three Rivers. The network hasn’t had a hit hospital drama since Chicago Hope stopped beating in May of 2000.

But you know what they say in the TV profession: “Take two aspirin and pitch me in the morning.” Which brings us to Code Black, an unrelentingly urgent series about a Los Angeles ER under a heavier than usual siege of new arrivals. Escapist fare it’s not, unless you want to run and hide after reading the opening printed prognosis. “Code Black: An influx of patients so great, there aren’t enough resources to treat them. The average ER is in Code Black five times per year. Angels Memorial Hospital in L.A. is in Code Black 300 times per year.”

It all starts with playfully gruff senior nurse Jesse Sallander (Luis Guzman) telling a quartet of incoming residents, “I’m your mama.” The “daddy” is Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden), an all too typical rebel who flaunts procedure and regularly clashes with fellow ER vet Dr. Neal Hudson (Raza Jaffrey). “You’re the doctor they want,” she sasses him in the early minutes of Wednesday’s premiere. “I’m the doctor they need.” And in case that doesn’t come across, Rorish later informs him, “Sometimes you just gotta be a cowboy, Neal.”

Harden is a fine actress, but the show’s writers too often give her heavy-handed lines that are the equivalent of cauterizing a head wound with a blow torch.

“You want it straight? Or you want doctor talk?” she asks a hysterical young woman whose father is in very bad shape.

Other supporting characters fare no better. Spunky resident Christa Lorenson (Bonnie Somerville), who’s older than her three peers, gives Rorish a dose of her own cliche medicine by telling her, “In my experience, tragedy either softens you or hardens you.” The ER’s longest-serving doc, Rollie Guthrie (William Allen Young), can’t cure his penchant for calling resident Angus Leighton (Harry M. Ford) a “young squire.” As in, “Abracadabra. That’s why we’re here, young squire. Never forget that.” Pass the Pepto, please.

The first episode takes place entirely in the frenetic workplace, save for some rather far-fetched ambulance-in-a-traffic-jam heroics by resident Lorenson. Other sights and sounds include a patient vomiting on himself after his badly fractured leg is snapped back into place without anesthetic. Meanwhile, mops are kept very busy sopping up blood.

The patients keep on coming, with the inevitable “Code Black” called during an order-barking feast of chaos.

Things perhaps will calm down somewhat in subsequent weeks, although the title of the series almost ensures at least one weekly trip into full-blown mayhem. Indeed, by the end of the opening hour, Dr. Rorish again finds herself in the grips of another full-blown assault via an apartment fire that’s left 22 of its residents in need of immediate treatment. “Daddy” and “Mama” exchange knowing, collegial looks before plunging back in. They’re in their element again, even if many viewers at this point might be feeling the urge to check out.

Epilogue: Even with CBS’ long history of medical malpractice, there’s still cause for hope via less than imposing time slot competition from NBC’s Chicago P.D. and ABC’s Nashville. That certainly beats going against Fox’s House or NBC’s ER or ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy in their respective heydays. So perhaps CBS executives at some point will be able to tell Code Black’s producers the same thing that hard-charging Dr. Rorish grudgingly tells resident Lorenson. Namely, “You did good.” And yes, there surely will be more cliches where that came from.


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Lowe remains on a comedy high with Fox's The Grinder


Rob Lowe, Fred Savage get lawyered up in The Grinder. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 29th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Rob Lowe, Fred Savage, William Devane, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Hana Hayes, Connor Kalopsis
Produced by: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul, Nicholas Stoller, Greg Malins, Rob Lowe, Melvin Mar

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Tuesday is middle-aged Adonis night on Fox’s new fall schedule. So after John Stamos in Grandfathered comes Rob Lowe in the better rendered The Grinder.

It’s not a sitcom about an impossibly handsome butcher shop owner and his quest to be seen as more than just a slab of beefcake. Lowe instead is Dean Sanderson, who played a grandiose lawyer known as The Grinder in a long-running TV drama series that now has come to an end.

Returning home to Boise, Idaho to watch the series finale with his married “little bro” Stewart (Fred Savage of eternal The Wonder Years fame) and other assorted Sandersons, Dean is struck by what they have and what he doesn’t.

“Right now I’m just drivin’ on the highway of what the hell is my life,” he laments in the way his TV character likewise would speak.

Stewart, a stiff real-life lawyer with no stage presence in court, has a wife, Debbie (perfectly played by Mary Elizabeth Ellis from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia), a daughter, Lizzie (Hana Hayes) and a son, Ethan (Connor Kalopsis). TV vet William Devane is also around as Dean Sanderson, Sr., founder of the family law firm but more impressed by Lowe’s fake lawyer than Savage’s actual one.

This of course is going in completely predictable directions. Not that it matters in this case. Everyone in court is star-struck by the famous Dean, including the judge and a middle-aged Hispanic couple facing an eviction notice. They’re being represented by Stewart, who’s decidedly no Perry Mason or even Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer with his halting delivery and heavy reliance on note cards. He wants the couple to settle, but as Dean tells them, “The Grinder never settles. Not in his nature.”

The brotherly dynamics are nicely laid out, with Lowe playing his part with a wink while Savage chafes and bristles. His frustrations are poured out to wife Debbie, who brings freshness and originality to what could have been a one-note sounding board role.

Once they reach an accord, the brothers Sanderson will be teaming up in court on a weekly basis. Or as Dean puts it, “We’re going to meet in the middle for justice.”

The premiere episode has promise aplenty, with Lowe’s character a maestro at pushing all the right buttons while also following the scripts he has down pat after nine years of always prevailing in TV courtrooms. His climactic “Grinder rests” tagline might well seep into the viewer vernacular.

After surprising many with his comedy chops in Parks and Recreation, Lowe now seems like a natural. Savage has his work cut out to keep up, but is no slouch. And Ellis is instantly a winning presence. This one looks like a keeper but certainly not a sleeper. Lowe’s recent track record and pre-sold star power already make The Grinder a comedy of which much is expected -- and so far delivered.


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Fox's Grandfathered offers John Stamos a new wrinkle


John Stamos agreeably softens up in Grandfathered. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 29th at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: John Stamos, Josh Peck, Paget Brewster, Christina Milian, Kelly Jenrette, Ravi Patel, the Golfieri twins
Produced by: Daniel Chun, Chris Koch

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Aging playboy Jimmy Martino is a self-idolizing, phony flatterer who runs an upscale Hollywood restaurant and polices any gray hairs as though they were weeds in a Tournament of Roses Parade float.

In the person of the still criminally handsome John Stamos, he’s first seen admiring himself in a mirror before zeroing in on an offending follicle. “There you are, little gray bastard.” Begone.

The star of Fox’s Grandfathered can’t even bring himself to say the word after getting back-to-back jolts in Tuesday’s premiere episode. First he learns he has a son in the person of an amiable, unemployed geek named Gerald (Josh Peck). Then he’s presented with Josh’s baby daughter, Edie (the Golfieri twins). “You’re a grandfather?” a restaurant staffer asks. Jimmy slaps him in the face.

Gerald’s mother is one of Jimmy’s many ex-girlfriends, this one named Sara (Paget Brewster). Edie’s mom is Vanessa (Christina Milian), with whom Gerald slept just once in the wonderful world of rampant TV fertility. He still has a crush on her, and dad Jimmy is called on to help him convince Vanessa that they can be more than just friends. Granddad Jimmy also gets to babysit while the two go out on a date.

It all makes for a nice enough start to a comedy that already appears to have a pretty happy ending in the bank after just the first episode. Jimmy has a bit of a panicked look on his face in the final frame. But his grandfatherly learning curve already seems perhaps a little too short and sweet.

There’s a nifty moment en route. Before being hit with these bombshells, Jimmy accentuates his penthouse creature comforts by verbally commanding “Play classical” over breakfast. But no. “Cancel. Play happy pop.” The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” then kicks in before Jimmy’s self-absorbed world is quickly under new construction.

Sara has a thing or two to say when Jimmy comes calling and wonders why he was told nothing. She expects little to change, but warns, “If you hurt my son or his daughter, I will choke you to death with your own overly moisturized hands.” Way to rub it in.

Grandfathered also sprinkles in cameos from Deion Sanders, Don Rickles, Lil Wayne and Stamos’ old Full House co-star, Bob Saget. All are dining at Jimmy’s restaurant, which lately has been losing ground in the celeb pecking order to the so far unseen but regularly mentioned Bistro 6.

Stamos, 52 in real life and playing 50 in Grandfathered, seems OK with this role-playing in a comedy that’s also OK. As “Uncle Jesse,” he helped to launch the Olsen twins to superstar status. As Grandpa Jimmy, he’s in a show that probably can’t hope to have that kind of impact or staying power. But it’s a living and Stamos’ killer looks are still good for at least the short run.

GRADE: B-minus

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ABC's Blood & Oil lets Don Johnson show off again


The guy you want to watch is second from the right. ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 27th at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Don Johnson, Chade Crawford, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Amber Valletta, Delroy Lindo, Scott Michael Foster, India de Beaufort, Yani Gellman, Caitlin Carver
Produced by: Torry Krantz, Josh Pate, Rodes Fishburne, Drew Comins, Don Johnson

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Back during Don Johnson’s burst into stardom on NBC’s Miami Vice, ABC’s Dynasty also roamed the earth as the 1984-’85 TV season’s No. 1 prime-time series.

Now they’re both back in ABC’s Dynasty-like Blood & Oil, with Johnson as tycoon Hap Briggs. In the rollicking premiere episode, he gets to both disown his no-account son and throw off lines like, “This plot’s been drilled harder than a Tulsa whore.” Yes, Johnson’s likely having a very good time while also cutting himself a further piece of the financial pie as one of the show’s executive producers. He can still fill the small screen, too. Not that Big Don ever had any doubt of that.

Blood & Oil otherwise is the saga of Billy and Cody “CJ” Lefever (Chace Crawford, Rebecca Rittenhouse), who have the grand idea of starting up a laundromat chain in the great unwashed state of North Dakota. But Billy’s not the most attentive driver. So he doesn’t see two vehicles blocking the road up ahead until it’s too late to stop the Lefevers’ washing machine-packed pickup from flipping off the road.

While it’s airborne, the series flashes back to their farewell party back home with friends and investors. Then comes the crash landing, leaving the cargo all busted up while Billy and CJ emerge intact, hitch a ride and wind up in the wild ’n’ crazy town of Rock Springs.

A savvy bar owner named Jules Jackson (India de Beaufort) offers them a tip on some ramshackle lodging before there’s a ruckus outside. It turns out that Hap’s son, Wick (Scott Michael Foster), has just enraged a group of native Americans by killing one of their “spirit animals,” a white moose. Delroy Lindo, in his only scene as the town sheriff, fires three shots in the air, restores order and then orders everyone to go back to their drinking. Lindo presumably will have much more to do in future episodes.

Johnson’s Hap is first seen having it out with his son again. “I guess I”m not current on my native superstition, pops,” he sneers, wondering why the old man isn’t proud of him for bagging a trophy animal.

“The next time I’m proud of you, Wick, it’ll be the first time,” Hap rejoins. It goes downhill from there, with the bad seed son eventually going too far when he wrecks an expensive piece of oil equipment and then tries to jump Hap from behind. “You don’t deserve to be my son!” Hap thunders after easily subduing him. Furthermore, Wick is “cut off” from daddy’s piggy bank.

Blood & Oil soon comes down to a very valuable parcel of land currently owned by a crusty old rancher (guest star Barry Corbin). It’s the gateway to oil riches almost beyond belief. But through pure happenstance, the Lefevers also get wind of it and dirt poor Billy comes up with a financial stake almost quicker than Hap can down a shot. But who’s gonna get there first? And when will Johnson come on-screen again to keep this thing at least halfway interesting?

For the first time in his TV series career, Johnson’s character also has a wife whom he hasn’t divorced yet. Her name is Carla (Amber Valletta) and they’re kindred spirits when it comes to buying off politicians and engineering sweet deals. Or as they put it, a “play.”

Well, the play’s the thing in this one, but Johnson is the hammer and tongs. At age 65, he still seems up to the challenge of stirring up this little petroleum potboiler. The kids are all right but he’s the man.


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ABC's Quantico puts NYC on the receiving end of more terrorist devastation


Cast of Quantico is headed by Priyanka Chopra (forefront). ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 27th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Priyanka Chopra, Aunjanue Ellis, Jake McLaughlin, Josh Hopkins, Yasmine Al Massri, Johanna Braddy, Tate Ellington, Graham Rogers
Produced by: Josh Safran, Mark Gordon, Nick Pepper

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What the real-life world really doesn’t need right now is another devastating terrorist attack on New York City or grossly incompetent screening of would-be FBI agents at the Quantico Academy.

You’ll get both in ABC’s Quantico, a flash back and forward whodunit starring the beauteous Priyanka Chopra as a recruit who’s later suspected of being behind the bombing of NYC’s Grand Central Terminal. What a not so great way to unwind in Sunday’s final prime-time hour before another work week beckons.

Chopra is Alex Parrish, who early in Sunday’s opener has strictly noncommittal sex in a car with a guy who turns out to be a fellow FBI recruit. They’re among the latest new batch of trainees at a place that prides itself on its attention to detail but can’t seem to get anybody’s background straight, including Alex’s. ABC and the show’s producers have seen to it that her standard issue grey training top is unbuttoned a button lower than any other woman’s. The better to see one of her primary assets.

Running the place is hard-nosed Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis), whose initial speech to the recruits renders her a “sexless, heartless, pontificating robot” in the view of snippy Shelby Wyatt (Johanna Braddy).

“Worked for Hillary,” cracks another trainee. Boom!

Sunday’s premiere episode toggles between the immediate aftermath of the NYC bombing and the gathering of new recruits nine months earlier. One of them apparently is a terrorist. And the pre-arrival activities of Nimah Anwar (Yasmine Al Massri) in a gas station restroom sure do look suspicious. This probably means she’s not the one, even if something even more suspicious later occurs within Academy walls.

The recruits also include openly gay and sensitive Simon Asher (Tate Ellington), hunky Ryan Booth (Jake McLaughlin) and jerky Caleb Haas (Graham Rogers), who’s poised to reveal a deep secret about Mormon elder Eric (Brian J. Smith) during an exercise in which recruits are required to pair up and investigate each other’s pasts.

Dougray Scott also can be seen in the first episode as FBI special agent and Quantico instructor Liam O’Connor. But in subsequent episodes he’ll be replaced by actor Josh Smith.

Quantico moves along briskly without nailing down an overall believability. A bigger overriding question is whether enough viewers will want to subject themselves to the whys and wherefores of a current-day terrorist strike on the homeland that initially leaves Alex dusty and dazed amid the rubble. Things haven’t gotten any better for her by the end of the opening episode. Nor has the overall credulity of a series that eventually finds its designated heroine dazed and confused in a different way.

At the summer Television Critics Association “press tour,” co-executive producer Mark Gordon (who also orchestrates Showtime’s Homeland) fell back on an oft-used industry term to defend some of Quantico’s rather far-fetched storytelling.

“I think the great thing about most entertainment, whether it’s film or television, is that it’s ‘heightened reality,’ “ Gordon said. He then quoted a deceased writing teacher who “had this great, great quote (of) which I remind people I’m working with all the time. Which is ‘Real life is no excuse for bad drama.’ “

So swallow Quantico whole if you’d like. From this perspective, though, there’s just won’t be enough of an appetite.


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Birth of a big mess in NBC's Heroes Reborn


Jack Coleman (center) so far is only carryover from original Heroes. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 24th at 7 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Jack Coleman, Zachary Levi, Judith Shekoni, Robbie Kay, Ryan Guzman, Emily Duval, Rya Khilstedt, Kiki Sukezane, Henry Zebrowski, Francesca Eastwood, Danika Yarosh, Pruitt Taylor Vance
Produced by: Tim Kring, James Middleton, Peter Elkoff

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Regarding Heroes Reborn, might there be the possibility of a historic class action suit on the part of viewers who end up suffering from whiplash, dizziness and overall head-hurt?

Saying this NBC reboot is all over the place might qualify as the understatement of the millennium. Arising five-and-a-half years after the original left in disrepair and with greatly diminished ratings, the Tim Kring-created saga of everyday people with assorted extraordinary powers is back as a big, messy jumble. Veering back and forth and back and forth and back and forth from locales ranging from Yanqing, China to Carbondale, Ill., this one’s harder to navigate than a grocery cart with a dysfunction front wheel.

NBC is billing Heroes Reborn as a 13-episode miniseries and pledges to air all of them without a preemption. The first Heroes, one of the surprise highlights of the 2006-’07 TV season, eventually had its pulling power reduced by lengthy disappearances from the Peacock’s prime-time lineup. The first season averaged 13.9 million viewers, more than double the audience for the concluding Season 4’s 6.5 million. Many viewers simply gave up or became hopelessly confused by all the misdirections and re-launches.

Thursday’s two-hour premiere of Heroes Reborn and next week’s Episode 3 were made available for review. The special effects can be arresting for a while. But the storytelling seems to be mostly so much gibberish. Divining what the hell’s going on may be an impossibility, in large part because maybe Kring doesn’t really know either. He lost his touch with Fox’s recent Touch. Perhaps Heroes Reborn amounts to nothing more than an irresistible payday. It certainly can’t hold a candle to its ancestor.

The only holdover character in the early going is Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman), troubled father of onetime super-powered cheerleader Claire Bennet. Later episodes will include appearances by Heroes originals Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka), Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) and Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy). They’d better make it snappy.

The new story begins on June 13th -- “One Year Ago” -- in Odessa, Texas. A massive explosion occurs at a dedication ceremony for Prima-Tech after Bennet unsuccessfully tries to contact his daughter and make amends. He somehow survives, as do his glasses. Then it’s off to other locales as Heroes Reborn makes its way back to the “present.”

The most familiar face is Zachary Levi, who starred in NBC’s Chuck for several seasons. He’s now playing a vigilante named Luke Collins, who with his wife Joanne (Judith Shekoni) is hunting down those with extraordinary abilities. That’s because their son died in Luke’s arms at the big Odessa blowup. And they blame the tragedy on those who are “different” from mere mortals.

One of those abnormals is nerdy teenager Tommy Clarke (Robbie Kay), who escapes a Collins-led massacre and flees to Pinehurst High in Carbondale. But Heroes Reborn doesn’t stay anywhere for very long in its unwieldy blend of rather random action scenes and constantly changing locales.

Besides those already mentioned, the locales include East Los Angeles, Chicago, Tokyo, Canada, “somewhere in Texas,” the Arctic Circle and Midian, Colorado, which turns out to be home base for the Renautus conglomerate and a new “Epic” tracking device that can root out “every enhanced human” on the planet. Its sinister CEO, introduced in Hour 3, is Erica Kravid (Rya Khilstedt). She’ll get what she wants by any means necessary. But of course.

There are many more characters to sort through, including heavy-drinking war hero Carlos Gutierrez (Ryan Guzman) and Tokyo’s Miko (Kiki Sukezane), who’s searching for her missing father and has Thursday night’s niftiest sequence after winding up in a video game. Through it all, an unnamed skulker played by Pruitt Taylor Vince (True Blood) appears to be orchestrating things while flashing a montage of satisfied smiles.

Amid all the head-scratching perplexities, Heroes Reborn has a laughable sequence built around the drunken father of a high school bully. The big oaf is enjoying his favorite NBC show when Vince’s character comes knocking. “Not interested,” he bellows between beers. “I’m watching The Biggest Loser.’ ” Not for long he’s not. Subliminal message: anyone who watches The Biggest Loser deserves whatever they get.

In other locales, Coleman’s Noah Bennet twice is on the verge of obtaining crucial information. But the purveyor dies in his arms before he can blurt it out. That becomes laughable, too. For intended grins, Noah has a tubby, bearded new ally in Quentin Frady (Henry Zebrowski), who’s convinced he’s on to something but doesn’t quite know what.

Above all, there’s a world to be saved. But Heroes Reborn so far is anything but a world-beater when it comes to cohesive, comprehendible storytelling. Yes, “The Human Race Faces Extinction.” No, this isn’t the show that’s likely to make you care.

GRADE: C-minus

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NBC's The Player might not want to bet on its survival


There’s going to be a lot of this in The Player. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Philip Winchester, Wesley Snipes, Charity Wakefield, Damon Gupton
Produced by: John Rogers, John Fox, John Zinman, Patrick Massett

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Automatic weapons fire, screeching/smoking motor vehicles, flying fists and daring last-minute rescues are very much in The Player’s playbook.

Darn, there’s dialogue, too, with a very authoritarian “Pit Boss” named Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) doubling down with lines like, “Fold, Mr. Kane. You don’t have a strong enough hand.”

Kane is Vegas casino security consultant Alex Kane (Philip Winchester), a former bad boy FBI agent with a poker face. But the latest “hand” dealt to him has nothing to do with card games. Instead, Kane suddenly finds himself a pawn in a game of life run by Mr. Johnson and his beautiful blonde British assistant, Cassandra King (Charity Wakefield), also known as “The Dealer.”

As preposterous premises go, this one’s right up there -- but really no more so than CBS’ Person of Interest or Fox’s new adaptation of the feature film Minority Report. All three base their weekly jeopardies on stamping out major crimes before they happen. The added twist in The Player is a group of so far unseen billionaires who bet on whether a designated “Player” will succeed in that endeavor or die trying. They’ve become bored with betting on anything less.

NBC publicity materials say that “the show’s kick-in-in-the-doors pulp ride is meant to bring big action back to television.” But within the same release, NBC says “the show isn’t about action, however.” Instead, it explores “the nature of power: how it is won, lost, and contained. How power can never be destroyed, but only harnessed.”

Whatever. And by the way, Certs is a candy mint. No, Certs is a breath mint. So maybe The Player is entitled to have it both ways, too.

Winchester is a solid enough presence as Kane, whose ex-wife, Ginny (Carla Buono), still loves him and vice-versa. Early in Thursday’s premiere episode, they’re romping around sexually and wondering if things just might work out the second time around. “I love you,” she tells her big lug. “And the rest we can just figure out as it comes.”

This of course means that Ginny will -- well, even NBC isn’t hiding the fact that “the death of his beloved ex-wife” will propel Kane into a tumbling dice of a world world that he never ever envisioned. “I need you to wrap your head around impossible,” Cassandra tells him after rescuing him from a passel of pursuing cops (who think Kane might have killed his wife) and taking him to the penthouse domain of Mr. Johnson.

They quickly clue him to a high-tech surveillance system that’s been in place forever and a day. Therefore the world is their oyster, and not merely on the half shell either. Or as the Pit Boss later puts it after Kane survives a casino floor gun battle, “The world is already watching itself, Mr. Kane. We just happen to be paying attention.”

Not sure exactly what that means. But Kane has a more basic question. “Did you predict Ginny’s death?”

The non-committal response puts him in a foul-ish mood. “When I’m done I’m gonna come back here and throw you through that window.”

Mr. Johnson finds that to be pretty hilarious, mainly since he’s already physically subdued Kane with the ease of an Olympic power-lifter flicking off a 100-pound weakling. “Bravo,” he says with a condescending smile. “I’ll take that bet.”

The Player otherwise will largely be about Kane’s derring-do in tandem with Cassandra’s very high-tech help. NBC says that upcoming episodes will find him going up against the likes of a mob hit team and a Vegas serial killer. Or as Mr. Johnson cavalierly puts it, “the worst humanity has to offer.” That should be enough to excite all those otherwise yawning billionaire high rollers.

Although this isn’t a flat-out terrible series, don’t bet on NBC having a winner opposite fearsome time slot competition from CBS’ Thursday Night Football and ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. No one likes those odds.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Rosewood too often seems built of balsa


Morris Chestnut is front and center in Rosewood. Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 23rd at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Morris Chestnut, Jaina Lee Ortiz, Gabrielle Dennis, Lorraine Toussaint, Anna Konkle, Domenick Lombardozzi
Produced by: Todd Harthan, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen

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Morris Chestnut’s Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr. strides through Miami with the same abundant confidence and swagger as Dwayne Johnson’s Spencer Strasmore does in HBO’s Ballers.

They also share super-muscular torsos and serious medical issues that could someday punch them out. It even looks as though the same very raucous party yacht has been rented for both series. Other than that . . .

In Fox’s Rosewood, the title character is a showy “private pathology consultant” with big self-congratulatory billboards about town. Strasmore is a mere sports agent tending to spoiled multi-millionaire football players. But both series bank heavily on their leading man’s larger-than-life persona. Johnson’s is already entrenched while Chestnut is still trying to build himself up.

Wednesday’s Rosewood premiere, as a lead-in to Fox’s all-powerful Empire, clicks sporadically without ever really humming. Rosewood’s deductions, both at crime scenes and in his state-of-the-art Magic City Lab, are reeled off to the point of absurdity. After just “one lap around the body,” he determines that a hooker accused of pushing a middle-aged guy off a balcony should be immediately released because the dead man actually did himself in.

It’s all about as believable as me saying, “Aha, your very pungent bad breath proves that you ate a limburger cheese sandwich and washed it down with buttermilk before your repulsed blind date quickly ditched you. You then reflexively stalked and killed her because your domineering mommy taught you since birth that all women are no good and only want to hurt you. You again were filled with self-loathing for not listening to her. So your guilt is palpable. And damn, here’s a breath mint.”

Rosewood initially clashes with a veteran cop who keeps fending him off and then giving in. But his principal foil is detective Annalise Villa (Jaina Lee Ortiz), a saucy import from New York City who wears tank tops on the job, talks as though she’s always speaking into a megaphone and has no use for Rosewood until, of course, she does.

Villa’s also very handy with her fists, subduing suspects and bad guys with the greatest of ease while Rosewood looks on approvingly when not spouting medical mumbo jumbo. A poor sap named JuJu initially balks at talking until she literally twists his arm before adding, “Now you’re gonna tell me everything you know. Otherwise I’m gonna drag you back to the jacuzzi and baptize your shifty ass in a very unChristian sort of way.”

Supporting characters include Rosewood’s sister and lab mate, Pippy (Gabrielle Dennis); their demanding mom, Donna (Lorraine Toussaint); and Pippy’s co-worker/fiancee, Tara Milly (Anna Konkle). The latter is taking pole-dancing lessons in preparation for the couple’s honeymoon. Rosewood somewhat amiably grimaces.

The premiere episode’s central mystery is the death of a former student in Mama Donna’s music class. “Son, this girl was special. She had a gift,” Rosewood is told. So there’s no way she could have died in a simple car accident. It had to have been murder.

Well, yes it was. And the climactic capture of the killer is loopier than the byplay and deductions leading up to it. Villa starts to thaw, but not without still playing at least a little hard to get when Rosewood proposes a partnership.

“You’re oil, I’m water,” she retorts. “And we got lucky.” Give it up, girl.

Publicity materials for Rosewood include a “Dear press member” come-on from Todd Harthan, the series’ creator and co-executive producer.

“In the simplest of terms,” he says, “Rosewood is a fun procedural drama wherein Rosewood and Villa solve incredible crimes with style, wit, sex appeal and a heavy dose of fast-paced banter, though we’ll let you guys decide if we pulled that off.”

Based on the opening episode, this guy is inclined to think they haven’t. Rosewood can be fun in spots, but more often is way over-cooked. “I like to inspire and be inspired by everything around me,” Rosewood proclaims. So far that’s just not happening for me.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Another night, another movie knockoff with CBS' Limitless


Brian Finch is on NZT and also on the run in Limitless. CBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jake McDorman, Jennifer Carpenter, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Hill Harper
Produced by: Craig Sweeney, Alex Kurtzman, Bradley Cooper, Roberto Orci, Heather Kadin, Marc Webb, Todd Phillips, Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Tom Forman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
CBS proved to be much quicker than Fox in turning a man-on-the-run feature film into a weekly offshoot.

Fox’s Minority Report, which premiered Monday, lags well behind the same-named, 2002 Steven Spielberg-directed movie. CBS’ Limitless, launching on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd, is fairly quick on the heels of the 2011 film that starred Bradley Cooper as a stressed but empowered user of the super brain-boosting drug NZT.

The TV version lists Cooper as a co-executive producer and includes a cameo by the now high wattage big-screen star. It otherwise mainly has only NZT in common, even though Cooper is playing the same character, Eddie Mora. Except he’s become Senator Edward Mora and in effect is assuming the role played in the movie by Robert De Niro. So will the real Eddie Mora sign in, please? Yes, and he’s in the person of Brian Finch (Jake McDorman), a restive 28-year-old who once aspired to be a rock music god but lately has only the blues.

Limitless begins with Brian running from a passel of New York City law enforcers and taking them on a chase through -- what else? -- the subway system. FBI agent Rebecca Harris (Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter) gets the drop on him before Brian stares her down and also stops an oncoming train in its tracks. It’s then flashback time, with Brian narrating the sad tale of what a loser he was until NZT popped into his life and made him a mental giant.

He’s shlepping along as a temporary file clerk when a former bandmate named Eli spots him. He’s since become a prosperous investment banker via the miracles wrought by NZT. Here, try one. The new brainiac Brian -- at least until the drug wears off -- quickly figures that “the world is mine. I just have to decide what to do with it.”

One of his first steps is playing rapid-fire electric guitar on the street. Hey, it’s not that great a solo, but NYC lookers-on respond with an ovation befitting Eric Clapton in his prime. Or Jimmy Page if you prefer. John Mayer maybe?

Meanwhile, Brian’s dad is afflicted with a mysterious illness after collapsing during one of those big family dinners that only happen these days on CBS in general and Blue Bloods in particular. Can Brian diagnose him? And how about that murder being pinned on him after he finds Eli dead?

The cliche dialogue starts to pile on as Limitless weaves its way through a thicket of sub-plots. His unfulfilled son may have been receptive to the lure of NZT, Brian’s dad tells Carpenter’s investigating agent Rebecca. But he can assure her of one thing: “Our son is not a murderer.” Well, OK then.

Cooper’s character, who’s thinking about running for president, is first seen via a piercing, movie star-befitting extreme closeup. “It’s about time you and me talked,” he tells a woozy hospitalized Brian.

Mora has much more of the NZT that Brian has come to rely on. But there’s an undisclosed price to all of that. Brian also is being tugged and pulled by Rebecca. She sees him as an NZT-powered indispensable asset to the FBI and convinces stern boss “Naz” Pouran (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) to think likewise.

“Just don’t lie to me. Ever,” says Rebecca, who of course has her own traumatic past. As for dad? “I’m proud of you, kid,” he says, quoting from the connect-the-dots drama 101 manual.

Limitless might have just enough going for it to keep CBS viewers from opting out after enjoying their weekly NCIS fix of the original and its New Orleans-set spinoff. The first episode is a cut or two better than so-so, with Cooper’s brief but pivotal appearance something that many opening night viewers might be willing to wait on.

Don’t get too used to him, though. His “recurring” character likely will drop in only during a single ratings “sweeps” episode in November, February and May. Cooper has a financial investment in this TV version. But he doesn’t need NZT to deduce that too much episodic TV of this caliber could diminish his still very potent box office appeal.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Muppets gives ABC a big brand name in a challenging "mockumentary" setting


No further introductions necessary. It’s The Muppets. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and many, many more
Produced by: Bill Barretta, Bill Prady, Debbie McClellan, Randall Einhorn, Bob Kushnell, Kyle Laughlin

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The Walt Disney Company has owned the rights to The Muppets since early 2004. So what took so long to turn Jim Henson’s timeless creations into the stars of a new weekly TV show?

As co-executive producer Bill Prady recently told TV critics, the idea was pitched -- and rejected -- about eight years ago. Network executives are always coming and going, though. And in February of this year, the Muppets people found a newer and very receptive batch at Disney-owned ABC.

Problem is, they wanted the show now and not later. Prady says he balked but acquiesced. Based on the first two episodes made available for review, the gaggle of fuzzy wuzzys is still a little rough around the edges. But the more adult “mockumentary” Muppets are still safe to view for the whole family (even if fewer and fewer watch TV that way anymore) without fear of accelerating anyone’s ascent to puberty.

The big “news” over the summer was the breakup of Kermit and Miss Piggy after the level-headed frog finally got fed up with her diva ways and means. But he’s still around to produce her “Up Late with Miss Piggy” talk show. Which is a show within a show on The Muppets, where backstage machinations, out-of-pocket personal lives and talk-to-the-camera sidebars form the bulk of the first two half-hour episodes.

The second, with featured guest appearances by Josh Groban and Jay Leno, is better than Tuesday’s opener. That’s better than the other way around.

Tuesday’s premiere, which leads off ABC’s prime-time lineup, deploys Elizabeth Banks and Tom Bergeron, longtime host of the network’s Dancing with the Stars. A subplot follows Fozzie Bear’s new romance with a human woman whose father emphatically is not for it. Jere Burns, very villainous on Justified, gets off a good line at the dinner table, semi-whispering loud enough for all to hear, “Likes the salmon. What a surprise.”

The Miss Piggy show’s set manager, Bobo, is another bear who stands out. He’s much burlier and bigger than Fozzie, going about his job in an amusingly laconic way. Old coot critics Statler and Waldorf are also in residence, this time carping from the studio audience instead of a balcony perch.

Post-Miss Piggy, Kermit has a new girlfriend named Denise, who’s also a pig. But little is done with this in Episode 1 and Denise isn’t a part of next week’s show.

The Muppets obviously has a built-in brand name and likely will be fairly heavily sampled in the early going. Its humor remains fairly gentle, although some younger viewers might wonder what’s going on early in Episode 2. That’s when Zoot, who plays the horn in Miss Piggy’s house band, Electric Mayhem, is told “No dirty drawings” during a staff meeting.

“Oh. Maybe I can make it into a saxophone,” he deadpans. Think about it.

Not that The Muppets wouldn’t still be evicted from the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup for being way too tame. The problem, at least for now, is whether the show can find a happy medium between sharpening itself without resorting to any crude or unduly cutting humor. These first two episodes are watchable enough, with next week’s half-hour hitting on a fairly novel way to short-circuit a gooey Groban-Miss Piggy relationship that calms her tempestuous temperament but compromises her show.

As usual, put-upon Kermit ends up being the idea man, er, frog. He needs a pod-cast.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Scream Queens can leave a nasty taste

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Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis and the less than subtle but attention-getting marketing campaign for Scream Queens. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox with back-to-back episodes
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lea Michele, Abigail Breslin, Nasim Pedrad, Keke Palmer, Billie Lourd, Glen Powell, Diego Boneta, Niecy Nash, Nick Jonas
Produced by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Ian Brennan, Alexis Martin Woodall

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Chanel Oberlin has a mouth on her. And it spews hatred, racism, put-downs and self-entitlement that could do more harm to “impressionable” viewers than the recurring killings and other brutalities in Scream Queens.

Fox bills it as a “comedy-horror murder-mystery” that arrives on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd with a special two-hour premiere. The opening visual, in a 1995 flashback, is a closeup of a sorority sister’s very bloody palms. “Did you just get your period all over yourself?” she’s asked.

That’s actually one of the tamer passages in this latest unbridled TV series from Ryan Murphy. His creations include Nip/Tuck, the American Horror Story franchise and Glee, an out-of-character sedative from a guy who seems to greatly prefer pushing kinky to the max under the auspices of “adult content.”

Scream Queens is not without grim, guilty pleasures or even a sense of fun. Still, its hate-language can be all too palpable, with Chanel (a very vivid performance by Emma Roberts) verbally chainsawing anyone who’s deemed beneath her or in her way.

An obese maid is dubbed “White Mammy” and a “chubby old Nazi” before some heavy-duty physical harm kicks in.

Mexicans are several times slammed as basically sub-human and a hapless Kappa Kappa Tau pledge is nicknamed “Deaf Taylor Swift.” Furthermore, “like all deaf people, she has horrible halitosis.”

Chanel’s world view boils down to this: “If Dean Munsch gets her way, Kappa is going to be filled with fatties and ethnics.”

Dean Cathy Munsch (Jamie Lee Curtis) quickly emerges as Chanel’s arch foe, promising to reform Wallace University’s most popular sorority by freeing it from the tyrannical grip of a diva and her “minions,” Chanels 2 through 5. “You represent everything that is wrong with young girls nowadays,” Munsch says during their first big face-off.

But the dean is hardly Mother Theresa. On the contrary she can be demonic, duplicitous and super-caustic. “I’m gonna barf on your face unless you get out of here,” she tells a self-anointed Big Man on Campus named Chad Radwell (Glen Powell) after judging him very lousy in the sack. But Chad’s a complete jerk, so have at him,

Glee alum Lea Michele is also around -- in a neck brace -- as a poor sap of a pledge named Hester. “She smells like hot dog water,” says Chanel.

The fresh-faced new girl in town is Grace Gardener (Skyler Samuels). She wants to infiltrate Kappa Kappa Tau and expose its many misdeeds with help from coffee shop worker Pete Martinez (Diego Boneta), who otherwise sees himself as an investigative reporter. Nick Jonas drops in as Chad’s younger brother, Boone, who’s gay and on the receiving end of a jaw-dropping retort from Chanel in Tuesday night’s second hour.

On the other hand, guest star Niecy Nash is loads of fun as a less than accomplished campus guard named Denise Hemphill. And another guest performer, Ariana Grande as Chanel #2, gets into a riotous text-messaging showdown with her would-be killer, a man or woman who prowls the campus in a devil’s costume. It all ends with a nifty twist that few likely will see coming -- even if it makes no sense because how would this person ever be able to convince all these people that . . .

No one is quite what they seem in Scream Queens, where the identity of a mystery baby is also up in the air. It’s a very energetic two-hour premiere replete with cartoonish screams and schemes. But a cesspool runs through it in the person of the noxious Chanel. It’s understood she’s a thoroughly mean girl. Unfortunately, we live in fractious times where some of the younger viewers being recruited for Scream Queens might instead see her as something of a heroic Donna Trump.

It all bears watching. One can roll with Scream Queens to a point. But is it all just harmless fun? Perhaps not during those times when Chanel is steeped in bigotry and stripped of any self-awareness.

“You’re an awful person,” she’s told.

“Maybe,” Chanel agrees. “But I’m rich and I’m pretty. So it doesn’t really matter.”

It’s one thing to love to hate a villain. But Scream Queens really does seem to be more complicated and problematic than that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO, Samberg are winning combo at Primetime Emmys


A ripe Andy Samberg after one year of binge-watching in his bathroom-less “TV Viewing Bunker.” Repulsed Jon Hamm later cheered up after winning his first Emmy in 16 tries. Photo: Ed Bark

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Winning 14 Emmys and more than half of those awarded Sunday night, HBO reasserted itself as the lord and master of this domain after limping away from last year’s ceremony with just four statues.

The premium cable network’s dominance included first time wins for Game of Thrones and Veep in the climactic best drama and comedy series categories, plus six Emmys for Olive Kitteridge, including for best limited series. Veep’s win ended Modern Family’s run of five straight years as best comedy. The ABC show was bidding to become the first ever to win six consecutive Emmys in this category.

The closest rival network, Comedy Central, received four Emmys, three of them for The Daily Show in Jon Stewart’s last season as host. Last year’s top winner, CBS, dropped from five to just one for repeat winner Alison Janney in Mom. Host network Fox was shut out, as was NBC last year in that line of duty.

The biggest and by far the most popular non-repeat winner was Jon Hamm, who finally prevailed in his last chance to be honored as the iconic Don Draper in AMC’s Mad Men. Hamm had been nominated a grand total of 15 times without a win before at last hearing his name called in triumph on his 16th try.

“There has been a terrible mistake, clearly,” he joked after a standing ovation.

Still, the emotional high point may have been Tracy Morgan’s first television appearance since his long recuperation from a June 2014 car wreck caused by an inattentive truck driver. Morgan, who is scheduled to host Saturday Night Live on Oct. 17th, presented the final award of the night for best drama series.

“I was ecstatic to learn I wasn’t the one who messed up,” Morgan said.

Uza Aduba, who plays Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, became the first actress to win an Emmy for the same role in both comedy and drama. That’s because OITNB switched categories this year. Only one actor, Ed Asner, has turned this trick, winning as Lou Grant in both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant.

Host Andy Samberg, in his opening monologue, noted that Aduba would be the “the new Ed Asner” if she won again as “Crazy Eyes.”

Another black actress, Viola Davis, made Emmy history by becoming the first to win an Emmy as best actress in a drama series. Davis, star of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder, bested Taraji P. Henson of Fox’s Empire, who also would have made history.

Another African-American actress, Regina King, received an Emmy as best supporting actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her performance in ABC’s American Crime.

Amazon Prime broke through with its first two major Emmys, including a best actor in a comedy series trophy for Jeffrey Tambor as Mort turned Maura Pfefferman.

Samberg turned out to be a winning host, beginning with an opening short film tied to the theme of “So Many Shows and So Little Time.” So he hunkered down in his “TV Viewing Bunker,” emerging after a year of catchup viewing as ripe, bearded, bedraggled happy camper. Samberg’s co-stars included Hamm, Kerry Washington of Scandal and Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul.

His monologue had several deft zingers, with Samberg noting that Paula Deen now is competing on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. Still, “if I wanted to see an intolerant lady dance,” he added, “I would’ve gone to one of Kim Davis’s four weddings.” The reference was to the Kentucky clerk who has refused to issue licenses for same-sex marriages.

Samberg also congratulated Emmy voters for their diverse selection of nominees. “Racism is over,” he proclaimed. “Don’t fact-check that.”

He ended with a flourish: “All right, let’s give away some mother-humpin’ Emmys!”

HBO ended up winning 14 of the 26, followed by Comedy Central (4); ABC and Amazon Prime (2 each); and AMC, CBS, NBC and Neftlix (one each).

Here are the specifics:

Drama series -- Game of Thrones (HBO)
Comedy series -- Veep (HBO)
Limited series -- Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Reality competition series -- The Voice (NBC)
Variety talk series -- The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
Variety sketch series -- Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Actor, drama series -- Jon Hamm, Mad Men (AMC)
Actor, comedy series -- Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Actor, limited series or movie -- Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Supporting actor, drama series -- Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Supporting actor, comedy series -- Tony Hale, Veep (HBO)
Supporting actor, limited series or movie -- Bill Murray, Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Actress, drama series -- Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Actress, comedy series -- Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)
Actress, limited series or movie -- Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Supporting actress, drama series -- Uza Aduba, Orange Is the New Black (Netflix)
Supporting actress, comedy series -- Allison Janney, Mom (CBS)
Supporting actress, limited series or movie -- Regina King, American Crime (ABC)
Directing, drama series -- Game of Thrones (HBO)
Writing, drama series -- Game of Thrones (HBO)
Directing, limited series or movie -- Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Writing, limited series or movie -- Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Directing, comedy series -- Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Writing, comedy series -- Veep (HBO)
Directing, variety series -- The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
Writing, variety series -- The Daily Show (Comedy Central)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Uncle Barky's Emmy picks


Your Emmy Awards host is first-timer Andy Samberg. Fox photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
“Television’s Biggest Night” (why do they keep saying that?) returns Sunday in the form of the 67th annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

Fox is the carrier this time, with the network’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine star, Andy Samberg, hosting something of consequence for the first time ever. It all starts at 7 p.m. (central) opposite a Sunday Night Football matchup -- Green Bay Packers vs. Seattle Seahawks -- that almost assuredly will out-draw the Emmys in the national Nielsen ratings.

Still, some of the major categories are intriguing. And a little history could be made if ABC’s Modern Family wins the Best Comedy Series Emmy for the sixth year in a row. No show has ever done that.

OK, let’s get to the marquee contests and my fearless but often wrong picks. Caveat: I’ve had a grudge against Emmy voters ever since CBS’ Lonesome Dove got skunked in all the major categories at the 1990 ceremony. So who knows what they’ll do this time?

Modern Family (ABC)
Veep (HBO)
Louie (FX)
Silicon Valley (HBO)
Transparent (Amazon Prime)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

Comment: Momentum, spearheaded by the Caitlyn Jenner groundswell and no small amount of Hollywood-style political correctness, is definitely on the side of Transparent. Plus, this is a very good series fronted Jeffrey Tambor as Mort turned Maura Pfefferman. So I think it’s the winner, with Veep also having a shot and Modern Family a long shot this time.

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Mad Men (AMC)
House of Cards (Netflix)
Better Call Saul (AMC)
Homeland (Showtime)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Orange is the New Black (Netflix)

Comment: Hard to say. Voters might want to honor Mad Men’s final season. Or maybe Homeland for a big rebound in Season 4. Might Game of Thrones finally break through? I wish it would, but probably not because some critics declared its latest season to be unforgivably violent. Besides, they killed Jon Snow. My personal pick would be Better Call Saul, which proved to be a superb Breaking Bad prequel in its first season. But I think the sentiment for Mad Men will carry the day.

American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)
Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
The Honorable Woman (Sundance TV)
Wolf Hall (PBS)
American Crime (ABC)

Comment: Gonna go with Olive Kitteridge, although the little-seen Honorable Woman likewise would be a fine choice.

Bessie (HBO)
Grace of Monaco (Lifetime)
Hello Ladies: The Movie (HBO)
Killing Jesus (National Geographic Channel)
Nightingale (HBO)
Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case

Comment: In an extremely thin category, Bessie looks like the clear choice.

Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline (Netflix)
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom (HBO)
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan (Showtime)

Comment: It’s a borderline felony that Hamm has never won for his iconic role of ad man Don Draper. This is the last chance to rectify that. And this time around, the chances for Hamm look pretty good. He would get the night’s biggest applause and undoubtedly deliver a memorable speech. Team Hamm all the way.

Claire Danes, Homeland
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Taraji P. Henson, Empire (Fox)
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)

Comment: The battle is between Henson and Davis, either of whom would be the first African-American woman to ever win in this category. I’ll give Henson the edge. She blasted through the screen as Cookie Lyons in Fox’s runaway midseason hit.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback (HBO)

Comment: Schumer is the hot commodity at the moment and has to be considered the favorite. But I’m going with a Tomlin upset, although both Louis-Dreyfus and Falco have won several times before and can never be counted out.

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Louie C.K., Louie
Anthony Anderson, black-ish (ABC)
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes (Showtime)
Will Forte, The Last Man Standing (Fox)
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime)

Comment: I’d be shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- if Tambor doesn’t win this one.

Timothy Hutton, American Crime
Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge
David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall
Adrien Brody, Houdini (History)
Ricky Gervais, Derek (Netflix)

Comment: Rylance likely will win for his very pensive performance as Thomas Cromwell. But I’d prefer to see Jenkins step to the stage.

Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Queen Latifah, Bessie
Emma Thompson, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (PBS)

Comment: This category is loaded. My personal choice is Huffman, who played against type and was superb in American Crime. Besides, Lange has won enough. Gyllenhaal, McDormand and Queen Latifah also would be worthy choices. And in the end, I think QL gets the nod.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Blindspot gets its tattoos on


Welcome to New York via the new drama series Blindspot. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 21st at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Jaimie Alexander, Sullivan Stapleton, Audrey Esparza, Rob Brown, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Ukweli Roach, Ashley Johnson
Produced by: Martin Gero, Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Mark Pellington

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Wentworth Miller sported a big batch of tattoos as the jailed Michael Scofield on Fox’s Prison Break. But his body of work can’t nearly match the head-to-toe illustrated woman on NBC’s new drama series Blindspot.

Her name is Jane Doe for now. And she first emerges dazed, confused and nude from a duffel bag left on the sidewalks of New York during the early minutes of this puzzlement.

Meanwhile, in rural Kentucky, a prototypical hillbilly oaf is holding a woman and her baby at gunpoint in a ramshackle abode. Short-spoken FBI agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton) leads a team that quickly subdues him. Now that his bonafides have been established, Weller is summoned back to NYC for a look-see at a woman (played by Jaimie Alexander) who “knows what music is but doesn’t remember The Beatles.” Or probably even The Troggs.

That’s what happens when you’re injected with Zeta Interactive Protein, whose byproduct is supposedly permanent amnesia. It’s a far bigger predicament for this tattooed lady than James Stockdale faced at the 1992 vice presidential debate, when he plaintively asked at the outset, “Who am I? Why am I here?”

At least Stockdale knew for sure that he was Ross Perot’s out-of-the-blue running mate. Jane knows nothing, particularly how the top of her back came to be emblazoned with “Kurt Weller FBI.” He’s also perplexed, saying multiple times during the Monday, Sept. 21st premiere, “I don’t know yet.”

Viewers apparently otherwise will be treated to the featured tattoo of the week. For starters, it’s some Chinese etchings behind one of Jane’s ears. Translated, they provide an address and a date. Which springs the jaunty Weller into action after insisting that Jane stay behind. No she won’t. Yes she will. No she won’t . . . She comes along and of course proves to be of invaluable help.

Back at FBI headquarters, boss lady Bethany Mayfair (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) barks out orders before discovering a mysterious file. In the field, Weller and Jane are having all kinds of adventures and mishaps, some of them pretty damned convoluted.

Blindspot is very similar to NBC’s Blacklist in terms of apprehending a bad guy of the week while peeling away bits and pieces of a mysterious origin story. A black-and-white flashback near episode’s end offers a pretty big first clue before Weller intones, “Well, one thing’s for sure. Someone likes playing games. And it’s only the beginning.”

Dialogue of that caliber just isn’t going to cut it. Nor is a closing sequence straight out of the scenes-we’ve-seen-countless-times-before playbook.

Blindspot has an initially intriguing premise and a compelling co-lead in Alexander. But there’s also some Silly Putty in play here, with Weller’s hard-charging man of action at times laughably intense amid all this oh-so deadly serious business.

Through it all, Jane is regularly naked while the show’s agile camera and lighting personnel keep her PG-rated for fear of alienating any broadcast network sponsors. As usual, it’s fine to show a knife to the throat and some kicks to the head. Come to think of it, that’s what the first episode’s plot sometimes feels like, too.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Life in Pieces amuses outside the traditional CBS sitcom format


James Brolin and Dianne Wiest are the patriarchs of Life in Pieces. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 21st at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Dianne Wiest, James Brolin, Colin Hanks, Zoe Lister-Jones, Angelique Cabral, Thomas Sadoski, Betsy Brandt, Ban Bakkedahl, Niall Cunningham, Holly J. Barrett, Giselle Eisenberg
Produced by: Justin Adler, Aaron Kaplan, Jason Winer, Jeff Morton

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Resemblances to Modern Family are purely intentional in CBS’ Life in Pieces, which begins episodes with the printed promise of “One big family. Four short stories. Every week.”

CBS has even gone the extra step of making Life in Pieces a single-cam comedy without any audience guffaws or laugh track sweeteners. That’s not at all the Eye network’s DNA, but one can’t mimic a five-time Emmy champ without giving it the ol’ Full Monty.

Only the opening episode has been made available for review. That’s enough to form a first but hardly lasting impression. So far, pretty good in this case, with the second mini-tale playing strongest while the final one has its moments -- including family patriarch John Short (James Brolin) in a coffin during the course of celebrating his 70th birthday with his own faux funeral.

Brolin and Dianne Wiest, who plays Joan Short, are the well-seasoned pros in a show that also includes capable junior partners Colin Hanks (Fargo), Betsy Brandt (Parenthood), Thomas Sadoski (The Newsroom), Zoe Lister Jones (New Girl) and Dan Bakkedahl (Veep).

Hanks and Lister Jones are Greg Short and his wife, Jen, who begin the second story with her delivery of their first child. Jen’s vajayjay (thanks for coining that term, Grey’s Anatomy) is left decidedly worse for wear, so “don’t look down there” for a while, a doctor orders. Greg is told to soothe the area with a plastic glove filled with frozen water.

Laughs ensue -- yes, they really do -- after Jen can’t resist taking a peek and ending up horrified. But all’s well when this little gem ends with Jen cooing, “Yeah. Mommy likes that.”

The premiere episode begins with the Shorts’ only unmarried offspring, Matt (Sadoski), having a promising first date with Colleen (Angelique Cabral). Jordan Peele of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele has a cameo in this shortest and least amusing of the four vignettes.

Story No. 3, subtitled “College Tour,” finds Heather Short (Brandt) and her husband, Tim (Bakkedahl), escorting their only son on a campus visit. He’s mortified and embarrassed, of course, particularly when mom insists he take the sandwich she made for him. The parents then repair to a hotel with their two pre-teen daughters in a segment that’s fairly predictable but still clicks.

For closers, Brolin’s John Short tries to bask in his kids’ and grandkids’ eulogies while his wife festers. After the festivities, he discovers that laying in the casket “feels really good on my back.” But uh-oh. Cue some climactic broad humor.

Life in Pieces isn’t always a stitch but is nicely sewn together. CBS’ biggest obstacle may be its complete failure to date with un-juiced comedies. All of its latter day hits -- Everybody Loves Raymond, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory among them -- have utilized the so-called traditional “live before a studio audience” format, to which the network has stubbornly clung.

So will the generally older CBS audience buy into this crazy-quilt aberration? Life in Pieces offers some very good reasons to walk on the wild side and let the laughs come without any in-show inducements. Whether that’s still asking too much is one of the new season’s more intriguing open questions.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Minority Report looks great and plays well, too


Futuristic crime-stoppers Dash and detective Lara Vega. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 21st at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Meagan Good, Stark Sands, Wilmer Valderrama, Nick Zano, Daniel London, Laura Regan, Li Jun Li, Zhane Hall
Produced by: Max Borenstein, Kevin Falls, Steven Spielberg, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey

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Production-wise, Fox’s Minority Report looks handsomer than either Rob Lowe or John Stamos, the venerable hunks fronting the network’s two new fall sitcoms.

The two leads and opening story line aren’t bad either, making this continuation of the hit 2002 Steven Spielberg movie an eye-popping blend of futuristic special effects and content that’s also worth watching.

Unlike CBS’ upcoming Limitless (Sept. 22nd), there’s no splashy cameo from the movie’s leading man. But Bradley Cooper has a financial stake as a co-executive producer of TV’s Limitless while Minority Report star Tom Cruise is completely uninvolved with the Fox reboot.

The new Minority Report is set in 2065, 11 years after the original. A controversial Pre-Crime initiative, in which three tightly secured Pre-Cognitives fingered murderers before they could murder, has been outlawed for reasons that aren’t entirely explained. Free at last, Dash (Stark Sands), his fraternal twin brother, Arthur (Nick Zano) and their older sister, Agatha (Laura Regan) are sent to a sequestered island of no return. But you know how that goes.

Dash is the series’ central Pre-Cog, and Sands plays him winningly as something of a skittish nerd who’s still traumatized by his oft-grisly visions but figures he has to do something about them. His skeptical ally is homicide detective Lara Vega (Meagan Good), who’s trying to make her own mark while fellow detective Will Blake (Wilmer Valderrama) strives to keep her underfoot. The show’s producers have outfitted Lara in tight leather outfits that accentuate her imposing cleavage. Even in the tech-pop future, some things never get old. That also includes The Simpsons, still playing on a big-screen TV.

The premiere episode’s intended murder victim is a former Super Bowl 87 Most Valuable Player who’s now a high-wattage politician. His former team is the Washington Red Clouds. Some things change for the better.

Dash and Lara end up being a well-suited team with senses of urgency and humor. There’s a nifty little sight gag after Dash repeatedly whispers to her, “I wouldn’t stand there.” It turns out he can see all kinds of future developments.

Minority Report also briefly introduces Dash’s comparatively haughty brother, who “only cares about himself. And everything comes with a price.” Big sis Agatha is a more ethereal presence in a robe that looks like a more fashion-conscious Snuggie.

Fox is pairing Minority Report with an amped-up second season of Gotham while sending former Monday night incumbent Sleepy Hollow to Thursdays. It looks like a solid one-two punch of crisp, stylized cop dramas that are visually resplendent without losing sight of character development.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

For starters, Stephen Colbert's Late Show has some strong finishing kicks


Stephen Colbert in opening minutes of opening night. Photo: Ed Bark

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Stephen Colbert now has five shows and counting as host of the CBS Late Show. So here’s a little advice -- unsolicited, of course -- on how he could do better by both the audience and himself.

First off, dial yourself down a notch while also making more room for the guests you’ve been promoting. Because some of those guests, particularly the second-billed ones, have been unique to the latter day late night terrain. And they also bring out your formidable off-the-cuff interviewing skills because there are no pre-scripted comedy bits to service.

Instead, Colbert has opted to overly showcase himself in the early going. OK, it’s fine if you want to dance a little with bandleader Jon Baptiste in the opening seconds. For an always impeccably tailored, 51-year-old white dude, you’ve still got some solid moves.

But after what so far have been relatively brief monologues, does Colbert really need to be his own “Joining me” announcer rather than leaving those duties to an off-camera pitchman or on-camera sidekick (neither of which he has so far)? That smacks a little too much of “I’m Stephen Colbert and you’re not.”

The host also spends a lot of time on his own prepared comedy pieces before getting to the two guests at hand plus a musical performance. All of the late night hosts do at least one set piece before welcoming anyone. But Colbert seems to over-do it at times with multiple Colbert-centric riffs. Some have been better than others. Still, while Colbert indulges himself, rival Jimmy Fallon has been getting to his top-billed guests in considerably quicker fashion. Even if, in Fallon’s case, it’s only to play a game with them.

Case in point: last Wednesday, the Tonight Show host knew he had a big winner in pal Justin Timberlake. So while Colbert tarried before bringing on Scarlett Johansson, Fallon rolled out Timberlake and roared to a resounding ratings victory while Colbert’s second-night ratings fell off 35 percent nationally and more than 50 percent in D-FW. Maybe that was something of an aberration. But Fallon and his show’s producers showed some show biz savvy on that night by going for the jugular while Colbert opted to wear a big furry hat with a pointed red top for an overlong and decidedly less than hilarious string of “The hat has spoken!” pronouncements.

Here’s another dilemma, though. Big star guests are supposed to be ratings magnets while the closing portions are left to lesser names. But in the majority of cases, the second tier guests on Late Show have left viewers like me wanting more while the segments with Johansson, George Clooney and even Amy Schumer were at best so-so.

The notable exception came Thursday night, when Late Show’s featured guest, Vice President Joe Biden, made news not with any presidential candidacy declarations but with a string of emotional memories of his late son, Beau. Staunch political partisans will contend that a deferential Colbert almost kneeled in Biden’s presence. But if you step back, this was television at its most compelling, with the vice president speaking at length from his gut while his host had the good sense to stay out of the way and mostly listen.

On the other hand, I also wanted to hear more from Colbert’s second guest that night, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. The host challenged him while also getting in more than a few deft ad-libs. The same could be said of the opening night interview with Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush and with Wednesday’s No. 2 guest, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.

On Monday night, featured guest Emily Blunt proved to be fun and engaging. Still, how often do you get a U.S. Supreme Court justice to do a late night talk show? Stephen Breyer was there on behalf of his new book. But Colbert intelligently and also humorously questioned him on other topics. Breyer’s erudite but never stuffy responses made this another segment that could have used a few more minutes. But it’s easy for me to say “Damn the audience demographics” and full speed ahead with more actual unrehearsed conversation.

Colbert and his guest bookers deserve major credit for lining up more of the same -- even if all of these upcoming guests are second-billed. The Tuesday, Sept. 15th show brings Apple CEO Tim Cook. On the following night, Colbert is scheduled to welcome United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Tuesday of next week brings Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz and on Thursday, Sept. 24th, Archbishop Thomas Wenski is booked.

It’s safe to say that Fallon would rather wrestle a rattlesnake than invite any of the above. And that’s not even including announced Late Show appearances this week and next by presidential candidates Bernie Sanders (Sept. 18th); Ted Cruz (Sept. 21st) and Donald Trump (Sept. 22nd), with whom Fallon mostly did shtick last week.

In a perfect world -- no chance of that -- the likes of Kalanick, Musk, Breyer and Cook would be moved to the front of the guest list. That’s not going to happen. What can happen, though, is for Colbert to give each of them at least a couple more minutes, even at the expense of his own top-of-the-show solo acts.

Dick Cavett’s old late night show comes to mind. No one expects any back to the future approaches of that sort. But if you’re going to daringly book unusual guests, then follow through by stretching their segments out a bit. It’s where Colbert shines, and he also clearly wants to make Late Show much more of a landing spot for people of genuine substance and achievement. CBS This Morning has stayed true to its serious news approach opposite the three-ring circuses on Good Morning America and Today. And while its ratings improvements are glacial, they’ve at least been steady.

One last thing. The closing musical performances on Late Show have been terrific. The Kendrick Lamar medley was blow-away great, as was the opening night sing-a-long to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.” Paul Simon was the surprise front man for the “Troubled Waters” cover band on Friday night while The Dead Weather rocked it on Monday night’s edition.

All of which goes to show -- from this perspective at least -- that Stephen Colbert’s better half generally has been the second halves of his still formative show. Dare it be said that a little less of him would make everything even better?

Grade: B (for the first five shows)

Email comments or questions to; unclebarky@verizon.net

His kingdom for a mouse: PBS' revelatory Walt Disney doc


Walt Disney and his first of many cash cows. PBS photo

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Mickey Mouse. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disneyland. They’re just three of the many voyages and visions of the enterprising Walt Disney. And had he done absolutely nothing else, that’s far more than a full life’s work.

PBS tries and in very large part succeeds in encapsulating this extraordinary pathfinder in Walt Disney, an ambitious two-part, four-hour documentary airing under the prestigious American Experience banner. It premieres Monday, Sept. 14th and continues the following night (at 8 p.m. central in D-FW on KERA13).

“He’s either the man who ruined American culture and brought all of this fake-ness into our lives or he’s the man who inspired us and gave us hours and hours of entertainment,” Disney biographer Neal Gabler says at the close of Hour 4.

Well, there are a few in-betweens. But whatever one thinks of the Disney Company’s white bread corn, sprawling commercialism and vigilant protection of its product, the ingenious guy who started it all was anything but a hack or copycat. He aspired to artistry and created new forms of filmmaking that dazzled at the time and still pretty much do.

Monday’s Part 1, the more wondrous of the two, is captivating in its depictions of the rise of Mickey Mouse (star of the first animated talkie) and the slow flowering of Snow White into a previously unfathomable “cartoon” combination of laughter and pathos at feature film length.

Gabler, the production’s featured talking head, can be faulted at times for a full-of-himself certitude and a play actor’s delivery. But he also seems to hit much the head. And on the subject of Snow White, Gabler crisply notes that the young Disney had a central question in mind: “Can you make people cry over a drawing?” Yes, he could.

Produced/directed by Sarah Colt and narrated by actor Oliver Platt, Walt Disney has the full cooperation of the Disney estate, which made a treasure trove of vintage footage available. Still, it’s not entirely a glowing tribute, with ample time spent on his dictatorial bent, company hierarchies, “Commie” hunts, fractious relationship with his parents, battles with older brother Roy and even an emotional meltdown brought on in 1931 by over-work and insecurities.

In the latter instance, it’s quite something to hear Disney say in his own words, “I had a helluva breakdown. I went all to pieces.” It prompted him to at last take an extended vacation with his wife, Lillian, the one who came up with the name Mickey after her husband initially intended to affix the world’s most famous mouse with the considerably less than magical name of Mortimer.

As a kid in the 1950s -- and as a TV critic in training who didn’t know it at the time -- my two big Disney obsessions were his series of small-screen Davy Crockett adventures and the “Spin and Marty” after-school serials popularized on The Mickey Mouse Club. Both came after his acknowledged early “Big Five” -- Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo -- had long since hit movie theaters.

Only Snow White became a smash hit in its initial release. The other films, products of Disney’s meticulous ways and budget run-overs, served to put his studio on the brink of bankruptcy while Snow White, despite its universal acclaim, failed to make the list of Oscar’s 1938 Best Picture nominees. He instead received an honorary statue that year from child star Shirley Temple. “Which is crap,” says art historian Carmenita Higginbotham, paraphrasing a very dismayed Disney while also clearly speaking for herself.

Walt, the dreamer and innovator, had an able partner in Roy, the pragmatic fundraiser, bookkeeper and “all-around utility man” who remained a sucker for his kid brother’s enthusiasm if not his business acumen. Roy was the first Disney in Los Angeles, relocating from the Midwest for health reasons and becoming a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. The older brother obviously is not a focal point of a documentary titled Walt Disney. But he certainly could be the subject someday of Roy: The Forgotten Disney. He outlived Walt by five years and postponed his retirement to preside over the completion of Orlando’s Walt Disney World and its then futuristic Epcot Center.

One of the early joys of the documentary is seeing a beaming Walt and future wife Lillian at Roy’s wedding. Walt of course mugs for the camera, but in a way that’s embraceable during a time when he saw his possibilities as endless.

Part 1 ends on a notably more somber note, the May 1941 strike by Disney studio workers after the boss had further alienated them at a mass meeting in which he demanded that “the lot of you” stop complaining and work harder for advancement and higher wages. A picket sign from those times shows an angry-looking Mickey Mouse with the caption, “Daddy Disney Unfair To His Artists.”

Roy ended up settling the strike while Walt took an extended trip abroad to remedy his “case of the DDs. Disillusionment and discouragement.” He found the admiration he craved in South America.

Walt returned to oversee another pet project, Song of the South, a post-Civil War blend of animation and live action that became best known for actor James Baskett’s performance of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” as the benevolent Uncle Remus. Disney consulted an array of black activists on how the sensitive material should be handled, but “took the notes and then trusted his own instincts,” narrator Platt says.

The upshot: Baskett, who received an honorary Oscar in 1948, wasn’t invited to the film’s 1946 premiere in Atlanta because the theater didn’t allow blacks inside. Disney simply went along with this and later was rebuked by both the NAACP (one protester carried a “Heil Disney” sign) and the film critic for The New York Tiimes, which generally had been impressed with his work. Not this time. “The master and slave relation is so lovingly regarded in your yarn,” the critic wrote, “that one might almost imagine that you figure Abe Lincoln made a mistake.”

But Disney rebounded, as he always did. The box office hit Cinderella returned the studio to animated glory during the time that Walt was in the firmer grips of his most audacious undertaking -- the “Magical Kingdom” of Disneyland. Seeking to raise the initial $5 million budget for the theme park, Disney offered to host a weekly prime-time TV series in return for his seed money. CBS and NBC balked, but ABC (then a distant No. 3 in the ratings) decided to bite. The film’s detailed look at how Disneyland came to be is the high point of Part 2. It opened in July of 1955 on a sweltering hot day. But the lines and crowds, as stunning overhead film shows, were beyond enormous.

Walter Elias Disney died on Dec. 15, 1966 of lung cancer at the age of 65. As he once noted, the avuncular Walt Disney seen on TV didn’t have the vices of the real one: “Walt Disney doesn’t smoke. I smoke. Walt Disney doesn’t drink. I drink.”

In the end, Walt Disney succeeds as a bracingly retold fairy tale come true for a man of initial little means who felt deprived of a happy childhood and then very much doted on his own two daughters. He aimed to please -- mainly himself. But the common touch seldom eluded his grasp.

For better or worse, says Gabler, “he understood a whole lot about us.”

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Self-inflicted wounds: FX's The Bastard Executioner


Ah, those medieval times. What great, bloody fun they had. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX with a two-hour episode
Starring: Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer, Katey Sagal, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Sam Spruell, Sarah Sweeney, Danny Sapani, Darren Evans, Kurt Sutter, Timothy V. Murphy, Sarah White, Ethan Griffiths Glen Rhys, Matthew Rhys
Produced by: Kurt Sutter, Brian Grazer, Francie Calf

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Violence. Depravity. Turf wars. Casting his wife, Katey Sagal, in the midst of it all. Creator/producer Kurt Sutter is a big fan, as he showed time and again during seven seasons of Son of Anarchy.

His FX followup is The Bastard Executioner, a bloody, mystical but not magical saga set in British-occupied Northern Wales, where “tension grows in the turbulent marshlands” at the dawn of the 14th century.

The names and occupied country have been changed, but this is pretty much another Braveheart minus the Scottish brogues and kilts. A peace-seeking man, in this case Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), is both traumatized and enraged upon returning home to find his pregnant wife dead and mutilated along with assorted other women and children. The brutish British have retaliated for an earlier nighttime attack on one of their smaller forces.

Brattle, whose earlier battlefield religious vision had prompted him to lay down his sword in hopes of becoming a farmer, is now furious beyond repair.

“Damn you, holy destiny!” he rages while weeping over his dead wife. And to his remaining mates: “I have no plan but vengeance.”

Bastard Executioner toggles back and forth between lords and hinterlands while the overall story struggles to take shape. There’s an early scene of a poor shackled guy having the skin filleted off his back by Castle Pryce’s resident executioner, a k a “ The Punisher.” But torturer is also deeply tormented, taking his anger out physically on both his own body and his young son. In short, there’s soon going to be a job opening.

Stephen Moyer, who formerly played the lead vampire on HBO’s True Blood, is back in prime-time as Milus Corbett, conniving chamberlain of Ventrishire. Swinging both ways sexually, he’s intent on exerting his influence over the comparatively goodly Baroness Lady Love Ventris (Flora Spencer-Longhurst). A couple of other evil-doers wind up dead during the two-hour Sept. 15th premiere, so we’ll leave them out of this so as not to spoil their very violent demises.

Sagal is Annora of the Alders, viewed variously as a witch, a healer and a visionary who knows things that she couldn’t possibly know. Except that she does. Annora is accompanied by the extremely badly scarred Dark Mute (played by Sutter himself). She calls him “my love.”

Let’s note at this point that Bastard Executioner also is populated with other intriguingly named characters, including Berber the Moor (Danny Sapani), Gruffudd Y Blaid (Matthew Rhys) and Ash Y Goedwig (Darren Evans). But so far there’s no Siegfried the Roy or Lloyd the Barbarian Barber.

Goedwig, affixed with the series’ brownest teeth appliances, apparently is supposed to provide a semblance of comic relief from the stabbings, beheadings and mutilations. During the second hour, he scores in that arena by acknowledging he’s so forgetful that “I’d lose my baubles if they weren’t attached to my dingle.” Nice.

Meanwhile, leading man Wilkin moves with what oddly seems to be the greatest of ease between the castle -- where he ends up masquerading as the title character -- and the field to be with his rebellious buddies. He finds himself repeatedly vexed and tormented, biding his time between eventually killing all involved in the village attack and reluctantly carrying out his unpleasant castle duties. Besides torture and the like, these include tangling with Moyer’s disagreeable Milus.

“You don’t challenge me, simple man,” Milus snarls. “I will shred you, body and mind.”

To which Wilkin retorts, “I sense a growing fear putting on a face of boldness.”

I sense an eventual Saturday Night Live parody, with ripe material furnished by the at times over-ripe dialogue and Wilkin’s continued dilemmas. What will he be ordered to do next? Stick fire ants into the nasal cavities of a no good, lying peasant? Paint the fingernails of a recalcitrant lass with foul, clinging oxen dung? Sing “Danke Schoen” at the top of his lungs until a prisoner cries out for mercy and confesses? Oh, that would be unspeakably cruel.

Which is to say that I didn’t care too much for The Bastard Executioner’s two-hour opener and a subsequent episode sent for review. There’s a lot of gibberish and meandering accompanying the visceral bloodshed. The palace intrigues aren’t all that interesting, even with Milus hissing to Wilkin about the “buried truths” they share. Add the macabre machinations of Sagal’s Annora of the Alders, which likely will never make an iota of sense.

“My story is over,” Wilkin disconsolately tells her at one point.

“No. It has just begun,” she insists.

Fine. Just please leave me out of it.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Reviewing Amazon Prime's Hand of God after viewing all 10 Season 1 episodes


Ron Perlman is first seen like this in Hand of God. Amazon Prime photo

Premiering: Began streaming Sept. 4th on Amazon Prime
Starring: Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Garret Dillahunt, Andre Royo, Alona Tal, Julian Morris, Emayatzy Corinealsi, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Erykah Badu, Jon Tenney
Produced by: Ben Watkins, Marc Foster, Jeff King, Brian Wilkins, Ron Perlman

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So is he nuts or not?

Amazon Prime publicity materials for Hand of God describe it as the saga of a “law-bending,” somewhat all-powerful judge who “begins to rely on ‘visions’ and ‘messages’ he believes are being sent” from on high via his ventilator-bound son, who had shot himself through the head after he’d been forced to watch his wife being raped.

All 10 Season 1 episodes began streaming on Friday, Sept. 4th. Ten episodes later, there’s still a lot of explaining to do. But several murders have been committed, including a climactic one. And the cops at last are closing in on a central character while other plots thicken, including two unplanned pregnancies.

Does that make Hand of God worth a 10-hour investment? Well, there are enough familiar faces and interesting performances going on to keep matters fairly involving. But there’s also a lot of looniness, more than a little foot-dragging, some sizable plot holes and a thick overlay of religious chicanery that might put some people of faith off their feed.

There’s this, too. Given the open-ended ending, viewers who go all in will be left with the realization that no definitive answers are even possible unless Amazon Prime orders a second season. But that’s the rule rather than the exception with most of today’s string-along drama series.

Ron Perlman, fresh from FX’s Sons of Anarchy, re-deploys his Cro-Magnon visage as power-broking judge Pernell Harris, who’s been happily ruling Valencia, CA in league with Mayor Robert “Bobo” Boston (Andre Royo). They’ve conspired to bring a big high-tech firm to town as a crowning achievement. But Pernell’s apparently indispensable role in all of this is compromised after he’s spotted loudly speaking in tongues while naked in a high-visibility public fountain. It’s possible that even Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy couldn’t survive that, although who would be foolhardy enough to make that bet?

Pernell’s wife, Crystal Harris (Dana Delany), also is accustomed to the high life -- and to getting her way. But their son’s attempted suicide drives them apart over the issue of both her husband’s visions and his non-negotiable efforts to keep their son on life support. This also drives a wedge between Pernell and his daughter-in-law Jocelyn (Alona Tal), who wants her husband out of the hospital and in a grave with his dignity still intact.

The mystery over who raped Jocelyn drives Hand of God from start to stop, with Pernell acting on his son’s “orders” and hiring a twisted ex-con named KD Dennison (Garret Dillahunt from Raising Hope) as his hit man. The two of them also have fallen under the influence of former soap opera actor turned preacher Paul Curtis (Julian Morris), whose small but growing church very much profits from new convert Pernell’s generous cash contributions. Rev. Paul’s girlfriend, Alicia Hopkins (Elizabeth McLaughlin), stands by her oft-tempted man and tries to keep his piety on track. But in the opening hour, she’s not above tempting a recalcitrant banker with her lush body.

Amid a sea of villains and connivers, the only halfway honorable characters in Hand of God turn out to be a prostitute and a drug dealer. Emayatzy Corinealdi brings presence and strength to the role of Tessie Graham, who long has charged Judge Pernell $1,500 for an hour of her time. But hey, it’s business, and yes, she has a value system beyond that.

Singer Erykah Badu plays the drama’s other strong-willed recurring character. As April, she provides Delany’s Crystal with both potent marijuana and a philosophical ear when needed -- which is always. Crystal gets an extra boost from attorney Nick Tramble (Jon Tenney from The Closer). In Episode 3 they have a rousing, talk-dirty-to-me dalliance in a restaurant restroom. The language is beyond explicit, with Delany stepping right up to the plate and hammering it home.

Delany, Corinealdi and Tal give the strongest performances in Hand of God while the male actors try to hang with them. Perlman is solid enough but also sometimes stolid. Royo’s mayor has his moments, but is a little “off” at times. And Dillahunt’s scrunch-faced henchman can be comically creepy.

Hand of God’s strengths are its elongated scenes, enabling the characters ample time to play off one another. Episode 7 includes a strong confrontation between Crystal and Tessie, much of it in a two-shot while they parry and thrust at an upscale bar.

The wheels keep turning but can take too long to get rolling while the plot hits some ruts in the road. But as a viewer, I still remained more inclined to think “Hmm, where’s this going?” rather than “I’ve had it, that’s it.”

There’s also a sinking feeling, though, that no matter how many episodes it lasts, Hand of God will end up being another of those series that leave too much up in the air and not enough grounded in a semblance of reality. For now, the central question of Pernell’s overall sanity is still blowing in the wind after Episode 10 meets its maker.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Violence vs. sex: on TV it's still no contest when it comes to showing and telling


The horror, the horror: Violence, not sex, is the main selling point of Scream Queens, a sorority-set drama premiering this fall. Fox photo

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The premiere episode of FX’s upcoming The Bastard Executioner includes a graphic medieval battle scene in which a blade first enters the back of a skull and then protrudes through the victim’s mouth. Those were the days.

Fox’s Scream Queens, also due this fall, submerges a maid’s face in a deep fryer. This does not end well for her. Earlier in the series’ opening hour, a preening sorority queen orders one of her minions to ”turn me into Jada Pinkett Smith.” She’s instead “spray-tanned” with hydrochloric acid, which isn’t particularly good for the skin. The episode ends with several would-be sorority members buried up to their necks. One of them is then beheaded by a lawnmower. At the controls is someone dressed as a devil. Cue the screams.

Getting away with violence is not much of a problem anymore on broadcast or basic cable networks, both of which are advertiser-supported. But sex continues to be quite another thing. It’s OK to show people “doing it.” Just keep those sheets strategically placed and don’t show too much. No need to offend anyone.

“Well, our society was founded by Puritans, wasn’t it?” FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said at this summer’s Television Critics Association “press tour” in Beverly Hills. “We sell our content globally. And to tell you the truth, in Europe they think we’re crazy. That we’ll show horrible violence but won’t show a breast. It seems insane to them, but that’s the reality of American television. We are much more sensitive to sexual content as a society than we are to violence.”

In that respect, a new FX publicity blurb bills The Bastard Executioner, due on Sept. 15th, as Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s “bloodiest drama yet.”

Ryan Murphy, creator of the American Horror Story franchise and now Scream Queens, drew a distinction between the carnage on the two shows.

Scream Queens has a much more satirical, cartoonish quality to the attacks than American Horror, which is much more sexualized and darker at times,” he said.

But Murphy agrees that censors mostly get snippy when it comes to sex talk and sexual situations.

“I mean, that is the one thing I always find very upsetting,” he said. “Violence is cool, for the most part. That’s very easy to get through in my job. It’s language, it’s slang, it’s trying to really reflect how people talk. It’s trying to write characters who are open about their sexuality, who talk about their sexuality, that gets the most attention and the most push-back.”

In some instances, though, Murphy is getting away with more than just murder in Scream Queens. Early in the first hour of the Sept. 22nd premiere episode, an underling with blood-soaked hands is asked by a sorority diva, “Did you just get your period all over yourself?” There also are pointed references to “bulimia vomit,” menopause and “genital warts.”

At the other end of the “adult” content teeter totter, Tina Fey, creator and executive producer of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, is opting to back away from the newfound freedom she has on Netflix. The entire 13-episode first season of Kimmy Schmidt had already been filmed for NBC before the network passed on it. Netflix came to the rescue, streaming Season 1 without any changes. Fey plans to stay that course in Season 2, keeping the show’s broadcast network content restraints pretty much in place rather than risk alienating the show’s already built-in audience.

“I think the tone of the show does feel set,” Fey said. “We’ve had so many people say to us, ‘Oh, I watch it with my 12-year-old’ or ‘My 13-year-old and I love the show.’ And I would hate to ruin that in Season 2. So I don’t think you’ll hear profanity or see nudity.”

The producers of The Mindy Project, picked up by Hulu after three seasons on Fox, are likewise keeping the series pretty much as it’s been when a new season begins streaming on Sept. 15th. Even though co-executive producer Ike Barinholtz at first couldn’t resist promising “full penetrative sex every episode.”

But no, that’s not in the playbook.

“Our (audience) demo is like Stephen Colbert’s daughter,” Barinholtz said. “Like young women who are going to run the country one day. And I think if we really changed the show too much . . . and put it more on a tilt towards stuff you would find on HBO or Showtime, we would maybe turn off some of our core audience. So we’ve really kind of made a conscious effort to keep it similar in tone.”

Longmire’s show runners are chanting the same mantra in their new home on Netflix. A&E canceled the law and order series after three seasons because its audience was deemed to be unacceptably older and thereby a turn-off to many advertisers. When Longmire begins streaming Season 4 on Sept. 10th, its loyal viewers aren’t likely to be offended by any sharp turns in content.

“Just because there may be more permissiveness on Netflix, there’s no more vulgarity or ‘graphicness,’ “ on Longmire, co-executive producer Greer Shephard said. “We did not want to alienate the incredible fan base that we actually consider is responsible for our survival.”

Ash vs Evil Dead, launching as a series on Starz after three blood-drenched B-movies, also plans to give its fans what they want. Which in this case is more of the same on an advertiser-free “premium” network with no content restrictions. The 10-episode first season fittingly debuts on Halloween night.

“It was very important we found a network that was willing to go the limit,” said director Sam Raimi. “Really let us go anywhere we wanted with the humor, outrageous horror and crazy amounts of gore -- some of the hallmarks of the Evil Dead films. Because we had an obligation to the fans.”

Star Bruce Campbell is very much on board.

“I just want to be definitive,” he volunteered at the close of a press tour panel. “People ask how much blood is there going to be? I went blind the other day shooting a scene. Just picture that. Like, take a shower and open your eyes right into the faucet. That’s how much blood there is on the show. So anyone who’s looking for it, it’s coming your way.”

Not that there was ever really a doubt.

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