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NBC's I Feel Bad needs a good deal of improvement

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Will the title keep you from tuning in? Not exactly inviting. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 19th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Sarayu Blue, Paul Adelstein, Madhur Jaffrey, Brian George, Zach Cherry, James Buckley, Johnny Pemberton, Rahm Braslaw, Lily Rose Silver, Aisling Bree
Produced by: Amy Poehler, Aseem Batra, Julie Ann Robinson, Dave Becky, Joshua D. Maurer

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
We live in times when psyches are raw, friendships are being tested and rubbing someone the wrong way is a clear and present danger.

A show titled I Feel Bad, even if it’s a comedy, seems to be stating the obvious or even rubbing it in. It’s akin to naming a restaurant Dysentery or a department store, Raw Deal. Maybe we don’t want to go there. Still, I guess the title of this NBC newcomer is more inviting than I Feel Bad All Day: Every Day. About Everything. That’s the book it’s based on.

Dividing its time between a chaotic home and a carefree video game company, I Feel Bad is centered on an Indian wife/mom who’s constantly vexed and likes telling viewers about this via her narrative voice. Sarayu Blue stars as Emet, with Amy Poehler the principal executive producer. NBC has heavily promoted the show and is sneak-premiering it with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday, Sept. 19th after the season finale of summertime’s most popular series, America’s Got Talent. So that’s a vote of confidence, even if I Feel Bad so far isn’t all that good based on the three half-hours made available for review.

It’s been hard to miss the promotional clip in which Emet is shown waking from an erotic dream before telling her husband, David (Paul Adelstein), that she’s OK with him having one, too. In the same clip, Emet is then slapped on her behind by her father, Sonny (Brian George), who mistakes her for his wife, Maya (Madhur Jaffrey).

As the premiere episode further unfolds, Emet asks a quartet of nerds at her workplace, “I’m still do-able, right?”

“Yes, you have a nice face,” replies one of ‘em before another compares her to a pizza that’s not great but still good enough because, after all, it’s pizza.

“When did nerds get so damn picky?” she bristles.

The first episode has four nerds, but one of them is subtracted after that. This leaves rotund Norman (Zach Cherry), the very British Chewy (James Buckley) and pasty-faced Griff (Johnny Pemberton). I Feel Bad spends a surprising amount of time with them, including a lame Episode 3 caper in which they plot a mission to gain access to the workplace rooftop -- where the cool kids supposedly gather.

Back home, Emet is beset with a prototypically cranky and condescending mom who ends some of her sentences with “man” and sees her daughter as an all-around failure. It gets worse in Episodes 2 and 3, when a busted pipe in their condo prompts Maya and go-along/get-along Sonny to move in for a while.

Emet and David also have three kids, one of them still an infant. They’re otherwise bringing up plus-sized son Louie (Rahm Braslaw) and stick-thin, strong-willed Lily (Lily Rose Silver). Mom and dad so far don’t seem to care at all about Louie’s diet, whether he’s mainlining ice cream or swilling Log Cabin syrup from the bottle in Episode 3. But in today’s society or on today’s television, raising undue questions about this can be seen as body-shaming. So never mind.

Episode 2, subtitled “I Get Sick of Being Needed,” finds Emet clinging to her daily and therapeutic 20 minutes of down time in what she calls a “reclining pig” position. But when even this proves to be impossible, she takes refuge in a neighbor’s well-appointed house while they’re traveling and she’s bringing their packages inside and “re-agitating” the compost.

I Feel Bad has appealing leads in the two younger parents, but is still trying to find a solid footing for itself amid some amusing moments now and then. The workplace segments take up too much of the show without rising above being a minor annoyance. And the domestic tribulations have a shopworn feel. Intrusive in-laws and balky kids are nothing new on the sitcom front, and the writing and situations aren’t sharp enough yet to serve as saving graces.

All of this and the title itself at this point are working against I Feel Bad, which on Oct. 4th will move to its regular Thursday 8:30 p.m. (central) slot following Will & Grace. NBC couldn’t provide much cushier treatment. Otherwise not all is well and good.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

From start to finish, an SNL-centric Emmys ceremony

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The Emmy statue briefly overshadowed hosts Colin Jost, Michael Che and fellow SNLers at the outset of Monday’s telecast on NBC. Photo: Ed Bark

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Monday’s 70th annual prime-time Emmys telecast is history. Or perhaps you thought you were watching Saturday Night Live.

Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ended up as best of show with five wins while Netflix edged HBO for network bragging rights by winning seven trophies to the longtime champ’s six.

Amazon and FX tied for third place with five Emmys each, giving the two streamers and the two cable networks 23 of the 26 majors distributed Sunday on NBC after the previous week’s “creative” awards ceremony. Mrs. Maisel and HBO’s Game of Thrones respectively won the show-ending best comedy and drama series statues. (Netflix and HBO ended up with 23 wins apiece in the combined majors/creative competition.)

Otherwise, a cavalcade of past and present SNL stars paraded through the three-hour telecast, which was produced by SNL maestro Lorne Michaels. The show’s current-day “Weekend Update” anchors, Michael Che and Colin Jost, hosted the ceremony, in which Michaels and alum Bill Hader (for HBO’s Barry) both emerged as winners.

Their onstage appearances were unplanned. But even without those two, the SNL presence was pervasive. Acting as presenters, sketch participants or both were Kate McKinnon, Andy Samberg, Aidy Bryant, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Alec Baldwin, Kenan Thompson, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller (yes, he was briefly a cast member in 1989 before quitting after four shows). That’s not counting Amy Poehler’s appearances during commercial breaks on behalf of her NBC comedy series, I Feel Bad.

Ferrell and Thompson were chosen to present the telecast’s two biggest Emmys in the climactic closing minutes. Thompson also participated in an opening sing-along, “We Solved It,” tied to the efforts to bring diversity to the show’s long lists of nominees. Rudolph and Armisen were sprinkled in and out as erstwhile experts on the history of the awards. But their bits played dead throughout.

Betty White’s appearance, at age 96, drew the night’s longest ovation. “Oh my goodness, goodness, goodness,” she said, basking in the audience’s affection. “It’s incredible I’m still in this business.” She also thanked Michaels for inviting her, and for making her one of SNL’s hosts during the 2010 season after a Facebook campaign on her behalf.

The most memorable acceptance speech went to Oscars director Glenn Weiss, who won ABC’s lone Emmy. Noting that his mother had passed away just two weeks earlier, he then proposed to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen, who took the stage and accepted the ring Weiss offered after he said it was the same one his father had put on his mother’s finger 67 years earlier. Awwwww.

Jeff Daniels, who won an acting Emmy for his villainous role in Netflix’s Godless, thanked his horse, Apollo, among others. He noted that Jeff Bridges also had rode Apollo in the True Grit remake, “and I felt he (Apollo) was making unfair comparisons.”

The awards also had a memorably touching “In Memoriam” segment, with the late, great Aretha Franklin doing a voiceover of “Amazing Grace” while the selected deceased were feted. John McCain, whose 2002 hosting of SNL recently re-ran on NBC, was pictured second to last before Aretha herself got the final mention.

Henry (“The Fonz”) Winkler , who came to fame in Happy Days, kicked off the night in rousing fashion by winning the night’s first Emmy (and his first as well) for a supporting role in Barry. “I only have 37 seconds. I wrote this 43 years ago,” he joked after an enthusiastic response.

Mrs. Maisel’s win was foreshadowed in the early going, with the Amazon comedy series winning four of the first five Emmys, including two for director-writer Amy Sherman-Palladino and one each for star Rachel Brosnahan and supporting actress Alex Borstein.

Down the homestretch of the ceremony, chances for FX’s The Americans also seemed promising after Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg won for their writing and Matthew Rhys received the best actor in a drama series award. But for the third time, the big prize went to Game of Thrones, which will have its final season next year.

FX’s top Emmy winner was The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, which received trophies for best limited series, Darren Criss’ lead performance and Ryan Murphy’s directing.

Netflix’s league-leading seven Emmy wins were sprinkled among The Crown, which received two (including a best actress nod to Claire Foy); Godless (2); Black Mirror, Seven Seconds (an acting win for Regina King); and John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous At Radio City.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, named the best reality competition program, gave VH1 the only cable network Emmy not won by HBO or FX. Streamers Netflix and Amazon equaled cable’s total of 12, which again left the Big Four broadcast networks in almost total eclipse. CBS and Fox were shut out while NBC and ABC limped home with the aforementioned one trophy apiece.

Hosts Che and Jost were solid but certainly not spectacular. Following the opening “We Solved It” production number, Jost addressed “the hundreds who are watching at home” (Emmy ratings have been on a decline, as have those for the Oscars) while Che said that NBC receiving the most nominations of any broadcast network was “kind of like being the sexiest person on life support.”

Che later called Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (last year’s best drama series winner) “Roots for white people” before Jost jabbed that “Roseanne was canceled by herself but picked up by white supremacists.” Laurie Metcalf’s acting nomination for Roseanne therefore was all the most impressive, said Che, who equated it to “nominating a cop for a BET award.”

A later “Reparation Emmys” short film had Che presenting awards to previously unrecognized African-American comedy stars, including Marla Gibbs, Jaleel White and Jimmie Walker (whose first name was misspelled “Jimmy” on screen).

Those who want “politics” kept out of awards shows likely weren’t mollified Sunday night, although President Trump basically went unmentioned -- at least in a direct way. But fans of SNL got more of what they were looking for -- and then some.

For a complete list of Emmy winners, go here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

His own worst enemy: Norm Macdonald nonetheless stumbles onto Netflix

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Making nice: Jane Fonda and host Norm Macdonald. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Sept. 14th on Netflix
Starring: Norm Macdonald, Adam Eget and various guests
Produced by: Lori Jo Hoekstra, K.P. Anderson, Daniel Kellison, Norm Macdonald, with “special counsel” David Letterman

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Given the dumb, insensitive things he’s said of late, the easy way out is to say that Netflix’s Norm Macdonald Has a Show stars a boob who shouldn’t be allowed to have one.

Then again, here’s a guy who’s never really expressed himself cogently and whose lines of thought can seem like a child’s scribblings. He’s an acquired taste whom many have never acquired. But as a talk show host, Macdonald’s definitely something different, as Jane Fonda finds on Episode 5.

“You’re weird,” she tells him rather affectionately. But not weird enough to resist him when a transfixed Macdonald asks for a little kiss at show’s end. Fonda responds with a surprisingly prolonged full smooch on the lips. Johnny, Merv, Stephen or either Jimmy never got that kind of treatment.

All 10 of these roughly half-hour shows were taped before Macdonald’s bad form got him disinvited from The Tonight Show after he’d already shown up backstage. Let’s briefly review.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald said of his longtime friends, Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K.: “There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’ But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.”

Macdonald also said he’s “happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a bit.” Not that there’s any real evidence of that.

He later apologized via Twitter, acknowledging that Barr and Louis C.K. “both made terrible mistakes and I would never defend their actions. If my words sounded like I was minimizing the pain that their victims feel to this day, I am deeply sorry.”

The Tonight Show wanted no part of Macdonald anyway, even though he had defended host Jimmy Fallon’s much-criticized fawning over Donald Trump during that same Hollywood Reporter interview. Then Macdonald made it even worse for himself during a subsequent appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show. “You’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for victims of sexual harrassment,” he told Stern. “Down syndrome. That’s my new word.”

But Macdonald also said that “#MeToo is what you want for your daughters. You want that to be the future world.”

On the eve of Friday’s launch of all 10 episodes of his talk show, Macdonald made a remedial trip to ABC’s The View, which to its credit did not disinvite him. The show’s four hosts were surprisingly receptive to him, with Macdonald fully apologizing for his Down syndrome remarks while looking like a man who was thoroughly ashamed of himself throughout their 10 minutes together.

Some will say that’s not nearly enough, and that Netflix should have pulled Macdonald’s show and let him deservedly sink into oblivion. It’s also an open question as to whether Fonda would have agreed to join him, had her appearance not already been taped.

But the show has gone on, and Fonda’s guest appearance is head-and-shoulders the best of the four I’ve seen. In fact, Episode 1, with David Spade featured, is so excruciatingly bad that you’re better off skipping it entirely.

Fonda, who brings her lap-sitting dog along, clearly came to play with Macdonald and guffawing “sidekick” Adam Eget, who manages The Comedy Store and has co-hosted Macdonald’s podcasts. At one point, in reference to Fonda’s once famed workout videos, the host mentions Suzanne Somers and her ThighMaster commercials.

“Do you think her thighs were as powerful as yours?” Macdonald asks. Fonda stammers a bit before rejoining, “Well, her tits sure are.”

His first question, “Who do you consider sexy?” is followed by, “Do you like Troy Donahue?”

“That’s my era,” Fonda says before naming Blake Shelton, a vintage Tony Curtis and the late drummer of The Band, Levon Helm, as men she found or finds attractive.

There’s also a semblance of an actual conversation. Fonda talks about her three husbands -- Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, Ted Turner -- her controversial visit to North Vietnam, her affinity for “cultures that aren’t scared of death” and her father, Henry, of whom she speaks very fondly.

Macdonald generally has a can of Red Bull on his desk, prompting Fonda to warn him how bad that is for him.

“Maybe you could change me,” he nimbly replies.

Unfortunately, Macdonald also insists on ending shows by making guests join him in reading mostly terrible jokes from the blue cards piled near him. In this case, it gets in the way of a surprisingly good give and take. Fonda gamely spits one out before telling Macdonald, “You know who you look like in profile? Marlon Brando.”

“Towards the end?” Eget ad libs, at last making a worthy contribution.

Each show also ends with the same sub-stupid goodbye song by Macdonald and Eget. So that’s two things to lose if this thing ever gets a second season.

I also watched the segments with Drew Barrymore and David Letterman, who’s billed in credits as a “special counsel” to the show.

Letterman endures Macdonald’s impression of actor Robert Shaw, his quoting from the pilot episode of The Beverly Hillbillies and a Wesson Oil joke among other semi-indignities. But there’s an interesting sidelight when Letterman talks about why he rejected his lone invitation to host Saturday Night Live. He says it was due to his “horrible” performances as a repertory player on Mary Tyler Moore’s failed comedy-variety show, which also included the likes of Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and Dick Shawn.

But Letterman finds that he’s had enough when Macdonald interrupts the flow to tell him, “Here’s the time in the show when we do jokes.”

“You’re an infant,” he retorts, and later literally walks out on the show before the host and Eget perform their closing song.

Barrymore, who like Fonda and Letterman currently has a series on Netflix, loudly expresses her revulsion to “dick pics” and her extreme fondness for the Steve Martin-John Candy film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. When the talk turns to some of the exotic things they’ve eaten abroad, Macdonald volunteers that he once ate a monkey’s brain in Bangkok.

“What did it taste like?” Barrymore asks him.

“Mine was stupid,” he says. Not bad.

Barrymore’s ultimate compliment comes early in these proceedings, when she tells the host, “I like your free-flowing format. It’s totally different.”

That it is, and you take the good, you take the bad.

Macdonald’s other announced guests, are Judge Judy Sheindlin, Chevy Chase, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Keaton, Billy Joe Shaver and, for Episode 10, his old Saturday Night Live boss, Lorne Michaels.

Of course there’s always a chance that Netflix could yank this show at any moment if Macdonald has another episode like he did with The Hollywood Reporter and then with Stern. So if you’re a Norm Macdonald fanatic, and there likely aren’t very many of those, it’s best to watch this show while you still can.

GRADE: B for Fonda, F for Spade, with the others somewhere in between.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

More rocket fuel, please: Mars is the goal line and Sean Penn the go-to guy in Hulu's The First

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Sean Penn, LisaGay Hamilton play astronauts on hold in The First. Hulu photo

Premiering: All eight Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Sept. 14th on Hulu
Starring: Sean Penn, Natascha McElhone, LisaGay Hamilton, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Oded Fehr, Melissa George, Hannah Ware, Keiko Agena, James Ransone, Rey Lucas
Produced by: Beau Willimon, Jordan Tappis, Joe Incaprera

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter

Sean Penn’s handful of small-screen credits have been inconsequential at best, save for perhaps a two-episode guest actor stint on Friends back in 2001.

But now here he comes in a big way, first as the head astronaut in Hulu’s The First series (launching on Friday, Sept. 14) and next year in the lead role of Andrew Jackson for HBO’s American Lion miniseries.

The two-time Oscar-winner (Mystic River, Milk) isn’t half-stepping in the eight-episode Season One saga of a “near future” (specifically 2031-33) endeavor to put the first humans on Mars. After recently turning 58, he’s notably buffed for the role of shakily resolute Captain Tom Hagerty. On the day of what turns out to be a launch gone very wrong, Penn’s Hagerty is first seen jogging bare-chested through his neighborhood. The First seems mighty proud of his pecs, with recurrent shots throughout of Hagerty either on the run or navigating the bottom of a training pool with arm weights that further tone his already ripped physique. Clearly, Penn came to play, both physically and emotionally.

From departure to return home, the mission is supposed to last two-and-a-half years. And despite a thoroughly involving Episode 1, The First sometimes seems to take that long gearing up after an initial disaster stuns everyone involved. In short, there’s too much wasted space and not enough outer space. But the soapier elements and flashbacks to the Hagertys’ past also have some pulling power, particularly in Episode 5. Hulu made the entire series available for review.

Hagerty is a widower whose self-destructive and artistic wife, Diane (Melissa George), still gnaws at his psyche while his young adult daughter, Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron), repeatedly goes off the rails. Penn and Jacoby-Heron have some affecting scenes together. It’s an impressive first big splash for her and a chance for Penn to fully convey his anguish while still clinging to his first love, which is outer space.

Another major player is Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), founder and CEO of what’s supposed to be the forward-thinking Vista. Undaunted by a major setback, she continues to push hard for another mission to Mars in the interests of giving a growingly dilapidated Earth a futuristic safe harbor if the fabled Red Planet indeed can be colonized. But the President and some senators are balking at another mega-expenditure.

At the start of Episode 2, the next launch window is 23 months away. Each succeeding hour shortens the time frame, but it’s still a long way to go if you’re an itchy viewer wondering if the big blastoff indeed will ever happen. Let’s just say that Episode 8 finally rewards one’s patience, and that Hulu for now is planning on a Season 2 rather than leaving everything up in the air.

Hagerty, who’s brought back into the fold after the Mars mission’s darkest hour, heads a team of four other astronauts. Principal among them is veteran flyer Kayla Price (LisaGay Hamilton), an Army colonel who greatly respects Hagerty but also is getting a little chapped about again being the sidekick. In her personal life she has a supportive female partner who’s built most of the house in which they live.

The First takes some wholly predictable turns, and also a number of sometimes extraneous side trips, during its long buildup to the ultimate crunch time. Episodes 3 and 4 dawdle the most before things start to get back on track in large part.

Production values are stellar throughout, with Hulu spending a reported $50-plus million on The First. Hulu and its two major streaming competitors, Netflix and Amazon Prime, seem to have money to burn these days. Perhaps even enough to fund their own space programs.

The performances also are uniformly impressive. Penn brings his star power and flexes it while McElhone has a standout scene in Episode 1 and then keeps delivering throughout. Jacoby-Heron strongly portrays a character who’s both heartbreaking and infuriating; Hamilton resonates as a selfless team member who increasingly wonders if she’s given too much of herself to the ironclad chain of command.

Still, The First could be made of stronger stuff than it is. Its use of imagery and a drawling, unidentified voice-over philosophizer (who sounds a lot like Matthew McConaughey) are both recurrent and generally intrusive. The theme music can be a bit of a grind as well. And some of the personal stories lapse into melodrama, even though the core Hagerty triangle for the most part is not guilty of this.

A Season Two, assuming there is one, has the potential to be appreciably more eventful. For now, you’re advised to ride out The First, sluggishness and all. There are enough bright spots to bring it all home, with Mars very gradually getting closer to becoming more than just a talking point.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The downfall of Leslie Moonves

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Leslie Moonves and wife Julie Chen from a 2007 CBS “press tour.” Photo: Ed Bark

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Either then or certainly not now, it’s doubtful anyone ever said this about Leslie Moonves: “He is truly the all-American boy, not only on-camera but off-camera. He’s really one of the last true gentlemen, a guy that America would like to have as their brother or their father.”

Back in 2003, Moonves said this about Mark Harmon in connection with a mini-profile I was writing about the enduring NCIS star.

So yes, Moonves was fully capable of being gracious. But as Sunday evening’s stunning developments underscore, who knew what else he was capable of? The former struggling actor turned TV programming titan is out as chairman, president and chief executive officer of the CBS Corporation after previous and new allegations that he had sexually abused at least 12 women who have come forward in articles written for The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow.

CBS also announced that $20 million is being deducted from any severance benefits “that may be due Moonves” and will be donated immediately to “one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.” His interim successor will be CBS’ chief operating officer, Joseph Ianniello, who has been with the corporation since 1997.

Moonves, 68 and married to Big Brother and The Talk host Julie Chen since December 2004, has issued a statement that reads in part: “For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company . . . “Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am . . . I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization.”

He indeed was instrumental in taking CBS from worst to first in prime-time after joining the network in July 1995 from Warner Bros. Television. Two of the mega-hits he earlier had green-lit, Friends and ER, were in large part responsible for elevating rival NBC in 1994 and punching CBS into the ratings basement.

I was at his inaugural press conference for CBS and sparred with him frequently over the years. Moonves clearly loved being in a position of power and one could seldom feel the warmth when around him. But he also was accessible, appreciated those who seemed to understand the TV business and knew how to dispense colorful quotes. He could brag and swagger without being unduly off-putting about it. And there were few if any signals that would lead one to believe he apparently had an extreme dark side as a younger executive on a fast track to the very top.

I do recall a very lively party during CBS’ portion of a 1998 “press tour” in Los Angeles. The network had just re-acquired the NFL after losing it four years earlier to Fox. Moonves announced the news and said it was akin to getting one’s “manhood” back. He then celebrated well through the night, at both the party and later in the CBS “hospitality suite,” where a woman sat on his lap in an unusually unguarded moment for him.

Years later, at a 2014 interview session, Moonves was joined on a hotel ballroom stage by his longtime friend, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The occasion was CBS’ acquiring of a new Thursday Night Football package, which it since has relinquished to Fox.

I reminded Moonves of the “manhood” line and wondered if he now felt the same way about having even more pro football on his network.

“I said that? I don’t remember saying exactly that,” Moonves rejoined to laughter. “I never had that problem -- getting it back. By the way, I like having it (the NFL) back a lot, but not that much.”

“Your manhood or the NFL?” Goodell wondered aloud before Kraft chimed in. “One thing I’ve learned,” he said, “is every broadcast partner we’ve had . . . wished they had never given it up and always came back, and are happy they’ve come back. It might not quite be their manhood, but it’s very close.”

Such comments, from three very powerful men, ring quite differently these days.

But Moonves also hired the first two women ever to serve as CBS entertainment presidents. Nancy Tellem took the position in 1998 and served until 2004, when Nina Tassler succeeded her and remained until 2015. These are not mere token gestures. And in rebuttal to the New Yorker magazine’s first article on his alleged abuse of women, Moonves claimed he has “never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women . . . I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation and my career.”

As Moonves’ wife, Chen’s career certainly hasn’t been hindered, although there have been questions about the propriety of her husband giving her a second show, The Talk, after they married. She had already been hosting Big Brother.

After Moonves’ ouster, Chen announced she is “taking a few days off from The Talk to be with my family,” but will “be back soon and will see you Thursday night on Big Brother.” Chen and Moonves have a son who was born in 2009.

Moonves arguably is the most powerful entertainment figure to be toppled after multiple allegations from women who have felt emboldened by the #MeToo movement to come forward rather than stay silent. Even more powerful than Harvey Weinstein, given the breadth and reach of the CBS Corporation.

Both can fall back on the multi-millions they made for both their companies and themselves. But no amount of dough can remove the stain of being disgraced and deposed in this manner. In the end, TV writers who have been at this for a while only knew Leslie Moonves from a distance. My many interactions with him in the end were no more than blips on his very big radar screen. I can’t pretend to know who he really is and was. But for some of us, his downfall nonetheless is no cause for celebration. It’s easy to write him off as a monster. But in truth, I never saw that side at all.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Carrey shines through, occasionally darkly, in Showtime's one-of-a-kind Kidding

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Jim Carrey gets finely Pickled in Kidding. Showtime photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Jim Carrey, Frank Langella, Catherine Keener, Judy Greer, Cole Allen, Juliet Morris, Justin Kirk, Bernard White, Ginger Gonzaga
Produced by: Michel Gondry, Dave Holstein, Jim Carrey, Michael Aguilar, Roberto Benabib, Raffi Adlan, Jason Bateman, Jim Garavente

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
This has been a big year for Fred Rogers, who’s been extolled in a first-rate documentary film and is now reprised in fragile form via Jim Carrey as Mr. Pickles.

But don’t get the wrong idea about Showtime’s daring comedy series Kidding. The star of public television’s “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time” is not an on-air poser whose gentle, kind demeanor vanishes as soon as he’s off-camera. In real-life, Jeff Piccirillo (Carrey) painfully strives to always do the right thing. It’s just that those around him aren’t fully cooperating. He’s estranged from his wife, Jill (Judy Greer), whom he desperately wants back. His resentful surviving twin son, Will (Cole Allen), more or less sees him as a joke. And his father, Seb (Frank Langella), the executive producer of Jeff’s sing song-y show, is a marrow-sucking authoritarian.

So no, this isn’t Death to Smoochy, the initially maligned but now somewhat cultish 2002 film that starred Robin Williams as a corrupt and thoroughly phony children’s show host. Jeff is much better than that, and so is Kidding.

Some of Carrey’s very best work as an underrated actor came in 2004’s oft-surreal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was directed by Michel Gondry. Kidding is their first collaboration since then, with Gondry a co-executive producer who also directs the first two half-hour episodes.

Jeff is first seen in his standard TV garb (sweater vest, short-sleeved white shirt, single-color tie) as a guest on Conan O’Brien’s Conan. He’s soon captivating the audience by playing “You Can Feel Anything At All” on his trusty ukelele. O’Brien’s performance is a little off here, mainly because he seems kind of put-off by a song that Jeff’s been performing for much of his 30 years as host of “Mr. Pickles.” You’re supposed to be charmed, Conan.

Back at his workplace, Jeff is more intent than ever on doing an episode about death in the aftermath of his son, Phil’s (also played by Cole Allen), fatal encounter two months earlier with a snack truck. At the time, Phil had been riding and bickering with his brother while mom was behind the wheel.

“Kids know the sky is blue,” Jeff pleads to Seb. “They need to know what to do when it’s falling.”

“You’ll traumatize the kids,” an unyielding Seb insists.

Langella, who excelled as the Soviet overseer Gabriel in The Americans, is in impeccable form again as the curt, controlling and soon conniving master of both his son’s and the show’s destiny. His verbal slashes cut deep and are intended to do so. When Jeff impulsively alters his appearance, Seb tells him, “You look like you’re about to climb a Texas tower and shoot people . . . You look like Lee Harvey Oswald’s creative younger brother.”

Showtime made the first four episodes available for review, and some of the sexual content is a jolt, particularly when it involves Jeff. Throughout, though, Kidding is in sync with an open question posed on the first page of the network’s press booklet: “What if the story of our life, yours and mine, suddenly had half its pages ripped out?”

Kidding also stars Catherine Keener as Jeff’s sister, Deirdre, who’s in charge of his show’s puppet department. Her daughter, Maddy (Juliet Morris), is a handful, and becomes even more so after witnessing her father, Scott (Bernard White), in a starkly compromising position.

Jeff’s above and beyond acts of human kindness are countered by a sad and increasingly voyeuristic fixation on his estranged wife, who has a new boyfriend named Peter (the recurring Justin Kirk). There’s also another woman in Jeff’s life, but with the understanding that this won’t and can’t be for very long. To say any more would ruin the sudden impact.

The Jeff-Will dynamic in Kidding is strikingly to the point. When Will calls his dad a “pussy,” gentle Jeff replies, “Please don’t use a bad word when you can use a good word.”

“And change that outfit,” Will rejoins. “You look like Rosa Parks’ bus driver.” Jeff then praises him for making “an excellent historical reference.” But there’s also a little bone from the kid: “Hey, you didn’t suck on Conan last night.”

At age 56, Carrey’s forehead is now noticeably lined and lived in. He doesn’t need to ever work again, but he’s a wonderment in a challenging role that at least gives him a fighting chance to win an acting Emmy or at least be nominated as a performer for the first time. He’s still without any Oscar nominations despite very worthy work in both Eternal Sunshine and The Truman Show.

Kidding isn’t for kids, and there’s no telling where Jeff’s psyche might head. Each of the first four episodes has a short vignette that illustrates the generational impact Mr. Pickles and his show have made. But how will he personally continue to hold up -- or will he?

“The general populace doesn’t see you as a sexual being,” but rather as “Mr. Potato Head,” Seb tells his son as a backhanded way of encouraging him to go out on a date. At the same time, dad’s plotting against him continues, because “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time” has become far too valuable a cash commodity to risk its star going off the rails.

The real Fred Rogers didn’t live to see Kidding, and perhaps that’s for the best. No kidding, though, you’ll never experience anything quite like this. Bold, provocative and at its core heartbreakingly endearing, it borrows from the original mold -- and then breaks it.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Rel is an unfortunate throwback that should have been thrown back

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Lil Rel Howery doesn’t quite know what hit him in Rel. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 9th at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox before returning on Sept. 30th
Starring: Lil Rel Howery, Sinbad, Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore, Jordan L. Jones
Produced by: Jerrod Carmichael, Mike Scully, Lil Rel Howery, Josh Rabinowitz, Kevin Barnett

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The first new fall series from a Big Four broadcasting network is broad, loud, stereotypical and affixed with a howling laugh track.

What were you thinking, Fox? Apparently that now is the right time for an urban sitcom that seems to come straight from the 1970s but makes even What’s Happening!! look demure.

Rel, being sneak-previewed following Sunday’s NFL doubleheader on Fox, is “inspired by the comedy” of Lil Rel Howery. He stars as a cuckolded, Chicago-based nurse whose wife had an affair with his barber (“my hair confidante”) before taking herself and their two kids to Cleveland.

This leaves Rel at the mercy of a littered apartment, a drug-dealing brother fresh out of jail, an “unfiltered sounding board” of a female friend and a bombastic father. Respectively they’re Nat (Jordan L. Jones), Brittany (Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore) and “Dad” (Sinbad).

“This looks like a place where they bag heroin,” Brittany says upon first entering Rel’s crib. For his part, Nat dealt ecstasy but says he’s a “changed man” since serving time.

Later in this introductory half-hour, Rel is aboard a bus when a younger black man barges on board, disses the driver, refuses to pay and then starts ragging on Rel’s physical appearance.

Even the driver has to laugh when Rel says, “Right now I’m between barbers,” before the freeloader jabs, “Your wife is, too.”

There’s also a guest character known as “Loose Boots” Monica because she wears -- loose boots. Rel wants nothing to do with Brittany’s offer to set him up with her. But he reconsiders after learning that Monica supposedly is now “Frank the barber’s girl.” They’re getting along fine at a bar before Monica learns what Rel’s game is -- namely “revenge sex.” The studio audience prototypically whoops and shouts when Monica upbraids Rel and says that no man will ever be allowed to “disrespect me.”

The whole thing comes off as uncomfortably clownish and insulting to viewers of any color, let alone African-Americans who have every right to cringe at such off-putting, clownish portrayals in times when FX’s immeasurably superior Atlanta has charted such bold new territory.

Diversity in prime-time is both laudable and necessary. But when this is the end result, it’s better left undone. C’mon, Fox, do better. Do much, much better than this.

GRADE: D

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

FX's Mayans MC gives Sons of Anarchy a new baby boy

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”EZ” Reyes still has training wheels in Mayans MC. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: JD Pardo, Clayton Cardenas, Edward James Olmos, Sarah Bolger, Carla Baratta, Michael Irby, Danny Pino, Antonio Jaramillo, Richard Cabral, Raoul Max Trujillo, Tony Plana
Produced by: Kurt Sutter, Elgin James, Norberto Barba

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Once you learn how to ride a bike . . .

Creator/executive producer Kurt Sutter gets back on one less than four years after his Sons of Anarchy ended a seven-season run in December 2014. His Mayans MC tracks the same-named Latino bikers club and its lawless, violent activities in an initial 10-episode run that begins on Tuesday, Sept. 4th.

Only the first two episodes were made available for review, with FX also reminding TV critics to observe a “spoiler-free zone” which “includes strong hints, suggestions, foreshadowing of key plot points, casting, etc.”

Because after all, we’re children.

Not to give too much away in this resultant rather brief review, but Mayans MC is a talkie that’s also in color and has lots of loud two-wheeled vehicles, automatic weapons fire, drug-running, tough talk laced with f-bombs and a grisly torture scene in each of the first two hours. So if you liked Sons of Anarchy, which ended up as one of FX’s most-watched drama series, then you’re very likely to roll with this one, too.

Let’s see, what else probably can be revealed without being sent to a corner for time out?

Mayans MC operates out of Santo Padre, a poor town on the Southern California/Mexico border. The Galindo drug cartel has terrorized its denizens for years, but a group of resistors claims to “no longer fear the devil.” Identifying this rebel group’s leader might constitute a spoiler, and your friendly content provider is wary that some of the many threatening words spoken in the first episode could apply here, too. For example: “They will hunt you down. Chop off your f***in’ heads and give ‘em to your kids for Christmas.” I’m reasonably sure my two adult children still wouldn’t like that.

JD Pardo is the principal star of the show, playing Mayans “Prospect” Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes, whose brother, Angel (Clayton Cardenas), is already a full-fledged member. EZ, recently released from prison, has cut a deal that leaves him straddled between two worlds. He also has a former girlfriend named Emily (Sarah Bolger), who’s back in the picture because she’s married to someone whose identity won’t be revealed here for fear of experiencing a “very unpleasant way to lose weight” -- which happens with graphic suddenness in the opening, extended episode.

TV vet Edward James Olmos plays EZ’s and Angel’s steadfast father, Felipe. He owns a humble butcher shop where other occasional transactions are made besides buying red meat for dinner.

There’s also a brief guest appearance by -- oh wait, that would fall into a casting spoiler. Let’s just say he’s newly free of a canceled CBS series. And he gets to say, “Well, boys, looks like we got ourselves a Samoan sandwich.”

The Mayans members invariably are ready for a fight, but at times are caught in the middle. They also enjoy a good group laugh, whether it’s a car flipping over and crashing or a little off-color humor in a makeshift doctor’s office.

Now and then, a glimpse of humanity seeps in. As when EZ spontaneously pays a vendor for the corn on a stick heisted by a little boy before his mother scolds him for not moving faster.

There’s a constantly intervening sound track, sometimes to the point where Mayans MC is very much a music video. Subtitles also are deployed regularly as the main characters drift in and out of Spanish.

Maestro Sutter, who’s married to former Sons of Anarchy regular Katey Sagal, obviously loves and knows this world, to which he returns after his preceding FX series, The Bastard Executioner, got an uncommonly quick ax by a network known for extreme patience.

Mayans MC, which almost assuredly will get considerable mileage, is another victims-of-circumstances undertaking in which degrees of badness are the accepted norms. All of those full-throated, angry-sounding motorcycles both add to the menace and spike the allure. At the very least, it sure beats a battalion of Buicks.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net