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Summertime filler finds its standardbearer in CBS' Blood & Treasure

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The finders and peacekeepers of Blood & Treasure. CBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, May 21st at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Sofia Pernas, Matt Barr, Katia Winter, Michael James Shaw, James Callis, Oded Fehr, Alicia Coppola, Mark Gagliardi
Produced by: Matthew Federman, Stephen Scaia, Taylor Elmore, Ben Silverman, Marc Webb, Mark Vlasic, Howard T. Owens, Michael Dinner

by ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The script too often belongs in a crypt, which perhaps is fitting for a summertime trifle that begins inside the long-lost tomb of Antony and Cleopatra.

CBS’ Blood & Treasure, which gets a two-hour launch on the penultimate night of the May “sweeps” ratings period, otherwise globe trots to and fro with a mix of banter that tends to fall flat and action scenes that sometimes play a little better. Unfortunately, cases aren’t opened and shut within a single episode. By the end of Tuesday night’s laborious proceedings, antiquities expert Danny McNamara (Matt Barr) and art thief Lexi Vaziri (Sofia Pernas) are no closer to catching a group of vipers intent on funding some sort of monumental terrorist act with proceeds from priceless ancient treasures. And it turns out to be not much fun getting basically nowhere despite Blood & Treasure’s time traveling (as far back as 1942) and changes of scenery that include mockups of Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo, Alexandria, Geneva, New York City, Vatican City and a floating casino in the Black Sea.

As befits the times, Lexi is the action fighter while Danny is a bit of a dweeb, even if he’s also an ex-FBI agent. They used to be lovers, but a tragedy in her life tore them apart. As these things go, however, Danny now need Lexi because she knows her way around crooked art dealers and revealing cocktail dresses. As for his skill set, “there’s nobody better at tracking blood antiquities than you,” benefactor Jay Reece clunkily tells Danny. The recurring Reece is played by John Larroquette. Poor John Larroquette.

Gumming things up on occasion is Interpol agent Gwen Karlsson (Katia Winter), who wants a head villain named Farouk (Oded Fehr) thwarted but not by breaking international law. There’s also Monsignor Charles “Chuck” Connelly (Mark Gagliardi), a New York-bred boyhood pal of Danny’s who now works at the Vatican Foreign Ministry but still says “dude” a lot. Little did he know there’s an escape tunnel underneath the Vatican. But Danny somehow does. Even in escapist fare such as this, that’s a silly throw-in.

The byplay between Lexi and Danny never clicks, making the cancellation of ABC’s jaunty Whiskey Cavalier all the more unfortunate. Those two knew how to parry and thrust. But in Blood & Treasure, it never gets much better than Danny telling Lexi, “You’ve got sandwich all over your face.” Which she really doesn’t. Lexi offers a so what shrug anyway.

CBS probably knows it has a lemon here. The network’s “event” serial dramas of summers past -- Under the Dome, Extant, Zoo -- at least seemed to be unusually big undertakings for the hot weather months. Blood & Treasure in comparison looks fated to just trickle along from week to week with little fanfare and fewer fans.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Catch-22 again eludes capture, but Hulu's six-part miniseries makes a very game go of it

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George Clooney orders up a full glare in Catch-22. Hulu photo

Premiering: All episodes stars streaming Friday, May 17th on Hulu
Starring: Christopher Abbott, Kyle Chandler, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Grant Heslov, Daniel David Stewart, Rafi Gavron, Austin Stowell, Pico Alexander, Jay Paulson, Jon Rudnitsky, Tessa Ferrer, Julie Ann Emery
Produced by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Luke Davies, Ellen Kuras

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
George Clooney recurrently loves a man in uniform, dating all the way back to Combat High, a super-obscure 1986 TV movie in which he played Maj. Biff Woods.

He’s since fought his way through The Peacemaker, The Thin Red Line, Three Kings, The Good German, The Monuments Men and a live TV remake of Fail Safe. But Hulu’s six-episode redo of Joseph Heller’s careening, paradoxical anti-war novel is by far Clooney’s most daring mission. Catch-22, published in 1961 and made into a spotty 1970 feature film directed by Mike Nichols, is tough duty for any filmmaker. But here it is, rambling into view as a very nice try that may be as good as anyone will ever get in terms of puzzling all of this out.

Clooney does triple duty as producer, director of two episodes and supporting character who snarls his way through Catch-22’s beginning before returning at its end as Lt./Col./Gen. Scheisskopf. He originally had cast himself in the busier role of Col. Cathcart, but decided to step back, ease his workload and instead deploy Kyle Chandler, who’s superb as the dictatorial group commander of a U.S. Army Air Forces base in Pianosa, Italy.

Catch-22’s central role of reluctant bombardier John “YoYo” Yossarian is played by Christopher Abbott, whose TV work includes supporting parts in Girls and The Sinner. The character is first seen in the nude, his face bloodied before he unleashes a primal yell. It’s then back to Flight Training School at the Santa Ana Army base, where Scheisskopf loudly chews out his underlings for their inability to march in straight lines. At one point he exclaims, “Apparently we’re all a bunch of mongoloids!”

That kind of language since has rightly become a fireable offense. And in that context, it’s worth noting that Catch-22, with its all white male cast (and only brief appearances by women, the majority of them prostitutes) cannot help but look badly out of step, even if it’s true to the World War II realities of the novel. Clooney has chosen not to “re-imagine” any of the principal roles in the interests of casting women or persons of color. Sensitivities being what they are, some will find fault with this -- and they have a point to some extent. After all, Catch-22 is in large part a surreal, satirical novel that is ready-made for diverse casting and applicable to any war.

The title refers to Yossarian’s central dilemma. Following training and his repeated punishments for insolence, he’s quickly transported to “Two Months” later in Italy. Having flown 16 of his required 25 bombing missions, he’s looking for a medical reason to bail on the rest of them. But as Doc Daneeka (Grant Heslov) tells him, an airman is considered crazy if he willingly keeps flying combat missions. But a request to be removed from them, on the grounds of insanity, is in fact evidence of a sane response to putting one’s life in constant danger. So under the military’s “Catch-22” clause, there’s no way out. “That’s some Catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian says.

The demonic Cathcart otherwise keeps raising the number of mandatory missions while Yossarian repeatedly dodges death but witnesses others breathing their last. Episode 1 ends with him trying to scratch off a leftover blood spatter on the outside window of his aircraft, the Yankee Doodle. It’s a low point for Yossarian, but one of the miniseries’ symbolic high points.

Yossarian’s airmen buddies include Milo Minderbinder (Daniel David Stewart), a symbol of rampant war profiteering, and Major Major Major (Lewis Pullman), whose haphazard promotion to Major adds a fourth. But he has no interest at all in taking charge of anything, ordering his aide to let people in to see him only after he has left the office for the day.

Tessa Fuller occasionally pops in as unyielding Nurse Duckett, who’s dedicated to serving with no questions asked. And Hugh Laurie of House fame plays Major de Coverley, a requisitions officer who completely disappears after Episode 3. This also is the episode in which Cathcart salutes the deaths and bravery of his airmen by treating them with Baked Alaska. But Yossarian and his crew are bypassed for aborting a mission due to a fabricated in-plane intercom malfunction. “And that is not a face that gets Baked Alaska put in it!” Cathcart bellows after shaming them as cowards. As previously noted, Chandler is really good in this role.

Catch-22 also can lag and drag, particularly in an Episode 4 that’s largely devoted to Milo’s far-flung mercenary machinations. Yossarian for some reason joins him, even though he seems to be on the verge of finally getting his discharge. Episode 5 also veers rather wildly at times before Episode 6 finds its bearings in a very moving and extended segment in which Yossarian comforts a badly wounded new member of his crew while their bombing run is still in progress.

The ending differs from the book’s or the previous movie’s wrap-up. It’s absurd on the face of it, but also in keeping with Yossarian’s numbness and surrender to his inescapable realities.

Clooney and company have tried their utmost to navigate the swervy Catch-22. It may well be the last such effort. And they fare better than the movie did without fully sticking the landing. Then again, who could? Bronze stars to all.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to unclebarky@verizon.net

Batwoman joins Supergirl in The CW's female-powered new lineup

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Ruby Rose plays the openly gay lead in Batwoman. CW photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The CW is still perceived as a tyke among the Big Four broadcasting networks. But it may have fall’s showiest newcomer in Batwoman, in which the crime fighting lead character is gay and “still holding a flame for her ex-girlfriend.”

She’ll join Supergirl on Sunday nights, adding to the network’s always plentiful supply of comic book-bred characters.

The CW otherwise has added just one other new fall series, plus another drama set for midseason. Its cancellation corral is sparsely populated with Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and iZombie.

Here are The CW’s two new fall series:

Batwoman (drama) -- After a dishonorable discharge from military school, Kate Kane (Rose) returns to a tattered, crime-ridden Gotham City three years removed from Batman’s mysterious disappearance. Her decision to moonlight as Batwoman is steeled by the rampaging Alice in Wonderland gang, headed by none other than Alice (Rachel Skarsten). “But don’t call her a hero yet,” CW publicity materials caution. “In a city desperate for a savior, she must first overcome her own demons before embracing the call to be Gotham’s symbol of hope.” All of this is from producer Greg Berlanti, of course. He also presides over the network’s Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash.

Nancy Drew (drama) -- The teen sleuth’s plans to enter college are waylaid by her mother’s death and the murder of a socialite in which Nancy (Kennedy McMann) is a prime suspect. Joining forces with four other high schoolers present at the scene of the crime, Nancy also encounters a “supernatural presence” that could be friend or foe. OK, enough.

Here is The CW’s night-by-night fall lineup:

Monday
All American
Black Lightning

Tuesday
The Flash
Arrow

Wednesday
Riverdale
Nancy Drew

Thursday
Supernatural
Legacies

Friday
Charmed
Dynasty

Saturday
No programming

Sunday
Batwoman
Supergirl

The CW also has announced this lone midseason series while noting that DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, In the Dark, Roswell, New Mexico and The 100 will all be returning at some point:

Katy Keene (drama) -- Spun off from Riverdale, it spotlights four “iconic” Archie comics characters, principally the title character (played by Lucy Hale).

She’s joined by Josie McCoy, Pepper Smith and Jorge Lopez/Ginger, with all of them “chasing their twentysomething dreams” in New York City. For starters, Katy winds up working at Lacy’s Department Store, which may or may not have its own Thanksgiving Day parade.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Familiar TV stars rejoin/join CBS in new 2019-20 lineup

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Patricia Heaton goes for a trifecta in Carol’s Second Act. CBS photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Former CBS sitcom stars Patricia Heaton and Billy Gardell are getting new whirls while a familiar face from cable’s FX, Walter Goggins, moves to a new address this fall.

Number one in prime-time total viewers for 11 consecutive seasons, CBS announced that its new fall lineup will have five additions. Entertainment president Kerry Kahl says that some of them “push the boundaries of what you might expect from us.” In other words, nary a straight up new crime hour -- at least this fall -- for a network that traditionally has loaded up on them.

On the downside, the latest cancellation corral is occupied by the Murphy Brown reboot, Life In Pieces, The Code, Happy Together, Fam and The Big Bang Theory, which signs off on Thursday, May 16th after 12 very gainful seasons. Macgyver, which had been Friday’s leadoff hitter since its fall 2016 premiere, will have to wait for a midseason berth. Another returning CBS do-over, Hawaii Five-0 is taking its spot in September while fellow CBS do-over Magnum P.I. moves from Mondays to become the new appetizer for rock solid Blue Bloods.

Here are CBS’ five new fall series:

Carol’s Second Act (comedy) -- Heaton hopes to breath the rarefied air of three long-running sitcoms after making her name in CBS’ Everybody Loves Raymond and then prospering on ABC’s The Middle. In this outing, she’s divorcee and retired teacher Carol Kenney, who at age 50 decides to embrace her dream of becoming a doctor. Kyle MacLachlan of Twin Peaks fame co-stars as Dr. Frost.

Bob (Hearts) Abishola (comedy) -- Gardell, formerly of CBS’ Mike & Molly, re-teams with both the network and ace sitcom creator/producer/writer Chuck Lorre in this saga of a middle-aged compression sock salesman who falls in love with his cardiac nurse. She’s played by newcomer Folake Olowofoyeku. CBS calls it a “comedic examination of immigrant life in America.”

The Unicorn (comedy) -- A father named Wade (Goggins from The Shield and Justified) loses his wife and a year later embraces a “new normal” with help of friends and family. He’s surprised to learn he’s a “unicorn” -- employed, good-looking and with a past history of commitment. He also has two adolescent daughters. Rob Corddry (The Daily Show/Hot Tub Time Machine) is among the co-stars.

All Rise (drama) -- Newly appointed judge Lola Carmichael (Simone Missick) pushes boundaries in the midst of legal system chaos. Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) helps to populate the ensemble cast.

Evil (drama) -- A skeptical woman psychologist partners with a carpenter and a “priest-in-training” to investigate the Church’s backlog of unexplained mysteries, alleged miracles, demonic possessions and hauntings. Is it all perfectly logical or are supernatural forces at work? Katja Herbers, Mike “Luke Cage” Colter and Aasif Mandvi head the cast.

Here is CBS’ night-by-night fall lineup:

Monday
The Neighborhood
Bob (Hearts) Abishola
All Rise
Bull

Tuesday
NCIS
FBI
NCIS: Los Angeles

Wednesday
Survivor
Seal Team
S.W.A.T.

Thursday
Young Sheldon
The Unicorn
Mom
Carol’s Second Act
Evil

Friday
Hawaii Five-0
Magnum P.I.
Blue Bloods

Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

Sunday
60 Minutes
God Friended Me
NCIS: Los Angeles
Madam Secretary

CBS also has announced these midseason series:

Tommy (drama) -- Edie Falco (The Sopranos, Nurse Jackie) tries to achieve Heaton’s goal, but with three long-running dramas instead of comedies. She plays Abigail “Tommy” Thomas, a former high-ranking NYPD officer who becomes Los Angeles’ first female police chief.

FBI: Most Wanted (drama) -- This spinoff is headed by Julian McMahon (former co-star of Nip/Tuck) as veteran agent Jess LaCroix, who heads a team. Which also means that producer Dick Wolf (NBC’s Law & Order and Chicago franchises) strikes yet again.

Broke (comedy) -- NCIS alum Pauley Perrette returns to CBS as a single suburban mom named Jackie. In a premise older than Tom Selleck’s neckties, she’s shocked when her estranged sister and wealthy hubby invade her home after they go bankrupt. Friction ensues but family bonds can only be strengthened. I’ve gotta go now.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's What's My Name: Muhammad Ali is in the ring and in his words

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The iconic shot of Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston. HBO photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Weighing in at two hours, 40 minutes and airing in one sitting, HBO’s What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, is as thrilling today as it was in his yesteryears.

You can answer its bell on Tuesday, May 14th at 7 p.m. (central). And if you do, there’ll be no turning away. It’s that mesmerizing.

Co-produced by LeBron James and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), the documentary film draws its title from the buildup for a Feb. 6, 1967 bout with Ernie Terrell at the old Houston Astrodome. Terrell kept calling Ali by his birth name, Cassius Clay, during a pre-fight verbal battle.

“You’re acting just like an old Uncle Tom,” Ali retorted. He vowed to punish his opponent in the ring and did so, repeating taunting Terrell with “What’s my name?” while battering him with punch after punch but refusing to move in for the knockout. The fight instead went the full 15 rounds, with Ali winning all of them according to two of the three judges’ scorecards.

As the film shows, Ali could be vindictive in the ring, as he also was with Floyd Patterson in their 1965 fight. Patterson likewise had refused to call him Ali. He ended up being pummeled for 12 rounds before Ali won on a technical knockout that easily could have come much earlier in their bout.

Ali mostly was glorious, though, both verbally and with fists flying during an unmatched career that only stands taller as time moves on. The film marches to the beat of his words and recollections, the bulk of them from the champ’s many TV interviews and press conferences. Howard Cosell latched on to him most famously. But Ali also spent considerable time with Dick Cavett and Michael Parkinson, a British talk show host who heretofore has been little known to American audiences.

What’s My Name begins with the prelude to 1971’s “Fight of the Century,” in which Ali squared off against Joe Frazier following a three-year layoff. He had been stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight title for refusing to be inducted into the military.

Ali remained despised by many for pledging allegiance to Elijah Muhammad shortly after his shocking 1964 upset of the seemingly invincible Sonny Liston. The name change, from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, sent even bigger shock waves through America. Even trailblazing Jackie Robinson denounced him for dodging the draft on religious grounds. But current-day black athletes were publicly in his corner, with Bill Russell, Jim Brown and the then Lew Alcindor holding a supportive press conference also attended by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Before becoming, Ali, Clay was steeled by the treatment he received after fighting his way to a gold medal in the light heavyweight division during the 1960 Olympics in Rome. “I done whipped the world for America . . . I know I can eat downtown now,” Clay declared.

But he couldn’t, not even in his hometown of Louisville, KY. “We don’t serve Negroes,” he recalled being told after sitting down at a diner. “I don’t eat ‘em either,” he supposedly said in response. All he wanted was a meal, but left without one.

The young Clay modeled his brashness after Gorgeous George, a vain wrestler with blonde curls who filled arenas with those who loved to hate him. It seemed like a good business plan. So Clay became a rhyming braggart, telling TV host Steve Allen before the first Liston fight, “If you like to lose your money, be a fool and bet on Sonny.”

His eventual three fights with Frazier and the stunning knockout of George Foreman are all vividly recaptured in What’s My Name. The wars with Frazier were all uniformly brutal, with Ali for the most part dispensing more punishment than he received. But they clearly took their toll on him. And when it came time to quit, Ali couldn’t. He instead stayed too long at the party, and had nothing left in his final two fights against former sparring partner Larry Holmes and journeyman Trevor Berbick. The man who once said, “I’m so bad, I make medicine sick,” was slurring his speech at the close of his last fight in 1981. “Father Time caught me,” he acknowledged. “I’m retiring. I don’t think I’ll change my mind.”

Ali’s last big hurrah, lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, remains immensely poignant. His body shook from the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease as the crowd showered him with affection. The official end didn’t come until 20 years later, at age 74.

What’s My Name doesn’t delve into its subject’s personal life, focusing only on his career in the ring and his activism outside of it. That’s more than enough to easily fill its extended running time -- which will float like a butterfly, sting like a bee and fly by before you know it.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net