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Unclebarky.com cancels itself, goes into reruns

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It’s time for me to go.

Not from the mortal coil just yet. After 40 years of covering local and national television, though, I’m retiring unclebarky.com because it’s finally the right thing to do for me. The nicely symmetrical year of 2020 also seems like a good end point.

It’s been an experience. After 26-and-a-half years as TV critic for The Dallas Morning News, I left in September 2006 and immediately launched my one-person, tin can website as an unfettered vehicle for news and views that no longer could be expressed in full at the newspaper that gave me my big start. The “Why I’m Here” page, which served as an opening declaration of independence, further elaborates the particulars. In all modesty, it was a pretty bold move at the time.

From the start, unclebarky.com has been a labor of love, not a moneymaker. But over the past several months, I started hitting a wall as the ripened age of 72 closed in on me. The enthusiasm waned. So much “product” out there. Too much time spent on trying to find new ways to critique it after hours and hours of watching. And it’s just one voice anyway, no matter how experienced. The old saying, “Everybody’s a critic,” has come to full fruition during the duration of this website.

In the near future at least, I’ll continue to write a column for Katy Trail Weekly and its benevolent editor-in-chief, David Mullen. And perhaps a collection of columns and features is in the future. Or perhaps not. Above all, I don’t want to stay too long at the party. Bad things can befall you when you do.

Many, many people have helped to keep unclebarky.com afloat. All of the networks and latter day streaming services have graciously provided screeners and interview opportunities. Three of D-FW’s major TV news providers -- Fox4, NBC5 and and CBS11 -- also have cooperated and communicated throughout. Thanks to all.

It’s otherwise impossible to acknowledge everyone who has helped me along the way. And some of you would get into trouble if I did. But I do want to single out three people.

My wife, Madeline, has been supportive throughout, never questioning my decision to leave the Morning News and embark on a venture that, to say the least, has not been as financially rewarding.

My stepson, Carl Morgan, helped immensely in setting up this website back when I had the computer skills of a goldfish. I’ve gotten a little better at it since then.

And longtime friend and former Morning News colleague Michael Precker has been a co-conspirator from the start. Those early Uncle Barky shows, featuring live appearances by an array of local media personalities, were largely his doing. They were a long time ago, but all of the posters are still on my office door.

As an entity, the Morning News birthed me as a TV writer and for much of my time there provided a long leash. So yes, I’m grateful for what the paper has meant to me, both professionally and personally. We had a lot of damned good times.

Life without unclebarky.com will provide many more hours for exercising, reading, volunteering and downsizing. At least that’s the general plan.

So again, thanks to all for your patronage, whether you loved, liked or loathed what you read in these spaces. I’ll close with Gus McRae’s dying words to Woodrow Call in the closing chapter of Lonesome Dove.

“It’s been quite a party.”

That it has.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Deputy looks bullet-proof on a network that's lately rolling


Stephen Dorff takes the BS by the horns in Deputy. Fox photo

Premiering: Thursday, Jan. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Yara Martinez, Brian Van Holt, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Mark Moses, Shane Paul McGhie
Produced by: David Ayer, Chris Long, John Coveny, Kimberly Harrison

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Fox lately has out-gamed its three main broadcast network rivals in ringing out the old and replenishing its prime-time schedule with new audience-grabbers.

The Masked Singer and 9-1-1 have been immediate breakout hits, with a Texas-based 9-1-1 spinoff coming later in January. The Resident and Beat Shazam are solid ratings performers while WWE Friday Night Smackdown body-slams the competition among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.

If you’ve seen any of these shows, you’ve also seen a heavy dose of promotions for Fox’s Deputy, the network’s likely sure-fire big bet for midseason. Part retro, part “woke,” it premieres on Thursday, Jan. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) alongside another Fox success story, the returning Last Man Standing reboot with back-to-back episodes featuring Jay Leno and Terry Bradshaw. Fox also happens to have the 2020 Super Bowl. This is what being on a roll looks like.

Deputy’s leading man is played by Stephen Dorff, a standout in HBO’s third season of True Detective alongside Mahershala Ali. When the Los Angeles County sheriff conveniently dies of a heart attack, Dorff’s hard-headed, hard-driving, Ivory Tower-despising, fifth generation lawman Bill Hollister inherits the job via the dictates of an arcane charter dating back to the Old West.

But Hollister also has a creamy nougat of a heart when it comes to the downtrodden and oppressed. An impending ICE roundup of suspected illegal immigrants goes against his grain and prompts the first of several prototypical clashes with officious higher-upper Jerry London (Mark Moses).

“I don’t give a pinch of dry turd how those folks got here,” Hollister retorts. His duty, he says, is to protect them.

Even so, Hollister also regularly downloads Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” Callahan when it comes to ignoring “procedure” during the course of punching, shooting, chasing and cuffing L.A.’s endless supply of dirt bags.

“Too many save-asses. And not enough ass-kickers!” he bellows in the first episode, one of three made available for review.

Hollister is married to the equally strong-willed Paula Reyes (Yara Martinez), a chief trauma surgeon with little patience for him when it comes to her patients. But they’re always a team at crunch time -- and also parents of a so far slightly seen teenage girl whom dad doesn’t want dressing like a “feral Kardashian.”

The other woman in his life is whip-smart, severely dressed and coiffed deputy Brianna Bishop (Bex Taylor-Klaus), whose main duties are driving Hollister around, keeping him on schedule and putting him in his place. Bishop is openly gay and in L.A. after quitting the Pentagon to be with her true love, who’s glimpsed in Episode 2.

The cast is rounded out by Hollister’s military veteran partner Cade Ward (Brian Van Holt) and his godson, Joseph Harris (Shane Paul McGhie), whose father was killed while partnering with Hollister. Harris is now a newly minted and very baby-faced cadet striving to be the man his father was while Hollister is determined not to “lose him” as well.

The script very occasionally crackles when not making a fool of itself with lines like, “Badge or no badge, I’ll always come after scum like you.” Most of the better lines go to Bishop when confronting Hollister about his overall comportment.

Deputy otherwise is never too far from an action scene replete with automatic weapons fire. After all, Hollister is “serious as a heart attack” about taking some big chomps out of crime. He’s very careful, however, not to be politically incorrect about it. Meanwhile, the go-to channel for breaking crime news is always L.A.’s Fox 11.

All of this is too ham-handed to merit a seal of approval from yours truly or likely most other TV critics. Not that it will matter in the least. Deputy very much looks as though it will be bullet-proof on a network that has pushed a lot of receptive buttons of late. Take it from bad ass Bill Hollister, who barks at the end of Episode One, “Buckle up. I’m just gettin’ started.”


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Ebenezer's redemption is a long, long time coming in FX's ill-conceived A Christmas Carol


Have a holly jolly Christmas. Yeah, right. Guy Pearce is Ebenezer Scrooge in a grim, elongated adaptation of Dickens’ classic. FX photo

Premiering: Thursday, Dec. 19th at 6:30 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Guy Pearce, Andy Serkis, Joe Alwyn, Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Charlotte Riley, Jason Flemyng, Kayvan Novak, Lenny Rush, Johnny Harris
Produced by: Steven Knight, Tom Hardy, Ridley Scott

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Literature’s most awakened central character finds himself amid a darkly “woke” re-imagining of his misdeeds in TV’s latest adaptation of A Christmas Carol.

So much so that FX is asking reviewers “for your help in protecting the viewing experience by keeping all pre-broadcast coverage spoiler-free with particular regard to young Scrooge’s time at school and Mary Cratchit’s secret.”

Well, bah humbug to that! OK, not really. We’ll keep the faith regarding these two cringe-worthy and highly unnecessary departures from Charles Dickens’ 1843 story of the world’s most famous miser, meanie and holiday-hater. Otherwise, here’s the deal: Touted as a “spine-tingling immersion into Ebenezer Scrooge’s dark night of the soul,” this Christmas Carol goes on and on for 177 minutes -- plus commercials. FX is firing it up early at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19th. (BBC One in the United Kingdom has chopped the production into three successive nights with hour-long chapters, starting on Dec. 22nd.)

Whatever the viewing regimen, it’s excessive. In comparison, CBS’ exemplary 1984 version, which starred the late George C. Scott, told the story within a two-hour, ads-included time frame. As did TNT in 1999 (with Patrick Stewart starring) and a 2004 NBC musical version fronted by Kelsey Grammer.

FX offers Guy Pearce as Scrooge in an adaptation written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight. Pearce mouths the requisite “humbug” on several occasions while also joining some of the supporting characters in dropping f-bombs. A Christmas Carol has never really been for kids, unless one counts The Flintstones,’ Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse or Mr. Magoo versions. But FX has gone “adult” with a vengeance while also challenging grownups to keep their eyes open. This is one hell of a hellish slog toward a redemption that isn’t really earned, given what Ebenezer once did to Bob Cratchit’s desperate wife, a woman of color played by Vinette Robinson.

It all begins with a badly scarred kid peeing on the deceased Jacob Marley’s gravestone while calling him a “skinflint old bastard.” Marley (Stephen Graham) had been Scrooge’s partner in business crimes until dying at age 47. But there’s no rest for the wicked, meaning the tormented Marley has been unable to stay lifeless.

Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) continues to toil away as Scrooge’s clerk, but is less a milquetoast than in earlier versions. Even so, it’s his lot to work on Christmas Eve while the boss wonders aloud, “How many ‘Merry Christmases’ are meant? And how many are lies?”

Scrooge’s ever-friendly nephew Fred as usual drops in to invite his sour ball uncle to Christmas dinner. He’s again rebuffed, but that’s as far as it goes. Unlike previous adaptations, there’s no climactic reconciliation after Scrooge sees the light.

There is however, Ali Baba (Kayvan Novak), a favorite storybook character from Ebenezer’s childhood. He assists the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future (respectively played by Andy Serkis, Charlotte Riley and Jason Flemyng) in bringing Scrooge to self-realization. During this process, two terrible and repressed tragedies, one of them visited upon an 11-year-old Ebenezer, turn this version of A Christmas Carol into the most unsavory of them all -- by far.

The Cratchits’ sickly, lovable Tiny Tim (Lenny Rush) remains in the mix, but the poor kid is stripped of his tagline, “God bless us, every one.” Mercifully, though, he’s also not called on to emit any f-bombs. The aforementioned Riley doubles as Ebenezer’s heroic sister, Lottie, whom Dickens’ created as “Fan.”

Pearce never looks old or weathered enough to be Scrooge through and through, although he plays the part well enough. But with almost countless versions of A Christmas Carol out there, why subject yourself to one that takes forever and a day while also going places that it decidedly shouldn’t have? Frankly, this Ebenezer Scrooge merits his Christmas goose being cooked behind bars for two very serious crimes against humanity. Instead he ends up being at large while at last finding the gumption to say “Merry Christmas.” Which turns out to be the biggest humbug of all.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's The Moodys serves up a Christmas of discomfort and joy


It’s rarely all aglow in The Moodys Christmas series. Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Dec. 4th with back-to-back episodes and continuing on Monday/Tuesday at 8 p.m. (central) each night
Starring: Denis Leary, Elizabeth Perkins, Francois Arnaud, Chelsea Frei, Jay Baruchel, Maria Gabriela de Faria, Josh Segarra, Kevin Bigley, Megan Park, Gerry Dee
Produced by: Bob Fisher, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum, Jason Burrows, Rob Greenberg, Tad Quill, Trent O’Donnell, Phil Lloyd

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Put caustic Denis Leary amid holiday surroundings and you won’t come away with any Hallmark goo on you. Well, maybe just a little.

Leary’s durable The Ref, released back in 1994, cast him as a Christmas season burglar caught amid a highly dysfunctional family. In 2005, his Merry F#%$in’ Christmas, adapted from a same-named comedy CD, began airing on Comedy Central. It wasn’t particularly heartwarming.

Fox’s uniquely presented, six-part The Moodys, based on an Australian TV series, puts Leary in a somewhat softer light as a harried married man with three troubled adult children. Episode One begins with his wife, Ann (Elizabeth Perkins), blasting away at ornaments and decorations before loudly declaring, “Christmas is canceled!” Then comes a backtrack to what brought the Moodys to this point.

The series is airing in three parts, with back-to-back half-hour episodes on Wednesday, Dec. 4th, Mon., Dec. 10th and Tuesday, Dec. 11th. Bad Santa it’s not, with Leary’s Sean Moody a recovering alcoholic rather than a heavy drinker in the mold of Billy Bob Thornton’s dirty-to-the-touch Willie T. Soke, whose specialty was Christmas season heists.

The Moodys, set in Chicago, ends up striking a fairly solid balance between sardonic and sentimental. Even Bad Santa ends “happily,” because few among us want to watch a Christmas movie in which nothing winds up being calm or bright. Be assured, though, that The Moodys runs deeper and grittier than anything you’ll see in Hallmark’s virtually identical, hot chocolate-fueled “Countdown to Christmas” movies.

OK, let’s meet the Moody offspring, shall we?

Sean Jr. (Jay Baruchel), the oldest of two sons at age 31, continues to live in Dad’s RV, which is parked on the premises. His latest grand business venture is honoring the deceased by shooting their ashes high into the sky amid fireworks. It’s not getting off the ground, though.

Only daughter Bridget (Chelsea Frei) is married but remorseful after an impulsive one-night stand that mortifies her husband. “I just lit my life on fire,” she confides to a fitness-obsessed high school wrestling coach named Monty (Kevin Bigley), who’s basically pure as the driven snow.

Youngest son Dan (Francois Arnaud) is home for the holidays from New York, but initially without girlfriend Ali (Megan Park). It’s his latest relationship gone sour, of which mom bluntly reminds him. But Dan soon has eyes for Cora (Maria Gabriela de Faria), who’s dating his cousin and best friend, Marco (Segarra). His super white teeth, displayed via a series of ear-to-ear grins, deserve to be credited as a supporting character.

Also in the family mix are goofy Uncle Roger (Gerry Dee) and frequent visitor Big Stan (Kwasi Songui), an accomplished pie maker who doesn’t mind saying so himself. The family dog, Leon, a gift 18 Christmases ago, is now infirm and increasingly immobile. Here’s where the heartstring tugs come in.

Sean Sr., who has his own heating and air-conditioning company, is also facing a health situation that slips out in dribs and drabs to his three children. The Moodys easily could -- and should -- do without this odd little twist, which is partly and wrongheadedly played for laughs.

Though it all, mom and dad Moody remain holiday traditionalists, whether it’s Ann’s cookie-eating/tree-trimming ritual or Sean Sr. leading a caroling brigade while wearing a top hat. There’s also midnight mass, where dad longs to be the lector. The kids have grown weary of it all, but grudgingly play along when not jabbing at each other.

It’s not always an optimum blend of merriment and miscreants. Still, The Moodys earns its candy cane stripes as a Christmas mini-series with bite.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Spectrum's Mad About You reboot is nothing to get upset about


Married with child: Paul Reiser/Helen Hunt return 20 years after the original left NBC for Mad About You reprise. Spectrum Orlginals photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Nov. 20th, with first six episodes available via Spectrum Originals On Demand
Starring: Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, Abby Quinn, Richard Kind, John Pankow, Kecia Lewis, Anne Ramsay
Produced by: Peter Tolan, Helen Hunt, Paul Reiser, Brian Volk-Weiss, Michael Pelmont, Matthew Ochacher

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Reboot mania has slowed its frenetic pace this season, although not to a crawl just yet.

On the sitcom front, CBS had a flop last season with a Murphy Brown reprise while NBC is wrapping up its second coming of Will & Grace and ABC is still gainfully airing The Conners after the Roseanne re-do’s namesake tweeted her way out of the picture.

Mad About You, from the same era as the aforementioned, otherwise is different in two key respects. Most important: the overall lack of availability. You’ll have to be a Spectrum cable subscriber to see the series, whose first six episodes arrive commercial-free via the service’s On Demand arm.

Furthermore, the second comings of Roseanne, Will & Grace and Murphy Brown were rife with references to the Trump administration in their first episodes. Characters took sides and then squared off. But Mad About You re-arrives in a complete political vacuum. Paul and Jamie Buchman (original co-stars Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt) remain in Trump’s original lair of Manhattan. But there’s nary a mention of his presidency in the first five episodes made available for review, not even from their now college age daughter, Mabel (Abby Quinn). She’s anything but an activist in a first episode where Mabel’s sole goal is relocating to a New York University dorm room and putting the parents behind her.

The principal issue in Episode One is Mabel’s failure to make her bed before leaving home. Upon discovering this, Jamie is greatly vexed while Paul already has gotten past his initial weepiness over their only child leaving home. Back-and-forth they go, with Hunt and Reiser still quite adept at playing off one another. It’s the reboot’s biggest plus side, even if their sometimes playful dickering is much ado about essentially nothing.

Returning supporting characters include Jamie’s older sister, Lisa (Anne Ramsay), Paul’s cousin, Ira (John Pankow), and Paul’s longtime friend, Dr. Mark Devanow (Richard Kind). A lack of diversity in the original series is addressed by Mark remarrying an African-American therapist named Tonya (Kecia Lewis). She turns out to be a big plus, particularly in an Episode 5 where Jamie re-enters the work force as Tonya’s therapist-in-training. “Now let’s go fix some people” serves as Tonya’s rallying cry. For his part, Paul is now running a small post-production film studio.

The original Mad About You ran for 164 episodes and seven seasons on NBC, ending in 1999. Hunt won four consecutive lead actress Emmys and was nominated in that category for the show’s other three seasons. Reiser ended up settling for six nominations. The show itself never won an Emmy for best comedy series, but these were glory years for broadcast network sitcoms. The competition not only included Roseanne, Murphy Brown and Will & Grace, but also Cheers, Seinfeld, Designing Women, Frasier, Friends and Wings.

Spectrum’s Mad About You reboot, with a second helping of six more episodes coming on December 18th, is agreeable enough to coax some smiles and even a little audible laughter on occasion. As when Paul traverses the distance from kitchen to apartment door while riffing, “Is the place getting bigger? Twenty years ago, I would have been there already.”

Best of all, the show isn’t an embarrassment. It smoothly goes through its paces, with Hunt and Reiser engaged and looking happy to be together again. The “plots,” such as they are, tend to be mostly thin soup. Jamie resents never being offered a toothpick by Paul after a restaurant meal. Paul works himself into a frazzle over the idea of getting naked in view of Mark for a post-workout steam bath.

And in the show’s so far lone jab at current societal issues, it’s cringe-worthy to see Paul being branded as “just another misogynist who doesn’t get it” by an aggressively “woke” NYU film student.

So no, you’re not likely to renounce your current cable or satellite service for the sole purpose of getting to see the new Mad About You. But for those who are already in tow, this is a nice little bonus that goes down easily and amiably.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net