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TNT's I Am the Night ends up being its own curfew


Chris Pine, India Eisley drive the story in I Am the Night. TNT photo

Premiering: Monday, Jan. 28th at 8 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Chris Pine, India Eisley, Jefferson Mays, Connie Nielsen, Yul Vazquez, Leland Orser, Theo Marshall, Justin Cornwell, Dylan Smith, Jay Paulson, Golden Brooks
Produced by: Patty Jenkins, Chris Pine, Carl Franklin, Michael Sugar, Sam Sheridan

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Chris Pine’s character regularly takes a beating, as does the overall believability of TNT’s ambitious but convoluted I Am the Night.

Very loosely “inspired by the life” of the late Fauna Hodel, the six-part limited series officially premieres on Monday, Jan. 28th after Episode 1 was sneak-previewed following TNT’s Sunday night telecast of the Screen Actors Guild awards. Hodel’s autobiographical book carried the elongated title of One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel.

For Pine and executive producer/director Patty Jenkins, it’s a re-teaming after Wonder Woman, for which they also collaborated on a recently filmed sequel in which she again directs and he plays jaunty Steve Trevor. TNT made all six hours of I Am the Night available for review.

Pine, who’s also played Capt. James T. Kirk in three latter day Star Trek feature films, is cast as battered and beaten down Jay Singletary, a haunted Korean War vet who drinks and drugs between whatever freelance assignments he can get from The Los Angeles Examiner.

As the story very slowly unfolds, viewers also will learn of his past with The Los Angeles Times, where hotshot reporter Jay ran afoul of powerful forces, including a corrupt cop shop. The story is mostly set in 1965, where Jenkins and company strive for a film noir-esque L.A. Confidential vibe that mostly escapes them. There also are a few brief flashbacks.

The fault is not with the two principal stars. Both Pine and the comparatively unknown India Eisley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) are fully invested. Eisley plays the teenage Fauna, who’s been raised in Nevada as the “mixed race” Patty by embittered adoptive mother Jimmie Lee (a somewhat overwrought performance by Golden Brooks). “You was given to me in a goddamned bathroom” by a white woman, Jimmie Lee tells her.

But Patty soon learns of her real name, and impulsively catches a bus to Los Angeles in hopes of meeting the man she thinks is her grandfather. He’s creepy Dr. George Hodel (Jefferson Mays), a gynecologist to the rich who turns out to have some very sinister sidelines. The real-life and still unsolved Black Dahlia murder case eventually factors prominently into this careening story. And in this particular area, I Am the Night takes more leaps than a pole-vaulter in training. It also doesn’t help that the intended mood music is pat and generic throughout, save for when a couple of Rolling Stones tunes are worked in toward the later stages.

It takes a while for Jay and Fauna to intertwine. In the meantime, he’s boozing, snorting coke, haunted by demons from his killing days in Korea and roughed up by a police sergeant named Billis (Yul Vazquez), whose mug is bisected by a nasty scar. Luckily for Jay, the LAPD also deploys an old war buddy named Ohls (Jay Paulson), whose life he saved. But Ohls has grown weary of rescuing Jay from both himself and the brutish Billis. So this is the last time, ya hear?

Fauna keeps snooping around, and it’s rather amazing how easily she gains entrance into the palatial homes of both George Hodel and his haughty, arty ex-wife, Corinna (Connie Nielsen). At the same time, Jay keeps badgering a hard-drinking newspaper editor named Peter Sullivan (Leland Orser). He’s convinced that George is either the actual Black Dahlia killer, or a copycat.

Pine’s efforts to tame his demons and Fauna’s search for her birth mother are compelling at times, but I Am the Night just can’t seem to keep things humming or plausibly close the deal. Their travails and small triumphs take the two of them both to Hawaii and through the Watts riots. Still, the sought after scope and tension remain elusive.

Those who get through the first several hours of this meandering mystery/morality play may well be invested to see it all the way through. It’s not terrible in the end. Nor is it spellbinding or particularly memorable. Pine gets lots to chew on while the makeup department is taxed to keep up with his various cuts and bruises. In that respect he’s served a full plate. Too bad that too much of this is either overcooked or under-prepared.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Lions before print journalism's winter in HBO's Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists


Jimmy Breslin steals the show in Deadline Artists. HBO photo

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The lede is inspired.

HBO’s Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists (Mon., Jan. 28th at 8 p.m. central) begins with visuals of New York subway passengers transfixed by their cell phones. Then cut to an earlier era, when rail riders were immersed in the Manhattan tabloids that once housed the punchy prose of columnists Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill.

“This was the last expression of great, 20th century muscular American journalism,” an unidentified admirer says near the end of this nearly two-hour documentary film. It’s really not too grand a statement about two guys who lived, breathed and emboldened the printed word.

Although Deadline Artists profiles both of them, the late Breslin (who died in 2017 at the age of 87) is the swaggering star of this time capsule. Hamill, living on at the age of 83, is far less bombastic but “got the pretty girls” in the vernacular of those times. He most famously dated Jackie O, and also squired Linda Ronstadt and Shirley MacLaine. But if Hamill had the looks, the unrepentant Breslin had the guts. By the year 2015, both men looked frail and spent while seated next to one another for the purposes of this evocative film. Breslin remained pretty grouchy while the cheerier Hamill arrived in a wheelchair. It’s still something to see.

Deadline Artists is principally produced and directed by veteran journalist and latter day cable news network gadfly Jonathan Alter, who was a Newsweek columnist and senior editor back in times when Breslin still roamed untamed and dubbed himself “JB No. 1.”

Alter recalls the time Breslin phoned to warn against anyone at the magazine “f***king” with him. He described himself as “the John Gotti of journalism,” a reference to the cutthroat mobster that Breslin had both covered and knew personally. “I like bad boys,” Breslin once told an interviewer. “Legitimate people are boring. They’re terrible.”

Breslin had the balls and the gall to take on “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz, who in 1984 was lionized by most New Yorkers after shooting four young black men who had taunted him. “Criminals Think Twice Or We Will Goetz You!” a sign of the times read.

Writing extensively about the incident, Breslin said that Goetz in fact was more a cold-blooded killer than hero. What if his victims had been white? Would he also have fired away?

On a famous episode of his once immensely popular talk show, Phil Donahue opined, “Mr. Breslin, sir, you do appear to be whistling a very lonely tune . . . Your speeches are not playing in New York City.”

Breslin didn’t care, and kept saying so. And in a subsequent police tape, Goetz came off as a remorseless, cold-blooded killer who said in part, “If I had more bullets, I would have shot ‘em all again and again. My problem was I ran out of bullets.”

He also went to bat for a New York City cop named Cibella Borges, who got kicked off the force after she was found to have posed nude for something called Beaver magazine. The police threatened to boycott Breslin’s paper at the time, The New York Daily News. He remained unbowed, chiding the “deplorable shape” of most NYPD officers compared to the trim young woman they had ostracized. Borges eventually was reinstated, and in a reunion of sorts decades later, she thanks Breslin for his advocacy. “Oh shut up, God bless ya,” he says with typical gruffness.

Deadline Artists also recounts Breslin’s up close and personal role in the Son of Sam serial murders, and his incredibly inventive and distinctive writing about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when he alone had the foresight to seek out the late president’s African-American gravedigger while thousands of rival reporters basically parroted the same stories. He also wrote two big bestsellers, “Can’t Anyone Here Play This Game?” and “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

But Breslin’s outsized mouth bit him hard when at age 61, he lamented that his wife no longer was around to do the household chores now that she had been elected to the City Council. A Korean-American colleague of his at New York’s Newsday took umbrage and accused Breslin of “spewing sexism” in a personal message to him.

He responded with a newsroom tirade that branded the woman “slant-eyed” and a “yellow cur.” Breslin’s old newspaper, The New York Daily News, ran a story headlined, “Breslin rages, slurs: Spews racial epithets.”

A two-week suspension ensued after Breslin issued an apology that really wasn’t one. “Once again I am wrong. JB No. 1.”

Gail Collins, longtime columnist and reporter for The New York Times, says in a fresh interview that Breslin was “terrible in many ways, but his sense of sympathy was just amazing.”

Others interviewed for Deadline Artists include the aforementioned MacLaine, the late Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Garry Trudeau, Gay Talese, Spike Lee, Robert De Niro and Tom Brokaw, who calls Hamill “so authentically male” -- whatever that means.

Hamill otherwise can’t help but pale in comparison to the bombastic Breslin. He initially was hired by The New York Post as their answer to Breslin. But they later ended up being colleagues, for a relatively short while, as columnists for the Daily News. Imagine what a one-two punch that was.

Hamill remains proud of making Richard Nixon’s “Enemies List” and of being singled out by Vice President Spiro Agnew in the aftermath of his “nattering nabobs of negativism” speech aimed at the administration’s media detractors.

He also became close with Robert F. Kennedy, at one point writing a letter to him that encouraged a run for the presidency. In retrospect, he “made a terrible mistake as a journalist,” Hamill says. “I had become friends with Robert Kennedy . . . I never was friends with a politician again.” Both Hamill and Breslin were on the scene when Kennedy was assassinated in a Los Angeles hotel after winning the 1968 California presidential primary.

In Breslin’s view, which he held to the end, “You’re not put on this earth to be happy. You’re really not.”

Hamill, last seen drawing on an artist’s pad while sitting in his wheelchair outside Prospect Park, in contrast seems to be a study in reasonably happy contentment.

The Daily News couldn’t afford either of them now. Back in 1988, the paper employed 400 reporters and editors,” according to Deadline Artists. Thirty years later, it was down to 45.

“There’s always going to be new people,” Spike Lee says hopefully.

You can read a lot of them on Twitter these days. Many hide behind anonymous “handles.”


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Survival mode for the Big Four broadcast networks increasingly is more post-Survivor "reality-competition" shows


The World’s Best will be latest Super Bowl followup act. CBS photo

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The annual Golden Globes awards recently came and went without a single win for one of the old line Big Four broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

It was the same story at last September’s televised prime-time Emmy Awards ceremony. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC again all came up empty.

Furthermore, who binge-watches any of their programs anymore? If you’re looking to do that, you’re mostly looking at Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. Or those cable networks that still pride themselves on turning out quality scripted series: HBO, Showtime, FX, AMC and the like.

So where do the Big Four go from here? Into gradual extinction while they pour more money into either their existing or planned streaming channels? (In CBS’ case, the “good stuff” increasingly is being developed for CBS All Access, which will cost you extra.)

The answer seems to be getting clearer by the day. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC exponentially are betting their futures on unscripted “reality-competition” programming, which is appreciably cheaper to produce and already has provided loads of profitable long-distance runners. For the most part, the broadcast networks are still better at the reality-competition game than their cable or streaming competitors.

CBS already has three such series that seemingly have been on forever. Survivor, Big Brother and The Amazing Race all keep paying dividends. But when talking about this genre, let’s not forget the ultimate reality-competition attraction. That would be the NFL, whose ratings roared again this season after falloffs in recent years.

You want unscripted reality-competition drama? Sunday’s NFC and AFC championship games, both of which went into overtime, had more genuine twists, turns and controversies than all of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises combined.

Fox basked in muscular ratings for the Los Angeles Rams-New Orleans Saints matchup while CBS did even better with the later game, the New England Patriots vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. And during the regular season, NBC’s Sunday Night Football remains a prime-time ratings monster.

Now CBS gets the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 3rd. And for the first time since NBC deployed The Voice in 2012, CBS’ post-Supie attraction will be a reality-competition show. Namely The World’s Best.

Billed as a “one-of-a-kind global talent competition series,” it’s hosted by James Corden, with judges Drew Barrymore, RuPaul Charles and Faith Hill. But that’s just the American contingent. Those competing for a $1 million grand prize also will need to “break through the ‘Wall of the World,’ which consists of 50 “accomplished experts from every field of entertainment.” The show then will move to Wednesdays, starting on Feb. 6th.

CBS also is banking heavily on -- and heavily promoting -- its second installment of Big Brother: Celebrity Edition, which premiered on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and features another former member of President Trump’s inner circle, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci. Last year’s BB: Celebrity Edition included houseguest Omarosa Manigault-Newman, whose early tattles about her former boss were also juicy fodder for the three cable news channels.

CBS has two other new realilty-competition series in development. Love Island is exactly what it sounds like while Million Dollar Mile is an obstacle course showdown from LeBron James’ production company.

Over on Fox, The Masked Singer continues to be the network’s biggest midseason hit despite its imbecilic premise. The network also has a profitable fistful of long-running Gordon Ramsay cooking competitions and is resurrecting Paradise Hotel, which originally debuted in 2003 on Fox. And coming on Feb. 26th is Mental Samurai, with host Rob Lowe. It’s touted as “the first-ever obstacle course for the mind.” Yeah, I’ll bet.

Much of NBC’s midseason promotional energy has been devoted to a trio of reality-competition series -- Ellen’s Game of Games, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Titan Games and the tricked up America’s Got Talent: Champions.

NBC also is home base for The Voice, The Wall, World of Dance, Little Big Shots, Hollywood Game Night, Making It and American Ninja Warrior. Yet another talent competition series, Songland, is being developed by the producers of The Voice.

ABC, best known on the reality-competition front for The Bachelor and numerous spinoffs, will offer up a second season of its American Idol reboot on March 3rd. Dancing with the Stars is scheduled to give it another whirl next fall while ABC continues to be home to Shark Tank and a big helping of game show revivals ranging from Celebrity Family Feud to The $100,000 Pyramid.

The NBA Finals also sill belong to ABC. And demographically speaking, they’re the best pro sports scorer, percentage-wise, among advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

Whether it’s athletes in action or concocted competitions, shows in this genre also can fill multi-nights and multi-hours of prime-time real estate per week. Increasingly they’re the way to go for ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. None of them are in any danger of winning any prestigious awards beyond a lone, silly Emmy category created in 2003. But when you’re fighting for your lives, that’s basically beside the point.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Showtime's Black Monday puts Don Cheadle back in con man mode after five seasons as Marty Kaan in network's House of Lies


Meet the $$$-crazed Pillage People of Black Monday. Showtime photo

PREMIERING: Sunday, Jan. 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showtime
STARRING: Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Andrew Rannells, Paul Scheer, Kadeem Hardison, Casey Wilson, Yassir Lester, Horatio Sanz, Ken Marino
PRODUCED BY: David Caspe, Jordan Cahan, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Weaver, Don Cheadle

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Two-and-a-half years removed from a five-season run on Showtime’s House of Lies, Don Cheadle barely segues to another rapacious deal-closer in the network’s Black Monday.

Rooting interest? Those who admired Michael Douglas’ ruthless Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko can start building a new shrine to Maurice “Mo The Marauder” Monroe (Cheadle), the coke-imbibing, underling-abusing, womanizing and thoroughly amoral head of a fictional Wall Street firm called The Jammer Group. “I am Black Moses,” he proclaims in an early scene, with his “Promised Land” being supreme wealth and power by any means necessary.

It’s all supposed to be a dark comedy whose events precede the worst stock market crash in history on Oct. 19, 1987. Showtime’s selling point: “To this day, no one knows who caused it. Until now.”

No one can accuse Cheadle of not throwing himself into this role. Outfitted with a period piece Afro, he’s a dervish whose whirling is virtually non-stop. Mo’s chariot is a beyond flashy red Lamborghini limousine that takes a beating for starters when a suicidal stockbroker takes a multi-story leap onto its roof. Bad Monday then rewinds to a year earlier, with Mo both snorting lines and spouting them like crazy.

Season One consists of 10 half-hour episodes, with the first three made available for review. Black Monday’s pace slows somewhat after Sunday’s full throttle premiere. But Mo’s methods remain unchanged. He’s out to screw anyone who can get him to the next rung, whether it’s the twin “Leighman” brothers (both played by Ken Marino) or wide-eyed novice trader Blair Pfaff (Andrew Rannells). He’s lately living with a willful material girl (Casey Wilson as Tiffany) who could be of considerable help in getting Mo majority control of Georgina Jeans.

The Jammer Group’s lone woman of import is Dawn Towner (Regina Hall), who yearns to be a partner in the firm while Mo wants only to bed her. The other principal members of his constantly put-upon and put down crew are Keith (Paul Scheer), Yassir (Yassir Lester) and Wayne (Horatio Sanz). They might as well be The Three Stooges.

Some of the writing clicks, including a line that’s funny on the face of it if you’re among the likely handful of viewers who get Mo’s drift when he tells Dawn that she’ll be getting her own parking space. Except that it’s the “one that smells like Detlef Schrempf post-game,” he adds. (Your friendly reviewer, also a longtime sports fan, knew that Schrempf played for several NBA teams. But further research shows that none of them were the hometown New York Knicks. So the reference doesn’t work in context, but merely saying “Detlef Schrempf” can be something of a crack-up, until you look deeper.)

Episode 2 ends winningly with a little outlier scene that actually borders on being poignant. But too much of Black Monday is sounds and furious self-absorption/deception. Mo’s only agenda with Blair, as he tells his main male yes men, is to fake a father-son relationship in the interests of getting “close enough to stab him in the back.”

As an actor, Cheadle obviously enjoys this sort of ride. From House of Lies to Black Monday requires little more than a change of wardrobe. The characters of Marty Kaan and Mo Monroe otherwise are cut from the same cloth. And as a second time around for an accomplished actor, it’s all starting to look more than a little threadbare.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The curriculum is Killing 101 in Syfy's hard knocks Deadly Class


Benjamin Wadsworth plays newest assassin trainee in Deadly Class. Syfy photo

PREMIERING: Wednesday, Jan. 16th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
STARRING: Benjamin Wadsworth, Benedict Wong, Lana Condor, Maria Gabriela de Faria, Luke Tennie, Liam James, Michel Duval, Henry Rollins, Taylor Hickson, Siobhan Williams, Sean Depner, Jack Gillett, Isaiah Lehtinen, Ryan Robbins
PRODUCED BY: Rick Remender, Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Miles Orion Feldsott, Mick Betancourt, Lee Toland Krieger, Mike Larocca, Adam Targum

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You’ll make the grade in Syfy’s Deadly Class if you’re getting consistently high marks in AP Black Arts, Hand-to-Hand Combat, Poison Lab and Dart Workshop. That is, if you can survive your classmates or the companion regimen of King Dominion’s Master Lin.

Adapted from the same-named graphic novels by Rick Remender and initially set in 1987, this is a jarringly visceral drama series from a network that’s gotten progressively grimmer and also better at doing so. Deadly Class also misfires at times with this tale of disaffected, dysfunctional young outlaws being trained to lethally rage against the machine. But the first four episodes also vividly embed themselves with their blend of fierce action, relatable characters, striking visuals and a pounding, dynamic soundtrack that offsets some of the ham-fisted spoken words.

King Dominion’s newest recruit, Marcus Lopez Arguello (Benjamin Wadsworth), has been severely emotionally impaired ever since witnessing his parents being collateral damage when a psychopath jumped from a tall building and landed on them. Their deaths are shown in anime, which Deadly Class deploys at the rate of one sequence per episode.

Marcus blames President Reagan, who “cut funds to the local nut houses” and left hundreds of mentally ill Americans untreated. “I’m gonna kill the guy who ruined my life. I’m gonna assassinate Ronald Reagan,” he vows while King Dominion’s peasant faction (dubbed “Rats”) reacts as though he’s out of his mind.

This also is a series in which Syfy joins the FX basic cable club by deploying a few un-bleeped f-bombs. And where a framed gun “belonging to Lee Harvey Oswald” is proudly displayed in a King’s Dominion hallway. If you’re already put off, that’s understandable. But Deadly Class also earns some merit badges after its initial shock waves wear off.

Marcus, who was sent to an abusive boys’ home after his parents’ deaths, is a tough guy rhetoric-wise and a softie beneath the veneer. He despises bullies above all, and there are plenty of them within the walls of King’s Dominion, including white supremacist and mob cliques. Not that the new kid on this chopping block is physically equipped to deter their brutality. Marcus’ face is soon marred by bruises and cuts, although he had it no better on the outside. “It’s a cold, cruel world, and you can’t survive without a family,” he reasons. “Even if they are liars and murderers.”

The imposing Master Lin (Benedict Wong) founded King’s Dominion after his great-grandfather came to the U.S. in pursuit of the American dream and instead encountered a “nightmare of indentured servitude and abuse.” Now in Dexter mode, he’s dedicated to the “self-liberation of oppressed people,” which includes killing those who need killing. But there’s nothing idealistic about many of his cold-blooded recruits.

Among them are Marcus’ principal nemesis, Chico (Michel Duval), who has the cowed Maria (Maria Gabriela de Faria) under his thumb. There’s also thuggish Viktor (Sean Depner), son of a Nazi assassin and slave to the dictates of his penis. Another classmate, Willie (Luke Tennie), is all swagger but secretly a pacifist. Benjamin’s “sponsor”, Saya (Lana Condor), is a martial arts whiz who knows better than to cross Master Lin when it comes to handling her new recruit.

Marcus’ fellow Rats include live wire Billy (Liam James) and goth girl Petra (Taylor Hickson). Another ridiculed outcast, roly poly Shabnam (Isaiah Lehtinen), might as well be a Rat. But his privileged family background gives him a leg up in this cutthroat caste system.

In Episode 4, which is something of a “Breakfast Club” sendup, Marcus and some of his tormentors are all given detention for their roles in disrupting a head-banging school dance. A bit of bonding goes on during the course of what otherwise is an action-loaded hour spiked by two invading ninjas hired to bring Saya back home.

Deadly Class isn’t about to make perfect sense, or for the most part, even imperfect sense. Its intentions, however, take on a certain nobility in due time. What you’ll see and hear is often eye- and ear-popping. Beyond that, we have an ambitiously mounted morality tale of lost youth whose base desires and motivations are orchestrated by a Fagin of the ‘80s. However it all comes out, it’s quite a bit more than Syfy fo fum.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW's Roswell, New Mexico crash lands along with its extraterrestrials


Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason) investigates the ABCs of UFOs. CW photo

PREMIERING: Tuesday, Jan. 15th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
STARRING: Jeanine Mason, Nathan Parsons, Lily Cowles, Michael Vlamis, Tyler Blackburn, Michael Trevino, Heather Hemmens, Karan Oberoi, Riley Voelkel
PRODUCED BY: Carina Adly MacKenzie, Kevin Kelly Brown, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Lawrence Bender, Julie Plec

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The overriding -- or more to the point, the only -- reason to visit Roswell, New Mexico is its UFO phooey. Once is more than enough.

In television and feature films, though, the operative word is “revisit.” We’re never all that far from another look at the ramifications of that allegedly covered up 1947 spacecraft crash. This time it’s The CW’s Roswell, New Mexico, a reboot of the now defunct WB network’s 1999 Roswell. Cue the alien angst, this time with three twentysomething extraterrestrials in human form but ever fearful they’ll be detected and then dissected. In the earlier WB go-around, also adapted from the Melinda Metz books, they were all high schoolers.

The central character in both treatments is an earthling. Liz Parker is now Latina Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason), a biomedical researcher and Roswell pariah who returns home on the 10th anniversary of her sister, Rosa’s, death. Following her obligatory opening narrative, Liz instantly resents being stopped by a cop because of her race. She reams out deputy Max Evans (Nathan Parsons), threatening a lawsuit before recognizing him as a former high school classmate who’s had a nearly lifelong crush on her. Max also later informs Liz that she was detained because her car had a busted light.

Max is one of three aliens who emerged from hidden birth pods and then “just assimilated and swore to keep our secret.” His married sister, Isobel Evans-Bracken (Lily Cowles), and unruly, embittered Michael Guerin (Michael Vlamis) are the other visitors from another planet.

Liz’s father, Arturo (Carlos Compean), who came to the U.S. illegally, still works at one of Roswell’s main tourist traps, the Crash Down cafe. The Ortechos have been ostracized ever since an allegedly drunk and drug-addled Rosa drove into a tree and killed both herself and two teen passengers. Liz fled Roswell and eventually became a biomedical researcher in Denver.

“We were on to something special,” she tells Max. “But of course we lost funding because someone needs money for a wall.” (The series takes a few other partisan political shots during the three episodes made available for review.)

As in the 1999 version, Liz is waitressing when shots ring out and she’s very seriously wounded. But Max has super healing powers and uses them to save her. She’s then told that what she thought was blood is merely spilled ketchup. Unfortunately for Max’s secret identity, his rainbow-colored palm print remains on Liz’s torso. By the end of Episode 1, Max is already copping to his alien origins while swearing her to secrecy. This does not set well with Isobel and Michael. Her husband, Noah (Karan Oberoi), still doesn’t know he’s an extraterrestrial while gay Michael is having an escalating affair with Alex Manes (Tyler Blackburn), an impaired Iraqi war veteran whose father, Jesse (Trevor St. John), is a bare-knuckled master sergeant determined to hunt down any and all aliens.

Liz keeps threatening to leave town again, but of course, doesn’t. Max keeps pleading with her to love him, but she suspects him of duplicity in terms of how her sister really died. Grating, soft-serve pop tunes, an essential CW ingredient, break in on a moment’s notice. Sample lyric: “You can’t hide from what you are.” Gawd, please stop.

The town also is rife with bigots who want to purge Roswell of all its aliens, principally those with brown skins. Max keeps coming to the rescue, but at the risk of further exposing himself. And so on.

The original Roswell made it through three seasons, 61 episodes and a happy ending for Liz. Roswell, New Mexico can go in any directions it chooses -- and already has to a degree. But as with CW’s ongoing and likewise newly Latina-centered Charmed do-over, the story already seems played out in times when re-exploiting name brands unfortunately has become an end in itself.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Passage gives Fox a sci-fi contender with heart to spare


Newcomer Saniyya Sidney shines opposite TV vet Mark-Paul Gosselaar in The Passage, a sci-fi series with a shot to stand out. Fox photo

PREMIERING: Monday, Jan. 14th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
STARRING: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saniyya Sidney, Vincent Piazza, Brianne Howey, Jamie McShane, Henry Ian Cusick, Caroline Chikezie, Emmanuelle Chriqui, McKinley Belcher III
PRODUCED BY: Liz Heldens, Matt Reeves, David W. Zucker, Adam Kassan, Ridley Scott

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A generation removed from Saved By the Bell, former teen heartthrob Mark-Paul Gosselaar, now 44, is acting with kids again.

Actually, it’s just one kid. But what a kid. Saniyya Sidney is terrifically appealing in Fox’s The Passage, with Gosselaar’s character both soothing and cajoling her in a Big Four broadcast network scripted drama series that’s accomplished a seeming mission: impossible these days. It’s left me wanting more after watching the three episodes made available for review.

Ever since The X-Files (which had two latter day reincarnations), Fox has striven to launch another long-distance runner from the sci-fi/supernatural genre. Fringe and Sleepy Hollow kept those fires burning for a few seasons, although it’s hard to imagine any reboots of either. But the likes of Terra Nova, Wayward Pines, Dollhouse, Almost Human, Alcatraz, Dark Angel, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Millennium, John Doe, Harsh Realm, Night Visions and The Visitor all ended up flaming out quickly.

Gosselaar likewise has been around the block more than a few times, establishing himself as something of a latter day Robert Urich in terms of starring roles in one TV series after another. Last seen in Fox’s short-lived 2016 Pitch as a veteran major league catcher, Gosselaar has matured into a seasoned adult actor with a sturdy presence.

In The Passage, he plays federal agent Brad Wolgast, a divorced war veteran with 98 kills under his belt. Back in the civilian world, his new job is talking prisoners on death row into being guinea pigs in lieu of being executed. Twelve of them have been lured to Project Noah, a secret experimental project based in Telluride, Colorado. The scientists within are racing to develop a drug that would make humanoids immune from all diseases. Time’s not on their side, because a lethal Asian flu pandemic is scheduled to hit the U.S. in just 60 days.

So far, though, the guinea pigs have all become blood-drinking, mind-invading inhumans in one form or another. Gosselaar’s character is unaware of this when he’s told to fetch wayward 10-year-old Amy Bellafonte (Sidney), a kid that “no one will miss” after her drug addicted mother dies of an overdose. The latest theory within the walls of Project Noah is that pre-teens have a “greater neural concentration and plasticity” that may yield better results in developing a catch-all vaccine. Got all that?

Whatever the sci-fi parameters, they’re not enough in themselves to sell a series. That’s where the relationship between Brad and Amy comes in. Blaming himself for the loss of his daughter, he’s at first taken aback and then taken in by the kid’s pluck. So they’re soon on the lam, nurturing each other in their own ways. That all sounds pretty prototypical. But thanks to Gosselaar and Sidney, the first three episodes of The Passage are filled with little moments that make it all seem new again.

The Passenger also utilizes flashbacks to flesh out both the guinea pigs’ and scientists’ back stories. One of the other principal cast members, Henry Ian Cusick, already knows this drill. The former Lost mainstay, as Desmond Hume, is back for another sci-fi go of it as Dr. Jonas Lear. He knows where the figurative bodies are buried after persuading a fellow doctor, Tim Fanning (Jamie McShane), to embark on a 2015 expedition to Bolivia in hopes of finding a miracle cure for Lear’s Alzheimer’s-inflicted wife. Alas, things went very wrong there for Dr. Tim.

Also within the Project Noah confines are featured death row parolees Shauna Babcock (Brianne Howey) and Anthony Carter (McKinley Belcher III), the latter newly arrived. Lear’s colleagues include the relentless but growingly spooked Clark Richards (Vincent Piazza) and his romantic interest, Dr. Nichole Sykes (Caroline Chikezie). She seems to mean well but it’s likely too early to tell. Wolgast’s still supportive ex-wife, Lila Kyle (Emmanuelle Chriqui), likewise a doctor, tries to intercede from the outside.

Early in the first episode, Amy’s narrative voice doesn’t leave out much hope. “This is how the world ends,” she pronounces.

It’s Fox’s hope that there’s plenty of time for that -- perhaps five or six seasons at a minimum. To that particular end, there’s been no lack of on-air promotion for The Passage, which shows considerable promise in these early episodes. Thanks to Gosselaar and Sidney, the all-important human element goes hand-in-hand with all the sci-fi ins and outs.


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Season Three of True Detective solidly follows the leads of the first


Stephen Dorff, Mahershala Ali partner up in the new True Detective. HBO photo

PREMIERING: Sunday, Jan. 13th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on HBO
STARRING: Mahershala Ali, Stephen Dorff, Carmen Ejogo, Scoot McNairy, Ray Fisher, Mamie Gummer, Michael Greyeyes, Jon Tenney
PRODUCED BY: Nic Pizzolatto, Jeremy Saulnier, Scott Stephens, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Steve Golin, Bard Dorros, Richard Brown

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Although not a complete implosion, Season Two of True Detective had serious structural damage compared to the foundation laid by the fictional whodunit’s acclaimed first edition.

So HBO pondered a while after S2 ended back on Aug. 9, 2015. Did creator/writer/producer Nic Pizzolatto have another compellingly swervy story to tell? Or had he pretty much punched his ticket with the Emmy-lauded S1, which teamed Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson to near-perfection?

You’ll be the final judge of that when True Detective launches another eight-episode run on Sunday, Jan. 13th. But from this perspective, Pizzolatto has made himself whole again with this tale of two Arkansas dicks struggling to solve the mysteries behind the murder of a 12-year-old boy and the disappearance of his 10-year-old sister.

McConaughey and Harrelson remained tied to the series as co-executive producers, mostly in name only. But the two leads are played by Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) and Stephen Dorff, who to this point has been largely a journeyman.

HBO made the first five hours available for review. Format-wise, they mirror Season One, with the two central characters time-traveling between the year the crimes were committed, a re-investigation 10 years later, and the present-day circumstances of detectives Wayne Hays (Ali) and Roland West (Dorff).

Pizzolatto also goes back to the S1 well in terms of marital discords, highly questionable police work, symbolic clues at the principal crime scene, a corpse posed in prayer, a church that may not be all that redemptive and a small-town rural setting. This time it’s West Finger, Arkansas, in the heart of the Ozarks, where on Nov. 7, 1980, Will Purcell and his sister, Julie, went riding off on their bikes after promising their father they’d be home by 5:30 p.m. Neither returned.

Hays, a Vietnam veteran and expert tracker, is referred to by his partner as “Purple Haze.” They get along just fine, both personally and professionally. Hays is the stoic one, mostly leaving West to stir the conversational drinks. In short, they have each other’s backs. But in the end, it’s not as simple as that.

Things tend to dawdle at times, particularly during Hays’ slow-burning courtship of school teacher Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), who’s taught both of the victimized children. The title, after all, is True Detective, not True Romance. But just when things seem to be bogging down, they tend to pick back up in a hurry.

Other characters of import include the two kids’ father, Tom (Scoot McNairy), his run-around wife, Lucy (Mamie Gummer), a Native-American trash collector named Brett Woodard (Michael Greyeyes) and the elderly Hays’ grown son, Henry (Ray Fisher).

Ali is impressive in all three life stages, but his performance as the haunted and addled 70-year-old Hays has the most resonance. It’s hard to say much more without giving too much away. Suffice it to say that Hays has never shaken loose from what’s now become a cold case. But what can be done about that at this late stage of his life?

“Whatever brains I got left, I wanna finish this,” Hays declares. Yes, please do.

Season Three of True Detective doesn’t have quite the pulling power of the first go-around, in which McConaughey’s revelatory performance immediately jumped off the screen. But it’s a vast improvement over an overall preposterously ridiculous Season Two fronted by Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

Ali, Dorff and their back-and-forth, age-appropriate hair changes make for a duo that’s more straight-ahead than cosmic. McConaughey’s off-the-wall Rust Cohle got away with spouting lines such as, “People are so God damned frail they’d rather put a coin in a wishing well than buy dinner.” It sounded so good rolling off his tongue that who gave a damn whether he made any sense.

Hays and West are nuts and bolts in comparison. Let’s just get to the bottom of things. By the end of Episode 5, they’re re-determined to do just that. And I think you’ll also want to stay the bumpy course toward whatever befalls them.

GRADE: A-minus

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CBS' Fam is racially diverse without calling attention to the obvious


It’s not always all smiles when baby sis moves in. CBS photo

PREMIERING:Thursday, Jan. 10th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
STARRING: Nina Dobrev, Tone Bell, Odessa Adlon, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Gary Cole
PRODUCED BY: Corinne Kingsbury, Aaron Kaplan, Wendi Trilling, Dana Honor

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It’s been nearly half a century since CBS dared to launch one of television’s all-time milestones, All in the Family.

The network’s Fam, which premieres on Thursday, Jan. 10th, is also something of a benchmark. Back in 1971, no one had seen anything like the blue collar bigotry of Archie Bunker. At least not on TV they hadn’t. His blundering racism, fueled more by ignorance than outright malice, drove All in the Family into the uppermost regions of the prime-time ratings. For five straight seasons, it ranked No. 1.

Fam, which will be replacing CBS’ awkward Murphy Brown reboot, can’t hope to aspire to such heights. But in its own little way, it may prove to be of considerable significance for a network that this season has honored its pledge to bring more diversity to its schedule, both on- and off-camera.

The racial dynamics of Fam, created by Corinne Kingsbury, are unique in terms of race not being an issue at all in the three episodes made available for review. As with All in the Family, we’ve never seen anything quite like this on a Big Four broadcast network, let alone CBS.

Clem (Nina Dobrev), short for Clementine, is newly engaged to Nick (Tone Bell). She’s white, he’s black and his parents likewise are an interracial couple, but in reverse. Rose (Sheryl Lee Ralph) is black, her husband, Walt (Brian Stokes Mitchell), is a light-skinned racial blend -- and what’s the big deal? Fam so far is completely color-blind in that respect.

The fifth and sixth wheels are Clem’s slacker 16-year-old half-sister sister Shannon (Odessa Adlon) and their absentee father, Freddy (Gary Cole), a homicide detective who spouts lines like, “Women are whack jobs. You guys are angry, like all the time.”

Clem sees her father as a “narcissistic psychopath,” and is so ashamed of him that she’s told Nick he’s dead. But there’s no sitcom drama in that. So he re-enters the picture shortly after destitute and disruptive Shannon unexpectedly pops in to crash with Clem and Nick. Of course she’ll be staying a while after giving the show its title by saying, “No one says ‘family’ anymore. It’s fam.”

Other conventional sitcom trappings also apply. CBS for the most part still clings to over-active laugh tracks and broadly played scenes and situations. Still, this is a nicely clicking ensemble that gets sharper as the show goes on. Cole’s loutish Freddy, prominent in the first two episodes before being left out of the third, brings an extra zing to these proceedings, particularly when he’s invited to Rose and Walt’s house for dinner in Episode 2. He shows up with a nice bottle of wine that was “swiped from the evidence locker” and still has blood stains on it. But it’s still too good a bottle for the discerning Walt to pass up.

Episode 3 treads familiar turf. Nick and Clem aren’t “getting any” lately because intrusive Shannon is always around and invariably knocking on their bedroom door. Will they be able to satisfy their escalating urges during a 30-minute window between Shannon’s scheduled departure to her new high school and the couple’s off-to-work exits? Of course not, but they’re more than likable enough to prompt a rooting interest.

Nick’s mama Rose dotes on when her Tupperware container is going to be returned while grandiosely planning for her son’s wedding. She’s a fun character, as is Mitchell’s Walt, a former Broadway musical actor who breaks into song to the delight of his wife. (In real life, Mitchell is a Tony Award-winner for his performance in a 2000 revival of Kiss Me, Kate. “My family’s very, very mixed,” he’s been quoted as saying. “I am, I guess, a kind of melting pot person.”)

Fam perhaps will deal with racial issues in future episodes. But so what if it doesn’t? Shouldn’t America be ready by now for a show that says, “There’s nothing to look at here” in terms of two interracial couples getting along just fine and wrestling with predicaments that transcend the color of their skins?

An ideal world certainly isn’t the real world just yet, and some might criticize Fam for being in a vacuum. I’m not going to be one of them, because this is where we’re supposed to be headed. Maybe this is a show that can help us get there just a little bit faster.


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ABC's Schooled could use a little detention


AJ Michalka (2nd from left) heads the cast of Schooled. ABC photo
PREMIERING: Wednesday, Jan. 9th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
STARRING: AJ Michalka, Bryan Callen, Tim Meadows, Brett Dier, Rachel Crow
PRODUCED BY: Adam F. Goldberg, Doug Robinson, Marc Firek

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The original version of Schooled flunked as a planned spinoff of ABC’s The Goldbergs.

A second try, premiering Wednesday, Jan. 9th in tandem with The Goldbergs, perhaps passes more than it fails but is at best a C student. AJ Michalka , who played oldest son Barry Goldberg’s unlikely girlfriend, Lainey Lewis, graduates to the early 1990s to become an unqualified music teacher at William Penn Academy. Two other Goldbergs alums, cartoonish coach Rick Mellor (Bryan Callen) and ineffectual principal John “Andre” Glascott (Tim Meadows), also make the trip, this time as full-fledged regular cast members.

Nia Long, who had nothing to do with The Goldbergs, had been cast as the lead in the failed pilot as a character named Lucy Winston. She’s since gone on to a regular role in CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles. But Rachel Crow remains, at least in the first episode, as the now unseen Lucy’s rebellious daughter, Felicia.

As did Lainey, Felicia aspires to be a rock star. But they of course clash at first, with Lainey terming her an “angry rage monster” after booting her out of class.

The idea here is that Lainey perfected many of the student misbehavior patterns now being recycled by some of her students. “You can’t blackmail a blackmailer, Missy,” she informs Felicia. “I will so take you down.”

Meanwhile, Coach Mellor is having his own problems with star basketball player Matty Ryan (guest star Hunter Doohan). He’s modeling himself after Michael Jordan, which isn’t compatible with being a team player in Mellor’s view.

Everything is resolved, in gratingly sappy fashion, before a climactic little interview between Callen and the real-life coach he’s more or less portraying. It turns out that Matty Ryan went on to become a real-life Big Somebody. Sports fans will get it.

Michalka brings a little studied sass to her central role before Schooled melts into a puddle of sentimentality. “In this job, the best teachers follow their hearts -- no matter what,” Coach Mellor counsels her. It’s a sudden transition from nincompoop to sage advisor in a sitcom where the prototypically stodgy Principal Glascott also sees the light -- in a big hurry.

Wendi McLendon-Covey, whose Beverly Goldberg is the best thing about that show, drops in for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo at the start of Schooled. In future episodes, Brett Dier from Jane the Virgin will be rolled into the mix as young teacher Charlie Brown (also based on one of creator Adam F. Goldberg’s real-life teachers).

There’s possibly some potential here. But the only episode of Schooled made available for review neither rings the bell -- or answers it.


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