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The aim is perfect in Deadwood: The Movie


How its West was won: Deadwood finally gets an epitaph. HBO photo

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The abundant profanity remains in place. How could it not?

This time, though, add equal parts poignancy. Deadwood, the series that died too soon after three season on HBO, breathes its last with a letter-perfect eulogy. Deadwood: The Movie (Friday, May 31st, 7 p.m. central) reunites the principal characters and serves each of them exceedingly well. Who could ask for anything more?

The film is set in 1889, a decade after the series left off. In real time, it’s been close to 13 years since HBO aired the last original episode of Deadwood on August 27, 2006. Although it’s been a long time in coming, with several false starts, the movie couldn’t come soon enough for creator David Milch. In 2015 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He has no other projects in the works, so this could be his epitaph.

Deadwood’s closing episode as a series ended with vile, vengeful, land-grabbing George Hearst (Gerald McRaney) riding out of town while Marshal Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant) sneered his contempt for him. Now Hearst is back, this time as a U.S. senator on the occasion of South Dakota becoming the 40th state. For purely voracious business purposes, he covets the land owned by longtime Deadwood resident Charlie Utter (Dayton Callie), who remains adamant about not selling. But Hearst, as he’s shown before, will stop at nothing.

Bullock is still Deadwood’s straight-shooting, deliberate striding, flinty-eyed marshal. Married to Martha Bullock (Anna Gunn) out of duty as much as love (she had been the wife of his late cavalryman brother), Bullock retains feelings for Alma Ellsworth (Molly Parker), herself a widower whose daughter Sofia (Lily Keene) has grown into a young lady.

Meanwhile, brothel owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), fastest f-bomber in the West, is fading fast from a life of heavy drinking and very bad behavior. At the end of the series, he slit one of his prostitute’s throats and put her in a coffin as a stand-in (so to speak) for Trixie (Paula Malcomson), who had tried to kill Hearst but only wounded him. The ruse worked. But 10 years later, Hearst has come to believe he was duped.

Calamity Jane (Robin Weigert) also has returned to town, riding a horse in her usual drunken state while hoping to rekindle a beyond platonic relationship with Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens). Weigert’s performance has always been my favorite, and she continues to excel. Another key character, Bullock’s best friend, Solomon “Sol” Star (John Hawkes), has hankerings, too -- for Trixie.

Scenes from the series’ past -- it’s been a long time, after all -- are nicely intercut in very brief form to remind viewers of events that continue to resonate. Deadwood’s trademark blend of literacy and crudity continues to harmoniously co-exist. Bullock can be a man of few words, all of which count for something. “My job ain’t to follow the law,” he tells Swearengen in no uncertain terms. “My job is to interpret it, then enforce it -- accordingly.”

A few major characters are missing, but through no fault of Milch’s. Principally among them is the late Powers Boothe, who played cutthroat Cy Tolliver. Titus Welliver, who played Swearengen cohort Silas Adams, was otherwise occupied as the star of his Amazon Prime series Bosch.

Deadwood: The Movie ends with beautifully paired scenes featuring Bullock and Swearengen. Both are moving in their own distinctive ways, bringing one of HBO’s very best series to an end that does David Milch proud. Very proud indeed.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Amazon Prime's Good Omens looks good, but doesn't play well


Michael Sheen and David Tennant winningly play a good/evil odd couple in the six-episode fantasy series Good Omens. Amazon photo

Premiering: All six episodes begin streaming Friday, May 31st on Amazon Prime
Starring: David Tennant, Michael Sheen, Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Anna Maxwell Martin, Michael McKean, Adria Arjona, Jack Whitehall, Mireille Enos, Nina Sosanya and the voices of Frances McDormand and Benedict Cumberbatch
Produced by: Neil Gaiman, Caroline Skinner, Chris Sussman, Rob Wilkins, Rod Brown

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The End of the World is nigh -- yet again.

And as with TBS’ recent and fantastically wobbly Miracle Workers, Amazon Prime’s Good Omens is bolstered by marquee leads and a big, multi-media promotional push.

Miracle Workers, which ran for seven half-hour episodes, deployed Steve Buscemi as a dimwitted but vengeful God and Daniel Radcliffe in the role of a shlepper toiling in heaven’s Department of Unanswered Prayers. Clunk.

Good Omens, adapted from a 1990 fantasy novel with a much longer title, features David Tennant and Michael Sheen upfront, but with some equally familiar names in supporting roles. They include Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, Michael McKean, Nick Offerman and the voices of Frances McDormand and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s also longer, with six episodes at about one hour apiece.

Amazon made all of them available for review. But rather than watch everything at hand, which is very much my usual practice, I lost patience after the first two hours and skipped ahead to the climactic Episode 6 to see if there’s a resolution to this meandering bunch of basic nonsense. Yes, there’s loopy closure. And others may be more willing to exert the considerable patience required to get there. Not me, though.

On the plus side, Good Omens has some great looking animation accompanying the opening credits. And the duo of Sheen and Tennant can be fun to watch amid all the murkiness, toggling through time and wealth of expositional narration by McDormand. Good Omens is certainly in no hurry. Its eye candy special effects help some, but not enough to keep the mind from wandering off in fairly short order.

Tennant, affixed with yellow eyeballs and a Bob’s Big Boy hair-do, plays a demon named Crowley. He’s been on Earth since the dawn of creation, initially as the snake that tempted Eve.

Sheen is the rather befuddled angel Aziraphale, who hangs out with Crowley and tries to bring out whatever good side he might have. They strive to save the world after an anti-Christ baby is birthed and an 11-year timetable is set before Armageddon kicks in. Hamm, as a sinister archangel Gabriel, is very bullish on a big, final battle, which would be triggered when the Hell Hound is unleashed to find its young master.

Diversions ensue. A lot of them. Starting with Episode 2, McKean drops in as the eccentric Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell while Richardson plays Madame Tracy, who tries to consort with him. Add a blossoming young love story between Anathema Device (Adria Arjona) and Newton Pulsifer (Jack Whitehall). She’s the last descendant of prophesying witch Agnes Nutter (Josie Lawrence) and he’s a descendant of the witch finder who burned Agnes at the stake.

Good Omens also has recurrent trips to heaven and hell while McDormand keeps talking. Episode 2 includes a gratuitous but by now expected dig at the male species. According to her, most people think that witches roam around naked. But that’s only because the books about them are written by men. Witches on broomsticks remains a prevailing stereotype. But witches constantly in the altogether? This neanderthal has never once thought of them in that way. Have you?

Also included is a batch of Stranger Things-type kids striving to teach adults some lessons during the course of the all-over-the-place story at hand. And Mireille Enos (The Killing) drops in as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, half of whom are women.

The concluding Episode 6 does feature one helluva oversized Satan, with Cumberbatch at the voice controls. Good Omens continues to have its special effects moments. But there aren’t enough of them to overcome the basic tedium afflicting it. C’mon now, let’s move this thing along, shall we? Alas, there’s no real danger of that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

One more time: Seeing dead people in NBC's The InBetween


Harriet Dyer sees and talks to the dead in The InBetween. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, May 29th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Harriet Dyer, Paul Blackthorne, Justin Cornwell, Anne-Marie Johnson, Cindy Luna, Chad James Buchanan, Michael B. Silver, Sean Bolger
Produced by: David Heyman, Moira Kirland, Nancy Cotton, Matt Gross

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There’s nothing new to look at here, unless you’re among those who haven’t yet seen a TV series about a haunted woman who sees the dead and then aids or afflicts the living.

NBC’s The InBetween, premiering on Wednesday, May 29th, follows in the paranormal steps of kindred spirits Medium and Ghost Whisperer. In this one, Cassie Bedford (Harriet Dyer) is a bartender whose recurrent, out-of-nowhere visions of victims and perpetrators help a pair of Seattle detectives solve otherwise impenetrable crimes. Bridging the weekly cases is a previously executed Texas killer named Ed Roven (Sean Bolger), whose calling card is a Peter Rabbit/Little Boy Blue verse. He keeps popping into Cassie’s life, egging her on with the likes of “I help you, you help me.” She wants nothing to do with him, but in effect can’t live without this drawling creep when it comes to taking deep dives into various murders and abductions. The first two episodes were made available for review.

Cassie’s principal steadying hand is veteran detective Tom Hackett (Paul Blackthorne), who with his husband, Brian (Michael B. Silver), once provided foster care for her. Hackett has just been a given a younger cop shop partner, Damien Assante (Justin Cornwell), who’s skeptical of Cassie’s unique powers until rather suddenly he isn’t. Anne-Marie Johnson has a so far very minimal supporting role as boss lady Lt. Swanstrom, as do Cindy Luna and Chad James Buchanan as the detectives’ helpers.

Deductions are made at a lightning quick pace while the scripts at times should be locked up. It’s gasp-worthy in Episode 1 when a woman forensics specialist actually says, “If she was raped, he was polite about it.” This is after it’s determined that the assailant used a condom. There’s still time for NBC to choke the life out of that line by removing it.

In Episode 2, one of detective Hackett’s lines is simply banal. “I just hope we’re not too late,” he tells his partner as they race to save a life that you know they’ll save. Later on, the jailed would-be killer intones, “Grief is a rabid animal you hold at bay.”

Britisher Blackthorne otherwise gives the sturdiest performance while Dyer is called on to gasp a lot after being plunged into the thick of things via visions that sometimes put Cassie in serious physical danger until she returns to her senses. The premiere episode does have a fairly nifty case of misdirection, though.

The InBetween, although it doesn’t quite play dead, seems unlikely to survive beyond its summer run. This is basic paint-by-the-numbers storytelling despite the otherworldly premise. Both Ghost Whisperer and Medium had stronger grips and more interesting women as their center stage psychics.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Summertime filler finds its standardbearer in CBS' Blood & Treasure


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

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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

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


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

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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.


Email comments or questions to unclebarky@verizon.net

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


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

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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 (Ruby 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:

All American
Black Lightning

The Flash

Nancy Drew



No programming


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


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

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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:

The Neighborhood
Bob (Hearts) Abishola
All Rise

NCIS: Los Angeles

Seal Team

Young Sheldon
The Unicorn
Carol’s Second Act

Hawaii Five-0
Magnum P.I.
Blue Bloods

Crimetime Saturday
Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

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


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

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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

Women take all the leads in ABC's four fall newcomers


Fargo alum Allison Tolman gets promoted to chief in Emergence. ABC photo

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ABC scrimped on new fall series Tuesday, but not on women marching at the heads of them.

All three of the scripted freshmen “have broadly appealing concepts with strong female points of view,” the network says. A reboot of Kids Say the Darndest Things also has been ordered, with Tiffany Haddish hosting. The previous two versions were hosted by Art Linkletter and (urp) Bill Cosby.

The network also touted its “most stable schedule in over a decade,” even though none of ABC’s prime-time series is anything close to a ratings blockbuster. Its most consistent performer, the evergreen Grey’s Anatomy, has been renewed for two more seasons and will fire up its 16th next fall.

ABC’s cancellation corral is well-populated, with the demises of Whiskey Cavalier, The Kids are Alright, Speechless, The Fix, Splitting Up Together, For the People, Take Two, Child Support and The Alec Baldwin Show. On the other hand, six of last season’s newcomers -- The Rookie, Bless This Mess, Single Parents, The Conners, Schooled and A Million Little Things -- are getting sophomore years. The fate of Eva Longoria’s Grand Hotel, which was announced last May, is yet to be determined. The serial soap is scheduled to premiere on June 17th.

Here are ABC’s three new scripted fall series:

Emergence (drama) -- Allison Tolman, who came to fame to fame as dogged police officer Molly Solverson in Season One of FX’s Fargo, has moved up to a police chief named Jo this time out. She’s fated to take in a young child found near the site of a mysterious accident. The kid has no memory of what happened, with a subsequent investigation drawing Jo into “a conspiracy larger than she ever imagined.” Tolman also previously starred in the under-appreciated ABC comedy series Downward Dog.

Stumptown (drama) -- Based on the same-named graphic novel series, this one stars Cobie Smulders as Dex Parios, an Army vet whose “military intelligence skills make her a great PI.” Alas, she also has an “unapologetic style” that rubs both crooks and cops the wrong way. It’s all set in Portland, Oregon, where Dex also takes care of her brother when she has the time.

mixed-ish (comedy) -- In this black-ish spinoff, Rainbow Johnson recalls her childhood upbringing in a mixed-race family and the “constant dilemmas they had to face over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves.” Arica Himmel heads the cast as “Bow” Johnson.

Here is ABC’s night-by-night fall lineup:

Dancing with the Stars
The Good Doctor

The Conners
Bless This Mess

The Goldbergs
Modern Family
Single Parents

Grey’s Anatomy
A Million Little Things
How to Get Away with Murder

American Housewife
Fresh Off the Boat
20/20 (two-hour edition)

Saturday Night Football

America’s Funniest Home Videos
Kids Say the Darndest Things
Shark Tank
The Rookie

ABC also has announced these midseason series:

The Baker and the Beauty (drama) -- Daniel Garcia is toiling away in his Cuban parents’ bakery until he meets international superstar and fashion mogul Noa Hamilton on a “wild Miami night.” How will he and his parents handle Daniel’s newfound spotlight, let alone a resultant “culture clash?” Victor Rasuk and Nathalie Kelley star.

For Life (drama) -- A prisoner becomes a lawyer and then multi-tasks by litigating cases for fellow inmates while otherwise trying to overturn the life sentence he’s serving. He also has a “complicated relationship with a progressive female prison warden.” Inspired by the life of Isaac Wright Jr., with Nicholas Pinnock playing the lead.

United We Fall (comedy) -- Touted as “profoundly realistic,” it telescopes the “trials and tribulations” of Jo and Bill (Christina Vidal, Will Sasso), who have two young kids and standard issue pushy parents and in-laws. But Jo and Will “will always have each other’s backs, united against everyone.” I’m getting ill.

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Peacock droppings: Jimmy Smits gets another go on NBC's fall lineup


Prime-time vet Jimmy Smits re-arrives in Bluff City. NBC photo

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NBC is leaving four nights unchanged and adding just three new series to its fall prime-time lineup.

The most visible freshman likely will be Bluff City Law, starring one of TV’s most familiar faces, Jimmy Smits, in his umpteenth series in a cushy Monday slot following two hours of The Voice.

The Peacock otherwise has officially canceled Midnight, Texas, Blindspot and I Feel Bad. And although none of their futures look good, NBC says “decisions are yet to be made” on a quintet of ratings bottom-feeders. The official list is Abby’s, A.P. Bio, The Enemy Within, The Titan Games and The Village. Also in a netherworld is The InBetween, a new drama series scheduled to launch on May 29th.

On the upside, NBC has renewed This Is Us for three more seasons. The network also announced that Melissa McCarthy will be the new host of Little Big Shots when it returns on Sunday nights after NFL football. She supplants Steve Harvey.

Likewise of note: For midseason, NBC has picked up The Kenan Show, starring longtime Saturday Night Live mainstay Kenan Thompson. But he still isn’t officially leaving SNL, and might well return as a part-time player for at least part of next season.

Here are NBC’s three new fall series:

Bluff City Law (drama) -- Smits stars as gruff, crusading Elijah Strait, who runs a famed Memphis law firm and reaches out to his estranged daughter, Sydney (Caitlin McGee), after his wife dies. She grudgingly returns (but of course) with the knowledge that working with pops is her “best hope at changing the world -- if they can ever get along.”

Perfect Harmony (comedy) -- Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) plays former Princeton music prof Arthur Cochran. When he “unexpectedly stumbles” into a choir practice at a small-town church, Cochran discovers a group of singers who are “out of tune in more ways than one.” But hey, they just might be able to help each other “reinvent and rediscover a little happiness, just when they all need it most.”

Sunnyside (comedy) -- Disgraced New York City councilman Garrett Modi (Kal Penn) discovers a new sense of purpose when hired by a “diverse group of hopefuls who dream of becoming American citizens and believe he can help.”

Here is NBC’s night-by-night fall lineup:

The Voice
Bluff City Law

The Voice
This Is Us
New Amsterdam

Chicago Med
Chicago Fire
Chicago P.D.

Perfect Harmony
The Good Place
Law & Order: SVU

The Blacklist
Dateline NBC

Dateline Saturday Night Mystery
Saturday Night Live (repeats)

Football Night in America
Sunday Night Football

NBC also has announced these midseason series:

Council of Dads (drama) -- A loving father of four has a serious health scare, prompting him to call on four buds to “step in as back-up dads for every stage of his growing family’s life.” Tom Everett Scott (Southland) and Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break/The Walking Dead) are among the ensemble cast.

Lincoln (drama) -- A hobbled NYPD detective, who was made that way by a notorious serial killer, calls on a young woman officer to lend a crime solving hand. Adapted from best-selling book The Bone Collector, with Russell Hornsby and Arielle Kebbel heading the cast and Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos listed as a supporting player of some sort.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (drama) -- Billed as “joyous and celebratory,” this one chronicles the adventures of a “whip-smart computer coder” who after an “unusual event” begins to hear “the innermost wants and desires of the people around her through songs.” Jane Levy stars, with veterans Mary Steenburgen and Peter Gallagher in support.

The Kenan Show (comedy) -- The aforementioned Thompson strives to be a “super dad” to his two daughters.

Indebted (comedy) -- Young parents are ready to have some fun after bouts with diapers and sleepless nights. But of course their “boomerang parents” then arrive unannounced and broke. Fran Drescher and Steven Weber are part of this.

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Fox's new season will say farewell to Empire and hello to wrestling


In addition to importing wrestling, Fox’s three new fall series include Not Just Me, which could just as easily be titled #MeToo. Fox photo

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The Fox broadcasting network, newly under Disney ownership, announced a “start-up mindset” Monday that included news of onetime ratings juggernaut Empire being canceled after its sixth and final season concludes next year.

“We are redefining what it means to be an entertainment company, and what it means to be Fox, for 2019 and beyond,” Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier declared. Whatever that means.

Empire likely will be without any further appearances by the embattled Jussie Smollett, who was written out of the series’ final two episodes this season after his much-publicized alleged staging of a hate crime in Chicago, where the series is filmed. “At this point we have no plans“ (for Smollett’s return), although Fox still has a sixth season option on him, Collier said in a separate conference call with TV reporters.

Empire’s running mate, Star, also created and produced by Lee Daniels, surprisingly has been axed after three season. The other series in Fox’s cancellation corral, some previously announced, are The Cool Kids, Lethal Weapon, The Gifted, Gotham, Proven Innocent, The Passage, Rel and Mental Samurai.

Fox has big plans, however, for The Masked Singer, its surprise midseason mega-hit. Season Three will launch following Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2nd after the show’s second season is paired this fall on Wednesday nights with a new drama series Not Just Me.

The network also announced that one of its midseason entries, 9-1-1: Lone Star, starring Rob Lowe, is set to premiere on Sunday, Jan. 19th following the NFL’s NFC championship game. It will then move to Mondays. The 9-1-1 spinoff is set in Austin but will be filmed in Los Angeles, save for a few exterior shots, a Fox spokesperson told unclebarky.com. Lowe plays a transplanted New York City cop.

Also of note: WWE’s Smackdown Live will be filling Fox’s entire two-hour programming block on Fridays this fall. Last Man Standing, which has been solidly leading off the night, will return sometime in midseason. This leaves Fox’s new fall lineup without any live action sitcoms (starring human beings, not cartoon characters) for the first time in recent memory. Unless you count wrestling.

Here are Fox’s three fall newcomers:

Not Just Me (drama) -- Well, it’s certainly not The Brady Bunch. Julia Bechley (Brittany Snow) thinks she’s an only child until discovering that her father, Leon (Timothy Hutton), a fertility doctor, has used his sperm to conceive “upwards of a hundred children.” For starters, Julia finds two of them, former best friend Edie Palmer (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and ex-Olympic athlete Roxy Doyle (Emily Osment). Fox says the series intends to explore “such hot-button issues as identity, human connection and what it truly means to be a family” while it “taps directly into the zeitgeist, harnessing the emotional complications that new generations of IVF-bred children all face.” Got all that?

Prodigal Son (drama) -- The offspring of a notorious serial killer dubbed “The Surgeon” is determined to deploy his “twisted genius” as the NYPD’s new ace crime-solver. Tom Payne (The Walking Dead) stars as Malcolm Bright, with Michael Sheen (from Showtime’s Masters of Sex) as his “predatory sociopath” dad, Dr. Martin Whitly. Lou Diamond Phillips chips in as detective Gil Arroyo.

Bless the Harts (animated comedy) -- A dirt poor, upwardly striving Southern family toils in Greenpoint, NC. But hey, they’re “already rich in friends, family and laughter.” Featuring the voices of Kristin Wiig as single mother waitress Jenny Hart and Maya Rudolph as her “lottery scratcher-obsessed mother,” Betty.

Here is Fox’s night-by night fall schedule:

Prodigal Son

The Resident

The Masked Singer
Not Just Me

Thursday Night Football Pregame Show
NFL Football

WWE’s Smackdown Live

Fox College Football

NFL on Fox
The OT
The Simpsons
Bless the Harts
Bob’s Burgers
Family Guy

Besides the aforementioned 9-1-1: Lone Star, Fox has announced these midseason newcomers:

Deputy (drama) -- Due to an “arcane rule in the county charter,” a Wild West-type law enforcer takes charge of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after the elected sheriff dies. Stephen Dorff (True Detective) heads the cast as true blue Bill Hollister.

Filthy Rich (drama) -- This one’s described as a “southern Gothic family drama in which wealth, power and religion intersect -- more correctly, collide -- with outrageously soapy results.” Durable Gerald McRaney plays family patriarch Eugene Monreaux, with Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) co-starring.

neXt (drama) -- Mad Men’s John Slattery stars as Silicon Valley pioneer Paul LeBlanc, whose game-changing inventions have come at the expense of friends and loved ones. Alas, one of Paul’s inventions could “spell doom for humankind” (and no, it’s not Facebook). Seeking to make amends, he’s thwarted by a ruthless younger brother who boots him from the company. And so on.

Duncanville (animated comedy) -- Yes it’s another cartoon series from the network of The Simpsons, now in its 199th season. Amy Poehler voices both 15-year-old, fantasy-obsessed Duncan and his mom, Annie, while Ty Burrell (Modern Family) provides the vocals for Jack, a “classic rock-obsessed” plumber father/husband.

The Great North (animated comedy) -- Presenting the Alaskan adventures of the Tobin family, with voiceovers from the likes of Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Will Forte.

Outmatched (comedy) -- A blue collar couple in Atlantic City struggle to raise four kids, three of them certified geniuses. Maggie Lawson and Jason Biggs head the cast as hapless parents Cay and Mike.

Ultimate Tag (reality competition) -- Football-playing brothers JJ, TJ and Derek Watt host a “high-octane physical competition show based on the classic playground game of Chase.” Fox says it’s both thrilling and “energy-sapping.”

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Norah O'Donnell supplants Jeff Glor as anchor of CBS Evening News while the network's This Morning also gets a makeover

NorahODonnellHEADSHOT Gayle_King_HS

Evening/morn power duo Norah O’Donnell/Gayle King. CBS photos

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Jeff Glor’s brief reign as CBS Evening News anchor is over, although many viewers still might not be aware it even began.

His replacement is Norah O’Donnell, who sometime this summer will segue from the network’s CBS This Morning program. Incumbent Gayle King will remain, now as the lead anchor. Anthony Mason and Tony Dokoupil are slated to join her, on May 20th, with John Dickerson being transferred again, this time to 60 Minutes.

The changes were announced Monday by CBS News President Susan Zirinsky, who proclaimed this the “start of a new era for CBS News. Our job is to reveal America to itself through original reporting, strong investigative journalism and powerful political coverage.”

As part of the makeover, the Evening News will be relocating from New York City to Washington, D.C. this fall. A CBS News publicity release says the shift “adds to the importance and stature of the broadcast and will give CBS News unique access to top lawmakers, whose decisions have a profound impact on all Americans.”

Both the Evening News and This Morning remain last and have long been so in three-way races with ABC and NBC.

Glor officially became the Evening News anchor on Dec. 4, 2017, succeeding interim anchor Mason after he filled in for Scott Pelley for several months. Pelley now is with 60 Minutes.

Dickerson had been host of CBS’ Sunday morning Face the Nation after Bob Schieffer retired. After two-and-a-half years, he was replaced by Margaret Brennan in February of 2018.

O’Donnell, who has been with This Morning since 2012, becomes the second woman to solo anchor the Evening News after Katie Couric had a five-year run. Connie Chung earlier co-anchored the Evening News with Dan Rather, but that partnership never jelled.

Zirinsky was named CBS News president in January of this year. She has been with the network’s news division since 1972, and for the previous 23 years was executive producer of 48 Hours, which remains on Saturday nights.

Glor, still a relative kid at age 43, was relegated to the final paragraph of Monday’s CBS News announcement. Zirinsky praised his award-winning work and commitment, and said “we are discussing opportunities for Jeff to remain with CBS News and continue providing the same substantive, trusted reporting that he has been offering for the past 12 years.”

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HBO's Chernobyl miniseries exceeds extraordinary


Power to the state, but not the people, in Chernobyl. HBO photo

Premiering: Monday, May 6th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Adam Nagaitis, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, David Dencik
Produced by: Craig Mazin, Carolyn Strauss, Jane Featherstone, Johan Renck, Chris Fry

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Somber to a fault, but never to its detriment, HBO’s Chernobyl dares to collude with the misery, deprivation and dogged survival instincts of Russian people large and small.

Pleasant viewing it’s not. But in terms of capturing a time and place, the five-part miniseries succeeds on every level. Initial viewer resistance is understandable. This is a grim and unsparing dissection of the April 26, 1986 catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Pripyat. Never more so than when radiation-contaminated pets left behind in evacuated areas are hunted down, shot and dumped into a mass grave during a heartrending Episode 4.

Chernobyl begins with its central character, Soviet nuclear physicist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), hanging himself in despair after recording his last living testament of what really happened. One of his declarations rings all the more true today: “What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.”

The drama then rewinds to “Two Years and One Minute Earlier,” with workers at the Chernobyl plant looking like they’d be equally at home in a butcher shop with their identical white smocks and hats. Chief among them is brusque Anatoly Dyatlov (Paul Ritter), who will have much to answer for in later episodes.

Although the reforms of newly appointed Mikhail Gorbachev (David Dencik) would soon begin to take hold, this was still very much the State-controlled Soviet Union, where dictatorial secrecy reigned supreme. In the early hours after the explosion, an elderly old-liner declares at an emergency meeting, “Keep matters of the state to the state . . . Yes, comrades, we will all be rewarded for what we do here tonight. This is our moment to shine.”

At the outset of Episode 2, Legasov’s contrarian view is first expressed at a high level meeting in which Gorbachev calls for adjournment after deducing that the situation in Pripyat “seems as if it’s well in hand.” The lethally radioactive chunks of graphite spit up by the severely damaged plant amount to bullets that will “not stop firing for 100 years,” Legasov says. Gorbachev grudgingly allows him to investigate further at the scene of the disaster, but only in tandem with naysaying Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard). Their initially very uneasy partnership gradually softens, with Skarsgard in brilliant form as the gravelly-voiced Shcherbina.

The two of them eventually have a third ally in Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), a crusading nuclear physicist assigned to investigate the particulars of what happened inside the power plant on the night of its demise.

Smaller human stories also reverberate throughout Chernobyl. Called to the scene on the night of the disaster, young firefighter Vasily Ignatenko (Adam Nagaitis) is severely impacted by the radiation while his pregnant wife, Lyudmila (Jessie Buckley), battles bureaucracy in her efforts to both find him and see him.

There also are the hard-bitten coal miners recruited to perform heroic feats within the power plant while stripping naked to withstand the intense heat. And the stoic old woman who’s milking her lone cow at the beginning of Episode 4 when she’s ordered to evacuate. She’s seen it all and repeatedly refuses, prompting a soldier to take further steps.

This otherwise is the episode of the dog patrols, with a stoic but humane commander firmly ordering a new recruit to shoot until they’re dead -- “don’t let them suffer.”

Cigarette smoking and vodka shots go hand in hand with all of this. Chernobyl also fully captures the desolation at hand via washed-out colors and copious rubble. It’s a complete and utterly believable immersion capped by a “trial” that from the outset has its guilty parties fingered. A vivid visual and printed postscript should not be missed.

For the time being at least, Chernobyl returns HBO to the forefront of networks (and streamers) daring to tell difficult stories of import without any seeming concerns about whether or not they’ll be “hits.” The hows and whys of the worst nuclear power plant disaster in world history are pertinent to anyone with a beating heart. HBO’s extraordinary retelling of what went down in Pripyat and the then Soviet Union at large is its own reward for now -- and a certain multiple trophy winner during next year’s awards season.


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