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Walton Goggins takes a big chill pill as front man for CBS' The Unicorn


Walton Goggins shocks the universe, plays a nice guy in The Unicorn.
CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Walton Goggins, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson, Ruby Jay, Makenzie Moss, Devin Bright
Produced by: Bill Martin, Mike Schiff, Aaron Kaplan, Dana Honor, Wendi Trilling, Peyton Reed, John Hamburg

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Taking a break from playing a parade of unsavory weasels, Walton Goggins dials it way down as the star of CBS’ The Unicorn.

So much so that in Episode 2, a close friend says of his character, “He’s just too nice for this world.” Whaaaaaaaat?!

No one ever came close to saying that about Goggins’ Shane Vendrell in FX’s The Shield. Or Boyd Crowder in FX’s Justified. Or Venus Van Dam in FX’s Sons of Anarchy. Or Lee Russell in HBO’s Vice Principals. Or “Baby” Billy Freeman in HBO’s ongoing The Righteous Gemstones.

Still, most actors yearn to branch out every once in a while. Goggins is doing so with a vengeance as good guy Wade Felton, who’s still mourning the loss of his beloved wife a year after her death. He hasn’t dated since. But his omnipresent quartet of best pals -- man, do they ever take a break from one another? -- insist that he re-enter the dating pool as that most desirable of eligibles. Namely a “unicorn” -- which makes Wade a triple threat. He’s employed (maybe I missed exactly what he does), good-looking and has a track record of steadfast commitment to one woman.

Wade also has two daughters, Grace and Natalie (Ruby Jay, Makenzie Moss). They’re not as keen on dad going out with other women after they’ve had him to themselves all this time. His friends have absolutely no such qualms, though. Nebbish Forrest and tolerant wife, Delia (Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins), plus big lug Ben and tart wife Michelle (Omar Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson), don’t quite physically push Wade out the door. But when you’re “factory fresh,” as Delia puts it, why not let the ladies do some test drives? There’s more to life than volunteer soccer refereeing and a huge stockpile of post-wake frozen meals that Wade has finally burrowed through.

So earnest Wade very gingerly goes out on a date with a divorcee who wants to get into his pants faster than she can say “Your place or mine?” He’s not quite ready, though.

Episode 2, which is built around another date, includes a plug for CBS’ latest edition of Survivor, about which Wade knows nothing but Forrest knows everything. He’s not clicking with Lizzie (guest star Christina Moore), but her texts keep coming and Wade is too sensitive to break it off.

“I can’t hurt someone like that. I just can’t,” he tells his friends. Yes, Walton Goggins actually says this.

A third episode finds Wade reluctantly attending a widows’ club meeting at which he’s the only male. By the end of this one, he’s learned that it’s OK to let loose with his suppressed anger at losing the love of his life. But a fired-up Wade isn’t about to Hulk out -- or anything remotely close to that. Listen hard, though, and you might hear him raise his voice.

There’s no laugh track involved in any of this, which is heartening. And Goggins fares fairly well in this very tamped-down mode, even if a number of his previous characters clearly would want to choke Wade Felton to death.

The Unicorn likely will have a tough go of it on Thursday nights this fall opposite the first full half-hour of Fox’s NFL football. And some Goggins’ fans might be put off their feed upon seeing him like this. Should that be the case, just use an episode of Righteous Gemstones as a chaser. You’ll find him deliciously Goggins-esque as a resentful, conniving preacher intent on getting those collections plates spinning again. And then all will be right with your world again.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' Carol's Second Act looks to be incurably unfunny


Patricia Heaton is stuck in the middle of Carol’s Second Act. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 26th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Patricia Heaton, Kyle MacLachlan, Ito Aghayere, Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Sabrina Jalees, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Neff
Produced by: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Patricia Heaton, Adam Griffin, David Hunt, Rebecca Stay, Aaron Kaplan, Dana Honor

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Tetanus shots are more fun. Still, some sort of inoculation might be needed after watching Patricia Heaton striving to survive this new hospital comedy.

Carol’s Second Act marks her return to CBS in hopes of achieving a third major success following bravura stints in Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle. But man, this is not the way to go about it.

Saddled with an annoyingly awful giggle track -- plus outdated applause when Heaton first appears -- Carol’s Second Act turns out to be an antidote to the old bromide that laughter is the best medicine. You won’t find any of that going around here. And if you somehow do, it might be best to go in for a checkup.

Heaton plays divorced Carol Kenney, who’s retired from schoolteaching and is now hoping to become a doctor. But she’s 50, and thereby hopelessly old in the eyes of three fellow interns young enough to be her kids. The jokes to that effect come close to being an epidemic, but cheery Carol keeps her sunny side up until finally blowing up at episode’s merciful end.

Kyle MacLachlan chips in as the rather goofy Dr. Stephen Frost, senior attending physician at Loyola Memorial Hospital. Chief resident Maya Jacobs (Ito Aghayere) mechanically orders the interns around, to no comedic effect. Aghayere doesn’t seem to have a handle on this role at all.

Barely recognizable as intern Caleb is Lucas Neff from Fox’s Raising Hope, which was only about, oh, 10 times funnier. The other newbies are snooty Daniel (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) and insecure Lexie (Sabrina Jalees). At the end of Thursday’s premiere episode, Carol’s pharmaceutical sales rep daughter Jenny (Ashley Tisdale) pops in to tell mom how proud she is of her.

Carol’s Second Act has an overload of eight executive producers, which has proven over time to be three or four too many. Another was dropped after the pilot episode as further evidence that this show has been struggling to get its act together.

Heaton clearly gives her all in the face of one groaner after another. Such as chief resident Maya informing Carol that “someone who can’t follow orders is someone who can’t be a good doctor.” Or later, “I enforce discipline. It doesn’t mean I’m heartless.”

Literally nothing jells in this ham-handed first half-hour, and it may already be too late for full-blown emergency surgery. Still, Carol’s Second Act could well get a decent tune-in due to Heaton’s mere presence. And the basic older CBS audience might appreciate her character’s reference to Angela Lansbury as well as an attempt at Lucille Ball-esque physical comedy in a shower scene.

Otherwise we all make bad choices on occasion. As did Heaton between Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle when she co-starred with Kelsey Grammer in Fox’s short-lived Back to You. In that context, this, too, will pass.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Kicking, punching and in no need of rescue in ABC's Stumptown


Cobie Smulders stars as a rambling wreck in Stumptown. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Cobie Smulders, Jake Johnson, Tantoo Cardinal, Cole Sibus, Michael Ealy, Camryn Manheim, Adrian Martinez
Produced by: Jason Richman, Ruben Fleischer, David Bernad, Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, Justin Greenwood

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Two previous sitcom inhabitants get top billing in ABC’s tough-as-nails Stumptown.

The only one of real import is former How I Met Your Mother co-star Cobie Smulders. She leads her own charge as hard-drinking, tough-talking private investigator Dex Parios in times when the network openly boasts that “In the Great Tradition of ABC, All New Series Have Broadly Appealing Concepts With Strong Female Points of View.”

You got a problem with that? #Metoo -- er, me neither. It’s also best not to call Dex “ma’am.” Because this ex-Marine and Afghanistan war survivor won’t stand for that kind of crap.

Along for Dex’s ride is Jack Johnson from New Girl as bar owner and platonic pal Grey McConnell. His principal function is babysitting Dex’s sweet younger brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus), who has Down’s Syndrome. Grey also tries to keep Dex on a semblance of an even keel, but isn’t having much luck.

Set in Portland, Oregon and adapted from the same-named graphic novels by Greg Rucka, Stumptown begins with two bearded Neanderthals holding Dex captive in a car trunk. But she’s soon battling them while the vehicle careens and screeches to the tune of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Just after it gets airborne, we rewind to three days earlier to show how this all came to be. Dex is first seen fending off and then mocking a guy at Grey’s bar who’s transparently pretending to be a military veteran in hopes of getting her in the sack. Ya dumb sad sack.

Hard-pressed to make ends meet, Dex also likes to gamble at a casino run by taciturn Native American Sue Lynn Blackbird (Tantoo Cardinal). The two of them have an embittered past tied to Sue Lynn’s late son, whose death she blames on Dex. But when her granddaughter goes missing, Sue Lynn asks Dex to track her captors down. An emphatic no becomes a grudging yes after brother Ansel asks plaintively, “Dex, are we gonna be OK?”

The rest of Wednesday’s premiere episode veers back and forth story-wise almost as crazily as the show-starting wild ride. During the course of these events, Dex takes several punches to the face, strong-arms a guy into having sex with her and has flashbacks to some dark days in Afghanistan.

The regular cast also includes Michael Ealy (2 Fast 2 Furious, Barbershop) as detective Mike Hoffman and TV series vet Camryn Manheim as Lieutenant Cosgrove. But they’re all basically extraneous to Smulders’ aggressively assertive Dex.

That’s the overall point and thrust of Stumptown, where a woman drinks, fights and has sex on her terms in the same manner numerous men did in an assembly line of earlier ABC action dramas. The storytelling usually wasn’t all that hot either -- which is also true of Stumptown in the only episode made available for review. But as a ringing declaration of how it’s going to be on ABC, Stumptown looks as though it will do just fine. On this network at least, men might want to get used to being supporting players while women keep flipping the scripts.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Allison Tolman shines anew in ABC's Emergence


Mysterious kid, surrogate mom in the eerie Emergence. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Allison Tolman, Alexa Swinton, Owain Yeoman, Donald Faison, Clancy Brown, Ashley Aufherheide, Robert Bailey Jr., Zabryna Guevara
Produced by: Michele Fazekas, Tara Butters, Paul McGuigan

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Initial appearances could be deceiving because high hopes for broadcast network dramas go against the grain these days.

Based on the premiere episode alone, though, investing in ABC’s Emergence looks like it could be a winning proposition. And even if the suspense and premise begin to sag, there’s always Allison Tolman to keep hope alive. She brilliantly came out of nowhere as police officer Molly Solverson in Season One of FX’s Fargo before holding up her end opposite an unruly, narrating canine in ABC’s under appreciated Downward Dog.

The plus-sized Tolman is far from what used to be considered a conventional drama series lead. Otherwise she’s a 10 from the opening bell as sturdy but shaken police chief Jo Evans, whose beat is a small Long Island community. On a night no one could have imagined, she’s awakened by a mysterious plane crash after a preceding power failure.

Rushing to the scene, Jo finds a little girl (Alexa Swinton) curled on the ground and no worse for wear. She’s soon dubbed Piper after the divorced Jo gives her shelter. The homestead also includes Jo’s kindly father, Ed (Clancy Brown), a former firefighter recovering from cancer, and her daughter, Mia (Ashley Aufderheide). Unlike the bulk of TV kids, Mia is respectful and welcoming rather than bratty and resentful.

Ex-husband Alex (Donald Faison in his first post-Scrubs dramatic role of note) also figures in prominently during Tuesday’s compelling premiere episode. While he tries to go with the increasingly weird flow, investigative reporter Benny Gallagher (Owain Yeoman) has his own initial theories about what happened and why. For starters, the crash site is almost instantly scrubbed clean while the mystical Piper either can’t or won’t remember how she emerged unharmed and where her parents might be. She also has a super power or two, with a closing scene that adds a Stranger Things vibe.

Tolman’s performance is thoroughly grounded, particularly during an affecting, extended scene in which she gently tries to draw Piper out. “If I remember, will I have to go away?” the kid worries. “Because I want to stay.”

And of course, she will, while others try to extricate Piper for reasons very much still unknown. ABC has gone down similar paths many times before with otherworldly serial dramas that end up punking viewers. The principal producers of Emergence, Michelle Fazekas and Tara Butters, previously helmed ABC’s Resurrection and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, neither of which lasted long or ended satisfactorily.

Emergence literally could go anywhere, with even outer space not entirely out of the question. Having Tolman along for any and all rides is reason enough to hitch one yourself. Whatever comes of all this, she’s a natural. Maybe this will finally be her star bright.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Hannibal lecture? Fox's Prodigal Son hopes you'll take the course


The apple of dad’s eye wants to fall far from the tree in Prodigal Son. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Michael Sheen, Tom Payne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Aurora Perrineau, Frank Harts, Bellamy Young, Halston Sage
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter, Chris Fedak, Sam Sklaver

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Having a serial killer for a father can be tough on a kid.

Fox’s Exhibit A is prescription pill-dependent Malcolm Bright (Tom Payne), who remains so haunted as a young adult that he shackles himself Wolfman-like to his bed each night.

“You’re my son. And I will always love you. Because we’re the same,” dad had told him back in 1998, grinning wickedly before being taken off.

If father knows best, that’s a shame. Because Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen from Showtime’s Masters of Sex) is better known to many as “The Surgeon,” a monster who strung together a series of at least 23 murders before being apprehended, convicted and incarcerated.

Fox lately has tended to be darkly foreboding on Monday nights, with latter day entries including The Following, Sleepy Hollow, Gotham and Lucifer. In Prodigal Son, bloodlines are paramount. Does Martin’s son, recently fired from the FBI before being recruited by a benefactor at the NYPD, have his dad’s demon seed within him? Or can Hannibal, er, Pops, now simply be of help to him in solving some of NYC’s darkest murders?

The Beatles’ “Got To Get You Into My Life” is more than a little too cheery for this particular enterprise. But that’s very much what Martin wants when it comes to Malcolm, whose childhood memories include discovering a nearly naked girl in a box down in the family basement. Whatever happened to her? Or was it just his imagination? Malcolm’s inquiring mind very much wants to know. Dad just wants to be friends again

Sheen and Payne are quite good in their respective roles, which is helpful when Prodigal Son’s trackdowns are fast-forwarded by some far-fetched intuitive deductions in the first two episodes. After not seeing each other for a decade, son and father reunite in the interests of crime-solving after Malcolm’s domineering, secretive mother, Jessica (Bellamy Young), warns, “He is a cancer. He will destroy you.” But Martin assures his only son that he just wants to be a helpful pal and confidante: “There’s so much more I can teach you about murder. And maybe we can solve a few -- together.”

A bearded and initially almost unrecognizable Lou Diamond Phillips is part of the ensemble as NYPD detective/mentor Gil Arroyo. Malcolm also has a kid sister, Ainsley (Halston Sage), a TV reporter who was too little at the time to be all that affected by her father’s grisly deeds. Added as garnish are two other detectives, Dani Powell (Aurora Perrineau) and JT Tarmel (Frank Harts). Dani respects Malcolm’s sleuthing abilities and is sympathetic to his demon-fighting. JT thinks he might be a psychopath, just like the old man.

The two lead performances make me want to see more. Although in Episode 2, perhaps an Emmy in some sort of new category should go to the actor who has to be completely still and “dead” for a prolonged period while seated at a dinner table with his mouth sewn shut.

This also is the hour in which Martin cheekily tells his son, “Remember, my door is always open.” Might he someday escape through it -- just like Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter did in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs?

Prodigal Son is more than several cuts below that Oscar-lauded classic. Still, it’s better than chopped liver, of which Dr. Martin Whitly has shown he knows a thing or two.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Bluff City Law gives NBC another go-around with Jimmy Smits -- and not a lot else


Jimmy Smits’ familiar face is back anew in Bluff City Law. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Jimmy Smits, Caitlin McGee, Barry Sloane, Michael Luwoye, Stony Blyden, Jayne Atkinson, MaameYaa Boafo, Mo Gallini
Produced by: Dean Georgaris, Michael Aguilar, David Janollari

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Jimmy Smits is nothing if not durable. But is he still wearing well? Here and there perhaps in his latest new drama series.

Affixed with either a bad jet black dye job, an ill-fitting toupee or both, the former standout cast member of L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and The West Wing is front and center again in NBC’s Bluff City Law. Smits is now old enough to play the willful father of an estranged, hard-charging daughter in a series that’s set in Memphis but otherwise plays pro forma.

Elijah and Sydney Strait (Smits, Caitlin McGee) have become attorneys at opposite ends. His law firm still represents the downtrodden while she’s been successfully defending corporations. The sudden death of his wife and her mother finds them uneasily co-existing at her funeral. But Elijah begs her to return in the interests of “fightin’ for what’s right.”

No, she retorts, because “two alphas just don’t mix.” And besides, “I don’t like you, dad. Have you forgotten that?”

Dad’s cheating on mom has something to do with this. But who’s sorry now? He supposedly is. And in a relative finger snap, she agrees to a trial run with the firm she left behind. At stake is a lawsuit against a crooked corporation called AmeriFarm. One of their products, Green Coat, allegedly has left a longtime Hispanic user with terminal cancer. A multi-million dollar settlement is sought, and brassy Sydney is just the one to navigate this terrain when she’s not getting tossed in jail for contempt of court.

Elijah’s firm otherwise is well-populated with six other wrong-righters. His principal confidante is wizened Della Bedford (Jayne Atkinson), who pricks Elijah’s conscience when necessary. Young gun Jake Reilly (Barry Sloane) likely is fated to be a love interest where Sydney is concerned. Or maybe it might be law firm colleague Anthony Little (Michael Luwoye). Or both.

Mood music constantly kicks in to alert viewers to something important, earnest or uplifting. As when Sydney asks her father, “How do you handle the pressure when winning or losing means everything?”

Elijah assures her that she “can change the world.” Other than his previous philandering, he remains steadfastly dedicated to the common good, even citing the “moral arc of the universe” in his efforts to persuade a reluctant doctor to testify against AmeriFarm when everything otherwise seems lost. Hey, we’ve only got about 43 minutes of actual running time, so make up your mind quick, willya? She does.

No one should be surprised by the eventual verdict. But there is a bit of an unexpected twist at the end when one of Elijah’s firm members turns out to also be his . . .

Smits is solid enough as the patriarch of Bluff City Law while McGee also makes her presence felt in some scenes. Overall, though, this is yet another same old, same old broadcast network drama series. L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and The West Wing all stood out as bracingly original during their long runs. Smits no doubt fondly remembers the thrill of discovery attached to each of them.

In contrast to those high points, Bluff City Law and its “Change the World” mantra aren’t enough to prompt many if any to say, “Wow, did you see that?” Instead it’s a case of Smits and NBC resolutely re-teaming without any real hopes of lighting anyone’s fires.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' All Rise mostly just sits there


Simone Missick stars as a freshman judge in All Rise. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Simone Missick, Wilson Bethel, Marg Helgenberger, Jessica Camacho, J. Alex Brinson, Lindsay Mendez, Ruthie Ann Miles
Produced by: Greg Spottiswood, Len Goldstein, Michael Robin, Sunil Nayar

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
CBS’ new courtroom drama very much feels like a warmed-over, cut-and-paste job from high octane producer Shonda Rhimes.

Perhaps the network still wanted what it could never have during the time Rhimes rolled out Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice and How to Get Away with Murder during her exclusive run on ABC.

She’s now vacated the broadcast network biz for a beyond lucrative deal with Netflix. But her reverberations remain, and CBS’ All Rise has the same weak tea trappings of Rhimes’ For the People, one of her latter day misfires for ABC.

Helming All Rise is Canadian actor turned producer Greg Spottiswood, whose first effort for American television stars Simone Missick as Los Angeles prosecutor turned judge Lola Carmichael. She’s proudly African-American and determined to see justice served rather than used against minorities. Lola declares that most robe-wearers are out of touch with the real world because none of them look like the various people of color whom she studiously points out during the early minutes of Monday’s premiere. In an earlier scene-setter, she lets off a young Hispanic who ripped off her laptop in the parking lot before quickly being apprehended by Lola’s former prosecuting colleague, deputy district attorney Mark Callan (Wilson Bethel).

Wisecracking Mark is fated to someday appear before Lola while otherwise prototypically bantering with her. They otherwise clearly have feelings for one another beyond “Your honor, I object.” There’s also a budding interracial relationship between public defender Emily Lopez (Jessica Camacho) and charming African-American bailiff Luke Watkins (J. Alex Brinson), who feeds her inside info in the interests of both strengthening her case and engineering a first date.

Hovering over it all is ex-CSI: Crime Scene Investigation star Marg Helgenberger as senior supervisory judge Lisa Benner. She wants Lola to stay in her lane rather than play bumper cars with “The System.”

The opening episode also cranks up a crazed white deputy who begins firing away in court after bellowing about how the “low lifes” are being allowed to “take over the whole damned city!” Yeah, All Rise can be as subtle as a ball peen hammer.

After tripping over her robe while taking the bench for the first time, Lola presides over the trial of a five-months pregnant Latina accused of robbery. It turns out she’s a victim of circumstances as the daughter of a manipulative, no-good mom. This leads to a groaner of a pep talk from Lola. Meanwhile, Mark is prosecuting a nutty crook who insists on defending himself and has grown a beard to counter video evidence of him breaking into a convenience store.

Nothing you’ll see rises to any level of must-see. Instead it’s all pretty much preachy and pedestrian, with the diversity of the cast working against itself in terms of this show’s labored approach to injustice and discrimination.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Another fine mesh of things in CBS' Bob Hearts Abishola


Billy Gardell and Folake Olowofoyeku will slowly become an outwardly odd couple in the new comedy series Bob Hearts Abishola. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Billy Gardell, Folake Olowofoyeku, Vernee Watson, Christine Ebersole, Shola Adewusi, Barry Shabaka Henley, Maribeth Monroe, Travis Wolfe, Jr.
Produced by: Chuck Lorre, Al Higgins

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Billy Gardell has been waiting for another big shot while also perhaps wondering whether he’d ever get one.

The Mike of CBS’ Mike & Molly watched as co-star Melissa McCarthy headlined one feature film after another, hosted Saturday Night Live to great acclaim and an Emmy, and earned two Oscar nominations, most recently for her serious turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? You might say he was eclipsed.

But sitcom maestro Chuck Lorre, the executive producer of M&M, seems to care very much about taking care of Gardell. And in CBS’ Bob Hearts Abishola, he’s fashioned another worthy vehicle for him, even if Gardell might well end up again being overshadowed by his co-star.

Gardell plays a Detroit-based, 50-year-old compression socks salesman whose mild heart attack lands him in the hands of a no-nonsense Nigerian cardiac nurse named Abishola (newcomer Folake Olowofoyeku). He first finds that he doesn’t like her socks. They’re cheap and droop at the band. But Bob soon is also charmed by Abishola’s ways with words, particularly when she pronounces his name as “Bub.”

He’s otherwise in business with a prototypically loud and demanding mother, Dottie (Christine Ebersole) plus a sister/brother combo (Maribeth Monroe and Matt Jones as Christina and Douglas).

Abishola lives in a cramped apartment with Auntie Olu (Shola Adewusi), Uncle Tunde (Barry Shabaka Henley) and elementary school-aged son, Dele (Travis Wolfe, Jr.). They’re instantly a lot more fun and bearable than Bob’s family.

Also adding spice is Abishola’s hospital receptionist colleague Gloria (Vernee Watson), who’s both tart and street smart. She’s the conduit in Bob’s plan to break the ice with Abishola by gifting her with some comfy pairs of his Malaysia-made socks.

Only the premiere episode was made available for review. And by the end of it, Bob and Abishola have only just begun to show signs of clicking. Gardell very ably portrays the pursuer after getting past a lame passing gas joke in the opening minute. It’s Olowofoyeku, though, who shines with what looks to be an effortless ease, whether fending off Bob or tending to her son. She’s undoubtedly a star in the making.

There’s loads of potential here, both romantically and culturally. And executive producer Lorre’s track record is one of the very best in the business, whether it’s Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mom and Young Sheldon (all for CBS) or The Kominsky Method (returning Oct. 25th for a second season on Netflix).

Bob Hearts Abishola feels good -- and good to go -- the second Olowofoyeku enters the picture and begins riffing with Gardell. They seem to be made for one another -- at first as actors and eventually as characters whose future dating ups and downs should keep this show on a steady, agreeable course.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Ken Burns' Country Music is a Grand Ole Opry of a tale


Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings happily do their thang. PBS photos

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 15th through Wednesday, Sept. 18th at 7 p.m. (central), and continuing Sunday, Sept. 22nd through Wednesday, Sept. 25th at the same hour on PBS
Starring: An array of country music performers, writers, musicians and observers
Directed by: Ken Burns
Written by: Dayton Duncan

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Be assured beyond any doubt. You’ll get the ring, not the finger, by watching Country Music.

Ken Burns’ latest PBS opus, this one weighing in at 16 hours and eight episodes, is a consistently enthralling and revealing look at a deep drawlin’ genre that some have dismissed as something to wipe off their shoes.

There is, of course, a multi-pound companion coffee table book (Alfred A. Knopf, $55 retail). And as Burns writes in its preface, “It is conventional wisdom, accepted by too many, that country music is somehow a lesser art form . . . not befitting the scrutiny of sophisticates and -- God forbid -- scholars.”

The long-running TV show, Hee Haw, had something to do with that. Nor does The Grand Ole Opry sound quite as high tone as Carnegie Hall. But as Burns and writer/collaborator Dayton Duncan resoundingly show, the music birthed by America’s downtrodden -- The Great Unwashed, if you will -- is unvarnished poetry when it comes to life its own self. Whether heart-rending, soul-searching or at times just plain goofy, the music that evolved from hillbilly to country-western to just plain country is something to hear, behold and treasure throughout this long and winding masterwork. As the late architect of 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt, used to say, “Tell me a story.” And the heart of country music beats with the lyrical, autobiographical yarns of its most famous stars, many of whom came from crushing poverty or child abuse -- or both.

Dolly Parton, for instance. The doctor who birthed her was paid with a sack of corn meal. Or George Jones, who married and performed with the equally volatile Tammy Wynette after each endured various childhood traumas they never could conquer. Brenda Lee, the former kid singing sensation once known as “Little Miss Dynamite,” got to know both of them well.

Jones “trials and tribulations” completely informed his music, she notes. “George didn’t sing country songs. George was a country song.”

As for Wynette, her “snatches at happiness were few and far between,” says Lee. “That’s what I observed.”

By Burns’ count, 101 new interviews were conducted during the eight-year run-up to the finished product. Seventeen of the subjects are now deceased and 40 have plaques in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Among those no longer with us, none are more notable than the legendary Merle Haggard, who was born on April 6, 1937 and died on that same date in 2016.

Not known for being particularly talkative, Haggard turns out to be a generous contributor and keeper of the flame. He details his early years of constant incarceration (“I escaped 17 times from different places in California”) before being sentenced to 15 years in that state’s notoriously hard-core San Quentin lockdown.

Haggard says he had figured out how to escape from there, too, but was swayed by inmates who convinced him that he had a real talent for writing and singing. Then Johnny Cash came to perform his famous jailhouse concert, with a highly impressed Haggard among the inmates in the audience. He became a model prisoner, earned an early parole for good behavior and then began doing what he did so well for the rest of his life.

One of the more touching moments in Country Music comes in Episode 5, when Dwight Yoakam gets teary-eyed while recalling one of Haggard’s many achingly poignant lyrics. Yoakam likewise was a big fan of Buck Owens, co-host of the aforementioned Hee Haw. Cornpone? Sure. But Owens, with whom Yoakam eventually collaborated on “The Streets of Bakersfield,” also was an under-appreciated visionary. He admired The Beatles when many of his ilk and generation didn’t. And Owens’ hard-driving, high-pitched “Tiger By the Tail” epitomized his desire to “sound like a locomotive comin’ right through the front door,” in Yoakam’s words.

The thoughts and recollections of Yoakam, Haggard, Lee and Parton recur throughout Country Music. Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Naomi and Wynonna Judd, Charley Pride, Kris Kristofferson, Garth Brooks, Hank Williams, Jr. and Rosanne Cash are among the many other luminaries offering fresh insights and, in some cases, mini-performances to further underscore what they’re talking about. Several artists outside the genre, including Paul Simon, Wynton Marsalis and Elvis Costello, talk briefly about how country music influenced them.

Perhaps the most notable omission is George Strait, who for whatever reason is not interviewed. In turn he’s only briefly touched on during a concluding episode in which other “neo-traditionalists,” such as interviewees McEntire and The Judds, get appreciably more screen time. Quibble if you will.


There’s also Marty Stuart, a mandolin virtuoso and former best-selling country star who emerges as the film’s overall go-to sage, just as Buck O’Neil did in Baseball and former Marine John Musgrave in 2017’s The Vietnam War.

Still very much a pretty boy at age 60, Stuart sports a silver grey coif the size of a Malibu wave and silky smooth makeup that might have made Liberace envious. He also seems to very much know what he’s talking about while additionally contributing one of Country Music’s better anecdotes. As an 11-year-old, he had a big crush on a gorgeous country star named Connie Smith. After briefly meeting her at the Choctaw Indian Fair in Mississippi, Stuart vowed to someday marry her. And 25 years later, in 1997, he did just that. She’s now 78, and they’re still together after Connie discarded three previous husbands while Marty divorced one of Johnny Cash’s daughters, Cindy. That sure does sound like a quintessential country song.

Country Music begins in 1933 and ends in 1996, save for a climactic carryover to Cash’s death in 2003 after his career was revived with a series of acclaimed back-to-basics albums produced by Rick Rubin. Until that happened, the great Cash and his wife, June Carter, had been relegated to performing in Branson, Missouri, sometimes to crowds as small as 200 in theaters seating 2,500.

Daughter Rosanne, a distinct artist in her own right, performed one of her father’s most enduring songs, “I Still Miss Someone,” at his memorial service. Country Music intercuts her rendition with evocative still shots of Johnny and June, all reprised from previous chapters. Earlier on, their Nashville-based TV variety show is shown for what it was -- an under appreciated landmark of the genre that welcomed musicians from all fields, including Louis Armstrong, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan. Some of the clips are just stunning.

The segment on Kristofferson is also revelatory. One tends to forget what a great songwriter he was, opening “Sunday Morning Coming Down” with the lyric, “I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt.”

Kristofferson notes that he was always unsure of his singing voice. But on Cash’s television show, the host convinced him to showcase it. His career then really took off.

Kristofferson also recalls being disowned by his mother after he decided to be a country singer. “Please don’t write or come home because you’re an embarrassment to us,” mama wrote him. Kristofferson’s producer at the time, Cowboy Jack Clement, insisted on showing the letter to Cash, who replied, “It’s always great to get a letter from home, isn’t it, Kris?” Kristofferson laughs richly at this. And indeed it’s almost as funny as the title to one of those country “novelty” songs mentioned in Episode 6. It goes like this: “My Wife Ran Off with My Best Friend, and I Sure Do Miss Him.”

Cash, Haggard, Parton, you name ‘em, owe it all to the country pioneers who set their stages. And Country Music does not scrimp on them, devoting generous segments to Jimmie Rodgers, A.P. and Maybelle Carter, Bill Monroe and Hank Williams. They all learned some of their basics from African-American street musicians/mentors who infused their music with varying degrees of the blues. In turn, the likes of Ray Charles and Charlie Parker learned from and appreciated country music for the hardscrabble and intensely human stories it told. One of Williams anthems, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” reflected the anguish within that the “Hillbilly Shakespeare” could never quite shake.

Burns and scriptwriter Duncan again deploy time-tested Peter Coyote as their straight-ahead narrator. Perhaps someone with a bit more lilt would have been a little better fit. But if Coyote’s voice never cracks a smile, many of the interview subjects make up for it. Country folk like to spin yarns, as does their music. And darned if they don’t feel the need to grin or chuckle heartily at the end of their little stories or observations. Even the taciturn Haggard isn’t immune from this.

It’s all accompanied by Burns’ usual exceptional choices of still pictures and film. And in this case, the subject he’s chosen provides him with a treasure trove to sift through. So whatever your thoughts about country music, expect to be immensely entertained, educated and even edified throughout this master course in pickin’, grinnin’ -- and so very much more.


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