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Fox's The Mick is not Mickey Mouse-ing


Kaitlin Olson would rather extend just a single finger in The Mick. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 1st at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox before moving to regular Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. slot on Jan. 3rd
Starring: Kaitlin Olson, Sofia Black D’Elia, Thomas Barbusca, Jack Stanton, Carla Jiminez, Scott MacArthur
Produced by: John Chernin, David Chernin, Nick Frenkel, Oly Obst, Randall Einhorn, Kaitlin Olson

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ABC is filled to the brim with mom, dad and the kids sitcoms. On current-day Fox, though, they need not apply unless they’re cartoons.

The network of thrown-together misfit arrangements strikes again with The Mick, a coarsely ground comedy both backed and fronted by alumni from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. It’s bawdy and even bloody in its depiction of a lower rung Rhode Island petty thief named Mackenzie Murphy (Kaitlin Olson), who in a snap is stuck with her fugitive sister’s three rich kids, two of them intensely spoiled.

Olson, who had a long run as bartender Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds on Sunny, is well-cast as “The Mick,” which in earlier times was both a fond nickname for a certain New York Yankees legend and a derogatory term for an Irish immigrant. First seen snuffing out a cigarette in a grocery store cantaloupe, she seems brassy, brazen and funny enough to keep this premise humming. Fox made four episodes available for review, with the second one whamming away the hardest. Or maybe it’s the third.

Here’s the deal. Mick and her slovenly best friend/sackmate Jimmy (Scott MacArthur) motor their way to her sister’s Greenwich, Conn. mansion. It’s been a while since she’s accepted any of her sister’s invites. But while the “embarrassing” Jimmy is made to wait outside, the FBI raids the place and arrests Mick’s sis and her husband on fraud charges. They soon manage to flee the country while Mick is asked to be a stand-in parent to snooty teen Sabrina (Sofia Black D’Elia), her wiseass younger teen brother Chip (Thomas Barbusca) and little seven-year-old Ben (Jack Stanton), who’s not yet been despoiled but is still problematic. (Yes, Barbusca is the same kid who played a cocky little Peter Pan in that oft-run Geico commercial.)

The mansion also has a Latina maid named Alba (Carla Jimenez), who’s decidedly plus-sized and eager to have an ad hoc friend in Mick. She eventually becomes more than window-dressing, emerging as an important comedic character. Can the two of them tame those wild beast kids? And are all those creature comforts an acceptable trade-off?

Episode 2 is especially dicey in terms of “adult” humor. After Mick and Alba leave in disgust, the three kids are left at the mercy of a demonic grandma and her stroked-out husband, a war hero known as “The Colonel” who’s now slack-jawed and silent in a wheelchair. Sabrina is determined to outwit her elderly adversary, particularly after taking three slaps to the chops in return for sassing her. But an attempt to drug grandma’s breakfast coffee goes very bad.

“You ruined my blouse, you wrinkly bitch!” Sabrina exclaims after being soaked with the hot contents.

“Your blouse was ruined by your inability to fill it out,” grandma retorts. Well-played, but parents be forewarned. This comedy is not for younger kids, even though it airs at an early hour. Mick and Alba on hallucinogenic drugs at a club might also prompt some questions that parents would just as soon not answer.

Episode 3 includes a birthday party appearance by Sully the Clown, who is anything but unsullied. And the fourth half-hour, subtitled “The Condom,” finds Sabrina loudly exercising her bed springs with a hunky carpenter named Kai (Andy Favreau). “That guy is a hall of fame piece of ass,” Mick concedes. But at least protect yourself, she counsels Sabrina. Things escalate from there.

Although a “traditional” family structure is missing, The Mick is a like-minded descendant of Fox’s very first comedy hit, Married . . . With Children. The Bundys -- mom, dad and their two kids -- fractiously lived together in the same house. But the show’s controversial content otherwise blew the roof off, and Fox has never really stopped looking back.

Thirty TV seasons later, The Mick barges into view with little or no sense of propriety. Two of its characters even take notably bloody beatings while the verbal slings and arrows also keep punching through. You may not laugh until it hurts, but there are some laughs to be had. Particularly for those who also swear by Family Guy.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

39th annual Kennedy Center Honors not all that special this time, but the CBS partnership still is


James Taylor stands out among Kennedy Center honorees. CBS photo

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The lifelong partnership between CBS and the Kennedy Center honors, newly extended through 2025, is hardly an unholy one.

On the contrary, it should be applauded as one of those rare instances in which a broadcast network bows to class rather than big ratings. Even though the ratings have improved in recent years.

That said, the 39th annual edition, airing as usual between Christmas and New Year’s Day (Tuesday, Dec. 27th at 8 p.m. central), is not one of the stronger ones. It probably falls somewhere in the middle of the pack on a continuum that stretches all the way back to 1978, when CBS and the Kennedy Center got together for the debut ceremony honoring Fred Astaire, Richard Rodgers, Marian Anderson, George Balanchine and Arthur Rubinstein.

The host that year was Leonard Bernstein, who was one and done along with Eric Sevareid in 1979 and Beverly Sills in 1980. Then came the Bob Hope of this event -- in the person of Walter Cronkite. He hosted from 1981 to 2002 before yielding to Caroline Kennedy (2003-2012). Glenn Close presided in 2013 and Stephen Colbert has for the past three years.

Taped on Dec. 4th, this year’s ceremony honors James Taylor, Mavis Staples, Al Pacino, The Eagles and pianist Martha Argerich. It also marks the last time around for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who again sit with the medal-wearing winners in what amounts to a sky box.

The performances and tributes on behalf of the honorees are fine without being particularly memorable. In fact, the standout turn of the night is tied to the standard deification of John F. Kennedy, with Cynthia Erivo belting out an outstanding version of “The Impossible Dream.”

Colbert opens with a few jokes, a couple of them well-played. He welcomes the assembled dignitaries, including all the “endangered swamp dwellers.” And he notes that “Fire and Rain,” one of Taylor’s signature songs, “will soon be the only global weather patterns left.” An all too typical joke at President Obama’s expense perhaps should have been saved for a rainy day -- if at all.

Taylor is the first to be feted, with Bill Clinton taking the stage to salute “my friend of many years” with the “sweet and steady voice of our better angels.” Hillary Clinton is nowhere to be seen. The performances are from Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow and Garth Brooks. “You’ve Got A Friend” is left out of the mix, perhaps because it was performed last year on behalf of its writer, honoree Carole King.

Gospel singer extraordinaire and civil rights activist Staples is lauded by Bonnie Raitt, Don Cheadle and Elle King while pianist Argerich gets to bask in the praise of Jeff Goldblum, Ihtzak Perlman, Placido Domingo and current-day concert keyboard whiz Yuja Wang.

Pacino’s primary trumpeter is Chris O’Donnell, who co-starred with him in Scent of a Woman and also happens to co-star in CBS longrunning NCIS: Los Angeles. Sean Penn likewise offers an obviously heartfelt tribute but Kevin Spacey steals this portion of the festivities with “how to do the perfect Al Pacino impression in three easy steps.” Pacino actually seems highly amused. He’s loosened up considerably over the years. Meryl Streep narrates the biographical film, but does not attend in person.

The Eagles were set to be honored last year, but postponed their induction due to the illness of Glenn Frey, who died on Jan. 18th at the age of 67. His widow joins Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmidt in the winners’ box. Some fans of the group also lobbied for original Eagles Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon to be included. Latter day member Don Felder also went uninvited after he got fired from The Eagles in 2001.

Performing Eagles songs onstage are Bob Seger, Vince Gill, Kings of Leon and Steven Vai after Ringo Starr pops in to extoll the group -- and Walsh, his brother-in-law. Linda Ronstadt, who continues to battle Parkinson’s Disease, narrates the biographical film. During her days at L.A.’s famed Troubadour club, members of the future Eagles were her backup band.

No CBS awards show or major sports event would be complete without an obligatory reaction shot from CBS Corporation chairman/CEO Les Moonves, who gets not one, but two of them. No matter. The vast majority of viewers continue to ask themselves, ”Who’s that guy?”

Nothing in this year’s ceremony comes close to last year’s performance of “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin, who’s merely in the audience this time. Honoree King, who co-wrote the song with her late ex-husband Gerry Goffin, could hardly contain herself -- and didn’t.

This year’s somewhat lackluster Kennedy Center ceremony also begs the question of who should be honored -- and still hasn’t been. I’ll again harp on the omission of Jerry Lewis, who’s been a bridge-burner over the years but still is a singular major omission. You have to be among the living to be honored, so the clock is ticking like a time bomb for the likes of Lewis, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, Dick Van Dyke and Norman Lear, all of whom have yet to get the Kennedy Center call. Add Neil Young, Liza Minnelli, The Smothers Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen to the snub list. And really, if Led Zeppelin, Sting, Paul McCartney and the surviving members of The Who were deemed worthy of a Kennedy Center honor, then why haven’t fellow Brits Mike Jagger and The Rolling Stones been anointed?

We’ll see what turns up next year. All in all, this year’s show turned out to be so-so.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Star so far is Empire-building on a shaky foundation


The three would-be stars of Star. But will you care? Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Dec. 14th at 8 p.m. (central) following the fall finale of Empire on Fox
Starring: Queen Latifah, Benjamin Bratt, Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny, Brittany O’Grady, Amiyah Scott, Lenny Kravitz
Produced by: Lee Daniels, Tom Donaghy, Pamela Oas Williams, Effie Brown, Chuck Pratt

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Fox’s mega-promoted followup to Empire can be semi-tolerable if you enjoy watching plausibility in the key of F and aren’t looking for any likable characters.

Otherwise, buyer beware of Star, which is virtually guaranteed a big tune-in Wednesday night with a preview after Empire’s “fall finale.” The series then will take the rest of the Christmas season off before returning on Wednesday, Jan. 4th.

Both melodramas trade on the “cutthroat music business” and are created/produced by Lee Daniels. But in the pivotal early going, Star is to Empire what The X Factor was to American Idol. Both talent competitions had Simon Cowell, but their U.S. versions were hit and miss for Fox.

Wednesday’s launch of Star begins with wizened surrogate mom Carlotta Brown’s (Queen Latifah) narrative declaration that “Star wouldn’t listen to nobody but herself.” We then flash back to Star Davis (Jude Demorest) bridling under the care of a cartoonish white cracker/Mama June-ish duo of foster mama and grandma. Girl ain’t gonna stand for that. So Star is quickly on the loose and in search of her sister, Simone (Brittany O’Grady). Simone’s stepdad is a beast who’s caught in the act of sexually molesting her at exactly the time when Star comes calling. A kitchen knife will remedy that.

The third wheel, described as Star’s “Instagram bestie” in Fox publicity materials,” is restless Alexandra Crane (Ryan Destiny), who no longer wants to sing backup for her dad, Roland (the recurring Lenny Kravitz). So in a flash, Star, Simone and Alexandra hook up and head off to Atlanta, where beauty parlor owner and would-be godmother Carlotta just happens to be willing to take them in and provide guidance on her somewhat stern terms. First though, Latifah gets to sing a rousing song with her church group. Given the overall preposterous plot, perhaps a weekly Latifah concert would have been a better way to go.

Star, fully equipped with ‘tude and an off-putting cackle, is determined to flaunt her body, her moves, her pipes and whatever else it takes to rocket straight to the top. Drug-dependent sister Simone, who has the waif-like, dazed look of an early Lisa Bonet, is more immediately interested in zoning out. But the girls amazingly pull it together on a moment’s notice, performing like pros in matching outfits at a strip club and later at the posh home of a “famous NFL player” who’s also blonde and beautiful. Their new orchestrator is broken-down talent agent Jahil (Benjamin Bratt), who envisions a big comeback and a potential gold mine. Carlotta, of course, doesn’t trust him at all.

The word “bitch” is used constantly while Star in particular fills the bill as a character who inspires scant if any rooting interest. Who cares if she makes it big? That’s still a basic question worth asking, even in a TV era replete with anti-heroes.

Empire jumped off the screen with its first episode, most notably whenever Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie Lyon was center stage. Her three troubled sons from a marriage to nefarious record magnate Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) also could be embraced with varying degrees of empathy. Star offers none of those plusses, with Latifah trying hard to be Star’s version of Cookie but coming off as more of a saltine in comparison.

Perhaps Star will evolve and hit some higher notes in future episodes. But its premiere hour is mostly a patchwork quilt of fairly effective performance segments and threadbare storylines. Daniels himself directed the pilot, so it’s pretty much all his doing. Empire has been a huge success story. Star just looks excessive.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

True Brit: The Level is only the latest on Acorn TV


Longtime pals Hayley Svrcek (Laura Haddock) & Nancy Devlin (Karla Chrome) try to trust each other again in The Level. Acorn TV photo

Premiering: Currently streaming the first of six episodes on Acorn TV
Starring: Karla Crome, Laura Haddock, Robert James-Collier, Noel Clarke, Lindsey Coulson, Amanda Burton, Lorne MacFadyen, Joe Absolom, Geoff Bell, Clan Binchy, Gary Lewis
Produced by: Polly Leys, Kate Nourish
Directed by: Mark Everest, Andy Goddard

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The subscription streaming network known as Acorn TV makes for a solid investment if you’re a glutton for British programming. You could watch it all day and into the night for a long, long time without ever catching up with its vast menu.

Acorn’s latest acquisition, The Level, a whodunit featuring the first post-Downton Abbey series role by Robert James-Collier, ends up being only a fair to middling investment. All six hour-long episodes have been made available for review. It never quite loses its grip, but you could easily free yourself from it. This is particularly the case when episodes are available at the rate of just one per week on Acorn as opposed to all at once on rival streamers Netflix and Amazon. Critics had the opportunity to watch all of The Level’s opening season in hopes of being rewarded with an increasingly compelling yarn capped by a consummate payoff. Well, not quite, although The Level does prove to be reasonably involving.

The principal star is Karla Crome, known to some U.S. viewers as Season 2 series regular Rebecca Pine in CBS’ Under the Dome. This time out she’s detective sergeant Nancy Devlin, whose compromising position with a mobster named Frank Le Saux (a very briefly seen Philip Glenister) ends up compromising her when she witnesses his shooting death early in Episode One. Devlin also suffers a festering bullet wound, which she strives to cover up both literally and figuratively. This gets more complicated for her when she’s also assigned to the team investigating Frank’s murder.

The exact nature of Frank’s “gold mine” is also a mystery. What is it and who wanted it badly enough to kill him? The Level ends up providing these answers in its climactic episode while also leaving an open-ended door to a Season 2. But as of now, there’s been no commitment.

The aforementioned James-Collier, who came to fame as conniving butler Thomas Barrow throughout the entire run of Downton Abbey, reemerges as detective sergeant Kevin O’Dowd. He very much fancies Nancy and she’s likewise fond of him. But a gulf emerges during the investigation, with detective sergeant Sean “Gunner” Martin (Noel Clarke) hoping to someday bridge it.

Also on hand is stern boss cop Michelle Newman (Lindsey Coulson), who’s mostly impatient, occasionally compassionate and a bit tiresome in time.

Meanwhile, Nancy strives to re-connect with Frank’s daughter, Hayley (Laura Haddock), who used to be her best friend before they became estranged. Hayley’s mentally challenged brother, Tate (Clan Binchy), is also in this mix, as is her brutish ex-husband Shay Nash (Joe Absolom), a bottomless fount of bitterness. Frank’s widow, Cherie (Amanda Burton), adds some spice and intrigue, as does Nancy’s seemingly no good father, Gil (Gary Lewis), whom she’s grown to detest.

It could have been a richer broth, but The Level is pockmarked with inconsistencies, some of them merely irksome. It’s amazing, for instance, what a little peroxide can do for Nancy’s very badly infected bullet wound. And in Episode 3, a confrontation between detective sergeants Martin and O’Dowd leaves the latter with a noticeably cut lip. The punch occurred out of every one else’s eyesight, but no one in the department takes any notice at all when O’Dowd shows up looking visibly worse for wear. Sometimes it’s the little things that vex, including the constant waylaying of conversations by cell phone calls. “I have to take this” almost becomes a mantra.

The Level in the end falls short of first-rate while also rising well above a lot of the other stuff out there. Capable performances are plentiful, but none rise to the level of standout. Still, Acorn TV is well worth your acquaintance as a motherlode of British fare, much of it exclusive. You can test drive it for a free week if you’d like. Fair warning, though: The current menu offers an alphabetic array of 256 movies, series and miniseries. Including The Level.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net