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9-1-1 gives Fox an emergency transfusion


Stalwarts Connie Britton, Angela Bassett, Peter Krause front 9-1-1. Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Jan. 3rd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Peter Krause, Angela Bassett, Connie Britton, Oliver Stark, Aisha Hinds, Kenneth Choi, Rockmond Dunbar
Produced by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Tim Minear

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Producer/writer/director Ryan Murphy apparently found himself with a little extra time despite the four series he’s making for FX and the one he’ll be helming for Netflix.

So he’s re-shackled himself to the content restraints of broadcast network television to bring Fox the serviceable yet unremarkable 9-1-1. Its Wednesday, Jan. 3rd premiere follows the return of a showier Fox property, The X-Files.

9-1-1 gives Fox what NBC already has in abundance -- “the high pressure experiences of police, paramedics and firefighters who are thrust into the most frightening, shocking and heart-stopping situations.”

In the pilot episode, which is all that Fox made available for review, they respond to two rather offbeat emergencies and one fairly conventional one. But there’s nothing particularly graphic or daring. Murphy’s three ongoing FX franchises, American Horror Story, Feud and American Crime Story, are appreciably more “adult” in comparison, while his upcoming Pose touts “television’s largest cast of transgender actors in series regular roles and the largest LGBTQ cast ever for a scripted series.” The TV auteur’s Netflix series, Ratched, will star one of his go-to actresses, Sarah Paulson, as the vindictive and sadistic nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Publicity materials for 9-1-1 dangle a “shocking revelation” from the husband of hard-driving LAPD detective Athena Grant (Angela Bassett). But it’s not really shocking at all, and in fact, almost prototypical in today’s television. Michael Grant (Rockmond Dunbar) informs his wife and their two children that he’s gay and has nothing to be ashamed of. The openly gay Murphy obviously and correctly concurs, and has long written gay characters into his series, most notably with Fox’s Glee. Numerous other TV producers since have followed suit.

9-1-1’s other readily recognizable cast members are TV vets Peter Krause (Parenthood, etc.) and Connie Britton (Nashville, etc.). Krause’s character, recovering alcoholic Bobby Nash, is the firefighter team leader while Britton plays 9-1-1 call center head Abby Clark. She gets to repeatedly spout the series’ tagline: “9-1-1: What’s your emergency?” And there are plenty to go around.

Abby otherwise dotes on her mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. She’s also still lonely a year after her boyfriend broke up with her.

The other regular characters all get nicknames. Evan “Buck” Buckley is the standard issue young buck and heart-throbber who enjoys racing things around when he’s not making it with young women, some of whom he’s just helped to rescue. Howie “Chimney” Han (Kenneth Choi) and Henrietta “Hen” Wilson (Aisha Hinds) likewise are along for the fire truck rescue rides.

“Buck,” who also bills himself as “Fire Hose” for reasons other than his job performance, of course is fated to clash with the now notably fuller-faced Krause’s Bobby Nash. But the kid’s got mad skills and a line of contrite B.S. to go with them. In the first episode’s biggest groaner, he admits, “I was a punk. I still am one. But I’m a punk who understands what he lost. Just needed you to know that.” (What he lost was his job after committing the cardinal sin of insubordination. Guess what he gets back.)

9-1-1 is a match for the overall quality of NBC’s Chicago trifecta. None of these race-to-the-rescue, life-and-death dramas is anywhere near Emmy caliber. But if there’s room for one more -- and quite likely there is -- then Fox certainly could do worse than a comparatively blood-less but decently executed series from a producer who still hits more than he misses.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's LA to Vegas: 2018's first flight should have been grounded


Dylan McDermott tries to be funny in LA to Vegas. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Jan. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Dylan McDermott, Kim Matula, Peter Stormare, Olivia Macklin, Ed Weeks, Nathan Lee Graham, Amir Talai
Produced by: Will Ferrell, Steve Levitan, Adam McKay, Lon Zimmel, Chris Henchy, Owen Burke

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Air sickness quickly takes hold on the first flight of 2018.

Fox’s LA to Vegas, which uses a Jackpot Airlines plane as its workplace, would have been better served by skidding off the runway before its Jan. 2nd takeoff. Airplane! it’s not. Not even close.

Dylan McDermott, now far removed from The Practice, is the marquee player. As the vain, womanizing Captain Dave, he’s looking for laughs after a grim and grimmer quintet of ABC’s Big Shots, TNT’s Dark Blue, FX’s American Horror Story, CBS’ Hostages and CBS’ Stalker.

“Please, don’t cockpit block me,” the captain begs a flight attendant in the pilot episode while readying to land a willing woman for an in-flight quickie. One gets the feeling that the series’ six male executive producers, led by Will Ferrell and Steven Levitan (Modern Family), just couldn’t wait to gift McDermott with this oh-so-clever line. But hey guys, it’s about as funny as engine failure.

Fox made three episodes of LA to Vegas available for review during an early January rush that also will include the launches of 9-1-1 and The Four: Battle for Stardom plus the return of The X-Files for a 10-episode run.

The network has had some success, if not great reviews, for its other airborne series, The Orville (already renewed for Season 2). But it’s hard to envision this one sticking a landing with its juvenile “humor” and one-note cartoon characters assembling every weekend for the short flight to Vegas.

One of them is a ditzy stripper named Nichole (Olivia Macklin), who at one point is asked if she’s married. “No,” she replies. “But a lot of guys who ask me for oral are.”

There’s also a weekend gambler named Artem (Peter Stormare) and hunky, recently divorced British economics professor Colin (Ed Weeks), who visits his three-year-old son on weekends. Flight attendant Ronnie (Kim Matula) immediately goes gaga over Colin, as does her colleague Bernard (Nathan Lee Graham). The Jackpot crew also includes effeminate co-pilot Alan (Amir Talai).

LA to Vegas sputters through it all with a combination of lame story lines and mostly lamer writing. Episode 3 is marginally the best of the bunch, with Captain Dave encountering his equally pompous longtime nemesis, Captain Steve (guest star Dermot Mulroney).

Matula has some appeal as Ronnie, and might even induce a giggle when she tells Colin over the phone that he’s “using high-scoring Scrabble words. I don’t even know what you’re saying.”

The writing otherwise thoroughly under-achieves while leaving McDermott flailing about. “It’s time to get high,” he says before another wheels up. Right then and there, he should have bailed.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Christmas merry-go-round -- 2017


Merry Christmas to one and all from unclebarky.com world headquarters in Garland, TX. We again tag-teamed this year. My wife did the tree and your friendly content provider unpacked and arranged the Santas.

We both hope you’ll have a night and day of peace and joy at the close of a very eventful year. And as an extra added attraction, the finale of Uncle Barky’s Countdown to Christmas offers a double feature that you can watch right here.
Ed Bark

Still full of majesty, Netflix's The Crown returns


Philip and Elizabeth go their separate ways for starters. Neftlix photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Long live The Crown -- which thankfully is already assured.

Season Two of a planned six-season, 60-episode tale begins streaming Friday, Dec. 8th on Netflix. And after steaming all the way through it, there seems little doubt that this is The One. The One that will rise well above all of Netflix’s other acclaimed originals, including House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Stranger Things.

Although encompassing just six years, from 1957 to 1963, The Crown retains its epic feel and abundant luster throughout Season Two’s 10 hours, all of which were made available for review. Save for a fleeting flashback glimpse in Episode 6, this go-around goes without John Lithgow’s sterling, award-lauded portrayal of Winston Churchill, who died in 1965.

At first this seems like a major and possibly unfillable void. But in fairly short order, The Crown captivates anew on the strength of its fresh intrigues and the returning performances of Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, Matt Smith (Prince Philip) and Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret).

Peter Morgan, architect of it all, retains a master’s touch, both as a storyteller and scene composer. A series about the longest-lasting royals of them all of course must have majesty and scope. And The Crown is fit for both theaters and whatever size your home TV screen might be.

Episode 1 begins on Feb. 16, 1957, with the Queen’s marriage imperiled and impaled by accusatory newspaper headlines after Philip returns from a 5-month sojourn at Elizabeth’s insistence. The idea had been for Philip to “find” himself via a grand tour of the English empire’s properties plus a command appearance at Australia’s summer Olympic games.

But during this leave of absence, Philip’s closest pal, top aide and likeminded playboy Mike Parker (Daniel Ings), is sued for divorce after his wife at last obtains proof of his adultery. Philip is suspected as well, particularly after news gets out that “what happens on tour stays on tour,” according to a letter from Mike read with much frivolity by his chums back home.

After the royal marriage is put in crisis mode, The Crown spends a good deal of its first three episodes rewinding through Philip’s great adventures abroad while Elizabeth both longs for his company and frets about what other company he might be keeping. Whether Philip is really guilty of anything is left to interpretation. In due time, he grows a beard at sea and sends back a brief and thoroughly winning movie of his exploits in Antarctica during the long journey back home. His noble side also is captured via an impromptu rescue mission and attendant, selfless detour of his ship’s route.

But what will it take for Philip to stay with Elizabeth in light of her dictum that divorce is “not an option for us -- ever?” It turns out he does have a price. And it involves a title.

Headstrong, hard-drinking Margaret, even more unfulfilled than Philip, is largely missing in action until her very welcome return in Episode Four. Again jilted in matrimony, she finds both solace and a devil’s workshop in the person of hedonistic, haughty photographer Antony “Tony” Armstrong-Jones (Matthew Goode). Although there’s no nudity, this is one sexy and seductive hour.

Episode 5 has to do with livening the Queen’s dull and at times condescending approach to her “subjects” while the next hour is an enthralling mystery dating back to Nazi Germany and eventually implicating the deposed David, Duke of Windsor (Alex Jennings), who longs to be back in Buckingham Palace’s good graces. This also is the episode in which visiting evangelist Billy Graham (Paul Sparks) is dismissed by Philip as a “door to door salesman in a hideous shiny suit.” But Elizabeth is quite taken with him, and their palace discourses prove to be both affecting and instructive.

Episode 7 returns Margaret to the fore, with her older sister again vexed by her choice of a husband. This time it’s the less than virtuous Armstrong-Jones, who completes her in a sense.

Season Two has just one curious misstep -- the totally unsuitable casting of Michael C. Hall as President John F. Kennedy. Little effort is made to make him look anything like JFK, to the point where many a viewer might simply exclaim, “Hey, it’s Dexter!” (the serial killer he played on Showtime’s long-running and still most successful series). Hall is lacking in almost every way imaginable. And his JFK is also a vain and jealous jackass in this depiction. Fortunately, he’s comparatively little-seen compared to his insecure wife, Jacqueline (Jodi Balfour), whose scenes with Elizabeth both intimidate and embolden the Queen. Balfour is every bit as good in this role as Hall is not.

Another new character, prime minister Harold Macmillan (Anton Lesser), recurs throughout Season Two. He’s never much more than a weasel, with a wife who detests him and a Queen who largely sees through him but is tired of a merry-go-round of prime ministers -- three of them -- during the first 10 years of her reign. In one of her more delicious lines, she upbraids Macmillan’s determination to resign for health reasons, lumping him with a “confederacy of elected quitters.”

The Season Two finale includes another confrontation between Elizabeth and Philip, furthering the impression that they are much like the Clintons in terms of both toleration and looking the other way. But the set-up hour, which is heart-rending at times, recounts some of what Philip went through during his exceedingly trying youth -- and how it both scarred and steeled him. Episode 9 also is the only one in which young Charles (Billy Jenkins) is spotlighted to any degree as an easy target for school bullies.

Foy is scheduled to be replaced as an older Elizabeth in Seasons Three and Four by Olivia Colman (Broadchurch), whose casting was announced in October. She has been exceptional in the role, embodying both the Queen’s steadfast devotion to duty and her occasional efforts to break out of a shell of her own making.

Any successors to Jones’ Philip and Kirby’s Margaret haven’t been announced yet. But as with Foy, they’ll all be much missed.

For now, though, enjoy and appreciate all three of these principals in a Season Two that matches and sometimes surpasses the quality of the series’ initial 10 hours. The Crown remains a joy to behold and savor, whether it’s Philip giving a most gracious 10th anniversary toast or Elizabeth uncharacteristically coming alive while dancing the fox trot with the leader of Ghana. Meanwhile, Margaret is ever unbridled -- and always compellingly so.

This is drama of the highest calling that still will be just one-third of the way to its conclusion after you binge your way through this new season -- and then perhaps make room for a second helping. Which is just what I plan to do next.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Syfy's Happy! sells a Christmas story from hell -- and in eight episodes no less


Christopher Meloni gets horse-collared in Happy! Syfy photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Dec. 6th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Christopher Meloni, Patton Oswalt, Lili Mirojnick, Medina Senghore, Patrick Fischler, Bryce Lorenzo, Ritchie Coster, Joseph D. Reitman
Produced by: Grant Morrison, Brian Taylor, Neal Moritz, Pavun Shetty, Toby Jaffe, Christopher Meloni, Patrick Macmanus

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Post-Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Christopher Meloni’s walks on his wild side include Fox’s short-lived but bracing Surviving Jack, a pair of Wet Hot American Summer followups and a stint as Donald Trump in Funny Or Die’s The Kellyanne Conway Story.

It turns out he was just warming up in the bullpen for the Syfy network’s Happy!, in which viewers are welcomed to “The Worst Christmas Ever.” First scene: Meloni’s beyond disheveled ex-cop, Nick Sax, coughs up blood in a filthy restroom housed in his favorite bar. This is just seconds before his head literally and continuously explodes in a fantasy dance sequence hatched by what’s left of his mind.

“My life is an ever-swirling toilet that just won’t flush,” Nick says during Wednesday’s premiere episode. Self-awareness is key to any cure.

Adapted from the same-named graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, the eight-episode Happy! serves up heavy violence and random grins reminiscent of the Starz network’s Ash vs Evil Dead. But setting it during the Christmas season adds extra elements of extreme depravity via a deranged “Bad Santa” (Joseph C. Reitman) who makes Billy Bob Thornton’s version seem like a Keebler elf.

His most recent kidnap victim, sweet little Hailey Hansen (Bryce Lorenzo), has an imaginary friend named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). He’s a miniature, winged, moralistic blue horse who then seeks out Nick to rescue Hailey. Now a hitman, Nick dispatches assorted vermin with the greatest of ease. Still, there’s another far more personal reason for Happy picking him out of New York’s not-so-finest. You’ll probably see it coming because it’s a pretty shopworn means of slowly drilling down to the heart of an otherwise hollowed out miscreant.

Syfy made the first two hours available for review, with the second episode including a metaphorical appearance by Nick on Jerry Springer. He’s still wearing a blood-soaked hospital gown after escaping the clutches of the demonic Smoothie (Patrick Fischler) and four of his goons. In a gangland subplot, Nick has come upon a password that would make its possessor all-powerful -- or something like that. Perhaps you’re expecting any of this to make much if any sense?

The two other key characters are hard-boiled detective Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick), who used to have a thing for Sax, and Hailey’s extremely worried mom, Amanda (Medina Senghore).

This easily is Syfy’s most “adult” series ever, with even a few f-bombs adorning the opening hour. The Bad Santa sequences alone might prove to be an understandable and deal-breaking turn-off to many potential viewers. Terrorizing little kids and encasing them in wooden boxes is not exactly Christmas-y.

Happy! otherwise is recurrently a visual banquet of surreal scenes, with Meloni obviously not caring a whit about his “image” after a dozen years of true-blue crime solving on Law & Order: SVU. Actors are supposed to take chances, and this is a guy who’s willing and able. More power to him, even if Happy! overloads on shock value the way Hallmark annually overdoses on sappy holiday cheer.

At one extreme, you want Santa dead. At the other, it can get to be ho ho hum in a hurry.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net