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Superior Donuts: another sitcom fit only for CBS


Newcomer Jermaine Fowler and old-timer Judd Hirsch get both sweet and sour with each another in Chicago-set Superior Donuts. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Feb. 2nd at 7:30 p.m. before moving to regular Monday, 8 p.m. slot
Starring: Judd Hirsch, Jermaine Fowler, Katey Sagal, David Koechner, Maz Jobrani, Anna Baryshnikov, Darien Sills-Evans, Rell Battle
Produced by: Neil Goldman, Garrett Donovan, Mark Teitelbaum, John R. Montgomery, Michael Rotenberg, Josh Lieberman, Jermaine Fowler

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CBS remains more set in its ways than a Bill Belichick press conference.

The great majority of its drama series are crime-driven and it’s still the only Big Four broadcast network clinging to laugh tracks -- with the lone exception of Life In Pieces.

The new sitcom Superior Donuts, sneak-previewing on Thursday, Feb. 2nd before going to its regular Monday slot, is a bit different in one respect, though. It has a black character in a featured rather than tacked-on role after CBS took some heat on the diversity front at the start of this season. Superior Donuts otherwise is built on the same foundation of punch lines and piped-in guffaws. CBS knows what it wants and what its aging audience still likes, based on the network’s still solid Nielsen ratings. In a myriad of TV and streaming network choices, it manages to stand out merely by standing pat.

Judd Hirsch does another gruff turn as Arthur Przybyszewski (only gonna type that once), owner and founder of a donut shop in a “quickly gentrifying” Chicago neighborhood. He hasn’t changed a thing since opening the place in 1969. But a new Starbucks has opened across the street and Arthur’s business has slowed from a crawl to basically comatose. So he’s tempted to finally give in to Fawz (Maz Jobrani), a neighborhood dry cleaner who wants to buy Superior Donuts and turn it into something else.

This is averted when street smart Franco Wicks (Jermaine Fowler) strides in and tries to sell the old man on new ideas to revive the place. Arthur of course kvetches but hires the kid -- only to fire him. Only to hire him again. By Episode 2, one of three made available for review, Franco has fired the place up with brisk sales of his new sriracha donuts, which everybody for some reason keeps calling “sriracho.” Then comes the even hotter El Diablo donut, whose hole is filled with a jalapeño.

“It feels like I’m eating the sun,” says hanger-on Carl “Tush” Tushinski (David Koechner). Next is a “Wall of Flame” honoring those who have eaten just one of ‘em.

The cast also includes Katey Sagal as beat cop Randy DeLuca, whose partner, James Jordan (Darien Sills-Evans) is a little dense. Anna Baryshnikov, daughter of ballet legend Mikhail, plays a naive student customer named Maya, who equates donut holes to vaginas. And Franco’s best pal is the clownish Sweatpants (Rell Battle), a character who unfortunately would have been equally at home in Amos ’n’ Andy.

Sagal co-starred in two violent FX drama series, the long-running Sons of Anarchy and the short-lived The Bastard Executioner, before reverting to the broad confines of Superior Donuts. And Baryshnikov is fresh from a supporting role in the Oscar-nominated Manchester By the Sea. Career turns like these are perplexing if not confounding. But everyone’s gotta eat, and there sure are a lot of donuts on the set.

There also are a few grins to be had. Koechner, a veteran of both The Office and the Anchorman films, gets the utmost out of the lines given to him while Jobrani’s high-strung Fawz manages to safely land the line “You two are like Cagney and Lazy” in a future episode. The two principal stars, Hirsch and Fowler, have a fairly smooth repartee with one another, even if the main thread episodic story lines tend to be frayed to the point where even TV Land might throw them back. The third episode, built around a neighborhood crime wave and the dangers of gun ownership, is wholly tedious and preachy.

Superior Donuts may well get stale in a hurry. But it’s on a network that somehow has kept the idiotic and likewise eatery-themed 2 Broke Girls on the air for an astonishing six seasons. And this one is better than that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Powerless plugs into the (what else is new?) superhero genre


Presenting the flailing non-superheroes of Powerless. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Feb. 2nd at 7:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi, Alan Tudyk, Ron Funches, Christina Kirk
Produced by: Justin Halpen, Patrick Schumacker, Len Goldstein, Marc Buckland, Dean Lorey

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It’s possible, although not very probable, that superhero fatigue will set in at some point in our likely distant futures.

Until then one can only marvel (sorry) at all the stuff coming at us via TV, streaming sites and movie houses. The latest, NBC’s Powerless, is from DC Comics, birthplace of Superman, Supergirl, Batman, The Flash, Green Arrow, etc. It’s also the first authorized DC sitcom, with a collection of ordinary humans at center stage while superheroes and super villains create super collateral damage during their never-ending battles. Based on the single episode made available for review, it’s looking like a pretty lame premise. But the colors are bright.

Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) stars as perky Emily Locke, who’s hired by Wayne Security as the latest new director of research and development. Owned by the so far unseen Bruce Wayne, the company is entrusted with building products that can protect the citizenry from the potential harm all around them. The place is run by Wayne’s festering cousin, Van Wayne (Alan Tudyk), who yearns to be transferred from the minors to Gotham’s all-powerful corporate headquarters.

Emily has been hired to increase productivity and ingenuity from an inept staff that’s been losing ground to the rival Lexcorp. The featured dolts -- well, maybe that’s a little harsh -- are Teddy (Danny Pudi), Ron (Ron Funches) and Jackie (Christina Kirk).

Tudyk camps it up as Van Wayne, sometimes amusingly so. A villain known as Jack O’Lantern also gets off a bit of a zinger while flying overhead. “Prepare to feel my powerful balls” -- pause, one-two -- “of fire!” he bellows. The opening comic book credits are pretty cool, too.

Powerless otherwise is notably short on pop or long-term promise, with things staying pretty flat throughout Thursday’s scene-setter. And of course, just when it looks as though all is lost, a “game-changing product” materializes that keeps Wayne Security from being shut down and Van Wayne from being “absorbed” into the Gotham office. So now he’s even more bitter.

The newcomer will follow Superstore, a fellow workplace comedy with a misfit toy motif. Perhaps Powerless can get its bearings and at some point live up to Emily’s rallying cry of “Let’s Be Better.” If not, the world runs no risk at all of being hit with a sudden superhero shortage. Coming on Wednesday, Feb. 8th is FX’s first plunge -- Legion. It’s based on a character from Marvel’s X-Men comics. The ball’s back in your court, DC.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Even more twists/turns in newest Witness for the Prosecution (this time on Acorn TV)


Toby Jones (center) has a very bad cough and often an even worse time of it in The Witness for the Prosecution. BBC One photo

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Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution has been around the block a few times since its original publication as Traitor Hands back in 1925.

It first emerged on BBC Television in 1949 before CBS re-made it for American TV audiences in 1953. The most famous version of all came 60 years ago, when Billy Wilder directed a black-and-white feature film with a heavyweight cast that included Charles Laughton, Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Elsa Lanchester. It received six Oscar nominations but was denied any wins.

CBS struck again with a 1982 adaptation under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner. The twisting, turning murder mystery then had a long rest before coming back to life with two more remakes, one of them still in the planning stages. Ben Affleck is developing a Witness for the Prosecution in which he’ll star and direct. But the time is nearly nigh for a second BBC version affixed with the Full Monty title of Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution. Set in London circa 1923, the two-hour film has its U.S. premiere on Monday, Jan. 30th via Acorn TV, which actually is a subscription streaming service that you’d do well to look into.

The principal star is Toby Jones, who’s previously played both Truman Capote (in the 2006 feature film Infamous) and Alfred Hitchcock (in HBO’s 2012 The Girl). The other “name” in the cast is Kim Cattrall, best known as Samantha Jones in Sex and the City.

Cattrall is man-hungry anew as aging Emily French, a very wealthy socialite who enjoys collecting and discarding young bucks before, oops, she gets murdered. This two-hour version is faithful to Christie on that plot point and several others. But it has a wholly different ending from all the previous incarnations, with Jones grabbing center stage as tragic and sometimes pathetic solicitor John Mayhew.

Basically an ambulance chaser in the mode of John Turturro’s defense attorney in HBO’s recent The Night Of, Mayhew represents the penniless Leonard Vole (Billy Howle). He’s a struggling but handsome war veteran who succumbs to Emily’s pay-for-play advances after getting fired for spilling a drink tray at a nightclub she frequents.

“I like young men,” she says after luring Leonard to her lair. “I like their skin. I like their muscles . . . I like to look.”

Leonard keeps all of this from his common law wife Romaine (Andrea Riseborough), a chorus girl that he first met in a foxhole (long story). But Emily’s possessive and increasingly festering housekeeper, Janet McIntyre (Monica Dolan), doesn’t at all like what she sees and hears. She’s the one who fingers Leonard when Emily is found dead after first re-writing her will to make him the sole beneficiary.

It doesn’t look good for the defendant. And on the home front, it’s not at all good for Jones’ Mayhew, whose wife, Alice (Hayley Carmichael), looks sadder than her husband’s attempts at a comb-over. She harbors a deep resentment which won’t be revealed. But it ends up being key to the considerable post-trial goings-on.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and adapted from Christie’s novel by Sarah Phelps, Witness for the Prosecution is atmospheric, textured and often poignant in its depiction of the pain-wracked Mayhew. Telling touches abound, whether it’s Emily’s beloved cat leaving bloody paw prints on the carpet or Mayhew weeping copiously at Romaine’s stage rendition of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” while she’s seated on a suspended crescent moon.

Mayhew and the defendant are both veterans of the recent war. One of the film’s more touching scenes comes when Mayhew reveals that he lost his son in combat on the eve of his 17th birthday. Leonard’s lament could just as easily hold true today: “We thought we’d get more, didn’t we? That we’d all come home heroes, live in a house with roses around the door. Three meals a day with extra gravy . . .” So yes, he was Emily’s boy toy to help pay the rent. But no, he didn’t kill her.

Although it arguably strings things out a bit too much, this newest Witness is a watchable feast of strong portrayals and mostly sturdy plot threads. Jones is a fearless, full-immersion actor whose performance spares him no personal indignities. Were she alive to see it, the feeling is that Christie might like Jones best of all in a role where the character’s name has been changed (from Wilfred Robarts) while his added-on fragilities threaten to divide and conquer him.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

RIP Mary Tyler Moore: Dec. 29, 1936 to Jan. 25, 2017


The original cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Ed Asner, Betty White, Gavin MacLeod and Georgia Engel are still among the living.

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Mary Tyler Moore never actually worked for a real-life local TV news team. It just seemed that way because of her indelible role as indomitable Mary Richards of Minneapolis’ WJM-TV.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show aired from 1970-’77 on CBS but was seen and savored by generations who either first discovered it in reruns or just kept enjoying it over and over again. It will ever be thus long after Moore’s death Wednesday at age 80.

Television’s reigning First Lady of comedy may be Julia Louis-Dreyfus. But Moore, Lucille Ball and the still surviving Carol Burnett have long occupied TV’s Mount Rushmore of this genre. All were influential, groundbreaking and will never be dislodged.

Moore, unlike Ball or Burnett, wasn’t classically funny and didn’t lean heavily, if it all, on sight gags to get big laughs. Instead she was the glue as the sometimes frazzled WJM producer who left the outsized cavorting to her ensemble cast members, most notably the late Ted Knight as buffoonish anchorman Ted Baxter. Mary Richards could always be relied on for support as a single woman who stayed that way throughout the show’s award-laden run. The character, at age 30, had broken off an engagement to a medical student before heading to the great unknown of Minneapolis, where she tossed her hat in the air and would “make it after all.”

Behind the scenes, Moore and her then husband, Grant Tinker, created MTM Enterprises in 1969 and immediately tailored The Mary Tyler Moore Show to her talents. Tinker, who died in November, went on to become the ultra-classy chairman of the NBC television network.

Moore first came to fame as housewife Laura Petrie on CBS’ The Dick Van Dyke Show, which aired from 1961-’66. But The Mary Tyler Moore Show is considered her crowning achievement. She won multiple acting Emmys in both roles before collecting nominations for serious dramatic parts ranging from Betty Rollin in First, You Cry to Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln. Her only non-comedy win and last Emmy nomination for a sobering role was in 1993 for Stolen Babies. She also received a lone Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1981 for Ordinary People.

Moore battled diabetes throughout her adult life, and in later years was mostly content to reunite with her former comedy series colleagues. I had two up-close brushes with her during the semi-annual Television Critics Association “press tour,” most notably in January 2000. She was promoting what turned out to be ABC’s Mary and Rhoda, a poorly made TV movie that paired Moore with Valerie Harper (her best friend Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) for the first time in 26 years.

Following a formal press conference, Moore looked for a resting spot from which to take a few more questions from reporters circling her outside a hotel ballroom. She settled for a small table otherwise occupied by miniature figures from the Easter claymation special The Miracle Maker. Moore accidentally knocked Jesus off his feet before hastily righting him as part of an unintended sight gag.

She had wanted Mary and Rhoda to be a weekly series but script problems nixed that idea. Still, her “unshakable belief in the project” prompted her to push for a movie of the same name. Moore eventually won out, was proud of herself and said she planned to write a book about “the emergence of me as a mature woman who’s finally able to stand on my own two feet and say, ‘I have learned a lot about this business. I know a thing or two that a lot of other people don’t.’ I had been carrying feelings almost from day one that I’m a good actress but not good at very much else. And now I’ve proven differently.”

It was quite a statement from a woman whose portrayal of Mary Richards helped to usher in legions of self-standing single women in comedies ranging from Cheers to Seinfeld to 30 Rock. The headline of her obituary in The New York Times says that Moore “incarnated the modern woman on TV.”

She later tried and failed in several variety hours and drama series that were meant as very separate second acts to Mary Richards, but never jelled with viewers. All were for CBS, and Moore said she assumed that Mary and Rhoda would be as well. But when she finally had steeled herself to revisit the role, CBS tried to talk her out of it.

“It didn’t scare me at all,” Moore recalled in that impromptu 2000 interview. “But I think it scared the hell out of (then CBS President, now chairman/CEO) Les Moonves, who was the first one I brought the idea to. And he said, ‘Do you realize you’re talking about possibly casting a shadow over what was arguably the best situation comedy ever on television?’ And I said, ‘Yes, but are you really going to walk away from this opportunity?’ “

Moore said that CBS unenthusiastically agreed to pay for a script but ABC countered with a firmer commitment to Mary and Rhoda, which in retrospect turned out not to be a very good idea after all.

Three years later, Moore and Van Dyke got back together for the oft-profane PBS adaptation of The Gin Game. They hadn’t done anything on screen since 1968, when Moore joined Van Dyke for an hour of song and dance on Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman.

“Well, we had to be old enough,” Moore joked during an interview session when asked why it had taken so long.

Van Dyke shaved his mustache for the Gin Game role, which made Moore “so glad. I mean, he has a face that should be seen, not covered up.”

She also admitted to having “the biggest crush” on Van Dyke ever since seeing him on Broadway in 1960’s Bye Bye Birdie.

“The amazing thing is, we never had an affair,” Moore said. “I always thought of it as a terrible waste.”

Neither of the old-line stars had any appetite for a wave of “reality” series that at the time included The Bachelorette and Joe Millionaire.

“Makes me embarrassed to be a member of the human race,” said Moore.


White, Moore, Harper in Hot In Cleveland. TV Land photo

Van Dyke and Moore reunited again in 2004 for CBS’ one-hour The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, a collection of reminiscences and clips. Her last TV appearance came in 2013, also for nostalgia purposes. Moore guested on TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland with all four of her former Mary Tyler Moore Show female co-stars -- Harper, Betty White, Cloris Leachman and Georgia Engel. This time, however, Moore played a former bowling buddy named Diane.

Moore ended up with an armload of Emmys, an Oscar nomination, a TV Hall of Fame berth and a priceless legacy from a show that once formed the midsection of the greatest prime-time comedy lineup in TV history -- and on Saturdays no less. In the 1973-’74 TV season, from 7 to 10 p.m. (central time), CBS offered All In the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show.

That kind of history will never ever repeat itself. Mary Tyler Moore likewise remains unique as a star among stars who joined Burnett in letting others shine and repeatedly steal scenes in a show named after her. The glory of their times and primes is still a lesson to all genders and genres.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Riverdale: The CW pulp novelizes those old gee-whiz Archie comic books


Veronica and Betty make an Archie sandwich. CW photo

Premiering: Thursday, Jan. 26th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: KJ Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Madelaine Petsch, Luke Perry, Madchen Amick, Ashleigh Murray, Marisol Nichols, Casey Cott, Sarah Habel
Produced by: Greg Berlanti, Robert Aguirre-Sacasa, Sarah Schechter, Jon Goldwater

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Heisting storylines from both Twin Peaks and Dawson’s Creek, The CW’s Riverdale gives the venerable G-rated Archie Comics the extremest makeover since Joaquin Phoenix went this way and that.

Also included are the transforming of goofball Jughead Jones into a ruminating Holden Caulfield while no-nonsense schoolteacher Miss Grundy goes from middle aged, plain-faced and basically asexual to piping hot and very friendly with a gooey, reciprocal Archie Andrews.

And by the way, who killed Jason Blossom? It’s the overriding question, but by no means the only one, of the first four episodes made available for review. “The Town with Pep!” -- as the welcoming signs say -- is crawling with secret desires, betrayals and at least two out-and-out she-devils. But neither is named Betty or Veronica.

Riverdale is another comic book-inspired drama helmed by executive producer Greg Berlanti, who’s emerged as CW’s Aaron Spelling. He also supplies the network with Arrow, The Flash, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl, which moved over last fall after an ill-fitting first season on CBS.

Berlanti knows how to move things along and make characters pop. Riverdale can be overwrought at times and even too transparently politically correct at others. But it’s also crisply entertaining and particularly well-cast with respect to the pivotal roles of Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica Lodge (Camila Mendes). Betty is instantly appealing as the thwarted would-be love of Archie’s life while Veronica sparks and sparkles as the newly returned “bad girl” who’s striving to reform but sometimes falls short.

Those of a certain age -- namely CW’s 18-to-34-year-old target audience -- might want to bookmark Wikipedia for some of Veronica’s early pronouncements. In the first episode, she make reference to Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, In Cold Blood and “the lost epilogue of Our Town.” This is all before she exchanges a prolonged “faux lesbian” kiss with Betty during tryouts for the Riverdale Vixens cheerleading squad. Wikipedia won’t be needed in this case, but some young libidos might suddenly be going from 0 to 100 mph.

Other characters chip in with way back referential material in Episode 2. Teen Kevin Keller (Casey Cott), re-written as the gay son of Riverdale’s police chief, proclaims himself “devastatingly handsome in that classic, pre-accident Montgomery Clift kind of way.”

Meanwhile, Veronica’s devious mom, Hermione (Marisol Nichols), who had grown accustomed to a luxury New York lifestyle before things went bad, takes a come-down waitress job at Pop’s Chock’Lit Shoppe. “I’m going through this Joan Crawford-Mildred Pierce thing. Is it working?” she asks her daughter. But hey kids, Donnie Darko later gets a mention. So please be patient.

The second episode includes the first football game of the season -- Archie’s the new quarterback -- but no football action on-screen. There is, however, a heavy rainstorm during which no one seems to get wet, most notably the cheerleaders. Whatever.

Archie is played by KJ Apa, who despite his hot-for-teacher moments lacks the edge or vitality of either Betty or Veronica. His father, Fred (former Beverly Hills, 90210 heartthrob Luke Perry), wants his only son to someday run the Andrews construction company while Archie yearns to be a singer-songwriter. But Fred is earnest and understanding, sometimes painfully so, compared to Betty’s mom, Alice (Twin Peaks alum Madchen Amick). She’s largely responsible for Betty’s so far unseen sister, Polly, being sent off to some sort of rehab clinic. Shrewish Alice likewise tries to control Betty’s every move, but the kid is finally starting to fight back.

Jughead (Cole Sprouse), also called “Jug” and “Juggie,” is an aspiring novelist who supplies the oft-pretentious opening and closing narration. He still wears the trademark hat, but has a difficult time with fun. By the end of Episode 4, though, Jughead’s angst gets a back story that makes the character instantly more appealing. Now if only they’d kill his off-camera readings.

Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel) looks young enough to be a senior at Riverdale High. But is she using the impressionable Archie, who has a fresh set of abs after pouring concrete over the summer? Their scenes together tend to be more creepy than affecting. Archie otherwise has the hots, musically at least, for Josie (Ashleigh Murray) and her Pussycats, a trio reminiscent of what’s going on in Fox’s new Star. This time around, Josie is black, proud and determined to keep him away from the group until things begin to change in Episode 3.

The third hour of Riverdale also has a “slut-shaming” sidetrack that brings both Veronica and Betty together to put a stop to it. Things get a little out of hand and preachy, though. All four episodes are spiked by the recurring schemings of the dead Jason’s twin sister, Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch), who in one of her milder moments verbally slaps Betty with a reference to her “crazy, tweaked-out sister.” Riverdale likewise fits that description. It’s not on drugs -- not so far anyway. But it turns the age-old Archie comic books into a latter day form of pulp fiction for today’s younger audiences.

Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead essentially are a remixed version of Dawson’s Creek’s Dawson, Joey, Jen and Pacey, with a Twin Peaks whodunit as a shroud . But their accelerated adulthoods -- as high school sophomores -- don’t seem all that accelerated anymore almost 20 years after Dawson’s Creek first dawned on the now defunct WB network.

Watch out for all those old movie and literary references, though. This time they’re easily unscrambled during commercial breaks. Viewers of Dawson’s Creek didn’t have that luxury in the early going. Wikipedia wasn’t launched until 2001 while Siri and Alexa were still far from having almost all the answers.

GRADE: B-minus

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Lifetime's Beaches remake moves along pretty swimmingly


Sands of time: Nia Long, Idina Menzel in Beaches. Lifetime photo

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Wanna get away from it all without succumbing to the slogan of a certain airline?

Lifetime’s re-do of Beaches (Saturday, Jan. 21st at 7 p.m. central) provides a suitably weepy, sometimes sappy, overall entertaining escape. It’s also color-blind, with the rocky road relationship of CC Bloom and Hillary Whitney going seamlessly interracial.

The principals are played by Idina Menzel (as CC) and Nia Long (Whitney) a generation after Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey teamed in the 1988 feature film directed by the recently deceased Garry Marshall. The basic storyline remains intact if notably contracted. The original ran for a bit over two hours while Lifetime’s version clocks in at a little under 90 minutes after the commercials are subtracted. So yeah, the pace is a little rushed.

The scene-setting opening beach also has changed, from the Atlantic City boardwalk to Southern California’s Venice. That’s where CC and Whitney first meet as pre-teens. Their friendship is instant and then long distance into their early adulthoods. After graduating from Harvard, Whitney festers unhappily in her father’s law firm while CC struggles to make it big as a singer-actress. They finally reunite in a hotel lounge, where CC is performing and her surprise visitor has just impulsively quit the firm. Initially they’re never happier than when living in CC’s very cramped L.A. apartment.

The entrance of dashing director John Pierce (Antonio Cupo and John Heard in the feature film) signals the start of a love triangle. He grooms a smitten CC to be a star and likes her well enough otherwise. But Pierce has bigger eyes for Whitney while also coming off as an amazingly benevolent and kind musical director. Ray Fosse he’s not.

As in the movie, CC and Whitney go their separate ways after the latter’s father dies and she’s roped back into the law firm. CC in turn becomes both a hit recording artist and the star of a cheesy TV series called Pretty Sinners, where she plays a nun.

OK, that’s enough exposition, other than to note that of course CC and Whitney get back together after first yelling at one another. Then come the weepy parts.

Menzel has the showier role overall, and the former Glee co-star is very winning as the wisecracking, full-throated CC. It’s her first big on-camera role after excelling as the voice of Queen Elsa in Frozen before having her name mangled at the Oscar ceremony by presenter John Travolta. He introduced her as “Adele Dazeem” before she performed the award-winning song “Let It Go.” (She eventually returned serve by co-presenting with Travolta and calling him Glom Gazingo at the following year’s Oscars. End of trivial pursuit.)

Long, best known for 2013’s The Best Man Holiday, gets to emote more down the stretch, doing so capably as Beaches ladles on the heartbreak. The remake of course includes “Wind Beneath My Wings” (which should have been the closer this time) and “The Glory of Love,” which first became a hit in 1936 and ends both versions.

Beaches remains one of the quintessential “chick flicks,” but also hits some bulls eyes as a “date movie.” The Lifetime makeover also airs in starkly changing times for all concerned. It may not measure up to the original, but scores points with a friendship in which race is entirely beside the point -- as it should be. And the torch songs retain their snap with Menzel at the mike and Allison Anders directing.

It’s all part of Lifetime’s “Girls Night In” come-on, with next Saturday bringing “Love By the 10th Date.” That’s gonna be way too much to take for your friendly content provider. But Beaches hits some sweet spots without being overly taxing on the male gene.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

FX's Baskets still in the throes of its miseries, but also keeping some slivers of hope alive


Chip gets a new gig as “Noodles” in Season 2 of Baskets. FX photo

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Sad sacks and bleak prospects again abound in Baskets.

Could it be true, though, that this dourest of FX comedies also sucker punches its loyalists with a little heart and humanity? Yes, that’s right, particularly in Episode 4 of Season 2. That’s not until Feb. 9th, though, in an episode subtitled “Ronald Reagan Library.”

Baskets otherwise ups its misery index with a Season 2 launch on Thursday, Jan. 19th at 9 p.m. (central).

Chip Baskets (Zach Galifianakis) has jumped into a boxcar and fled Bakersfield, California after the rodeo where he worked as a clown shuts down. His insolent French wife, Penelope (Sabina Sciubba), previously had been run out of town by Chip’s long-suffering mother, Christine (Louie Anderson). And his condescending twin brother Dale (Galifianakis) is hitting on Chip’s only real friend -- hangdog, monotonic Martha (Martha Kelly) -- after his marriage to Nicole (Ellen Williams) goes sour. So there’s not much left for Chip -- not that there ever really was.

Baskets, whose co-creators include Galifianakis and Louis C.K., primarily is one big slice of the human underbelly in already dispiriting times for many. And it mostly stays that way in the new season’s early going. Vagabond Chip is befriended by a group of street performers who likewise hop trains and scrape along. The troupe already has a clown in Trinity (Mary Wiseman). But the leader of this pack, known as Morpheus (Tobias Jelinek), soon discovers that Chip, dubbed “Noodles,” has a way of being ineptly entertaining.

It makes for a tolerable little “family” for a while, until the inevitable dark sides kick in. Meanwhile back home, Christine frets about Chip’s safety and whereabouts, as does Martha. Anderson, who won a best supporting actor Emmy for playing a woman, remains remarkably in sync with Christine, who’s trying to eat better and actually even exercise a bit. The only truly unmitigated louse of Baskets is Dale, who’s basically hatable in Episode 3 after he manipulates Martha into going on a date with him.

But Episode 3 also starts hitting a few sweet spots before Episode 4 actually gets touching. It works on several levels, but primarily via the friendship struck up by Christine and Ken (Alex Morris), an African-American carpet store owner whose daughter, Cypher (Eva La Dare), also has been a constant challenge. Christine remains a devoted admirer of Reagan while Ken backed Jimmy Carter in the 1976 and ’80 presidential elections. Their inclination to get along anyway is part tonic, part straight-ahead jab at the country’s seemingly ceaseless polarization on the eve of the most fractious “peaceful” transfer of power in our country’s contemporary history.

Baskets will never be a walk in the park. And it no doubt remains too dark for many. Some rays of light are showing, though, by the end of Episode 4. Nothing overly warm and toasty, mind you. But some welcome little thaws.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO has the damndest thing in The Young Pope


Puffs of smoke are not only from the Cardinals’ conclave in The Young Pope. Jude Law otherwise goes defiantly unfiltered. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 15th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Jude Law, Diane Keaton, Silvio Orlando, Javier Camara, James Cromwell, Scott Shepherd, Ludivine Sagnier, Cedile de France, Marcello Romolo
Created, directed, written, produced by: Paolo Sorrentino

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Holy smokes, what will American audiences make of The Young Pope, which already has been underway in Italy since late October?

Beginning Sunday, Jan. 15th, HBO is the U.S. carrier of this distinctly different and sure to be controversial vision from Paolo Sorrentino, its creator, writer, director and head executive producer. Contrary to what the promotions might imply, though, 47-year-old Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) is no amoral hell raiser running scandalously amok in Vatican City. The new guy, end result of a Cardinals’ conclave compromise gone very awry, is rigidly insular and determined to return the Catholic Church to a straight and narrow conservative path. Hunkering down in the Holy See, he’ll wait for the truly faithful to buy in. Proselytizing is for the weak and compromise for the weaker.

“I don’t appear. I don’t explain,” he proclaims in Episode 3, one of five made available for review. “This Pope won’t be wasting time roaming around the world.”

All of this unfolds in mystical, at times comical ways, with various Cardinals now scheming to overthrow what they’ve wrought. But Pope Pius XIII, abandoned by his parents as a seven-year-old and dropped off at an orphanage run by the nurturing Sister Mary (Allison Case in flashbacks, Diane Keaton in the present), seems wholly above their pedestrian machinations. Instead they’re his putty while he forces them to wait a seeming eternity for his first encyclical. The men in red end up getting far more than they bargained for in a rousing Episode 5 that also poignantly spotlights the longtime platonic friendship between the Pope and fellow orphan Andrew (Scott Shepherd), now a Cardinal. Their wayward night on the town is primarily one of reflection, in part sparked by a lady of the night who sees through them, even though they’re in track suits.

As The Young Pope’s central figure, Law lays down his laws in the manner of a Frank Underwood on a G-rated religious bender. In fact, it’s easy to see Kevin Spacey in this role, were he 10 or so years younger. Pius XIII (born Lenny Balardo) smokes as a way of exhaling, demands breakfasts of Cherry Coke Zero and no more, doesn’t do “friendly” while on the job, spurns all efforts to merchandise the new papacy and refuses to be seen by the masses. He instead addresses them in silhouette at night. His Catholic flock heretofore must be “exclusively” devoted to God and no other. Free will, liberty and emancipation are gone and to be forgotten.

Law plays this difficult role with a precise panache. He does unto others what they do unto him, with a particular distaste and disdain reserved for Cardinal Angelo Voiello (Silvio Orlando), who had expected to mold the new Pope to his liking. Orlando plays this role perfectly, and with a mole on his cheek so prominent that it could be a supporting character.

Redoubtable James Cromwell plays another pivotal Cardinal, former Archbishop of New York Michael Spencer. The new Pope’s longtime mentor had expected to become Pope himself. Now he’s seething with contempt, rebuking the pontiff as “a vindictive little boy” who doesn’t know how to love and is compensating for his parents’ abandonment of him by retreating within himself.

There’s also Esther (Ludivine Sagnier), barren wife of a likewise sterile pontifical swiss guard. Can the Pope help her to conceive through the pure power of his being. Or might Cardinal Voiello be successful in blackmailing her into seducing him and therefore destroying his papacy?

Keaton’s Sister Mary primarily steels the new Pope for the job ahead. So far she’s willful only in proclaiming him an instant saint whose previous sorrows must now be put to rest. “One billion people will depend upon what you say and do,” she tells the boy who became a young man under her guidance. But hey, no pressure.

The Young Pope is replete with imagery, including what, in future episodes, may be HBO’s best ever opening credit sequence. The music can be hypnotic at times, purely pop at others. I’m still not sure whether it was too much to set up Pius XIII’s ringing address to the Cardinals with lyrics that include “Girl, look at that body” and “I’m sexy and I know it.” OK, I’ve made up my mind. Indeed it was too much.

Intellectually challenging while arguably also going off the rails more than a few times, The Young Pope has its work cut out in luring a sizable audience. There’s no violence, next to no sex and power struggles that so far are purely without physicality.

“A Cardinal works in a collegial manner while a Pope is an absolute sovereign,” Pius XIII says before asking what he sees as a rhetorical question: “What truly made our church great? Fear or tolerance?”

This former Catholic altar boy grew up under priests and nuns who preached both the former and the latter. In The Young Pope, a papal mafia seems to be at hand by the end of Episode 5. Don’t stop believing -- or else.


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Carrie-ing on with Season 6 of Homeland


Claire Danes again stands out in Homeland. Showtime photo

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Since he’s been prominently “outed” in Showtime photos and other publicity materials, it’s no spoiler to first note that Rupert Friend’s Peter Quinn has joined TV’s growing Legion of the Undead.

At the close of Homeland’s Season 5, CIA heroine Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) seemingly pulled the plug on him after reading the comatose Quinn’s love letter to her. But the room brightened as she did so, signaling something or other. And Season 6 doesn’t mess around on the “Is he or isn’t he?” front. The series’ Sunday, Jan. 15th return (at 8 p.m. central) almost instantly establishes that Quinn is alive and limping in a hospital rehab wing, where he’s self-destructive and thoroughly resistant to Carrie’s daily visits.

Having renounced the CIA and all its evil ways, Carrie is now working for a Brooklyn foundation that specializes in protecting Muslims’ civil rights. A case quickly presents itself when teenager Sekou Bah (J. Mallory McCree) is arrested for making videos that allegedly promote terrorism.

“I know what protected speech is. I can say what I want,” he defiantly says from his jail cell.

But hardline special FBI agent Ray Conlin (Dominic Fumusa) is determined to waylay any suspicious activities by any means at his dispoal.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m not taking any chances,” he tells Carrie. “Not here. Not in New York.”

There’s also a new president-elect, former New York senator Elizabeth Keane (Elizabeth Marvel). Her son was killed while serving in Afghanistan. And longtime CIA schemers Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) and Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham) worry that she’ll compromise and/or end their operations upon taking office.

Carrie otherwise lives in a tidy Brooklyn two-story with her little daughter Frannie, to whom she finally seems devoted. The downstairs unit primarily is rented out via Air B&B. But it also could be used to house a certain somebody with severe physical and emotional problems.

The two episodes made available for review (the first one is already streaming online) have eased off the throttle of previous seasons. So far this is a more domesticated Homeland without any explosions or other immediate crises. Carrie also looks to be as stable as she’s ever been, without any off/on bouts with her meds.

Saul, of course, has new suspicions and concerns about her. They come to the fore in Episode 2, as does the much-parodied Carrie “cry face” in a cathartic closing scene.

It’s a solid enough re-start to a series that Showtime already has renewed for two more seasons beyond this one. Homeland has “proven it can reinvent itself year after year,” Showtime president/CEO David Nevins told TV critics last summer.

But Dexter, which ran for eight seasons on Showtime, proved that a show can fall apart, too, judging from the heavy condemnation of its final episode.

Homeland also is beset, as is HBO’s Veep, with jarringly head-smacking real-life events that set a dauntingly high bar for fictional storytellers. So much so that Quinn’s resurrection not only is same-old, same-old, but almost banal. A true shocker would be to see him unequivocally dead and buried. Imagine fiction being stranger than truth. What a concept that is these days.


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FX's Taboo does a very slow boil


Stay out of his way. Tom Hardy as revenge-taker in Taboo. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Jan. 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Tom Hardy, Oona Chaplin, Jonathan Pryce, David Hayman, Michael Kelly, Jessie Buckley, Jefferson Hall, Ruby-May Martinwood
Produced by: Steven Knight, Ridley Scott, Kate Crowe, Tom Hardy, Dean Baker

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Tom Hardy conveys menace with the ease of Jimmy Fallon conveying love to any and all of his late night guests.

So that’s certainly not the problem with FX’s explicitly profane Taboo, a BBC One co-production that has its U.S. premiere just three nights after launching abroad. For an intended eight-episode limited series, it tends to be exceedingly slow-paced in the first three hours made available for review. Dark secrets and past treacheries lurk and abound, but getting around to them might require more patience than many viewers are willing to expend.

Still, there remains something of an abiding interest in what might happen and what did happen to James Delaney (Hardy), a blunt-spoken, uncompromising, presumed dead prodigal son whose very unexpected return to dank 1814 London sets events in motion while also tending to plod in place. Not everything has to move at breakneck speed. But Taboo at times can feel like a tedious rush hour commute. Or to put it another way, it’s the frenetic, Hardy-starring Mad Max: Fury Road on a grease rack.

As Delaney, he returns from Africa after a mysterious 10-year absence to gaze upon a just-deceased father who seems to have been thoroughly despised by one and all. “Forgive me, father. For I have sinned indeed,” Delaney tells him over his corpse.

Horace Delaney’s will has left his only son with a small but coveted strip of land known as Nootka Sound. The nefarious East Indian Company, chaired by a cutthroat named Stuart Strange (fine work as usual from Jonathan Pryce) very much wants to buy him out. But Delaney emphatically resists all offers while his half-sister, Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin), resists his entreaties. Clearly they had something taboo going on years earlier. But Zilpha now is married to Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall), who wants Delaney dead, as do a lot of other people.

Machinations and manipulations proceed, but definitely in no big hurry. The 1814 London depicted in Taboo is convincingly dark and grimy, which suits Delaney’s disposition, even if he rides a clashing white horse. His only confidante in the early going is an older guy named Brace (David Hayman), who doesn’t have much luck in trying to temper his extremes.

“I’ve made some coffee. It’ll be stone cold,” Brace tells Delaney in Episode 2. “Aren’t we all,” he replies.

Targeted by would-be assassins -- who seem to have little sense of urgency -- Delaney also is tormented by occasional visions of his traumatic times away from London. We learn he was held captive on a slave ship that sunk. But how and why he got there, and what the amoral Stuart Strange had to do with it, remain very much an open question after the first three hours.

As an actor, Hardy clearly is in his primal element. He’s constantly on-screen, moving about town and snarling his contempt for those he doesn’t like -- which is pretty much everyone. Episode 2 introduces another adversary, but no need to ruin what this could mean to him and his revenge-taking plans. This person’s arrival provides a bit of a jolt, but Taboo seems little inclined to seize the momentum.

Three episodes deep, there’s an appetite for more, but not a ravenous one. Taboo could develop into a whale of a tale once Delaney is fully seen in his earlier element. The official trailer shows him in an all but naked previous tribal mode, brandishing a spear with a knife attached to his loincloth. It stirs the juices, even if the broth too often congeals in these first three hours.

“I do know the evil that you do, because I was once part of it,” Delaney assures Strange in the early going.

Good to know. But now let’s get on with it.

GRADE: B-minus

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Double requiem: HBO's Bright Lights shines upon Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher


The loves of their lives: Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

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It’s highly unfortunate, to say the least, that startling events prompted HBO to move up the premiere of this intimate documentary. It’s also commendable to do so.

Originally scheduled for a March air date, the 90-minute Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds can be seen for the first time on HBO at 7 p.m. (central) on Saturday, Jan. 7th. Directed by Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens, it earlier received deservedly positive reviews at several prominent film festivals.

Fisher died at age 60 on Dec. 27th and an inconsolable Reynolds expired the next day at age 84. They thoroughly come alive in this instant classic about show biz addiction and rejection.

The daughter, best known as Princess Leia in Star Wars, still smokes, mainlines non-diet Coca-Colas, battles bouts of manic-depression and for the most part remains unfailingly sardonic. Her mom, famously jilted by husband Eddie Fisher in favor of Elizabeth Taylor, was from the old show biz school. A smile was her umbrella and keeping up appearances has been a way of life ever since her formative years at MGM Studios.

They were a decidedly odd couple, but also made for one another. Carrie lived next door to her mother and increasingly doted on her. “I usually come to her. I always come to her,” she says in the film’s early minutes while delivering one of her homemade soufflés from a very eclectically furnished home.

Debbie gradually came to understand her daughter’s demons and accepted her rebellious nature. She became a mommie dearest without any of the Joan Crawford trappings.

Bright Lights deftly sets the stage in the opening sequence.

“Hello. We’re here with a woman who alleges to be my mother” and has the home movies to prove it, Fisher says.

Happy together shots of mom, little Carrie and her littler brother, Todd, accentuate the positives -- because Debbie literally has the negatives.

“You have to try to concentrate on the fact that you did have sometimes -- good times,” she tells Carrie.

“I know that I did,” she retorts. “I had a very good time!”

To which Debbie has the perfect playful answer: “See how you yell -- at your muh-thuh.”

The film has “moments” in abundance. Film clips of Reynolds underscore what an appealing Hollywood persona she had -- and not only in Singin’ In the Rain. She could never quite give up her sequins or her public. And so Fisher both grudgingly and gladly accompanied mom on impulsive road trips to venues such as Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun resort and casino. The decidedly elderly faithful still turned out in large numbers to hear her sing “Tammy” and joke about her bad choices in men.

“I should have married Burt Reynolds,” she says. “I wouldn’t have to change my last name. And we could share wigs.”

She always wanted Carrie to showcase her voice as a stage performer. And her own voice still breaks, offstage, when talking about how great her kid sings.

“My mother wants me to be an extension of her wishes -- an extension of her,” Carrie says.

As a teenager, Fisher occasionally would join her mother onstage. In an old clip, she belts out “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” an eerie foreshadowing of her brief marriage to Paul Simon, of whom little is said in the film. No mention at all is made of Debbie’s third husband, Richard Hamlett, whom she divorced in 1996.

Carrie reluctantly gave in to what she calls “lap dances” that traded on her enduring fame as Princess Leia. She’s shown signing autographs for $70 a pop at fan shows before doing some pricier “photo ops.” But people clearly think those are small prices to pay, and Fisher seems willing to sign anything and everything while agreeably bantering.

There’s never a dull moment, really. Even brother Todd makes his presence felt, both by showcasing his tell-a-story sequence of framed movie posters and by noting “it’s important that you marry inside the entertainment ‘race.’ “

His wife, Catherine Hickland, formerly married to David Hasselhoff, is a peripheral actress whose credits include three episodes of Knight Rider. She now owns both a car from the show and a chicken as a carry-around pet. Fisher and Reynolds prefer the more traditional company of inseparable dogs.

Carrie eventually made peace with her dad, Eddie Fisher, an admitted louse of a father who preferred drugs to the company of his children. She’s shown at his bedside three months before his death in 2010. Eddie bears no resemblance to the matinee idol he once was. He’s just an infirm, lonely old man.

“I became his parent, and it was a way to have a relationship,” she says. Decades earlier, his leaving of Debbie for Liz was dubbed “Hollywood’s Most Shameful Story” in a magazine headline.

Reynolds later renewed her friendship with Taylor and even bought the makeup chair she used in Cleopatra as part of her multi-million dollar collection of show biz memorabilia. She sought to preserve Hollywood’s past in a grand museum, but could never find a financial backer. The collection finally was auctioned off, with Debbie still torn about parting with the Rat Pack wardrobe she’d assembled. “I love having my ghosts,” she says tellingly. “And I love having my memories.”

There’s also a particularly haunting quote from Carrie, who tells her manicurist during a rough patch, “You know what’d be so cool? To get to the end of my personality and just like, lay in the sun.”

In 2014, Carrie had to help her mother every step of the way on the night she received the Screen Actors Guild’s Life Achievement Award. Reynolds was shaky and intermittently confused. Carrie made the introductory speech and then got her through the rest of it.

The closing minutes of the film find them celebrating at Reynolds’ home during the Christmas season. Debbie is still aglow at receiving such an honor. Carrie sings to her. Mom’s last words off-camera -- “You know I love you” -- also mark the end of Bright Lights.

It’s a long way from Postcards From the Edge, which Fisher wrote in 1987 before Shirley MacLaine and Meryl Streep played approximations of Debbie and Carrie in the 1990 film adaptation. It likewise had a happy ending, but also a number of fractious moments between them during Fisher’s full-blown addiction to drugs.

Bright Lights is a much better way to remember them. It wasn’t supposed to double as a requiem, but who knew at the time?


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NBC's Emerald City trades in oohs, Oz and mayhem


It’s a crowded field in Emerald City. And yes, that’s Toto. NBC photo

Premiering: Friday, Jan. 6th at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Adria Arjona, Vincent D’Onofrio, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Ana Ularu, Gerran Howell, Joely Richardson, Jordan Loughran, Mido Hamada, Isabel Lucas, Roxy Sternberg, Florence Kasumba
Produced by: David Schulner, Shaun Cassidy

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NBC’s visually striking Game of Oz, er, Emerald City, is about cutthroat power-seekers and their oft-brutal methods in a down-and-dirty but nicely costumed land where a feared flying object casts a giant shadow.

It’s also a previously scrapped enterprise based on the L. Frank Baum book series. But “creative differences” between NBC and the original show runner were resolved by bringing in David Schulner and long-ago teen idol Shaun Cassidy to helm the 10-episode first season. In a letter to TV critics accompanying DVDs of the entire season, they note that because Baum’s books “were not originally written as children’s tales but as political allegory, their core themes still resonated for us. One hundred years later, women are still fighting for empowerment, science and religion/magic are often at war and the pursuit of identity -- racial, gender and otherwise -- remains at the forefront of our political and cultural conversation.” Oh, all right then.

Abandoned at birth and raised by kindly adoptive parents, Dorothy Gale (Adria Arjona) remains front and center. But this time she’s a young adult woman who wears a police officer’s leather jacket instead of a patterned blue gingham dress. She also packs a pistol while Toto is a German Shepherd. But a tornado is still Dorothy’s vehicle in getting from Lucas, Kansas (pop. 393) to Oz, where lots of hell is breaking loose.

Your friendly content provider watched the first five episodes plus the season-ender to see how much viewers would be left hanging if NBC doesn’t order a Season 2. Let’s just say there’s closure but also open-ended possibilities. So your investment wouldn’t be all for naught.

Friday’s two-hour premiere, paired with the return of Grimm, makes for a compatible supernatural one-two punch. Emerald City has a much bigger and bolder look, though. The storyline may not always be fully intelligible, but this sure will look good in HD on bigger-is-better home screens.

Dorothy initially is a nurse before a violent night in a really bad storm puts her in possession of a police jacket and police dog. She awakens in a forbidding, snowy land and eventually is water-tortured by fearsome looking tribesmen with painted faces and wooly outfits. They demand to know just how she got to Oz, but she hasn’t a clue. So it’s eventually decided to exile her on a yellow brick road to Emerald City, where she’s expected to answer to The Wizard (a sometimes unintentionally laughable Vince D’Onofrio from NBC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent). Toto, by the way, is the tribe’s term for dog. So there ya go.

Meanwhile, back at the Palace, a coltish Wicked Witch of the West (Ana Ularu) is conspiring against her not-so-good sister Glinda (Joely Richardson) while everyone wants to know the whereabouts of the Wicked Witch of the East (Florence Kasumba). But news has spread of “the girl who fell from the sky,” prompting the Wizard to send members of his royal guard on a search-and-destroy mission headed by a seeming despot named Eamonn (Mido Hamada).

Dorothy and Toto find an ally in “Lucas” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), whom they first encounter hanging from a cross and covered with mud and um, straw. Emerald City also introduces decidedly different variations on the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, but you’ll have to see for yourself.

Other pivotal characters include the imprisoned boy Tip (Jordan Loughran), who’s not what he seems, and his friend, Jack (Gerran Howell), who’s fated to undergo quite a transformation.

None of this looks as though it was done on the cheap. Emerald City never loses its curb appeal through an at times meandering and cockamamie tale of powers gained and lost.

You’ll also get some contemporary tunes, courtesy of Dorothy’s iPhone. Lucas, for one, is especially astounded to hear “Ain’t No Sunshine” through some ear buds while The Wizard later opts for a Pink Floyd tune.

The escapes and re-escapes pile up as this recurrently grisly tale tries to cast its spell. Dorothy’s end game is just to go home again, even if Lucas, Kansas has pretty much been a dead end for her. Oz surely is a much more happening place, although far more perilous than it was back in the 1939 Judy Garland musical. It’s not at all a nice place to visit -- and you certainly wouldn’t want to live there. But Emerald City has its moment as a vicarious, danger-packed thrill ride replete with jolts, wonders and ample shivers amid its shimmers.


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Netflix hits a sweet (and spicy) spot with Hispanic version of One Day At a Time


One Day At a Time has a nice new flavor to it. Netflix photo

Premiering: Season One’s 13 episodes begin streaming Friday, Jan. 6th on Netflix
Starring: Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Stephen Tobolowsky
Produced by: Norman Lear, Mike Royce, Gloria Calderon-Kellett, Michael Garcia, Brent Miller

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Skepticism prevailed when Norman Lear let it be known, at a summer 2015 Television Critics Association panel, that “we’re talking about doing a Latina version of One Day At a Time. That could happen.”

Yeah, like that was gonna happen. Lear, 93 at the time, surely would run into dead ends when pitching this to any broadcast or cable network that even deigned to take a meeting with him. Some high level executives might not even have been aware of Lear’s original One Day At a Time, which aired from December 1975 until May 1984 on CBS. “Institutional memories” aren’t what they used to be.

But many of us didn’t take into account the Great Equalizer -- Netflix. It doesn’t particularly care if some of its shows “skew old.” Nor is Netflix afraid of retro. It’s already the home of Fuller House, a continuation of Gilmore Girls and The Ranch, a throwback, “multi-camera” sitcom reuniting That ’70s Show co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson.

Netflix also has bought into Grace & Frankie, which arguably skews north of Forest Lawn with a principal cast of Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Sam Waterston and Martin Sheen. And it’s given Longmire a multi-season reprieve after A&E dropped it because the core audience was deemed too old.

So in that context, here indeed comes the “re-imagined” One Day At a Time, whose 13 Season One episodes start streaming on Friday, Jan. 6th. It turns out to be a far livelier, amusing and substantive sitcom than expected, even with the additional old trapping of an over-exuberant laugh track.

Justina Machado heads the cast as single mom Penelope Alvarez, who’s returned from Army duty in Afghanistan and now works as a nurse in a small clinic run by the ever befuddled Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky).

Back home in a small apartment, Penelope’s traditionalist Cuban mother Lydia (Rita Moreno) does much of the cooking and housecleaning while clinging firmly to “the old ways.” Penelope’s two kids are studious social activist Elena (Isabella Gomez) and younger brother Alex (Marcel Ruiz), who’s still finding his way. The only carryover character from the original series is handyman Dwayne Schneider (Todd Grinnell), an amiable moocher and sometime confidant.

This new version is aggressively cultural, at times a little too preachy and always affixed with a happy, hug-spiked ending, based on the four episodes I’ve viewed. But the writing can be quite sharp while the performances -- most notably by Machado and Moreno -- add extra nuance and spice.

Episode 3 is particularly strong, beginning with 70-year-old Lydia’s morning ritual of making breakfast while gyrating to the Cuban tunes she loves. She also continues to adorn the apartment with Catholicism, including a picture of Pope Francis on the refrigerator.

“My apartment looks like Jesus’s Pinterest page!” Penelope carps.

A bigger point of contention is Penelope’s determination to go on a morning family hike rather than to Sunday Church services, which tend to eat up much of the day. Lydia will have none of this: “I am your mother and I decide what you decide!” Things then escalate before nearly culminating in a church pew where Lydia has taken refuge. It’s a pretty terrific sequence, beginning with Penelope asking her wayward mother, “So, have you been here all day getting decorating ideas?”

The new One Day At a Time also tackles workplace sexism, being true to one’s self and, in Episode 1, Elena’s extreme reluctance to be a part of Quinceanera. Both her grandma and mother have participated in this time-honored Hispanic celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday. In Elena’s view, though, it’s nothing than a “misogynist cultural ritual” played out before slobbering teenage boys.

Episode 4 is mostly about 38-year-old Penelope’s planned first date since separating from her husband. It’s buoyed by a flashback to Lydia’s first encounter with her future and now deceased husband, and an imagined current-day meeting where they affectingly discuss their daughter’s latest tribulations.

Machado, and particularly Moreno, are likely to be Emmy contenders for their vivid performances in these two lead roles. And Lear, after all these years, perhaps at last has a predominately Hispanic comedy series that also will be a long-distance runner. He tried once before, in 1984, with a. k. a. Pablo, a heavily panned ABC show that deservedly lasted for just six episodes.

The man who also developed All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times and Sanford and Son has nothing left to prove in terms of his TV legacy. But this second coming of One Day At a Time would be quite a curtain call if Netflix decides to proceed beyond Season One. So far, muy bueno. Somewhat amazingly, this turns out to be a comedy whose time has come again.


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NBC News lands Megyn Kelly, and will have much for her to do (updated)


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After a high profile year in which she feuded with Donald Trump and joined the chorus against deposed Fox News Channel founder Roger Ailes, star player Megyn Kelly is leaving the network that put her in the spotlight and joining forces with NBC News.

NBCUniversal News Group chairman Andrew Lack made the announcement Tuesday. Her last edition of FNC’s The Kelly File, which she has anchored since Oct. 7, 2013, is scheduled to be on Friday, Jan. 6th. Kelly originally joined the conservative-leaning “Fair and Balanced” network in 2004.

The 46-year-old Kelly’s “multi-year” deal with NBC includes a new one-hour daytime program airing from Monday through Friday plus a Sunday evening news magazine show. Her new employer says Kelly also will be “an important contributor” to NBC’s breaking news, political and special events coverage. Further details on her new programs will be “unveiled in the coming months,” NBC says.

“Megyn is an exceptional journalist and news anchor, who has had an extraordinary career,” Lack says in a statement. “She’s demonstrated tremendous skill and poise, and we’re lucky to have her.”

Kelly, who also released an autobiography, Settle For More, in November, has grown into one of network TV news’ hottest commodities since launching The Kelly File. But in August 2015, she became a mega-star while co-moderating a debate with then Republican candidate Trump and other GOP hopefuls. He bridled when she challenged Trump’s past characterizations of women as “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”

Trump said those characterizations were reserved for Rosie O’Donnell, with whom he has long feuded. He later said of Kelly, “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”

The two of them later made up, sort of, when Trump agreed to be interviewed on her first and only Fox broadcast network special, which aired in May of 2016. But things flared up again between them after Kelly questioned if Trump could be labeled a “sexual predator” after he claimed in a 2005 Access Hollywood “hot-mic” tape that he could grope women wherever and whenever he wanted because of his star status.

Trump surrogate Newt Gingrich, during an interview on The Kelly File, then upbraided the host for being “fascinated with sex, and you don’t care about public policy.” Trump, who said his controversial comments were merely “locker room banter,” later praised Gingrich for confronting Kelly.

Sexual harassment also was at issue when Kelly supported former FNC colleague Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Ailes, who allegedly had made a series of improper advances toward her. Ailes has denied any wrongdoing, but was later dismissed by FNC in connection with the allegations.

Kelly, who says in her Settle For More memoir that Ailes also sexually harassed her, cooperated in an internal investigation of her former boss. Her behind-closed-door “testimony” was seen as key to Ailes’ downfall. He likewise has denied Kelly’s allegations via a statement from his attorney, Susan Estrich, who ironically ran Michael Dukakis’ failed 1988 presidential campaign when Ailes was George H.W. Bush’s top media advisor.

Network television “raids” of rivals’ talent have been rare in recent years. And when they’ve occurred, FNC generally has been the aggressor -- mostly with ABC. Chris Wallace, Brit Hume and John Stossel, all still with FNC, were lured from the alphabet network. NBC has been on the losing end before, but it’s been a while. Back in 2006, Katie Couric left the network to become sole anchor of the The CBS Evening News. That didn’t work out for CBS. And in the week her old network has hired Kelly, Couric finds herself back at Today co-hosting with Matt Lauer for a week on the occasion of his 20-year anniversary with the show.

FNC offered Kelly more than $20 million a year to stay at the network, according to The New York Times. Its report said that NBC could not afford to match that money, but compensated in part by offering Kelly a wider range of possibilities on a network with a larger audience.

NBC’s statement on Kelly’s hiring says that all four of its major news division properties -- Today, Nightly News, Meet the Press and Dateline -- are number one among 25-to-54-year-olds (the main advertiser target audience for news programming) and 18-to-49-year-olds.

FNC has had no comment on Kelly’s departure. But the network announced Thursday that Tucker Carlson will take over her 8 p.m. (central) slot with Tucker Carlson Tonight, which had been airing two hours earlier after premiering on Nov. 14th. Carlson’s 6 p.m. hour will be filled by another FNC incumbent, Martha MacCallum, whose The First 100 Days will chronicle Donald Trump’s presidency. There are no definite plans for a MacCallum show beyond that.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Freeform's Beyond also beckons a binge


Feeling haunted in the woods is never advisable. Freeform photo

Premiering: Monday, Jan. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Freeform with the first two episodes
Starring: Burkely Duffield, Dilan Gwyn, Romy Rosemont, Michael McGrary, Jonathan Whitesell, Jeff Pierre, Peter Kalamis
Produced by: Tim Kring, Adam Nussdorf, David Eick, Steven Adelson, Dan Friedkin, Justin Levy, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

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Logistically at least, Freeform’s Beyond goes one step beyond.

The network previously known as ABC Family is taking the Netflix/Amazon stratagem for a spin by making all 10 Season One episodes available to coincide with the supernatural series’ conventional Jan. 2nd premiere. So if your New Year’s resolutions don’t include swearing off binge-watching, you can start knocking them off via On Demand, freeform.go.com, the Freeform app or Hulu.

Being of sound mind and still in holiday season layback mode, your friendly content provider watched the first four episodes in preparation for this review. Beyond, whose executives producers include Tim Kring of Heroes fame and later infamy, is the fairly diverting tale of a Fort Reed, Kansas kid who’s knocked into a 12-year coma after wiping out in the woods on his mini-motorcycle while being chased by some jerks in a monster truck. He’s in his 20s upon awakening, but can’t shake some very disturbing nightmares and visions. It turns out that Holden Matthews (Burkely Duffield) has been fighting some sort of good fight in a futuristic netherworld. He’s also developed an array of superpowers.

Beyond that, Holden is clueless and increasingly dependent on the mysterious Willa (Dilan Gwyn). “You’re in danger. Trust no one,” she initially writes on his arm while Holden and his younger brother, Luke (Jonathan Whitesell), are out clothes-shopping.

Willa, who’s otherwise devoted to her infirm bizarro grandfather, strives to re-connect Holden to their past and highly eventful life together in “The Realm.” But a creepy dude dubbed “The Man In The Yellow Jacket” (Peter Kalamis) also has an agenda. And it can be a lethal one.

Beyond’s cast also includes Holden’s rather tiresome parents, Tom and Diane (Michael McGrady, Romy Rosemont), who have a little secret of their own. But things tend to lag when they’re in the mix. All that really matters is how and when Willa will break through Holden’s resistance. “Your memories are trying to force their way out,” she tells him in Episode 3. “But you’re stubborn.”

A little too much patience is required at times, but the first four episodes do include a brief glimpse into a pretty cool looking netherworld during Holden’s chemical injections at the hands of Willa. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jacket character keeps skulking around until something pretty graphic happens to him in Episode 4.

Freeform, which re-branded with that title on January 12th of last year, is striving to grow further beyond the dreaded “wholesomeness” of the ABC Family label. The principal target audience is now millennials rather than pre-teens and their watchful, approving parental units. Even so, the Fort Reed of Beyond is still depicted as a town where Holden and brother Luke are expected to dress up and wear ties(!) to Sunday church, even if the attractive and helpful pastor may or may not have something going on with Mama Matthews.

Also, as much as it yearns to cut ties with The 700 Club, Freeform remains contractually saddled with it under the terms of an earlier deal that seems likely to be eternal. The televangelism hour still airs nightly at 10 p.m. (central), and will immediately follow the two-hour premiere of Beyond. Pat Robertson and his offspring have been unbending when it comes to any buyout offers. It’s enough to make a millennial flee to even the Hallmark Channel. And Beyond or not, Freeform just can’t get beyond that.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

More CBS crime time (but in a somewhat lower key) with Ransom


A hunky hostage-rescuer’s for hire in Ransom. CBS photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 1st at 7:30 p.m. (central) before moving to Saturdays at 7 p.m. on Jan. 7th
Starring: Luke Roberts, Sarah Greene, Brandon Jay McLaren, Nazneen Contractor
Produced by: Jennifer Kawaja, Julia Sereny, Odile McDonald, Valerie Pechels, Jocelyn Hamilton, David Vainola, Frank Spotnitz

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The Crime-buster Network takes yet another bite at it with Ransom, an import that will be deported to Saturdays after Sunday’s sneak-preview.

At least Eric Beaumont (Luke Roberts) gets by mostly on guile rather than some sort of deductive super-power or transformative drug. Affixed with a designer beard and refusing to carry a weapon other than his killer looks, he’s the man to call if your loved one’s been kidnapped or caught in a hostage crisis. CBS’ Ransom, jointly co-produced by Canada’s Global, France’s TF1 and Germany’s RTL, supposedly is drawn from the real-life exploits of French negotiator Laurent Combalbert, who unlike his made-for-TV mockup, is bald.

Episode 1 finds Beaumont first tackling a hostage situation in Montreal before moving on to Denver, where an eight-year-old kidnapping case has suddenly come alive after the parents of a then three-year-old son get a ransom note.

“If I don’t get your son back, you don’t pay,” he tells the dad. The finder’s fee also would go in part to Beaumont’s three team members, Oliver Yates (Brandon Jay McLaren), Zara Haleem (Nazneen Contractor) and newcomer Maxine Carlson (Sarah Greene), who’s been hired over Yates’ objections because . . . well, you’ll see.

The kid’s being held by the usual CBS crime drama sadist, who’s fond of beating his accomplice brother senseless when he doesn’t properly listen. Beaumont has an answer for everything until things come to a head. He’s an unflappably cool and smooth operator who prefers to keep the cops out of things until they’re absolutely, positively needed to mop up.

At the end of this week, Ransom goes to Siberia Saturdays, joining Criminal Minds reruns and 48 Hours. It likely will fit right in while also giving the night a rare injection of first-run scripted drama. Thirteen episodes have been ordered for Season One. There are likely to be more to come on a network that only occasionally fails to keep its crime hours in play for multiple seasons. Ransom is easier to take than some of them, and with a hero who doesn’t have to brandish a gun to get the job done.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net