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Season Two of USA's The Sinner again makes a strong case for itself


Not everything’s as it seems with Vera and Julian. USA photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 1st at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Bill Pullman, Carrie Coon, Elisha Henig, Natalie Paul, John Rue, Hannah Gross, Jay O. Sanders
Produced by: Jessica Biel, Charlie Gogolak, Derek Simonds, Antonio Campos

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Season One of USA network’s The Sinner took the who out of whodunit and replaced it with why.

Second verse, same as the first, with all new principal characters save for one. Bill Pullman returns to Season Two as troubled veteran detective Harry Ambrose, who in the first go-around had a marriage-killing relationship with a dominatrix.

This time out he’s having recurrent flashbacks to a traumatic childhood while reluctantly returning to his hometown of Keller, NY to help investigate the case of a child who’s confessed to a double murder. In Season One, Harry delved into why a young, married woman named Cora Tannetti would stab a man to death during a crowded beach outing with her husband and their young son.

Jessica Biel, who played Cora (and is an Emmy nominee for that role), stays off-screen in Season Two as the returning head executive producer of The Sinner. The leading women are Carrie Coon as a possibly culpable commune leader named Vera and Natalie Paul in the role of police deputy Heather Novack, who’s proudly pronounced as gay by her rather creepy father, Henry (John Rue), an old chum of Harry’s.

Eleven-year-old Julian (Elisha Henig) is traveling with his outwardly presumed parents when their car breaks down on a road trip to Niagra Falls. They take refuge in a motel for the night, and are served cups of hot tea the next morning by Julian, who’s brought them in from the breakfast lounge. Choking, gasping and death ensue, with Harry and Heather soon determining that little Julian intentionally poisoned his adult traveling companions. He soon admits as much. But ???

Open and shut it’s not, particularly when Coon’s Vera shows up near the end of Wednesday’s premiere episode to make a surprising claim. So Harry is right when he says of the hometown he’s tried to forget: “There’s something in the soil here. Things won’t stay quiet.”

As in Season One, this new why-dunit will take eight episodes to unfold, with USA making the first three available for review. Flashbacks abound, not only Harry’s but Natalie’s recollections of her girlfriend, Marin (Hannah Gross), who’s been missing for the past 10 years after becoming infatuated by the goings-on at the isolated and much-maligned Mosswood commune.

Henig, who recently co-starred in Zach Braff’s quickly canceled ABC sitcom Alex, Inc., is already quite an actor as a pre-teen. His scenes with Pullman are both assured and increasingly revealing as they probe each other’s fractured psyches. Coon as usual is a command presence, telling Harry over the phone in Episode 2, “Trust me, detective. I know where the monster is.”

Episode 3 ends on a grisly note, further imbedding the hook. Season One of The Sinner paid off with a satisfying ending. Season Two has only just begun its twists and turns. But so far, so good, with ample possibilities still in play while Harry’s head tries to stay in the game.


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Burden of Truth is a Canadian import that viewers of The CW should salute


Kristin Kreuk & Peter Mooney lawyer up in Burden of Truth. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 25th at 7 p.m. on The CW
Starring: Kristin Kreuk, Peter Mooney, Alex Carter, Nicola Correia-Damude, Meegwun Fairbrother, Star Slade, Sara Thompson, Anwen O’Driscoll, David Lawrence Brown, Jessica Matten, Benjamin Ayres
Produced by: Ilana Frank, Jocelyn Hamilton, Linda Pope, Kristin Kreuk, Adam Pettle

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The premise is timeworn but the execution, casting and storytelling make Burden of Truth a compelling serial drama with a paucity of false steps.

Rather shockingly, it’s on The CW, where superheroes and the supernatural have become all-powerful genres. But there’s a catch. Burden of Truth actually is a product of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and premiered in that neighboring country last January. Aha, so that explains the down-to-earth texture and absence of otherworldly villains and apparitions.

Already renewed for a sophomore year, Burden of Truth debuts in these parts on Wednesday, July 25th. The first four of Season One’s 10 episodes were made available for review. Bracingly, they’re not a sudsy, steamy cauldron of iniquity in the mode of CW’s Dynasty reboot.

Kristin Kreuk stars as hotshot big-city attorney Joanna Hanley, whose CTS firm is rolling along on the strength of well-heeled clients. She hails from a plain brown wrapper of a small town called Millwood, where there’s suddenly trouble afoot after several high school girls shockingly contract a muscular disorder that causes both seizures and involuntary twitching.

Some of the townies are blaming it on the recent HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccinations aimed at preventing cervical, vaginal and other forms of cancers. So Joanna is dispatched to fight an injunction against the mega-pharmaceutical firm that CTS hopes to rope in as a full-time client. She wins her case and then begins a companion effort to avert any lawsuits by offering $50,000 payments to families of Millwood’s suddenly very sick.

But something isn’t quite right here, of course. Guilt pangs ensue, fueled initially by a hunky, selfless opposing lawyer named Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney), whose “& Associates” is a fiction. Billy envisioned joining a big firm until a wine appreciation course included in the curriculum made him feel like a sellout. So he returned to the land of flat beer and nondescript diner food, which Burden of Truth milks a little too hard in his early scenes with Joanna.

“You know you’re the bad guy, right?” he informs her. This starts to sink in, as does a sucker punch from a pissed-off female denizen. But the real kill shot is delivered by afflicted student Taylor Matheson (Anwen O’Driscoll), whose father, Ben (David Lawrence Brown), owns Millwood’s biggest employer, Matheson Steel.

“Your job is to screw people over,” Taylor tearfully tells Joanna. “Good, hard-working people . . . How can you live with yourself?”

So Joanna duly joins the out-gunned resistance and angers her father, David Hanley (Alex Carter), an alpha male at the CTS firm but a dirty word in Millwood. He’s been hiding something of major import from his daughter, which makes for a solid companion storyline while Joanna and Billy otherwise keep getting roadblocked in their efforts to make someone pay for the girls’ debilitating illnesses.

Billy has an additional personal stake. His sister’s daughter, Molly Ross (Sara Thompson), is seeing her talents as a star soccer player being destroyed by the disease. “We’re the freaks now. Twitching girls of Millwood,” Taylor says in solidarity.

The other pivotal student character, Luna Spence (played very winningly by Star Slade), is both Molly’s intimate girlfriend and an eager amateur sleuth for Joanna. Luna’s embittered mother, Gerrilyn (Jessica Matten), drops a major revelation in Episode 4. The populous cast also includes high school guidance counselor Diane Evans (Nicola Correia-Damude); Millwood cop Owen Beckbie (Meegwun Fairbrother); and Joanna’s CTS firm partner and oddly estranged husband Alan Christie (Benjamin Ayres). Burden of Truth could very easily do without him -- and should have.

Protective town officials, ostracism and an increasingly divided community serve as appendages in a multi-layered whodunit/coverup with enough pulling power to endure for the rest of this summer and early fall. Burden of Truth is an anomaly for The CW, but a good one to have. In that respect, thanks, Canada. And don’t let those high tariffs dissuade you from importing more of the same.


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Hulu's Castle Rock: a unique fling with Stephen King


Advisory: Do not raise this young man cage-free. Hulu photo

Premiering: The first three of 10 episode begin streaming Wednesday, July 25th on Hulu
Starring: Andre Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Melanie Lynskey, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Terry O’Quinn, Frances Conroy, Jane Levy, Ann Cusack, Allison Tolman, Chosen Jacobs, Noel Fisher, Caleel Harris
Produced by: J. J. Abrams, Ben Stephenson, Liz Glotzer, Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason

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Screen adaptations of Stephen King’s work long ago entered the realm of countless.

Ah, but Hulu’s Castle Rock turns out to be a frightmare apart from the likes of Carrie, The Shining, It, Cujo, Under the Dome, Pet Sematary, Christine, Bag of Bones, The Dead Zone, The Shawshank Redemption and Salem’s Lot -- to name just a few.

As the opening credits note, Castle Rock is “based on characters and settings” created by Stephen King. Which means that its story revisits some of his old haunts without otherwise borrowing from one of his previous novels or short stories. It’s instead taking pages from FX’s Fargo series, which was inspired by the classic Joel and Ethan Coen film but told all-new stories populated by original characters. The brothers gave executive producer Noah Hawley their blessing and otherwise pretty much stayed away. King similarly is taking a hands-off approach with Castle Rock after giving the go-ahead.

A production team headed by J. J. Abrams (Lost, Alias and several Star Wars and Star Trek feature films) also hopes to replicate the Fargo motif of new tales and casts each season. Hulu’s first go-around with Castle Rock will have 10 episodes, with the initial three being made available for streaming on Wednesday, July 25th. TV critics were allowed to pre-screen a fourth episode as well. Based on what I’ve seen, this seems to be another pretty terrific handoff, with Abrams and the writers leaving a number of King-related “Easter eggs” hiding in plain sight while also ratcheting up the atmospheric tension.

The small burg of Castle Rock, Maine has been terrorized by Cujo the rabid dog among other things. Hulu also makes King’s famed Shawshank State Prison a focal point. It’s where a hollow-eyed, pale as milk young man known as “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgard) is discovered caged in an abandoned basement wing. Who put him there and why? Well, let’s just say that warden Dale Lacy (Terry O’Quinn) seemingly has the answers, but isn’t going to divulge them in the present tense -- as you’ll see soon enough. Lacy then steps in as a narrator, dropping dollops of cryptic intel about what’s infesting Castle Rock.

Meanwhile, Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), adopted African-American son of white parents, has fled to Houston and is specializing in representing death row inmates. As an 11-year-old, he had disappeared for 11 days in 1991 during the height of an unforgiving Castle Rock winter. Town sheriff Alan Pangborn (Scott Glenn in present day) had been out searching for reasons of his own when the presumed dead young Henry suddenly materialized. The kid then was suspected of foul play in the death of his minister father.

A grown Henry reluctantly returns to Castle Rock after “The Kid,” who’s otherwise been mostly mute, speaks his name to young prison guard Dennis Zalewski (Noel Fisher). Henry’s mother, Ruth (Sissy Spacek of Carrie movie fame), is now afflicted with dementia and living with Pangborn, who also was a character in King’s Needful Things and The Dark Half. Retired from law enforcement, he looks dried up but retains a dry wit. One of the simple, but highly pleasurable moments of Castle Rock comes in Episode 2, when Pangborn orders an over-priced beer at a hoity toity hotel bar while trying to warn the new prison warden (Ann Cusack) about her mysterious, newly discovered inmate. “Let’s try the six dollar Coors,” he says sardonically.

Henry’s childhood friend, Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), also re-materializes as a realtor/developer with a drug addiction. Her straitlaced sister so far is played only peripherally by Allison Tolman, who broke through in a big way as Molly Solverson in Season One of Fargo.

Spacek’s Ruth Deaver is more consequential but also almost an afterthought until Episode 4, when she works herself into a snarl via a take-notice scene with her son. “This is my home. I’ll leave it in a box,” she declares. “Don’t you try to take me to Texas. Don’t you dare.”

Holland is solid in the lead role of the adult Henry, who’s played by Caleel Harris in those scene-setting earlier scenes. But it’s Glenn who’s stealing the show with his slow-to-burn disposition and to-hell-and-back mug. Here’s a guy who’s seen things and then very likely covered them up. But what? And why? Skarsgard (Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the feature film version of It), stays completely and convincingly in character as the drama’s perhaps demon-seeded death merchant.

Castle Rock looks to be one of the best King things in years, even though the man himself serves primarily as a road map and blueprint. It’s nothing against him -- because without him there’d be no foundation. But damned if FX didn’t turn Fargo into a series that rose to the level of the movie and arguably surpassed it. And now here comes Hulu with a fighting chance to do the same over several seasons to come. Please, though, don’t send in the clowns. At least not this first time.

GRADE: A-minus

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A tale of six accomplished TV auteurs, half of them prolific, the other half largely standing in place

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David Chase (The Sopranos) and Shonda Rhimes (take your pick) lately are polar opposites when it comes to being prolific.

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What will he do for an encore after The Sopranos?

Its principal architect, David Chase, instead has chosen to stay in his wheelhouse by co-writing a Sopranos prequel tentatively titled The Many Saints of Newark and set during the era of that city’s 1960s race riots. As currently envisioned, it will be a feature film, not a TV series.

Meanwhile, Chase’s A Ribbon of Dreams, a planned miniseries for HBO about Hollywood’s formative years, is now dead according to friend/colleague Alan Sepinwall, one of Chase’s longtime confidants and now TV critic for Rolling Stone. HBO originally announced the series way back in March 2009. But Chase wasn’t able to pull the trigger for whatever reasons.

This brought something to mind. Chase, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner and Breaking Bad maestro Vince Gilligan have yet to follow up these classic series with both new, original ideas for the small screen. On the other hand, producers/creators Dick Wolf, Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy are constantly turning out new product. Their creations aren’t in league with the aforementioned all-time great series. But particularly in Murphy’s case, they’ve won some major Emmy awards along the way.

Circumstances vary. When you make your mark in an indelible way, the pressures are greater to create a followup act. And it’s probably all downhill anyway, so why put yourself out there?

Some people are grinders, though. The late Aaron Spelling could never be accused of producing high quality television. But he churned out product like those chocolates on that Lucy/Ethel assembly line. His principal venue, ABC, became known as the Aaron Broadcasting Company. And Spelling, if nothing else, was a great provider, with ratings hits such as Dynasty, Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart, Hotel, Starsky & Hutch, The Mod Squad, The Rookies and T.J. Hooker. When ABC cut him loose, he returned with another arsenal for rival networks, including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, 7th Heaven and Charmed.

Wolf, Rhimes and Murphy are in the Spelling tradition. Chase, Weiner and Gilligan decidedly are not, when it comes to blending quality with productivity. Let’s take a closer look at them.

David Chase -- He’s 73 now, and in fairness was more prolific as a younger man. Chase cut his teeth on The Rockford Files as one of the show’s sub-producers and then went on to play a leading role in I’ll Fly Away, Northern Exposure and the quickly canceled but critically acclaimed Almost Grown. But since The Sopranos left HBO in 2007, he’s put his name to just one completed project, as producer of the 2012 feature film Not Fade Away.

Dick Wolf -- At age 72, he’s nearly as old as Chase. But what a contrast. Wolf, who recently vowed to never retire, wrote several scripts for Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice before eventually striking it rich in 1990 by creating the original Law & Order brand for NBC. Two successful spinoffs ensued -- Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: SVU (still on the air). There also were three clinkers (Law & Order: LA, Law & Order: Trial By Jury) and last season’s Law & Order: True Crime.

But as the Law & Order brand petered out -- and seemingly Wolf’s career along with it -- he reinvented himself with more drama series in the same branding mode. Chicago Fire, launched in 2012 on NBC, was followed by Wolf’s Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med while a third spinoff, Chicago Justice, failed to achieve liftoff. But Fire, P.D. and Med are all still standing, and this fall will comprise NBC’s entire Wednesday night schedule.

During this period, Wolf also has whiffed with the likes of a Dragnet reboot, Conviction, Deadline and Swift Justice. He hasn’t exactly been showered with Emmys, but has been nominated numerous times and won the “Outstanding Drama Series” trophy in 1997 for the original Law & Order. Among his cast members, Mariska Hargitay has won a Best Actress Emmys for SVU while the series also has been feted with five Guest Actress trophies.

Vince Gilligan -- He had been a co-executive producer on The X-Files (but second banana to Chris Carter) before creating his masterstroke, Breaking Bad, in 2008. Gilligan’s Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul, remains on AMC after a 2015 launch. In that same year, Gilligan, 51, helmed the short-lived Battle Creek series for CBS. But that was resurrected from a script Gilligan had written 10 years earlier. He’s otherwise yet to go beyond his Breaking Bad parameters.

Shonda Rhimes -- ABC has been beholden to her ever since Grey’s Anatomy premiered in 2005 and eventually led to an all-Shonda Thursday night lineup also populated by Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. The Scandal era is over after this year’s series finale. But after all these years, Grey’s is still ABC’s most-watched scripted series and HTGAWM will begin Season 5 this fall. In the interim, Rhimes, 48, has left ABC with another pair of returning series, Station 19 and For the People.

The bad news for the alphabet network: Rhimes has signed an exclusive deal with Netflix, which will be home to all of her future series. None of her creations has won an Emmy in the best drama series category, and only Grey’s has ever been nominated. But Viola Davis, star of HTGAWM, has won an Emmy for best actress in a drama series while Katherine Heigl took home a supporting actress trophy during the early years of Grey’s.

Matthew Weiner -- He was a key off-camera contributor to The Sopranos, but during that time could never convince HBO to green light his vision for Mad Men. So Weiner, 53, instead put AMC on the map as a new home for high quality scripted series. He earlier worked on both Becker and Andy Richter Controls the Universe.

During the run of Mad Men, which ended in 2015, Weiner directed the feature film Are You Here. He’s otherwise been idle, although an announced new TV project is looming. The Romanoffs, on which Weiner is creator, executive producer, writer and director, is an anthology drama series planned for sometime this year on Amazon Prime. Eight episodes are in the works, with a different cast, story and location for each of them, Weiner has said. Former Mad Men co-stars Christina Hendricks and John Slattery reportedly are among the actors on board for a single episode. Other announced participants include Diane Lane, Amanda Peet, Paul Reiser, Corey Stoll and Jon Tenney. Weiner also has reassembled many members of his Mad Men creative team. So we’ll see what comes of this.

Ryan Murphy -- Now here’s a guy who knows how to have it both ways. Murphy, 52, not only churns out product but also has been rewarded with armloads of Emmy awards and wins. His primary venues have been the FX and Fox networks, although those associations are now ending. As did Rhimes, Murphy has signed an exclusive deal with Netflix.

He made his first big marks with FX’s Nip/Tuck and Fox’s Glee after breaking in with 1999’s moderately successful Popular for now defunct WB network. Glee received a slew of Emmy nominations and won six of them. Nip/Tuck likewise had multiple Emmy nominations during its run, but won only for “Outstanding Makeup.”

But then came Murphy’s American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Feud anthology series for FX -- all within six years time.

The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, one of 2016’s most acclaimed TV productions, won nine Emmys, including for “Outstanding Limited Series.” Acting awards went to Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown. This year’s second installment, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, has an imposing total of 18 Emmy nominations, with the results coming in September.

The Horror Story franchise has won four acting Emmys over the years, including two for Jessica Lange. She also was among the nominees for Feud: Bette & Joan, which had a total of 18 nods and early on looked to be a big winner before being beaten in all of the major categories by HBO’s Big Little Lies.

Last season, Murphy gifted Fox with its most-watched new series, 9-1-1, while also launching Pose on FX. Both have been renewed for second seasons. Incredibly, all of Murphy’s series have endured for at least two seasons, although a previously announced sophomore year for Feud (focusing on Prince Charles and Princess Diana), reportedly is hitting some snags creatively.

In short, Murphy, Rhimes and Wolf are both devoted and addicted to juggling multiple TV series at once. Chase, Gilligan and Weiner are constipated in comparison, but have much tougher acts to follow -- and may not want to follow them at all.

There’s no “right” way to do this. But Murphy so far has proven to be TV’s lord and master when it comes to both the conveyor belt approach and an ability to keep the critical acclaim coming.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Emmy snubs are nothing new, but two of this year's really rankle


The Deuce came up snake eyes in Emmy nominations. HBO photo

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And now for the snubs after fully digesting Thursday’s prime-time Emmy nominations -- and what got spat out.

First a caveat. Voters have an increasingly difficult task, with a myriad of programs from almost countless different directions. Even with expanded lists of nominees in some major categories, it remains impossible to please everyone.

OK, no more Mr. Nice Guy, because at least two omissions were inexcusable.

Let’s start with Ken Burns’ exemplary 10-part The Vietnam War, which arguably was his finest, and certainly most immediate, achievement ever. It did receive four nominations, including for directing and writing. But inexplicably, The Vietnam War is not among the five nominees for “Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.” Huh? Instead the Emmy nods went to PBS’ American Masters, Netflix’s Wild Wild Country, HBO’s The Defiant Ones, BBC America’s Blue Planet II and Showtime’s The Fourth Estate.

Wild Wild Country and The Fourth Estate both had the advantage of being recent premieres while The Vietnam War launched on PBS back in September. Apparently that’s too long ago for many voters’ memories. But in the annals of egregious Emmy omissions, this one is near the top of the charts.

Nor is The Vietnam War included in the four nominees for “Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking.” Those went to A&E’s City of Ghosts, National Geo’s Jane, Netflix’s Strong Island and Starz’s What Haunts Us.

Vietnam War did fare better than HBO’s heavily acclaimed drama series The Deuce, which got completely skunked. There are two major factors here. The Deuce, which depicts the rise of New York City’s porn industry, likewise premiered “long ago” last September.

More to the point, though, it very likely fell by the wayside because of accusations that star James Franco had engaged in “sexually exploitative” behavior on several occasions. His denials -- “not accurate,” he said on Late Show with Stephen Colbert -- have mostly fallen flat in times when the #MeToo movement has become a major force both in Hollywood and around the world.

Unfortunately, Emmy’s complete bypass of The Deuce penalizes both the series as a whole and an exemplary performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal as a prostitute seeking to become an independent entrepreneur in the nascent porn film industry of 1970s New York. Other Emmy caliber supporting performances also have been ignored.

Let’s move on to the Jeffrey Tambor taint. He’d been lionized by the LGBTQ community and also won two acting Emmys in the role of Mort/Maura Pfefferman on Amazon’s Transparent. But subsequent allegations of sexual misconduct on the set of Transparent knocked the halo from his head. And it got worse for Tambor when veteran actress Jessica Walter said he had verbally bullied her during filming of Netflix’s second season of Arrested Development, which had completed filming by the time the Transparent controversy kicked in.

Both Transparent and Arrested Development were shut out of Thursday’s Emmy nominations, and I wouldn’t argue on behalf of either of them. But without the Tambor taint, both series likely would have received at least some recognition.

Arrested Development mainstay Jason Bateman initially defended Tambor’s conduct on that show’s set before quickly apologizing profusely on Twitter. Although some thought he was cooked as a potential nominee for his work on Neflix’s Ozark, Bateman emerged with both lead actor and directing nominations. The series itself did not make the cut in the “Outstanding Drama Series” category.

The FX comedy Better Things, which had a terrific second season, received just a lone nomination for Pamela Adlon’s lead performance. Its failure to make the “Outstanding Comedy Series” field in part can be blamed on Louis C.K., who was banished as the show’s co-creator/executive producer -- and from FX entirely -- after admitting to various sexual improprieties. A rather lame season of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm instead got what should have been a nomination for Better Things.

Emmy voters also curiously again shut out Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, which was a no-show in the “Outstanding Animated Program” category. But Disney XD’s Baymax Returns got a nomination. Really?

Sandra Oh deserved her nomination for BBC America’s Killing Eve. But if anything, her co-star, Jodie Comer, deserves one even more. Her exclusion is a shame. I would have slotted her instead of Tatiana Maslany for her multi-character performance in BBC America’s Orphan Black, which had its series finale last August. In this case, Emmy voters’ memories proved to be too long.

Finally, Jimmy Fallon continues to pay a price for his playful Donald Trump hair ruffle down the homestretch of the 2016 presidential campaign. He has since publicly regretted this, but to no avail. For the second straight year (after being nominated in the two previous years), Fallon’s Tonight Show is not among the six finalists in the “Outstanding Variety Talk Series” category. But TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee again is an Emmy contender. In contrast, she called Trump’s daughter Ivanka a four-letter vulgarity and then apologized without further repercussions.

I wouldn’t drop Bee in favor of Fallon. Nor would I dislodge any of the other contenders in the late night category. But as Fallon has learned to his chagrin, making nice with a Trump will get you nowhere when it comes to Emmy nomination time.

Note to readers: In case you might be wondering, HBO’s Veep, FX’s Pose and Netflix’s House of Cards all were ineligible for Emmy consideration because new episodes didn’t air between June 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018. Pose missed that cut by just three days.

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Game of Thrones paces an otherwise dethroned HBO in 2018 Emmy nominations


Game of Thrones re-emerged Thursday as Emmy’s most nominated program but mainstays Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) weren’t among the nominees. HBO photo

HBO had an up-down ride Thursday with the announcement of 2018’s Emmy nominations.

After a year of ineligibility, the network’s Game of Thrones returned as the top-nominated program with 22, edging NBC’s Saturday Night Live and HBO’s Westworld with 21 nods apiece. But after an unprecedented 17-year winning streak, HBO slipped to second place behind online streaming Netflix for the most overall nominations. It was close, with HBO slipping just slightly from 110 to 108 nominations while Neftlix upped its total from last year’s 91 to 112.

Despite the closeness, this is another sea change in a competition where the once dominant Big Four broadcast networks are no longer expected to lead the pack. NBC did, however, up its year-to-year total from 63 to 78 nominations in finishing a solid third. In contrast, Fox fell from 20 to just 16 Emmy nods.

Netflix weighed in with four programs snaring 10 or more Emmy nods, led by The Crown with 13. Its other double-digit performers were Godless and Stranger Things (each with 12); and GLOW (10).

FX scored big with The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (18 nominations) and Atlanta (16) while Hulu again finished near the top of the charts with the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale (20 nods). And Amazon made a major impression with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which had 14 nominations.

The other programs with 10 or more nominations were HBO’s Barry (13); NBC’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert (also with 13); NBC’s The Voice and VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race (10 apiece).

Programs had to air between June 1 and May 31 to be eligible. This left out one of HBO’s heaviest hitters, Veep, after production on its final season was delayed by star Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ recovery from breast cancer. Veep had won three consecutive Emmys as Best Comedy Series while Louis-Dreyfus had a six-year winning streak in the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category. But HBO’s Game of Thrones wasn’t on last year’s playing field, so it’s something of a wash. And Netflix’s ineligibles included previous Emmy nominees House of Cards and Master of None.

The marquée catégories of best drama and comedy series were without one usual and eligible suspect. ABC’s Modern Family for the first time missed the comedy series cut after winning in this category from 2010 to 2014. This year’s nominees are Atlanta, Barry, GLOW, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, ABC’s black-ish, HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and HBO’s Silicon Valley. Also nominated last year, Atlanta looks like the prohibitive favorite.

The Best Drama Series contenders include FX’s The Americans for its final season. Also in this mix are The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, The Crown, Stranger Things, Westworld, and NBC’s This Is Us. The defending champ, Handmaid’s Tale, is a likely repeater, particularly in the #MeToo era. But The Americans, which has never won, could be a strong dark horse.

The Best Limited Series field is Godless, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, National Geo’s Genius Picasso, Showtime’s Patrick Melrose and TNT’s The Alienist. The probable winner here is Versace.

Emmy’s Variety Talk Series finalists again are absent NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, who directly compete against him, again made the cut along with TBS’ Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, CBS’ The Late Late Show with James Corden, HBO’s Last Week Tonight and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. John Oliver’s Last Week appears to be in the driver’s seat after winning this category last year.

The main Lead Actress and Actor categories look like this:

Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale); Claire Foy (The Crown); Keri Russell (The Americans); Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld); Sandra Oh (BBC America’s Killing Eve); Tatiana Maslany (BBC America’s Orphan Black).

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish); Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel); Allison Janney (CBS’ Mom); Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure); Pamela Adlon (FX’s Better Things); Lily Tomlin (Netflix’s Grace and Frankie).

Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us); Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us); Ed Harris (Westworld); Matthew Rhys (The Americans); Jeffrey Wright (Westworld); Jason Bateman (Netflix’s Ozark).

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Donald Glover (Atlanta); Bill Hader (Barry); Anthony Anderson (black-ish); Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm); Ted Danson (NBC’s The Good Place); William H. Macy (Showtime’s Shameless).

Emmy Nuggets

*** It’s hard to go wrong with Allison Janney. This will be her 14th Emmy try and she’s won seven times previously. Not as fortunate are Anthony Anderson and Sandra Oh, both of whom have gone hitless in five previous at bats and hope to finally make contact with their sixth nominations.

*** Nothing is likely to ever touch ABC’s Roots for the most Emmy nominations in a single year. In the Miniseries/Limited Series category, it had 37 in 1977. The runner-up on this all-time list, ABC’s NYPD Blue, earned 27 nods in 1994.

*** ABC’s banished Roseanne managed to snare two nominations, for multi-camera picture editing and for Laurie Metcalf’s portrayal of Jackie Harris. She won three times for that role in the original Roseanne.

*** First-time Emmy nominees fittingly include Megan Amram for the web series An Emmy for Megan. Among the name brand notables are John Legend (the title role in Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert), Ricky Martin (Assassination of Gianni Versace) and at long last the very deserving Kenan Thompson for Saturday Night Live.

*** One is the loneliest number for these high-profile series, all of which received just a single Emmy nomination: America’s Got Talent, Ballers, The Blacklist, Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, Modern Family, Scandal, South Park.

The 70th annual prime-time Emmy Awards ceremony will be telecast Sept. 17th on NBC, with hosts Colin Joost and Michael Che.

For a complete list of nominees, go here.

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The Outpost gives The CW a summertime facsimile of Wonder Woman


Talon (Jessica Green) gets her glare on in The Outpost. CW photo

Premiering: Tuesday, July 10th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Jessica Green, Jake Stormoen, Imogen Waterhouse, Anand Desai-Barochia, Philip Brodie, Andrew Howard
Produced by: Dean Devlin, Jason Faller, Rachel Olschan-Wilson, Jonathan Glassner, Kynan Griffin, Marc Roskin

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The CW goes into Wonder Woman mode with The Outpost, a summer season medieval frolic in which the majority of men are dastardly.

Jessica Green stars as Talon, who as a little girl watched her mother and the entire village they lived in destroyed at the order of a maniacal SOB known as Dred (Philip Brodie). Thirteen years later, she’s the lone surviving “Blackblood.” And although her supernatural powers are yet to be harnessed or fully revealed in the first episode, she does quite all right with her fists and a sword.

Originally commissioned by Syfy for its international networks, The Outpost arrives in the U.S. for an initial 10-episode run. Only the first hour has been made available for review. Subtitled “One is the Loneliest Number,” it moves fast with both its plentiful action scenes and paint-by-the-numbers storyline.

Talon is first seen in a bar, where a coarse-looking tattoo artist bellows “Where’s my drink?” She duly serves it up while also prying him for intel on the bearers of a cross-shaped mark he’s designed. The bloke calls her a “tart” and wants sexual favors in return. Luckily, a group of armored soldiers then barges in and begins slaying patrons for gambling illegally. Talon saves the slug’s life by killing off a batch of the intruders. He then coughs up some names before taking a lethal arrow in the chest.

Another action scene -- and another death -- kick in before the opening title card, theme music and credits. A flashback to 13 years ago then finds Talon as a little girl who’s already able to beat up a young male goon who slays an innocent woodland creature. Then come Dred’s marauders, with Talon getting a good look at the blackguard who kills her mother. But not before mom’s last valiant act enables her daughter to both escape and be bestowed with some otherworldly abilities she’ll have to figure out later.

Back in the present, Talon’s perils resume. This time, however, she’s saved from death at the hands of virus-spreading “plaguelings” (think zombies) by a cocksure young captain named Garret (Jake Stormoen). Talon doesn’t like being saved by anyone -- let alone a man. But after a bit of snippiness, they’re off together to a fortress that safeguards humans from big batches of plaguelings. in other words, The Outpost.

Garret’s stern father, Marshal Withers (Andrew Howard), is the resident law of this land. Stretching beyond the medieval vernacular, he says, “It is what it is” before placing Talon in the custody of his son.

Other supporting characters include a local bar mixologist named Janzo (Anand Desai-Barochia) and an entitled princess of some sort (Imogen Waterhouse as Gwynn).

Another life-and-death battle ends ensues before the hour ends with a nifty little postscript scrawled in blood. There’s a companion mystery in play as well.

The Outpost flexes female empowerment throughout in times when, well, what new series doesn’t? But some viewers, depending on their tolerance for such things, might still be offended by Talon requiring a man’s assistance in her ultimate moment of peril. Sigh, same old, same old. Am I reading too much into this? Probably not.

Things aren’t breezy enough here to be a jaunty sword-and-dagger fest. Talon is too serious-minded for that with her understandable determination to kill her mother’s killers in addition to avenging the attempted wiping out of an entire race. The first episode never dawdles in this respect. Future hours may calm down considerably on the action front. But even at a slower pace, The Outpost seems to promise enough mayhem, intrigue and burgeoning feminism to make for a satisfying enough summer run.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO still not lifting the gloom with Sharp Objects


Amy Adams is seldom far from a drink in Sharp Objects. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, July 8th at 8 p.m. (central)
Starring: Amy Adams, Chris Messina, Patricia Clarkson, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Elizabeth Perkins, Taylor John Smith, Will Chase, Madison Davenport, Sophia Lillis, Lulu Wilson
Produced by: Marti Noxon, Jason Blum, Jean-Marc Vallee, Gillian Flynn, Amy Adams, Charles Layton

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There’s a bar called Cheer Up Charlies in Austin, TX. HBO needs to go there.

For now, though, the network remains firmly stuck in its spring/summer depression era with movies and limited series that are polar opposites of uplifting. Paterno. Fahrenheit 451. The Tale. And now, Sharp Objects, which begins its decidedly dreary eight-episode run on Sunday, July 8th at 8 p.m. (central).

Adapted from Gillian Flynn’s 2006 same-named novel, it features an effectively morose lead performance by Amy Adams, who’s virtually certain to get an Emmy nomination when Sharp Objects becomes eligible next year.

She’s cast as hard-drinking, self-cutting, fresh out of therapy Camille Preaker, a reporter for a St. Louis newspaper who’s assigned to revisit a home town that became a living hell for her after sibling Marian died of a mysterious illness. They were very close, even if Camille’s haughty mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson), clearly loved Marian best.

Camille’s editor, Frank Curry (Miguel Sandoval), sends her back to Wind Gap, Missouri to detail and accessorize the gruesome recent murders of two teen girls, both of whom were left with their front teeth pulled out. Frank, who’s battling a serious illness, is to therapy what Freddy Krueger was to peace of mind. But Camille reluctantly heeds his orders because this “could be a damn big story if you do it right.”

HBO made the first seven hours available for review, with the concluding episode promised next month in advance of its airing. Judging from what transpires (don’t worry, no spoilers), it looks as though the denouement possibly could be different from that in Flynn’s book. But maybe not.

The killings of Natalie Keene and, earlier, Ann Nash, have left most of Wind Gap on high alert. But Camille’s nubile half-sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen), who’s the Lolita of this yarn, continues to sneak out into the night and cavort with her pals. She also has designs on Camille, who briefly moves into mom and dad’s palatial spread while soon regretting it. Her ineffectual stepfather, Alan (Henry Czerny), mostly tunes out with music while wife Adora hits the bottle and Camille hits the bars when not swigging from a water bottle filled with vodka.

Sharp Objects seems intent on setting an unbreakable TV record for consumption of straight, unadorned booze, whether the imbiber is Camille, incoming Kansas City detective Richard Willis (Chris Messina) -- with whom she meshes and clashes -- or Natalie’s surviving, troubled brother John Keene (Taylor John Smith), a prime suspect in the view of some.

The veteran town sheriff, named Vickery (Matt Craven), chooses to believe that a drifter committed both murders. There’s also longtime town resident Jackie (Elizabeth Perkins), a tart who’s seldom sober but knows a few things.

All of this tends to plod along at an excruciatingly slow pace, with the overall misery index lightened only occasionally by the banter between Camille and Willis. Editor Curry occasionally is dropped in from afar, urging Camille, whom he calls “kiddo” or “Cubby,” to stay with the story even when she’s on the verge of going off the rails again.

High maintenance Mama Adora, sipping on “amaretto sours” that match her disposition, is not exactly a stabilizing force. “You never mean to do anything. And yet you cause so much hurt,” she tells Camille in Episode 3. And in the following hour: “You were always so willful. Never sweet.”

Adams immerses herself in the role, her first for television since playing the recurring Katy in three episodes of NBC’s The Office. As Camille, she sat still for hours of makeup when required to bare her numerous skin etchings. And her character’s vulnerabilities are stark and virtually non-stop, via both flashbacks and while newly on the prowl in unforgiving Wind Gap. In some of the rewinds, Sophia Lillis steps in to play Camille in scenes with her sister, Marian (Lulu Wilson).

One can appreciate Adams’ performance, though, without buying into the overall endurance test required by Sharp Objects. There’s no relief in sight -- for anyone, really. So HBO again is asking a lot in times when many of its subscribers might well prefer a respite instead of another plunge into an abyss.

“Please don’t hate me,” Camille pleads at one point. But other than Adams’ performance, what’s to like?

GRADE: B-minus

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