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HBO's The Leftovers makes too big a mess of a letter-perfect book


The mayor (Amanda Warren) and police chief (Justin Theroux) try to keep the calm in Mapleton after “The Sudden Departure.” HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Christopher Eccleston, LIv Tyler, Chis Zylka, Margaret Qualley, Carrie Coon, Emily Meade, Amanda Warren, Ann Dowd, Michael Gaston, Max and Charlie Carver, Annie Q, Paterson Joseph
Produced by: Damon Lindelof, Tom Perrotta, Peter Berg, Sarah Aubrey

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
HBO may have made a serious misstep in its packaging of materials for The Leftovers.

Besides the early episodes of this new series, the network also sent the superb, same-named 2011 novel by Tom Perrotta.

It’s a marvel of economical, straight-ahead writing. An easy read although not cheaply so. And although the story ends open-ended, it also brings closure in varying degrees for the main characters.

You know the old axiom. Big-screen or TV adaptations seldom live up to high caliber books. But HBO’s version is likely to be a distinct disappointment if you’ve already read The Leftovers. Having just finished it, I’m wondering what the network was thinking. What could have been an intimate, powerfully told four-to-six-hour miniseries instead has been left to the devices of showrunner Damon Lindelof, best known for taking Lost on a trip that became a deadened end for many fans. It’s not quite an abomination. Not yet anyway. But this isn’t a series that looks as though it will be getting better in future weeks.

Perrotta also signed off as a co-creator of the 10-episode Season 1. But as he says in HBO publicity materials, “Damon is the final arbiter, of course . . . I’m just trying to be as helpful as I can. Whenever we depart from the source material, I consider myself just another writer in the room trying to come up with the best way to tell the story. I think it’s important for me to try and be a good collaborator and not throw my weight around.”

The Leftovers immediately departs from the source material in a very material way during Sunday’s 75-minute premiere episode before going completely off the tracks in Episode 3.

The book’s principal protagonist, Kevin Garvey, has been turned on his ear -- from a well-meaning, relatively mild-mannered mayor of fictional Mapleton, NY to a haunted, high-strung, violence-prone police chief played by Justin Theroux. The mayor instead is a black woman named Lucy Warburton (Amanda Warren).

Some of the bare bones basics remain. Two percent of the world’s population suddenly vanished without a trace in what’s officially been dubbed “The Sudden Departure” but is also interpreted as “The Rapture” in some quarters. Three years later, on the Oct. 14th anniversary, the mayor is going ahead with plans for a big inaugural “Heroes Day” parade, which chief Garvey opposes. (In the book, as mayor, he instigated it.)

Looming as a potential problem are the white-clad, cigarette-puffing members of the Guilty Remnant, all of whom have taken vows of silence save for their stern leader Patti (Ann Dowd).

The featured speaker after the parade is Nora Durst (Carrie Coon), whose husband, six-year-old son and four-year-old daughter all disappeared on that unforgettable day. In the book she’s a sympathetic figure, struggling to re-emerge as a semblance of a whole person. Through the first three episodes of HBO’s The Leftovers, Nora borders on being unlikeable. Her brother is the crazed Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston). He also existed in the book, and his mission was basically the same -- to “out” Mapletonians who secretly were bad people before disappearing. That way the reverend can prove they weren’t “selected” from on high for their virtues while he failed to qualify.

Episode 3 is devoted entirely to Rev. Jamison, who largely was on the periphery in the book besides not being Nora’s brother. His wildly implausible effort to find the money needed to save his church is a complete departure from The Leftovers’ printed pages. And it all ends in another development that likewise wasn’t in the book.

Meanwhile, Chief Garvey is prone to nightmares and also pulled in by a crazy townie who lately is specializing in killing dogs that roam in packs. Garvey also has two children, restive high schooler Jill (Margaret Qualley) and runaway son Tom (Chris Zylka), who’s hooked up with a cult leader known as “Holy Wayne” (Paterson Joseph).

Amy Brenneman also plays a Garvey, and likewise is among the 98 percent who were spared on Oct. 14th. But an HBO advisory says, “We think it would be best for the viewer not to know the relationship” of Laurie and Kevin. Oh, all right. Those who haven’t read the book will find out by the end of Sunday’s opening episode.

On a somewhat trivial note, both the book and the HBO series name some of the celebrities who vanished during the Sudden Departure. This is done via anniversary news coverage in the TV version. Kevin is watching in a bar when a montage of the missing famous includes Condoleezza Rice, Salman Rushdie, Shaquille O’Neal, Jennifer Lopez, Anthony Bourdain, Gary Busey, Bonnie Raitt and Pope Benedict XV!.

“I get the Pope. But Gary (expletive) Busey? How does he make the cut?” the barkeep grouses.

Busey doesn’t make the cut in the book. Nor do Rice, Raitt, Rushdie and Bourdain. But Lopez, Shaq and the Pope do, along with John Mellencamp, Adam Sandler, Greta Van Susteren, Vladimir Putin and “Miss Texas.”

Striving for poignancy while at the same muddying up and bloating the book’s basic story, the HBO version frequently resorts to a piano theme that gets trite after several repetitions. A lot of muscle tone is lost during the course of all the altered or added events. Kevin Garvey, by the way, also has an addled, institutionalized father who didn’t exist in the book.

None of the performances so far are enough to override or ameliorate all the concoctions and detours of the TV version. And Lindelof doesn’t inspire confidence in an eventually satisfying outcome -- no matter how many seasons it might take -- when he says in publicity materials, “There are certainly characters in this show who are very interested in discovering the answers to the mystery of what ‘The Sudden Departure’ meant and where they went. But I had to take this job knowing that there was a possibility that this show might never want to answer those questions, much in the same way that the mystery of life is that we don’t know what happens when we die.”

So with visions of Lost still too recent, here we go yet again. But after reading The Leftovers and being immensely satisfied with it, I’m not inclined at all to embark on what looks to be a very meandering journey towards who knows what or where.

Perrotta’s assured writing, filling 355 pages of the paperback version, has already spoiled me beyond repair. I only wish that HBO had followed up with a finite miniseries more faithful to the book instead of an open-ended extreme makeover.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Sawyer stepping down, Muir stepping in as new anchor of ABC's World News


New arrangements coming for David Muir, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanpoulos. At far right is ABC News president James Goldston. ABC photo

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It’s going to be a man’s world anew at the anchor desks of the flagship network newscasts.

Not so long ago, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was the last of his gender, competing against Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News and Diane Sawyer on ABC’s World News.

But Couric gave way to Scott Pelley in June 2011. And now Sawyer “has decided to step aside from anchoring a daily program to concentrate full time on new programming,” ABC announced Wednesday.

Her replacement, beginning on Sept. 2nd, will be David Muir, who has been anchoring ABC’s weekend newscasts since 2011. Muir will give up that job but remain as co-anchor of 20/20 with Elizabeth Vargas.

ABC also announced that George Stephanopoulous has been given the additional title of Chief Anchor while remaining with Good Morning America and continuing to host Sunday’s This Week public affairs program. He’ll also be handling “special reports and breaking news,” the network said.

Sawyer, whose World News won the May “sweeps” ratings period among 25-to-54-year-olds (the main advertiser target audience for news programming), began anchoring that broadcast on Dec. 21, 2009, replacing Charles Gibson.

“After wonderful years at World News, I decided it is time to move to a new full time role at ABC News,” Sawyer, 68, said in a statement. “I’ll be joined by an incredible team of journalists dedicated to enterprise reporting, innovative approaches to breaking news and new ways of thinking about big issues and events around the world.”

ABC News president James Goldston said that “for many years to come Diane will be a driving force at ABC News with her exceptional storytelling genius.”

Muir called it an “incredibly humbling day” that prompted him to “think of the 12-year-old boy with a dream of being a reporter and seeing the world . . . I cannot wait to begin this new adventure.”

The boyish looking Muir is 40 years old, making him the youngest weekday network evening news anchor since Peter Jennings’ first of two tenures. He was just 26 years old upon first anchoring ABC’s newscasts in 1965. After three years in that position, Jennings left to become a foreign correspondent before returning to the World News anchor desk in 1983 as a seasoned pro.

Williams was 45 when he replaced Tom Brokaw in 2004 as the NBC Nightly News anchor. Pelley was 53 when he took over for Couric in 2011.

Barbara Walters and Connie Chung are the only other women who have been full-time anchors of weekday network evening newscasts. But both shared the desk with men, respectively Harry Reasoner and Dan Rather.

In 2006, Couric became the first woman to solo in that position. But the CBS Evening News remained in third place, leading to her departure five years later. After a daytime syndicated talk show that lasted just two years, Couric early this year became “global news anchor” for Yahoo News.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Taxi Brooklyn fares well with blend of tire-squealing action, breezy byplay


Cop Cat Sullivan and cabbie Leo Romba in Taxi Brooklyn. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, June 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Chyler Leigh, Jacky Ido, Jennifer Esposito, Ally Walker, James Colby, Bill Heck, Jose Zuniga, Raul Casso
Produced by: Thomas Anargyros, Edouard de Vesinne, Gary Scott Thompson

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Crooks and crimes are caught and solved fast and furiously on NBC’s Taxi Brooklyn.

It’s the latest scripted summer newcomer on a network that’s already doing quite well with The Night Shift, hanging in there with Undateable and now sinking with Crossbones after a decent early sampling.

Although the premise is mega-preposterous, Taxi Brooklyn may be the best suited to breezy summer viewing with its spinning tire action and tasty banter between the two engaging leads.

Chyler Leigh, formerly with Grey’s Anatomy, plays snarly detective Caitlyn “Cat” Sullivan, who’s alienated five partners in the past year and wrecked three cars in the last month. But she’s been a little off-kilter ever since her father was murdered. The killer of course remains at large.

Jacky Ido (Inglorious Basterds), in his first American TV series, co-stars as cabbie Leo Romba, a hard driver behind the wheel but otherwise an easy grinner who’s much better than Cat at enjoying life.

They meet when he’s held at gunpoint by an escaped bank robber during a careening, high-speed chase through Brooklyn. She doesn’t believe his story and Leo’s back story doesn’t inspire confidence. He spent four years in a French prison for his alleged involvement in a bank robbery. And he’s now in the country illegally after lying on his immigration form. They don’t get along at first. “You’re just another d-bag a-hole to me,” she informs him, the first of four times Cat goes the “douche” route in the two episodes sent for review.

Nonetheless, Leo has the wheels she needs after being grounded and put on foot patrol by fed-up precinct captain John Baker (James Colby). But there are still cases to be solved. Leo offers to secretly drive Cat anywhere she wants to go if she’ll help him work out his immigration problems. He also has a cute son at home, which helps to sway her.

Taxi Brooklyn doesn’t have to make a lot of sense to be a fair amount of fun. Cat’s flirtatious mother, Frankie (nicely played by Ally Walker from NBC’s old Profiler series), chips in on occasion while Cat’s philandering ex-husband, detective Gregg James (Bill Heck), continues to vex her even more than mom.

The cases at hand quickly lead to foot or car chases, with Leo a virtuoso on the accelerator pedal and also helpful in deciphering clues. In Episode 2, Cat derisively calls him “Columbo,” to which Leo says, “I would be more of a David Addison from Moonlighting.”

This also is the episode in which Cat climbs into a slinky red dress to go undercover with Leo at a trendy club. But although purportedly a savvy cop, she’s quickly tripping after a sip from a doctored drink. It’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” time, with Leigh getting a chance to break away from her clipped, controlling character for a few minutes before Leo finally drags her out of there.

Taxi Brooklyn turns out to be better than expected escapist fare, even if Leo still isn’t charging Cat anything for all those extended, often high-speed trips. He seems to know all the shortcuts. She takes it from there.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

FX's Tyrant will make the heart grow fonder -- for Fargo


Welcome to beautiful Abbudin, my brother. You and your family will have a much longer stay than you thought in Tyrant. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, June 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Adam Rayner, Jennifer Finnigan, Ashraf Barhom, Moran Atias, Noah Silver, Anne Winters, Fares Fares, Salim Daw, Justin Kirk, Mehdi Dehbi, Raad Rawi, Alice Krige
Produced by: Howard Gordon, Craig Wright, Glenn Gordon Caron, Gideon Raff, David Yates, Michael Lehmann, Peter Noah, Avi Nir

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What can FX do for an encore following universal acclaim for the just concluded Fargo?

Its answer is sort of a Homeland in reverse from the architect of that series. But Tyrant looks like a plebeian in comparison. It’s not terrible. It’s just unremarkable. Fargo quickened the pulse with a series of diabolical twists orchestrated by Billy Bob Thornton’s malevolent Lorne Malvo. It fully lived up to the namesake movie, and in some ways surpassed it.

Tyrant, despite its foreboding title, is unlikely to leave either the blogosphere or the hemisphere buzzing about what just happened. FX has been on a roll, but you can’t win ‘em all.

The first four episodes were made available for review, but hours two to four didn’t materialize on FX’s password-protected media site until over the weekend. By that time many reviews already had been filed. This review is based on watching all four hours, not that it made all that much of a difference. Some series spring to life after lesser starts. Tyrant doesn’t necessarily deteriorate. Nor does it show signs of becoming something special.

The series’ main man is Bassam “Barry” Al Fayeed, a Pasadena, CA pediatrician who hasn’t been back to his Middle Eastern homeland of Abbudin in 20 years. But an invitation to the wedding of his older brother’s son is of considerable intrigue to his wife, Molly (Jennifer Finnigan). She’s never been back home to visit Barry’s folks. So she’s convinced him to make the trek even though Barry’s father, Khaled Al Fayeed (Nasser Faris), is an unrepentant dictator responsible for slaughtering thousands of his countrymen. Aw, c’mon honey, he can’t be that bad.

Barry has been a prisoner of his own past traumas. He jogs a lot and is “joyless” in the estimation of Molly. So off they go, with secretly gay 16-year-old son Sammy (Noah Silver) and pouty 17-year-old daughter Emma (Dallas native Anne Winters) also in tow. Barry’s dictator dad has reserved an entire airplane for the four of them. And upon landing, they’re greeted warmly by older brother Jamal (Ashraf Barhom) after he roars up in a red sports car to the tune of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

“C’mon, let’s go to the palace,” Jamal says after embracing one and all. He’s otherwise fresh from raping a married woman over whom he holds dominion while her husband and their children are helpless to stop him. Not a nice man. But Barry, via a series of flashbacks to their youths, let’s it be known that “the reason Jamal is so broken is that my father broke him.”

The premise of the series, helmed by Homeland maestro Howard Gordon, requires Barry and his family to have an unexpected extended stay in Abbudin. So without further details, let’s just say that Khaled Al Fayeed is not long for this world. And that Jamal is fated to be incapacitated for a while, making Barry’s continued presence in his abandoned homeland a matter of heightened import.

The main Tyrant ensemble also includes Jamal’s tough-minded wife, Leila (Moran Atias); crusading journalist Fauzi (Fares Fares), a boyhood friend of Barry’s; Kaled’s widow, Amira (Alice Krige); pliant U.S. Embassy representative John Tucker (Justin Kirk); and the brutal General Tariq (Raad Rawi), of whom it’s said in Episode 2, “Father called him The Hammer. For him, every problem is a nail.”

More on the periphery are Jamal’s spoiled, pudgy newlywed son Ahmed (Cameron Gharaee) and a young security guard named Abdul (Mehdi Dehbi), who develops a strong attraction to Sammy -- and vice versa. But by Episode 4, Abdul no longer is answering Sammy’s calls. This leads Sammy to blurt at a trendy club, “What the hell! You just gonna blow me and blow me off?” Oh please.

Barry, increasingly answering to his given name of Bassam, remains pretty much a clenched up bore. “You know what your problem is, Bassam? You are no fun,” Jamal tells him. Nonetheless he’s a Fayeed, which entitles him to quick ascension as special counsel to president Jamal.

Will Barry/Bassam do the right thing? Can his wife Molly be fleshed out into more than a stock character? And what about that very troubling 20th anniversary of old man Khaled’s unleashing of a lethal chemical gas attack on protestors. Might that somehow be turned into a new beginning?

“You can go down in history as one more brutal dictator,” Barry/Bassam tells his brother. “Or you can do down as the leader who had the courage to listen to his people. Who do you want to be?”

Those are the closing words of Episode 4. A bigger question of considerably more interest to FX is whether enough viewers will care by then. Probably not. Tyrant strives to be big, momentous and powerful. But while sometimes jabbing to good effect, it lacks a heavyweight’s punch.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

BBC America's The Musketeers breathes new life into timeless swordsmen


Swash your buckles. Or perhaps buckle your swashes. They’re back. BBC America photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on BBC America
Starring: Santiago Cabrera, Luke Pasqualino, Tom Burke, Howard Charles, Tamla Kari, Hugo Speer, Peter Capaldi, Maimi McCoy, Ryan Gage, Alexandra Dowling
Produced by: Adrian Hughes, Jessica Pope

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Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland respectively were Aramis and Athos. In an earlier big-screen era, so were Richard Chamberlain and Oliver Reed.

The Three Musketeers are never too far from another adaptation. Although in this case, they’re simply The Musketeers in a lively and sometimes very serious-minded 10-episode series premiering Sunday, June 22nd on BBC America. A second season already has been ordered.

Set in 17th century France but filmed in the Czech Republic, The Musketeers has everything one would expect from Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), Athos (Tom Burke looking very much like a young Stacy Keach), Porthos (Howard Charles) and apprentice Musketeer D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino).

Sword fighting is plentiful and well-choreographed. Bonhomie is also on the menu, as are an array of comely women with bursting-to-get-out bosoms. Subterfuge figures heavily into storylines, with few things quite as they seem. All in all, Alexandre Dumas likely would approve of this latest incarnation while also lamenting his continued inability to collect any royalties for the characters he first brought to life in 1844.

BBC America sent the first four episodes for review. They sequentially get better and deeper, with the tragic back stories of Athos and Aramis fueling hours three and four.

The opening hour begins with D’Artagnan and his father riding to Paris on a miserably rainy day. Dad is murdered by a band of masked intruders after they seek shelter from the storm. His last word is “Athos,” which sends D-Artagnan on a mission of revenge. Athos didn’t do it, of course, because that’s not how he rolls.

Aramis is the resident ladies’ man among the Musketeers. But D’Artagnan’s soulful eyes and cute puppy dog looks likewise are a magnet for both the scheming “Milady” (Maimie McCoy) and the virtuous but plucky Constance Bonacieux (Tamla Kari), who rents a room to him. She’s not about to betray her distasteful husband, who is often away on business. Well, not yet at least. But the attraction to D’Artagnan blooms and grows. By Episode 4 he’s teaching her how to shoot a pistol and handle a sword while remaining a tenant. Musketeers does a very nice job with their increasingly intimate scenes together.

Episode 2 is the quippiest of the four. It includes an opening sequence in which D’Artagnan is fleeing a batch of pursuing horsemen on foot while Aramis wryly tells Athos and Porthos, “He knows the Musketeer motto. Every man for himself.” Don’t worry. They’re still very much “all for one and one for all” at crunch times.

Aramis and Porthos also trade nifty one-liners.

“You’re a terrible judge of character -- especially when you’re sober,” Porthos is informed. He doesn’t disagree.

Later in the hour, a smitten Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling) looks longingly at Aramis after he saves her from a band of attackers.

“You know you were giving her ‘The Stare,’ “ Porthos tells him. He doesn’t disagree.

A whore also has Aramis in her sights. “Anytime you want your sword polished, handsome, just let me know,” she purrs. No wonder they eventually named a cologne after him.

The Musketeers also is populated by the weak-ish King Louis XIII (Ryan Gage), the middle-aged Musketeer Captain Treville (Hugo Speer) and diabolical Cardinal Richelieu (Peter Capaldi). (The latter actor subsequently nabbed the part of the 12th Dr. Who, forcing the producers to write Richelieu out in Season 2. He’ll be replaced by Marc Warren as Comte de Rochefort.)

Many a man dies or is wounded during the first four episodes. But the killing is all but bloodless, save for a few trickles here and there. In Episode 2, The Musketeers also deploys the timeless dynamite fuse gambit, with D’Artagnan shackled in serious harm’s way with 15 minutes to live before an explosion blows him to bits. Hmm, wonder if he’ll escape.

Some of the plot machinations are more than a little far-fetched. But none are fatal to the overall thrust of a series that turns out to be much more than a series of romps and flirtations. Episode 3 deals with the issue of slavery while also fleshing out Athos’ previously secret life. Episode 4 details how Aramis survived a Musketeer massacre five years earlier.

BBC America publicity materials say this all will come to a boil in Season 1’s climactic Episode 10. “Can the Musketeers restore their team and bring Milady and the Cardinal to justice?” the network asks. “Or will Milady finally wreak her revenge?”

I think we know those answers. But how about this? Will the makers of Three Musketeers candy bars be savvy enough to buy commercials during the run of Season One?

They’ve always been my favorite anyway.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

TNT's The Last Ship the latest to fight against all odds


Presenting the taut-jawed stars of The Last Ship. TNT photo

Premiering: Sunday, July 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra, Adam Baldwin, Travis Van Winkle, Charles Parnell, Christina Elmore, Sam Spruell, Marissa Neitling, John Pyper Ferguson
Produced by: Michael Bay, Brad Fuller, Andrew Form, Hank Steinberg, Steven Kane, Jack Bender

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The scope and visual effects speak for themselves in TV’s latest “Race to Save the World.” They’re for the most part impressive enough, even if some of the explosions look a little on the puny side in the three episodes sent for review.

Alas, the characters in TNT’s The Last Ship also must verbally express themselves. And in a full-blown armed forces drama, cliches can be harder to avoid than a bad mess hall meal.

The principal man of action in Last Ship is rock-ribbed Capt. Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), described in TNT publicity materials as “authoritative and decisive, but also fair and courageous.” As the man in charge of a Navy destroyer christened the U.S.S. Nathan James, he’s required to maintain a military bearing while mouthing lines such as “Time is something we don’t have.” Or “Revenge is best served cold.” In addition to, “These people depend on me, but I’m in uncharted territory here.”

Yes, you might say that. Few ship captains and their crews have encountered a situation in which they’re initially alone at sea while trying to formulate a vaccine for a virus that already has wiped out 80 percent of the world’s population, including the U.S. president and vice president. Earth will continue to take a beating with Sunday’s Season 4 premiere of TNT’s Falling Skies, which immediately follows Last Ship.

Chandler’s right-hand man is Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin), the ship’s regularly vexed but seemingly loyal executive officer. But the captain’s principal ally, with whom he of course clashes at first, is super-dedicated paleomicrobiologist Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra). Thanks to some incredibly bad- shooting Russian helicopter gunmen, she’s survived an arctic blast and come up with a “primordial sample” that could be the key to a cure. But this will take time. Probably lots of time. Even if time is something no one has.

Based on the same-named novel by William Brinkley, Last Ship is somewhat reminiscent of ABC’s Last Resort, a failed 2012 military drama in which a lone ship and its crew also faced all kinds of imposing odds. The problem is how to keep the plot afloat from week to week in an overall claustrophobic setting. How often can Capt. Chandler tighten his jaw and heroically maneuver his way through another life-threatening situation? Will those la-BOR-atory test tubes ever yield anything other than dead ends? How many times can various crew members either melt down or nobly sacrifice themselves? And will a steady diet of canned peaches eventually drive everyone mad?

By the end of Episode 2, largely set in virus-ravaged Guantanamo Bay, Last Ship is resorting to a prototypically demonic Russian admiral (Nick Jameson) who’s older and much less prettier than Chandler. He also happens to be the same guy who “literally wrote the book on modern naval warfare,” according to a hardback in the U.S.S. Nathan James library. So at the outset of Episode 3, Chandler’s on the receiving end of this command: “If you don’t do as I say, you and your crew will leave this harbor under a mushroom cloud.”

Well, that would pretty much end The Last Ship well short of the first season’s 10-episode order. So never fear, there’s some derring-do coming. As well as this call-to-arms boast from pretty lieutenant Kara Foster (Marissa Neitling): “I can knock the nipples off a chicken from a thousand yards, sir.”

This proves to be the most ridiculously entertaining of the first three episodes. But one doesn’t expect a whole lot of nuance from Last Ship maestro Michael Bay, who’s also produced all four Transformers movies, with another one in the works. You just sit back, swallow this thing whole and wait for sturdy, studly, stolid Captain Chandler to fire off another round of uniformed rhetoric.

“I’m not letting anybody on this ship give up,” says he. “I’m still the captain of this ship! Now I’ve laid out our mission. I expect you to fall in line.”

He forgot to add, “This ain’t no stinkin’ Love Boat.”


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The air is extra heavy in Season 2 of Sundance TV's Rectify


Aden Young and Abigail Spencer play brother/sister in Rectify. Sundance TV photo

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Do you like your gloom spread extra thick? Rectify won’t let you down.

Season 2 of Sundance TV’s first originally produced series returns on Thursday, June 19th (at 8 p.m. central) with an expanded 10-episode arc in which rays of sunshine are very much frowned upon during the first three hours sent for review.

Beaten to a pulp in the final scenes of Season 1, ex-convict Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is in an induced coma to keep his brain ticking. His character otherwise is seen only in prison flashbacks and dream sequences during Thursday’s re-start. Daniel’s devoted mother, Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), and steadfast but morose sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), maintain a bedside vigil.

Rectify had a six-episode first season, and I was transfixed. Season 2 still has more than a little going for it beyond an overall sense that nothing will end very well. The grim goings-on are harder to bear this time around, though, and the overall pace can be sedative-like. For those who haven’t seen Season 1, well, good luck with sorting all of this out.

Here are a few particulars. Daniel, at age 18, was convicted of raping and strangling his 16-year-old girlfriend, Hanna. But after nearly 20 years on death row, contradictory DNA evidence led to his release. This didn’t set well with many of the denizens of Paulie County, Georgia. But Daniel, who endured many indignities while in prison, found an inspirational friend in a devoted Christian named Tawney Talbot (Adelaide Clemens).

Unfortunately for her, pretty young Tawney is married to the high-strung and jealous Ted Talbot, Jr. (Clayne Crawford), son of Janet’s second husband, Ted Talbot, Sr. (Bruce McKinnon). The two Teds run a struggling tire shop that continues to sink further into bankruptcy at the start of Season 2. Ted Jr. has a new business plan but carps to Tawney in Episode 3 that “dad doesn’t know good ideas. He only knows old ones.”

In fitting Rectify fashion, Ted Jr. and Tawney continue to plod through one of the more joyless marriages in recent TV history, even though she’s constantly trying to change that. Meanwhile, Sheriff Carl Daggett (J.D. Evermore) tries to do his sworn duty by identifying and arresting the thugs who viciously assaulted Daniel while he visited Hanna’s grave. One of them was revealed last season as her no-good brother Bobby Dean (Linds Edwards), who intentionally unmasked himself before urinating on Daniel.

Rectify’s creator and head writer is Ray McKinnon, who’s also acted in Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy. Given that background, he’s not about to serve up any frosted flakes. Instead, the prison flashback scenes include Daniel being severely tormented by a fellow death row inmate in an adjoining cell. The guy took his turn when it came time to rape Daniel in the shower. But it was nothing personal, he says. “Coulda been a watermelon.” Be assured it gets worse.

There is one semi-redemptive and inspirational sequence. While still in a coma, Daniel dreams of being reunited with the executed Kerwin Whitman (Johnny Ray Gill), with whom he became friends during their joint cell time together. They meet in a pasture, with Kerwin extolling the beauty of life while Daniel says he may be “just too broken” to exist in the so-called real world.

It’s both a touching scene and a welcome relief near the close of Thursday’s Episode 1. But near the start of next week’s Episode 2, Ted Jr. already is wondering, “What if Daniel wakes up out of this coma and he’s a damn veggie burger?”

Rectify’s strengths in Season 1 included its portrayal of Christianity as something to embrace rather than wink-wink at or ridicule. In that respect, Tawney was no hypocrite or evangelical charlatan. Her spirituality wasn’t laughable. And the tortured Daniel responded to it -- for a while at least.

Season 2 will be four hours longer than its predecessor. In the first three episodes at least, its relentlessly brooding nature might turn off potential converts. There’s so much out there in the wide, wide world of TV, with significant new and returning cable dramas launching or re-launching every week. Rectify remains one of the worthier ones, and I’m not about to renounce it.

Still, this year’s tagline -- “Life Is a Tough Sentence” -- isn’t exactly inviting. The joy of last season’s discovery has given way to a hope that Rectify’s continued strong performances won’t be snuffed out by a steady downbeat of characters’ lives further unraveling.

GRADE: B+ (down from last season’s grade of A)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Post-apocalypse in play -- yet again -- in Syfy's Dominion


The archangel Michael wings it over humanity in Dominion. Syfy photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 19th at 8 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Tom Wisdom, Christopher Egan, Roxanne McKee, Anthony Stewart Head, Alan Dale, Carl Beukes, Luke Allen-Gale, Shivani Ghai
Produced by: Vaun Wilmott, Todd Slavkin, Darren Swimmer, Scott Stewart, Michael Litvak, David Lancaster

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Whether on big-screen or small-, the future is rarely a nice place to visit and you definitely wouldn’t want to live there.

Now it’s gotten so bad that even the Creator has gone MIA. Syfy’s new Dominion, set in 25 A.E. (After Extinction), sets its table with four screens worth of printed exposition, beginning with, “Twenty-Five years ago, God disappeared.”

Everyone needs to get away once in a while, but that’s a pretty long vacay. In His absence, “the archangel Gabriel, who despised man, led an army of lower angels in a war of possession against mankind.”

Furthermore, “acting alone, the archangel Michael sided with man against Garbriel, helping humanity fight back against the angels.

But wait, there’s more: “Out of the ashes of war, the survivors gathered into fortified cities. Vega is the greatest amongst them.”

Vega used to be Las Vegas. And amazingly, the Bellagio fountains still work amid all the battered slot machines and crap tables. It is not known yet, however, whether Wayne Newton’s facelift survived.

Dominion, which launches with a 90-minute episode following Thursday’s Season 2 return of Defiance, is a big jumble of good, bad and yet to be determined. Complex tattoos are also integral to the plot, making something of a comeback after figuring prominently in the first season of Fox’s Prison Break. Syfy additionally joins advertiser-supported cable’s bare backside brigade after TNT dipped its beak earlier this month with Murder in the First. FX may have to counter at some point with new vistas in exposed body parts.

Two of prime-time’s old reliables, Anthony Steward Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Alan Dale (Lost), vie for control of Dominion’s walled-off, heavily secured Vega. The uniformed General Riesen (Dale) is nominally still in charge, but power-seeking David Whele (Head) yearns to push him out.

“We’ve done our jobs too well” in protecting Vega from the outside, Whele carps. “Vega has grown complacent. And lazy.”

And also dependent on the super powers of archangel Michael (Tom Wisdom), who in the early going administers three lashes to young soldier Alex Lannon (Matt Damon resembler Christopher Egan) after he sneaks out and ends up being hotly pursued by some of Gabriel’s hissing henchmen and women.

“You know the rules and why they exist,” says Michael, playing God. “Everything in Vega has a purpose. It’s how the city survives.”

Alex also has a secret amorous relationship with General Riesen’s beautiful daughter, Claire (Roxanne McKee), who’s supposed to be marrying Whele’s callow son, William (Luke Allen-Gale). William talks a lot like Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell character from Mad Men. He also has the weasel gene.

The sinister Gabriel (Carl Beukes) is only fleetingly seen in Thursday’s premiere episode. But he now has a whole new line of limited edition angels who can appear to be humans. The better to sneak into fortresses such as Vega for the purpose of gaining intel and maybe even killing a little on the side.

During the course of Dominion’s launch, viewers also will meet Alex’s estranged father, Jeep (Langley Kirkwood), and learn the identity of “The Chosen One,” on whose shoulders rests the fate of the human race. That is unless God returns to take remedial action after perhaps first bellowing, “What the hell’s been going on here! I take a quarter-century off and you all go bat poop!”

Dominion perhaps has the makings of a passable post-apocalyptic tale. But it can also be over-wrought and half-baked, with a premise that never really delivers any of the implied biblical goods. Instead it’s another variation on futuristic good vs. evil, with an array of monstrous looking winged protagonists that could just as easily be bats from a badly bungled science experiment.

Dominion’s opening night close-out is strictly same-old, same-old, with one of the mysterious tattoos translated to read, “Beware of those closest to you.”

Cue the ominous music. Wow, what a twist.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Reviewing Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black -- after viewing all 13 episodes


Taylor Schilling & other principals from Orange Is the New Black. Netflix photo

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Doing time with Orange Is the New Black means watching all 13 episodes before passing judgment.

Why? Because with Netflix you can. So I’ve again opted to take the full measure of Season 2 rather than look at the relative handful of episodes earlier made available on a password-protected media site. It’s hardly a life sentence, but it does take a little more time with a series that began streaming in full on Friday, June 6th. Mission accomplished as of early Thursday afternoon. And simply put, bravo anew for a serio-comic women-in-prison tale that emerges more full-bodied than its acclaimed Season 1. Series creator Jenji Kohan has outdone herself. And that’s not easily done when she’s set the bars so high.

Ardent fans of Orange Is the New Black likely have already powered their way through en route to a highly satisfying season finale. Still, we’ll keep spoilers at a minimum while also divulging some basics.

Season 1 ended with the series’ central character, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), furiously pummeling Southern-fried nemesis Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (Taryn Manning) on the snowy grounds of the Litchfield federal prison.

Season 2 begins with Piper being transported on a “mystery bus” and then a plane to an unknown destination. The continued sharpness of the writing can be distilled into this laconic one-liner from one of the plane’s security guards: “Enjoy our in-flight entertainment, which is staring off into space.”

Initially sentenced to 15 months for being an international drug mule in the employ of lover Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), Piper worries that her fate is now far worse after the assault on Pennsatucky. But let’s get real. Orange Is the New Black isn’t about to isolate her -- at least not for long -- from the core cast of Season 1. After a complete absence from Episode 2, Piper’s back in the fold for Episode 3, subtitled “Hugs Can Be Deceiving.”

Not that the new season is Piper-centric. Far from it. A dynamic prison rivalry is set up between hard knocks Galina “Red” Reznikov (more brilliance from Kate Mulgrew) and a new character named Yvonne “Vee” Parker (an equally terrific Lorraine Toussaint). Red and Vee have clashed before during the latter’s earlier term at Litchfield. They’re soon running rival smuggling operations, with Vee as always wanting to control it all. Much of Season 2 is driven by Vee’s manipulations of her new “family” of young black inmates while Red sets up shop in an abandoned prison yard greenhouse that ostensibly is being used for therapeutic gardening by a small group of prison elders.

Season 2 also introduces the newly incarcerated Brooke Soso (Kimiko Glenn), an aggravatingly chatty activist who’s initially used as a punching bag even by Piper. Episode 3 has a line that underscores Piper’s evolution from prison daisy to hardened con. “I am a lone wolf, Brooke,” she declares. “And a vicious one. Don’t make me rip your throat out with my teeth.” Point made -- and convincingly.

Assistant prison administrator Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) also comes to the forefront with a substantially bigger role in Season 2. When not chafing under corrupt assistant warden Natalie “Fig” Figueroa (Alysia Reiner), he’s playing in a bar band called Side Boob. A cap covers his lousy looking thinning patch of hair, prompting a prison guard to crack, “You look like the gay Edge.”

Caputo for the most part evolves into a far more sympathetic figure in Season 2, with his humanitarian gestures serving as a counterpoint to the imperious, power-seeking “Fig.” Prison guard supervisor Sam Healy (Michael J. Harney), another holdover from Season 1, also shows some different sides in his ham-handed efforts to redeem himself as a human being. Complicit in Pennsatucky’s efforts to liquidate Piper, he’s become a would-be benefactor to both of them. In later episodes, his desk has sprouted a “Feelings Jar.”

Perhaps you’re wondering about last season’s breakout prison guard character, the sadistic and grandiose George “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber). On unpaid leave after being set up and then exposed as a sex partner of inmate Dayanara “Daya” Diaz (Dascha Polanco), Pornstache re-emerges briefly at the close of Episode 8. But his “arc” is brief, and it’s just as well. The character doesn’t fit nearly as well in this new season. So don’t get used to him.

Flashbacks to pre-prison days again are deployed in every episode except the last, which runs for an extended 92 minutes. The back stories of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba), Lorna Morello (Yael Stone) and Rosa Cisneros (Barbara Rosenblat) are especially revelatory. And Rosa, who’s dying of cancer, is very much a she-who-laughs-last driving force in the Season 2 finale.

By that time there are ample new possibilities for a Season 3, with the Piper-Alex relationship again swerving onto a new path with help from Piper’s former fiancé, Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), and the new woman in his life.

Orange Is the New Black remains a vibrantly hued, singular achievement. Darkly dramatic and comedically spiked, it deals in the dehumanization and restoration of both guards and inmates. Racism and long-held racial animosities are also sliced, diced and dissected. And whether the episode subtitle is “Take a Break From Your Values” or “Little Mustachioed Shit,” this is a series that continues to work on many levels -- most of them with daunting degrees of difficulty.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Starz's Power mixes/matches New York's club/drug scene


Omar Hardwick stars as drug runner/club owner in Power. Starz photo

Premiering: Saturday, June 7th at 8 p.m. (central) on Starz
Starring: Omar Hardwick, Lela Loren, Naturi Naughton, Enrique Murciano, Joseph Sikora, Donshea Hopkins, Michael Rainey Jr.
Produced by: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Courtney Kemp Agboh, David Knoller, Randall Emmett, Mark Canton

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Credit rapper and latter day TV producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson with making at least one successful pitch -- to Starz executives.

Billed by the network as a “visionary crime drama set in two different worlds,” Power premieres two weeks after 50 Cent threw his now famously errant ceremonial first pitch at a Mets-Pirates game. The video has gone viral with more than two million views. If Power’s Saturday night launch does those kinds of numbers, then 50 Cent and Starz have themselves a hit.

The series revolves around dapper, debonair James “Ghost” St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick), owner of Manhattan’s hot, customer-gouging Truth nightspot. But Ghost still makes most of his money working outside of the public eye as the New York drug distributor for demanding Mexican cartel kingpin Felipe Lobos (Enrique Murciano).

“Got a lotta shit on my plate at the moment,” Ghost says succinctly.

Ghost is also a family man. He and his wife, Tasha (Naturi Naughton), have two kids and of course live very comfortably. The difference here is that Tasha is very much aware of her husband’s lucrative side business and very much wants him to continue with it rather than go “legit.” Not that Ghost seems all that intent on just being a club owner. In an early scene, he cold-bloodedly murders a Mexican drug shipment thief and is rather easily swayed to the dark side by his longtime, trigger-happy running mate, Tommy Egan (Joseph Sikora).

The other principal character is Angela Valdez (Lela Loren), an old high school flame whom Ghost instantly recognizes from afar at his club despite having not seen her for 18 years. He still hasn’t gotten over her. And Tasha is immediately suspicious of this when she sees them embrace at Truth before he obtains Angela’s phone number. She responds as any jealous woman would -- by leaving in a huff and then seductively pleasuring herself in full view of the St. Patricks’ limo driver.

Anti-heroes are commonplace in today’s television world. Still, it might be tough to develop any kind of empathy for Ghost, even if he’s better looking and perhaps a smidge more honorable than the drug lord who’s been paying him handsomely and fully expects business to continue as usual after an abrupt disruption.

Meanwhile, Angela Valdez not so surprisingly turns out to be a key member of the task force going hard after the drug cartel. She’s unaware of Ghost’s secret life yet, but does know his position exists. “This problem between Lobos and his local guy is exactly what we need to exploit . . . We can give him a way out but only if he decides to take it,” she tells the task force.

So there you have it. Power has some pull, but maybe not enough to win a tug of war. Its overall pacing could use a perk-up and its portrayals of minorities (who twice drop the n-word) might take more heat if 50 Cent wasn’t both calling the shots and rapping a theme song that includes the lyric, “I’m an undercover liar. I lie under the covers.”

Starz so far has ordered eight episodes of Power from CBS Television Studios. It’s a rare blast from the present on a still formative network whose most successful series -- Spartacus, Da Vinci’s Demons -- have embraced the distant past. In the here and now, though, ye olde bacchanal still very much exists.

“More champagne, more vodka, more everything,” Mrs. Ghost commands upon arrival at the Truth club. Preferably in goblets.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

TNT's Murder in the First ably recycles what once made Bochco the best


Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs of Murder in the First. TNT photo

Premiering: Monday, June 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Taye Diggs, Kathleen Robertson, Tom Felton, Ian Anthony Dale, Raphael Sbarge, Richard Schiff, James Cromwell, Nicole Ari Parker, Steven Weber, Lombardo Boyar, Bess Rous, Currie Graham, Mimi Kirkland
Produced by: Steven Bochco, Eric Lodal

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TNT’s latest crime drama, Murder in the First, is straight ahead Steven Bochco.

Which begs the question: Does the now 70-year-old maestro behind Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue still have some pop?

Well, yes, he does. Even if Murder in the First basically is a nicer looking re-do of Bochco’s 1995 Murder One series, in which an entire season was spent solving one case.

The TNT version, slotted after Monday’s Season 3 premiere of Major Crimes, has a quality sheen to it and solid, screen-commanding performances from its two leads. Taye Diggs (Private Practice) and Kathleen Robertson (Boss) star as San Francisco detectives Terry English and Hildy Mulligan. He’s grieving the impending death from pancreatic cancer of his wife, Emily (guest star Anne-Marie Johnson). She’s a divorced single mom who actually seems as devoted to her pre-teen daughter, Louise (Mimi Kirkland), as she is to daily homicide-solving. Both are far more telegenic than Murder One’s star player, a bald, dictatorial, middle-aged lawyer played by one of the most reluctant-to-be-interviewed TV actors ever, Daniel Benzali as defense attorney Theodore Hoffman.

In Murder One, which endured for a second season under a different format, Hoffman and his team came to the defense of an egotistical rich young actor accused of murdering a young woman in a case involving sex and drugs. In Murder in the First, Terry and Hildy train their sights on an egotistical young software billionaire suspected of murdering a young woman in a case involving sex and drugs.

The software kingpin, named Erich Blunt, is well-played by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies). He’s a bullying womanizer who enjoys the newest in drug highs while also having the resources to hire the best lawyers money can buy. Two familiar faces, Richard Schiff and James Cromwell, are his legal beagles in Murder in the First. Schiff’s character, David Hertzberg, gets to fire off a nice riff while urging Blunt to hire Cromwell’s Warren Daniels to defend him in any murder case.

“Well, let me put it this way,” he says. “Had Daniels been defending Jesus in front of Pontius Pilate, worse case scenario, he would have gotten his charges knocked down from King of the Jews to disorderly conduct with credit for time served in the lions’ den. Maybe some community service.” And so on. Never mind that it was Daniel in the lions’ den. Schiff still seems to be having the best time he’s had since The West Wing.

Bochco and his newest co-producer, Eric Lodal, do a solid job of moving the twists and turns along while also ramping up rooting interests for the gumshoes played by Diggs and Robertson. Near the close of Monday’s first episode, one of three sent for review, Diggs and Johnson have an affecting goodbye scene in which she recalls their early days together. Robertson’s affectionate moments with her good-humored daughter also generate viewer empathy.

During the making of NYPD Blue, Bochco became somewhat notorious for fighting ABC censors over glimpses of his characters’ bare backsides, both male and female. That doesn’t appear to be a problem this time around with TNT, which ventures into FX territory with splashes of nudity in each of the first three hours.

Longtime watchers of Bochco’s TV series also might recognize actor Peter Onorati in a brief guest shot Monday night. Back in 1990 he was the principal star of Cop Rock, which tried to meld musical numbers and crime-solving. It lasted just three months on ABC, but Onorati and Bochco are still finding chances to work together -- if only fleetingly.

Murder in the First looks to have sturdy underpinnings. Bochco at this point has been around too long to learn entirely new tricks. Still, this is easily his best new series since NYPD Blue tried to break molds more than two decades ago.

The timing also looks right. HBO’s True Detective and FX’s Fargo both have prospered as single-case, season-long crime stories that will need considerable re-tooling in their second seasons. True Detective likely will be brand new in terms of characters, story lines and locale. Fargo may be able to retain some of its elements and lead characters -- or might not.

But Murder in the First easily could keep its stars and city in place for a Season 2. Just add a new murderer and victims while letting Bochco be Bochco. He used to be pretty damned good at that. And it finally looks as though he’s hitting his stride again, even while retracing some of the same steps.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Hit cable drama series increasingly have little use for the present


Game of Thrones’ tense and in the end very gruesome “Trial By Combat” episode dominated Sunday’s cable ratings. HBO photo

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There’s no time like the present. Well, not really.

The present doesn’t have much of a future. Now you’re getting warmer.

In the cable universe, where most award-winning dramas now reside, networks more and more are scoring their biggest successes with time-traveling series that mostly dwell in the past or at times in a post-apocalyptic future. The here and now for the most part just hasn’t been cutting it lately, although there are some notable exceptions.

Most of them are on TNT, which still mostly stays in the present and continues to do well with the likes of Rizzoli & Isles and Major Crimes, its spinoff of The Closer. Both of those series return in June along with TNT’s lone exception to the rule, Season 4 of the futuristic Falling Skies.

In comparison to its cable rivals, though, TNT is behind the times. Let’s look at the current landscapes of some of the major players.


Game of Thrones, nearing the end of its fourth season and already renewed for two more, is the network’s biggest hit since The Sopranos. Sunday’s much-anticipated “Trial By Combat” episode dominated the night’s cable ratings with 7.2 million viewers for just the first showing. It’s likewise a big scorer among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds. So much so that it nearly tripled the audience for the closest competing Sunday night program on the Big Four broadcast networks -- ABC’s The Bachelorette.

HBO also has prospered with the Prohibition Era Boardwalk Empire, which will return for its fifth and final season later this year. The big buzz new drama of this past season, True Detective, spent a good part of its formative episodes in the 1990s, tracing the fractious relationship between Louisiana detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson).

The premium pay network’s movies and miniseries have almost uniformly been set in the past, with late May’s The Normal Heart the latest entry.


All of the network’s ongoing scripted drama series have nothing to do with the present, including the new, 1983-set Halt and Catch Fire, which premiered on Sunday, June 1st. Add Mad Men (the 1960s); Turn (the Revolutionary War era); Hell on Wheels (the post-Civil War West); and The Walking Dead (once upon a time in a zombie-infested future).


The network first got on the map with its Spartacus series and has remained in the past -- usually the deep past -- with the exception of Boss. Its ongoing drama series are Da Vinci’s Demons and Black Sails, with an upcoming newcomer, Outlander, pretty much epitomizing the way things are going. A trailer for Outlander has the tag line, “What if your future was the past?” And the perplexed heroine states, “Something happened to me. I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I seem to have fallen through time.” It premieres on August 9th.


The network isn’t yet as deeply bitten by this bug as some of its cable rivals. But its two most acclaimed drama series at the moment, The Americans and Fargo, both rewind in time. The Americans, which recently ended Season 2 and is renewed for a third season, takes place in the early years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Fargo is a bit of a stretch for this particular theme, but it’s set in 2006. So there.


It had a solid success with The Tudors, which led to the lesser lights of The Borgias. Showtime since has moved closer to the future but still remains in the past with two notable latter day dramas. Masters of Sex (set in the late 1950s and returning for Season 2 in July) depicts the real-life, groundbreaking sexual research of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson. The new and oft-grisly Penny Dreadful does its bloodletting in Victorian England during the times of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the ageless, hedonistic Dorian Gray.

BBC America

The Musketeers is coming on June 22nd with another take on the swashbuckling exploits of D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis and Porthos in 17th century Paris. The network also has a Season 2 of the mythical Atlantis in production, is currently airing Season 2 of the futuristic In the Flesh and has announced a third season of Ripper Street, which like Penny Dreadful is set in ye olde Victorian times.

WGN America

The longtime “superstation” premiered its first original scripted series, Salem, on April 20th. Season 2 already has been ordered, with the network happily returning to those thrilling days of witch-hunting in puritanical 17th century Massachusetts.

WGN America’s second drama series likewise is a blast from the past -- literally. Manhattan, due on July 27th, dramatizes the 1940s mission to build the world’s first atomic bomb.

History Channel

We’ve saved the most obvious for last. And of course, one would expect this network to dwell in the past. Still, its major ratings successes with the likes of The Bible, Hatfields & McCoys and Vikings have shown rival networks that there’s gold to be had in time traveling. NBC, for one, optioned A.D., a miniseries sequel from the producers of The Bible, after History pretty much shocked the industry with those big audiences.

History now is readying the eight-hour Texas Rising for a 2015 premiere. Its cast so far includes Bill Paxton as Sam Houston and Kris Kristofferson as Andrew Jackson.

Cable networks’ fixation on any time but the present hasn’t yet been embraced by the Big Four broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. But the Peacock’s decent success with the Friday, May 30th premiere of the pirate drama Crossbones may be turning a few more heads.

For the most part, viewers can feel superior to the past while at the same time reveling in its atrocities, excesses and other signs of those times. The fashion can be visually intoxicating, whether it’s the business attire of Mad Men or the armor, cloaks and jewels of Game of Thrones,

Unfortunately for the future, it’s almost always portrayed as an apocalyptic horror show speckled with glimpses of humanity among the remaining freedom fighters. Devising new forms of sinister extraterrestrials also can tax both budgets and creativity. It’s easier to dwell in the past, which props departments already have a handle on while history books help to write the scripts.

In the current-day cable climate at least, there’s no such thing as repeating the mistakes of the past when it comes to developing new drama series. Instead you seize on what went wrong -- and then hit rewind and have at it.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

TV Land's Jennifer Falls initially fails its talented cast


Jaime Pressly and Jessica Walter of Jennifer Falls. TV Land photo

Premiering: Wednesday, June 4th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: Jaime Pressly, Jessica Walter, Ethan Suplee, Dylan Gelula, Nora Kirkpatrick, Missi Pyle
Produced by: Matthew Carlson, Larry W. Jones, Michael Hanel, Mindy Schultheis, Keith Cox

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TV Land’s first “single cam” sitcom without a laugh track also is bolstered by two former stars of My Name Is Earl and a pair of mainstays from Arrested Development (one in a guest star role).

Now here’s the “but.” But despite these attributes, a standard issue premise can’t overcome the even flatter writing in Wednesday’s premiere episode of Jennifer Falls.

Jaime Pressly, who came alive so vividly on Earl as the title character’s snappish ex-wife wife, Joy Turner, returns to prime-time as $250,000 a year executive Jennifer Doyle, who’s fired because of “anger issues.” Just six months later Jennifer and her teen daughter, Gretchen (Dylan Gelula), are destitute and reluctantly moving back in with good ol’ judgmental mom (Jessica Walter as Maggie Doyle).

Her somewhat plodding brother, Wayne (Ethan Suplee in an IQ upgrade from Earl’s dense brother, Randy), owns a sports-themed bar and is married to persnickety, micro-managing Stephanie (Nora Kirkpatrick). So what’s Jennifer to do but take a come-down job as a waitress in a tight-fitting referee outfit? Oh well, at least she gets a chance to re-connect with her onetime best friend, Dina Simac (Missi Pyle), who now plays softball for the L.A. Lesbians.

All of this is set up when Jennifer is summoned by her previous boss, Don (Walter’s AD husband, Jeffrey Tambor). In yet another of his soft, ineffectual turns, Tambor has an underling by his side when he timidly dumps Jennifer. She then let’s loose: “All the assistants are creeped out by your rape-y back rubs. You are weak, lazy, hog all the credit, take none of the blame and your breath smells like ass!”

That’s pretty much the caliber of the writing.

Pressly wears her hair Peter Pan short for this new role. She also talks directly to the camera on occasion. Perhaps it would be wise for her to tell viewers something like, “This show is a work in progress and we really haven’t found our way yet. It’ll get better. We promise. Otherwise you’ll all get a free Grand Slam breakfast at Denny’s.”

The fault is not with the core cast. Walter in particular can make any slice of dialogue come to life more than it’s entitled. There’s little zing for starters, though, with the one-liners inching up a steep hill before sliding back down. Maybe things will get better in time. For now everyone’s working without a net -- namely a studio audience and laugh track “sweeteners” where needed. And Jennifer Falls would be very needy indeed.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net