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ABC looks for another Lost (sort of) with The Crossing


Steve Zahn is caught in the middle when hundreds of bodies, some of them still alive, wash up in his small fishing town. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, April 2nd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Steve Zahn, Sandrine Holt, Simone Kassell, Rick Gomez, Georgina Haig, Tommy Bastrow, Marcuis W. Harris, Rob Campbell, Grant Harvey, Jay Karnes, Kelley Missal, Luc Roderique, Baile Skodje, Luke Camilleri
Produced by: Dan Dworkin, Jay Beattie, Matt Olmstead, Jason Reed, David Von Ancken

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
ABC’s last announced new series of the season has a Lost vibe without the initial scope or thrill of discovery.

Already streaming on abc.go.com, The Crossing makes its conventional TV debut on Monday, April 2nd following another two-hour edition of American Idol. ABC has made just the first episode available for review, making it difficult to render a verdict on whether The Crossing seems to know where it’s going.

Here’s the premise: Jude Ellis (Steve Zahn), sheriff of a small fishing town, is pulled out of a yoga class when a dead body washes ashore. Ellis and deputy Nestor Rosario (Rick Gomez) then are stunned to see hundreds of bodies floating in the near distance. And 47 of them turn out to still be alive. Hey, Jude, what’s up with that?

The survivors all stick to a story that they’re in fact refugees who’d been living roughly 180 years in the future under the thumb of Apex, an oppressive minority population with a “heightened cognitive function.” Yeah, sure. But what if they’re telling the truth?

Strong-arming Department of Homeland Security agent Emma Ren (Sandrine Holt) is soon on the scene, and telling Jude to buzz off.

“I can handle chaos,” he insists.

“Your time in Oakland would indicate otherwise,” she retorts. What’s she mean by that? Dunno yet. But it would have been kinder for Emma to tell him, “Anytime you feel the pain, hey, Jude, refrain. Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.” (Sorry.)

Still, what’s a guy to do when another survivor, rescued separately from the others, abducts Jude at rifle point? Her name is Reece (Natalie Martinez), who turns out to be something of a wonder woman in terms of strength and jumping power. She’s also searching for her little daughter, Leah (Baile Skodje), who washed ashore nearly dead, but isn’t.

There are other entanglements and deceptions. The 47 survivors supposedly were preceded by other visitors from the future who are hiding in plain sight and may have diabolical plans.

A thumbnail ABC description of Episode 2, subtitled “A Shadow Out of Time,” says that “in a flash-forward to 2187, Reece finds Leah, an orphaned Common baby, and goes against her Apex cohorts to take her in as her own.” Meanwhile, Jude is “blindsided by a mysterious black-ops team’s intent on capturing Reece by any means necessary.”

The Crossing has just enough going for it to invite a second look. Then again, it doesn’t yet seem dynamic enough to be worth a long-term investment -- or a short-term disappointment if ABC cancels it without resolving much of anything. The network has done this before with string-along, but eventually dead-end serial dramas such as The Nine, FlashForward, Resurrection, The Whispers, Missing and, going back a little farther, Push, Nevada.

Don’t be unduly surprised if The Crossing likewise unspools a lot of threads before viewers are left dangling. For now, though, the hook is embedded just a bit more than skin deep.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

But WHY was Roseanne such a big hit again?


Reunited & ABC feels so good. Roseanne/Dan in Roseanne. ABC photo

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Analyzing the whys and wherefores of Roseanne’s mega-ratings splash on ABC Tuesday night apparently is the solemn duty of every TV critic and political pundit in your land/my land.

The title character’s full-throated support of Donald Trump in the reboot’s first episode makes this even more of an imperative.

How could this have happened?

Does the show’s even better performance in some “red states” further underscore the Great Divide in which our country is gripped?

Has the real Roseanne Barr, likewise a Trump supporter, morphed into a Joan of Arc among all the President’s men and women?

Did the “mainstream media” get fooled again in terms of discounting the depth of Trump’s support?

Or has Roseanne re-arrived in times when broadly executed comedy from a very familiar and “relatable” working class TV family should simply be taken for what it is -- a laughing matter. In other words, enough head-hurting already.

First a few particulars on what Roseanne accomplished Tuesday night.

The show’s return, after a 21-year absence, didn’t win big against ratings slouches on rival networks. On the contrary, its back-to-back episodes steamrollered two very formidable opponents -- new hours of CBS’ NCIS and NBC’s The Voice. The 18.2 million total viewers for Roseanne easily topped the audience for any other network TV series premiere this season. And among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, Roseanne had the most viewers for any comedy since CBS’s 2014 season opener of The Big Bang Theory.

Perhaps even more impressively, Roseanne’s second episode improved on the first in both total viewers and with 18-to-49-year-olds. That very rarely happens. And it came close to doubling the audience of NBC’s heavily promoted Will & Grace return, which drew a pretty impressive 10.2 million total viewers last fall.

As noted in my review, both Roseanne and Will & Grace devoted the showiest parts of their first episodes to clashes over the 2016 presidential election. On Will & Grace, Megan Mullally’s flighty Karen Walker flew the Trump flag while the show’s three other principals remained aghast. In Roseanne’s opener, Roseanne Conner trumpeted her support of Trump while her sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), made her entrance in a pink “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and matching “pussy hat,” even though she eventually admitted to wasting her vote on Dr. Jill Stein.

The political fireworks, on both Roseanne and Will & Grace, then greatly subsided. Tuesday’s second episode of Roseanne and a third one made available for review are devoid of any Trump references. Instead, the Conners deal with “gender fluid” grandson Mark’s wardrobe choices and a hobbled Roseanne’s addiction to pain pills.

A notable difference is that Mullally is vocally anti-Trump in real-life while Barr both voted for and still supports him. Her basic reasoning apparently escapes the President, who personally phoned Barr to congratulate her on Roseanne’s ratings triumph. But as Barr recently told Jimmy Kimmel, her support of Trump in large part is tied to keeping Vice President Mike Pence from stepping in should Trump fail or be impeached.

“Are you f**cking kidding me? You want Pence?” she asked Kimmel. “You want Pence for the freaking president? Well, then zip that f**cking lip.”

In that respect, what’s not to like about her? Barr apparently has matured to the point of no longer making it a living hell to work for her, which she has admitted was the case on the original Roseanne. But she largely remains unfiltered, daring to verbally spit in the face of a Hollywood whose opposition to Trump seems close to unanimity.

ABC couldn’t care less. The network’s nine-episode order for Roseanne won’t stand for long. Barr has said she’s eager to do more episodes, and ABC is now even more eager to pay her whatever it takes to accomplish that.

But still, we wonder. Why did Roseanne re-explode with such force after the original spent seven consecutive seasons among prime-time’s top 10 shows before fading badly down the stretch?

Maybe America at large, and not just Trumpeteers, sees more of itself in the Conners than it would like to admit. It’s very doubtful that Trump has ever sat on a couch as well-worn or cheap-looking as the famed focal point of Roseanne and Dan’s living room. But most of us have, no matter where we stand at the moment.

Roseanne’s biggest asset may be that it seems to be genuine. As it was when the series first premiered on ABC back in the fall of 1988.

Back then, the networks still did “round robin” interviews during their yearly “press tours” in Southern California. TV critics were divided into smaller groups -- rather than amassed in a big ball room -- while the stars of new shows rotated among as many as five hotel conference rooms.

Some of us cheated with Roseanne, following Barr and the cast from room to room in hopes of getting extra quotes via questions that hadn’t been asked by the previous group. After all, she was refreshingly unlike anybody we’d seen before. Heavy-set, plain-looking, outspoken and starring in her own comedy series in times when only NBC’s The Golden Girls and CBS’ short-lived Annie McGuire (fronted by Mary Tyler Moore) had women leading the laughs on the then Big Three broadcast networks.

Roseanne was an instant hit then and a re-instant hit now. So maybe it’s mainly just her, irrespective of how she voted. I’m just going to leave it at that for now. Many of the show’s viewers might well feel the same way. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- they’d like to do nothing more than just enjoy the show.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Russians are going, the Russians are going: End games for FX's The Americans in a climactic Season 6


Back in the USSR? Nyet so fast. The Americans starts its final season. FX photo

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The sixth and final season of FX’s The Americans could also be called, or at least subtitled, Communist vs. Capitalist. Or more specifically, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) vs. her husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys).

It’s the autumn of 1987, but not yet the fall of the Soviet Union as we’d known it. Mikhail Gorbachev’s twin punch reforms, perestroika and glasnost, remain in formative stages, with Soviet hard-liners intent not only on stopping these initiatives but seeing Gorbachev dead if he in any way compromises a still-in-development, all-powerful defense system during his nuclear disarmament talks with President Reagan.

In the closing episode of a somewhat sleepy Season 5, Philip and Elizabeth aborted their intended return to the Soviet Union after new information -- there’s always new information -- made it seem necessary to stay in the States as undercover operatives. But in a setup for the Season 6 opener (Wednesday, March 28th, 9 p.m. central), Elizabeth offered to go it alone while an increasingly disenchanted Philip devoted his full energies to what’s been their more or less mock travel agency.

“Maybe you should stop,” she told him. “I’m making you stay and it just keeps getting worse for you. I don’t want to see you like this anymore.”

As the Season 6 opener unfolds, we see that he’s very much taken her up on this. The travel agency rather suddenly is much better appointed and being actively run in full capitalist mode by Philip. This is never more evident than in Episode 3, when he calls the staff together and challenges them to book more cruises because they’re a big profit-maker. In Episode 1, Philip’s even having a good time line-dancing to “Louisiana Saturday Night.” If that’s not assimilation, well . . . what is?

Elizabeth increasingly is Philip’s opposite, working with the forces that want to stop Gorbachev in his tracks while also further training daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) in the fine arts of spying with help from the veteran Soviet overseer, Carla (Margo Martindale). Each of the three episodes made available for review include Elizabeth viciously or self-defensively killing someone. Duty calls, after all, although the constant stress has Elizabeth smoking more than ever while her face is starting to flip the haggard switch.

Philip is vexed, both by what he’s seeing in his wife (“It’s finally getting to you after all these years”) and by what he’s hearing about her efforts to help thwart Gorbachev. The messenger with such news is Soviet operative Oleg Igorevich Burov (Costa Ronin), who reluctantly returns to the U.S. while leaving his wife and baby behind. “We want you to find out what your wife is doing and tell us,” Oleg tells Philip.

This is quite a bit to digest. On the other hand, The Americans still seems to be spending too much time on cruise control (sorry, Philip) in a climactic season that will be just 10 episodes instead of the 13 that were in play for the series’ first five seasons. Frankly, a little boredom sets in at times.

The Jennings otherwise seem to no longer be in much danger of being exposed. Son Henry (Keidrich Sellati), still blissfully unaware, is off at boarding school and becoming a hockey star. FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) remains a next door neighbor but has transferred from counterintelligence to the bureau’s criminal investigative division. Bank robbing, money laundering and drugs are now his primary concern, although Stan keeps his hand in whenever fellow agent Dennis Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) seeks his counsel.

Pitting Philip fully against Elizabeth, if it ever comes to that, would be a rousing but perilous way to bring down the iron curtain on this overall stellar series. “They want us to be just like them. I don’t want to be like them!” she tells Philip in Episode 3, referring to what she sees as America’s growing infatuation with perestroika and glasnost. But by now, the American Dream, such as it is, seemingly has turned Philip’s head.

It also seems to be high time for a wrap-up. Ratings have decreased in each successive season of The Americans, which has never been a big hit for FX. And a number of the series’ most memorable supporting characters are now either dead or mostly out of sight.

Particularly missed is Philip’s duped second wife, Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), the FBI secretary turned unwitting informant. The KGB managed to smuggle her off to Russia before she was apprehended, and Season 5’s final episode provided a brief glimpse of Martha being urged to adopt an orphan girl as a means of leading a happier life. Let’s hope so.

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings don’t seem destined for joint happiness in the end. How The Americans resolves their fates will be key to whether this series is remembered as a superbly rendered morality tale or a distinct disappointment after setting its bar so high.

Season 6 so far is rife with both possibilities. The first three episodes wander around perhaps more than they should before the last of them exits to the sounds of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.” And yes, that’ll get one’s attention once again.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Alex, Inc. finds Zach Braff back in prime-time, this time as a family man on (where else?) ABC


TV vets Michael Imperioli, Zach Braff are the front men of Alex, Inc.. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 28th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Zach Braff, Michael Imperioli, Tiya Sircar, Hillary Anne Matthews, Elisha Henig, Audyssie James
Produced by: Matt Tarses, Zach Braff, John Davis, John Fox, Alex Blumberg

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Disney-owned ABC is the polar opposite of NBC when it comes to mom, dad and the kids comedies.

Not a single one of the Peacock’s sitcoms this season, whether new or returning, puts a family or families at the forefront of its overall premise. All but one of ABC’s laughers has parents and their kids on prominent display. And the lone exception, The Mayor, has already been discarded.

That’s not a value judgment, but it’s certainly a striking contrast. Until this week, ABC’s sitcom roll call went like this: Modern Family, The Middle, black-ish, The Goldbergs, Speechless, American Housewife and Fresh Off the Boat. And now the network has added three more, with the Roseanne revival and Splitting Up Together premiering Tuesday, and Alex, Inc. launching Wednesday. That’s a grand total of 10 kindred comedies, with roughly three times as many kids in this mix. ABC’s not Mickey Mouse-ing around.

Zach Braff, principal star of Alex, Inc., was anything but a family man in his last TV series venture, NBC’s Scrubs. He returns, after an eight-year absence, as radio journalist Alex Schuman, who’s grown weary of telling sappy tales on a show called Cheer Up. So he impulsively quits in hopes of launching his own more engaging podcast with help from Cheer Up producer Deirdre (Hillary Anne Matthews) and a wise guy second cousin named Eddie (Michael Imperioli).

“Roonie, this is my moment,” Alex tells his supportive Indian wife, brightly played by Fort Worth native Tiya Sircar. She’s a Manhattan public defender, and they have two children, Ben (Elisha Henig) and Soraya (Audyssie James).

The series shifts back and forth from home front to workplace in the three episodes made available for review. Alex, Inc. is at its best, though, when the parents and their kids are interacting. Ben, a budding illusionist, proves to be a scene-stealer, save for when his little sister one-ups him at school in Episode 3.

“Too bad you didn’t get this multicultural skin, or a name like Soraya,” she tells her brother in Episode 3 after Ben envies the sex appeal of a classmate who flaunts his ethnicity.

Alex, Inc. isn’t preachy in this respect -- even when Roonie’s demanding old-school mother pays an impromptu visit, also in Episode 3. By the end of this half-hour, Alex finally has a name for his company. You’ll see it coming, because the show also can be predictable in the ways its conflicts are resolved.

The workplace sparring between cousin Eddie and Deirdre doesn’t provide Alex, Inc. with its finest moments. “She gets an F in boobs,” he says of her during their battles to one-up one another for the right to not sit in the unstable “tippy chair.”

Deirdre also has a crush on Alex, noting that it’s her job to get the “special sauce” out of him as a storyteller.

“You say filthy things without realizing it. I like you,” Eddie ripostes. And that’s a pretty good riposte.

Braff generally wears glasses while at work, and at times talks in a semi-nebbish Woody Allen whine -- whether he realizes it or not. He also can be rather clumsy, afflicting the show with a few forced pratfalls.

Still, Alex, Inc. is an enjoyably comfy fit among all of those fellow ABC family comedies. Braff and Imperioli are the name brands, but the wife and kids quickly make their own strong and appealing impressions. In Episode 2, the workplace sniping simply can’t compete with mom making a mess of Ben’s Abe Lincoln costume by using mismatched socks for a beard.

“You look like a tiny rabbi who got stuck in the dryer,” Alex riffs. But Rooni regroups and soon has Ben in an Eleanor Roosevelt outfit for a school competition. And you really should make a point of seeing that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Splitting Up Together gives ABC another family-driven comedy with a personality all its own


Separated . . . with children in Splitting Up Together. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 27th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Jenna Fischer, Oliver Hudson, Bobby Lee, Lindsay Price, Diane Farr, Olivia Keville, Van Crosby, Sander Thomas
Produced by: Emily Kapnek, Mette Heeno, Ellen DeGeneres, Jeff Kleeman, Mie Andreasen, Hella Joof

@unclebarkcom on Twitter
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin chose to call it “conscious uncoupling” when they busted up in 2014. ABC has a better idea -- the snappy new comedy series Splitting Up Together.

Jenna Fischer and Oliver Hudson winningly play the parental unit, dividing their time on the same property in the interests of keeping their three kids from being too traumatized. It’s based on the Danish sitcom Bedre Skilt end aldrig, which possibly might be useful to know if you’re on Jeopardy someday.

There hasn’t been any unfaithfulness, just a loss of faith. Lena (Fischer) and Martin (Hudson) haven’t had sex in two years during the course of digging big ruts in their lives. Basically put, she felt him to be too lazy and irresponsible while he thought her to be too anal and controlling.

So why not try this? One parent will live in the re-appointed garage for a week while the other gets the house as a whole but also responsibility for daughter Mae (Olivia Keville), older son, Mason (Van Crosby), and his baby brother, Milo (Sander Thomas). After a week, you swap, oftentimes with a high five.

Splitting Up Together otherwise is populated with the couple’s married best friends, Arthur and Camille (Bobby Lee, Lindsay Price), and Lena’s busybody sister, Maya (Diane Farr). Entering in Episode 2 (one of four made available for review) is a younger stud named Wes (guest star Trent Garrett), who’s so considerate and knowing that he may well have descended from heaven. Wes is still hanging in there with Lena through Episode 4 while Martin is somewhat thunderstruck. He’s secretly been trying to get Lena back by taking dancing lessons in hopes of remedying something he didn’t do at their wedding reception.

Fischer, formerly of The Office, is very high on appeal here. “I want to be with someone who wants to tear my clothes off,” her character says in Episode 2. “Well, obviously not my high-end pieces.”

Lena finally finds the temerity to showcase herself in Episode 4 -- via a low-cut dress that makes her look simply smashing. Hope it’s OK to still say that. If not, then the world has gotten way too clenched up to be any fun at all anymore.

Martin’s efforts to be more skillful at various household chores, including cooking, are another selling point of Splitting Up Together. The dinner he’s just made in Episode 2 “looks like dog barf,” says youngest son, Milo. “But it tastes great!” This may seem like a small victory. It’s also one to savor.

Splitting Up Together, whose executive producers include Ellen DeGeneres, is a plus mark in a season that’s been notable for broadcast network reboots and spinoffs, but short on new comedies of any import. ABC has far more family-driven sitcoms than any of its rivals. Splitting Up Together shows that the network is still finding new ways to make them work just fine.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Roseanne barges back on, but will it still fit ABC?


Family ties still both strong & frayed on Roseanne reboot. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 27th at 7 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on ABC
Starring: Roseanne Barr, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Lecy Goranson, Michael Fishman, Ames McNamara, Emma Kenney, Jayden Rey, Sarah Chalke
Produced by: Tom Werner, Bruce Helford, Roseanne Barr, Sara Gilbert, Whitney Cummings, Tony Hernandez

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
As did NBC’s Will & Grace revival, ABC’s second coming of Roseanne unburdens itself of the polarizing presidential election in Episode 1 before putting a stop to it and moving on to other discords in upcoming half-hours.

Before that, though -- again as with Will & Grace -- there’s a second disconnect from the way these series ended. Because now none of that nonsense ever happened.

In Roseanne’s case, tubby hubby Dan Conner (John Goodman) didn’t die of a heart attack after all. Instead he’s first seen in bed, strapped to a sleep apnea device while wondering why everyone seems to think he’s deceased. Big laugh. New chapter.

The original Roseanne lasted nine seasons before seemingly leaving ABC for good in May 1997. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and her sister, Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf), had a falling out at some point since then, and it’s only gotten worse since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

This prompts Jackie to barge into the basically unchanged Conner home wearing a “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and greeting her sister with, “What’s up, deplorable?”

Roseanne (also a Trump supporter in real life) in turn calls Jackie a “snowflake” before everyone settles into another fractious family dinner. It starts out like this:

“First, let’s say grace. Jackie, would you like to take a knee?”

The studio audience howls, and it’s indeed a good line. Roseanne’s not finished: “But most of all, Lord, thank you for making America great again.”

Jackie remains aghast that both Roseanne and Dan voted for Trump, who in her view has only made things worse. But Roseanne’s got another counterpunch: “Not on the real news!”

Things aren’t going well, though. Roseanne and Dan are on heavy meds for various ailments, but paying twice as much for them now. Swapping pills is one remedy, which they do in an early scene.

Middle daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has moved back in after losing her job. Her two kids, daughter Harris (Emma Kenney) and son Mark (Ames McNamara), are also newly under the Conner roof. He enjoys dressing in women’s clothes and she’s prototypically insolent.

“You’re ruining my life. You all suck,” Harris proclaims early on.

“I ain’t seen that movie in 20 years,” Dan retorts.

There’s also oldest daughter, Becky (Lecy Goranson), who has a low-paying job at a Mexican restaurant. Her grand plan is to make $50 grand by being a surrogate mother for a woman named Andrea (Sarah Chalke, who was the series second Becky from 1993 to ’97). Only son D.J. (Michael Fishman) is back, too -- as a single dad recently returned from combat. His pre-teen daughter is named Mary (Jayden Rey).

That’s quite a lot to unpack -- and the first episode is awkward at times compared to the two subsequent ones made available for review. Barr’s acting is noticeably mechanical in the early going while Goodman (who seems to have made a million movies in the interim) initially seems a little lost in the transition back to playing a character for which he received seven Emmy nominations without ever winning.

In Tuesday’s second episode, the Conners are at odds over grandson Mark’s wardrobe choices, with Dan certain he’ll be bullied.

“If you care about his safety, you’ll make him wear pants to school,” he insists.

Roseanne takes the extra step of accompanying Mark on his first day at a new school. “Do you feel like you’re a boy or a girl?” she asks him.

“A boy,” he says. Still, “I like colors that ‘pop.’ It’s more creative.”

This episode also finds Dan lamenting, “When did masculine become a dirty word?” Um, no comment.

A third and stronger episode takes a serious turn in addressing Roseanne’s various ailments and how she’s secretly been coping with them. Her left knee in particular is killing her, but surgery would require a $3,000 deductible payment.

The famed Roseanne cackle again is seen and heard in the opening credits. But you haven’t seen/heard anything in that regard until she and Dan get looped on their 45th anniversary when other plans go awry. Barr likely has never been seen laughing this hard -- and this naturally. It’s both infectious and affecting.

Roseanne remains wedded to the trials and travails of the up-against-it working class. Conner family values have been tweaked somewhat, but not to the point where recalcitrant Dan is going to bend over backwards.

“In this family, if you get pregnant, you’re going to have the baby,” he proclaims when learning of Becky’s surrogate plans.

And yeah, Darlene can still dream of being a writer, but “sometimes you just gotta suck it up and put your family first,.” he counsels her.

More than ever -- or at least since the 1960s -- some will reject Dan as a hopeless Neanderthal while others see him as a rock steady traditionalist of whom we need more. The show is still named Roseanne. But in these early episodes, it’s Dan who raises the real hell while his wife belts out the best jokes and Metcalf’s Jackie comes off as too much of a broadly drawn goofball.

We’ll see how it all eventually comes out in the wash. And yes, there’s again plenty of that, too.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

FX's Trust takes some big whacks at the Gettys


Donald Sutherland’s in command as tycoon J. Paul Getty. FX photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 25th at 9 p.m. (central)
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Hilary Swank, Harris Dickinson, Brendan Fraser, Michael Esper, Anna Chancellor, Norbert Leo Butz, Laura Bellini, Charlotte Riley, Sarah Bellini, Silas Carson, Charlotte Riley
Produced by: Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, Christian Colson

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In life, in death, on big screens and small, controversy goes hand in hand with the Gettys.

The 2017 feature film All the Money in the World initially made some noise by recasting the disgraced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the pivotal role of patriarch J. Paul Getty Sr. But an outcry of protest kicked in when it was revealed that Mark Wahlberg received $1.5 million to reshoot some scenes while co-star Michelle Williams got less than $1,000.

The 10-episode first season of FX’s Trust covers the same ground the film did in depicting the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s grandson, J. Paul Getty III. But unlike All the Money in the World, this new treatment shows the debt-ridden 16-year-old fabricating his abduction in hopes of profiting from a king-sized ransom payment from his grandfather. Then things go very wrong when a second, for real kidnapper enters the picture.

This is not setting well with grandson Getty’s surviving sister, Ariadne Getty. Threatening legal action, she says via her attorney, “It is ironic that you have titled your television series Trust. More fitting titles would be Lies or Mistrust, since the defamatory story it tells about the Gettys’ colluding in the kidnapping is false and misleading, and viewers rightly ought to mistrust it.”

Ariadne Getty’s attack came two and a half months after a Television Critics Association winter “press tour” session in which Trust’s co-creator and co-executive producer, Simon Beaufoy, contended that “it became clear reading between the lines that he (Getty III) actually kidnapped himself. It was a hoax gone wrong.”

FX has affixed a standard opening disclaimer to episodes of Trust, the first three of which were made available for review. “The following is inspired by actual events,” the network says. The closing disclaimer goes a bit further: “Some dialogue was created consistent with those events. Various events were combined for dramatic purposes.”

So what is a viewer to believe? And does it much matter anymore, as long as we are “entertained” or even engrossed by the latest “non-fiction” treatment of the rich and famously dysfunctional?

Well, the Gettys portrayed in Trust get one’s full attention right from the start. During a lavish party, J. Paul Sr.’s oldest of five sons, George, commits suicide by jabbing a two-pronged barbecue fork into his chest. Then it’s time for Donald Sutherland to immediately command the screen as George’s father

Awakening the next morning at his Sutton Place estate in England, he chokes down a double egg yolk concoction prepared by his head manservant Bullimore (Silas Carson) before being dressed and even having his teeth brushed for him.

“I will not have that!” he rages upon hearing of George’s suicide, which eventually will be written off as a “terrible accident.” J. Paul Sr. then proceeds downstairs to a breakfast table mostly populated by the women who compose his harem. “So, which of you loves me best?” he inquires.

Sutherland is letter-perfect imperious in this role, whether dressing down one of his surviving sons, admiring the Kennedys as “men with red balls and hot blood” or coldly dismissing one of his live-in mistresses after he fails to achieve an erection.

“Maybe you want to talk?” she asks.

“With you?” he retorts incredulously. “No. Leave.”

Into this den of iniquity, and just in time for George’s wake, bounces J. Paul Getty III (Harris Dickinson) in full hippie regalia. But the old man comes to enjoy the kids’s pluck and intellect while his grandson has one objective in mind -- securing $6,000 to pay off a series of debts he’s rung up in Rome while partying and occasionally selling one of his paintings for a big snort of cocaine.

Grandson manages to charm granddad in ways he’d never dreamed until his own negligent father, the brushed off J. Paul Getty Jr. (Michael Esper), shows the old man Getty III’s pictorial in “Playmen” magazine. This gets him a one-way ticket back to Rome after he’d just been grandly anointed as the old man’s successor. Then comes the “kidnapping.”

Episode 2 largely belongs to a bulked up Brendan Fraser as cowboy-hatted Fletcher Chase, the role played by Wahlberg in All the Money in the World. Chase, a former CIA operative, is J. Paul Sr.’s chief negotiator. He’s also biblically inclined and rather sweetly persuasive unless you try his patience. Carrying ample cash and willing to spread this wealth in return for information on Getty III’s abductors, Chase journeys to Rome and starts cutting deals. He also meets up with Getty III’s blood mother, Gail (Hilary Swank), who’s been living with a jerk after being divorced from J. Paul Jr.

Gail is a true believer in her son’s essential goodness while Chase comes to believe the whole kidnapping was staged. Back in England, old man Getty publicly proclaims that “I will not be paying a single solitary cent” in ransom. Neither will Gail, because she has no money.

The third episode reconstructs how Getty Sr.’s grandson got into this mess in the first place before deciding to stage his own kidnapping out of desperation. Whether you believe any of this or not, it’s an involving and sometimes brutal hour.

The instantly arresting performances of Sutherland and Fraser, plus a solid first impression by newcomer Dickinson, keep Trust on track as an immorality play that FX says will be “told over multiple seasons and spanning the twentieth century.”

The dramatic licenses taken apparently will be considerable, although by no means unprecedented. “Fact-based” movies and TV productions have a long history of being branded as trash by either descendants or among the living who are depicted. They often have a case. But just as often, few really care. Just dish the dirt.

So perhaps in fact you can’t trust Trust. Regardless, it’s a pretty good wallow so far, a real-life Dallas or Dynasty whose more diabolical Ewings and Carringtons swallowed their enemies and family members whole when they weren’t simply spitting them out. That they did this is undisputed. It’s the hows and the whys that will always be subject to interpretation.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Bill Hader takes a shot at being a hitman in HBO's Barry


Bill Hader is guns up as an insular hit man in Barry HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 25th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Bill Hader, Sarah Goldberg, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root, Paula Newsome, Anthony Carrigan, Glenn Fleshler, John Pirruccello
Produced by: Alec Berg, Bill Hader

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Lest we entirely forget, Bill Hader is the guy who fired cat-powered laser guns with partner Andy Samberg in a fairly famous series of Saturday Night Live digital shorts.

Now he’s blazing away with pistols and automatic weaponry as a former Marine who returns from Afghanistan to become a lonely but lethal hit man. HBO’s Barry is serio-comic in tone. Still, Hader’s title character also piles up a fairly sizable body count during the eight-episode Season One, all of which was made available for review.

Will you buy him in this role, in addition to Henry Winkler as a hot-tempered acting coach? Skepticism is understandable, but both Hader and Winkler manage to make the sale while much of the comedy in these half-hour episodes is provided by a pair of Chechen mobsters who nonetheless are not to be taken lightly. Barry isn’t always completely on target. There are more than enough nifty plot turns and deftly played scenes, though, to keep the series steadily on its feet before a season-ending cliffhanger leaves one very much wanting more.

Barry Berkman (Hader) is first seen at the scene of his latest hit, with a shot-through-the-forehead corpse reposed in bed. He then returns to Cleveland, awaiting another assignment from a handler named Fuches (Stephen Root) while otherwise living drearily by himself.

It turns out his next stop is Hollywood, where Chechen mob king Goran Pazar (Glenn Fleshler) wants Barry to knock off an aspiring actor who’s been sleeping with his wife. While scoping out his would-be victim, Barry peeps in on an acting class run by Gene Cousineau (Winkler), author of Hit Your Mark and Say Your Lines. He’s strictly cash upfront, and one of his other students is Sally Reed (Sarah Goldberg), with whom Barry is quickly smitten.

What if Barry enrolled in the class as a sidelight to his regular job? Fuches is very much against this because it’s not anonymous enough. He instead suggests painting, rationalizing that “Hitler painted. John Wayne Gacy painted. It’s a good, solid hobby.”

The sheer absurdity and audacity of that line, perfectly delivered by the underrated Root, is part of what makes Barry work. The Sopranos and various adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s crime novels likewise have some cockeyed moments amid the carnage. Barry has a tougher tightrope to walk because it also has to sell Hader, let alone Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, in roles that on paper seem unsuited to them. Ask Adam Sandler how difficult this can be.

On the mob side, the surly Pazar’s sidekick is Noho Hank (Anthony Carrigan), whose cue ball head belongs in a side pocket. He’s both ruthless and nonsensical, with ideas that might be rejected by even Moe, Larry and Curly. Not that this ever discourages him.

As Barry weaves its web, two detectives also enter the picture. Moss and Loach (Paula Newsome, John Pirruccello) strive to solve who left three dead bodies in two parked cars at the end of Episode 1. Moss also finds herself the object of Cousineau’s affection, with their odd couple courtship very nicely played while Barry (who’s adapted the stage surname “Block”) tries to make inroads with the career-obsessed Sally. “What a turd of a profession,” Cousineau tells a distraught Sally after she hits another roadblock in Episode 6.

Barry may well not amuse some with its portrayal of Afghanistan war veterans. And we’re not only talking about Barry. You’ll have to see how this develops down the road -- before it all ends bloodily and a little too conveniently.

The series likely wouldn’t have worked with one-hour episodes. But in a half-hour’s time, Barry maximizes its punching power while knowing when and how to drop in a sight gag. These include the corpulent Pazar “working out” on a treadmill while smoking a cigar and Root’s Fuches somehow managing to be laugh-out-loud funny with his exposure of a bruise-blotched torso still healing from a previous beating.

The violence in Barry can also be visceral, particularly in the eventful seventh and eighth episodes. Hader’s character is in a full-tilt hell of his own making at this point. His “acting” within an acting school production of Macbeth doubles as the depth of his torment and his one shining moment.

It hasn’t been easy for male stars of Saturday Night Live to be taken seriously when they try to break from their comedic molds. Bill Murray is one of the very few who has managed fairly well in the long term. Another Bill is now giving it a shot -- both literally and figuratively. Which makes Barry all the more impressive, and even thrilling, when he actually pulls it off.

GRADE: A-minus

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Krypton gives Syfy a long Superman run-up -- but will it fly?


Superman’s grandfather does not want to be left holding the cape. Syfy photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 21st at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy
Starring: Cameron Cuffe, Georgina Campbell, Elliot Cowan, Ann Ogbomo, Wallis Day, Rasmus Hardiker, Shaun Sipos, Blake Ritson
Produced by: David S. Goyer, Cameron Welsh

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Fun fact: the planet Krypton apparently used to be part of the United Kingdom.

Save for one, all of the principal cast members of Syfy’s Superman prequel hail from either England or Northern Ireland, which is still part of the UK. And even the lone exception is from Victoria, British Columbia, a onetime British settlement named after Queen Victoria.

All of this makes Krypton decidedly British, in dialect, tone and “period” costuming. There are no castles per se, but plenty of royalty amid all of the flying objects, none of which include the future Man of Steel. Krypton’s special effects are pretty impressive throughout the first five episodes made available for review. But the overall storyline begins to bog down rather badly in the latter hours, making Krypton seem like too much of a slog en route to a seemingly long-in-coming payoff that’s already set in stone. Season One will have 10 episodes in all.

Executive producers Cameron Welsh and David S. Goyer gamely try to insist otherwise in publicity materials. “Our series is not a nostalgic look back,” they say. “In our world of Krypton, the past, present and future is yet to be written -- anything can happen!”

Yeah, but c’mon, guys. Eventually little Superbaby is going to be launched toward Earth just before Krypton explodes. The events preceding this are at best anti-climactic, aren’t they?

At the center of Krypton’s story is 23-year-old Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), the handsome, chiseled, still single grandfather of Earth’s future Superman. Once part of the House of El, he’s been made “rankless” along with his ill-fated parents. This is because Seg-El’s grandfather, Val-El (Ian McElhinney), dared to defy the fairly despotic Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan). How so? Val-El insisted that Krypton is “not alone” in the universe, and that other forces were determined to conquer it. He’s executed for this act of treason while his descendants are stripped of their birthrights.

Seg-El witnesses his grandfather’s death as a nine-year-old before Krypton rockets 14 years into the future. He’s still having a rough life, constantly getting pummeled, captured, chased and re-captured. This is nothing compared to what happens to Seg-El in Episode 4. Let’s just say that having a big _____ crawl up your _____ and out your _____ is not something you’d wish even on Lex Luthor.

Krypton also has a lot of women vs. men fights, all of them featuring hard core warrior Alura Zod (Ann Ogbomo) or her warrior-in-training daughter Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell). “We never ask for mercy. And we never give it,” Alura commands. Point well taken, in the form of a knife stab to Lyta’s hand -- by mom.

Lyta and Daron-Vex’s comely daughter, Nyssa-Vex (Wallis Day), both have the hots for Seg-El. But he’s constantly preoccupied after Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) somehow arrives from Earth to inform him that someone is trying to destroy Krypton -- namely the very wickedly green Brainiac (a fleetingly seen Blake Ritson). If that should happen prematurely, then Seg-El’s future son, Jor-El, will never become the father of Kal-El -- the future Superman. Otherwise, no pressure.

Krypton also has a supreme potentate known as “Your Eminence” and sometimes, “His Reverence.” Determined to liquidate a resistance force known as Black Zero, he wears a multi-faced gold mask and travels with an escort of handmaidens. But then, in Episode 4 . . . well, this looks like it could be a pivotal development.

Otherwise, the biggest problems with Krypton are all the little developments. The multiple “jeopardy” situations grow tiresome and almost random in time. Seg-El and Lyta Zod tend to be on the receiving ends in a spin cycle of tribulations. Meanwhile, Cowan’s Daron-Vex keeps raging and kvetching without bringing enough presence to his central villain role. Cuffe’s Seg-El is nicer to look at, but basically is still going to acting school. He does emote convincingly, though, when that big ____ crawls up his _____ and out his _____.

Krypton otherwise continues to look good visually, with the bigger your HD screen the better. It’s a big-ticket item for the Syfy network, even if it won’t at all reduce the unemployment percentage among U.S.-born actors/actresses. Even the action figure toys are very likely to be made elsewhere. Way of the world.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' Instinct is groundbreaking while also very much being same old/same old


Alan Cumming goes the procedural crime route in Instinct.

Premiering: Sunday, March 18th at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Alan Cumming, Bojana Novakovic, Naveen Andrews, Daniel Ings, Sharon Leal, Whoopi Goldberg
Produced by: Michael Rauch, Marc Webb, Alex Kurtzman, Heather Kadin, James Patterson, Bill Robinson, Leopoldo Gout, Alan Cumming

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This is the one where Alan Cumming tests his leading man cred as an openly gay, recently married former CIA operative turned novelist turned college professor turned crime solver.

The premise may not sound shopworn. But CBS’ Instinct otherwise is extraordinarily ordinary at best as a midseason replacement for the failed Wisdom of the Crowd.

Cumming, a three-time Emmy nominee for his work in The Good Wife, brings his polished aplomb to the role of Dr. Dylan Reinhart, who dresses dandily and lightly spars with Manhattan detective Lizzie Needham (Bojana Novakovic). They’re thrown together after Dylan’s bestselling book Freaks is used as a “tutorial” by a serial killer who leaves playing cards behind as clues to who he’ll murder next.

Dylan is reluctant to get all stressed out again after marrying a guy named Andy (Daniel Ings) and settling comfortably into life at a Pennsylvania college where he teaches psychopathic behavior. Very oddly, though, he’s in a sense “body shamed” by his book editor, Joan Ross (Whoopi Goldberg in a small recurring role). She deems his latest manuscript flat while calling him “fat.” Joan wants him to “lose a little weight” while at the same time getting his “mojo back” by becoming an amateur sleuth.

Number one, Dylan already looks as slim and trim as Stan Laurel (whom Cumming also somewhat resembles facially). Secondly, Whoopi’s the one who’s made considerable gains, weight wise, since her days as a renegade standup comic. Finally, imagine the “uproar” among some if it were Dylan telling Joan to drop some pounds.

Instead it’s a fretting Dylan asking hubby Andy, “Do you think I’ve put on weight?” No, he doesn’t. It’s all unnecessarily off-putting, in addition to being preposterous.

The lightweight of Instinct, dramatically speaking, is Novakovic as detective Lizzie. Cocksure Dylan needs a more formidable presence to put him in his place. But Lizzie is more pushover than taskmaster. The character needs an acid wash.

Also dropping in is former Lost co-star Naveen Andrews as Julian Cousins. From a secret Manhattan den, he’s still doing surveillance work for the CIA amid a bunch of machines with flashing lights. Dylan periodically calls on him for assistance while Julian pines for his old mate’s return to the fold. “You were the best operative I ever worked with . . . Integrity, loyalty and balls -- you had it all,” he informs Dylan, who doesn’t disagree.

Instinct also enlists Lt. Jasmine Gooden (Sharon Leal) to occasionally bark out orders, deliver pep talks and sometimes commiserate with Lizzie, who of course has a tragic back story. Her fiancé, a fellow detective, was killed in the line of duty just a year ago. And the dog they shared, named Gary, now needs to be put down due to illness, Lizzie sobs. (So much for Gary, who’s seen briefly in Sunday’s premiere hour and then never shown or mentioned again in the additional two episodes made available for review.)

The serial killer whodunit in Episode 1 gives way to the grisly murder of a bloodsucking venture capitalist in Instinct’s next episode. After that comes the fatal gassing of a dozen subway travelers, plus seemingly unrelated killings on a Central Park carousel and in a luxury hotel. This also is the episode in which Dylan’s estranged father makes an extended appearance at the expense of Naveen Andrews’ character, who’s not seen at all.

The killers in the latter two episodes are easily deduced in early scenes and then completed unmasked well before these hours end. That’s a double whammy -- telegraphed identities of murderers followed by too much time spent catching them -- BEFORE THEY CAN STRIKE AGAIN.

Episode 2 also is the one that ends with Dylan prototypically telling Lizzie, “You always follow the rules” before she rejoins, “And you always break them.” Ergo, “we should be partners,” says Lizzie. “Absolutely,” Dylan agrees. Consider it officially done.

The series’ other partnership, between Dylan and Andy, is fleetingly depicted in these three episodes. They’re not yet seen sharing a bed, but are allowed to briefly kiss one another. This is, however, the first time a Big Four broadcast network has presented a crime series whose lead character is gay. So that’s something for the history books. (Cumming also is openly gay.)

Instinct is otherwise unremarkable, sending its characters down familiar rabbit holes without nearly enough style, wit or ingenuity. CBS long has been prime-time’s king of procedural crime series, with Tuesdays and Fridays still profitably devoted entirely to this genre.

Cumming’s talents are ill-used in this one, though. In fact, he would have been better suited to the role of a showy magician turned New York cop shop sleuth. But ABC already has such a series with Deception. It also airs on Sunday nights following two-hour editions of American Idol, which Cumming and company will have to compete against. it could be enough to make Instinct quickly go poof.


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The network of musicals strikes again with Rise


Do you hear what they hear? Rosie Perez & Josh Radnor play teachers trying to birth controversial high school musical in Rise. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 13th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC before moving to regular 8 p.m. Tuesday slot
Starring: Josh Radnor, Rosie Perez, Damon J. Gillespie, Auli’l Cravalho, Ted Sutherland, Rarmian Newton, Amy Forsyth, Shirley Rumierk, Joe Tippett, Ellie Desautels, Casey Johnson, Marley Shelton, Shannon Purser, Erin Kommor, Stephanie J. Block, Stephen Plunkett, Mark Tallman, Jennifer Ferrin, Stanley Wayne Mathis, Diallo Riddle, Shannon Thornton
Produced by: Jason Katims, Jeffrey Sellers, Flody Suarez, Michelle Lee

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Avowed musical theater lover Bob Greenblatt has the power to indulge himself as chairman of NBC Entertainment.

He’s regularly done so with live holiday season productions (The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, The Wiz, Hairspray) and the Broadway-set series Smash, which ran for two seasons and wound up on the wrong side of reviews after initial critical praise.

Now here comes Rise, a 10-episode series in which a frustrated high school English teacher attempts to walk on the wild side by directing an adaptation of Spring Awakening, a Tony Award-winning musical exploration of teen angst and sexuality inspired by an 1891 German play.

NBC made the entire first season available for review. Mission accomplished, with both pleasure and frustration.

On the plus side, Rise has the power to uplift, inspire and open tear ducts. But it’s also marred by too much utterly predictable conflict escalation/resolution and an over-abundance of sappy-soft mood music that seems to be at war with the vibrant, full-blooded numbers from Spring Awakening.

Principal executive producer Jason Katims was also the driving force behind NBC’s exemplary Friday Night Lights. The series turned Texas stereotypes upside down by injecting sensibilities -- rather than yahoos -- into its collection of small-town high school students. Rise also has a football storyline, with sensitive star quarterback Robbie Thorne (Damon J. Gillespie) struggling to time-share after being talked into playing the co-lead in Spring Awakening.

Katims, who helmed NBC’s Parenthood between FNL and Rise, seems to have found a growing comfort level with unabashed sentimentality. He can still be very good at this, sustaining rooting interests throughout Rise while also investing it with just about every hot button social issue imaginable -- except in this instance, gun control.

The marquee protagonist is veteran teacher Lou Mazzauchelli (Josh Radnor from How I Met Your Mother), who’s modeled after the real-life Lou Volpe from the 2013 book Drama High. The setting has been shifted from Levittown to Stanton, PA (shortened from New Stanton), where Lou is fed up with his listless students’ inattention. Tom Joad? Snore.

Badly in need of a booster shot, Lou impulsively volunteers to head the school’s underfunded theater department, even though dedicated Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez) already is in the midst of putting on another production of Grease. That’s the problem, in Lou’s view. Theater should be daring and kids need to be challenged. So let’s rock this straitlaced burg to the core with an explicit production that includes same-sex kissing, parental abuse, spanking with a switch and raw language (which is more implied than heard because NBC censors still forbid f-bombs).

A sprawling cast of teens eventually warms to the task, making Glee seem kind of under-populated.

Lilette Suarez (Auli’l Cravalho), whose “slutty” waitress mom, Vanessa (Shirley Rumierk), has been sleeping with football coach Doug Strickland (Joe Tippett), is a previously untapped talent who gets the co-lead role opposite Robbie. While they fall in love, prima donna Gwen Strickland (Amy Forsyth) festers about being passed over. As does her costume-designing mom, Denise (Jennifer Ferrin).

Another musical star player, sexually conflicted Simon Saunders (Ted Sutherland), likewise is vexed about getting a smaller, supporting part that includes a boy-on-boy kissing scene with the openly gay Jeremy (Sean Grandillo). Simon’s deeply religious parents, Robert and Patricia (Stephen Plunkett, Stephanie J. Block), have no intention of letting him proceed and want to kill the play altogether. But Dad turns out to have a secret of his own as part of Rise’s most ham-handed sub-plot. The Saunders also have a daughter with Down’s Syndrome who idolizes her brother. They have a handful of affecting scenes, with Simon always calming and reassuring her.

Other members of the Spring Awakening troupe include transgender Michael/Margaret Hallowell (Ellie Desautels); plus-sized Annabelle (Shannon Purser); promiscuous Sasha (Erin Kommor) and lighting director Maashous Evers (Rarmian Newton), a foster kid who ends up being Rise’s most appealing student character.

Back home, Lou and his wife, Gail (Marley Shelton), aren’t sure what to do anymore with their hard-drinking, insolent son, Gordy (Casey Johnson). Lou also faces increased opposition at school from the football coach and rock-ribbed principal Even Ward (solid work by Stanley Wayne Mathis). Meanwhile, Lilette’s mom continues to endure unwanted sexual touching by Anton (Nikolai Tsankov), coarse owner of Sparky’s Diner.

The strongest performance among the adults is from Perez, whose feisty Tracey otherwise leads a cloistered, sexless life. Trying to help -- when he’s not clashing with her -- Lou persuades goodly biology teacher Andy Kranepool (Diallo Riddle) to ask Tracey out. This doesn’t go well, before it does. But Rise then drops this whole storyline without explanation.

Meet two more parents. Robbie’s father, Detrell (Mark Tallman), is prototypically obsessed with having his son achieve football stardom after he couldn’t quite cut it. His saintly mom, Yvonne (Shannon Thornton), on whom Robbie dotes, is hospitalized with ACLS. He visits her often and they have some sweet scenes together while Detrell has taken up with a younger woman.

Rise no doubt will offend conservatives who view it as another force-feeding of Hollywood liberalism. But its main offense may be a complete lack of “never saw that coming” surprises. Instead you’re going to see just about everything coming, including a denouement that nonetheless is rousing because of the sheer power of the kids’ performances and commitment.

Rise doesn’t elevate to the heights of Friday Night Lights with either its storytelling or performances. But it’s heartfelt from start to finish while also offering an overall feel-good respite from television’s ongoing obsessions with “true crime” and all things Trump. Wishing it would have been better is by no means a deal breaker. There are enough high notes to ensure that.


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ABC's Deception heists Castle while substituting a magician for a mystery novelist


Crime’s in trouble when a combo of illusionists/detectives teams up. ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, March 11th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Jack Cutmore-Scott, Ilfenesh Hadera, Amaury Nolasco, Lenora Crichlow, Vinnie Jones, Justin Chon, Laila Robins
Produced by: Chris Fedak, Greg Berlanti, Martin Gero, Sarah Schechter

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Gone but clearly not forgotten, Castle gave ABC a long-distance run of eight seasons and 173 episodes before departing in May, 2016.

The network essentially is saying “Gimme rewrite” with Deception, a like-minded, agreeably breezy crime solver that gets a prime launch pad following ABC’s two-hour Sunday night reboot of American Idol. Let’s investigate the similarities, although it’s going to be a longer run-up with Deception.

In Castle, Nathan Fillion played bantering, bestselling mystery novelist Richard Castle, who’s lately afflicted with writer’s block. In search inspiration, he’s given a chance to tag along with Manhattan-based detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) in hopes of fashioning a new gumshoe modeled after her. Kate strongly objects at first, but Castle proves to be helpful in catching the elusive crook of the week. ABC added an overriding, unsolved mystery, the murder of Kate’s mother. It unspooled over multiple seasons at a slow off-and-on pace while Castle and Kate clashed, traded quips and became lovers on a faster track.

In Deception, internationally renowned magician Cameron Black (Jack Cutmore-Scott) has prospered for years while keeping the existence of his twin brother, Jonathan (Cutmore-Scott), a closely guarded secret. This allows him to “magically” disappear from one locale (such as Las Vegas), and then instantly show up in another (such as New York). “Ta-da.” That’s his tongue-in-cheek tagline.

Things go awry, though, when a car wreck waylays Jonathan’s would-be, post-performance tryst with a mysterious and alluring woman. She winds up bloodied and dead on a Manhattan street while Jonathan staggers away. When Cameron is charged with her murder, he finally cops to the existence of his twin, who’s arrested, convicted and imprisoned. But Jonathan tells Cameron he was set up, and that the dead woman found by police isn’t the same one who’d been riding with him.

This is all prelude to “A Year Later,” with Cameron now a discredited and depressed illusionist living in Manhattan. But then he sees live TV news footage of a plane that exploded after first landing with a notorious drug cartel kingpin named Felix Ruiz in the custody of New York-based FBI agent Kay Daniels (Ilfenesh Hadera). She thinks her prisoner is now dead, but Cameron impulsively rushes to the scene and contends it’s all an illusion pulled off by the time-tested art of “misdirection.” In other words, Ruiz is still at large while the plane carrying him somehow has been transported elsewhere. Furthermore, Cameron is convinced that the illusionist pulling these strings is the same one who framed his twin brother.

Stern Kay thinks this is nonsense, has never heard of Cameron and doesn’t like magic anyway. But her partner, Mike Alvarez (Amaury Nolasco), is a fan, and Cameron’s deductions are starting to pan out. So let’s give a him a whirl -- but only this once.

All of this is carried out with considerable energy and at a pace fast enough to keep most viewers from thinking too hard about the liberties taken in leaping from one conclusion to the next. This is supposed to be a lark for the most part, and Cameron’s feisty backstage support team also can be a good deal of fun after they first entertain the idea of working for Criss Angel, whose name is dropped along with those of Doug Henning, Siegfried & Roy and David Copperfield. Penn & Teller are seen in the flesh, spouting the magician’s code of tricking people, but never lying to them.

Team Cameron is made up of prop-makers/illusion-enhancers Gunter Gustafson (Vinnie Jones) and Jordan Kwon (Justin Chon), who spar for proper credit while stage show producer Dina Clark (Lenora Crichlow) mostly wants to just get on with it. During the three episodes made available for review, it’s increasingly obvious that she’ll also be getting it on with FBI agent Alvarez while Cameron and Kay likewise show telltale signs of inevitably succumbing to a little sheets music.

Cameron’s overall objective, though, is to free his brother. The first two episodes provide glimpses of Deception’s mystery illusionist at large before the third makes no mention at all of her. As with Castle, this is gonna take some time, assuming that Deception is afforded that luxury. But really, what’s not to like about an Episode 3 that’s centered on an explosive art museum crisis and includes the line, “He’s gonna blow the Cezanne!”

Deception isn’t likely to win any awards, except perhaps from the Society of American Magicians. As escapist fare, though, it turns the trick, plays its cards well, pulls a rabbit from the hat, etc. Or as ABC might say, “Abracadabra, here’s to another Castle.”

GRADE: B-minus

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No trophy for you: NBC's Champions is mostly just a participant


Two dense brothers and a know-it-all gay kid comprise Champions. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 8th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Anders Holm, Andy Favreau, J.J. Totah, Fortune Feimster, Yassir Lester, Ginger Gonzaga, Mouzam Makkar, Robert Costanzo, with recurring appearances by Mindy Kaling
Produced by: Mindy Kaling, Charlie Grandy, Howard Klein, Matt Warburton, Michael Spiller

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Broad, hit-and-mostly-miss sitcoms generally are affixed with laugh tracks to underscore their need to feel wanted.

NBC’s Champions doesn’t have one, which tends to make most of the jokes fall even flatter. Surprisingly, it’s a co-creation of Mindy Kaling and Charlie Grandy, who also worked together on The Office and The Mindy Project. So quite a bit better was expected from the three episodes made available for review.

Champions is built around two well-meaning brothers without an abundance of candle power. They’re now running the Brooklyn Champions Athletic Club with a staff of mostly inept trainers that no one would hire but them. The place has been passed down from their father.

Vince Cook (Anders Holm) once had a promising baseball career until he screwed it up. Brother Matthew (Andy Favreau) is hunkier, but might have trouble spelling cat unless he’s first had his Wheaties. In the premiere episode’s opening scene, an aggrieved husband shows up with a pistol in search of the Cook who slept with his wife. It turns out to be Vince, who’s saved from a bullet to the head when Matthew persuades the guy that his brother is more miserable alive than dead.

Meanwhile, the son that Vince never knew he had (wow, what a novel twist) is now 15, openly gay and suddenly denied enrollment in a prestigious school after the dean of students who recruited him got caught in a “Jared from Subway-type sting.” Michael (J.J. Totah) and his mom, Priya (the recurring Kaling), are told he’ll have to re-audition. This means Michael will need a place to stay. Which prompts mom to spring his existence on Vince, who shares a pad above the gym with Matthew. Don’t expect any of this to make any real-world sense.

Michael is an entitled sort of kid who’s chock full of ‘tude and stereotypically “gay” ways of doing and saying things. In Episode 2, he’s aghast at seeing the brothers’ in-home Pop-A-Shot arcade game. “What is that?” he asks. “It looks homophobic.”

Michael also is proud of getting a D on a math test. “Who cares?” he tells Vince in Episode 3. “I’m an artist, not a black woman at NASA in the ‘60s.” This one might sail over some heads -- and certainly over dad’s. Later in this episode, Michael retorts, “No, honey, the only thing I steal is scenes.”

Vince, who wants to sell the gym and blow town, presides over a staff that virtually guarantees bankruptcy. Cranky Uncle Bud (Robert Costanzo) spews Brooklyn-ese from his right wing perch. He’s just bought a houseboat that’s being dubbed The Crooked Hillary. But all lives matter to him, even those of the “gender confusos.”

The gym’s super-gruff, plus-sized lesbian trainer, named Ruby (Fortune Feimster), disdains just about everyone and everything. Shabaz (Yassir Lester) is more interested in being a playwright with addled ideas than in building any bodies. He also dispenses what has to be television’s very first joke dropping the names of Sterling K. Brown and Ryan Murphy. Perhaps one in 100 viewers will get it -- and still not laugh.

Some of the scenes play out OK, and Favreau has a marginally winning way with the doofus brother he plays. As the self-described scene-stealer, newcomer Totah also gets in a few good jabs.

None of this seems nearly good enough, though, to make Champions more than a likely short-termer on the TV sitcom conveyor belt.

One almost longs for a guest appearance by Sean Hayes, whose Will & Grace will serve as Champions’ Thursday night lead-in. He could drop a 10-pound dumbbell on his big toe before cavorting and contorting for a minute or so in a Jerry Lewis mode. Hayes once effectively played Lewis in a made-for-TV movie, so he might well be up to the task of injecting Champions with some sorely needed cheap belly laughs. Just trying to help.

GRADE: C-minus

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The CW's Life Sentence merits a quick death knell


Stella (Lucy Hale) was ready to die of cancer until -- no. The CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 7th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Lucy Hale, Elliot Knight, Dylan Walsh, Gillian Vigman, Jayson Blair, Brooke Lyons, Carlos PenaVega, Claudia Rocafort, Nadej k Bailey, Riley Grant
Produced by: Erin Cardillo, Richard Keith, Bill Lawrence, Jeff Ingold, Oliver Goldstick, Lee Toland Krieger

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Next time The CW thinks of doing something like this, well, just plug in another superhero hour, would ya?

Life Sentence instead proves to be super-treacly with its overwrought, underwhelming tale of young Stella Abbott (Lucy Hale), who for the past eight years had steeled herself for death by cancer. But then her doctor suddenly proclaims “You’re cured!” Which leaves Stella tearfully happy and then tearfully sad after learning how much her family had secretly sacrificed on her behalf.

During her planned dying days, Stella also had journeyed to Paris in hopes of meeting Mr. Right. Which she did. He’s black Britisher Wes Charles (Elliot Knight), and they’ve been married for the past six months. But now she wonders if he might have just been humoring her by pretending to like all the things she does -- when he really doesn’t. Letting her use his arm as a pillow, for instance. Blimey, a guy could suffer permanent nerve damage now that Stella’s not going to die as planned.

On the surface, this premise might seem somewhat promising. But Stella’s newfound needs quickly wear thin during the course of three episodes made available for review. Soft-serve acoustic mood music drops in to the point of madness whenever the series’ center of attention isn’t supplying an abundance of fretful narration. Stella!!! Please stop!!!

Let’s meet the Oregon-based family. Mom Ida (Gillian Vigman) and Dad Peter (Dylan Walsh) had been hiding their growing disaffection for one another in order to keep Stella from being further traumatized. But now that she’s got a reprieve, Ida is quickly in the arms of her daughter’s godmother Poppy (Claudia Rocafort) -- “I’m coming out as a bi-“ -- while college professor Peter wonders what hit him. He’s also saddled with a big pile of debt that endangers the family home.

Stella’s brother Aiden (Jayson Blair) is a layabout who enjoys the company of older married women and is seldom seen without a beer in hand. Their sister, Lizzy (Brooke Lyons), is married to nice guy Diego (Carlos PenaVega), with whom she has three children. But Lizzy gave up a budding writing career to stay by Stella’s side while she presumably would die. Now she’s feeling kind of unfulfilled.

Newly guilt-ridden, Stella gets work as a barista before later also volunteering in a hospital cancer ward. She quickly befriends and champions a young girl named Sadie (Nadej k Bailey) while of course also coming upon a hunky doc named Will (Riley Smith).

All of this proves to be more aggravating than involving. Life Sentence has an off-putting preciousness to it while grinding through one “crisis” after another. It doesn’t earn any sympathies because its principal characters don’t merit much more than one big “Oh, shaddup!” With the exception, perhaps, of poor Wes, who soldiers on amiably while asking only that reprieved Stella spank him every once in a while.

It’s temping to conclude by saying that Life Sentence is an argument for capital punishment. Maybe that’s going a little too far. But solitary confinement indeed would be a better fate than having to watch this on a continuous loop.


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Frontline takes its turn in the Harvey Weinstein cesspool


Yes, he’s still in denial mode in new Frontline documentary. PBS photo

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Well, why not? Public television’s franchise investigative documentary series has decided to take a crack at Harvey Weinstein -- but comes away with nothing all that notably new on the slithering onetime Hollywood powerbroker.

Accusers come forth on camera, although no “A-listers” participate. Enablers say they should have known better. And Weinstein himself issues one off-camera denial after another, all of them duly noted in Frontline’s one-hour Weinstein (Friday, March 2nd at 8 p.m. central on KERA13 in Dallas).

While cowed underlings massaged the deposed studio boss’s ego, he constantly demanded massages from young actresses and employees while presenting himself in various stages of undress. Most looked the other way, as did Hollywood at large until The New York Times toppled Weinstein last fall with a series of reports in which a few brave women publicly came forward. The dam then broke.

Weinstein continues to insist that any sex was consensual. He steadfastly denies any and all allegations that he raped or tried to rape any of the women who are charging otherwise. But one of his denials to Frontline, all of them issued through attorneys, notes that “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s. That was the culture then.”

By this he apparently means the idea of free and easy sex with a guy who had the power to make or break careers.

Some of the on-camera recollections from Weinstein’s accusers are decidedly to the point.

Actress Sean Young says he “pulled his thing out” before she told him, “I really wouldn’t pull that thing out because it isn’t pretty.” Young says her potentially major career got derailed as a result.

Another up-and-coming actress, Zoe Brock, claims Weinstein lured her to a remote location in Cannes, France with a promise that others also would be joining them at a “party.”

Instead he emerged naked and wanted a massage, according to her account. “I may have been stupid enough to lie down,” Brock says. But she subsequently “bolted” and told Weinstein to put his clothes back on, “you naughty f**king boy.” She’s never forgotten the sight of him crying while saying, “You don’t like me because I’m fat.”

Paul Webster, who worked for Weinstein when he ran Miramax Films, confesses to being “fully aware that Harvey was a womanizer,” but repeatedly “chose to suppress it . . . I didn’t have the guts to do anything about it. I think the deal I made with the devil was to my advantage.”

Many of the women who personally witnessed Weinstein’s unwelcome advances ended up signing non-disclosure agreements in return for payments. But the word was out, and Ken Auletta of The New Yorker recalls being on the scent back in 2002.

Auletta says he personally confronted Weinstein, who initially became enraged and then began crying about how publication of such an article would “destroy my family.”

The evidence at hand wasn’t solid enough to print, Auletta says in retrospect. “I wish that I could have nailed the guy in 2002.”

No one currently at the embattled Weinstein Company would agree to be interviewed, according to Frontline. A former executive with the company, Tom Prince, flatly says “Harvey was a dictator” who raised suspicions when he had some young actresses flown abroad to play small l parts that easily could have been handled by locals at a fraction of the cost. Otherwise, says Prince, “I knew nothing.”

That’s also been the mantra of Meryl Streep, who now infamously called Weinstein “God” after winning a Golden Globe for her performance in
The Iron Lady
, which his company produced.

Streep, publicly supportive of actresses who have accused Weinstein of sexual harassment, does not do an on-camera interview for Frontline. Nor do Gwyneth Paltrow or her former boyfriend, Brad Pitt, who reportedly confronted Weinstein privately in connection with alleged sexual misconduct on his part during the making of Emma. The film starred Paltrow before she won an Oscar four years later for her performance in Weinstein’s Shakespeare In Love.

In the end, Weinstein doesn’t land any big fish who would have made the documentary a major newsmaker. Even director Quentin Tarantino, generally not at all camera-shy, is a non-participant. The best Weinstein can do is recycle a previous quote of his that “we allowed it to exist, because that’s the way it was.” The two men collaborated on films such as Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill.

There of course will be no place for Harvey Weinstein at Sunday’s 90th annual Oscar ceremony. He’s also likely to go unmentioned by host Jimmy Kimmel, because there’s nothing at all amusing about his long, alleged reign of terror. Frontline’s late-in-coming documentary capably condenses it all while Weinstein continues to prepare his defense. But those who have been paying any attention at all already know enough of the sordid details,


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