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Farewell to The Americans, with some explanations of why it played out the way it did -- and whether there might be more


It’s back in the USSR for Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. FX photo

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And they all lived somberly ever after.

Rather than physical death or even incarceration, the principal characters of FX’s The Americans were left dying on the inside at the close of Wednesday night’s series finale.

Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys) are back in the USSR and wondering what might befall them.

Their children, Paige and Henry (Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sallati), remain in the USA with the knowledge they may never see their parents again.

FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the dogged Lt. Philip Gerard of The Americans, is left with the guilt of letting his quarry escape while also wondering whether his new wife, Renee (Karen Pittman), could be a Soviet spy.

And what about Philip’s tragically duped informant, Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), who was smuggled off to the Soviet Union before the feds could apprehend her? Did she in fact adopt that orphaned girl she seemed to take an interest in during a cameo earlier in the sixth and final season?

All of this seems to cry out for a continuation someday. But for now, the principal executive producers of The Americans, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, say they have no intention to revisit these characters. As Fields put it during a pre-finale teleconference with TV writers, “It’s nice to be able to turn it over. And not have any more to do with it.”

But, with Roseanne notwithstanding, we’re in times of a reboot/revival mania. So your friendly content provider tried to reopen the door at the end of the interview session. Can Fields and Weisberg emphatically say The Americans is over and out?

“We feel it’s done,” Weisberg said.

OK. But what if FX came calling five years down the road with an enticing offer to continue The Americans in some form?

“Oh, you’re going to be just throwing this quote in our faces five years from now, aren’t you?” Fields rejoined before adding, “In all seriousness, I really don’t think so. It really feels like this one wants to be fully told at this point. It feels like that kind of a story. It does seem like the story is over to us.”

Fields and Weisberg said they had no idea how The Americans would conclude until near the end of Season One. At that point, “we suddenly got a very clear sense of the ending of the show,” Weisberg said.

But with an uncertain number of seasons and storylines in the show’s future, “odds are (that) any ending you thought you were going to tell is going to end up being changed by all the things that came in between,” he said. “Then we got to the end of the show and sure enough, that ending was still the one we liked best.”

Still, how exactly would they get there? In that respect, the prolonged parking garage confrontation between Stan, Philip, Elizabeth and Paige had to play just right, in the producers’ view. Because otherwise, “the whole ending of the show didn’t work,” Weisberg said. So they kept revisiting it, rewriting it. “It took a long time to get there,” Weisberg said.

Early in the scene, Stan pulls a gun on the three Jennings and orders them to “lie down on the ground, all of you.” He then tells them unequivocally, “It’s over.”

But Philip preys on his friendship with Stan, who by happenstance also was his neighbor throughout the series. He also lies about having never killed anyone while in the U.S. “We had a job to do,” he pleads. And in the end that job entailed saving Mikhail Gorbachev from the KGB, which wanted to overthrow him. He invites Stan to shoot him if that would resolve matters. Philip otherwise is emphatic about the three of them driving off rather than giving themselves up.

Stan relents, and it likely will be debated at length whether this was a believable or wise creative move on the part of the producers. Bonnie and Clyde eventually got their comeuppance, as did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But did viewers have the same rooting interest in Philip and Elizabeth, who left dozens of dead bodies in the interest of what they perceived as a greater Communist cause?

Asked why Stan ultimately yielded and let the Jennings drive off, Weisberg said the producers have “taken a pretty tough line that we don’t want to answer that one, because we think that’s one that people are going to come up with a lot of different answers on their own.”

But then he elaborated: “At the end of the day, that friendship (between Philip and Stan) was a real friendship. And there’s no question about it. Through all the layers of bullshit and lying and manipulation and everything else, it’s hard to argue that these two men didn’t love each other . . . One of the challenges in writing that scene was taking everything these two men would have to say to each other and figuring out which of those things would have to come out -- and in what order.”

Elizabeth and Philip eventually make it back to the USSR while daughter Paige secretly hops off of the train they were sharing before it heads out of the U.S. toward Montreal. She is last seen sipping vodka at the former residence of veteran Soviet spy Claudia (Margo Martindale), who had been helping to tutor her.

“We’ll leave it to the audience to decide whether this was punishment enough or satisfying enough,” Fields said.

Weisberg prefers the word “tragedy.” And in his view, “the tragedy taking place inside the family felt exactly right to us. The fact that they lose their children just resonated more deeply with us (as the) most powerful and in a way the most painful thing that could happen to anybody.”

The final scene of The Americans otherwise plays beautifully.

Philip and Elizabeth get through a final Soviet checkpoint before asking the driver of their car to pull over. They emerge and then gaze at a skyline in the distance. It’s been a while.

“They’ll be OK,” Elizabeth says of Paige and Henry.

“They’ll remember us,” Philip replies. “They’re not kids anymore. We raised them.”

“Yes,” she says.

Still, Philip says, “It feels strange.”

“We’ll get used to it,” Elizabeth assures him, shifting to their native Russian language.

And that’s the way it’s left -- even if there’s so much more to say. But for now, Dosvedanya.

Postscript: The Americans was not a ratings hit for FX, but did become the network’s most acclaimed series, at least by TV critics. But it has won just two Emmy awards in its first five seasons, both for Martindale in the guest actress category. The Americans is in some stellar company, though. HBO’s The Wire never won a single Emmy while NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street didn’t get a single Best Drama Series nomination and won just one acting Emmy, for series regular Andre Braugher.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Reverie can't muster much of a grip


Out of body and out of mind in Reverie. NBC photo

Premiereing: Wednesday, May 30th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Sarah Shahi, Dennis Haysbert, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Jessica Lu, Kathryn Morris
Produced by: Mickey Fisher, Jaume Collet-Serra, Brooklyn Weaver, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey

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Sci-fi traveling used to be -- and sometimes still is -- a lot more basic and easily grasped.

Journeys to the center of the earth invariably encountered prehistoric monsters and other perils before a light at the end of a chasm.

Time travels mixed in a little history lesson along with the overriding coda that altering the past could have major consequences for the future as well. And if you instead are in the earth-bound future, well, it’s never a happy place because totalitarians in one form or another are ruling over a decimated planet.

NBC’s Reverie is more complicated and convoluted than that. Its terrain in large part is “a highly advanced virtual-reality program in which you can literally live your dreams,” the network tries to explain in publicity materials. Ah, but there are problems. Some people don’t want to come back. And those people are now in comas and near death. So what’s needed is a former hostage negotiator who can also take this trip and then talk the endangered into returning.

Former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Sarah Shahi, who also co-starred in CBS’ Person of Interest, has the lead role of Mara Kint. Of course she also needs saving after failing to talk down the crazed husband of her sister and their little daughter. He instead killed them both before turning a pistol on himself. Mara has been hitting the bottle and imbibing too many pills ever since. But former police chief Charlie Ventana (Dennis Haysbert in his first series role without hair) sees her as the perfect choice to be a daring and deft virtual-reality guinea pig.

“Reverie is a place where the impossible becomes impossible,” he tells her.

“That’s like a trip to heaven,” says she. But, no. Not really.

The initial Reverie straggler is a guy who’s never gotten over the death of his wife. After being reunited with her, he’s in no mood to return. But in the real world, he’s left behind a little daughter who wants her daddy and a brother who also fears the worst.

Mara is taught the ropes by hunky Paul Hammond (Sendhil Ramamurthy) after she’s first injected with an implant. The magic words are “Exodus” if she wants to extricate herself from perils such as a sealed box with rapidly rising water. But other members of the Reverie staff fret about the unknown consequences of a second person entering this realm. What if that proves to be doubly life-endangering?

NBC originally announced Reverie in May 2017 as a midseason replacement series that later was earmarked for a March premiere. Two months later, and with a shortened order of 10 episodes, here it is. And that’s generally not a good sign, whatever world you might be in.

Reverie is brightly colored and nicely designed when it’s tripping. But it’s also all over the place, and probably not worth the overall trouble of trying to grasp whatever the rules of this game are, were or will be.

By the end of the premiere hour, Haysbert’s Charlie is meeting with some sort of corporate schemer (Kathryn Morris as Monica Shaw) while Mara is having a rather startling real world vision. But none of this is gripping enough to make the sale. NBC would be far better served by renewing its time-traveling Timeless for a Season 3. The series even has a prominent champion in Kelly Clarkson, who just wound up her first season as a coach on NBC’s The Voice.

“Brav-freakin-o!!” she tweeted after watching the recent Season 2 finale. “I can’t believe this might not be renewed. It’s fascinating and historical! C’mon @nbc.”

Reverie seems unlikely to get a “Brav-freakin-o!! from Clarkson or anyone else. At best it’s merely so-so.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC played with fire until Roseanne Barr finally burned her last bridge (updated)


Roseanne Barr taking the stage two weeks ago at ABC’s mid-May “upfront” presentation to Madison Avenue buyers. ABC photo

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Hindsight is always 20/20, which happens to be the name of another ABC show.

Still, perhaps the network should have abided by the hook in that vintage Rolling Stones song: “Don’t play with me, ‘cause you’re playin’ with fire.”

ABC’s abrupt and unequivocal cancellation of Roseanne Tuesday, in reaction to a racist tweet for which she later apologized, underscores the perils of doing business with a renowned troublemaker. Roseanne Barr’s long history of being her own worst enemy dates to the constant upheavals on the set of her original hit sitcom, which ran from 1988 to 1997 on ABC.

It was just a matter of time before the latter day outspoken supporter of President Trump found another way to self-destruct. Even so, the swiftness of ABC’s action got the post-Memorial Day week off to a jolting start. The network’s Roseanne reboot, which rocketed to the top of the ratings charts and received an instant pickup from its blown away network, is now nothing more than a vacancy in next fall’s Tuesday prime-time lineup.

Just two weeks ago, Barr took the stage alone at the start of ABC’s annual “upfront” presentation to advertisers. “Here’s the guy who really writes most of my Tweets,” she joked in introducing the network’s big bossman, Ben Sherwood. The entire network is now choking on that rich-in-irony one-liner.

Both Sherwood and ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey (who announced Roseanne’s cancellation in a terse, one-sentence statement) raved about the show’s huge, renewed popularity. At one point, Sherwood said “You’re welcome” after wondering aloud whether anyone in the ad-buying audience was playing a drinking game based on how many times Roseanne would be mentioned.

Somebody needs a stiff drink, all right.

Let’s be very clear. ABC rightly dumped Roseanne after its star said of former Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” She later deleted the Tweet and apologized for making a joke that was in “bad taste.” But ABC couldn’t be swayed. Nor could Barr’s talent agency, which also has now dropped her.

(Barr said she’d be leaving Twitter, but quickly returned with a volley of tweets that alternately expressed regret and defiance. She also blamed her Jarrett tweet on the sleeping aid, Ambien.)

Some will find a way to decry the cancellation as politically biased retribution against a full-blown Trumpeteer. Those people should have their heads examined, as should any network or streaming service that even thinks about picking up Roseanne. As with dozens of disgraced millionaire male stars -- many of them with pronounced liberal leanings -- Barr at long last should be over and out in terms of landing another TV show of any sort. Those who are still defending her likely are many of the same people who decried her infamously off-key rendition of The National Anthem, complete with crotch-grab.

ABC executives admittedly resurrected Roseanne in large part because they feared the network had disenfranchised a significant percentage of the viewing audience -- namely those who had put Trump in the White House. Dungey, who is African-American and the first woman of color to ever head a network entertainment division, took a considerable risk in embracing a loud-mouthed loose cannon in Barr. But then the ratings came in for ABC’s double-episode, March 27th relaunch of Roseanne. The network immediately renewed the show for a Season 2, with any misgivings about its volatile star assuaged by the potential big profits she embodied. Then it all blew up in ABC’s face.

Notably, the two biggest sitcom stars of the 1980s -- Barr and Bill Cosby -- have now put themselves in exile via their own off-camera words and deeds. In both the 1988-89 and 1989-90 TV seasons, The Cosby Show and Roseanne ranked one-two in the prime-time ratings. They were markedly different in the families they represented, but both became trailblazers. Cosby’s Huxtables were the first African-American family to “cross over” into runaway acceptance among families of all colors while Roseanne emerged as the first woman to wear the pants in a working class sitcom -- and be wildly successful in doing so.

ABC for a time looked the other way in respect to some of Barr’s previously unhinged tweets. In purely mercenary terms, money talked louder. But she finally went too far, as anyone should be able to see. I thought her sitcom revival had a number of funny and strong moments during the course of its nine episodes this season. It seemed to be a show that genuinely sought to bridge some of the country’s seemingly ever-wider divisions. Roseanne Conner, pro-Trump in broad terms, also showed an ability to see other sides of the equation as the sitcom settled in.

But in the end, the star “made good” on her reputation for doing her worst. One is tempted to say it didn’t have to be this way. But with Roseanne Barr, It inevitably always is.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Roseanne Barr's racist tweet triggers ABC's abrupt cancellation of her hit reboot


Roseanne Barr and John Goodman in the suddenly defunct Roseanne. ABC photo

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In a jarring development, ABC has canceled Roseanne after the star of the show, Roseanne Barr, authored a since deleted tweet disparaging Valerie Jarrett, a former advisor to President Barack Obama.

“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with your values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey said in a statement issued early Tuesday afternoon.

Barr, well-accomplished at being her own worst enemy, fired off a Memorial Day morning tweet that said, “Muslin brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” This came in response to an online allegation that Obama had spied on French presidential candidates, with Jarrett helping him to “hide a lot.”

Barr, whose Roseanne reboot had been a breakout hit for ABC after launching in midseason, later tried to make amends.

“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she tweeted. “I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me -- my joke was in bad taste.” Barr also said she is “now leaving Twitter.”

Both Jarrett and Dungey are African-American, with Dungey being the first woman of color ever to head a broadcast network entertainment division.

Roseanne had been set to return next fall in the same Tuesday 7 p.m. (central) slot it occupied this season. Before ABC axed her show, consulting producer Wanda Sykes said she would not be returning to Roseanne following Barr’s latest outburst.

Sara Gilbert, who plays Roseanne and Dan Conner’s daughter, Darlene, and has been a co-executive producer of the reboot, tweeted that Barr’s comments about Jarrett are “abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show.” Gilbert also said, “This is incredibly sad and difficult for all of us, as we’ve created a show that we believe in, are proud of, and that audiences love -- one that is separate and apart from the opinions and words of one cast member.”

Barr is an outspoken supporter of President Trump, both in real-life and on her show. In times of reboot mania on the part of broadcast networks and the streaming service Netflix, Roseanne by far had been the most successful second coming.

On the original Roseanne, Barr became known for creating extreme divisiveness on the set with her demands and demeanor. The show left ABC in May 1997 after nine seasons.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

A Memorial Day salute in HBO's John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls


Lionizing a lion in winter in John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls. HBO photo

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Fittingly premiering on Memorial Day, HBO’s John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls affords him an opportunity to, in a sad sense, see his own obituary.

The respect and admiration for the cancer-afflicted POW turned Arizona senator is non-partisan and clearly more than pro forma during this 1 hour, 45 minute film (May 28th at 7 p.m. central).

McCain himself seems to be in firm control of his emotions during an interview filmed last August on his 80th birthday at his Sedona, AZ home shortly after he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Others are not, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Extolling McCain’s valor under adversity, Biden pauses and is near tears before saying, “He’s a good friend.”

A formidable list of friends and onetime foes contribute fresh interviews for the Peter Kunhardt-directed film. Besides Biden, the roll call includes Barack Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham and John Kerry. McCain’s first wife, Carol, his current wife, Cindy, several children from both marriages and Ted Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, also participate.

The notable no-show is Sarah Palin, McCain’s controversial running mate in his 2008 presidential bid. McCain now says he should have trusted his instincts and gone with Lieberman, but his advisors warned him of a “bloodbath” at the Republican National Convention if he tried to run with a former Democrat turned Independent. Palin is seen only in archival footage, with McCain saying that selecting her “was another mistake that I made” among several he acknowledges.

McCain antagonist Donald Trump is neither mentioned nor shown, which is perfectly fine. He’s otherwise available nearly 24/7 on the three cable news networks.

The film’s title comes from the famed 1940 Ernest Hemingway novel, which also was made into a movie starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. The main protagonist, Robert Jordan, selflessly dies for a perceived greater cause during the Spanish Civil War. “And by the way, I re-read Hemingway,” McCain says near film’s end. “And Robert Jordan is still my hero.”

From the very start, a duly reflective McCain says, “I have lived an honorable life, and I am proud of my life.” So if he’s in fact near the end, McCain is determined to “look back with gratitude. You will never talk to anyone that is as fortunate as John McCain.”

Along the way, though, he has regrets. Not only about choosing Palin, but of eventually succumbing to a “war crimes confession” when he thought death was imminent from the oft-brutal treatment he received during a five-and-a-half year imprisonment in what became known derisively as the Hanoi Hilton.

“And I will be ashamed and embarrassed about that for my whole life,” McCain says.

He’s also bracingly contrite about his enabling role in the Charles H. Keating Jr. savings and loan scandal (forever a “black mark”) and his politically expedient decision to support flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina State Capitol (“as a symbol of heritage”) during his down-and-dirty 2000 presidential primary campaign against George W. Bush. McCain’s subsequent full and public apology soon after he dropped out of the race remains a remarkable example of undiluted political candor.

After filming ended on the HBO documentary, McCain offered another major mea culpa in his new book The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations. He now says he erred in very actively supporting the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

All in all, this is a catalog of very considerable proportions. But unlike a certain sitting President, McCain is willing to admit his faults and mistakes. “I’ve been tested on a number of occasions,” he says in the film. “I haven’t always done the right thing.”

Columnist David Brooks of The New York Times says McCain is one of the few high-level politicians with an “authentic” inner voice. “He has never been able to lie to himself very well.”

An enduring latter day image for many is McCain’s trip to Washington last July against his doctors’ and family’s wishes. His face bruised and very much still healing from recent surgery, he cast the “No” vote that torpedoed Republicans’ efforts to repeal “Obamacare” in full. Footage from that night still resonates, as does plentiful archival film from his POW years.

McCain recalls that when he refused preferential treatment because his father was a “big admiral” in the Navy, a North Vietnamese interrogator assured him, “Things will be very bad for you now, McCain.’ “

“And the fun began,” McCain adds drily, referring to the ensuing ramped-up torture.

His first marriage crumbled after his return to U.S. soil. McCain doesn’t talk about this, and perhaps wasn’t asked. But first wife Carol says he was “looking for a way to be young again” by having an affair with the much younger and future Mrs. McCain. “And that was the end of that . . . I was pretty much blindsided, and it broke my heart.”

Still, when reporters looked to her to say “negative things” about her ex-husband during the 2008 presidential campaign, Carol says she’d never do that to him and is sad that he’s not likely to be around much longer.

Obama, who seems to genuinely admire his former opponent, says that “we weren’t really running against John McCain. We were running for a new direction for the country.”

McCain repeatedly worked “across the aisle” in efforts to get things done in Washington. As the film shows, he formed alliances with the likes of Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden among others. And when Obama defeated him, McCain called for unity and support after earlier upbraiding a woman at a campaign rally who had branded the Democratic nominee “an Arab.”

“He could not have been more gracious,” Obama says.

McCain’s sometimes cranky demeanor also goes with the territory. Longtime friend Lindsey Graham says bluntly, “He can be an asshole one minute and your dearest friend the next.” But through it all, Graham says, there’s never a doubt about McCain’s loyalty and love.

Some might find For Whom the Bell Tolls to be too easy on, if not downright deferential, to McCain. But this last testament in many ways also underscores the respect and admiration he has won from those he’s battled fiercely. The so-called “Art of the Deal” is associated with another Republican, but it’s McCain who recurrently embodied it.

“John McCain successfully fought in Congress for these and other causes,” says a printed epilogue.

It turns out to be quite a list.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO stays in a fun-free zone with its latest original film, The Tale


Laura Dern/Isabelle Nelisse as Jennifer Fox in The Tale. HBO photo

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HBO’s original films haven’t been much fun lately.

Last month’s Paterno starred Al Pacino as the legendary Penn State coach who looked the other way to varying degrees when confronted with accounts that one of his longtime assistants had been a serial sex abuser of young boys.

This month’s Fahrenheit 451 remake revisited the unyielding book-burning future made famous in Ray Bradbury’s same-named 1953 novel.

Now comes The Tale (Saturday, May 26th at 9 p.m. central), which recounts director/writer Jennifer Fox’s real-life recovered memories of her sexual abuse as a 13-year-old at the hands of a Svengali-like couple.

Laura Dern plays the grown, 40-year-old Jennifer; Isabelle Nelisse co-stars as a young, impressionable, introverted Jenny in search of fulfillment beyond her lot in life as one of five siblings being raised by parents she can’t stand.

“The story you are about to see is true -- as far as I know,” Dern’s Jennifer narrates at the start. More to the point, director/writer Fox says in HBO publicity materials that her goal in making the film isn’t to determine “whether it happened,” but to grasp “How and why did it happen, and how and why did I spin it as a positive story to myself?” (She is the only character in the film to use her real name.)

Un-peeling these layers doesn’t come easily for the adult Jennifer. Nor is The Tale easy to watch, particularly when Jason Ritter exudes creepiness as an initially benignly smiling running coach with a goal of becoming 13-year-old Jenny’s lover after first repeatedly praising her as being “so special” and “so deep.”

The role is a complete departure for Ritter, who has spent this season playing a divinely inspired do-gooder in ABC’s now officially canceled Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. Ritter’s Bill (later depicted as the since much-lauded William P. Allens) doesn’t have to use “adult” language during his intimate scenes with Jenny. In fact, seldom if ever have G-rated words seemed so foul-mouthed. (The film’s closing credits say that all sex scenes with a minor were filmed with a body double. But there are still closeup shots of the 14-year-old Nelisse’s face while she experiences Bill’s deflowering of her.)

His accomplice is horse riding coach “Mrs. G” (first name Jane), who is played as a younger woman by Elizabeth Debicki and in present-day scenes by Frances Conroy. Bill and Mrs. G are beasts of prey who also are sleeping with each another.

“We want you to know that Jane and I are lovers,” Bill tells the young Jenny while at the same time further reeling her in.

“I’m happy you have each other,” Jenny replies. “And I want you to be miserable together like my parents.” They tell her this is more evidence of being wise beyond one’s years. Whatever it takes.

The adult Jennifer’s mother, Nettie (Ellen Burstyn), is a meddler whose discovery of her 13-year-old daughter’s troubling letters first brings The Tale into focus. Jennifer had “forgotten” about them, but finds that’s no longer an option. Her boyfriend, Martin (Common in close to a throwaway role), has a lone scene of consequence when he demands that Jennifer be forthright with him after daring to call her a “victim.” Otherwise Dern pretty much has as many scenes with a glass of red wine as she does with Common.

Those who invest in The Tale will get a “payoff,” even if it seems more than a bit contrived. The film no doubt will get a ringing declaration of support from the #MeToo movement and an Emmy nod for Dern, who’s currently filming Season Two of HBO’s Big Little Lies. In truth, though, the strongest and bravest performance is by Nelisse as the 13-year-old Jenny, who in a few out-of-body moments shares scenes and dialogue with Dern.

Although there’s no nudity, many assuredly will reject The Tale’s subject matter out of hand. In this view, its overall story of innocent susceptibility, bogus fulfillment, latter day denial and hard-earned closure triumphs over what Bill does to Jenny in the name of “love.” Still, I’m not going to try to sell you on anything. Just know what you’re getting in for -- and proceed with both caution and an open mind if you decide to make the investment.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's remake of Fahrenheit 451 generates little heat

Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon smolder in Fahrenheit 451. HBO image

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The books go up in flames a bit faster than the movie itself in HBO’s adaptation of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury’s famed Fahrenheit 451.

Directed in oft-plodding and recurrently preachy fashion by Ramin Bahrani (Chop Shop), the film is touted as being relevant anew in times where “we have willingly given up our knowledge, identity, books, history, dreams, culture -- everything -- to tech companies, big business and politicians.”

That’s Bahrani’s stated view in HBO publicity materials. But it hasn’t gotten that bad yet, has it?

The new version premieres on Saturday, May 19th at 7 p.m. (central), two generations removed from Francois Truffaut’s 1966 Fahrenheit 451, which starred Oskar Werner and Julie Christie. Bradbury wrote the original book in 1953 as a cautionary tale tied to the repressive, Communist-hunting “McCarthy era.”

Some changes have been made by Bahrani and HBO, particularly the omission of troubled “fireman” Guy Montag’s wife, a key character in the novel. Michael B. Jordan’s Montag lives alone, save for the audio companionship of judgmental YUXIE, the film’s Alexa of the future.

Montag otherwise is devoted to his very tightly wound mentor and commander, Captain John Beatty (Michael Shannon). At his orders, the flame-throwing members of the fire brigade seek out book-hiding resistors and destroy their contraband in full view of an omnipresent live TV show.

“Do you want to know what’s inside all these books? Insanity,” Beatty assures Montag, who’s also told that too many books espousing too many contrary opinions ended up sparking a civil war in which eight million people died. In the end, survivors “demanded a world like this.”

Beatty dismisses Franz Kafka as a “pornographer and a sexual pervert,” but has a secret thirst for guidance and writes the wisdom of famed deep thinkers on cigarette papers while home alone. Montag also has secrets. He’s stolen a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground and increasingly keeps company with “eel” (resistor) Clarisse McClellan (Sofia Boutella), an off-and-on informant who hits her off switch again as the plot congeals, er, thickens.

The film isn’t much of a read, though. Jordan, who’s also an executive producer, is constantly captured in closeup, looking either wide-eyed or vexed. His growing attraction to Clarisse tends to be a snooze, with their not exactly dynamic scenes together seemingly spliced into the film at random moments.

Shannon is accomplished at portraying inner turmoil. His taut, deeply religious FBI agent in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire became adept at self-flagellation in hopes of making himself whole again. But Beatty for the most part comes off as one big prototypical snarl, even while being conflicted.

Fahrenheit 451 briefly shows a taboo Marvin Gaye album, but resists resorting to a few bars of The Doors’ Light My Fire. That’s what’s needed, though, with a film whose BIG FINISH fails to ignite much of anything. The optimum book-burning heat from which the title is drawn ends up being a disappointing film that can’t seem to rise above room temperature.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Led by CBS (and save for ABC), the new fall season is all in with minorities and women as leads


The new look cast of the Magnum P.I. reboot. CBS photo

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The face and faces of network prime-time television underwent a major makeover this week with the announcements of next fall’s new series on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW.

Diversity and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the impact of the #MeToo movement, are abundantly evident while white males in large part have slipped to second banana status after having it their own way for decades. Oddly enough, ABC is the only exception this fall, but already has an established track record in casting women and people of color in lead roles. In that context, the network’s fallback to earlier times in some ways can be seen as being diverse in reverse. More on this later.

The most striking sign of these times, CBS’ Magnum P.I. reboot, will star a Latino in the title role with a female Higgins (first name, Juliet) who not only has a pair of Dobermans but is skilled in the martial arts.

Another reboot, The CW’s Charmed, has three Latina sisters as its apprentice witches.

CBS’ previous fall schedule had males in the lead roles of all six new series. Save for the network’s S.W.A.T. re-do, all of them were white.

New entertainment president Kelly Kahl, who had barely begun his new job back then, promised to steer a change in new directions the next time around. He’s done considerably more than that. CBS’ course correction amounts to a full U-turn. The half-dozen newcomers slated for fall 2018 premieres star either people of color, or in the Murphy Brown reboot’s case, the same woman who made the role famous along with a trio of Candice Bergen’s original cast mates.

For its God Friended Me drama series, which bears a more than passing resemblance to the long-running Touched By An Angel, CBS chose young African-American actor Brandon Micheal Hall after his sitcom The Mayor got a quick ax from ABC last fall. The network’s two other fall comedies, The Neighborhood and Happy Together, respectively star Cedric the Entertainer and Damon Wayans Jr. Both are built around African-American households enduring a sudden incursion of white folks.

The other first-year CBS drama, FBI, gives top billing to Missy Peregrym and Egyptian actor Zeeko Zaki, with veteran Jeremy Sisto also featured.

Fox has just two new fall series, plus a life raft for Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, which spent a year in exile after being canceled by ABC at the close of the 2016-17 season.

The Rel stars African-American comedian Lil Rel Howery as himself. The Cool Kids, with veteran African-American actor David Alan Grier given top billing in Fox publicity materials, is set in a retirement home and also stars Vicki Lawrence, Martin Mull and Leslie Jordan.

NBC’s fall lineup likewise has only a small sprinkling of three new fall series. The network’s lone freshman sitcom, I Feel Bad, is written by Aseem Batra and built around a vexed mom played by Sarayu Blue. A first-year drama series, Manifest, is topped by Melissa Roxburgh, who starred this season in The CW’s since canceled Valor. The other new drama, a medical series titled New Amsterdam, goes against the grain by casting a white male, Ryan Eggold, in the lead. He’s rebounding from the short-lived spinoff series The Blacklist: Redemption.

Besides its new look version of Charmed, The CW is offering All American, a high school football drama with African-American leads Taye Diggs and Daniel Ezra. There’s also a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. It’s called Legacies, with Danielle Rose Russell from The Originals listed as the lead member of the cast.

That leaves ABC, a practitioner of diversity when diversity wasn’t necessarily cool with shows such as black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. The network also has showcased take-charge moms in comedies such as American Housewife, Speechless and the Roseanne reboot.

For fall 2018, the network has three additions with white males as their clear centerpieces. Nathan Fillion, who previously had success with ABC’s Castle, returns to the network as a middle-aged newcomer to the LAPD in The Rookie. Alec Baldwin gets his own interview hour, The Alec Baldwin Show, after a one-episode sneak preview in March. And a new comedy series, The Kids Are Alright, is set in the 1970s, with an Irish Catholic brood of eight sons and no daughters vying for laughs along with their vastly outnumbered parents.

Another new sitcom, Single Parents, focuses on a 30-something dude named Will (former Saturday Night Live regular Taran Killam), who’s “lost sight of who he is as a man,” according to ABC’s description of the show. The ensemble freshman fall drama A Million Little Things bills white actors Ron Livingston and David Giuntoli as the leads.

For those keeping score, this makes ABC the CBS of a year ago while CBS rather suddenly will have more shows with African-Americans in the leads this fall than any of its rivals. Plus a Latino Thomas Magnum.

White males, who pretty much had everything going their way for decades, are hardly in a position to cry foul. Not yet anyway. Save for ABC as an outlier, the coming fall can be seen as an act of contrition for the days when white males kept getting another turn at bat whether their previous series failed or succeeded. Now many of them are sliding off the playing field while people of color and women have become priority first-teamers.

This is so much the case that NBC’s midseason nod to the past glories of Cheers will be called Abby’s and star Natalie Morales as both the owner and dispenser of unbreakable rules. Neil Flynn, who’s winding up nine seasons as the co-star of ABC’s The Middle, will be playing a supporting role as a barroom fixture named Fred. Had The Middle ended just a year or two earlier, he might well have been running the place. In the new climate, it’s getting to be a little too late for that.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW goes super and supernatural in new Sunday addition to 2018-19 lineup


Everybody’s gotta have a reboot. So come again, Charmed. CW photo

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The little network that could is adding Sunday nights next season while announcing the final seasons of three veterans.

Supergirl and a new version of Charmed are The CW’s first Sunday duo while Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin and iZombie will all be saying farewell. The latter two series won’t show up until midseason, as will another returnee, The 100.

CW is adding three new series to its fall lineup while also canceling a trio -- Valor, The Originals and Life Sentence. The network’s expansion to Sundays leaves only Saturdays vacant.

Here are CW’s three fall newcomers:

Charmed (drama) -- The original aired from 1998 to 2006 on the now defunct WB network, with Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs playing bewitched sisters Prudence, Phoebe and Piper Halliwell. In the reboot, the siblings are named Mel, Maggie and Macy Vera. Mel (Melonie Diaz) is a “firebrand social justice warrior,” according to CW publicity materials, while Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) is merely “fun-loving.” Macy (Madeleine Mantock), a “brilliant geneticist,” shows up later as the surprise older sister. Rupert Evans is dropped in as Harry Greenwood, “officious” chairman of Hilltowne University’s women’s studies department but more importantly the apprentice witches’ “Whitelighter” (advisor/guide).

All American (drama) -- Based on the real-life experiences of pro football player Spencer Paysinger, this series dramatizes his transition from a tough Compton neighborhood to Beverly Hills. Spencer James (Daniel Ezra) has been recruited by high school football coach Billy Baker (Taye Diggs), who envisions him as the team’s new star. In order to protect his “transfer permit” to Bev Hills, Spencer is required to move in with the Bakers. This doesn’t please the coach’s son, Jordan (Michael Evans Behling), the team’s star QB and spotlight-grabber.

Legacies (drama) -- This offshoot of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals continues with the stories of “the next generation of supernatural beings at The Salvatore School for the Young and Gifted.” Matt Davis and Danielle Rose Russell are carryovers. He played Alaric Saltzman on Vampire Diaries and she was Hope Mikaelson on The Originals.

Here is CW’s new fall lineup:

Legends of Tomorrow

The Flash
Black Lightning

All American


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend


CW also has announced these new midseason series:

Roswell, New Mexico (drama) -- The WB and then UPN got a total of three seasons out of Roswell, whose cast included then unknowns Katherine Heigl and Colin Hanks. Now here we go again with another take on “ground zero for those who seek proof that aliens exist.” The focal point is Roswell native Liz Ortecho (Jeanine Mason), who blew town a decade ago after death of her older sister. She returns to tend to her ailing father while also rekindling her onetime crush on Max Evans (Jason Behr in the original, Nathan Parsons in the reboot). Max is now a cop, but he also turns out to be something else.

In the Dark (drama) -- A woman named Murphy (Perry Mattfield) is a “hard-living, hard-drinking, disaffected twentysomething with a penchant for cigarettes and casual sex.” She’s also blind and resentful of both her caring parents and the guide dog they’ve provided her. His name is Pretzel and he’s played by Levi. Then a seeming murder happens, or did it? Murphy liked the guy, who otherwise was dealing drugs. So she and Pretzel investigate.

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CBS accents a Monday rebuilding project in new fall lineup marked by Magnum P.I., Murphy Brown reboots and heavy-duty diversity


Jay Hernandez stars as the new Thomas Magnum. CBS photo

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A completely rebuilt Monday, including a Magnum P.I. reboot, highlights CBS’ new fall schedule while another second coming, Murphy Brown, will be joining the network’s Thursday prime-time lineup.

During an early morning teleconference with TV writers, CBS entertainment president Kelly Kahl said the new lineup boils down to “stability where we are strong and change where we need it.” And Monday needed a major overhaul, he said, after CBS finished an unaccustomed third on that night behind NBC and ABC. “We don’t like to be there,” he said.

CBS also is adding an additional four new series, equally divided between comedy and drama. It’s an unusually high number for a network that stresses stability above all, but the loss of Thursday Night Football to Fox left that entire night open this fall.

Kahl also noted that CBS caught NBC in the final weeks of this season to rank No. 1 in total viewers for the 10th straight season despite the Peacock airing both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics. CBS has 14 series averaging 10 million-plus viewers, more than the combined number for ABC, Fox and NBC, he said.

But CBS also axed more series than usual. including all five shows that began last fall on Monday nights. Newcomers Me, Myself & I and 9JKL went down along with Kevin Can Wait, Scorpion and Superior Donuts. Also canceled are Wisdom of the Crowd and Living Biblically.

The network is returning a quartet of last season’s freshman class -- Young Sheldon, Seal Team, S.W.A.T. and Instinct. The latter drama will be back in midseason, CBS said, along with Man With A Plan, Life In Pieces, Elementary, The Amazing Race and Celebrity Big Brother. Another returnee, Code Black, re-started in late April of this season and is scheduled to run through the summer.

Unlike last fall, all of CBS’ newcomers have persons of color in the leads. The new Thomas Magnum, for instance, will be played by Jay Hernandez, who will be without a full mustache, but with a short-trimmed goatee. Kahl said, not jokingly, that “it was a very vigorous” debate over whether Thomas Magnum 2.0 should replicate Tom Selleck’s trademark mustache. CBS also is removing the comma from the title because research shows that “commas are not your friends,” Kahl said.

In another change that’s in keeping with these times, Magnum’s crime solving maestro, Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, will now be Juliet Higgins, played by Perdita Weeks. Unlike the original Higgins, played by the late John Hillerman, she’ll also be skilled in the martial arts, Kahl noted, allowing her to join Magnum in some of the weekly action scenes.

Murphy Brown in contrast follows the reboot paths taken by ABC’s Roseanne and NBC’s Will & Grace. The surviving cast members, led by Candice Bergen in the title role, are reuniting “during this tumultuous time of fake news” and great divides, Kahl said. Also back for more are charter cast members Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto and Grant Shaud, with former Cagney & Lacey star Tyne Daly a prominent addition.

CBS passed on a Cagney & Lacey reboot after seeing the pilot, perhaps because it already has five re-do’s in Magnum, Murphy and the returning MacGyver, Hawaii Five-0 and S.W.A.T.

Here are the four other additions to CBS’ fall lineup:

Happy Together (comedy) -- Damon Wayans Jr. and Amber Stevens play a happily married couple whose lives get all shook up when pop star Cooper James (Felix Mallard) unexpectedly moves in with them. The executive producers include real-life pop star Harry Styles, on whose experiences this is partially based.

The Neighborhood (comedy) -- Cedric the Entertainer stars as L.A. denizen Calvin Butler, who’s not thrilled when “the friendliest guy in the Midwest” (specifically a small town in Michigan) and his family move in next door to him. Max Greenfield (New Girl) co-stars as the incoming Dave Johnson.

God Friended Me (drama) -- Brandon Micheal Hall, whose ABC comedy The Mayor was quickly canceled this season, moves on to play “outspoken atheist” Miles Finer, who’s surprised to receive a friend request from God on his Facebook page. (Hmm, sounds like more Russian chicanery.) Anyway, he reluctantly becomes an “agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him.” Kahl acknowledged resemblances to the long-running CBS hit Touched By An Angel, but says this is going to be more irreverent.

FBI (drama) -- Producer Dick Wolf, who already has four series on NBC (including an entire Wednesday night of Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.), infiltrates CBS with tales of New York-based federal gumshoes who “tenaciously investigate cases of tremendous magnitude.” Lead agents Omar Adom and Maggie Bell are played by Zeeko Zaki and Missy Peregrym.

Here is CBS’ night-by-night new fall lineup:

The Neighborhood
Happy Together
Magnum P.I.

NCIS: New Orleans

Seal Team
Criminal Minds

The Big Bang Theory
Young Sheldon
Murphy Brown

Hawaii Five-0
Blue Bloods

Crimetime Saturday
48 Hours

60 Minutes
God Friended Me
NCIS: Los Angeles
Madam Secretary

CBS also has announced three new midseason series:

The Code (drama) -- CBS describes this as the “military’s brightest minds” converging to “take on our country’s toughest legal challenges, inside the courtroom and out.” All involved are trained as prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators. Anna Wood heads the cast as Major Maya Dobbins.

Fam (comedy) -- Yet another show about idyllic domesticity torn asunder when someone unexpectedly pops up and moves in. Tone Bell and Nina Dobrev envision a “perfect life” together after getting married. But then her “out-of-control,” 16-year-old sister enters the picture. Enough said.

The Red Line (drama) -- Noah Wyle gets another prime-time roost as Daniel Calder, prominent member of one of three Chicago families whose “stories of loss and tragedy intersect in the wake of the mistaken shooting of an African-American doctor by a white cop.”

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ABC adds/subtracts in abundance for new fall schedule


It’s a crowded house of 8 sons vs. 2 parents in The Kids Are Alright. ABC photo

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Depending on one’s definition, ABC will either have four or six new prime-time series entering this fall.

That’s because one of them, Dancing with the Stars: Junior, not only is another extension of the longstanding franchise but was also announced last May. And another, The Alec Baldwin Show, received a sneak preview in March.

Both “newcomers,” or whatever, are slotted on Sunday nights, giving ABC a four-hour quartet of unscripted series airing opposite NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The others are America’s Funniest Home Videos and Shark Tank.

The network’s four bonafide new scripted series are still more than either NBC (three) or Fox (two) will be offering this fall. Judging from their thumbnail descriptions in ABC publicity materials, the network could be going against the grain of the #MeToo movement by listing males as the leads of all of them. This includes a sitcom built around a family with eight sons living under the same roof with their beleaguered parents. Somewhere CBS executives are smiling. Last year at this time, all of that network’s new fall series were fronted by men. This led to CBS taking a lot of heat from some offended TV critics during last summer’s show-and-tell summer “press tour.”

ABC’s cancellations also are plentiful. Hitting the off button are Scandal, The Middle, Designated Survivor, The Crossing, Alex, Inc., Deception, Quantico, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Ten Days in the Valley, Marvel’s Inhumans and The Mayor. That’s easily the biggest casualty list to date. Not including summer shows, a quintet of first-year series made the cut to sophomore seasons -- The Good Doctor, Splitting Up Together, For the People, Station 19 and Child Support. ABC also is renewing its reboots of Roseanne and American Idol.

Although producer Shonda Rhimes has signed a new exclusive deal with Netflix (who hasn’t?), she still has four holdover dramas on ABC. This again includes the network’s entire Thursday lineup of Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19 and How to Get Away with Murder, plus For the People, which is scheduled to return in midseason.

The Alec Baldwin Show features the Donald Trump impersonator and Match Game host interviewing fellow celebrities of his choice. Dancing with the Stars: Junior, billed as a “fresh take on an established favorite,” will team apprentice kids with professional junior ballroom dancers. Ironically, the Dancing with the Stars mothership has become ABC’s oldest-skewing series, with only a handful of kids likely to ever watch it these days.

Here are ABC’s so far unseen new fall series:

The Rookie (drama) -- Nathan Fillion, who previously co-starred in ABC’s successful Castle whodunit, gets another go as LAPD’s oldest first-year member. He changes careers after a “life-altering incident,” and of course is greeted with skepticism by both young cops and old hands.

The Kids Are Alright (comedy) -- Following Roseanne on Tuesday nights, it’s set in the 1970s and is built around a “traditional” Irish-Catholic family called the Clearys. Parents Mike and Peggy (Michael Cudlitz, Mary McCormack) have raised not one, not two, but eight “boisterous boys.” This makes for an especially crowded field when oldest son Lawrence quits the seminary and returns to live in a home with 10 Clearys, three bedrooms, one bathroom and “everyone in it for themselves.”

Single Parents (comedy) -- A 30-year-old dude named Will (Taran Killam) has become so focused on raising his pre-teen daughter that “he’s lost sight of who he is as a man.” So fellow single parents band together “to get him out into the dating world.” The cast also includes Leighton Meester from Gossip Girl and Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond).

A Million Little Things (drama) -- A group of Boston friends, all feeling “stuck in life,” bond after one of them suddenly dies. Ron Livingston and David Giuntoli are billed as the leads.

Here is ABC’s night-by-night new fall schedule:

Dancing with the Stars
The Good Doctor

The Kids Are Alright
Splitting Up Together
The Rookie

The Goldbergs
American Housewife
Modern Family
Single Parents
A Million Little Things

Grey’s Anatomy
Station 19
How to Get Away with Murder

Fresh Off the Boat
Child Support

Saturday Night Football

America’s Funniest Home Videos
Dancing with the Stars
Shark Tank
The Alec Baldwin Show

ABC also has announced these midseason series:

The Fix (drama) -- Former failed O. J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark is the executive producer and co-writer of his saga about a Los Angeles district attorney who’s devastated upon losing a double-murder case against an “A-list” actor. She retreats to a quieter life in D.C., but rebounds back to L.A. when the same actor is accused of another murder. Robin Tunney heads the cast as Maya Travis.

Grand Hotel (drama) -- Eva Longoria produces this “fresh take on an upstairs/downstairs story” set at a family-owned hotel in Miami Beach. It’s based on a Spanish language series, with Demian Bichir as hotel owner Santiago Mendoza and Roselyn Sanchez as his second wife, Gigi.

Whiskey Cavalier (drama) -- The “high-octane” adventures of “tough but tender” FBI super-agent Will Chase, whose code name is the show’s title. Scott Foley stars after a long run on Scandal.

Schooled (comedy) -- This spinoff of The Goldbergs is set in the 1990s, with the “hilarious teachers” of William Penn Academy taking center stage. Tim Meadows heads the cast as Principal Glascott. Although they might not all air during the same point in the season, ABC now has comedies set in the ‘70s, ’80s and ’90s.

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Fox goes traditional (whether admitting it or not) with latest prime-time menu


Who stole my VHS player? Retirement home humor in The Cool Kids. Fox photo

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Adding Thursday Night Football, Last Man Standing and another laugh track-juiced sitcom set in a retirement home seems like something CBS might do.

But these are just some of the new moves by Fox, which also is returning two-thirds of last season’s prime-time schedule, the highest percentage in 20 years according to its top programming executives. Just two bonafide new series are being launched this fall. Cancelled Fox comedies include Brooklyn Nine-Nine (quickly picked up by NBC), The Last Man On Earth, The Mick and New Girl.

Another pair of last season’s newcomers, Ghosted and L.A. to Vegas, aren’t positively officially axed yet, according to Fox programmers. But don’t bet on either sitcom’s future. Fox also has dropped the drama series Lucifer and The Exorcist while announcing the fifth and final season of Gotham, which will return sometime in 2019.

All of the aforementioned comedies were “single cams” that aired without laugh tracks. Save for Sunday night’s cartoons, all of Fox’s three live-action comedies scheduled for this fall will be old school “multi-cams” filmed before guffawing studio audiences before any sweeteners are added.

“I wouldn’t call it a tonal shift,” Fox co-chairman/CEO Gary Newman told TV writers in an early morning teleconference Monday. He declined to call it anything else, though.

Both Newman and his executive equal, co-chairman/CEO Dana Walden, said that Last Man Standing had been a candidate for the previous season after ABC canceled the Tim Allen comedy series after six seasons. But Fox supposedly couldn’t find the right spot for the series, whose outspokenly conservative star has blamed politics in part for the cancellation.

Last Man Standing is getting a reprieve after “everyone took a good, hard look at the performance of Roseanne,” Walden acknowledged. “It certainly did remind us that we have a huge, iconic comedy star in our Fox family (Last Man Standing is produced by 20th Century Fox Television).”

Touting LMS as a “really funny show,” Walden contended that ABC “didn’t really prioritize” it. “We always wondered how it would do if it were given a better opportunity.”

“I’m not sure if that cancellation had anything to do with politics,” Newman added, citing “vertical integration” and “that network (ABC) wanting to own more of its schedule . . . It doesn’t feel like a soapbox for any political point of view.”

Fox’s official publicity release on the new season makes no mention of the play-by-play team for Thursday Night Football. But when asked how the search was going, Newman somewhat surprisingly revealed that the main Sunday team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in fact also will be fronting Thursday Night Football. A half-hour, New York-based pre-game show, scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. (central), will be hosted by Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Michael Strahan, with Sunday pre-game mainstays Curt Menefee and Jimmy Johnson not part of the mix.

Fox has renewed a quartet of freshman dramas from last season -- 9-1-1, The Resident, The Gifted and The Orville. All except The Gifted are more “traditional” self-contained “procedurals” than serial in nature, although some storylines spill over. Another drama series with weekly conclusions, Lethal Weapon returns for a third season without co-star Clayne Crawford, who was fired by Warner Bros. Television for alleged repeated misbehavior on the set. His replacement is former American Pie movies star Seann William Scott.

The Orville and Cosmos will join Gotham as 2019 entries while a live musical production of Rent is now scheduled for Jan. 27 of next year after first being announced back in May 2017.

Here are Fox’s two new fall series:

The Cool Kids (comedy) -- Well-weathered vets Martin Mull, Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier and Leslie Jordan raise hell in a retirement home, with Grier’s character, ringleader Hank, described as “a gruff, opinionated, 21st century Archie Bunker who will go to any lengths to have a good time.” Lawrence’s Margaret is billed as a “brash, confident woman who forces her way into their group and refuses to leave because she’s not going to take crap from anyone,” says Fox. The lead executive producer is Charlie Day, who formerly co-starred on the long-running It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Rel (comedy) -- Lil Rel Howery stars in a series based on his life as a Chicago West Sider who learns that his wife is having an affair -- with his barber. Sinbad plays Rel’s father and Jess “Hilarious” Moore (yes, that’s her name) is Rel’s best friend, Brittany. Heretofore, please call me Uncle “Laugh Riot” Barky. Thank you.

Here is Fox’s night-by-night new fall schedule:

The Resident

The Gifted
Lethal Weapon


Thursday Night Football Pregame Show
NFL Football

Last Man Standing
The Cool Kids
Hell’s Kitchen

Fox Sports Saturday: Fox College Football

NFL on Fox
The OT/reruns
The Simpsons
Bob’s Burgers
Family Guy

Fox also has announced these midseason series:

The Passage (drama) -- Scientists play with fire in a secret medical facility. They’re experimenting with a “dangerous virus that could lead to the cure for all disease, but also carries the potential to wipe out the human race.” (Hate when that happens.) Saniyya Sidney and Mark-Paul Gosselaar head the cast.

Proven Innocent (drama) -- Criminal defense lawyer Madeline Scott (Rachelle Lefevre from Under the Dome) has a “hunger for justice” and also a yen to free the innocent after she herself was wrongly convicted in a “sensational murder case.” The defense team also includes Vince Kartheiser from Mad Men as investigator Bodie Quick.

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NBC again slims and trims with just three new fall series (and thinly veiled midseason reincarnations of past prime-time hits


Sarayu Blue stars as a vexed mom in I Feel Bad. NBC photo

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NBC, which dominated this season in the ratings battle for advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds, is going lean again in 2018-19 with just three new fall series.

That’s the same number as last year, and the Peacock’s trumpeting hasn’t changed too much.

“NBC Launches Into 2017-18 Elevating Its Winning Lineup With New Shows, Impressive Auspices, and Bold Scheduling Moves,” NBC proclaimed the previous year. This time around, the publicity release headline reads: “NBC Carries First Place Momentum Into 2018-19 With Year-Round Programming Strategy Focused on Bold New Shows, Strong Anchors And Top Talent.”

The boldest move this time around is loading up Wednesdays with producer Dick Wolf’s Windy City three-pack: Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.. In fall 2018, the network went with The Blacklist, Law & Order: SVU (also a Wolf series) and Chicago P.D..

Midnight, Texas, which debuted as a summer show in 2017, has been elevated to the 2018 fall lineup, with a Friday night spot between Blindspot and Dateline NBC. Midseason berths are planned for The Blacklist, Good Girls, A.P. Bio, Ellen’s Game of Games and America’s Got Talent: The Champions, which for the first time will air during the regular season with a special short-run edition. Brooklyn Nine-Nine also is due sometime in 2019 after being rescued from cancellation by Fox.

As always, more than a few of the previous regular season’s surefire new and returning hits have morphed into canceled misses. Not including summer shows, those failing to make the cut are The Brave, Great News, Rise, Taken and Law & Order True Crime, which last fall regurgitated the Menendez Brothers. NBC says “decisions are yet to be made” on two other series, Timless and Champions. The latter comedy showed no ratings vital signs from the start, so it’s unclear why the Peacock supposedly is still on the fence.

Here are NBC’s trio of fall newcomers:

Manifest (drama) -- A flight lands safely, but a bit behind schedule. Namely five years behind, with most of the passengers’ friends, families and co-workers having moved on. Hmm, wonder what happened? NBC says a “deeper mystery unfolds and some of the returned passengers soon realize they may be meant for something greater than they ever thought possible.” Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) is the lead executive producer. The ensemble cast is headed by Melissa Roxburgh, whose Valor series from last fall has been canceled by The CW.

New Amsterdam (drama) -- Bellevue hospital’s new medical director, the “brilliant and charming” Dr. Max Goodwin, intends to “tear up the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care.” Well, we can’t have that. Ryan Eggold, rebounding from NBC’s failed The Blacklist: Redemption spinoff series, stars as the willful Dr. Goodwin.

I Feel Bad -- NBC seldom traffics in mom, dad and the kid sitcoms, but here’s one. Sarayu Blue is featured as a put-upon mom named Emet in a series from executive producer Amy Poehler. Paul Adelstein (Prison Break) plays the husband.

Here’s NBC’s night-by-night new fall lineup:

The Voice

The Voice
This Is Us
New Amsterdam

Chicago Med
Chicago Fire
Chicago P.D.

The Good Place
Will & Grace
I Feel Bad
Law & Order: SVU

Midnight, Texas
Dateline NBC

Dateline Saturday Night Mystery
Saturday Night Live repeats

Football Night in America
Sunday Night Football

NBC also has announced these new midseason series:

The Enemy Within (drama) -- Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) returns to prime-time as former ace CIA operative Erica Shepherd), who’s turned into an incarcerated traitor. But “against every fiber of his being” (yes, NBC publicity materials actually say this), FBI agent Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) turns to Shepherd in hopes of capturing a “fiercely dangerous and elusive criminal” with whom she’s been previously acquainted.

The InBetween (drama) -- Cassie Bishop (Harriet Dyer) is able to see and talk to the dead while helping them solve unresolved problems. Her longtime detective friend wants her to deploy these powers to solve a “darkly puzzling murder” in this mashup of Medium and Ghost Whisperer.

The Village (drama) -- A Brooklyn apartment building looks nondescript from the outside, but its denizens have “built a bonded family of friends and neighbors” who are founts of “hopeful, heartwarming and challenging stories.” The ensemble cast includes Dominic Chianese, the onetime easily riled “Junior” Soprano.

Abby’s (comedy) -- The “best bar in San Diego” has a collection of oddball regulars and a ban on cell phones. Natalie Morales plays the title character. Squint and you’ll see Cheers.

The Titan Games (alternative) -- Dwayne Johnson has his fingers in everything, it seems. This time he’s the lead executive producer of a physical competition series in which six “everyday” people compete against one of six reigning Titans in “incredible, head-to-head battles designed to test the mind, body and heart.” In other words, the return of Gladiators. Where are the new ideas, people?

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A tale of a childhood lost and an adulthood on the brink in Showtime's Patrick Melrose


Woe and behold. Benedict Cumberbatch stars in Patrick Melrose. Showtime photo

Premiering: Saturday, May 12th at 8 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving, Sebastian Maltz, Blythe Danner, Pip Torrens, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Holliday Grainger
Produced by: Rachael Horovitz, Michael Jackson, Adam Ackland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Helen Flint

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Reeling, raging, slurring and hallucinating, the title character in Showtime’s Patrick Melrose begins by riding high while sinking ever lower from non-stop addictions to booze, pills and injections.

Benedict Cumberbatch is in the driver’s seat, but don’t ever put him behind a wheel. Cumberbatch says, via Showtime publicity materials, that he’s “only ever had two roles on my acting bucket list.” One of them is not Sherlock Holmes, for which he’s become most famous. Instead, Cumberbatch has yearned to play Hamlet (done that) and Patrick Melrose, the very-flawed-for-good-reason product of a demonic father and drunken, passive mother. The character is based on a series of five autobiographical novels by Edward St Aubyn. Showtime’s adaptation of Patrick Melrose is a five-episode limited series with subtitles taken from the books. The first three have been made available for review.

Episode 1, set in 1982, quickly gets down to business. Patrick (Cumberbatch) has just shot up with heroin when he gets a phone call from New York advising him that his father has died. His thin smile stretches into quiet laughter before the then Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” kicks in to make a further first impression -- even if it turns out to be vastly understated.

Melrose’s trip to and through Manhattan, to retrieve his father’s ashes, is a money-fueled rampage brought to you in full force by Cumberbatch’s complete investment in the role. He scores, he shoots, he pops, he drinks, with money no object and a series of desperate needs behind it. Steeling and fortifying himself to finally face his father’s open casket -- which is housed alone in a posh “funeral chapel” -- Patrick at last gets the chance to say, “Were you scared? Christ, I hope so.”

This crazily careening episode also includes a guest appearance by a post-Girls and now very grownup looking Allison Williams. Her character, Marianne Banks, is one of Patrick’s former flames. She wants to be receptive to him in this time of “grief,” but his behavior quickly disgusts her. “Don’t let me be alone!” he begs in another of his stupors. She rather nastily tells him he won’t be, because he now has daddy’s wood-encased ashes -- carried around in a plastic bag with a smiley face. But Patrick would draw more comfort from a sack of dung.

Episode 2 mostly occurs in 1967, with Sebastian Maltz fully conveying the anxiety and terror experienced by pre-teen Patrick at his parents’ posh getaway in Lacoste, France. David Melrose (chillingly played by Hugo Weaving) is a horrid, imperious father who verbally and sexually abuses his only son. Patrick’s mother, Eleanor (Jennifer Jason Leigh), drinks heavily in hopes of easing the pain of looking the other way.

Viewers also will meet the young Bridget Watson-Scott (Holliday Grainger), a Lolita-like hippie who has succumbed to the creature comforts provided by David’s best and very callow friend, Nicholas Pratt (Pip Torrens). Also accepting the Melroses’ hospitality, at least initially, are backbone-brandishing Anne Moore (Indira Varma) and her meek husband, Victor (James Fleet).

David Melrose’s cruelty is palpable throughout this episode, whether he’s in the company of his son, staring down his wife or causing the elderly resident cook/housekeeper to physically quiver while he interrogates her at a distance. The words that have haunted Patrick since those days are administered like a lash at episode’s end.

Episode 3 moves forward to 1990 in London, where a reclusive Patrick is striving to kick his addictions with help from his likewise recovering friend, Johnny Hall (Prasanna Puwanarajah). The focal point is a very upper crust party for Bridget’s royal husband’s birthday, with the attendees including a haughty Princess Margaret (guest star Harriet Walter). Patrick is encouraged to finally get out and about, so he reluctantly attends with Johnny. There are plentiful temptations, but this hour is subtitled “Some Hope.” And by the end, there seems to be.

Blythe Danner also is part of the featured cast, as Eleanor Melrose’s sister, Nancy Valence. But she’s still yet to make an appearance after three episodes.

Patrick Melrose is stamped throughout by Cumberbatch’s alternately furious and touching performance. But it takes a real despot to fuel his fires and shame, and Weaving is thoroughly up to commanding that role. Leigh likewise is a standout as Patrick’s cowed mother, who salves her conscience by traveling the world on behalf of the Save the Children foundation. In the first three episodes, she’s seen only in flashbacks.

The first hour is a whirl of inner pain and outer degradation that some might find off-putting. But the books on which Patrick Melrose is based are also a road to redemption, with all the bumps that one might expect. Showtime in the end has a unique viewing experience, with some wit also in play amid the terrible consequences of being raised in a living hell. We haven’t all been there, thankfully. But most of us can or should relate to someone who has.

GRADE: A-minus

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Vida gives Starz a new look series with a #MeToo overlay


Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, Ser Anzoategui play the fractious trio of Vida, a short-order drama series with shorter than usual episodes. Starz photo

Premiering: Saturday, May 6th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Starz
Starring: Mishel Prada, Melissa Barrera, Ser Anzoategui, Chelsea Rendon, Carlos Miranda, Maria Elena Laas, Ramses Jimenez, Erika Soto, Louis Bordonada
Produced by: Tanya Saracho, Marc Turtletaub, Peter Saraf, Robin Schwartz, Stephanie Langhoff

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The Starz network’s latest rebranding campaign -- “The Future is Female. Fearless. Fierce” -- both marches in step with the #MeToo movement and rips some pages from the longstanding Lifetime playbook. Except that full nudity and some heavy-duty profanity are still no-no’s on advertiser-supported cable channels. You get what you pay extra for.

Vida, with three disparate women spurring most of the action, is both a sign of these times and a distinct departure with its look at a predominantly Hispanic East L.A. neighborhood that’s being “gentrified” by unscrupulous male developers. A trio of Latinas head the cast, with three other Hispanic women also of considerable import. The three males in the cast, two recurring and only one a regular, are more than beside the point, but well short of being driving forces.

Season One consists of just six episodes of an uncommonly brief half-hour duration each. All of them were made available for review, with a rather ridiculously long list of 22(!) “spoilers” that critics are advised to abide by. Once upon a time, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner was twitted for being obsessed with storyline secrecy. Now he looks like a piker.

The series is triggered by the sudden death of Vidalia, mother of sisters who have little use for each other or the neighborhood they’ve both put behind them. Unbeknownst to them, mama had a wife in her later years. And Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) is . . . well, that’s deemed to be one of the spoilers. Suffice it to say that the apartment building and street level bar owned by Vidalia are now up for grabs.

Older sister Emma (Mishel Prada) has become both imperious and successful as a high-level employee of a Chicago-based company. Flighty kid sister Lyn (Melissa Barrera) also has flown the coop and been living in San Francisco. Exactly what they do for their livings is never really specified, although it becomes evident that Lyn primarily has gotten by on her looks and guile in giving men what they want in return for what she wants.

Lyn is, however, closer to “mommy” than Emma, who harbors a later revealed secret that sent her packing and steeled her in the process. At Vidalia’s wake, Emma quickly grows stir crazy. “Nobody wants to say hi to me anyway,” she tells Lyn, who rejoins, “That’s probably true.” A little humor occasionally cuts through these mostly sober proceedings.

Lyn otherwise purloins credit cards to further advance her fabulous wardrobe while also manipulating her old boyfriend, Johnny (Carlos Miranda), whose fiancee, Karla (Erika Soto), is pregnant by him. In this instance, it’s Lyn who’s the sexual predator, although pliable Johnny doesn’t seem to need much coaxing.

Also in this mix is Johnny’s sister, Marisol (Chelsea Rendon), an acid-tongued activist who’s trying to keep developers from buying up properties and pricing out the neighborhood’s longtime residents. In her view both Emma and Lyn are “white Latina bitches” while Lyn additionally is a “puta.” But Marisol also is prone to be manipulated by resistance leader Tialoc (Ramses Jimenez). Vida’s other scummy male character is developer Nelson (Louis Bordonada), a smooth-talking Hispanic who gets hands-y with Emma before getting his comeuppance via a hot cuppa joe.

Emma also has an old neighborhood “mentor” named Cruz (Maria Elena), who rekindles their onetime close personal relationship. Vida does not lack for graphic sex and nudity, both male and female.

By the end of Season One’s six episodes, Vida has taken some predictable courses in terms of re-rallying around Vidalia’s and later Eddy’s efforts to keep the bar and apartment building from being poached. But the series has some interesting ways of getting there while Anzoategui’s performance as Eddy gradually registers as the strongest.

On the other hand, Lyn can be irksome and extremely off-putting at times before a cathartic experience in Episode 4 starts to turn her head around. “I’m an open vessel of openness,” she tells Emma after becoming further influenced by . . . well, never mind.

Hardened Emma of course also undergoes a transformation while doing a lot of weeping en route. But the three men in this picture are pretty much left as is. “We’re going to get this property one way or another,” developer Nelson snarls as the sisterhood starts to grow stronger.

Despite the hardly surprising plotting, Vida excels as a series with a notably different look and feel. It’s steeped in the culture and traditions of a neighborhood that many viewers will be seeing for the first time. Starz’s uncommonly short order of just six episodes doesn’t indicate much faith in this project, which has only just begun by the end of an eventful Season One finale. So it would be disappointing if Vida doesn’t return -- and with at least twice as many episodes the second time around. That way, maybe even the male characters will get ample time to develop some shadings.


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Dire Straits left in the lurch during HBO's annual reprise of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony


Justin Hayward (left) and John Lodge show both their age and talent as charter members of The Moody Blues during a performance at the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. HBO photo

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The man who isn’t there unfortunately is the one who stands out at HBO’s annual re-packaging of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Mark Knopfler, driving force of Dire Straits, blemished the night by not showing up because, in the words of bandmate and bassist John Illsley, “He just didn’t feel like coming” and couldn’t get his “head around it.” Illsley told this to Billboard in an article posted two days before the April 14th festivities in Cleveland, which HBO reprises in a three-hour special on Saturday, May 5th (7 p.m. central). As usual, it’s impeccably produced, with the cameras giving viewers a front row seat that betters the views of those who actually had front row seats at The Public Auditorium.

Knopfler’s churlish blow-off of the event, for reasons he didn’t share with Illsley, by no means robs the evening of its firepower. But it does leave Illsley and fellow Dire Straits members Guy Fletcher and Alan Clark rather naked and alone onstage. Absent any induction speech, they simply step onstage, make brief acceptance remarks and then exit without any thought of performing without their leader. It would be like The Pips trying to make a go of it without Gladys Knight or Aerosmith absent Steven Tyler at the center.

So as a long-time big fan of Dire Straits, I say boo on you, Mark Knopfler. You’ll regret this some day, unless you’re made of stone.

In sharp contrast, two other inductees who had long been “snubbed,” The Moody Blues and Bon Jovi, show up, perform and leave any hard feelings on the cutting room floor. The Cars also perform in lively fashion while youth is served via powerful musical tributes to two deceased inductees, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone.

The Moody Blues, another personal fave rave, have been particularly decimated. Vocalist/flautist Ray Thomas died in January at age 76 while key members Denny Laine and Mike Pinder left the band lifetimes ago.

But vocalists/guitarists Justin Hayward, 71, and John Lodge, 72, along with drummer and occasional narrator Graeme Edge, 77, show they’re still up to the challenge of powering through the group’s anthem, “Nights in White Satin.” It appears to be the best-received performance of the night, judging from the decibel level at song’s end. The Moodies also rock through “Ride My See-saw” and “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band).”

The night begins with Brandon Flowers of The Killers impressively vocalizing the late Tom Petty’s “American Girl” before enthusiastically setting the table for The Cars as “the first band I ever truly fell in love with. And you never forget your first.”

Lead vocalist Ric Ocasek and his mates then accept with gratitude before performing “Just What I Needed, My Best Friend’s Girl” and “You Might Think.”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pathfinding electric guitarist who blended gospel with rock ’n’ roll, is feted by Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes after an introductory video includes Little Richard marveling, “That black woman could play guitar. And she was hot -- hot as cayenne pepper.” Howard then performs “That’s All” with her usual full-out intensity.

Singer/activist Nina Simone is saluted by Mary J. Blige, and briefly by Simone’s brother, Dr. Samuel Raymond, before extended, fiery and inventive musical tributes by Andra Day (“I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “I Put a Spell on You”) and Lauryn Hill (“Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” followed by “I Ain’t Got No, I Got Life” and “Feeling Good”).

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame also is introducing a new category by “inducting” influential singles from bands and performers who otherwise don’t have a Hall pass. Steven Van Zandt does the honors, with the first batch of six including “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker and “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf.

The long-snubbed Bon Jovi gets the honor of going last, with lead singer Jon Bon Jovi remarking in the introductory video that he initially pictured himself as “Clint Eastwood with a guitar.”

Howard Stern gives the induction speech, which not surprisingly is long, sometimes funny and typically self-indulgent at times. Touting Bon Jovi’s 130 million album sales, Stern notes that an average ejaculation in comparison yields 100 million sperm. So yeah, Bon Jovi beats sperm -- among other things.

Stern also leads a sing-along, twits Hall of Fame potentate and Rolling Stone magazine Jann Wenner for finally letting Bon Jovi in and aims a double vulgarity at Bob Dylan.

Jon Bon Jovi himself then spends an even longer time accepting the induction, but there’s no unseemly bitterness on display. He even invites former longtime lead guitarist Richie Sambora to play with the band after he left in 2013. From among many hits, the three song selections at the induction ceremony are “You Give Love a Bad Name, When We Were Us” and “Living on a Prayer.” Jon Bon Jovi seems to be near tears while leaning into the mike with Sambora to vocalize “When We Were Us.”

This is the 33rd Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The charter inductees, a group of 10 in 1986, did not include The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Supremes or Bob Dylan, all of whom got in two years later (after even Ricky Nelson).

In Knopfler’s defense, more or less, it should be noted that both Paul McCartney (citing longstanding “business differences” with surviving Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr) and Diana Ross (for whatever reason) were no-shows at the 1988 ceremony. It prompted an acid-tongued acceptance speech on the part of The Beach Boys’ Mike Love, who ripped both McCartney and Ross while also taking shots at various other rock luminaries. This led Dylan to say later, “I’d like to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me . . . Peace, love and harmony is important indeed, but so is forgiveness.”

But McCartney showed up in 1994, to induct John Lennon individually, and again in 1999, for his own stand-alone induction. At the latter ceremony, he also lobbied for individual inductions of George Harrison (this happened in 2004) and Ringo Starr (McCartney inducted him in 2015).

Knopfler likely won’t get another chance to atone for the gaping hole he left at the 2018 inductions. Being a standup guy apparently isn’t his cup of tea. The band’s best-selling album, 1985’s “Brothers in Arms,” has a hollow ring to it these days.

GRADES: F for Mark Knopfler, B+ for the show at large

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