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CBS' We Are Men comes off as Monday night non-starter


The four marriage-allergic principals of We Are Men. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 30th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Jerry O’Connell, Kal Penn, Chris Smith, Rebecca Breeds
Produced by: Rob Greenberg, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum, Bob Daily

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The title of CBS’ latest new Monday night comedy can be taken as either a warning or a threat, but certainly not a reason to watch.

We Are Men throws a total of seven failed marriages into its mix, adds a new recruit left at the altar and emerges both half-baked and overdone.

Its best-known cast member, Tony Shalhoub, won multiple Emmy awards as the star of Monk. For some reason he’s decided to get back into series TV as clothing manufacturer Frank Russo, a four-time loser at the marriage game and ringleader of a “Band of Brothers” holed up at a singles complex with a pool. As career choices go, this is like sinking your life savings into the marketing of rutabaga-flavored cotton candy.

Frank’s initial running mates are OB/GYN Stuart Weber (Jerry O’Connell), a cocksure but rudderless two-time divorcee, and small businessman Gil Bartis (Kal Penn), who didn’t even get to first base with his “affair” before wifey caught him in the sack. Their ranks are further bolstered by Carter (Chris Smith), who for some reason doesn’t get to have a last name. Left dangling Graduate-style in the middle of his marriage ceremony, he serves as both narrator and wide-eyed tenderfoot.

O’Connell’s character also craves going bare-chested whenever the mood strikes him, which is often. This is supposed to be a funny running gag, and O’Connell at least has kept himself pretty chiseled. But you can only go to this well so often, particularly in a desperate situation of a sitcom.

The male gender has taken a whipping in the past two seasons with mirthless lame-brainers such as Man Up!, Guys with Kids, Partners, The Family Tools and Work It, all of which sustained quick knockouts. We Are Men likewise flails about on its opening night, with Shalhoub’s Frank repeatedly hitting on Asian women while declaring his daughter, Abby (Rebecca Breeds), to be completely off-limits as a dating option.

Carter is supposed to be the sensible fourth Musketeer. But he easily succumbs to the joys of getting blasted and inhaling junk food with his new comrades before being talked out of a second attempt at marriage to a joy-sapping ball-buster.

We Are Men at least doesn’t have a laugh track, which in effect would be malpractice. Its first half-hour comes and goes without providing any further reason to hang out with these guys.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Spoiler alert: this is a detailed review of Breaking Bad finale. Do not read if you don't want to know the end game


Walter White in final repose in last shot of Breaking Bad. Photo: Ed Bark

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ending shortly after a cathartic hail of bullets, Sunday night’s Breaking Bad finale dared to go where The Sopranos didn’t but coulda shoulda.

It tied up loose ends rather than leaving viewers to their own devices with an open-ended copout. The end result: a gripping denouement clogged with commercials and a few considerable stretches in “reality.” But satisfying nonetheless, with a final shot of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White bleeding out (happily?) amid comfortable meth lab surroundings to the perfect song for the occasion.

“We went through a lot of false starts and endings that went nowhere,” creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan said during the final post mortem edition of Talking Bad. They ended up opting for closure, with Walter close to being heroic in his final minutes while his dark-sided, long-suffering Robin, Jesse PInkman (Aaron Paul), at last caught a break and drove away from his oppressors while laughing/crying through the night.

AMC, seemingly intent on paying for the entire 62-episode run of Breaking Bad in one big night, threatened to break the mood with five lengthy commercial breaks. At times it almost reduced the most anticipated TV finale of the year into filler amid a sea of ads. The buyers were paying premium prices, and more than a half-dozen of them pitched upcoming feature films, including Aaron Paul’s big-screen coming out party as the star of Need For Speed (“coming this spring”). AMC also flogged the complete Breaking Bad boxed set, loaded with “Extras” and available on Nov. 26th.

Commerce couldn’t quite get in the way of the main event, though. It initially was a bit much to believe that Walter could get away with impersonating a New York Times reporter -- via a pay phone -- in his successful attempt to get the address of billionaire Elliot Schwartz (Adam Godley) and his wife, Gretchen (Jessica Hecht). He had been instrumental in the founding of their company, Gray Matter, but left before its mammoth success after failing to light Gretchen’s flame.

The ingenious payoff to their three-way reunion made it almost immaterial how Walter got to their home after that long last redemptive journey from frozen New Hampshire. He dropped his entire stash of $9.7 million in cash on them, with the understanding that Elliot and Gretchen would leave it in a blind trust to Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) and baby Holly.

“My children are blameless victims of their monster father,” he told the terrified couple, who finally agreed. Then came the true brilliance, with Elliot and Gretchen both pinpointed by orange-red lasers as Walter told them he’d hired “the two best hit men west of the Mississippi” to ensure they’d follow through.

“Cheer up, beautiful people,” he said. “This is where you get to make it right.” Beautiful.

Back in Walter’s car, the hit men turned out to be Breaking Bad’s recurring and always welcome junkies, “Skinny Pete” (Charles Baker) and “Badger” (Matt L. Jones). Leave it to Gilligan to find a thoroughly imaginative way to work them back in.

Walter saved his last dose of deadly ricin for haughty drug kingpin Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser), letting her sprinkle it into her standard order of chamomile tea at the diner she used to cut deals. He then all-too-easily slipped into the “safe house” where wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) supposedly was being protected from him.

“It’s over,” he told her in the five minutes he allotted himself. “And I needed a proper goodbye.”

Walter offered her a possible escape from prosecution via the GPS coordinates that would lead authorities to the graves of her brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), and his partner, Steve Gomez (Michael Quezada). He then at last spoke the core truth about why he became a meth cooker in the first place. It wasn’t really to ensure a bounteous nest egg for his “family” after the cancer diagnosis came calling. It was to emancipate him from the emasculation he had long felt as a commonplace chemistry teacher.

“I did it for me,” he said. “I liked it. I was good at it. And I was alive.”

A pair of longing looks -- at baby Holly up-close and son Walter Jr. from afar -- presaged his final destination. Walter had first gone to his home away from home -- the desert -- to rig up a super MacGyver-like armament for his trip to the white supremacist “Clubhouse.” Its head subhuman, “Uncle Jack” Welker (Michael Bowen), had orchestrated both the stealing of the lion’s share of Walter’s money and the enslavement of protege Jesse. His innocent-looking but lethal nephew, Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons), was also in the house.

The final bloodbath was triggered by a click of Walter’s key chain after he again bought some time by talking himself out of a bullet to the head. Up popped the car trunk and out came an automatic weapon spewing hundreds of rounds into The Clubhouse while Walter dove onto Jesse and tried to shield him from the carnage. Patently unbelievable? Well, you could say that. On the other hand, Walter White could probably sculpt a working TV set out of a pumpkin and some baling wire. So all of this remained at least remotely plausible.

Jesse then got the supreme satisfaction out of choking Todd to death with the chains that had bound him. Walter wanted the same fate, but via a pistol.

“Do it. You want this,” he told Jesse, who saw that his mentor/antagonist/benefactor/Lucifer was already bleeding heavily through his jacket.

But Jesse demanded that “Mr. White” say the words. “I want this,” he complied before Jesse delivered the final blow: “Then do it yourself.”

Walter White instead bled out, motionless amid the tools of his destructive trade while Jesse drove at breakneck speed toward whatever he’d make of his new life. His play-off song was inspired. Badfinger’s “Baby Blue,” with the opening lyric “Guess I got what I deserve,” accompanied a final overhead shot of Walter before cops infested the place.

So did he in fact get what he deserved? Or did maestro Gilligan sanctify him in the end? The latter is closer to the truth. But better to have “Heisenberg” go out this way than being last seen blazing away in the mold of Tony “Scarface” Montana. The chemistry teacher turned murderer acted honorably in the end after triggering a wealth of physical and emotional carnage. And whatever your view of that, you haven’t been left dangling in the wind.

Breaking Bad goes down as one of TV’s all-time greats, with a following that kept on building through its final eight-episode arc. It wasn’t the sheer volume of viewers. It was the sheer shared joy of it all, whether of belated binge-viewing or being on board at the start for the entire five-season run.

Sunday night’s final national Nielsen ratings won’t tell nearly the whole story. Breaking Bad may well have been outdrawn by NBC’s competing Sunday Night Football. But millions more eventually will claim to have watched what became a series of epic proportions. And to borrow in the end from Dylan instead of Badfinger, “It’s all over now, baby blue.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Betrayal gives ABC another single-word string-a-long


It’s a crowded field of betrayers in Betrayal. ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 29th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Hannah Ware, Stuart Townsend, James Cromwell, Henry Thomas, Chris Johnson, Wendy Moniz, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Braeden Lemasters
Produced by: David Zabel, Lisa Zwerling, Alon Aranya, Rob Golenberg

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
ABC is the network of Scandal, Revenge and soon, Betrayal. Perhaps Avarice, Envy and maybe even Sloth are in development.

For now, though, Betrayal will follow Revenge on Sunday nights. Launching Sept. 29th, it’s the saga of a married photographer named Sara Hanley (Hannah Ware), whose chance meeting with a married lawyer named Jack McAllister (Stuart Townsend) leads to sexual fireworks. But this happens only when soulful Jack says she’s made him “feel the magnitude of things in a way I never did” after everything previously seemed “so small” to him. Now how are you gonna resist a guy like that? Their first coupling is to the tune of some other guy singing, “Feel for me, baby.”

Viewers immediately are tipped, though, that things eventually don’t go all that well. That’s because Betrayal’s first and last scenes are Sara getting shot and then holding hands with an unknown guy in an ambulance. How long it takes to get to this point is anyone’s guess and typical of the way ABC strings viewers along with its expanding roster of heavy-breathing serial dramas.

Betrayal also includes the glowering countenance of James Cromwell, who won an Emmy last Sunday for playing a demonic surgeon in FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum. He plays powerful Chicago businessman Thatcher Karsten, who suspects his brother-in-law, Lou, of somehow “ripping us off.”

Lou is soon fished out of the Chicago River after being perforated by two slugs. Suspected of causing his death is the Fredo-like T. J. Karsten (Henry Thomas of long-ago E.T. fame), who’s been a little weak upstairs since almost drowning as a kid. Jack, who rescued him, now serves as the Karsten family lawyer. And guess who the prosecutor is going to be? Why it’s Sara’s husband, Drew (Chris Johnson), a politically ambitious sort who expects this high-profile case to catapult him to the top of the Windy City’s political pecking order.

“Obama did it, Rahm Emmanuel did it, I can, too,” he reasons. It’s enough to make Sara drop the bottle of red wine he’s brought home to celebrate. Earlier in the hour, Cromwell’s character angrily overturns a drink tray. If the spirits are moving, the flesh is weak. Or something like that.

The premiere episode of Betrayal briskly and soapily sets up all of its domino effects while also laboring with a stilted script.

“Why do I get the feeling that you’re always playing some kind of game with me?” Sara wonders while encouraging Jack to play on.

“You make me want to connect,” he later tells her. Groan. Meanwhile, Jack’s dutiful wife, Elaine (Wendy Moniz), who’s also Thatcher Karsten’s daughter, is none the wiser during this first hour.

Adapted from the Dutch series Overspel (adultery), Betrayal is consistently overwrought. But this is the ABC way, and the network has wrung multiple seasons out of both Revenge and Scandal. So why stop when the going’s good? Even if the goings-on in Betrayal tend to be less bracing or stimulating than a watered-down cocktail.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Hello Ladies could also merit a quick goodbye from HBO


Stephen Merchant keeps striking out in Hello Ladies. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 29th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Stephen Merchant, Christine Woods, Nate Torrence, Kevin Weisman
Produced by: Stephen Merchant, Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg

Stephen Merchant, trying something on his own after numerous collaborations with Ricky Gervais, stars as -- what else -- a sad sack in HBO’s new Hello Ladies.

He’s a long, tall, drink of deluded desperation named Stuart Pritchard, who’s recently relocated from England to Los Angeles in hopes of finding glamour, excitement and easily seduced bedmates. But James Bond he’s not, of course, despite thinking he can “weave my magic” with Courtney, a cute acquaintance of his tenant, Jessica (Christine Woods). So it keeps going badly for him in the first two episodes sent for review.

It’s OK to be a sad sack. But for viewers to have a rooting interest in your happiness or even moderate contentment, you can’t be a callow cad as well. Stuart, a web designer, crosses that line in Episode 2. An attractive tourist and her two women friends agree to join Stuart and his two mates in a limousine that initially was rented for another purpose. She seems taken with Stuart, but he ends up snubbing her for a leggier, vacuous creature. Upon crawling back, she tells him to “F*&k off,” which is exactly what he deserves. And at that point, this viewer didn’t care a whit anymore about vainglorious Stuart. In fact, shingles seems too good for him.

Stuart otherwise hangs out with the dumpy, depressed Wade (Nate Torrence), whose wife has recently dumped him as any woman would. The two also regularly team up with the disabled Kives (Kevin Weisman), who doesn’t let a wheelchair stop him from having better luck with the ladies.

In Episode 1, Stuart ends up pursuing Courtney to a trendy, expensive club after ensuring that both he and Wade are packing condoms for the occasion. His offer to buy drinks escalates into a humongous bar tab before Stuart makes a further mess of things by falling into a big tray full of them. It’s all more painful than funny before he again ends up eating alone.

The Jessica character, who’s trying to produce a web series, is far savvier than Stuart. But her three principal girlfriends, introduced in Episode 2, take turns being ditzy, ditzier and ditziest. Jessica’s efforts to treat them to a stay-at-home “culture” night of jazz music and the black-and-white Russian film Battleship Potemkin go no better than Stuart’s constant missteps and mishaps. Still, she’s at least worthy of something good happening to her. Stuart is not.

Hello Ladies already seems well-worn by the end of Episode 2. Some of Merchant’s asides are amusing enough, but not to the point of caring one way or the other about what befalls his character. As a self-important shlepper without any bottom line redemptive qualities, Stuart deserves what’s coming to him. Which apparently will be one strikeout after another -- and hopefully a good fastball to the head as well.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Showime's Masters of Sex a masterly coupling


Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star in Masters of Sex. Showtime photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 29th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin FitzGerald, Beau Bridges, Nicholas D’Agosto, Teddy Sears, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson
Produced by: Michelle Ashford, Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly, Amy Lippman, Judith Verno

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Bow-tied, self-absorbed and socially inept, Dr. William Masters shows no outward signs of being red-blooded or sexually adventurous.

Twice-divorced, smokily beautiful and a stunningly sculpted tigress in the sack, Virginia Johnson could seduce the bejesus out of a holy roller.

They’re the real-life odd couple trailblazers of Showtime’s terrific new Masters of Sex, which will be coupled with Season 3 of Homeland on Sunday nights this fall. It gives the longtime Avis of premium cable networks another leg up in its efforts to someday dethrone the acknowledged Hertz, HBO. In terms of a one-night, one-two dramatic punch, Masters of Sex and Homeland look like the clear leaders of the pack.

Showtime sent the first six episodes of a 12-episode first season, and your friendly content provider watched them all for the articles, of course. Although a little soapy in weaker moments, Masters of Sex in very large part is enthralling, instructive and about a lot more than the copulating, masturbating subjects of all that controversial research going on at a St. Louis teaching hospital.

Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls), who plays Johnson, already has positioned herself to win the next Emmy award for best actress in a drama series. Michael Sheen (who played David Frost in the Oscar-nominated Frost/Nixon) might well be right up there with her in the role of the taciturn Masters. Add the always employed Beau Bridges as Masters’ longtime mentor, Washington University provost Barton Scully. This is the best he’s been in many years.

Masters of Sex is adapted from -- take a deep breath -- the Thomas Maier book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, The Couple Who Taught America How To Love. Their research began in 1957 and yielded the landmark book Human Sexual Response almost a decade later. In short it debunked prevailing beliefs about orgasms and how they’re achieved.

Masters, repressed as both a child and adult, is seen early in Episode 1 wearing a white shirt in bed while stoically and clinically trying to impregnate his wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald), who thinks she’s infertile. At the other end of the spectrum, Johnson initially is the uninhibited bedmate of Masters’ ambitious young associate, Dr. Ethan Haas (Nicholas D’Agosto), who becomes obsessed with her.

“How does an orgasm feel for a woman?” Masters later asks her. “Fantastic,” she assures him.

Their sexual research initially takes them from hospital quarters, where it’s a closely guarded secret, to a brothel after Provost Scully finds out that couples have been newly included. The principal inducer during early masturbatory research is a gleaming glass dildo dubbed “Ulysses.” Scully’s first brush with it is intendedly comical. Masters of Sex knows how to have a little fun with both its subjects and its subject matter. And Episodes 2 and 3 accentuate the humor at a brothel run by lippy Betty DiMello (Annaleigh Ashford), who had been one of Masters’ early research participants before Johnson came aboard.

The drama gets stronger and sturdier, with Caplan particularly excelling in Episode 4 before Sheen is equally superb in a heart-rending Episode 5. The latter episode also is where Allison Janney makes her first appearance as Scully’s outwardly content but unsatisfied wife, Margaret. They beam in unison at a posh country club celebration of their 30th wedding anniversary. But viewers will already know about his taboo secret. And by Episode 6, Margaret is newly emboldened to chart her own course.

Masters of Sex sometimes can’t help itself in terms of obvious visual stimuli. In Episode 2, the camera needlessly cuts to a neon “Frank ’n’ Buns” restaurant sign while Dr. Haas and another of his conquests copulate in his car. In Episode 3, a prostitute cooks a sausage in a frying pan in the service of a transitional scene.

These are minor indulgences, though. Masters of Sex builds a strong relationship with viewers while further fleshing out its two central characters. The prickly Masters, otherwise a world class obstetrician, can be compassionate with patients who fall outside the realm of his nighttime research with Johnson. On the other hand he’s also recurrently cold and insensitive, both to his wife and a mother who’s striving to make amends. Episode 3 additionally shows that Masters is fully capable of blackmail as a means to his ends.

Johnson, the mother of two pre-teen children, both loves them and leaves them in the constant care of a babysitter. In a scene reminiscent of Walter White Jr.’s laments in Breaking Bad, little Henry (Cole Sands) finally wails, “Why are you always so mean to dad?” The kid soon ups the ante: “I don’t want to live with you anymore.” She’s crushed, of course. But the hookups must go on, with research subjects getting down to it while entangled in monitoring devices.

So yes, unfulfillment abounds in the personal lives of two principals determined to explore the nooks and crannies of sexual fulfillment. Masters of Sex lays their lives bare amid the surrounding clinical nudity accompanied by groans of satisfaction or frustration.

Performance is never a problem for the cast of Masters of Sex. Caplan, Sheen and the supporting players keep everything humming in the best new drama of the fall season. You’ll want to watch.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Michael J. Fox Show: a solid start before it starts to wobble


Michael J. Fox and Betsy Brandt star in his namesake sitcom. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 26th at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Betsy Brandt, Katie Finneran, Juliette Goglia, Wendell Pierce, Conor Romero, Jack Gore, Ana Nogueira
Produced by: Will Gluck, Sam Laybourne

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Michael J. Fox has built up an enormous reservoir of good will since going public with his Parkinson’s Disease in 1999.

Just about everyone wants him to succeed. And his determination to rise up and shoulder the rigors of a weekly comedy series is almost the stuff of fairy tales.

So here comes The Michael J. Fox Show, premiering on the same network and night as Family Ties, which made him a mega-star way back in the early years of the Reagan administration.

Thursday’s premiere half-hour, the first of back-to-back episodes, is solid enough in setting the show’s premise of a popular New York news anchor who quit because of Parkinson’s Disease and now is talked into making a triumphant return. In large part, his wife and three children just want him out of the house.

The second and third episodes, also made available for review, fall short of delivering on the initial promise. Thursday’s second helping, featuring a guest appearance by Fox’s real-life wife, Tracy Pollan, is particularly ill-conceived. She plays a flirtatious upstairs neighbor named Kelly, whose loud TV prompts Mike Henry (Fox) to knock on her door and be almost instantly bowled over. He then becomes possessive of her attention after his miffed wife, Anna (Betsy Brandt in an instant detour from playing Marie on Breaking Bad), lobbies for a double date between Kelly and Mike’s TV station boss, Harris Green (fine, droll work by Wendell Pierce).

Viewers who recognize Pollan as Fox’s wife -- as opposed to the many more who probably won’t -- might find this a little easier to swallow as an “in joke” of sorts. But it seems totally out of character for Fox’s character, and a lame little sermonette at the end doesn’t help matters.

Episode 1 is more firmly grounded, with Mike liberally joking about his disease while oldest child Eve (Juliette Goglia) wonders why passersby keep commiserating.

“Alcoholism is a disease. Do people go up to David Hasselhoff and tell him about their crazy uncles?” Eve reasons in one of her repeated talk-to-the camera riffs. There’s too much of that, too, and not only on her part during the first three episodes.

The other members of the Henry family are oldest son, Ian (Conor Romero), a college dropout with deluded dreams of starting up a wildly successful website, and seven-year-old Graham (Jack Gore), who’s mostly around for babysitting purposes. Mike’s cleavage-flaunting sister, Leigh (Katie Finneran), doesn’t live under the same roof but might as well. A writer of some sort, she procrastinates on a piece for Us Weekly in Episode 2 and force-feeds the first chapter of her steamy novel in Episode 3, which also includes a guest shot by Anne Heche.

NBC additionally still lists wide-eyed apprentice producer Kay Costa (Ana Nogueira) as a regular character. But after making a bit of an impression in the premiere episode, she’s nowhere to be seen in the next two.

The Peacock’s beleaguered Today show also gets some exposure, with Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker all dropping in as themselves in Episode 1. Lauer gets the most to do, greeting Fox’s Henry warmly upon his return to work before asking, “See you at the track later?”

“Awful, awful man,” news director Green then says out of earshot, prompting Mike to add, “Why don’t people see that?” Who wrote this portion of the script -- Ann Curry?

The crowded Henry house can be good for a few laughs, but the series seems to be on firmer ground in the “News 4 New York” newsroom. It’s a juggling act, though, with Episode 2 almost totally ignoring the workplace before Episode 3 is partly built around daughter Eve’s out-of-nowhere internship at the station.

The Michael J. Fox Show shows signs of deteriorating into a too sitcom-y enterprise with occasional flashes of smart writing and situations. One would like to see more of the star, but he might not be up to an increased workload. That’s perfectly understandable. But other than Wendell Pierce’s understatedly amusing character, none of the supporting players are resonating to the point where more of them wouldn’t be less. Even Fox at times is less than sharply tuned.

What NBC may end up having is an ensemble comedy whose title says otherwise. And whose ensemble requires considerable further assembly.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS' The Crazy Ones is star vehicle without brakes or steering wheel


Familiar faces abound in The Crazy Ones, except for Amanda Setton (far left). Otherwise it’s James Wolk from Mad Men, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Robin Williams in his return to series TV. Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 26th at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, James Wolk, Hamish Linklater, Amanda Setton
Produced by: David E. Kelley, bill D’Elia, Jason Winer, Tracy Poust, Jon Kinnally, Dean Lorey, John Montgomery, Mark Teitelbaum

@unclebarkycom on Twitter

The Crazy Ones may not be fall’s worst new comedy series, but its premiere episode easily is the biggest underachiever.

CBS has grouped Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar and long-accomplished producer David E. Kelley (Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal) in an ad agency sitcom whose truth-in-packaging slogan easily could be, “Watch us all fall on our (familiar) faces.”

William, starring in his first TV series since Mork & Mindy, is all over the place as semi-mad adman Simon Roberts. He’s first seen trading punches with a giant-sized Rock ‘Em Sock ’Em Robot, which unfortunately is unable to kayo him. Simon instead is more or less pulled away by his daughter Sydney (Gellar), the Chicago-based agency’s hard-pressed creative director. She informs him that their biggest client, McDonald’s, wants to fire them.

The rest of this very loosely stitched half-hour comes off as a combination product placement ad/improv sketch. In a recent interview session with TV critics, the producers noted that Williams’ character is drawn from real-life adman John Montgomery, whose biggest make or break client in fact is McDonald’s.

Arch rival Burger King won’t be amused. Nor likely will viewers be during the course of a “storyline” in which Simon very unconvincingly sells a no-nonsense McDonald’s representative (guest star Gail O’Grady of NYPD Blue fame) on an updated “You Deserve A Break Today” campaign fronted by a big-name vocalist yet to be determined.

But Jennifer Lopez “wants to be paid in diamonds,” Mariah Carey’s not interested, “Adele’s British and Pink threatened me,” laments agency art director Andrew Keaneally (Hamish Linklater). And besides, adds Sydney, “Last time I checked, icons don’t like to sing about meat.” Well, you learn something new everyday.

But maybe -- just maybe -- the agency’s meal ticket could be Kelly Clarkson. She just happens to be in Chicago, with Simon and right hand man Zach Cropper (James Wolk from Mad Men) impulsively joining her for drinks in hopes of making a quick sale. “I want to sing about sex,” she demurs.

“We just need to come up with a meat-related sex song,” Zach replies before he and Simon make a very painful attempt to jingle-ize on the fly. Viewers are supposed to be cracking up at this point. Not gonna happen.

Clarkson is game throughout, even if her motivations and subsequent pair of recording sessions (“It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion”) make no sense at all in anything remotely resembling the real world. Meanwhile, Williams keeps being Williams, alternately sticking to a script and screwing around while Gellar labors to play it straight. It all makes for quite a mess.

The opening episode comes up short of a 20-minute running time, even with some outtakes thrown in during the closing credits. It seems that all involved know there’s an enormous amount of work to be done for The Crazy Ones to be salvaged in future weeks. Maybe that could still somehow happen, although a McRib sandwich might have a better chance of making the cover of Bon Appetit.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Want a guilty TV pleasure? Let's play ball with ABC's Back in the Game


James Caan gesticulates on behalf of Back in the Game. Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 25th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Maggie Lawson, James Caan, Griffin Gluck, Lenora Crichlow, Ben Koldyke, JJ Totah
Produced by: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen, John Requa, Glenn Ficara, Aaron Kaplan

@unclebarkycom on Twitter

Grossly imperfect parents and their disaffected grown children are hallmarks of the new fall season. Amongst this bunch, ABC’s Back in the Game is going to be my designated guilty pleasure.

Hey, it’s funny every time his pre-teen grandson, Danny (Griffin Gluck), calls Terry Gannon (James Caan) “The Cannon.” And Caan, who in turn keeps calling him “Donny,” nails the role of a beer-swilling Neanderthal who believes a punch in the face or a verbal brickbat -- or a bat to a car window for that matter -- are great ways to cut through all the crap.

Yeah, it’s definitely best not to try this at home. But do give Back in the Game a try. Not just for Caan but also for Maggie Lawson as his divorced daughter, Terry Jr. She’s had it up to here with him after he mostly abandoned her as a kid who went on to become an all-star college softball player. But now Terry Jr. and Danny are living under his roof while she strives to earn enough dough to move out. Not gonna happen, though, particularly after Danny attempts to make the school baseball team to impress a girl. He strikes out, of course, leaving Terry Jr. in charge of a misfit alternative team that makes the Bad News Bears seem like the 1927 New York Yankees.

Caan’s Terry Sr., who urinated on home plate to protest an umpire’s call in one of his daughter’s championship games, soon deduces that his grandson has “an arm like a duck.” He also briefly frets about Danny’s sexuality after he comes home from school with a shiner delivered by a mini-bully that he impulsively kissed to confuse him.

“You’re not a piccolo player, are ya?” Terry Sr. inquires.

“Cannon, I’m not gay,” the kid assures him.

Let’s ease off the politically incorrect throttle, because this exchange is funny, fleeting and nowhere in league with the sub-sophomoric racial/sexual “humor” on Fox’s new Dads.

Back in the Game co-stars Ben Koldyke as officious baseball coach Dick Slingbauch and Lenora Crichlow as wealthy widow Lulu Lovette, who finances the misfit team after her son, Michael (JJ Totah), also proves to be completely clueless on a ball diamond. With Terry Jr. coaching and Terry Sr. kvetching, it’s only a matter of time before they find a way to join forces.

Caan’s perfectly clipped delivery and his daughter’s well-timed comebacks make Back in the Game at least a standup double if not a sliding triple. OK, baseball metaphors exhausted except for this one. Let’s play ball on Wednesday nights at 7:30 p.m. (central).

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Winging it with ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.


The stars of S.H.I.E.L.D. at summer TV “press tour.” Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 24th at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge
Produced by: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, Jeph Loeb, Jeffrey Bell

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Fearing piracy and/or acting stupidly, ABC is being super-protective of its otherwise heavily promoted super hero series.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the only new fall show unavailable for review either via a DVD sent in the mail or on a network’s password-protected media site. Although there likely are some exceptions being made for “major media outlets.”

The premiere episode was screened, however, during ABC’s early August day at the summer Television Critics Association “press tour.” So I’ve seen it, but didn’t take notes because it was assumed that S.H.I.E.L.D. would then be made available for another look. A majority of TV writers re-screen new shows as close to their air dates as possible while also taking detailed notes. That way memories are fresh and details are documented. But in this case we’ll have to wing it.

Memory serves that S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) is a talkie presented in living color. It’s handsomely produced, sprinkled with some impressive special effects and has an ample amount of light, quippy banter because that’s a set-in-stone trademark of executive producer Joss Whedon (Buddy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog). He also directed The Avengers feature film from which S.H.I.E.L.D. is drawn.

Those who saw The Avengers will recall that Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) emphatically died near the end of it. But nobody really dies anymore on television or in the movies. And certainly not in a comic book series in which the right vortex at the right time, coupled with a dose of uranium geranium oxide and a little bit of luck and pluck can cause just about anything to happen.

So in other words, Gregg is back as the team leader after a rather cursory explanation of how that’s possible.

Whedon is no mere TV producer anymore, and he’s already signed to direct The Avengers: Age of Ultron. So S.H.I.E.L.D. ostensibly will be left mostly in the capable hands of his disciples, who are more than up to the challenge. That’s what they all say. And Whedon said it this way during ABC’s press tour interview session: “I got the best writers I know to do this and actors who can do pretty much anything so that I could do less. That’s always the way to run a show.”

S.H.I.E.L.D otherwise will run head-long into competition from CBS’ season premiere of NCIS and its own buzzy storyline. The show will be dealing with the departure of special agent Ziva David, played by Cote de Pablo since 2005. CBS says it wanted to keep her, but de Pablo decided to leave the hit series after rejecting a salary boost. She has yet to tell her side of the story, but her exit storyline virtually assures that NCIS will blast S.H.I.E.L.D in Tuesday’s total viewer Nielsen ratings and possibly even prevail among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.

The ABC newcomer picks up after the Battle of New York, with Coulson’s recruits called on to track and subdue the nefarious Rising Tide, of which little is known. They’re also charged with investigating people who appear to have “extra-normal” powers. After all, one wouldn’t want a superhuman Hostess Twinkie eater to consume the entire world’s supply. Oh but we kid the dedicated agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Coulson’s right hand man, or so he thinks, is Agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), a whiz in combat and espionage. Agent Melinda May’s (Ming-Na Wen) expertise is martial arts and she also knows how to fly a plane. Agent Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) is a topflight engineer while Agent Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) specializes in bio-chemistry. The obligatory crack computer hacker is named Skye (Chloe Bennet).

Tuesday’s opener isn’t always perfectly clear about what’s going on. But it’s spirited and crisply paced with a big-screen look and feel. The challenge will be to keep the momentum going while ensuring that S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t deteriorate into an inferior-looking knockoff. All it sometimes takes, after all, is one dedicated Twitter troll or “fanzine” website to declare, “S.H.I.E.L.D. S.U.C.K.S.!!!” Then the snowball starts rolling.

Gregg’s resurrected Coulson so far is the much-needed glue, lending a familiar presence and sturdy countenance. His closing scene, in a bright red convertible that’s more than it seems, brings the first hour to a rousing end. Still, there’s that NCIS team with which to contend. They’re the real enemies of Coulson’s forces. And although lacking in any super-duper powers, they sure know how to draw and keep an audience.


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ABC's Lucky 7 hits it big once, but will need to do so twice


Lottery winners toast their good fortune in Lucky 7. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Matt Long, Summer Bishil, Lorraine Bruce, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Luis Antonio Ramos, Alex Castillo, Christine Evangelista, Stephen Louis Grush, Anastasia Phillips
Produced by: David Zabel, Jason Richman, Steven Spielberg, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey
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Institutional memories tend to be short-term at TV networks other than CBS.

So it’s probably a pretty safe bet to assume that ABC entertainment president Paul Lee has no recollection of his network’s Lottery, which dared to go directly against Dallas during the height of its powers in fall 1983. Its number was soon up.

Lottery was an anthology series, with new stories of new winners told each week. The majority of them were up against it before millions of dollars came into their ordinary lives. How they dealt with these windfalls filled up the rest of the weekly episodes after one and all were first surprised by a genial representative of Ireland’s “Inter-sweep Lottery.”

ABC’s Lucky 7, based on a hit British series called The Syndicate, is similarly premised but with the same core characters week to week. They all work at the Gold Star Gas N’ Shop, a Queens, NY establishment where customers also can get lube jobs.

The highly benevolent store manager, Bob Harris (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.), learns in the early going that his employees may all lose their jobs if a corporate takeover comes to pass. It’s a good thing then that everyone -- well, almost everyone -- has been chipping in to play the weekly, seven-number Empire State Lottery, whose jackpot has grown to $45 million.

Without saying who’s left out, let’s look at the rest of the players -- other than the aforementioned Bob.

***Matt Korzak (Matt Long) could really use some hard cash to get his nearly due pregnant girlfriend (Christine Evangelista as Mary Lavecchia) and their existing son out from under his opinionated mother’s roof. Mary just can’t take it anymore and is threatening to move in with her sister after the new baby arrives.

***Nicky Korzak (Stephen Louis Grush) is an ex-con who served two years for grand larceny. Now he’s being leaned on by thugs to whom he owes money. Let’s just say that a desperate plan goes awry, plunging both Nicky and his accomplice brother, Matt, into potentially deep waters.

***Denise Dibinsky (Lorraine Bruce), the store cashier, is overweight, overwrought and hasn’t had sex with her husband in five years. Hmm, what’s he up to?

***Antonio Clemente (Luis Antonio Ramos) is the kindly, dedicated mechanic whose wife, Bianca (Alex Castillo), and their three kids remain the loves of his life.

***Samira Lashari (Summer Bishil), second generation Pakistani immigrant and daughter of a cabbie, yearns to go to Juilliard. That would have been impossible. But now . . .

***Leanne Maxwell (Anastasia Phillips), a single mother, has the requisite problematic past, which of course she’ll try to keep hidden.

Lucky 7 is easily the most ethnically diverse new show of the fall season. And after working out a few premise-setting kinks, it also may be nigh impossible to watch just one episode. There’s a pretty strong pulling power here, with relatable characters in non-glamorous surroundings suddenly striking it rich before meeting a media horde at episode’s end.

What will they do with all that moolah? Who, if anyone, will break bad? How does the character on the outside looking in cope with what might have been? Or will he/she be richer for not sharing in the financial spoils?

As the last in line on ABC’s all-new Tuesday night, Lucky 7 has the initial earmarks of an intriguing sociological experiment. How long it can keep paying off is the major iffy question. In the British version, the cast has flipped over in each of the first two seasons, which respectively ran for just five and six episodes. The producers of Lucky 7 say they want to keep the entire core cast intact from season to season.

The odds of being able to do that in a believable, sustaining way may be longer than actually winning a multi-million dollar lottery. But for now, Lucky 7 is a grabber with strong potential for further viewer investment.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Trophy Wife gets consolation prize for title character's winning ways


Bradley Whitford with conquests past and present. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 24th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Bradley Whitford, Malin Akerman, Marcia Gay Harden, Michaela Watkins, Natalie Morales, Ryan Scott Lee, Albert Tsai, Bailee Madison
Produced by: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky

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Bradley Whitford and Marcia Gay Harden are the better known name brands in this one, but fresher, younger Malin Akerman is the selling point.

Whether debating the proper fruit metaphor for her two upsides or taking one for the team by chugging a water bottle full of vodka, she’s definitely the one to watch in Trophy Wife.

Akerman’s character, named Kate, is wife No. 3 for Whitford’s Pete, an attorney who rather unbelievably meets her in a nightclub after they accidentally bang heads and wind up in an emergency room.

“I always wanted a husband and family. I just didn’t expect to meet them all in one night,” says narrator Kate before Trophy Wife shifts to the present and her tumultuous new marriage.

Pete has fraternal twins by his first wife, Diane (Gay Harden), and an adopted six-year-old via second spouse Jackie (Michaela Watkins). Diane is a stern-faced doctor and Jackie’s a needy neurotic. The kids are Hillary (Giana LePera), Warren (Ryan Scott Lee) and Bert (Albert Tsai), a pint-sized scene-stealer who scores in Tuesday’s premiere episode by telling his babysitter, “You’re not even a real grownup. Your car is filled with garbage and shoes.”

Kate strives to bond with one and all in ways that facilitate a rooting interest in her. Pete doesn’t inspire much of anything so far, with Whitford not exactly a dynamic presence after going all out as a whacked-out cop in Fox’s short-lived The Good Guys.

Trophy Wife uses the “Hey, hey, hey” device in its theme “music,” copying directly from ABC’s Modern Family. It’s not nearly in that show’s league, though -- at least not now and likely not ever. Still, Akerman is reason enough to buy in for at least a few episodes. And if this doesn’t work out for her, she most assuredly won’t lack for future work.

GRADE: B-minus

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The Emmy Awards' extraneous night, with artificial additives reigning over winners' speeches


Well, they got this one right. Breaking Bad wins first best drama series Emmy. That’s creator Vince Gilligan on the left. Photo: Ed Bark

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The only plausible cure for the Emmys? How about a complete revamping of its format.

And the path of least resistance would be a more intimate, chatty awards ceremony in the mold of the Golden Globes. Far more time should be available for winners to actually speak their pieces rather than being “played off” (as a majority of them unceremoniously were). Serve dinner and drinks to loosen everyone up if necessary. The host or hosts of course can tell jokes whenever the spirit of the night moves them.

But please, no more spectacles in league with the one served up Sunday night. CBS’ telecast of the 65th annual prime-time Emmy Awards, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, repeatedly short-changed the night’s winners to make room for two elongated dance numbers; five separate “In Memoriam” tributes that made also-rans of the year’s other deceased; and another pair of filmed comedy bits that at best were spottily amusing.

Executive producer Ken Ehrlich also found a spot for Elton John to play and plug his new single, “Home Again.” It was disguised as a tribute to another flamboyant piano player, the long-dead Liberace. He was the central figure in HBO’s Emmy-winning Behind the Candelabra.

In another diversion, actor Don Cheadle somberly linked the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 with The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show just 80 days later. Carrie Underwood then took the stage to sing “Yesterday” -- again with all due solemnity. Neither had been born yet when these two events underscored television’s nascent power to “unify” a nation.

Meanwhile, Larry Hagman was left out in the cold, save for a brief black-and-white photo amid all the other supposedly lesser deceased. But I’ve already written that one to death.

Ehrlich, who also has helmed numerous Grammy Awards shows, seemed intent at times on turning the Emmys into a Hollywood version of the Tonys. Harris, who’s hosted the Tonys four times, may have been seen as just the man for this. But the Emmys honor TV. And the night was very notably short on clips from actual TV shows.

The Emmys ran 11 minutes past the appointed 10 p.m. (central) closing hour, but at least climaxed on a high note with AMC’s Breaking Bad winning its first ever trophy as best drama series. ABC’s Modern Family in contrast won for the fourth straight time as best comedy series on a night otherwise loaded with surprise victors.

The acting wins for Jeff Daniels (HBO’s The Newsroom); Tony Hale (HBO’s Veep); Merritt Wever (Showtime’s Nurse Jackie); Laura Linney (Showtime’s The Big C); Ellen Burstyn (USA’s Political Animals); and James Cromwell (FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum were all for the most part unexpected. But there’s no problem here with that. Those of us who have whined over the years about Emmy’s numbing predictability have no reason to complain about voters going out of the box this time around.

On the other hand, bypassing Breaking Bad again would have been truly egregious. And on that front, the Emmy voters came through with the absolute right choice. The penultimate episode of Breaking Bad had ended less than hour before creator Vince Gilligan and seemingly the show’s entire cast gathered happily onstage to bask in victory.

For the record, HBO again led Sunday night’s Emmy parade with seven statues, followed by a plucky Showtime’s four. NBC and ABC both had three wins, the most for any broadcast network. (ABC benefited from the choreography Emmy being included for the first time on the main telecast after the second production number. Derek Hough won for his work on Dancing with the Stars.)

The 26 Emmys were distributed among 19 different shows, with only six winning more than one. Behind the Candelabra led all contenders with three, followed by two apiece for Modern Family, Homeland, Veep, Breaking Bad and Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, which dethroned Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show after it had won 10 straight Emmys as TV’s best variety series. (A complete list of Sunday’s winners is here.)

Now it’s time to very seriously consider junking all the extraneous adornments and slimming Emmy down into a show where the winners get much more of a chance to create their own ancillary TV moments. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences also might want to consider including a career achievement Emmy that would be an equivalent of the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille award. The most recent DeMille winner, Jodie Foster, turned in a bizarre but enduring out-of-body speech. That’s what awards ceremonies are for, but you need a chance to get rolling rather than a preemptory “play-off.”

Producer Ehrlich got his chance to turn the Emmy telecast into something of a vanity project that played to his primary music/dance interests. Emmy organizers hopefully will see what a mistake that was and by some miracle react accordingly.

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ABC's The Goldbergs makes them want to shout (ceaselessly)


Jeff Garlin (top, center) also is at the center of a very loud family. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 24th at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Jeff Garlin, Wendi McLendon-Covey, George Segal, Sean Giambrone, Troy Gentile, Hayley Orrantia
Produced by: Adam F. Goldberg, Doug Robinson

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Brace your eardrums. Paced by Jeff Garlin as an extremely easy to anger dad, ABC’s The Goldbergs is one big sonic boom of a sitcom.

It’s otherwise reminiscent of The Wonder Years, revisiting the 1980s rather than the 1960s via the adult narrative voice of its centerpiece kid.

Adam F. Goldberg, the show’s creator, writer and co-executive producer, draws these memories from the home videos he shot of his actual family. And in a nice touch during the closing credits, some of his footage from those times is matched up with scenes from the TV version.

The ‘80s purportedly were a simpler time, but so were all of our youthful years no matter what decade housed them. In this case, the adult Adam (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) fondly recalls a pre-Facebook/Twitter era in which “your friends lived on your street and your family were the people at your dinner table.”

Add copious yelling, at least in Tuesday’s scene-setting premiere episode. Garlin, better known for now as Larry David’s manager on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, favors the word “moron” during his frequent tirades as tempestuous Murray Goldberg. The character is said to be bouncing back from a heart attack. Apparently he’s aiming for lung perforation as an encore.

“Who the hell told you life is fair, you moron?” he informs oldest son Barry (Troy Gentile), who’s just turned 16, wants a car and yells right back.

Mom’s name is Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who specializes in further aggravation of everyone. Even pre-teen Adam (Sean Giambrone) finally blows up at her after she ruins his efforts to impress a young waitress at a diner he regularly visits with his loving but randy grandfather (George Segal) as “Pops”). The old man dubs it “Operation Waffle Girl,” with young Adam hoping to step up the pace by ordering two adult Monte Cristo sandwiches.

“All that fried meat and cheese? You’re gonna be on the bowl for hours,” says his spying mom from an adjoining booth. No wonder the kid blows a gasket.

The other Goldberg is teen daughter Erica (Hayley Orrantia), who doesn’t get all that much to do on opening night. Perhaps her vocal cords aren’t yet up to the challenge.

The Goldbergs is amusing in fits and spurts before ending on several sweet notes -- including REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling.”

In future episodes, though, there’s presumably no way Garlin can rise to the same relentless decibel level. For the record, I counted six uses of the word “moron” in addition to a pair of “dummys.” Maybe this is all very endearing in retrospect to the adult Adam Goldberg. But this series, which does have promise, would be better off tamping it down for the long haul.

An average of one Murray blowup per episode -- a la Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners -- will be quite enough, thank you. More than a few of today’s adults carry scars from their fathers’ constant tirades and insults, even if Goldberg now prefers to go the misty, water-colored memory route.

“Yeah, we were the family that loved and cursed,” he says. “But we still love each other.” Oh shaddup.

GRADE: B-minus

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Hallmark Channel makes another heartfelt effort with The Watsons Go to Birmingham


The Watsons get ready to hit the road for Birmingham. Hallmark photo

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Hallmark Channel movies almost always are immersed in gooey sentimentality, with love winning out after a few G-rated bumps and bruises.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, premiering Friday, Sept. 20th at 7 p.m. central, is a triumph of the spirit with a more substantive backdrop than usual. Adapted from the 1995 “historical fiction” novel by Christopher Paul Curtis, it builds to the historically factual 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, in which four little girls were killed.

The Watsons -- mom, dad and their three children -- live in Flint, Michigan, where they’re initially seen huddled in coats and blankets on a cold winter’s day. The furnace in their rented home again has gone out, leaving Wilona Watson (Anika Noni Rose) longing for the warmth -- climate-wise at least -- of her hometown Birmingham. Momma still lives there and it’s been quite a while since they’ve seen one another. So a road trip is planned in the family car, newly equipped with a fancy new miniature record player in the glove compartment.

The trip also is designed to curb the unruly behavior of oldest child Byron (Harrison Knight), who’s been hanging out with the wrong crowd and also has the temerity to burn matches in the family bathroom. He otherwise wears an almost constant scowl, except when his lips get stuck on the car window while he’s admiringly kissing his reflection. Byron then reverts to a wimp. And it’s hoped that his “Grandma Sands” (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) will further tame his perceived evil ways.

Watsons Go to Birmingham otherwise is seen through the eyes of bespectacled little Kenny Watson (a winning performance by Bryce Clyde Jenkins), who also contributes recurring narration. He loves books and therefore is pushed around at school while his older brother mostly looks the other way. Baby sister Joetta (Skai Jackson) is an ally, though. She’s also cute as a button and is getting ready to sing in the 16th Street Baptist Church choir when the bombing occurs.

The other Watson is papa Daniel (Wood Harris), a hard-working, goodly man with an easy laugh. This is a manifestly kinder, gentler role for Harris, who played ruthless drug kingpin Avon Barksdale on HBO’s The Wire. And he navigates it quite well.

The film has a “Walmart and Procter & Gamble Present” tag, and there’s ample room for their commercials. Although airing in a two-hour timeslot, Watsons Go to Birmingham has a running time of just one hour, 23 minutes. And it dawdles for more than a half-hour of this actual running time before the family finally pulls up to Grandma Sands’ home and also meets her live-in closest friend, “Mr. Robert” (David Alan Grier).

In Birmingham, the Watson kids encounter segregated lunch counters and movie theaters (where To Kill a Mockingbird is playing). They also learn about their cousins’ participation in a march for education equality that turned violent when the police resorted to high-powered hoses and attack dogs. Actual archival footage is interspersed with the filmmakers’ use of grainy color and non-grainy black-and-white.

Watsons Go to Birmingham is well-meaning to a fault and would play well as a teaching tool in elementary school classrooms. Hallmark Channel is the only network still lighting a candle for “wholesome” made-for-TV movies with all-you-need-is-love underpinnings. In that context, Friday’s premiere is preceded by four episodes of The Waltons and two hours of Little House on the Prairie.

The broadcast networks don’t make ‘em like that anymore. But Hallmark still does.

GRADE: B-minus

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It's a home game of jeopardy in CBS' Hostages


Hostages stars Dylan McDermott, Toni Collette in more pleasant surroundings during summer’s TV “press tour.” Photo: Ed Bark

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Toni Collette, Dylan McDermott, Tate Donovan, Sandrine Holt, Rhys Coiro, Billy Brown, Quinn Shephard, Mateus Ward, James Naughton
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, Jeffrey Nachmanoff, Rick Eid, Omri Givon, Rotem Shamir, Chayim Sharir

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Producer Jerry Bruckheimer used to be money in the bank. And he still has the original CSI series in his CBS quiver, along with The Amazing Race.

But in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, Bruckheimer is coming off the epic big-screen failure of The Lone Ranger in addition to a string of recent TV drama flops. Such as Chase, The Whole Truth, The Forgotten, Miami Medical, Eleventh Hour, E-Ring and Dark Blue.

The latter series, for TNT, starred Dylan McDermott as the surly, divorced leader of an elite undercover unit. And he’s largely surly anew in Hostages, which is replacing Hawaii Five-) in CBS 9 p.m. (central) slot.

McDermott initially is seen as hard-charging, cocksure FBI special agent Duncan Carlisle, who ends a hostage situation on his own terms early in the premiere episode. But he’s primarily a very taut-jawed hostage-taker who for unexplained reasons wants the president of the United States dead. Not by his hand, but via a topflight surgeon named Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), who conveniently is scheduled to remove a non-malignant mass from the prez’s lung.

Dr. Ellen is married to a secret-keeping husband (the redoubtable Tate Donovan as Brian Sanders). Their teen kids, Morgan and Jake (Quinn Shephard, Mateus Ward), also are hiding something. All of which makes it easier for Carlisle and his initially ski-masked team to invade the Sanders abode and exert a little leverage.

“We have eyes and ears everywhere. We have thought of everything,” Carlisle assures Ellen, whose orders are to leave the president dead on the operating table or risk some dire consequences to her family.

In a way this is Under the Dome in a nice home, although it likely can’t stay that way for too long lest the mailman get suspicious. As it now stands, Hostages is set for a half-season run set to end in January. Then the new Intelligence will take over, with Josh Holloway of Lost fame and Marg Helgenberger from CSI playing high-tech operatives.

Bruckheimer has affixed Hostages with relentlessly urgent theme music that builds and ebbs in a more or less continuous loop. Through the first hour, the tension is fairly palpable while Carlisle’s motivations remain a mystery. Several others are in on this, though, including his father and one of President Kincaid’s (James Naughton) high-level staffers.

Collette is an accomplished actress with a best actress Emmy Award in hand for her starring role in Showtime’s United States of Tara. Hostages is a comparative walk in the park so far, with no pressure to play multiple personalities. Dr. Ellen instead is a pretty straight-ahead, level-headed character while McDermott’s Carlisle mostly is called on to glower -- except when he’s talking sweetly to his hospitalized, still comatose wife or their cute little daughter.

Despite all its unanswered questions, Hostages is appreciably easier to grasp than NBC’s competing new The Black List, which also gets underway Monday. So for now, it seems worth seeing where this is all going. Will Dr. Ellen keep thwarting her captors in at least a halfway believable way? Is the president nefarious or something? Can Carlisle tell a knock-knock joke? Some answers, please -- sooner rather than later.

GRADE: B-minus

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AMC's Mad Men gambit: a further shift into desperation mode?

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Mad Men’s Don Draper and unidentified zombie. AMC photos

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Recent programming setbacks have prompted a new AMC strategy: string-alongs and spinoffs.

This week’s surprise announcement that Mad Men’s seventh and final season will be “equally portioned” -- or needlessly dragged out if you prefer -- comes shortly after AMC green-lighted a Breaking Bad prequel series (tentatively titled Better Call Saul) and a like-minded “companion” for its most popular drama series, The Walking Dead.

AMC has a face-saving explanation for the Mad Men gambit. And in some ways it makes sense. Specifically, the wind-down will begin in spring 2014 with seven episodes (“The Beginning”) before the final seven (“The End of an Era”) begin unfolding in spring 2015. The original order was 13 episodes.

“This approach has worked well for many programs across multiple networks,” AMC president Charlie Collier says in a publicity release. He notes that the two-pronged approach to Breaking Bad, which will have its series finale on Sunday, Sept. 29th, “attracted nearly double the number of viewers to its second half premiere than had watched any previous episode. We are determined to bring Mad Men a similar showcase. In an era where high-end content is savored and analyzed, and catch-up time is used well to drive back to live events, we believe this is the best way to release the now 14 episodes that remain of this iconic series.”

Mad Men’s secretive, persnickety creator, Matthew Weiner, says he’s also on board. “We plan to take advantage of this chance to have a more elaborate story told in two parts, which can resonate a little bit longer in the minds of our audience,” he says.

AMC’s announcement did not mention some of the cold hard realities the network is facing. Or to put it more bluntly, the cupboard is otherwise almost bare. The first-year series Low Winter Sun has been a ratings disaster following Breaking Bad, and almost certainly won’t be invited back. AMC recently canceled The Killing (for a second time) and has yet to find an avid following for Hell On Wheels (shunted off to Saturday nights for its ongoing third season). The network’s latter day unscripted series likewise have failed to take off. How many can you name? None? Join the crowd.

It’s true, however, that some rival networks tend to milk their success stories. CBS got two sequels out of the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and is still rolling along with a pair of NCIS hits. Fox is bringing back a shorter version of 24 this summer after originally canceling it. NBC scored big with its Cheers spinoff, Frasier, but struck out when it tried to extend the Friends franchise with Joey.

Still, AMC is acting out of character compared to cable’s other purveyors of acclaimed drama series. FX so far has been spin-off free, as have HBO and Showtime. And the swan songs of their biggest hits for the most part have been self-contained, although HBO’s The Sopranos divided its sixth and last season into two parts.

AMC’s string-along/spinoff strategy for now has the strong whiff of creative bankruptcy. The network appears to be running in place instead of charting new courses. Before Mad Men, it was a network best known for adding commercials to its feature films while also chopping them up. It’s come a long way since then, but lately seems short-sighted rather than visionary.

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NBC's The Blacklist gives Spader another chance to act up -- and someimes wear a hat


James Spader stars as (mad?) hatter of The Blacklist. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: James Spader, Megan Boone, Harry Joseph Lennix, Diego Klattenhoff, Ryan Eggold
Produced by: Jon Bokenkamp, John Eisendrath, John Davis, John Fox

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Maybe we’ve been around this bend more than once too often.

A mysterious, imperious know-it-all promises to track down the world’s most sinister bad guys -- only he knows their identities -- in return for doing it all his way.

He’ll work only with a new agent who just happens to be beautiful and has a tormented past in addition to some possibly deep-held secrets of her own.

The FBI’s “Most Wanted” list? Pish-posh, small fish. “I’m Ahab,” declares Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader), who used to be an agent himself. “And if you want the whales on my list, you have to play by my rules.”

So here we go again, via NBC’s The Blacklist. Monday’s opening hour has one crackerjack action scene amid all the lack of cohesion and wildly quick deductions as to what a seething terrorist of the week named Ranko Zumani plans to blow up.

Spader also is afforded ample time to laugh haughtily or smile smugly. Meanwhile, rookie FBI agent Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (Megan Boone) wonders why her seemingly happy marriage and adoption plans have been all shook up. But Liz also has a tendency to display “narcissistic behavior,” as she explains to bossman Harold Cooper (Harry Joseph Lennix channeling the cadence of Barack Obama). Therefore “my colleagues call me ‘sir.’ They think I’m a bitch.”

The Blacklist seems to think a lot of itself, too. It’s a preening Peacock that looks expensive while calling further attention to itself with a big incessant drumbeat of a soundtrack. And NBC has positioned it right behind Monday’s two-hour editions of The Voice, likely ensuring ample sampling on opening night.

Perhaps Spader will keep some viewers coming back with lines like, “I think I smell the stench of your cologne . . . Smells like hubris.” Or, “You got rid of your highlights. You look much less ‘Baltimore.’ “ Or maybe he’s shot his verbal wad already, whether wearing a fedora or exposing his shaved, widow’s peaked pate.

There’s also the kidnapping of a military general’s little daughter and a grisly torture scene that commences just after Red gets put up in a luxury hotel suite to the tune of Dean Martin’s now over-used “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” A couple of stabs to the thigh and side likely hurt even worse. After witnessing her loved one on the receiving end, an avenging Liz gets right up in Red’s grill. And around and around we go.

The Blacklist is watchable but patently unbelievable and increasingly unpalatable. Spader’s hoping to do tour de force here, but I’m already pretty weary of a character whose control freak partnership with an FBI ingenue is considerably less fun than Sleepy Hollow’s mismatched duo of a back-from-the-dead, time-traveling Ichabod Crane and a young female deputy with her own troubled past.

Those two are pursuing a headless horseman who’s learned how to fire automatic weapons in addition to swinging a lethal silver ax. On The Blacklist, the despot of the week will be of Red Reddington’s choosing. Because as he says, “Well, that was fun. Let’s do it again.”

Do we really have to? Will you really want to? We’ll see about that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Emmy producer is firm and final: his designated five personalized "In Memoriam" tributes will not include Larry Hagman

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In life he never won an Emmy, although nominated twice.

In death he won’t receive one of the five separate special “In Memoriam” tributes during the Sunday, Sept. 22nd awards ceremony on CBS. The program’s executive producer made that firmly if imperfectly clear when asked by unclebarky.com during a Wednesday afternoon teleconference.

Such is the lot of Larry Hagman, who came to international stardom on CBS as J.R. Ewing of Dallas. He died in the show’s namesake city on Nov. 23rd during filming of the TNT reboot’s second season.

CBS announced Monday that Emmy’s traditional “In Memoriam” clip segment would be enhanced by five tributes interspersed throughout the telecast. Those selected for special treatment are James Gandolfini (to be remembered by Sopranos co-star Edie Falco); Jean Stapleton (Rob Reiner); Jonathan Winters (Robin Williams); Family Ties producer Gary Goldberg (Michael J. Fox) and Corey Monteith (Jane Lynch).

The criticism quickly took flight, most notably in a commentary by Variety digital editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein. He questioned whether Monteith, the former Glee star who died at age 31 of a drug overdose, merited “being elevated” in this fashion. After all, he’s never even been nominated for an Emmy.

“By putting Monteith in this elite group, the Academy is risking having its honorable intentions misconstrued as using the actor’s memory to cater to the younger audiences that are in decreasingly short supply for award shows these days,” Wallenstein wrote in part.

Wallenstein also mentioned the omission of Hagman, who died at age 81 and co-starred in another enduring if lightweight series, I Dream of Jeannie. “Monteith could have gone on to a tremendous career, but Larry Hagman, for instance, already had a tremendous career, and putting Monteith on a pedestal casts a shadow over the memory of this iconic Dallas star,” Wallenstein wrote.

During Wednesday’s teleconference, veteran producer Ken Ehrlich, who’s presiding over his sixth Emmy telecast, made it clear that he made the call on the chosen few.

“In all candor, this becomes a producer’s option,” he said, “knowing that there are certainly others that could have been treated this way.”

Asked specifically about Hagman, Ehrlich repeated the “producer’s option” talking point. “I don’t know that I want to go into that in greater depth . . . No matter what we do, I think there will be people who will say we had other options.”

But has he opened a veritable can of worms by going this route in the first place? “There was discussion that this was probably going to become an interesting topic of conversation, which obviously it has,” Ehrlich acknowledged.

Including Monteith “was a rather personal choice,” he said in response to another questioner. “But Corey’s appeal maybe was to a different generation than some of the others we’re honoring.

“At 31 he passed away under very tragic circumstances,” Ehrlich added, and perhaps “meant as much” to a younger generation as the likes of Stapleton and Winters.

Still, it’s all very puzzling if not insulting. Although falling well outside of television’s advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic, Hagman was still very much of the here and now. He continued to play J.R. Ewing to the hilt right up until his death. Millions upon millions of teen to thirtysomething viewers know who J.R. Ewing is. Perhaps many more than know the name of Monteith’s Glee character (Finn Hudson).

This isn’t to say that Monteith shouldn’t be remembered on Emmy night. But Hagman most definitely should not have been excluded from Ehrlich’s final field. The bet here is that he’ll offer his version of a “make good” by showing Hagman’s grinning J.R. at the very end of Emmy’s standard clip collection of the year’s deceased. But no, that won’t be nearly enough. And CBS, the network that brought Hagman to full-blown household name stardom, should be ashamed of itself for essentially turning the other cheek and letting this final snub go unchecked.

***In other Emmy news, CBS announced Wednesday that the anniversaries of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show just 80 days later will be intertwined during a segment presented by actor Don Cheadle. Carrie Underwood will then sing some Beatles tunes, although Ehrlich wouldn’t say which ones.

Elton John also will be on hand to sing in honor of Liberace after Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, stars of the HBO movie bio Behind the Candelabra, present an Emmy Award. Liberace, by the way, died in 1987. So perhaps Hagman’s tribute can be resurrected 26 years from now?

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Mom-com coming to CBS' Monday night comedy-cade


Allison Janney and Anna Faris play warring moms in Mom. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 23rd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Anna Faris, Allison Janney, French Stewart, Nate Corddry, Sadie Calvano, Matt Jones, Blake Garrett, Spencer Daniels
Produced by: Chuck Lorre, Eddie Gorodetsky, Nick Bakay

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Here’s a new CBS sitcom that has its claws out while doubling down on both alcoholic moms and dim bulb males.

As such, Mom should fit right in on Monday nights, where it follows 2 Broke Girls and is displacing Mike & Molly (scheduled for a midseason return).

The newcomer’s best-known face is Allison Janney, who racked up four Emmy wins during her tenure on The West Wing. But relative newcomer Anna Faris gets top billing and in fact steals the show right off the top during an amusing weepy waitress segment spiked by a brief guest appearance from Jon Cryer of Two and a Half Men.

Mom, Two and a Half Men, Mike & Molly and The Big Bang Theory are all properties of kingpin producer Chuck Lorre, a quiet man in interviews but a ribald, dicey guy when it comes to sitcom scripts. As in this early exchange between Christy (Faris) and her snippy teen daughter, Violet (Sadie Calvano), who declares, “Mom, I’m not having sex.”

“Don’t lie to the woman who washes your sheets,” mom fires back.

Christy, who also has a sweet little son named Roscoe (Blake Garrett), has been sober for 118 days and counting. Her mother, Bonnie (Janney), likewise is a recovering alcoholic who reunites with her estranged daughter at an AA meeting. Breaking bread at a diner, their repartee can be something of an overdose.

“Mom, I’ve watched you lick cocaine crumbs out of a shag carpet,” Christy tells her. Mom is undeterred: “It’s not a sin to be thrifty, dear.”

But hey, “while other mothers were cooking dinner, you were cooking meth.” Yeah, but that’s “otherwise known as working,” says mom. Walter White, eat your heart out. While your dream woman floated around, you’ve been stuck all these years with reproachful Skyler.

Pilot episodes all too typically lay their basic premises on too thick. And Christy’s ex-husband, an amiable doofus named Baxter (Matt Jones), joins in later after trying to borrow money from her to sell pot and catch up on his support payments.

“You had Roscoe pee into a Sippy Cup so you could pass a drug test,” Christy protests. “And it worked,” says he.

Mom also is populated by Violet’s clueless boyfriend Luke (Spencer Daniels); Christy’s married restaurant boss Gabriel (Nate Corddry), who’s also her secret lover; and imperious Chef Rudy (French Stewart from 3rd Rock From the Sun). Stewart gets to toss off lines like, “Beat those egg whites gently, as if they were a small, annoying child.”

It’s all in the delivery, though, and that’s where Mom for the most part excels. Faris sets the pace, Janney knows the ropes and Stewart is fully capable of dropping in now and then to lob a Gordon Ramsay-esque zinger.

Mom isn’t a comedic high point, even if one or more of its principal characters falls off the wagon during a ratings “sweeps” month. But it gets this particular job done with flair, vigor, a punchy script and two leads who make it all fairly addictive.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Comedy Central's Key & Peele back in fine form for Season 3

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Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key in costumed sketch on Key & Peele, which starts Season 3 on Wed., Sept. 18th. Comedy Central photo

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A subtly effective mini-sketch on the Trayvon Martin case opens Season 3 of Comedy Central’s Key & Peele.

Message sent. And it speaks louder than any and all bluster from MSNBC commentator/activist Al Sharpton, getting this opening half-hour off to a memorable start before the two hosts as usual present their amiable selves to a pumped, interracial studio audience. Showtime is Wednesday, Sept. 18th at 9:30 p.m. (central).

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele aren’t wildly funny all the time, although last year’s East/West Collegiate Bowl sendup remains in the latter day comedy stratosphere. The first two episodes of Season 3 have nothing quite approaching those heights, including a Sept. 25th rap-off of the two teams that uses the 1985 Chicago Bears “Super Bowl Shuffle” video as a springboard.

What Key & Peele still does very well is sharp but not shiv-like “urban” humor. It’s virtually non-existent in the broadcast network universe and served up in broad slapstick fashion by Tyler Perry in factory assembly line sitcoms on TBS and OWN.

The stars of the show are easy to like during the studio audience segments bridging their sketches. And the sketches themselves often require a lot of work let alone makeup and costuming. An ambitious Les Miserables bit adds operatic singing to the stars’ repertoires before Peele ends Wednesday’s episode with his dead-on impression of President Obama while Key again plays “anger translator” Luther.

NBA semi-star Ron Artest, who re-christened himself Metta World Peace a while back, is briefly on hand in both episodes as the anchor of a “Metta World News” snippet. In the second one, he notes for no particular reason, “I’d rather eat my hand than have my penis cut off.” Thanks for that.

The first two episodes also include sketches on mobsters, Middle East “terrier-ism,” high school classroom tyranny (with Key reprising substitute teacher Mr. Garvey) and valet parkers who wonder why movies keep “messing with the Batmans.”

Another of Wednesday’s sketches suddenly will make perfect sense to some when a printed “Steinbeck y’all” postscript sends it off. Key and Peele aren’t afraid to kick it up a few notches at the risk of dumbfounding some of their younger fans.

Key & Peele has 13 episodes scheduled -- the show’s most ever -- for Season 3. It may be quite a challenge to keep up the pace and the quality. But the bet here is that these guys will find ways to keep making it all work for them.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Taking a dump with Fox's Dads


Young and old are constantly at odds in Dads. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 17th at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Seth Green, Giovanni Ribisi, Martin Muller, Peter Riegert, Vanessa Lachey, Brenda Song, Tonita Castro
Produced by: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild

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Elderly, befuddled, pain-in-the-rectum pops are all over the new fall TV landscape.

Fox’s Dads houses not one, but two of them in the season’s most gratuitously tasteless freshman sitcom. Affixed with a howling laugh track, it’s produced by the effortlessly offensive Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad!, The Cleveland Show and the big-screen’s Ted), who most recently hosted the Oscars and wasn’t invited back after pissing a lot of people off.

MacFarlane’s oft-officious brand of humor can also be laugh-out-loud funny. But in Dads’ case, it’s by and large repulsive if not toxic. Racial/racist jokes abound in Tuesday’s premiere episode while the show’s father figures are the equivalent of constantly having to rub excrement off a shoe sole. As their offspring demonstrate by playing a game of oneupmanship as to who has the worst person in the world for a dad. It’s a photo finish.

The sons, Eli and Warner, respectively are played by Seth Green and Giovani Ribisi. Peter Riegert and Martin Mull are the Neanderthals, David and Crawford.

“Stay out of the bathroom between 3 and 4. That’s my go time,” says Riegert’s David. Meaning a.m. hours.

“Well, now that you’ve seen it, I won’t be needing a towel from here on out,” Mull’s Crawford happily informs Warner’s Filipina wife, Camila (Vanessa Lachey), after accidentally dropping mast in the couple’s kitchen. Later, at a birthday party for his son at Warner’s abode, David chimes in with, “Thanks to your beautiful maid for making all this food.”

Eli and Warner run Ghost Child Games, whose inventions include the likes of “Kill Hitler” and the sequel they’re trying to sell. Hoping to impress a group of Chinese businessman, they order Asian assistant Veronica (Brenda Song) to dress up in a naughty schoolgirl costume and giggle brainlessly at the “appropriate” moments.

The other cast regular is Eli’s house maid, Edna (Tonita Castro), who cleans up after him 24/7 judging from Tuesday’s premiere and a second episode sent for review titled “Heckuva Job, Brownie.”

Shockingly, that title is not a reference to the maid or Warner’s wife, but to some pot-laced treats. They succeed in transforming David from a dyspeptic old crank into a congenial sort who suddenly endorses gay marriage because “Hey, love is where you find it. Even if it’s at the top of Brokeback Mountain.”

Meanwhile, Mull’s Crawford pops into the workplace to ask Warner, “What if I told you I could corner the entire market on penguin meat?”

Both Warner and Eli decline a bite of the old man’s penguin sandwich, with Eli saying, “I’m Jewish.”

“It’s free,” Crawford fires back. Thunka thunka thud.

Episode 2 eventually gets around to a “Pot Off” to determine who can withstand the most weed-laced brownies. This episode actually is a marginal improvement over the first, but that’s akin to saying burning at the stake is a better execution choice than being boiled in oil.

Among the principal cast members, Green retains a comedic flair that would be far better served in just about anything other than this. Dads is just a senseless pounding of sensibilities, a beat-down without any saving graces. This is a brand of “comedy” that ends its first episode with a series of riffs on the clandestinely photographed “tiny penis” of one of those aforementioned Chinese businessmen.

“It looks like something you pick out of a salad,” in the view of Riegert’s David.

Dads looks like something you’d pick out of an infected cyst.

GRADE: D-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Andy Samberg scores as top cop in Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine


Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Fox photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 17th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Melissa Fumero, Terry Crews, Joe Lo Truglio, Stephanie Beatriz, Chelsea Peretti
Produced by: Dan Goor, Michael Schur, David Miner

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Hmm, a sitcom starring Andy Samberg. You don’t want to rein him in -- nor let him run amuck.

Mission for the most part accomplished in Fox’s new Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in which the former Saturday Night Live mad hatter plays a semi-infantile ace detective with a high opinion of himself.

Samberg as a crime-solver will never be entirely believable. But this is a comedy, and the premise perhaps is more salable than Samberg playing a ship’s captain or an Old West sheriff.

In this case he’s detective Jake Peralta, who’s first seen in closeup doing lines from Donnie Brasco during an investigation of an electronics store robbery. His partner, Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), barely tolerates him while also striving to one-up Jake in the number of cases they’ve cracked. They make for a good mis-matched pair in an ensemble comedy without a laugh track and with the considerable presence of Andre Braughter as new precinct captain Ray Holt.

Tuesday’s premiere episode, which includes a cameo by Samberg’s old SNL running mate, Fred Armisen, nicely showcases the regular seven-member cast while also throwing in a cockeyed murder investigation in which a rare $6,000 ham also has been pilfered. The producers and cast have resisted any comparisons to ABC’s late, great Police Squad!, which was replete with non-stop sight gags. But there is a certain resemblance, and for that they should be grateful.

The other members of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine menagerie are sergeant Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews), nicknamed “Terry Titties” because of his outsized pecs; grouchy detective Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz); wimpish “grinder” Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio), who pines after Rosa; and batty civilian officer manager Gina Linetti (Chelsea Peretti).

Although Samberg gets the spotlight -- “Good news for all you murder fans!” -- the others have their moments during an amusing opener. And Braugher, in his first TV comedy series, looks as though he’ll measure up as an outwardly stern captain who both demands his men wear ties and is openly gay.

Samberg likewise manages to get the sitcom rhythms down, with his delivery wringing the best out of lines such as “I am Detective Right All the Time and this is my partner, Detective Terrible Detective.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, with its solid supporting cast aiding and abetting Samberg, has a so far/so good first outing that rises above the majority of this season’s new fall comedies. The hammiest thing about it is its $6,000 ham. Samberg comes in second, but by quite a distance.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox goes topless, er, headless, in new Sleepy Hollow


Their heads are still intact on the new Sleepy Hollow. Fox photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 16th at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Tom Mison, Nicole Beharie, Orlando Jones, Katia Winter
Produced by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman, Heather Kadin

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Hey kids, remember the original Ichabod Crane?

No, not the 1999 Johnny Depp knockoff, but the milquetoast cartoon schoolmaster with a prominent proboscis who met a bad end after falling head over heels for beauteous Katrina Van Tassel.

Fox, as you might imagine, has a different idea with its re-imagined Sleepy Hollow, first of the new fall series to roll off the Big Four networks’ assembly lines. Its Ichabod is a handsome, self-assured man-of-action Brit who fought on the colonists’ side during the Revolutionary War.

In a vivid opening battle scene Monday night, Ichabod (Tom Mison) squares off against an imposing iron-masked foe who slashes him before he manages to lop the despot’s head off. Both men fall to the ground before a muddied Ichabod suddenly finds himself digging out of a grave and staggering onto a two-lane highway to barely avoid being squashed by a semi-truck.

Ichabod, you see, isn’t in Hudson Valley, NY, circa 1781 anymore. He’s in present-day Sleepy Hollow, population 144,000. And as The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” kicks in (Fox has sprung for the actual Mick Jagger vocal), our hero is in for a wild ride in the company of his new ad hoc sidekick, detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie). Will two heads be better than none when “Headless” re-emerges to wreak havoc with his silver ax while seeking the lost skull he needs to inflict some really heavy damage? After all, he’s just the first of the dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, none of whom would make for good dinner guests.

It’s a pretty impressive start to what Fox hopes will be a long, drawn-out affair. The lately struggling network badly needs a new Monday night hit after bombing last fall with The Mob Doctor. But can Sleepy Hollow attract enough week-to-week interest in its twisty-turny “mythology?” Or will viewers with their heads still attached start scratching them -- and moving on?

Mison and Beharie work well together as Ichabod and Abbie. She appealingly parries his thrusts while he marvels at his new surroundings, including a Starbucks where a livery stable used to be. Ichabod also is shocked to his see his old commander’s face on a dollar bill and a woman wearing pants.

On the down side, Orlando Jones so far is stuck in the muck of a prototypically officious police captain named Frank Irving. It’s his lot to threaten Abbie with various disciplinary measures before she finally convinces him that “we’re just scratching the surface here.”

The fourth member of the regular cast is Ichabod’s wife, Katrina (Heather Kadin), who appears to him in visions and also is seen in flashbacks. She never seems to have good news.

Abbie likewise has a haunted past while her ill-fated initial boss -- guest star Clancy Brown as Sheriff August Corbin -- strongly suspects that the stakes at hand could well be the end of the world as we know it.

Whatever befalls its denizens, Sleepy Hollow gets off to a better and more “believable” start than anticipated. But perhaps the biggest open question is the identity of the actor playing “Headless.” He commands every scene he’s in, whether swinging that aforementioned ax or spraying automatic weapons fire in the night’s climactic action sequence.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, is it a sound? If an actor plays a part without a head or any speaking lines, is it a credited role? Ah, mysteries.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Hall monitor: he's back in late night with the same traits as before


Arsenio Hall happily returned to late night TV Monday. Photo: Ed Bark

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“I’m back. And back is beautiful.”

Late night comedy/talk’s most famous host of color returned to home screens Monday, this time in HD amid myriad more choices -- all of them still white save for W. Kamau Bell’s hybrid offering on the new FXX network.

Little has changed in that respect during the 19 years Arsenio Hall’s been away. And he sometimes seems almost painfully unchanged, too. Hall still giggles more than a little too much, oozes vials of sincerity and fawns over guests to the point of calling Chris Tucker “one of the biggest comedy stars in the world.”

Tucker in turn easily set a world’s record for saying “It’s great” during his less than scintillating time with the host, who sat not behind a desk but in a stuffed grey chair that matched the adjoining couch.

Opening nights can be rough, though. You just want to get through ‘em, even when it’s the second time around. And Hall got out of his starting block in solid if predictable fashion by lying on a couch in closeup and talking about how if he becomes No. 1 in the late night ratings he’ll get to stay on the air forever.

Well, you just knew to whom he’d be talking. And sure enough, the camera then pulled back to show Jay Leno saying, “Yeah, good luck with that.”

Hall got a huge ovation from his woof-woofing studio audience before needlessly re-introducing himself and receiving more of the same. He then cracked, “Leave it to the first black late night host to take 19 years off work. And come back here and expect my job to still be waiting for me.”

So what’s he been doing in the interim? An initial Storage Wars clip -- with a bearded Hall festering inside one of the up-for-auction units -- got that bit off to a pretty strong start. But then it began to huff and puff, with Hall repeatedly getting stabbed in an overlong Prison Snitch sendup before co-starring in a fake Tunaphoon movie that was outstripped by Sharknado.

Snoop Dogg then came out to contribute some very old-school rap before “The Arsenio Hall Time Capsule” got rolled out. This one likewise got off to a funny start, with Hall unearthing a jumbo cell phone from the ’90s and joking, “This phone is so old it tried Siri for being a witch.”

Again, though, things dragged on too long, with the audience applause getting dangerously thin before Hall pulled out a “prosthetic butt” from Paula Abdul’s Opposites Attract video. The real-life Abdul quickly appeared to pay tribute to a hushed Hall after telling him she’ll use the oversized ass to play Simon Cowell on Halloween. Ooh, hush yo’ mouth, girl.

Hall merited a better opening night guest lineup than this. He did in fact make late night history while also creating a party environment and comfortable domain for those who otherwise had little recourse. Johnny Carson, on automatic pilot by then, wasn’t about to dip his toe into hip-hop or other forms of young “urban” culture.

It’s too bad then that old pal Eddie Murphy didn’t choose to pop in. He instead was briefly shown in a new Snoop video. Nor did Bill Clinton deign to bring down the house with a walk-on. The future president’s sax-playing segment on the original Arsenio Hall Show remains his emblematic masterstroke of the 1992 campaign.

Hall ended his return by profusely thanking those who did show up and calling Leno “a wonderful friend of mine.” The second coming of The Arsenio Hall Show presumably will outlast Leno’s forced exit, in favor of Jimmy Fallon, after NBC’s Winter Olympics telecasts.

Meanwhile, Monday’s re-opening is now in the time capsule, and it’s somehow still good to have Arsenio Hall back. He aims to please, he’s iconic in his own way and maybe he can still serve an audience that after too long has one of its own back in play. Just don’t expect the kids to watch anymore.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

"Press tour" tales: Arsenio rides again (woof-woof)


Arsenio talks up his talk show on the red carpet. Photo: Ed Bark

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BEVERLY HILLS, CA -- Way back in January 1989, his initial late night talk/comedy competition amounted to boyhood idol Johnny Carson and Pat Sajak, whose CBS desk job lasted for only a few eye-blinks.

The second coming of The Arsenio Hall Show, premiering on Monday, Sept. 9th (10 p.m. in D-FW on CW33), will be directly against almost too many competitors to mention. But let’s recite them anyway: Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien, Chelsea Handler and W. Kamau Bell. For good measure, throw in Keith Olbermann, whose new ESPN2 late nighter also has nightly guests and comedy segments in addition to what amounts to an opening monologue.

Hall, now 57, is talkative as ever and realistic about the crowded field he’s playing on. Holding forth before a hotel ballroom full of TV writers, he recalls that “back in the day I was trying to take anything that was left over on Carson’s plate.”

Now he’s in the midst of a wealth of TV competitors, a lot more networks to choose from and the all-encompassing Internet.

“You have that ability to Google anything and find anything that’s been on,” Hall says. “It’s hard to get people to even watch you and make appointments for television. The challenges are gigantic now . . . Your biggest fan doesn’t watch you every night. You hope for three nights. Sometimes you’ll get one night. I’m trying to be in the game. I’ve just got to be better than one guy that’s already there.”

His opening week guest list, officially announced on Tuesday, doesn’t seem imposing enough to lure viewers on its own. Monday night’s premiere features comedian Chris Tucker, with a surprise guest or two also promised. Ice Cube, Lisa Kudrow, Magic Johnson, George Lopez, Mark Harmon and Angela Bassett also are set to join Hall during his first week of shows. Musical guests range from Earth, Wind & Fire to rapper Mac Miller.

The new Hall show also will have a reconstituted “Posse” (house band) and likely a nightly dose of “Woof Woofs.” Those were his rallying cries against Carson, who in comparison seemed decidedly older and grayer during his waning years as host of The Tonight Show.

“Everybody talked about ‘You’re competing against Johnny’ when I was a young man,” Hall says. “And that really wasn’t what it was about. If you liked what Johnny did, you stayed with Johnny. And I found people that maybe wanted something that didn’t exist on the Carson show. That’s what I’m going to do this time around, try to find those who don’t have a host.”

“Social media” amounted to Faxing and phone calls during the first coming of The Arsenio Hall Show. But latter day late night talkers, excluding Leno and Letterman for the most part, use their web and Twitter presences to drive viewers toward the TV mothership. Or to simply watch ad-supported clips online, some of them “behind the scenes” peeks at how the sausage is made.

“Yeah, it’s very important,” says Hall. “I love the digital world.” (In fact, he could be seen tweeting away while a clip from his new show set the stage.)

His show’s co-executive producer, Neal Kendall, says that a unique Internet persona no longer is “just something that’s sort of an ancillary part of a show. It’s very much what this show needs to be and has to be. We talk all the time about the speed with which this is moving. Jimmy Kimmel launched before Facebook was around, and that’s just 10 or 11 years ago . . . We’re just thrilled to launch a show where we can take advantage of everything that’s available to us.”

The old Arsenio Hall Show had at least one indelible moment -- Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton playing the saxophone during the course of reviving his beleaguered campaign. Magic Johnson also chose the show to talk at length about his revelation he had the HIV virus.

Hall says he initially advised Johnson not to make that appearance. “If you’re looking for a message, you can go to Western Union,” he says now. “I’m really not that guy. I’m about sending you to bed with a smile on your face. Something like that with Magic was rough.”

This is a guy, after all, who describes winning Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice as “the greatest time of my life . . . I’ve been No. 2 at everything I’ve ever done. And to win something felt really good.”

Between his late night talk shows, Hall co-starred in the CBS action series Martial Law and also hosted that network’s new version of Star Search. Surprisingly to some, he also remains close friends with Jay Leno, of whom he once said, “I’m Going to Kick Jay Leno’s Ass” on the cover of a notable issue of Entertainment Weekly. This came shortly after Leno replaced Carson as the Tonight Show host.

“When you’re in the heat of battle, it’s easy to hate each other,” Hall recalls. “We were arguing and battling and calling each other on the phone. He’d take employees away from me and I’d be mad. The bottom line is that lasted a couple of weeks because we truly are friends. But I think at the time I was battling with Jay the competitor, who doesn’t want to lose, wants to win every battle, every moment.”

But Hall notes that Leno also is the guy who encouraged him to come to Los Angeles after they first met in Chicago. “He helped me find an apartment. He taught me to ride a motorcycle. We hung out and played Intellivision every night.”

They now hang out anew, with Hall sometimes joining Leno on his Sunday night creature-of-habit jaunts to the Hermosa Comedy and Magic Club, where he tries out jokes for upcoming Tonight Shows.

When he won Celebrity Apprentice, Leno welcomed him on the show as a conquering hero, Hall says. And in the face of NBC-mandated Tonight Show budget cuts, “Jay let me know who the good writers were.” Hall says he ended up hiring one of them for his new show.

Leno remains No. 1 in the late night talk ratings, even though his days are numbered. But Hall will have far more asses to kick this time around, including Jimmy Fallon’s when he takes over the Tonight Show after NBC’s presentation of the Winter Olympics.

It’s enough to make an old school newcomer hope he can merely keep paddling.

“Basically what I do is just assert my personality,” Hall says. “And you hope people will hang out with you a couple nights a week.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Hot In Cleveland gathers leading ladies of MTM show


No further introductions are necessary -- if you’re of a certain age. TV Land photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Let’s be charitable here.

Hot In Cleveland’s reunion of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s five leading ladies (Wednesday, Sept. 4th, 9 p.m. central on TV Land) is hardly a testament to how great that show was and how well it still holds up.

Still, it’s not an embarrassment and has some amusing moments beyond the historical import. And as most fans of the classic original know, life is fleeting even if fame sometimes isn’t. Valerie Harper, who played Rhoda Morgenstern, is still battling terminal brain cancer while Cloris Leachman (Phyllis Lindstrom) is approaching 90 and Betty White (Sue Ann Nivens) has gone one year beyond. So more power to them while they’re still all under their own power.

It’s now been 36 years since The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended its original run on CBS. Namesake Mary, 76, was already well known from her role as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show before she made stars of her four co-stars. Harper and Leachman both got spinoff series while the kid of the group, 65-year-old Georgia Engel (Georgette Franklin Baxter), hung in there with latter day recurring roles on both Everybody Loves Raymond and Hot In Cleveland (as Mamie Sue).

White, now the busiest of them all, has played saucy Elka Ostrovsky on Hot In Cleveland since its 2010 premiere as TV Land’s first original scripted series. In Wednesday’s “Love Is All Around” episode, Elka and Mamie Sue long to reunite their championship Gorgeous Ladies of Bowling team (GLOB), which hasn’t been together since a falling out 50 years ago.

So in a veritable finger snap they all show up at a restaurant where Hot In Cleveland co-stars Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli mix and mingle with two other guest stars -- George Hamilton and Jesse Tyler Ferguson of ABC’s Modern Family.

Moore, Harper and Leachman (still co-starring on Fox’s Raising Hope) respectively play Diane, Angie and Peg. Old timey studio audience whoops and cheers rain down on each of their arrivals. Moore of course gets to be the last to take the stage. “Hello GLOBs,” she enthuses before their bickering begins anew.

Some of the humor is winning enough. And the worst line thankfully goes to Bertinelli’s vain Melanie rather than one of the Fab Five. Intoxicated by her blind date with a plastic surgeon, she says, “I can’t let him know how much I want him to knock me up and cut me up.”

The reunion of course eventually gets back on track. And a nifty little touch at the end ties a nice bow on the proceedings before the season finale of Hot In Cleveland immediately kicks in with guest star Craig Ferguson.

GRADE (on a curve): B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS/Time Warner Cable settle month-long blackout dispute

By Ed Bark
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Less than a week before CBS begins flexing its NFL might, the No. 1-rated network and Time Warner Cable ended their month-long stalemate Labor Day evening and cut a new deal.

CBS programming was restored at 5 p.m. Monday, ending a blackout that primarily affected some 3.2 million TWC subscribers in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. The agreement also returned cable networks Showtime, Smithsonian Channel and CBS Sports Network to TWC homes. In Dallas, TXA21, sister station of CBS11, also had been affected, with Friday night Texas Rangers games the most notable casualty.

Terms of the agreement typically were not disclosed, with CBS issuing a no-frills, one-paragraph statement late Monday afternoon. In a separate memo to CBS employees, corporation president and CEO Leslie Moonves said, “The final agreements with Time Warner Cable deliver to us all the value and terms that we sought in these discussions. We are receiving fair compensation for CBS content and we also have the ability to monetize our content going forward on all the new, developing platforms that are right now transforming the way people watch television.”

TWC chairman and CEO Glenn Britt told his employees: “As in all of our negotiations, we wanted to hold down costs and retain our ability to deliver a great video experience for our customers. While we certainly didn’t get everything we wanted, ultimately we ended up in a much better place than where we started.”

It’s been widely reported that CBS wanted a monthly increase in TWC’s retransmission fee from about $1 to $2 per subscriber. The two sides fought a war of words before and throughout most of August, with newspapers in the three major affected TV markets benefiting the most financially from a windfall of full-page ads.

The imminent arrival of the NFL’s regular season, followed by the official start of the new 2013-14 TV season on Sept. 23rd, put increasing pressure on TWC to either settle or face a possibly serious erosion in its customer base. The NFL in particular, with games beginning Sunday, Sept. 8th on CBS after this Thursday night’s “Kickoff” game on NBC, was seen as the major weapon in CBS’ arsenal.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net