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Justice do-over? ABC's Conviction literally counts down the days


New show, same network: Hayley Atwell fronts Conviction. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Hayley Atwell, Eddie Cahill, Shawn Ashmore, Merrin Dungey, Emily Kinney, Manny Montana, Daniel Franzese
Produced by: Mark Gordon, Liz Friedlander, Liz Friedman, Nick Pepper

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Hayley Atwell has washed that Marvel right out of her hair, quickly rebounding from ABC’s failed Agent Carter to the network’s new Conviction.

But she’ll still be up against it Monday night opposite the premiere of NBC’s spirited Timeless, which has the added advantage of an industrial strength lead-in from The Voice. Add the competing Season 3 premiere of CBS’ still formidable Scorpion and things are not looking up.

Conviction is marginally better than ABC’s noxious new Notorious, which already is on ratings fumes. Even so, it’s hard to imagine it lighting anyone’s fire.

This time out, Atwell plays problematic former First Daughter Hayes Morrison, who’s first shown jailed on a coke-bust. New York City district attorney Conner Wallace (Eddie Cahill), with whom she’s apparently spent some time in the sack, has since fallen out of favor with Hayes. Still, his offer is hard to resist. Head up a new Conviction Integrity Unit and he’ll make her arrest go away.

“This isn’t about justice. This is about selling yourself,” she sneers before of course taking the deal.

Conner has already hand-picked Hayes’ team, touching all the ethnically diverse bases in doing so.

There’s festering Sam Spencer (Shawn Ashmore), a white dude who thought he was going to be heading the unit.

Former cop Maxine Bohen (Merrin Dungey) is a no-nonsense African-American justice-seeker while Franklin “Frankie” Cruz (Manny Montana) is a Hispanic ex-con whose male lover remains in prison. There’s also Tess Larson (Emily Kinney), a young, guilt-ridden white woman who otherwise is quite good at putting two and two together. Hayes’s portly, bearded brother Jackson (Daniel Franzese) drops in on occasion to lift her spirits.

DA Conner, for budgetary and artificial TV drama purposes, has given the CIU team just five days per case to determine whether a convicted criminal in fact has been wrongly incarcerated. This prompts a countdown sign -- “Three Days Remaining . . . Two Days Remaining” -- after each commercial break. Not so amazingly, everything is resolved with next to no time to spare.

ABC made the first two episodes available for review. Monday’s premiere spotlights a former black football star convicted eight years ago of murdering his girlfriend. But an all-white jury did the convicting. Hmm. Episode 2 hits closer to home by re-examining one of DA Conner’s prize convictions. Are three white teens, all of them seemingly jerks at the time, really guilty as charged of assaulting and raping a black woman? It’s Hayes’ attempt to embarrass the DA, who instead just rolls with it.

The most interesting scenes in Conviction so far have nothing to do with the sleuthing. Things instead perk up whenever Hayes’ mom and former First Lady Harper Morrison (very nicely played by Bess Armstrong) pops in to meddle. The two don’t get along, but mom’s now running for the U.S. Senate. So she has a vested interest in keeping her daughter from imploding again. Their pointed scenes together allow Atwell to emote to good effect while old pro Armstrong (The Four Seasons, My So-Called Life) deftly stirs the pot.

The first case is resolved via the novel use of a split-in-two pig carcass while Episode 2 ends with ramifications beyond justice being served. Atwell’s performance is solid enough, particularly when Armstrong is around for badgering purposes. But the weekly skirmishes with “The System” end in ways that at best strain credulity. If only it were even remotely this easy -- and all with the added pressure of a weekly made-for-TV countdown.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Timeless puts NBC back into past tense


The Timeless trio of Malcolm Barrett, Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter, Malcolm Bennett, Goran Visnjic, Sakina Jaffrey, Paterson Joseph, Claudia Doumit
Produced by: Eric Kripke, Shawn Ryan, John Davis, John Fox, Marney Hochman, Neil Marshall

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
TV’s latest time-travel series begins its limited present-day activities with a whopper. Only it’s completely true, according to latter day accounts.

College teacher Lucy Preston (Abigail Spencer from Rectify) is bringing history alive with the tale of how President Lyndon Johnson “whipped out his genitalia” when asked why the U.S. was in Vietnam. “This is why,” he reportedly replied. Lucy adds that LBJ proudly referred to his oft-displayed member only club as “Jumbo.” Hey, kids, you’ll be tested on this.

From the network that brought you Quantum Leap, it’s NBC’s Timeless, which can be far-fetched even for a show of this genre. But it’s also agreeably fast-paced and a good deal of fun before jumping through another hoop at the end that might make the present an almost equally wild mini-ride.

The story begins on May 6, 1937 with the Hindenburg dirigible disaster in New Jersey. It serves to set the time and place where Lucy and her two colleagues will journey in an effort to stop Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic) from nefariously altering history after allegedly killing his wife and child. Flynn has just stolen a secret state-of-the-art time travel device from Mason Industries. But there just happens to be an older prototype junker in mothballs. So Lucy, jaunty, wisecracking Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter) and Mason employee Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett) are soon off in the rickety thing to find and apprehend a bad guy who otherwise might turn history on its ears.

“Don’t be noticed. Don’t change anything. Understand?” they’re ordered by Homeland Security taskmaster Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey). But none of that stuff ever works according to plan.

Once back on the ground, Wyatt becomes smitten with a blonde, derring-do journalist. He’s not supposed to save her from dying on that tragic spring day in 1937. But if LBJ couldn’t keep his pecker in his pants . . . well, you can’t expect a hunky man of action to just stand by and do nothing.

It’s OK, however, to stop Garcia from whatever he’s doing and then return him to the present. During the course of trying to do so, Lucy gets off a nice riff by telling a gruff military guy, “This is Dr. Dre, I’m Nurse Jackie. We’re from General Hospital.”

As a black man in a strange land, Rufus encounters racism and eventually has a signature scene in that vein that helps to free the trio from their latest predicament. A protesting Rufus has set that table earlier with one of the premiere episode’s better lines: “There’s literally no place in American history that would be awesome for me.”

Also look for a MacGyver-like ploy by Wyatt after he instructs Lucy to “take off your bra. Your modern bra.”

It would be giving away too much to detail the ease in which Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus return to the scene of an impending crime. Timeless tends to have plot holes the size of pot holes. But if you’re watching a time-travel series, you’re likely not expecting an abundance of attendant believability.

Future episodes include real-life characters such as John F. Kennedy, Jim Bowie, Richard Nixon and Sammy Davis Jr. And as the time travels keep adding up, so will the ramifications and deceptions. All in all, it doesn’t look like a bad way to spend an hour of your day. Or only about 45 minutes if you DVR Timeless and then time travel in reverse through all the commercials.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's version of Westworld: a morality play replete with gunplay


Ed Harris brings barrelfuls of menace to Westworld. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 2nd at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Tessa Thompson, Shannon Woodward, Jimmi Simpson, Rodrigo Santoro, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Ben Barnes, Sam Quarterman, Angela Sarafyan, Luke Hemsworth, Clifton Collins, Jr.
Produced by: Jonathan Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Lisa Joy, Jerry Weintraub

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HBO’s much hyped and hoped for NEXT BIG THING shares some common ground with The Truman Show, Groundhog Day and even the weekly “they killed Kenny” snippets from Southpark. The latter comparison very likely is unwanted, because this is supposed to be very serious business.

Westworld, adapted from the still resonant 1973 feature film, finally arrives Sunday as an alternately gripping and tedious sci-fi meld of “hosts” and “guests,” big ideas and bigger trigger fingers. Its body count is bottomless, because all of the hosts on the receiving ends can simply be taken back to the shop for repairs while the paying guests supposedly are impervious to physical harm. But are some of the inmates somehow showing signs of breaking down the walls of their asylum by going “off script” and cobbling together minds of their own? The inquiring minds running this very high-priced futuristic theme park very much want to know.

Venues alternate between the series’ viscerally violent alternative universe and the la-BOR-atory headed by “creative director” Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). His invariably grim-faced lieutenants are masters of the forced march. Any signs of “deviant” behavior are quickly addressed. But suddenly comes a “shit storm,” in the words of taut operations leader Theresa Cullen (Sidse Babett Knudsen).

“You imagine someone’s been diddling with our creations?” Ford wonders in Episode 2, one of four made available for review.

Back in the “Old West,” there’s a considerable jolt of electricity whenever Ed Harris is on screen. He plays “The Gunslinger,” as did Yul Brynner in the original movie. With a face like a python and a demeanor that renders no-nonsense inoperative, The Gunslinger blasts his way in search of “the deepest level of this game.” He’s mayhem personified. And Harris is so powerfully in charge of this role that Westworld tends to sag whenever he’s off-screen. This is particularly so in Episode 3, where The Gunslinger is entirely missing in action before he returns in full measure to fuel Episode 4 with his iron will and even a little James Bond-ian trick.

Evan Rachel Wood is the most constant screen presence as a “host” dubbed Dolores Abernathy. Mostly stuck in a tight, light blue frontier dress, she yearns for forbidden fulfillment, but can’t quite get a grip on why. Brooding programming division head Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) repeatedly brings her in for interrogation, seeking to get her head straight. Dolores’ longings are a focal point of Westworld, but the character too often can be something of a bore. Not entirely so. But the inclination to say, “Not her again” can be almost overpowering at times.

James Marsden likewise can be a bit bland as Teddy Flood, a seemingly purebred frontier character that HBO has affixed with a “spoiler” tag in terms of his true identity. So let’s move on to saloon madame Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton), who in comparison is on fire as a host who’s also starting to see a bigger picture after years of robotic subservience. Her principal prostitute is Clementine Pennyfeather (Angela Sarafyan), who simply aims to please.

Episode One painstakingly lays out both of these lands while also heaping on the violence. A prolonged in-town massacre is accompanied by an orchestral version of “Paint It Black” before the closing credits roll to Johnny Cash’s somber “Ain’t No Grave.”

The super-rich guests, paying at the rate of $40,000 a day, are free to roam, copulate and pillage as they please with what amounts to their playthings. Westworld strives to both comment on the primal human condition and engage viewers in some of the hosts’ yearnings to somehow become human.

At the outset of Episode 2, a first-time guest named William (rather dully played by Jimmi Simpson) is prepped for his full immersion into the theme park by a comely greeter who offers herself as a sexual appetizer.

“Are you real?” he asks.

“Well, if you can’t tell, does it matter?” she replies.

But William’s maiden voyage is without much of a giddy up. His hedonistic real-world friend, Logan (Ben Barnes), a veteran guest, is appreciably more interesting as a run amuck scoundrel who takes full advantage of what’s offered.

Westworld also is populated by an all too typically cocky and profane British “narrative director” (Simon Quarterman as Lee Sizemore) and a hunky, but so far nondescript head of security (Luke Hemsworth as Ashley Stubbs). Shannon Woodward registers more vividly as “programming division” up-and-comer Elsie Hughes, who has a sharp tongue and an edgy temperament.

Hopkins’ maestro character is both mysterious and a bit slow to develop. But by Episode 4 he’s in fuller bloom as the mind behind a vast, expensive and more cerebral story line that is yet to unfold and is drawing opposition. But Dr. Ford knows what he wants. And there’s a sense of menace more than decorum when he conveys this to operations leader Cullen: “I will ask you nicely. Please don’t get in my way.”

Through these first four episodes, Westworld flexes its lavish production values and has the kernels of what could turn into an increasingly absorbing morality play. Harris is a signature presence as The Gunslinger -- so much so that too many of the other characters are limp in comparison. A loitering pace also can be a problem at times. The scenes from behind the scenes tend to head south in comparison to the volatile Old West canvas in play. And no one has a line as good as the guy who tells The Gunslinger, “You sound like a man who’s grown tired of wearing his guts on the inside.”

Westworld is both show-and-tell, and now wait-and-see. There’s promise and there are perils. Four of Season One’s 10 hours are in the books for reviewers who have taken the time to watch all of them. I very much want to see more, and hoping they’ll get a firmer grip.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Tales from their dark sides: the formative years of Trump, Clinton in PBS' The Choice 2016


Grim and bear it: The 2016 presidential election. PBS photo

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Her penchant for secrecy, his longtime reliance on “truthful hyperbole.”

His headlong womanizing, her standing by a proven womanizer.

Their pursuits of ultimate power whatever the personal costs to themselves or others.

What’s not to like?

After Monday night’s first of three debates, many people understandably feel they’ve seen and heard enough of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican standard-bearer Donald Trump. Let’s get this thing over with, damn it.

But as the analysis of their respective performances goes on an on and on, let’s remember that one night of joint show-and-tell does not begin to tell the stories of how Clinton and Trump were bent, shaped and mutilated into what they are today. And in the end, that’s how they’ll conduct themselves as President after this seemingly eternal gut-fight is put to rest by voters on Nov. 8th.

PBS’ The Choice 2016, premiering Tuesday, Sept. 27th (at 8 p.m. locally on KERA13), does its usual thorough and incisive job of telling the life stories of the two finalists. It plays out like a thick and foreboding novel, with the stories of the two combatants intertwined for extra dramatic effect. Director Michael Kirk again is at the controls for this two-hour presentation airing under the prestigious Frontline banner. There’s nothing particularly new, with a heavy reliance on a cavalcade of Trump and Clinton biographers. Still, this is riveting stuff, with veteran PBS narrator Will Lyman adding his usual measured gravitas. A man born to wealth and privilege versus a woman scorned time and again. Both had controlling, bullying fathers, although Trump grew to enjoy the feel of his father Fred’s figurative whip while Clinton recoiled from her father, Hugh, and grew to revere her supportive mother, Dorothy.

The Choice begins with a teeth-gritting Trump being ridiculed at length by President Obama at the 2011 White House Correspondents dinner. Trump’s championing of the “birther movement” had left Obama itching to fire back. Longtime Republican strategist and current Trump supporter Roger Stone speculates that the humiliation crystallized his billionaire friend’s determination to run for president. But Stone also is the toxic guy who said post-debate that Clinton had to be hooked up to an oxygen tank immediately after Monday night’s joust with Trump. He’s also been banned from appearing on either CNN or MSNBC. So seriously consider the source while wondering why The Choice saw fit to include him.

Omarosa Manigault, another Trump ally and former arch villainess on The Apprentice, juicily prepares the country for her boss’s score-settling triumph: “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump . . . It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”

Clinton is first seen as the highly unconventional First Lady of Arkansas after Bill Clinton was elected governor. But his loss after just one term prompted a guilty Hillary to “re-brand herself” by changing her hairstyle, dropping her glasses, wearing more makeup and tacking on Bill’s surname after initially insisting on being called Hillary Rodham.

“She completely forfeited her own identity, at least physically,” says Gail Sheehy, author of Hillary’s Choice.

Former Wellesley classmate Nancy Wanderer says the calculated transformation “hurt all of us. We all felt bad about that.”

Hillary, who in essence became Bill’s campaign manager in his successful re-election bid, also turned for the first time to reptilian Dick Morris, a campaign consultant who’s now ripping her on a weekly basis in the pages of The National Enquirer.

These are the respective first chapters of stories that tellingly toggle back and forth in relatively seamless fashion. Besides his hard-driving, gut-punching father, Fred, Trump’s early and influential mentor is storied conservative hatchet man Roy Cohn, whose face seems screwed into a permanent scowl. He taught the young Trump to “use lawsuits like machine gun bullets,” says TrumpNation author Timothy O’Brien,

Meanwhile, Hillary journeys to Washington, D.C. in her pre-Mrs. Clinton years and becomes a rising star as a young attorney on the Senate Watergate committee. She was sworn to utmost secrecy, and this became a lifelong pattern, according to The Choice. After failing the Washington, D.C. bar exam, “she kept it a secret for 30 years,” says Carl Bernstein, whose Hillary book is titled A Woman In Charge.

Returning to Arkansas against her best friends’ advice, Clinton married Bill and helped to spearhead his 1992 run for the presidency. Then came the “bimbo eruptions,” with Gennifer Flowers going public and Hillary bowing to their joint ambitions by joining him for a famous post-Super Bowl interview on 60 Minutes. “I’m not sittin’ here (like) some little woman standin’ by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she famously said. She was soon back beaming at his side. As always, says Bill Clinton biographer David Maraniss, their ends justified the dignity-sapping means, with Hillary wedded to ambition first and foremost. Monica Lewinsky was yet to come.

Trump eventually tired of his first wife, Ivana, with whom he had three children. His affair with and eventual marriage to Marla Maples was celebrated by both the tabloids and Trump himself, who didn’t in the least mind being portrayed as a philandering cocksman. Iconic gossip columnist Liz Smith recalls Ivana weeping in her arms and telling her that Trump had discarded her because he couldn’t bring himself to be sexually attracted to a woman who’d had children.

When his business empire began to crumble, most notably in Atlantic City with Trump’s Taj Mahal casino, he convinced creditors that taking his vaunted name off the properties would only further devalue them. They reluctantly agreed while putting Trump on a strict $450,000 a month allowance. “He was too big to fail,” says narrator Lyman.

Lying also became a way of life, says Tony Schwartz, who belatedly has been remorseful for co-authoring Trump’s mega-bestselling The Art of the Deal. “The truth doesn’t mean much to Donald Trump,” he says matter-of-factly.

The Choice is both instructive and dispiriting (if not depressing) in reinforcing the negatives associated with the two most publicly disliked candidates ever to run for President of the United States. One of them is going to win, though.

For Hillary Clinton, “It had been a brutal path to this moment,” Lyman says of her history-making nomination.

“He had exhausted the ways in which to get attention,” so running for President represented the last big ego stroke, Schwartz says of Trump.

It’s still a page-turner -- but alas, from the non-fiction section.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's The Exorcist: another knockoff, but not a cheap-looking one


Who wouldn’t want this priest to make house calls? Fox photo

Premiering: Friday, Sept. 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Alfonso Herrera, Ben Daniels, Geena Davis, Brianne Howey, Hannah Kasulka, Alan Ruck, Kurt Egylawan
Produced by: Jeremy Slater, James Robinson, David Robinson, Barbara Wall, Rolin Jones

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Surprisingly filmic and textured, Fox’s weekly version of the 1973 horror classic just might make some viewers’ heads turn, too.

It’s anything but a cheap-looking knockoff of The Exorcist and its indelible theme music. And the magnetic leading man, Alfonso Herrera, is going to go places whether or not The Exorcist becomes a Friday night staple like Fox’s The X-Files or quickly vanishes along with other short-lived feature film knockoffs ranging from Fox’s Minority Report to two versions of Uncle Buck, on CBS and then ABC.

Herrera is Chicago-based Catholic priest Father Tomas, pastor of a smallish St. Anthony congregation. He’s been having very bad dreams of late, all of them with visions of a demonically possessed Mexico City boy who’s at the mercy of both the devil and an older priest who’s desperately trying to pull him out of it. It turns out to be Father Marcus (Ben Daniels), who throwing every fiber of his being into somehow salvaging the kid.

Meanwhile, the Rance family has become quite a mess. Henry (Alan Ruck) has quietly gone nuts, it seems, while his wife, Angela (Geena Davis), is convinced that a demon is now trying to lay claim to her older recluse daughter, Katherine (Brianne Howley). Younger sis Casey (Hannah Kasulka) is caught in the middle while trying to curb whatever’s ailing Katherine. Or perhaps not.

Davis has matured into a character actress after breaking into the biz 31 years ago as the ingenue star of NBC’s short-lived sitcom Sara (with a cast that also included Alfre Woodard, Bill Maher and Bronson Pinchot). Her Angela Rance is effectively desperate, with Herrera’s Father Tomas finally agreeing to make a house call and see what’s up. A trip upstairs to the attic, from where some strange sounds are coming, serves to make a believer of him. And then that theme song kicks in -- and very effectively so while one of the daughters smiles not so benignly upon him from an upstairs window.

The other pivot point is Father Marcus making his way to Chicago and holing up at the St. Aquinas Retreat Center in hopes of finding a little peace of mind. But the two priests of course are fated to tag team whatever evil lurks, even after the emotionally scarred Marcus warns, “You’re being manipulated by forces you can’t even begin to understand.”

Fox has made only the premiere episode available for review. It’s suitably chilling and includes some convincing special effects that look as though they’ve got some real money behind them. Whether The Exorcist can keep delivering on its promise is worth finding out. Friday’s curtain-raiser makes a better than expected first impression while at the same time putting Herrera’s hunky, soulful and appealing lead priest in play. He’ll be just fine whether this latest feature film reprise continues to effectively rattle chains or ends up falling apart in future weeks.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

MacGyver re-do gives CBS another retro dud


The new runway model ready Angus “Mac” MacGyver. CBS photo

Premiering: Friday, Sept. 23rd at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Lucas Till, George Eads, Sandrine Holt, Tristin Mays, Justin Hires
Produced by: Peter Lenkov, Craig O’Neill, James Wan, Henry Winkler, Lee Zlotoff, Michael Clear

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CBS’ new and very prettified Angus “Mac” MacGyver presumably can chew gum and turn it into a tracking device at the same time.

He cannot, however, work wonders with this mechanically scripted and acted re-do of ABC’s durable MacGyver, which ran from 1985 to 1992 on ABC.

Stepping in for Richard Dean Anderson is 26-year-old newcomer Lucas Till, a Fort Hood, TX native who easily could still pass for a freshman on Glee. His abundance of narration during Friday’s premiere bespeaks the show’s seeming inability to pull off anything resembling natural-sounding dialogue. MacGyver otherwise bounces from one less than scintillating action scene to another, with a generic soundtrack of utmost urgency. Will MacGyver save the day? Snore.

Then as now, one of the executive producers is Henry Winkler, who in 1985 had just completed his superstar-making turn as Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli on Happy Days. Winkler remains one of Hollywood’s busiest entities, grinding out television entertainment from both behind and in front of the camera. He just completed a stint as himself in NBC’s Better Late Than Never, a goofball Ugly American outing in Asia with fellow seniors William Shatner, George Foreman and Terry Bradshaw. The ratings were pretty strong, which likely means another one of these next summer.

The new MacGyver begins with the title character’s introduction of his teammates before he infiltrates a posh party in search of a hidden, glowing biological weapon. Nikki Carpenter (Tracy Spiridakos) is “the best senior analyst in the business” while Jack Dalton (former CSI: Crime Scene Investigation co-star George Eads) cracks wise as a maverick ex-CIA agent.

“What do I do now? Little of this, little of that,” MacGyver narrates before entering the party in a tux and then impersonating a waiter. But not everything goes as planned, prompting Nikki to shout from her command post, “Mac! Get out of there now!”

Your pulse is supposed to be racing at this point. But I had to check mine to make sure it hadn’t shut down.

After further developments, which are supposed to be shocking, MacGyver lurches into “Three Months Later” mode and introduces two more characters.

Wilt Bozer (Justin Hires) is Mac’s slap-happy black roommate, and unfortunately seems like a throwback to Rochester from CBS’ old Jack Benny Program for those old enough to have grown up during television’s formative years. There’s also sarcastic Riley Davis (Tristin Maya), who’s sprung from the California Supermax Prison because she has skills the team can use. Providing marching orders is director of operations Patricia Thornton (Sandrine Holt), who at one point is called on to emote, “The clock’s ticking. We need you.” And later: “This is a damned catastrophe of biblical proportions.”

So yeah, that all-powerful biological weapon remains at large, and only MacGyver and company can avert a possible Armageddon. Our hero is soon racing after a plane while telling viewers, “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. This is insane.”

The resultant explosions look cheap and the cliche-pocked script keeps self-destructing -- “We’re running out of time, Mac” -- before the bad guys are neutralized. MacGyver deploys a few household items to make all of this happen, but not all that inventively or interestingly. Till’s acting remains a work in progress, if that.

Viewers might be better served if CBS simply filed for creative bankruptcy at this point rather than continue to pound out the likes of MacGyver, Kevin Can Wait and another upcoming paint-by-the-numbers sitcom starring Matt LeBlanc as a vexed stay-at-home dad. While rivals ABC, NBC and Fox all show some creative sparks this fall, television’s most storied broadcast network continues to run in place and went Emmy-less Sunday night during the 68th annual prime-time awards ceremony.

MacGyver has less chance of winning an Emmy than its namesake has of being stumped on how to turn a hair dryer into a stun-gun.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Notorious leaves a ring around the cable news and legal professions, but not in a way that makes it watchable


Piper Perabo, Daniel Sunjata have each other’s backs in Notorious. ABC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Piper Perabo, Daniel Sunjata, Kate Jennings Grant, Aimee Teegarden, J. August Richards, Sepideh Moafi, Ryan Guzzman, Kevin Zegers
Produced by: Mark Geragos, Wendy Walker, Josh Berman, Allie Hagan, Michael Engler, Kenny Meiselas, Jeff Kwatinetz, Josh Barry

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Retitle it Noxious and at least there’d be truth in packaging. Not that it would improve the series otherwise known as Notorious.

Revolving around a hit cable news show, its principal characters are one big batch of conniving, self-absorbed pile-drivers who of course also are very pretty on the outside. “Inspired” by the real-life tales of defense attorney Mark Geragos and news producer Wendy Walker, ABC says its latest serial string-along is a “provocative look at the unique, sexy and dangerous interplay of criminal law and the media.”

Actually, it’s more of an indictment of cable news and relatable storytelling. None of these characters are likely to resonate in the least with people who need people they can care about or at least avidly root against.

Central to this thing is Julia George (Piper Perabo), producer of the supposedly wildly influential Louise Herrick Live. Its anchor (played by Kate Jennings Grant) is an amoral cougar who’d poison her grandma as a means to an end, but definitely wouldn’t sleep with Larry King unless he could guarantee her eternal life. She greatly prefers the company of sculpted, bare-chested young men at all hours of the day and night, oftentimes at the workplace in her bra and panties.

For her part, Julia also is first seen groaning in the dark at her place of employment. Her stimulator is boyfriend Eric Jessup (Marc Blucas), a hunky federal judge.

Julia otherwise is in bed, figuratively for now, with dashing, high-powered attorney Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata). He feeds her exclusive interviews, and she makes sure they help his clients. It’s a thoroughly unethical arrangement that possibly matters not anymore to many real-life cable news producers and presidents. Although they’d all publicly disavow the goings-on in Notorious, saying this would never be tolerated on their watches. Because, you know, they’re all about Journalism with a capital J.

In Thursday’s premiere episode, one of Jake’s clients, filthy rich tech mogul Oscar Keaton (Kevin Zegers), is arrested and charged with the hit-and-run murder of a 15-year-old. Julia, only concerned with pumping up ratings, works hand in hand with Jake to both create misdirection and nab “exclusives.” Louise Herrick Live won’t settle for anything less. Because, after all, says a newsroom underling, “She decides what the country cares about. She creates heroes and monsters, victims and villains.”

A cable news potentate with that kind of power has never existed in fact -- and is laughable in fiction. Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews and even the recently jettisoned Nancy Grace might readily admit that.

The plot otherwise careens all over the place before leaving a dead body and an unknown assailant hanging in the balance. Fading Katie Couric also drops in for a show-closing cameo as herself, but primarily for the purposes of crediting Louise Herrick Live with another scoop. Just how desperate is she these days?

This is a show without any nutritive value, innate appeal or sense of purpose. It slogs through its muck until the buzzer sounds -- but at least looks glossy in doing so. The biggest shock of all would be if large numbers of viewers actually come back for more.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Pitch perfect? Fox's new baseball series comes pretty close


Ginny Baker’s first start prompts a summit meeting. Fox photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Kylie Bunbury, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Ali Larter, Mark Consuelos, Dan Lauria, Mo McRae, Tim Jo
Produced by: Dan Fogelman, Rick Singer, Paris Barclay, Kevin Falls, Tony Bill, Helen Bartlett, Jesse Rosenthal

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Television is still pitching a no-hitter with series built around baseball.

There have been only a handful of plate appearances, beginning with Ball Four, a 1976 CBS comedy adapted from the same-named Jim Bouton bestseller. It lasted five weeks. Add Bay City Blues, Hardball, Back In the Game and small-screen versions of two feature film hits, The Bad News Bears and A League of Their Own. All were big ratings flops. And no, series about slovenly, washed-up ex-ballplayers don’t count. So discount HBO’s Eastbound & Down, which had a four-season run on HBO, with Danny McBride as a middle school phy ed teacher.

Based on a very strong opening episode, it’s hoped that Pitch will break this long losing streak. It’s on a network, Fox, that previously made broadcast network history by turning Empire not only into a smash hit, but the first predominantly African-American drama series to survive beyond a single season.

Pitch has the full cooperation of Major League Baseball and the San Diego Padres. So you won’t see an embarrassingly fake big league team like the Pioneers from Fox’s 1994 Hardball series.The baseball action is convincingly staged and the premise isn’t all that surreal anymore. Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) has been called up from the minors to the Padres to be the first woman ever to pitch in a major league game. The director of the episode, accomplished Paris Barclay (NYPD Blue, The West Wing, In Treatment and numerous other high quality series), terms it “a true story that happens tomorrow.” He’s probably right about that. It’s just a matter of time.

We begin with Ginny awakening in a hotel room strewn with fruit and flower arrangements. Supportive signed cards from Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton are shown in closeup, with the Democratic presidential nominee enthusing, “Bill and I couldn’t be rooting for you more! And, of course, on a more personal level, I’m a little partial to someone trying to be the first woman to do something.”

Clinton won’t approve a following message, though. Ginny’s brusque and protective agent, Amelia Slater (Ali Larter), describes her prized new client as “Hillary Clinton with sex appeal. She is a Kardashian with a skill set. She’s the most important woman on the planet right now.”

Let’s get back to the playing field, where many might not recognize Mark-Paul Gosselaar at first glance. He’s in full beard as ring-wise All-Star catcher Mike Lawson, who clearly is modeled after Kevin Costner’s “Crash” Davis from Bull Durham. Lawson already has excelled in “The Show,” though, and is the Padres’ team leader and captain. He’s also an “ass-slapper,” to which Ginny takes immediate offense when she’s on the receiving end. But Lawson quickly disarms the rookie before reaming her out. Gosselaar’s got his latest TV character by the balls, and is something of a revelation as equal parts father figure and out-of-uniform ladies’ man.

Ginny, firmly and impressively played by Bunbury, has been schooled by her taskmaster father, Bill Baker (guest star Michael Beach), who taught her the screwball as a “secret weapon” that just might get her to the Bigs. Her transformation is captured in flashbacks, with dad never satisfied. His mantra: “We ain’t done nothin’ yet.”

Other characters conform to stereotype. Dan Lauria is the Padres’ grizzled old school manager, Al Luongo, who welcomes Ginny as best he can under circumstances he can’t control. There’s also resentful pitcher Tommy Miller (Ryan Dorsey) and a former minor league teammate of Ginny’s named Blip Sanders (Mo McRae). Now a Padres outfielder, he serves as her buffer and defender.

Redoubtable Bob Balaban plays team owner Frank Reid and Mark Consuelos is general manager Oscar Arguella, who’s more than unusually hunky for that particular profession. But Pitch apparently feels the need to have someone to hit on Larter’s Slater in anticipation of future off-field activities and “drama.”

The series also deploys a roster of real-life Fox sports talent, including Colin Cowherd (ugh), Garbage Time host Katie Nolan and the baseball announcing team of Joe Buck and John Smoltz. The latter two bring more than a little to this party as announcers for Ginny’s first two starts. Not to give too much away, but it initially doesn’t go very well for her.

“I’m gonna go home. Can I just go home?” Smoltz says at one point.

“You have to stay here,” Buck insists. “Don’t leave me alone for this.”

What happens on the field has the feel of a major league game, with no one involved looking as though they’ve discovered a ball, bat and glove for the first time. Pitch also does a terrific job of building the drama and bringing them home. The inevitable bonding between Lawson and Ginny, during an emergency mound conference, goes from cringe-worthy and cliche-ridden to salvageable via his parting line.

Pitch throws a surprise curveball at episode’s end, as did NBC’s new This Is Us earlier this week. Inventive, non-telegraphed twists are increasingly difficult to pull off, but in both cases they fooled me -- and perhaps you as well.

The producers of Pitch of course say that it’s a character-driven drama with baseball action in the mix but not a focal point of each weekly episode. Episode One, however, is appealingly diamond-centric, with Ginny’s travails and resolve (plus some well-chosen mood music) providing more than enough tension to engage even hardcore non-sports fans. Metaphorically or not, it’s now “Game on.” Let’s see what Pitch has got after its first episode lands somewhere between a triple and a home run.


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Fox's Lethal Weapon brings its own ammo


The man in the middle is constantly irked by the other two. Fox photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 21st at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Damon Wayans, Clayne Crawford, Kevin Rahm, Keesha Sharp, Jordana Brewster, Johnathan Fernandez, Chandler Kinney, Dante Brown
Produced by: Matt Miller, Dan Lin, McG, Jennifer Gwartz

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Well, it doesn’t lack for energy. The preferred language of TV producers is “high octane thrill ride.”

Fox’s “re-imagining” of Lethal Weapon offers a premiere episode full of preposterous car chases and gunfights plus more than the usual amount of “humanity.” It’s an overall slick, good-looking production, with hyperkinetic co-executive producer McG (Joseph McGinty Nichol) also in the director’s chair. He’s previously been at the throttles of two Charlie’s Angels feature films, Terminator Salvation, 3 Days to Kill and the short-lived 2002 TV series Fastlane. So when this guy says “Action,” he means it.

There were four Lethal Weapon films, all of them fronted by Mel Gibson as crazed former Navy SEAL turned detective Martin Riggs and Danny Glover in the more domesticated role of detective Roger Murtaugh. Given the current states of their careers, the TV reboot isn’t much of a markdown. Clayne Crawford is Riggs, and it’s quite a transformation from his brooding, antagonistic co-starring role on Rectify. And everyone knows Damon Wayans, who plays Murtaugh.

Crawford’s version of Riggs broods at the outset, however. As in the first movie, he’s lost his first wife to a car accident. She also was on her way to the hospital to deliver their first child while Riggs finished apprehending a runaway crook in El Paso. Her death sends him into slo-mo devastation at the hospital before the heavy drinking kicks in and continues for the next six months.

Meanwhile, Murtaugh is preparing to return to the LAPD after mending from heart bypass surgery. He’s also just turned 50, and proposes sex with his lovely wife, Trish (Keesha Sharp) “for medicinal purposes.” This is interrupted, of course, when their infant girl cries out.

Returning to work without any sugar, Murtaugh is told by Capt. Avery Brooks (Kevin Rahm from Mad Men) that he’s getting a new partner. They first meet at the scene of a bank hostage standoff, with the still semi-suicidal Riggs strolling in as a pizza delivery man to defuse the situation. After a little quippy foreplay, the masked bad guys all get their appropriate doses of hot lead from a guy who’s still amazingly quick on the draw.

Next up is a dead body on a mountaintop. It’s been made to look like a suicide, which means it’s not. “This man served his country. We’re going to give him a proper investigation,” Riggs tells Murtaugh after spotting the corpse’s dog tags.

Crawford and Wayans prove to be a pretty good fit, as actors if not always as partners. The at-home scenes, with Murtaugh donning a “Kiss the Chef!” apron, are quite nicely played, particularly after Trish invites Riggs in for dinner and banter. Wayans, in his first dramatic role of note, makes a surprisingly smooth transition while Crawford seems tailor made for the showier role of vulnerable, irreverent “cowboy” cop. It adds up to more than simply marking time between action sequences, which include a high-speed chase in the middle of a downtown Grand Prix race and not one, but two bullet wounds for Riggs during the course of subduing the opening episode’s principal villains.

In times of hyper-sensitivity, some might take offense that the main bad guys are Mexicans, or that Murtaugh slings the line, “Hey, hey, hold on, Chico.” But Lethal Weapon no doubt will get around to apprehending its share of snarling white knuckle-draggers. So let’s just see how that goes.

Lethal Weapon, paired with the still highly potent Empire in Fox’s Wednesday night lineup, looks as though it might have a winning blend of two well-matched lead actors and a Walker, Texas Ranger-sized helping of weekly bang/boom/vroom. The opening hour clicks on all those fronts.

GRADE: B-minus

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Speechless aims to open eyes, hit some comedy sweet spots


Meet the DiMeos, headed by boss mom Minnie Driver. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 21st at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Minnie Driver, John Ross Bowie, Micah Fowler, Mason Cook, Kyla Kenedy, Cedric Yarborough
Produced by: Scott Silveri, Jake Kasdan, Melvin Mar

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ABC, official home of combustible but “traditional” mom, dad and the kids nuclear families, adds its ninth with Speechless. And a 10th is coming in mid-October with American Housewife.

Even in the days of Leave It to Beaver, has a single broadcast network ever banked so heavily on domestic lives for laughs? Once the fall wave subsides, I’ll do a little further research.

The incumbents are Modern Family, The Middle, The Goldbergs, black-ish, Last Man Standing, Dr. Ken, Fresh Off the Boat and The Real O’Neals. Together they cover a lot of bases, races and sexual identities. But Speechless is ABC’s first sitcom with a real-life special needs kid. Micah Fowler plays JJ DiMeo, who’s in a wheelchair, is non-verbal and communicates via his expressions and an alphabet tablet.

Minnie Driver otherwise is the very vocal focal point as JJ’s very highly insistent mother, Maya. This is a fierce performance but not an off-putting one. And after a ridiculous opening bit -- in which Maya recklessly drives the entire family to a restaurant whose 50 percent off coupon will expire in three minutes -- both Driver and the show settle into a solid and for the most part amusing groove.

The DiMeos have continually moved around in deference to Maya’s search for the elusive “perfect situation” for JJ. Their latest travels take them to upscale Newport Beach, where Maya has found a barely affordable but severely dilapidated and badly located house.

Maya’s husband, Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), is close to being a doofus dad but also has an appealing whimsy gene that makes him more than a one-note Dagwood Bumstead. The other two children are daughter Dylan (Kyla Kenedy) and other son, Ray (Mason Cook), who feels kind of neglected. At JJ’s latest new school, where he’s rather condescendingly welcomed as a “hero,” a groundskeeper named Kenneth (Cedric Yarborough) enters the picture to both spar with Maya and gradually bond with JJ as his new ad hoc caregiver.

In case anyone might wonder for even a second, Maya greatly objects to any use of the word “cripple” while demanding that JJ gets an access ramp at the school entrance rather than at the back end where deliveries are made. Driver acts up a storm that borders on a typhoon in Wednesday’s stage-setting premiere episode. Her character is ever over-compensating while son Ray chafes before finally speaking his mind in a scene that’s both obligatory and affecting.

JJ emerges as a character for whom one feels empathy but not pity. He’s got his own ‘tude, which brings home the point that people with disabilities want to be treated with respect but not as though they’re made of easily breakable porcelain.

ABC family comedies with moms afire date to the network’s groundbreaking Roseanne. The network already has a very formidable roster, whether it’s Patricia Heaton’s “Frankie” Heck (The Middle); Wendi McLendon-Covey’s Beverly Goldberg (The Goldbergs); Tracee Ellis Ross’ Rainbow Johnson (black-ish); Sofia Vergara’s Gloria Pritchett (Modern Family; Constance Wu’s Jessica Huang (Fresh Off the Boat; or Martha Plimpton’s Eileen O’Neal (The Real O’Neals).

Driver’s Maya is so imposing that the cops won’t arrest for her for speeding because it’s just way too much of a headache. But whether behind the wheel or otherwise, she’s the driving force of a show that otherwise introduces a sitcom kid we haven’t seen before. In an ideal world, his disability will cease to be any kind of a “gimmick” as Speechless strives to become a funny series above all else.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Designated Survivor gives Kiefer another world crisis but a meeker demeanor


Kiefer Sutherland solemnly swears in Designated Survivor. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 21st at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone, Adam Canto, Maggie Q, Kal Penn, Italia Ricci, Malik Yoba, Tanner Buchanan, McKenna Grace
Produced by: David Guggenheim, Simon Kinberg, Kiefer Sutherland, Suzan Bymel, Mark Gordon, Aditya Sood, Nick Pepper, Jon Feldman

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The broadcast networks’ most anticipated new fall drama series finds the nation’s capitol split in two after a devastating attack of unknown origin.

Donald Trump can’t wait to tweet about how “soft” we’ve become while Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t at all mind gearing up to save the world again.

The series is Designated Survivor, which looks like a badly needed hit for ABC unless viewers unaccountably have grown weary of their national institutions being blown up for dramatic purposes. Wednesday’s opening episode, the only one made available for review, solidly sets the hook while only partly weaning Sutherland from all those years as Jack Bauer on 24 (which Fox plans to reboot without the Jack Bauer character following the Feb. 5th Super Bowl).

Sutherland plays the initially bespectacled Tom Kirkman, a policy wonk who’s about to be jettisoned as secretary of housing and urban development by the President who appointed him. Crestfallen Tom is wearily reconciled to taking a throwaway ambassador position while his attorney wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) balks at uprooting their family again and taking her away from a job she loves.

Before any of this can be resolved, Tom is ordered to hunker down as “the designated survivor” while everyone else of any consequence is on site for the State of the Union address. At least it allows him to dress down in jeans and a gray, hooded Cornell sweatshirt while having a beer in a protected underground hideaway. But then, boom. Followed quickly by, “Sir, you are now the President of the United States.”

Sutherland at times succumbs to his breathless Jack whisper/rasp. But he’s otherwise fairly convincing in the role of a married dad with two demanding kids whose previous idea of action was a subsidized, affordable apartment complex in a low-income neighborhood. Now he’s beset by a prototypically bellicose, war-thirsty, scheming general and doubters all around. The guy can’t even vomit in a toilet without hearing someone in the next stall diss him as an ineffectual underling who will never cut it. This turns out to be the newly deceased President’s speechwriter, Seth Wright (Kal Penn).

“Well, maybe I’ll surprise you,” Tom tells the surprised Seth, who’s then ordered to write him a national address of import and resolve.

The two kids are little Penny “Peanut” Kirkman (McKenna Grace), who’s already adept at manipulating daddy, and problematic teen son Leo (Tanner Buchanan). He appears to be doing some something illicit at a club before the FBI tracks him down.

Maggie Q joins in as FBI agent Hannah Welles, who quickly asserts herself and plunges into an investigation of the attack. And Italia Ricci plays Emily Rhodes, formerly secretary Tom’s dedicated chief of staff.

The accidental president girds himself by the minute while being introduced to the “nuclear football” in a full-blown “DefCon Two” crisis. Iran is quickly fingered as an unprincipled enemy seeking to capitalize on this cataclysmic situation. But Tom’s cooler, calmer head begins to take hold, even as he tells his wife, “I’m not the guy for this.” Hang in there, though, because Jack Bauer has encountered far worse and duplicitous Presidents season-to-season on 24.

Designated Survivor’s challenge will be to keep all of these balls rolling without bogging down or succumbing to thick coats of melodrama in terms of Tom’s domestic roles as husband and father. The premiere ends with the new President about to make his first TV presentation after speechwriter Seth has told him, “You can’t be relaxed and disarming. That’s not gonna work anymore.”

Now it’s up to the scriptwriters to convincingly “grow” Tom into the job while testing both his principles and his ability to navigate the wicked Washington, D.C. thicket. Fighting global terrorism is only part of the job. And given our ongoing toxic political climate, it sometimes almost seems like the easier part.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

FX steps up to join HBO in major Emmy awards driver's seat


Game of Thrones again rode high, repeating as best drama series. Photo: Ed Bark

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Perennial kingpin HBO found itself sharing the spotlight with FX Sunday night at a 68th annual prime-time Emmy awards ceremony dominated by three shows.

HBO won the two marquee prizes, with Game of Thrones and Veep respectively repeating as best drama and comedy series. FX’s The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime ruled the best limited series category with five wins, the most of any nominee. Each network ended up with six Emmys to lead all contenders.

In the combined “major” and “creative arts” Emmy awards, the two networks also reigned supreme, with HBO winning 22 to FX’s 18. Both totals were twice as many as the nearest contender, Netflix, which won three major and six creative arts Emmys. The Big Four broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC -- had a grand total of 19 Emmys, and only four during the Sunday night festivities. PBS won eight total Emmys, more than any single commercial broadcast network, while CBS was shut out in the major categories.

At the 2015 prime-time Emmys, HBO crushed the opposition by winning 14 of the 27 major trophies while FX won none. So this easily easily was FX’s best Emmy showing ever on a night marked by the usual references to diversity and sparked by host Jimmy Kimmel’s irreverent bits and ad libs. He got two huge and well-earned laughs, the first after Jill Soloway, creator/writer/director of Amazon Prime’s transgender series Transparent, ended her acceptance speech by grandly calling on the television industry to “topple the patriarchy.”

Kimmel then stepped onstage to quip, “I’m trying to figure out if ‘topple the patriarchy’ is a good thing for me or not. I don’t think it is.”

Later in the night, Courtney B. Vance won an acting Emmy for his portrayal of the late Johnnie Cochran in People v. O. J. Simpson. Kimmel went for the shiv: “I have to believe that Johnnie Cochran is somewhere smiling up at us tonight.”

Not as well received was a voice-over introduction of “four-time Emmy Award winner, Dr. Bill Cosby.”

The audience reacted in virtually stunned silence before Kimmel gingerly re-took the stage and said, “He’s not really here. I just wanted to see what you guys would do.” A certified mind reader might have deduced Kimmel thinking at that point, “Um, bad idea.”

The host also put himself at the mercy of nightly Jimmy Kimmel Live foil Matt Damon -- the show never has time for him -- after HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver won for best variety talk series. Kimmel was a nominee in the category, prompting Damon to stroll onstage munching an apple to deadpan, “I missed the last category. Did you win?” He then reacted joyously to Kimmel’s admission that Oliver’s show took the Emmy.

It was a night of usual suspects, also first-timers in two major weekly series categories. Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus won as best actress in a comedy series for the fifth straight year; Regina King won again, but in an entirely different role for ABC’s American Crime; an again absent Maggie Smith collected another Emmy for PBS’ Downton Abbey; and Jeffrey Tambor repeated for his role in Transparent (with Kimmel handing him a statue at the outset of the show to signify he was a lock).

Smith, who has never attended an Emmy ceremony despite nine nominations over the years, joked during his opening monologue that “this time she had a Sunday ceramics class that she couldn’t get out of.” After she won, he jabbed that her latest trophy would be kept in Lost and Found for her. (For the record, Smith is 81 and perhaps doesn’t travel as well these days.)

Emmy’s notable first-time winners in the best actor/actress categories were Rami Malek for USA’s Mr. Robot and Tatiana Maslany for BBC America’s Orphan Black. Vance, Sarah Paulson (Marcia Clark in People v. O. J.), Sterling K. Brown (Christopher Darden in People v. O. J.) and Louie Anderson of FX’s Baskets also took home their first Emmys.

Paulson brought the real-life Clark as her date, prompting Kimmel to ask, “Are you rooting for O. J. to win this time?” She laughed it up. In her acceptance speech, Paulson apologized to Clark for mis-judging her efforts and character after Simpson was acquitted in 1995 for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Game of Thrones’ night-ending 39th Emmy win as best drama series broke a record of 38 overall wins that it shared with NBC’s Frasier. For its sixth season alone, GOT won three major and nine creative arts Emmys to lead all contenders.

One more thing: In a hit-and-miss opening film on Kimmel’s twisted path to get to the Emmys on time, the unexpected comedy gold proved to be failed 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

Kimmel briefly hitched a ride in a limo chauffeured by Bush, who noted that you can make $12 an hour as an Uber driver. “Are you nominated? He then asked. “Wow, what’s that like?”

Bush also told Kimmel that “if you run a positive campaign (for an Emmy award), the voters will ultimately make the right choice.” When Kimmel swallowed that whole, Bush barked, “That was a joke!” and kicked him out of the car. Furthermore, “Shave that beard off your face, you godless Hollywood hippie.”

For a complete list of Sunday night’s 27 winners, go to the Television Academy’s official site.

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NBC's This Is Us deserves and needs your helping hand


Their 36th birthdays unite the cast of This Is Us. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 20th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K. Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Harley, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Sullivan
Produced by: Dan Fogelman, Jess Rosenthal, Charlie Gogolak, John Requa, Glenn Ficarra

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Wikipedia so far has scant information on NBC’s new This Is Us. Just a cast list and the description: “The series tells the story of people born on the same day.”

OK, be that way, even though the printed setup for this unusual and very inviting ensemble drama is basically built on a Wikipedia foundation. “This is a fact,” it says. “According to Wikipedia, the average human being shares his or her birthday with over 18 million other human beings. There is no evidence that sharing the same birthday creates any type of behavioral link between those people. If there is . . . Wikipedia hasn’t discovered it for us yet.”

It’s hoped that viewers -- and Wikipedia -- will discover this show. Of all the new fall series, it’s the toughest to pin down in terms of what it’s all about and how very deftly it switches a perception switch in the closing minutes. But if you’re looking for the increasingly hard-pressed broadcast networks to challenge cable with something truly different, then NBC is the prime address this fall. This Is Us joins The Good Place, which is being sneak-previewed on Monday, Sept. 19th, in the realm of the distinctly different -- as opposed to Fox’s remakes of Lethal Weapon and The Exorcist, and CBS’ MacGyver burp-up.

Things begin rather daringly with an opening shot of Milo Ventimiglia’s bare behind. This is anything but a big deal in a basic cable drama, but not often seen on NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox since NYPD Blue jarred some sensibilities 23 falls ago. (Its very intentional “adult” approach, as a direct response to cable’s leeway, resulted in a two-season preemption by Dallas-based WFAA-TV, which in turn was dubbed “Chapel 8.”)

The bounce-around Ventimiglia, best known for his work on NBC’s Heroes, plays a guy named Jack, who’s celebrating his 36th birthday. His wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), pregnant with triplets and on the verge of delivering, struggles to be in a party mood.

Also turning 36 are the morbidly obese Kate (Chrissy Metz) and her sculpted twin brother, Kevin (Justin Hartley), the increasingly unhappy star of a lame sitcom called The Manny. The other 36th birthday celebrant is Randall (Sterling K. Brown from The People V. O. J. Simpson: American Crime). He’s a very prosperous businessman whose wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), is supportive of his efforts to locate the father he’s never known -- the one who dumped him off at a fire station after his crack addict mother died.

So this is quite a blend from the start, with This Is Us quickly advancing the story lines while also making room for a memorable stint by Gerald McRaney as an elderly doctor brought in to deliver Rebecca’s triplets after her regular MD has a medical emergency. McRaney brings some letter-perfect touches to this semi-gruff but wholly compassionate character. Another guest star, Alan Thicke as himself, doesn’t resonate the way McRaney does. But he also adds rather than subtracts from the drama at hand.

It can get a bit mawkish in spots, but nowhere near the point of spoiling an overall uplifting opening episode. This is a series that looks to be most reminiscent of NBC’s Parenthood, which was never a major hit but built a loyal core audience that sustained the series for six seasons. Accentuating the positives in a human drama without crime-solving, daring rescues, medical miracles, the supernatural or courtroom intrigue can be a very tough sell, but still not an impossible one.

This Is Us assumedly will have to add more characters and birthdays if it gets the long-range opportunity to do so. Given its surprising closing minutes (well, they certainly fooled me), this looks like a drama with a heart, a pulse and also the ability to skip a beat. Tuesday night’s affecting premiere for the most part tends to move along rather predictably -- until it doesn’t. Here’s hoping they somehow can keep it that way.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CBS hopes to create a Bull market via optimum product placement


Ex-NCIS co-star Michael Weatherly is on his own in Bull. CBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 20th at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Michael Weatherly, Geneva Carr, Freddy Rodriguez, Annabelle Anastasio, Chris Jackson, Jaime Lee Kirchner
Produced by: Mark Goffman, Paul Attanasio, Dr. Phil McGraw, Steven Spielberg, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Jay McGraw

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Audience “flow” isn’t what it used to be in times of DVRs, On Demand options and streaming sites that quickly provide viewers with what they might have missed or what they plan to binge on.

Even so, the generally older CBS audience is more set in its ways than most. And if ever a new series was perfectly placed, it’s Bull. Michael Weatherly, who spent 13 seasons as Anthony “Tony” DiNozzo on NCIS, is now fronting a show airing immediately after NCIS and leading into another CBS ratings winner, NCIS: New Orleans. It’s tough to flop under such circumstances, assuming that Weatherly’s fan base is built on more than just the NCIS brand.

He plays Dr. Jason Bull, a cocksure character “inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw,” says CBS. Squint and you still won’t see a young Dr. Phil, though. Weatherly comes equipped with a big shock of hair, doesn’t have a mustache, is better built and all in all looks pretty damned dreamy. So this is more of a Dr. Phil fever dream.

Bull’s the head man at the sleek, state-of-the-art Trial Analysis Corporation, which is dedicated to the cynical but often all too true proposition that virtually anyone can beat a murder rap if the right jury is in play.

“The way to win is to know your jurors down to their neurons,” proclaims Marissa Morgan (Geneva Carr), Bull’s all-business “neurolinguistics expert.”

The premiere episode centers on the case of a smirking rich kid charged with murdering a young woman who washes up ashore. His attorney, played by guest star Peter Francis James, is both old-school and ridiculously solemn in tone and demeanor. This makes him an easy mark for Bull’s flip-offs, which include a recitation of the old Big Mac jingle (there’s later an Arby’s reference, too) in an effort to convince the defense that its simpleton “try the facts” approach is more outdated than the new CBS sitcom Kevin Can Wait. (Okay, he doesn’t quite put it that way.)

Bull, whose seven executive producers include both Dr. Phil and Steven Spielberg, deploys an added gimmick in which jurors’ thoughts are expressed verbally during trials while the title character “listens” intently. A young male juror, for instance, says he’s “so hung over.”

Meanwhile, dogged Marissa keeps digging for ways to exploit various jurors’ prejudices and predispositions. At one point, pictures are produced of a woman encased in “Japanese bondage rope” while ostensibly having sex with the rich kid defendant. “Thirty-six percent of Americans use masks, blindfolds and bondage tools, which makes handcuffs in bed more popular than either political party,” Marissa deadpans. (Usage varies, though, and I’m thinking that the CBS audience may not be as into this as, say, regular viewers of Cinemax.)

Bull eventually twists and turns itself into a verdict after Bull trains his team’s crosshairs on a juror who’s deemed to be both sympathetic to their side and highly persuasive during deliberations. Is it really all that simple? And wouldn’t you still rather have Perry Mason in your corner with his penetrating “Isn’t it true?” laser beam of a cross-examination?

That said, Weatherly is the here, the now and the only overriding reason to watch Bull. On his own or in the NCIS ensemble, his star quality is obvious and likely enough to carry Bull through a multi-season run. The time slot doesn’t hurt either. Even Bull’s Trial Analysis Corporation couldn’t have selected it any better.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Good Place gives NBC a Cloud Nine of a comedy


Kristen Bell & Ted Danson are on high in The Good Place. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 19th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC before moving to regular Thursday, 7:30 p.m. slot
Starring: Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, Manny Jacinto, D’Arcy Carden
Produced by: Mike Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, Drew Goddard

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Producer/writer Mike Schur, a k a “Ken Tremendous,” is someone any network should want on its team.

Equipped with a sure-footed but decidedly swervy mind of his own, the former Saturday Night Live writer has matriculated to NBC’s The Office and Parks and Recreation, and Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

NBC’s new The Good Place, being showcased Monday with back-to-back episodes after the season premiere of The Voice, is Schur’s first flight as a solo pilot. This fantastical look at the afterlife is all his own doing. Not surprisingly, it shines through and stands out as the fall season’s best new comedy among the major broadcast networks.

A strong concept and worthy words on the page are elemental first steps for any TV series. Then comes the casting, which can make or break the whole deal. In Kristen Bell, Schur and NBC seemingly couldn’t have chosen better. Her Eleanor Shellstrop begins The Good Place by opening her eyes to a sign that tells her, “Welcome! Everything Is Fine.”

Well, it won’t be. Because the newly deceased Eleanor knows full well that she’s not worthy to be among the very select few who “lived one of the very best lives that could have been lived.” As recurring flashbacks keep attesting, she got through life as a heavy-drinking, manipulative, self-absorbed earthling who did very well for herself by bilking the elderly. But in this immediate future, Eleanor has the blessing of an upbeat mentor named Michael (Ted Danson in bow ties and specs). He gives her the lay of this bright, primary-colored land after noting that organized religions down below generally get only about five percent of it right regarding what the afterlife is really like. Furthermore, membership is so restricted that the likes of Mozart, Picasso, Elvis and every U.S. president since Abraham Lincoln have failed to make the cut and instead are in The Bad Place. As opposed to The Good Place.

Yes, there’s a lot to digest for newcomers, all of whom also are paired with a “soulmate” to ease the transition to a carefree life with all the free frozen yogurt one cares to eat. Eleanor’s supposedly perfect match is Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), a Senegal native and college professor. Before the end of Monday’s opening half-hour, Chidi learns directly from Eleanor of the “big mistake” that’s been made. But perhaps he can coach her into becoming a better person instead of an evictee. Which will take a lot of work.

There are three other characters of note throughout the first five episodes made available for review. Tahani Al-Jameel (Jameela Jamil) is Eleanor’s relentlessly upbeat next door neighbor, whose abode is a sprawling mansion compared to the newcomer’s utilitarian, box-shaped digs. Tahani’s soulmate is a mute buddhist monk named Jianyu (Manny Jacinto). Or is he?

Michael also has an assistant named Janet (D’Arcy Carden), whom he’s trying to program while also fighting off his recurring insecurities. “I’m not a mountain of strength. I’m a canyon of poo-poo,” he laments in a memorable although not particularly well-written line.

The Good Place has some sprightly special effects in the early going, with mini-cliffhangers also deployed to bait viewers into returning the following week. But the strength is with the human characters and their unfolding past/present lives. Bell leads the way with a vigorous performance that perfectly captures Eleanor’s imperfections. Her propensity for profanity on earth is a running joke, with The Good Place deploying a magical AutoCorrect-ish filtering system that has Eleanor instead spouting “Motherforker!” or “That’s bull shirt.”

Jameel as Tahani (“Hurrah!” she regularly declares) and Harper as Chidi likewise strongly inhabit their characters while Danson winningly plays against type as the alternately becalmed and frazzled Michael.

So will The Good Place end up being a like-minded descendant of The Truman Show? Is its very existence doomed by Eleanor’s fraudulent presence? Will she ever come back down to earth? Are there deeper meanings to be had? Will anyone from the cast of Lost come wandering in? Or might someone preach from a real-life pulpit about an “attack” on Heaven by the iniquitous NBC?

The Good Place for the most part is so much fun that any or all of these answers may be beside the point. Bell’s ringing declaration in Episode 5 -- “I am revved up to learn, man! My brain is horny!” -- is so perfectly and amusingly delivered that it ought to be an Exhibit A in comedic acting classes. Her character is a fraud who so far doesn’t belong, but Bell herself is the very best thing about The Good Place. Long may it live -- in the hereafter and in the Peacock’s prime-time lineup.

GRADE: A-minus

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CBS opens its starting gate to Kevin Can Wait


Kevin James and Erinn Hayes spar in Kevin Can Wait. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 19th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Kevin James, Erinn Hayes, Taylor Spreitler, Mary-Charles Jones, James DiGiacomo, Ryan Cartwright, Lenny Venito, Gary Valentine, Leonard Earl Howze
Produced by: Kevin James, Bruce Helford, Rock Reuben, Jeff Sussman, Andy Fickman, Tony Sheehan

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Unfortunately for viewers, Kevin Can Wait didn’t.

On the contrary, it’s CBS’ first new fall series out of the chute with a stupefying Monday night sneak-preview hammocked between the season premiere of The Big Bang Theory and a two-hour re-investigation into the JonBenet Ramsey case.

This likely means substantial “sampling” of Kevin James’ return to CBS in essentially the same role he played on King of Queens. He’s again a lout of a tubby hubby with a thin, attractive wife playing the grownup.

A pair of moneymaking Paul Blart movies gave James something of a big screen presence while removing any and all traces of subtlety from his comedy. In Kevin Can Wait, he’s a newly retired New York cop whose closest pals on the force also are calling it quits after 20 years of supposedly protecting and serving.

Kevin can hardly wait to do anything he pleases, particularly beer-drinking at all hours. His wife, Donna (Erinn Hayes), seems fully prepared to indulge him, even though two of their three children still live at home. His game plan is to play non-stop following a retirement party in which everyone drops in to eat and drink a lot.

But uh-oh, oldest daughter Kendra (Taylor Spreitler) comes home from college with two boys in tow. One is an athlete who likes all the things that Kevin does. The other is milquetoast-y guy named Chale (Ryan Cartwright), who’s designing an app. Guess which one turns out to be Kendra’s fiancé. Anyone who actually needs two guesses may indeed find Kevin Can Wait to be a thinking person’s comedy.

Young son Jack (James DiGiacomo), and youngest daughter, Sara (Mary-Charles Jones) are very little seen in the premiere episode. In the case of the kid playing Jack, that’s a wise move. Awkward first impressions by child actors are nothing new under the TV sitcom sun, but this one is particularly painful.

Anyway, Kevin’s would-be life of complete leisure is waylaid by daughter Kendra’s new circumstances, which end up aborting plans to rent out a garage room for extra income that Kevin can happily pee away.

All of this unfolds with complete and utter predictability amid a “Take my wife, please” collection of broad, flat, dated jokes delivered with a sledge hammer’s touch by Kevin and his coarse, chub-a-lub pals.

Can the star of the show, let alone CBS, really believe in this material? It’s one thing to put the brain in park after a long workday. It’s quite another to pound it into mush.

GRADE: D-minus

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Fox's Son of Zorn is a "hybrid" without much apparent mileage


Dad offers his son a new ride in Son of Zorn. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 11th at 7 p.m. (central) with a sneak preview on Fox before moving to regular Sunday, 7:30 p.m. slot the following week
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Cheryl Hines, Johnny Pemberton, Tim Meadows, Artemis Pebdani
Produced by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

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Does a “hybrid live-action/animated comedy” need to be more or less brilliant from the start to succeed?

Well, it really helps. But in the case of Fox’s Son of Zorn, which sneak-previews on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it’s just a few grins here and there. And that likely won’t be enough to save this particular world.

The spirit of creativity is willing, with producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller describing the show in publicity materials as “a really ambitious, and probably crazy, labor of love that has been three years in the making. Our entire team has been working hard to create a world that seamlessly introduces a seven-foot-tall animated warrior into the live-action suburbs of America.”

The injection of the Jason Sudeikis-voiced cartoon Zorn into an Orange County-based batch of flesh-and-blood humans is carried off convincingly enough from a visual standpoint. But humoring the concept isn’t enough to make the jokes land solidly. And if they’ve had three years, then perhaps this just isn’t going to work.

Sunday’s opener begins on Zorn’s home planet of Zephyria, where he’s happily still vanquishing enemies with some help from longtime ally Headbutt Man. But Zorn suddenly feels the need to see his son, Alangulon a k a “Al” (Johnny Pemberton), on the occasion of his 17th birthday. It’s been a while, and Zorn’s ex-wife, Edie (Cheryl Hines), is now engaged to a milquetoasty online college professor named Craig (the inevitable Tim Meadows).

It sounds a little silly to ask for a bit of a “back story” here. But why did Zorn and Edie break up in the first place, let alone hook up at all? And how come his son, Al, is suddenly so important to him after Zorn’s visits amounted to once in a blue moon?

Bereft of social graces and stiffed by his son, Zorn this time takes Edie’s advice to get an apartment, a job and a little assimilation into his life. Zorn also is determined to win her back as well after first twitting Edie for “staring at my quadriceps.”

The other principal character is Zorn’s new workplace boss, Linda (Artemis Pebdani), who pencils him as a “diversity hire” but also attempts to discern what makes him tick. This character clicks a bit in the early going, so maybe there’s more hope on that front.

“The point is I’m here now and that erases everything I did,” Zorn eventually tells his son before trying to order him a raw ribeye steak. But horrors, the kid’s a vegetarian.

Episode One has a bit of a surprise in the final minute before ending with a scene that won’t be spoiled but doesn’t sit very well if you’re a friend of furry or feathery creatures -- animated or otherwise.

There’s always a very outside chance that Son of Zorn could have the legs of an ALF in the annals of hybrids turned into weekly sitcoms. But this already looks like pretty thin stuff that’s not worth writing home about -- not even from the planet Zephyria.


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Better Things: further evidence that FX just keeps getting better


Behold the joys of single parenting in Better Things. FX photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 8th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Pamela Adlon, Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, Olivia Edward, Celia Imrie, Alysia Reiner
Produced by: Pamela Adlon, Louis C.K., M. Blair Breard, Dave Becky

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Up against the wall, mother/mom.

Divorced Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) fights most of her battles on the domestic front in FX’s wonderfully biting Better Things.

In Thursday’s premiere, her youngest of three daughters, Duke, (Olivia Edwards), immediately puts these dynamics in play by cry/whining at a shopping mall after mom declines to buy her a set of $6 earrings that she already has. Another shopper looks askance at this, prompting retorts from the besieged Sam before she asks little Duke, “You want a hot dog on a stick?” Band-Aid applied before John Lennon’s wailing lament, “Mother, you had me, but I never had you,” serves as the perfectly apt weekly theme song.

Better Things, co-created by Adlon and Louis C.K., serves up the other side of the single parent dynamic. In his Louie, which may or may not return for a sixth season on FX, he plays a standup comic with two daughters. Adlon, cast as a faded L.A.-based actress now largely stuck with bit parts and cartoon voice-overs, is a far more hands-on and vexed overseer. Besides Duke, there’s also surly 16-year-old Max (Mikey Madison) and middle daughter Frankie (Hannah Alligood), who very much sees herself as a new wave activist.

Living across the street is Sam’s mother, Phyllis (Celia Imrie), an English expatriate who very much enjoys a cocktail and tends to embarrass her daughter on roughly the same scale as Sam embarrasses hers. So the cycle remains unbroken, but love is all around -- in unsappy dollops that never beg for “aw-w-w-ws.”

Adlon, who in real life won an Emmy for voicing young Bobby Hill on Fox’s King of the Hill, brings raspy-voiced appeal to the role of a mom trying to maintain a “houseful of young girls kickin’ my ass.” She’s by no means a derelict parent -- just vastly out-numbered by me-first kids with non-stop needs.

Max is particularly difficult, almost to the point of repulsiveness. But in Episode 5, a little softening goes a long way toward making her at least a wee bit sympathetic rather than a kid in need of a full throttling that mom is ever so tempted to dispense. Particularly in Episode 2, when Max snipes “You work because you want to be famous. Dad told me.” Sam then fires a much-needed cannon shot: “Your father lives better than I do! And I’m paying for all of it!”

FX has ordered 10 episodes for Season One, and made the first five available for review. Watching them isn’t exactly a joy, but it’s never a chore. Better Things, sprinkled with cameos from the likes of Julie Bowen, Bradley Whitford and David Duchovny, keeps hitting strong, resonant cords, whether it’s another civil war at home or Sam’s struggles to make Hollywood see her as more than a once hot commodity who’s now straddling her expiration date.

Episode 4 brings both elements into sharp focus. The extended scene with an elderly homeless woman who raised four kids may be a little forced. But the dangling of a career-rejuvenating starring sitcom role is both spot-on and so reprehensibly “Hollywood.”

Race also comes into play in a finely tuned Episode 3 in which subtle points are made without use of any sledgehammers. Its closing scene is the most affecting to date in a series that marks yet another divergent step forward for FX following Tuesday’s premiere of the “urban” comedy Atlanta.

Better Things further sets FX apart from rival basic cable networks that can’t seem to catch up anymore. This season alone has brought Season 4 of The Americans (which finally received an Emmy nomination in the “Best Drama Series” category), plus newcomers The People V. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Baskets and Atlanta.

It’s a veritable embarrassment of riches. But as viewers, we’ll take it.

GRADE: A-minus

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Atlanta is FX's first comedy of a different color


Donald Glover is creator/star/everything of Atlanta. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 6th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on FX
Starring: Donald Glover, Tyree Henry, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, Isiah Whitlock. Jr., Myra Lucretia Taylor
Produced by: Donald Glover

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Until this year, FX’s comedies and dramas had been almost exclusively about disaffected, alienated white people, most of them male.

That’s suddenly changed in a hurry. The network that basically birthed itself with The Shield and Nip/Tuck first made a big impression on the drama front last winter with The People V. O. J. Simpson: Crime Story, which went on to receive 22 Emmy nominations.

Atlanta, which premieres on Tuesday, Sept. 6th with back-to-back episodes, is billed as a comedy series from a former co-star of NBC’s Community. But as its creator, executive producer, star and principal writer, Donald Glover’s singular take on young, hard-pressed, pot-puffing African-Americans doesn’t seem intent on being all that funny.

It opens with a shooting outside a convenience store, with the particulars still unresolved by the end of the first four half-hours made available for review. Episode 3, subtitled “Go For Broke,” includes another black-on-black shooting -- this time for keeps. Atlanta, with its frequent use of the n-word and depictions of seemingly dead-end lives, might be accused of reinforcing stereotypes were it helmed by a white producer.

Glover, who’s also a recording artist under the stage name of Childish Gambino, is writing from what he knows, though. And Atlanta, which will have a 10-episode first season, is very distinctively his baby through and through.

He plays Earn Marks, who has a crap job at the airport and a baby daughter by a woman named Van (Zazie Beetz), with whom he lives when she lets him. Earn’s cousin, Alfred Miles (Brian Tyree Henry), is hoping to break through as a rapper and Earn wants to be his manager. Their vehicle just might be a song called “Paper Boi,” which gets a sudden dose of airplay and turns the swaggering Alfred into a celebrity -- within the “community” at least.

The third wheel is Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), a self-proclaimed visionary who mumbles a lot but knows how to turned a pawned watch into much bigger money -- if only you’ll let his deals marinate properly. But Earn always needs money now. And his parents, Riley and Gloria (Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Myra Lucretia Taylor), have grown weary of his act.

“You gonna invite me in?” Earn asks his dad in Tuesday’s opening episode.

“No, I can’t afford it,” Riley retorts. And this time he means it. “I just keep losin’,” Earn later laments.

He really does seem to mean well. Glover invests Earn with considerable appeal. He’s not a loser -- at least not yet. He’s just a guy who needs a break, and that transcends skin color.

It can be a challenge for white TV critics to review Atlanta as a reflection of a very here and very now “black experience.” Cavalier use of the n-word, no matter who’s saying it, continues to bother me. Is it really a word that African-Americans can justifiably use with impunity within their community?

“I don’t like Indian dudes who say ‘nigger,’ “ a black character tells Alfred in Episode 4. He has a valid point, I guess. In Episode 2, a black cashier at a wings and ribs joint encourages Alfred to stick to old school rap. “Nowadays,” he gripes, “you got these singing ass niggers.” The delivery of this line is funny in itself. But would it work at all if “blacks” were inserted? I have to say it wouldn’t.

The teeming television landscape is enhanced and emboldened by series such as Atlanta, which obviously will resonate more with some audiences than others. It’s not for everyone, but neither is a much tamer “traditional” comedy series such as ABC’s The Middle. The FX palette needed some color, and Atlanta should be a sign of things to come, not just a token.

Donald Glover deserves this chance to make his mark as a throughly hands-on auteur who’s reminiscent of another FX mainstay -- Louis C.K. They write and act out what their lives have taught them. And the differences are both striking and instructive.


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