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The old folks at home (and in one) in Fox's The Cool Kids


It’s three golden guys and a girl in The Cool Kids. Fox photo

Premiering: Friday, Sept. 28th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: David Alan Grier, Vicki Lawrence, Martin Mull, Leslie Jordan
Produced by: Charlie Day, Patrick Walsh, Nick Frenkel

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
New vistas in semi-senility are upon us in Fox’s The Cool Kids, which is set in a retirement home and somehow steers clear of a Depends joke in Friday’s premiere.

There’s ample cringe-worthy bawdiness, though, as when ringleader Hank (David Alan Grier) schemes to keep pushy Margaret (Vicki Lawrence) from replacing newly deceased Jerry at a table of four with a vacancy.

“Only a gay man can hit on a woman these days,” he reasons. “If I so much as bump into the side of a titty, I could wind up in jail for six years.”

Yes, this line is actually delivered just before the openly gay Sid (Leslie Jordan) is dispatched to drive Margaret away by seducing her. But the fourth member of this bunch, Martin Mull as nonsensical Charlie, frets that if “she goes anywhere near his penis, his heart could explode.” And so on.

Paired with the return of Last Man Standing on Friday nights, The Cool Kids actually isn’t quite as bad as the above might seem. The diminutive Jordan, speaking in a deep drawl, is something of a scene-stealer, even if it’s only petty theft. And Lawrence seems to have a fairly firm handle on her boss lady character. By the end of the opening half-hour, she’s fitting right in despite blustering Hank’s ineffectual (but of course) efforts to deny her a seat at their table. One geezer has paid $11 for that privilege, but Margaret takes the air out of that tire by turning off his oxygen tank.

Fox’s traditional pursuit of younger viewers seems to have come to a screeching halt with this one. Although I guess one shouldn’t discount the possibility that droves of advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds will find it great fun to see a bunch of grandpas and grandmas figuratively wet themselves.

In the OMG department, Jamie Farr (Jamie Who if you’re twenty- thirty- or forty-something) drops in briefly to bid for Jerry’s vacant seat. He’s 84 now, if anyone’s counting.

Older viewers relying on hearing aids might find they don’t need them whenever Grier’s character gets lathered up. He regularly communicates in a shout, and sometimes with pure gibberish if he’s really worked up.

Toward the end, Sid works in a reference to “my poor little pecker.” And he’s not even pickled. Adding to the merriment, episodes are intercut with video of everyday seniors getting spry by dancing or engaging in other forms of geriatric gymnastics.

Alas, your friendly content provider has grown old enough to reside in the Shady Meadows Retirement Community. But now that I see what that can be like, well, over my dead body.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Murphy Brown re-arrives with too many clunks for now


Back in play: Candice Bergen & her old mates. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Sept. 27th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Candice Bergen, Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto, Grant Shaud, Jake McDorman, Nik Dodani, Tyne Daly
Produced by: Diane English, Candice Bergen

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The past year’s two other cast reunion reboots of note, Will & Grace and Roseanne, fired up the Donald Trump jokes in their first episodes before turning to other matters in subsequent episodes.

That’s decidedly not the case -- but hardly surprising either -- with CBS’ second coming of Murphy Brown. Relishing the fight at hand, the three episodes made available for review go hard at Trump, his supporters and the importance of truth, justice and an unfettered, vigilant media. This is not always done with dexterity, though.

Episode 2 in particular hits a comedic rut when Murphy (Candice Bergen) dons a brunette pageboy wig and poses as a French journalist in order to infiltrate a White House press briefing, from which she’s been banned. Once in, she doffs the disguise and confronts Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who’s edited in via previous footage because obviously she didn’t cooperate with this.

“So here’s my question,” Murphy climactically proclaims. “Why do you lie?”

After protesting Trump’s “enemy of the people” declarations, Murphy tries to lead a walkout of all the journalists in the room. No one joins her, including son Avery (Jake McDorman), now an anchor-reporter. More on this later before first noting that this is a rather embarrassingly bad episode which can’t be saved by an ongoing over-active laugh track.

The premiere episode begins with video clips of Trump’s stunning election before Murphy is first seen awakening that night in a pink “Original Nasty Woman” sweatshirt. “Nooooooo!” she exclaims before she’s soon striding into Phil’s Bar & Grill in her own ramped-up version of a pink pussy hat.

“I still can’t get used to being in a protest march without reporting on it,” Murphy laments before two of her old “FYI” news magazine co-workers, investigator Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) and lifestyles reporter Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), join her at their old hangout. The place is now run by the late Phil’s salty sister, Phyllis (Tyne Daly). (Pat Corley, who played Phil, died in 2006.)

The original Murphy Brown ended its run on CBS 20 years ago after 10 Emmy-lauded seasons. Early in its run, Murphy Brown drew the ire of then Vice President Dan Quayle, who upbraided Bergen’s character for “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone.” The show fired back in the following season’s premiere episode, celebrating the many forms of family life while also mocking Quayle’s celebrated mis-correction of a student at an elementary school spelling bee. It’s “potatoe,” he said erroneously, not “potato.”

The son in question is now all grown up. Not only that, but he’s just landed his own show, “Avery Brown’s America,” on Fox News Channel.

Suitably aghast, Murphy exclaims, “The Wolf network! Where all the male anchors are conspiracy theorists and the women are dead behind the eyes?”

That’s being “very judgy,” he retorts before mom says she’s also getting a new show on the CNC cable network. Fontana and Sherwood will join her on “Murphy In the Morning,” airing from 7 to 9 a..m. weekdays. Pause, one-two. This also turns out to be Avery’s time slot. And until he can get his finances in order, he’ll otherwise be boarding with her, too.

The give-and-take living room scenes between Murphy and Avery so far are the best and most natural parts of this reboot. McDorman, who previously starred in the CBS drama series Limitless, has an easygoing manner that succeeds in taking things down a notch. In contrast, the old Murphy cast members (also including Grant Shaud as frazzled producer Miles Silverberg), too often seem to be loudly out of rhythm in these early half hours. Rather than acting, they’re acting out. In Episode 2, even Bergen comes off as mechanical when delivering the line, “For crying out loud, LeBron would have an easier time getting into Mar a Lago!” In this case, she’s talking about barging into Phil’s during off-hours.

Through the course of these three episodes, Murphy also gets into an instant Twitter war with Trump and goes toe-to-toe verbally with an obvious mockup of Steve Bannon named Ed Shannon. But this happens at Phil’s rather than on the air. Murphy has refused his request to spar on her show after “FYI’s” old and still self-important news anchor, Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough), counsels her during an Episode 3 walk-on as a guest star.

“If you put that human mudslide on the air, you’re creating a perfect example of false equivalency,” he tells her. And that’s what’s ruining journalism.

Besides Avery, the only regular cast member under 50 is newly imported social media whiz Pate Patel (Nik Dodani), who in the opening episode has an amusing reaction to Murphy’s antique cell phone.

Shaud’s Miles Silverberg likewise has a funny moment in Episode 3 after Murphy makes the ratings-deflating decision to shun Shannon against his wishes.

“I’m a five-foot-seven Jew with small calves and colitis,” he declares. “I’ve had a lifetime of not getting what I wanted.”

Meanwhile, Avery’s collusion with Fox News Channel comes with his caveat that “they’re still playing nice with their token liberal.” Wouldn’t it have been better to make the mom-son disagreements be about his politics as well -- rather than basic guilt by association?

Murphy Brown, through these first three episodes, is aggressively polemic to the point of diminished returns. It will be telling to see if the core CBS audience, which is both older and white, will be won over or be more inclined to simply tune out. So far this just isn’t a very good show, with both Roseanne and Will & Grace making stronger and funnier first impressions in this particular three-way reboot universe.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Three men and a fatality in ABC's A Million Little Things


At the heart of A Million Little Things is the guy who’s abruptly dead. ABC photo

Premiering; Wednesday, Sept. 26th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: David Giuntoli, Romany Malco, James Roday, Ron Livingston, Stephanie Szostak, Christina Moses, Allison Miller, Grace Park, Christina Ochoa, Lizzy Greene, Tristan Byon, Chance Hurstfield
Produced by: DJ Nash, Aaron Kaplan, Dana Honor, James Griffiths

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Sometimes there’s no way around just stating the obvious. Which is: ABC very much wanted a This Is Us of its own. And the network thinks it has one in A Million Little Things.

Set in Boston, this is an at times affecting but too often overwrought drama series initially built around four dedicated Bruins hockey team fans, one of whom is subtracted in the early going when he plunges off the ledge of his high-rise office and onto a car hood.

Which means that the seemingly benevolent Jon Dixon (Ron Livingston), also dubbed “Perfect Jon,” no longer will be able to do everything for everybody. But why did he do himself in? As with the late Jack Pearson of This Is Us, unanswered questions abound for now. But Jon remains alive via flashbacks that flesh out the history of his relationships with best buds Eddie Saville (David Giuntoli), Rome Howard (Romany Malco) and Gary Mendez (James Roday).

All three survivors have issues.

Eddie is having an affair and believes he has fallen in love with someone whose identity is revealed in the first of three episodes made available for review. It’s meant to be a jolt, and it pretty much is. His wife, career-driven Katherine Kim (Grace Park), has kept her surname and her distance lately.

Rome, whose marriage to Regina Howard (Christina Moses) is legitimately fulfilling, finds himself otherwise depressed about the snail-like progress of his filmmaking career. So much so that he’s just put a lethal handful of pills in his mouth before receiving a call that Jon has committed suicide. He then does the ultimate spit take.

The call comes from Gary, who is single and has a rare form of breast cancer that’s currently in remission. He’s first seen in an inattentive doctor’s office awaiting the latest verdict. Gary also is a cynical wisecracker who’s despaired of ever finding true love until he meets fellow cancer survivor Maggie Bloom (Allison Miller) at a group meeting. They’re pawing at each other faster than you can say This Is Us. Maggie also is a clinical psychologist, which makes her handy for possibly addressing some of Rome’s problems. As to why Ron killed himself, Maggie poses a question: “Maybe he just lost sight of the horizon?”

Ron has left behind wife Delilah Dixon (Stephanie Szostak) and their two children, Sophie (Lizzy Green) and Danny (Chance Hurstfield). At his funeral, Sophie strums and sings “Both Sides Now” while her little brother sobs. It’s a moving moment in a series where pop tunes otherwise are strewn throughout to considerably lesser effect.

In Episode 2, Eddie, Rome and Gary form an impromptu “band of dads” to step in when Ron’s kids need someone to lean on. Delilah otherwise can’t get out of the way of all the food being brought in by Regina, who dreams of owning a restaurant. Jon’s other friends also won’t give her a moment’s peace. It’s enough to trigger another reflexive pop tune.

One thing A Million Little Things doesn’t do so far is unduly dawdle. Revelations and recriminations come at a fast pace. By the end of Episode 3, Eddie already is on the receiving end of a face slap from wife Katherine, who now knows all.

A Million Little Things otherwise still has unanswered questions about Jon’s business dealings and the overall state of his psyche. As viewers learn during Eddie’s eulogy, they all met through total happenstance after being trapped together on a stalled elevator. Thus began what seemed like a beautiful friendship. It’s now all shattered and tattered -- and with just enough pulling power to possibly sustain a viewers’ long-term interest.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Kids get the upper hands and the winning lines in ABC's Single Parents


Who’s minding the kids? The cast of Single Parents. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 26th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Taran Killam, Leighton Meester, Brad Garrett, Kimrie Lewis, Jake Choi, Marlow Barkley, Tyler Wladis, Devin Trey Campbell, Mia Allan, Ella Allan
Produced by: JJ Philbin, Elizabeth Meriwether, Katherine Pope, Erin O’Malley, Jason Winer

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The kids are more than all right, and the grownups aren’t bad either in the new sitcom Single Parents. So maybe ABC has something here.

Slotted behind Modern Family, this is about fractured units of disparate moms and dads who lately are going it alone. Principal among them is hapless, divorced Will Cooper (Taran Killam), whose manhood has atrophied during the time he’s been doting on his little daughter, Sophie (Marlow Barkley).

Self-designating himself as her school’s resident “room parent,” Will strives to get the others aboard. “I have no wiggle room on parent participation,” he insists.

Dour Douglas Fogerty (Brad Garrett), who bristles at being called “Doug,” has a less than enthusiastic response. “Somebody tell me when it’s safe for my nuts to return to my body,” he grouses.

Douglas, whose recently deceased younger wife was an exotic dancer, has left him with twin daughters named Emma and Amy (Mia and Ella Allan). He’s joined in this mix by Angie D’Amato (Leighton Meester) and her son, Graham (Tyler Wladis); infant-toting Miggy Park (Jake Choi); and Poppy Banks (Kimrie Lewis), whose son is Rory (Devin Trey Campbell).

Garrett’s well-practiced deadpan demeanor again is deployed to good effect as the resident old-line conservative. But the first episode of Single Parents also relies on the kids’ ways with lines. And they keep delivering, particularly Graham and Rory.

“Will, I say this with an open heart and nothing but love. You’re a disaster,” Graham says in perfect cadence. With Rory, it’s not so much what he says, but how. When Douglas grudgingly asks him if he’d like to dance, Rory answers with letter-perfect joy in his heart, “My answer is always yes.” It may be the single most huggable moment of the new season.

Will, still stuck in the single parent “vortex,” hasn’t had sex in five years by his estimate and still carries around his ex-wife’s mermaid tote bag. Angie tells him she’s been there: “When you have kids, something happens to you. You become moosh.”

But Douglas isn’t buying. “A man with a mermaid bag. I blame Obama,” he says.

Single Parents navigates this scene-setter in consistently amusing fashion while deftly juggling its array of adults and kids. Will’s maturation, if it ever really comes to that, is the show’s core objective. Otherwise the kids so far are stealing the show -- and this time it’s a pleasure watching them do so.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

It's no crime or coincidence that FBI is on CBS


Missy Peregrym & Zeeko Zaki star as hard-charging crime solvers. CBS photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 25th at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Missy Peregrym, Zeeko Zaki, Jeremy Sisto, Sela Ward, Ebonee Noel
Produced by: Dick Wolf, Greg Plageman, Terry Miller, Noberto Barba, Arthur W. Forney, Peter Jankowski

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
CBS’ latest crime series -- it has 13 this fall -- begins in a big and gripping way with chain explosions that decimate a Bronx housing project.

The resultant rubble and carnage fill television screens, no matter how big or small yours may be. This first hour of FBI, from hit maker Dick Wolf, isn’t going to mess around in terms of holding the large audience it expects to inherit from the preceding NCIS. Wolf, who’s straying from NBC in part because that network already is loaded with four of his hit shows (the Chicago trilogy and Law & Order: SVU), knows how to craft mainstream shows with staying power. This looks like another of them. It also makes the FBI look good during a presidency that often seems intent on achieving the opposite.

Tuesday’s premiere of FBI, the only episode made available for review, has two strong leads in Missy Peregrym and Zeeko Zaki as young gun FBI agents Maggie Bell and Omar Adom “OA” Zidan. TV vet Jeremy Sisto pitches in as assistant special agent in charge Jubal Valentine while newcomer Ebonee Noel plays analyst and tech whiz Kristen Chazal.

Subsequent episodes will add another familiar TV face, Sela Ward, as special agent in charge Dana Mosier. So don’t get used to Connie Nielsen, who remains in the first hour as a G-man boss named Ellen before she’s written off and out.

FBI moves swiftly and sometimes graphically through its earth-shaking opening investigation, adding and dropping suspects in a familiar pattern that nonetheless seems fresh and certainly isn’t dull. Peregrym and Zaki quickly register as agents who aren’t impervious to human suffering but have jobs to do -- and do well. Producer Wolf is known for being particularly savvy at casting. And if someone isn’t working out -- or their demands eventually become overbearing to him -- he’s not at all shy about finding someone else and moving on without missing any beats.

The opening episode makes several “statements” as well -- about people of color and those who want to turn back the clock. The eventual villain in this first hour is suitably detestable, but also perhaps a little too convenient from a storytelling standpoint. But it’s also tailor made for a solidly landed parting shot from Zaki’s agent Omar.

CBS keeps developing and green-lighting new crime series because so many of them have become long distance runners for the network. FBI seems well-equipped to also settle in for an extended stay. It’s on a network that knows how to do this genre, and from a producer who perhaps knows even better. Changes of pace increasingly are being sent to CBS’ All Access streaming network at an extra charge to viewers. The old broadcast mothership in turn currently offers three nights -- Tuesday, Friday and Saturday -- of wall-to-wall good guys vs. bad guys. Case closed.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's New Amsterdam needs a few injections


Ryan Eggold stars as TV’s latest Dr. Do Too Much. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Ryan Eggold, Freema Agyeman, Janet Montgomery, Jocko Sims, Anupam Kher, Tyler Labine
Produced by: David Schulner, Peter Horton

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Another medical show is getting a shot in times when this enduring TV genre lately has amped up its vital signs again.

ABC’s The Good Doctor and Fox’s The Resident were instant hits last season while ABC’s Grey’’s Anatomy shows no signs of ceasing operations and will begin Season 15 later this week. Add the Fox mashup 9-1-1, which also has saving lives at its core and returned Sunday night with series high numbers for its Season Two launch.

NBC’s New Amsterdam arrives Tuesday, Sept. 25th on the network which once had the biggest hospital drama hit of all in ER. The lead practitioner, Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold from the Peacock’s quickly canceled The Blacklist: Redemption), is all about doing good at all costs, but has an aversion to billing patients. He’s the new medical director at New York City’s New Amsterdam public hospital, which is modeled after Bellevue (the original working title of this series).

For openers, Goodwin bounds out of bed to the tune of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).” It’s his first day in this new position, and we soon learn that his tagline is “How Can I Help?” He also speaks fluent Spanish and vows to terminate any staffers who value billing over patient care. This turns out to be the entire cardiac department before Goodwin later relents and un-fires Dr. Floyd Reynolds (Jocko Sims), an African-American graduate of Yale med school.

The diverse cast also includes tart-tongued Dr. Laura Bloom (Janet Montgomery), who works in the emergency room and has had a budding intimate relationship with Dr. Reynolds before he tells her it can’t work “because you’re not black.”

Dr. Hana Sharpe (Freema Agyeman), who is black, view herself as primarily a celebrity ambassador for the hospital rather than a hands-on participant with its patients. She first meets Goodwin while en route to an appearance on -- product placement -- Megyn Kelly’s show and says she’ll also be doing Ellen, Oprah and “anyone else powerful enough” to be known by just their first name. Goodwin doesn’t like her style and says so -- but in a courteous manner. This is a guy who knows what he wants, but doesn’t get in your face about it. Gregory House he’s not.

The principal cast is rounded out by Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine), the almost painfully empathetic head of New Amsterdam’s psychiatric unit, and Dr. Anil Kapoor (Anupam Kher), who’s middle-aged, bald and wizened.

NBC made the first two episodes available for review, and they’re also populated by patients ranging from a black boy from Liberia who shows symptoms of Ebola to a high-strung young woman in Frome’s care to a kid who’s been overly medicated after a violent incident at his school. There’s also Goodwin himself, who’s invariably too busy to address his life-threatening issue. “You better find time before you run out of it,” Dr. Sharpe tells him.

There’s another character in Goodwin’s life, but it’s probably best to let viewers discover that on their own.

New Amsterdam tends to rather tidily resolve all of its patient crises in these first two episodes. It also can get treacly at times, particularly when Coldplay’s “Fix You” hovers over the closing minutes of the premiere hour. The long-term diagnosis is iffy at best, with the main characters and their cases coming off as not that special or interesting. Some creative surgery is needed, lest New Amsterdam risk expiring prematurely on its own operating table.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Manifest's destiny is in your hands


Look, up in the sky. Manifest tries to get at plane truths. NBC photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Melissa Roxburgh, Josh Dallas, Athena Karkanis, J.R. Ramirez, Parveen Kaur, Luna Blaise, Jack Messina
Produced by: Robert Zemeckis, Jeff Rake, Jack Rapke

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Flight delays are all too frequent for today’s travelers. It’s bad enough being sardined into a coach seat in a virus-spreading tube full of fellow humanoids.

NBC’s Manifest, premiering Monday, Sept. 24th at 9 p.m. (central) following the latest restart of The Voice, offers the mother of all late arrivals. After taking off from Montego Bay, Jamaica on April 7, 2013, Montego Airways Flight 828 finally touches down in New York on Nov. 4, 2018. Talk about missing your connecting flight. And holy Trump presidency! But that’s not referenced in the pilot episode, which is all that NBC made available for review.

A total of 191 passengers are on board. And they’re treated to some brief, but heavy in-flight turbulence, with the plane shaking, rattling, rolling while the lights go out and everybody has a good yell or scream. The friendly captain then references a severe weather disturbance that for whatever reason didn’t show up on the radar. And now back to your movie.

The Stone family initially is at center stage. Ben (Josh Dallas), his leukemia-afflicted son, Cal (Jack Messina), and his troubled sister, Michaela Beth (Melissa Roxburgh), elect to jettison their overbooked flight and take a later one in return for $400 vouchers. Ben’s wife, Grace (Athena Karkanis), their daughter, Olive (Luna Blaise) and her grandma and grandpa take the earlier plane, which arrives as scheduled.

So what happened beyond everybody else getting five-and-a-half years older while the FL 191 crew and passengers stayed as is and now are starting to hear voices in their heads?

Episode One is well-made and poses many more questions than answers. But you know the drill. What if the ratings crash-land and NBC in turns grounds Manifest without ever resolving much of anything? There goes your investment in a manner befitting a Ponzi scheme. Life is so much simpler when you can just binge an entire season of episodes on a streaming site rather than hoping a broadcast will keep doling them out.

Michaela, who’s also a cop, had been urged by her parents and brother to go ahead and marry detective Jared Vasquez (J. R. Ramirez). But she was still having issues at the time. And now that she’s ready to take the plunge, he’s grown older, had given Michaela up for dead and has moved on. Ben’s wife also has a little somethin’ somethin’ goin’ on, but the particulars are still awaiting a future episode.

Roxburgh is effective in the lead role while her co-stars (including Parveen Kaur as a medical researcher named Saanvi) so far are making lesser impressions. The first episode ends with Michaela’s narrative advisory that “this was just the beginning.”

Viewers have heard variations on this before, only to be strung along and then jilted by a cancellation that left just about everything hanging. Even so, Manifest is worth a look, with the proviso that the only way it will last is if enough people see reasons to keep watching.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

A new Magnum enters CBS' house of hit reboots


Jay Hernandez is suitable hunky as the new Magnum. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Sept. 24th at 8 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jay Hernandez, Perdita Weeks, Zachary Knighton, Stephen Hill, Tim Kang, Amy Hill
Produced by: Peter M. Lenkov, Eric Guggenheim, Justin Lin, John Davis, John Fox, Danielle Woodrow

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
CBS already has a black belt in reboots, remakes, re-imaginings or whatever else you’d like to label them.

Consider this: the network’s second coming of Hawaii Five-0, which will start its ninth season this fall, has a fighting chance to run as long (or longer) as the original, which endured for 12 seasons on CBS. Reprises of Macgyver and S.W.A.T. likewise are prospering on CBS, with Murphy Brown also ready to roll this season with the surviving members of the original cast, plus Tyne Daly.

So of course the new and critic-proof Magnum, P.I. is going to work, even though its Monday night competition will include the second hours of NBC’s The Voice and ABC’s Dancing With the Stars.

As you might have heard, some notable changes have been made since Tom Selleck last mounted the original’s famed red Ferrari in 1988, otherwise known as 30 years ago. (Selleck’s ongoing CBS series, Blue Bloods, on the verge of beginning its ninth season, has now one-upped Magnum’s eight-season run.)

Anyway, the new Thomas Sullivan Magnum is played by Hispanic actor Jay Hernandez, who doesn’t have a full mustache, does have a goatee, doesn’t wear Hawaiian shirts (in the first episode at least) and does show off his torso. Managing Hawaii’s lush Robin’s Nest estate (where Magnum still lives in a guest house), is kick-boxing Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks) in place of the late John Hillerman’s snooty Jonathan Quayle Higgins III. The two Dobermans are back for more growling and Magnum remains a Detroit Tigers fan during a second consecutive dismal season for the storied franchise. A succession of Ferraris are still at his disposal.

Magnum’s principal pals, fellow military veterans Theodore “TC” Calvin and Orville “Rick” Wright, are now respectively played by Stephen Hill and Zachary Knighton. Magnum, TC and Rick are all survivors of an Afghanistan POW camp, as is a fourth comrade-in-arms who won’t be joining the regular cast after something untoward happens to him.

Monday’s first episode, the only one made available for review, prototypically begins with an action sequence Magnum sky-dives from way on high into North Korea, lands near an oxen and then rescues some people who need rescuing. But first he must drive pell-mell through the countryside while being closely pursued by a military vehicle. Luckily, his pals are flying overhead in a chopper. In a finger snap or two, they’re all safely back home drinking beers while Magnum nurses a puffy right eye with an ice pack.

The premiere hour includes heavy lay-of-the-land narration by Magnum, perhaps in part because the character dialogue can be pretty clunky at times. As when an all-business Marine Corps officer growls, ”Appealing to my patriotic side isn’t gonna work.” Well, we’ll see about that.

Magnum also finds time to deep sea dive, step in dog poo after being chased by the Dobermans and take a severe beating that should have put him in the hospital but doesn’t because he’s -- Magnum.

Juliet Higgins, who has contacts with MI:6 that come in handy, also gets her own action scene in which she fends off the same two thugs who sucker-punched and kicked Magnum into unconsciousness. She emerges with a bullet wound, but jauntily shrugs it off.

The Hawaiian scenery remains gorgeous and crossover episodes with the Hawaii Five-0 guys are inevitable. This time around, the new Magnum also will have romantic possibilities with Higgins, who’s already sending some signals.

Both Selleck and Hillerman won acting Emmys for their portrayals of Magnum and Higgins. They also were nominated multiple times, as was the show itself, in the days when cable networks were a non-factor and streaming was something one did while fly fishing.

There’s not even a wisp of a chance that anyone will be nominated for, let alone win, an Emmy for their performances in the new Magnum. But CBS otherwise likely has another reboot winner in the house because, really, why wouldn’t this work?


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Monk see, Monk re-do: From the creator of that series comes Netflix's The Good Cop


Now listen here, kid. Josh Groban, Tony Danza in The Good Cop. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Sept. 21st on Netflix
Starring: Josh Groban, Tony Danza, Monica Barbaro, Isiah Whitlock Jr.
Produced by: Andy Breckman, Randy Zisk, Howard Klein, Tony Danza

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Monk creator Andy Breckman clearly doesn’t mind repeating himself.

He’s also said that his intention with The Good Cop is to give audiences a straight ahead, mostly light-hearted “procedural” where crimes are solved cleanly and to some extent, amusingly. So what we have here is a safely conventional drama that provides a stark alternative to the new and mind-bending Maniac. Both 10-episode series are being launched Friday, Sept. 21st on Netflix.

Starring in Good Cop are two familiar faces, although not for the same lines of work. TV mainstay Tony Danza plays Tony Caruso Sr., who’s spent time in prison for being a corrupt cop. Soulful balladeer Josh Groban, who’s dabbled in TV as a guest star and host, takes on his first lead role as bespectacled Tony Caruso Jr., who’s also a cop. Junior is where Monk comes in. He’s an anal stickler whose insistence on decorum and aversion to rules infractions have led some in the New York Police Department to dub him “Nancy Drew.”

“Would you relax? You’re makin’ the coffee nervous,” his old man carps in the premiere hour.

Father and son live together in hopes that Tony Sr. will be on better behavior that way. But wouldn’t you know it, dad becomes a prominent suspect in a murder case where the corpse is a cop who time and again rubbed him the wrong way. The bullets shot into him came from Tony Jr.’s pistol, but no one thinks he could have done this. But maybe Tony Sr. took the gun on the sly and did the deed.

Well, of course he didn’t. But the way in which the two of them were framed turns out to be a genuinely novel twist. So Good Cop gets a commendation for that after Tony Sr. first “confesses” to the murder and winds up in orange again.

Unfortunately, Episode 2 isn’t nearly so crisp. A sleazy talent manager of some sort is murdered in his hotel room by a guy wearing a giant rabbit’s head. Meanwhile, at a bar, Tony Sr. tries to come on to a famous Victoria’s Secret supermodel who’s sitting alone in a nearby booth. He eventually takes no for an answer in an amiable fashion. But the next morning she shows up at the Caruso home and is very interested in both the old man and the whereabouts of his missing cell phone. Of course she has an agenda. But Tony Sr. thinks he’s got the world on a string, as he sings while making a grand entrance for his pals’ benefits.

All of this is very clumsily handled in time, with Tony Sr. eventually consulting a Catholic priest for guidance while Tony Jr. keeps trying to puzzle out why such a knockout would be interested in his father. The denouement is lame and even borderline offensive, with Tony Sr. still looking to score even after he finds out what her agenda really is.

Supporting characters include Tony Jr.’s new partner, Cora Vasquez (Monica Barbaro) and a playing-out-the-string veteran cop named Burt Loomis (Isiah Whitlock Jr.). There’s also a nerdy forensics guy who provides a bit of entertainment in the series’ much better opening episode.

Impatient Burt also has some amusing riffs on the subject of why “a lot of things don’t make sense.” Specifically, “Why are nickels bigger than dimes?” he asks. Or, if you prefer, “Why do The Flintstones celebrate Christmas?”

Groban is appealing in his first big TV series swing while Danza is Danza -- broad and constantly wisecracking. Those looking for any sharp edges to either character will find themselves searching in vain. But that’s the stated intent.

There’s nothing wrong in aspiring to be purely entertaining. Good Cop is quite good at that in Episode 1, but pretty much falls on its face in the second hour. Each story ends with a newspaper headline teasing the next one. Which means that Episode 3 will focus on “Who is the Ugly German Lady?” After watching all 10 episodes of the far more ambitious Maniac, I just didn’t care enough to find out. At this point, my brain, eyes and typing fingers are the ones crying out for escape.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Netflix's Maniac has a mind of its own (boy, does it ever)


Jonah Hill, Emma Stone wrap their minds around Maniac. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Sept. 21st on Netflix
Starring: Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Justin Theroux, Sally Field, Sonoya Mizuno, Julia Garner, Gabriel Byrne, Billy Magnussen, Rome Kanda
Produced by: Patrick Somerville, Cary Fukunga, Emma Stone, Jonah Hill, Michael Sugar, Doug Wald, Kruke Kristiansen, Anne Kolbjornsen, Espen PA Lervaag, Kjetil Indegard, Ashley Zalta

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Making sense of Netflix’s wildly careening Maniac is entirely up to you, but don’t worry, be happy that there’s something so adventurous to behold.

At the heart of this 10-episode series, which pairs feature film stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, is a simple truism stated via voice-over in the picturesque opening minutes: “We’re lost without connection.” Pause. “It’s quite terrible to be alone.”

Set in a near future, as is Hulu’s recently released The First, this is a high degree of difficulty drama that’s all over the place, but mostly in good ways. Stone and Hill respectively play lost souls Annie Landsberg and Owen Milgrim, whose senses of self worth are badly damaged.

Annie is guilt-ridden about her sister, Ellie (Julia Garner), and estranged from her mostly unseen mother. Owen, part of a wealthy, amoral family, has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, but is he really? Whatever the case, he’s expected to lie for his brother, Jed (Billy Magnussen) -- who’s facing trial for sexual assault -- or be ex-communicated by his cutthroat father (Gabriel Byrne). It’s all based on a same-named Norwegian series and billed as a “dark comedy.” But the darks are darker than the lighter moments. And when Maniac wants to be gruesome, as in Episode 7, well, it certainly can be.

All 10 episodes were made available for review, with the running times varying from roughly 30 to 40 minutes. By Episode 2, both Annie and Owen have been accepted into the Neberline Pharmaceutical and Biotech program for a three-pill experimental trial that purportedly will make them whole again. But first must come a series of mind trips that initially are under the supervision of doctors Muramoto (Rome Kanda) and Fujita (Sonoya Mizuno). This episode ends with a big jolt for viewers, if not particularly for Annie.

Both of the main characters are transported to various disparate worlds. But Annie and Owen aren’t supposed to intertwine in them. And when they keep doing this, remedial steps must be taken.

Saying a whole lot more -- not that it’s easy to do so -- would give away too much. But you’re in for a constantly zig-zagging experience complete with visual feasts and character shifts. As this show goes on, there also are some terrific supporting performances by Justin Theroux and Sally Field in the roles of Dr. James Mantleray and his mother, Dr. Greta Mantleray. Theroux is particularly superb in Episode 6 while Field comes to the fore in Episode 8 -- and then keeps on doing so.

When Greta asks her son, “How many of your subjects have ended up catatonic?” he replies, “Zero -- roughly.”

Look also for a grieving computer named “The GRTA” and also known as Gertie. During the course of Maniac, perhaps you’ll be reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Westworld or Game of Thrones or Goodfellas. It’s easy to let one’s imagination run buck naked.

At its heart, though, Maniac is a case study in raw, personal pain. In Episode 6, Hill’s Owen tells Theroux’s Dr. Mantleray, “You know that movie, It’s a Wonderful Life? If that happened to me, there would be no difference in the world.”

Stone’s Annie likewise is an open sore, suffering in an outwardly more cynical fashion but torn asunder nonetheless.

All of this may sound too daunting and not worth the head-hurt. But Maniac pretty much sorts itself out in the end, with Episode 10 offering open-ended, but satisfying closure. As with Memento, though, it can be watched again and again in search of further understanding.

In very recent years, young actresses at the top of their games have taken full plunges into small-screen series or limited series. Evan Rachel Wood in HBO’s Westworld. Amy Adams in HBO’s Sharp Objects. And now Emma Stone in Maniac. It’s a whole new world out there, almost to the point where feature films someday may be seen as a step down. Maniac, for its part, throws down a tale that swerves to the left and swerves to the right without ever losing velocity. But seeing is believing while not believing what you’re seeing is also part of the experience.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's I Feel Bad needs a good deal of improvement


Will the title keep you from tuning in? Not exactly inviting. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Sept. 19th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Sarayu Blue, Paul Adelstein, Madhur Jaffrey, Brian George, Zach Cherry, James Buckley, Johnny Pemberton, Rahm Braslaw, Lily Rose Silver, Aisling Bree
Produced by: Amy Poehler, Aseem Batra, Julie Ann Robinson, Dave Becky, Joshua D. Maurer

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
We live in times when psyches are raw, friendships are being tested and rubbing someone the wrong way is a clear and present danger.

A show titled I Feel Bad, even if it’s a comedy, seems to be stating the obvious or even rubbing it in. It’s akin to naming a restaurant Dysentery or a department store, Raw Deal. Maybe we don’t want to go there. Still, I guess the title of this NBC newcomer is more inviting than I Feel Bad All Day: Every Day. About Everything. That’s the book it’s based on.

Dividing its time between a chaotic home and a carefree video game company, I Feel Bad is centered on an Indian wife/mom who’s constantly vexed and likes telling viewers about this via her narrative voice. Sarayu Blue stars as Emet, with Amy Poehler the principal executive producer. NBC has heavily promoted the show and is sneak-premiering it with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday, Sept. 19th after the season finale of summertime’s most popular series, America’s Got Talent. So that’s a vote of confidence, even if I Feel Bad so far isn’t all that good based on the three half-hours made available for review.

It’s been hard to miss the promotional clip in which Emet is shown waking from an erotic dream before telling her husband, David (Paul Adelstein), that she’s OK with him having one, too. In the same clip, Emet is then slapped on her behind by her father, Sonny (Brian George), who mistakes her for his wife, Maya (Madhur Jaffrey).

As the premiere episode further unfolds, Emet asks a quartet of nerds at her workplace, “I’m still do-able, right?”

“Yes, you have a nice face,” replies one of ‘em before another compares her to a pizza that’s not great but still good enough because, after all, it’s pizza.

“When did nerds get so damn picky?” she bristles.

The first episode has four nerds, but one of them is subtracted after that. This leaves rotund Norman (Zach Cherry), the very British Chewy (James Buckley) and pasty-faced Griff (Johnny Pemberton). I Feel Bad spends a surprising amount of time with them, including a lame Episode 3 caper in which they plot a mission to gain access to the workplace rooftop -- where the cool kids supposedly gather.

Back home, Emet is beset with a prototypically cranky and condescending mom who ends some of her sentences with “man” and sees her daughter as an all-around failure. It gets worse in Episodes 2 and 3, when a busted pipe in their condo prompts Maya and go-along/get-along Sonny to move in for a while.

Emet and David also have three kids, one of them still an infant. They’re otherwise bringing up plus-sized son Louie (Rahm Braslaw) and stick-thin, strong-willed Lily (Lily Rose Silver). Mom and dad so far don’t seem to care at all about Louie’s diet, whether he’s mainlining ice cream or swilling Log Cabin syrup from the bottle in Episode 3. But in today’s society or on today’s television, raising undue questions about this can be seen as body-shaming. So never mind.

Episode 2, subtitled “I Get Sick of Being Needed,” finds Emet clinging to her daily and therapeutic 20 minutes of down time in what she calls a “reclining pig” position. But when even this proves to be impossible, she takes refuge in a neighbor’s well-appointed house while they’re traveling and she’s bringing their packages inside and “re-agitating” the compost.

I Feel Bad has appealing leads in the two younger parents, but is still trying to find a solid footing for itself amid some amusing moments now and then. The workplace segments take up too much of the show without rising above being a minor annoyance. And the domestic tribulations have a shopworn feel. Intrusive in-laws and balky kids are nothing new on the sitcom front, and the writing and situations aren’t sharp enough yet to serve as saving graces.

All of this and the title itself at this point are working against I Feel Bad, which on Oct. 4th will move to its regular Thursday 8:30 p.m. (central) slot following Will & Grace. NBC couldn’t provide much cushier treatment. Otherwise not all is well and good.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

From start to finish, an SNL-centric Emmys ceremony


The Emmy statue briefly overshadowed hosts Colin Jost, Michael Che and fellow SNLers at the outset of Monday’s telecast on NBC. Photo: Ed Bark

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Monday’s 70th annual prime-time Emmys telecast is history. Or perhaps you thought you were watching Saturday Night Live.

Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ended up as best of show with five wins while Netflix edged HBO for network bragging rights by winning seven trophies to the longtime champ’s six.

Amazon and FX tied for third place with five Emmys each, giving the two streamers and the two cable networks 23 of the 26 majors distributed Sunday on NBC after the previous week’s “creative” awards ceremony. Mrs. Maisel and HBO’s Game of Thrones respectively won the show-ending best comedy and drama series statues. (Netflix and HBO ended up with 23 wins apiece in the combined majors/creative competition.)

Otherwise, a cavalcade of past and present SNL stars paraded through the three-hour telecast, which was produced by SNL maestro Lorne Michaels. The show’s current-day “Weekend Update” anchors, Michael Che and Colin Jost, hosted the ceremony, in which Michaels and alum Bill Hader (for HBO’s Barry) both emerged as winners.

Their onstage appearances were unplanned. But even without those two, the SNL presence was pervasive. Acting as presenters, sketch participants or both were Kate McKinnon, Andy Samberg, Aidy Bryant, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Alec Baldwin, Kenan Thompson, Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller (yes, he was briefly a cast member in 1989 before quitting after four shows). That’s not counting Amy Poehler’s appearances during commercial breaks on behalf of her NBC comedy series, I Feel Bad.

Ferrell and Thompson were chosen to present the telecast’s two biggest Emmys in the climactic closing minutes. Thompson also participated in an opening sing-along, “We Solved It,” tied to the efforts to bring diversity to the show’s long lists of nominees. Rudolph and Armisen were sprinkled in and out as erstwhile experts on the history of the awards. But their bits played dead throughout.

Betty White’s appearance, at age 96, drew the night’s longest ovation. “Oh my goodness, goodness, goodness,” she said, basking in the audience’s affection. “It’s incredible I’m still in this business.” She also thanked Michaels for inviting her, and for making her one of SNL’s hosts during the 2010 season after a Facebook campaign on her behalf.

The most memorable acceptance speech went to Oscars director Glenn Weiss, who won ABC’s lone Emmy. Noting that his mother had passed away just two weeks earlier, he then proposed to his girlfriend, Jan Svendsen, who took the stage and accepted the ring Weiss offered after he said it was the same one his father had put on his mother’s finger 67 years earlier. Awwwww.

Jeff Daniels, who won an acting Emmy for his villainous role in Netflix’s Godless, thanked his horse, Apollo, among others. He noted that Jeff Bridges also had rode Apollo in the True Grit remake, “and I felt he (Apollo) was making unfair comparisons.”

The awards also had a memorably touching “In Memoriam” segment, with the late, great Aretha Franklin doing a voiceover of “Amazing Grace” while the selected deceased were feted. John McCain, whose 2002 hosting of SNL recently re-ran on NBC, was pictured second to last before Aretha herself got the final mention.

Henry (“The Fonz”) Winkler , who came to fame in Happy Days, kicked off the night in rousing fashion by winning the night’s first Emmy (and his first as well) for a supporting role in Barry. “I only have 37 seconds. I wrote this 43 years ago,” he joked after an enthusiastic response.

Mrs. Maisel’s win was foreshadowed in the early going, with the Amazon comedy series winning four of the first five Emmys, including two for director-writer Amy Sherman-Palladino and one each for star Rachel Brosnahan and supporting actress Alex Borstein.

Down the homestretch of the ceremony, chances for FX’s The Americans also seemed promising after Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg won for their writing and Matthew Rhys received the best actor in a drama series award. But for the third time, the big prize went to Game of Thrones, which will have its final season next year.

FX’s top Emmy winner was The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, which received trophies for best limited series, Darren Criss’ lead performance and Ryan Murphy’s directing.

Netflix’s league-leading seven Emmy wins were sprinkled among The Crown, which received two (including a best actress nod to Claire Foy); Godless (2); Black Mirror, Seven Seconds (an acting win for Regina King); and John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous At Radio City.

RuPaul’s Drag Race, named the best reality competition program, gave VH1 the only cable network Emmy not won by HBO or FX. Streamers Netflix and Amazon equaled cable’s total of 12, which again left the Big Four broadcast networks in almost total eclipse. CBS and Fox were shut out while NBC and ABC limped home with the aforementioned one trophy apiece.

Hosts Che and Jost were solid but certainly not spectacular. Following the opening “We Solved It” production number, Jost addressed “the hundreds who are watching at home” (Emmy ratings have been on a decline, as have those for the Oscars) while Che said that NBC receiving the most nominations of any broadcast network was “kind of like being the sexiest person on life support.”

Che later called Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (last year’s best drama series winner) “Roots for white people” before Jost jabbed that “Roseanne was canceled by herself but picked up by white supremacists.” Laurie Metcalf’s acting nomination for Roseanne therefore was all the most impressive, said Che, who equated it to “nominating a cop for a BET award.”

A later “Reparation Emmys” short film had Che presenting awards to previously unrecognized African-American comedy stars, including Marla Gibbs, Jaleel White and Jimmie Walker (whose first name was misspelled “Jimmy” on screen).

Those who want “politics” kept out of awards shows likely weren’t mollified Sunday night, although President Trump basically went unmentioned -- at least in a direct way. But fans of SNL got more of what they were looking for -- and then some.

For a complete list of Emmy winners, go here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

His own worst enemy: Norm Macdonald nonetheless stumbles onto Netflix


Making nice: Jane Fonda and host Norm Macdonald. Netflix photo

Premiering: All 10 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Sept. 14th on Netflix
Starring: Norm Macdonald, Adam Eget and various guests
Produced by: Lori Jo Hoekstra, K.P. Anderson, Daniel Kellison, Norm Macdonald, with “special counsel” David Letterman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Given the dumb, insensitive things he’s said of late, the easy way out is to say that Netflix’s Norm Macdonald Has a Show stars a boob who shouldn’t be allowed to have one.

Then again, here’s a guy who’s never really expressed himself cogently and whose lines of thought can seem like a child’s scribblings. He’s an acquired taste whom many have never acquired. But as a talk show host, Macdonald’s definitely something different, as Jane Fonda finds on Episode 5.

“You’re weird,” she tells him rather affectionately. But not weird enough to resist him when a transfixed Macdonald asks for a little kiss at show’s end. Fonda responds with a surprisingly prolonged full smooch on the lips. Johnny, Merv, Stephen or either Jimmy never got that kind of treatment.

All 10 of these roughly half-hour shows were taped before Macdonald’s bad form got him disinvited from The Tonight Show after he’d already shown up backstage. Let’s briefly review.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Macdonald said of his longtime friends, Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K.: “There are very few people that have gone through what they have, losing everything in a day. Of course, people will go, ‘What about the victims?’ But you know what? The victims didn’t have to go through that.”

Macdonald also said he’s “happy the #MeToo movement has slowed down a bit.” Not that there’s any real evidence of that.

He later apologized via Twitter, acknowledging that Barr and Louis C.K. “both made terrible mistakes and I would never defend their actions. If my words sounded like I was minimizing the pain that their victims feel to this day, I am deeply sorry.”

The Tonight Show wanted no part of Macdonald anyway, even though he had defended host Jimmy Fallon’s much-criticized fawning over Donald Trump during that same Hollywood Reporter interview. Then Macdonald made it even worse for himself during a subsequent appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show. “You’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for victims of sexual harrassment,” he told Stern. “Down syndrome. That’s my new word.”

But Macdonald also said that “#MeToo is what you want for your daughters. You want that to be the future world.”

On the eve of Friday’s launch of all 10 episodes of his talk show, Macdonald made a remedial trip to ABC’s The View, which to its credit did not disinvite him. The show’s four hosts were surprisingly receptive to him, with Macdonald fully apologizing for his Down syndrome remarks while looking like a man who was thoroughly ashamed of himself throughout their 10 minutes together.

Some will say that’s not nearly enough, and that Netflix should have pulled Macdonald’s show and let him deservedly sink into oblivion. It’s also an open question as to whether Fonda would have agreed to join him, had her appearance not already been taped.

But the show has gone on, and Fonda’s guest appearance is head-and-shoulders the best of the four I’ve seen. In fact, Episode 1, with David Spade featured, is so excruciatingly bad that you’re better off skipping it entirely.

Fonda, who brings her lap-sitting dog along, clearly came to play with Macdonald and guffawing “sidekick” Adam Eget, who manages The Comedy Store and has co-hosted Macdonald’s podcasts. At one point, in reference to Fonda’s once famed workout videos, the host mentions Suzanne Somers and her ThighMaster commercials.

“Do you think her thighs were as powerful as yours?” Macdonald asks. Fonda stammers a bit before rejoining, “Well, her tits sure are.”

His first question, “Who do you consider sexy?” is followed by, “Do you like Troy Donahue?”

“That’s my era,” Fonda says before naming Blake Shelton, a vintage Tony Curtis and the late drummer of The Band, Levon Helm, as men she found or finds attractive.

There’s also a semblance of an actual conversation. Fonda talks about her three husbands -- Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, Ted Turner -- her controversial visit to North Vietnam, her affinity for “cultures that aren’t scared of death” and her father, Henry, of whom she speaks very fondly.

Macdonald generally has a can of Red Bull on his desk, prompting Fonda to warn him how bad that is for him.

“Maybe you could change me,” he nimbly replies.

Unfortunately, Macdonald also insists on ending shows by making guests join him in reading mostly terrible jokes from the blue cards piled near him. In this case, it gets in the way of a surprisingly good give and take. Fonda gamely spits one out before telling Macdonald, “You know who you look like in profile? Marlon Brando.”

“Towards the end?” Eget ad libs, at last making a worthy contribution.

Each show also ends with the same sub-stupid goodbye song by Macdonald and Eget. So that’s two things to lose if this thing ever gets a second season.

I also watched the segments with Drew Barrymore and David Letterman, who’s billed in credits as a “special counsel” to the show.

Letterman endures Macdonald’s impression of actor Robert Shaw, his quoting from the pilot episode of The Beverly Hillbillies and a Wesson Oil joke among other semi-indignities. But there’s an interesting sidelight when Letterman talks about why he rejected his lone invitation to host Saturday Night Live. He says it was due to his “horrible” performances as a repertory player on Mary Tyler Moore’s failed comedy-variety show, which also included the likes of Michael Keaton, Swoosie Kurtz and Dick Shawn.

But Letterman finds that he’s had enough when Macdonald interrupts the flow to tell him, “Here’s the time in the show when we do jokes.”

“You’re an infant,” he retorts, and later literally walks out on the show before the host and Eget perform their closing song.

Barrymore, who like Fonda and Letterman currently has a series on Netflix, loudly expresses her revulsion to “dick pics” and her extreme fondness for the Steve Martin-John Candy film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. When the talk turns to some of the exotic things they’ve eaten abroad, Macdonald volunteers that he once ate a monkey’s brain in Bangkok.

“What did it taste like?” Barrymore asks him.

“Mine was stupid,” he says. Not bad.

Barrymore’s ultimate compliment comes early in these proceedings, when she tells the host, “I like your free-flowing format. It’s totally different.”

That it is, and you take the good, you take the bad.

Macdonald’s other announced guests, are Judge Judy Sheindlin, Chevy Chase, M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Keaton, Billy Joe Shaver and, for Episode 10, his old Saturday Night Live boss, Lorne Michaels.

Of course there’s always a chance that Netflix could yank this show at any moment if Macdonald has another episode like he did with The Hollywood Reporter and then with Stern. So if you’re a Norm Macdonald fanatic, and there likely aren’t very many of those, it’s best to watch this show while you still can.

GRADE: B for Fonda, F for Spade, with the others somewhere in between.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

More rocket fuel, please: Mars is the goal line and Sean Penn the go-to guy in Hulu's The First


Sean Penn, LisaGay Hamilton play astronauts on hold in The First. Hulu photo

Premiering: All eight Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Sept. 14th on Hulu
Starring: Sean Penn, Natascha McElhone, LisaGay Hamilton, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Oded Fehr, Melissa George, Hannah Ware, Keiko Agena, James Ransone, Rey Lucas
Produced by: Beau Willimon, Jordan Tappis, Joe Incaprera

@unclebarkycom on Twitter

Sean Penn’s handful of small-screen credits have been inconsequential at best, save for perhaps a two-episode guest actor stint on Friends back in 2001.

But now here he comes in a big way, first as the head astronaut in Hulu’s The First series (launching on Friday, Sept. 14) and next year in the lead role of Andrew Jackson for HBO’s American Lion miniseries.

The two-time Oscar-winner (Mystic River, Milk) isn’t half-stepping in the eight-episode Season One saga of a “near future” (specifically 2031-33) endeavor to put the first humans on Mars. After recently turning 58, he’s notably buffed for the role of shakily resolute Captain Tom Hagerty. On the day of what turns out to be a launch gone very wrong, Penn’s Hagerty is first seen jogging bare-chested through his neighborhood. The First seems mighty proud of his pecs, with recurrent shots throughout of Hagerty either on the run or navigating the bottom of a training pool with arm weights that further tone his already ripped physique. Clearly, Penn came to play, both physically and emotionally.

From departure to return home, the mission is supposed to last two-and-a-half years. And despite a thoroughly involving Episode 1, The First sometimes seems to take that long gearing up after an initial disaster stuns everyone involved. In short, there’s too much wasted space and not enough outer space. But the soapier elements and flashbacks to the Hagertys’ past also have some pulling power, particularly in Episode 5. Hulu made the entire series available for review.

Hagerty is a widower whose self-destructive and artistic wife, Diane (Melissa George), still gnaws at his psyche while his young adult daughter, Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron), repeatedly goes off the rails. Penn and Jacoby-Heron have some affecting scenes together. It’s an impressive first big splash for her and a chance for Penn to fully convey his anguish while still clinging to his first love, which is outer space.

Another major player is Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), founder and CEO of what’s supposed to be the forward-thinking Vista. Undaunted by a major setback, she continues to push hard for another mission to Mars in the interests of giving a growingly dilapidated Earth a futuristic safe harbor if the fabled Red Planet indeed can be colonized. But the President and some senators are balking at another mega-expenditure.

At the start of Episode 2, the next launch window is 23 months away. Each succeeding hour shortens the time frame, but it’s still a long way to go if you’re an itchy viewer wondering if the big blastoff indeed will ever happen. Let’s just say that Episode 8 finally rewards one’s patience, and that Hulu for now is planning on a Season 2 rather than leaving everything up in the air.

Hagerty, who’s brought back into the fold after the Mars mission’s darkest hour, heads a team of four other astronauts. Principal among them is veteran flyer Kayla Price (LisaGay Hamilton), an Army colonel who greatly respects Hagerty but also is getting a little chapped about again being the sidekick. In her personal life she has a supportive female partner who’s built most of the house in which they live.

The First takes some wholly predictable turns, and also a number of sometimes extraneous side trips, during its long buildup to the ultimate crunch time. Episodes 3 and 4 dawdle the most before things start to get back on track in large part.

Production values are stellar throughout, with Hulu spending a reported $50-plus million on The First. Hulu and its two major streaming competitors, Netflix and Amazon Prime, seem to have money to burn these days. Perhaps even enough to fund their own space programs.

The performances also are uniformly impressive. Penn brings his star power and flexes it while McElhone has a standout scene in Episode 1 and then keeps delivering throughout. Jacoby-Heron strongly portrays a character who’s both heartbreaking and infuriating; Hamilton resonates as a selfless team member who increasingly wonders if she’s given too much of herself to the ironclad chain of command.

Still, The First could be made of stronger stuff than it is. Its use of imagery and a drawling, unidentified voice-over philosophizer (who sounds a lot like Matthew McConaughey) are both recurrent and generally intrusive. The theme music can be a bit of a grind as well. And some of the personal stories lapse into melodrama, even though the core Hagerty triangle for the most part is not guilty of this.

A Season Two, assuming there is one, has the potential to be appreciably more eventful. For now, you’re advised to ride out The First, sluggishness and all. There are enough bright spots to bring it all home, with Mars very gradually getting closer to becoming more than just a talking point.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The downfall of Leslie Moonves


Leslie Moonves and wife Julie Chen from a 2007 CBS “press tour.” Photo: Ed Bark

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Either then or certainly not now, it’s doubtful anyone ever said this about Leslie Moonves: “He is truly the all-American boy, not only on-camera but off-camera. He’s really one of the last true gentlemen, a guy that America would like to have as their brother or their father.”

Back in 2003, Moonves said this about Mark Harmon in connection with a mini-profile I was writing about the enduring NCIS star.

So yes, Moonves was fully capable of being gracious. But as Sunday evening’s stunning developments underscore, who knew what else he was capable of? The former struggling actor turned TV programming titan is out as chairman, president and chief executive officer of the CBS Corporation after previous and new allegations that he had sexually abused at least 12 women who have come forward in articles written for The New Yorker by Ronan Farrow.

CBS also announced that $20 million is being deducted from any severance benefits “that may be due Moonves” and will be donated immediately to “one or more organizations that support the #MeToo movement and equality for women in the workplace.” His interim successor will be CBS’ chief operating officer, Joseph Ianniello, who has been with the corporation since 1997.

Moonves, 68 and married to Big Brother and The Talk host Julie Chen since December 2004, has issued a statement that reads in part: “For the past 24 years it has been an incredible privilege to lead CBS’s renaissance and transformation into a leading global media company . . . “Untrue allegations from decades ago are now being made against me that are not consistent with who I am . . . I am deeply saddened to be leaving the company. I wish nothing but the best for the organization.”

He indeed was instrumental in taking CBS from worst to first in prime-time after joining the network in July 1995 from Warner Bros. Television. Two of the mega-hits he earlier had green-lit, Friends and ER, were in large part responsible for elevating rival NBC in 1994 and punching CBS into the ratings basement.

I was at his inaugural press conference for CBS and sparred with him frequently over the years. Moonves clearly loved being in a position of power and one could seldom feel the warmth when around him. But he also was accessible, appreciated those who seemed to understand the TV business and knew how to dispense colorful quotes. He could brag and swagger without being unduly off-putting about it. And there were few if any signals that would lead one to believe he apparently had an extreme dark side as a younger executive on a fast track to the very top.

I do recall a very lively party during CBS’ portion of a 1998 “press tour” in Los Angeles. The network had just re-acquired the NFL after losing it four years earlier to Fox. Moonves announced the news and said it was akin to getting one’s “manhood” back. He then celebrated well through the night, at both the party and later in the CBS “hospitality suite,” where a woman sat on his lap in an unusually unguarded moment for him.

Years later, at a 2014 interview session, Moonves was joined on a hotel ballroom stage by his longtime friend, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The occasion was CBS’ acquiring of a new Thursday Night Football package, which it since has relinquished to Fox.

I reminded Moonves of the “manhood” line and wondered if he now felt the same way about having even more pro football on his network.

“I said that? I don’t remember saying exactly that,” Moonves rejoined to laughter. “I never had that problem -- getting it back. By the way, I like having it (the NFL) back a lot, but not that much.”

“Your manhood or the NFL?” Goodell wondered aloud before Kraft chimed in. “One thing I’ve learned,” he said, “is every broadcast partner we’ve had . . . wished they had never given it up and always came back, and are happy they’ve come back. It might not quite be their manhood, but it’s very close.”

Such comments, from three very powerful men, ring quite differently these days.

But Moonves also hired the first two women ever to serve as CBS entertainment presidents. Nancy Tellem took the position in 1998 and served until 2004, when Nina Tassler succeeded her and remained until 2015. These are not mere token gestures. And in rebuttal to the New Yorker magazine’s first article on his alleged abuse of women, Moonves claimed he has “never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women . . . I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation and my career.”

As Moonves’ wife, Chen’s career certainly hasn’t been hindered, although there have been questions about the propriety of her husband giving her a second show, The Talk, after they married. She had already been hosting Big Brother.

After Moonves’ ouster, Chen announced she is “taking a few days off from The Talk to be with my family,” but will “be back soon and will see you Thursday night on Big Brother.” Chen and Moonves have a son who was born in 2009.

Moonves arguably is the most powerful entertainment figure to be toppled after multiple allegations from women who have felt emboldened by the #MeToo movement to come forward rather than stay silent. Even more powerful than Harvey Weinstein, given the breadth and reach of the CBS Corporation.

Both can fall back on the multi-millions they made for both their companies and themselves. But no amount of dough can remove the stain of being disgraced and deposed in this manner. In the end, TV writers who have been at this for a while only knew Leslie Moonves from a distance. My many interactions with him in the end were no more than blips on his very big radar screen. I can’t pretend to know who he really is and was. But for some of us, his downfall nonetheless is no cause for celebration. It’s easy to write him off as a monster. But in truth, I never saw that side at all.

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Carrey shines through, occasionally darkly, in Showtime's one-of-a-kind Kidding


Jim Carrey gets finely Pickled in Kidding. Showtime photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showtime
Starring: Jim Carrey, Frank Langella, Catherine Keener, Judy Greer, Cole Allen, Juliet Morris, Justin Kirk, Bernard White, Ginger Gonzaga
Produced by: Michel Gondry, Dave Holstein, Jim Carrey, Michael Aguilar, Roberto Benabib, Raffi Adlan, Jason Bateman, Jim Garavente

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This has been a big year for Fred Rogers, who’s been extolled in a first-rate documentary film and is now reprised in fragile form via Jim Carrey as Mr. Pickles.

But don’t get the wrong idea about Showtime’s daring comedy series Kidding. The star of public television’s “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time” is not an on-air poser whose gentle, kind demeanor vanishes as soon as he’s off-camera. In real-life, Jeff Piccirillo (Carrey) painfully strives to always do the right thing. It’s just that those around him aren’t fully cooperating. He’s estranged from his wife, Jill (Judy Greer), whom he desperately wants back. His resentful surviving twin son, Will (Cole Allen), more or less sees him as a joke. And his father, Seb (Frank Langella), the executive producer of Jeff’s sing song-y show, is a marrow-sucking authoritarian.

So no, this isn’t Death to Smoochy, the initially maligned but now somewhat cultish 2002 film that starred Robin Williams as a corrupt and thoroughly phony children’s show host. Jeff is much better than that, and so is Kidding.

Some of Carrey’s very best work as an underrated actor came in 2004’s oft-surreal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which was directed by Michel Gondry. Kidding is their first collaboration since then, with Gondry a co-executive producer who also directs the first two half-hour episodes.

Jeff is first seen in his standard TV garb (sweater vest, short-sleeved white shirt, single-color tie) as a guest on Conan O’Brien’s Conan. He’s soon captivating the audience by playing “You Can Feel Anything At All” on his trusty ukelele. O’Brien’s performance is a little off here, mainly because he seems kind of put-off by a song that Jeff’s been performing for much of his 30 years as host of “Mr. Pickles.” You’re supposed to be charmed, Conan.

Back at his workplace, Jeff is more intent than ever on doing an episode about death in the aftermath of his son, Phil’s (also played by Cole Allen), fatal encounter two months earlier with a snack truck. At the time, Phil had been riding and bickering with his brother while mom was behind the wheel.

“Kids know the sky is blue,” Jeff pleads to Seb. “They need to know what to do when it’s falling.”

“You’ll traumatize the kids,” an unyielding Seb insists.

Langella, who excelled as the Soviet overseer Gabriel in The Americans, is in impeccable form again as the curt, controlling and soon conniving master of both his son’s and the show’s destiny. His verbal slashes cut deep and are intended to do so. When Jeff impulsively alters his appearance, Seb tells him, “You look like you’re about to climb a Texas tower and shoot people . . . You look like Lee Harvey Oswald’s creative younger brother.”

Showtime made the first four episodes available for review, and some of the sexual content is a jolt, particularly when it involves Jeff. Throughout, though, Kidding is in sync with an open question posed on the first page of the network’s press booklet: “What if the story of our life, yours and mine, suddenly had half its pages ripped out?”

Kidding also stars Catherine Keener as Jeff’s sister, Deirdre, who’s in charge of his show’s puppet department. Her daughter, Maddy (Juliet Morris), is a handful, and becomes even more so after witnessing her father, Scott (Bernard White), in a starkly compromising position.

Jeff’s above and beyond acts of human kindness are countered by a sad and increasingly voyeuristic fixation on his estranged wife, who has a new boyfriend named Peter (the recurring Justin Kirk). There’s also another woman in Jeff’s life, but with the understanding that this won’t and can’t be for very long. To say any more would ruin the sudden impact.

The Jeff-Will dynamic in Kidding is strikingly to the point. When Will calls his dad a “pussy,” gentle Jeff replies, “Please don’t use a bad word when you can use a good word.”

“And change that outfit,” Will rejoins. “You look like Rosa Parks’ bus driver.” Jeff then praises him for making “an excellent historical reference.” But there’s also a little bone from the kid: “Hey, you didn’t suck on Conan last night.”

At age 56, Carrey’s forehead is now noticeably lined and lived in. He doesn’t need to ever work again, but he’s a wonderment in a challenging role that at least gives him a fighting chance to win an acting Emmy or at least be nominated as a performer for the first time. He’s still without any Oscar nominations despite very worthy work in both Eternal Sunshine and The Truman Show.

Kidding isn’t for kids, and there’s no telling where Jeff’s psyche might head. Each of the first four episodes has a short vignette that illustrates the generational impact Mr. Pickles and his show have made. But how will he personally continue to hold up -- or will he?

“The general populace doesn’t see you as a sexual being,” but rather as “Mr. Potato Head,” Seb tells his son as a backhanded way of encouraging him to go out on a date. At the same time, dad’s plotting against him continues, because “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time” has become far too valuable a cash commodity to risk its star going off the rails.

The real Fred Rogers didn’t live to see Kidding, and perhaps that’s for the best. No kidding, though, you’ll never experience anything quite like this. Bold, provocative and at its core heartbreakingly endearing, it borrows from the original mold -- and then breaks it.

GRADE: A-minus

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Rel is an unfortunate throwback that should have been thrown back


Lil Rel Howery doesn’t quite know what hit him in Rel. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Sept. 9th at 7 p.m. (central) on Fox before returning on Sept. 30th
Starring: Lil Rel Howery, Sinbad, Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore, Jordan L. Jones
Produced by: Jerrod Carmichael, Mike Scully, Lil Rel Howery, Josh Rabinowitz, Kevin Barnett

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The first new fall series from a Big Four broadcasting network is broad, loud, stereotypical and affixed with a howling laugh track.

What were you thinking, Fox? Apparently that now is the right time for an urban sitcom that seems to come straight from the 1970s but makes even What’s Happening!! look demure.

Rel, being sneak-previewed following Sunday’s NFL doubleheader on Fox, is “inspired by the comedy” of Lil Rel Howery. He stars as a cuckolded, Chicago-based nurse whose wife had an affair with his barber (“my hair confidante”) before taking herself and their two kids to Cleveland.

This leaves Rel at the mercy of a littered apartment, a drug-dealing brother fresh out of jail, an “unfiltered sounding board” of a female friend and a bombastic father. Respectively they’re Nat (Jordan L. Jones), Brittany (Jessica “Jess Hilarious” Moore) and “Dad” (Sinbad).

“This looks like a place where they bag heroin,” Brittany says upon first entering Rel’s crib. For his part, Nat dealt ecstasy but says he’s a “changed man” since serving time.

Later in this introductory half-hour, Rel is aboard a bus when a younger black man barges on board, disses the driver, refuses to pay and then starts ragging on Rel’s physical appearance.

Even the driver has to laugh when Rel says, “Right now I’m between barbers,” before the freeloader jabs, “Your wife is, too.”

There’s also a guest character known as “Loose Boots” Monica because she wears -- loose boots. Rel wants nothing to do with Brittany’s offer to set him up with her. But he reconsiders after learning that Monica supposedly is now “Frank the barber’s girl.” They’re getting along fine at a bar before Monica learns what Rel’s game is -- namely “revenge sex.” The studio audience prototypically whoops and shouts when Monica upbraids Rel and says that no man will ever be allowed to “disrespect me.”

The whole thing comes off as uncomfortably clownish and insulting to viewers of any color, let alone African-Americans who have every right to cringe at such off-putting, clownish portrayals in times when FX’s immeasurably superior Atlanta has charted such bold new territory.

Diversity in prime-time is both laudable and necessary. But when this is the end result, it’s better left undone. C’mon, Fox, do better. Do much, much better than this.


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FX's Mayans MC gives Sons of Anarchy a new baby boy


”EZ” Reyes still has training wheels in Mayans MC. FX photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: JD Pardo, Clayton Cardenas, Edward James Olmos, Sarah Bolger, Carla Baratta, Michael Irby, Danny Pino, Antonio Jaramillo, Richard Cabral, Raoul Max Trujillo, Tony Plana
Produced by: Kurt Sutter, Elgin James, Norberto Barba

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Once you learn how to ride a bike . . .

Creator/executive producer Kurt Sutter gets back on one less than four years after his Sons of Anarchy ended a seven-season run in December 2014. His Mayans MC tracks the same-named Latino bikers club and its lawless, violent activities in an initial 10-episode run that begins on Tuesday, Sept. 4th.

Only the first two episodes were made available for review, with FX also reminding TV critics to observe a “spoiler-free zone” which “includes strong hints, suggestions, foreshadowing of key plot points, casting, etc.”

Because after all, we’re children.

Not to give too much away in this resultant rather brief review, but Mayans MC is a talkie that’s also in color and has lots of loud two-wheeled vehicles, automatic weapons fire, drug-running, tough talk laced with f-bombs and a grisly torture scene in each of the first two hours. So if you liked Sons of Anarchy, which ended up as one of FX’s most-watched drama series, then you’re very likely to roll with this one, too.

Let’s see, what else probably can be revealed without being sent to a corner for time out?

Mayans MC operates out of Santo Padre, a poor town on the Southern California/Mexico border. The Galindo drug cartel has terrorized its denizens for years, but a group of resistors claims to “no longer fear the devil.” Identifying this rebel group’s leader might constitute a spoiler, and your friendly content provider is wary that some of the many threatening words spoken in the first episode could apply here, too. For example: “They will hunt you down. Chop off your f***in’ heads and give ‘em to your kids for Christmas.” I’m reasonably sure my two adult children still wouldn’t like that.

JD Pardo is the principal star of the show, playing Mayans “Prospect” Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes, whose brother, Angel (Clayton Cardenas), is already a full-fledged member. EZ, recently released from prison, has cut a deal that leaves him straddled between two worlds. He also has a former girlfriend named Emily (Sarah Bolger), who’s back in the picture because she’s married to someone whose identity won’t be revealed here for fear of experiencing a “very unpleasant way to lose weight” -- which happens with graphic suddenness in the opening, extended episode.

TV vet Edward James Olmos plays EZ’s and Angel’s steadfast father, Felipe. He owns a humble butcher shop where other occasional transactions are made besides buying red meat for dinner.

There’s also a brief guest appearance by -- oh wait, that would fall into a casting spoiler. Let’s just say he’s newly free of a canceled CBS series. And he gets to say, “Well, boys, looks like we got ourselves a Samoan sandwich.”

The Mayans members invariably are ready for a fight, but at times are caught in the middle. They also enjoy a good group laugh, whether it’s a car flipping over and crashing or a little off-color humor in a makeshift doctor’s office.

Now and then, a glimpse of humanity seeps in. As when EZ spontaneously pays a vendor for the corn on a stick heisted by a little boy before his mother scolds him for not moving faster.

There’s a constantly intervening sound track, sometimes to the point where Mayans MC is very much a music video. Subtitles also are deployed regularly as the main characters drift in and out of Spanish.

Maestro Sutter, who’s married to former Sons of Anarchy regular Katey Sagal, obviously loves and knows this world, to which he returns after his preceding FX series, The Bastard Executioner, got an uncommonly quick ax by a network known for extreme patience.

Mayans MC, which almost assuredly will get considerable mileage, is another victims-of-circumstances undertaking in which degrees of badness are the accepted norms. All of those full-throated, angry-sounding motorcycles both add to the menace and spike the allure. At the very least, it sure beats a battalion of Buicks.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net