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Hulu's 11.22.63 goes through the rabbit hole to that awful day in Dallas

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James Franco gives himself a ‘60s makeover in 11.22.63. Hulu photo

Premiering: Monday, Feb. 15th on Hulu
Starring: James Franco, Chris Cooper, Sarah Gadon, Daniel Webber, George MacKay, Lucy Fry, Cherry Jones, Josh Duhamel, Leon Rippy
Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Stephen King, Bridget Carpenter, Bryan Burk

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
A handsome, divorced high school English teacher seeks to stop the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by time-traveling through a mysterious, secret portal in a retro Lisbon, Maine diner.

OK, perhaps this isn’t quite as far-fetched as some conspiracy theories. But it’s certainly a different way of yet again revisiting that very dark day in Dallas.

Partly filmed in and around Dealey Plaza but mostly shot in Canada, Hulu’s eight-part 11.22.63 is adapted from Stephen King’s 2011 bestseller, 11/22/63. The entire miniseries was made available for review, and yes, it’s quite a trip. A satisfying and surprisingly sweet payoff arguably trumps some meandering side trips and preposterous plotting (even within the context of this overall oddball premise). Unlike fellow streamers Netflix and Amazon Prime, Hulu subscribers will be fed one episode per week rather than the whole thing at once. The extended opening chapter, subtitled “The Rabbit Hole,” arrives on Monday, Feb. 15th, which not coincidentally is also President’s Day.

James Franco, still very much known for his sleepy co-hosting of the 2011 Oscars, invests himself fully in the role of Jake Epping turned Jake Amberson after he’s transported back to Oct. 21, 1960 (for some reason the one and only date available). So he’ll have to bide his time before tracking Lee Harvey Oswald to the night of April 10, 1963, when he allegedly tried to kill conservative activist and former general Edwin Walker. Epperson’s directive, from grizzled, dying diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), is to kill Oswald if in fact he fired at Walker with the same rifle used on Nov. 22, 1963.

Templeton previously tried to accomplish this mission on his own, but all of his back-and-forth efforts failed. There’s this, too. Once you return to the present, anything changed in the past will be erased if you make a return trip to Oct. 21, 1960. Also be wary of the “past pushing back” rather than idly letting itself be manipulated. It’s always something, isn’t it?

After landing in Lisbon, Franco’s Jake slowly makes his way toward little Jodie, Texas and a new high school teaching job. But first there’s a side trip to Kentucky, where he hopes to avert another murder that came to his attention during 2016. This enables Jake to pick up high-strung wayward teen Bill Turcotte (George MacKay) as a problematic sidekick.

The requisite love interest is blonde, beautiful Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon), who’s also new to the Jodie High faculty. Unfortunately she has a very troubled past that comes to the fore in a gratuitously gruesome Episode 5. This is the point where 11.22.63 almost goes entirely off the rails.

Meanwhile, Jake and Bill keep managing to move into or very close to the multiple residences occupied by Lee Harvey and Marina Oswald (Daniel Webber, Lucy Fry). Their primitive spying equipment is used to overhear both the Oswalds and frequent visitor George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne), a real-life, older Russian emigre who suspiciously has befriended the couple. Is he part of a conspiracy to kill the President?

(This is the same guy who committed suicide in March, 1977 while Bill O’Reilly claims to have heard him do it while outside the door of de Mohrenschildt’s daughter’s Palm Beach, FL home. O’Reilly, a reporter at the time for Dallas-based WFAA-TV, re-told this anecdote in his 2012 Killing Kennedy bestseller. And he’s steadfastly stood by this thoroughly discredited story after his colleagues at the time say he never reported anything for WFAA on the suicide and in fact was in Dallas when it happened.)

11.22.63 sprinkles in other real-life characters. Jack Ruby (Antoni Corone) is briefly seen in Episode 3 when Jake and Bill visit his Carousel Club. And the late FBI agent James Hosty (Gil Bellows) is portrayed as a demonic, evidence-manipulating interrogator in the climactic Episode 8. It all makes for a wild, careening denouement that both strains all credibility and then regroups to tug at heart strings. It’s tempting to get more specific, but let’s pull back. Save to say that those who haven’t read King’s book yet should be prepared for anything and everything.

King and J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) are the principal executive producers of this concoction. It originally was planned as a feature film directed by Jonathan Demme, but King reportedly clashed with him over content. The resultant miniseries is buoyed by an effective performance from Franco, whose character’s frequent hard-core profanity will be included in both the commercial-free and commercial-interrupted versions available to subscribers, according to a Hulu spokeswoman.

Whether cursing, welling up with tears or being beaten to a pulp, Franco is game to go the distance in a thoroughly tall tale that also has a solid performance from Gadon in the key role of Sadie. Together they persevere toward Nov. 22, 1963 in hopes of saving that day and thereby making the future a much better place. Story-wise, this turns out to be a very bumpy ride. But despite its flaws, 11.22.63 ends up closing the deal in a way that for the most part makes it a long, strange time travel worth taking.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Better Call Saul won't be rushed in the early stages of Season 2

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Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill faces more uphill climbs. AMC photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Two very verbal, slow-cooked episodes open Season 2 of AMC’s Better Call Saul.

Depending on your tolerance for extended dialogues, they’re either deliciously chewy or perhaps in need of a little pick-me-up. I’ll side with the leisurely pace en route to Bob Odenkirk’s scam-prone Jimmy McGill eventually becoming one of TV’s ultimate shysters, Saul Goodman, in the late, great Breaking Bad. As origin stories go, Better Call Saul is still too savory to hurry along.

The 10-episode Season 2 begins on Monday, Feb. 15th at 9 p.m. (central). Jimmy has been offered a lucrative job at Santa Fe’s Clifford & Main law firm after uncovering evidence of a grand scheme by the owners of Sandpiper Landing to bilk the community’s elderly, trusting residents. But the case must still be proven in court while Jimmy weighs whether to live like a king or go rogue in the interests of his “mid-life clarity.”

As with Season 1, viewers will first see the present-day Saul in hiding as the hands-on mustachioed manager of a mall-encased Cinnabon store. Lasting for a little over five-and-a-half minutes, this entire interlude is filmed in evocative black-and-white. Let’s just say that Saul gets himself in a predicament before eventually leaving a lasting mark. Then it’s on to the Better Call Saul theme song, which again will be accompanied by different visuals for each episode.

The first two hours, again set in 2002, train their sights on Jimmy and the two other principal characters in Better Call Saul’s triangle. Former cop Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) continues to work as a parking garage toll taker while slowly beefing up his side businesses. Lawyer Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), still employed by the upper crust Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill firm, remains intent on salvaging Jimmy while he yearns to make their occasionally intimate relationship a keeper.

Also included in a major way is Mark Proksch as an apprentice, milquetoast of a drug dealer who first appeared last season in the “Pimento” episode. Better Call Saul’s opening hours are significantly tied to his new dilemma. And Jimmy’s efforts to make it go away take quite a unique turn in Episode 2.

These episodes aren’t shot out of a cannon the way Season 1’s were. There’s little sense of menace and ample time spent floating in a pool -- literally. But the opening hour’s eventual scam proves to be a nice payoff after a considerable buildup. And an extended, textured scene at the outset of Episode 2 looks deeper into the fortress of solitude that still grips but no longer paralyzes Jimmy’s mostly shut-in older brother, Chuck (Michael McKeon).

An exchange later in Episode 2 pretty much sums up where we’re eventually going here.

“You still morally flexible?” Mike asks Jimmy over the phone. “If so, I might have a job for you.”

“Where and when?” Jimmy replies.

I’m still roped in by a series whose little moments can also be mini-monuments on various roads to perdition. Creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan isn’t afraid to let it all air out at a measured pace. But Better Call Saul is still avoiding the pitfalls of simply running in place. Instead, great expectations remain intact for a Season 2 that so far continues to make its mark by delivering just a little at a time.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The music of their lives: HBO's Vinyl is a trip that sometimes trips

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Record company boss/coke head Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) gets his ya-ya’s out in the 10-part, 1970s-set Vinyl. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 14th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Ray Romano, Max Casella, Ato Essandoh, P.J. Byrne, Juno Temple, J.C. MacKenzie, Jack Quaid, James Jagger, Paul Ben-Victor, Annie Parisse, Ken Marino, Daniel J. Watts
Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Terence Winter, George Mastras, Rick Yorn, Victoria Pearman, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, John Melfi, Allen Coulter

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Mobsters and Martin Scorsese go together like cake and ice cream, chips and dips, Donald Trump and egomania.

So the maestro behind Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Casino, Gangs of New York and Boardwalk Empire invests HBO’s Vinyl with a strong gangster vibe during the course of recreating New York City’s raucous, drug-and-booze-powered 1970s music scene. It’s an industry where hit records aren’t the only hits. And where payoffs, coverups, stealing and dirty dealing are business norms.

Scorsese and principal co-executive producer Mick Jagger for the most part get away with all of this sound and fury, even though some of Vinyl’s excesses are more over the top than Liberace’s closet. He’s yet to be seen in the five episodes made available for review, including Sunday’s extended two-hour pilot. But a mockup of Robert Goulet makes the scene in Episode 4, recording a take-the-money-and-run Christmas album for Richie Finestra’s (Bobby Cannavale) cash-strapped American Century Records. Season One will have 10 episodes.

First seen sweating, drinking and on the prowl for a cocaine fix, Cannavale gives a consistently manic performance as the high-strung, profane founder of a company that’s been running out of cachet and bankable artists. But in terms of loathsome, self-indulgent decadence, he gives way to Andrew Dice Clay’s opening night guest role as super-crooked radio station magnate Frank “Buck” Rogers. Bloated and bearded, Dice Clay throws himself into this part with an animalistic vengeance that’s both wondrous and shocking to behold. Those on the receiving end of his dipped-in-dung tirades include poor Donny Osmond, who’s out of earshot and shown only on his latest album cover. Will Emmy voters dare reward the Diceman with a nomination? If he knows where they live, they’d better.

After showing Cannavale’s Richie in full-blown, back-off-the-wagon mode, Episode 1 flashes back five days to the planned sale of American Century to German investors. Viewers also get a big dose of early narration, with Richie citing his humble beginnings: “You think you work hard? Try scraping Chubby Checker’s vomit off the inside of a toilet stall.” Gotcha.

Richie’s lieutenants include Ray Romano as promotions head Zak Yankovich and Max Casella (from Doogie Howser, M.D. to Boardwalk Empire) as A&R (Artists & Repertoire) head Julius “Julie” Silver. Along with three other associates, this male quintet at times is too comical to be believable within a drama whose cutthroat ways and means might make one wonder why Richie would ever hire these stooges in the first place. The again, Tony Soprano had his Bada Bing crew, all of whom had goofball tendencies.

Faring better on the stable-headed front is Juno Temple as Jamie Vine, an office assistant who supplies sandwiches and drugs to both staffers and company clients. But she yearns to discover a band of her own, and finds one in the very rough hewn Nasty Bits. The lead singer, brusque Kip Stevens, is effectively played by Mick’s son, James Jagger.

Vinyl goes cartwheeling over the top at times, never more so than in the fantastical close to Episode 1. This is where Richie has his epiphany about re-inventing American Century as a home for uncompromising music that cuts through the crap. Well, to a point. The label still can’t bring itself to cut loose the money-making Goulet.

There’s also the matter of a messy coverup of a very violent act in which Richie takes part. Fox’s Empire got to this plot line first, with record company magnate Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) lying about his role in a capital crime he committed. Vinyl can’t help but seemed warmed over in this respect. But Scorsese and lethal mayhem pretty much go hand in hand -- in this case, needlessly. Our “hero” already has more than enough trouble on his hands.

Vinyl’s other principal character is Richie’s wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), whom he first met during her time as part of Andy Warhol’s entourage. The series regularly flashes back to those earlier days, with Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) portrayed as quietly protective and even semi-sweet. Episode 3 has a beautifully affecting “current-day” scene between the two of them.

The series also weaves other real-life characters into the mix, most notably Alice Cooper (Dustin Ingram) in Episode 3. There are mockups as well, including Daniel J. Watts in an increasingly key role as a soul/funk band lead singer named Hannibal -- a k a Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone.

Vinyl’s music is uniformly terrific, unless it’s Goulet’s intendedly ridiculous rendition of “Christmas You Go Too Fast.” Stand-alone performances often are used as bridges between scene changes. Although the artists aren’t identified, you’ll recognize the sounds and send-ups of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and many others. Music from Vinyl will be released weekly after an 18-track Volume One is “dropped” two days before the Feb. 14th premiere.

It’s all very, very ambitious, with hits that keep on coming while storyline misses seem to be almost beside the point. Vinyl is thoroughly rousing at its core, a crazed, dope-filled, sometimes dopey trip that begins in 1973 and has nothing in common with the earlier, comparatively sedate decade brought to you by AMC’s Mad Men.

Musically speaking, “I want what’s next!” Richie rages at underlings shortly after his wife has told him over the phone, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Now where have we heard that before?

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Revolution Was Televised is an instant classic book while The Top 100 American Situation Comedies: An Objective Ranking has its moments

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By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
People either keep asking me -- “When are you going to write a book?” -- or telling me, “You need to write a book.”

Maybe someday.

In the here and now, though, two standout TV critic colleagues, one now retired, have put their names to volumes that are well worth owning.

Alan Sepinwall’s updated edition of The Revolution Was Televised is the thoroughbred of the two. The trailblazing king of the re-cappers, who basically invented that domain with his weekly dissections of NYPD Blue episodes, has authored a tome that will stand the test of time. In short, it’s a landmark book.

Tom Jicha, former longtime TV critic of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, has combined forces with University of Miami communications professor Mitchell E. Shapiro on The Top 100 American Situations Comedies: An Objective Ranking. Shapiro ranked the shows based on a four-pronged mathematical formula. Jicha then did the heavy lifting by writing concise and entertaining multi-page synopses of all 100 qualifiers.

Revolution Was Televised originated in 2012, when Sepinwall (currently writing for HitFix.com) came up with a list of 12 turn-of-the-century TV series that, in his view, “fundamentally altered the way TV dramas were both made and viewed.” But two series that made the cut, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, hadn’t yet completed their runs. So the updated version includes much more on those two shows in addition to “a bonus epilogue to discuss all the changes that have swept the TV business in the three years since this book was originally published.”

Besides the aforementioned, Sepinwall’s dynamic dozen range from HBO’s Oz to FX’s The Shield to The WB/UPN’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer to ABC’s Lost to NBC’s Friday Night Lights. He also pays homage to earlier pathfinders, including NBC’s Hill Street Blues (still the all-time game-changer in my view), CBS’ Wiseguy, ABC’s Twin Peaks and of course, that network’s NYPD Blue.

Sepinwall also has talked at length to the mostly men behind his Top 12, with only Buffy executive producer Joss Whedon declining to do a fresh interview for the book because of “an overwhelming schedule.” One of the principal takeaways is how hurly burly all of this could be. More often than not, the creators of these series improvised as they went along, without any pre-determined “bible” of how things would progress and end. Particularly in the case of Lost, tell us about it.

Many of these signature series also went through numerous rejections before a network finally adopted them. Mad Men ended up on a network (AMC) that mostly was known for screwing up its presentations of feature films by pockmarking them with commercials while rival TCM remains ad-free to this day.

Mad Men maestro Matthew Weiner, because of his ties to HBO’s The Sopranos, initially offered the series to that network. HBO executives now either deny passing on the series or cite the network’s full plate of other commitments. Breaking Bad got turned down by HBO, TNT and FX before AMC again stepped in.

The behind-the-scenes machinations, both before and during these pathfinding series, make Sepinwall’s book a valuable record of what really happened before time, self-serving egos and fading memories begin constructing alternative realities. Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and his team are especially forthcoming, allowing the author to dig deep into the show’s creative cavities.

If Revolution Was Televised has a fault, it’s Sepinwall’s recurring wordiness. Brevity of sentence is not his strong suit. As with this rambling discourse on The Sopranos: “Whatever his motivations, whether at the start or in later seasons, Tony keeps going, and those sessions with Melfi -- along with other Soprano relatives (and Dr. Melfi herself) seeing their own therapists, Tony having increasingly strange and elaborate (and, among the fans, divisive) dreams, or Tony at times using other friends and relatives as surrogate shrinks -- helped add enormous depth, pathos, and at times comedy to what could have easily been a conventional, straightforward mob drama.”

But the prose also crackles, as with this notably briefer and better observation on 24: “The series consumed plot ideas like Pringles, and the best the writers could do was develop a sixth sense for when a story was about to exhaust itself, then quickly move on to the next thing.”

Not including the closing Acknowledgements, this is a 447-page book of considerable heft. It takes its place among some of the all-time great looks at how television works, playing in the same league as Les Brown’s 1971 Television: The Business Behind the Box; Bill Carter’s 1994 The Late Shift; and Tom Shales/James Andrew Miller’s 2002 Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live.

The Top 100 American Situation Comedies is also a page-turner, although more conducive to one-show-at-a-time bathroom reading.

Prof. Shapiro has deployed four criteria to compile his list: ratings, longevity, Emmy nominations/wins and spinoffs.

Not surprisingly, the clear No. 1 sitcom is CBS’ All In the Family, an awards-laden ratings juggernaut that ran for nine seasons before morphing into Archie Bunker’s Place. It also spun off The Jeffersons, Maude and Good Times, which respectively rank 40th, 42nd and 116th (in an expanded Appendix of 377 “Qualifying” comedies).

Where this Top 100 list gets into trouble is the ratings criteria. For the most part, cable comedies simply do not stack up to most long-running broadcast network shows, although they’ve been gaining in recent years as venues multiply and divide audiences. The highest-ranked cable show is HBO’s Sex and the City in the 30th spot. Only nine other cable comedies make the top 100, the majority of them from HBO. Just one of those shows, Nickelodeon’s No. 94-ranked iCarly, has had a spinoff.

It would be better if the professor had kept longevity in the mix but dropped the ratings qualifier. It also would be better if The Danny Thomas Show, also known as Make Room For Daddy, didn’t end up in 14th place. True, it was a highly popular show (six times ranking in prime-time’s Top 10) with a surprising number of major Emmy nominations (20) and wins (5). But placing ahead of the likes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Taxi, Barney Miller and Roseanne just doesn’t seem to compute.

In this case, Jicha does the best with what he has, writing, “The Danny Thomas Show endured for 12 seasons (from 1953 to 1965) on two networks (ABC/CBS). One simple explanation -- it was good during a lot of seasons when most of television wasn’t very good.”

Jicha weaves both context and a show’s content into his summations. He notes that while NBC’s Seinfeld (No. 10) didn’t have any spinoffs, it did help to launch the careers of female guest stars such as Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives); Courteney Cox (Friends); Jane Leeves (Frasier); Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad; Debra Messing (Will & Grace); Kristin Davis (Sex and the City); and Jamie Gertz (Still Standing).

Of ABC’s Family Matters (which clings to the No. 100 spot ahead of Leave It to Beaver), Jicha writes: “No comedy series in the history of television was more re-imagined from its original blueprint because of a late-arriving, fringe character who was supposed to appear only once.” That would be Jaleel White’s show-stealing Steve Urkel.

Both The Revolution Was Televised and The Top 100 American Situation Comedies are paperback originals that for the most part aren’t readily available in stores.

Retailing for $16.99, you can order Sepinwall’s instant classic at a lower price here.

The Jicha/Shapiro compendium retails for (yikes) $39.95. That asking price is still holding firm on Amazon, but go here if you’re willing to buy in. It’s considerably cheaper on Kindle, though.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Richard Dreyfus, Blythe Danner make the Madoffs go 'round in ABC miniseries

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Blythe Danner, Richard Dreyfuss are the main Madoffs. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 3-4, at 7 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Blythe Danner, Michael Rispoli, Peter Scolari, Tom Lipinski, Andrew Deferrari, Erin Cummings, Frank Whaley, Charles Grodin, Lewis Black
Directed by: Raymond De Felitta

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
A notably fleshy Richard Dreyfuss, now 68, has let himself grow into the role of the world’s most notorious, pear-shaped Ponzi schemer.

Very ably assisted by Blythe Danner as his wife, Ruth, Dreyfuss inhabits Bernie Madoff without vanity and with considerable impact in ABC’s two-part, four-hour Madoff.

It’s a white collar true crime story that almost assuredly will have no appeal whatsoever for younger viewers. Which makes it an odd fit for today’s ABC and probably better suited as an “event miniseries” on HBO or basic cable’s History or National Geo networks. But ABC it is, and there’s at least a solid chance for some acting Emmys even if the ratings go into the red.

Dreyfuss is all over this role, whether narrating, chortling or going nearly mad as the stock market collapse of 2008 closes in on him and the many investors he’s bilked.

“As long as deposits out-pace withdrawals, you can live like a king,” Dreyfuss as Madoff says in Wednesday’s opening minutes.

Directed by Raymond De Felitta (City Island), this tale of excesses come home to roost carries the standard “Inspired by true events” disclaimer. Viewers also are informed that “some characters, businesses, scenes and chronologies have been invented, altered or consolidated for dramatic purposes.” But if you break into any patches of disbelief, it’s too late to call a script doctor.

Madoff errs most egregiously at the close of Part 1, with Bernie sensing doom approaching during what’s supposed to be the happy occasion of his niece’s expensive wedding. Securities and Exchange Commission officials take turns glaring at him like coyotes after Madoff’s office records have been investigated at length. Is the jig up? Are they intent on humiliating him publicly before hauling Madoff away? It’s meant to be the cliffhanger hook for Part 2 in a drama bereft of fights, car chases, gunfire or any other physical action scenes. But sorry, no sale. The sequence comes off as largely laughable and wholly “invented.”

Otherwise, a typical weekend at Bernie’s includes sumptuous family dinners at his posh oceanside home. The self-described financial “magician” is usually joined by wife Ruth, their sons, Mark and Andrew (Tom Lipinski, Danny Deferrari) and Bernie’s jittery younger brother, Peter (Peter Scolari), who also serves as his chief compliance officer.

But the true second lieutenant is Frank DiPascali (Michael Rispoli from The Sopranos), who runs a secret 17th floor office and is a fully complicit co-conspirator. The drama strongly suggests that Ruth, Mark and Andrew were totally in the dark while an increasingly guilty Peter mostly looked the other way.

Initially nipping at Bernie’s heels is Harry Markopolos (Frank Whaley), a frustrated fraud investigator who thinks he has his prey nailed but can’t make the sale to higher-ups. Bernie always seems to be a bob and a weave ahead of everyone else while hugely rich investors keep flocking to him. One of them is Carl Shapiro (Charles Grodin with an “and Charles Grodin” credit), who says dismissively in Part 1, “Millions are for schleppers. You gotta go for billions.”

Unfortunately, Grodin’s role amounts to perhaps two minutes of screen time, with ranting comedian Lewis Black likewise very little seen as another greedy investor.

This leaves Dreyfuss with lots to do from start to stop. And his performance is worth the price of his eventual grudging admissions. He still has the chops, as does Danner as a dutiful wife who sometimes chafes but enjoys the creature comforts her husband has provided them. But alas, the Madoff family can’t quite seem to kick the cancer gene, which is sometimes used as a rather heavy-handed metaphor for rotting from within.

One and all of course watch ABC News for the latest on the escalating stock market and investment company meltdowns. This allows the network to trot out news footage featuring the likes of Charles Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, Diane Sawyer, Brian Ross and Terry Moran.

In the end, Bernie Madoff is depicted as a fall-on-his-sword criminal who wanted to shield his family and Di Pascali from prosecution but had no regrets about bilking thousands of investors large and small. After all, he reasons, they were gladly part of the process during all of those happy returns.

Madoff remains incarcerated, with a release date of 2139 that he’s not likely to see. Assuming they have ABC on the prison TV menu, perhaps he’ll enjoy watching Dreyfuss play him to the hilt. It’s a juicy part for an aging actor who’s likewise fortunate to have the always good Danner along for the ride. Together they make Madoff a watchable yet curious undertaking for a network that would rather be the broadcast home of Marvel action heroes but still can’t seem to make those particular investments pay off.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net