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What would Trump do without his enemies of the people -- or they without him?

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By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
No one needs and feeds off the “enemy of the American People” more than the man who designated certain TV networks and a newspaper as such.

And in fairness, they may need him even more.

President Trump recently went “full Mussolini,” as former pal and now antagonist Joe Scarborough put it this week, with a Tweet that seemed to put the First Amendment in his crosshairs. Here’s exactly how it read, with Trump’s caps included: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS,@CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

In other words, all were found guilty of reporting something Trump didn’t like. Or perhaps it was the “tone.” Because all is rather quickly forgiven if you say something nice about this very thin-skinned leader of the free world. He’ll then lick you like a puppy dog.

Some among the President’s five singled-out enemies of the people are taking offense publicly while perhaps privately rubbing their hands with glee. Why? Trump has been very good for their bottom lines.

The “failing” New York Times, for instance. In last year’s fourth quarter (October to December), the newspaper reported its biggest digital subscriber increase in five years. Trump’s frequent diatribes against the NYT, usually via Tweets since he became President, are a wealth of free advertising. Or “click bait,” if you prefer. Supporters and adversaries alike want to see the latest. The newspaper clearly is not in Trump’s corner. This is an indisputable fact. But Trump’s return fire, always accompanied by the word “failing,” doesn’t hurt even a little bit. On the contrary, it only further builds the brand. The far less-maligned Washington Post should be so lucky.

How about CNN, television’s prime repository of “fake news” in Trump’s view. After enabling his candidacy by carrying virtually every utterance during the primary campaign, the granddaddy of cable’s 24-hour news networks has shifted to more of an attack mode, perhaps in part out of guilty atonement. Trump claims to “never watch” CNN, but has an uncanny ability to criticize what he doesn’t see. According to Nielsen Media Research, CNN enjoyed a 54 percent increase in total day viewership in 2016 as compared to 2015. Its Monday through Friday prime-time performance was even better -- up 77 percent from year-to-year.

The increases were stronger in the key advertiser target audience for news programming, 25-to-54-year-olds. The “fake news” network was up 56 percent in total day viewership and 80 percent in weeknight prime-time.

Trump’s house organ, the Fox News Channel, had far lesser year-to-year increases, paced by a 36 percent boost in 25-to-54-year-olds for its prime-time fare. MSNBC, part of NBC Universal’s news division and thereby included in the President’s enemy of the people slam-banger, enjoyed the biggest increases of all. They included a 132 percent boost among 25-to-54-year-olds for MSNBC’s prime-time menu. MSNBC is still running third in the cable news network ratings, behind FNC and CNN. But both enemies of the people gained ground on FNC during the long-and-winding 2016 presidential campaign.

Saturday Night Live, which actually does do “fake news,” isn’t part of NBC’s news division. But the “totally biased, not funny” show, according to one of several anti-SNL Trump tweets, so far is drawing its largest audiences since the 1994-’95 TV season. The most recent first-run SNL episode, hosted by Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin on Feb. 11th, had the highest ratings for an individual show since Oct. 19, 2008, when Baldwin, Sarah Palin and Tina Fey all made guest appearances.

CBS is in similar straits -- and loving every minute of it. Late Show with Stephen Colbert is not part of the news division either. But it’s been on a prolonged ratings surge during Trump’s presidency, beating onetime kingpin Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show for three consecutive weeks in total viewers although still trailing by increasingly smaller margins among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.

Colbert has been pounding away at Trump for months, and without making that much headway during the presidential campaign. But since Trump became President, the host in essence has become late night television’s voice of the loud and dogged resistance. Fallon in comparison still makes nice after being pilloried by many for playfully ruffling Trump’s hair during his most recent appearance on the Tonight Show. But Colbert shreds Trump at the start of every Late Show. And he’s finally gained traction while Fallon’s wheels spin.

As for the fifth enemy of the people, well, ABC News is doing just fine lately. World News Tonight currently ranks No. 1 in total viewers, with the NBC Nightly News (a fellow enemy) just a bit behind. The two networks trade places among 25-to-54-year-olds, with the Nightly News having a small advantage.

So here’s the messy truth, which also happens to be a same-named CNN show hosted periodically by Trump adversary Van Jones.

The President’s enemies of the people would be true enemies of his only if they all somehow agreed to declare a moratorium on Trump coverage for perhaps a week. Trump has two cravings above all others -- attention and adulation. They’re coupled with a persecution complex and an insistence on controlling everything. Imagine if his enemies all of a sudden covered everything except Trump. It would drive him crazier than many think he already is. WHERE ARE MY ENEMIES? WHY HAVE THEY FORSAKEN ME?

On the other hand, you can’t just stop covering the President of the United States. So a moratorium is out of the question and always will be. In reality, though, where would The New York Times, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS be without Trump -- both on the news and entertainment fronts? Almost without question, they’d all be in worse shape financially. And Colbert certainly wouldn’t be on the surge he’s currently enjoying. Don’t even think about taking away his Trump toy. He’d sooner lose a toe.

So yes, the First Amendment must be protected from Trump’s dictatorial bent. But those on his silly “enemy of the American people” list aren’t fighting only to preserve the foundation of democracy. Trump has also been their cash cow. And what CBS chairman Leslie Moonves said a year ago -- and now wishes he hadn’t -- is still perhaps the messiest truth of all.

Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves proclaimed at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telcom Conference in San Francisco.

The campaign is a “circus,” he added, but “Donald’s place in this election is a good thing . . . The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Boy, has he ever.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

A hard-knocks but poetic life for the ages in PBS' Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

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Maya Angelou enjoying a fine senior moment. PBS photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Poet, autobiographer, activist, actress, singer, dancer, survivor -- and so on.

Maya Angelou’s life was an amazing tour de force of stellar accomplishments borne of nearly debilitating setbacks and deprivations. PBS’ Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise, premiering on Tuesday, Feb. 21st (7 to 9 p.m. central on KERA13 locally), is an overdue celebration and commemoration. She died at age 86 on May 28, 2014, but remains of strong voice via the exclusive interviews conducted for this two-hour documentary.

Filmmakers Rita Coburn Whack and Bob Hercules have much ground to cover and make a Herculean effort to cover it all under the banner of PBS’ prestigious American Masters series. Angelou, best known for her landmark 1969 memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, seems to remember her entire life as though it were yesterday.

One of her most vivid early recollections, from a childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, is of hiding the partially paralyzed Uncle Willie in a bin full of potatoes and onions after the Ku Klux Klan was rumored to be riding in. He otherwise sternly taught the then Marguerite Annie Johnson and her older brother, Bailey, their multiplication tables.

The two children got passed around by their parents, first to live with their paternal grandmother in Stamps and then to St. Louis to be reunited with their divorced mother. Angelou recalls being raped at age seven by her mother’s boyfriend, who spent just a day in jail before being freed and then found murdered. The child blamed her voice for uttering her assailant’s name and thereby causing his death. So she stopped talking for the next five years and didn’t speak again until a teacher and friend of the family told her that a newfound love of poetry could only be fully appreciated by reciting the words. By that time she had been sent back to Stamps again as basically unwanted baggage.

“When I decided to speak, I had a lot to say,” Angelou recollects.

Eventually sent back to her mother, who now was living in Oakland, Angelou had her only child, a son named Guy, after an impulsive, onetime sexual encounter. A teen at the time, she had become long-legged, six feet tall and for a short period a table dancer and prostitute. The name Maya took hold after she became a professional calypso dancer of note, recording the album Miss Calypso and also appearing in the 1957 movie Calypso Heat Wave. During those days she also married and divorced the first of her three husbands, a Greek named Tosh Angelos.

“My mother has not had the good fortune to have love that lasts a long time,” Angelou’s son, Guy, says diplomatically.

“I’ve always been a patsy for men who could think,” says Angelou, referring to a second marriage to Vusumzi Make, a decidedly plus-sized South African political activist and wheeler-dealer.

Some accounts say they were never officially betrothed. But in the PBS film, Angelou narrates what she wrote about the dissolution: “We had worn our marriage threadbare, and it was time to discard it. I knew that other women would be in that house before the sheets lost my body’s heat.”

She was an activist at this point, establishing close ties with a Mount Rushmore of towering freedom fighters. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin all had her ear -- and vice versa. When King was assassinated in 1968, “it just knocked me out and I fell into mutism again,” Angelou says.

But this opened a door when Baldwin came calling and demanded that she pull herself out of seclusion and join him at a party being given by cartoonist/satirist Jules Feiffer and his wife, Judith. Upon hearing some of the stories from Angelou’s childhood, Judith contacted Random House editor Robert Loomis and told him of her find. He kept cajoling and finally persuaded her to write a memoir of her early years. It became I know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Both Loomis and Jules Feiffer contribute new interviews to the film, which also includes recollections and appreciations from Bill and Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Alfre Woodard, Lou Gossett Jr. and Quincy Jones. Angelou came to new prominence in 1993, when Bill Clinton asked her to write and orate a new poem for his presidential inauguration.

“I knew she’d make an impression,” he says. “She was big and she had the voice of God.” Angelou called the poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” And in Clinton’s view, “it’ll read well a hundred years from now.”

In later years, Angelou became a vocal arch enemy of the n-word, terming it “poison” and unfit for use by any race. “No, no, no, no, no, it’s vulgar,” she says during a latter day speaking engagement included in the film.

There’s much more to be seen and heard in And I Shall Rise, which deploys a treasure trove of archival footage and still photography in tracking Angelou’s incredible life and transformations. Her son, Guy, is not shy about expressing his views, even if they’re sometimes not based entirely on fact. He’s most memorable at the end of a story on how his mother was denied work as an understudy to Pearl Bailey in an all-black Broadway version of Hello, Dolly! after the star supposedly vetoed her as too big and ugly. It deprived her of a chance to settle in New York City and be with him for a full year, he recounts.

Thirty-five years later, according to Guy’s emphatic recollection, Bailey received a lifetime achievement award (from the Screen Actors Guild), and asked Angelou to present it. “And guess who gave it to her, and never said a damn thing!” he exclaims, nearly spitting out the words while choking up.

In reality, Bailey’s earliest appearance in Hello, Dolly! came in 1968. She received the lifetime achievement award just eight years later, in 1976 -- and died in 1990. So if the anecdote is true, the timeline is way off. Whatever the case, the filmmakers should have double-checked rather than let the “35 years later” claim stand on its own.

This is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, although it does give some pause, particularly regarding Guy’s contributions. The progression of events also can be a bit jumbled at times. They include Angelou’s third and final marriage, to Britisher Paul du Feu, who previously had been wed to noted feminist Germaine Greer. “He had a tendency to drink -- to his fill,” Guy says. After nine years it was over, to the shock of longtime friends such as Tyson, who viewed their relationship as the “most compatible” of all.

And Still I Rise mostly soars, though, on the wings of Maya Angelou’s own words and recollections. She lived a multifaceted life for the ages, overcoming a wealth of indignities while also rising above her own considerable faults and frailties.

Woodard, who starred in the Angelou-directed 1998 film Down in the Delta, marvels in the end at the contributions and legacy of a pathfinder who remained vital, lucid and indomitable until the very end.

“Man, the curtain going down on that act,” she says of Angelou. “Thank God I got to live in that time.”

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's Crashing: a "small" comedy that measures up

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Crashing’s Pete Holmes (right) & guest star Artie Lange. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 19th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Pete Holmes, Lauren Lapkus, George Basil
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Pete Holmes, Dave Rath, Josh Church, Igor Srubshchik

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
A fairly gainful comic in real life, Pete Holmes plays himself in sad sack mode as the star of HBO’s Crashing.

His pathetic strivings are made even more so when his erstwhile supportive wife, Jess (Lauren Lapkus), decides to junk him and take up with a cosmic, tattooed dude named Leif (George Basil). Still, Pete’s a haplessly optimistic gamer who can take a knockdown punch. And as Crashing evolves (HBO made the first six episodes available for review), he grows in appeal as a babe in the New York City jungle who ends up depending on the kindness of fellow, far more successful stand ups.

Judd Apatow, principal co-executive producer of the series along with Holmes, has also teamed with Lena Dunham for Girls’, which now is nearing the end of its long HBO run. The two comedies are paired on Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m. (central), with Crashing a gentle lamb compared to all the attendant on- and off-camera drama that’s surrounded Girls from the start.

The premiere episode finds Jess urging Pete to have more inventive and spontaneous sex with her. But the product of a Christian school and rigid but loving parents cannot bring himself to take a sexual position that pairs the numbers six and nine.

“I don’t like doing two things at once,” Pete protests, comparing it to “playing the banjo while riding a bicycle.” Besides, he has to run off to the city again for a chance to do a few minutes of standup at a crummy comedy club that doesn’t pay him but does enforce a two-drink minimum whether you’re onstage or in the sparse audience. Pete’s livin’ the dream, though, while his employed wife pays the bills. But the title Crashing soon will have a double-meaning, neither of them in the cuckolded Pete’s favor. His life has crash-landed and he’s crashing in various apartments inhabited by comedians playing themselves.

Super slovenly Artie Lange is Pete’s first ad hoc benefactor, followed by T.J. Miller, a batch of fellow unknown stand ups and, in Episode 6, Sarah Silverman. This is also where Pete’s running-in-place “career” finally catches a break after a dispiriting and payless stint as a leaflet-distributing “barker.” Lure five patrons to Manhattan’s struggling and ill-named Boston comedy club (mostly with phony come-ons about big stars showing up) and get a few minutes onstage in return.

Pete’s comedy is “clean” and still very formative. But it’s not without a good riff or two. He’s greeted with a few, face-saving titters in Episode 1, (from a “crowd” of perhaps 10) after wondering what the employee discount might be at The Dollar Store. “You think it’s just ‘Take it?’ “

In Episode 4, a “barking” Pete scores with a throwaway line: “There’s no good way to tell people you haven’t seen The Wire.” Episode 5, the strongest so far, is built around Pete still trying to keep the split-up a secret from his parents, with Jess playing along for a while when they visit the city to celebrate mom’s birthday.

Crashing has enough mostly gentle amusements to keep it on track. And it’s increasingly easy to get on Pete’s side. He’s possibly more unbreakable than even Netflix’s sun shiny Kimmy Schmidt. Is he going to make it after all? The closing scene in Episode 6 marks a small victory in that direction. But for Pete, it’s like climbing a mountain. One can feel his immense relief -- and also enjoy sharing it.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Good Fight comes out punching in Round One for CBS All Access

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Christine Baranski as centerpiece of The Good Fight. CBS photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 19th at 7 p.m. (central) on CBS and CBS All Access
Starring: Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo, Rose Leslie, Delroy Lindo, Erica Tazel, Sarah Steele, Justin Bartha
Produced by: Michelle King, Robert King, Phil Alden Robinson, Ridley Scott, David Zucker, Liz Glotzer, Brooke Kennedy, Alison Cross

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Lately there’s no such thing as a free, new top quality drama on CBS. Instead you’ll have to pay for it.

The network’s recently launched streaming service, CBS All Access, gets serious this Sunday with its first original series. The Good Fight, a continuation of its much-lauded The Good Wife, puts Christine Baranski at center stage in place of Julianna Margulies, who leaves the scene after seven seasons and two Emmy awards in her leading role of Alicia Florrick.

The CBS broadcast network will air The Good Fight’s first episode before it moves exclusively to the subscription All Access for Season One’s remaining nine hours. They’ll be doled out once weekly on Sundays, which puts All Access in alignment with Hulu while Netflix and Amazon Prime continue to offer their original series in full season gulps.

Baranski earned six Emmy nominations but has yet to get a win for her portrayal of hard-driving attorney Diane Lockhart. Episode One, subtitled “Inauguration,” briefly shows her in a seeming traumatized state as Donald Trump is sworn in as President. It spurs her to pre-purchase a luxurious villa and retire from her senior partnership at Chicago’s Lockhart, Decker, Gussman, Lee, Lyman (we’re not finished yet), Gilbert-Lurie, Kagan, Tannebaum & Associates.

Alas, her nest egg is quickly wiped out by a Ponzi scheme that implicates Henry and Lenore Rindell (guest stars Paul Guilfoyle, Bernadette Peters), and by implication their innocent daughter Maia (new cast member Rose Leslie). She’s just joined Lockhart, Decker, Gussman et. al. after passing the Illinois bar exam. But Diane, who’s Maia’s godmother, is coldly rebuked when she asks to be taken back, only to be taken aback. No. 1, she’s too pricey. Secondly, she directed some of her clients to the Rindells -- and that didn’t end well.

So that’s the setup for a reset, with a rebuked and uncommonly weepy Diane (in a scene with her estranged husband) eventually accepting the life preserver offered by a rival firm of mostly African-American lawyers. She can be both a partner and “a diversity hire,” says attorney Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo). This amuses both of them.

Diane also will be newly in business with the firm’s founding partner, Barbara Kolstad (Erica Tazel), and Lucca Quinn (Cush Jumbo carrying over from the last season of The Good Wife). Maia likewise is brought on board after getting almost immediately dumped by Diane’s old firm.

CBS made the first two episodes available for review, and they’re both pretty terrific. The dialogue crackles and the first featured case (in Episode 2) is buoyed by a guest appearance from Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope) as a very self-assured prosecutor.

Among the regular cast members, the immensely under-recognized Lindo instantly registers as the suave Boseman while Jumbo is a commanding presence in her holdover role. Baranski also remains first-rate in what’s become her defining TV role.

Absent any restraints from advertisers, The Good Fight has mixed in some f-bombs (which obviously will be excised from Sunday’s lone showing on regular old CBS). Episode 2 puts Maia on the jarring receiving end, with bilked investors still hating on her via a barrage of very pointed text and voice mail messages. This one also ends with a jolt.

CBS obviously wants to entice viewers to buy into All Access by giving them something worth investing in. The Good Fight is enticing bait, although it’s a shame that the broadcast network hasn’t come close to measuring up in recent seasons with a string of standard-issue new dramas, most in the crime-solving genre and none in any danger of receiving an Emmy nomination.

All Access also has the new Star Trek: Discovery in production, although creative problems have delayed its debut. In future years, will most if not all of the “good stuff,” such as The Good Fight, wind up on All Access instead of CBS? That’s a distinct and somewhat disheartening possibility in times when the old-line Big Four broadcast networks increasingly are hard-pressed to compete -- not only with their own pay-for-play creations but with the aforementioned established streamers plus high-caliber cable networks such as FX, HBO and AMC.

More than ever, you get what you pay for.

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO's Big Little Lies: all-star angst amid a dangled double mystery

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Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Nicole Kidman are the principal moms under duress in Big Little Lies. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 19th at 8 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Alexander Skarsgard, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, Zoe Kravitz, James Tupper, Kathryn Newton, Jeffrey Nordling, Iain Armitage, Darby Camp, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Ivy George, Santiago Cabrera
Produced by: David E. Kelley, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Barbara A. Hall, Gregg Feinberg, Bruna Papandrea, Nathan Ross, Per Saari, Jean-Marc Vallee

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ample wine is consumed, but the glasses figuratively are half-empty in HBO’s very moody and sometimes draining Big Little Lies.

Adapted from the bestselling, same-named 2014 novel by Liane Moriarty, it’s a star vehicle for Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, who also are co-executive producers with TV vet David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Boston Public and Amazon’s recent Goliath). They’ve fashioned a seven-episode miniseries coated with thick layers of unfulfillment for the outwardly pampered and privileged women of Monterey, CA. Three of them live in ocean view splendor while a fourth principal hunkers down in a comparative hovel after migrating from Santa Cruz in hopes of starting a new life. The entire miniseries is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, whose most notable feature films to date are the multiple Oscar-winning Dallas Buyers Club and Wild, for which Witherspoon received an acting nomination.

Big Little Lies also is a murder mystery -- not only whodunit but to whom they did it. An opening crime scene at a gala school fundraiser sets that particular stage before one of the drama’s recurring Greek chorus of sniping gossipers asserts that “at the root of it all was Madeline McKenzie.”

That’s Witherspoon’s character, a loud and willful bundle of nerves with a balky teen daughter named Abby (Kathryn Newton) from a previous marriage and six-year-old Chloe (Darby Camp) from a current one.

Kidman plays her best friend, Celeste Wright, who’s married to the constantly traveling but possessive Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgard from True Blood). Skarsgard’s not a vampire this time, but he’s slowly draining the life out of Celeste with his physical and recurrently violent demands. It’s been something of a sexual turn-on for both of them, but Celeste is starting to realize the self-destructive and dangerous course they’re on. Perry otherwise is a benign daddy to their twin sons, Max and Josh (Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti), sending them into giggles with his impressions of a flesh-eating monster. Oh, the symbolism.

The newcomer is Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley), whose little son, Ziggy (Iain Armitage), was born after she was sexually assaulted and raped. Madeline and Celeste quickly bond with her, and the three regularly have coffee together at an oceanside cafe.

Fourth wheel Renata Klein (Laura Dern) is a prosperous businesswoman with a little girl named Annabella (Ivy George) and a husband, Gordon (Jeffrey Nordling), who endures her verbal volatility while also trying to tame it. All of the little kids are first-graders. And after just the first day of class, Annabella emerges with a bruise on her neck and fingers the new kid, Ziggy, as the bullying perpetrator. He emphatically denies doing anything, but the die is cast and the resentments escalate.

Big Little Lies regularly returns to the scene of the crime and rounds of backbiting from other, otherwise mostly unidentified parents. One tells the cops, “Nobody knows nothin’ about anybody. You can write that down, detective, and underline it.”

Those who have read Moriarty’s book know the identities of both the victim and the perpetrator. But there’s no guarantee that Kelley’s adaptation will stick to this particular script. Only the seventh and climactic episode has been held back by HBO. Throughout the first six hours made available for review, no answers are forthcoming, with things running in place more than they should.

Big Little Lies also can be too much of a treatise at times, bogging down instead of building momentum with its multitude of principal and supporting characters. They also include Madeline’s slowly festering husband, Ed (Adam Scott); her ex-husband, Nathan (James Tupper); his second wife, Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz); and community theater director Joseph Bachman (Santiago Cabrera). Yes, there’s also a subplot in which Madeline strives to strong-arm the adult puppet drama Avenue Q into production against opposition from a “decency” brigade led by Dern’s Renata.

Witherspoon gives the showiest performance as Madeline. “I can’t even keep track of all the fights you start,” says husband Ed, suggesting there should be an app for that.

Kidman is most effective in prolonged scenes with her therapist, during which she progresses from denial to a growing self-awareness. But the most affecting performance is by Woodley as Jane, who’s lovingly raised her son while also battling her demons. Jane also is more relatable as a mom making do without attendant creature comforts while her newfound friends live lifestyles of the rich if not famous.

Whatever its denouement, Big Little Lies isn’t stitched tightly enough to be a truly great miniseries. Its teachable moments tend to be worn like signboards, with the preachments piling up while the overriding double mystery keeps getting dangled like a piñata hung too high for all those first-grader to reach. Although billed by HBO as a “darkly comedic drama,” none of it is much if any fun to watch. So don’t think Desperate Housewives. If you do, you’ll be disappointed.

GRADE: B

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net