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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

MacGyver re-do gives CBS another retro dud


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

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


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

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

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Television is still pitching a no-hitter with series built around baseball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fox's Lethal Weapon brings its own ammo


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net