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Big after-splash for Sharknado 2: The Second One

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Ian Ziering’s in the mood for a New York cut shark steak. Syfy photo

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Viewers howled while tweeting their brains off. Myself included.

Now Syfy is giddy, oh so giddy, with Wednesday night’s national ratings and social media bonanza for a little thing called Sharknado 2: The Second One.

The network says it drew 3.9 million viewers, with 1.6 million of them within the advertiser-prized 18-to-49 age range. That made it Syfy’s most-watched original movie ever, with a 183 percent increase over the total audience for last July’s original Sharknado and a 190 percent uptick in 18-to-49-year-olds.

Syfy also is touting Sharknado 2 as “the most social movie on TV ever,” with a staggering one billion “estimated impressions for Twitter conversations.” Furthermore, Sharknado 2 at one point “held all top 10 trending topics in the United States,” even drawing more mentions than Miley Cyrus’ twerk-fest at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards.

Sharknado 2 also had more 18-to-49-year-old viewers Wednesday night than competing programs such as CBS’ Extant and Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance.

Yes, a Sharknado 3 currently is in development for next summer.

Just so they don’t go to waste, here are some of my live @unclebarkycom tweets during Sharknado 2.

***Al Roker’s work in #Sharknado2TheSecondOne finally qualifies him for AMS Seal of Approval.

***Statue of Liberty head as lethal bowling ball best spec effect in #Sharknado2TheSecondOne. Some will see as optimum way to protect border.

***That’s legendary Herb the Shark fighting Fin right now. Worked for scale so he could be part of this prestigious picture.

***Most unbelievable scene in #Sharknado2TheSecondOne. A Met hits a home run.

***News of showman Robert Halmi Sr.’s death comes during #Sharknado2. Perhaps fitting. He had pirates attack Noah’s Ark in big NBC splasheroo.

***Tara Reid was just upgraded from losing a hand to losing an arm. Or am I missing something of vital importance? #Sharknado2TheSecondOne

Sorry.

FX's mostly under the radar Partners stars two guys named Kelsey Grammer, Martin Lawrence

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Kelsey Grammar, Martin Lawrence are disparate lawyers in Partners. FX photos

Premiering: Monday, Aug. 4th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on FX
Starring: Kelsey Grammer, Martin Lawrence, Telma Hopkins, Rory O’Malley, Edi Patterson, McKaley Miller, Daniele Watts
Produced by: Bob Boyett, Robert Horn

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The stars are well-known brand names. Their deliveries are broad but polished with the veneer of two vets who know their way around the old multi-cam, studio audience-juiced format.

Still, FX seems disinterested in promoting its third “10/90 model” comedy, in which meeting a designated “ratings threshold” with the first 10 episodes will green-light 90 more produced in roughly half the four years it takes to fill a standard 22-episode per season broadcast network order. So far it’s been one go (for Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management) and one stop sign (for George Lopez’s Saint George).

Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence are the front men for Partners, an odd couple-ish pairing of lawyers that premieres on Monday, Aug. 4th with back-to-back episodes. Neither is Brand X lunch meat. Nor are they incontinent. But their show wasn’t included among FX’s 12 interview sessions at July’s Television Critics Association “press tour.” Nor did Partners make the cut during January’s winter “tour,” when FX held nine sessions on a hotel ballroom stage.

You’d think this was the Ebola virus, with FX worried about contaminating itself by getting too close to a show that outwardly isn’t as “smart” as some of its new or returning comedies (such as the really awful Married, which got a session).

There’s no need to be ashamed, though. The first two episodes of Partners turn out to be much better than FX has led TV critics to expect. Not great. But competently executed and just funny enough. Early in Episode 1, for instance, Lawrence’s Marcus Jackson has this sharp exchange with his mother, Ruth (played by the ring wise Telma Hopkins).

Momma: “Can I just say one thing?”

Son: “History has proven otherwise.”

Hey, c’mon! Get happy!

Marcus and Allen Braddock (Grammer) are both lawyers facing personal crises. Marcus, blaming himself for a divorce after 22 years of marriage, is leaving just about everything to his soon to be ex-wife. Allen has just been fired from his father’s law firm. They first meet in court, with the vain Allen slowly persuading Marcus that he’s being fleeced for no reason.

By the end of the episode, Allen provides proof that Marcus’ wife has been breaking her vows with a minister while also secretly bilking him financially. So they end up being uneasy law partners, of course, in a newly constituted Chicago firm.

Besides Hopkins’ Ruth Jackson, supporting characters include Allen’s spoiled stepdaughter Lizzie (McKaley Miller), Marcus’ daughter Laura (a little-used Daniele Watts in the first two episodes) and incumbent law firm assistants Michael and Veronica (Rory O’Malley, Edi Patterson).

Michael is openly gay and Veronica is openly haughty. Actress Patterson, a native of Texas City, TX and member of the Groundlings comedy troupe, is fully capable of stealing scenes from both Grammer and Lawrence. Which she does in each of these episodes. On paper the following riff may seem noxious. But Patterson’s Veronica sells it big-time when she tells her bosses, “I have the ability to coerce any man, regardless of his sexuality. Just last week I ate a hot dog at a food court and four gay men gave me a standing ovation.”

The gay jokes fly -- some should be grounded -- in an Episode 2 built around Allen and Marcus exposing a wedding planner who specializes in bilking same-sex couples. The pricey wine turned out to be “One Buck Chuck” and the chicken was organ-ick,” says one of the aggrieved.

A subplot finds Momma Ruth and Lizzie bonding in predictable but winning fashion.

Partners has its share of clunkers, but Lawrence and Grammer retain their comedic timing while also pairing up nicely. This series isn’t going to win any Emmys or take FX to a new plateau. But rather than looking down on it -- from a promotional standpoint at least -- the network should make the best of what it has. Which in this case is two star players who know what they’re doing in a comedy that stays on its rails and rolls along pretty well.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Sundance TV's The Honorable Woman gives viewers another prime chance to challenge themselves

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Maggie Gyllenhaal and Andrew Buchan play a powerful, well-heeled sister and brother team in The Honorable Woman. Sundance TV photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 31st at 9 p.m. (central) and running for 8 consecutive weeks on Sundance TV
Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Andrew Buchan, Stephen Rea, Janet McTeer, Lubna Azabal, Katherine Parkinson, Yigal Naor, Eve Best, Tobias Menzies, Genevieve O’Reilly, Lindsay Duncan
Produced, directed and written by: Hugo Blick

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Complex. Controversial. Superbly acted. Unfolds slowly. Requires rapt attention.

None of the above apply to the likes of SyFy’s Sharknado 2: The Second One. All apply to The Honorable Woman, a many-layered, eight-part series that’s the anti-thesis of summertime escapist fare. Largely set in the Middle East, it’s certainly no breeze to watch. But the pieces come together in time, making Honorable Woman an accessible jigsaw with many a puzzled/puzzling character. Principal among them is a baroness/philanthropist played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight), whose first major foray into television is a knockout from start to finish.

Launched July 3rd on the BBC -- with a proper “u” in the Honorable -- it starts an eight-week Sundance TV run on Thursday, July 31st. Who to trust? What secrets are worth keeping at all costs? And does idealism apply in the least to the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestininan conflict, which has erupted anew in Gaza.

“It’s a wonder we trust anyone at all” are the overriding watchwords of Honorable Woman. They’re spoken narratively at the start of each chapter by Gyllenhaal’s Nessa Stein, whose mother died giving birth to her. Later, as a little girl, she witnessed the assassination of her father, a prominent Israeli arms magnate. He took a knife to the neck at a ceremonial dinner.

Nessa’s brother, Ephra (Andrew Buchan), likewise saw the murder first-hand. Honorable Woman begins with this deeply traumatic event before fast-forwarding to 29 years later. Together Nessa and Ephra now run the Stein Group, which is in the third phase of a grand gesture to promote equality of opportunity via a tele-communications network linking Stein-sponsored universities in both Israel and the West Bank.

“All this technology. All this fiber optics . . . What it’s all really about is very, very simple,” Nessa says in Episode 7. “It’s about our need to communicate with each other.” Well, it’s the thought that counts.

Both Nessa and her brother otherwise are burdened by dark secrets that in essence have put them on irrevocable paths. Their predicaments are manipulated by lethal forces on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. All eight hours of Honorable Woman were made available for review. It became impossible, for me at least, to stop watching. Not only for the mostly deftly handled twists and turns, but for the performances by Gyllenhaal, Buchan and two European vets with ample tread on their tires but no loss of traction.

Two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer plays steely Dame Julia Walsh, head of the MI6 intelligence agency. She has a delicious kiss-off line in Episode 8 that won’t be spoiled here. It might prompt many a viewer to stand up and cheer.

Stephen Rea, best known as the Oscar-nominated star of The Crying Game, is the sardonic Sir Hugh Hayden-Hoyle, whose affair with Dame Julia has wrecked his marriage. He’s otherwise the soon to be retired head of MI6’s Middle East desk. But before that time comes, Sir Hugh has one more big investigation left in him. Rea’s performance is brilliant, particularly during his lengthy grillings of characters with major duplicities in their pasts.

At issue throughout is who’s working for whom -- and why. And how. But the pivotal secret is the paternity of little Kasim Halabi (Oliver Bodur), who initially lives with Ephra, his wife, Rachel (Katherine Parkinson), their two young children and nanny Atika Halibi (Lubna Azbal).

The current volatile situation in the Middle East likely will prompt an even closer look at the overall fairness of Honorable Woman. Are the Palestinian operatives portrayed in more sinister fashion than their Israeli counterparts? Or vice-versa? Simply put, neither side emerges unscathed. But hard-core partisans will read into this what they will. From this perspective, though, Honorable Woman succeeds in being meticulously fair in its tackling of a very challenging subject. And in the realm of Middle East-centric television dramas, it makes both Showtime’s Homeland and FX’s new Tyrant seem almost like kids’ stuff.

Honorable Woman sometimes might benefit from a quicker pace. But it also thrives on the many scenes that play out at length. Sir Hugh’s precise interrogations could fill an entire hour without ever being boring. And the prolonged, pent-up tension in Episode 2, for instance, is enough to make one grip a strong cocktail for dear life.

Keeping track of the particulars from week to week can be a formidable challenge, though. In that respect, Honorable Woman might be better watched in recorded groupings of two or three episodes at a time. Binge-watching it all at once -- or over a weekend -- also might be a better way to go. But then you’d have to wait until the end of September before starting the engine.

Whatever your viewing regimen, Honorable Woman is highly recommended for its distinctive approach, bravura performances, overall digestibility and, yes, degree of difficulty. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And nothing like jumping into the deep end every now and then.

GRADE: A

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The CW's Penn & Teller: Fool Us is mostly network trickery

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Penn & Teller keep a close watch on card trickster Daniel Madison. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 30th at 7 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Penn Jillette, Raymond Joseph Teller and Jonathan Ross (who hosts)
Produced by: Peter Adam Golden, Andrew Golder, David Green, Peter Davey

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
In honor of their best-known TV show, it’s tempting to call “Bullshit!” on this latest offering from the venerable illusionist duo of Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller.

Their Penn & Teller: Fool Us amounts to sleight of hand from The CW network, which is launching the one-hour show on Wednesday, July 30th. The network says that any magicians whose tricks can’t be figured out by Penn & Teller will win “the right to perform” with them during their show at Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, which has housed them since 2001.

Well, let’s just say that one of the four contestants on the one-hour premiere successfully confounds Penn & Teller. But he won’t be appearing anytime soon at the Rio. That’s because this made-in-Britain show was canceled way back in June 2012 after eight episodes. And this particular Rio-worthy trick was performed a year before that. So if the winner ever got to Vegas, it’s been quite a while back.

The host is bearded, long-haired, big-boned Jonathan Ross, who does a pretty nice job of it despite a dated(?) introduction of Penn & Teller as “the biggest thing to come out of Vegas since Charlie Sheen’s mini-bar bill.”

Penn sets up the premise by telling the audience that “if we can figure out how the trick is done, we’re gonna say. Well, I’m gonna say.” His usually silent partner can be heard saying a few words near show’s end, though.

Penn doesn’t really give much away, though, after the duo supposedly deduce how two of the tricks are done. For one bloke, though, the gig is pretty much up.

Despite being a quickly canceled hand-me-down, Fool Us remains fairly watchable throughout Wednesday’s premiere episode. Then again, I’m a sap for magic and would be happy to perform my amazing disappearing act if this show somehow gets a second life and begins shooting actual new episodes for The CW.

Don’t hold your breath on that front, though. And don’t expect to see any of the winners at the Rio. That was then. This is now.

GRADE: C

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Sharknado 2: The Second One is chewy, screwy and chock full of cameos

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From left, the brains behind Sharknado: Scriptwriter Thunder Levin (real name) and director Anthony C. Ferrante. Photos: Ed Bark

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Jaws became the Sharknado of its day with sequel No. 2, Jaws 3-D. Or maybe it was sequel No. 3, Jaws: The Revenge, in which double Oscar-winner Michael Caine cavorted as lippy pilot Hoagie Newcombe.

Sharknado 2: The Second One, with two-time Emmy-winner Judd Hirsch as its Caine, is not burdened with blemishing its original standard-bearer. Quality-wise, it’s hard to sink much lower. And in that expectations game, director Anthony C. Ferrante and writer Thunder Levin have re-teamed to kick it up a notch with SyFy Channel’s energetic sequel to last July’s Twitter sensation. Taking bites out of the Big Apple for its second helping, it premieres on Wednesday, July 30th at 8 p.m. (central).

This time around, original stars Ian Ziering and Tara Reid share screen time with a gaggle of familiar faces looking to cash in on the Sharknado phenomenon. Hirsch, the former Taxi star, has a full-blown supporting role as, of course, a New York cabbie. Others are more fleetingly seen, although Matt Lauer and Al Roker pop in and out throughout the film as their Today show selves. Roker at one point says, “Think of it this way. This is a twister with teeth.” SyFy and NBC are both part of the Comcast Universal family, so why not?

Ziering, as former star surfer turned shark slayer Fin Shepard, and Reid (his ex-wife, April Wexler), are hoping to reconcile during a trip to New York to see his sister, Ellen (Kari Wuhrer), and brother-in-law Mark Brody (Mark McGrath), with whom Fin has issues. But things happen in Sharknado movies. And during a suitably ridiculous but crisply mounted action sequence in the opening minutes, their Santa Mira Airlines flight to NYC is severely hampered by funnel clouds of swirling sharks.

It’s a gas seeing Robert Hays of Airplane! fame as the pilot while Kelly Osbourne plays a flight attendant who’s star struck by the two heroic survivors of L.A.’s saber-toothed near-apocalypse. April manages to autograph a copy of her How to Survive a Sharknado book before suffering more than just a flesh wound. Fin ends up piloting the plane to a crash-landing in NYC before the danceable “Ballad of Sharknado” theme song kicks in. Vocals are by Ferrante himself, with a guitar track from Robbie Rist (cherubic little cousin Oliver during the waning weeks of The Brady Bunch). Thought you’d want to know.

After a laughably tender scene with April (recuperating at a hospital whose doctors include Billy Ray Cyrus), Fin is off to the New York Mets’ Citi Field, where it’s been deduced that the sharks will strike first. A game is in progress. And among those in attendance is former Mets slugger Harlan “The Blaster” McGinness (played by Richard Kind).

The Blaster remains haunted by a strikeout in his last major league at bat after yearning to hit a climactic home run for his “Pops.” His consolation prize is swatting a shark against the outfield scoreboard during the onset of another sharknado attack. Beautiful.

By the way, Vivica A. Fox drops in for more than a cup of cpffee as Skye, a former girlfriend of Fin’s who’s still sweet on him. Judah Friedlander (30 Rock) also has more than a little to do as a reluctant shark fighter named Bryan. But Hirsch is the literal driving force, expertly piloting his yellow taxi throughout the imperiled streets of NYC. In the early going, his crusty cabbie gets to say, “Almost crapped in my pants.” That’s special.

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As seen on poolside wall of the Beverly Hilton at earlier screening.

Those who succumb to Sharknado2 also can thrill to the sight of the Statue of Liberty’s severed head rolling like a bowling ball through Manhattan. That’s a pretty potent special effect. But the film’s later rope swings to safety -- after Hirsch’s cab gets stalled in Manhattan’s flooded, shark-infested streets -- are almost too threadbare for words. The sequence does inspire a fairly clever word play, though.

Others in the cameo cavalcade include Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, “Downtown” Julie Brown, Andy Dick, Perez Hilton, Daymond John of Shark Tank, Jared Fogle the Subway guy and Robert Klein as the very grateful mayor of New York City.

Whatever the impending crisis, Ziering’s Fin cuts a mean swath and has two signature scenes involving his trusty chainsaw and sharks on the receiving end.

The overall effect isn’t quite intoxicating, and it might be better if you’re intoxicated in one form or another. Still, Sharknado 2: The Second One is part of a continuing pop culture chain of events that doubles as a rags-to-riches success story for a likable rag-tag director.

Ferrante’s “vision” for Sharknado was incubated in his earlier SyFy cheese ball film, Leprechaun’s Revenge. He referenced the term there, and then talked SyFy into following through with a self-standing movie.

A third Sharknado movie is in development, and at some point it will all have to stop. Or maybe not. Just three days after its first airing of Sharknado 2, SyFy will proudly present Sharktopus vs Pteracuda on Saturday, August 2nd.

Conan O’Brien has sent postcards to TV writers touting “A CAREER-DEFINING PERFORMANCE” in the film. “I’ve never worked so hard to meet the dramatic demands of a performance . . . I want this to be my legacy,” he says.

Robert De Niro can’t be all that far behind.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net