powered by FreeFind

Apple iTunes

Archives

Westward bound for another TV "press tour" extravaganza in sunny Southern California

page3_blog_entry1133_1

Le oink a la blanquette, Monsieur Uncle Barky? Photo: Ed Bark

The annual summer Television Critics Association “press tour” beckons anew, and your friendly content provider once again is heeding the call.

It’ll all begin with a bang -- a late Monday afternoon screening of FX’s opening Season 2 episode of Fargo -- before settling into a daily pattern of one interview session after another and usually a nighttime “working” party.

This one stretches all the way from July 27 through Aug. 13th. And for at least one more time, let’s try to go the distance. Which means I’ll again be writing exclusively for New York-based tvworthwatching.com to help make a few ends meet while giving unclebarky.com a break from any postings until my return.

You can find my tvww press tour posts right here, although the site won’t be back up until Monday or at the latest, Tuesday, due to a major server crash. I’ll also be tweeting my brains out -- hopefully not literally -- whenever anything of note happens either on press tour or back in D-FW regarding TV newsroom hires or fires. You can find the tweets via @unclebarkycom.

Meanwhile, I’ve left behind a quartet of reviews of TV attractions that are premiering while I’m away. In chronological order with links, here they are:

***Wet Hot American Summer (Netflix) -- begins streaming on Friday, July 31st.

***West Texas Investors Club (CNBC) -- premieres on Tuesday, Aug. 4th.

***Mr. Robinson (NBC) -- premieres on Wednesday, Aug. 5th.

***America’s Next Weatherman (TBS) -- premieres on Saturday, Aug. 8th.

OK, I think that takes care of everything. And away I go.
Ed Bark

Trickle down humor in TBS' America's Next Weatherman

1c71a45a92401ceb4261c241fec03f07

Matt Oberg (middle) hosts America’s Next Weatherman. TBS photo

Premiering: Saturday, Aug. 8th at 10 p.m. (central) on TBS
Hosted by: Matt Oberg, with 12 contestants trying to put themselves on the map
Produced by: Mark Burnett, Dean Houser, Mike Farah, Joe Ferrell

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Technically the full title is Funny or Die Presents America’s Next Weatherman. So maybe at least some of the show’s 12 contestants are salaried comedians doing bits rather than actually aspiring to win $100,000 and a guest shot on CNN’s early morning New Day.

Not that the “reality competition” genre isn’t already well-stocked with nut cases, whether it’s Survivor or The Bachelor or Big Brother. But even by those “standards,” a would-be pastor named Drew is not to be fully believed during the course of the Saturday, Aug. 8th premiere. There will be eight one-hour episodes in all.

Your host is Matt Oberg, who most recently co-starred in FX’s since canceled The Comedians as a head writer named Mitch Reed. Oberg attempts to bring a serio-comic sensibility to America’s Next Weatherman, goofing on both himself and the 12 wanna be’s under his supervision. But like any television temperature-taker, he’s hit and miss in this respect before climactically scoring with what will be the show’s trademark kiss-off of weekly evictees.

The entire enterprise is cloudy with a chance of meatheads. The aforementioned Drew is front and center, but a sculpted, tattooed poser named Frank has his moments. As does self-styled “weather nerd” Jeff, who says, “Deep down I’m that Category 5 hurricane. And I’m coming for you guys.”

Hopefuls are equally split between men and women. A former Miss Ohio named MacKenzie makes a quick impression with her dummy, Roxie. Peripheral “TV host“ Jenn showcases her principal weathercasting skills by jogging along the beach. Her endowments are enough to obscure a good portion of Texas on any standard-sized TV weather map. Many viewers might consider that an acceptable tradeoff.

The initial “Skill Drill” requires all 12 contestants to hold microphones to their mouths while it snows and then rains on them. Coffee mugs are added to increase the weight of the mike and mike stand until a lone survivor wins an immunity-guaranteeing “Press Pass” but not an AMS Seal of Approval.

Retired Los Angeles weather legend Johnny Mountain and former Fox NFL pre-game show temperature-taken Jillian Barber later are introduced as judges or something. They’re around for the “Wall O’ Weather” competition between Red and Blue Teams. It requires a passing knowledge of geography, with teams required to affix the correct weather icon on the right locale.

Oberg, after returning from a “Confessional” in which he questions his hosting abilities, gets back into the flow nicely by challenging contestants with, “This city sounds like it was named after a plumber with low-riding pants. It’s 77 degrees with fog in Caracas, Venezuela.”

This particular competition goes on too long, though, even though it’s cut short by one team winning decisively. Then it’s on to the closing forecast vs. forecast segment between two undesirables nominated by their respective teams. But uh-oh, the TelePrompTer’s rigged. And what the hoo-hah, one of the contestants then stuns the host and everyone else by just . . .

As has been written a number of times in these spaces, weathercasters have become the MVPs of local TV news operations across the land. So whoever wins this thing -- and then appears on CNN’s New Day -- could well be hired by a station looking to capitalize on the attendant free publicity.

The show itself gets only a semi-promising forecast. It’s kind of all over the map for starters, with the funny business sometimes peeking through the clouds while also hiding behind them.

GRADE: C+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Mr. Robinson is a throwback that should have been thrown back

NUP_167861_0292

Craig Robinson (center) is singer/teacher in Mr. Robinson. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 5th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Craig Robinson, Peri Gilpin, Meagan Goode, Ben Koldyke, Brandon T. Jackson, Spencer Grammer, Amandla Stenberg, Tim Bagley
Produced by: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen, Howard Klein, Mark Schulman, Andy Ackerman

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
While TV Land strives to get “edgier,” NBC seems intent on becoming the new TV Land with its latest dated sitcom.

The Peacock’s Mr. Robinson takes a broad, punch-in-the-face punchline approach and drenches it with an oft-unwarranted laugh track. It’s the increasingly old-fashioned “multi-cam” format as opposed to “single-cam” shows that generally are subtler in tone and without canned or studio audience guffaws. TV Land lately has gone that route with its new trio of Younger, The Jim Gaffigan Show and Impastor.

Craig Robinson, who plays Craig Robinson in Mr. Robinson, has known the glory of NBC’s single-cam The Office. In this reworked and recast version of the original Mr. Robinson pilot (which co-starred Jean Smart among others), he’s still the lead singer and keyboardist of a funk bar band called Nasty Delicious. Robinson’s also been subbing as a music teacher on the side, which ends up being the main focus of this six-episode, set-in-Chicago series.

Filling in at Studs Terkel High School in hopes of rekindling a dashed romance with English teacher Victoria Wavers (Meagan Good), Craig very predictably encounters a batch of wacky co-teachers and an abrasive principal named Christine Taylor (Frasier alum Peri Gilpin in place of Smart).

“In my class, we don’t just listen to music. We make music,” Craig tells his mostly pliable class before coaxing a quartet of kids to participate.

Doofus physical education teacher Jimmy Hooper (Ben Koldyke), who dubs himself “Magnum P.E.,” is in constant full strut while Indian colleague Samir (Asif Ali) keeps trying to invent something to make him rich (such as “substitute beef” in Episode 2). Another teacher, Ashleigh Fellows (Kelsey Grammer’s daughter, Spencer Grammer), moonlights as a pole dancer. There’s also goofy school supervisor Dalton (Tim Bagley). For some reason he’s super-impressed with Craig’s band, which also includes his ambitious but awkward younger brother Ben (Brandon T. Jackson).

NBC initially planned to pair Mr. Robinson on Wednesday nights with another broad multi-cam comedy, The Carmichael Show. But each series now will get three weeks worth of back-to-back episodes, with Carmichael Show kicking in on Aug. 26th instead of the 5th.

The second Mr. Robinson episode, subtitled “Flesh For Fantasy,” is an altogether dreadful followup to the mediocre premiere. Gary Cole guests as burned out British rocker Neville Rex, who has a string of hits in his past and a community service requirement in his future. So Craig invites him to speak to his class, prompting a reunion between Neville and Principal Taylor, known as “Tight Fit” during her days as a rock band hanger-on.

“I know every inch of this vixen. Outside and three inches in,” Neville crows. That kind of writing merits a lifetime of community service.

Craig again ends up in a situation where he can either do the right thing or act in his own self-interest. Gee, wonder which path he’ll take.

Mr. Robinson has an appealing star in Craig Robinson, but the show itself is gratingly forced and formulaic. NBC may think it can go back to the future and still regale present-day audiences. But the network’s Diff’rent Strokes/Facts of Life hit parade is long past high-stepping.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CNBC's West Texas Investors Club positions itself as unscrubbed Shark Tank

west-texas-investors-s1-hdr-01

The principal money movers of West Texas Investors Club. CNBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Aug. 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on CNBC
Starring: Mike “Rooster” McConaughey, Wayne “Butch” Gilliam, Gil Prather
Produced by: Charlie Ebersol, Jason Henry, Mike Lanigan

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ain’t too hard to figure out what West Texas Investors Club is all about.

It’s CNBC’s chicken-fried, long-necked, western-cut, suit-less, tieless, college degree-less homespun answer to the big success of ABC’s Shark Tank. In that mold, it’s fronted by two multi-millionaire, Midland-based oil pipe salesmen and a cackling old singer/songwriter whose snow white beard is big enough to conceal a small handgun.

They all get nicknames for the show’s purposes. That means that two of them now have two. Mike “Rooster” McConaughey, who’s also the older brother of Matthew McConaughey, is billed as “The Gunslinger.” Wayne “Butch” Gilliam is “The Hatchetman” and Gil Prather is “The Tenderizer.” CNBC has ordered eight one-hour episodes and made the first one (premiering on Aug. 4th) available for review. It’s more or less OK, but needs some giddy up.

Holed up at “The Clubhouse,” Rooster and Butch sip beers and talk turkey to visiting entrepreneurs after Prather chats them up and determines whether they’re gen-yoo-ine human beings.

The cigar-chewing Rooster, who contributes most of the talk-to-the-camera asides, says Prather is an invaluable third wheel. ”He distracts ‘em, but he learns all kinds of stuff off of ‘em,” is the way he puts it. Butch spouts the show’s overriding tagline: “We’re looking at the person first and the business second.”

Most of the first episode is devoted to Adam Garfield of Miami, whose SpeedETab app allows bar and restaurant goers to order and pay for drinks and food via their cell phones. This particular segment is subtitled “The Good, The App and the Ugly.”

On the other hand, the 27-year-old Adam is “kind of pretty, like that singer from Maroon 5,” Rooster says. He’s asking for a $600,000 investment in return for a 12 percent stake in his fledgling company. That would get him laughed out of the room on Shark Tank. But Rooster and Butch methodically play along, requiring Garfield to have a beer with them before they test-drive his invention at nearby Corky’s bar.

Rooster, who portrays himself as a prodigious beer drinker, agrees to use the app while Butch orders the old-fashioned way, which pretty much amounts to “Gimme another one, honey.”

Rooster is soon frustrated. “All of a sudden my dad gum SpeedETab crashes,” he laments. Wi-fi reception at Corky’s isn’t exactly state of the art, it seems.

Even so, things eventually get ironed out. Then Gil plays and sings a really purdy country ballad for Adam, who’s “such a decent young man.” This “means a lot,” Adam replies, sealing a little autumn/spring bromance between a modern-day Gabby Hayes and his young new tenderfoot protege. “I’m gonna bust my ass to try to get you funded, son,” the old-timer tells him. Shucks, man.

Next is “The Pow Wow” and finally, “The Negotiation.” Will Rooster and Butch bite? And if so, for how much? No need to spoil the “suspense,” which is compromised by things being dragged out for too long. This leaves scant time for the second entrepreneurs of the episode, Christy Chang and Amy Pepper from Potomac, Maryland. Their little segment is subtitled “No Country For Old Pen.” Rewrite!!!

Prather doesn’t even get to meet, greet and dissect these two. Instead they just show up at The Clubhouse and begin talking up their No Touch Pen, which is supposed to ward off finger contact with disease-spreading germs. They want $75 grand in return for 20 percent equity.

Rooster is highly insulted when one of the women tells him, “I know you like Heineken.” It’s as though she’d asked him to drink his own piss, which is West Texas for urine.

“How dare she say that to me,” he huffs. “I named my dad gum son Miller Lyte.” He’s not joking. He really did.

Well, it won’t surprise any viewer to learn that this potential deal is going south quicker than Butch can say, “This ain’t Russia. This is West Texas.”

The show’s 14 future entrepreneurs. all of them announced by CNBC, hail from anywhere but West Texas -- or Texas, period. Products will include the Invisible Undershirt, Miss Jenny’s Pickles and the My Back Sleeper Pillow.

West Texas Investors Club has the potential to go down easier than a six-pack of Miller Lite via Rooster’s delivery system. But as an “authentic” un-scrubbed offshoot of Shark Tank, it needs to pick up the pace and cut down on the corn pone palaver, some of which seems obviously pre-scripted. Shark Tank gets more done with five investors to service in a single hour. In future seasons -- should there be any -- West Texas Investors Club would be wiser to spend more time putting up. Sorry boys, but that goes hand-in-hand with a fair amount of shutting up and moving things along.

GRADE: C

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Netflix returns to camp with a winning Wet Hot American Summer prequel series

wet h_pds_039_h

Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black in “Zoot Suit” production number from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Netflix photo

Premiering: All eight episodes available for streaming on July 31st on Netflix
Starring: Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, Michael Ian Black, Lake Bell, Josh Charles, John Slattery, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, H. Jon Benjamin, Margueritte Moreau, Zak Orth, Marisa Ryan, Judah Friedlander, Nina Hellman, Ken Marino, A.D. Miles and Joe Lo Truglio with a host of star cameos
Produced by: Michael Showalter, David Wain, Howard Bernstein, Jonathan Stern, Peter Principato

By ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
At last comes the origin story of the talking mixed vegetables can.

Which is just one reason why it’s best to watch or re-watch 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer before diving into its Netflix prequel, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. That way it will all make at least a little bit of absurd sense.

There’s ample time to do both. The original indy movie, which served as a little launchpad for both big and estimable stars, is currently available to Netflix subscribers. And the eight half-hour episodes of First Day of Camp won’t be streaming until Friday, July 31st.

Netflix made six of them available for review. They have more than enough laugh out loud moments to justify this completely unexpected return trip to Camp Firewood, circa the summer of 1981. Every single young counselor of import is back for another go, with the likes of Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Meloni contributing far more than brief walk-throughs.

There’s also a cavalcade of star cameos -- Chris Pine, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jordan Peele, “Weird Al” Yankovic, etc. -- and five longer-term new characters played by John Slattery, Lake Bell, Jason Schwartzman, Josh Charles and David Wain, who directed both the movie and the prequel and also co-wrote them.

The other overall maestro is creator, co-executive producer and co-writer Michael Showalter, who continues in the central role of hapless, lovelorn camp counselor Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg. Of all the returnees, Showalter’s physical appearance is the most notably changed. Let’s kindly say he’s considerably chunkier while the 46-year-old Rudd (currently starring in Ant-Man) is The Fountain of Youth personified. He’s still in his wheelhouse as twentysomething camp counselor Andy, a cool, flippant, gross womanizer who heists every scene he’s in.

Andy’s arrival, skidding in on a motorcycle while making a classic dismount, is a 10 on a 1-to-10 scale of grand entrances. But Slattery’s not too far behind in Episode 1 as grandiose Broadway producer Claude Dumet, who’s first seen in a white mask layered over another white mask.

Dumet’s very Simon Cowell-ish treatment of auditioning teens is a highlight of Episode 4. This half-hour also includes Showalter’s imitation of a hard-punching President Reagan, Hamm’s explosive homage to No Country For Old Men and Andy’s view that “trees look weird if you squint at ‘em.” By the way, Hamm plays a high-level government assassin known as Falcon. In the Tilt-A-Whirl story structure of Wet Hot American Summer, this is well within the dotted lines.

As with the original, the prequel is without any nudity but with an abundance of decidedly adult language. A good deal of it comes from the mouth of a new camp kid named Drew (Thomas Barbusca), who’s constantly picking on the nerdish Kevin (David Bloom). The other new camp-goer is Amy (Hailey Sole), who’s uncommonly sweet and quiet. She likes Kevin and he likes her.

OK, enough with the G-rated fluff. Wet Hot American Summer is much more about the reliably vulgar counselors and directors. In this vein, Showalter disguises himself as serial defecator Patty Pancakes in Episode 2. But he’s also being a Good Samaritan during a sequence that leads to a riotously stinky exchange with counselor Donna (Lake Bell), his would-be girlfriend.

Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” remains the hard-rocking, perfectly apt theme song and “back stories” abound beyond how the talking mixed vegetables can came into being.

Also revealed is the initial relationship between the camp’s head chef (Christopher Meloni) and arts/crafts counselor Gail von Kleinenstein (Molly Shannon). The blossoming romance of counselors Ben and McKinley (Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black) comes to full flower while new counselor Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) is not what she seems and camp scientist Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce) is still out of pocket but laying the groundwork for his arrival. Plus, there’s that problematic gurgling green toxic waste dump discovered by camp directors Beth (Janeane Garafolo) and Greg (Jason Schwartzman).

A majority of the storytelling gags rise above the purely juvenile, although sometimes just barely. Yes, it’s quite a conceit to have older actors playing half their ages or less -- and then mostly get away with it. Game, set, match goes to Amy Poehler’s counselor Susie, who tells Slattery’s Claude Dumet in Episode 6 that it would be imprudent to carry their budding relationship beyond the confines of Camp Firewood. “And besides,” she adds, “I’m 16 years old!”

Poehler in fact is 43. But who cares when everyone’s having this much fun?

GRADE: B+

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net