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Through the Family Guy prism with Fox's Bordertown


The residents of Mexifornia congregate in Bordertown. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 3rd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Voiced by: Hank Azaria, Alex Borstein, Nicholas Gonzalez, Judah Friedlander, Missi Pyle, Stephanie Escajeda
Produced by: Mark Hentemann, Seth MacFarlane, Alex Carter, Dan Vebber

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
This one’s been idling for a while after being announced long before Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump injected his views on illegal immigration and how he’d stop it.

Bordertown arguably is even cruder than Trump, though. But with Family Guy maestros Mark Hentemann and Seth MacFarlane at the throttle, this should not come as a shocker.

Their latest Peter Griffin is Border Patrol agent Bud Buckwald (voiced by Hank Azaria), a lumpy knuckle dragger who in Sunday’s premiere episode exclaims, “Sweet Nixon’s nuts, we did it!” after the deportation Proposition 7010 bill breezes through Mexifornia.

Later in these festivities, Bud blows his head off (but cartoon characters never die) upon hearing that his homely, histrionic daughter Becky (Alex Borstein) is planning to marry the college-educated nephew of next door neighbor Ernesto Gonzalez (Nicholas Gonzalez). The Buckwalds’ live-in pig, Sparkles, immediately slurps up Bud’s blood and guts. (Bad taste aside, Fox lately seems to have a jones for pigs as pets. Sunday night’s fellow new comedy series, Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life, also has a hog in residence.)

Bordertown initially was announced in May 2014 as a midseason entry for 2014-15. At that time, Azaria hadn’t been cast yet as the voice of Bud. But everyone else was in place, with Gonzalez and Borstein both doing double duty by additionally voicing J.C. and Bud’s wife, Janice. Back then, no one envisioned Trump actually running for president, let alone dominating the field. So the timing couldn’t be much better for Bordertown’s belated debut, even if it’s pretty much Family Guy all over again in terms of the corpulent protagonist, out-of-body pop culture references and some really abhorrent jokes.

The worst, in Episode 2, is at the expense of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. By all that is holy, cut this one out. The second episode also includes a reference to “Goofy’s rape room,” followed by a trademark chuckle from the veteran bumbler. The Disney Company has been known to be extremely vigilant in terms of protecting its trademark characters, so maybe this one also gets axed before air time. One easily could make it a trifecta by likewise removing Bud’s reference to his wife as a “boobed bozo.” But pretty soon there’d be no show. Which really would be just as well.

Episode 2 is mainly built around building an impregnable wall to keep Mexicans at bay. But that means Bud is no longer needed as a border guard. Which means he initially goes to work for Ernesto’s landscaping company before succumbing to cash payments in return for letting illegals into Mexifornia through a “smuggling tunnel.” No, this is not deep stuff. But I did laugh when the Buckmans’ little daughter, Gert (Missy Pyle), asks her parents in Episode 1, “Mom, dad, will one of you read me a bedtime tabloid?”

The series’ other principal character, the Buckmans’ sub-stupid son, Sanford, is voiced by Judah Friedlander from NBC’s 30 Rock. MacFarlane and Hentemann already have pumped all of these wells all but dry, which leaves Bordertown with its ramped-up topicality and little else.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Mrs. Benicio Del Taco,” Bud brays at his daughter, not knowing that J.C. already has been shot back to Mexico via the town’s red, white and blue Deportation Cannon despite being born in the USA. Ugh.

There’s undeniably been a longterm market, though, for both Family Guy and another MacFarlane offshoot, American Dad. Which is another way of saying that Bordertown very likely is critic-proof and destined to survive all slings and arrows. Just like . . . Donald Trump.

GRADE: C-minus

More young men on pause in Fox's Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life


One, two, three screw-ups. Cooper Barrett and his buds. Fox photo

Premiering: Sunday, Jan. 3rd at 7:30 p.m. (central) on Fox
Starring: Jack Cutmore-Scott, James Earl, Neal Fissley, Meaghan Rath, Justin Bartha, Liza Lapira
Produced by: Jay Lacopo, Bill Callahan, Gail Berman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Amid copious alcohol consumption and “jobs” that add up to less than nothing, three misfit male roommates sort of strive to make something of themselves.

In that vein, Sunday’s premiere episode of Fox’s Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life is subtitled “How to Survive Your Lovable Jackass.” Hee haw, those viewers who survive the whole thing might find their mouths occasionally lapsing into reasonable facsimiles of grins. Not promising anything, though. This is at best a shopworn premise that too often is guilty of shopworn lifting.

The title character, played by cute newcomer Jack Cutmore-Scott, is first seen graduating from college before being held hostage four years later. How this came to be is the gimmick du jour, with each episode flashing back to an origin story. Fox sent four episodes for review, with the second one (“How to Survive Insufficient Funds”) proving to be the best executed of the bunch. It includes an imaginative twist involving guest star Paula Abdul, who plays herself.

The “Lovable Jackass” of Episode 1 is Barry Sandel (James Earl), a decidedly plus-sized man whose needs are less than basic. Give him a new big-screen TV and he’s in hog heaven -- along with the roomies’ huge live-in pet pig. The requisite resident nerd is Neal Fissley (Charlie Saxton). But Guide to Surviving Life almost shockingly omits another latter day TV sitcom staple -- the tubby, bearded, layabout pal. What were they thinking?

Adding some stability is neighbor Kelly Bishop (Meaghan Rath), who tolerates friend Cooper’s constant screw-ups because, well, she’s attracted to him in other ways, too. Meanwhile, older brother Josh Barrett (Justin Bartha) is a comparatively prosperous attorney called on to constantly bail Cooper out. But his marriage to “fun sucker” Leslie (Liza Lapira) makes Josh yearn for the misadventures that have become a way of life for his younger bro.

The “Lovable Jackass” episode includes a drunken, pill-popping, passed out, litter-strewn “housewarming party” of the sort that Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman and his pals used to throw non-stop. A desert-set tradeoff involving hostage Cooper and his burly Mexican kidnappers also is reminiscent of BB. But this is a show that’s otherwise loyal to the Fox brand, with Episode 3 built around some 24 binge-watching and the fourth in line dropping repeated references to Bones.

The two main women characters generally are easier to take than their mostly doofus male counterparts, with Rath’s Kelly Bishop nicely showcased in a “How to Survive Being a Plus One” episode scheduled for Jan. 17th.

None of this, however, adds up to New Girl, which returns for Season 5 on Tuesday, Jan. 5th and does a far better job portraying the vexed lives of its five still youngish principles. Guide to Surviving Life makes the best case for itself in a fairly imaginative Episode 2. It otherwise aggressively stumbles along without leaving any lasting footprints. Sort of like the recent, like-minded Fox comedies Mulaney and Weird Loners, both of which now seem like rumors rather than realities.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Syfy's The Expanse looks great, lacks coherence


Co-star Florence Faivre in a series that’s also adrift. Syfy photo

Premiering: Monday, Dec. 14th at 9 p.m. (central) on Syfy with another episode on the following night
Starring: Thomas Jane, Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Cas Anvar, Florence Faivre, Wes Chatham, Paulo Costanzo, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Produced by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Naren Shankar, Andrew Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Sharon Hall, Sean Daniel, Jason Brown

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Star Wars never would have gotten off the ground had it started this incomprehensibly.

The problem isn’t with the overall look of Syfy’s The Expanse. Production values are first-rate through and through. But having little or no earthly idea of what’s going on can be a problem, even with the lengthy printed preamble greeting viewers of the Monday, Dec. 14th premiere episode. It goes like this:


What follows, though, is a muddle of characters and motivations. Yes, it’s a cool-looking muddle. But getting a handle on The Expanse in this all-important first impression episode is tougher than putting a moonbeam in a jar. Everything is pretty much all over the place, whether it’s outer space or the U.N.’s “Black Site” back on terra firma. Just in case you were wondering, the 23rd century still has strip clubs.

The cast is led by gruff Detective Miller (Thomas Jane), who’s given no first name and still wears a fedora. He’s apparently been assigned to find Julie Andromeda Mao (Florence Faivre), who’s shown in captivity during the opening minute before she busts free and then screams.

Meanwhile, at the Ceres station, a rabble-rousing Belter rails at length about being treated like dirt. The Ice Trawler Canterbury and the Freighter Scopuli also figure into this unwieldy mix of characters and locales. And Jonathan Banks, a stalwart on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, drops in for perhaps a minute as a pistol-shooting, weepy drunk who ends up being strapped to a stretcher and carted off. Banks isn’t billed as either a regular or recurring character. Perhaps he just wanted to play dress-up?

Principal among the earthlings is U.N. Deputy undersecretary of administration Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo). She’s briefly seen as both a playful grandma and a willful torturer.

All of this is based on the novels by James S.A. Corey, a pen named used by co-authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. They’ve so far written five books in The Expanse series and are contracted to do four more. Presumably they’re far more understandable than the first hour of the TV series. Things probably can’t help but get easier to digest as Syfy marches on with this. For starters, though, we have a jump-around jumble that invites viewers to abandon ship unless they’re awed enough by the impressive special effects to just gaze in dazed confusion.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Reviewing Netflix's Jessica Jones based on viewing all 13 Season One episodes


Krysten Ritter powers through the title character in Jessica Jones. Netflix photo

Premiering: Currently streaming all 13 Season One episodes on Netflix
Starring: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Mike Colter, Wil Traval, Carrie Anne Moss, Eka Darville, Susie Abromeit, Robin Weigert, Erin Moriarty, Colby Minifie, Kieran Mulcare, Clarke Peters, Rebecca de Mornay, Rosario Dawson
Produced by: Melissa Rosenberg, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Dana Baratta, Dan Buckley, Alan Fine and many others

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Among the things Supergirl will never say: “I stand in dark alleys and wait to take pictures of people boning.”

No, this is from the narrative voice of haunted, booze-swilling, dark-mooded Jessica Jones, who’s endowed with super strength and the ability to fly but is very much out of uniform and in a funk for her Season One escapades on Netflix.

Jessica Jones, adapted from the bottomless fount of Marvel comic book incarnations, is a marvel of taut, sure-footed storytelling and one eventful episode after another. ABC chose to reject it as a series. And its two Marvel entities, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, are scrubbed-up inferior beings compared to what screenwriter/head executive producer Melissa Rosenberg has wrought for Netflix.

Jessica Jones chooses not to exercise the freedom it has in terms of nudity and any hard-core expletives. That probably would violate the overall Marvel code. But it’s nonetheless the most thoroughly adult of all the brand’s feature films and TV series. Krysten Ritter (formerly of ABC’s Don’t Trust the B -- in Apartment 23) vividly portrays the title character while David Tennant segues from the tormented investigator of Broadchurch to the super-sinister mind manipulator known as Kilgrave.

Tennant doesn’t show up in full force until Episode 5 of the 13-episode Season One, which began streaming in full on Nov. 20th. This review is based on seeing the entire collection. A followup series, The Defenders, already is in production for Netflix, with Ritter’s Jessica Jones slated to join forces with other Marvel notables, including Daredevil from the earlier same-named Netflix series.

The setting for Jessica Jones is New York City, where she’s eking out a living as a snoop who collects evidence for cuckolded husbands and wives. Her office is a dumpy apartment with a busted front door. A good deal of her work comes from law firm boss lady Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss), who’s been cheating on her wife Wendy (the welcome presence of Deadwood’s Robin Wiegert) in favor of a voluptuous younger assistant named Pam (Susie Abromeit).

Jeri is amoral through and through while Jessica has little use for herself or the human race in general after earlier being possessed by Kilgrave and traumatized by what she was forced to do for him. The end of Episode 1 plunges her back into his vortex after a shocking act committed by young Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty), a missing former track star she’d been hired to find.

Multiple dilemmas ensue, with Jessica wary of involving radio talk show star Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), who’s more than a friend but not a lover but . . . well, you’ll see.

Another pivotal character, muscular bar owner Luke Cage (Mike Colter), turns out to be more than he seems and integral to both Jessica’s past and present. There’s also her apartment building neighbor, Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville), whose main pursuit is another drug fix. But appearances can be deceiving.

Jessica Jones doesn’t spare the gore or its central character but does occasionally lighten the mood with her sardonic ways and means.

“Massages make me tense,” she says in Episode 2. And in Episode 7, an exasperated Jessica pleads with Trish to stay out of the way lest she find her “bludgeoned to death with my vacuum cleaner.”

“We both know you don’t own a vacuum cleaner,” Trish deadpans.

Even Tennant’s Kilgrave briefly gets in on the act, contending that his blindly followed commands can be problematic if he’s too literal. “I once told a man to screw himself,” he laments. “Can you even imagine?”

Given the otherworldly circumstances, it all moves along quite logically and at a brisk pace that leaves dawdling for dead. There’s no flabby midsection here, just one major development after another. The fight scenes are well-choreographed and frequent. And the twists are imaginative while also being grounded in the grim realities of this ramped-up universe. I did see one twist coming -- during the course of Episode 4. But I also wrote “Wow” in my notes on more than one occasion.

Jessica Jones ends with a resounding resolution while also opening more doors for next year’s The Defenders. New and important characters are drizzled in when the time is right. By Episode 9, Jessica is telling one of them, “I wish I had a Mother of the Year award, so I could bludgeon you with it.”

Here’s hoping that when actual awards are handed out, Jessica Jones is on the receiving end of a good number of them. This is a supernatural drama of the first order, with the human condition of its anti-heroine also in sharp focus. Once you start watching, you may not be able to put her down.

GRADE: A-minus

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Danny Kaye -- Legends returns to the yesteryears of his memorable variety show

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Danny Kaye goofing with Lucille Ball, swinging with Louis Armstrong.

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Does the name Danny Kaye ring a bell?

Ring-a-ding-ding, it should during this holiday season.

Kaye, who died in 1987, is the guy opposite Bing Crosby in 1954’s classic White Christmas. Not that he wasn’t a star in his own considerable right. Kaye stood out as a singer, dancer, comedian and storyteller, with 1956’s The Court Jester, an all aglow Technicolor production that showcased all of those talents.

Then came the small screen and The Danny Kaye Show, initially in black-and-white, later in color and enduring from 1963 to 1967 on CBS. In its first year there were 15 other prime-time variety/comedy shows with the star’s name in the title. Kaye inched into the list of the top 30 most popular programs for his one and only time, tying for the last available spot with Bob Hope and trailing the likes of Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason and Walt Disney. All of them ran behind The Beverly Hillbilliies.

The Danny Kaye Show was his one and only stint as the star of a weekly television series. He threw himself into 121 episodes, with Harvey Korman his most frequent second banana before he went directly to The Carol Burnett Show. The recently released Danny Kaye -- Legends offers six full episodes on two discs, with the guest list including Lucille Ball, Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, George Burns, Shirley Jones, Liberace and Imogene Coca, the old stalwart from Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.

The black-and-white hour with Ball is a standout, particularly when they play multiple characters in a variety of costumes during an elongated sketch titled “Love Has Nine Lives.” Better yet is the post mortem. At the end of each hour, Kaye would sit down for a more intimate discourse with the studio audience. During the Ball show, he talks about the “madhouse” they’d just witnessed before asking, “Would you like to see what happens backstage?”

For the next several minutes, some of those frantic wardrobe changes are shown as seldom seen before or since, with a collection of stagehands trying their best to undress and dress the two stars. It’s a completely fascinating look at how the veritable sausage is made.

Ball and Kaye also combine skills on an ambitious production number that requires them to pop dozens of balloons until just one big one is left. Less successful is a sit-down bit in which they play a husband and wife whose maid has taken over their parenting duties. “I know who’ll fire her. The fire department,” Kaye ripostes. It’s more fun watching him mug his way through Ball’s recitation of the savory dinners the maid also contributes when not monopolizing their new baby.

Korman comes to the fore in the show with Bennett and Coca. A very lengthy maritime sketch ends with Kaye, Korman and Coca all cracking each other up in an appetizer for Korman’s subsequent sketch adventures with Burnett in general and Tim Conway in particular. Korman appeared in 82 Kaye shows, according to imbd.com. It proved to be an endurance contest with a moody and demanding host.

Like many gifted comedians, Kaye was a “very complicated man” prone to sharp mood swings and depression, Korman says in an Archive of American Television interview. “He was a perfectionist. And very hard on himself and very hard on all of us. Because it had to be perfect.”

None of this is evident in the finished product. Other high points of Danny Kaye -- Legend include his free and easy swinging with Armstrong, reminiscing at length with Burns and merely gazing upon Jones, who looks positively luminous in the collection’s first color episode.

The solo singing performances on The Danny Kaye Show invariably featured extreme closeups of the artists in full voice. Armstrong, Bennett, Jones, The Righteous Brothers and John Gary are among those on the receiving ends on these two discs. Kaye wasn’t big on the revolutionary pop music of the Sixties, preferring the sometimes dated song stylings of old. The Righteous Brothers were an exception. As is their notable performance of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.”

The worst moments of The Danny Kaye Show are some cloying, closing interludes with a little girl he very much favored -- Victoria Meyerink. This collection features two of these get-togethers, with Victoria sitting on his lap while Kaye coos and sings. She seems somewhat although not entirely uncomfortable, whether singing in turn or telling a joke.

“How do you get down off an elephant?” Victoria asks. “You don’t. You get down off a goose.”

Throughout much of his career, Kaye was the foremost ambassador/fundraiser for UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund). So his fondness for kids is genuine. Still, the segments with Victoria come off as kind of creepy all these years later. Even the studio audience doesn’t seem to respond all that well to them.

Kaye is on far firmer ground as a sketch performer and dancer with talent to burn and the time to let it all air out. Broadcast network television hours of the 1960s had about 10 minutes more running time than they do today. So nothing seems to be in a rush, whether the host is delighted to be in the company of Burns or participating in that memorable outfit-swapping extravaganza with Ball. Well, that was done in a rush. But the sketch itself keeps going and going.

Kaye closed each show by dancing and skipping off into a bright blue yonder after cracking a climactic joke.

“If you’re one of those who can’t brush after every meal, have toothpaste for lunch,” he says after thanking guests Ball and Gary.

If you’re a student of television’s distant yesteryears, Danny Kaye -- Legends is worth your time and money. It showcases a truly unique individualist in times when variety shows were the norm not the exception. Kaye took full advantage, showing off his many talents, showcasing his guests and grooming Korman for all those best days ahead of him.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Eva Longoria's in fine form in a funny forum on NBC's Telenovela


Dressing the part: Eva Longoria in Telenovela. NBC photo

Premiering: Sneak-previewing with back-to-back episodes on Monday, Dec. 7th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC before returning on Monday, Jan. 4th
Starring: Eva Longoria, Jencarlos Canela, Diana Maria Riva, Amaury Nolasco, Jose Moreno Brooks, Alex Meneses, Jaclyn Douglas, Izzy Diaz
Produced by: Eva Longoria, Chrissy Pietrosh, Jessica Goldstein, Ben Spector, Josh Bycel, Jonathan Fener

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Eva Longoria still looks fabulous, as do her many-splendored outfits in NBC’s intendedly over-the-top Telenovela.

The show also wears well, with Longoria vigorously in the forefront and a solid supporting cast led by scene-stealers Diana Maria Riva and Alex Meneses. NBC made four episodes available for review, with two of them being sneak-previewed on Monday, Dec. 7th following The Voice before Telenovela disappears until Jan. 4th. The Peacock used the same method of attack on Nov. 30th with the notably inferior Superstore, which will be paired with Telenovela when both return.

Longoria, who remains off-camera as a co-executive producer of Lifetime’s Devious Maids, struts her star quality in Telenovela as Vivavision Spanish language soap star Ana Sofia Calderon. It’s her first full-time TV series stint since Desperate Housewives left ABC in 2012. And Longoria runs with it, whether engaging in a “stare-off” on the set of Las Reyes de Pasion or trying to stifle a gag reflex whenever the sex act is described with specifics.

Ana Sofia has a built-in problem (she doesn’t speak Spanish) and a vexing new one when her philandering ex-husband Xavier (Jencarlos Canela) joins the soap’s cast as the star’s latest love interest. Consoling and counseling her is trusted wardrobe lady Mimi (Diana Maria Riva). Conspiring against her is the aging Isabela (Alex Meneses), whose leading lady status was usurped by Ana Sofia.

Both Riva and Meneses are terrific in these roles, giving Telenovela two prime fallback positions. Isabela’s defense mechanism cat hisses are especially amusing. The cast also includes former Prison Break star Amaury Nolasco as Rodrigo, who has an array of false mustaches for his on-camera soap role. Add Jose Moreno Brooks as the openly gay Gael, who plays a uniformed cop with a penchant for stripping to the waist. The ensemble is completed by Jadyn Douglas as ditzy Roxie and Izzy Diaz as off-camera crew member Isaac.

There are some problems with continuity after NBC’s decision to air the episodes out of their original order. Episode 4, subtitled “Evil Twin,” has been moved up to the No. 2 spot on Monday night. It includes a hot and seemingly continuing off-the-set romance between Mimi and Rodrigo, which wasn’t supposed to kick in until the fourth half-hour. Which means that the reconfigured Episodes 3 and 4 now will play as though this never happened.

Former Chuck star Zachary Levi, who’s not listed as a regular character, is first seen in the premiere episode as Anglo Vivavision network president James McMahon, who also speaks fluent Spanish. In the initial scheme of things, he was supposed to also be in Episode 2, “The Kiss,” in which McMahon and Ana Sofia start dating and then take it beyond that. As things now stand, McMahon is altogether missing in Monday’s second episode, returns for Episode 3 and is completely out of the picture again in Episode 4.

Perhaps the nearly one-month gap between the first two episodes and the resumption of Telenovela on Jan. 4th will make continuity beside the point. But sticklers with relatively long memories might well notice and wonder what happened to both romances.

In real life, Longoria found herself on the receiving end of alleged infidelities by her now ex-husband Tony Parker, who still plays point guard for the San Antonio Spurs. So perhaps her character’s circumstances in Telenovela are meant to mirror that experience in some respects. Whatever the motivation, it’s good to see Longoria back in fine form, both comedically and in all those eye-catching costumes.

“I may not be your wife, but I’m still in charge here,” Ana Sofia tells Xavier in the opening episode. She’s not as in charge as she thinks, in terms of all the machinations in play. But Longoria most assuredly commands center stage, with very able assistance from a talented ensemble. They all serve Telenovela very well, making this a much-needed bright spot on NBC’s midseason schedule. Added plus: the all-Hispanic cast of regular characters marks a first for the Peacock. After 70 years as a network, that’s not muy bueno. But it sure is about time.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Stocking stuffer: Netflix's A Very Murray Christmas


Making Murray-ment with George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Paul Shaffer. Netflix photo

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Not everything on Netflix is extra special. Not even a Christmas special.

It seemed to be a fair assumption that A Very Murray Christmas would find the host grooving and goofing on the holiday season by reprising his smarmy Saturday Night Live lounge singer, Nick Ocean. But for the most part, Bill Murray is taking all of this quite seriously during the frequent times he breaks into song. His vocals are, well, tolerable. Just don’t expect anything even remotely close to the effortlessly smooth and melodic stylings of Bing, Frank, Nat, Perry, Andy or Dino.

The due date is Friday, Dec. 4th and the setting is a snow-bound New York City, where Murray as himself is supposed to front some sort of live Christmas special from the famed Cafe Carlyle. But none of his announced guests can make it, leaving him to sing “I’ve Come Down With Those Christmas Blues” in his hotel suite while the ever-faithful Paul Shaffer tickles the ivories.

It’s very awkward going at first. Two handlers, one played by Amy Poehler, try to persuade a mopey Murray to go on with the show. There’s also a brief drop-in by Michael Cera as the show’s producer. Neither of these interludes works comedically, or at all for that matter. Still, Murray very reluctantly begins his show with “Jingle Bells” before his somber mood again intervenes. “I’m so alone,” he laments.

At this point, many a viewer also might be ready to chuck it all in and find an unapologetically sappy Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime. At least you’ll know what you’re getting into. But wait, there’s some hope -- in the form of Chris Rock. He wanders into the hotel and is embraced by Murray before declaring, “There’s no (#$%*+!*) way I am doing a live television special.”

Which means, of course, that they’re soon breaking into “Do You Hear What I Hear?” Rock’s best efforts to be a vocalist are amusing opposite Murray’s straight-ahead approach. And for the first time there’s a chance that this might be more than coal in your stocking or another sock and underwear set from grandma.

But alas, there’s a power failure at the Carlyle, which jettisons the live special for good and leaves Murray to commiserate and connect with the hotel staff. A waitress, played by Jenny Lewis, duets with him on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” before Maya Rudolph drops in to arguably commit sacrilege by singing Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home”). Shaffer again is at the keyboards, as he was for all those many years during Love’s annual visit to Late Show with David Letterman. Some things should be left to posterity, though. Rudolph’s effort is game and brassy, but just doesn’t feel at all right.

Murray also plays marriage counselor to an arguing bride and groom played by Rashida Jones and Jonathan Silverman. Then David Johansen, as a hotel staffer, plunges into “It was Christmas Eve in the Drunk Tank” and attendant lyrics.

All of this achieves a somewhat homey effect before the heavily boozing Murray passes out and envisions his Christmas special as it might have been. It’s a beautiful faux snowy white studio setting, with Miley Cyrus and George Clooney arriving on a sleigh. “I thought I’d make a martini or two,” says Clooney, who later joins Murray on “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin’ ” by contributing the refrain.

Both men are in Dinoesque black tuxes while Cyrus wears a strapless red and white semi-Santa Claus suit. Her performance of “Silent Night,” while sitting atop Shaffer’s piano, has a good deal of power and range. For the big finish, all join in on “Let It Snow.”

A Very Murray Christmas is as uneven as a child’s first effort to build and frost a gingerbread house. It’s also different, which sometimes works in its favor. The timeless crooners from Christmas specials past have nothing to fear here. Still, with a few belts and a fireplace in play, this should all go down pretty easy, breezy.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net