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Heading West -- for TV networks' new season show and tell


The annual summer Television Critics Association “press tour” is coming soon to a tourist hotel not so near me.

So your friendly content provider again will make the trek West, beginning on Tuesday, July 23rd and continuing all the way through August 8th.

One last full dose should be enough. And while in L.A., I’ll be tweeting via @unclebarkycom while also writing periodically for the New York City-based tvworthwatching.com.

During this sojourn, posting on unclebarky.com will go on hiatus. It’s the first such long break since January of 2012. But we’ll be back at it early in the second week of August.

Safe travels to me and to you this summer.

Ed Bark

Netflix a first-time contender, HBO again dominates and FX's dramas get snubbed anew in 2013 Emmy nominations

Game-Of-Thrones-Daenerys-Targaryen-Full-HD-Wallpaper house of cards-465

Game of Thrones led all HBO nominees while House of Cards put Netflix on the Emmy map in Thursday morning’s announcements.

Netflix made its maiden voyage as an Emmy contender Thursday, with House of Cards setting the pace with nine of the digital streamer’s 14 nominations.

The announcements otherwise had a gratingly familiar ring, with HBO again the supremely reigning network, FX’s drama series getting skunked in major categories and a wealth of repeaters among the nominees for best drama and comedy series.

House of Cards, the only new entrant in the top drama series category, joined a reprise of 2012’s nominees -- HBO’s Game of Thrones, AMC’s Breaking Bad and Mad Men, Showtime’s Homeland and PBS’ Downton Abbey. Only HBO’s Boardwalk Empire failed to repeat, but it still received 10 nominations overall.

FX’s widely acclaimed first year series The Americans and the network’s long-running Justified were left off the list. The Americans received two nominations, including a Guest Actress nod for veteran Margo Martindale even though she appeared in the majority of episodes. Justified came up completely empty, leaving it trailing the likes of The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and NBC’s Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, both with one nomination.

In the comedy series division, FX’s Louie broke through for the first time, replacing Curb Your Enthusiasm (which didn’t air in the past year). Otherwise it was same-old, same-old, with repeaters Girls and Veep (HBO); 30 Rock (NBC); Modern Family (ABC); and The Big Bang Theory (CBS).

Netflix’s new 13-episode run of Arrested Development didn’t make the best comedy series cut, but had three nominations overall, including a best actor nod for Jason Bateman. Netflix’s other two nominations went to the werewolf/vampire drama Hemlock Grove.

Emmy’s top nominee, FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum, repeated last year’s haul of 17 nominations. But because the cast and story lines change from season to season, it entered the far less competitive “Outstanding Miniseries or Movie” category, which also includes History network’s The Bible and the heavy favorite, HBO’s Behind the Candelabra. The other nods went to HBO’s Phil Spector, Sundance Channel’s Top of the Lake and USA’s Political Animals.

HBO’s leading total of 108 nominations is well up from last year’s 81, which also topped the field. It’s twice as many nominations as the top broadcast network performers, CBS and NBC (both with 53). Fox had another lean year, getting just 19 nominations to trail all broadcast nets except The CW, which again had none. Only NBC upped its total from last year, but just barely from 51. PBS took the biggest plunge, with 25 nominations compared to 58 in 2012.

HBO’s highest scorer is Game of Thrones, whose 16 nominations trailed only American Horror Story. GOT got 11 nominations last year.

As usual, HBO commanded the miniseries/movie category, with 15 nods for Behind the Candelabra and 11 for Phil Spector. It has all five nominations in the star-powered best actor division, with Candelabra’s Michael Douglas and Matt Damon competing against Phil Spector’s Al Pacino, Parade’s End’s Benedict Cumberbatch and The Girl’s Toby Jones.

Emmy’s double-digit nominees also include NBC’s Saturday Night Live (15); NBC’s 30 Rock and AMC’s Breaking Bad (13 each); AMC’s Mad Men, PBS’ Downton Abbey and ABC’s Modern Family (12 each); and Showtime’s Homeland (11).

Here are some other Emmy nomination highlights:

***Douglas and Damon are both going for their first Emmys. Each has struck out in four previous tries. But there are others with longer losing streaks. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm so far has gone to bat nine times without a win. And Bob Newhart, nominated as a guest actor in The Big Bang Theory, is 0 for 6 so far. In the unscripted series category, Heidi Klum now has a total of 13 nominations. She’s hitless in 12 previous at bats.

***The most nominated among this year’s contenders is Tina Fey with a grand total of 29 chances and 7 wins so far. Louis C.K. is the runner-up with 23 nominations, including an eye-popping total of seven this time out for Louie (acting, writing, directing), Louis C.K.: Oh My God (writing, directing, editing) and as a guest host on Saturday Night Live.

***Notable first-time Emmy nominees include Emilia Clarke (dragon lady Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones); Jeff Daniels (HBO’s The Newsroom); Harry Hamlin (Mad Men); Kerry Washington (ABC’s Scandal) and Robin Wright (Netflix’s House of Cards).

The 65th annual Prime-Time Emmy Awards will be telecast Sunday, Sept. 22nd on CBS, with Neil Patrick Harris hosting.

A complete list of Thursday’s Emmy nominees is here.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Still a headliner: Season 2 of HBO's The Newsroom


Ship’s captain: Jeff Daniels as ACN anchor Will McAvoy. HBO photo

At its best when it sticks to the journalism -- and at times off-putting when it doesn’t -- The Newsroom again makes its presence felt.

Returning to HBO for Season 2 (Sunday, July 14th at 9 p.m. central), Aaron Sorkin’s blend of workplace clashes and tangled personal lives can still take a seat near the head of the prime-time class. When it’s good there’s nothing out there any better. And when it falters, it’s far closer to a stumble than a crash-landing.

The nine-episode second season’s opening theme music has been pepped up and shortened, with new visuals and a piano at the forefront. And the overall storyline is an instant grabber. The fictional ACN cable network is reeling from an explosive exclusive that went badly awry and now endangers the jobs and futures of all the key players, including bombastic anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). So one of the first characters you’ll see is a new one -- Marcia Gay Harden as high-powered litigator Rebecca Halliday. She’s representing ACN, but acts like the enemy. Watching McAvoy and Halliday clash in the opening minutes makes for a great start before Newsroom rewinds to August 2011 to begin detailing how this all came about.

Unfortunately, this also means revisiting the tiresome love triangle among chipper associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), idealistic producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher) and taciturn veteran producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski). It’s all glop compared to the price McAvoy is being asked to pay for calling the Tea Party “the American Taliban” during an on-air commentary.

The dialogue, although certainly sharp, doesn’t seem as rat-a-tat-tat this time around. Sorkin has tempered that to a degree, but sparks still fly between McAvoy and his executive producer/former lover Mackenzie “Mac” McHale (Emily Mortimer). Sam Waterston also is back as news division president Charlie Skinner. Newsroom is always on point whenever they have a face-to-face meeting. The only downside is that their one-on-ones don’t last longer, with both Daniels and Waterston commanding the screen with their characters’ percolating points and counterpoints. This is the place where McAvoy declares, “Snark is the idiot’s version of wit, and we’re being polluted by it.” Gonna chew on that a bit.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign figures prominently in Season 2. Hangdog Jim, looking to distance himself from Maggie, volunteers to replace an injured colleague on the front-running Republican candidate’s campaign bus. This enables him to both constantly rock the boat and meet blogger Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer). She’s initially cool to him, of course. But you’ll know exactly where this is going -- and it pretty much gets there near the end of Episode 4. Meanwhile, Maggie is Africa-bound after also looking to get away from it all.

Jim’s replacement back at ACN is Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), the guy who’s tipped to a story that U.S. forces used nerve gas abroad during an “extraction” mission dubbed Operation Genoa. Newsroom is at its best in portraying the infighting and skepticism that goes hand in hand with a story of this magnitude.

Sorkin’s personal politics are well-known and left of center. And as with The West Wing, he at times makes this transparently clear during the first four Newsroom episodes sent for review.

Episode 3 begins with Daniels’ McAvoy denouncing audience members who booed an openly gay U.S. soldier’s question about future military policy during a Republican candidate debate in Orlando.

“Soon they’ll surely be in hell. But not soon enough,” McAvoy says before also lashing the pro-military Republican field for remaining silent. In a post mortem, Skinner wonders aloud, “How do these people boo a soldier? How do the candidates say nothing? And how are you a member of this party?”

McAvoy nominally remains a “moderate” Republican. So he’s still perfectly willing to twit the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement while also declaring, “I don’t think there’s an immoral way to kill terrorists.” But Newsroom as a whole tilts its content teeter-totter to the left, giving Fox News Channel (which also is upbraided in Episode 3) almost weekly opportunities to take offense. They’re probably secretly thanking Sorkin.

Whatever your politics, Newsroom can and should be admired for its passionate interest in how the media handle or mishandle stories of major import. Sorkin doesn’t spare the whip in this respect either. In Episode 4, a fictional Romney campaign spokeswoman named Taylor Warren (Constance Zimmer) tells the constantly agitating Jim, “I hate the press in ways you can’t even comprehend.” And she has a point.

Sorkin also pens a delicious face-off between McAvoy and gossip columnist Nina Howard (Hope Davis).

“I don’t believe in censorship. But I’m a big believer in self-censorship,” he tells her in hopes of waylaying the real story of why he wasn’t allowed to anchor ACN’s 10th anniversary coverage of 9/11.

By the end of Episode 4, even Maggie begins to resonate as a character of new import following a devastating experience in Africa. Her questioning by Harden’s Rebecca Halliday ends up being heart-rending as the transformed Maggie haltingly revisits what happened to one of her colleagues.

Newsroom likely will be a lightning rod throughout its run on HBO. Few TV dramas are as thought-provoking or daringly opinionated. Sorkin doesn’t always get everything right. Who the hell does? But he writes with purpose, force and conviction, sometimes with a heavier hand than necessary. It’s a challenge and a pleasure to watch and review his work while always admiring all that went into it.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions: unclebarky.com

Celebs at play on NBC's Hollywood Game Night


Jane Lynch hosts a gaggle of game-playing celebs. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 11th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Hosted by: Jane Lynch
Produced by: Sean Hayes, Todd Milliner, Michael Agbabian, Dwight D. Smith

It’s the summer sensation that’s sweeping the nation!

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss your brains goodbye!

More fun than The Marriage Ref! (But what wasn’t.)

In all seriousness, though -- hah! -- NBC’s Hollywood Game Night had me pretty early in the game. All it took was contestant Martin Short gushily telling host Jane Lynch, “You are an icon and I adore you.” He then tells her to get out of the way of the TeleprompTer he’s reading from. Now that’s entertainment.

The idea of “celebrities hanging out and living it up in a cocktail party atmosphere” -- as NBC publicity materials describe it -- dates to the likes of Hollywood Squares, Playboy After Dark and Pantomime Quiz, the ancient summer replacement series in which host Mike Stokey presided over the likes of Vincent Price, Elaine Stritch, Carol Burnett, Dick Van Dyke, Rose Marie and Stubby Kaye.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these shows, and much that can be inherently right. And the Thursday, July 11th premiere of HGN has enough going for it -- particularly Lynch, Short and a disheveled looking but game Matthew Perry -- to prompt a return visit next week. Added bonus: At some point you’ll also get to see future guest Jason Alexander in his latest ill-chosen toupee. But will Lynch dare kid him about it?

HGT’s lead executive producer is Sean Hayes, who supposedly based it on the real-life game nights he regularly hosts in his home. Hayes also will have a new sitcom on NBC this fall, so maybe this was something of a barter deal.

Lynch is overly amped up in the early going. This can happen when your house band is Dean Butterworth and the Scorekeepers. But she begins hitting her stride by telling Perry, “Your hair’s not lookin’ so great tonight.” There’s sure lots of it, though.

Perry plays along, amiably making himself a hapless fall guy throughout the night. His teammates are Daniel Dae Kim, Kristen Bell and civilian Amy Argyle (originally from Dallas).

Short, one of the world’s greatest hams, is joined by Lisa Kudrow, Allyson Hannigan and a shoe salesman named Kevin. During a climactic final round, the commoner on the winning team plays for $25,000 while a chosen celebrity partner can win up to $10 grand for a designated charity.

The first two games, “Crunch Time” and “Take the Hint,” are pretty much groaners. One facilitates an array of product placement ads for various “crunchy snacks” while the other is identical to Password. “You guys are terrible at this game,” Lynch tells a losing team. Wink Martindale she’s not. And bravo for that.

Things pick up considerably with “Lil’ Picassos,” in which kids draw pictures of various celebrities and contestants try to guess their identities. The “Timeline” game likewise is fun. Six photos each of Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt are displayed on easels. Teams must correctly rank them in chronological order.

As the score tightens, Lynch heightens the drama. “The tension in the air is so thick you can smell it,” she declares after a commercial break. “Or it might be that lobster I lost track of at my last party.” A rim shot from the band effectively underscores the lameness of the joke. Then it’s on to the pulse-pounding “I Love a Charade,” in which team members must act out movies starring Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise.

None of this is meant to be brain surgery -- or even a Botox injection. But as a silly summertime lark, HGN pretty much hits it out of the park on opening night. Lynch brings some of her Sue Sylvester sass to the proceedings, Kudrow has an infectious laugh, Perry knows how to take a punch and Short is always a consummate mirth maker.

In fact, no show of this sort should ever go on without Short somewhere in its mix. But next week’s edition will, with an announced celebrity contingent of Valerie Harper, Matthew Morrison, Cheryl Hines, Rob Riggle, Sarah Chalke and Yvette Nicole Brown. Let’s see how it all plays out.

GRADE: B-minus (for starters at least)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Netflix's Orange is the New Black: Go directly to jail and don't miss this one


Orange is the New Black stars Taylor Schilling (in orange). Netflix photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 11th with all 13 episodes streaming on Netflix
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon, Jason Biggs, Kate Mulgrew, Michelle Hurst, Danielle Brooks, Michael Harney, Natasha Lyonne, Pablo Schreiber, Dascha Polanco, Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba, Matt McGorry, Maria Dizzia and many more
Produced by: Jenji Kohan, Liz Friedman

Women behind bars. They’ve mostly been confined to pulpy print and the “adult” film industry.

Fox, in its formative years as a broadcast network, had a brief fling with Women In Prison, a 1987 sitcom that quickly got time off for bad behavior in the Nielsen ratings. And that’s pretty much the long and short of it in terms of prime-time TV exposure.

Netflix has much bigger plans for Orange is the New Black, whose 13 Season 1 episodes will all be available for streaming on Thursday, July 11th. A second season already has been ordered and rightly so. Adapted from the same-named memoir by Piper Kerman, this is as good and provocative a TV series as you’re likely to see this year. Even if it technically isn’t entirely within the TV realm.

Before getting more specific, let’s briefly marvel at what Netflix has accomplished with its four original series to date. The first, House of Cards, received virtually unanimous acclaim. Hemlock Grove got comparatively harsh treatment from TV critics, but was still better than most of the latter day new stuff coming off the Big Four broadcast network assembly lines. Both series will have sophomore seasons.

The return of Arrested Development in late May was a bonafide event that for the most part seemed to please the show’s ardent fan base. And now comes Orange is the New Black, which is nothing short of a triumph from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. This includes a standout opening theme song, “You’ve Got Time,” performed by Regina Spektor.

Set in a fictional federal prison, Orange is the New Black is not meant to be as dark, foreboding or violent as a certain long-running HBO series. Episode 1 conveys that message via prison security guard head Sam Healy (Michael Harney), who tells the newly arrived Piper Chapman (series star Taylor Schilling), “This isn’t Oz. Women fight with gossip and rumors . . . You do not have to have lesbian sex.”

Not that they’re aren’t ample opportunities. And Piper’s past includes a prolonged “lesbian at the time” affair with Alex Vause (Laura Prepon in a complete U-turn from That ‘70s Show). Alex is the one who introduced her to a heady, risky world of international drug-running after they chance-met at a bar. It’s the reason why Piper, the money mule, is serving a 15-month sentence while her fiance, Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), tries to wait patiently for her release. Biggs is OK in this role but nothing to write home about, from a prison cell or otherwise.

The series introduces a near battalion of supporting characters, including a notably bulked up Kate Mulgrew (Capt. Kathryn Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager) as a domineering Russian head prison cook named Galina “Red” Reznikov. Initially almost unrecognizable, Mulgrew quickly becomes a revelation. Her performance is fearlessly fierce while also occasionally a little comedic. This isn’t a flat-out “dramedy” by any means. But Schilling in the lead role is often a mood-lightener, except when she’s scared to death of what might befall her.

Netflix made the first six episodes available for review, and all of them run for more than 50 minutes apiece. This is ample time to spotlight the back stories of various inmates, whether it’s stern old “Miss Claudette” (Michelle Hurst), the transsexual Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) or emotionally bruised Dyanara Diaz (Dascha Polanco), whose near-demonic mother also is part of the Litchfield population.

Episode 1 of Orange is the New Black begins, somewhat misleadingly, with a veritable montage of female nudity. This includes an amorous shower scene with Piper and Alex. Perhaps producer/creator Kohan had a prototypical big tease in mind, providing viewers with what’s come to be expected when women are behind bars. But the series for the most part doesn’t follow through in the next five episodes. There’s graphic sex talk to be sure, and some very out of the ordinary still shots in Episode 6. But this definitely is not a series on a weekly mission to work in at least one group shower scene.

The prison guards, most of them male, include Pablo Schreiber as a swaggering louse known as “Pornstach.” At times he comes close to being a cartoonish character from Reno 911. On the other hand, he’s never dull. “Two speeds in my yard. Walk and shuffle,” he barks with an almost goofy bravado.

His polar opposite is young guard John Bennett (Matt McGorry), a veteran of Afghanistan whose growing attraction to inmate Dyanara is mutual on her part. It threatens to get a bit sappy at times, but so far serves as a palate-cleansing counterbalance to the grunt ’n’ grind, loveless couplings of Pornstach.

The multi-ethnic cast of Orange is the New Black, with black, white and Latina factions, affords the series all kinds of paths and sensibilities to explore. Racial divides come into play, but so does an overall comradeship. Only Episode 4 so far conveys a palpable sense of menace, with a missing screwdriver in play and at least one character who’d very much like to use it on an inmate who spurned her. It’s the strongest hour of the first six -- and it bracingly does not end predictably.

Schilling, Prepon and Mulgrew are uniformly terrific throughout, whether in prison garb or flashback civilian clothes. But other characters are equally compelling, giving this series innumerable stories to tell for hopefully many seasons to come.

Based on the first six of 13 episodes, Orange is the New Black has passed virtually every test with flying colors. You might want to incarcerate yourself -- on a living room couch -- as soon as time allows.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Camp packs an adult punch in addition to mosquito repellent


Rachel Griffiths heads the cast of summertime’s Camp. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Rachel Griffiths, Rodger Corser, Thom Green, Charles Grounds, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Lily Sullivan, Dena Kaplan, Tim Pocock, Natasha Bassett
Produced by: Liz Heldens, Peter Elkoff, Gail Berman, Lloyd Braun, Eugene Stein

Ah, the joys of summer camp.

Swimming, Capture the Flag, talent night, mosquito bites, bullying, being caught masturbating by your mom . . .

The latter event, which won’t occur until the July 31st episode, is one of the reasons why NBC’s Camp is scheduled at the unusually late hour of 9 p.m. (central). Although heavily populated with tweens and teens, this is something of an adult “dramedy” starring Rachel Griffiths of Six Feet Under fame as the newly divorced proprietor of the struggling Little Otter Family Camp.

Ten episodes have been ordered, and this is a reasonably pleasant surprise quality-wise for viewers who were expecting junk on the bunk. The situations and story lines are no more complex than a pup tent. But Griffiths, as oft-vexed but ever-nurturing Mackenzie Granger, gives Camp a little heft in the midst of all those young love triangles and coming-of-age yearnings.

Some of the kids are all right, though. Kip Wampler (Thom Green), one of several counselors-in-training, is a brainy, bookworm-y leukemia survivor who declares to his well-meaning dad, “I’m not changing who I am to conform to some freakish outdoors-y cult mentality.”

But his resistance is soon tempered by cute Marina Barker (Lily Sullivan), a kindred spirit and fellow CIT who for some reason is immediately ostracized and hazed by a trio of resident mean girl counselors.

Mackenzie’s son, Buzz (Charles Grounds), likewise feels like an outsider. So the three of them bond while returning counselors Robbie Matthews and Sarah Brennen (Tim Pocock, Dena Kaplan) continue to sort out their feelings for one another during the course of making love, smoking pot and enjoying adult beverages.

Sarah, the most appealing character in the regular cast, still takes regular dips in the adjacent lake. This enables her to swim right into a paddle being stroked by a hunky, successful author who’s using the posh, nearby Ridgefield Lodge as a retreat. She tells him of being an Olympic swimming hopeful until losing her scholarship. Both might as well have “Smitten” tattooed on their foreheads.

Mackenzie’s carefree boob of an ex-husband also is part of the mix. But her enabling of him is counter-balanced by a growing attraction to jaunty, cocksure Roger Shepard (Rodger Corser), owner of the Ridgefield Lodge and eager to buy the comparatively ratty Little Otter camp and remake it to his specifications. Meanwhile, a twentysomething camp handyman named Cole (Nikolai Nikolaeff) wants her to want him instead.

Mackenzie otherwise hangs out with the male gay parents of a camp kiddo and a married female friend who keeps carping about how bad her husband is in the sack. This is quite an encampment all in all. Have we mentioned that young counselor Robbie’s mom is a hard-core gambling addict who keeps disappointing him?

Meanwhile, Kip pines for Marina but she increasingly has eyes for someone else. This leaves him with an off-and-on consolation prize, the vacuous, self-absorbed Chloe (Natasha Bassett). But even she is perhaps a bit misunderstood.

Camp is buoyed by the rooting interest a viewer might develop for several of the principal characters. Griffith’s Mackenzie deserves some happy days, as do Kip, Buzz, Marina, Robbie, Sarah, perhaps Chloe and maybe even Roger.

What emerges, in the three episodes made available for review, is an accessible, easily imbibed summertime series that basically beats actually going to camp for an entire gut-wrenching summer. So c’mon in, the water’s not bad once you get used to it.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

On the border with FX's The Bridge


Diane Kruger and Demian Bichir star in The Bridge. FX photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Diane Kruger, Demian Bichir, Ted Levine, Annabeth Gish, Thomas M. Wright, Matthew Lillard, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Emily Rios
Produced by:Meredith Stiehm, Elwood Reid, Carolyn G. Bernstein

It’s bracingly distinctive on several fronts but also grindingly familiar with its serial maiming and killing of women.

FX’s The Bridge, premiering Wednesday, July 10th, otherwise seems sturdily built and destined to become another of the network’s season-spanning series. Only a small handful of FX’s new prime-time dramas or comedies have ended up being one and done. This is a network that knows what it wants and what its viewers will buy into. And this year already has birthed two standout FX newcomers, with both The Americans and Legit renewed for second seasons.

The Bridge divides its time between the two highly unusual TV terrains of El Paso and Juarez. The first three episodes sent for review aren’t overtly political. But the series’ central murder mystery is the killing of a female judge with an anti-immigration record. Her body is found on a bridge connecting the U.S. and Mexico. After a closer look, the two principal detectives on the case find that initial appearances can be deceiving. Or to put it another way, jurisdiction is a split decision.

El Paso’s crime-solver, Det. Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), can be a bit too laughably robotic at times. Is she a Stepford child with a Mr. Spock hard drive? Young, beautiful and absent any discernible people skills, Sonya is protected and shepherded by wizened Lt. Hank Wade (the ever-terrific Ted Levine).

Her ad hoc new partner is Juarez-based Det. Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir), who’s still striving to be an honest cop within a thoroughly corrupt system. Married for a second time and with three kids in the bargain, Ruiz is still recovering from a vasectomy but hasn’t lost his dry wit. Bichir plays this part with both an edge and a nudge, enlivening The Bridge whenever it threatens to sag under the weight of his partner’s mechanical mindset.

“For the record, officer, your bedside manner sucks dog balls,” says a surly small-time newspaper reporter who’s no prize himself. The role of hard-drinking, coke-sniffing Daniel Frye is played with energy to burn by Matthew Lillard. In another time and place, he could just as easily be Dennis Hopper’s crazed photojournalist in Apocalypse Now.

While the corpses start piling up, so do the problems for widow Charlotte Millright (Annabeth Gish). Her prosperous late husband, Karl, abruptly told her he wanted a divorce before dying from a heart attack and avoiding some of that messy paper work. It turns out that Karl had a secret life involving Mexican immigrants. And its after-effects do not bode particularly well for Charlotte, beginning with a visit in Episode 2 from Lyle Lovett (as a lawyer bringing word of a “prior obligation” involving Karl and “my client.”)

The Bridge underscores its border locale with a phone message from the apparent killer. The gist of it: Far more attention is paid to the killings of a few white woman in El Paso than to the many hundreds more young Juarez women who meet the same fate annually. So is getting this message across the killer’s primary motive? Let alone that of the series itself? We’ll see about that.

A sizable portion of The Bridge originates from Juarez, where Spanish is spoken and subtitles used. Some of this time is spent in the Ruiz household, where Marco and his wife, Alma (Catalina Sandino Moreno), appear to have a loving, supportive marriage. But Episode 3 lays the groundwork for a jolt on that front.

It’s yet to be seen whether Kruger’s Sonya Cross will measure up -- character-wise -- to this series’ principal males. Bichir’s Marco Ruiz is instantly relatable while Levine’s laconic Hank Wade throws off lines with the greatest of ease. Such as, “I just googled ‘Search Dialectics.’ I still don’t know what it means.”

Sonya, unlike Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison on Homeland, shows no signs of suffering from bipolar disorder or perpetual “cry face.” Still, if The Bridge catches on, she might someday be just as ripe for an even more barbed Saturday Night Live parody.

By the end of Episode 3, yet another terrorized young woman’s life hangs in the balance while everyone scurries to find her. It’s a bridge that broadcast and cable series keep crossing, whether it’s Fox’s The Following, NBC’s Hannibal, AMC’s ongoing Season 3 of The Killing, etc., etc.

The Bridge so far looks to have more promise than any of the above. It’s still early, though. And the now reflexive slaughtering of defenseless woman shows no signs of being brought to a stop.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Shout! Factory's latest intriguing TV time travel is The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis from start to finish

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Dwayne Hickman, Bob Denver as Dobie Gillis & Maynard G. Krebs.

It’s nearing 54 years since the premiere of the first TV series built primarily on a teenager’s point of view.

There’s a catch, though.

Dwayne Hickman was 25 when he first appeared as the 17-year-old star of CBS’ The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis on Sept. 29, 1959. And the role of his beatnik pal, Maynard G. Krebs -- the Fonzie of his day -- went to 24-year-old Bob Denver.

That didn’t leave a lot of time for their high school years, even with the looser believability standards of those days. Which is a shame when looking back on Shout! Factory’s new release of the complete series, which stretched for four seasons and 147 episodes. By Season 2, Dobie and Maynard already had enlisted in the Army. And in the 1963 series finale, Dobie Gillis had grown so tired and lame that it simply recycled the storyline of the very first episode.

It all aired in black-and-white, although Dobie’s hair nonetheless looked strikingly blonde. The producers of the show, as Hickman explains in a new interview on the “Extras” disc, didn’t want Dobie to look anything like the Chuck MacDonald character he had just played on NBC’s The Bob Cummings Show. So he went from full-headed brunette to close-clipped blonde until his hair began falling out from too much dye, Hickman says. By the start of Season 2 his mane had gone notably darker while the show began going south creatively.

The first season is still a joy of re-discovery, though. Dobie began each episode in a park, replicating the hand-in-chin pose of a nearby statue of “The Thinker.” He talked at length to the camera, with Episode 1 elaborating on the show’s theme song of how “Dobie wants a gal who’s dreamy. Dobie wants a gal who’s creamy.”

But Dobie was invariably broke, unwilling to work in his high-strung father’s grocery store and fated to pursue material girls. Principal among them was beauteous Thalia Meninger, played by a then 16-year-old Tuesday Weld. Thalia kept pleading poverty in her own right while demanding that Dobie spend lavishly on her during the course of becoming rich enough to marry her.

Weld did just 16 episodes of Dobie Gillis, though, all but two of them in Season 1. And the series’ most famous inhabitant, Warren Beatty, left the show after appearing in just five episodes as super-wealthy and snooty Milton Armitage.

Beatty, 22 at the time, is absent from the pilot of Dobie Gillis but shows up in a big way in Episode 2, subtitled “The Best Dressed Man.” As a high school classmate of Dobie, Maynard and Thalia, he immediately impresses her with the impeccably tailored suits he flaunts.

“You know, I always hang my clothes six inches apart so that the materials don’t rub together,” Milton tells her. Swoon.

“Why, he’s not a man,” Dobie laments. “He’s a tailor’s dummy.”

Dobie fights back by convincing the owner of Ziegler’s clothing store (played by cartoon genius Mel Blanc) to let him “advertise” his suits and sports jackets by wearing a different one to school each day. Dobie and Milton then begin trying to top each other with grand entrances to the classroom. Thalia is ecstatic. And even in black-and-white, the outfits jump off the screen in an episode that also introduces venerable William Schallert (later to play Patty Duke’s sitcom dad) as exasperated teacher Leander Pomfritt.

The first and easily the best season of Dobie Gillis, created by humorist Max Shulman, also births the character of plain-faced, nose-wrinkling Zelda Gilroy (Shelia James). Her ardor for Dobie is undiminished despite constant rejection.

They first meet while seated next to each other in zoology class during Episode 3 (“Love is a Science”). Zelda is initially mute before Dobie finally exclaims, “For Pete’s sake, speak to me. Say something! Say anything!”

“I love you,” she replies, explaining that they’re “victims of propinquity” because their surnames are alphabetically close to one another.

Dobie has no romantic interest in her, but Zelda is undeterred. She’s also a terrific character, but again only a recurring one who appeared in 33 of the 147 episodes and just four in the show’s dreary final season. Dobie and Zelda never married during the series, but were presented as man and wife in the embarrassing 1988 movie Bring me the Head of Dobie Gillis.

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Warren Beatty, Sheila James, Tuesday Weld as Milton, Zelda,Thalia.

Hickman was the top-of-the-marquee star of Dobie Gillis, with his name appearing in capital letters at the start of every episode. But Denver became the breakout character and took it to the bank in much the same way Henry Winkler did with his Happy Days depiction of Fonzie.

Denver, who died in 2005, went immediately from Dobie Gillis to Gilligan’s Island and its subsequent cartoon and movie sequels, including 1981’s immortal The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island. His Maynard always wore a cut-off sweatshirt with holes in it, switching from a badly soiled version to a clean one in Season 2.

Maynard had numerous catch phrases. His aversion to any sort of labor prompted him to exclaim “Work!” whenever the word came up. His other go-to line -- “You rang?” -- always came after an unflattering description prompted a pop-in appearance. As when Dobie, in the Season 2 premiere, said that his chances of landing a towering blonde named Esme were “puny, scrawny, skimpy, scraggly, tattered.” Enter Maynard: “You rang?”

Maynard also called Dobie “good buddy” and regularly said, “Like I’m getting all misty” whenever his emotions welled up.

Dobie’s grocery store-running parents, Herbert T. and Winnie Gillis (Frank Faylen, Florida Friebus) were also prominent in the series. In fact, Herbert T.’s constant blowups may have had as much screen time as Maynard’s innocent bumblings. Dobie’s pop also had a tagline in Season 1, vowing repeatedly, “I gotta kill that boy. I just got to.”

Beatty’s Milton Armitage was soon replaced by the far more foppish Chatsworth Osborne Jr. (Steve Franken), who proved to be a poor substitute. And in a curious turn of events, Maynard briefly enlisted in the Army during Season 1’s Episode 5. A new character, cousin Jerome Krebs (Michael J. Pollard), dropped in at the end of that episode and appeared in the next one as well while Denver’s Maynard stayed off camera. Maynard then suddenly returned in time for Episode 7, explaining that the Army had given him a “hardship discharge” because it couldn’t take him anymore.

Pollard went on to co-star in Beatty’s breakthrough 1967 feature film, Bonnie and Clyde. The two of them met in Episode 6 (“The Sweet Singer of Central High”), in which Beatty warbles a few bars of “My Old Kentucky Home” before later being told by Dobie that he has “little fat legs.”

Hickman sounds a lot like Jack Benny in a number of early episodes. And in that aforementioned new interview, he admits, “There were mannerisms that I picked up from Jack. And I knew Jack. And he was a really delightful man.”

Dobie Gillis never received any Emmy nominations, but did rank among prime-time’s 25 most-watched series in both its second and third seasons. It was a pretty smart show at first, with ample wit and promise tucked within the title character’s obsession with finally finding and keeping “a girl to call his own.”

But the Season 3 premiere, with Dobie and Maynard getting out of the Army and enrolling in S. Peter Pryor Junior College, pretty much sealed the show’s fate as a growingly formulaic sitcom with a sappy bent as well. At that episode’s close, the newcomers all join in singing the school’s hymn. Cringe.

Season 4 begins with a sendup of the Ben Casey medical drama and ends with a big thud of a 147th episode titled “The Devil and Dobie Gillis.”

Zelda is nowhere to be found here. Instead Dobie pursues Chatworth’s rich cousin Pamela (Barbara Babcock of future Hill Street Blues fame) in a virtual replication of Episode 1. In short, Dobie agrees to participate in a rigged big money-drawing only to suffer guilt pangs after envisioning a future life of crime. But as before, he actually has the winning ticket when the co-conspirator is delayed. Pamela, as did Thalia, then brusquely kisses him off for being so stupid.

It should be noted that it was much easier to run out of new ideas in those days. Doing 147 half-hour episodes in just four seasons averages out to almost 37 per season compared to the 22-to-24 made in today’s TV world. With fewer and shorter commercial interruptions, episodes of Dobie Gillis also average more than 25 minutes apiece compared to today’s 20-21 minutes.

In that context, the first and far superior season of Dobie Gillis amounted to two seasons in terms of running time and number of episodes. Weariness then seemed to gradually set in all around. And Shout! Factory has it all there for you to see.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Sequel to The Bible goes to NBC, with History network left wanting

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Scene from The Bible; producers Roma Downey, Mark Burnett.

Mega-producer Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, have forsaken the History network and sold their sequel of The Bible to NBC.

The Peacock announced Monday that A.D.: Beyond the Bible will take up where the crucifixion left off. Presumably more than 30 pieces of silver were required to land a continuation of this year’s most-watched miniseries, which averaged more than 11 million viewers for its 10-hour run. It also has sold more than one million DVD units.

NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt says in a publicity release that he “knew the story was far from over after Christ’s crucifixion. In fact, what happened in the aftermath -- which is essentially the beginning of Christianity -- is utterly fascinating . . . This will be attention-getting in every way, and we’re proud to continue our association with Mark.”

Burnett already produces The Voice, Celebrity Apprentice and The Sing-Off for NBC. He’s also the architect of CBS’ Survivor and ABC’s Shark Tank.

There’s no air date yet for The Bible’s sequel. NBC says it’s the first project under its “new longform programming initiative.”

All of the broadcast networks are becoming newly gripped with miniseries/Big Event fever after years of little or no interest in a form that produced some of television’s biggest smashes. They include Roots, Shogun, The Thorn Birds and The Winds of War.

Last week, CBS struck ratings gold with Episode 1 of Under the Dome, a 13-part, special effects laden summer attraction that averaged 13.5 million viewers nationally on opening night.

Email comments or questions to; unclebarky@verizon.net