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Liev Schreiber stars in Showtime's Ray Donovan, but the victory lap's for Voight


Sins of his father make the son’s blood boil. Showtime photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 30th at 9 p.m. (central) on Showime
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, Paula Malcomson, Steven Bauer, Elliott Gould, Peter Jacobson, Katherine Moennig, Dash Mihok, Eddie Marsan, Pooch Hall, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby
Produced by: Ann Biderman, Mark Gordon, Bryan Zuriff

Author Brett Martin’s new TV book, Difficult Men, came out just before another weekly anti-hero begins acting up.

Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper, Al Swearengen, Tommy Gavin, Vic Mackey, Dexter Morgan, the entire male cast of Sons of Anarchy. All have qualified in just the last decade or so. Now it’s “fixer” Ray Donovan, who’s been fairly happily cleaning up messes for Hollywood’s rich and powerful before his despotic father Mickey suddenly shows up after surreptitiously obtaining a Get Out of Jail card.

Showtime’s taut and pretty terrific Ray Donovan, starring a hard-boiled Liev Schreiber as the title character, premieres on Sunday, June 30th following the start of Dexter’s eighth and final season.

Schreiber brings a solid, stolid presence to the role. But it’s Jon Voight as Mickey who gives this drama its ferocious, dangerous and sometimes creepy edge. This is Voight’s best work in decades as a former gangster with Boston’s Irish mob who spends 20 years behind Massachusetts bars before emerging with a devil’s glint and a thirst for revenge on his terms.

Mickey’s first very willful act is to pop the priest who molested his son “Bunchy” (Dash Mihok) as a kid and turned him into a drug- and alcohol-addicted basket case. But did he kill the right guy? Whatever the case, he’s heading West to settle other scores.

During Mickey’s incarceration, all the other Donovans have relocated/fled to Los Angeles. Ray and his very Bah-stun wife, Abby (Paul Malcomson), have a daughter, Bridget , and a son, Conor (Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby). Refreshingly, neither is a punk. In fact, both are pretty sweet.

Ray’s other brother, Terry (Eddie Marsan), a broken-down boxer with Parkinson’s Disease, helps to run Donovan’s Fite Club. Their kid sister, Mary, is no longer with them. She dove off a building as a teenager, and Ray still mourns her with a “Mary Donovan R.I.P.” tattoo on his chest.

There’s also a half-Donovan named Daryll (Pooch Hall), whose origins will be made fully clear in Episode 2.

Sunday’s premiere for the most part builds sturdily to an up-close and personal clash between Ray and Mickey. Voight’s real-life problems with his daughter, Angelina Jolie, have been heavily publicized over the years. But their rocky relationship, since mended, seems to pale in comparison to the father-son estrangement in Ray Donovan. Go near his family and he’ll kill him, Ray tells Mickey. Which doesn’t stop him from doing just that on the sly.

The Ray-Abby marriage is roughly comparable to that of Tony and Carmela on The Sopranos. Other women gravitate toward Ray in the line of business, and he’s not entirely immune to their advances. He’s also willing to use force when needed, including a baseball bat in Episode 1. Ray also has something of a tagline -- “I got another call.”

Abby enjoys the creature comforts her husband has provided, but takes no guff when pushed. Their arguments are mostly propelled by her, though, while Ray remains a man of few words, or none at all. Tony would have barked right back. Ray tends to keep his mouth firmly in check, but won’t tolerate any inroads from Mickey.

“He’s an old man. He just wants to have some family in his life,” Abby pleads near the start of Episode 3. It’s enough to again send Ray stalking off to the “fancy apartment” -- her words -- he keeps on the side. Still, these scenes crackle.

Ray’s principal “associates” are a methodical Israeli bruiser named Avi (fine work by Steven Bauer) and the quietly efficient Lena (Katherine Moennig), described in publicity materials as a “laconic, hard-boiled lesbian.” But her character still needs considerable fleshing out, even after the first four episodes that were made available for review.

Ray Donovan tends to get a little weak downstairs, though, whenever one of his Goldman/Drexler law firm employers enters a scene. Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson) is inevitably in a loud state of panic over the high-stakes fates of his jeopardized clients. But Elliott Gould’s Ezra Goldman can be even harder to take as a grieving widower with growing dementia who’s intent on atoning for the “bad things” he’s done in concert with Ray.

Gould, an actor of the same generation as Voight, is not nearly in the same league anymore. His Ezra character enervates the proceedings while Voight’s Mickey electrifies them. It would be far more bracing if Ezra would soon take a long walk off a short Santa Monica pier. Perhaps he’d like to take his law partner with him. Both would be welcome departures, freeing Ray to work for someone else.

Don’t do anything to Mickey, though. His coarse sensibilities and seeming cocksure bravado are as elemental to Ray Donovan as a forklift in an appliance warehouse. But his character also is beholden to one. And so even Mickey sometimes must do what he’s told in order to avoid a return visit to the cell that son Ray so badly wants him in.

The major promise of Ray Donovan and the still first-rate qualities of Homeland give Showtime its latest one-two punch in a never-ending bout with arch-rival HBO. Schreiber brings fortified steel to the title role while Voight makes this series shake, rattle and pulsate. In his 74th year, it suddenly seems as if he’s only just begun.

GRADE: A-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Death be not proud: Lifetime's Anna Nicole movie

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New Anna Nicole movie is not hesitant about displaying its assets. Lifetime photos

Voyeuristic movies of this sort usually have a bountiful assortment of scenes fit for a Mommie Dearest “Best of Show” competition.

Lifetime’s Anna Nicole, premiering Saturday, June 29th at 7 p.m. (central), does not shrink from this task. Let us count just a few of the ways:

***In opening narration accompanying an overhead shot of her corpse, the title character (played by Agnes Bruckner) notes that “I’ll be buried as international celebrity and balls to the wall party girl, Anna Nicole Smith. But I was born Vicky Lynn Hogan.”

***Oscar-winner Martin Landau, as octogenarian sugar daddy J. Howard Marshall, drops his jaw into an awe-struck drool-dispenser upon first seeing his future bride at a Houston strip club.

***Making a last-ditch bid for a verbal promise to leave her lots of money, Anna Nicole thrusts her breasts near “Paw Paw’s” face on his deathbed. But the old man is too far gone. “Is that you, mother?” he wonders. “Where you been, mother?”

***In an arguably more lucid moment, J. Howard gruffly dismisses the concerns of his family fortune-protecting son, E. Pierce Marshall (Cary Elwes). “Now get the hell outta here,” the old man commands. “You’re stinkin’ up my seafood.”

***Getting super-blasted while pregnant with her second child, Anna Nicole crawls on hands and knees across a bar toward a glass of red wine.

***Son Danny, fed up with Anna Nicole’s constant posing, boozing and pill-popping, musters the gumption to blurt, “You suck at bein’ a momma, momma!”

That last scene would be my grand prize winner in a film that at least can’t be accused of being tame, boring -- or for that matter, completely sucking. Landau lightly sprinkles his performance with nuance. Elwes is solid throughout as E. Pierce (called “E. Prick” by Anna Nicole and misspelled “Pearce” in Lifetime press materials). And Virginia Madsen shows how to really blow at bein’ a momma during her vivid recurring scenes as Virgie Arthur.

Then there’s former soap star ingenue Bruckner in the title role. Whether coaxing a surgeon into giving her bowling ball-sized breasts or reflexing preening at the click of a shutter, Bruckner thrusts everything she has into this role under the direction of Mary Harron, whose credits include American Psycho and I Shot Andy Warhol.

The end result isn’t a very good biopic and certainly not a noble one. But there’s no business like show business, and this was bound to be made by someone. In fact it’s a minor miracle it took this long. Close to six-and-a-half-years have passed since Anna Nicole’s Feb. 8, 2007 death of a drug overdose. When Liberace died in 1987, dueling movies on ABC and CBS aired in the following year.

Anna Nicole portrays its subject as both victim and victimizer, with ill-fated son Danny (played by three different actors) the principal truth-teller.

“Do you realize that you and a camera are like a moth and a flame?” he also informs her. But to no avail.

In its second half, the film includes a portrayal of Howard K. Stern, depicted for the most part as Anna Nicole’s latter day enabler and the architect of her much-ridiculed 2002 “reality” series for the E! cable network. Adam Goldberg capably navigates the Stern role in a film that includes brief real-life TV clips of Larry King (with dark hair) and Matt Lauer (with a full head of hair).

As the closing credits show, Anna Nicole also deploys a “David Letterman sound-alike” (named Chris Cox) for portions of a “Top Ten List” recitation of “Anna Nicole Dating Tips.”

Letterman likely won’t be at all amused by this. And Bruckner’s climactic Anna Nicole narrative also includes him among the many people she could blame for her downfall. Even so, the “mirror’s where I gotta begin,” she concedes.

None of J. Howard Marshall’s estate ever came directly her way, thanks to the vigilance of the likewise deceased E. Pierce. And now, with this movie, others are making money off her name while Anna Nicole’s six-year-old daughter, Dannielynn, reportedly is in line for a multi-million dollar payout from the Marshall estate.

Anna Nicole was always one to say “More, more,” though. So it’s hard to imagine her objecting to this movie in the least. Just spell the name right, show her at the top of her game and try to believe her just a little when she’s shown telling E. Pierce, “My feelings for your father are as real as rain.”


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Under the Dome gives CBS something new under the hot summer sun


An invisible force field co-stars in Under the Dome. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, June 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre, Dean Norris, Natalie Martinez, Britt Robertson, Alexander Koch, Colin Ford, Nicholas Strong, Jolene Purdy, Aisha Hinds
Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, Brian K. Vaughan, Neal Baer, Stacey Snider, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Jack Bender

CBS already has a summertime full of disparate people sequestered under the same roof. The 15th edition of Big Brother launches on Wednesday, June 26th.

The new 13-part series Under the Dome, adapted from Stephen King’s umpteenth novel, has no $500,00 cash prize awaiting one of its inhabitants. Nor did any of the residents of little Chester’s Mill know what they were getting into.

Still, the principle’s roughly the same. How well or poorly will they co-exist after being cut off from the rest of the world? Who knows more than he or she is letting on? What alliances will form?

How it all turns out -- and whether the book is closely followed -- look to be well worth your investment. CBS has made only the first hour available for review, but it makes for an impressive start Monday night. Under the Dome, whose co-executive producers include King and Steven Spielberg, seems destined to be the crown jewel among summertime diversions from the Big Four broadcast networks. It looks neither cheap nor too deep. But as popcorn entertainment, there’s some nourishment as well.

The cast is bereft of any marquee names. But it’s going to be a very big summer for a familiar face to Breaking Bad fans. Dean Norris struts through Under the Dome as “Big Jim” Rennie, a throw-his-weight-around city councilman who perhaps knows something about why and how an invisible force field has suddenly enveloped Chester’s Mill.

And while this series runs its course, Norris also will be very visible as the pivotal Hank Schrader on Breaking Bad, which returns to AMC on Aug. 11th for its final eight episodes.

Under the Dome begins with the rather mysterious Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel) tossing a male corpse into the grave he’s just dug. By episode’s end, viewers will know the identity of the deceased but not the circumstances of his death.

Barbie later is out in a pasture when a cow is split in half length-wise by a searing something-or-other that burns a line in the ground marking the force field. As in The Truman Show, the invisible bubble also occupies air space. A prop plane is sent crashing into bits and pieces after flying into it. For good measure, the producers throw in an accompanying severed leg.

Townies gradually learn what’s befallen them. They include a new newspaper editor named Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre), who first runs into a middle-aged crank with an aversion to print product. “I get my news online, sweetheart, like everybody else,” she says. That’s cold -- and marks only the beginning of Shumway’s problems.

The aforementioned “Big Jim” has a twisted, knife-wielding son known as Junior (Alexander Koch), who tells the old man, “I’m the only one who understands what’s really going on here.” His would-be girlfriend, Angie McAlister (Britt Robertson), is a hospital candy striper who knows Junior’s dark sides all too well -- and runs afoul of them.

Meanwhile, Angie’s brother, Joe (Colin Ford), is prone to falling flat on his back and saying, “The stars are falling. The stars are falling in lines.”

Under the Dome parlays solid special effects and an intriguing storyline, giving CBS’ a bracing breeze of fresh air during a summer season that previously has been a playground for Big Brother and “procedural” crime series reruns.

Cable networks use this time of year very efficiently, saving many of their most popular and/or acclaimed dramas for hot weather runs. Now CBS looks as though it also might have both a player and a water cooler talker. The water cooler mostly being the internet these days.

The premiere episode sent to TV critics for review initially ended with the actual voice of President Obama, who’s heard assuring the denizens of Chester’s Mill, “America’s with you. We are standing behind you.”

But the Los Angeles Times recently reported that those words -- from Obama’s assurances to victims of Hurricane Sandy -- have been cut from the final on-air version of Under the Dome. It was deemed “inappropriate” to mix and match a real-life tragedy with a fictional one.

Maybe the president will be watching anyway. He likely could use a quality summertime escape.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Lifetime's Devious Maids: an ABC reject with a hot, saucy Latina beat


Dishing the dirt during one of Devious Maids’ gossip get-togethers. Lifetime photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 23rd at 9 p.m. (central) on Lifetime
Starring: Ana Ortiz, Dania Ramirez, Roselyn Sanchez, Edy Ganem, Judy Reyes, Mariana Klaveno, Grant Show, Matt Cedeno, Melinda Page Hamilton, Susan Lucci, Drew Van Acker, Rebecca Wisocky, Tom Irwin, Brianna Brown, Brett Cullen, Paula Garces
Produced by: Marc Cherry, Eva Longoria, Sabrina Wind, Paul McGuigan, Larry Shuman, David Lonner, John Mass, Paul Presburger, Michael Garcia

Rejected by ABC but perhaps perfect for Lifetime and these times, Devious Maids lathers up Sunday night with a sudsy, bounce-around premiere.

Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry and co-star Eva Longoria are co-producing a serial soap that’s both wholly derivative and in its own way a trailblazer. Never have so many Latinas held the power in a prime-time TV series, even if they’re outwardly scraping by as underlings of mostly smug, condescending, rich Beverly Hills whites.

Let’s get ahead of ourselves a bit with a pretty delicious scene near the end of Episode 1. A domestic named Marisol Duarte (Ana Ortiz), who of course is not all that she seems, is preparing to serve dinner at the home of Michael and Taylor Stappord (Brett Cullen, Brianna Brown). But then Michael’s recently discarded ex-wife barges in and starts throwing things.

“Do not screw with me, bitch. Or you will live to regret it!” a take-charge Marisol suddenly commands. She then strong-arms the ex- and evicts her with this kiss-off line: “To people like you, I’m just the woman who opens the door.” Marisol then slams it in her face.

If only all of Devious Maids were that well played. Although after a pretty clumsy start, DM does start to find itself amid a whirl of characters populating not one, not two, but five households. That’s a lot of thespian mouths to feed, particularly when several scenery-chewers are repeatedly in play.

Principal among them is Susan Lucci as Genevieve Delatour, an aging, self-deluded socialite who employs both wizened Zoila Diaz (Judy Reyes) and her willful daughter, Valentina (Edy Ganem), who has a crush on Genevieve’s cutey poo son, Remi (Drew Van Acker). Early in Episode 1, Genevieve hides under her bed after imbibing a bottle of pills. What else is one to do after being rejected by the pool boy.

Genevieve is resilient, though. In Episode 2 she co-conspires with Valentina with the understanding she’s still “got dibs” on the mansion landscaper. “I’ve been priming that pump since the day he trimmed my hibiscus,” Genevieve notes.

There’s also laughably haughty Evelyn Powell (Rebecca Wisocky), whose husband Adrian (Tom Irwin) has been having an affair with head maid Flora Hernandez (Paula Garces). In a device likewise used in the first episode of Desperate Housewives, Flora ends up as the designated corpse after staggering into the midst of a poolside party before making her last big splash.

Who did it will remain an open question, as it also was for a good while in DH. But Evelyn is more concerned about the bloody mess that Flora left behind. “Well, who is going to clean all this up?” she asks before the opening title card and credits kick in. She later fires off another one: “For God sake, Taylor, poor people like to be pretty, too.”

Producer Cherry also has populated this series with Odessa Burakov (Melinda Page Hamilton), an icy Teutonic head maid with a serrated tongue and a wooden leg. She barks out orders to piping hot Carmen Luna (Roselyn Sanchez), an aspiring singer hoping to latch on to her pop star employer, Alejandro Rubio (Matt Cedeno).

Whew, this is starting to get exhausting. But just one more household to go.

Spence and Peri Westmore (Grant Show, Mariana Klaveno) are well-heeled actors with a maid named Rosie Falta (Dania Ramirez). She’s a widow whose little son has been left behind in Mexico while she strives to make ends meet and send a little money back home. Rosie also has the goods on what Peri is doing behind Spence’s back. But will she play that card?

Throughout the first two episodes, Devious Maids is afflicted with a constant and oft-dippy soundtrack that sounds like what you might hear at an Idaho Mexican restaurant run by a gringo named Herb Tuber. As did the principals of Desperate Housewives, the stars of Devious Maids also find time to gather for off-site gossip sessions. Pretty convenient, with subtitled Spanish spoken for a least a few token sentences.

Even so, Lifetime could really use a new series that pops. And the curvy maids of this concoction just might be able to make that happen. Semi-inspired lines such as “You’re wearing your smug smile -- the one that makes me want to strike you” -- provide just enough counter-balance to stuff like, “I may unclog drains for a living, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”

There’s also a seemingly ham-handed closeup of the book The Peasant & The Devil after the ever-randy Adrian Powell starts closing in on maid Marisol. But hey, the book also contains an incriminating note.

Devious Maids prominently features what looks to be a record number of Hispanic actresses. And there’s certainly potential strength in viewer numbers as the U.S. Hispanic population continues to grow at a rapid rate.

So maybe the ABC network messed up by not giving this a fling, even though ABC Studios is still the overall producer and Lifetime is half-owned by the Disney-ABC Television Group. Still, it cues me to a line in Episode 2: “To steal another woman’s husband is rude. But to steal her maid is unforgivable.”

In this case, Lifetime actually didn’t filch anything. ABC just let Devious Maids go to a sister cable network. No matter. There’ll be a bit of a mess to mop up in ABC’s executive offices if DM emerges as a Lifetime hit. And these maids will demand double overtime and then some.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

R.I.P. James Gandolfini: Sept. 18, 1961 to June 19, 2013


James Gandolfini at a July 2007 HBO party. Photo: Ed Bark

Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker.
James Arness as Matt Dillon.
Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing.
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano.

These indelible TV roles will never say die. But the actors who played them are all too perishable. Adding “the late James Gandolfini” to this list is particularly painful.

The deaths of O’Connor (at age 76), Arness (88) and Hagman (81) all came at the “appropriate” time. Gandolfini was just 51 when the end came.

He was famously reticent about both stardom and the character that gave it to him, Tony Soprano. But he was effusive -- for him at least -- during the last full gathering of The Sopranos cast at a 2006 hotel ballroom interview session tied to the series’ two-tiered, 20-episode sixth and final season.

Up against a hotel foyer wall after the session had ended, Gandolfini dispensed short but affable answers to a cluster of TV writers.

“Would it disappoint you if Tony were killed?” he was asked.

“It would feel odd for a moment,” Gandolfini said. “But I think it would be as valid an ending as anything.”

One more thing: “How would you feel about a heart attack?”

“That would be kinda lame,” Gandolfini replied.

The Sopranos famously and controversially ended on an open-ended note, with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” playing off Tony, Carmela and Anthony Jr. while they ate onion rings at a diner on the night of June 10, 2007. Gandolfini died -- of a reported heart attack -- on June 19 in Rome. Kinda lame for those of us who wanted him to go on and on -- perhaps even to a big-screen Sopranos capper somewhere down the road.

The role of Tony Soprano, a methodically vicious but palpably vulnerable New Jersey mob leader, catapulted Gandolfini from everyday, unknown character actor to international stardom. Outwardly at least, he didn’t care at all for the latter. Nor was he much for introspection about either the acting craft or the role of his lifetime. Let the finished product do the talking. And Gandolfini’s work was exquisite, whether sparring in therapy sessions with Lorraine Bracco’s Dr. Jennifer Melfi, brutalizing a subordinate or having it out with wife Carmela (Edie Falco), on whom he cheated with abandon.

The Sopranos first hit full force in January of 1999, when HBO introduced it to rave, open-mouthed reviews. In the summer of that year, Gandolfini endured his first big brush with the media at the annual Television Critics Association awards, where he shared an “Outstanding Individual Achievement in Drama” trophy with Ally McBeal and The Practice creator David E. Kelley. He also had just been nominated for a best actor Emmy, which he lost before eventually winning three in a row.

Gandolfini and the rest of The Sopranos cast had been flown in from New Jersey, where filming on Episode 2 of Season 2 was in progress. He clearly didn’t enjoy the idea of being peppered with questions during a pre-awards reception.

“This is very nice. But I just think the character’s a lot more interesting than me,” Gandolfini said. “I just say the words that (creator) David Chase gives me.”

Chase and Gandolfini were a matched pair in terms of shrinking from off-camera spotlights. But they were comrades in arms when it came to perfecting The Sopranos and then living up to the phenomenon it had become.

“I thought he (Chase) would give it to someone who’s a little more suave, a little more like these dons are usually,” Gandolfini said. “I’m not like that at all. I was very surprised when I got it. They decided to take a shot, I guess. Of course, I was probably kind of cheap.”

He had grown antsy by then, eager to escape. Asked what he liked most about Tony, Gandolfini found his exit line. “His Russian mistress,” he said to laughter. “That’s about it, right? Thank you very much.”

Post-awards, he beat a hasty and emphatic retreat. “Get me out of here. Get me out of here now,” he ordered an HBO publicist. And that was that.

“He’s a very shy man,” co-star Bracco said. “It’s very sweet. With me, he’s an animal, though.”

She let loose with a big laugh. But everyone felt the pressure after Season 1 racked up 16 Emmy nominations.

“Absolutely,” Bracco said. “Not for the Emmys so much, but whether you can continue to do good work, real work, truthful work.”

Falco said she couldn’t yet grasp any thoughts that The Sopranos would someday be seen in the same ground-breaking, classic league as Hill Street Blues or All In the Family.

“I can’t go there in my head,” she said. “Otherwise you can’t do the work. We’ve got to do what we did last year. It’s a buncha people who are good actors working until the wee hours of the morning laughing our heads off. If you have to stand above it and say this is a classic thing, well, that’s just too big a title to put on it.”

Gandolfini earlier had gamely tried his best to laugh off any aspirations to greatness.

“I’m sure we’ll screw it up,” he deadpanned. “But it’s not brain surgery. You just do the best you can.”


Gandolfini in a 1999 publicity shot for The Sopranos. HBO photo

Gandolfini remained the indispensable front-and-center bada bing of The Sopranos throughout its storied six-season, 86-episode run. As with the far more debonair but equally self-destructive Don Draper on Mad Men, Tony triggered virtually any action of reaction of consequence. He was a raging bull, a shaky mama’s boy, a lover, a hater, a compulsive, consumptive creature with disparate appetites and needs.

Gandolfini never hit a false note during any of this. But what a yeoman effort it must have taken to keep rising to these challenges. “I’m a neurotic mess,” Gandolfini once said of himself. “I’m really basically like a 260-pound Woody Allen.”

That was before he began the care and feeding of the neurotic mess known as Tony Soprano. And it ate away at him in those early years.

“When I leave work now, I leave,” he said at that 2006 interview session. “I think it kind of spilled over a little bit in the beginning. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I had a lot to learn about being famous. There’s a lot of good things about it and a lot of things I’d like to change. But mostly good things.”

One of them was being a co-presenter, with LeAnn Rimes, at the 2005 Country Music Association Awards in Manhattan.

“That’s a perfect example (of what fame can bring),” he said. “I met a lot of people I never would’ve met. But I made a bit of a fool of myself because I didn’t know who anybody was really.”

Post-Sopranos, Gandolfini had anticipated starring as Ernest Hemingway in a film about his marriage to photographer Martha Gellhorn, who would be played by Robin Wright Penn.

“But that’s a ways off,” he emphasized. “I’m not very good at the multi-tasking thing . . . I’m not the kind of guy who can take four phone calls at once or something. I just want to concentrate on doing (The Sopranos).”

Those roles eventually went to Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman in the 2012 HBO movie Hemingway & Gellhorn. But Gandolfini did return to HBO as the executive producer and interviewer in 2007’s Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq. He appeared on behalf of the one-hour documentary just over a month after the final episode of The Sopranos. And no, he wasn’t talking about that, either during or after a session in which he sat amid five veterans missing a total of six limbs.

“Would you entertain one question about The Sopranos?” he was asked afterward during a typically hasty retreat.

“No,” he replied. “Put that to rest.”

“Is it a relief to be done with the character?”

“Yes. Thank you very much.”

He said this without rancor. It wasn’t a contempt for the media -- or at least didn’t come off that way. Gandolfini again was simply uncomfortable talking about himself -- whatever the circumstances. Asked how filming Alive Day Memories had affected him, he told TV critics, “It’s not about me. I’m not trying to be antagonistic in any way, but I’d like the questions directed towards other things besides how it changed me . . . Let’s have a different question.”

At a party that night thrown by HBO, Gandolfini arrived without any entourage. He mostly mingled with the veterans who appeared in the film. And at one point, he could be seen tipping a bartender with a small stack of $5 bills. It wasn’t for show. There’s no way Gandolfini knew that anyone was watching.

Before his death, Gandolfini filmed an episode of Criminal Justice, an intended 7-part drama bought by HBO and spun from the same-named BBC series. He played an unscrupulous New York City attorney whose career and life go topsy turvy after he agrees to represent a Pakistani accused of murdering a girl.

After The Sopranos, Gandolfini also had supporting roles in Zero Dark Thirty, Not Fade Away (written and directed by Chase) and the HBO movie Cinema Verite.

His all-too-short lifetime is clearly marked by that one singular role, though. Perhaps James Gandolfini wasn’t born to be The Sopranos’s indispensable sexy beast. But he found it and it found him. And toward the end of the show’s historic run, he seemed to accept if not embrace the fact that Tony Soprano would forever be his calling card.

“It’s a dark, dark world, and you’re in it a lot,” Gandolfini said. “However, if you’re going to be in a dark world, I can’t thing of any better one to be in.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Whodunnit? gives ABC a murder mystery most(ly) foul


The butler presumably didn’t do it on Whodunnit? ABC photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Gildart Jackson as the butler and 13 competitors for a $250,000 grand prize
Produced by: Anthony E. Zuiker, Cris Abrego

Resemblances to the board game Clue and the series Downton Abbey are purely intentional. Anything in common with stupidity likely wasn’t in the game plan.

The new “reality-competition” series Whodunnit also has the same name as a 1979 celebrity mystery quiz hosted by Ed McMahon. And it’s similar in format to Fox’s 2001 Murder In Small Town X, which also had a $250,000 grand prize. Its winner, New York City firefighter Angel Juarbe Jr., perished in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 of that year just a week after the last episode aired. Truth is always stranger than fiction.

In 2009, CBS killed off at least one cast member per episode in the scripted spring series Harper’s Island, with viewers invited to play along online in the interests of fingering the culprit.

ABC’s version of Whodunnit is set in fake Rue Manor, where a grandiose butler named Giles (British actor Gildart Jackson) has been in charge of “this cursed estate for only a few years now.”

A group of 13 supposedly unsuspecting game players range from 40-year-old TV crime reporter Adrianna to 62-year-old ex-homicide detective Don (who’s trying to masquerade as a high school football coach).

Since it happens in the very early going, it’s probably not giving too much away to reveal that one of them, onetime pro cheerleader Sheri, is found “dead” after a big noise is heard in the dead of the night. She passes away picturesquely, sizzling from attached electrical wires while also bleeding atop a shattered aquarium tank. One of the 12 survivors is her “killer.” But whom might that be? In the final episode of Whodunnit?, the most resourceful amateur detective will unmask the murderer and pocket a quarter mil before taxes.

Butler Giles makes his first big entrance after flight attendant Melina exclaims, “Dude, dude, dude, creepy man walking down the stairs.”

The proceedings then proceed to be very talky and edited, with Melina and company all trying to puzzle out the best explanation of how Sheri died. In the end, two of them get a “Scared” card, which means they did the lamest job of putting clues together. One will die and the rest are “Saved” to solve that person’s murder in the following week’s episode. Everyone dresses up for dinner before the cards are distributed. Then one and all don their official Whodunnit jammies for a night in which the two “Scared” contestants find it very hard to sleep before one of them takes a pretend dirt nap at episode’s end.

The mind behind Whodunnit is Anthony Zuiker, already fabulously wealthy as the creator of CBS’ CSI franchise. But only the mothership, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, remains on the network’s fall schedule while CSI: NY and CSI: Miami have been canceled. So Zuiker perhaps could use a little extra pocket change these days.

Recurring Downton Abbey-esque establishing shots of Rue Manor remind viewers they’re amid lavish Victorian surroundings. In fact, it’s more fun to take in all the adornments than to absorb the contrived detective work. All of this is set to ridiculously overbearing music, with Giles popping in and out to proclaim various things. “We have finger sandwiches!” he announces at one point.

Giles rarely smiles, the better to inflict his over-the-top gravitas. Whodunnit should be much more fun and involving than it turns out to be. Murders most foul will continue to occur, but there are too many cooks in Episode 1 to plausibly explain the plusses and minuses of each contestant’s sleuthing.

Maybe this will prove to be a bit more interesting as the contestants dwindle. But based on Sunday night’s premiere, that seems like a long slog toward the show’s eventual payoff. Think of all the Agatha Christie books you could read by then.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Crossing Lines would be better off killed in action


William Fichtner (center) heads cast of Crossing Lines. NBC photo

Premiering: Sunday, June 23rd at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: William Fichtner, Marc Lavoine, Gabriella Pession, Moon Dailly, Richard Flood, Tom Wlaschiha, Donald Sutherland
Produced by: Edward Allen Bernero, Rola Bauer, Jonas Bauer, Tim Halkin

William Fichtner is all knotted up again and the actor playing his boss looks ready made for the lead in Dracula 2013.

They’re the tightly wound leading men of NBC’s Crossing Lines, a crime series with an international bent that arrives spindled and mutilated with Sunday’s two-hour premiere.

The first killer at large of course is of the serial kind. And his prey -- of course -- are young women whom he stabs and then disfigures beyond recognition. So far he’s murdered in four different countries. Sounds like a job for “a unit mandated by the International Criminal Court to investigate cross-border crimes and ultimately bring global criminals to justice.”

The head of this outfit is Louis Daniel (Marc Lavoine), an all-business, pale-skinned Frenchman with tragedy in his past. Fichtner is substantially more haunted as ex-New York City cop Carl Hickman, who in his opening narrative states, “I was not in a good way . . . the only thing keeping me alive was anger and morphine.”

Hickman’s right hand is badly impaired by a bullet wound from a child abduction suspect. Railroaded in some way by his Big Apple superiors, he’s now a drug-dependent trash picker at an Amsterdam carnival. But Daniel needs his crack crime-solving expertise despite the fact that Hickman says he’s physically incapable of firing a gun let alone filling out a crime report. Mais oui, he very reluctantly becomes part of a bickering/bantering team whose overseer is International Criminal Court inspector Michael Dorn (the ubiquitous Donald Sutherland).

Sunday’s first two hours are a mix of high-tech detective work, intuition, flashbacks and clunky dialogue. As when Hickman balks at initially getting no respect by telling one and all, “You can kiss my ass in Macy’s window.”

Co-stars include Hickman’s new partner, Anne-Marie San (Moon Dailly); trigger-tempered Irish boxer/detective Tommy McConnel (Richard Flood); Europol Sgt. Eva Vittoria (Gabriella Pession) and Berlin copper Sebastian Berger (Tom Wlaschiha).

Fichtner, whose jaw previously has been firmly set in series such as Prison Break and Invasion, brings a well-practiced inner torment to Crossing Lines. So well-practiced that it’s getting tedious. Early in the second hour, he studiously beats himself up for the kidnapping of a team member. “If we find this girl alive, I’m out,” he says. “You understand? I’m out.” All right, OK. Got it.

The pursuit of the killer is at best moderately diverting. Climactically, everyone laughably boards a high-speed, border-crossing chopper after the bad guy’s location has been firmly determined. This ultimately leads to Fichtner’s Hickman matter-of-factly declaring, “Cleaning up garbage is something I’ve always been good at.”

Crossing Lines isn’t breezy enough for a summer diversion. Instead it’s ponderous, pretentious and too predictable.

It’s also high time that prime-time TV put a muzzle on its rampant and brutal slaughtering of young women. Not only on Crossing Lines, but on NBC’s Hannibal, Fox’s The Following, AMC’s ongoing Season 3 of The Killing and any number of CBS’ weekly “procedural” crime hours.

In terms of sexual activities, an array of female and male body parts remain taboo on broadcast network TV. But hacked limbs, deep cuts and bloody corpses are still very much A-OK. As is a killer’s “Run, you bitch!” while he savors the thought of hunting her down with a knife on Crossing Lines.

Here’s hoping we’ve all had more than enough of that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC Family's new Twisted should be a nice sister show for its returning Pretty Little Liars


Kylie Bunbury, Avan Jogia, Maddie Hasson of Twisted. ABC Family photo

Premiering: Tuesday, June 11th at 8 p.m. (central) on ABC Family
Starring: Maddie Hasson, Avan Jogia, Kylie Bunbury, Denise Richards, Ashton Moio, Sam Robards, Kimberly Quinn, Grey Damon
Produced by: Gavin Polone, David Babcock, Adam Milch

ABC Family churns out hits with a regularity that struggling parent ABC can only envy.

The network of Pretty Little Liars, Switched At Birth, Bunheads, Baby Daddy and The Secret Life of the American Teenager seems sure to have another long distance runner in Twisted. A mystery drama set in a small town, it launches Tuesday (June 11) after the Season 4 premiere of Liars.

Troubled teens of course are behind its wheels. Jo Masterson, Lacey Porter and Danny Desai (principal stars Maddie Hasson, Kylie Bunbury, Avan Jogia) were best pals as 11-year-olds. Alas, he screwed that up by strangling his aunt with a jump rope. After five years in juvenile detention, Danny returns to be ostracized by his high school classmates while Jo and Lacey have grown apart.

“The people in this town don’t care about the truth. All they care about is your head on a stick,” says top cop Kyle (Sam Robards), who also happens to be Jo’s dad.

In that respect, Twisted bears a passing resemblance to the Sundance Channel’s recently premiered Rectify, which otherwise is much darker and adult-laced. Also unlike Rectify, Danny’s guilt isn’t at issue. But what drove him to kill his aunt at such a young age? And is he capable of killing again? The first episode comes and goes without any firm answers -- but with a new murder whose perpetrator is unknown.

The head of the high school mean girl faction, Regina Crane (Karynn Moore), delights in dubbing Danny “Socio” while also flirting with him. He’s fairly cool with that, accepting it as “kind of a cool, intimidating nickname.” And Danny’s still ripe mother, Karen (Denise Richards), doesn’t mind her son getting a little action if it can help ease him out of a pariah mode that’s underscored by one of Regina’s lieutenants sniping, “Paging Dr. Lecter, your spawn is loose on our floor.”

By the end of Episode 1, Twisted has imbedded its hook with open questions about a mysterious necklace and Danny’s connection to its past. Jogia plays this role winningly, accentuating resiliency and a quick wit rather than creepiness communicated by menacing stares. Hasson also is appealing as a fellow outcast who slowly warms to him.

Twisted likely will quickly achieve fave rave status on a network that’s come a long way since being bought a dozen years ago by the Walt Disney Company (which also owns ABC).

The network remains contractually obligated to carry Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club at least twice daily under ironclad terms of the sale. But this hasn’t cramped ABC Family’s style -- or ability to divine what its 15-to-30-year-old target audience will watch if not outright worship.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The leads have it in TNT's King & Maxwell


Jon Tenney & Rebecca Romijn take a break from bantering. TNT photo

Premiering: Monday, June 10th at 9 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Rebecca Romijn, Jon Tenney, Michael O’Keefe, Chris Butler
Produced by: Shane Brennan, Grant Anderson, Chris Downey

Ampersands have been good business for TNT.

Its reigning most popular drama, Rizzoli & Isles, returns for Season 4 on June 25th. Season 3 of the sturdy Franklin & Bash launches on June 19th.

So the third time around doesn’t even have to be a charm because these two ampersand-centric series already have proven themselves. King & Maxwell, premiering Monday in tandem with TNT’s second season of Major Crimes, looks like another easily absorbed summertime breeze.

Its stars, Jon Tenny from The Closer and the still lustrous Rebecca Romijn, seem to be equipped with the requisite chemistry. Telegenic to a T, they spar and kid when not springing into action. Having each other’s backs doesn’t mean you can’t throw an occasional rabbit punch. It’s a formula that’s been used far more often than -- ampersands -- on both big screens and small.

OK, but just what do Sean King and Michelle Maxwell do? On the face of it, Rizzoli & Isles sounded like more like an Olive Garden pasta entree than a cop series. And Franklin & Bash could’ve been two professional wrestlers but instead is a comedy-heavy legal hour.

TNT publicity materials say this latest pair “aren’t your typical investigators.” This is because their previous gigs as Secret Service agents give them “a leg up on conventional law enforcement.”

Believe that if you will, but it doesn’t really matter. King & Maxwell fires up Monday with a vigorous, expertly shot action sequence in which Maxwell chases a runaway tour bus driven by a man in a beaver suit. The bus careens through the streets of D.C., leaving a demolition derby collection of disabled vehicles before finally flipping over. None of this has anything to do with the central crime of the week. It’s simply an effective way to immediately command a viewer’s attention before Maxwell and King come together for the first time to bicker over the proper way of reading Miranda rights.

Tenney affects a disheveled look throughout, with wrinkled shirts, untended whiskers and semi-wayward hair. Romijn in contrast is polished and well-dressed, solidifying her credentials as one of the greatest-looking 40-year-old women on the planet.

She’s also grown as an actress, although King & Maxwell doesn’t require any heavy lifting on the part of either principal. Their principal antagonist is gruff FBI agent Frank Rigby (Michael O’Keefe), who huffs and carps along with partner Darius Carter (Chris Butler).

“I don’t like private investigators,” Rigby says. “You’re usually cashed-out cops or enthusiastic amateurs.” Arf, that’s one of the lamer lines in a series adapted from the series of books by David Baldacci.

King & Maxwell soon gets down to the business of solving the murder of King’s attorney friend, Ted Burgin, who had been representing an accused serial killer before being offed by a drive-by shooter. He really wants to nab this particular offender. Because when King was spiraling downward -- a presidential candidate got killed on his watch -- Burgin got him sobered up and on the road to recovery.

The case turns out to have many more layers, none of them particularly believable. And the script and circumstances really labor down the stretch. Still, Tenney and Romijn make for a pretty nifty pair, whether quipping on cue or subduing some henchmen with their feet and fists.

The overall production values are first-rate. TNT’s dramas invariably look good, as do their stars. All of that other stuff -- headlined by plausibility -- might well be beside the point in terms of overall enjoyment. Tenney and Romijn are easy on the eyes and equally easy to take as crook-catchers whose badinage might end up in bed with them someday. For now, they pass the all-important likability test with bright, flying colors.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

USA's Graceland has no Elvis in its building


Aaron Tveit and Daniel Sunjata head cast of Graceland. USA photo

Premiering: Thursday, June 6th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Daniel Sunjata, Aaron Tveit, Vanessa Ferlito, Manny Montana, Brandon Jay McLaren, Serinda Swan
Produced by: Jeff Eastin

USA’s latest “Characters Welcome” drama has a Real World motif with its collection of young, handsome or pretty (or both) federal agents sharing a multi-storied, beachfront Southern California pad.

The place used to be inhabited by a drug lord with a “hard core” love of Elvis. So its bantering/sniping inhabitants dub it Graceland, which also just happens to be the name of this new, not-so-hot series from the creator of USA’s White Collar.

Graceland supposedly is “based upon actual events.” That’s because, once upon a time, the U.S. government actually did plant a group of agents in an undercover residence for the purposes of stinging drug dealers.

Paired with the launch of Burn Notice’s final season, Thursday’s extended premiere episode (running until 10:15 central time) otherwise depicts the thoroughly fictional exploits of taut-talking, hard-driving, not entirely forthcoming team leader Paul Briggs (Daniel Sunjata) and five others under his wing. There’s also a chore list posted in their communal kitchen, with the food and drinks labeled to ensure a little extra added friction when someone poaches on someone else’s stuff.

The obligatory tenderfoot is cute, brainy Mike Warren (Aaron Tveit), who graduated top of his class at Quantico before arriving at Graceland to initially be gruffly treated until he earns his spurs.

But agent Catherine “Charlie” Lopez (Vanessa Ferlito) grows friendlier and more supportive before the others fall in line. She’s the one who gives Warren the lowdown on the somewhat legendary Briggs. He used to be “buttoned-down,” you see. But then “somethin’ went down, he took a leave of absence, came back all Zen’d out like that.”

Charlie also informs the newbie that “you’re gonna find out fast there are no secrets at Graceland.”

Except for Briggs, he adds. Yep. Got that right. Kid learns fast.

Shop-talk lingo such as “booger sugar” and “running a reverse” are sprinkled in before the talky buildup finally gives way to Warren’s first undercover assignment. It’s convoluted to say the least, with a ding-dong buyer named Felix the initial mark before far bigger danger lurks when Warren’s planted in the midst of nasty Russian mobsters operating out of an auto repair garage.

Posing as Felix’s brother-in-law, a wired Warren first gets a jagged scar that’s quickly painted above his left eyebrow by the multi-talented Charlie. Cripes. Really?

Meanwhile, back at the team’s eavesdropping command center, the dialogue deteriorates to clunky when Warren starts to improv.

“Where’s he goin’ with this?” wonders fussy Gerry Silvo, a recurring member of the federal brass played by Jay Karnes (who once knew the far greater glory of The Shield).

“I wish I knew, boss,” Briggs replies.

Charlie is soon left to mop up. “The new kid, he’s smart,” she says approvingly when the Russians start playing along. Thud.

Graceland ends with a twist that really isn’t much of a one for those who’ve seen enough of these infiltration devices. It gives this series a week-to-week serial thread -- albeit a frayed one -- in a drama “where nothing is what it seems and everyone has a secret,” according to USA publicity materials.

In the spirit of all its telegraphed punches, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it. Graceland is nothing to get all shook up about.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

TNT's The Hero puts "The Rock" in a crock


Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson presides over The Hero. TNT photo

Premiering: Thursday, June 6th at 7 p.m. (central) on TNT
Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and 9 supplicants
Produced by: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Dany Garcia

Only in the ever-ridiculous realm of “reality” TV could a weepy salon assistant who dubs herself “a crier” be proclaimed a hero -- or HEE-ro as local TV news anchors like to say -- for climbing two flights of stairs near the top of a skyscraper while chanting “I’m not gonna fail.”

Patty is afraid of heights, you see. Or at least she claims to be. But by that low standard, your friendly content provider pronounces himself a hero/HEE-ro for daring to brave the entire first episode of TNT’s The Hero.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has taken time out from his many activities to front this far-fetched hour of heavily edited challenges and constant bickering among the nine hopefuls. He retains a winning smile plus that trademark head tilt. And a continuous loop of both would make for a better show. I’d also include the magic moment where The Rock barks “Walkie” before being tossed one from somewhere off-camera.

Incessantly promoted during TNT’s coverage of NBA playoff games, The Hero begins with The Rock grandly atop a Panama high-rise. He’s not one for under-selling.

“This will be the site of the greatest adventure-competition you’ll ever get to experience from your couch,” viewers are informed. “Get ready, America. ‘Cause we’re lookin’ for a hero.”

Whoever wins this thing won’t be moving on to the Twelve Labors of Hercules or even a stint as a crossing guard. Instead they’ll pocket whatever cash has been built up in the “Grand Prize Pot.”

The country at large is supposed to help select the victor, although the review DVD of Thursday’s Episode 1 doesn’t explain how this will happen. But TNT publicity materials say that “through the series’ unique and interactive digital platform, viewers will be able to engage with the show and one another, ultimately playing an important part in the outcome and helping to define what it means to be a true hero.” Yeah, sure.

Much work needs to be done on this front. Because none of these nine contestants stand particularly tall. Besides the histrionic Patty, they include snide professional wrestler Shaun; cocky construction worker Marty; a New England Patriots cheerleader named Athena and Beaumont, TX trauma surgeon David, a well-chiseled, youthful-looking 50-year-old on the rebound from an unfaithful wife. Or so he says in the introductions.

David later seems to want it both ways, though. Vying to be the first designated participant in the weekly climactic “Hero’s Challenge” (which originates from a bug-infested “Noriega’s Bunker”), David boldly confides to the camera, “I’m not that great a guy. In my personal life, have I ever cheated on someone? Yes.”

The Hero turns out to be lots of talk and relatively little action. Too much time is spent either in the “Hero Penthouse” or “The War Room,” where the trash talk flows like honey.

There’s a fairly picturesque segment in which six selected contestants gather at the top of Panama’s Tower Bank for a “swinging hand to hand” challenge involving six selectees. But more footage is spent, it seems, on The Rock’s one-on-one tutorial with skittish Patty, who’s offered $25 grand to blow this popsicle stand rather than somehow try to emerge as the last-standing hero.

The Rock first descends upon his nine supplicants in a chopper after Patty exclaims “Oh my God!” a half-dozen or so times. “Attention, heroes. You’re about to dive head-first into a life-changing adventure,” he assures them.

It’s all cut and spliced to the point where any real “jeopardy” involved is anyone’s guess. The weekly competitions on Survivor are far more convincingly presented. On The Hero, viewers instead are likely to laugh out loud when The Rock asks “Do they have the raw courage to go off that building? Are they a hero? You tell me, America.”

I’ll tell you this. America just isn’t likely to give a damn.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Arrested Development on Netflix: a review after digesting all 15 episodes


No good can possibly come from them: The Bluths. Netflix photos

Eye surgery (true) and “face blindness” (false) have delayed this review of Arrested Development’s unprecedented, much-awaited rebirth on Netflix after a 2006 cancellation by Fox.

The series that initially lasted for three seasons and 53 episodes has been ready for streaming since the Sunday before Memorial Day. There are 15 commercial-free new episodes in all, with most of them running a half-hour or more. In fact, Episode 8 of Season 4 swells to 37 minutes.

So in effect, creator, executive producer and head writer Mitchell Hurwitz has given fans a full 22-episode fourth season -- and then some. That’s because a typical network comedy, minus commercials, has only about 20 minutes of actual content. Under the Netflix banner, these 15 episodes cumulatively add more than 150 minutes to the length they’d be if Fox were showing them. That’s a good deal of extra power-watching for those who’ve already powered through.

I’ve watched all 15 episodes, several of them twice. Overall impression: look for them to get better, stronger and funnier. They even start to make a little sense, if that’s possible for a series whose absurdities sometimes reach the point of almost indefensible absurdity. Oh those Bluths. In the annals of dysfunctional, devious, utterly hapless families, they simply have no peers.

One of the more “believable” absurdities is face blindness, which afflicts a pivotal new character named Marky Bark (no relation that I’m aware of). He’s a bumbling activist played by Chris Diamantopoulos (Moe in the recent Three Stooges movie). And he’s first seen in Episode 3, hooking up with Michael Bluth’s twin sister, Lindsay Funke (Portia de Rossi), at a methadone clinic that her idiot, off-and-on again husband Tobias (David Cross) has mistaken for a Method One acting school.

Marky can pretty much make out eyes and teeth but otherwise can’t tell one face from another. So he hopes that Lindsay’s hot, which she in fact still is. Their sex together is short and not all that sweet. Still, off they go to a ramshackle ostrich farm run by his cantankerous mother. Arrested Development’s tangents, now explained in even lengthier detail by narrator Ron Howard, continue to be loopier than a lasso trick. Ergo, the show has yet to achieve more than cult status in times when that’s increasingly cool.

You’ll get at least glimpses of all the Bluths in most of these 15 episodes. But the focus is on individuals, beginning with “It’s Michael’s Arrested Development” after Howard sets the table with, “Now the story of a family whose future was abruptly canceled.”

Jason Bateman’s Michael, by far the sanest of the bunch, is in another financial mess after his Sudden Valley housing development crumbles under the strains of a horrible economy, circa 2007. So he ends up moving into son George Michael’s (Michael Cera) already crowded dorm room on the University of California-Irvine campus.

For some reason Michael decides to become an online student at the University of Phoenix in an episode that also flashes back to the origins of a Cinco de Quatro celebration meant to short-circuit Cinco de Mayo. Its architects were a young Lucille and George Bluth, played in several episodes by guest stars Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen.

First impressions aren’t everything, but it’s best to get off to a strong start with all of this heavy-breathing anticipation at stake. Arrested Development instead wobbles in the early going. And that prompted an almost instantaneous wave of negative feedback from those who just couldn’t wait to pounce.

The aforementioned Episode 3 gets things rolling, though, with de Rossi, Cross and Diamantopoulos carrying much of the load with an assist from Ed Helms returning as laissez-faire realtor James Carr. Episode 4 is stronger still, with Howard playing himself as a director intent on making a movie about the far stranger-than-fiction Bluths. All Michael has to do is get each family member to sign off. Which of course can be a near Mission: Impossible. This episode also has the biggest gaggle of guest stars, including Conan O’Brien, James Lipton, Scott Baio, Carl Weathers, John Krasinski and Andy Richter (who turns up in a number of guises in later episodes).


Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter as Bluth patriarchs George & Lucille.

Howard’s crazy-quilt narratives, integral to Arrested Development, are by no means his only contributions this time around. He’s also terrific as himself, never more so than while wearing a “haircut beanie” while getting a trim during Episode 9.

Also included are the Opie Awards, with narrator Howard wondering how anything could be better than that. Maeby Funke (Alia Shawkat), now 23, gets one for Lifetime Achievement but perceives it as a sure sign that she’s already washed up. In the only Episode devoted to her (No. 12), she takes the Opie into her own hands for her own purposes. It’s the same episode in which her cousin, George Michael, dubs himself George Maharis in an effort to seem cooler while his still untested and in fact non-existent “Fake Block” privacy-protecting device begins to take off.

Four episodes earlier, new character Herbert Love (Terry Crews), emerges full force as a crooked politician who declares at a power-broking dinner, “Is there anything better than the great American scallop?!” These are the kinds of lines and situations that have made Arrested Development great.

The senior Bluths -- George and Lucille (Jeffrey Tambor, Jessica Walter) -- are also very much in evidence. Her impending trial is one of this season’s centerpieces. But will any family members actually show up on her behalf? Walter again is sublimely imperious in every scene while Tambor (also reprising his twin brother, Oscar), is entangled in ill-fated business ventures that include a sweat lodge scam and the building of a Great Wall to thwart immigration.

Then there’s Will Arnett’s even smarmier Gob Bluth, the self-absorbed, hopelessly inept illusionist whose decidedly unGod-like escape routine (in Episode 7) at the Church of the Holy Eternal Rapture might be denounced from some real-life pulpits as the ultimate in sacrilegious comedy. Later in this thoroughly out-of-body episode, Gob is part of an Entourage sendup in which all gather nightly at the “And Jeremy Piven” bar.

But what of infantile, momma’s boy Buster Bluth? Well, he gets just one showcase episode, and it’s not until No. 14. But “Off the Hook” arguably is the funniest of all, with Tony Hale fully demonstrating why no one plays a better basket case. This is also the one where Howard contributes his best narrative line after Buster dementedly takes care of a variety of mock Lucilles while she remains in a posh prison. “To an uninformed observer,” says Howard, “it looked a little like that Vince Vaughn movie, Psycho.”

This long awaited return of Arrested Development isn’t always on top of its game. There’s a tired old gay joke at Ryan Seacrest’s expense and a “registered sex offender” subplot that even the imbecilic Tobias doesn’t deserve. But Cross is so good in this role that just about anything he’s given can work on some level. He’s also adept at playing with others, particularly when collaborating on a “Fantastic Four” musical at a rehab center run by Argyle Austero (fine work by guest star Tommy Tune as the brother of Liza Minnelli’s Lucille Austero).

Season 4 of Arrested Development is supposed to lead to a climactic feature film. In that context, the final episode is left open-ended, as are all of them for that matter. The overall storyline, if it really can be called that, can be faulted for too often tying itself in knots. But seriously, what else was expected? A sense of the nonsensical has always been this show’s sixth sense. But if you watch long enough -- and then optimally watch it all again -- the pieces start fitting (Picasso-like perhaps) into a semblance of an overall big picture.

So maybe I do in fact have “Face Blindness” when it comes to Arrested Development. But as the subtitle of Episode 13 says, “It Gets Better.” And in this view it certainly does, whether it’s a disheveled Gob being found on the “Locker Hawkers” TV show or Walter’s Lucille referring to Minnelli’s “Lucille 2” as a “sterile cuckoo bird.” Oh all right, here’s the link.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Take the bait? Add Mistresses to complete ABC's "Man Candy Monday"


Yunjin Kim and guest star John Schneider get cuddly. ABC photo

Premiering: Monday, June 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Alyssa Milano, Yunjin Kim, Rochelle Aytes, Jess Macallan, Brett Tucker, Jason George, Erik Stocklin
Produced by: Rina Mimoun, K.J. Steinberg, Robert Sertner, Douglas Rae

The imminent arrival of ABC’s heavily teased “Man Candy Monday” dangles hopes for eventual Sonofabitch Sundays or Wanton Women Wednesdays.

For now, though, the Disney-owned network is teasing an adult-strength pairing of The Bachelorette and Mistresses, which joins the party on June 3rd. So lap it up, gents, even if both heavy-breathing attractions almost assuredly will be watched mostly by women.

Mistresses, yet another adaptation of a U.K. series, begins with a bevy of sex scenes before calming down considerably and becoming the latest prime-time ABC serial drama in which women drive most of the action.

None of the four featured females are prostitutes. Or high-paid escorts. Or even present-tense mistresses for that matter. Most network series at least service their titles in the early going before in some cases becoming nothing of the sort. Two ongoing examples: Cougar Town and 48 Hours. Not so with Mistresses, which flat-out misses the mark but could care less from a promotional standpoint.

Alyssa Milano (Charmed) heads the cast as married Savannah “Savi” Davis, who has ambitions of becoming a full partner at a big-time law firm. Her British hubby Harry (Brett Tucker) is a restaurateur who’s likewise obsessed with his work. Further complications ensue when they learn that his sperm are not very good swimmers. This complicates plans to start a family.

Another familiar TV face, Yunjin Kim of Lost, plays psychiatrist Karen Kim, who in fact was a mistress for a while after succumbing to longtime patient Thomas Grey (John Schneider) during his dying days. She also agreed to help him expire -- via heavy-duty drugs -- when that “mass on my lung” became too painful. It didn’t quite work out that way, even though Thomas did follow through by dying. Alas it was in the arms of his wife, Elizabeth (the recurring Penelope Ann Miller), prompting Dr. Kim to feel a little used. The Greys also had a 20-year-old son, Sam (Erik Stocklin), who figures prominently in the three episodes made available for review.

Mistresses also houses Savi’s freewheeling, sleep-around realtor sister Joss (Jes Macallan), whose constant changing of partners doesn’t afford her time to be a mistress. Meanwhile, interior decorator April Malloy (Rochelle Aytes) is still mourning the death of her husband -- and hasn’t dated since.

A variety of complications quickly kick in. A frustrated Savi succumbs to a one-night workplace stand with colleague Dominic Taylor (Jason George) before getting some bad cases of the weeps. Karen finds it harder to hide her secrets, which include medical malpractice. April learns some startling apparent truths about her deceased husband while trying to date a sports writer named Richard (the recurring Cameron Bender). And Joss seems to be moving ever closer to a little fling-a-ding with one of her lesbian clients.

Some of the storylines solidify rather than congeal, making Mistresses at least a bit better by the hour. The series also scores points by making race irrelevant in matters of love and lust. April is a black woman newly interested in a white man. Savi’s impulsive dalliance is with a black man. Karen and Thomas respectively are Asian and Caucasian.

The scripts are serviceable, although some lines land with a Richter Scale thud. As when Richard tells April, “I’ve made a career out of getting sucked into the vortex of pretty women. I just can’t right now.”

This one is largely offset by an exchange between Savi’s husband and Joss, who showcases an eclectic, so far unsellable property by throwing a big party in hopes of hooking a buyer.

“The night’s still young. Buck up,” he tells her.

Oh buck off,” she retorts.

April also gets in the game with a howler tied to a night-long crying jag. “I’m puffy and my husband was a lying sack of s!”, she tells her gal pals.

Mistresses is a fair bit better than a sack of s. Sometimes it even gives off a pleasant Desperate Housewives fragrance (before that series went bad in later seasons). So thanks for small favors and never mind the title or ABC’s even dopier “Man Candy Monday” gambit. If either gets you in the tent, you might find yourself wanting to camp out a while.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Season 3 of The Killing: many more dead bodies in a deadened reprieve


Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman re-partner in The Killing. AMC photo

Canceled before AMC belatedly said, “Never mind,” The Killing more or less returns to the living Sunday with a two-hour Season 3 premiere preceding a new episode of Mad Men.

Network publicity materials urge TV critics to “refrain from revealing specific story lines in advance so that viewers can experience the full impact of the investigation as it unfolds throughout the season.”

But AMC already has violated its own dictum -- and compromised Sunday’s final scene -- with the on-air tagline, “17 Victims and Counting.” So the title really should be plural this time around, with AMC also promising that the The Killing’s murder mystery “will be resolved over the course of 10 episodes, ending with a gripping two-hour finale.”

Some reviewers griped long and loudly after Season 1 didn’t end with a revelation of “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” Season 2 finally answered that question during the course of Seattle mayoral candidate Darren Richmond’s (Billy Campbell) highly improbable road to victory after first being a prime suspect and then getting shot and paralyzed.

Richmond is neither seen nor mentioned during Sunday’s re-launch (June 2nd from 7 to 9 p.m. central). But for the record, it’s one year after the intersection of his election and the closing of the Larsen case. Sardonic detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), easily the overriding reason to watch this series, has a new veteran partner after sulking, staring, emotionally bruised Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) takes a minimum wage security job on an island 15 minutes outside of Seattle.

Alas, the discovery of a brutally murdered runaway teen girl compels Linden to very slowly get back in the game and rejoin Holder. First, though, she must tell her latest perplexed boyfriend, “You don’t know me. I break things.”

Linden was nearly broken three years earlier after closing a murder case that still haunts her. Ray Seward (Peter Sarsgaard) is now on death row, with 30 days remaining before he’s executed for brutally killing his wife. But similarities between that murder and the new case at-large have Linden agonizing over whether the right man is incarcerated. By the way, he’s requesting a hanging death rather than lethal injection to prove he’s a “real man.”

Season 3 of The Killing(s) is further proof that just one murder is like playing tiddlywinks in these ongoing TV times of Showtime’s Dexter, Fox’s The Following and NBC’s Hannibal, which NBC last week renewed for a second season because its low overall ratings are sweetened by the show’s popularity among both the affluent and the young.

All of those series are built on serial killer foundations, and now The Killing is following suit by piling up corpses of young runaways while also having another one go missing. Other potential targets remain, including featured ‘tude-copping teens known by street names of Bullet (Bex-Taylor-Klaus), Lyric (Julia Stone) and Twitch (Max Fowler). Kinnaman’s Holder has an especially well-played confrontation with Bullet after earlier going easy on her.

Overcast, color-bleached Vancouver again stands in for Seattle, although Enos’ Linden is her own one-woman rainy day. Still wearing those impenetrable thick sweaters, she’s become a tiresome drain on this series. If only Holder could have gotten a new, snappier partner. Instead he’s stuck with her again in a rather laborious opening two hours that lack the initial spark and pop of those early Season 1 episodes. Additionally, Sunday’s final revelatory scene defies plausibility. How could all of those dead . . . well, you’ll see.

Maybe The Killing will hit a firmer stride before crossing this season’s finish line. But the feeling persists that executive producer/writer/director Veena Sud again will come up short in what looks to be a last gasp. That initial heat from Season 1 has been lowered to room temperature. Kinnaman continues to give The Killing a pulse. But he can’t do it alone, and at this point merits a new, more vital vehicle in which he can really gun his engines.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net