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Hoff the Record migrates from the UK to AXS TV


He’s David Hasselhoff and no, we’re still not. AXS TV photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 31st at 8 p.m. (central) on AXS TV
Starring: David Hasselhoff, Fergus Craig, Ella Smith, Asim Chaudhry, Mark Quartley, Brett Goldstein, Craig Roberts, Miranda Hennessy, John Macmillan
Produced by: Iain Coyle, Richard Watsham, Eric Gardner, Richard Yee, Krishnendu Majumdar

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
There’s just no way that David Hasselhoff is going away.

Still milking Knight Rider, Baywatch and even that viral video of him crawling around drunk trying to eat a cheeseburger, he’s back on TV in the United Kingdom-produced Hoff the Record. The six-episode “mockumentary,” starring Hasselhoff as Hasselhoff, launches Thursday, March 31st in the U.S. on Mark Cuban’s AXS TV.

The bloodlines are pretty decent. Richard Yee and Krishnendu Majumdar, listed as co-producers, also worked on Ricky Gervais’ An Idiot Abroad. So there are some amusements here and there, with the 63-year-old Hasselhoff debasing himself when called upon while also doing more lumbering than acting. AXS TV sent the entire series for review and your friendly content provider somehow got through them all with minimal leakage from the old brain pan.

The premise finds Hasselhoff as a has-been seeking to “reinvent” himself in the UK. His inept, latter day manager, Max Coleman (Fergus Craig), greets him warmly: “Hasselhoff, you randy old horn dog!”

Hoff’s other principal caretakers are coarse driver Terry Patel (Asim Chaudhry) and plus-sized production assistant Harriet Fitzgerald (Ella Smith), who painfully yearns to be useful. The first new career possibility is a bio-pic in which Hasselhoff expects to play himself from at least age 18 on, but is continually rebuffed by snooty young director Josh Brooke-Webb (Craig Roberts).

Vain-glorious Hoff finds himself mentally bent, spindled and mutilated by all of this. After all, he crows, he’s the guy who “helped” to bring down the Berlin Wall by singing “Looking For Freedom” atop it back in 1989.

By the end of the first episode -- spoiler alert -- Hasselhoff discovers he has a son named Dieter (Mark Quartley) from what turned out to be an amorous night in Berlin with a groupie. “David is renowned for being the most fertile celebrity in the business,” manager Max tells the camera near the start of Episode 2.

Hoff’s future misadventures range from reluctantly endorsing a new aftershave scent (while costumed as the devil) to deluding himself into believing he can be a U.N. ambassador. “It’s what I did on Baywatch every single episode. Resolve conflict,” he reasons. Or perhaps Hoff instead can be “the face of a global charity” or make a quick $250 grand by performing three songs at a birthday party for a despotic warlord who’s a big fan.

It’s all meant to be “cheeky,” and occasionally beats a slap in the face. Rather than building comic momentum, though, Hoff the Record sinks too deep into its overall cheesiness before melting down in the end. The numerous references to Knight Rider and Baywatch (but no mention at all of America’s Got Talent and A&E’s disastrous The Hasselhoffs) are thoroughly played out by the time Hoff declares in Episode 6, “I can save the world, man. That’s what I wanna do.”

In what’s more or less his real life, Hasselhoff will be appearing in the upcoming Sharknado 4 and also has a cameo in a scheduled 2017 Baywatch feature film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Hoff’s former lead role of lifeguard Mitch Buchannon.

Hoff the Record in contrast allows him to be fully front and center while also sporting a big “Don’t Hassel the Hoff” tat on his back with an accompanying picture of himself. As sight gags go, it’s a pretty sad one.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Rush Hour belatedly joins the CBS crime family


Justin Hires, Jon Foo in TV markdown of Rush Hour. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 31st at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Justin Hires, Jon Foo, Wendie Malick, Aimee Garcia, Page Kennedy, Jessika Van
Produced by: Bill Lawrence, Blake McCormick, Jeff Ingold, Jon Turteltaub, Arthur Sarkissian, Toby Emmerich, Steve Franks, Brett Ratner

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Back in September 1998, the same month and year of the first Rush Hour movie, CBS premiered the markedly similar series Martial Law.

The stars were Arsenio Hall and burly Hong Kong import Sammo Hung as initially reluctant L.A.P.D. partners. It was quite a bit of fun for a while, until CBS mucked things up with a big batch of cast changes in Season 2. Hall’s fast-talking Terrell Parker and Hung’s “inscrutable” Sammo Law continued to fight crime, but the surroundings and story lines collapsed.

Now, with a fourth Rush Hour film reportedly in development, CBS finally gets around to its weekly series version of the blockbuster action franchise. It’s quite a markdown, with unknowns Justin Hires and Jon Foo standing in for original stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

Thursday’s first episode, the only one made available for review, lurches from one action scene to another, with Yan Naing Lee (Foo) quickly journeying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles to unravel the presumed death of his sister, Kim (Jessika Van) and her involvement with a Chinese drug ring. He soon hooks up with street-smart, rule-breaking James Carter (Hires), who periodically gets reamed out by stern Captain Lindsay Cole (a waste of Wendie Malick).

The banter between Carter and Lee borders on very faintly amusing at times. But the recurring automatic weapons fire and martial arts combat are the meal tickets here. Think Walker, Texas Ranger, but with more verbosity.

“You have corrupted my soul,” Lee says at one point.

“Yeaaaaah! Well, I have been known to have that effect on people,” Carter retorts. That may well have been too big a mouthful for Chuck Norris.

Rush Hour is yet another “procedural” crime hour on the network of three NCIS series, Criminal Minds and its new Beyond Borders spinoff, Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, Scorpion, Limitless, Elementary, Supergirl, Person of Interest (which is being canceled) and CSI: Cyber (virtually certain to be axed). There’s really not much else to report, other than overall extreme fatigue with the genre.

This is a series that CBS should have kept doing without. But 18 years after Rush Hour hit it very big, here’s a TV version that for the most part falls flatter than a thug on the receiving end of a Yan Naing Lee kick.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CNN's three-hour Republican candidate "town hall" meeting a markedly all-white affair Tuesday night

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Whites only: Two of the questioners from Tuesday night’s 3-way, 3-hour Republican presidential candidate “town hall” meeting on CNN. Photos: Ed Bark

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Here’s the minority report from CNN’s three-hour Republican presidential candidate “town hall” meeting Tuesday night.

There weren’t any, despite the downtown Milwaukee venue. Mind you, this isn’t Mayberry. This is a city that according to the 2010 census is 40 percent black and 17 percent Hispanic.

In order of appearance, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and John Kasich took a total of 26 questions from the audience gathered at the ornate Riverside Theater. Upon further review of the videotape, white men asked 19 of them and white women the other seven. Moderator Anderson Cooper also sparred with the candidates.

A CNN spokesperson has not returned a message asking whether the network had any role in trying to make the event more “inclusive.” In wide shots, it appeared that there perhaps were no minorities in the audience or among the small group of potential voters seated onstage behind the candidates. But networks have ways of enabling diversity if they choose. They also pre-select the questioners.

A follower on Twitter said Wednesday, “My friend, a minority, was there & submitted a question but wasn’t ‘chosen.’ “ Several dairy farmers made the cut, though. Presumably their properties are located somewhere outside downtown Milwaukee.

After the debate, CNN’s one-hour analysis of the three-hour event made no mention of the town hall meeting’s complete lack of diversity. Didn’t this dawn on any of them, including outspoken host Don Lemon, who is African-American?

I’m not trying to be the Great White Father here. But from a purely pragmatic standpoint, “the Party of Abraham Lincoln” (as contemporary candidates are fond of saying) ill-served itself Tuesday night. The eventual Republican nominee cannot win a general election by relying virtually exclusively on the white vote. Those days are gone. One would think that the campaign staffs of Cruz, Trump and Kasich would be conscious of this and find at least a relative handful of blacks or Hispanics willing to attend the three-hour town hall meeting. They must be out there somewhere, and it’s likely that CNN would have been more than happy to put at least a few on-camera as questioners. Without any such representation, CNN also looks bad in the overall scheme of things.

What occurred Tuesday night came off as a turn-back-the-clock throwback to the 1950s and Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency. I can’t remember the last time a nationally televised town hall meeting entertained 26 questions without a single glimpse of a person of color. The Republican Party is free to put out any image it chooses. But from any angle, this was not a good look.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

R.I.P. Patty Duke: Dec. 14, 1946 to March 29, 2016

patty-lane patty-duke_lead_t614

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Anna Marie “Patty” Duke won an Oscar and three Emmys, had four husbands and spent much of her adult life trying to make peace with a very traumatic childhood.

She died at age 69 Tuesday after coming full circle and embracing her emblematic The Patty Duke Show for what it meant to millions rather than what it did to her at the time.

During a 1990 interview with television critics during that year’s summer “press tour” in Los Angeles, Duke said emphatically, “I hated The Patty Duke Show (which ran from 1963 to 1966 on ABC). “I hated everything about it, except the people on the set.”

But nine years later, in our extended telephone interview, Duke talked about why she finally consented to a reunion movie in which she played adult versions of “identical cousins” Patty and Cathy Lane.

The Patty Duke Show: Still Rockin’ in Brooklyn Heights aired in April 1999. Duke, 52 at the time, had finally grown weary of running away from the TV series that a generation still fondly remembered. Never mind that Oscar for The Miracle Worker, which she won as a 16-year-old in the same year The Patty Duke Show premiered. You couldn’t sing along to Helen Keller’s travails. On the other hand, “meet Cathy, who’s lived most everywhere. From Zanzibar to Barclay Square. But Patty’s only seen the sights a girl can see from Brooklyn Heights. What a crazy pair!”


“In the year when I turned 50, I was asked about doing a reunion movie,” Duke said at the time from her home in Idaho. “As usual, I said no. But then I had to examine myself and try to separate the painful stuff in my life at that time from the fact that the show and the people on it were really a safe haven for me. When I was 18, with a very broad stroke, I sort of erased it all from my mind and went into the denial stage. Because you know, I was going to go off and be a ‘sophisticated actress.’ “

Diagnosed as manic-depressive in 1982, Duke took lithium for her illness since that time. It helped her to cope and eventually tell all in her best-selling autobiography Call Me Anna, which became a same-named ABC movie in 1990. Duke played herself as an adult after some searing scenes of a childhood without pity. As Duke told it, her aunt Ethel and Uncle John virtually abducted her from an unstable mother for the purposes of continuing her budding show business career. They also renamed her Patty (“Anna is dead”) and plied Patty with Ethel’s “little wonders” (barbituates) to help her make it through the nights. She continued to pop pills as a teen TV star.

In the 1990 interview promoting the film version of Call Me Anna, Duke said she had found peace in forgiveness.

“I cannot go on with my life if I carry anger and hatred and bitterness,” she said. “It’s my opinion that the things they (her aunt and uncle) did that were wrong were borne more of distortion and alcoholism and pill addiction and fear than they were borne of two people who sat down maliciously to see how they could devastate this little girl’s life.”

By that time, Duke had met and married her fourth husband, Michael Pearce, with whom she remained until the end. Her second marriage was to John Astin, who became famous as the star of ABC’s The Addams family during the closing two seasons of The Patty Duke Show. During their 13-year marriage (1972-’85), Duke won acting Emmys for both Captains and the Kings and the TV version of The Miracle Worker, in which she played Helen Keller’s teacher, Annie Sullivan. Her third Emmy came in 1970 for the groundbreaking film My Sweet Charlie, which depicted the interracial friendship of a pregnant white teenager and a black escaped convict.

“I’ve gotten to the age where I like that stuff,” Duke said of the official accolades for her acting. “I’ve actually taken the awards from the basement and put them upon the mantel. When you’re trying to convince people that you’re a ‘regular person,’ you don’t want to have all your awards out. But then you realize that they want to see them, too. I’ve finally come to enjoy them, enjoy the fun they mean. And I choose to ignore the competition that they mean.”

Still, The Patty Duke Show, for which she won no awards, remained a touchstone she couldn’t escape. So she stopped trying, and by the time of our 1999 interview tied to the reunion movie, Duke was even game to analyze Patty (“a hot dog makes her lose control”) and Cathy (“adores a minuet”) as both adults and teenagers.

“Patty’s this developmentally disabled woman, but I know people like that,” Duke surmised. “She’s perfectly responsible in the grown-up portion of her life, but otherwise forget it. She’s committable. Cathy, of course, was always easier for me to play because she was brought up to be the sane, logical, centered one. I liked that, and I still like that. But I’d say this is the first time I really had fun playing Patty, too. As a kid I didn’t know what teenagers did. I wasn’t raised as a real teenager, so I felt awkward. But I didn’t have any of that to worry about this time.”

Duke co-starred in three other TV sitcoms after The Patty Duke Show left ABC. But 1982’s It Takes Two, 1985’s Hail to the Chief (in which she played the small screen’s first woman president) and 1995’s Amazing Grace were all quickly canceled.

In It Takes Two, though, the then unknown Helen Hunt and Anthony Edwards played the two children of Molly and Sam Quinn (Duke and Richard Crenna). Edwards went on to NBC’s ER and Hunt to that network’s Mad About You while also winning a best actress Oscar for As Good as It Gets.

“It’s eerie. It’s wonderful,” Duke said. “I never miss either of their shows. I have to admit there’s a part of me that really feels like I’m their mother. And I take all the congratulations people are giving me for having such wonderful kids.”

Her real-life stepdaughter, Raeline Michelle Pearce, died in 1998 at the age of 22 in a motor vehicle accident. During the 1999 interview, Duke brought up the tragedy while talking of her newfound “calm and healthy acceptance” of life’s peaks and valleys.

“As impossible as her death is to make peace with, I’m just recently beginning to steal some insight from her passing,” Duke said. “They’re things that seem so normal and trite, but I didn’t understand them before. Such as living for the moment and telling someone you love them now rather than later. It’s been a very maturing year for me, because this topic of life and death has always haunted me in a negative way. And now the worst thing that could happen has happened. So if somebody doesn’t call me to play Will’s mother on Will & Grace, I’ll get by.”

Then again, Duke had been a high-profile working actress since age 12, when she took on the role of Helen Keller in Broadway’s version of The Miracle Worker. She was bred to be in front of audiences, and the yearning never left her.

“We just try to stay positive and go out and play with the horses and the cows and the donkeys, and hope that somehow the phone will ring. My actor son, Sean (Astin), says, ‘Mom, you’re not aggressive enough. They don’t just bring you parts. You have to go out and get them.’

“And I tell him, ‘They know where I am if they want me.’ “

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Not completely taken with Hulu's The Path


Aaron Paul is tightly wound anew in The Path. Hulu photo

Premiering: Begins streaming with weekly episodes on Hulu, starting Wednesday, March 30th
Starring: Aaron Paul, Michelle Monaghan, Hugh Dancy, Rockmond Dunbar, Sarah Jones, Kyle Allen, Amy Forsythe, Kathleen Turner, Minka Kelly
Produced by: Jason Katims, Michelle Lee, Jessica Goldberg

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Aaron Paul and intense inner turmoil seemingly have become inseparable.

Not necessarily for the actor, but with the role that made him famous and now his followup act.

Few TV characters have suffered or endured more than Paul’s Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad. In Hulu’s The Path, which begins streaming on Wednesday, March 30th with one episode per week, he plays the increasingly haunted Eddie Cleary. Married into a family that has fully embraced the Scientology-like Meyerist Movement, Eddie and his 15-year-old son Hawk (Kyle Allen) are starting to stray from the herd. Worse yet for Eddie, he has unexplained chilling visions that further shake his faith in “The Ladder” and its multiple rungs to “The Garden.”

Hulu made all 10 Season One episodes available for review. Watching them became something of an endurance contest. The Path can be gripping but also tedious and sometimes redundant. Its theme music keeps swelling more than necessary, with key characters tending to lessen rather than build interest in what the devil is going to be happening to them.

The principal devious disciple of a secretly near-death L. Ron Hubbard-ish founder is young Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy). Bred by horrible parents, including an alcoholic mother played by a virtually unrecognizable Kathleen Turner, Cal is both battling his demons and consolidating his power as the self-anointed heir apparent.

Home base is verdant upstate New York, where the Meyerist compound is nestled in picturesque beauty via frequent shots from on high. The vegetarian followers of the Movement build their flock by taking in desperate people at their ropes’ ends. So when a tornado devastates nearby dirt-poor Ringe, New Hampshire, the Meyerists are quick to pounce. One of the new recruits is drug addict Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell), a blonde beauty whose father “started selling me to his friends” when she was 11. Cal of course finds her to his liking.

Eddie’s wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), is a true-blue Meyerist whose parents brought her into the fold. Ma and pot-smoking Pa are unbending in their conviction that non-believers are outcasts. And poor Eddie has been susceptible to their dictums. He’s been looking for something to hold onto ever since his only brother hung himself.

During 6R training in Peru, however, Eddie somehow had a vision that made him wonder what’s really up. His visions are woven throughout The Path, not that they make any firmly grounded sense in terms of what viewers are expected to swallow.

Episode 3, which spotlights Turner as the belittling Brenda Thomas, hits a high point in terms of building viewer interest. But from this perspective, The Path then begins to slowly peter out. Some episodes play considerably better than others, particularly an eighth hour in which Eddie and Hawk bond emotionally while taking a Meyerist-mandated marathon trek known as “The Walk.” Overall, though, the pulse of the series grows fainter, with a bounce-around, open-ended Season One finale coming closer to a turnoff than an irresistible invitation to return.

A few more familiar TV faces are sprinkled in. Rockmond Dunbar from Fox’s Prison Break plays a detective named Abe Gaines. He more or less goes undercover to investigative whether a deceased Meyerist follower in fact might have been murdered. But the sense of urgency here is akin to a three-year-old attacking a plate of cauliflower.

Minka Kelly, who first broke through on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, drops in for a couple of episodes as follower Miranda Frank, who’s suspected of having an affair with the constantly put-upon Eddie. But the character doesn’t really resonate and is soon discarded. Co-executive producer Jason Katims, one of FNL’s principal maestros, worked with Kelly on both that series and NBC’s Parenthood. He may have felt bad for the actress after her subsequent struggles to regain traction as a co-star in two series flops, ABCs Charlie’s Angels and Fox’s Almost Human.

Extremely vigilant viewers might want to stick with the closing credits, which include Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame. Check out who he’s playing. Otherwise there’s just no way you’ll make that deduction.

The Path mostly is notable for Aaron Paul giving his all in the service of a role that finds him on familiar shaky ground in a series with too many ruts. It’s another nice original series try by Hulu in its efforts to someday play in the same league as fellow streamers Netflix and Amazon Prime. But as with Hulu’s ongoing 11.22.63, there’s just not enough in the tank to make the engine really hum.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

R.I.P Garry Shandling: November 29, 1949 to March 24, 2016


Garry Shandling at the height of his powers on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show, in which he played a vain, insecure late night talker.

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Garry Shandling thought a lot about his craft, fretted a lot about how people would perceive and receive him. But be assured of this. His death Thursday at age 66 silenced one of the great comedic minds of the last quarter century.

Shandling seemed to have a classic case of the comic’s angst, never quite grasping how brilliant he was. And it definitely wasn’t an act. He wanted to be somebody -- just not that big of a somebody. I interviewed him several times over the years. It was always a challenge. Not because Shandling was “difficult,” but because he more often than not seemed to be wrestling with what to say, how to say it and whether any of it made any sense.

His masterstroke, The Larry Sanders Show, ran for six glorious seasons on HBO. Its star-drenched 1998 extended finale still ranks as perhaps the greatest series sendoff in TV history. The likes of Jim Carrey, Carol Burnett, Warren Beatty, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Sean Penn, Jon Stewart and even Tom Petty excelled as themselves opposite a fictional late night talk show host whose insecurities and vanity were all too believably real.

In a telephone interview shortly before the series’ 1992 premiere, Shandling wondered why anyone would want to be Johnny, Dave or Arsenio.

“The only thing odder than being on TV every night is wanting to be on TV every night,” he said. “Imagine someone having the nerve to say to their guidance counselor, ‘I want a job that would put me on TV every night.’ “

Shandling said he eventually realized it wasn’t at all what he wanted. So he abandoned his quest to succeed Johnny Carson as host of The Tonight Show. Once a week on HBO would be more than enough, he decided.

“Each (real-life) host will watch this show and think we’re talking about them,” he said. “I really think the show captures some general qualities that all talk show hosts have. For many of them, it’s easier to relate to talking to someone when you’re on television than when you’re not. I’m a pretty shy guy, but I don’t think I have the cold temperament of a talk show host. I don’t have the obsessive drive that most hosts have. Although I believe David Letterman doesn’t necessarily have an obsessive show business drive. That’s why his show is particularly good. He puts his creative side first.”

Before Larry Sanders came It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, the “breaking the fourth wall” Showtime gem that pre-dated Seinfeld, which in many ways copied it. Premiering in 1986, it ran for four years. The then-fledgling Fox network re-purposed the last two seasons of the show before Lifetime began airing It’s Garry Shandling’s Show all over again in 1991 on the same night that his first comedy special for HBO premiered. This was news to Shandling. But he made the most of it -- comedically at least -- after his interviewer broke it to him during a hookup from his hotel room in Maui.

“Let’s guesstimate the number of viewers,” Shandling said. “I’d say 10 to 15 people. I’d probably have a wider audience if my show aired in Kuwait. My guess is that within a year they’ll start airing it on some ham radio frequency. But heck, The Weather Channel could have bought it. That would have been worse.”

This was Shandling at his self-deprecating best. But his neurotic tendencies were also kicking in again. He worried about picking too large a venue -- The California at Irvine Theater -- for the HBO special. He likewise was vexed about the comedy movie script he’d been working on.

“Hopefully, when I read it, I’ll like it and say, ‘Yes, I’d like to play this part.’ Or I could read it and go, ‘Who the hell wrote this?’ I’m going to keep working on it and explore any other projects that come along. I know that sounds really nebulous, but then I’m a Democrat.”

The Larry Sanders Show soon came along, enshrining Shandling and co-stars Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn as sidekick Hank “Hey Now” Kingsley and producer Artie (whose last name went unmentioned). It ran for 89 episodes, was nominated for 56 Emmys but won just three. That only fed Shandling’s insecurities, leading to a rather bizarre presentation during the January 1998 Television Critics Association “press tour” in which HBO chairman Jeff Bewkes emphatically announced the final season of the show before bringing Shandling onstage.

“Excuse me,” he began. “This is all news to me.” He then noted that five new episodes already had been completed and that the last of them would be one hour in length. “If in fact, that is the end,” he said before swiftly leaving a hotel ballroom with Bewkes and several HBO publicists in tow.

Yours truly caught up with this entourage and told Shandling that “HBO seems to be more certain about this than you. Last night they were saying you’d be here to announce the end of the show.”

Shandling then rebooted: “You know, I guess it wasn’t clear. This is the last season of the show. And it’s being written that way. And it’s a moving season, a funny season. I’m sure I will miss it enormously. It has nothing to do with running out of ideas. It’s a show that continues to explore human behavior. And that’s bottomless.”

He never starred in another TV series after The Larry Sanders Show ended with a comedic aria on the night of May 31, 1998.

In the end, Garry Shandling probably never really convinced himself that he ever knew what the audience wanted. He tended to err on the side of hapless, with his one and only HBO comedy special doubling as a forum for his stumblebum ways with women and life in general. The man who put Showtime on the map and gave HBO its single greatest comedy series always seemed to have difficulty coming to grips with his own self-worth.

“I once made love for an hour and five minutes,” he bragged to applause during the HBO special. Pause, one-two. “It was on the day you push the clocks ahead.”

We now know -- and have known for quite a while -- that Garry Shandling was well ahead of his time. His last TV appearance, on the Jan. 20th episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, was subtitled “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.”

He would have seen the humor in that. But it also might have driven him crazy.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Catch gives Mireille Enos a complete makeover and Shonda Rhimes another ABC vehicle to drive


Peter Krause and a glammed up Mireille Enos in The Catch ABC photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 24th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Mireille Enos, Peter Krause, Rose Rollins, Sonya Walger, Alimi Ballard, Jacky Ido, Jay Hayden, Elvy Yost
Produced by: Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Allan Heinberg, Julie Anne Robinson

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Mireille Enos seldom if ever let a smile be her umbrella in AMC’s The Killing, even during those drenching, ever-present rainstorms.

Encased in thick turtle neck sweaters, she mostly grimaced and glowered, with an occasional pout tossed in. Is it possible to laugh or even smile less than George Will? Enos gave it a very game go.

That all changes in the early stages of ABC’s very modern and stylish The Catch. Enos’ character, high-priced L.A. private investigator Alice Vaughan, is giddy, oh so giddy, over her engagement to suave Christopher Hall (Peter Krause). She’s even picked out a slinky, shimmering wedding dress. And it wouldn’t be out of place to accessorize it with a few smiley faces.

Alas, it turns out to be a happy daze. “Christopher” has been conning Alice and her crack team of gumshoes. And by the end of Thursday’s fairly engaging premiere episode, the cat-and-mouse game is on in earnest after Alice’s beau vanishes and returns to the possessive arms of criminal mastermind Margot Bishop (Sonya Walger from Lost and Krause’s previous series, Parenthood).

In part meant to evoke The Thomas Crown Affair, this is producer Shonda Rhimes’ latest gift to ABC following the successful launches of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, whose Thursday night slot now goes to The Catch. Whether this one also has legs will be determined in due time. But Rhimes has whiffed just once before, with her 2011 doctor drama Off the Map.

Enos not only gets to smile and laugh. She’s also a clothes horse in flawless, flattering makeup. Her Anderson/Vaughan Investigations, co-founded by best pal and business partner Valerie Anderson (Rose Rollins), serves and protects a strictly well-heeled clientele. But then along comes the guy who sweeps Alice off her feet, compromises everything and then goes poof while exhibiting some remorse in the form of a longing look or two.

Will poor Enos ever be allowed to smile again in the role of jilted dupe? Well, yes, but for now only in repeated flashbacks that document the way they were when she very happily whispered sweet nothings to the man of her dreams -- and now nightmares.

The Catch takes a while to kick in, afflicting viewers with way too much of Pitbull’s “Fireball” during an extended early game of now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t. The sequence is very nicely edited, though, and also split-screened in the manner of both Thomas Crown Affair films.

It also turns out that Krause’s con artist has another pursuer -- FBI agent Jules Dao (Jacky Ido). He wants Alice to join forces with him but she’s of course reluctant at first.

All of this plays better as it goes along. But with only the first episode made available for review, it’s an open question as to how well The Catch will wear. Enos and the never out-of-work Krause make for two very attractive protagonists. This is still easy enough for Krause to pull off, but it’s the first time Enos has gotten a full-blown chance to be glamorous. Depending on a viewer’s earlier exposures to The Killing, it might take a while to get used to this. A hard rain’s not gonna fall on The Catch, where everyone looks like a million bucks -- while in pursuit of same.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Heartbeat needs to adjust its meds


Melissa George, Dave Annable take a daily dose of each other in new medical drama Heartbeat, originally called Heartbreaker. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on NBC with a sneak-preview episode before moving to regular Wednesday, 7 p.m. slot
Starring: Melissa George, Dave Annable, Don Harry, Shelley Conn, D.L. Hughley, Jamie Kennedy, Maya Erskine, Joshua Leonard, JLouis Mills
Produced by: Jill Gordon, Amy Brenneman, Brad Silberling

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Medical dramas have had a mini-resurgence this season with decent ratings for newcomers Code Black (CBS) and Chicago Med (NBC).

The Peacock’s Heartbeat could use a chill pill, though. Its principal smock-wearer, heart surgeon Alexandra Panttiere (Melissa George), is an over-bearing loose cannon with an aversion to authority, a mega-sex drive, mad skills in the operating room and scant time for her two sons from a previous marriage.

“I want your ass, Shane,” she says, pulling an old flame doctor close to her during a flashback hot spot in the second of three episodes sent for review. No need to take two aspirin.

Alexandra also is the new chief innovations officer at L.A.-based St. Matthew’s Hospital, which makes for frequent clashes over procedure with administrator Millicent Patel (Shelley Conn). This kind of dynamic is hardly a medical bulletin. From Ben Casey to House, every headstrong doc who always knows best needs a naysaying boss who’s invariably proven wrong.

Another thing about Heartbeat, initially titled Heartbreaker. Man, the facial hair is of almost biblical proportions. Every single featured male character has either a beard, a plus-sized goatee or, in the case of Dr. Jesse Shane (Don Hany), designer stubble to varying degrees. One almost expects one of them to be carrying stone tablets.

This is evident from the premiere episode’s very first scene, in which Alexandra (based on the real-life Dr. Kathy Magliato) encounters a brusque, big-bearded foreigner who has taken her plane seat and won’t give it up. Dressed for a speaking engagement and eager for some down time, she fails to dislodge him but a few minutes later saves his life. The big oaf in turn spatters blood all over her dress, leading to an eventual sight gag that really isn’t quite worth its labored buildup.

Alexandra otherwise is currently involved with Dr. Pierce Harrison (Dave Annable), a seemingly very well-adjusted dreamboat. “Aren’t I a good thing?” she asks him at the hospital, where they regularly sneak off to get conjugal. “All the sex you want and you don’t even have to put a ring on it.”

But Pierce wouldn’t mind tying the knot, and not just when suturing patients. Complicating matters is the sudden return of Dr. Jesse, a former mentor and sack mate who abruptly left St. Matthews for Cleveland a dozen years ago, as we learn in flashbacks. Has Alexandra ever really gotten over him -- or he over her?

Meanwhile, Alexandra’s jovial, malleable ex-husband Max (Joshua Leonard), is a former fairly accomplished rock musician who’s now available on a moment’s notice to take care of the kids. The moment’s notices tend to be frequent. Alexandra hugs her sons on cue but is better at snuggling up to her work.

The heavily populated cast also includes two more hair faces, both played by guys who have been better known for their comedy. D.L. Hughley is hospital psychiatrist Dr. Hackett and Jamie Kennedy is irreverent Dr. Callahan, whose first line is “You want some fries with that shake?” as Alexandra sashays down a hospital corridor.

We’re not quite through. Maya Erskine breaks from this pack as nurse Ji-Sung Myrong, whose sardonic asides are consistently amusing. There’s also a hospital staffer named Forrester (JLouis Mills), who has a damaged eye -- and facial hair.

Oh yeah, the patients. Heartbeat’s best case to date is in Wednesday’s Episode 2, when conjoined twins Beth and Emily (Justina Machado) face a life-threatening medical emergency. They literally experience separation anxiety when told that they can only survive by living apart. It’s a pretty affecting hour.

A third episode finds Alexandra striving to re-wire a young man named Sam who has talked backwards ever since coming out of a coma after a childhood car accident. A brain aneurysm now threatens his life while Sam’s grouchy British granny makes Dowager Countess Violet Crawley of Downton Abbey seem almost like Mary Poppins.

All of this serves to give Heartbeat a throbbing pulse, although an irregular one. It bounces off the walls of St. Matthew’s, with its rush-about protagonist flirting, sobbing, threatening, cajoling and commiserating, all the while trying to find the true meaning of something or other. Sedative, please. STAT.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Quality to burn: The Americans returns to FX


Domestic disturbances mount in Season 4 of The Americans. FX photo

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Lavishly praised by TV critics but still ludicrously ignored by major awards bodies, FX’s The Americans if anything is better than ever in the early stages of Season 4.

Wednesday, March 16th at 9 p.m. (central) is the latest due date, with Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell) now facing ramped-up troubles at home after their daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), discovered their secret identities and also confided in “Pastor Tim” (Kelly AuCoin). Spying is a “way to make the world safe,” although not everyone agrees, Paige has been told by her mother.

The four episodes made available for review are tightly woven marvels, with a new bio-weapons threat further complicating the double lives of the two principals. There’s also the carryover death of FBI computer specialist Gene Craft (Luke Robertson) at the end of Season 3. Philip did the deed and then made it seem like suicide in order to frame Gene as a mole within the agency’s Washington D.C. offices. But dogged agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) remains suspicious of office secretary Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), who’s been Philip’s duped right-hand informant and clandestine wife.

A few words about Wright as Martha. She comes fully to the fore in these first four episodes, giving The Americans another character in full measure. Martha has been important in earlier seasons. But she’s now of more import than ever. Her devastated reaction to Philip’s confession about Gene gives Wednesday’s opening hour an emotional lift-off that underscores the very human ramifications of cutthroat counter-espionage. Even Philip is still leaning on EST classes in hopes of somehow cleansing himself while Elizabeth remains the more coldly efficient and pragmatic assassin.

Frank Langella, as the Jennings’ Washington-based KGB handler Gabriel, is also a key player in Season 4’s stage-setting episodes. He has tried to keep Philip and Elizabeth out of harm’s way regarding the super-lethal biological weapons now being made by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union. But now they must deal with a go-between spy named William (new cast addition Dylan Baker), a rogue American scientist who hands over small vials of biological death while warning, “This is to meningitis what bubonic plague is to a runny nose.”

Meanwhile, back in the USSR, beauteous and exposed double agent Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru) is still trying to work her way back into the good graces of her Soviet captors. Margo Martindale, The Americans’ sole Emmy winner for her guest starring stint as KGB supervisor Claudia, returns to briefly reprise that role in a scene with Langella’s Gabriel.

The Americans also mixes in a planned family trip to Disney’s Epcot Center and Elizabeth’s disguised gambit as a Mary Kay Cosmetics representative. This enables her to meet an Asian woman named Young Hee (terrifically played by veteran stage actress Ruthie Ann Miles). Their rapport is instant and refreshing. It serves to chase away the overall blues -- for several minutes at least -- during their “girl talk” scenes together in Episode 3 of the new season.

Paramount, though, is what to do about the shared knowledge of Paige and Pastor Tim. Must he be liquidated? Or better yet, can he be liquidated without Paige being forever alienated from her parents despite all efforts to cover their tracks? These struggles are palpable from all angles.

The Americans perhaps is fated to join the likes of NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Streets and HBO’s The Wire as great drama series that never received even a single Emmy nomination in that category. In continued boom times for high-quality drama series, Emmy voters have a tougher time than ever.

But as of this particular writing, The Americans in my view is the best TV drama of this season. It excels to even greater degrees on levels large and small, with the intimate details of human interaction mixing with the humanity-at-stake, cloak and dagger goings-on that keep Philip and Elizabeth tenuously on point.

Oh, and by the way, Episode 4 ends with a big jolt.


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Warburton's forte gets a nice workout in NBC's Crowded


All together now: The cast of Crowded crowds in. NBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 15th at 9 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes before moving to regular Sunday, 8:30 p.m. slot.
Starring: Patrick Warburton, Carrie Preston, Miranda Cosgrove, Mia Serafino, Stacy Keach, Carlease Burke
Produced by: Suzanne Martin, Sean Hayes, Todd Milliner, James Burrows

By Ed Bark
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Watching and listening to Patrick Warburton snap off deadpan one-liners can be a saving grace of any not-so-great sitcom.

It also helps to have talented Carrie Preston in the house as Warburton’s newest TV wife. Together they put a fair amount of zing into NBC’s New York City-set Crowded, which otherwise has a thoroughly shopworn premise and an increasingly outdated laugh track.

Mike and Martina Moore (Warburton, Preston) are first seen sequentially sending their two daughters off to college. “Men are like basketball players,” she warns the first. “They dribble before they shoot.”

Thud, that’s not a promising start. But the parents’ newfound and much-enjoyed freedom is jolted “Four Years Later” when both intellectual Shea (Miranda Cosgrove) and comparatively dim Stella (Mia Serafino) plead poverty and announce they’re moving back in. This for some reason also waylays the plans of Mike’s prototypically conservative/cantankerous dad and his second wife to relocate to Florida. So like Marie and Frank Barone in Everybody Loves Raymond, Bob and Alice Moore (Stacy Keach, Carlease Burke) continue to live in very close proximity, the better for them to barge in. Yeah, it’s all kind of . . . crowded.

Warburton, who also can be seen swaggering through those oft-aired National Car Rental commercials, has a knack for summing up situations with a modicum of words. “Don’t you get it? The fun is over,” he tells Martina in Tuesday’s first of two “sneak preview” episodes. Much of what Warburton says isn’t particularly funny on paper. But in the context of situations, it regularly rings the bell. You wait for him to close the sale with a hangdog lament.

A third episode sent for review -- although it’s not scheduled to air in that order -- has the added bonus of Betty White and Jane Leeves as guest stars. At age 94, White can still summon a funny riff or two, this time as a lousy mom to Leeves’ character but as a comforting, surrogate one to Mike, who has a cold.

Beyond Warburton and future guest stars, Crowded is well-cast and easy enough to imbibe. Giving Keach’s character a saucy African-American wife satisfies any demands for diversity. And making Stella bisexual covers another base. But despite all the polarization infecting the ongoing presidential campaign, we’re not in the era of All in the Family anymore. So neither Stella’s sexuality nor Bob’s interracial marriage is a hot-button issue in Crowded. The show simply goes with those flows while also showing Mike and Martina smoking pot.

After Tuesday pair of sneak-preview episodes, Crowded will be paired with The Carmichael Show on Sunday nights. Both are “traditional” in their three-camera presentations before live studio audiences whose laughter is “sweetened” in the editing room. But there’s also some bite and solid comedic performances amid those old-school trappings. Both viewers and NBC could do much worse.

GRADE: B-minus

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CNN continues to be the news leader in giving Donald Trump free passes


Former opponent Ben Carson sided with Donald Trump Friday.

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No network has been more slavish in its coverage of Donald Trump than CNN.

That’s probably stating the obvious at this point, even though rival networks certainly haven’t scrimped on the free time they’ve given the oft-bombastic Republican Party frontrunner.

It would be nice, however, if CNN also would take the time to at least call Trump on his many and obvious twists and turns of what he claims is the truth. It takes very little effort to make such an effort, as very recent events demonstrate.

Immediately following CNN’s Republican candidate debate Thursday night, the network of course went immediately to Trump onstage. His new caddy, Chris Cuomo, again was the questioner. During the course of their live interview, Cuomo asked Trump whether he’d be doing more debates during the primary season. It’s Trump’s view that the electorate has seen enough of them at this point while networks enjoy “making a fortune” off the high ratings for the Republican debates in particular.

Still, he told Cuomo, “I think they want to do two more debates and I guess I’m pretty much OK with it.” After all, Thursday’s notably tame face-off turned out to be “a very elegant evening” in Trump’s opinion.

Cut to Friday morning, when CNN of course provided uninterrupted wall-to-wall coverage of former foe Dr. Ben Carson’s endorsement of Trump and their subsequent lengthy press conference.

A reporter asked Trump about the planned March 21st GOP debate in Salt Lake City, which has been sanctioned by the Republican National Committee and was first announced on Feb. 20th. This time Trump played dumb.

“I didn’t know there was a next debate,” he said. “I thought we had our ‘next debate’ last night. No? . . . I think it’s time to end the debates. No, I didn’t know about a debate in Salt Lake City.”

OK, so the man who 12 hours earlier was “pretty much OK” with doing two more debates (the other would be in New York City if at least two candidates are still left standing) was now pleading ignorance of saying any such thing. But Trump then fell back on an old dodge, saying he’d participate if the profit-mongering networks donated their ad revenues “to the Wounded Warriors (Project) or to the veterans.”

Perhaps he also didn’t know that the CEO and COO of Wounded Warriors Project were fired Thursday for misusing the funds donated to the organization, including spending some $26 million on lavish parties and conferences. So, not a good charity at the moment, Mr. Trump.

In outlining his reasons for endorsing Trump, Carson said there “are two different Donald Trumps” and the one behind the scenes is “very cerebral” compared to the insult-heaving Trump on display at rallies and debates. “We buried the hatchet. That was political stuff,” Carson said of Trump’s previous attacks on him, which included likening Carson to a child molester with a “pathological” disease.

Trump later said. “I probably do agree. I think there are two Donald Trumps.” And although “I don’t like to over-analyze myself,” Trump said he’s a “big thinker” behind the scenes.

But when the topic later was revisited during the same press conference, Trump pivoted 180 and said, “I don’t think there are two Donald Trumps. I think there’s one Donald Trump.” Whether one or two, both have very short memories. Especially for a guy who also said during the press conference, “We’re at a point where we have to start being truthful about our country. I want to answer questions honestly and forthrightly.”

Then he repeated another of his calumnies, that opponent and “absentee governor” John Kasich said he would quit the race if he didn’t finish atop last Tuesday’s Michigan primary.

“He guaranteed Michigan,” Trump contended of Kasich, who’s governor of neighboring Ohio. “He said, ‘I will win Michigan.’ I thought he said -- you can correct me if I’m wrong -- but I thought he said if I don’t win Michigan, I’ll drop out.”

He’s wrong. In truth, Kasich has said it would be time for him to drop out if he didn’t win his home state of Ohio. And he’s been emphatic in saying he will beat Trump in Ohio. He never predicted victory in Michigan, but said that his campaign needed to do very well in the state. Kasich ended up finishing a sliver behind second-place Ted Cruz, by less than 9,000 votes, while both of them had more than 200,000 votes than a very distant fourth-place Marco Rubio.

These are all easy misstatements to scrutinize. But in her post-press conference edition of CNN Newsroom Friday morning, anchor Carol Costello didn’t correct or clarify any of them. She instead seemed obsessed with her perspective that Carson, unlike previous Trump endorsers Sarah Palin and Chris Christie, did not stand directly behind him onstage. In her view, that meant Carson was distancing himself. Well, the picture above says otherwise. But this is the kind of drivel that too often passes for hard-hitting presidential campaign coverage on a network that has adopted Trump as its latest missing Malaysian airliner. In other words, CNN simply can’t cover him enough.

CNN and other networks say that Trump is the frontrunner, after all. And that unlike other candidates, he readily makes himself available. That’s the rationale currently in use on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, whose host, former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, has been assailed in some quarters for being a close friend and ad hoc advisor for Trump’s campaign.

As Trump never tires of saying, he’s also been a one-man ratings machine during the ongoing presidential campaign. This makes it extra-tough to turn him down whenever he picks up the phone and asks, “Hey, wanna do an interview?”

Well, CNN always wants to do an interview. And its subsequent analysis of Trump’s latest pronouncements almost always includes a Trump campaign mouthpiece who deflects any and all criticisms. When did this get to be the norm?

However this election turns out, volumes could be written on how CNN in particular gave Trump one free ride after another. Events between late Thursday night and mid-Friday morning were yet another instance of a network failing to point out his all-too-evident inconsistencies or untruths. Oftentimes he contradicts what he’s said just a few minutes earlier. It’s very basic journalism to point this out. But just as often as not, CNN seems all too inclined to instead look the other way.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

WGN America's Underground is an imperfect but worthy drama set in a very imperfect world


Aldis Hodge and Jurnee Smollett-Bell star as slaves making a run for “The Promised Land” in Georgia-set Underground. WGN America photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on WGN America
Starring: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Alano Miller, Christopher Meloni, Reed Diamond, Marc Blucas, Amirah Vann, Mykelti Williamson, Chris Chalk, Jessica deGouw, Adina Porter, Theodus Crane, Johnny Ray Gill, Renwick Scott, Mary Katherine Duhon, Jussie Smollett
Produced by: Misha Green, Joe Pokaski, Akiva Goldsman, Job Harold, John Legend, Tory Tunnell, Mike Jackson, Anthony Hemingway, Ty Stiklorius

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
WGN America, official network of the one-word, scripted drama series, is following Salem, the since canceled Manhattan and Outsiders with the pre-Civil War Underground.

It continues the network’s newfound path toward relevance and hoped-for Emmy acclaim after generations of idling in place with various syndicated reruns. Underground, billed in publicity materials as a “pulse-pounding journey with revolutionaries of the Underground Railroad,” spikes its 1857 antebellum setting with a mix of contemporary and period music devised by co-executive producer John Legend.

This doesn’t always work wonders, particularly in an opening sequence depicting the slave Noah (Aldis Hodge) on the lam and accompanied by pounding drums, rap and literally a heavy-breathing downbeat. Down the road, in the third of four episodes made available for review, a governor’s ball is in part accompanied by a pop tune with the lyrics “We are, we are the wild ones.” Well, I declare.

In the early hours of a 10-episode Season One, the characters mostly gather at a Georgia plantation owned by the semi-genteel but overall vicious Tom Macon (Reed Diamond). His haughty wife, Mary (Mary Katherine Duhon), is more outwardly condescending than her husband. Family dinners are formal, with a uniformed black staff headed by the stern Ernestine (Amirah Vann) expected to provide impeccable service. It’s not Downton Abbey, mind you. But the class distinctions are almost eerily similar.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell, one of many young graduates from NBC’s Friday Night Lights, plays Ernestine’s daughter and fellow housekeeper Rosalee. Ernestine likewise has kept her two other children out of the fields in return for certain favors. But Rosalee has difficulty taking her eyes off plantation blacksmith Noah, whose back bears the deep scars of repeated lashings. Together they conspire, along with other freedom-seekers, to escape on a journey 600 miles North to the so-called “Promised Land.”

Who can be trusted, though? Cato (Alano Miller), one of Tom Macon’s black overseers, has a badly disfigured face and duplicitous nature. But he also claims to be intent on putting the plantation behind him. Clashing with Noah is part of the bargain.

Underground also is populated by well-meaning abolitionist John Hawkes (Marc Blucas) and his wife, Elizabeth (Jessica De Gouw). Their motivations seem pure, although John has a checkered past. Then there’s the morally ambiguous August Pullman (Christopher Meloni of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fame), who sometimes brings in runaway slaves to make ends meet but whose best friend is a black man played by Clarke Peters from The Wire.

Underground occasionally clunks through these proceedings but usually not for too long. Vivid, strong performances by Hodge and Meloni help to keep the story on its toes while the producers effectively recreate a pivotal period just four years shy of the four-year war pitting North against South. The attention to detail can be gruesome at times -- as it must be. Plantation-style “civilization,” complete with whips and fine china, at last was nearing an end. But new viral strains of racism were yet to come during the never-ending quest to be free at last.


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Bible study: ABC's Of Kings and Prophets may be too late for that


The hunky good shepherd David (Olly Rix) plays the harp and wields a mean, lethal slingshot in Of Kings and Prophets. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, March 8th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Olly Rix, Ray Winstone, Simone Kessell, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Jeanine Mason, Mohammad Bakri, Nathaniel Parker, Haaz Sleiman, James Floyd
Produced by: Chris Brancato, Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Reza Aslan, Jason T. Reed, Mahyad Tousi

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
ABC is tardy to the biblical party with Of Kings and Prophets, which finally makes its delayed debut after the History network prospered with The Bible and NBC bombed with A.D. The Bible Continues.

Originally announced as a Sunday night entry on ABC’s fall schedule, Kings and Prophets now hopes to be writ large on Tuesday nights, beginning with a March 8th premiere. The setting is “1,000 Years Before Christ,” with a battle-weary King Saul (Ray Winstone) hoping to unite the 12 fractious tribes of Israel against the sinister Philistines by marrying off his daughter, Merav (Jeanine Mason), to a rug merchant son of Judah.

Complications ensue. They’re mostly triggered by the grizzled prophet Samuel (Mohammad Bakri), who initially looks as though he hasn’t bathed in 40 days and nights. Saul ends up going back to war against his will after fretting to his concubine, “Is this how I’m to be remembered, as Saul the butcher?”

David (Olly Nix) is remembered as the Old Testament young man who slew Goliath with his slingshot. But this doesn’t happen until the third of three episodes made available for review. David, who facially is reminiscent of Game of Thrones’ satr Peter Dinklage, first squares off against a lion who’s been slaughtering Jewish shepherds’ sheep. Emerging victorious, he’s given a gig as Saul’s court harpist. This puts David in close proximity to Saul’s other daughter, Michal (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), the illegitimate offshoot of an earlier kingly concubine. “I just really like her,” David tells a pal near the start of Episode 2.

Kings and Prophets is fairly graphic for a broadcast network production, although the cameras regularly turn away from any prolonged violence. Filmed in Cape Town, South Africa, it’s also pretty picturesque at times. And the storied battle between David and Goliath (guest star Garth Collins) turns out to be surprisingly gripping, even if it’s more than a bit ginned up and Goliath could use more hugeness.

That said, this is an extreme long shot in terms of estimable audience acceptance and therefore longevity. Even if one fully believes in some sort of divine ratings intervention, it’s hard to imagine Kings and Prophets doing much business on a network that’s struggled all season.

The story also dawdles at times, despite efforts to spice things up with some of that good ol’ Old Testament iniquity. In Episode 2, Saul’s lonely wife, Queen Ahinoam (Simone Kessell), hungrily commands, “I need you. I need you now.” She’s talking to David, and not about any yearnings to hear one of his harp solos. David later is told, in Episode 3, that his high-strung brother “needs a good grind.” I think you get the gist.

Among the central players, Winstone is the most effective as the constantly put-upon Saul. He brings presence to this command role, whether raging or trying a little tenderness.

It’s all “Based Upon the Bible,” as noted in the closing credits. And at least there are no efforts -- as of yet -- to turn David into a dashing kung-fu fighter. NBC’s classically laughable 1999 Noah’s Ark miniseries, with Jon Voight as the title character, remains the clubhouse leader in that respect. During the course of its events, the Ark was attacked by pirates and also solicited by a peddler (played by James Coburn), who arrived on the scene in a pedal-powered mini boat to announce, “I’m running a special this week.”

He wound up selling Ark passengers a wide variety of accessories, including a funny hat for one of the resident penguins. I swear on a stack of Bibles that this was part of the show.

Kings and Prophets for the most part is deadly serious in both its approach and intent. It sounds strange to say its time has passed. But in television’s grand biblical scheme of things, ABC failed to strike while the burning bush still seemed somewhat hot. Too many months later, this now looks like a fire sale.


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The Family gives ABC yet another multiple mystery drama with no resolution in sight


Three-time Oscar nominee Joan Allen heads the cast of The Family. ABC photo

Premiering: Thursday, March 3rd at 8 p.m. (central) before moving to regular 8 p.m. Sunday slot on ABC
Starring: Joan Allen, Rupert Graves, Margot Bingham, Zach Gilford, Alison Pill, Andrew McCarthy, Liam James, Floriana Lima, Madeleine Arthur, Rarmian Newton, Michael Esperer
Produced by: Jenna Bans, Paul McGuigan, Todd Lieberman, David Hoberman, Laurie Zaks

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Everyone’s hiding or repressing something in ABC’s latest string-along mystery series about layers of intrigue and people who aren’t what they seem to be.

So if you’ve found something to like in recent kindred entries such as Betrayal, Revenge, Secrets and Lies, Quantico, Resurrection, The Whispers and How to Get Away with Murder, well . . . then you might be a redneck. No, actually, you might fall for The Family, which sneak-previews on Thursday, March 3rd before taking up its regular Sunday night residence on March 6th.

The estimable Joan Allen stars as ambitious politician Claire Warren, who was running for City Council 10 years ago when her youngest son disappeared in a park during “Candidates’ Day.” Ten years later, a scarred, scared and traumatized teen returns to Red Pines and says he’s the missing and long presumed dead Adam (Liam James).

By this time, Claire is the mayor with visions of becoming governor. And as The Family toggles back and forth, we learn that husband John (Rupert Graves) has been unfaithful, daughter Willa (Alison Pill) has been duplicitous and oldest son Danny (Zach Gilford) is a drunk. While he stumbles around, Willa has stepped firmly into the role of mom’s top advisor and image-maker.

Also included are detective Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham), who 10 years ago successfully pinned Adam’s abduction on registered sex offender Hank Asher (Andrew McCarthy). He lived next door to the Warrens and for some reason was still allowed to show impressionable pre-teen Danny how to build ships in a bottle. Danny’s re-emergence results in Hank being freed from jail and paid reparations while still being shunned by the community. Meanwhile, the real kidnapper must still out there and Nina is obsessed with tracking and catching him in atonement for her previous mistake.

The first two hours were made available for review. They’re fairly involving and sprinkled with dibs and dabs of new information aimed at making viewers wonder if Danny’s the real deal or something else entirely -- although presumably not an extraterrestrial.

Although Allen is the thrice Oscar-nominated principal star, McCarthy makes the strongest impression in the early going as fragile, haunted and embittered Hank, who’s still battling his demons. McCarthy is especially effective in an Episode 1 grocery store exchange with Adam’s father.

Gilford previously excelled on Friday Night Lights as vulnerable high school quarterback Matt Saracen. The many who remember him in that role might get a boot out of younger brother Adam asking, “Do you still play football? You used to be pretty good.”

While in captivity, Adam also remembers his abductor having “holes in his face.” This allows The Family to insert a mysterious character billed in the credits only as “Pock-Marked Man” (Michael Esperer).

And yes, there’s the requisite nefarious media component, with an officious editor of the Red Pines Tribune ordering his troops to swarm all over the Warrens. Ethics-less reporter Bridey Cruz (Floriana Lima) finds barfly Danny to be an easy mark in this respect.

It’s not always the case, but ABC dramas of this sort tend to peter out in fairly short order. ABC got considerable mileage out of Revenge, but Betrayal, Resurrection and The Whispers came up short on staying power while How to Get Away with Murder is already sagging ratings-wise in Season 2. Secrets and Lies has been renewed for an all-new whodunit, but ABC keeps dragging its feet on announcing a return date.

The Family’s chances of anything close to long-term survival seem iffy at best. Unlike Secrets and Lies, its cast of characters and premise are set in concrete. Or perhaps quicksand if recent history proves prophetic.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Winning hand: Sundance TV's Hap and Leonard deftly adapts to East Texas and the string of novels from Joe R. Lansdale


James Purefoy, Michael Kenneth Williams propel Hap and Leonard. Sundance TV photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 2nd at 9 p.m. (central) on Sundance TV
Starring: James Purefoy, Michael Kenneth Williams, Christina Hendricks, Bill Sage, Neil Sandilands, Jeff Pope, Polyanna McIntosh, Jimmi Simpson
Produced by: Jim Mickle

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Outwardly mismatched characters who therefore are perfect for each other is a commonplace concept both on TV and in the movies.

Even so, Sundance TV’s six-episode Hap and Leonard, drawn the from East Texas-set novels by Joe R. Lansdale, is a refresher course in how to make it all seem pretty much brand new.

Hap Collins (Rome’s James Purefoy) and Leonard Pines (The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams) are first seen toiling in a rose field before being informed they’re losing their jobs to cheaper Mexican labor. It’s the late 1980s, but “Morning In America” still hasn’t dawned on these two. They’re downtrodden semi-misfits from the Vietnam War era whose friendship was forged against all odds.

Leonard, who’s gay, fought as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam. The divorced Hap, who’s straight, spent time in jail as a conscientious objector. In the three episodes made available for review, we don’t learn much about what drew them together. But brief flashbacks uncover other eventful moments in their lives, so there’s still time.

Filmed in Louisiana, this initial made-for-TV adventure is drawn from “Savage Season,” the first of nine Hap and Leonard novels written to date by Lansdale. Early in Wednesday’s opener, Hap receives a surprise but welcome visit from his ex-wife Trudy (Christina Hendricks in her first major post-Mad Men role). She always seems to want something but he’s never gotten over her. “A stiff dick ain’t got no conscience,” Leonard warns him to no avail.

This time Trudy has another proposition besides seduction. As shown in the opening sequence, it concerns one million dollars in cash that ended up underwater when the robbers capsized in a river. Trudy knows about this via her second ex-husband, a save-the-world zealot named Howard (Bill Sage) who became an activist in the 1960s and hasn’t stopped.

While serving time in prison, Howard befriended the ill-fated survivor of the robbery and learned approximately where the money is now submerged. Trudy offers Hap $200 grand to help them find it. After all, he knows the lay of the East Texas land and also is much more a man of action than the vegetarian, pot-smoking Howard, who wants to use his cut of the money to supposedly “even the playing field between the haves and have nots.”

Hap insists that part of the deal is including Leonard, who very much doesn’t like Trudy and vice-versa. Friction ensues among all concerned, including Howard’s principal associates. The badly scarred Paco (Neil Sandilands) is a former violent 1960s activist who used to head The Mechanics. Chub (Jeff Pope) is pretty much just a clumsy fat guy and butt of jokes.

Throughout this yarn, Hap and Leonard trade barbs that bounce off them like water balloons. Trudy, stuck in a crappy waitressing job at Family Burger, yearns to both break free and turn Hap back into an idealist.

“Leonard’s rubbin’ off on you. He sees the world through dirty glasses,” she tells him.

Maybe so. Not that Hap cares. “I’m just not interested in the downtrodden,” he says. “I’m one of ‘em.”

Now that’s some crispy writing -- and there’s plenty of it throughout. There’s also a very disquieting sub-plot involving two vicious, twisted killers who enjoy being splattered by their victims’ blood. Through the first three episodes, their activities are akin to an out-of-body experience in terms of story structure. But “Soldier” (Jimmi Simpson) has let it be known he’s looking for Paco while his leather encased lover, Angel (Pollyanna McIntosh), seems to be mainly addicted to wanton mayhem. Assuming a collision course is inevitable, these two convey enough menace to send Freddy Krueger yelping away in terror.

Purefoy and Williams are standouts throughout while Hendricks pretty much settles in. The bloody goings-on apart from their fractious triangle can be jolts from out of the blue. But there’s always some cauterizing banter just around the corner. As when Leonard says that Ronald Reagan acting opposite a chimp was ahead of its time before later asking Hap what the title was.

Bedtime for Bonzo, he’s told. “Bonzo was good. Movie was terrible.”

“Never saw it,” Leonard retorts.


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ABC again pushes the kid-narrative button (and other buttons) in The Real O'Neals


Catholic family values get a makeover in The Real O’Neals. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, March 2nd at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Martha Plimpton, Jay R. Ferguson, Noah Galvin, Bebe Wood, Matt Shively, Mary Hollis Imboden
Produced by: Dan Savage, David Windsor, Todd Holland, Brian Pines, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Dan McDermott, Stacy Traub

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ABC doesn’t yet have an official patent on kid-narrated family sitcoms.

It leads the league in wins, though, with The Wonder Years, Suburgatory, The Goldbergs and Fresh Off the Boat all getting multi-season runs on a network that lately has struggled to make much of anything else work.

The latter two comedies are still gainful ABC properties while The Real O’Neals makes its major league debut with Wednesday’s double premiere. The narration is by 16-year-old Kenny O’Neal (Noah Galvin), middle child of a fractious Chicago Catholic family full of sudden confessions. Principal among them: Kenny announces he’s gay at St. Barklays “Bingo Bonanza.” This is meant only for his family’s ears, but the acoustics conspire against him. So now just about everyone knows.

Oldest son Jimmy (Matt Shively) pitches in by copping to an eating disorder while daughter Shannon (Bebe Wood) reveals she’s a kleptomaniac. All that’s left is for mom Elaine (Martha Plimpton) and dad Pat (Jay R. Ferguson) to proclaim that they’re getting a divorce. Holy hell in a hand basket.

Plimpton is coming off mom duty in Fox’s Raising Hope, where she spent four seasons in a constant state of very vexed unrest. Here she’s somewhat more in control as the same sort of domineering, meddling matriarch played by Wendi McLendon-Covey on The Goldbergs. Still, both series are viewed through the prism of their central sons.

Narration on The Goldbergs and ABC’s classic Wonder Years comes from adults looking back on how they somehow survived. Kenny’s voice-overs are in his own kid voice. In Wednesday’s opening episode, the O’Neals are first seen in a restaurant, with Kenny observing, “My mom always taught us to behave as if Jesus were watching.” An imagined Jesus then briefly takes his place at the table.

Real O’Neals regularly uses this device, with Kenny later envisioning sculpted “Shirtless Cologne Model” in the bathroom mirror. “I can’t be gay,” the kid frets. But he slowly works up to an admission, telling dad that “vaginas scare me.”

“That feeling never goes away,” he’s told in turn.

ABC made four episodes available for review. All have their moments, some of them cloying, others amusing. The now almost inevitable Jimmy Kimmel has a superfluous cameo in Wednesday’s second half-hour, which is mainly built around Elaine’s denial and Pat’s shopping for an apartment before settling for moving into the homestead basement.

“Is it wrong for me to be worried about your everlasting soul?” mom asks Kenny. “Why can’t you just spend the rest of your life with a trampy girl I can’t stand?”

Conniving little sis Shannon has some of the better lines. In Episode 3, she tells Kenny, “Don’t let being gay stop you from being lame.” So he continues his campaign to be St. Barklay Prep’s class treasurer. Galvin is appealing in this pivotal role, layering Kenny’s bemused or exasperated reactions with apt intonations and facial expressions.

Jimmy is the prototypical lunkhead older brother, although a more supportive one than usual when it come to Kenny’s coming out. In Episode 4, a chance meeting with a 17-year-old boy evolves into Kenny’s first date as his new true self. Jimmy asks somewhat logically, “Who pays on a guy-guy date?”

Dallas native Ferguson, who played Burt Reynolds’ son on Evening Shade before growing into the adult role of Stan Rizzo on Mad Men, is somewhat lost in the shuffle so far as an unsteady father figure and oddly benign Chicago cop. Plimpton runs roughshod as usual as the take-charge mom who embarrasses her kids before softening in time for the pro forma closing little homilies.

The Real O’Neals will be moving to Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. (following Fresh Off the Boat) after Wednesday’s double-shot launch. It’s above-average without being top tier. But ABC has proven its mettle in the kid-centric comedy arena, so it’s best not to under-estimate this one’s staying power or potential for growth.

GRADE: B-minus

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