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"Press tour" tales: whither Conan


Conan amid inquisitors at TNT 25th anniversary party. TNT photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
BEVERLY HILLS, CA -- The Big Buzz of 2010 has died down to an almost inaudible hum. And that’s not likely to change in the coming year.

Conan O’Brien says he knows and accepts this. And his network, TBS, isn’t about to cut him loose anytime soon after a contract extension that takes Conan through November 2015.

O’Brien, who recently turned 50, now casts himself as a savvy show biz vet who’s content to keep his head down and spirits up while most of the late night attention this year and next goes to Arsenio Hall’s return, NBC’s eventual new after-hours tandem of Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers and where -- if anywhere -- Jay Leno re-emerges after being dropped from The Tonight Show for a second time.

“Things have to run their course,” O’Brien says when asked by unclebarky.com if he has any interest in jump-starting his visibility. “I mean, I’ve been around 20 years. If you want to be in this business for a long time and your desire is to always be the ‘It’ guy of the moment, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. You wait for your tide again. The late night stories will probably be about other people for a while. It would be fake and disingenuous of me to say, ‘It’s gotta be about me this year!’ It can’t be, really. You’ve got to have a very adult concept about this.”

O’Brien began hosting Conan on TBS in November 2010 after a mega-publicized departure from Tonight on Jan. 22nd of that year. In the interim, he toured the country with his “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” show. Fans rallied behind “Team Coco” while his new Twitter account exploded with Followers. Exuberant chants of “Coco!” rained down on him during the early weeks of his new TBS show. But that was then.

“There was a lot of publicity there for a while,” O’Brien understates. “And I was very proud of the way my people and I conducted ourselves and reacted to it creatively. But you can’t sustain that. I mean, in a weird way, I think I’d be dead if I tried to sustain that. The task now is ‘What’s our next show? Let’s make it funner than our previous show.’ “

Meanwhile, Conan is getting drubbed in the Nielsen ratings week after week by leader of the pack Leno’s Tonight Show. Not only in total viewers, but among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds. David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and The Daily Show also are beating Conan in both of these ratings measurements.

But TBS, in announcing its renewal of Conan, put an emphasis on his Twitter following, Facebook fans and what the network said is “15 million video views” per month on TeamCoco.com and You Tube. Leno and Letterman remain comparative no-shows in those arenas.

O’Brien, who used to make fun of Twitter, says he’s had to “rewire my brain. It’s more challenging in some ways, but it’s also more rewarding. You can be afraid of a new technology or you can embrace it. And it’s been a beautiful thing for me . . . A lot of us grew up in the three network environment. ‘Oh boy, M*A*S*H is gonna square off against Happy Days. Who’s gonna win?’ We don’t live in that kind of a world anymore.”

He’s also been branching out as a show producer, with the new ABC fall comedy series Super Fun Night his latest behind-the-scenes credit. O’Brien’s Conaco production company also bankrolls the Adult Swim cop show parody series Eagleheart, starring the always off-center Chris Elliott.

“Talented people delight me. I’m like a vampire,” O’Brien says. “I’m just so happy to be around them.”

He’s a little easier on himself as a talk show host than during those early make-or-break years of NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. “I fed my bone marrow into a wood chipper,” he says. “In the ’90s, I just used to go into spirals, the high highs, low lows, staying up late because I was so jazzed about a show or so down I couldn’t sleep. I’m not like that anymore. I’m heavily medicated.”

He’s also the married father of two children, ages seven and nine. “In a good way, kids throw you off your rhythm,” O’Brien says while also stressing his belief that hard work is still the great equalizer.

“I don’t leave things alone. I keep working on the show until it airs,” he says. “I think it’s why I’m still here. This town is filled with talented people. That doesn’t interest me anymore. The people that assiduously work really, really hard and take whatever talent they have, like a little flame, and just blow on it and turn it into something, that’s what’s interesting.”

In that respect, he sounds more than a little like Leno, who loathes taking vacations and spends most of his down time on the road doing his standup act. O’Brien isn’t quite that anal, but isn’t about to deploy any extra troops in the interests of replicating what he calls the “legendary vacations” of Tonight Show godfather Johnny Carson.

“Trust me,” he says. “After what I’ve been through, no guest hosts.”

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

His ego has landed: the first three nights of ESPN2's Olbermann


All leathered up: Keith Olbermann talks about his favorite subject -- himself -- on premiere of ESPN2’s late night Olbermann. Photo: Ed Bark

Part wordsmith, part bully, all ego, Keith Olbermann’s Olbermann has barged into view this week on ESPN2’s 10 p.m. alternative to the mothership’s SportsCenter.

The one-hour show comes complete with two helpings of “Keith Lights” (“What you need to see, what I need to describe”); “This Week in Keith History” (nightly video of our hero in a funny mustache during his earlier tour at ESPN); and the host’s propensity to vilify and ridicule others without ever engaging in a one-on-one sparring match.

One can acknowledge Olbermann’s talent -- and he does have it -- while also wondering why this big brainiac never seems to have anyone on his show who disagrees with him. That includes those he savages on an almost nightly basis, whether it lately be New York Daily News Jets beat writer Manish Mehta (on Monday’s opening segment) or CNN prime-time host Piers Morgan (a “Worst Person in the Sports World” on Wednesday’s show).

During one of his many previous incarnations, as the host of Countdown on MSNBC, Olbermann delighted in deriding Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly as “Billo the Clown.” Whatever one thinks of O’Reilly, he does make it a point to interview those with opinions he doesn’t share. Others are invited -- or goaded -- to show up on The Factor after O’Reilly assails them. Few take the bait but at least the effort is made.

Olbermann simply preaches, decrying the state of journalism while also violating its basic tenets.

“Reporting is dead,” he proclaimed on Monday’s kickoff of Olbermann. “Long live making something out of nothing.”

His principal punching bag was Mehta, whose picture got shown three times during Olbermann’s rant about an Aug. 24th Mehta tweet that read, “Rex Ryan should be fired tonight for signing off on one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever seen.”

Briefly put, Mehta was talking about Ryan’s decision to belatedly put New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez in a close pre-season game against the New York Giants. Playing with reserves, a scrambling Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury when hit as he threw a pass downfield. Stories speculating on Ryan’s firing then popped up in other media accounts, prompting Olbermann to rail at length about the hypocrisy of it all while a backdrop graphic exclaimed, “The Media Makes Stuff Up!”

Perhaps Mehta was guilty of an impulsive tweet, as are most of us from time to time. But why not ask him if he’d like to defend himself rather than making the guy a veritable Public Enemy No. 1? And if Mehta declined, then say so on the air.

That’s not Olbermann’s style, though. Instead he invited another controversial and now reinstated ESPN commentator to agree with him during the show’s inaugural studio interview. Jason Whitlock, who has gotten into trouble for his own impulsive, racially tinged tweet about NBA guard Jeremy Lin, proceeded to lecture from on high about the parasitic state of journalism while Olbermann lapped it up.

“We’re all just fodder to be eaten and used to prop up someone else’s relevancy,” said Whitlock before suddenly switching to Lamar Odom and his alleged drug addiction. “No one’s looking at Lamar Odom as a human being,” Whitlock lamented.

Olbermann ended their segment by telling one and all that “every reporter should spend one day as the only story in the world.” That way they’d supposedly reap what they sow.

Going completely unmentioned on Olbermann’s first night was the ongoing front page series in The New York Times on ESPN’s overwhelming influence on both pro and college sports. That was some pretty serious, in depth reporting. As was the newspaper’s earlier lengthy look at whether ESPN bowed to pressure from the NFL by backing out of a series on pro football head injuries after partnering with PBS’ Frontline for the past 15 months. Olbermann took a pass on that as well, but wasn’t above ridiculing a heavy-set, bearded baseball fan in the very first image from his “Keith Lights.”

The man was “picking his lineup,” said Olbermann. In fact the guy very much seemed to be scratching the tip of his nose and then rubbing the side of it -- not picking it. But Olbermann had his designated, defenseless buffoon, so what’s it to him? He later lampooned a chubby Kansas City Royals cameraman who could be seen dancing after his team hit a home run. “OK, I needed to see that,” Olbermann said with affected disdain.

The host’s other in-studio guest on opening night, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, began by telling Olbermann, “Congratulations on the show. Welcome to the Skip Bayless Network.”

Bayless and cohort Stephen A. Smith very animatedly preside over ESPN2’s daily First Take show. Both are blowhards. But at least Bayless had the stones to square off against Cuban in one of First Take’s more memorable face-offs. In contrast, Olbermann has long been a hit-and-run driver -- and an oftentimes surprisingly lazy interviewer as well. In that respect, he never asked Cuban about Odom, whom the Mavericks endured before finally cutting him loose. Some reports have alleged he was heavily into drugs while with the Mavericks. If you’re Olbermann and you have Cuban sitting right next to you, don’t you at least ask the question?

Here’s another example of how Olbermann operates. In Monday’s first “Keith LIghts,” the New York Yankees’ embattled Alex Rodriguez was shown hitting a meaningful home run early in his team’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Olbermann pretty much played that highlight straight. Not so on Tuesday night’s show, when A-Rod hit a home run after the Yankees already had the game in hand.

“So it’s 6-0 in the 7th, and that means it’s Alex time,” Olbermann brayed. “Time for Alex Rodriguez to shine with a 6-0 lead.”

Olbermann opened both the Tuesday and Wednesday Olbermanns by blasting the hypocrisy of college sports and the NCAA’s handling of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. No real problem with that. But it also would have been an optimum time to debate a guest who disagreed with Olbermann on whether college athletes should be paid for their services.

Instead, Olbermann had kindred spirit Tony Kornheiser as a guest and then, via satellite, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. On Wednesday, tennis analyst John McEnroe and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (also by satellite) were the guests. Manning, who with his brother, Eli, is a paid spokesman for DIRECTV, was allowed to do the entire interview with that company’s logo displayed prominently behind him. And at the end of their amiable chat, Olbermann dutifully asked a question tied to DIRECTV.

Olbermann historically has not taken well to criticism. And really, who among us enjoys being on the receiving end? But his show’s foundation is built on harangues and darts, including the nightly “Worst Person in the Sports World” segments. On Wednesday’s show, fellow egotist Piers Morgan got a “Worst Person” designation for his tweet about how Tiger Woods “is the personification of MLK’s dream” because he’s a “black man conquering a white man’s sport.”

Morgan was chiding the Golf Channel’s decision to apologize for a tweet in which it asked readers to share their “golf dream.” Olbermann then characterized both the Golf Channel and Morgan as nitwits for trivializing the “I Have A Dream” speech.

In this case, it could be very good theater to have Olbermann and Morgan joust on Olbermann. But instead they’ve regularly feuded on Twitter, the same medium that Olbermann’s opening punching bag, The Daily News’ Manish Mehta, used to impulsively call for the firing of the Jets’ head coach.

Olbermann could be so much better if its host were ever of a mind to give his targets a chance to respond -- on his show. Or if he’d ever go head-to-head with someone who strongly disagrees with a position he’s taken. Instead, he picks his shots, many of them still cheap, and rolls merrily on his way as television’s self-appointed Great Truth-Teller.

In his latest showcase, that continues to be a false premise.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Syfy strikes again, this time with ghastly Ghost Shark


Richard Moll cries out in mock horror, gets paid. Syfy photo

Ghost Shark, eh? OK, I’ll take the bait.

Syfy’s latest Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder follows the “global sensation” (as the network puts it) of July’s Sharknado. It’s also from the director of Swamp Shark, Arachnoquake and the upcoming Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators. So a certain amount of viewing pleasure is virtually guaranteed, because films of this sort are seldom utterly unwatchable. They’re just laughably terrible -- as intended.

Ghost Shark, premiering Thursday, August 22nd at 8 p.m. (central), will be preceded by yet another encore showing of Sharknado. It doesn’t have the “star power” of its predecessor (the cast included Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, John Heard) and nowhere near as many sharks. But former Night Court co-star Richard Moll, who played hulking bailiff Bull Shannon, can be seen emoting like crazy as a cranky, drunken widower who lives in a lighthouse. He goes by the name of Darnell Finch and says things like, “You think ghosts are logical, sheriff? Ghosts are real. As real as the lies this town was built on.”

The town is Smallport, whose sheriff is ridiculously disheveled and whose mayor is very protective. Things start going bad when a super-coarse, porcine hillbilly taunts, tortures and murders a shark that has eaten part of what would have been a prize catch in some sort of fishing contest. He warms up by insulting a small boat’s captain with a line that possibly won’t clear a last hurdle with Syfy censors before air time. But in the DVD sent for review, the poor captain is told, “If I wanted any lip from you, I’d pull down your panties.”

Well, anyway, the shark somehow morphs into a cheap-looking, glowing ghost intent on wiping out the entire town. One of its early victims is a nubile, stuck-up blonde in a bikini who’s lovingly captured from toe to head in extreme closeup before becoming chum. Now that’s artistry.

Ghost Shark finds other ways to include ill-fated teen beach babes, including a nicely gratuitous car wash scene. Death also interrupts a kid’s ride on a Slip ’N Slide. And a pair of punks likewise get early retirement, with director Griff Furst striving to find increasingly novel ways to inflict sudden, blood-spurting death. The producers of Starz’s Spartacus series faced the same challenges, although on a bigger budget.

Meanwhile, Moll’s character is pretty much in a constant falling-down drunk state, still feeling guilty about his wife’s death nine years earlier. At one point he gets to exclaim, “Judas Priest!” Yelling in pain -- or just plain yelling -- also occupy Moll’s time. He of course has little patience for three teens determined to find a way to bring the ghost shark down for good. For the record, one of them, plucky Ava Brubaker, is played by former 7th Heaven regular Mackenzie Rosman.

Syfy already has a Sharknado sequel set for next summer, but Ghost Shark probably won’t have that kind of staying power. It succeeds in being more or less stupidly watchable, but unlikely to prompt anywhere near the same Twitter eruption. Stranger things have happened, though, including last spring’s under-appreciated Syfy classic, Chupacabra vs. The Alamo, starring Erik Estrada.

Now how in the hell did that not become an instant B-movie behemoth?

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

A&E's A&E's Austin-set Modern Dads fouls up as Duck Dynasty follow-up


The allegedly hard-pressed child-rearers of Modern Dads. A&E photo

Premiering: Wed., Aug. 21st at 9:30 p.m. (central) on A&E
Starring: A quartet of Austin dads named Nathan, Rick, Stone and Sean
Produced by: Rebecca Toth Diefenbach, Valerie Haselton Drescher, Jen Mayer Kulp, Lucilla D’Agostino, Adam Paul

Here’s a show where the person most interested in his own poop is not a toddler but a father.

Says rotund Rick, proud but infantile co-breeder of four: “Sometimes I’ll eat leftovers that have gone bad. I just like to sit on the toilet.”

His wife Meaghan, the family breadwinner, confirms this. “Rick loves the kids more than anything else,” she tells the camera. “Except maybe his bathroom time.”

No, this definitely is not what’s meant by the proud slogan “Keep Austin Weird.” But A&E somehow thinks it has the perfect companion piece for Duck Dynasty in Modern Dads, the Austin-based saga of four guys whose “headquarters” is kid-friendly Pease Park. It premieres on Wednesday, Aug. 21st at 9:30 p.m. (central) after a new episode of DD (11.8 million viewers for last week’s Season 4 premiere). This one may needs a ratings M.D. The audience fall-off has a good chance to be monumental.

Billed as “The Veteran” of four featured dads, 42-year-old Rick is a stay-at-home child-rearer to one-year old twin girls and sons who are 10 and 7. In Wednesday’s opener, he logs the most talk-to-the-camera time by virtue of his plan to throw a “Princess Party” for the twins’ first birthday. Plus he’s coarse, which never hurts.

Made-for-TV pals Nate (“The New Dad”), Stone (“The Single Dad”) and Sean (“The Stepdad”) are roped into helping him out in a “storyline” that’s seems super-contrived even within the parameters of your basic “reality” hoo-hah.

“The kids have basically done to my sex life what Godzilla did to Tokyo,” Rick says for no particular reason.

Meanwhile, hound dog Stone, 41-year-old father of six-year-old Danica, is encouraged by one and all to get a vasectomy. Which he briefly considers because “I need to start thinking with my other head.”

Sean, a 38-year-old stepdad to daughters Joopsy and Arwen, is the boyfriend of busty Rachel, who decides to share her first-hand knowledge that “the only tool he’s good with is the one he was born with.” Sean demonstrates by flailing about with a jigsaw before Rachel steps in to expertly build a medieval birthday party stock.

The fourth wheel, Nate, doesn’t get much to do in Wednesday’s premiere. But for the record he’s the stay-at-home dad of one-year-old Cormac while his wife, Truly, works long hours as a medical director. “Hell yeah I married up!” he exclaims.

It’d be generous to say that Modern Dads might jell in time and prove to be at least a half-assed companion for Duck Dynasty. But the first episode is just too relentlessly clunky and stupid, with Rick happily leading the charge. His twin one-year-old girls won’t even remember their Princess Party because right now “they have the mental capacity of hamsters,” he notes near the end.

Watching this may reduce your brainpower to a similar state. Better to sit on the toilet for a half-hour.

GRADE: D-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Quack houses rejoice: Duck Dynasty returns


The mighty -- mighty rich -- Robertsons of Duck Dynasty. A&E photo

If you can’t beat ‘em, well then, just review ‘em ag’in.

A lot has happened to the Robertsons of Monroe, Louisiana since Duck Dynasty premiered back in March of 2012.

For one, they’ve become far richer international celebrities with an array of action figures, t shirts, caps, board games, books, etc. on sale. Even a Christmas CD -- no joke -- is comin’ ‘round the bend. Squirrel meat roastin’ on an open fire. Moonshine drippin’ on our beards.

Duck Dynasty also all adds up to A&E’s biggest ratings-getter ever. The April 24th Season 3 finale, in which the Robertsons all went to Hawaii, drew 9.6 million viewers, with 5.5 million of them in the advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-old motherlode. And all 13 episodes averaged 8.4 million viewers, with 4.8 million in the 18-to-49 demographic.

The special one-hour Season 4 launch (Wednesday, Aug. 14th at 9 p.m. central) might well do even better than last season’s send-off. Filmed while the Robertson family negotiated a new deal with A&E (for a reported $200,000 per episode), it’s an obviously orchestrated but nonetheless coarsely charming run-up to a surprise wedding ceremony for patriarchs Phil and “Miss Kay” Robertson.

Married 48 years ago by a justice of the peace, the Robertson elders have never had a “proper” nuptial. So the younger women of the clan -- Korie, Jessica and Missy -- naturally step in and plan a big ceremony while their menfolk whine and drag their feet.

It all pretty much comes out in the wash, even if the males still tend to brag about their B.O. and infrequent shower-taking. I was dismissive of Duck Dynasty its first time around. But as concocted backwoods “reality” shows go, it’s stepped to the head of the class and far surpassed the likes of TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Buck Wild, which MTV canceled after its principal star, Shain “Gandy Candy” Gandee, died while racing around in a sport utility vehicle with his uncle and a friend, who also died. They reportedly were last seen leaving a West Virginia bar at 3 a.m.

The bearded laddies of Duck Dynasty don’t mind poppin’ some cold ones. But the emphasis is mostly on stone cold sober misadventures, with Phil’s rather dim brother, Si, regularly leading the charge.

In Wednesday’s return, subtitled “Till Duck Do Us Part,” Si is assigned to be “the distraction.” His job is to get Phil and Kay out of the house on their anniversary day so the rest of the Robertsons can throw together a backyard wedding chapel.

Si decides to promise them an ice cream party at an undisclosed destination. Phil, who has become expert at making dry asides to the camera, equates this to “almost the beginning stages of dementia.” But he and his more excited wife of course play along, and likely were in on this whole deal all along. The threesomes’ meandering trip down Si’s convoluted “Memory Lane” ends up providing more comedy gold than the hasty goings-on back at the homestead.

Korie’s husband, Willie, CEO of the Robertsons’ long prosperous Duck Commander company, leads the bitching and moaning after earlier being informed that he’s reached the point of being “whipped” by his wife.

“Butter is whipped,” he tells the camera. “Cream is whipped. Horses are whipped. Willie ain’t whipped. If anything, Korie is whipped by me. Wait, that came out wrong.”

The episode could do without the repeated whipping sounds from a dim-witted employee named Godwin. But another of the show’s simpletons, known only as “Mountain Man,” turns out to be an amusing supporting character down the stretch.

“He’s the slowest worker in all of West Monroe,” says Willie. Talks slow, too.

Duck Dynasty’s comedy stylings, with Si the “logic vacuum,” lead to an affecting denouement that left even this hardened reviewer in an oddly choked-up state.

All of the Robertsons now know how to play their parts. Just act naturally in accordance with story lines suggested by the show’s producers. I’ve now reached the point where I actually might buy a talking Uncle Si bobble head. It comes complete with a missing lower tooth. And if there’s ever an official Uncle Barky version, it’ll of course have a few screws loose.


Sexual bypass: HBO's Americans In Bed instead hits on relationhips


Joe and Patty have the first and last words in Americans In Bed. Their dog steadfastly declines to comment. HBO photo

Surprisingly chaste given its title, Americans In Bed could just as easily take place in love seats or at dinner tables.

This last in HBO’s summer series of documentary films (premiering Monday, Aug. 12th at 8 p.m. central) is by no means a how-to positions paper. The informal street talk bridging the network’s Real Sex segments is oftentimes more explicit. In Americans In Bed, the conversation is mostly about the ups and downs, not the ins and outs. Couples range from Helen and Red, who have been married for 71 years, to Leon and Blanca, who so far have specialized in breaking up/making up.

Running for one hour, 20 minutes and based on a British production (what isn’t these days?), Americans In Bed nonetheless is by and large watchable and certainly economical. Its 10 couples all stay in beds or what sometimes look to be sofa beds. Easy listening music and generic video provide the transitions, with Joe and Patty leading off and also getting the last words about what constitutes true love.

Some of the men are topless and some of the women wear negligees. But no one reveals what kinds of sex they prefer. Directed by Philippa Robinson, Americans In Bed instead turns out to be almost as much about learning to go without as with. Deanna and Guy, for instance, no longer have relations because he’s medically impaired. Mohamed and Yasmin, who wears a head cover during their in-bed interview, abstained for religious purposes until they were married.

“It was really, really lovely,” she says of their first intimacy.

“It was really special,” he agrees.

You’ll hear racier exchanges on Phineas and Ferb.

Some of the couples aren’t all that endearing. The aforementioned Leon and Blanca, for instance. “She’s probably the best sex I’ve ever had in my life,” he says. Probably? But Leon’s still a career “polyamorous” guy who proclaims, “Monogamy is painful to me.” Blanca in contrast is “not into casual sex” and doesn’t understand Leon’s appetites.

Even more troublesome is the marriage of Roberta and Antonio. She’s his fourth wife and talks about how the mostly mum Antonio cheated on her after she gained considerable weight.

“I still think he desires other women, not me,” Roberta says before adding in another segment, “It’s a good marriage with bad episodes in it.”

Antonio grudgingly rates their relationship a seven-and-a-half on a scale of 10.

Patty and the at times coarse Joe appear to have a rock solid marriage while Red and Helen are too old to change at this point. Americans In Bed also highlights seemingly stable gay partners Linda and Margie, and George and Farid.

Joe and Patty say their marriage is now more about conviviality, with physical intimacy an occasional highlight when either the kids or the family dog aren’t disrupting “sexual Sunday.”

“We’re happy,” she says. “It’s important.”

“That’s what love is,” Joe agrees.

Different strokes for different folks. Which by the way aren’t really discussed.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Here's looking at the newly released trailer for Season 3 of Homeland

Here’s the just-released and very effective trailer for Season 3 of Showtime’s Homeland, which returns on Sept. 29th.

I’ve seen the first two episodes. And if Season 2 stumbled, Season 3 looks to be on very sure footing in the early going. This trailer also provides several glimpses of Damian Lewis’ on-the-lam Nicholas Brody. Although as the producers have already stated for publication, he’s not in the first two hours.

One more note: As of this writing, the return of Homeland is slated to go directly against the series finale of AMC’s Breaking Bad.
Ed Bark

Another masterly return by AMC's Breaking Bad


In-laws on opposite sides of the law. Breaking Bad’s Dean Norris, Bryan Cranston are fated to heat up down the stretch. AMC photo

Incredible, indelible restarts have become the norm for Breaking Bad.

And you’ll have seen another one after Sunday night’s episode begins the eight-part final arc of Walter White’s five-season journey from cancer-ridden Albuquerque chemistry teacher to a morally decayed drug lord with the street name Heisenberg.

Titled “Blood Money” and premiering Aug. 11th at 8 p.m. (central) on AMC, the episode is dialogue-less until the 4 minute, 8 second mark, when a bearded, bespectacled White (Bryan Cranston) offers a simple greeting that prompts a stunned response.

Then it’s on to the opening credits and back to where Breaking Bad left Walter’s DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris). As you must know by now, he found a dumbfounding piece of evidence while seated four-square on a commode at the home of Walter, his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn) and their son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). Hard to believe, but It’s been close to a year since that episode first aired on Sept. 2, 2012.

Rest assured that no spoilers are forthcoming here. So let’s just say that writer-creator Vince Gilligan does not dawdle in terms of shifting this tale into over-drive. A stun gun of a scene at the end of Sunday’s hour sees to that. And with all filming completed, everyone involved knows exactly how Breaking Bad will end on the night of Sept. 29, 2013 (when as fate and scheduling idiocy now have it, Showtime plans to launch Season 3 of Homeland at the same hour).

Following a formal interview session late last month during the Television Critics Association summer “press tour,” Cranston expressed supreme confidence in what Gilligan has wrought.

“I wanted this series to end exactly how Vince Gilligan wanted it to end,” he said before being hustled off to a photo shoot. “And I can stand here now and say I’m really proud that it has. I think every fan will be satisfied, pleased, at the appropriate ending of this. It’s unapologetic and very Breaking Bad.”

Cranston’s Walter White remains duplicitous as the second part of Season 5 begins unfolding Sunday night. He lies in a major way to his now guilt-ridden former partner, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), while also admonishing him to “stop focusing on the darkness behind you. The past is the past.”

It’s hard to envision any lights at the end of these tunnels. Breaking Bad, if its past is any prologue, will steadfastly refuse to absolve or cleanse itself. But can it deliver a denouement that will further cement it as one of the great TV series of our times, any time?

From Day One -- Jan. 20, 2008 -- it’s been an inimitably deranged ride into ever darker corners. Maestro Gilligan has directed and written the 62nd and final episode (subtitled “Felina”). That’s fitting, reassuring and the first time he’s taken on both duties since Episode 46 at the close of Season 4.

Who better to take the throttles as reckonings finally come to roost while great expectations take flight? Hold on. They’re coming. And Sunday’s bold, declarative return gives every indication that Breaking Bad will know what to do and how to do it before “The End” of its days.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Low Winter Sun a case study in bleak


Britishers Lennie James, Mark Strong star as Detroit cops. AMC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Aug. 11th at 9 p.m. (central) on AMC
Starring: Mark Strong, Lennie James, Sprague Grayden, James Ransone, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Athena Karkanis, Billy Lush, David Costabile
Produced by: Chris Mundy, Dave Erickson, Rolin Jones

Dark, humorless and, worst of all, dramatically dreary, AMC’s Low Winter Sun sets up shop Sunday in hopes that Breaking Bad fans will buy it wholesale.

That doesn’t seem likely. This adaptation of a same-named 2006 British miniseries marches rather stiffly to the same-old/same-old dirty cop drumbeat. What’s new under the sun? Well, it certainly doesn’t shine on this portrait of a badly scarred Detroit and its equally dour police force. AMC’s promotional tagline is “Good Man. Cop. Killer.” Which just as easily could be “Sigh. Been There. Done That. Too Many Times Already.” The acting is willing but the premise is wilted.

Native Londoners Mark Strong (reprising his role from the original) and Lennie James front the cast as detectives Frank Agnew and Joe Geddes. In the premiere episode’s opening sequence, they work up the gumption to murder a badly corrupted cop and then cover it up.

Agnew has another motivation. He believes that their prey viciously murdered and dismembered a close woman friend of his. Geddes verbally moves in for the kill, informing his partner, “Folks talk about morality like it’s black and white . . . But you know what it is? It’s a damn strobe, flashing back and forth, back and forth all the time.”

Low Winter Sun, set for 10 episodes in Season 1, regularly moves back and forth between a fractious cop shop and a group of second tier drug- and prostitute-pushers intent on movin’ on up. Maya Callis (Sprague Grayden) otherwise camouflages her illicit activities by running a bar while husband Damon (James Ransone) provides the muscle. Tying these stories together, although not all that well in the first two episodes sent for review, is the aforementioned murder of the crooked cop, whom Damon had bought. Murky jerky.

Meanwhile, Agnew and Geddes are seeing their carefully laid plans run afoul of a police investigation. It was all meant to look like a suicide, but the evidence starts saying otherwise. Was Agnew “played” by Geddes? Is Geddes also a no-good cop? Looks of concern escalate to dirty ones, with stern precinct commander Charles Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) barking out orders and spicing them with a little police lingo at the start of Episode 2. “This is a Grade-A goat rodeo,” he says. “Stonewall. Keep movin’.”

On-location filming in Detroit probably helped to boost the economy of an up-against-it city that recently declared bankruptcy. But Motown is hardly showcased as Emerald City. The weekly opening credits are highlighted by montages of boarded up or decayed residences and a bluesy female vocalist whose parting refrain is “Down, down, down, down.”

AMC has carved out a rep for distinctive, high-quality drama, beginning with Mad Men, continuing with Breaking Bad and achieving new heights -- ratings-wise at least -- with its most popular series by far, The Walking Dead. But BB is ending after its final eight-episode arc and Mad Men will close shop next year.

Based on the first two episodes, Low Winter Sun is not nearly in the same league as any of them. Low on initial appeal and likewise short on originality, it’s a bleak ’n’ grim undertaking that just doesn’t seem built for the long haul.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Larry David's Clear History has some Curb appeal


Jon Hamm and a camouflaged Larry David in Clear History. HBO photo

Appearances aren’t deceiving. Whether hairily fit for Duck Dynasty or appearing au natural, Larry David seemingly can’t escape himself.

Which means he kvetches, bumbles and inevitably comes up short on the human being front in HBO’s Clear History (Saturday, Aug. 10th at 8 p.m. central) It’s basically a camouflaged, elongated Curb Your Enthusiasm episode starring David as hapless Nathan Flomm a k a hapless Rolly DaVore.

The one hour, 40 minute movie is peppered with other name performers, most prominently Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as the inventor of a runaway bestselling, square box electric car named after his son, Howard. Michael Keaton, Kate Hudson, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Eva Mendes, Lenny Clarke, Curb holdover J.B. Smoove, four members of the band Chicago and a completely un-billed Liev Schreiber also pop in and out.

Un-billed because “there’s a kind of Showtime-HBO thing,” David explained in a recent interview at the Television Critics Association “press tour.” And Schreiber currently is playing the title character in Showtime’s new Ray Donovan drama series. In Clear History, he’s a thuggish Chechnyan named Tibor, who sells Rolly a dynamite detonator and later threatens, ”Perhaps I will take a ball.” All in good fun, which Clear History sometimes is.

The film begins in San Jose, circa 2003. Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” invigorates an opening scene in which David’s bearded, long-haired Flomm gyrates happily to the music before being stopped by a cop for veering to and fro over the center line. A bit of Larry David-ian business ensues before he reports to work as a marketing exec for Will Haney’s (Hamm) Electron Motors.

Flomm immediately balks at Haney’s decision to call his new invention The Howard. “It’s like naming a restaurant Hepatitis,” he carps. Now there’s a funny line, at least to me. But it’s not so funny -- at least to Flomm -- when he impulsively quits and takes back his 10 percent share of Haney’s fledgling company. Soon The Howard is populating America’s roadways like TV critics at a press tour buffet table. Flomm’s a national laughing stock, with his forfeited 10 percent share of Electron Motors now worth $1 billion.

His wife immediately divorces him and the harried Flomm flees to Martha’s Vineyard. Ten years later he’s balding, clean-shaven Rolly DaVore, who looks just like David. This is where a menagerie of characters kicks in, with much of the dialogue improvised according to HBO press materials. Undercover Rolly generally is seen as a nice guy, although still persnickety. In one nicely tuned scene, he strongly advises the owner of his favorite diner to put the silverware on a napkin rather than the germ-invested table. Otherwise he has to wash the utensils in his glass of water, necessitating a new glass of same. It can get to be a vicious cycle.

Rolly’s otherwise reasonably blissful life, spiced with regular poker games, is suddenly cartwheeled when Haney invades the island and begins building a palatial estate with his wife, Rhonda (a winningly winsome Kate Hudson). A short-tempered quarry operator named Joe Stumpo (you might not recognize Michael Keaton) also takes umbrage because the property had been owned by three generations of Stumpos. Former Saturday Night Live mainstay Bill Hader chips in as Stumpo’s dim pal, Rags, with various hare-brained plots and counter-plots kicking in when Rolly enlists them to help drive the Haneys out of town.

A little too much of the humor is juvenile, particularly a running joke about how many members of Chicago received oral gratification from Larry’s ex-girlfriend and other townies after a concert appearance 20 years ago. Now the band is back in town, with four real-life members making cameo appearances. And Rolly isn’t about to blow his opportunity, so to speak, to find out exactly what happened.

The band is never shown in concert, but five Chicago songs are part of the soundtrack. David, as only he can, explained at the earlier interview session that he originally wanted to use the Bee Gees and their music. “But then a Bee Gee died. So we were down to one Bee Gee,” he said.

“Didn’t seem so funny,” added the film’s director, Greg Mottola.

Clear History is amusing enough to pull a viewer through it, although those who haven’t yet acquired a taste for Curb might find it the equivalent of a pricey two-drink minimum without enough payback. Whatever your resistance -- or susceptibility -- be assured that David is David no matter how he looks or what he’s named. You certainly could do worse. But he also could do better.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Mystery drama Broadchurch graces BBC America


Olivia Colman, David Tennant star in Broadchurch. BBC America photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 7th at 9 p.m. (central) on BBC America
Starring: David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Jodie Whitaker, Andrew Buchan, Matthew Gravelle, David Bradley, Jonathan Bailey, Vicky McClure, Arthur Darvill, Pauline Quirke, Charlotte Beaumont, Adam Wilson, Carolyn Pickles, Will Mellor, Joe Sims, Simone McAullay, Oskar McNamara
Produced by: Chris Chibnall, Jane Featherstone

A shocking murder in a small town is hardly a novel premise.

Nor is the arrival of a new and unconventional lawman to strong-arm the subsequent investigation while clashing with his seasoned homegrown partner. We’ve also been treated to the spectacle of townies getting all stirred up before turning on one unfortunate individual with a conveniently criminal past. Throw in a resultant media circus and the peeling away of long-held secrets harbored by an array of principal characters. BBC America’s Broadchurch emerges, and damned if it doesn’t surmount all of these seeming cliches to fly brilliantly on its own through eight absorbing and impeccably acted episodes.

Broadchurch is the kind of storytelling that grabs your attention and keeps you riveted with every minute -- which is exactly what we look for in an ‘event’ series.” That rave about the United Kingdom’s “most tweeted drama” comes not from abroad but from Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly, whose network has announced an Americanized version for the 2014-15 TV season. Odds are they’ll screw it up, but one never knows.

BBC America’s U.S. premiere of the original Broadchurch begins on Wednesday, Aug. 7th and stretches all the way to early fall with an Oct. 2nd denouement. Its focus is 11-year-old Danny Latimer, whose body is found on the usually picturesque Broadchurch beach in a “suicide spot” near an imposing cliff.

But forensics evidence quickly determines that Danny died of asphyxiation before “somebody tried to make it look like an accident.” Into the mystery wades incoming detective inspector Alec Hardy (former Dr. Who David Tennant), who’s still recovering from a previous investigation that went badly awry.

Hardy’s been given the position that veteran detective sergeant Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) had coveted. Still, they must work together, often uneasily in the early going. In Episode 3, an irate Miller threatens to pee in a cup and throw it in Hardy’s face. Delicious.

Danny’s grieving parents are Beth and Mark Latimer (Jodie Whitaker, Andrew Buchan), whose marriage is already strained. He’s the town’s principal plumber and she’s initially unaware of his other outside activity. Both blame themselves for Danny’s death while also wrestling with the behavior of their rebellious teen daughter, Chloe (Charlotte Beaumont).

Virtually no one is above suspicion, with the single-minded Hardy’s televised vow ringing clear at the end of Episode 1. “There will be no hiding place for Danny’s killer,” he assures the populace. “We will catch whoever did this.”

Tennant’s performance is a wonder, whether battling his own demons or grilling suspects ranging from the town priest to a battle ax living in a trailer home. The police work is methodical and somewhat old-fashioned, although a would-be psychic named Steve Connelly (Will Mellor) is thrown into the mix to further vex Hardy. This comes off as something of an error in judgment by Broadchurch creator/writer Chris Chibnall. It’s debatable whether he really needed to add this other-worldly element.

Broadchurch also is graced by David Bradley (of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fame) as shopkeeper Jack Marshall. He distributes the same newspaper that eventually screams incriminating headlines about him. One of the drama’s most powerful scenes is near the end of Episode 5, with Marshall weeping over stacks of tabloids headlined “Child Bride of Broadchurch Jack.”

The series has been renewed for a Season 2, but viewers won’t be strung along with any carryover whodunits. In fact, a vigilant viewer might well be able to determine the murderer -- as this reviewer did -- via a telltale, resonating line in the penultimate Episode 7.

Broadchurch, with its recurring crashing waves wiping some slates clean, is thoroughly captivating from start to finish. Straight-ahead storytelling (arguably exempting the psychic gambit) and first-rate performances combine to make it both a murder mystery and character study of a town with and without pity.

AMC’s final eight-episode arc of Breaking Bad, launching on Sunday, Aug. 11th, will be making TV’s biggest waves as summer gives way to fall. But Broadchurch likewise is “appointment” viewing with its own eight-episode tale of betrayal and revelation. Better yet, you can get in on the ground floor without any further assembly or “power-watching” required.