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At best a powder keg,The Purge infests the USA network


”Good Leader Tavis” and her blue bus of sacrificial lambs. USA photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Sept. 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA network
Starring Gabriel Chavarria, Amanda Warren, Hannah Anderson, Colin Woodell, Fiona Dourif, Jessica Garza, Reed Diamond, William Baldwin, Lili Simmons, Andrea Frankle, Lee Tergesen
Produced by: James DeMonaco, Jason Blum, Anthony Hemingway, Thomas Kelly

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
It’s Purge night in America. Do you know where your weapons are? Or would you rather sacrifice yourself for a cult leader’s visions of greater glory?

Preceded by a series of four moneymaking feature films (the latest released on this year’s Fourth of July), USA network’s The Purge is a weekly extension of a mayhem-driven invitation to imitative violence. It’s just what we don’t need during these increasingly fractious times. Namely, a new world order where any and all crimes, including murder, are legalized annually for a 12-hour period.

The architect of both the movies and USA’s 10-episode series (Tuesday, Sept. 4th at 9 p.m. central) is James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the first film in 2013 on a $3 million budget that led to gross receipts of $89 million. Each of the subsequent films made more money than its predecessor, prompting the latter day darker-minded USA network to dive in head-first.

The first Purge film became a reality well before Donald Trump’s presidency. But the first episode of USA’s version ham-handedly wades into those waters during a posh “lockdown” party attended by the mostly rich true believers in The New Founding Fathers of America. “We’ve made America great!” proclaims hostess Ellie Stanton (Andrea Frankle) before attendees are given masks depicting various famous murderers who “paved the way” toward the “healing power” of lethal violence.

An upwardly mobile young married couple, Jenna and Rick Bettencourt (Hannah Anderson, Colin Woodell), merely want to make a multi-million dollar deal with billionaire developer Albert Stanton (Reed Diamond), who’s also the party’s imperial host. But they also have an uncomfortable past with his saucy daughter, Lila (Lili Simmons). For reasons so far undisclosed in the three episodes made available for review, they previously joined forces in a sexual three-way. Now the Bettencourts fret that Lila might tell daddy.

On an entirely different path are “Good Lady Tavis” (Fiona Dourif) and her blue bus full of acolytes in blue, hooded robes. On Purge night, her minions have all been persuaded to deliver themselves unto various gangs of weapons-wielding killers. Selections are made one at a time after a group-chant that goes like this: “Purify my flesh. Prepare my soul. The giving is near. The invisible awaits.” Those who have seen either Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale or HBO’s The Leftovers already know this basic drill.

One of the Good Lady’s dupes, Penelope Guerrero (Jessica Garza), has an older brother, Miguel (Gabriel Chavarria), who’s desperate to save her after surviving overseas combat as a Marine. But he next must survive “The Gauntlet,” a televised kill-or-be-killed event in which the few who make it through are gifted with -- I’m not making this up -- a brand new car!!!

A third storyline finds corporate executive Jane Barber (Amanda Warren) striving to close another big deal for Ryker More Equity. Jane and her team are protected on Purge night in a secured meeting room while the big boss, Don Ryker (William Baldwin), occasionally interjects via satellite. But as flashbacks show, Jane has some scores to settle with him -- and what better time than Purge night. But can she pull it off?

The first three episodes occasionally flash some intrigue. But the acting is woefully pedestrian, and sometimes downright wooden, throughout all of the unsavory goings-on.

The camera generally pulls away rather than graphically depicting some of the more violent sequences, which include one of the brainwashed blue-robed men beatifically awaiting redemption before being chopped to bits by masked ax-wielders. But even without copious blood-spattering, this entire enterprise is an assault on sensibilities in a period where real-life mass violence and warring factions are both multiplying and dividing.

One wonders what on earth the “message” is here while worrying far more about whether The Purge’s increased exposure on a mainstream cable network will cause someone to “act out.” Even President Trump, in audio from a recent closed White House meeting with evangelicals, is predicting “violence” from the left if the mid-term elections result in major losses for the Republican Party.

“It’s not a question of like or dislike,” he told them. “It’s a question that they will overturn everything that we’ve done and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence. When you look at Antifa -- these are violent people.”

In that sense, The Purge comes to television at exactly the wrong time. Not that there’s really a right time. The fact that it’s also clumsily made and rife with mediocre performances seems almost beside the point in the context of how pointless this thing is in the first place.

“The Purge is America. So be an American and purge,” viewers are informed at the start of Episode 2. And toward the end: “Tonight we celebrate because we made this country great.”

It’s neither a crime or misdemeanor for a television network to stoke such flames. But it is flatly irresponsible.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan gives Amazon a money-on-the-screen gripper


Serious business for John Krasinski as latest Jack Ryan. Amazon photo

Premiering: All 8 Season One episodes begin streaming Friday, Aug. 31st on Amazon
Starring: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, Abbie Cornish, Ali Suliman, Dina Shibabi, Timothy Hutton, John Magaro, John Hoogenakker, Peter Fonda
Produced by: Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland, John Krasinski, Michael Bay, Mace Neufeld, Brad Fuller, Andrew Form, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Marcy Rose, Lindsey Springer

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
The money quote for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan comes at the pivotal midpoint of an eventually high voltage Episode 1.

It’s a variation on the original Star Trek’s “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor” (which he actually never said in so many words). “I’m an analyst. I don’t interrogate people. I write reports,” Ryan protests to his no-nonsense CIA superior.

“Get on the (f***in’) plane,” he’s told in turn. We’ve achieved liftoff.

Judging from its big-screen look and feel, Amazon has spent freely on Jack Ryan while also already renewing it for a Season Two (both will run for eight episodes). The streaming service also feels it has its man in John Krasinski, best known for his comic turn as Jim Halpert in NBC’s version of The Office.

Krasinki likewise is initially behind a desk as Ryan, who toils in the CIA’s Terror Finance and Arms Division after being battle-scarred as a U.S. Marine. It’s the fifth film incarnation of the late Clancy’s most famous character, with Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine preceding in that order.

While Showtime’s Homeland winds down with an eighth and final season scheduled for next summer, Jack Ryan winds up with a powerful opening tale of the CIA versus an Islamic terrorist whose wounds run deep. Ryan has been tracking some suspicious financial transactions before sounding an alarm to his unit’s new group chief, taciturn James Greer (Wendell Pierce). In the words of an office mate, Greer “went all Colonel Kurtz in the desert” before being given a last chance in a “backwater post” by deputy chief of ops Nate Singer (the recurring Timothy Hutton).

Not surprisingly, Pierce (The Wire, Treme) is instantly terrific in this role while Krasinski gradually comes into his own as Greer’s initially reluctant partner in arms. Their mutual adversary is Mousa Bin Suleiman (Ali Suliman), who has both a beauteous wife named Hanin (Dina Shihabi) and three children by her. “My precious diamond,” he calls Hanin until a breech between them turns all of that to dust.

Amazon made six of Season One’s eight episodes available for review. The opener climaxes with a prolonged and riveting action sequence that of course finds Ryan in the thick of things. Wherever he goes, carnage ensues. But Jack Ryan likewise has some intensely human stories to tell. They include flashbacks to Suleiman’s traumatic, life-shaping experiences and an up-close look at a guilt-ridden, Nevada-based drone bomber named Victor Polizzi (John Magaro).

There also are two women in Ryan’s life. Dr. Cathy Muller (Abbie Cornish) is renowned for her knowledge of infectious diseases. They meet at a party where her power-broking father, Joe (Peter Fonda in a recurring role), wants intel that Ryan refuses to provide. She goes out with him anyway, and things begin clicking during those increasingly rare periods when he’s not abroad and in danger.

In Episode 4, Ryan also encounters a hardbitten French police woman who chain-smokes and has been married four times. Their repartee is very nicely played, and perhaps might have led to more than that if certain events hadn’t conspired against them. The end of this hour and the start of Episode 5 depict an unspeakable mass crime whose origins can be traced back to Episode 2. Jack Ryan does a very deft job of stitching these threads together.

One of the principal executive producers of Jack Ryan is Carlton Cuse, who previously teamed with Damon Lindelof on ABC’s twisting, turning Lost. Lindelof continued on his what-the-hell-is-going-on-here bent with HBO’s The Leftovers while Cuse seems to be turning to a more straight ahead brand of storytelling.

This doesn’t mean that Jack Ryan is a simplistic vehicle for blowing things up. It does mean, however, that viewers are likely to get a more easily deciphered, close-ended story before this series moves on to an entirely new action-adventure in Season Two.

Krasinski is good enough in the title role to establish both a presence and some empathy for his character. Pierce’s gruff Greer is a force from the start, even when stuck with the occasional boilerplate line such as, “Sometimes you have to break a few rules just to get the job done.”

Jack Ryan goes above and beyond the pro forma basics of getting the job done. This is a thrilling and energetic enterprise replete with well-drawn characters and propulsive action. Binge-watchers, start your engines.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Men at work? In the ongoing #MeToo wave, not so much and not surprisingly so


Ruby Rose will play the openly gay title character next year. CW photo

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
For decade upon decade, television networks maled it in, mostly with white men.

Soon the payback will be fast and even furious, although the here and now is already making its mark with more diversity than ever before in the programs being offered either conventionally or via kingpin streamers such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.

Still, the #MeToo movement hadn’t quite hit its stride yet when many of the new shows coming this fall were in development late last year. As recent announcements show, series showcasing and starring women will be coming in waves during the next year or so. In many of them, men seem to be either beside the point or in clearly secondary roles. It’s going to be one big course correction from the days when George Clooney, Don Johnson and Tom Selleck kept getting more at bats when their pilots weren’t picked up or their series were short-lived. They eventually found their ways into ER, Miami Vice and Magnum, P.I..

But white men can’t keep jumping to the head of the line anymore. Were Clooney, Johnson and Selleck breaking in today, they might well be lost amid a shuffle of women and men of many hues whose casting is now a priority. CBS’ new Thomas Magnum will be played by a Latino (Jay Hernandez) this fall, with his Higgins a martial arts expert played by a Welsh actress (Perdita Weeks).

“If you’re going to do it in 2018, you need a strong female voice,” Magnum’s new executive producer, Peter Lenkov, told TV writers at the recently concluded summer “press tour” in Beverly Hills.

This is only the beginning, as is the newly titled “Miss America Competition,” which will air Sept. 9th on ABC without any swimsuits in sight. Former Miss America Gretchen Carlson, now chair of the Miss America board of trustees, is the former Fox News Channel personality who was instrumental in getting founder Roger Ailes to resign under pressure after she accused him of sexual harassment.

“We are no longer a pageant,” Carlson said in announcing the “sweeping changes” last June. “Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment.”

Whether the former pageant’s dormant ratings will get any better remains to be seen. And it’s highly doubtful that any form of Miss America competition would have a place in two new women-of-action series announced this summer.

***Freeform’s Motherland is “set in an alternate America where witches ended their persecution 300 years ago by cutting a deal with the U.S. government to fight for their country,” according to publicity materials. “In this world, the traditional roles of gender and power are flipped with the more dominant women on the front lines fighting looming terrorist threats.”

***FX’s Y, adapted from a DC Comics series, finds Oscar-winner Diane Lane maneuvering in a “post-apocalyptic world in which a cataclysmic event has decimated every male mammal save for one lone human. The new world order of women will explore gender, race, class and survival.”

***AMC’s six-hour The Little Drummer Girl, scheduled to run on successive nights this November, likewise features a woman of action in an adaptation of the same-named John Le Carre novel. Florence Pugh stars as Charlie, “a fiery activist and idealist” turned double agent.

***Showtime has the newly announced Queen Fur, which is paced by Lily Mae Harrington as a “curvy, sexy, unapologetic high school dropout who is finding her womanhood.” The network’s programming president, Gary Levine, terms it a “uniquely twisted female empowerment story.”

***Also empowered by Showtime is Amanda de Cadenet, who’s been signed to host a half-hour weekly news magazine show with her name in the title. Publicity materials say it will explore America’s “current social, sexual, cultural and political issues, seen through de Cadenet’s sharp, feminist lens.”

***TNT will be keeping Niecy Nash doubly busy with a late night show titled Naked with Niecy Nash. Already starring in the network’s Claws, Nash is expected to “serve up a tall glass of humor, advice, and one-of-a-kind ‘Niecy-isms’ on all things love, sex, romance and relationships.”

***TNT isn’t nearly finished. Its planned new series Constance is touted as a “fun, darkly humorous, veneer-stripping story about one woman’s refusal to fade into obsolescence” as an ex-beauty queen turned small-town bureaucrat. And Beast Mode is inspired by the life of Ann Wolfe,” a “legendary boxing trainer with a kill-or-be-killed mentality.”

There’s no casting yet for either series, but TNT’s vice president of original programming, Sarah Aubrey, says she’s bullish on these dramas about “complicated, empowered women.”

***The CW network, already home to Supergirl and other DC Comics heroes, will strike again sometime next year with Batwoman, in which Ruby Rose has been cast as the openly gay title character. Times have markedly changed in this instance. The original Batwoman was created by DC in the 1950s to quell any concerns that Batman might be gay. After being shelved for decades, Batwoman returned in 2006 as a lesbian.

***Meanwhile, the epitome of female empowerment, producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, etc.), has announced the first eight projects she has in store under her new, exclusive deal with Netflix.

Five of them are adapted from articles or books by women and another goes behind the scenes of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s “re-imagining” of The Nutcracker with “an inclusive cast of all ages.” There’s also the “darkly comedic” Sunshine Scouts, in which a “rag-tag group” of teen girls strive to survive “an apocalyptic disaster.”

***Feminist icon and lightning rod Jane Fonda will be profiled Sept. 24th on HBO in Jane Fonda In Five Acts. The two hour, 15 minute film, produced and directed by former American Masters maestro Susan Lacy, will be culled from 21 hours of interviews with Fonda.

***Fonda also will be one of the 10 guests on Netflix’s Norm Macdonald Has a Show (Sept. 14), which seems like an odd, almost out-of-body fit with its lead role for an aging Caucasian male. Not only that, old Macdonald will have only two other women on his 10-episode show -- Judge Judy Sheindlin and Drew Barrymore. He’ll also talk to former Saturday Night Live colleagues Chevy Chase, David Spade and Lorne Michaels, fellow late nighter David Letterman and Michael Keaton, M. Night Shyamalan and Billy Jo Shaver.

There’s lately not a lot of this going around, though. Television long has been a copycat medium. And the #MeToo movement currently is stirring the drink, with Macdonald’s show being close to an out and out aberration. Many a white male TV star has either shamed himself into oblivion or fallen several rungs in the prevailing pecking order. It had to happen, and it has, after the likes of Clooney, Johnson, Selleck and many of their peers or predecessors paraded unchecked while few thought twice about it.

This doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, mean that able, talented white men deserve to be passed over in the same manner that women and people of color once were. But for now there’s clearly an overdue reckoning at hand. What remains to be seen is whether the tidal wave of #MeToo-influenced shows can resist being overtly polemical or preachy. Because whatever your race or gender, who really wants that?

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Brendan Gleeson remains a cut above in Season Two of Audience network's Mr. Mercedes


Brendan Gleeson again excels as the driving force of Mr. Mercedes. Audience network photo

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The pace is deliberate at best, and in full-dawdle at times as Season Two of the Audience network’s Mr. Mercedes begins just a bit before the first one left off.

But whenever Brendan Gleeson’s in the picture, your time is not of the essence. His face has been lived in. Boy, has it ever. It’s lined with character, furrowed with loss, steeled by a resolve to settle scores. As retired, divorced detective Bill Hodges, the under-appreciated Gleeson has found the role of his lifetime in what Stephen King terms his first series of tradition-rich, hardboiled detective novels.

Mr. Mercedes, which returns with another 10 episodes on Wednesday, Aug. 22nd at 9 p.m. (central), was released as a novel in June, 2014. The nothing if not prolific King then churned out Finders Keepers a year later and completed his trilogy with End of Watch in June, 2016.

The second season of Mr. Mercedes jumps ahead to End of Watch while skipping past an unconnected murder mystery that drove its predecessor. So the featured psychopath is still Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway), who wantonly had driven a Mercedes into a crowd of applicants at a job fair, killing 16 of them.

At the close of Season One, Hodges and Hartsfield squared off at the site of another of his planned mass killings. But the shopworn Hodges had a heart attack before he could fire his gun, leaving it to young Holly Gibney (Justine Lupe) to save the day by repeatedly bashing Hartsfield in the head with a heavy dog statue.

Hartsfield wound up in a coma while Hodges checked out of the same hospital after first stopping by to warn that “sure as taxes,” he’d finish the killer off if he ever dared to regain consciousness.

Season Two rewinds to the ambulance ride shared by the two antagonists before surgery is performed on Hartsfield’s badly dented cranium by a new character, Dr. Felix Babineau (Jack Huston). It turns out that he has a very willful wife, Cora (Tessa Ferrer), who heads up the marketing department at a mega-pharmaceutical company. She keeps insisting that her heretofore honorable husband secretly try an experimental drug on Hartsfield, with an eye toward making a financial killing if it indeed can regenerate seemingly dead brain tissue. “I need a partner, not a pussy,” is her way of putting it.

After rehabilitating in the hospital to the tune of Perry Como’s “Catching A Falling Star,” Hodges grudgingly agrees to do some of the legwork for Polly’s Finders Keepers investigative agency. She not only conked Hartsfield into submission but is the cousin of Janey Patterson (Mary-Louise Parker from last season), whom Hodges had been dating until she died in a car explosion meant for him.

The second season’s premiere episode adds another big loss for Hodges, bringing about some beautifully heartfelt scenes from the actor who so very capably plays him. Mr. Mercedes also continues to find just the right music for various occasions, whether it’s Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” or Neil Young’s “Till the Morning Comes.” The latter is heard on Hodges’ record player, because of course he prefers vinyl.

These first two episodes made available for review also include the returns of Nancy Travis as Hodges’ ex-, Donna Hodges, and Holland Taylor as his next door neighbor, Ida Silver. Travis is especially busy of late, also co-starring in Fox’s revival of Last Man Standing and opposite Michael Douglas in Netflix’s upcoming The Kominsky Method series.

Mr. Mercedes has yet to fire on all cylinders in the early stages of Season Two. But a nice slow simmer is well-suited to Gleeson’s talents as an actor who doesn’t mind taking his time in further molding a character with a gruff exterior and an old, buttered soul. It’s a beauty of a savory performance, with the bigger chills still coming. All in due time.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Acorn TV's Mystery Road is not quite on track, despite the estimable presence of Judy Davis


Aaron Pedersen, Judy Davis clash/collaborate in Mystery Road. Australian Broadcasting Corp. photo

Premiering: All six episodes begin streaming Monday, Aug. 20th on Acorn TV
Starring: Judy Davis, Aaron Pedersen, Tasia Zalar, Madeleine Madden, Wayne Blair, Aaron McGrath, Colin Friels, John Waters, Tasma Walton, Aaron McGrath, Ernie Dingo, Connor Van Vuuren
Produced by: Ivan Sen, Sally Riley, Kym Goldsworthy, with all six episodes directed by Rachel Perkins

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Judy Davis’ Emmy Award-winning performance as Judy Garland in a 2001 ABC miniseries remains one of television’s greatest ever.

So where she goes next, I try to follow. And Davis was the main impetus for watching Mystery Road, an Australian Broadcasting Corporation whodunit that begins streaming Monday, Aug. 20th on Acorn TV. All six episodes will be offered at once, which is a departure from the outlet’s usual weekly rollouts.

Davis gets ample screen time as uniformed Sgt. Emma James, whose jurisdiction is the Australian outback town of Patterson. But Aaron Pedersen, as rough hewn detective Jay Swan, ends up being the series’ driving force after being called in to help investigate the disappearance of two young “jackaroos” employed by a cattle and sheep emporium known as Ballantyne Station. The place happens to be run by Emma’s brother, Tony (Colin Friels), who’s ready to sell for a princely price. Both Tony and Emma grew up there.

Some Australian critics have favorably compared Mystery Road to HBO’s True Detective (the first season, presumably) and FX’s Fargo. It would be pretty to think so. But this drama’s two investigators lack the punch and power of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson while also falling well short of the David Tennant/Olivia Colman duo in the BBC’s Broadchurch. Nor is Mystery Road nearly as eccentric or volatile as Fargo, although its sprawling, hard-baked vistas win on points over frozen tundras.

The racial dynamics of Patterson were more volatile in the past than in present-day. But there are still some simmering resentments between the towns whites and darker-skinned residents. Swan is perceived as “black,” although visually speaking, he looks far closer to nicely tanned. He’s been estranged from both his embittered wife, Mary (Tasma Walton), and their drug-abusing daughter, Crystal (Madeleine Madden). But both eventually arrive in Patterson to give Jay more headaches than the case at hand.

Mystery Road gets off to a promising start, as do the early stages of the Jay-Emma combo. “Can you ride a horse? That hat’s gotta be good for somethin’,” she jabs in Episode One.

As the story goes on, though, their relationship never quite comes together. He has better scenes with his ex-wife, particularly in Episode 4. And she has better dialogues with her brother after some secrets are uncovered about Ballantyne Station’s history and current state.

Mystery Road’s other important characters are ex-con Larry Dime (Wayne Blair) and bartender Shevorne Shields (Tasia Zalar). He spent 10 years in prison after being convicted of raping her when she was 13 years old. But Larry has long claimed to be innocent, which opens the door to a second whodunit beyond what happened to those two missing jackaroos, Marley Thompson (Aaron McGrath) and Reece Dale (Connor Van Vuuren).

In the end, Pedersen’s Jay Swan gets to do most of the dirty work, sleuthing and raging while Davis’ Emma James just doesn’t get to do enough. This is an actress who can emote with the best of them, as Davis proved beyond a doubt in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows. But in Mystery Road, she’s not allowed to even get out of her cop suit, let alone really let loose with what might be boiling inside.

The eventual uncovering of the culprits isn’t as satisfying or surprising as it might have been while the demons that drive Jay and prompted him to leave his wife and daughter are passingly referenced without enough detail. So is Mystery Road worth your investment? More or less, yes. Just don’t expect to come away with any thoughts of just seeing a masterpiece or a signature performance from a proven master thespian. Davis comports herself well, and that’s pretty much the best that can be said.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

The Last Sharknado: It's About Time -- or more accurately, way past time


Last call for Sharknado -- or at least that’s what they say. Syfy photo

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Jaws didn’t know when to stop either.

Three sequels to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 career-starter (none of which he had anything to do with) were spewed into theaters, with Jaws: The Revenge finally washing ashore in 1987 and ending this nonsense. It received seven Golden Raspberry awards but alas won just one, for Worst Visual Effects. This was a very competitive year, though, and Bill Cosby’s Leonard Part 6 emerged as a dominant force with three Razzie wins.

Syfy’s The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time (Sunday, Aug. 19th at 7 p.m. central) is the duly dreadful sixth movie in this preposterous franchise. A review copy is affixed with the opening disclaimer, “All Spoilers Embargoed Until Air.” But it’s probably OK to say that airborne sharks again are key to the “story.”

The original Sharknado premiered with little pre-publicity on the night of July 11, 2013. It provoked a spontaneous “Twitter storm” in times when President Trump didn’t trigger one nearly every day. Viewers by the hundreds of thousands, many joining Sharknado in progress, had a grand time goofing on a film that made Syfy’s early spring entry of that year, Chupacabra vs. The Alamo, seem like Homer’s The Iliad.

Sharknado provided career life rafts for Ian Ziering and Tara Reid, both of whom were well past their respective glory years of Beverly Hills, 90210 and American Pie. The only actor of any distinction, the late John Heard, had a few scenes as a bar fly named George, who rather quickly ended up satisfying a shark’s appetite.

The cameos then picked up considerably in caliber for Sharknado 2: The Second One and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, both of which were sort of fun to watch. Traipsing through Sharknado 2 were the likes of Judd Hirsch(!) , Billy Ray Cyrus, Robert Klein, Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, Richard Kind, Robert Hays, Perez Hilton, Downtown Julie Brown, Matt Lauer and Al Roker. The latter two came back for more in Sharknado 3, which also folded in David Hasselhoff, Bill Engvall, Jerry Springer, Kathie Lee Gifford, Hoda Kotb, Savannah Guthrie, Lou Ferrigno, Lorenzo Lamas, Bo Derek, Frankie Muniz, Penn Jillette, Anthony Weiner, Jackie Collins, George R.R. Martin and the odd couple duo of Mark Cuban and Ann Coulter as the president and vice president of the U.S.

In comparison, Last Sharknado has the vapors, is on fumes and even verklempt in terms of cameos of note. Without revealing the historical characters they play (this one has a lot of time travel), keep an eye or two open for Darrell Hammond, Ben Stein, Tori Spelling, Dean McDermott, Gilbert Gottfried, Roker (gad, him again), Dee Snider, Christopher Knight, Bernie Kopell, Leslie Jordan (whom I at first hoped was the late Little Jimmy Dickens) and Neil deGrasse Tyson (whose performance is atrocious even by Sharknado standards). Two veterans of previous Sharknados, Bo Derek and Gary Busey (his name is incorrectly spelled “Busy” in the review copy’s closing credits), drop in for a climactic something or other. And if you look extra hard, you might spot Latoya Jackson and Kato Kaelin in s swirling, whirling sequence near the end.

Ziering and Reid, who have weathered all five previous films, remain instrumental as shark gladiators Fin Shepherd and April Wexler. As some might actually remember, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming ended with the Earth destroyed and Fin wandering alone through the wreckage. His last mission is to go back in time and prevent the very first sharknado in order to waylay all of the future ones.

The creatures populating Fin’s first stop in prehistoric times are to special effects what pork rinds are to fine dining. But no one’s ever anywhere for very long, with Fin and various familiar supporting characters hurtling incomprehensibly through space to fight flying sharks in medieval times, the Revolutionary War era, the Old West, 1997 San Francisco and the very distant future.

Ziering and Reid -- plus fellow Sharknado veterans Vivica A. Fox as Skye and Cassandra Scerbo as Nova -- gamely attempt semblances of performances amid goings-on that should have gone that away after the third film. Charitably speaking, Last Sharknado is about as much fun as watching Joey Chestnut eat his 55th hot dog or Chris Matthews interrupt another guest.

Assuming that Syfy keeps its word, this truly will be the end of the Sharknado line. But Ziering, Reid, Fox and Scerbo almost assuredly will be signing and posing at many a future fan convention. Good for them. Everybody’s gotta eat.

GRADE: F (which is a compliment)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Season Two of Get Shorty improves on the first while again giving Epix a booster shot


Chris O’Dowd/Ray Romano come up big in Get Shorty. Epix photo

Two of last year’s very best first-year drama series, HBO’s The Deuce and Epix’s Get Shorty, received total bypasses from Emmy voters last month.

Not a single nomination came either show’s way. But now it’s payback time -- for appreciative viewers at least. Season 2 of The Deuce will launch on Sept. 9th, but the sophomore year of Get Shorty is nearly upon us. It restarts with back-to-back episodes on Sunday, Aug. 12th from 8 to 10 p.m. (central). And based on the first five episode made available for review, Get Shorty has upped its game from an already standout Season One.

Adapted from the same-named novel by the late, great Elmore Leonard (after a well-received 1995 movie), Epix’s first-rate version continues the travails of Ireland-bred hit man turned movie producer Miles Daly (Chris O’Dowd) and B-movie shlepper Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano). Their first collaboration, The Admiral’s Mistress, is now close to getting off the ground and possibly paying off a clandestine, money-laundering investment by drug-running boss lady Amara de Escalones (Lidia Porto).

But nothing comes easy for anybody in Get Shorty. And by the halfway point of Season Two’s 10 episodes, there are enough crazy-quilt further complications to fuel all kinds of possibilities.

A key addition to the new season’s cast is Felicity Huffman as FBI agent Clara Dillard. She’s a cajoling and at times sweet-talking manipulator who has Rick on the leash as a wired informant who late in Season One developed a very personal relationship with the lethal but needy Amara. Meanwhile, Miles is striving to be a good father to daughter Emma (Carolyn Dodd), who’s caught in the middle of dad’s up-and-down custody fight with his estranged wife, Katie (Lucy Walters). The scenes between Miles and Emma are some of this dramedy’s best.

Miles’ partner, Louis Darnell (Sean Bridgers), is still worse for wear in the early going after being shot multiple times last season. He remains both comedic and ruthless, but there’s also a soft spot in play via his growingly intimate relationship with Rick’s assistant, Gladys (Sarah Stiles).

O’Dowd’s performance as Miles again is eminently Emmy worthy, with Episode 3 further spotlighting his talents after a mishap prompts a personal awakening while he’s recuperating in a cheap, out-of-the-way motel. Miles is first and foremost dedicated to making a movie of true artistic merit, which Admiral’s Mistress decidedly isn’t. But strong-armed deals are his only means to this end. So Miles alternately exudes both charm and a lethal determination to make things happen for him.

Season 2 also drops in Steven Weber as a powerful and amoral film producer named Lawrence Budd, whose getting-ready-in-the-morning ritual is not to be missed. And Peter Stormare returns, briefly so far, as vainglorious director Hafdis Snaejornsson, whose cut of Admiral’s Mistress sends all who see it into shock.

Porto’s Amara is seen in some new lights, both as an affectionate dispenser of gifts to Rick and as a vulnerable drug-runner who’s being strong-armed herself after a big shipment gets waylaid. Romano’s Rick is forever harried, and in Episode 5, terrorized. The former star of Everybody Loves Raymond continues to impress in roles one wouldn’t have envisioned for him.

In short, Get Shorty is superbly entertaining, both dramatically and comedically, and buoyed by performances that still lack official recognition from various trophy dispensers. They need to get with it -- and now have a second chance.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

WGN America's imported Carter gives Jerry O'Connell something to do


Caught in the middle: Jerry O’Connell in Carter. WGN America photo

Premiering: Tuesday, August 7th at 9 p.m. (central) on WGN America
Starring: Jerry O’Connell, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Kristian Bruun, Varun Saranga, Joanne Boland, John Bourgeois, Brenda Kamino, Denis Akiyama, Matt Baram
Produced by: Garry Campbell, Teza Lawrence, Scott Smith, Michael Souther, John Tinker

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Dripping with likability but yet to land The Big One, Jerry O’Connell takes the work where he can get it.

Lately this has meant voice-overs and guest-hosting five episodes of The Wendy Williams Show. By those standards, the Canadian import Carter is something of a mega-event for him. O’Connell’s the title character, and WGN America is the U.S. carrier, beginning on Tuesday, August 7th.

He could do worse, and has. You could do worse, and have. Carter, derivative of Fox’s well-reviewed but short-lived The Grinder, is a semi-passable detective dramedy in which O’Connell plays actor Harley Carter, otherwise known on the small screen as ace sleuth Charlie Carter. But a scandalous brawl on an awards show red carpet sends Harley into “hiatus” mode and back to his native burg of Bishop, Canada while his Hollywood future on Call Carter hangs in the balance.

WGN America made all 10 Season One episodes available for review, but watching the first three was more than enough to pass judgment. Carter is basically a crime caper of the week, with Harley acting as “consulting detective” via a mayoral appointment after he more or less lucks into solving the opening night’s murder mystery. His reluctant partner in crime solving is childhood friend turned detective Sam Shaw (Sydney Tamiia Poitier). Another old pal, bearded Dave Leigh (Kristian Bruun), is also deployed while grouchy police chief Angus Pershing (John Bourgeois) huffs and puffs to no avail.

The premiere hour also introduces the Asian couple that raised young Harley after his mother Anne went missing -- and remains so. Dot Yasuda (Brenda Kamino) enjoys firing her shotgun rather aimlessly while husband Koji (Denis Akiyama) shockingly has confessed to killing someone named Albert Childress.

“If I can look at this like it’s my TV show, maybe we can figure this out,” Harley reasons while Sam becomes exasperated for the first of many times.

Rob Lowe went much the same route in The Grinder as the star of a long-running, but recently canceled legal drama who thought it would be easy enough to be a real-life attorney. This greatly vexed his brother (played by Fred Savage), who had been toiling with limited success in various courtrooms. Lowe’s celebrity status oftentimes impressed the local yokels, and O’Connell’s character is likewise lionized by some of the townies.

He finds all of this rather intoxicating while brushing off reports that his TV show might get along without him. “The studio’s bluffing,” he assures hapless agent Vijay Gill (Varun Saranga). “Jimmy Smits? He’s like 80.”

The cases arousing Harley’s interest are at best moderately involving. In Episode 2, a troubled young man insists that his mother was murdered before being incinerated in a paint factory fire. Episode 3 centers on a farmhand who’s found dead and mutilated in what purportedly is a tractor accident.

O’Connell makes for an amiable amateur gumshoe who knows when to push and realizes when he’s shoved. “You don’t talk about my dark years and I don’t talk about that hip hop album you dropped,” sidekick Dave warns him. Point taken.

Tamiia Poitier, daughter of Sidney Poitier, is OK as Harley’s balky enabler while Bourgeois has a few amusing moments as the easily riled chief. Viewers choosing to go along for these rides won’t encounter anything too penetrating. Carter goes no deeper than its title character acting rather pleased with himself. “Twist ending. Called it,” he crows in Episode 1. No worries, though. There’s nothing here that will tie you in knots.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Frontline puts names to faces in Documenting Hate: Charlottesville


Some of the violent supremacists in Charlottesville are tracked down by a dogged reporter who very much likes his face time. PBS photo

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Charlottesville, VA, former home of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, may never again be primarily known for that.

The violent events of Aug. 12, 2017 -- and President Trump’s “blame on both sides” reaction to them -- are still seared into the public consciousness. Frontline’s latest one-hour investigative report, Documenting Hate: Charlottesville (Tues., Aug. 7 at 9 p.m. central on PBS), has a reporter on the trail of several notably violent participants in a “Unite the Right” rally that left one woman dead and a number of others injured.

The driver who allegedly hit and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer while she was crossing the street, has been indicted and is facing charges on 30 counts. For the record, his name is James Alex Fields, Jr.

But other free-swinging white supremacists have been roaming free without much apparent interest from federal and local police.

“If Charlottesville was a crime scene, then most of the criminals had gotten away,” says reporter A.C. Thompson, whose efforts to track some of them down are in partnership with ProPublica, which describes itself as an “independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force.”

Thompson finds that three of the men shown committing violent acts on videotape have histories with various white supremacist groups. He confronts one of them, Michael Miselis, face-to-face, and another, Vasillios Pistolis, by telephone. The third alleged perpetrator, Robert Rundo, is said to be somewhere in Europe.

Pistolis was still on active duty with the U.S. Marines when he very actively participated in the Unite the Right rally and the previous night’s chilling “torch march.” He eventually was court-martialed and discharged. While talking to Thompson and still with the Marines, Pistolis says, “I’ve literally left that shit behind.” He also offers to later help Thompson with his career if “none of this comes out.” Thompson surely has bigger ambitions than ProPublica, Pistolis reasons.

Miselis had been a graduate student at UCLA and was employed by the defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which required him to have a U.S. government security clearance.

“Hey, do Northrup and UCLA know you’re involved with the Rise Above Movement?” Thompson asks before Miselis drives off. On the following day, according to Thompson, the defense contractor announced that Miselis had been dismissed.

Fingering these alleged culprits -- and also getting some results -- is no small thing. And the reporter shows true grit in staying on the case. But Thompson’s pervasive on-camera presence becomes an irritant. He passingly resembles Michael Avenatti, and seems determined to get as much face time as Stormy Daniels’ ubiquitous attorney. Documenting Hate even has a lengthy -- and wholly superfluous -- shot of Thompson walking down the street during a snowstorm. It seems that no more than 10 seconds ever go by without a closeup or wide shot of the reporter doing his job. In the closing scene, he’s shown driving off to nowhere in particular while telling viewers, “One thing seems clear. The story is far from over.”

The dogged detective work in Documenting Hate isn’t devalued by Thompson’s omnipresence. But it would be more viewer-friendly if he could show the same determination to keep himself out of the picture a whole lot more than he does. Seeing how the sausage is made is of some value. Constantly seeing Thompson -- whether he’s gazing at nothing in particular, on the phone or doing an interview -- detracts from the sobering business at hand. We get it. You’re the lead reporter. Now give us a break from you.

Frontline plans to present more investigations of a resurgent white supremacist movement, likewise in league with ProPublica. This one is primarily satisfying in its successful track-downs of individuals who otherwise may have gotten off without any retribution. Watching two of these “tough guys” shrink into fraidy cats proves to be quite a payoff.


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