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Life is too short for A&E's Those Who Kill


Chloe Sevigny stars as an intense, traumatized homicide detective in Those Who Kill, which originated as a Danish TV series. A&E photo

Premiering: Monday, March 3rd at 9 p.m. (central) on A&E
Starring: Chloe Sevigny, James D’Arcy, James Morrison, Anne Dudek, Bruce Davison, Kathy Baker
Produced by: Glen Morgan, David Petrarca, Brian Grazer, Francie Calfo

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It’s A&E’s turn to cannonball into prime-time TV’s serial killer pool.

The network’s Those Who Kill also makes it a threesome of Danish crime drama imports, joining AMC’s The Killing and FX’s The Bridge. Alas, it’s notably inferior to both, with the accomplished Chloe Sevigny (Big Love, Boys Don’t Cry) ill-served as a Pittsburgh homicide detective with an overload of emotional baggage.

Monday’s premiere, the first of 10 episodes, begins with Sevigny’s character, Catherine Jensen, skulking around at night in the home of her stepfather and mother (Bruce Davison, Kathy Baker). Not that viewers are clued in to either’s identity in the lone hour sent for review.

A&E publicity materials say that Jensen suspects stepdad of being a serial killer whose victims include her missing brother. But Those Who Kill stays mum on this throughout Episode 1. All that’s known for sure is that Catherine’s brother has long been missing.

The series otherwise gets quickly to the business of catching a thoroughly heinous sicko whose corpses have been buried at a de-construction site. Catherine quickly enlists the help of forensic pathologist Thomas Schaeffer (James D’Arcy), who’s had a falling out with the cop shop. He’s first seen discussing the particulars of Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Thomas likewise is somewhat loopy, sometimes going to extremes to put himself within the mind of the killer. NBC’s Hannibal, whose Season 2 launched on Friday, Feb. 28th, has a similarly equipped crime-solver who’s now been framed by Dr. Lecter. But in atmosphere and out-of-body, highly visual storytelling, Hannibal pretty much makes Those Who Kill seem like a kindergarten coloring book.

The featured killer’s latest prey, a young woman of course, is stripped down and then trussed up in duct tape. “There’s no need to cry,” he assures her. “You know why? ‘Cause this is a happy story, with a happy ending.”

Jensen also eventually finds herself in serious harm’s way -- not once but twice. By the second time around, Those Who Kill has deteriorated into a very unpleasant series of events with blood-curdling screams and some patently ridiculous powers of deduction by D’Arcy’s character.

Sevigny works hard at being complex, haunted, etc. while the show around her collapses into a voyeuristic mess with a denouement that makes one wonder how Catherine Jensen could possibly remain on the force beyond the opening episode.

They’ll find a way, of course -- but in a series that looks as though it’s going to serve no one well.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Season 2 of History's Vikings: winning the battle to become one of TV's better dramas


Ragnar Lothbrok (Travis Fimmel) will win any and all stare-downs. He again leads the charges in Season 2 of Vikings. History photo

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Travis Fimmel has taught his pupils exceedingly well.

Strikingly blue and thoroughly impenetrable, they pierce the screen like arrows in the hearts of knaves. History channel’s blood-lusty Vikings is back. But Fimmel’s pillaging Ragnar Lothbrok also can still be seen as a noble avenging angel if you squint just a bit.

Season One was a pleasant surprise in its ability to vividly re-create this 13th century world of majestic battleships, crudely adventurous men and mostly willful women. Season 2 (firing up Thursday, Feb. 27th at 9 p.m. central)) is notably improved on every level, with major developments coursing through the first four episodes made available for review. Might Vikings rival HBO’s Game of Thrones at some point? That’s asking a lot, but all arrows are pointing upward at this point.

Vikings ended last season with Ragnar’s second fiddle warrior brother, Rollo (Clive Standen), in an act of full betrayal. He had sided with Jarl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr), nefarious chieftain of Gotaland after King Horik (Donal Logue) had refused to cede him the land he wanted. Ragnar remains part of Team Horik. And Thursday’s Episode 1 opens with a furious battle between the two sides.

Ragnar then returns back to his home turf of Kattegat, telling wife Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), “I am weary. I am blood-sickened. And that is the truth.” Let’s not hold him to that.

Vikings fans also know that Ragnar succumbed to a one-night stand with Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) last season. Let’s just say that ye olde condom hadn’t yet been invented back then. So there are some lasting ramifications to Ragnar’s indiscretion. So much so that Episode 1 ends with a heart-rending separation before next week’s Episode 2 springs four years into the future. Enough said.

Spooky shipbuilder Floki (Gustf Skarsgard), scheming but decent-hearted Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig), the deformed Seer (John Kavanagh) and kidnapped Anglo-Saxon monk Athelstan (George Blagden) also return as series regulars. So does Nathan O’Toole as Ragnar’s devoted son, Bjorn -- but only for Episode 1. A rather jaw-dropping growth spurt in upcoming hours requires that the role be inherited by an older lad -- namely Alexander Ludwig.

Season 2’s major new character is Wessex, England’s King Ecbert (Linus Roache), who’s not at all a merry old soul. He very much enjoys his warm soaks, though -- and occasional blood baths when necessary.

There will be 10 episodes in Season 2, same as last year. But Vikings moves at a crisper pace this time while also feeling more epic. The bloodletting and other acts of violence for the most part remain tempered compared to Game of Thrones. Still, be prepared for some blood-curdling, religious-themed acts of cruelty in both Episodes 3 and 4.

Fimmel’s Ragnar isn’t exactly impervious to it all. He’s capable of shedding tears through those otherwise steely blues. And as a farmer by trade, he wouldn’t mind getting back to the land before Valhalla beckons. His compassion still has more than a few limits. But it’s not hard to care for this character -- as well as those the very closest to him. Except maybe for Floki.

Whatever becomes of Ragnar, Vikings has emerged in its second season as a series of appreciably higher quality. Its characters and storytelling, all within a world quite unlike any other on the TV landscape, have gone far beyond the cardboard stage. This is a first-rate drama series that stands rock steadily on its own.

GRADE: A-minus

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SundanceTV's The Red Road traffics in a command performance by a Game of Thrones game-changer


Imposing Jason Momoa goes from Game of Thrones to The Red Road. SundanceTV photo

Premiering: Thursday, Feb. 27th at 8 p.m. (central) on SundanceTV
Starring: Jason Momoa, Martin Henderson, Julianne Nicholson, Tama Tunie, Allie Gonino, Annalise Basso, Kiowa Gordon, Zahn McClarnon, Tom Sizemore, Mike Farrell, Lisa Bonet
Produced by: Aaron Guzikowski, Bridget Carpenter, Sarah Condon

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Jason Momoa knows how to cut a figure and glower while doing so.

HBO’s Game of Thrones set him apart as the notably intimidating Khal Drogo, head of the warrior Dothraki tribe until his untoward demise. Now Momoa is back in full swagger as ex-con and current-day drug dealer Phillip Kopus in SundanceTV’s new six-episode series, The Red Road.

The actor and his character exude a command presence throughout the first four hours made available for review. Red Road isn’t extraordinary because of him. But he elevates it above the ordinary during the course of a twisting tale of two clashing factions within the small eastern town of Walpole.

Red Road’s other leading male is Martin Henderson (ABC’s short-lived Off the Map) as a tightly wound cop named Harold Jensen. His wife, Jean (Julianne Nicholson), has never fully recovered from the drowning death of her twin brother. She still hears voices during the course of over-protecting her rebellious teen daughter, Rachel (Allie Gonino), whose kid sister, Kate (Annalise Basso) is still an angel.

Two unsolved crimes are at work here. A New York University student has gone missing in the area, and Red Road quickly reveals what happened to him. While the search is on, an addled Jean drives off in the dark to fetch Rachel, who’s been disobeying parental orders by seeing a young Lenape Mountain Indian known as Junior (Kiowa Gordon). Jean’s vehicle goes bump in the night. And the next morning, a young Lenape boy is hospitalized in critical condition. Cue the cover-up, with Harold Jensen increasingly compromising himself while Lenape protestors cry out for justice and Phillip Kopus sees a great opportunity for blackmail.

“What do you want from me?” Harold asks him.

“You’re gonna have to take it as it comes,” says Phillip, who has evidence against Jean Jensen.

Creator and co-executive producer Aaron Guzikowski says in Sundance publicity materials that he’s “always been fascinated with the idea of children repeating their parents’ mistakes -- that human beings are locked into these ancient patterns, doomed or blessed to do as those before them have.”

The bad seed is most firmly planted in Phillip, whose father, Jack (Tom Sizemore), introduced him to a life of crime. Now he’s doing likewise to his brother, Jr., while Phillip’s and Jr.’s Lenape Indian mother, Marie (Tama Tunie), festers with resentment.

Sizemore, whose drug-soaked, violence-prone personal life has been well-chronicled, is well-suited to play a vicious narcotics lord. But his character is only fleetingly seen in the first four hours, which also provide glimpses of former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell and Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World.

Farrell plays Jean Jensen’s politician father, David Rogers, who’s clearly hiding or suppressing something. Bonet is attorney Sky Van Der Veen, who’s representing the long underfoot Lenapes.

This is SundanceTV’s second wholly produced original series, following last season’s extraordinary Rectify (scheduled to return this summer). Red Road gets more gripping by the hour, although it still feels like a drop-off whenever Momoa isn’t on screen. He imbues these proceedings with menace and occasional dashes of vulnerability as a willful criminal who’s now too far gone down that path. The series’ other characters have their moments, but Momoa’s always in the moment. And that’s good enough reason to see Red Road to the end.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Legit goes from FX to FXX for Season 2 -- & you really should try to find it


Jim Jefferies, DJ Qualls and Dan Bakkedahl of Legit. FXX image

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It’s very seldom sunny on Legit, the outwardly dirty to the touch comedy series that began life on FX and returns for Season 2 on the still largely undiscovered FXX network.

The series’ three leading men, Jim, Steve and Billy, at times are harder to embrace than a cactus, a porcupine or Chuck Norris as Hamlet. But as in the first season, these Three Stooges of the Apocalypse find a way to make Legit work. So it remains at the top of my list of comedies that merit far more attention than they’re getting. After watching the four episodes made available for review, I still wanted nothing more than to pop in some more. Even though -- fair warning -- this is the kind of series whose closing credits list the bit part of “asshole” (played in the Season 2 premiere by an actor billed as The Greg Wilson).

Legit re-launches on Wednesday, Feb. 26th at 9 p.m. (central), with Jim (Jim Jefferies) taking halting steps toward curbing his addiction to porn while also trying to stop blowing opportunities. His standup comedy career continues to stagnate. Worst yet, he got fired from an action movie that turned out to be a hit.

Jim’s longtime pal and roommate, Steve (Dan Bakkedahl), is in appreciably worse shape, though. Slovenly and pot-bellied with really bad hair, he’s become a self-pitying, fall-down drunk after a failed marriage that also cost him custody of his daughter.

In Season 1, Jim and Steve also took in Steve’s comparatively sweet-natured brother, Billy (DJ Qualls), whose muscular dystrophy mostly confines him to a wheelchair. Legit has its heart in the right place with this character. Just don’t expect any sugar-coating.

John Ratzenberger of Cheers fame and Mindy Sterling co-star as the brothers’ warring parents, Walter and Janice Nugent. Billy’s nurse, Ramona, who’s never hesitant to speak her mind, is played by Sonya Eddy.

Jim seeks aid and comfort from, urp, Dr. Drew Pinsky in the season premiere. A very ribald radio talk segment kicks in before Jim agrees to attend a sex addition meeting at which his talk is equally explicit. Still, he’s making progress of a sort.

Episode 2 is built around the sudden death of one of Billy’s old friends at his previous residence, the Shady Grove care facility. The deceased has a sister named Sara (Betsy Beutler), who becomes attracted to Jim during funeral services. Damn the luck, though. She turns out to be a racist in a storyline that carries over into Episode 3. One of Jim’s black comedian friends at the Lotsa Laughs club -- Al Jackson playing himself -- ends up being the remedy for this.

Episode 4 is largely set at a high school reunion where Steve outdoes himself in the making-an-ass-of-oneself department while Jim tries to make amends with both a woman he chided as “Tubs” and his first real girlfriend.

Legit usually has a way of pouring vinegar onto any onset of sweetness. But this half-hour ends pretty damned touchingly. And given all that has gone before, it’s to the show’s advantage to try a little tenderness as a brief respite.

Some might see Legit as a poor man’s Louie. And no, it’s not of that caliber yet. But the Australia-born Jefferies, who like Louis C.K. is a real-life standup comedian, has put his own distinct stamp on Legit. As such, it’s an acquired taste worth acquiring -- or at least sampling. Because you just won’t know until you’ve tried.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

So long, Sochi, hello Cold War in Season 2 of FX's The Americans


Keri Russell as action figure in The Americans. FX photo

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The Cloak is up-sized to Xtra Large and the Dagger cuts even deeper as FX’s The Americans again goes spy-on-spy in the Cold War-centric early 1980s.

There’s also a scene, during Episode 1 of Season 2, in which the 14-year-old daughter of the two Russian principles walks in on them during their summit of “69.” So there. And yes, that’ll get you a TV-MA rating every time.

The Americans returns Wednesday, Feb. 26th at 9 p.m. (central) on the network whose latest branding slogan is “Fearless.” But although thoroughly adult in content, The Americans remains far more grown up than FX’s American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, or the new animated series Chozen. The sex and violence are woven into its fabric rather than staining it in the interests of shock value. An overall intelligence and depth is readily apparent in what’s become, in this view, FX’s best drama series ever.

The first five of Season 2’s 13 episodes were made available for review, with the story resuming a couple of months after Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) has mended from the serious gunshot wound she sustained during a harrowing getaway at the end of Season 1. Her cover story is that she spent this time caring for a very ill “Aunt Helen” while her husband and fellow spy Philip (Matthew Rhys) tended the home fires.

But their daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), has grown increasingly suspicious, as evidenced by the closing scene of Season 1. The new season finds her increasingly exerting her independence while also taking steps toward figuring out what’s really up. Paige’s 11-year-old brother, Henry (Keidrich Sellati), remains innocent and unaware.

The Season 2 opener begins and ends violently. And the second act of carnage hits very close to home for Elizabeth, who’s increasingly suspicious of any and all traffic outside their family home. She’s often left alone while a disguised Philip leads a double life as the husband of needy, gullible FBI executive assistant Martha Hanson (Alison Wright), whom he’s using as a funnel of important information.

FBI counter-intelligence agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerick) likewise is a two-timer, but without the knowledge of his wife, Sandra (Susan Misner). While she seeks new age therapeutic comfort, he’s regularly in bed with comely KGB agent Nina Sergeevna (Annet Mahendru). She’s a key player with the KGB Rezidentura, housed within the walls of the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. He used to be playing her. But by the end of last season, and still without Stan’s knowledge, the tables were turned.

Stan also remains unaware that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are the spies he’s long been pursuing. To him they’re still accommodating, friendly next door neighbors who run a travel agency. It can be a lot to swallow but all of this tightrope-walking still has an air of believability.

The Americans remains very much about disguises, duplicity, near misses and accomplished missions. But the Jennings’ family life, highlighted by Elizabeth’s growing maternal instincts and misgivings, also comes to the forefront this season. She’ll do what needs to be done for the Homeland, whether it’s sex in pursuit of intel or silencing any and all threats to the secret life she lives. But cracks of vulnerability are becoming apparent while Philip may well be getting steelier by the day.

There’s a little fun to be had as well. Set in the early ‘80s while also occasionally flashing back to the ’60s, The Americans can freely indulge in the pop culture touchstones of those times. In Episode 1, the Jennings kids watch WKRP in Cincinnati with their babysitter. The French Lieutenant’s Women, starring Meryl Streep, resonates on a more serious level in two very different contexts.

Leo Buscaglia, the old PBS “Love Doctor,” The Beatles’ Revolver album and Raiders of the Lost Ark are among the other name-drops. And in Episode 3, look for a vintage soft drink machine prominently advertising “Sugar Free!” Tab.

The senior KGB supervisor Claudia, played so memorably by Margo Martindale, also will be making a return appearance or two. She’s first seen in this season’s Episode 4. Martindale otherwise is pretty much occupied as a series regular on the first-year CBS sitcom The Millers.

A prominent new character also comes into play. Abrasive Oleg Igorevich (Costa Ronin) clashes with both Nina and her holdover KGB boss, Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn). He also has a memorable line in Episode 2, telling Nina, “I’m a feminist. I only work for Mother Russia.”

Based on these first five episodes, The Americans shows every sign of maintaining if not exceeding the high bar it set in Season 1. What fate awaits Elizabeth and Philip? And what will become of their children, whether or not they ever learn the truth?

These have become answers well worth knowing, although there’s still no rush. The Americans is just too good to end too soon. But it’s also too good to be left on for too long. Perhaps four seasons would be not too hot, not too cold, but just about right. We’ve just seen Vladimir Putin’s “new” Russia via the Sochi-based Winter Olympics. But those old ways still had higher drama.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Mixology finds ABC looking for love in a singles bar


Cheers to the 10 single barflies of Mixology. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Feb. 26th at 8:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Adam Campbell, Adan Canto, Alexis Carra, Craig Frank, Ginger Gonzaga, Blake Lee, Vanessa Lengies, Andrew Santino, Frankie Shaw, Kate Simsess
Produced by: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, Ryan Seacrest, Nina Wass, Ira Ungerleider, Adam Sher

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Guy walks into a bar and . . . ABC’s Mixology emerges in place of the unlikely to be seen again Super Fun Night.

Each of the planned 13 half-hour episodes apparently will begin with a narrative advisory that “this is the story of 10 strangers, one night and all the . . . ridiculous things we do to find love.” The first three do anyway.

Viewers looking for anyone to like will not instantly settle on the would-be alpha male of this group. Bearded Bruce (Andrew Santino) instantly comes off as a grubby-looking, womanizing a-hole in a military shirt he hasn’t earned.

“Girls have changed, man,” he assures pals Tom (Blake Lee) and Cal (Craig Frank) near the start of Wednesday’s premiere episode. “They will sleep with anything. I get laid all the time and I am disgusting -- head to toe.”

That he is. And even more so when Bruce follows up with, “Let’s find you a nice, sweet drunk girl.”

But Mixology also offers mini-back stories of two characters per week. And in Episode 3, Bruce can be seen for what he is -- which is a bit more than a gross human dildo. Instead he talks big to compensate for an unhappy childhood.

The producers of this series, who include Ryan Seacrest, nonetheless are asking viewers to patiently sort through a lot of characters. And to complicate matters, one of them, Janey (Sarah Bolger from ABC’s Once Upon a Time), was written out after Episode 1. She’ll be supplanted next week by Fabienne (Frankie Shaw), “frenemy” of divorced single mom Jessica (Alexis Carra), who initially arrived at the bar with her sister, Janey. Who’s gone poof.

All 10 characters are seen and at least fleetingly heard in each episode. But two of them are spotlighted each week. In Wednesday’s premiere it’s the aforementioned Tom -- on the rebound after being nastily dumped by his fiancee -- and Maya (Ginger Gonzaga), a tart-tongued, tomboy sports attorney whose back story includes a cameo by former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson. The two of them dated for a bit until he deduced, “You are the biggest bitch that I’ve ever met. The biggest. And Keyshawn Johnson has seen some bitches.”

I’ll bet he has -- in his own mind at least.

Maya so far is the most interesting character of the bunch, though, whether ripping on Tom (“She left you because you’re a sniveling little bitch”) or in Episode 3 carping about how she’s always mistaken for being Hawaiian.

Episode 2 focuses on the engaged, timid Liv (Kate Simses) and a roguish Brit named Ron (Adam Campbell), who’s newly penniless. Her backstory includes this narrative zinger about how she bonded with her equally goody good fiancé: “Liv and Jim liked scrapbooking, cheese and the entire CBS comedy lineup.” Which, by the way, ABC sorely wishes it had.

Cal, the lone black character in Mixology, won’t be fleshed out until Episode 4, when his back story kicks in. Meanwhile, he gets Episode 1’s most unfortunate lines, telling Tom, “You are a Viking. You rape, you pillage and you take what’s yours.” Pause, one-two. “OK, obviously don’t rape her.”

Given ABC’s ongoing ratings woes, viewers may well call bar time on Mixology before it can build on a shaky but not altogether flimsy foundation. Through the first three episodes, I’m sold on Maya and care at least a speck or two about Jessica, Tom and maybe even, urp, Bruce. Then again, it wouldn’t be much of a loss if the whole lot of ‘em joined their network’s growing pile of discards.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

ABC's Mind Games loudly shatters the calm


A super-intense Steve Zahn stars in Mind Games. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Feb. 25th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Steve Zahn, Christian Slater, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Cecric Sanders, Gregory Marcel
Produced by: Kyle Killen, Keith Redmond, Timothy Busfield, Donald Todd

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No network played dead harder than ABC during the 18 nights of NBC’s prime-time Winter Olympics coverage.

Now it’s time to dig out. But a rush premiere of Mind Games, which replaces the failed Killer Women two weeks earlier than planned, seems very unlikely to stop ABC’s bleeding. Tuesday’s ultra-loud opening episode -- no need for closed captioning -- cries out for a mute button whenever co-star Steve Zahn is spewing his frustrations or brain-scrambled theories. Christian Slater nearly matches him in time, making Mind Games the most ear-splitting new drama in recent memory. Sonic blasts are quieter.

The series’ principal creator is Kyle Killen, whose first two TV series -- Fox’s Lone Star and NBC’s Awake -- proved to be demonstrably unsuccessful. Still, both were notably better than Mind Games, which just doesn’t work on any level. Having Slater as the co-lead also may be something of a death wish. He’s been burning through failed series at a furious pace in the past several years, with NBC’s My Own Worst Enemy, ABC’s The Forgotten and Fox’s Breaking In all stacking up since 2008. A good luck Talisman he’s not.

This time out, Slater is Ross Edwards, a divorced schemer on the rebound from two years in jail for fraud. His brother, Clark (Zahn from HBO’s Treme), is in his own words, “extremely bipolar.” He’s also an exceedingly verbose yeller dedicated to the proposition that behavior can be altered through the power of suggestion. “Simply put, we change people’s minds without them knowing we did it,” he says. In return, clients of the Edwards’ new company are supposed to be charged a fee.

Tuesday’s premiere takes a long time trying to make sense of itself. The Edwards brothers keep yelling at one another while a staff of three co-workers struggles to endure the both of them. ABC also has made a subsequent episode available for review, but it’s not scheduled to air until March 18th. The network’s “notes” to all concerned clearly came down to one simple edict: “STOP THE CONSTANT YELLING!” But although notably quieter in speaking tones (save for a few high-decibel outbursts), the episode is only a marginal improvement from this week’s curtain-raiser.

Zahn’s pivotal character also is a former college professor who got bounced after his affair with a 22-year-old student named Beth (guest star Katherine Cunningham). He still pines maniacally for her while also bringing in Ross’s ex-wife, Claire (guest star Wynn Everett), as their company’s new office manager. Ross goes nuts in her presence, but Clark says she’s “like a magic feather” who calms him down. Not that you’d ever detect that.

In Episode 1, a heartless insurance company is targeted by the Edwards brothers after a teen boy with a heart condition is denied coverage for experimental surgery that could cure him. The machinations devised to reverse that decision are completely preposterous. And the upcoming “Apophenia” episode is no more believable in its manipulations of a congressman who’s reneged on passing a gun safety bill. This serves to drive a further wedge between the lawmaker and his already estranged son.

Things tend to get really sappy during those times when they’re not utterly far-fetched. But the most unlikely development of all -- in terms of behavior modification -- would be persuading more than a relative handful of viewers to watch Mind Games from week to week. Nah. Ain’t gonna happen.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Sin city rises again with Season 3 of TNT's Dallas


Howdy. And welcome back to more of the same. TNT photo

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Bereft of the late Larry Hagman’s indelible J.R. Ewing, TNT’s Dallas reboot otherwise feeds off all of its still digestible food groups as Season 3 comes into play.

Duplicity. Greed. Revenge. Lust. Bribery. Power-Mongering. Two-Timing. Broad Acting. Swelling Music/Close-up Head Shots Leading To Commercial Breaks. And Bobby Ewing Balancing Acts Over And Over Again.

The first of 15 new episodes arrives on Monday, Feb. 24th at 8 p.m. (central). Fans likely won’t be disappointed. This old sidewinder still packs a kick. And when Judith Light’s mommie dearest is holding forth, well, it’s nigh impossible to get enough of her.

Her recurring character, also named Judith, won’t be seen anew until March 3rd’s Episode 2. No need to spill the hows and whys. But the demonic mother of likewise sinister Harris Ryland (Mitch Pileggi) is going to have the time of her twisted life in a season whose slogan is, “Good Things Come To Those Who Take.” Let’s feast on two of her delicious spews -- aimed directly at a son who betrayed her last season by pushing old Judith down a flight of stairs and then salting her away in rehab.

“Your grandfather had a saying. Money and morality are like two cars on a one-lane road. When they meet, morality’s gonna end up in the ditch.”

Furthermore, “I made my bones dealin’ with psychopaths and criminals while you were still playin’ with your Easy Bake oven.”

As a special bonus, Judith also gets to snort a line of high-end cocaine, proclaim “Hot damn. Mama like,” and then indulge in a second noseful. All with a letter-perfect Light touch from an actress who surely couldn’t have had this much fun during all those years on Who’s the Boss?

Monday’s season-opening episode is pretty good, too. After a refresher course on who did what to whom last year, Dallas begins with Bobby Ewing (Patrick Duffy) talking to the tombstones of fallen family members. J.R., Miss Ellie and Jock are now all in the ground.

“So I’m the caretaker now, huh, momma?” Bobby says. “I’m the only one left.” He then mounts his horse, says goodbye -- “Well, I’ll try not to disappoint ya” -- and rides off before the scene shifts to the Omni Hotel for additional morning-after philandering by J.R.’s bad seed son, John Ross III (Josh Henderson).

Last season ended with him banging naughty Emma Brown (Emma Bell), daughter of Ryland and his ex-wife, Ann (Brenda Strong), who’s now married to Bobby. Never mind that John Ross also is the new husband of Pamela Barnes (Julie Gonzalo) after they eloped last season.

Meanwhile, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval) is festering in prison after being framed by the entire Ewing clan for J.R.’s death. But Cliff has enlisted Christopher’s (Jesse Metcalfe) former girlfriend, Elena Ramos (Jordana Brewster), in a plot to torpedo the new Ewing Global. She has considerable motivation after learning last season that J.R. had swindled her deceased dad and drove him to an early grave.

J.R.’s widow, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), is in John Ross’s corner at the moment. But she’s also back on the bottle and growingly suspicious of him.

Season 3’s principal new regular cast member is Juan Pablo Di Pace as Elena’s old childhood friend and new co-conspirator, Nicolas Trevino. He used to go by another name, as Elena’s mother, Carmen (Marlene Forte) well knows. In the old CBS Dallas, the Ewings’ Hispanic servants were fleetingly seen and basically never heard. But Carmen, the family’s head housekeeper and cook, has meaty scenes in each of the first two episodes. And that’s a welcome change.

Another new character, named Heather (AnnaLynne McCord), obviously will be Christopher’s new love interest. For now, she’s a coltish, spunky ranch worker whom he invites to a big Ewing barbecue. Where of course she looks smokin’ hot while he’s sporting a pretty good looking beard.

Duffy is still the level-headed pylon of Dallas, striving to put his foot down while recognizing the necessity to make new, bold “bidness” deals. It’s always fun hearing John Ross call him “Uncle Bobby” with a measure of derision. Bobby invariably looks vexed in the kid’s presence, even balking at John Ross’s determination to remodel Southfork in a manner befitting a rich, powerful family.

“I am not gonna let you turn Southfork into a monument to you and your father’s self-indulgence,” Bobby vows, squinting his eyes and clenching his teeth. “It’s about time for you to respect the past, boy.”

Bobby’s otherwise on the receiving end of a choice line from wife Ann. It must have been filmed before any of the controversy kicked in. But there she is, telling hubby in Episode 2, “Now come to bed. When I watch Duck Dynasty without you, I get all the beards confused.”

Dallas suffered a significant ratings drop in Season 2. And after Hagman’s death during filming, a pickup was uncertain. But here we go again, with the city of Dallas benefiting economically from all the on-location shooting while the nation’s viewers still could do far worse than spending an hour with the ever fractious Ewings.

The series’ principal allure, as it always has been, can be boiled down to an Episode 1 text message from Emma to John Ross.

“I’m being bad,” she says. “I want you to come be bad with me.” No RSVP is necessary.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC hopes for a hit from the blind side with Growing Up Fisher


A boy, a dog and his blind dad in Growing Up Fisher. NBC photo

Premiering: Sunday, Feb. 23rd at approximately 9:38 p.m. (central) on NBC before moving to Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 25th
Starring: J.K. Simmons, Jenna Elfman, Eli Baker, Ava Deluca-Verley, Lance Lim and Jason Bateman (in voiceovers)
Produced by: DJ Nash, Jason Bateman, Jim Garavente, Tucker Cawley

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Can the actor best known lately for pitching Farmers Insurance in omnipresent TV ads also sell viewers on the notion that he’s a blind man who’s been successfully pulling the wool over his law firm clients’ eyes for the past 20 years?

Sounds far-fetched. Except that NBC’s new Growing Up Fisher (previously called The Family Guide) is based on creator DJ Nash’s real-life childhood as the son of a completely sightless father who pulled off the above. Or so he says.

Previewing Sunday after the Winter Olympics closing ceremonies before going to Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. (central), Growing Up Fisher also asks viewers to accept an oddly idyllic divorce -- no reason is really given -- between Mel Fisher (J.K. Simmons) and his wife, Joyce (Jenna Elfman supplanting the originally cast Parker Posey). This more or less forces Mel to stop pretending he’s not blind after he moves out of the house.

His devoted son, Henry (Eli Baker), had been Dad’s eyes and ears when his law partner and brother Glenn ( Bill Fagerbakke) wasn’t helping him to fake it at the workplace. But now Henry feels left out after Mel gets a guide dog named Elvis.

It’s all told via flashback, with the unseen Jason Bateman doing voiceovers as an adult Henry. NBC suddenly is big on 11-year-old boys on Tuesday nights, with the preceding new About A Boy also prominently featuring one.

Growing Up Fisher is no About a Boy, although at times it’s not half-bad. The relationship between the freewheeling Mel and wide-eyed Henry has its sweet spots. Never more so than when dad assures his only son at the end of Episode 1: “This is not my apartment. This is our apartment.

Elfman’s Joyce, however, is an all too typical blend of aging TV mom striving to be young, cool and alluring again. Her clashes with sour teen daughter Katie (Ava Deluca-Verley) tend to get old in a hurry. But Elfman is in fine form when trying on a form-fitting pair of pants while Joyce grimaces. “This is not the tush of a mom. Pow,” she says while admiring herself in a mirror.

Episode 2 begins with Bateman telling viewers, “When Mel Fisher came out, he came out hard.” He’s referring to his dad no longer pretending to be sighted. But the line sounds more than a little creepy and at best is ill-fitting.

It’ll otherwise be interesting to see if Farmers Insurance buys any spots during Growing Up Fisher. That might ruin the illusion of Simmons playing a blind guy, which he does pretty well. On the other hand, those commercials might end up providing a more gainful annuity for Simmons than his new sitcom. Pow.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's About a Boy is one to grow on


Benjamin Stockham and David Walton are the meat of About a Boy. NBC photo

Premiering: Saturday, Feb. 22nd at approximately 10:07 p.m. (central) on NBC after prime-time Olympics coverage. Then moves to regular Tuesday, 8 p.m. slot on Feb. 25th.
Starring: David Walton, Benjamin Stockham, Minnie Driver, Al Madrigal, Annie Mumolo
Produced by: Jason Katims, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Liza Chasin, Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal

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NBC could really use a hit sitcom. Or even one that finishes second-best in its time slot. Or third if beggars can’t be choosers.

The Peacock has tried and failed this season with two big names from its comedy past -- Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes. Add last fall’s quick cancellation of Welcome to the Family and the ongoing very smallish ratings for both Community and Parks and Recreation. It all used to seem so effortless, too, back in the days when NBC churned out one smasheroo after another: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court, The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier, Will & Grace, etc.

One has to keep trying, though. And About A Boy, adapted from the Nick Hornby book and 2002 movie starring Hugh Grant, may offer at least a 50-50 chance of ending the drought. Incubated with heavy promotion during NBC’s Olympics coverage, it gets a commercial-free sneak preview after Saturday’s prime-time Winter Games package before nestling into a regular Tuesday, 8 p.m. (central) slot following the network’s biggest non-sports hit, The Voice. If you can’t make it there, perhaps you can’t make it anywhere.

About a Boy is buoyed by its two male principals, played by David Walton and Benjamin Stockham. Both are on the rebound from NBC’s flotilla of recent sitcom losers, though. Walton starred in the critically praised but viewer rejected Bent while Stockham had a supporting role in the critically panned and viewer rejected 1600 Penn.

Walton returns to the prime-time fray as Will Freeman, a footloose, financially independent single dude whose long hit single set him up for life. Stockham is 11-year-old Marcus, an irrepressible but stunted kid with a weepy, needy, divorced vegan mom (Minnie Driver as Fiona). The series’ overall maestro, executive producer/writer Jason Katims, has previously excelled with NBC’s Friday Night Lights and the Peacock’s ongoing Parenthood.

Will and Marcus are fated to meet and bond when Fiona moves in next door. He’s been deprived of many a kid’s comfort foods. But after fleeing from school bullies and winding up on Will’s doorstep, he’s soon happily eating messy ribs with his new commitment-phobic pal. Will’s best friend otherwise is Andy (Al Madrigal from The Daily Show, whose somewhat sad sack life is almost solely devoted to parenting three small kids in tandem with his blunt-spoken wife, Laurie (Annie Mumolo).

NBC sent the first three episodes for review. Will of course learns a life’s lesson in all of them. And Episode 2, primarily set at a bawdy charity pool party, ends up being more cloying than amusing. But Saturday night’s premiere adequately baits the hook before Episode 3 provides very good reason to keep watching. It’s the most amusing and endearing of the trio, even if Marcus is mostly out of the picture when Will volunteers to babysit Andy’s and Laurie’s kids after bungling their invitation to become the youngest one’s godfather.

The Will/Marcus byplay is key, though. And the kid definitely knows how to work a line. After playing along as a prop in Will’s pursuit of a comely single mom (guest star Leslie Bibb) who thinks he’s the father of a cancer-afflicted son, Lucas leans in to whisper, “I own you” after first declaring, “I would say if it weren’t for my father, I’d be dead right now.”

Driver’s character is much slower to achieve traction. But by Episode 3, she’s winning points with lines like, “My son, Marcus, was a late pooper.” Hearing her say this in a British accent serves to double the fun.

In its lesser moments, About a Boy can be overly sweet and completely predictable -- but not nearly enough to ruin things. Solid writing and even sharper delivery (all without an intrusive laugh track) make this one of the season’s upper tier freshman comedies. A decent-sized, appreciative audience -- not a cult following -- is exactly what it deserves on a network that sorely needs at least a modest half-hour hit. C’mon viewers, go for it. There are promising signs that About a Boy will grow on you and only get better.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Fallon's first Tonight Show is A-OK whenever U2 takes charge


Jimmy takes the wheel, originating The Tonight Show from New York for first time since Johnny Carson went West in 1972. Photos: Ed Bark

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Let me entertain you, America. Please!

Or to try it another way: Love love him do. You know he loves you.

Jimmy Fallon’s inaugural Tonight Show Monday positioned him as the clear, affection-dispensing koala bear of late night hosts in competition with the comparatively dyspeptic David Letterman and the still much snarkier Jimmy Kimmel.

Buoyed by two blow-away performances by U2, Fallon got past a rather obsequious start in which he walked viewers through the basic mechanics of a monologue and said he’d be doing 10 minutes worth every night in case the Jay Leno faithful might have thought otherwise.

Fallon also stressed that he’s just a 39-year-old, happily married, proud new dad and former small-town guy who’s now living a dream and aiming to please. His stockily built parents were in attendance to laminate those mainstream credentials. And NBC didn’t shy away from showing them frequently in the early minutes.

The bread and butter of TV profitability may be younger audiences. But you don’t want to entirely kiss off the older crowd. Leno remained No. 1 across the board based on “tonnage.” He pounded all comers in total viewers while also luring a high enough percentage of 18-to-49-year-olds to more narrowly rule that roost. NBC and Fallon’s producer, Lorne Michaels, know that a true hit show needs both Grandpa Amos and Timmy Texter. Particularly in a very crowded late night arena where eyeballs are at a premium.

“I”ll make fun of everybody,” Fallon assured his opening night audience. “Anyone I can make fun of I will. My goal is just to make you laugh and put a smile on your face so that you go to sleep with a smile on your face and live a longer life. Isn’t that the whole goal of what we’re doing? Have fun?”

Milton Berle couldn’t have said it any better during his reign as NBC’s first star some 65 years ago. Fallon then went behind the Tonight Show’s new multi-blue curtains for a re-introduction by announcer/sidekick Steve Higgins. A volley of amusing Winter Olympics jokes followed before the host first sat down at his new desk with the cool mock Manhattan skyline backdrop. Fallon thanked filmmaker Spike Lee for the show’s likewise new opening setup and promised that U2’s performance “is going to blow your pants off.” He had that right.

Then came a bit of business involving all those “surprise” celebrity walk-ons that really aren’t surprises at all. Leno’s final Tonight Show, on Feb. 6th, included a seven-member parade orchestrated by guest Billy Crystal and culminating with appearances by Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey. Fallon ended up doubling down after saying that a buddy owed him $100 after betting he’d never host the Tonight Show.


Lady Gaga was among those paying off her fake losing bet.

In strode Robert De Niro to plunk down a Benjamin. Thirteen -- count ‘em, 13 -- more celebs followed to the tune of an escalating audience whoop-o’-meter. Tina Fey, Joe Namath, Joan Rivers, Seth Rogen, Lady Gaga, Mike Tyson and Kim Kardashian -- to name a few. (Kardashian played both sides after also dropping in to usher Leno out.) Last in line was Stephen Colbert, who dumped a bucketful of pennies on both the host and his desk. After taking a selfie, he crowed, “Welcome to 11:30 (ET), bitch!” The celebrity procession could have been shorter, but Colbert definitely nailed the landing.

First guest Will Smith and Fallon returned after a commercial break to lay down “The Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing,” a followup to the gone viral “Evolution of Mom Dancing” in which the host and First Lady Michelle Obama made a perfect pair on his old NBC Late Night show.

Smith and Fallon got through this one all right, but it was nothing to text home about. Then came the first of U2’s show-stoppers, a performance of their new “Invisible” single atop the 70-story Rockefeller Center.


Bono and U2 showed they weren’t’ afraid of heights Monday night.

Paced as always by Bono, U2 showed that New York City is breathtaking at dusk from on high. Some live tweeters feared a trip, stumble or fall, but most were captivated by a sight like no other in the history of late night talk. Letterman and guests used to drop watermelons onto the Manhattan pavement from a fairly lofty perch. Those visuals now seem like caveman drawings.

Fallon’s sit-down interview with Smith was mostly a goo-fest, with the host asking for advice on how to handle the pressure and the guest telling him that the earlier celebrity turnout proved how much support he has. “I love you,” Fallon told Smith after handling him four custom-made t-shirts picturing Will, his wife, Jada, and their two children, Jaden and Willow.

It’s likely to pretty much be this way where guests are concerned. Fallon really isn’t interested in bringing any “edge” to his interviews. He wants all guests to feel comfortable, safe and therefore willing to participate in the various bits and competitions that set Fallon’s Late Night apart from the crowd. It might well work for him, but there’s also the risk of becoming a veritable Sammy Maudlin (the suck-up host of some hysterical SCTV sketches). Leno wasn’t exactly a buzz saw in interviews, but Fallon in comparison may be a butter knife. Letterman and Kimmel also have far sharper teeth, but Fallon is banking on boyish likability as his strong suit.

Monday’s show otherwise had a big finish, again thanks to U2. Fallon asked them if they’d like to show their musicianship by going acoustic while seated on the Tonight Show couch.

“Like one of those spontaneous show business moments where they appear from behind the couch?” Bono cracked. Beautiful.

The Edge began strumming the opening chords to “Stairway to Heaven” before the band settled into their planned performance of the Oscar-nominated “Ordinary Love” from the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

It proved to be magical, with Tonight’s The Roots band later joining in while Bono’s voice rang out like a perfectly chiming church bell. It gave Fallon’s first show an indelible send-off while also making Bono and U2 the best late night talk show guests in recent memory. There really should be a separate Emmy for that.

Fallon will do it all over again Tuesday with another imposing group of guests -- Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Lady Gaga. He’ll need time to settle in and find his way while the Leno crowd decides which host to embrace or whether to tune out all together. Even at age 39, though, Fallon comes off as the kind of kid you’d like to take home to meet your middle-aged or elderly parents. He certainly can be a charmer, although sometimes you need a little roughage, too.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net


U2 wraps it up, and all is well for now in the Tonight Show realm.

Reviewing Season 2 of House of Cards (after a full 13-episode immersion)


Sinister force: Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in House of Cards. Netflix photo

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Television’s preeminent power-seekers got exactly what they deserved over the weekend -- power-watching.

OK, Netflix technically isn’t TV. It’s a “streaming media” outlet that nonetheless plays very well on home screens. And although no viewing figures are available (because Netflix still doesn’t provide them), it’s a safe bet that lots of people already have devoured the entire Season 2 of House of Cards after all 13 episodes became available on Valentine’s Day.

I was one of them, opting to watch from start to finish rather than review House of Cards ahead of time based on seeing the first four hours via Netflix’s media site. Besides, a signed confidentiality agreement was required in return for the “privilege” of basically promoting the series. One had to solemnly pledge in writing not to give away any “spoilers.” That seems a bit too much like having to dispense a urine sample. What, we otherwise can’t be trusted? Sorry, but no thanks.

No worries, though. There won’t be any big reveals here because that’s essentially unfair to readers who haven’t yet seen for themselves. You’ve perhaps heard, though. There’s a major jolt in Episode 1 of Season 2. And it cements Kevin Spacey’s Francis “Frank” Underwood as a far more heinous evil-doer than Bryan Cranston’s Walter White on Breaking Bad. At least “Mr. White” was looking out for his family. Underwood and his equally willful wife, Claire (Robin Wright), are solely consumed with amorally dividing and conquering. And when everything is clicking for them, it’s time for a shared cigarette.

Although he’s connived and schemed his way to within a heartbeat of the presidency, Frank isn’t officially sworn in as the veep until the start of Episode 2. This allows him to skulk around without a Secret Service escort. And yes, there are still a few fires to put out before his ascendancy can be seamless.

Claire also has some unfinished business. Welcome to Cruella de Vil-ville when she informs a recalcitrant former ally, “I’m willing to let your child wither and die inside of you if that’s what’s required.”

Post- jaw drop, Episode 1 ends just perfectly. Frank, who hasn’t talked directly to viewers yet, finally throws a haymaker through the “Fourth Wall” by noting that “for those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one law. Hunt or be hunted. Welcome back.”

A close-up of his new pair of initialed cufflinks, a birthday gift from Frank’s loyal chauffeur, provides optimum closure. How very aptly he’s named.

House of Cards relentlessly pushes the Underwoods’ agenda -- to wrest the presidency from Garrett Walker (Michael Gill). The President and First Lady Tricia Walker (Joanna Going) in time become more than stick figures. But he’s too often gratingly ineffectual in the early going before getting something of a fix on Frank -- for a while at least.

Season 2 also greatly fleshes out billionaire businessman Raymond Tusk (fine work by Gerald McRaney), who has the ear of the President until Frank mucks things up. A comparatively peripheral character in Season 1, Tusk becomes Frank’s principal adversary in an escalating, no-holds barred battle. Some of this isn’t all that easily grasped. Still, the ins and outs of Chinese trade policy and money laundering eventually come out in the wash while the two sides blackmail and extort each other.

A major new character, Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker), is hand-picked by Frank to be the new House Majority Whip. He appreciates her “ruthless pragmatism,” which doesn’t make Sharp particularly unique among all the scorpions inhabiting Congress. Our real-life elected officials already are held in depressingly low esteem. House of Cards is a full house on that score. Hell, even the AARP can be easily bought off, even if this is only a brief side reference in Episode 4.

Journalistic crusaders are still hoping to reel the Underwoods in. Let’s just say they’re up against very hard targets who end up having their hands fuller with the aforementioned Tusk.

Wright’s Claire Underwood remains icily fixed on the ultimate prize, but on occasion falls victim to slight onsets of semi-sympathetic vulnerability. But the most affecting character in House of Cards turns out to be hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint owner Freddy Armstrong (Reg. E. Cathey), whose ribs delight Frank every time he stops by.

Freddy’s back story and current entanglements are fleshed out in a terrific Episode 9 directed by Jodie Foster. Will the uncommon bond he has with Frank survive the fallout?

A number of real-life TV journalists again happily traipse through House of Cards in mostly cameo appearances. Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity, Candy Crowley, Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Major Garrett and Morley Safer are all present and accounted for. But the biggest splash by far is from Ashleigh Banfield, who turns out to be quite good at playing herself during an extended and pivotal Episode 4 interview with Claire Underwood.

The opening theme music for House of Cards remains in place and note-perfect in both its accelerations and dour intonations. It’s been said that the Underwoods and their supporting players are thoroughly joyless in their pursuits. “All you can offer me is Ethics (meaning the committee), which nobody wants,” one congressional veteran tellingly tells another during their clash for the Majority Whip post.

But while not a bundle of joy, Frank Underwood clearly takes considerable delight in his machinations. They can be vexing and stressful to be sure. But no one’s having a better time than him when he says in Episode 3, “There are two types of vice presidents -- doormats and matadors. Which do you think I intend to be?”

At the close of Episode 4, Frank even breaks into a little song at his wife’s request. “Oh Polly, pretty Polly” it goes. But she never asks for a cracker.

Season 2 also works in an Edward Snowden-type cyber avenger, a three-way sex scene whose participants might surprise you and the continued tribulations of Frank’s very tightly wound chief of staff, Douglas Stamper (Michael Kelly).

Not everything meshes perfectly. But far more often than not, House of Cards remains an absorbing tale of high-level government dysfunction populated by double-dealers who hold their aces under the table. Netflix already has ordered a Season 3. And as you’ll see at the end of this one, Frank and Claire remain very much all in.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Invasion from Planet Hollywood? Cute teen aliens abound in The CW's Star-Crossed


Aimee Teegarden and Matt Lanter star in Star-Crossed. CW photo

Premiering: Monday, Feb. 17th at 7 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Aimee Teegarden, Matt Lanter, Grey Damon, Titus Makin, Jr., Malese Jow, Chelsea Gilligan, Greg Finley, Natalie Hall, Jonathan Schaech
Produced by: Josh Applebaum, Meredith Averill, Andre Nemec, Adele Lim

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Little green men or long-necked, E.T.-shaped aliens need not apply when The CW network is shopping for creatures from another planet.

Instead they need to be hunky or beauteous in order to facilitate longing looks, teenage lust and other sexual urges. So the Atrians from Atria are set apart only by a wide variety of facial markings that might make Mike Tyson envious. Even though there are unconfirmed rumors that the males “have three penises -- small, medium and extra large,” according to a willful Marshall High School “social queen” named Taylor (Natalie Hall).

Star-Crossed, premiering Monday, Feb. 17th, further underscores CW’s determination to be a Syfy Jr. populated by otherworldly young catalysts. Its lone remaining down-to-earth, present-day scripted series, Hart of Dixie, now seems as out of place as Miley Cyrus opening for The Oak Ridge Boys in Branson.

Here’s the deal. In 2014, the Atrians crash-landed in the small town of Marshall during the course of fleeing their dying planet. In the narrative words of a now grown-up Roman (Matt Lanter), “It was meant to be a day of liberation. Refuge. But for everyone on Earth, it was invasion. The humans left us no choice but to defend ourselves.”

Before being caught and seemingly killed, little Roman fled to a backyard shed and met the very helpful little Emery Whitehill (Aimee Teegarden from Friday Night Lights). She brought him a blanket that night and cold spaghetti the next morning. They exchanged smiles before uniformed humanoids burst in and plugged the boy.

Ten years later, teenage Emery is out jogging after spending four years recovering from some sort of serious illness. Meanwhile, seven teenage Atrians living in a heavily guarded government “Sector” have been chosen to “integrate” Marshall High as part of a controversial social experiment. Wouldn’t you know that one of them is Roman. Wouldn’t you know this also will mark Emery’s return to school? And wouldn’t you know that the loud, picketing protestors are depicted as a collective group of room temp IQ yahoos? One of them brandishes a “This Is My Land” placard.

Star-Crossed nonetheless has some promise -- and a little wit, too. Being in school has its benefits, says one of the male Atrians. “At least we don’t have to worry about ‘Temblar’ guns pointed at our heads.”

“Or worse, glee club,” adds a female of his species.

Emery of course is fated to recognize Roman, whose father, Nox (Jason Douglas), is leader of the entire and quite sizable Atrian contingent. She remains sensitive to the Atrians’ plight. So do Emery’s best friends, Lukas (Titus Makin, Jr.) and Jules (Malese Jow), who’s in serious danger of dying from cancer.

Roman otherwise is taunted and physically attacked by the high school’s punk brigade. A teacher who’s been championing the assimilation effort nonetheless tells Roman to stop acting ”like an animal.” Because otherwise he’ll have his testicles “put in a jar” for the purpose of medical study by military doctors.

“We don’t want that. I don’t want that,” the teacher says in a ludicrous line that perhaps should be bottled for the ages.

“And my testicles definitely don’t want that,” Roman ripostes. The kid’s got moxie. And this show clearly has a jones for male private parts.

Episode 2 (Feb. 24th), also made available for review, considerably ramps up the scheming and double-dealing. Roman’s newly more powerful Uncle Castor (Jonathan Schaech) shifts into duplicitous over-drive. And Robert Vartan (Marcus Hester), bearded, deep-drawling, unkempt head of the town’s Redhawk faction, shares his thoughts at a school board meeting to decide if the Atrians will be allowed to attend Marshall’s annual homecoming carnival.

“God said let us make man in our image,” he decrees. “After our likeness. And let them have dominion over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

The guy is so laughably over-the-top oily that conservative TV and radio hosts will be entitled to whatever field days they might be planning. And Vartan, judging from the closing scene in Episode 2, is set to be more than just a peripheral character after first branding Emery a “race traitor bitch.”

Star-Crossed looks as though it intends to take itself very seriously as an allegory for a futuristic brand of race relations. It’s also a budding love story, with Emery and Roman blowing hot and cold for one another while a seemingly goodly human student named Grayson (Grey Damon) hopes to cut in and claim her.

For those occasional grins, there’s also the aforementioned Taylor, who’s all that with a vengeance when the homecoming carnival is in jeopardy.

“When they start messing with tradition,” she says, “that’s when I go turbo-bitch! I mean, is nothing sacred?”

The CW has enjoyed some modest success this season with the freshman series Reign and The Originals, both of which have been picked up for next fall. Star-Crossed has the potential to make it a threesome while navigating its way through attempted social relevance and basic high school dynamics.

In the latter case, a muscular, short-tempered Atrian named Drake (Greg Finley) may be onto something when he snorts at Taylor, “Show me your school spirit, I’ll show you mine.”

It looks as though she kind of digs that.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

R.I.P. Sid Caesar: Sept. 8, 1922 to Feb. 12, 2014


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The Sid Caesar appreciation society shrank to near invisibility in the many years since he made a big name for himself as the star of the truly groundbreaking Your Show of Shows.

It left NBC on the night of June 5, 1954. And after a followup show called Caesar’s Hour died in 1958, its host gave in to a steady diet of pills, booze and despondency. It was all recounted in his 1982 autobiography, Where Have I Been?. Chapter 18, titled “It Was All One Big Black Blob,” begins with, “Depression. it rolled over me like a giant fog.”

Caesar died on Wednesday, Feb. 12th at age 91. He had been in poor health for some time, but still mustered the energy to appear at a July 2005 panel tied to PBS’ first edition of its ongoing Pioneers of Television series. Caesar was in a wheelchair, and the session ended up being dominated by a still sharp as a tack Red Buttons making fun of Mickey Rooney. That became the takeaway for most TV writers in attendance.

Caesar’s true last hurrah came in 2001, when he accepted the Television Critics Association lifetime achievement award. His acceptance speech, which he delivered on his feet, was a tour de force of old bits from his salad days. A prolonged standing ovation washed over him. He could have stayed all night.

Your Show of Shows, all of it performed live, birthed the comedy team of Caesar and Imogene Coca while also spotlighting repertory players Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. Besides Caesar and Reiner, the show’s writing staff included Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. Future M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbart joined in for Caesar’s Hour and Woody Allen wrote for several of Caesar’s TV specials.

In the liner notes for Where Have I Been?, Gelbart says, “Thinking of a writer as a composer, there is no greater instrument through which to hear your notes played than Sid Caesar.”

Fellow TV pioneer Steve Allen, first host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, wrote that “Caesar is to the history of television comedy what Charlie Chaplin was to film comedy.”

Some of Caesar’s very best sketches were packaged in 10 From Your Show of Shows. Released in 1973, it re-birthed Caesar and company on many college campuses. I remember first seeing it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The sendup of This Is Your Life (reprised in the video below) had nearly everybody in convulsions.

Caesar ended up winning two Emmy awards and was among the sophomore class inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985. Still, he’s been deemed unfit for the Kennedy Center Honors. And since they fete only the living, not the dead, it’s now too late for him.

During Your Show of Shows, and long after its cancellation, Caesar never tired of telling people that it was all done live. All 90 minutes of it in a Saturday night time slot that first pitted his program against pro wrestling and then pro football on the old Dumont network. The pressures and frenetic pace combined to make him an alcoholic who drank to excess over his success while also deeming himself unworthy of it.

The late Milton Berle and his Texaco Star Theater ended up being the “Mr. Television” of the early 1950s while I Love Lucy lives on as that era’s prototypical TV sitcom. Without question, Sid Caesar also belongs on that Mount Rushmore. His death closes the curtain on one of the last of the great small screen innovators.

Now here’s a classic that still cracks me up.

Email comments or questions to unclebarky@verizon.net

American Experience heads West again with true stories of Butch and Sundance



The movie versions and genuine articles shot in a Fort Worth photography studio. Butch is on the right in black-and-white photo.

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Care to have your Wild West heroes and villains de-mythologized?

PBS’ long-running American Experience series does it again with Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Tuesday, Feb. 11th at 8 p.m. central) after previous dissections of Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, George Armstrong Custer, Annie Oakley, Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill and Billy the Kid (which encores before Butch and Sundance).

The famed 1969 film starred Paul Newman and Robert Redford at the heights of their glamorous powers, with Katharine Ross assisting as Sundance’s girlfriend, Etta Place. Butch and Sundance went out in a blaze of glory, freeze-framed and out-gunned in the act of their last stand against a big batch of Bolivian soldiers.

Their real-life demises were decidedly less legendary but won’t be revealed here. Besides, the movie wouldn’t have worked with that kind of an ending -- and perhaps still wouldn’t.

The PBS documentary is written, produced and directed by John Maggio, who performed the same duties on Billy the Kid. It’s a solidly workmanlike effort, with a small posse of writers and historians called upon to dramatize matters with their usual certitudes. Such as, “This is a dangerous game they’re playing.” One of the experts, Thom Hatch, bears a more than passing resemblance to the late character actor Strother Martin, who played a supporting role in the Butch and Sundance feature film.

Butch was born Robert Leroy Parker to a large Mormon family while Sundance arrived as Harry Longabaugh, the future pride of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. You’ll learn how they got their bank- and train-robber names, why they became a dying breed and how they just happened to have their last formal photos taken during an undercover stop-off in Fort Worth.

Neither man could match Newman or Redford in looks. But a picture of the real-life Etta Place, of whom little is otherwise known, shows her to be quite a turn-of-the-century cutie.

This isn’t one of American Experience’s more epic efforts. Still, it’ll do while the series figures out what to do with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Bat Masterson. Surely their times are coming.


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Leno's star-adorned final Tonight (plus quavering exit speech)


Jay Leno’s voice broke at outset of his closing remarks. Photo: Ed Bark

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Johnny Carson’s last Tonight Show, on May 22, 1992, came and went without any guests at all.

Jay Leno in contrast loaded up while all the while insisting he didn’t know what “surprises” were in store for him Thursday night.

But both men delivered emotional farewells, showing sides of them that were seldom in evidence during their respective 30- and 22-year tenures in charge of network television’s most storied late night franchise.

“Boy, this is the hard part,” Leno said, his voice breaking for the first of several times. “This has been the greatest 22 years of my life.”

Jimmy Fallon will succeed him on Feb. 17th in a transition that’s been much smoother this time around even though it still seems to make little sense to dump a guy who remains a dominant No. 1 in all major late night audience measurements.

Whether he fully meant it or not, Leno made it a point to praise Fallon and close the door firmly on any return during his monologue and farewell remarks.

“I don’t like goodbyes. NBC does. I don’t care for ‘em,” Leno said for openers after being greeted with the expected standing ovation from his studio audience. “Tonight is our last show for real. See, I don’t need to get fired three times. I get the hint.”

While signing off, Leno said he is “really excited for Jimmy Fallon,” of whom he’s “proud.” The Tonight Show is a “great institution,” he said, and “I am so glad I got to be a part of it. But it really is time to go, hand it off to the next guy. It really is. And in closing, I want to quote Johnny Carson, who was the greatest guy to ever do this job. He said, ‘I bid you all a heartfelt goodnight.’ “

It seemed that Leno was seeking to atone for not mentioning Carson at all when he officially took over Tonight on May 25, 1992. But he flubbed the quote just a bit. What Carson actually said was, “I bid you a very heartfelt goodnight.”

NBC had announced Leno’s last guests -- Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks -- a few weeks earlier. But then came an onslaught, both via videotape and onstage. During his long tenure, Leno positioned himself as a friend of Hollywood in search of “friends of the show.” Brooks said as much, telling viewers that Leno always extended a hand to show biz stars looking to get in touch with their audience (and sell their latest products, of course).

Crystal, who also was Leno’s first Tonight Show guest, as usual came prepared with special material. And he delivered with a “So long, farewell” Sound of Music-themed tribute in which Jack Black, Kim Kardashian, Chris Paul, Sheryl Crow, Jim Parsons, Carol Burnett and Oprah Winfrey sequentially walked onstage to do their parts. Winfrey sang, “So long, farewell, you’ve really raised the bar. If you were me, you’d buy them all a car.”

Parsons, the Emmy Award-winning co-star of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, warbled that Leno’s “great success” has been dubbed “The Big Chin Theory.”

Earlier, in a pre-taped “What’s Next For Jay?” segment, an even bigger constellation of stars chipped in. Roll call in order of appearance: Steve Carell, Olivia Wilde, Kevin Bacon, Bob Costas, President Obama, Bill Maher, Matt Damon, Miley Cyrus, Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Hart, Dana Carvey, Charlie Sheen, Tyler Perry, Martha Stewart, Larry the Cable Guy and Fallon.

Sheen perhaps had the sagest advice, telling Leno, “I know that you have saved, unlike me, every penny you have ever made . . . You can just buy NBC and fire everybody.”

David Letterman, the man he’s consistently pounded in the ratings, did not make any cameo appearances. But Leno sought to douse any perceived or real antagonisms, telling viewers, “We like each other. We’ve had a long relationship.” Besides, millionaires fighting with one another are “what Republican primaries are for,” he cracked.

Leno hand-picked his closing song, requesting that Brooks perform “The Dance.” It’s a great tune with some apt lyrics, including, “I could have missed the pain. But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

Leno regularly served as a punching bag while helming Tonight. Indeed he could never measure up to Johnny. Who really could? Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel, both of whom repeatedly ridiculed Leno during the Conan O’Brien mess, are seen by most critics (including this one) as sharper, funnier, cooler late night hosts. Even if Letterman now only sporadically rises to his past glories while Kimmel increasingly cozies up to a Hollywood he used to hold in almost complete contempt.

This indeed may be Leno’s last hurrah in late night, although it’s never been a smart bet to write him off. He used to be a revered, smart ass young comic, the toast of his peers. At age 63, expect his reputation to improve with age. Fallon will learn soon enough that he has big shoes to fill -- and not just in the ratings game that Leno played so well.

You don’t survive for nearly 22 years -- most of them at the top of the late night ratings heap -- if you aren’t striking responsive chords with your audience. All of those who took delight in “never” watching Leno can now find someone else to pillory. But in the end, he came, he saw and he conquered with a common everyman touch that the “smart” money never bets on.

I wasn’t a big fan. But those who were enabled Leno to win the battle. And he can live with that.

THE RATINGS -- NBC says that Leno drew 14.6 million viewers for Thursday’s finale, his largest Tonight Show audience since May 1998 (15.0 million on the night of the Seinfeld finale). It also ranked as his fourth most-watched Tonight.

Leno’s first farewell, when he gave way to Conan O’Brien before NBC’s do-over, had 11.9 million viewers. The most-watched Tonight Show with Leno as host was on May 20, 1993, when 22.4 million viewers witnessed a special live edition from Boston tied to the Cheers finale. Several cast members were clearly inebriated on that night. Leno’s May 25, 1992 debut as Tonight host ranks second with 16.1 million viewers.

Johnny Carson’s May 22, 1992 Tonight finale averaged 42 million viewers, a mark that no late night host can ever hope to approach.

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CBS doubles its NFL pleasure with new Thursday night package next season


Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will helm new Thursday night NFL package. CBS photo

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CBS has doubled down on NFL football in a new deal that will give the network Thursday night games for the first half of the 2014 season.

The arrangement also makes CBS a full partner with cable’s NFL Network, which will simulcast the first eight games of next season. NFL network then will be the exclusive network for eight later season games, but the CBS A-team of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be in the booth for all 16 games. The league says that NFL Network will be home to six Thursday night games and two-late season matchups on Saturday.

CBS’ partnership with NFL Network is similar to the ongoing ABC/ESPN arrangement, only in reverse. In that case, the cable network produces sports programming for ABC. In this case, CBS will produce the NFL games for its new cable partner while also retaining its Sunday afternoon NFL package. The Thursday night arrangement so far is only for the 2014 season, “with an additional year at the NFL’s option,” according to a publicity release.

“CBS is a premium content company and the NFL represents the best premium content there is,” CBS Corp. present and CEO Leslie Moonves said in a statement. “I look forward to all this new deal will do for us not only on Thursday nights, but across our entire schedule.”

Prime-time’s most popular comedy series, The Big Bang Theory, currently leads off CBS’ Thursday schedule. The night also accommodates Two and a Half Men, two first-year sitcoms -- The Millers and The Crazy Ones -- and the popular Elementary drama series. All five shows will either have to be moved to new nights or delayed until later next season. In the case of Two and a Half Men, The Millers and The Crazy Ones, cancellation is also an option.

The CBS/NFL Network deal comes on the heels of Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII ranking as television’s most-watched program ever (with 112.2 million viewers) despite being a 43-8 blowout win by Seattle over Denver.

Live television events, ranging from the NFL to the Golden Globes to the Grammys, increasingly are in vogue during times of both audience fragmentation and increasing use of “social media” such as Twitter and Facebook. Real-time tweeting ramps up during such events, making them resistant to DVR recording for later viewing. Networks and advertisers still prefer television viewing at appointed hours. DVR playback also is very likely to include skipping through commercials.

CBS and NBC now will both have prime-time showcases for the NFL, with the Peacock’s Sunday package again ranking No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings this season. NBC’s Sunday Night Football remains the NFL’s showcase event, but CBS now will have the bigger NFL presence with weekly games on two nights of the week.

ABC, once a pathfinder with its Monday Night Football franchise, remains the only Big Four broadcast network without any NFL games.
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Blowout-defying Super Bowl XLVIII sets new national ratings record (updated with revised final numbers)


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Averaging 112.2 million viewers nationally, Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII on Fox vaulted past the 2012 game (111.3 million) to become the most-watched television program ever.

The new mark was set despite the Seattle Seahawks’ 43-8 rout of the favored Denver Broncos, who trailed 22-0 at halftime and never made anything resembling a comeback. It was the first Super Bowl played in a cold weather locale in an outdoor stadium, even though the weather at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium was unseasonably balmy.

Fox says that its post-Super Bowl attractions, New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, respectively drew 26.3 million and 15.1 million viewers.

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