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Westward bound for another TV "press tour" extravaganza in sunny Southern California


Le oink a la blanquette, Monsieur Uncle Barky? Photo: Ed Bark

The annual summer Television Critics Association “press tour” beckons anew, and your friendly content provider once again is heeding the call.

It’ll all begin with a bang -- a late Monday afternoon screening of FX’s opening Season 2 episode of Fargo -- before settling into a daily pattern of one interview session after another and usually a nighttime “working” party.

This one stretches all the way from July 27 through Aug. 13th. And for at least one more time, let’s try to go the distance. Which means I’ll again be writing exclusively for New York-based tvworthwatching.com to help make a few ends meet while giving unclebarky.com a break from any postings until my return.

You can find my tvww press tour posts right here, although the site won’t be back up until Monday or at the latest, Tuesday, due to a major server crash. I’ll also be tweeting my brains out -- hopefully not literally -- whenever anything of note happens either on press tour or back in D-FW regarding TV newsroom hires or fires. You can find the tweets via @unclebarkycom.

Meanwhile, I’ve left behind a quartet of reviews of TV attractions that are premiering while I’m away. In chronological order with links, here they are:

***Wet Hot American Summer (Netflix) -- begins streaming on Friday, July 31st.

***West Texas Investors Club (CNBC) -- premieres on Tuesday, Aug. 4th.

***Mr. Robinson (NBC) -- premieres on Wednesday, Aug. 5th.

***America’s Next Weatherman (TBS) -- premieres on Saturday, Aug. 8th.

OK, I think that takes care of everything. And away I go.
Ed Bark

Trickle down humor in TBS' America's Next Weatherman


Matt Oberg (middle) hosts America’s Next Weatherman. TBS photo

Premiering: Saturday, Aug. 8th at 10 p.m. (central) on TBS
Hosted by: Matt Oberg, with 12 contestants trying to put themselves on the map
Produced by: Mark Burnett, Dean Houser, Mike Farah, Joe Ferrell

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Technically the full title is Funny or Die Presents America’s Next Weatherman. So maybe at least some of the show’s 12 contestants are salaried comedians doing bits rather than actually aspiring to win $100,000 and a guest shot on CNN’s early morning New Day.

Not that the “reality competition” genre isn’t already well-stocked with nut cases, whether it’s Survivor or The Bachelor or Big Brother. But even by those “standards,” a would-be pastor named Drew is not to be fully believed during the course of the Saturday, Aug. 8th premiere. There will be eight one-hour episodes in all.

Your host is Matt Oberg, who most recently co-starred in FX’s since canceled The Comedians as a head writer named Mitch Reed. Oberg attempts to bring a serio-comic sensibility to America’s Next Weatherman, goofing on both himself and the 12 wanna be’s under his supervision. But like any television temperature-taker, he’s hit and miss in this respect before climactically scoring with what will be the show’s trademark kiss-off of weekly evictees.

The entire enterprise is cloudy with a chance of meatheads. The aforementioned Drew is front and center, but a sculpted, tattooed poser named Frank has his moments. As does self-styled “weather nerd” Jeff, who says, “Deep down I’m that Category 5 hurricane. And I’m coming for you guys.”

Hopefuls are equally split between men and women. A former Miss Ohio named MacKenzie makes a quick impression with her dummy, Roxie. Peripheral “TV host“ Jenn showcases her principal weathercasting skills by jogging along the beach. Her endowments are enough to obscure a good portion of Texas on any standard-sized TV weather map. Many viewers might consider that an acceptable tradeoff.

The initial “Skill Drill” requires all 12 contestants to hold microphones to their mouths while it snows and then rains on them. Coffee mugs are added to increase the weight of the mike and mike stand until a lone survivor wins an immunity-guaranteeing “Press Pass” but not an AMS Seal of Approval.

Retired Los Angeles weather legend Johnny Mountain and former Fox NFL pre-game show temperature-taken Jillian Barber later are introduced as judges or something. They’re around for the “Wall O’ Weather” competition between Red and Blue Teams. It requires a passing knowledge of geography, with teams required to affix the correct weather icon on the right locale.

Oberg, after returning from a “Confessional” in which he questions his hosting abilities, gets back into the flow nicely by challenging contestants with, “This city sounds like it was named after a plumber with low-riding pants. It’s 77 degrees with fog in Caracas, Venezuela.”

This particular competition goes on too long, though, even though it’s cut short by one team winning decisively. Then it’s on to the closing forecast vs. forecast segment between two undesirables nominated by their respective teams. But uh-oh, the TelePrompTer’s rigged. And what the hoo-hah, one of the contestants then stuns the host and everyone else by just . . .

As has been written a number of times in these spaces, weathercasters have become the MVPs of local TV news operations across the land. So whoever wins this thing -- and then appears on CNN’s New Day -- could well be hired by a station looking to capitalize on the attendant free publicity.

The show itself gets only a semi-promising forecast. It’s kind of all over the map for starters, with the funny business sometimes peeking through the clouds while also hiding behind them.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

NBC's Mr. Robinson is a throwback that should have been thrown back


Craig Robinson (center) is singer/teacher in Mr. Robinson. NBC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Aug. 5th at 8 p.m. (central) with back-to-back episodes on NBC
Starring: Craig Robinson, Peri Gilpin, Meagan Goode, Ben Koldyke, Brandon T. Jackson, Spencer Grammer, Amandla Stenberg, Tim Bagley
Produced by: Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen, Howard Klein, Mark Schulman, Andy Ackerman

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
While TV Land strives to get “edgier,” NBC seems intent on becoming the new TV Land with its latest dated sitcom.

The Peacock’s Mr. Robinson takes a broad, punch-in-the-face punchline approach and drenches it with an oft-unwarranted laugh track. It’s the increasingly old-fashioned “multi-cam” format as opposed to “single-cam” shows that generally are subtler in tone and without canned or studio audience guffaws. TV Land lately has gone that route with its new trio of Younger, The Jim Gaffigan Show and Impastor.

Craig Robinson, who plays Craig Robinson in Mr. Robinson, has known the glory of NBC’s single-cam The Office. In this reworked and recast version of the original Mr. Robinson pilot (which co-starred Jean Smart among others), he’s still the lead singer and keyboardist of a funk bar band called Nasty Delicious. Robinson’s also been subbing as a music teacher on the side, which ends up being the main focus of this six-episode, set-in-Chicago series.

Filling in at Studs Terkel High School in hopes of rekindling a dashed romance with English teacher Victoria Wavers (Meagan Good), Craig very predictably encounters a batch of wacky co-teachers and an abrasive principal named Christine Taylor (Frasier alum Peri Gilpin in place of Smart).

“In my class, we don’t just listen to music. We make music,” Craig tells his mostly pliable class before coaxing a quartet of kids to participate.

Doofus physical education teacher Jimmy Hooper (Ben Koldyke), who dubs himself “Magnum P.E.,” is in constant full strut while Indian colleague Samir (Asif Ali) keeps trying to invent something to make him rich (such as “substitute beef” in Episode 2). Another teacher, Ashleigh Fellows (Kelsey Grammer’s daughter, Spencer Grammer), moonlights as a pole dancer. There’s also goofy school supervisor Dalton (Tim Bagley). For some reason he’s super-impressed with Craig’s band, which also includes his ambitious but awkward younger brother Ben (Brandon T. Jackson).

NBC initially planned to pair Mr. Robinson on Wednesday nights with another broad multi-cam comedy, The Carmichael Show. But each series now will get three weeks worth of back-to-back episodes, with Carmichael Show kicking in on Aug. 26th instead of the 5th.

The second Mr. Robinson episode, subtitled “Flesh For Fantasy,” is an altogether dreadful followup to the mediocre premiere. Gary Cole guests as burned out British rocker Neville Rex, who has a string of hits in his past and a community service requirement in his future. So Craig invites him to speak to his class, prompting a reunion between Neville and Principal Taylor, known as “Tight Fit” during her days as a rock band hanger-on.

“I know every inch of this vixen. Outside and three inches in,” Neville crows. That kind of writing merits a lifetime of community service.

Craig again ends up in a situation where he can either do the right thing or act in his own self-interest. Gee, wonder which path he’ll take.

Mr. Robinson has an appealing star in Craig Robinson, but the show itself is gratingly forced and formulaic. NBC may think it can go back to the future and still regale present-day audiences. But the network’s Diff’rent Strokes/Facts of Life hit parade is long past high-stepping.

GRADE: C-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

CNBC's West Texas Investors Club positions itself as unscrubbed Shark Tank


The principal money movers of West Texas Investors Club. CNBC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Aug. 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on CNBC
Starring: Mike “Rooster” McConaughey, Wayne “Butch” Gilliam, Gil Prather
Produced by: Charlie Ebersol, Jason Henry, Mike Lanigan

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Ain’t too hard to figure out what West Texas Investors Club is all about.

It’s CNBC’s chicken-fried, long-necked, western-cut, suit-less, tieless, college degree-less homespun answer to the big success of ABC’s Shark Tank. In that mold, it’s fronted by two multi-millionaire, Midland-based oil pipe salesmen and a cackling old singer/songwriter whose snow white beard is big enough to conceal a small handgun.

They all get nicknames for the show’s purposes. That means that two of them now have two. Mike “Rooster” McConaughey, who’s also the older brother of Matthew McConaughey, is billed as “The Gunslinger.” Wayne “Butch” Gilliam is “The Hatchetman” and Gil Prather is “The Tenderizer.” CNBC has ordered eight one-hour episodes and made the first one (premiering on Aug. 4th) available for review. It’s more or less OK, but needs some giddy up.

Holed up at “The Clubhouse,” Rooster and Butch sip beers and talk turkey to visiting entrepreneurs after Prather chats them up and determines whether they’re gen-yoo-ine human beings.

The cigar-chewing Rooster, who contributes most of the talk-to-the-camera asides, says Prather is an invaluable third wheel. ”He distracts ‘em, but he learns all kinds of stuff off of ‘em,” is the way he puts it. Butch spouts the show’s overriding tagline: “We’re looking at the person first and the business second.”

Most of the first episode is devoted to Adam Garfield of Miami, whose SpeedETab app allows bar and restaurant goers to order and pay for drinks and food via their cell phones. This particular segment is subtitled “The Good, The App and the Ugly.”

On the other hand, the 27-year-old Adam is “kind of pretty, like that singer from Maroon 5,” Rooster says. He’s asking for a $600,000 investment in return for a 12 percent stake in his fledgling company. That would get him laughed out of the room on Shark Tank. But Rooster and Butch methodically play along, requiring Garfield to have a beer with them before they test-drive his invention at nearby Corky’s bar.

Rooster, who portrays himself as a prodigious beer drinker, agrees to use the app while Butch orders the old-fashioned way, which pretty much amounts to “Gimme another one, honey.”

Rooster is soon frustrated. “All of a sudden my dad gum SpeedETab crashes,” he laments. Wi-fi reception at Corky’s isn’t exactly state of the art, it seems.

Even so, things eventually get ironed out. Then Gil plays and sings a really purdy country ballad for Adam, who’s “such a decent young man.” This “means a lot,” Adam replies, sealing a little autumn/spring bromance between a modern-day Gabby Hayes and his young new tenderfoot protege. “I’m gonna bust my ass to try to get you funded, son,” the old-timer tells him. Shucks, man.

Next is “The Pow Wow” and finally, “The Negotiation.” Will Rooster and Butch bite? And if so, for how much? No need to spoil the “suspense,” which is compromised by things being dragged out for too long. This leaves scant time for the second entrepreneurs of the episode, Christy Chang and Amy Pepper from Potomac, Maryland. Their little segment is subtitled “No Country For Old Pen.” Rewrite!!!

Prather doesn’t even get to meet, greet and dissect these two. Instead they just show up at The Clubhouse and begin talking up their No Touch Pen, which is supposed to ward off finger contact with disease-spreading germs. They want $75 grand in return for 20 percent equity.

Rooster is highly insulted when one of the women tells him, “I know you like Heineken.” It’s as though she’d asked him to drink his own piss, which is West Texas for urine.

“How dare she say that to me,” he huffs. “I named my dad gum son Miller Lyte.” He’s not joking. He really did.

Well, it won’t surprise any viewer to learn that this potential deal is going south quicker than Butch can say, “This ain’t Russia. This is West Texas.”

The show’s 14 future entrepreneurs. all of them announced by CNBC, hail from anywhere but West Texas -- or Texas, period. Products will include the Invisible Undershirt, Miss Jenny’s Pickles and the My Back Sleeper Pillow.

West Texas Investors Club has the potential to go down easier than a six-pack of Miller Lite via Rooster’s delivery system. But as an “authentic” un-scrubbed offshoot of Shark Tank, it needs to pick up the pace and cut down on the corn pone palaver, some of which seems obviously pre-scripted. Shark Tank gets more done with five investors to service in a single hour. In future seasons -- should there be any -- West Texas Investors Club would be wiser to spend more time putting up. Sorry boys, but that goes hand-in-hand with a fair amount of shutting up and moving things along.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Netflix returns to camp with a winning Wet Hot American Summer prequel series

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Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black in “Zoot Suit” production number from Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. Netflix photo

Premiering: All eight episodes available for streaming on July 31st on Netflix
Starring: Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, Michael Ian Black, Lake Bell, Josh Charles, John Slattery, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, H. Jon Benjamin, Margueritte Moreau, Zak Orth, Marisa Ryan, Judah Friedlander, Nina Hellman, Ken Marino, A.D. Miles and Joe Lo Truglio with a host of star cameos
Produced by: Michael Showalter, David Wain, Howard Bernstein, Jonathan Stern, Peter Principato

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
At last comes the origin story of the talking mixed vegetables can.

Which is just one reason why it’s best to watch or re-watch 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer before diving into its Netflix prequel, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp. That way it will all make at least a little bit of absurd sense.

There’s ample time to do both. The original indy movie, which served as a little launchpad for both big and estimable stars, is currently available to Netflix subscribers. And the eight half-hour episodes of First Day of Camp won’t be streaming until Friday, July 31st.

Netflix made six of them available for review. They have more than enough laugh out loud moments to justify this completely unexpected return trip to Camp Firewood, circa the summer of 1981. Every single young counselor of import is back for another go, with the likes of Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Meloni contributing far more than brief walk-throughs.

There’s also a cavalcade of star cameos -- Chris Pine, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Jordan Peele, “Weird Al” Yankovic, etc. -- and five longer-term new characters played by John Slattery, Lake Bell, Jason Schwartzman, Josh Charles and David Wain, who directed both the movie and the prequel and also co-wrote them.

The other overall maestro is creator, co-executive producer and co-writer Michael Showalter, who continues in the central role of hapless, lovelorn camp counselor Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg. Of all the returnees, Showalter’s physical appearance is the most notably changed. Let’s kindly say he’s considerably chunkier while the 46-year-old Rudd (currently starring in Ant-Man) is The Fountain of Youth personified. He’s still in his wheelhouse as twentysomething camp counselor Andy, a cool, flippant, gross womanizer who heists every scene he’s in.

Andy’s arrival, skidding in on a motorcycle while making a classic dismount, is a 10 on a 1-to-10 scale of grand entrances. But Slattery’s not too far behind in Episode 1 as grandiose Broadway producer Claude Dumet, who’s first seen in a white mask layered over another white mask.

Dumet’s very Simon Cowell-ish treatment of auditioning teens is a highlight of Episode 4. This half-hour also includes Showalter’s imitation of a hard-punching President Reagan, Hamm’s explosive homage to No Country For Old Men and Andy’s view that “trees look weird if you squint at ‘em.” By the way, Hamm plays a high-level government assassin known as Falcon. In the Tilt-A-Whirl story structure of Wet Hot American Summer, this is well within the dotted lines.

As with the original, the prequel is without any nudity but with an abundance of decidedly adult language. A good deal of it comes from the mouth of a new camp kid named Drew (Thomas Barbusca), who’s constantly picking on the nerdish Kevin (David Bloom). The other new camp-goer is Amy (Hailey Sole), who’s uncommonly sweet and quiet. She likes Kevin and he likes her.

OK, enough with the G-rated fluff. Wet Hot American Summer is much more about the reliably vulgar counselors and directors. In this vein, Showalter disguises himself as serial defecator Patty Pancakes in Episode 2. But he’s also being a Good Samaritan during a sequence that leads to a riotously stinky exchange with counselor Donna (Lake Bell), his would-be girlfriend.

Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” remains the hard-rocking, perfectly apt theme song and “back stories” abound beyond how the talking mixed vegetables can came into being.

Also revealed is the initial relationship between the camp’s head chef (Christopher Meloni) and arts/crafts counselor Gail von Kleinenstein (Molly Shannon). The blossoming romance of counselors Ben and McKinley (Bradley Cooper, Michael Ian Black) comes to full flower while new counselor Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) is not what she seems and camp scientist Henry Newman (David Hyde Pierce) is still out of pocket but laying the groundwork for his arrival. Plus, there’s that problematic gurgling green toxic waste dump discovered by camp directors Beth (Janeane Garafolo) and Greg (Jason Schwartzman).

A majority of the storytelling gags rise above the purely juvenile, although sometimes just barely. Yes, it’s quite a conceit to have older actors playing half their ages or less -- and then mostly get away with it. Game, set, match goes to Amy Poehler’s counselor Susie, who tells Slattery’s Claude Dumet in Episode 6 that it would be imprudent to carry their budding relationship beyond the confines of Camp Firewood. “And besides,” she adds, “I’m 16 years old!”

Poehler in fact is 43. But who cares when everyone’s having this much fun?


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Mark Cuban as the President (hoo hah) in Syfy's Sharknado 3


Mark Cuban as President of United States & that other guy. Syfy photo

@unclebarkycom on Twittter
Purely fake or not, shark conqueror Finley “Fin” Shepard at least deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom more than past recipient Bill Cosby does these days.

And so he receives it, from a U.S. President played by Mark Cuban, during the opening minutes of Syfy’s Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! (Wednesday, July 22nd at 8 p.m. central)

Cuban, whose vice president is Ann Coulter, has a fair amount to do other than decorate Fin (Ian Ziering). The cheese ball action quickly kicks in when sharks begin raining down on D.C. And the Dallas Mavericks owner proves himself to be a better automatic weapons wielder and hand grenade tosser than thespian. Not that anyone is required to act up a storm under these circumstances.

“They used to call me a shark. But now I’m looked upon as a symbol of hope, a beacon of change,” Cuban’s Prez emotes while Ziering’s Fin affixes a straight face. Don’t worry. The human-devouring sharks are getting ready to rock again and mitigate the dialogue. One of them plops itself into the venerable marble lap of Abraham Lincoln while others prompt the President to declare, “Nobody attacks my house! This time it’s personal!” And so on.

As you can see from the title, this is the third movie in a Sharknado franchise that erupted out of nowhere, became a Twitter phenomenon and pumped considerable life into the nickel-and-dime careers of director Anthony C. Ferrante and screenwriter Thunder Levin. They team up again to throw all kinds of stuff up against the wall while charting new vistas in product placement. The end result is another two hours (minus commercials) of thoroughly mindless entertainment in which lots of celebrities are harmed at the end of their cameo appearances. We’ll abide by the network’s strong request to not specify “any character deaths.” But let’s note that Cuban remains among the living and ready for any further duty in Sharknado 4, which is teased at the end of the third “because we’re not done yet.”

Amid all the junk food goings-on is one instance of very questionable taste. The president, vice president, Fin and his brother-in law, Martin (Mark McGrath), replicate the classic pose of Marines who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima. Except that they’re impaling an airborne shark on the flag’s staff. Really!?

Viewers also are urged to vote on whether a certain main character should live beyond Wednesday’s third installment. As if there won’t be enough “social media” action already.

The celebrity drop-ins include six shameless stars of the Today show, with Matt Lauer and Al Roker taking a second bite while being joined by Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales, Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. Perhaps “shameless” is too strong a word. Because imagine what Good Morning America would do with this opportunity if Sharknado were airing on a Disney-owned network instead of being the property of NBC Universal.

David Hasselhoff joins in as Fin’s dad, Colonel Gil Shepard. And Bo Derek plays the easily vexed mother -- named May -- of Fin’s pregnant wife, April (Tara Reid). She now sports a prosthetic left hand after that nasty bit of business early in Sharknado 2.

Perhaps I went soft in the head from the first two-thirds or so of Sharknado 3, which didn’t include Hasselhoff. But from this perspective, he gives a performance that actually contains wee bits of nuance. The film takes off, literally and figuratively, when father and son are reunited at Cape Canaveral after some heavy promotion of NBC Universal’s Orlando theme park, which also is invaded by swirling swarms of sharks.

Returning to the third movie after skipping the second is Cassie Scerbo as Nova Clarke, a former bartender who’s still enamored of Fin. Preceded by her amply displayed cleavage, she’s now a leather-clad shark-hater who travels in an armored van with mechanic Lucas Stevens (Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle).

Various chainsaws also are back in action, with Sharknado 3’s opening credits including a pretty nifty variation on the James Bond movies’ opening silhouetted image. But this film otherwise isn’t as “good” as Sharknado 2: The Second One, which laid more inventive waste to New York City and included Judd Hirsch of Taxi fame as a cabbie.

Given the real-life shark attacks making big news this summer, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! may seem even more redundant than usual. Still, these things are largely sling-and-arrow proof, with nobody watching with any thought of being edified. Hell, even disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner of sexting fame has a brief role in this one, as an all-business NASA mission control guy. Oh hell yes.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Spike's Tut is a better than expected playground for kings and Kingsley


Ben Kingsley and Avan Jogia play the ruling class of Tut. Spike photo

Premiering: Sunday, July 19th at 8 p.m. (central) and continuing at the same time on Monday and Tuesday
Starring: Ben Kingsley, Avan Jogia, Sibylla Deen, Kylie Bunbury, Nonso Anozie, Alexander Siddig, Iddo Goldberg, Peter Gadiot
Produced by: Joel S. Rice, Michael Prupas, David Von Ancken, Michael Vickerman, Greg Gugliota, Sharon Levy, Jeremy Elice, Angela Mancuso

@unclebarkycom on Twitter
Hey, it’s not all that bad. And in the coin of Spike TV’s realm, that equates to being pretty good.

Weighing in at six hours and three nights, Tut is the young male-targeted network’s first original scripted drama since 2007, when Kill Point came and went. Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), wearing more eye and eyebrow liner than Dame Edna, serves as the patina amid a cast of mostly very telegenic unknowns. Principal among them is Avan Jogia as the “boy king” title character. Full name: Tutankhamun. Overriding impression: this Tut is a pretty boy par excellence.

Kingsley plays Grand Vizier Ay, cunning prime minister of the Egyptian empire and Tut’s principal advisor/manipulator. It affords the veteran thespian ample time to sneer, glower and smile thinly while also getting some verbal meat to chew on as the plot thickens. Which it does quite nicely and sometimes even a little surprisingly.

Tut is made Pharaoh at the tender age of nine after his father, King Akhenaten, is poisoned by a supposedly trustworthy servant. His queen is the stunning Ankhesenamun (Sibylla Deen), called Ankhe for short. Problem is, she’s also Tut’s sister, which complicates the royal succession line. Still, that didn’t particularly bother Jaime and Cersei Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

The other beauteous woman in Tut’s life is Suhad (Kylie Bunbury), initially derided as a common “beer whore” for selling him some suds during his occasional clandestine forays into town. There’s a problem here, too. She’s goodly but also half-Mitanni, a fierce tribe intent on overthrowing the Egyptian empire.

While Tut becomes increasingly smitten with Suhad, his sister/queen is romancing the studly Ka (Peter Gadiot), another commoner who’s secretly giving Tut sword fighting lessons. But the brawniest man in town is General Horemheb (Nonso Anozie), a beefy fighting machine whose ambitions run almost as deep as the scheming Grand Vizier Ay’s.

Just two more introductions. Lagus (Iddo Goldberg) is a warrior about town who initially has no use for Tut until getting to know him and becoming his trusted comrade in arms. And Alexander Siddig plays the nefarious high priest Amun, who will do anything in the name of the gods and in the interests of furthering his power . He comes complete with a nasty neck scar and likely would win a best-of-seven stare-off with Kingsley’s Ay.

Spike sent the entire miniseries for review, although Episodes 2 and 3 were “rough cuts” that include some temporary music borrowed from Game of Thrones and printed notations such as “Add blood spatter.”

There’s ample blood spilled, but nothing really approaching the grotesqueries of Game of Thrones or Starz’s Spartacus series. Unlike those two networks, Spike is advertiser-supported. So a little restraint is in order, as is a little rear view nudity but nothing frontal.

The plotting and counter-plotting in Tut are meshed with some fairly ambitious battle scenes and pulsating full-gallop chariot rides. Not everything is telegraphed, with Grand Vizier Ay in particular a fairly nuanced man of deception and feints. He also yearns to be Pharaoh, but all in due time. One must be patient, he counsels his festering illegitimate son, Nahkt (Alistair Toovey). “Opportunity,” he adds. “The lifeblood of history.”

Through it all, Ay’s eye makeup never runs -- even after he’s rebuked as a suitor by Ankhe, who terms him a “man of internal frustration” before flashing her naked body and then strutting off.

Ankhe later jealously clashes with Suhad, again exhibiting quite a way with words in telling her, “Your position, as with all women, is fleeting, at the whim of a man’s cock.”

It all builds to a roiling boil. Tut can be a hoot at times. But it’s also an increasingly involving cautionary tale of power-broking and arm-twisting that makes today’s fractious political climate seem like a soothing bubble bath.

The scenery, costuming, battles and young hunks and babes may well interest Spike’s core audience far more than Egypt as one big body politic. But listen up, impressionable young viewers. Kingsley’s Grand Vizier Ay has a timeless salient point to make as a prelude to an emotionally satisfying finish. “There is no real truth in this world,” he says in a rather kindly way. “Only one’s perception of it.”

The perception going in was that Tut would be a laughable feast. My truth going out is that it plays out much better than anticipated. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor was Egypt. Spike’s return to the scripted word isn’t Shakespeare. But it is a decent foundation on which to build a more respectable reputation.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

HBO and Game of Thrones repeat as top Emmy nominees

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HBO’s Game of Thrones and Amazon’s Transparent topped the drama and comedy series nominations for the 67th annual Emmy Awards.

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HBO and its most popular series ever, Game of Thrones, again led all networks and series in prime-time Emmy nominations announced Thursday.

Each upped their totals from last year, with HBO nabbing 126 nods (compared to 99 last year) while GOT went from 19 to 24 nominations.

In the comedy series division, Amazon Instant Video struck it rich with 11 nominations for Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as a gender-changing middle-aged dad. Sound familiar? The broadband “streaming” network also received a single nomination for the detective series Bosch, making it a quantum leap to 12 total compared to none last year.

HBO’s Veep was the next most-nominated comedy series, with nine, while AMC’s Mad Men and Neftlix’s House of Cards were the runner-ups in the drama series division with 11 nominations each.

Although again the leader in nominations, GOT has yet to take home a statue as best drama series. This will be the series’ fifth straight attempt. But Mad Men’s Jon Hamm holds the current record for Emmy futility. This is his eighth straight nomination for the role of Don Draper, but so far he’s never gone home a winner. Hamm also was nominated for his comedic performance as a charlatan evangelist in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Joining GOT, Mad Men and House of Cards in the Best Drama Series category are AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, Showtime’s Homeland, PBS’ Downton Abbey and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, which entered last year in the comedy series division. The 2014 winner was AMC’s Breaking Bad.

Besides Transparent and Veep, the Best Comedy Series nominees are ABC’s defending champion, Modern Family, FX’s Louie, NBC’s Parks and Recreation, HBO’s Silicon Valley and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. A win for Modern Family would give it a record six straight in the Best Comedy Series division. NBC’s Frasier is the only other comedy series to win five Emmys in a row.

The Best Limited Series nominees are FX’s American Horror Story: Freak Show (again running second to GOT with 19 total nominations), HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, Sundance TV’s The Honorable Woman PBS’ Wolf Hall and ABC’s American Crime, which was nominated in this category even though it’s been renewed for a second season. But like American Horror Story, it will feature a new storyline and characters.

In the Best Television Movie category, the nods went to HBO’s Bessie, Lifetime’s Grace of Monaco, HBO’s Hello Ladies: The Movie, National Geographic Channel’s Killing Jesus, HBO’s Nightingale and Acorn TV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Curtain, Poirot’s Last Case

All told, cable or broadband streaming networks received 20 of the 25 nominations in these four categories,

Here are the major acting nominations.

Lead Actor, Drama Series

Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Kyle Chandler, Netflix’s Bloodline
Jeff Daniels, HBO’s The Newsroom
Liev Schreiber, Showtime’s Ray Donovan

Lead Actress, Drama series

Claire Danes, Homeland
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Viola Davis, ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder
Taraji P. Henson, Fox’s Empire
Tatiana Maslany, BBC America’s Orphan Black

Lead Actress, Comedy Series

Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Edie Falco, Showtime’s Nurse Jackie
Amy Schumer, Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer
Lily Tomlin, Netflix’s Grace and Frankie
Lisa Kudrow, HBO’s The Comeback

Lead Actor, Comedy Series

Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Louie C.K., Louie
Anthony Anderson, ABC’s blackish
Matt LeBlanc, Showtime’s Episodes
Will Forte, Fox’s The Last Man On Earth
William H. Macy, Showtime’s Shameless
Don Cheadle, Showtime’s House of Lies

Lead Actor, Limited Series or Movie

Timothy Hutton, American Crime
Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge
David Oyelowo, Nightingale
Mark Rylance, PBS’ Wolf Hall
Adrien Brody, History’s Houdini
Ricky Gervais, Netflix’s Derek

Lead Actress, Limited Series or Movie

Felicity Huffman, American Crime
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show
Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman
Frances McDormand, Olive Kitteridge
Queen Latifah, HBO’s Bessie
Emma Thompson, PBS’ Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

In the notable snubs department, FX’s The Americans again was treated like a Communist in the McCarthy blacklist era. It received just two nominations, neither in a major category. FX’s Justified also took the gas, getting zero nominations for its final season. That’s hard to believe. But the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is the same organization that stiffed HBO’s The Wire from beginning to end.

Empire, a runaway midseason hit for Fox, failed to make the cut in the Best Drama Series category and received just three nominations overall. Henson, however, has to be considered the favorite to win in the Lead Actress category as Empire’s free-swinging Cookie Lyon.

The CW’s critically acclaimed Jane the Virgin got just one nomination, with its breakout star, Gina Rodriguez, getting shut out after winning a Golden Globe for her performance. The one and done Emmy nomination brigade also includes notable series such as History’s Vikings, NBC’s Community, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, WGN America’s Manhattan, CBS’ Mom and ABC’s Scandal.

An eye-popping number of other series also received just a single nomination, but in a major lead acting category. They are black-ish, The Comeback, Grace and Frankie, House of Lies, Nurse Jackie, Orphan Black, The Newsroom, Derek and Ray Donovan.

HBO’s 126 nominations tripled the total of any rival network. ABC came in second with 42. Other networks with 10 or more nominations are CBS and NBC (41 each), FX (38), Fox (35), Netflix (34), PBS (29), Comedy Central (25), AMC (24), Showtime (18), Amazon Instant Video (12) and Lifetime (10).

The major prime-time Emmys will be awarded on Sept. 20th, with Fox the presenting network this time.

For a complete list of the 2015 Emmy nominations, go here.

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FX's Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll blasts off, fizzles, re-ignites (and has a title that's a pain to type in full)


A youthified Denis Leary in earlier daze as Johnny Rock. FX photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 16th at 9 p.m. (central) on FX
Starring: Denis Leary, John Corbett, Elizabeth Gillies, Elaine Hendrix, Robert Kelly, John Ales, Josh Pais
Produced by: Denis Leary, Kerry Orent, Jim Serpico, Tom Sellitti

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Fox’s smash hit Empire is the ebony. Now here comes a second ivory to join prime-time TV’s latter day depictions of a dysfunctional/destructive music business.

ABC’s Nashville is a syrupy ballad, though, compared to FX’s wildly untamed and uneven Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Creator/star Denis Leary doesn’t mess around when it comes to naming names during the course of disparaging some of rock’s and pop’s biggest stars. FX bills it as a comedy series -- and it at least fits the genre’s half-hour format. But some of the show’s targets almost certainly won’t be laughing. This is shock, not a-w-w-w-w, from the comedian-actor and former Rescue Me star who also wrote and hosted 2005’s Merry F#%$in’ Christmas.

As rocker Johnny Rock, 25 years removed from stardom as lead singer of The Heathens, Leary warms up in Thursday’s opener with a diatribe aimed at two easy targets -- Kim Kardashian and her half-brother, Brody Jenner. Railing against their faux fame, he also offers to suck a certain something attached to the then Bruce Jenner. Perhaps the series’ TV-MA rating, which FX attaches to almost all of its original productions, should be up-ticked in this case to TV-XXX.

The really heavy artillery fire is saved for next week’s withering Episode 2. Shakily reunited with a daughter he’d long left behind (Elizabeth Gilles as Gigi), Johnny warns her that any songs he composes for her will be strictly by his book. “I’m not writing some auto tune, pop shlocky Katy Perry bullshit, OK?” he says. “I’m not sellin’ my soul.”

But 25-year-old Gigi, who just so happens to have killer pipes, a formidable bosom and plenty of ready cash, wants to wail her way through “authentic” songs. That’s why she’s used her money to put Dad and Heathens’ lead guitarist Flash (John Corbett) back together again along with drummer Hector “Bam Bam” Jiminez (Robert Kelly) and bassist Sonny “Rehab” Silversteen.

Gigi’s also got a mouth on her, and not only when behind a mike. Terming Keith Richards “a fossil,” she says of his ad campaign for Louis Vuitton luggage, “Put a handle on his head, he could’ve been one of the bags.”

Ol’ Keith might have a hoarse chuckle at that one. But it’s very doubtful that Yoko Ono would react kindly to Johnny’s horrid joke at her and John Lennon’s expense. Contending that all great bands and songwriters have done their best work while high, he notes that a sober Lennon ended up writing a song about baking a loaf of bread. “He’d gotten so boring if Mark David Chapman hadn’t of shot him, Yoko probably would’ve,” Johnny adds.

Comedy isn’t pretty, it’s been said. And political correctness is running amuck these days. Still, by all that is holy, FX and Leary should reconsider and excise this whole riff before the episode airs on July 23rd.

The second episode also includes a broadside at Pat Benatar and her guitarist/musical partner Neil Giraldo; Johnny’s deft mocking of a typical Morrissey song (by all means leave that in); and Gigi’s dart at a tune written by Johnny after everyone insisted he get clean and sober. “Dad,” she says, “that song sounded like something Sting would write if he was living inside Sarah McLachlan’s vagina.” So it’s back to the bottle and weed for Johnny -- but no blow.

S&D&R&R begins faltering in Episode 3, when the band’s mercenary manager, Ira Feinbaum (Josh Pais), suggests that “for business purposes” Johnny should stay dead for a short while after false Internet reports had him choking on a chicken bone. This allows Gigi to take the stage and be showcased in her dad’s memory while sales of old Heathens albums enjoy a brief resurgence.

None of this plays all that well, story-wise or otherwise. But the real Joan Jett does just fine with a cameo. And Johnny’s still devoted longtime girlfriend, Ava (Elaine Hendrix), gets to say, “Honey, nobody reads Rolling Stone anymore.” That might put a real-life cover out of reach in the immediate future. Or maybe not.

Episode 4 has The Heathens doing a sold-out performance in Belgium, where they’re still big and can command outrageous dressing room “riders.” Episode 5, the last one made available for review, comes closest to being a full-out homage to Spinal Tap. At Gigi’s insistence, the fractious band undergoes a series of sessions with a music therapist who claims to be “deeply trained in the art of soul retrieval.”

Guest star Griffin Dunne turns out to be perfect for the role of long-haired guru while band members get to spill out their hangups and neuroses in what amount to a series of mini-comedy sketches. Bassist Rehab has always seen himself as an afterthought, drummer Bam Bam has father issues and Flash is mostly concerned with how young he still looks.

Johnny and daughter Gigi have the best bit, though. She misidentifies Lee Marvin as Johnny Carson in a therapeutic exercise dubbed “The Fame Game.”

The musical performances are mostly just OK for now, with the best of show performance going to Gigi for her full-throated performance of “Animal” at the close of Episode 1. The Heathens’ vintage anthem, “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” doesn’t seem destined for the top of the charts, although stranger things have happened.

FX has ordered 10 episodes for Season 1, and it’s still hard to tell halfway through whether S&D&R&R will end up being a lark, a dark comedy or a drama at its core. Will Johnny’s dependence on booze and pot take a bad turn? What if Flash fulfills his initial revenge-motivated desire to sleep with Gigi? And where does the show go next if The Heathens, rechristened as The Assassins, become a big arena band with Gigi as the star vocalist?

The biggest worry going forward is that Leary has already shot his wad in the early episodes as a profane burnout with no tolerance for today’s celebrity culture. Johnny Rock can’t be turned into a pudding pop who gazes fondly upon his daughter’s increasingly assured stage performances. But any flaming, jealousy-fueled rift between the two of them could turn the series into a painful viewing experience on every level.

It promises to be quite a juggling act, with Leary as balls-out as ever in the early going of his latest daring enterprise. Even so, he really should care about what many people may think of those Yoko Ono-John Lennon low blows. Sometimes you really can be too flat-out distasteful for your own good.


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The Jim Gaffigan Show gives TV Land a "puffy" dad in his prime


Jim Gaffigan is front/center in The Jim Gaffigan Show. TV Land photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 15th at 9 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: Jim Gaffigan, Ashley Williams, Adam Goldberg, Tongayi Chirisa, Michael Ian Black
Produced by: Peter Tolan, Jim Gaffigan, Jeannie Gaffigan, Alex Murray

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It’s often a double-edged sword for fleshy comics playing sitcom husbands.

You’re expected to be pretty much a nincompoop who more or less means well but constantly screws up. On the other hand you tend to get a svelte, smarter, comparative knockout for a TV wife. As did Jim Belushi in According to Jim, Kevin James in King of Queens, future Game of Thrones co-star Mark Addy in Still Standing and Jackie Gleason during prehistoric TV times in The Honeymooners.

Jim Gaffigan, playing his “puffy” self in TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show, sustains several one-liners about his less than sculpted appearance in a “preview” episode made available early on TV Land’s consumer website. But his comely wife, Jeannie (some fine comedy timing by Ashley Williams), always stands by him, even though she’s sometimes an active participant in the jab department.

When her husband is derided as a “fat pumpkin head” by a woman heckler he insulted, Jeannie retorts, “Don’t call my husband a pumpkin head.”

There’s also a sequence in which it seems that a son’s pre-school drawing of Jim’s penis falls into the wrong hands. “No one should have to see that,” Jeannie tells a private school administrator. “I mean, I’m forced to . . .”

Jim and Jeannie have five pre-teen kids underfoot. And at least twice as many jokes land firmly in the show’s solid preview episode, which also includes cameos by Janeane Garofalo as an oddly nurturing teacher and Macaulay Culkin playing himself as a barista.

Gaffigan, who at times sounds like Andy Rooney doing a Rip Taylor impression, replicates his real-life profession as a successful standup comic in this latest effort to front a successful sitcom. But he’s said in interviews that the show won’t show him performing in clubs, a la Seinfeld or Louie. Instead, Jim is first seen bursting into the family kitchen after grabbing an early flight home from a gig. He proclaims a “Super Great Daddy Day,” which of course doesn’t materialize. Six minutes later he’s in bed sucking on a fudge bar while supposedly gearing up for all that kid stuff.

CBS twice passed on other versions of this series before Gaffigan and co-creator/executive producer Peter Tolan (Rescue Me) found a home on TV Land, which has announced its intent to get “edgier” and more adult. Welcome to New York, a fall 2000 comedy series in which Gaffigan played a TV weatherman, actually made it to CBS but was quickly canceled.

The new show also is set in New York and likewise is filmed there without a live studio audience or laugh track. But the city is barely reflected in the preview episode. Also little seen are supporting cast members Adam Goldberg as Jim’s best pal, Dave, and Michael Ian Black as Jeannie’s “confidant” Daniel. Tongayi Chirisa, playing the Gaffigans’ pastor, Father Nicholas Ngugumbane, gets more to do and closes out the episode with a sermon that puts Jim in yet another predicament of his own making.

In the 15 years since Welcome to New York, the resilient Gaffigan has blossomed into both a prominent standup comic and a bestselling book author with Dad Is Fat and Food: A Love Story. His TV Land show will regularly draw from that wheelhouse, with Jim saying of the vegan cupcakes his wife has prepared for school, “That’s not a flavor. That’s just a cruel trick on a kid.”

Nonetheless it all goes down pretty easily. The Jim Gaffigan Show showcases its star at his exasperated best, putting his now well-honed spin on the befuddled dad genre from which many a sitcom has supped.


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TV Land's Impastor preaches "irreverend" comedy


Faking it as a gay man of God: Michael Rosenbaum stars in Impastor. TV Land photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 15th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on TV Land
Starring: Michael Rosenbaum, Sara Rue, David Raschke, Mircea Monroe, Mike Kosinski, Aimee Garcia
Produced by: Christopher Vane, Michael Rosenbaum, Eric Tannenbaum, Kim Tannenbaum

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Michael Rosenbaum’s spiritual journey has taken him from Lex Luthor on Smallville to the pretend-to-be-gay pastor of a Lutheran Church in Impastor.

It’s also a downward spiral in what TV Land calls an “irreverend new comedy.” The network is trying to get “edgier” by canning those throwback laugh tracks, going “single-cam” and in this case using “shit” and “cock” for laughs. Begone Hot In Cleveland. Your day is done.

Rosenbaum is first seen as hapless Buddy Dobbs, whose heavy gambling debts have put him in close personal touch with two leg-breakers. Threatened with severe bodily harm if he doesn’t pay up, Buddy plans to jump off a bridge after failing to persuade his bartender girlfriend LeeAnne (Aimee Garcia) to join him on the lam. A would-be Good Samaritan intercedes, but instead accidentally takes the fall after hearing Buddy proclaim, “I don’t believe in God.” He turns out to be a clergyman named Jonathan Barlow, who was en route to take a new position as pastor of a church in the smallish community of Ladner. Well, why not?

It turns out to be a pretty nice setup, with the pastor’s assistant, Dora Winston (former Less Than Perfect star Sara Rue), warmly welcoming him to his free new residence. Imagine Buddy/Barlow’s surprise, though, when he learns the next morning that the new pastor is an openly gay import from California. Were this the old TV Land, one could briefly insert “wah wah wah” in place of the laugh track. But never mind. Let’s meet the rest of the church staff.

Alexa Cummings (Mircea Monroe) is a flirtatious blonde who quickly determines that she can “turn” the new pastor.

Russell Kerry (Mike Kosinski) is the ridiculously oh-so-gay guy with a big toothsome smile and designs on the new pastor.

But stern church president Alden Schmidt (David Raschke of onetime short-term Sledge Hammer! fame) warns one and all that a gay pastor is welcome only “as long as they remain sexually inactive.”

During Wednesday’s premiere episode, Impastor also works in a sub-plot involving a big bag of grass (which Buddy/Barlow is happy to confiscate) and a surly teen boy who’s having sex with a cantaloupe and also severely disrespecting his mother. He gets his comeuppance in blunt instrument language, which ends up making Buddy/Barlow a savior to some parishioners.

Rosenbaum has an amusing moment or two, but nothing to make anyone grin with the stereotypical wideness of the church’s gay staffer. The marginally funnier stuff occurs away from the parish, where a cop who’s co-investigating Buddy’s disappearance spares none of the gruesome details while also helping himself to LeeAnne’s refrigerator. But with this show in particular, those aren’t sufficient redeeming qualities.

Those who fondly (or not) remember Three’s Company can see many obvious parallels here. Impastor uses language unfit for that era, though. TV Land is trying to chart a new course, you see. Which means that Buddy/Barlow also eventually gets caught in the act of preparing a cantaloupe for a little not so divine intervention.


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Frontline's "Escaping ISIS" documents the brutality of "purification"


Former lawyer Khalil al-Dakhi runs an “underground railroad” rescuing enslaved Yazidi women and children held by ISIS. PBS photo

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The inhumanity of ISIS -- if one can even call them human -- is reinforced on a daily basis as these immoral religious fanatics rape and pillage their way through Syria and Iraq.

At least someone is doing something about it, although hardly in leaps and bounds. The stark Frontline documentary “Escaping ISIS” (Tuesday, July 14th at 9 p.m. central on PBS) is a story of small but heartening victories via an “underground railroad” led by former lawyer Khalil al-Dakhi. After his Northern Iraq town fell prey to the enemy, al-Dakhi and his guerrilla team have been striking back by rescuing Yazidi women and some of their young children from the clutches of ISIS.

Frontline correspondent Edward Watts spent two months filming and documenting these efforts. Al-Dakhi, who’s matter-of-fact about the risks involved and the probability of success, is a tour guide who keeps his emotions in check and his ears to the ground. Once captured, the Yazidis often are sold to successions of highest bidders, who rape and mistreat them at will while preaching purification.

“ISIS seems them as devil-worshipping pagans who must be cleansed,” Watts says.

Some of the women have hidden their cell phones and managed to contact either al-Dakhi or his allies.

“It can take us a whole month to rescue one family or sometimes one person,” he says.

But one such effort pays major dividends. More than 30 women and children are clandestinely freed from their captors before making a long, dangerous trip back home on foot. One of the women speaks of being raped and beaten multiple times on a single night. She can’t forget the foul smell of more than a dozen men, and tells of brushing her teeth 10 times a day in an effort to somehow feel clean again. The tearful reunions go hand in hand with recurring nightmares.

“Escaping ISIS” also includes smuggled underground footage of other atrocities, which are edited for the PBS presentation. At the end of the film, viewers are told that two of al-Dakhi’s men were captured and stoned to death.

Frontline continues to go where hardly any news outlets will, although HBO’s Vice series also has been venturing far and wide since premiering in spring of 2013. This is journalism that counts in times when the longstanding broadcast network evening newscasts increasingly seem content to say “Look at this” before showing the latest “viral” video of a vehicular wreck, an animal escapade or a baby reacting sourly to his or her first lemon wedge. “Escaping ISIS” is made of decidedly sterner stuff than that.


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Masters of Sex fast-forwards both its setting and its children in a searing start to Season 3


No longer underfoot, a vexed but resilient Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) keeps upping her game in Season 3 of Masters of Sex. Showtime photo

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Given their prominence in Season 3’s strong opening episode of Masters of Sex, it’s of no small import to then see a climactic printed disclaimer that basically says, “Just pretending.”

“This program is about the important achievements of Masters and Johnson,” viewers are informed. “The children Tessa, Henry, Johnny and Jenny are entirely fictitious.”

In real-life, both Virginia Johnson and William Masters were parents of two children. But hers were named Scott and Lisa (not Henry and Tessa) while his were William and Sarah (not Johnny and Jenny). The Sunday, July 12th return of Masters of Sex (at 9 p.m. central on Showtime) features all four more prominently than ever before, with Henry and Tessa in full-blown rebellion, Johnny on the verge of exploding and Jenny still a little sweetheart.

More explanation is required.

No. 1: The above disclaimer is new to the series, even though Tessa and Henry in particular were regularly seen during the first two seasons.

No. 2: The Season 3 premiere begins either in 1966 (according to Showtime publicity materials) or 1965, as it says in the on-screen introduction for both the review DVD and the “On Demand” duplicate already available on most cable systems.

No. 3: In either case, considerable time has passed. The Season 2 finale ended on Jan. 20, 1961, the day of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Tessa and Henry, both played by new actors, have undergone rather remarkable growth spurts from the time they were last seen at the breakfast table with mommy.

No. 4: The no longer malleable kids come to the forefront during a “Four Months Earlier” flashback to a joint fractured family vacation at a lake house. William (Michael Sheen), Virginia (Lizzy Caplan), his nominal wife, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) and her ex-husband, George (Mather Zickel) are all more or less trying to make the best of it for the kids’ sakes. This doesn’t work out at all as planned, with Virginia and a growingly assertive Libby instead doing most of the bonding and commiserating while the ever taciturn William tries to sequester himself with the final stages of what will become the landmark book Human Sexual Response.

No. 5: Episode 1 also toggles back and forth to a “present-day” press conference in which Masters and Johnson are promoting their masterwork. But the real drama is back at the lake house, where a series of searing parent-child confrontations are both painful and instructive. Even if they’re all made of whole cloth.

Season 2 of Masters of Sex ended rather soapily. Sunday’s restart regains its bearings with one razor-sharp scene after another. Libby, battling depression and drug dependence while trying to accommodate her husband’s infidelity with Virginia, had her own liaison last season with a black civil rights activist. Now she’s more intent on sparing her two children “a life of upheaval and pain.” And the best way to do that is a heart-to-heart with Virginia near the end of this very emotionally charged episode.

William’s principal dialogues, both of them fever-pitched, are with Tessa (Isabelle Fuhrmann) and Johnny (Jaeden Lieberher). He remains the biggest dick, even in a series of over-sized dildos used for research purposes. But at times he’s mindful of re-committing the sins of his own distant father.

Episode 1 ends with a revelation and Episode 2 focuses on its ramifications. This second hour also introduces the King/Shah and Queen of Iran, who are having serious problems conceiving. In real-life, Queen Soraya, wife of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in fact visited Dr. Masters’ St. Louis clinic in search of help. Masters of Sex has them arriving together. But most of Masters’ scenes are with Soraya as his patient. Throughout the series he’s been capable of genuine compassion at various bedsides while otherwise treating his wife and associates, including Virginia, with a matter-of-fact coldness that at times defrosts.

Masters’ handling of Virginia’s “situation” is mostly contemptible. It also allows her ex-husband, George, to return as a prominent character. Publicity materials say that Beau Bridges and Allison Janney among others will be back at some point this season in guest star stints. Just don’t look for them in the first two hours.

Season 3, which again will have 12 episodes, shows strong signs of fully regaining its bite, passion and fury. The previous season sagged somewhat in those respects while still remaining one of television’s better dramas. But now the kids are true characters instead of mostly pliable dependents. Virginia’s have become sexual beings with sharpened claws and festering resentments. Johnny Masters still longs for his father’s attention but can only take so much indifference.

It’s all made up, as that aforementioned disclaimer makes clear. Even so, bring it on.

GRADE: A-minus

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Still steeped in sadness, Rectify returns for a shorter and perhaps final Season 3


Saddened siblings: Daniel and Amantha Holden. Sundance TV photo

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Ever more damaged and downcast, the core characters of Sundance TV’s most acclaimed series return this week to perhaps take their final bows and blows.

Rectify starts its Season 3 on Thursday, July 9th at 9 p.m. (central). But it’s composed of just six episodes, down from last season’s 10 and back to the level of Season 1. That sounds like a wind-down if not a read-between-the-lines eviction notice. But is that sadder than some of the principals have become? Debateable.

Season 2 ended with Daniel Holden (Aden Young) accepting a plea bargain in which he admitted to strangling his 16-year-old girlfriend, Hanna, back when both were teenagers. In return he is guaranteed his freedom without fear of serving any more time. In Season One, Daniel’s 19-year stint on death row ended with the uncovering of contrary DNA evidence that indicated he was not alone on that fateful night.

Daniel also is required to leave his hometown of Paulie, GA, site of continued indignities, beatings and the hot pursuit of a state senator bent on putting him back behind bars. He’ll first have 30 days to get “his affairs in order.”

Amantha Holden (Abigail Spencer) remains infuriated by her brother’s admission of guilt. She had stood by him all along, but now wants Daniel out of her life. Well, not entirely, but how else is she to regroup and move on? Not that a potential manager’s job at Thrifty Town has Amantha bristling with excitement. Another downer: her intimate relationship with Daniel’s latter day attorney, Jon Stern (Luke Kirby), also has broken up.

Mama Janet Talbot (J. Smith-Cameron), who remarried after Daniel’s father died, is likewise blue, although with some resilient strength. But her husband, Ted Talbot Sr. (Bruce McKinnon), wants Daniel gone after learning that he assaulted high-strung son Teddy Jr. (Clayne Crawford), whose wife, Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), has recently left him after suffering a miscarriage.

And if that’s not enough angst . . . well, frankly it is, thank you very much. The first two episodes made available for review do nothing to clear these forests. Young’s Daniel remains the monotonic center point, trying so hard not to be a burden to anyone while also having no idea where he’ll go and what he’ll do next.

In a welcome smidgen of levity, he makes his idea of a gourmet “nostalgic meal” for Amantha, including smothered franks, tater tots and the offer of an “aperitif.” But Daniel’s intentionally over-heated presentation gets a cold shoulder from his sister near the close of Season 3’s Episode 2.

Teddy Jr. also gets ample screen time in these early episodes. And while still not a sympathetic character, his pains, woes and awkward attempts to make amends put him in a slightly better light.

Tawney weeps a lot and sees a therapist while Mama Janet absorbs one rebuff after another. Her home and daughter Amantha’s are grimly dark in daytime and not all that much brighter when the lights come on at night. One could throw a shroud over the entire proceedings, but it would only be redundant.

Still, Rectify can be both hypnotic and heart-wrenching for viewers who have invested in these characters throughout the first two seasons. Season 1 remains the high point, though, and there doesn’t seem to be much time left to scale some of those peaks again.

One can ache for Daniel and all he’s been through while at the same looking forward to the day when both he and we will be put out of our miseries. Just don’t expect any bright, sunny days during what appears to be the homestretch of a series that remains unique and involving and oh so damned sad.


Note to readers: On the day after this review was posted, Sundance TV announced that it has renewed Rectify for a fourth season. “With an exact episode count to be determined,” the network says.

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The CW takes a more "mature" approach with British import Dates


Pouring out some feelings in the “Jenny and Nick” episode of Dates. CW photo

Premiering: Thursday, July 9th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: A variety of British actors/actresses, with recurring appearances by Oona Chaplin, Will Mellor, Sheridan Smith, Ben Chaplin, Gemma Chan
Produced by: Bradley Adams, Chris Clough, Harry Enfield, Bryan Elsley

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Daring to range outside its 18-to-34-year-old target demographic, the CW network continues to invite praise instead of ridicule with the summertime British import Dates.

The recently ended “regular season” brought CBS’ little sister network the best critical reviews in its history for Jane the Virgin, The Flash and iZombie. All are aimed directly at younger audiences and will return for sophomore seasons.

Dates, a nine-episode scripted series with a more “mature” character base, could just as easily air on BBC America, Lifetime or even PBS. It’s not a game-changer or first-rate through and through. But it is an interesting and very nicely acted look at online daters meeting for the first time. There are nine half-hour episodes in all, with the first two premiering on Thursday, July 9th.

Episode 1, subtitled “David and Mia,” ends by leaving viewers hanging. In that context, it’s instructive to know that Mia (Oona Chaplin) will return in Episodes 3, 7 and 9 while David (Will Mellor) re-enters in Episode 5 before getting back with Mia in the Season 1 finale. It’s all set in London and created by Bryan Elsley (the controversial Skins).

Mia first makes the scene as “Celeste,” who scopes out David at a bar-restaurant and initially decides he’s not for her. She denies being Mia when he approaches her, but offers what appears to be a parting shot: “Just don’t wear the tie with the jeans. It makes you look like a Belgian.”

But the mismatch evolves into a sparring match, with David now trying to blow her off and have his scallops in peace after seeming to canoodle just a wee bit with a young waitress. This makes Mia both intrigued and jealous. Saying much more would compromise the little twists and turns. Let’s just say that Chaplin is a knockout, both looks-wise and with her performance.

Episode 2 gives Sheridan Smith an opportunity to shine as a jilted grade school teacher named Jenny. She meets divorced stock trader Nick (Neil Maskell) in a bar for their first date. Sparks aren’t flying, but she grows more interested in him. Wine will do that. Both have an undivulged secret, though. Hers remains safe from him but she ends up uncovering his. This one ends Nick’s storyline, but the character of Jenny will return in Episode 8.

This is all assuming that The CW will air all 9 episodes of Dates, which will be tasked with recruiting an “older” audience in this instance. The series likely will come off as kind of icky and ancient to teens and twentysomethings. Sort of like encountering reruns of Matlock on MTV. But for adults of a certain age -- let’s say mid-30s and upward -- Dates might well have considerable appeal. Hey, all they have to do is find it.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Chasing down The Fugitive is well worth the marked-down Complete Series DVD price

the fugitive

Dr. Richard Kimble & his dogged nemesis, Lt. Philip Gerard.

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Prime-time TV’s original running man, Dr. Richard Kimble, spent four seasons and 120 episodes under the cloak of numerous aliases and in the arms of women he couldn’t have.

Meanwhile, an obsessed Lt. Philip Gerard pursued him in fine grim-faced form while Kimble himself sought to apprehend the “One-Armed Man” he believed had murdered his wife in Stafford, Indiana on the very fateful night of Sept. 19, 1961. Two years later, after exhausting all appeals, the convicted Kimble was aboard a train and en route to the death chamber while handcuffed to Gerard. Un-billed, all-business narrator William Conrad, TV’s future Cannon, put it this way in the pilot episode: “Richard Kimble ponders his fate as he looks at the world for the last time and sees only darkness. But in that darkness, fate moves its huge hand.”

It was my favorite TV drama as a high school kid. And now the complete series, on 32 discs, is newly available via CBS DVD -- even though the series originally aired on ABC.

You won’t have to pay an arm -- or a leg -- for it. Although retailing for $79.99, it’s currently available for $46.00 on Amazon.com. There’s no explanatory booklet or any “Extras” of any import. But you can bask in the beautifully remastered, crystal-clear episodes back when an hour of TV, minus commercials, had more than 50 minutes of actual program content. Subtract 8-to-10 of those minutes from today’s dramas.

The Fugitive, with David Janssen as Kimble and Barry Morse as Lt. Gerard, premiered on Sept. 17, 1963 and ended on Aug. 29, 1967 with a very satisfying and still pulsating resolution of the case. The denouement ranked as the most-watched series episode ever, and held that position until the Feb. 28, 1983 two-and-a-half-hour finale of M*A*S*H.

A big-screen version of The Fugitive, with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones as the two principals, became an even bigger success in 1993, with seven Oscar nominations and a win for Jones as Gerard. A 2000 CBS version, with Tim Daly and Mykelti Williamson, ended up as one of that season’s biggest flops.

As “A Quinn Martin Production” -- which a booming voiceover made very clear -- black-and-white episodes of The Fugitive first joined ABC’s Tuesday night lineup in tandem with the network’s The Greatest Show On Earth and opposite two variety series (CBS’ The Garry Moore Show and NBC’s The Bell Telephone Hour). At the height of its ratings powers, The Fugitive rose to No. 5 on the Nielsen charts in Season 2. It never moved from its original 9 p.m. (central) Tuesday slot. Imagine that.

Networks increasingly were going to color by the time of The Fugitive’s premiere. But The Fugitive stuck to b&w until its final 1966-’67 season. And the vivid visual crispness of those 90 pre-color episodes makes one wish they had stayed the course.

Episode 1 took its time, with Conrad’s narrative voice escorting viewers through the train derailment that freed Kimble, his first on-camera fake identity (James Lincoln), a lonely bus ride after six months on the lam, etc., etc.

“Another journey, another place,” Conrad intones. “Walk neither too fast nor too slow. Beware the eyes of strangers. Keep moving.”

This time it was Tucson, where Kimble ends up working as a bartender at “The Branding Iron.” But Conrad keeps talking: “Look closely. Be sure of this. They’ll never stop looking. He’ll never stop. Not Lt. Gerard.”

Morse, as Gerard, finally gets the first words from a character. But it’s not until the 4 minute, 32 second mark, when he says after circling a map, “Somewhere in there. I’m sure of it.”

Janssen, as Kimble, doesn’t get to speak until the 7:16 mark. He’s at the Branding Iron now, with guest star Vera Miles mournfully playing “I’ll Never Smile Again” on the piano. Fellow guest star Brian Keith quickly comes into view and looks extra-menacing in black-and-white as a surly, heavy-drinking, insanely jealous wife-beater named Ed Welles. His estranged spouse, Monica Welles (Miles), has been trying to escape him in tow with their young son. As was inevitably the case with The Fugitive, Kimble gets caught in the middle while also racking up his first of many heartfelt smooches.

The episode still holds up well, even when Kimble stays in his sport coat, dress shirt and tie while joining Monica and her son at the dusty Wonderland amusement park. The kid turns out to be quite a slugger, winning a baseball bobble head doll that today would be very collectable. But my wandering eye also noticed a bigger carnival game prize -- a miniature Willie Mays figure among others from the Wisconsin-based Hartland Co. It’s now worth several hundred dollars. I still have my Ernie Banks statue from more than 50 years ago.

Anyway, Kimble eventually spills out his past to Monica, who nonetheless wants to run off with him. But it’s not meant to be. Longing looks are exchanged before the weekly “Epilog” finds Kimble on the run again, stopping only to pick up and pet a stray kitty cat before walking off into the nighttime mist while the horn music swells to the size of a 30-foot wave. Whatever the caliber of individual episodes, it’s impossible to fall asleep for long. One of those big, brassy soundtrack bursts will make you wide-eyed again in a hurry.

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Guest stars Brian Keith (in 1st episode) and Robert Duvall (eps. 4-5).

The Fugitive’s guest star contingent, some of them largely unknown at the time, also included Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell (as Gerard’s son), Beau Bridges, Charles Bronson, Ossie Davis, Mickey Rooney, William Shatner, Tuesday Weld, Carroll O’Connor and Robert Duvall.

Duvall, used to much better effect as a heroin addict in an episode of the 1960s series Route 66, is somewhat peripheral in the two-part “Never Wave Goodbye” story that consumed episodes 4 and 5 of The Fugitive. He dons a Norwegian accent to play the distrustful, guilt-ridden half-brother of Karen (Susan Oliver), the latest comely woman to fall under Kimble’s spell (this time he’s Jeff Cooper) after he drops in to work for a Santa Barbara sail maker.

Meanwhile, Gerard again is disappointing his young son, “Flip,” who yearns to go camping and fishing with his dad. But a planned trip again is waylaid after Gerard gets a new lead.

These episodes mark the closest encounter between Gerard and his prey since they sat shackled together in each episode’s introduction. They first re-glimpse each other at the Hall of Justice after Kimble comes to believe that the one-armed man he seeks is incarcerated there.

Part Two of “Never Wave Goodbye” finds Kimble and Karen striving to fake their deaths during a big dinghy race while Gerard again closes in. “If it works, Karen, we’ll see if Gerard will chase a ghost,” Kimble tells her.

But the single-minded Gerard will go to the ends of the earth to capture Kimble. He’ll also get into a flimsy raft, which capsizes near some rocks and leaves him in danger of drowning. Witnessing this, will Kimble do the right thing? Yes, things get more than a bit far-fetched. But no, the episodes do not entirely sink or stink dramatically, even if the expectations of a bravura performance by Duvall go unmet in the end.

Episode 14 of Season One, “The Girl From Little Egypt,” turns out to be pivotal in flashing back to some of what happened before and during the night when Kimble drove home after arguing with his besotted wife. Helen and Richard again had clashed over her refusal to adopt a child after she delivered a still-born boy and learned she couldn’t conceive again. Kimble spotted a fleeing one-armed man up-close before he found Helen dead and eventually took the rap for it.

The flashbacks are from a semi-conscious, sweat-drenched Kimble, who finds himself in a hospital after a bereft young flight attendant accidentally runs him down. By the end of the hour, he’s convinced her that the married guy she had fallen for is nothing but a promise-breaking heel. After a last supper with her at a Mexican eatery, Kimble’s again aboard a bus with “his only companion -- hope.”

By the way, this time he had masqueraded as George Browning. The aliases were always pretty generic and nothing on the order of Herbert Kluffenberg or Giancarlo Esperanza. Other false identities throughout the long run of the series included Jim Fowler, Ray Miller, Al Fleming, Bill Carter, Harry Carson, Joseph Walker, Larry Talman, George Porter, George Paxton and George Norton. (Yeah, he did seem to have a jones for George.)

He’s Nick Peters in the Season 2 finale, a rousing tale in which Steve Forrest plays the amoral owner of the crumbling, nearly bankrupt Jungle Land zoo. Kimble takes on a job cleaning animal cages and eventually finds himself in one. Will Gerard capture him as well? Or will an old tiger tamer with a wishy-washy conscience come to his aid before the cops close in?

The Season 3 finale has Kimble, as Tony Carter, working on a derrick barge off the California coast. Guest star Murray Hamilton is the bossman and Antoinette Bauer plays the fetching lady of interest, Coralee. A ship “accident” leaves a crew member dead and Coralee again branded a “Jonah” who has a history of causing bad things to happen.

Kimble commiserates with her, of course, stealing kisses and embraces while also taking a hard sucker punch to the head from a dense crew member. Authorities eventually close in, this time without Gerard, before another last-ditch escape puts Kimble on another bus out of town. Watch for a virtually unrecognizable Dabney Coleman, without a mustache, as a well-meaning cop named George Graham.

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The series finale & the climactic girlfriend, played by Diane Baker.

All of these close calls and cut-short romances led to the denouement that viewers wanted and that ABC finally was persuaded to give them after The Fugitive was canceled.

“The Judgment,” Parts 1 & 2, spread over two weeks in late August, 1967, provide Kimble with his last alias (Frank Davis), his last girlfriend (a keeper named Jean Carlyle) and the closure he’d so desperately sought through four years of trademark mouth twitches and crushing angst.

It’s perhaps a little weird to hold back on “spoilers” more than four-and-a-half decades after the finale aired. But several new generations have no clue what happened. And even those who were eyewitnesses at the time have likely forgotten many of the details. Myself included.

So suffice it to say that this is no David Chase open-ended goodbye to The Sopranos. Nor does it have the full-blown ridiculosity of the Dexter finale. The Fugitive instead pays back the faithful with a genuinely thrilling action sequence followed by a heartening Epilog. Its venues range from a strip bar featuring “Topless Watusi Dancers” to the Los Angeles Zoo to an abandoned amusement park that once urged one and all to “Be A Real Swinger! Ride the Imported South Sea Thrill, the Fantastic MAHIMAHI.”

Epilog: The late Janssen, who died in 1980 at the age of 48, never won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Richard Kimble but was nominated three times. Morse, a British actor who lived to be 89, was never nominated for the role of Gerard. But the series itself won the 1966 Emmy as “Outstanding Dramatic Series.”

All these years later, it rates as an “Outstanding Bargain” for those who want to revisit The Fugitive or discover it for the first time.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net