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Cubs and Indians have a Boudreau running through them

a1872853b7b2c4a0fcd19299ceb0332c Lou_Boudreau_and_Jack_Quinlan_1958

Lou Boudreau as Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer and in the Chicago Cubs’ radio booth with broadcasting partner Jack Quinlan.

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The Chicago Cubs, sainted baseball team of my youth, return to their home city Friday night for the first World Series game in Wrigley Field in 71 years.

That also would be the first time they’ve done this in my lifetime of 68 years. So yeah, this is a World Series for the ages, or for the aged if you’re of a certain age.

The Cleveland Indians haven’t been flush with success either. They’re looking to win their first World Series since 1948. I was eight months, one week old when they first took the field on Oct. 6th against the Boston Braves. So no, I don’t remember a thing about it. But the Indians played in the first World Series I do recollect, in 1954 against the victorious New York Giants and incomparable center fielder Willie Mays. Lasting recollection: My willful Aunt Mary strode into our living room while we were watching the game and clicked off the TV set. “You can’t visit with that damned thing on,” she groused. Somewhat later, I forgave her.

A common thread runs through the 1948 Indians and the Cubs of my youth. It’s Lou Boudreau, and the parallels are pretty eerie.

As the then “boy manager” of the Indians (he first got the job in 1941 at age 25!), Boudreau additionally played shortstop full-time. And in the year they won it all, he also was the American League’s MVP and star of the first ever one-game playoff to get into the World Series between the Indians and Boston Red Sox. He put the Indians ahead 1-0 with a solo home run, hit another homer later in the game and ended up going 4-for-4 in an 8-3 Cleveland victory.

The 1948 Indians remain very rich in history. Besides Boudreau, the team had five other future Hall of Famers -- Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Satchel Paige, Larry Doby and Joe Gordon. Two other members of that team -- Ken Keltner and Dale Mitchell -- also are indelibly steeped in baseball lore.

As a third baseman in 1941, Keltner made two great plays at third base in a game that also ended Joe DiMaggio’s still unrivaled 56-game hitting streak. As a pinch hitter for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Dale Mitchell struck out to end Game 5 of the 1956 World Series. Catcher Yogi Berra was soon seen leaping into Don Larsen’s arms in celebration of the only pitcher to ever throw a perfect game in the World Series.

Eddie Robinson, the last surviving member of the 1948 world champion Indians, went on to become one of the Texas Rangers’ earliest general managers. At age 95, the Paris, TX native lives in Fort Worth and was interviewed earlier this week by CBS11 reporter Joel Thomas.

Boudreau retired as a player after the 1952 season. He soon became linked to the Cubs, joining my favorite radio announcer as a kid, Jack Quinlan, in 1958 as the “color man” on Cubs’ broadcasts. He knew the game as well as anyone, but initially had trouble getting the words out, particularly when filling in for Quinlan for an inning or two.

I still remember the time Boudreau’s play-by-play went like this: “There’s a line drive down the left field line. It’s fair but foul. No, it’s a fair ball!”

Boudreau also specialized in dashing a kid’s dreams of a rare Cubs victory during most of those seasons. On more than one occasion in a close game, he’d say something like this: “There’s a high fly ball to left field. Billy Williams getting under it and . . . it’s over his head for a home run!” Apparently he had trouble gauging distances from some of those high press box locations on the road.

Boudreau and Quinlan were at their best when having to do a panty hose commercial. That didn’t last long because they were in hysterics while trying to read the copy. As a kid listening on his little radio, this was comedy gold.

Then in 1960, this actually happened. Boudreau and Cubs manager Charlie “Jolly Cholly” Grimm (who also managed the Cubs’ losing 1945 World Series team) were “traded” early in the season. Grimm went to the radio booth to join Quinlan while Boudreau replaced him on the field. The Cubs stunk again, and Boudreau returned to the radio team in 1961.

Quinlan died in a car wreck during the 1965 spring training season. Vince Lloyd became Boudreau’s new partner. Together they suffered through a 1969 season that went very sour down the stretch when the Cubs collapsed and blew a big lead over the New York Mets. That Cubs team had five future Hall of Famers. Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams and Ron Santo were all big baseball heroes to me. Manager Leo Durocher also went into the Hall of Fame. Never liked him much.

Boudreau was with the Cubs’ radio team until 1987, enduring almost three decades of World Series-less futility. During that time, his youngest daughter Sharyn married major league baseball’s last 30-game winner, Denny McLain. She divorced him during one of his multiple stays in prison, but they ended up remarrying and are still together. Boudreau, who died in 2001 at age 84, introduced many of his interview subjects as a “fine player and gentleman.” He understandably didn’t like to talk about McLain, who ended up being anything but.

Wrigley Field will be wild Friday night on Fox. It’s a shame that Banks and Santo won’t be around to witness it. But Williams and Jenkins remain surviving members of that ill-fated but famously talented 1969 Cubs team, and surely will be invited back to bask in standing ovations. Maybe Boudreau will get a mention as well. He’s my connective tissue between two teams with so much history -- and so few championships.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

People of Earth gives TBS some space


People of Earth also has a deer in the headlights. TBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 31st at 8 p.m. (central) on TBS with back-to-back episodes
Starring: Wyatt Cenac, Ana Gasteyer, Oscar Nunez, Michael Cassidy, Brian Huskey, Luka Johes, Alice Wetterlund, Nancy Lenehan, Tracee Chimo, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Bjorn Gustafsson, Ken Hall
Produced by: Conan O’Brien, Greg Daniels, David Jenkins, Larry Sullivan, Dan Halsted, Jeff Ross, David Kissinger

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My Favorite Martian. Mork & Mindy. ALF. 3rd Rock From the Sun. And Saturday Night Live’s “The Coneheads.”

Aliens from above have a long history of being played for laughs. TBS’ People of Earth takes this baton and wryly trots with it. There’s no laugh track and the humor tends to be on the down low. But by the end of the first four episodes made available for review, People of Earth has built a small-town universe with just enough quirks and intrigue to keep its premise in play. It has both heart and a sense of the absurd, making it increasingly “accessible” with the proviso that you’re just not going to get a laugh riot.

The central character, Ozzie Graham (former Daily Show writer/correspondent Wyatt Cenac), is a soft-spoken big-city journalist who’s sent to little Beacon, NY for what’s supposed to be a one and done story on wackos who think they’ve been abducted by aliens. He quickly learns that “experiencers” is the proper terminology, and that he’d better not say “abductors” ever again.

A small Catholic Church serves as the meeting place for this exclusive Star Crossed support group, with Gina Morrison (Ana Gasteyer) conducting the sessions as a former professional psychiatrist who now toils at the Crockery Hutch. All the experiencers have a common recollection. They were told “You are special” before being set free. A milquetoast middle-ager named Richard Shenk (Children’s Hospital alum Brian Huskey) arguably is the most unhinged of the bunch. Episode 3 provides him with an optimum chance to prove that. Luka Jones is very marginally more stable as toll booth worker Gerry Johnson, who bids to become Ozzie’s new best friend.

Ozzie has his own demons. Did he really hit a deer in the middle of a remote highway en route to Beacon? Or is something else at work? It doesn’t help his psyche when a talking deer head recurrently pops up to creep him out.

People of Earth also spends some time aboard a spacecraft. This is where a “conventional” looking alien with bug eyes and a bulbous head (Ken Hall as Jeff the Grey) tries to control the events down below with Don the White (Bjorn Gustafsson), a Nordic-looking extraterrestrial with long blonde hair. But they might as well be two humans kvetching at each other, which makes it all the more amusing, considering they’re not.

Meanwhile, Ozzie’s irksome big-city boss, Jonathan Walsh (Michael Cassidy), has both matinee idol looks and an appetite for more “fantastic click bait” about Beacon’s “experiencers.” He has other reasons as well, but let’s just leave it there because you’ll learn soon enough.

The show’s principal executive producers, Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels, seem to have found just the right earthling in Cenac. His reactions to the bizarre goings-on around him tend to be deadpan without being comatose. A certain presidential candidate would deem him “low energy,” but People of Earth wouldn’t be well-suited to a high-pitched Don Knotts-ian approach. No worries, though. Cenac is quite a bit more animated than deadpan comedy king Steven Wright.

It all fittingly begins on Halloween night with back-to-back half-hours. And if you settle in with them, People of Earth just might abduct you. Er, pull you in as a faithful new “experiencer.”


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Docs in smocks fight these battles in CBS' "Bunker Hill"-set Pure Genius


An idealistic billionaire and an ace surgeon put their heads together at a state-of-the-art medical emporium in Pure Genius. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 27th at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Augustus Prew, Odette Annable, Reshma Shetty, Aaron Jennings, Ward Horton, Brenda Song
Produced by: Jason Katims, Michelle Lee

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The prognosis for a solid, quality drama series is at least cautiously optimistic when Jason Katims is at the controls.

His recent executive producer credits include Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, both for NBC. Pure Genius is for CBS, and it’s also Katims’ first medical drama. Compared to the network’s frenetic and ongoing Code Black, it’s also a bit of a chill pill. The patients are rolled out at a much slower pace, and there’s ample time to ruminate on how to fix them at cutting edge, damn-the-costs Bunker Hill hospital.

Billionaire James Bell (Augustus Prew), who’s also very smart, built the place to puzzle out solutions to an array of life or death crises. All of the experimental treatments are free, which saves a lot of paperwork.

Bell, who has a so far incurable degenerative disease of his own, wants a maverick surgeon named Walter Wallace (Dermot Mulroney) as his new chief of staff. Wallace, who’s both resistant and refreshingly low-key, is first seen being dismissed by a hospital board of directors for performing an unauthorized procedure that didn’t pan out. But this is exactly the kind of forward-thinking sawbones that Bell wants. “Welcome to the revolution,” he says while Wallace mulls his options throughout most of Thursday’s premiere episode, the only one made available for review.

Bunker Hill’s super-dedicated staff includes a doctor with the longest surname in TV history. She’s Talaikha Channarayapatra (Reshma Shetty), described in CBS publicity materials as “an idealistic, maddeningly literal neurosurgeon.” To say nothing of her mind-bending Twitter handle.

Dr. Zoe Brockett (Odette Annable) is also in the house as a “fearlessly frank physician” who makes Bell’s heart go pitter pat. Not that he can bring himself to tell her this -- not just yet anyway.

The rest of the racially diverse staff is made up of Dr. Malik Verlaine (Aaron Jennings), a former “gangbanger;” Ivy Leaguer Dr. Scott Strauss (Ward Horton); and “3-D printer programming whiz” Brenda Song (Angie Cheng).

Pure Genius has a suitably impressive high-tech look to it, and the two major cases on opening night are both pretty involving. A pregnant woman with a cancerous tumor that’s choking her heart faces the grim prospect of two lives lost. A teenage girl who’s been in a coma for six months is still a pet project of Bell’s. But is it time to pull the plug rather than continuing to tell her parents that all will be well someday?

The cancer/pregnancy storyline unfortunately takes a rather predictable turn in terms of the woman’s suspiciously hard-praying husband. But the dynamics between the willful Bell and his staff are well-played throughout. And of course, Dr. Wallace is wooed in the end, just before Bell has a touching encounter with his possible future self.

The arrivals of Pure Genius and the sitcom The Great Indoors (ugh) signal the end of this season’s abbreviated Thursday Night Football package on CBS. Some potential viewers will simply migrate to the still somewhat obscure NFL Network for the next three Thursdays before the far more accessible NBC partners up for a five-week TNF run that begins on Nov. 17th.

Both new CBS series will get hit hard when the Peacock happily adds Thursdays to its NFL portfolio. But Pure Genius may prove compelling enough to lock down its own nice-sized fan base by that time. Here’s to its long-term ratings health as a medical series that, unlike Code Black, has an overall calming effect.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

McHale's nadir -- as the star of CBS' new The Great Indoors


Joel McHale takes the money and slogs through The Great Indoors. CBS photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 27th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Joel McHale, Susannah Fielding, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown, Stephen Fry, Chris Williams
Produced by: Mike Gibbons, Chris Harris, Andy Ackerman

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Ageism isn’t only aimed at today’s elders. In the sad case of CBS’ The Great Indoors, it can also be applied to millennials.

Joel McHale once knew the glory of NBC’s arguably over-praised Community. For whatever reason (money), he’ll soon be thudding his way through a “traditional” multi-camera CBS sitcom filmed before a live studio audience and equipped with an annoying laugh track sweetener whenever necessary -- which is often. Still, we may have a TV first here in next week’s Episode 2. Has a declaration of masturbation ever been greeted with joyous whoops from the audience? It takes so little these days.

McHale, who in real life will reach the ripe old age of 45 next month, stars as bragging adventurer Jack Gordon. The poor guy is summoned back from the wild to preside over an untamed brood of young dweebs. They’ll be primarily responsible for ushering in the new age of Chicago-based Outdoor Limits magazine, which is ending its print days and going exclusively online. So far, their most re-tweeted post is “Best Outdoor Gear for the Zombie Apocalypse.”

Clark, Emma and Mason (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Christine Ko, Shaun Brown) are all utterly insulated from the “real world.” The millennials in turn view Jack as an ewww-inducing primitive.

“He has no Twitter, no Facebook,” says Emma. “It’s like he doesn’t exist.”

Jack tries to interest them in the plight of an endangered species of bear, but makes no initial progress.

“You guys don’t know what it’s like to look at a creature that is the last of its kind,” he says in exasperation.

You guys know what’s coming next. “Yeah, we do,” Clark, Emma and Mason say in unison.

The Great Indoors otherwise sprinkles in three supporting characters. Roland (Stephen Fry) is the paunchy, punchy, Scotch-swilling founder of Outdoor Limits. His cute daughter, Brooke (Susannah Fielding), with whom Jack of course once slept, will now be his new immediate boss. Away from the workplace, Jack drinks old school cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon at a less than five-star Irish pub run by his best pal, Eddie (Chris Williams). “You look sick to your stomach,” Eddie tells Jack early in Episode 2. “I told you never to eat the food in here.”

Most of the punchlines land with the dexterity of a nerd trying to catch or throw a baseball, although batty Roland occasionally gets off a halfway funny one. The show overall is so relentlessly one-joke and stereotypical that one wonders how it can possibly carry on for more than a few weeks.

“I can’t exist in this world. And I can’t get through to these kids,” Jack inevitably laments before trying anew in a second episode built around dating apps and his strong aversion to them. He soon finds himself being described as a “confused old man” who got “grandpa’d out even harder” than anticipated.

Jack technically is a Gen Xer. But he might as well be the Quaker Oats man in the eyes of millennials getting the same broad brush treatment. It’s a wonder they can even feed themselves in a comedy that force-feeds its concept and swallows McHale whole in the process.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

What the deuce? BBC America's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency careens into view


Elijah Wood and Samuel Barnett propel the crazed Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, adapted from the Douglas Adams novels. BBC America photo

Premiering: Saturday, Oct. 22nd at 8 p.m. (central) on BBC America
Starring: Elijah Wood, Samuel Barnett, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, Fiona Dourif, Mpho Koaho, Aaron Douglas, Richard Schiff, Neil Brown Jr., Miguel Sandoval, Dustin Milligan
Produced by: Max Landis, Robert Cooper

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Trying to comprehend the intendedly absurd goings-on in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency may be completely beside the point.

Those who have devoured the swervy, same-named Douglas Adams books could very well find themselves immensely entertained. Those who haven’t -- guilty as charged -- at least can admire the energy, cheekiness and slick production values without caring all that much how everything comes out. BBC America is offering eight Season One episodes of this twisted tale, which has been described by the author himself as “a thumping good detective-ghost horror-whodunit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.” Not necessarily in that order.

Three episodes were made available for review of a series that begins with a straight-ahead horrific crime scene in a posh Seattle hotel suite. Stumbling upon it is put-upon bellhop Todd Brotzman (Elijah Wood), who desperately needs his next paycheck in advance to start putting a dent in his mounting debts. Instead he’s fired for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wood, whose last TV series, FX’s Wilfred), found him in the strange company of a dude dressed as a dog, has perfected the art of looking utterly exasperated. He’s called on to do this often when the eccentric and effete Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) breaks into his apartment and pronounces himself a “holistic detective” who gets “intrinsically connected” to cases without having any firm ideas on how to solve them. “I’m a leaf in the stream of creation,” he tells Todd in Episode 2.

Despite his protestations -- “I’m not your Watson, asshole!” -- Todd gets roped into puzzling out the murder of millionaire Patrick Spring, who was among the hotel suite corpses. The duo is also looking for Spring’s kidnapped daughter, Lydia, who -- wouldn’t you know it? -- has somehow adapted the identity of a dog while in the captivity of a very high-strung guy named Gordon Rimmer (Aaron Douglas).

Todd otherwise is a recovering “Pararibulitiis” sufferer whose sister, Amanda (Hannah Marks), still has the hallucinatory disease. This is a somewhat mild affliction compared to what Bartine Curlish (Fiona Dourif) is going through. Dirt-and-blood-encrusted with badly stained teeth as well, Bartine is a self-described “holistic assassin” who can’t be hurt and has “never killed the wrong person. I have killed a lot of people, though.” A terrified computer hacker named Ken (Mpho Koaho) ends up being her very reluctant partner during a careening search for Gently, who’s on Bartine’s hit list.

The series also has a pair of semi-comical investigative teams headed by veteran character actors Richard Schiff (The West Wing) and Miguel Sandoval (Medium). A marauding, knuckle-dragging group known as The Rowdy 3, which actually is a foursome, adds extra layers of mayhem as vampires who exist on the “electrical energy of the human mind” in lieu of blood. And so on.

Barnett is quippy and somewhat endearing as the crazily intuitive Gently, whose mysterious past is slowly peeled away. When Todd again protests his presence -- “Dirk, this is my apartment” -- the lad replies, “Oh, is that why you’re here?” This exchange occurs in Episode 3, which also has am impressively fantastical visual sequence involving the still very afflicted Amanda.

We’ll leave you with a quote from BBC America president Sarah Barnett, who says in publicity materials: “Fans of Doctor Who, Monty Python, Sherlock and Barton Fink will find things to love in this sharply original yet reverent gigantic puzzle, at the heart of which are funny, messed-up people you really care about. And there’s a kitten/shark. Perfect for BBCA.”

If you’re so inclined, go for it.

GRADE: B-minus (mostly for its shear energy and exuberance)

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

LeBlanc's back with CBS' likeable Man With A Plan


Matt LeBlanc and Liza Snyder turn on the charm in Man With A Plan. CBS photo

Premiering: Monday, Oct. 24th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Matt LeBlanc, Liza Snyder, Kevin Nealon, Grace Kaufman, Matthew McCann, Hala Finley, Diana Maria Riva, Matt Cook
Produced by: Jeff Filgo, Jackie Filgo, Matt LeBlanc, Michael Rotenberg, Troy Zien

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There’s nothing new under the conventional sitcom sun in CBS’ Man With A Plan.

This doesn’t unduly matter if the cast clicks and the writing is decent enough to hold up its end. Make that two plusses for this amiable, amusing outing fronted by everybody’s favorite Friend, Matt LeBlanc. OK, not everybody’s, but you can definitely make a case.

LeBlanc has grayed and gotten chunky since one of NBC’s all-time biggest comedy hits left the network in 2004. All that means is he’s human. And in Man With A Plan, LeBlanc’s character, contractor Adam Burns, gets to play opposite the very appealing Liza Snyder as his wife, Andi.

Snyder doesn’t fit the off-putting prototype of a thin, beauteous spouse paired with a beefy, better-known star. Instead she’s plumpish and “accessible,” a refreshingly real-looking woman who instantly meshes with LeBlanc and makes Man With A Plan a much easier sell than it might have been.

Andi is returning to the workplace, as a hospital lab technician, after years of stay-at-home mom-dom. Adam, who’s in business for himself, is left to make the transition from “Daddy Fun Times” to the guy who takes their three kids to school, picks them up and keeps things in working order until Andi returns home.

It’s a shopworn premise to be sure, but the delivery system overcomes much of that. LeBlanc fine-tunes his doofus Joey persona and smoothly rolls with it at home, at school and in the workplace he shares with older brother Don (a serviceable Kevin Nealon). Snyder nurtures one and all, but is no pushover. Her character is a winning proposition, even if some of her propositions have to do with rewarding Adam with sex whenever he’s a good boy. The hubby as panting dog isn’t going anywhere, particularly on set-in-its-ways CBS, the only Big Four broadcast network still firmly betrothed to laugh tracks and live studio audiences.

Monday’s premiere episode sets the hook before the following week’s storyline is built around a misunderstanding of who’s going with Adam to enjoy prime seats at a Pittsburgh Steelers game. Both episodes also feature sparring between Adam and Mrs. Rodriguez (Diana Maria Riva), a strong-willed school administrator. A nebbish stay-at-home dad named Lowell (Matt Cook) also is occasionally stirred into this mix.

LeBlanc flopped with NBC’s Friends spinoff Joey before regrouping as a broadly drawn version of himself in Showtime’s critically praised Episodes. At age 49, he seems to have a fairly firm grip on what works for him. Man With A Plan suits this guy, and his co-star makes it an even better fit. Viewers could do far worse, and some have by watching Kevin James ham his way through CBS’ appreciably inferior Kevin Can Wait, which recently received a full-season commitment. LeBlanc also is angling for one last long sitcom ride, and Man With A Plan seems like a decent bet to give it to him.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Laurie's back and Hulu's got him in Chance


Hugh Laurie and Gretchen Mol pair up in Chance. Hulu photo

Premiering: Streaming weekly episodes, beginning Wed., Oct. 19th on Hulu
Starring: Hugh Laurie, Gretchen Mol, Ethan Suplee, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Diane Farr, Paul Adelstein, Stefania LaVie Owen, Clarke Peters
Produced by: Kem Nunn, Alexandra Cunningham, Hugh Laurie

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Having played a surly doc on Fox’s long-running House and recently a villainous billionaire businessman in AMC’s acclaimed The Night Manager, estimable Hugh Laurie is back in M.D. mode for Hulu’s Chance. As always, attention must be paid, because this guy generally chooses wisely.

Hulu, unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime, still streams its original series at the old-school rate of one episode per week. It’s already ordered two seasons and 20 episodes of Chance, which initially is glacier-paced and pretty dreary before rousing itself. Hulu made five episodes available for review. And although a variety of other cases are drizzled in, this is very much a single topic serial drama about corruption, obsession, violent retribution and identity crises.

Laurie plays Eldon Chance, a monotonic San Francisco neuro psychiatrist who spends a lot of time dictating the particulars of his findings. The character is drawn from a novel by Kem Nunn, who previously collaborated with David Milch on both Deadwood and John From Cincinnati. The latter series was one big cosmic flop for HBO. Chance is on firmer ground, although various mind games form its core.

The series begins with Chance matter-of-factly summarizing three cases that end up being quickly discarded before the central figure of Jaclyn Blackstone (Gretchen Mol) is introduced. She’s a comely blonde of 39 who channels the dual role of the more free-wheeling Jackie to escape, mentally at least, from her physically abusive husband, Raymond (Paul Adelstein), who’s also a homicide detective.

Chance, who’s going through a divorce, very much wants to help her. But he has his own traumatic past, so must tread carefully. A chance meeting with a war-damaged furniture restorer named D serves to slowly -- very slowly -- put the erstwhile good doctor on a darker path. D is played menacingly by Ethan Suplee, who’s a revelation in this role after initially gaining fame as dense sibling Randy Hickey in the NBC comedy series My Name is Earl. D has definite Dexter Morgan tendencies when it comes to punishing wrongdoers. And he relishes both the prospect and the actual doings of the deeds.

Laurie, who very much sounds like Rod Serling during his character’s narrative passages, plays a polar opposite of officious Gregory House. It’s a role that a twitching David Janssen could have low-keyed his way through. But while retaining his at times almost infuriating calm, Chance finds himself warming to the vigilante justice motif of D, who’s hardly a live wire himself until it literally comes to crunch time. “There are no victims. Only volunteers,” D says early in Episode 2.

Recurring brushes with both Jaclyn/Jackie and the brutal Raymond help to propel Chance, but not to the point where it fully takes flight over these first five episodes. It’s also hard to imagine two seasons’ worth of this same storyline, if in fact that’s the overall game plan.

Episode 5 ends with D’s cliffhanger reference to some form of “collateral damage” before another mishap brings down the weekly curtain. Jaclyn/Jackie has also gotten more cryptic, raising further questions about her role in all of this.

It might be enough to pull viewers along, particularly those who pledge allegiance to Laurie. Fair warning, though. Chance can also be too much of a slog with side roads that have little or nothing to do with the central storyline. So far it’s involving to a degree but never enthralling to the max. “Whatever this is, it won’t end how you think,” Jaclyn/Jackie tells Chance near the close of Episode 4. Whatever this is -- it’s watchable. But if you think your heart might race, it might be best to think again.

GRADE: B-minus

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Reviewing Amazon Prime's Goliath after viewing all eight episodes


Billy Bob Thornton gets his stink eye on in Goliath. Amazon photo

Premiering: Currently streaming all eight episode on Amazon Prime
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, William Hurt, Nina Arianda, Maria Bello, Molly Parker, Olivia Thirlby, Tania Raymonde, Damon Gupton, Dwight Yoakum, Harold Perrineau, Sarah Wynter, Diana Hopper, Britain Dalton, Ever Carradine, Julie Brister
Produced by: David E. Kelley, Jonathan Shapiro, David Semel, Ross Fineman, Lawrence Trilling

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Given all the loose-ended, bizarro world TV dramas currently in play, it turns out to be a distinct pleasure to review a limited series with a linear storyline and a definitive ending.

Amazon Prime’s eight-episode Goliath, which began streaming last week, provides a bonafide, stand alone payoff with no need for a long wait between seasons to find out what the hell just happened. It provides another plum TV role for Billy Bob Thornton after he excelled as amoral Lorne Malvo in Season One of FX’s Fargo. This also marks creator/producer David E. Kelley’s first venture outside the conventional TV box.

The introspective guy behind Boston Legal, Ally McBeal and Picket Fences has had a rough go of late with The Crazy Ones for CBS, Monday Mornings for TNT, Harry’s Law for NBC and Wonder Woman, which never made it past the pilot stage after being developed for NBC.

Kelley, whose first big TV break came when Steven Bochco hired him to collaborate on L.A. Law, is most at home in the legal arena. Goliath affords him the chance to get behind a full-blown morality play in which a bedraggled, heavy-drinking former big-time lawyer gets to square off against his old, extremely powerful firm. Thornton, eminently comfortable on a bar stool, stars as Billy McBride, whose personal demons are the bottle and onetime partner Donald Cooperman (William Hurt).

Cooperman since has become a veritable Captain Kurtz with a dark heart, a burn-scarred face and a decidedly imperial way of running the coldly efficient Cooperman/McBride law offices from on high in his inviolate, darkened office. He uses a hand-held clicker to do some of his talking. And everyone knows who’s boss. “Make sure the dog stays down,” he tells lieutenant Callie Senate (Molly Parker). “He’s rabid.”

The reference is to Billy, whose dumpy law office is within the confines of the well-worn Ocean Lodge Hotel, conveniently located within an easy stagger of the Chez Jay bar. Why worry unduly about this dog-eared piss ant? Because Billy is representing a client, Rachel Kennedy (Ever Carradine), whose brother supposedly committed suicide two years ago by exploding a boat owned by one of Cooperman/McBride’s most lucrative clients, Borns Technology. Its primary business is the manufacture of lethal weaponry, supposedly to fight terrorists.

Goliath does a solid, although at times imperfect job of connecting dots and pushing Billy closer to finding out the real truth in the face of constant roadblocks. The show-stopper of his patchwork team is Patty Solis-Papagian (Nina Arianda), a super-tart fellow lawyer who rubs Billy in numerous wrong ways but shares his fondness for profanity. Expletives fly throughout Goliath, but there’s nary any nudity, save for Hurt’s shadowy, full frontal display at the end of Episode 4. It’s his character’s way of introducing himself to a young and impressionable woman attorney who likewise craves power at any cost.

Other important supporting characters include prostitute Brittany Gold (Tania Raymonde); Billy’s teen daughter, Denise (Diana Hopper); his ex-wife Michelle (Maria Bello); Borns Technology strong-armer Wendell Corey (Dwight Yoakum) and Judge Keller (Harold Perrineau from Lost). As something of a throw-in, Goliath adds the morbidly obese Marva Jefferson (Julie Brister) as an assistant paralegal who’s tasked with Billy’s grunt work. Kelley has a track record of including plus-sized women in his casts, most notably Camryn Manheim to very good effect in The Practice. But Julie Brister turns out to be mainly ornamental, as if Kelley was merely filling in a blank without much intent beyond that.

Thornton, of course, gets plenty to do as a barfly and member of the bar who declares, ”I drink just the right amount.” His performance is never less than entertaining and occasionally poignant. His mode of transportation is as beaten down as he is -- a faded red Ford Mustang convertible whose appearance isn’t helped by what’s meant to be an intimidating deposit in the early going. His only steadfast best friend is a stray dog.

Goliath builds to a predictable courtroom confrontation, but it wouldn’t be satisfying without this inevitability. It’s a crackling good yarn of semi-good versus abject evil, with Kelley seemingly very aware that many viewers might be parched at this point for some straight-ahead dramatics that don’t rely on time travel, dreamscapes, otherworldly monsters and season-to-season string-alongs.

Thornton certainly could return as the same character facing entirely new obstacles. But judging from the new Bad Santa 2 trailer, he should have left that one rest in peace. There’s no urgent need for another Goliath either, because these eight episodes stand well enough on their own. Many a viewer is likely to enjoy the ride, which is brief enough to binge over a weekend without any lingering feelings you’ve been over-fed but not fulfilled.


Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net

Epix weighs in twice with its first scripted series of note -- Graves and Berlin Station

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Epix very much wants to be a player in a standing room only league of rival networks and streamers that already have made their marks with standout scripted programming.

It’s taken quite a while. But now come Epix’s first two original series of note -- Graves and Berlin Station. Preceded by a concerted promotional campaign, they arrive Sunday night at the close of a free preview weekend. Graves is the showier of the two, with Nick Nolte front and center as a former president seeking to atone for being the “worst ever.” Berlin Station has a better grip on itself, though, as a skulk-around spy drama set in contemporary times. Both have 10-episode first seasons. Let’s take a closer look.


Nick Nolte and Sela Ward try to keep up presidential appearances. Epix photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 16th at 9 p.m. (central) on Epix
Starring: Nick Nolte, Sela Ward, Skylar Astin, Helene Yorke, Chris Lowe, Callie Hernandez, Nia Vadalos, Ernie Hudson, Roger Bart, Angelica Maria
Produced by: Joshua Michael Stern, Greg Shapiro, Keith Eisner, Eric Weinberg

Nick Nolte is tattered, battered but still standing -- both as an actor and as former Republican President Richard Graves. His character left the Oval Office 25 years ago, and Google hasn’t been kind to him. “Who was the worst President in history?” he types. The consensus answer is him.

Throughout the three episodes made available for review, Nolte’s voice sounds as though he’s just gargled with glass shards. Moreover, his overall physical appearance resembles a totaled car. But at age 75, Nolte’s still a vigorous on-screen presence, cursing his way toward redemption by publicly admitting that the Graves administration did a lot more harm than good.

This fully dawns on him after a night’s worth of pot-smoking with comely Samantha (Callie Hernandez), a heavily tattooed young waitress turned muse. He preps for this epiphany by disgustedly trashing his own presidential museum on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. It’s prelude to Graves awakening in a golf course sand trap. “I just crash-landed in the middle of my life. I’m born again, sweetheart!” he announces to his wife, Margaret (Sela Ward). “And it’s total peace!”

Graves is billed as a “dramedy,” but its comedic beats to often are out of rhythm. This is particularly the case with Grave’s awkward new assistant, a kid named Isaiah Miller (Skylar Astin). HBO’s Veep knows how to play its underlings to the hilt. Graves can be painful in comparison.

The ex-president’s “compound” is in Santa Fe, where the former First Lady gamely puts up with him. (Susan Sarandon originally was cast in the role, but withdrew.)

The Graves also have two children, neither terribly happy with their lives. Daughter Olivia (Helene Yorke) was married to a Rockefeller until he jilted her. She’s retaliated by blow-torching profanities onto some of their high-priced living room fixtures. Son Jeremy (Chris Lowell) is returning from Afghanistan to reluctantly live with his parents. He and his father haven’t gotten along in years.

Cameos abound, with Rudy Giuliani and Bill Richardson first seen playing themselves none too convincingly during Graves’ dedication of a veterans facility before a notably small crowd. Jillian Michaels, Joan Lunden, Jake Tapper, Michael Steele and the inevitable Wolf Blitzer also can be glimpsed during the course of the first three episodes.

Graves is hardly revered as Ronald Reagan-esque, but was seriously wounded after a would-be assassin pumped three bullets into him. The resemblances to Donald Trump are a bit more pronounced. Graves’ hair is orange-ish and a current strict deportation policy -- for which he’s newly remorseful -- had its origins during his conservative presidency. In Episode 3, Graves revels in being “unshackled.” It was filmed well before Trump recently proclaimed the same, but now can be seen as somehow prescient. Graves also thunders near the close of Sunday’s premiere, “I will be your biggest advocate, your beacon of hope, your goddamn President.” Where have we heard that kind of self-aggrandizement before?

Graves assuredly will turn off some viewers with its title character’s U-turns from previous conservative positions on military spending and illegal immigration. The series clearly has an “agenda,” but isn’t all that artful in putting it forth. Nolte’s performance is energetic without being particularly memorable. It’s mostly nice to see he’s still vertical and with a little something left in the tank after many years of rough living. Occasionally, Graves also is fairly steady on its feet. But only occasionally.



There are no free agents in CIA drama Berlin Station. Epix photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 16th at 8 p.m. (central)on Epix
Starring: Richard Armitage, Rhys Ifans, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes, Leland Orser, Tamyln Tomita, Caroline Goodall, Bernhard Schultz, Mina Tander, Sabin Tambrea
Produced by: Olen Steinhauer, Bradford Winters, Eric Roth, Steve Golin, Kerry Kohansky-Roberts, Keith Redmon, Luke Rivett, Michael Roskam

There’s lately too much of this going around -- not spy dramas per se, but the apparent killing of a principal character in the opening segment before a rewind to earlier events.

This time it’s “Two Months Earlier” in Panama, where CIA officer Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage) is traipsing through the jungle before finding something valuable. He’s soon reassigned to Berlin with a mission to track down a dangerous leaker of CIA secrets known as “Thomas Shaw.”

Everything that ensues in the two Berlin Station episodes sent for review isn’t always completely understandable in terms of following the bouncing storyline. But the basic task is clear enough. Shaw must be identified and then stopped by any means necessary.

The cast is first-rate, with Oscar nominee and Emmy Winner Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Olive Kitteridge) in his usual fine form as station chief Steven Frost. Increasingly feeling undermined, he’s encouraged to retire by his wife, Kelly (Caroline Goodall) and encouraged in other ways during liaisons with his secretary, Sandra Abe (Tamlyn Tomita).

Also more or less working for Frost are ambitious internal branch chief Valerie Edwards (Michelle Forbes), officious deputy chief Robert Kirsch (Leland Orser) and veteran case officer Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans), who turns out to be -- well, never mind.

ISIS (or ISIL as used in Berlin Station) also factors into these webs of intrigue. So there’s a lot at stake, and not a lot of laughs.

Filmed in Berlin and the Canary Islands, Berlin Station has both an authentic look and feel. As with most cloak-and-dagger dramas, there’s a lot of following around while the mind games escalate and the sound track remains stuck in the key of ominous. Berlin Station so far looks like a series worth riding out, with Jenkins, Armitage, Ifans and Forbes all making strong contributions to the cause.


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Falling Water continues on the USA network's newly darker path


Sweet dreams? No such luck for Tess in Falling Water. USA photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 13th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Lizzie Brochere, David Ajala, Will Yun Lee, Zak Orth, Kai Lennox, Anna Wood
Produced by: Gale Anne Hurd, Blake Masters

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Don’t be misled by the ill-fitting title, because USA’s Falling Water has nothing to do with either a very elementary weather forecast or a cooling, summertime slip ’n’ slide park.

There are a few images of overflowing H20, mostly in Thursday night’s premiere episode on the revamped and now considerably darker network of Mr. Robot. But this is a series about dreams gone bad and solemn questions such as “Do you ever think your dreams are trying to tell you something?” And if they are, “What happens when a person allows their dreams to influence their own reality?”

USA made the first four episodes available for review, and here’s another question: What if nothing ends up coming together? Although there are some signs of that, Falling Water also can be maddeningly inexplicable and perhaps not worth a long-term investment. So far, my interest has ebbed and flowed.

Three central characters dream constantly, beginning with a “trend-spotter” named Tess (Lizzie Brochere). She’s first seen in full scream, delivering a baby. Or did she? Consider her haunted, dazed and confused.

Meanwhile, investment banking firm security head Burton (David Ajala) is showering with a beautiful woman who otherwise is dubbed “The Woman In Red” (Anna Wood). But is she literally the girl of his dreams -- and nothing more?

The third wheel is NYPD detective Taka (Will Yun Lee), whose mother is catatonic despite his best efforts to comfort and rouse her. But in his dreams, he also sees her as a younger and mysterious woman. Taka also stumbles upon the mass suicide -- or is it? -- of a dozen cult members whose bodies are neatly arranged in a circle. Scrawled on the wall is “TOPEKA,” spelled backwards. Is that the key to all of this?

As Falling Water progresses, the dreams begin to intertwine -- mostly at a posh restaurant called Marcello’s. Some strange and violent things happen there -- but maybe not.

“There’s a layer beneath what’s going on here I can’t explain,” Taka finally deduces in Episode 3. Make that two of us.

There’s also a little boy popping into all three dreamscapes. Might he be Tess’s son? She sure dreams about him a lot, via experiments being conducted by a bearded dude named Bill Boerg (Zak Orth). He and his associate are very strict about the do’s and don’ts. But the pay is very good, so rebel Tess succumbs.

The performances are solid and the production values also make the grade under the direction of show-runners Gale Anne Hurd (who spent a season on The Walking Dead) and Blake Masters (Brotherhood).

It’s all quite fascinating and even entrancing at first. And the elongated Episode One ends with the specter of some sort of chained monster roaring from down below. What the hell is that all about?

Piecing together what’s real and what isn’t may or may not be an exercise in futility. Falling Water looks to be a chancy bet that something eventually will come out the other end. After watching four episodes, I really couldn’t tell you.

GRADE: B-minus

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ABC's in your face American Housewife has too much fatty material


More mom, dad and the kids in American Housewife. ABC photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Oct. 11th at 7:30 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Katy Mixon, Diedrich Bader, Meg Donnelly, Daniel DiMaggio, Julia Butters, Carly Hughes, Ali Wong
Produced by: Sarah Dunn, Aaron Kaplan, Rick Wiener, Kenny Schwartz

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ABC’s second coming of Roseanne -- and its 10th “nuclear family” comedy this season -- deploys heavy-handed humor dispensed by a fat wife and mother of three.

The word “fat” may be politically incorrect, but is permissible in this review because American Housewife uses it with such abandon in Tuesday’s premiere episode.

Katie Otto (Katy Mixon) begins by fretting that her neighbor, “Fat Pam,” is moving out because she’s had it with “the skinnies.” That would make Katie “the second fattest housewife in Westport,” she narrates. “Damn you, Fat Pam.”

Katie actually is more chunky than fat. But for the purposes of this series, she might as well be the Goodyear blimp. Every physically fit adult female denizen of Westport is her enemy, except for Katie’s two unaccountably trim best friends, Angela and Doris (Carly Hughes, Ali Wong). Spotting three moms outside the school where she’s dropping off her younger daughter, Katie rages, “Flat stomachs, tight, high asses, thighs that don’t touch and those stupid, green drinks!” It gets old in a hurry.

Katie’s resilient husband, Jeff (Diedrich Bader from The Drew Carey Show), is first seen “at rest in his natural habitat,” which happens to be on a toilet seat with his pants down. Unlike John Goodman’s Dan Conner in Roseanne, he’s not a hefty match for his constantly carping wife. But in many ways (besides Roseanne being far funnier), that’s one of the few differences between these two sitcoms. American Housewife even premieres on the same night and time -- Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. (central) -- that Roseanne did back in October, 1988.

As did Roseanne, American Housewife also has replaced one of the kids cast in the pilot episode. Johnny Sequoyah plays teen daughter Taylor in Tuesday’s opener. But in next week’s second episode, also made available for review, she’s been replaced by Meg Donnelly. On Roseanne, which became a major success for ABC, the role of son DJ was taken from poor little Sal Barone after the pilot and given to Michael Fishman. (Sal never acted again, but is now a married standup comic with a kid. So good for him.)

American Housewife also borrows from Family Ties by making the middle son a facsimile of Michael J. Fox’s very Republican and capitalistic Michael P. Keaton. Oliver (Daniel DiMaggio), named Harrison when ABC announced its pickup of American Housewife, has a sole goal of becoming rich. He’s a devoted member of his school’s stock market club and gets quite upset when mom takes away his money jar after he’s fingered for donating expired cat food to a food drive.

“I worked hard to save that money,” Oliver protests. “This is straight up communism.”

The other kid is Anna-Kat (Julia Butters), who in Episode 2 wails, “Mama, Oliver hit me in the nuts.” No, the humor is not subtle.

Katie, who favors plaid, flannel shirts in the mode of Roseanne Conner, brays her way through the first episode in ways that too often make her off-putting rather than a down-to-earthy role model for plus-sized women. Westport, Conn. is portrayed as a citadel of rich, pampered, condescending skinny-dom, with Katie sourly hammering away at anyone who dares to even wear a Fitbit.

She’s also determined to replace the unseen “Fat Pam” with someone of equal proportions. A woman built like the Michelin Man more than qualifies until Katie discovers that her impending new neighbor also has an aversion to wealthy blacks and anyone who’s gay. This is resolved in the end with anything but a light touch.

Leslie Bibb, briefly seen as the fitness-conscious and thereby despised Viv, will be a recurring character as the Otto family’s new neighbor. There’s also a bicycle rider dubbed “Nude Norman” (Jeremy Howard), who wears fruity pink sweaters -- literally. The first episode adds two references to a “tampon wind chime.”

Mixon brings some presence to her starring role while the battle-tested Bader ably and dutifully plays ABC’s latest roll-with-the punches, quieter hubby. Each of the first two episodes end on gooey notes, with Katie re-embracing the weight she proudly stands behind and then the joys of being a stay-at-home mom.

Comedies with women figuratively wearing the home front pants are plentiful on ABC. And there are several very good or promising ones, including The Middle, The Goldbergs and this fall’s new Speechless.

American Housewife so far is too busy taking offense to be much fun to watch. “I will not have that in this house!” Katie bellows when daughter Taylor dares to brandish a green-colored health drink. The kid is only trying to take care of herself. This comedy still has much to do on that front.


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Insecure at last colorizes HBO

insecure main

Issa Rae struggles/strives as lead character in Insecure. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 9th at 9:30 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Lisa Joyce, Jay Ellis, Y’lan Noel, Langston Kerman
Produced by: Issa Rae, Larry Wilmore, Melina Matsoukas, Prentice Penny, Michael Rotenberg, Dave Becky, Jonathan Berry

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While Wonder Bread CBS keeps trotting out its tired “We need to do better” mantra, FX and now HBO in fact have done notably better this season by African-American creators and performers.

FX’s Atlanta is star/show-runner Donald Glover’s singular view of the inner city black male experience. HBO’s Insecure, premiering Sunday, gives voice to Issa Rae in a comedy drawn from her Awkward Black Girl web series.

The women of Insecure are far more prosperously employed than Glover’s featured characters. Their co-workers are largely white, and the series errs at times in caricaturing them in ways that likely would be branded insensitive if the reverse were true.

Rae, as 29-year-old Issa Dee, is particularly at the mercy of pasty-faced white dweebs with nary a clue -- save for co-worker Frieda (Lisa Joyce) in fits and spurts. They all work for We Got Y’All, an inner city L.A. outreach program with a “Constructing Bright Futures” motto. These kids aren’t outwardly grateful, though. Instead they’re slingshot artists. When Issa urges them to never settle for less, a girl rejoins, “Her outfit settled for less!” Everyone howls and Issa is mortified.

Her best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji), is a considerably bigger earner as a lawyer in a prosperous firm. Molly’s pad is palatial compared to Issa’s. But landing a man has been a steep uphill climb, with Molly collecting and discarding them almost night by night while Issa continues to live restlessly in the nondescript Dunes apartment complex with her nice guy, but unemployed boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis).

Atlanta and Insecure both drop the n-word with complete abandon, which I’ll probably never see as completely necessary. But the banter among black characters does flow freer as a result. And in all seriousness, who cares what white TV critics think about its propriety?

Some of Rae’s best moments during the six episodes made available for review are when her character squares off with herself in a mirror and rehearses what she should or shouldn’t say in big moments. Episode One ends with what she actually does say during an impromptu night club rap whose go-to words are another way of underscoring a va jay-jay in need of repair.

Episode 3, one of the better ones, includes a school bus outing to the beach for the kids, who for the most part end up being grateful. Issa is the head organizer, but her good mood is dampened a bit by a white work colleague who asks, “Why don’t more of them swim?”

“Slavery,” Issa tells him -- and that’s the end of that “conversation.”

Insecure also finds Issa in a triangle and a quandary after old boyfriend Daniel (Y’lan Noel) reenters the picture. None of the main African-American male characters are scoundrels, pimps or abject womanizers, which is refreshing.

HBO, as did FX, needed to take these next steps toward diversification of prime-lineups that had been mostly whites-only clubs. HBO’s ongoing Ballers is something of an exception, although its star, Dwayne Johnson, is not its author as well. Both Insecure and Atlanta are notable for executing the singular visions of their black creators. Issa Rae, with Comedy Central’s recently deposed late night host, Larry Wilmore, acting as co-captain, has a voice that very much deserves to be resoundingly heard at length.

“Being passively aggressive is what I do best,” her character says near the outset. Insecure proves to be anything but.


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HBO's Divorce is a near-perfect union of Sarah Jessica Parker/Thomas Haden Church


There’s no mileage left on the marriage in Divorce. HBO photo

Premiering: Sunday, Oct. 9th at 9 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Molly Shannon, Talia Balsam, Tracy Letts, Sterling Jerins, Charlie Kilgore
Produced by: Sharon Horgan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Paul Simms, Aaron Kaplan, Allison Benson

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Shorthand for HBO’s Divorce could be War of the Roses in weekly doses. But there’s no need to wilt at the thought.

Sharp scripts and terrific lead performances from Sarah Jessica Parker and Thomas Haden Church take this dramedy beyond the mere contention we expect from the title. Through the first six episodes made available for review, Divorce builds and broods its way into shape. Its characters are both off-putting and relatable. But a viewer must be willing to make an investment in them at the same time that Frances and Robert DuFresne are divesting themselves of one another. There’ll also be some amusements along the way, particularly when Church is huffing, puffing and kvetching in his dual roles as an anal, over-spending home flipper and cuckolded, hugely indignant husband and father.

The DuFresne’s dying-on-the-vine marriage is crystallized in Sunday’s opening scene. Frances is primping in front of a bathroom mirror and grunting out disinterested responses to whatever Robert tells her. They’re heading to the 50th birthday party of her pal, Diane (Molly Shannon), a neurotic drunk whose prosperous husband Nick (Tracy Letts) has heaped on the creature comforts and increasingly, the condescension. Diane reels out of control and seriously embarrasses herself while also putting her husband in the hospital.

Returning to their New York homestead, Frances decides to also knock Robert for a loop. “I want to save my life while I still care about it,” she tells him. “I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce.”

She’s also been hiding an affair, though. Which allows Robert to gain the aggrieved upper hand when he finds out about it. By the end of Episode One, the battle lines seemingly have been etched in quick-drying concrete. “I’m going to make you miserable,” he vows. “And more to the point, I’m going to make your children hate you.” By this time, a desperately contrite Frances already has realized that her clandestine lover is little more than a jerk.

Sounds like fun, eh? But be patient.

The DuFresnes have two kids, teen son Tom (Charlie Kilgore) and pre-teen daughter Lila (Sterling Jerins). Both initially come off as insular brats with little use for either parental unit. Neither stays entirely in that groove; nor do they stray too far from it.

Parker is returning to HBO for the first time since her star-making Sex and the City ended in 2004. Her new character couldn’t be much different -- fashion-wise and otherwise, -- from flirty, gossipy, club-hopping Carrie Bradshaw. Frances favors long skirts and formless tops, although she still loves to dish with both Diane and her other best friend, Dallas (Talia Balsam), a psychotherapist who could use some psychotherapy. This otherwise is a thoroughly adult turn for Parker, who inhabits it with the sure-footedness of someone who’s bided her time waiting for just the right role and also is one of Divorce’s co-executive producers.

Church, whose previously best known role was in the critically praised 2004 film Sideways, likewise excels as the easily vexed Robert, whose recurring stomach problems go hand in hand with a whiny, run-at-the-mouth persona. Much of what he says wouldn’t be that funny or notable in print. But Church’s delivery system is in excellent working order, making virtually his every utterance some sort of prize-winner. He’s especially adept at pent-up rage, some of it comical. “You’re Jesse James! And I get to be Sandra Bullock!” he thunders in the early going.

Divorce’s sixth episode is a gem that mostly occurs on Christmas Eve. Without getting sappy, it affords Robert a chance to outwardly act nobly after a tradition-keeping holiday road trip to Frances’ parents’ home. The family dynamics are very well-played here, with guest star Robert Forster his usually assertive self, both as an actor and as Frances’ dad, Donald.

This is a series that could have gone very wrong and gotten quite dreary. Instead, Divorce walks its marital minefields with occasional skips in its steps. Its characters and situations are alternately aggravating, humorous and, to a lesser extent, poignant. Parker and Church are fully in charge throughout as a perfectly imperfect duo. Yes, they’re both that good -- in a series that demands just that.

GRADE: A-minus

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Less than hi-tech: The CW's time traveling Frequency has a ham radio vibe


Peyton List endures time trauma in Frequency. CW photo

Premiering: Wednesday, Oct. 5th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Peyton List, Riley Smith, Devin Kelley, Mekhi Phifer, Daniel Bonjour, Lenny Jacobson
Produced by: Jeremy Carver, Toby Emmerich, John Rickard, Dan Lin, Jennifer Gwartz

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Absent a comic book superhero, a vivaciously unfulfilled semi-comic heroine or anything close to a high-gloss veneer, Frequency is uncommonly gritty for a latter day CW series.

Not that it doesn’t have a supernatural element or a pop tune fallback position. Your basic millennial-aged CW target viewer can only take so much change in a year that’s already cruelly dangled the carrot of Bernie “Free Tuition” Sanders before The System yanked it away.

Frequency stars Peyton List as NYPD detective Raimy Sullivan. Twenty years ago, her father, Frank (Riley Smith), left the family behind, went super-deep undercover and apparently got himself killed in a setup that was supposed to be a sting. But hardly any TV drama character of note really dies anymore. And so, on Raimy’s 28th birthday, a fortuitous lightning strike reactivates the old ham radio that dad and daughter used to mess around with in the garage. The guy at the other end turns out to be Frank, circa 1996. Imagine her surprise and still festering resentment after they both become convinced that this is really happening.

NBC’s Timeless, which premiered Monday and got off to a solid ratings start, is notably more whimsical and primary-colored than Frequency -- in addition to having a much broader scope. But Frequency may be the more “believable” of the two. And sports fans like myself are duly impressed that the series also gets its history of the 1996 World Series right, including the New York Yankees’ near-miracle comeback in Game 4 on the Atlanta Braves’ home field.

Both time-traveling series share the axiom that the past cannot be altered without also changing the present. So there are twists at both ends before adult Raimy gets back on the ham radio and hears someone new at the other end.

The cast also includes jauntily named Daniel Bonjour as Raimy’s live-in boyfriend, Daniel, and Mekhi Phifer as Frank’s former partner, Satch, who’s now Raimy’s cop shop “mentor.” The show’s standard issue beefy, bearded, less than brainy civilian buddy is named Gordo (Lenny Jacobson) and looks like one.

Frequency does a pretty solid job of juggling its balls and creating new intrigues. By the end of the premiere episode, another perplexing murder mystery is in play while Raimy wonders what hit her. But anything can be undone with another re-vamp of the past. So let’s keep that ham radio in good repair, because this is a series where hearing is believing.

GRADE: B-minus

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No Tomorrow is in keeping with The CW's current-day accent on appealing lead women


The “Apocalyst” might be nigh in No Tomorrow. CW photo

Premiering: Tuesday, Oct. 4th at 8 p.m. (central) on The CW
Starring: Tori Anderson, Joshua Sasse, Jonathan Langdon, Sarayu Blue, Amy Pietz, Jesse Rath
Produced by: Corinne Brinkerhoff, Maggie Friedman, Ben Silverman

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The CW hasn’t yet cornered the market on appealing young women leading the way through comedy-dusted drama series.

Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the newly imported Supergirl form a nice nucleus, though, while iZombie and Reign (both returning in midseason) are of a more serious bent while not getting all clenched up about it.

No Tomorrow, premiering on Tuesday, Oct. 3rd in tandem with The Flash, is more in the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend mode, but without any musical numbers. “Risk-averse” Evie Callahan (Tori Anderson), stuck in a supervisor job at Cybermart Warehouse, stumbles across a bearded, seemingly carefree dude named Xavier Holliday (Joshua Sasse). The attraction is mutual, although he may well have a few loose wires upstairs. That is, unless you buy into his certitude that the world is ending in eight months, 12 days, courtesy of a crash-landing, giant asteroid.

Evie, who exclaims “Holy smokes!” on a too gimmicky regular basis, otherwise is flaming out with her nerdy boyfriend, Timothy (Jesse Rath), whose surprise marriage proposal comes just after Xavier intrigues her with his “Apocalyst” of things to do before the end. Might he be a crackpot? But who cares at first when the sex is so crazy good?

The supporting cast includes Evie’s co-workers, Hank and Kareema (Jonathan Langdon, Sarayu Blue), and yet another condescending, tyrannical boss who has the added disagreeable trait of horrible breath (Amy Pietz as Deirdre).

All of this blends together fairly well until several ludicrous situations down the homestretch. They involve a pogo stick, a surprise medical diagnosis and the arrival of an unexpected guest. “Holy smokes!” Evie says for a fourth time when she instead should be saying, “Holy what the hell is this crap you’re suddenly writing?”

Anderson is quite good in the lead role, though, and Sasse nicely upholds his half of the equation. But No Tomorrow decidedly is not a step-up from either Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Jane the Virgin. Nor is it in the same league. The guess here is that its time could be up before Xavier’s end-of-the-world due date. So yeah, they’d better get that Apocalyst rockin’.


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