'Big Brother' Final (Maybe) Changes

Written by 20 September, 2022

Big Brother! Are you listening? Have you taken any of my suggestions to heart? I doubt it (for a variety of reasons) but I am only going to deal with four issues this time. These issues would be easy to solve if you only apply your mind. And, with time, might save this show. 

Issue One: What about spoilers? This year, Twitter has been alive with spoiler people with some more vicious than others. All claim to have insider information. All claim to want to keep the fans entertained. And yes! But at least one has gone so far as threatening other spoiler people to stop. (Sometimes, these arguments have been more entertaining than the show.)

Regarding spoilers, CBS you need to answer this question. Do they help build your audience? The answer there is yes. Some people read the spoilers (and feeder updates for that matter) and decide to tune in or out. Look, we have too many other options to watch. The issue is how the spoiler person treats the reader. If they make fun of the reader or ask for adulation, they just want a fan base. If they are knowledgeable and treat readers with respect, they are respected. We don’t ask for much! Just the tidbits of competitions and if everyone is okay.

I went to the debunker of spoilers (and spoiler people), N1L3 Cr4n3 (some think it is McRae, others a stan account), and asked him. His reply was simple: 

Spoilers are fine and have been around for as long as I have been in the community. The problem I have is when they have spoilers that can never be proven or disproven. It’s an old medium’s trick.

His statement is so true. How do you know who to believe? Who really has contacts on a set that would be willing to risk their livelihood to help promote the show (RealVegas) or only uses them to make themselves look important? Or who would dangle the odd rumor in front of someone and beg them to ask for more?

Issue Two: What rating demographics does CBS want? Sure the show brings in the 24-40 contestants and manipulates people for showmances and controversies but why? This game started as a game of strategy. This game started to show all types of people at all stages of life. They’ve even tried to help families reunite in the early years. If they think audiences want what we have seen this year, they are sadly mistaken. Even the younger audience couldn’t stand the showmances that were established or the treatment of people which led to controversies of bullying and rage. Maybe you need to monitor Twitter and not Meta and listen in on the discussions found on Twitter.

Issue Three: The theme and sets have been lame lately. Don’t you do market research? If you did, you would know those backstage carnival areas needed to be cleaned up and not look like it was pre-planned and a sideshow. If you wanted a rock festival, then keep the house guests busy!

This crew was lazy. The backstage workers, who should have been working, were a lazy and back-biting crew. It didn’t look like any money went into production or was spent to build an interesting set. Everything appeared to have come from earlier seasons of the show. It was just thrown together with odd bits and pieces. Maybe a futuristic theme would be better or high-end/low-end?

Issue Four: This is a biggie. I was asked to give my opinion on a Twitter discussion on how to improve the show. I’ve thought long and hard about this. My simple suggestion is to take it back to the grassroots of where the idea came from, the book 1984. So, here goes:

Do away with the HoHs, the Have Nots, the Nominees. Instead of the inmates running the house, have someone who is impartial to the cast run the house. Bring in teams of people to work eight-hour shifts (non-production). These people will decide what the house will do (theme, games, etc.). In addition, they will assign chores. If your chores get done, you get a “good” meal. If they don’t, you get demerits and slop. 

Do not let producers become a voice from the sky. Orders will be issued by the unbiased unseen being over house alerts. Games and themes for weeks will be laid out well in advance and no changes will be made during the course of the show to help specific candidates.

If the “boss” sees bad behavior or bullying, the game is stopped instantly. On 24/7 feeds, the houseguests will be called together, and the issue will be announced. The cameras can then go to “be right back” as a court setting is held. The person who has done the most work will become the judge and a jury will be determined. If the situation is bullying, almost criminal (fighting), or if mental problems seem to be developing, the judge and jury can evict immediately. 

The mystery voice using the demerit system determines the two with the highest number of demerits. They will be on the block for eviction.

These suggestions may never be accepted. Granted they are just a quickly drawn-up list. But if a future seasons go like the past few seasons of Big Brother, there may never be another Big Brother season. Ratings are not what they were in the show’s glory days. If gossip is leaked the way it has been leaked, fans who love the show may turn on the show. If money isn’t spent to make sets more stylistic, people will think CBS is cheap no matter the prize money.

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Review: 'Patton Oswalt: We All Scream'

Written by 19 September, 2022

I am a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen. As a high school freshman, I ran away from my home in Southern Indiana and snuck into a Chicago club to see him open for The Persuasions. I've seen him live at least twenty times over the years, including one of his iconic Roxy shows. I've bought all of the albums and when I'm driving around, I'm generally listening at least part of the time to Springsteen's E-Street Radio channel on SiriusXM.

But I don't always love the music he's released over the years. It took me a long time to warm to his Human Touch-era music and I'll die a happy man if I never hear any of his attempts to be Woody Guthrie ever again.

And that's okay. Being appreciative of someone's work doesn't mean you have to be a sycophant. You can decide their latest work isn't for you and still be appreciative of their talent. Sometimes what they're working on right now doesn't speak to you, sometimes it's just not very good. But you can still appreciate their work, shrug it off nicely and move on.

I've thought about this idea quite a bit since I first watched the new Netflix comedy special Patton Oswalt: We All Scream. It's his fourth special for the streamer and the first in a couple of years. And because I am a fan of his work, I rewatched it again a couple of times over the course of the week to help me grapple with my mixed feelings about it. 

I've been a fan of Oswalt's work for a long time. I had heard about him back when I was still doing stand-up, but we had never worked together. But I kept hearing from other comics whose judgement I trusted that he was someone to pay attention to. I caught his early HBO special and some other TV and film work, but the first time I saw him work live was as a taping of The King Of Queens. His character Spence Olchin didn't have a lot to do in the episode, but he stole the scenes he was in. He had a natural charisma and obvious feel for the punchline that quickly made me a fan.

Oswalt has consistently made interesting choices over the years. Mixing up genres and roles in a way that is always fun to watch. Even if I don't love the shows he's in. But anyone who can be part of a range of TV shows that includes The United States Of Tara, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and M.O.D.O.K. is someone worth watching.

As someone who slogged away on the road for around a decade in the 80s and early 90s, I'm a tough critic when it comes to stand-up. I've seen a lot of great comedians and I can tell when someone is just going through the motions or doing material they know cheaply plays to the crowd. I've seen Oswalt live a couple of times as well as seeing his comedy specials and he's always had an act that resonated with me. Maybe it's that he leans into a more 90s-style of comedy or that his act nicely balances the line between non-stop punchlines and extended ten-minute bits that ultimately pay off. I am clearly nowhere near as talented as Oswalt, but if I was still doing stand-up, his act is probably the type of material I would lean into because it's what I find the most entertaining.

Despite all of that, I didn't love Patton Oswalt: We All Scream. If you're a fan, it's worth watching because there are some very funny moments. But it took me a couple of times before I was able to articulate why it left me a bit restless by the end of the special.

On the upside, there are some very funny moments. Oswalt is very good at mining the challenges of getting older and it's not always a topic that resonates with younger audiences. But he has a way of humanizing his challenges in a way everyone can find relatable. He opens the special with an extended explanation of how he recently injured himself that is perfectly constructed, as are later bits about everyone's inability to stay "woke" as they age. And like several other successful stand-ups I've seen in recent months, Oswalt has some really clever pieces centering around how he and his family dealt with the pandemic.

Still, a lot of Patton Oswalt: We All Scream ultimately feels a bit underbaked. I'm not sure if it's because of the challenges of working out material during a pandemic or that his otherwise busy schedule just didn't give him the time he needed to properly work through the material. But a lot of the material feels like it's been honed, but he's still not quite sure if he has the right punchlines or the optimal flow for the material. And I don't have any idea how he writes his material - some comics take loose ideas and work them through onstage and others write it out offstage and hone it in front of an audience. But however he develops material, more than once during the special I found myself thinking "I bet this would be really funny if I were reading it."

As is the case with all stand-up specials, your mileage may vary with Patton Oswalt: We All Scream. For me, this was a pleasant enough special, but not one I would recommend to someone who isn't a fan. 

But as is the case with Bruce Springsteen, it also wouldn't keep me from watching his next project. Because one thing talented people have in common is that even when they take you places you don't love, you always learn something on the journey.

Patton Oswalt: We All Scream is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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Review: 'Quantum Leap'

Written by 19 September, 2022

The phrase "high concept TV show" gets thrown around a lot on broadcast television and my experience has been that when it's used, it most often means a show's premise has been needlessly complicated because the producers (or more likely, the network) don't trust the audience. They want to dazzle viewers and that means premises with a lot of moving parts, a balanced ensemble of personalities, genders, and backgrounds, and oh so many questions to be answered throughout a hopeful 4-6 year run.

That's certainly the case with NBC's new continuation of the well-known series Quantum Leap, which jams enough layered questions and conflicts into the pilot that you could power a half dozen shows with them. And does it work? Honestly, I have no idea. NBC only provided TV critics with the premiere episode and given that the episode is about 76 percent setting the stage for the rest of the season, it's impossible for me to know what the show will look like in a month.

But first things first.

As you likely know, the original Quantum Leap had a "high concept" premise with a pretty stripped-down execution. Airing on NBC from 1989 to 1993 starred Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett, a scientist who has invented time travel. His Project Quantum Leap did allow time travel, but for whatever reason, the travel involved "leaping" into some random person's body. Beckett would then have to figure out why he was there and what wrong he had to correct before he could leap into the next body. The hope was that at some point he could return home and he was aided in that task by Al (Dean Stockwell), a coworker who appeared to him during the leaps as a hologram and who used a supercomputer named Ziggy to help provide answers and tips to the duo during their leaps.

With the show focusing primarily on the two characters, the series often felt like a buddy show wrapped inside a high-tech concept. Despite the premise, it wasn't a complicated execution. But the relationship between Sam and Al brought a humanity to what might have otherwise been another goofball 1980s sci-fi series.

The original series ended with Beckett apparently continuing to leap from person to person. And that ambiguity was the leaping-off point for this new version of the series.

Set in the present day, this Quantum Leap is set 30 years after Sam Beckett’s disappearance and centers around the efforts of Dr. Ben Song (Raymond Lee) to figure out why Dr. Sam Beckett wasn't able to return. And apparently also make time travel safe for the military, who I am sure won't ever misuse the technology.

The premiere episode begins at a party, where the reluctant Song is hosting his colleagues and supporters to celebrate the upcoming test of his technology. But for some unknown reason, Song leaves the party, uploads a bunch of new code, and leaps off into the unknown.

His team frantically tries to help him, aided by girlfriend Addison (Caitlin Bassett), who is the equivalent of Stockwell's Al in the original series. Ian Wright (Mason Alexander Park) runs Ziggy the even more impressive Ziggy (and we know it's impressive based on the number of neon-covered server consoles Wright often stares into).

Jenn Chou (Nanrisa Lee) is the head of digital security for the project and doesn't have much to do in the pilot other than apologize for Song's ability to leap without them knowing. She does research and investigations, but so far that part of her job is off-camera. So every so often she shows up with a tablet and says "Look what I found!"

The final regular member of the ensemble is Herbert "Magic" Williams (Ernie Hudson) who runs the project and serves as the liaison with the military. Hudson does a fine job with what little of a role he's given and aside from wondering why they gave the black guy the only nickname in the ensemble, this reminds me how much I'd love to see Hudson in a starring role in his own TV series.

There are a lot of reveals in the premiere episode and I'm not going to spoil any of them here. Song has amnesia, so he not only can't talk about why he leaped, he relies on his team to get him through the leap. There is the weird meet-cuteness aspect of his relationship with Addison, who loves him but doesn't want to let him know of their past in case it might impact the mission.

I will say that there is so much going on with all of the twists and turns that the constant churning ends up making the leap itself less important in the episode. And while that might change as the season progresses, I think one of the factors that made the original series so entertaining was the details of the leap. And often how Sam Beckett could use his knowledge of where the world's history was headed to help fix things.

As I said at the top of this review, I have no idea whether or not the series will be worth watching. It certainly could be. But there will be no way to know for sure until we are a half dozen episodes into the season.

Until then, I suppose watching Quantum Leap is a bit of a leap of faith?

Quantum Leap premieres Monday, September 19th, 2022 on NBC.

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'Big Brother 24' — How to Improve BB (Part Two)

Written by 13 September, 2022

Big Brother this is the second part of my series on how to improve the show. Each year, you tell us to “expect the unexpected” but each year, it’s more of the same old, same old (especially in competitions). From casting to set design, I must wonder if your production crew lives in the real world or some imaginary world of the network or production company’s creation.

This week, I’ll try to limit it to five (again). Let’s start with one I touched on last time and expand it.

Number One: The house guests. I will straight up and say this. The Big Brother 23 cast was the best you have had in a long, long time. They came in and seemed to be aware of the “real world” outside of the bubble. Their sincerity was evident from the first show. They also had a smart cast. There is no way I would have suspected that a group of six could come together and get as far as they did. I don’t know if it was the splitting of teams or the “common goal” but it worked.

Let’s deal with this year’s cast. On paper, for production and to present to the network, it might have appeared to be stellar (cough). It wasn’t! To me, it looked like you took a casting list and went down the line checking off characters. I’m going to apologize to Turner here. I compared him to a surfer dude from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Just like the character of Spicoli, Turner proved us wrong. Turner, like his character at the end of the movie, showed that he knew what went on around him. The other characters also didn’t play out as you planned, did they? May I ask, what made you think that a “mean girl” would accept a “beauty queen?” Didn’t you suspect that a “mean girls club” could exclude her? And on the guys’ side, the “Pooch” should have raised alarms as he was so sure he would oversee the men’s team. Then you made him the “backstage boss.” And by the way, did any of them do any of the “training” they were supposed to complete before entering the house? This time, asking for the Twitter community.

Second, this leads me to the next issue. The set décor. You said you wanted a “fest” or “festival”. If so, why did it look like a cheap carnival for the backstage area? Your games to pick teams were stupid. The selection of games looked so rigged. And the dress that Jasmine wore? I hope you paid for it to be cleaned or provided it to her as a costume. This looked like one of those fly-by-night carnivals minus the rides. And then you said that Pooch had won the “Backstage Boss.” Well, he looked more like the evil lord on his throne from movies like Something Wicked This Way Comes.” (He didn’t look smart enough sitting there to be a character from Game of Thrones.)  Handing out the backstage passes also was problematic. The backstage people at a carnival operate the rides or do grunt work. The backstage of a music concert has them moving things quickly on and off stage and acting as security. These stooges got away with no work and had a good week (until Paloma started to spin out of control).

Third: While we are on set décor, who came up with the cheap hotel theme and “Drye Fest?” The décor of the hotel has been used before during various seasons. Didn’t you have a budget to get anything new? It looked like it was out of the 60s and a rundown beach hotel. This entire design setup was an alarm bell going off in my head. Too much cheap color was used in locations that needed some calm.

Now let’s deal with sticking half the group outside for a week. I have friends in California who are complaining about the heat. Who, in their right minds, would choose to send five people to live outside in heat of 105 degrees with no tents or cooling tents? What would you have done if a storm had come up? Oh, that’s right. When the wall yeller happened, you supposedly moved the Broh-ella upstairs and the others supposedly came in. I don’t know since we were blocked from 24/7 feeds. Now, there has been wind (which supposedly messed up a competition) for the Drye side. I’m sorry! Why not announce there would be have-nots and arrange something safe? I’d hate to read that a contestant on Big Brother was taken to the hospital by extreme weather conditions while playing the game.

Fourth: The “twists” of teams. I understand that week one threw you. You had to come up with something unique. Plus, you had someone that the whole house wanted out staying but really – “festie besties.” If you were thinking this through, you would realize that Nicole’s plan could have happened with any of them. They could have chosen their target (Taylor) in the hope that their popularity would keep them. Nicole though was so obvious in her scheme and Monte and others started to wise up about what the girls were doing to Taylor. Getting Taylor out that way didn’t work to Nicole’s cost. And let’s not even deal with the Drye Fest which I listed in number three. Schoolyard picks seem fair but it always comes down to the last picks feeling like they didn’t count. Back to bullying again!

Fifth and the worse: The gross treatment of Taylor. Look, this has been said in many of my posts before. There comes a time when the show needs to step in and take control. You can’t let the bullying and insults fly as Daniel and Nicole did. You can’t let a group of people isolate one! If it was a misunderstanding (like between Nicole and Taylor), talk it out – not mistreat the individual or yell it out. If it is a game strategy, stop it from being used. If it is just control (like I feel it was with Daniel), take the cameras down, call Daniel out in front of the house guests, and check on Taylor’s well-being. A lesser person than Taylor could have been scarred for life by the attacks and isolation she faced. Do you want to read that it led to attempted suicide? You’re supposed to have counselors on hand. Do you? If so, did they talk to Taylor? Did they try earlier than when Paloma asked to leave to talk the matter through with her? Or did some producers see it as good television and let it run?

I have a few more issues, Big Brother, but I think this has given you enough to think about for today. Next week, a new list and many more questions. Actually, I may include a big issue that’s been simmering over there since Celebrity Big Brothers and spoilers.

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Review: 'Access Hollywood'

Written by 13 September, 2022

There are some television shows that feel as if they have been preserved in amber. They are still producing new episodes, but if looked at a random show, you'd be hard-pressed to know whether they were filmed yesterday and in 2001. Or 1995. A&E is still cranking out episodes of Storage Wars, which is both impressive and vaguely unsettling.

And I get a similar combination of dread and admiration watching Access Hollywood, a entertainment magazine series that has apparently decided to approach 2022 entertainment stories as if we were still living in the 1990s.

Hosted by Mario Lopez and Kit Hoover, the season premiere happened to take place on Emmy night, so the duo were doing their stand-ups from the Emmy Red Carpet.

Watching the show, it's amazing to me how little the content mix has changed over the years. The show opens with an "Access Exclusive," a brief interview with Oprah Winfrey discussing the impact of the death of the Queen of England. Correspondent Scott Evans prefaces his queen with the comment "Since you are our Queen, I am curious about your thoughts about it." In any other context, this would be the cringiest question of the year. But it fits with the editorial premise of Access Hollywood, which argues that with great access comes great knee-bending.

There is a part of me that admires the complete lack of self-awareness that permeates every moment of the show. After the brief interview snippet, the show returns to the red carpet, where Lopez and Hoover promise there is much more of the Winfrey interview to see, "including some Tequila shots." They then throw back to Evans, who is on the red carpet of the Toronto International Film Festival, where he talks to Jennifer Lawrence about her new film "Causeway." He also gets brief quotes from Viola Davis, along with a lot of red carpet fashion shots.

Then back to some comments about Oprah's newest project, where Scott mentions that he and Oprah had previously "bonded" over her recipe for making margaritas. So they end up doing a shot together on camera. Which is certainly...something.

Then it's time for Mario's exclusive, a quick interview with Mark Wahlberg and Halle Berry on the set of their new movie. His first question is literally "I know you've been working on this movie for a long time, how did you get the incredible Halle Berry on the team?," a question so lightweight, I'm surprised that Lope was able to ask it without drifting away like a human-shaped helium balloon.

And that's the unsettling part of shows like this for me. There is a lot of reporting along the lines of "hey, I'm not quite a friend with celebrities, but we hang and look, isn't this cool?

I could recount the rest of the episode, but honestly, it's all a dizzying mix of red carpet snippets, celebrity Instagram videos and random party photos.

Honestly, I'm not sure who the audience is for this show. Obviously enough people are watching to keep it on the air. But who precisely is the demo for Access Hollywood? "Oh, I want to see my favorite celebrities, but I find People Magazine too dry and intellectual?"

If you are one of the viewers of the show, you do you. But what the hell are you thinking?

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Review: 'Made In Hollywood'

Written by 12 September, 2022

Television is a brutal business, especially if you're working in the fringes of the industry. And it's hard to find a more fringe part of television than the TV shows which manage to survive in the off-prime weekend parts of a local TV station's schedule. 

While it's not the moneymaker it was 30 or 40 years ago, it's still possible to drive a bit of revenue producing a show as cheaply as possible and then offering to local TV stations on a barter-only basis. The station gets the show for free, the producer holds back a few commercials to sell on their end and whatever ads the local station can sell inside the show are their part of the revenue stream.

Given that a lot of these shows air overnights or in other marginal times, the money isn't much. But it can be a living, if you are able to get the show on enough stations. The reality is that for most of the programs, both the producer and the station aren't going to be able to sell much advertising. Instead, they run commercials that offer the station or the show's producer a "finder's fee" if a viewer sees their ad and orders whatever is being sold. 

Cleveland O'Neal III created the interview program Made In Hollywood eighteen years ago and even in its most successful moments, the program primarily relied on Hollywood junket footage to fill the show.

For a number of years, Made In Hollywood resembled a low-budget Entertainment Tonight, with co-hosts such as Patrick Stinson, Kylie Erica Mar and Julie L. Harkness doing introductions of the trailers and junket footage from a set that appeared to be a large repurposed conference room.

But the pandemic brought changes to lots of shows and Made In Hollywood has now cut out the middle man (or woman) by having no hosts at all. In 2022, the series is a string of edited Zoom calls from Hollywood junkets, with the stars doing the introduction of the show and of their own trailers. It's certainly financially efficient, although I could literally produce the same show with the junket footage I'm part of each week.

I have an admiration for anyone who can still wrangle a syndicated show onto the air, even if it's mostly airing when people are sleeping. And Cleveland O'Neal III has apparently made at least enough money off of the show that he could afford to buy the tattered remains of MovieFone.

But admiration doesn't always translate to viewer enjoyment and at least based on the season eighteen premiere of Made In Hollywood, you'd be better off watching celebrity interviews on someone's YouTube channel.

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'Big Brother' Needs To Change (Part One)

Written by 06 September, 2022

After this season’s Big Brother, I honestly think the show needs to make some major changes. The show had a good season in 2021 with players being more socially aware and understanding the “supposed” training that the producers gave them. This season, they had a house guest leave the show during the first days of production due to mental stress. 

The blame cannot be placed only on the players. It also must be placed on the network, the production company, the executive producers and production crew, and the contestants. CBS needs to decide if the program is worth the headache and bad press. If so, Big Brother and Fly-on-the-Wall Production need to make some changes and I’m going to list a few here.

  1.  All problems start at the top. Since this is not a CBS-owned program, we need to start with the people that Fly on the Wall put in charge. The major player there is one Allison Grodner. When hard decisions are made, it is up to the executive producer to make them. Ms. Grodner seems unable or unwilling to call people out for bullying, racial slurs, and comments as well as overall basic bad behavior in the house. This year we have had Taylor bullied, three house guests (Kyle, Michael, and Brittany) who have discussed using race to get people out, and one house guest (Terrance) who has a deep hatred toward women (especially Taylor). At times, I have wondered if Terrance would turn violent. These are issues that she didn’t try to deal with or hide from the public. With live feeds 24 hours, 7 days a week you can’t hide this type of ugliness. If not seen, your button pusher isn’t always fast enough to kill the live feeds during production and the live-feed updaters hear what happened and report it.

  2. Predetermined winners. While on the subject of Ms. Grodner, let’s add another issue, shall we? The Celebrity edition of Big Brother in the Winter of 2022 leaned heavily toward the two finalists. There were times that it looked like “production” stepped in to help these two make it to the finals. Even they mentioned that they had help. Producers should not play an active role in who wins and who loses. This should be determined by the house guests. Also, house guests should not be allowed to “practice” before an event.

  3. America’s Vote: Have you ever wondered if the results are true in any of the America’s Votes? Speaking from the viewpoint of someone with large questions about telephone/internet polls, I honestly don’t think that the winners are determined by America unless we see the final poll results. A good example of this is what happened in my state during the Taylor Hick’s win on American Idol. Many of us supported Chris Daughtry as he was a resident of North Carolina and very familiar to the clubs here. When we called (and I do mean we as about 20 friends had this happened to them) to vote for Chris, we got “Thank you for voting for Hicks/McPhee.” This happened on all of Chris’s lines. We had the local affiliate call only to be assured our votes went to Chris but did they really? The phone lines/tabulation was controlled by producers and fans knew they liked Hicks. How do we know that we are giving the correct winner in America’s Favorite vote? Questions were asked after Celebrity Big Brother because the winner seemed off. Show the vote so no questions are asked!

  4. The Big Brother Bible. The show makes so much of a thick rule book that the players have in the house to question certain topics. Have fans ever wondered just what the “rules” of Big Brother are? I have and I know other critics have wondered. If there is such an important element to the game, the least you can do is give the rules to those who cover the show so we can reply to questions like: “Is that in the rule book or did the producers make it up for their favorites?” Hey, I’ve questioned if something was invented specifically for a situation a couple of times myself!

  5. The contestants: All of the fandom have heard that the casting directors have just walked into a restaurant and hired someone. We know from contestants that some of them have no idea about the game. Shouldn’t contestants be people who KNOW the game? Shouldn’t contestants be fully screened? Shouldn’t contestants have a mental evaluation before the game begins? Shouldn’t contestants have training on racial/sexual biases and bullying? Shouldn’t actual health concerns of the house guests and food allergies be a concern of production? The show tells us that they are but from this season’s cast, I don’t think so.

That’s it for this piece. Next up is the actual content of the games/shows/etc. itself.

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A Tale Of 'Big Brother’s' Woes

Written by 01 September, 2022

Tonight, Big Brother is bringing the drama, and once again the talk of racial issues has reared its head. After the Jack and Jackson issues of Season 21, I thought the sensitivity training and other workshops would kick in. Evidently, Big Brother's counselors don’t know what to do to weed out the riff-raff and get people who care involved. I didn’t want to address this regarding Big Brother ever again but after reading FaceBook, Twitter, listening to podcasts, and seeing news articles, I find I need to clear my head and this is my technique. As a journalist, I have been taught to observe and be objective. So to do that, as always, I have gone to the very beginning of this Big Brother season to trace this saga and to look at the facts.

Week One – No make that day one – Paloma developed an intensive dislike of an African American contestant, Taylor. There are really two reasons: her talking to the guys in a sexy swimsuit and her beauty queen identity. Let’s be honest. To play this game to win, you need a social game. I went back and watched this incident and other Paloma’s blowup today. She was always raving about the beauty queen and the superior attitude she felt Taylor had. These reasons got her followers (with Amerrah as the co-head) to separate Taylor from the girls by ignoring her and making fun of things she did (like crying).

Paloma never gave Taylor a chance and the other girls saw a leader and followed. Whatever Paloma and her second in command, Amerrah, said was true. Did any of them try to get to know Taylor? No! Instead, they formed the Girly Girls group and even shunned Britney out (due to being different). Now, what kind of girls alliance is that? Later Paloma would tell Monte and others that Taylor made fun of her in the shower. When did a joke and a look become bullying? When Monte told Taylor after they became friends, she explained how she felt. No one but Paloma took offense and Paloma is still talking about the bathroom incident that she saw as bullying. Paloma wanted Taylor out and used whatever means she could to do it. Instead, Paloma went out of control and left the game by her decision for mental health issues.

I will say this. There was no sign of racial tension in those early weeks. Taylor, though, took the brunt of the anger and micro-aggression of the other houseguests. If something happened in the house they didn’t like, Taylor had to be behind it. She was on the block four times because the others saw her as being the one who got Paloma to leave and hated her for that.

Then the “festie besties” (one of the worse twists ever) occurred. Nicole chose Taylor as her festie buddy because Nicole knew she would be safe if nominated for eviction. Who wanted the chef (Nicole) to leave? What Nicole and the “Mean Girls Club” didn’t realize is that Monte, Kyle, and others were noticing the things that were happening. They were hearing comments from the girls that didn’t meet their vision of what Taylor was doing. She wasn’t aggressive. She was forced to stay by herself.

Everything and everyone seemed to make her cry. If Taylor hadn’t been as strong as she was, she’d probably have broken down and either tried suicide or asked to leave. She didn’t and I applaud Taylor for that.
Monte and Kyle were members of the Pound with Turner and Joseph. They decided that Taylor was being treated unfairly. Then Taylor thought Nicole’s mom was worse and made a statement that Nicole might need to be with her. She and Monte even prayed for Nicole’s mom. Nicole took it the wrong way and found a way to target Taylor. In front of the entire house, she jumped down Taylor’s throat about what she had said. In the process, Daniel took Nicole’s side and verbally attacked Taylor in the living room reducing her to tears. The Pound was shocked. That’s when the idea of a larger alliance started. The meeting was held in the HoH Room and “The Leftovers” was formed. Now let me fill you in on the membership. Monte and Taylor were the African American members, Joseph was the Middle Eastern member, and Kyle, Turner, Michael, and Brittany were the Caucasian members. Does that sound like the Cook-Out? No way!

Now, here is where things went downhill. Kyle and Alyssa began the path to a showmance. Yes, they even had “10-second sex” several times. Now, as the house had lost Ameerah, Nicole, and Daniel (to their comments and attitude toward Taylor), Kyle realized it was only a matter of time before Alyssa would be facing the same fate. He started looking at “his” alliance differently and started thinking them of as “The Cook-Out 2.0.” But, instead of only including the original members, Kyle deleted Turner, Michael, Brittany, and himself. He turned Monte, Joseph, and Taylor into an alliance and added Jasmine, Terrance, and Indy to the group.

Didn’t matter that Indy didn’t meet the PoC definition. She was from Brazil after all and wanted to be the first Brazilian native to win the American version of Big Brother. I honestly guess Kyle was thinking more with his body than his mind or he would realize how stupid this sounded. There is no way that this could be considered the Cook-Out 2. But Kyle, in his confused little mind, saw it not only as a way to keep Alyssa longer and get to the end and win. So, he started looking for allies.

Kyle’s big mistake was the people he first approached. His first two were Michael and Brittany and he pitched that the three of them with Turner could form a new group that could counter any Cook-Out that came to be. Kyle's logic was that Monte, Taylor, Joseph, Terrance, Jasmine, and Indy were banded together like the original Cook-Out. Don’t ask me where he got this logic! This wasn’t what the first Cook-Out was about because they did work as a team to get the first Person of Color as a winner. . He surprised Michael and Brittany who appeared at first in the live feeds and a brief clip on the show to consider it. Apparently, Diary Room (and possibly second thoughts) showed them what the optics would look like and they dropped the idea. Evidently, Kyle had the same discussion with the Diary Room because he mentioned it in a conversation with Brittany where she tried to use logic on him. It just didn’t take. Kyle saw this logic as his means of winning the $750,000.

Now here’s where it gets messy. Turner was in for it as he saw strong players being taken out. He didn’t care that they were African American. That’s not the messy part. The teams were now divided and everyone knew that Jasmine would leave the indoor group. When Terrance (an African American) went for his nominations (as HoH), he chose Turner and Joseph. Somehow Kyle convinced Terrance that Joseph wanted him out (which Joseph did) and the network didn’t bother to allow live-feeders to see it. For at least two days, feeds were down in the backyard as the show tried to figure out how to play it. In the end, it was brushed over. Turner won the PoV and Kyle went up. But the die was cast and Terrance with Alyssa's urging, put up Kyle to make sure that Joseph was sent to the jury. I don’t want to talk optics but the images of 1930s movies moved in my brain. Kyle spread the Cook-Out 2 rumor by broadcasting the “Leftovers” and implying that something bigger was brewing.

It all came to a head this week when the groups reunited. The outdoor crew had decided to blame Joseph for outing the Leftovers and took much glee in telling Taylor that (a) Joseph hadn’t cared for her and talked trash about her and (b) he had outed the Leftovers. The more this was spun, the more Monte and Taylor seemed to see through it. Why would Joseph have done that? When Turner won the HoH, he put Taylor and Brittany up for eviction. Turner gleefully could care less who went but he did state he wanted Taylor out due to the first weeks of the season. So, his alliance saw that he was untrustworthy. Terrance wanted Taylor out because he blamed her for getting his friends, Paloma (making her spiral out of control), and Nicole and Daniel (trickery) evicted. Now, remember Terrance is African American but he played turncoat this week.

Did I say Michael and Brittany decided that it was time to out Kyle? The reason: they saw that Turner (with Kyle’s encouragement) was going to use the two of them to get Michael out. Michael and Brittany first approached Monte and Taylor with all that happened. Then it was on to Alyssa and the rest. Alyssa with her big mouth told Kyle who went to Diary Room where he stayed (and apparently cried) for five hours. We’ve been promised the house meeting but will the producers protect Kyle as they have been for a few weeks?

Tonight’s show opens with Julie talking about the house meeting and the reveal about Kyle that Brittany and Michael made. We open after Kyle leaves the Diary Room (5-hour blackout). He goes to Brittany to talk and she looks worried as she should be. Both are straightforward with each other. He admits he knows about the talk in the house (from Alyssa) and she hides nothing from him. Brittany reminds him that she talked to him about his Cook-Out 2 comments on Day 43. He admits he remembers but now Kyle realizes what she was saying but is he getting it now? She said she had to pick and she picked the “right side.” Brittany says she doesn’t think he’s a racist, but he hasn’t realized how his thoughts came across. Kyle next approaches Terrance and Monte and tells them he realizes that they were close with Joseph and Taylor. Kyle wanted to break them up.

Excuse me, Kyle, Terrance hates Taylor. Kyle knew it would break up the alliance but everything to him added up to a new Cook-Out. He apologizes (again) and Monte reminds him that all of the Leftovers had been transparent. If he had questions, Kyle could ask them at meetings. Monte is disappointed in Kyle and tells Kyle the thought process was based on race and lies imagined. Terrance feels that Monte, Taylor, and Joseph were running the “Leftovers” (because he was not included). Kyle calls himself foolish and asks for advice. Later Monte and Terrance talk to Turner about Michael and Brittany’s timing. If this came up weeks ago, then why Sunday? Turner thinks they need to do the house meeting and talk about it. Monte tells him to use it as a life-learning event and learn about relationships. Terrance on live feeds would talk about keeping Kyle and sending Taylor to the jury.

At the house meeting (which we only see some of), Michael discusses that during his HoH, Kyle had come to him with a plan for a new alliance. Kyle felt that Michael and Brittany were his closest allies and he didn’t know where he stood with the People of Color. Kyle uses Taylor’s failure to put up a “black” woman. Kyle implies he was sheltered and had no experience with how she felt. Kyle is asked why didn’t he ask in the meeting about it and Kyle wishes he had. Terrance turns to Michael and Brittany and feels they are “smart people.” Terrance wants to know why the house is only hearing this now. Brittany says she wishes it had happened sooner and she wishes she had put herself in their shoes. She didn’t want to hurt them. Michael uses the “fests” as his reason for holding back. How could this be discussed with the group's split?

Terrance tells all that if he had known this, Joseph wouldn’t have left during his HoH and sees it as a slap in his face. Taylor tells Kyle that she won’t hold this against him. She will hold Kyle accountable but he must earn trust. Monte hopes he uses it as a learning experience in the real world. Taylor tells Kyle he needs to address the issue and offers to help him. Kyle seems sincere in his apology and calls himself an “imperfect person.” Kyle knows he is going to the jury and plans to take the next days to start changing and apologizes about Joseph.

At the veto meeting, Michael uses the veto on Brittany (and people were upset that he didn’t use it on Taylor). Turner then announces that Kyle will replace Brittany on the block. Taylor and Kyle hug and hug all around. Kyle tells them all that he wants to have conversations and allow them to talk and forgive him. Monte doesn’t like Kyle’s actions but he will talk with him. Kyle cries when he talks to Monte because they played the same game. Monte didn’t do anything wrong. Monte shares his high school experiences and culture. His relationships with high school individuals that were not like him ended sadly. To Monte, when Kyle attached his actions to Monte’s race, Kyle thus will lose Monte’s trust. Alyssa tells him that she can’t trust him because he put himself first in their relationship. She ends the relationship (at least for now).

Monte talks to Taylor about the timing of Michael and Brittany’s revelations. They agree that there was something wrong with it and it will color any relationship in the future. Monte wants to win the HoH and put them up and Taylor agrees.

During the Eviction, Kyle tells Taylor she has style and grace. He addresses all with Alyssa the last. Taylor's speech about the stay in BB has been a journey of strength and offers Kyle and the others her love. With a vote of five to zero, Kyle is evicted from the Big Brother house and to the jury. He hugs all with Taylor the first and Alyssa the last. He exits to polite claps to talk to Julie.

Kyle tells Julie that the week has been tough but he’s thankful for the experience. Julie mentions the Cookout and his “proposed” alliance with Michael, Brittany, Alyssa, and Turner. Kyle realizes that what he said didn’t click in his mind and how terrible it was. Julie asks if this discussion affected his game. Kyle admits it went into his decision-making. His decision to out the Leftovers was to safeguard his game (my words) as he knew he was on the low end of the group and their decision-making. He wanted a group with Alyssa thus the After Party formed with Terrance and Turner.

Next Thursday is another double eviction! The HoH competition is a Zingbot’s Festival called “Burning Bot” featuring a puzzle and a visit from Zingbot.

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Review: 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings Of Power'

Written by 31 August, 2022

One advantage of not being a superfan of most iconic pop culture products is that it makes it much easier to judge a show or movie by what's on the screen. I'm less interested in the Easter eggs and nods to fan service than I am in answering what I think is the most important question: is this entertaining?

And that is the factor that really matters with any project. Can a viewer understand what's going on without having a vast knowledge of the characters in a variety of related films, television shows, and books? Does it do what it set out to do?

It's easy to get sidetracked when you try and review the first two episodes of the new Amazon series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, which premieres Friday. It's a massively expensive season of television - reportedly costing upwards of $500 million for the production costs. And following the success of the Peter Jackson films, it's tempting to try and frame the success or failure of the series as a referendum on streaming or so-called prestige television. And then there are the concerns of the J.R.R. Tolkien superfans, who have a love of the source material that makes Zack Synder Justice League proponents seem like casual viewers.

But at the end of the day, what matters most is the question I referenced earlier: is this entertaining?

Based on the first two episodes, I'd argue for a resounding yes.

The Rings of Power is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien's books and initially centers on Galadriel (Saint Maud's Morfydd Clark), the impressively focused Elven warrior who eventually becomes the queen portrayed in Jackson's movies by Cate Blanchett.

Morgoth has been defeated, but the cruel and dangerous Sauron and his orc minions still terrorize the land. Or do they?

Galadriel is known as the "Commander of the Northern Armies" and "the Warrior of the Wastelands," so it probably isn't surprising that she remains convinced that Sauron is hidden, planning his inevitable return to ravage Middle Earth. But no one - including her close Elven friend Elrond (Robert Aramayo) - believe her. The Elven people see her as obsessed with the death of her brother at the hands of the Orc and believe her quest to find Sauron is driven her slightly mad.

After the rest of her squad essentially mutiny in the middle of yet another futile, ice-filled search for the dark one, the Elven High King (Benjamin Walker) forces her into retirement by sending her through a dreamy celestial portal into a quiet, peaceful life in their homelands.

We're also introduced to other characters who no doubt will discover each other as the season progresses. Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova) is an elf patrolling a far-off human land. He befriends Bronwyn, a single mom who stirs the local gossip when the two of them dare to have a normal conversation.

He is recalled back home after the Elvin High King declares all is well everywhere. As it turns out, that decision turns out to be a tad premature once it's discovered a nearby town has been destroyed by mysterious, evil forces (cough, Orcs).

Showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay have an almost thankless job of converting the Tolkien leavings Amazon purchased the rights to into a distinct and compelling world that is familiar enough to fans of the movie while not feeling like a very expensive karaoke exercise. There are moments when the dialogue is clunky or a scene doesn't quite jell into the whole of the episode. But overall, the two episodes I've seen were a tense and compelling ride.

Director J. A. Bayona might be a bit too enthralled with the helicopter/drone shots, but there is a majesty and layering to the show that feels worthy of its motion picture predecessors.

I have a suspicion that the pace of episode one is going to bother some people, but it does include a lot of often slow-moving exposition. I wasn't bothered by it when I initially screened the episodes and it helps that episode two flies by at a frantic pace.

But thinking back on it, the slower pacing of episode one makes thematic sense. It helps solidify the Elven desire for peace and harmony and the gentle moving story makes Galadriel's frantic unhappiness with their comfort stand out even stronger.

It's always dangerous to expect too much going into high-profile, high-stakes projects like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. But after two episodes I'm all in and I can't wait to see where it's headed.

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'Big Brother': So Long Until Maybe Next Year

Written by 27 August, 2022

Most people who know me know that I go into Big Brother each year with high hopes. I’ve watched it since season six. I’ve lived through the “four horsemen,” Evel Dick, Jessie and Dan’s funeral, and the Derek/Frenchie era with little or no complaints. I’ve seen good contestants like Jordan and Jeff and awful contestants like – well I’ll not name them. I’ve recapped and watched hours of live feeds. This year’s Big Brother has done me in. I thought the bullying at the start of the season was bad enough only to have it come back, without the “mean girls,” but led by the following: a lying, cheating weasel, a PoC who hates women, an original “mean girl” who I thought had learned, and a floater with no sense of loyalty or who really seems to care. There. Was I honest enough?

The show had more issues than this. Let’s start with the cast list. There’s something off when we have no cast list until two days before the show premieres. Yes, I know Covid reared its head again and one supposed contestant did America’s Got Talent, but we weren’t even given a whisper. Then, to have the house guests enter live (only Julie in the audience) made it a little suspicious to me. Typical house guests though led this year by a 20-something (who will remain nameless) girl who had a bad case of paranoia (being kind) and took an instant dislike to one of the other girls. The reason: she was a beauty queen, said things that the silly leader didn’t like, and had nice clothes (or that’s how I saw it). She poisoned (yes I said poisoned) the rest of the girls. While things changed for our beauty queen, it was four weeks of isolation (which now seems to be returning). The paranoid contestant – left the game supposedly of her own free will – but left the poison behind. (She would make a great “Lady Macbeth!”)

The second major issue as the show aired for me was the theme. They said “beach days” and summer carnival. Instead, everything seemed off. Instead of a beach theme, it appeared the show was going for backstage at the sleazy side show and recked of slimy, underhanded games. Even the throne that was won by the “backstage boss” looked like it came out of an old movie like “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” I also don’t think that people were “randomly” assigned to their game. I honestly think that this was rigged as the contestant and contest came up too quickly. I have to question if the players had a fair shot at winning. Remember, in the messy first game, it went straight down the line.

Moving along, shall we to the “gimmicks” or “themes.” Gimmick is a better word. The plan was to have three under the backstage boss with a free ride until the first eviction. The one with America’s vote of the three would be safe while one of the others would go up for eviction. Great scheme until one backstage member became paranoid and left the game. So, quickly, the show came up with “festie bestie” which set the teams up with a “bestie” for three weeks. On paper, this looks good until you realize that one of the “mean girls” took the isolated girl as her partner just to get her out. Funny that this would have actually worked if six players hadn’t begun to realize what was happening. So, after four times on the block, the group (Leftovers) saved her, and a new alliance and hope for the season was born. I actually thought I might make it through the year.

While the backstage, carnival gimmick wasn’t bad enough, we got the “fests” with one group attending an in-house “Coachella” style while the other group outside at “Drye” fest. My question to producers (especially Allison) is: what would have happened if the notorious LA weather had gotten bad? The heat was bad enough but what about smog (breathing), torrential rains and flooding, or tornados or strong winds? Oh, that’s right. You did have gale force winds which allowed you to get out a fan favorite during Thursday’s eviction.

And that brings me to the real problem with this year’s Big Brother. While “The Leftovers” was truly a very good alliance, an alliance is only as good as its weakest link. Their weakest link turned out to be the one who founded the alliance, Kyle. If I was to describe Kyle as seen by production, I would say the “fair hair kid.” As a feeder and viewer who knows that television only broadcasts what the producers want, we saw a man-child who liked to snitch. Not only a snitch, but he also fell for the old showmance theme. Granted, it took him several weeks to move into that mode but when he did it was with a “mean girl” who accepted him for the sweet boy he appeared even having a “10-second fling” under the covers. Little did she know that he was running back to the larger group with her team’s information. I think Kyle will probably win the game with his lying, cheating way because he gives production what they want – a showmance. To me, he will always go down as “Allison’s good boy” who did what she asked. It’s happened before – remember Jackson who won!

And Kyle brings another angle to the story. When he first appeared, I didn’t see the underside of his character. He came out as a racist in a big way by plotting his all-white “Cookout 2”. Producers have managed to keep this from the casual television viewers but it’s there. It’s evident and known by feeders and those who read the feeds for what happened inside the house (more on feeders in a minute). To the casual viewer, the show has been traditional Big Brother. To the feeders and readers, the show has been one atrocity on top of another. From the “mean girls” savage behavior to Kyle’s actions, we have followed it all. 

How bad has it been? It’s been especially bad for People of Color. I’m Caucasian but loved the Cookout due to their strategy. So, for me to watch as a PoC, Terrance, has attacked other people of color and women, I’ve become angrier as it progressed. Terrance gets a special mention as he has made women cry, called Taylor all sorts of negative names (which I refuse to type), and even made racial slurs against the only Middle Eastern person, Joseph, in the cast. The last two happened this past week. I don’t know if he thinks this will win him a prize (maybe booby) but it was about the last straw to break my viewing back.

This article is already too long.  Big Brother doesn’t deserve the press. I’ll end it with a few facts:

The show has won its time slot but think of it this way. During this season, it constantly won its time slot. On Sundays I covered Riverdale. While Big Brother won, Riverdale wasn’t that far behind and neither ratings are good. Use to be in the 6 and 7 million. Now they’re lucky to pull 3 million. Granted, we have many more viewing options (and I plan to start watching other series myself). The rise of streaming gives us that option now and we don’t have to rely on broadcast television.

The show has given us interesting characters, especially Season 23. Season 23 was an abnormality. It had contestants that cared for each other with no bullying and strategic play. Point that out to me for this season please and I’ll reconsider.

The show is still strong in the 18 to 45 age group. Really? Neilsen Ratings don’t really know how many members of a family watch at any given time. I know, my family when I was growing up was one! In conclusion, I want to offer my sincerest thanks and well wishes to “Hamsters,” “Joker’s Update,” “Big Brother Daily,” and too many more that I can’t remember to mention. I’ve been in your shoes and you have my admiration for sticking to this heavily produced “for casuals” show. Thank you for giving me recaps so I don’t have to suffer the show that has been ruined by production. Hopefully, we get more original producers who care for the contestants, and the audience, and don’t cast according to script next year. Also, could we please have better themes and a new house location? If the producers and CBS do not change, I cannot speak to Big Brother’s future.

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Review: 'Lost Ollie'

Written by 20 August, 2022

When I was just shy of twenty, I was going to college in Los Angeles. I was an awkward boy from the Midwest who had never had a real girlfriend and didn't have an inkling of what I wanted to do with my life. Other than not be the person I'd become if I stayed in my hometown. Within a year, I was doing stand-up and working as a writer's assistant on a staggeringly terrible sitcom. And in what must have qualified as a genuine Hollywood miracle, I was in love. Susan was this funny, smart and outgoing blonde who had the type of lanky California beauty that prompted strangers to ask her if she was an actress. And for whatever irrational reason, she loved me back.

We had rented an apartment in a vaguely sketchy part of town and spent our nights imagining what our lives would be when we were rich and famous. My life was as close to perfect as I could have imagined until the evening I came home from doing a set to find her sprawled awkwardly across the bed. Based on what I learned later, someone had broken into what they thought was an empty apartment and robbed us. But not before they had assaulted her and left her for dead.

I experienced pain and loss at a depth that scares me even now. I walked away from friends and my work to go down a dark path I've mostly managed to block out. I didn't want to die. I wanted to embrace as much pain as possible because that was all I thought I deserved to feel. It took a long time to find my way back and I hurt some wonderful people along the way. But now 40 years or so later, I've been happily married for more than 20 years, have an extraordinary son and work that fulfills me.

And that's the thing about loss. It strips away the artifice from your life and forces you forward. It clarifies the kind of person you can become - for better or worse. We all know people who can't get past their specific loss. A family member, a relationship, a dream. They spend the rest of their lives unable to process their grief, unwilling to find the beauty that still lives in the world. Because as horrific as a serious loss can be, it opens up the possibilities of great joy. It's difficult to fully appreciate love until you've felt what it's like to lose it. Or know the joy that comes from doing work that feels as if it was what you born to do unless you've trudged through jobs that grind down your soul.

Experiencing loss is gutting. But it's also a core component of what makes us human.

Loss is at the center of Lost Ollie, a spectacular four-part series that premieres August 24th on Netflix. Inspired by the William Joyce book Ollie’s Odyssey, the series centers around Ollie (Jonathan Groff), a stuffed toy bunny whose owner Billy (Kesler Talbot) loses him. Ollie begins a desperate search for his best friend, while Billy longs to be reunited with the bunny that is much more than a toy.

Ollie wakes up in a second-hand store and remembers only glimpses of his old life with Billy. But he feels this visceral compulsion to be reunited with the young boy and that drives him forward in search of his former life. Along the way he meets Zozo (Tim Blake Nelson), a former carnival Midway toy that agrees to help him and Rosy (Mary J. Blige), an angry and resentful pink bear who we later learn is dealing (or failing to deal with) her own special loss and pain. Their travels are intercut with memories from Ollie's life with Billy, which provides some context for Ollie's obsession with his human friend. We learn early on that Billy's mother (Gina Rodriguez) is ill and her struggle colors the way Billy and his father (Jake Johnson) interact. They both love each other, but don't have the vocabulary to express their fear, much less comfort each other.

The first two episodes have the tone of a classic Spielberg-inspired film. Sadness, mixed with fear, wonder, and a sense of unexpected exploration. The colors are bright and the tone is optimistic. It feels like there's a real chance Ollie and Billy can find each other again. But Lost Ollie takes a darker turn in episode three as one of his new companions struggles with their loss while Ollie battles doubts about whether his relationship with Billy was as special as he remembers. There is anger, betrayal and the unexpected kindness that comes from good people struggling to find their way again. Those events set up an ending that is truly unexpected, with a call-back to other moments in the show. 

Series creator Shannon Tindle accomplishes the difficult task of juggling a lot of different emotional threads without any of it feeling manipulative or predictable. And as the episodes unwind, it becomes clear that the question all of the characters wrestle with is an elemental one for all of us: can we move on from our loss if the answers we get aren't the ones we needed?

I don't want to say much more, because it would be a crime to spoil any of the arc of Ollie's story. But I found myself watching it again rather quickly, seeing it with a new perspective given that I knew where the story was headed. What struck me about the show the second time around was how each major character - human or CG puppet - was battling with his or her own feelings of loss. Some more profound than others, but Lost Ollie is at its best when it shows the range and depth of loss and the way it impacts everyone. It's an impressive dance and one that reveals new emotional beats the second time around.

There isn't a weak performance in the cast, but I have to highlight Gina Rodriguez, who is absolutely incandescent in every scene. It's easy to see why Billy and his father are so in love with her and she becomes one of the emotional centers of the story. She is often much better than the roles she's been given, but "Momma" gives her the opportunity to showcase the humanity and kindness that weaves through all of her acting.

I also want to mention the look of Lost Ollie, which is often quite magical. It's a mix of live action and CG that is seamless and while my initial reaction was "how did they do this?," within a minute or two I had gotten lost in Ollie's story. It's technology in service of the story, not in place of one.

And I have to point out the clever use of the Boudleaux and Felice Bryant song "All I Have To Do Is Dream." The song was made famous by The Everly Brothers, who took the song to #1 in 1958. While the song wasn't the first choice when Lost Ollie was being put together, it's impossible to imagine a song better suited to the haunting pain of the show:

I need you so that I could die
I love you so and that is why
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is

Not only are the lyrics of the song a touchpoint for the emotion of the series, the song is also an unexpected twist in one of the storylines, which makes it use resonate even stronger across the four episodes.

As a critic, there is nothing better than being surprised. I am not embarrassed to admit that I was expecting to watch a solid, but unsurprising story about a boy and his lost stuffed animal. Instead, I watched a four-episode master class on what it means to hurt and to learn to move on.

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'Big Brother' - August 11th To August 17th

Written by 18 August, 2022

It’s Time for Big Brother! Not! It’s time for the marvelous maneuvering of the Leftovers against whatever the others are calling themselves now. Is it “Fly Swatters.” I don’t know (and I really don’t care)! And with the departure of Daniel, Terrance figures to move into the main role of leader. I thought that was Jasmine.

For those who follow the feeds, you know that Jasmine is still using her injured foot for sympathy but that is wearing thin with her “festie bestie,” Turner. Last week, she broke a glass in the bathroom and didn’t clean it up. What gives and why does Big Brother give her a pass? Well, it’s on to the show.

Thursday’s Eviction

After the long-winded recap, we get into the show. CBS, please talk to the show producers about being brief with this. We’re here to see the game, not listen to the rhetoric. When we get past the old, we see:

  • Julie announcing no more “festie besties” and the wall competition.
  • House divided? Daniel had figured out the alliance and he and Nicole called it the “Sorry Six.”
  • Jasmine’s “wheels are turning” on alliances. 
  • Daniel plans to shake things up.
  • Terrance plan was an epic fail but his new plan has Kyle leaving. 
  • The “Convenience Stores” hopes to keep the “Leftovers” from meeting.
  • Muffingate is still going on.

So basically after trying to win Alyssa to his side, Daniel realizes that he’s not got a chance against Kyle. He still works the crew for votes and uses with others that Michael is a comp beast, the showmance, While Terrance and Jasmine agree, they don’t know what to do. Kyle, meanwhile, is playing both sides to keep his love, Alyssa, safe. 

Julie gives Daniel a chance to plead his case. He’s ready to go and hang out with Nicole. Daniel’s smart. He reminds all that Michael has five wins and Monte is strong. He’ll be there for the rest if he remains for the season. Oh, and Daniel, don’t plea for votes and call people clowns. Kyle knows he’s staying because the Leftovers don’t know about the new alliance he’s trying to form with Michael, Brittany, and Alyssa. I’ve written a piece about this and won’t go into details here. Kyle’s speech just doesn’t make sense to me. With Monte casting the first vote and Terrance staying true to vote for Daniel, Daniel leaves with a vote of eight to one.

On stage, Julie asks Daniel what he told Terrace. While I didn’t get the gist of what he said, it was basically to watch his back. In Daniel’s opinion, they need to watch Michael or he will win everything. He blames Nicole’s eviction on the different stories he got before using the Veto. When Julie approaches Daniel about Taylor, he again uses the stories, that he believed Paloma. Daniel admits his anger was over the top and is shocked to learn the Leftovers formed after his blow-up at Taylor. The good news is that Daniel plans to take responsibility for what he says and plans to rewatch and talk with Taylor after she leaves the house. 

Outside, the Wall Comp is set up as a spaceship and involves “conspiracy theories.” They are on a ledge with silver aluminum hats on their heads. The poor intern who had to make them. When we leave the competition, Jasmine is the first to fall.

Sunday’s HoH
After the recap, we get straight to the HoH. It all comes down to Kyle and Taylor left on the wall. Kyle’s having problems and ends up dropping given the win to Taylor. She’s excited because she finally has won something and an HoH at that. From the most hated to the one in power – Taylor has to be relieved.

Next up is the jockeying not to go on the block. While the other side suspects that Taylor belongs to an alliance, they make it look real by all going to the HoH room. The Leftovers come in after all are in bed to discuss noms. While all want Jasmine out, Taylor doesn’t feel right putting her up. This has been discussed by the Leftovers before and Monte understands her reasons. Basically, Taylor said before she entered the house that she wouldn’t put up another woman who was a Person of Color. While many condemn Taylor for this, is it any different from what Frenchie said last year? Anyway, they decide to put up Indy and Terrance with no real preference on who goes. Most want Indy though because she has been playing hall monitor. The backup plan is to put up Alyssa which is NOT what Kyle wants. He has to keep his “love” safe.

So Kyle gets to work convincing Michael and Brittany to join him in his plan to start taking out the Leftover alliance. And, it looks like Michael and Brittany are considering it. With those two, you never know what they will do. Michael and Brittany already have a final three with Taylor (which they don’t mind breaking).

At the Nomination Ceremony, all are anxious. The Convenience Store hasn’t been kind, friendly, and insulted Taylor. Turner understands why Taylor won’t put Jasmine up but tells us that Jasmine doesn’t have the same respect for her. The plan will be to backdoor Monte who agrees. But wait, Joseph first offers himself as a “pawn.” Hasn’t he learned anything? Taylor nominates Indy and Terrance. The reason Taylor nominated them is that Indy has no relationship with Taylor. Terrance is told she wants him to prove himself by playing and winning the veto.

And tonight’s big question is: How much will they show of Kyle’s maneuvers? After the recap, we get into the Power of Veto and that ceremony. 

Taylor has a talk with Terrance where she tells him that Monte is her target. While Terrance doesn’t understand, he does think Taylor and Monte are working together. Indy and Terrance have no moves to their credit. Taylor tells Indy that she didn’t know what to do. She tells Indy she has to win so she can get her plans complete. Taylor doesn’t want Indy to go during her HoH. Now Alyssa is another story…

The Five (Fly) Swatters meet (or at least Indy, Joseph, and Jasmine) to discuss what is happening. Joseph admits in Diary Room that he’s a double agent taking back to the Leftovers. Jasmine thinks Joseph is stupid for bringing information back to them (oh please, give her a brain). Joseph talks to Taylor about what he has heard, and he suggests going up. Taylor really wants Alyssa up there but Kyle will never agree to this.

Let the campaign begins with Terrance making the first move to Joseph (I don’t count the Fly Swatters talk). Joseph, of course, reports to Taylor and Monte. When Michael joins Taylor and Joseph and they tell him about Joseph’s plan which is labeled dumb. Kyle and Monte join to take Joseph out of his plan to go up. In the Storage Room, Michael and Brit talk. They wonder if they should take a chance that would make them a bigger target. Michael also doesn’t like Joseph playing both sides of the house. Wait! What about you and Kyle?

And it’s time to pick for the Veto comp. Taylor, Terrance, and Indy step forward and are joined by houseguest choice (Alyssa by Taylor), Jasmine (Terrance), and Kyle (Indy). Taylor talks to Alyssa about what she would do if she won. Monte tells us Taylor wants Terrance out but the rest want Indy gone. Taylor does admit that she’s fine with Indy leaving. 

The Power of Veto is Punkarella played on a big guitar. They must bounce a ball to get points from the frets. Turner is hosting. When they get out, they smash a guitar for the prize but the next person can take any prize they want. In order of exits:

First — Terrance (wins veto but ends up with tattoos).

Second – Indy (wins tattoos but takes PoV).

Third — Taylor (wins a London trip for two but gets a “chained together punishment)

Fourth — Alyssa (wins punishment and takes Taylor’s trip thus earning a possible renom)

Fifth – Jasmine (wins $5,000 but takes the London trip from Alyssa)

Winner – Kyle (wins punk a tard/drums but takes the PoV from Indy).

In Diary Room, I’ve never heard a worse British accent. Monti reminds us how Alyssa goofed taking the London trip from Taylor. She does admit it may have been a mistake, but Kyle has PoV. Taylor wants Kyle to use it so Alyssa can go up or the plan of Joseph can occur.

Oh, a Kyle and Alyssa edit. They’re discussing the PoV. She realizes that she should have taken the Veto (really?). Four of the Leftovers talk about Alyssa’s dumb move. The target is now on Alyssa and she won’t have to deal with her. Michael joins the conversation, listening. Turner arrives. 

Michael thinks the reason for the trip is a stupid reason for getting Alyssa out. Oh, wait. He’s part of Kyle’s brand new no-name alliance. I thought Michael knew this game. Evidently not. This worries Michael about the future of the alliance. And I thought he was smart. 

We’re told that tomorrow, the new twist will split the house in two. 

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'Big Brother' – Racism? Again?

Written by 15 August, 2022

Big Brother, with all your sensitivity training, nothing seems to work. We had that horrible Jackson/Jack season and then All-Stars. While All-Stars, regarding being aware of others, was fine, there were issues. Then last year, we had the Cookout and an awareness of personal worth with the contestants. This season, we have spent the first three to four weeks in a bullying situation. Now, Kyle, the mouse, has come out as letting personal feelings get in the way and thus race has reared its head. How did this happen? Let’s review, shall we?

When we started, Kyle was the first to realize that Monte, Joseph, Turner, and he needed to form an alliance. By Week Three, Kyle and Monte were realizing that Taylor was being bullied and decided to do something about it. The way it was presented in the group was that when it got down to seven, Taylor would be the first to go. So they brought Taylor and the other two outsiders, Michael (comp beast) and Brittany (his best friend) into the circle which Taylor named the Leftovers. All seemed like it could go to the end, and then a showmance reared its head with the help of production. Alyssa wanted a boyfriend and seemed focused on Kyle. Finally, Kyle gave in and kissed her, and the rest is history. Saturday, the duo consummated their love, and he will now do anything to keep her in the house.

So far, nothing racial implied but we need to go back to when Daniel left. The Leftovers are made up of two African Americans (Taylor and Monte), one Middle-Eastern (Joseph), and four Caucasians (Turner, Kyle, Michael, and Brittany. Kyle decided that Alyssa need to have a place of safety in the group. Alas, Alyssa had been one of the bullies of Taylor so getting Alyssa in good with the others would be hard. Also, Kyle saw another Cookout forming (say what?). This makes me question his sanity and real personal beliefs. Did his “love” make him blind to the number of players in his alliance? There is no way that this could be considered another “Cookout.”

Still, it nagged at Kyle. His scheming earned him the name KKKyle on Twitter. He approached Michael and Brittany about forming an alliance of the non-People of Color to win the finale. He is also planning on approaching Turner to join the group. With this, he thinks he can control who wins (with it being he). Not only is he part of his newly designed alliance (with no name), but most of them (sans Alyssa) is part of the Leftovers so he is covered.

Well, he was right to a point! Taylor won HoH. That’s good for the Leftovers but left Taylor with few nominees — Jasmine, Indy, Terrance, and – guess who – Alyssa. And how can Kyle keep Alyssa safe if she is nominated? He decided to use rumor, gossip, and any skill he had to keep Alyssa off the block. First, it was Jasmine going up but Taylor made a promise before entering the house that if she won HoH, she would not nominate a POC. So it came down to Terrance and Indy on the block. This was good but what would happen if one of them won the Power of Veto? While Joseph volunteered to go up, the Leftovers suspect that he will end up tied to Taylor in a punishment stunt (again due to Alyssa’s bad decision skills). Thus, Alyssa is the one to go up and Kyle made plans to control the PoV.

He met with his “secret allies” who supported him. Basically, if any of them won the Power of Veto, nothing would be changed. Then Kyle got pulled to play POV and won. This meant for the Leftovers plan to work, one of the nominees would come down and Alyssa would go up.

Kyle wasn’t having it and started his maneuvers. First, he tried to convince his allies. Whether that worked or not, who can say because Michael and Brit seem to never really say what they feel? After putting it out to them that Alyssa wouldn’t hurt his game, Kyle approached Taylor in the HoH room about the nominees. Per live-feeders, this was a long meeting with Kyle making promises that we feeder viewers know he won’t keep. Taylor seemed okay with whatever he decided. He lied to Taylor though. He hadn’t spoken to all the alliance when he said they were indifferent and it wasn’t discussed as a group until after Kyle met with Taylor. According, again, to the live feeds, he promised Indy last night that he would use it on her. This morning he changed his mind.

While I’m not sure what happened or what was said at the PoV (no live feeds). Kyle said something that set Taylor off. I think Monte, Joseph, and Turner are getting vibes that if it is left to Kyle, Alyssa stays until the end. The question is: how do his new alliance friends feel?

Turner is a question mark at this point. He’s in the Leftovers and seems to support everyone in the Leftover group. Turner’s one foe, Jasmine, is annoying but Turner has fun playing tricks on her (Muffin-gate, Cookie-gate, Balloon-gate). As a POC, Jasmine would never have been Taylor’s choice. Brittany and Michael, on the other hand, haven’t taken a strong stand against Kyle’s new alliance. Some online feel that Michael is concerned over Taylor’s Diary Room numbers. Hopefully, after whatever happened today, Michael and Brit have begun to see that Kyle is only playing for himself. Maybe that has happened. It seems from the live feeds that they are standing away from Kyle. Jasmine, Taylor, and Monte are aware that Kyle’s thinking is impaired by sex (yes, that happened), and he’s going to take Alyssa as far as he can – regardless of what he says. So the question is: will Kyle be true to his alliance or do they vote him out sooner than later?

My question is: Is Kyle a racist? He didn’t appear to be in the early weeks but as time has gone by, his actions and his words don’t seem to agree. He speaks the right words to the Leftovers, but he’ll do anything for Alyssa. And this could be his downfall and a problem for his future. He is a TikTok artist and it seems that he will be met with the same type of flack (or worse) that Amerrah, Nicole, and Daniel have. Actually, with his Twitter nickname (KKKyle), he may face worse blowback. With people in the house wising up, how long will he be safe? The Leftovers are good at hiding their real feelings. Plus, the new twist may make it hard for Kyle’s protective cover for him and Alyssa to work. Give me your opinion. This could get good. But we can’t forget that Big Brother again is letting the racial aspect play into the game. Isn’t it time that all are treated as equals?

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Big Brother – Week Five – August 4th Through August 7th, 2022

Written by 10 August, 2022

On Thursday’s show, it was a little long on the Kyle and Alyssa romance, dear CBS. They really have no chemistry and are boring. Kyle is so caught up in the “love affair,” that he could care less for his alliance and thus his hands are getting dirty with his protection of Alyssa. He would sell out any member of the Leftovers to (a) cover his love, Alyssa, and (b) keep the game safe for his partner, Daniel. I don’t really want to issue the real problem but will. He has come out and openly said he didn’t want a “Cook-Out 2.0” More on this later.

As expected, CBS, Nicole was voted out nine to one. Daniel was the one vote to save her. Alyssa, Jasmine, Indy, and Terrace chose to vote with the house. CBS, I really don’t understand this. On feeds and in conversations you showed, Indy especially hates Taylor (and I want a reason) while Terrance has called her just about every ugly name in the book. Their attitude won’t change and that is a shame. I thought sensitivity training was given to all house guests before they enter the house. Apparently, it was lost on this crew.

I give Taylor applause. While her speech to be safe did pinch a few nerves, she didn’t go full-out truth on Nicole (and some of the others). Kudos to her. The farewell messages finally finished putting the Leftovers together for Nicole and she seems contrite at what she’s been told of her actions toward Taylor. In exit interviews, she said she went against instinct and listened to others in the house.

Of all the people left in the house, Daniel is probably feeling the most alone. Not only did he aid in getting his alliance member out but he encouraged it thinking Taylor would go. He’s an Elvis impersonator. He should be able to read the house better than this. 

By the way, if you had cut the Kyle/Alyssa romance in half, we could have seen the start of the HoH.

This is my first time watching it on CBS as it is broadcast in the Eastern time zone. Let’s see what you chose to show.

As the show opens, Taylor is just happy to be in the house but her “besties” may not be happy. Indy is afraid of Taylor and I’m not sure why. It seems to be because of Nicole. Daniel is pouting and he said they both had a lot of support behind them. Alyssa comes in and they have the “why” debate. By the way, turn the music down because we can’t hear his talk with Alyssa due to the horns. When they finally get Daniel out of the bedroom, he throws Monte and Michael’s names out as influencing the game. Monte stands up for himself and Daniel seemingly backs down to start up again. Hasn’t Daniel learned anything from the Taylor confrontation? He makes all uncomfortable. And his bestie, Kyle, is afraid of going on the block. Taylor just munches chips as the drama unfolds.

The HoH Contest is an obstacle course. There is a fire hydrant and doghouse so Poochapalooza is on. They must walk on a balance beam and if they fall off start over. There are several routes to choose from in “Mind Your Step.” which of the three routes to take? With statues of Pooch and Ameerah (with bags of dog poop in their hands) watching, the contestants must go one at a time. Daniel has a time of 16.49 seconds but can he be beaten?

Of course, he can. Michael does the course in 11.79 seconds. Kyle says he doesn’t know if he will choose his alliance or Alyssa. So the doubt was there before the competition (and Kyle lost by .1 second). Also, like with Indy, the clock seems to go faster than for others! Turner takes a bad fall but gets up and seems okay. The winner of HoH is Michael (and Brittany). 

Even though a Leftover, Michael sees the need to start taking things seriously. Britany and Michael meet to decide that Daniel is the most dangerous to their game. Taylor joins them and the celebration continues.

Of course, Daniel is being discussed as the target. Taylor feels safe because of her final three with the HoH pair. Taylor joins her “festie besties” and all Indy can see is the negative which is Taylor putting Indy on the block. Meanwhile, Kyle starts a game outside (stupid finger snapping). Jasmine, who falls and hurts her foot, is playing it for all its worth and Turner is so over her. Please CBS don’t let them use an injury as minor as this that she’s been cleared from as strategy.

Monte and Joseph strategize over Michael’s HoH. Wait! It is Michael who makes the final decision. Monte suggests going up because it will prove Michael isn’t working with them. Of course, it will be the opportunity to get Terrance out. Joseph and Monte agree to go up. And it seems that all are beginning to have issues with Kyle.

And we have Muffingate. Jasmine finds the muffins Nicole made. She puts two in a bag for later. When she returns, one is half missing and Jasmine goes on the search for “The Muffin Man.” Turner says being with Jasmine is driving him slowly crazy. I love Turner (because he is doing this). She questions everyone but can’t find the culprit. Turner claims to know nothing. She returns them to the kitchen. Even the Diary Room won’t tell her what happened. Turner tells Taylor and Joseph (I think) what he did and attacks them again by eating a bite in the Diary Room. 

The Leftovers gather to meet about the nominees. Taylor points out that Daniel is the number one target but partnered with Kyle. Turner volunteers to go up but Monte points out that if his group goes up there are three and would prove they’re not working together. They agree with the backdoor planned for Daniel. Michael said would taking out Daniel be the best move for him or Monte. Kyle looks upset because he’d be up with Daniel, ruining his plans for a new alliance.

Oh great, Alyssa and Kyle have a meet-up in the Storage Room to discuss showmances. Do we really need a no chemistry showmance? Come on! The fireworks don’t work for me, production as Alyssa says they would be happy and Jasmine asks about the muffins. Now that’s funny.

Daniel pitches to Michael to stay. He points out that he’s won more competitions. Daniel will take out whoever Michael wants him to do as the season progresses. Michael is listening but not buying (because Taylor is Daniel’s prime target). Michael, though, thinks that he might be able to work with Daniel. No! Michael don’t do it! Terrance, Monte’s team member, might be the best as a cover due to their competitive nature (and Terrance, of course). It would also be unexpected which Michael and Britany like. Maybe, it’s time to throw away the Leftovers? Is it the week of making a big move?

At the Nomination Ceremony, Michael calls all together to reveal the nominees. He has chosen: Monte, Joseph, and Terrance. While Daniel seems relieved because he’s not nominated but he seems to forget; To ensure safety, Daniel needs to be picked for veto and win. Monte points out they agreed to this. They plan to win and the Leftovers to keep him safe. To Michael, this is the best option moving forward. 

Wednesday night we get the veto competition and ceremony. For the veto, it is OTEV (one beloved by all). Please CBS – no Alyssa and Kyle show! Oh, and Daniel has switched his target. He wants Monte out of the house. Jasmine wants Monte gone too so is rallying the Girly Girls. 

Terrance wants to work with Daniel so anything Dan says is the law. Terrance is an idiot. If he wins, he won’t remove his team from the block. Say what?

Jasmine is still into Muffingate. She is watching the kitchen by hiding to figure out who did the crime. The only problem is, that all of them can see her. Jasmine goes to interrogate Turner as the guilty party in taking her muffin and he agrees. He confesses but she evidently doesn’t think that is enough. Turner turns from saying he did it to he did not do it. I hope that she’s not around for the PoV Hide and Seek! Brit, Taylor, and Michael are still working together as a threesome alliance. Daniel and Kyle meet with Michael and seem to be pitching something new. Kyle doesn’t want to be there on the block due to his showmance and bestie with Daniel. Michael, though, has the deciding opinion on whether to disband the Leftovers.

Oh, we get the hint of a potential romance between Taylor and Joseph. Yes, they make a cute couple, but CBS let it happen naturally. They are also making fun of the Lays Potato Chips. Michael thinks they’re her “festie bestie.”

OTEV looks strange. Terrance, Joseph, and Monte are joined by Michael and Britany and the pick of Jasmine and Turner. Well, Jasmine still has a “bad knee” so will that last long? For ETOV they are dressed as cows with OTEV as a singing stage roach. The contestants must bring back sauces while being hit with what – manure, mud. OTEV will sing and they must look for the correct sauce. Jasmine is loving the music and the game is afoot. Brit is the first one out (and it’s not shown but has a bad cut on her knee). She’s followed by Jasmine, Turner (who according to feeds, dislocated knee), Joseph, and Monte. It’s between Michael and Terrance with Michael winning.

Jasmine, Terrance, and Daniel have a meeting to figure out how to leave Monte on the block. With this move, Terrance thinks he can play this game (yeah, right). They’re going to use: “Monte will win, it’s time to take a big player out.” So Jasmine talks to the girls with Indy and Alyssa in. Terrance talks to Michael and Brit. Brit has a hard time “NOT” laughing. Of course, Terrance doesn’t pay attention to her. He’s followed by Jasmine, Indy, and Alyssa (“The Convenience Store”). Will Kyle make a pitch? First comes Daniel. Michael thought of making a move but the “Convenience Store” with the same story is suspicious. The Leftovers find it funny with Turner never agrees with Jasmine. Terrance is playing the game and is “killing it.” Michael spills to Monte who sees this as bad playing. 

At the PoV Ceremony, Terrance finds outs that he’s not as convincing as he thinks. Monte, Joseph, and Terrance come down and Kyle and Daniel go up. Brit has a smug look as she calls it all together. Michael starts the ceremony and announces that they will use the power on the Terrence team and Daniel looks worried. The new nominations are Daniel and Kyle. Taylor, Turner, and Joseph look to have trouble not laughing. 

Michael tells us he saw right through them and we get a little “Chill Town.” Daniel tells us it was not a smart move. Terrance tells us Michael isn’t brave enough to take a big shot but he will. Taylor compares it to a bag of chips as she smiles. Thursday night. One will go home (Daniel, I hope) and we get the infamous “wall” competition.

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'Big Brother 24' Week 3: The Good, The Bad And The PLAIN UGLY

Written by 27 July, 2022

CBS! I have hope for Big Brother after all. The live feeds give me hope that it’s not going to be the season of the “Mean Girls” and “Locker Room” guys. My hopes are so high that this recap will be submitted after Thursday’s show. But let’s get to the suggestions.

Let’s say I am not surprised that Pooch is gone. In fact, I’m somewhat happy. The thing that got me was his attitude toward Julie. You should tell the contestants that Julie is their friend and to respect her. From Pooch’s attitude, he was mad that he had to leave and wanted anything but to talk to Julie. His anger comes out of being upset by being ousted by a 12-0 vote but he volunteered. Shouldn’t it be included in the show’s bible to consider that volunteering doesn’t mean you are safe? And while he talked about being friendly, he wasn’t that friendly with Taylor, now was he?

Now, I must rescind my opinion of Turner from last week. This guy is sharper than any of us, much less the other house guests, I think. He not only manages to win the HoH (Get Lit) but makes Jasmine (his bestie by default) pick the “have-nots” (Alyssa and Indy). Jasmine now has blood on her hands. That’s good CBS but did she really put up her allies? Also, could you have Jasmine lose her fake Southern accent? Most of the Southerners I know are insulted by it.

The HoH was cute – that’s the best I can say – but variations of it have been played before. And the setting of tables would only work if they were in the VIP session (I’ve set in the grass at Tina Turner). It would have been so much better if they were in the crowd. I was upset with how their partners were done. Instead of hiding their alliance, they amplified it and one, Nicole, set herself up to “take one for the team.” It would have been so much better if they had had to pick someone of the opposite gender/sex.

And, regarding the alliances – you really need to work with these contestants on picking “alliances names.” While they think Po Pack, Oasis, Girls Girls are great, they make no sense for the contestants. With that, the alliances show just how isolated Taylor is. She’s not part of any.
Diary Rooms are great but give us more. We don’t necessarily want reflections on what happened but what they feel and how the others are reacting. Yes, Taylor realized that she had to win and Nicole had a plan. Nicole, though, in particular, came across as a little cold-blooded and angry (as she did the entire show).

As of Sunday’s show, it appears that some of these people are growing brain cells. I just don’t understand why Nicole always comes across as loud and angry. She’s always coming across as angry. Let’s address the elephant in the room – Taylor’s treatment. While Nicole picked her as a partner, Taylor doesn’t trust her. And Turner is catching on. He sees through the girls' plan and is a little surprised by all the suggestions that Taylor is the problem but Turner hasn’t seen it.

And someone needs to teach alliances like the Girls, Girls that they need to cover their tracks more. Turner sees through it and Michael and others are wising up. Does this mean that someone in the house is actually growing some brain cells?

My production notes from Wednesday:

Daniel even in the preview is a rat. Maybe we should have seen more material on why this is the case. I hate to judge with little information (except feeds) but editing is everything. I’m quickly losing respect for Nicole who wants her partner, Taylor, to go and she is expecting a special power. Do the house guests realize that their every action and Diary Room words are edited for the casual viewers with points of view coming into play.

The Girls Girls give all sorts of reasons for getting Taylor out. Taylor’s not making friends. All of the girls want her out (with Ammeerah as the spokesperson).

Just a note: I love how Turner is processing his HoH. So far, no case of HoH-itis. He listens when people talk. He does talk to Nicole about not being his target and he’s smart and has Monte with him. Nicole’s bragging in Diary Room is showing how much she brags and she lies easily.

Taylor knows she is the target. She knows people are cold. Taylor does open up to Monte but is he seeing the real Taylor. He now knows that there were lies told about Taylor. Taylor knows they have to talk about what is happening and what needs to happen to implement change. Monte gets it – thank God, but he has seen wishy-washy before.

Monte, Kyle, Joseph, and Turner are having a meeting. Monte has a clue the girls have an alliance. This meeting starts like any other but quickly progresses to putting things together: girls working together to get the guys out, Taylor as loyal. Suddenly, they realize this is playing into Ameerah and the girls' hands. They also realize that Alyssa snitches everything the guys say to her to the girls. Ameerah is a power player. Kyle thinks they can work with Michael and Brittany and agree to include Taylor. Yes! Kyle realizes that the girls are a dragon with Ameerha in the head. And the plan is made and the troops start their mission. Kyle wants this to work. I like him so much better now.

The PoV is announced and the “bestie besties” will compete. Only three pairs will compete. The HoH and partner with Michael and Brit will be joined by one additional team – Taylor and Nicole. Nicole as always makes it about herself. She hopes someone else will win because she doesn’t want to “throw” another competition.

Nicole runs to her “friend” Daniel and is first upset that when Taylor leaves, there is no superpower for her. Turner finds them waiting in the HoH win. Nicole says the game is real and Taylor’s there and she’s not happy. Turner looks disgusted but turns it into concern. This plays into the plan to backdoor Ameerah and blame Dan and Nicole. Nicole says “I’m a competitor” and “I’m an athlete.” She doesn’t know fair play and teamwork.

Later, Nicole is crying in her bed. While talking to Daniel, realize that she’s a cold-hearted person (won’t use what I really think) and Daniel is a creep. The group thinks something has happened to her mother. When Taylor goes in to talk, with Ameerah as a witness, Taylor of course takes it the wrong way.

Taylor makes the move to comfort Nicole and goes in and basically says, do what you need to do for you. Nicole in her anger and looking for a way to get rid of Taylor takes it as she wants Nicole to leave the house. Nicole immediately goes to the bathroom and finds Daniel and tells him that Taylor was trying to make her leave. Daniel isn’t going to take it. He’s already lost one “friend” during week one who spiraled out of control (as he puts it). Taylor is passive-aggressive. (Note to Dan and Nicole: That’s the title Nicole won tonight.) He confronts Taylor and calls her manipulating. In the living room, Taylor tries to apologize but Dan’s not having it. Taylor isn’t supposed to speak to him again. The spiral that the two of you plan is against Taylor. She would have already broken if she wasn’t so sweet and strong.

To skip ahead for a minute, after the veto, the boys (except for Terrance and Dan) call a meeting. Michael, and Brit are to be included and Taylor is told to come upstairs to the HoH to talk. Instead, the group for a new alliance, “The Leftovers” (chosen by Taylor). They will support each other and the guys tell Taylor they realize that both she and Brit have been excluded. The goal of the Leftovers is to get Ameerah out of the house and then get rid of the rest of that alliance.

The veto comp has Turner and Jasmine (the HoH pair), Michael and Brit (nominees), and Taylor and Nicole. Nicole will take one for the rest to get Taylor out. While “Woodstack” takes communication skills, it doesn’t happen with Nicole. Let’s just say that by Nicole’s action, she and Taylor loses. Jasmine has a fear of heights and passes out even before she gets lifted off the ground making it so Turner and she don’t compete. Micheal and Brit win and Turner plans to take Ameerah out.

CBS, Wednesday night’s show redeemed this week. I’m sure Ameerah will have much to think on tomorrow night as I feel she leaves. I’m not sure who does the picking of contestants, but my kudos to you for picking a group like the Leftovers who “FINALLY” saw through the lies and manipulation. Tell them thanks. And for those who picked Daniel and Nicole? You need a new type of evaluation to weed this type of self-centeredness out.

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Review: 'Queen (aka Królowa)'

Written by 25 July, 2022

One of the things I love most about watching television produced outside North America is the sense of surprise. I'm often being exposed to actors for the first time and in most cases, I don't know much about the show itself. We may live in a world of global television, but PR efforts tend to still be primarily regional. So while I was loosely familiar with the career of Andrzej Seweryn (the Netflix crime thriller The MireSchindler’s ListThe King of WarsawThe Last Family) and Maria Peszek (the Netflix series Cracow Monsters), I had no idea what to expect from there here.

And honestly, sometimes it's a delight to turn on some show with no preconceived notions about what I'll see. And then find myself transported into a world that is unfamiliar and yet still magical.

Queen (aka Królowa) is a new original series from Netflix that was produced in Poland and at least here in the U.S., it dropped onto the service without much notice. Which is a shame, because this four-part series written by Kacper Wysocki and directed by Łukasz Kośmicki (The Coldest Game and The Dark House) is an absolute delight.

Andrzej Seweryn stars as Sylwester Borkowski, a Parisian tailor who has world-class reputation. But for all of that talent, he also has another life as the famed Parisian drag Queen Loretta. Both Sylwester and Loretta have decided to retire and it is his dream to move to the south of France and retire. But as he prepares to do so, he receives a letter from an Iza Nowak (Julia Chętnicka), who turns out to be the granddaughter he never knew existed.

She lives in Sylwester's hometown back in Poland and it turns out that he left Poland for Paris when Iza's grandmother was pregnant with her. He's never met his daughter Wiola Nowak (Maria Peszek) and never had any desire to do so. But Iza asks him to return because Wiola needs a kidney and she hopes Sylwester is a match and will return to donate one of his to his daughter.

Maybe it's his age or a feeling of loss and nostalgia. But Sylwester decides to return to his Polish hometown, which is a rough-scrabble mining town that both economically and culturally is as far removed as you can imagine from the sophisticated streets of Paris.

Without giving too much away, everyone goes through the angsts and anger that you would expect from the situation. But before you have the chance to decide the story is playing out as you would have predicted, there is a mining accident in town. And what happens after that sends Queen off in an entirely unexpected direction. Leading into a fourth episode which provides some really hilarious moments.

There is a type of European show that really resonates with American audiences. It's that gentle slice-of-life comedy that isn't flashy or especially suspenseful. But watching it is like mentally wrapping yourself up in a warm blanket on a blustery winter night. It's comforting and satisfying for the soul in a way that I suspect most of us need at this point in 2022. Yes, there are culture clashes, but no one is belittled or degraded. These are just well-meaning people, doing the best they can and I loved them all for trying.

I didn't know what to expect when I decided to sample Queen but I'm glad I did.

It's a sweet ray of sunshine that took to me some unexpected places.

Queen premiered June 23rd, 2022 on Netflix.

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'Big Brother' – Letter to CBS, Week 2

Written by 22 July, 2022

Dear CBS:

Not sure what is going on with this year’s season of Big Brother, but this season (24) has already lost me as a viewer. Look, I’ve recapped this show for years and always made it to near the end. I must admit that by the time we are at “only four left, who will win” I’m begging my editor to let me stop since the season that saw the second coming of Nicole. Up until then, I found the show enjoyable. I found the competition fair. I found contestants I could care about with true backstories. I didn’t see nearly as many wanting to make it big in California or who appeared to have come on the show hunting for a “big break” or movie contract. I will admit that Big Brother 23 was a dream. The cast, stories, and strategy made you want to pull for the group as a whole and as “The Cookout.” It was what I had been waiting for since the early seasons and a joy to recap. In fact, there was concern about whether Big Brother would be over before my season show, Riverdale, came on. Now, I could care less about this season or guests for this year.

Let me start by saying this. It isn’t only me who could care less. Let’s start with the long-term fans, many of who are casual viewers. A few of them have asked why I’m not covering Big Brother this year and I said “Riverdale.” Then they drop their bombshell. They don’t care about the show. They hate the “house guests.” They don’t think anyone at CBS cares for what the long-term fans want. Even the discussion groups I belong to on Facebook (or Meta) do not have posts going to them. Since I recap, I do NOT post there. The reaction I am seeing on discussion boards for the show, Facebook, and Twitter seems to be the same. One message I got via Messenger today said one friend thought the show was dying because CBS didn’t need it and soon will be no more. She will not be finishing the season.

I must admit, I watched both Sunday and Wednesday show in 20 minutes Thursday afternoon and often looked for a way to fast forward not only the commercials but also the ‘blah, blah, blah – we must get Taylor out.” This seemed to be the only theme. No strategy – just get the girl out. Now having seen the same thing on week one live feeds, I know who (and what) is behind this. I won’t speak of the person because I promised I wouldn’t talk negatively about a contestant who was no longer on the show. As long as they are on the show, I find them somewhat fair game as they could change their actions. Only thing is, evidently the training sessions on sensitivity and awareness didn’t have an impact on this bunch. They are socially unaware and often come across to casual viewers as bullies. 

Let me name a few problems. The first is the “Mean Girls Club.” I can’t call it the “Bad Girls Club” because at least those women stuck together. These girls don’t mind deciding that someone who appears different needs to go. There’s no “chance” for them. A case in point is Taylor. From the casual viewer’s point of view, all Taylor did was model her “last show” dress because the others had asked her to do so. That’s when they started shutting her out. If they didn’t want to see her dress, they shouldn’t have asked. Taylor can’t help that she was a beauty contestant with years of training on how to present herself. We’re not even sure if she wanted to show her dress or not (apparently from what I saw in live feeds, the answer is no). She may not have even wanted that lifestyle but her family did. Has any in the Mean Girls’ Club” actually gotten to know Taylor. No! They were too busy trying to get her out of the house.

Problem Two: gimmick casting. I’m not sure who came up with the casting list this year but there are real problems. One guy looks like a reject from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Did his casting line read: a surfer dude? One tries to talk Southern but it is not your typical Southern style. Granted, my region is mid-Atlantic (North Carolina) but even this has its own accents. I have been to the Crystal Coast, Outer Banks, and the Appalachian Mountains here. I have traveled to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. I’ve even been to London and, after a week, was asked which Lake District area I was from. So, when I heard the accent one contestant was using, I couldn’t identify the region. When I was told the South, I went what! I have friends from the Deep South and they don’t sound like that. And, at no time or in any region, have I heard the term “something butterbeans” used. Whoever dreamed that up needs to visit the South.

Problem Three (and I’ll stop here for this week). While the girls have a Mean Girls’ Club, the boys are acting like they are in a movie football locker room where they trash talk the girls all the time. They make Taylor seem like they have seen her information on the back of the bathroom door. The guys, like the girls, have zeroed in on what they see as negative (getting the week one person out due to their friend who left). While I am sure the girls’ opinion has caused their views, they don’t even seem to want to get to know her or to find out who she is. I am honestly getting tired of the bad mouthing that occurs as soon as they can open up. It’s getting tiring and fans are tuning out. Thus, CBS, I have two more weeks of Riverdale which I am not going to miss so Sunday will not see me watching. I have the Below Deck series I am enjoying (for the scenery mostly). My question to you is why should I watch Big Brother when I have objections to the antics of the house guests.? I know you can’t do anything, but at least get in there and train these people about people’s feelings and their actions. I’ll catch the show when I can and read the live feeds, but my letters to you may not be weekly anymore. I’m sure the Big Brother production won’t care!

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Review: 'Unprecedented'

Written by 10 July, 2022


I was really looking forward to watching Unprecedented, the three-part documentary series that premiered Sunday on Discovery+

Word of the existence of the documentary didn't surface publicly until several weeks ago, when it was revealed during one of the January 6th hearings that a documentary crew had been shadowing then-President Donald Trump and his family during the last months of the 2020 campaign, through the events of January 6th and beyond. I wasn't sure quite what to expect, but the prospect of seeing interviews with various members of the Trump family, Vice President Mike Pence and others held the promise that we'd see some footage and some points of view that we hadn't seen before.

Having watched the entire three hours, the results are mixed, to say the least. Yes, there are some snippets of Trump family interviews that are mildly interesting and some behind-the-scenes moments that are worth seeing. But the odd thing about Unprecedented is that for all of the talk of access, the documentary ends up coming off like a well-made look at the final days of the Trump Administration. But there aren't any real blockbuster moments or any revelations that will astound you. 

Director Alex Holder seems to have had the trust of the Trump Family and he leverages that into perhaps the best fly-on-the-wall moment, as we see the various Trump family members wrestle with the realization that Donald Trump has lost the election. But other moments in the film end up feeling a bit disappointing. It's not Holder's fault, but if the subjects in your interviews insist on staying on message, then the fact you have exclusive access doesn't mean quite as much.

Unprecedented is spilt into three one-hour parts: the campaign, the final days of the campaign and the loss, and Trump's refusal to accept the results of the election. The flow makes for a nice recap of the events and Holder's footage of some of the campaign events and discussions happening around the campaign are compelling. There is also some really jarring footage from the January 6th attack on the Capital building. 

But for all of the new footage, the themes of Unprecedented will seem familiar to anyone who has paid attention to Donald Trump or the machinations of Trump World over the past couple of years. He and the family believe the 2020 election was stolen. Donald Trump's relationships with his children are complicated and often dysfunctional. Mike Pence's willingness to get along at any costs seems engrained in his soul. 

None of the Trump kids were willing to discuss the events of January 6th and neither was Mike Pence. In fact, none of them were willing to discuss any of the questions that even their biggest supporters would like to hear addressed.

So end the end, Unprecedented is a documentary more in the style of an authorized Jennifer Lopez concert film. There is a lot of controlled access but not much clarity. So viewers are left with more questions than they had before the documentary began. Which generally speaking is not the way documentaries are supposed to work.

Unprecedented is currently streaming exclusively on Discovery+.

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Review: 'Jack Osbourne's Night of Terror: Bigfoot'

Written by 26 June, 2022

Bigfoot is the Knights Templar of the animal kingdom. Hundreds of hours of television has been expended on both subjects and so far there hasn't been much progress in discovering anything new.

Yet that doesn't stop people from continuing to plow over the same ground on a regular basis and on Sunday, Jack Osbourne tries his hand at unsuccessfully tracking down Bigfoot in a two-hour special that has more filler in it than a 99-cent convenience store burrito.

Jack Osbourne's Night of Terror: Bigfoot does indeed include Jack Osbourne, although I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I report that Bigfoot does not make an appearance. For that matter, "Night of Terror" isn't very accurate either, unless you're the type of person who is scared by sight of Jack Osbourne and Jason Mewes pretending to conduct a search for the one creature in the forest with less scientific acumen than they possess.

Nearly all Bigfoot-adjacent television programs follow a certain creative trajectory and Jack Osbourne's Night of Terror: Bigfoot mostly stays in that familiar lane. There's a trip to some secluded woodland where there have been rumored sightings of the Big Guy (or Gal). The searchers meet up with some sort of a "scientist," who talk a bit about the scientific reasons why such a large creature could have remained hidden for so many years.

In this case, the scientist is primatologist Dr. Mireya Mayor, who walks our duo through some of the things to watch for during their search. She also provides them with some instruments that are favored by Bigfoot hunters, including a box that emits what is thought to be a Bigfoot call. Although this special doesn't mention it, Mayor isn't a stranger to Bigfoot hunts, since she's also one of the group conducting their own search on the long-running series Expedition Bigfoot.

There are always interviews with local who have had supposed encounters or sightings of Bigfoot and while the show has those as well, the interviews take place in a nearby bar and everyone involved just seems to have a level of interest in the exercise that can best be described as "waiting to cash a check."

And of course, there are the nights that Osbourne and Mewes spend camping outside as they search for Bigfoot. Although to be honest, most of the "searching" is not much more than pitching a tent, making a couple of Bigfoot sounds and hoping one of the creatures pops by to say hello or borrow a cup of sugar.

I'm not going to give away the ultimate resolution of all of this, other than to say that this is a long two-hours of television (assuming you're watching with commercials). Obviously, anyone who decides to watch this ahead of time probably knows what they're getting into. But unless you're a Bigfoot TV show completist or some sort of odd Jack Osbourne or Jason Mewes superfan, I can't imagine why you'd bother.

Jack Osbourne's Night of Terror: Bigfoot premieres Sunday, June 26th, 2022 on Discovery+.

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Review: 'Floor Is Lava'

Written by 03 June, 2022

If there was ever a show that was birthed out of the pandemic, it's Netflix's Floor Is Lava. Inspired by the viral Tik Tok trend of people posting videos of themselves crossing their living room parkour style, season one of Floor Is Lava featured three teams of three contestants attempting to cross a maze-filled room without falling into the orange-colored lava (water). Hosted by Rutledge Wood, the series was goofy and lightweight and fun to watch. Although after a few episodes, the limitations of the format started to become apparent. You can only see people fall into "lava" so many times. Even if the winners do receive $10,000 and a lava lamp.

Floor Is Lava is back for a second season today and it's been pretty drastically reworked since season one. While seriously tweaking a show for season two generally hints at a creative disaster, in this case, all of the changes have made the show much more fun to watch.

One very positive change is the way the show utilizes host Rutledge Wood. While he was a minimal presence in season one (mostly heard in voiceovers), in season two he stands on a second story overlooking the struggling contestants. Well, it appears as if he is doing that, anyway. Most of time, you'd swear he was watching a screen showing the contestants. But he stands there making live comments about the team making its way through the room and once a team is finished, they join him to watch the next team and see if they'll make the cut for the final round. 

The top two teams compete for the $10,000 prize by climbing another new feature, a lava-dispensing giant volcano. The first team to climb the volcano and place a rock inside the top of the volcano wins. Although the biggest challenge for contestants seems to be making their way across the obstacles to reach the volcano.

Another new addition for season two are three exit passes scattered across the room. The team has to collect all three passes to exit the room and it's fairly amusing to watch a contestant waste tons of time retrieving the pass only to fall into the lava immediately afterwards.

It's also worth noting that the challenges have been drastically upgraded in season two. There are a lot more problems to solve and simply jumping from object to object isn't enough to get out out the room. I still wish there were a few more rooms to choose from, but overall season two is a welcome improvement over season two.

If I have one complaint, it's that while season one was ten episodes, season two includes just five episodes. I'm assuming that the back five will be released as a season three later in the year, in much the same way Netflix splits a one season order of an animated series into two or three "chapters."

Still, Floor Is Lava is a whole lot of big, dumb fun and it's the perfect antidote for those days when you need a mental cleanse.

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Review: 'Angelyne'

Written by 19 May, 2022

If you've spent any amount of time in Hollywood, you've met someone who is obsessed with the idea of being famous and the method doesn't matter as much as the result. They'll marry into fame, troll themselves into the public eye or do whatever else it takes to claw themselves into some level of infamy. 

And these people have generally struck me as being more sad than interesting. Many of them are people with talents that would make them a success in normal society. They're smart, beautiful/handsome and able to navigate social situations with a deftness that most of us can only dream of doing. But yet, their lives revolve that amorphous obsession with "fame" and much like miners who spend their live chasing gold fever, these people devote every ounce of their souls into a quest that will almost certainly disappoint them.

Peacock is premiering its miniseries Angelyne today and it's one of those stories that is likely a lot more interesting inside the industry than anywhere else. It's based on a 2017 Hollywood Reporter story which unmasked the true identity of Angelyne, a buxom blonde who had first come to the public's attention with a series of mysterious billboards that tried to build a Marilyn Monroe-like mystique around her persona.

She succeeded in doing so, if you equate making a living hawking over-priced merchandise out of a bright pink sports car with being an international superstar who reportedly slept with an American president. 

Angelyne was never more than a tangential Hollywood footnote, but her story was ironically a lot more interesting when you learned her backstory, She is in fact Renee Goldberg, a girl raised in Southern California by parents who were Holocaust survivors. And as her story unfolds, it makes her transition from the strikingly beautiful but non-famous Renee to the big-bosomed flamboyant Angeleyne a bit easier to navigate.

Emmy Rossum plays Angelyne and if there is a reason to watch the series, it's Rossum's complete embracement of Angelyne's persona. She reportedly spent three hours in makeup a day strapping on the massive breasts and other adornments necessary to make the role work. And she channels all of her acting skills and charm into creating a version of Angelyne who is a lot more nuanced than the original.

The producers also help the cause by centering each episode on someone who had an impact on Angelyne's life: her first love Danny (Michael Angarano), Cory Hunt (Philip Ettinger), the frontman of a punk band she took over in the late '70s; Max Allen (Lukas Gage), a tragic filmmaker who spent years working on a documentary about her that will probably never be released; printing magnate Harold Wallach (Martin Freeman), who financed Angelyne's billboards in the '80s and his flummoxed daughter Wendy (Molly Ephraim); Rick Krause (Hamish Linklater), the obsessed president of Angelyne's fan club and reporter Gary Baum, who wrote a 2015 profile of her in The Hollywood Reporter that led to the tip that eventually revealed her true identity.

The acting in Angelyne is first-rate and as the story unfolds, you're left with an unsettling admiration for his woman who used her formidable charms to wreck havoc on the lives of everyone who was unfortunate enough to be sucked into her orbit. Rossum portrays her with such charm and appeal that you see why admirers found her so fascinating.

It's tempting to cast Angelyne as a story about female empowerment or the efforts of a woman to tackle fame on her own terms. But seeing pictures of the now 75-ish real-life Angelyne walking around Hollywood in ill-fitting clothes and too much makeup doesn't feel like an uplifting vision of breaking the mold. It's more the story of someone who devoted the better part of their lives to being a caricature of what they believe fame must look like. 

And whether or not you find Angelyne worth watching will depend in great part on how much you're interested in the watching the slow-motion unraveling of someone's life.

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Review: 'Welcome Home Nikki Glaser'

Written by 01 May, 2022

Complaining that E! reality shows are over-produced and awkwardly unrealistic is as useful as complaining that boneless wings are just pieces of overly breaded chicken breast. You know what you're getting into when you're watching E! and the one thing you can be sure of is that whatever celebrity reality show you're watching, it will make Keeping Up With The Kardashians look like Shakespeare. Granted, Shakespeare with a manipulative mother and enough collagen-injected lips to keep any plastic surgeon busy for weeks. But Shakespeare, because one thing all of the not-Kardashian reality shows have in common is that they are absolutely terrible.

It took a lot to convince myself to watch the first two episodes of E!'s newest series, Welcome Home Nikki Glaser. I didn't have much faith in its ability to keep me entertained, but I am a TV critic and this is a TV show. Plus, I find Nikki Glaser pretty funny overall, so my hope was that her comedic touch would overwhelm whatever institutional hackery seems to have a hold on the E! programming department.


The series doesn't start off on a high note when it describes St. Louis as a "small town." And when the opening scene of the premiere episode is Glaser shopping at a local Goodwill with her mother, it's clear that this isn't going to be a subtle, slice-of-life show about Glaser's life.

Now I have no inside information on how Welcome Home Nikki Glaser was produced. But after watching the show, my sense is that camera crews shot a bunch of stuff about her life now that she's returned to St. Louis. And then Glaser and whomever helped her (and given the production schedule, I'm assuming she had writing help) crafted a bunch of jokes and cute quips she could use in the wraparound interview snippets that are sprinkled throughout the episodes.

The snippets are funny and the provide the biggest reason why the show might be worth watching for fans. The problem is that the humor of the interviews skews the tone of the show. The non-stop joking makes the less-scripted "real-life" segments feel staged, even when they likely aren't. Glaser's drawers of sex toys, her Taylor Swift posters, the fact that she's gotten back together with an ex she's been on-and-off with for maybe eight years, all sound like invented facts that can be used to set up the interview jokes. 

Now, I don't think that's the case. I'm assuming Glaser finds Taylor Swift just as inspirational as she claims and that her relationship with the ex is more about real feelings than a fun twist for television. But the structure and tone of the show leave me unsure about the truthfulness of anything and while I understand that's more a feature of reality television than a problem, it took me out of the moment when I watched the show.

As she notes early in episode one, Nikki Glaser has been very successful and that won't change whether this show is a Kardashian-sized hit or a Terry Bradshaw-like cringefest.

Watch Welcome Home Nikki Glaser if you want, it might be your thing. For me, I keep waiting for Glaser to get the show that properly spotlights her comedic talent.

In the meantime, E! has Welcome Home Nikki Glaser.

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Last modified on Sunday, 01 May 2022 23:44

'Riverdale' – And Percival Pickens Is . . .

Written by 14 April, 2022

Riverdale! You are crafty devils! First, you gave us Mr. Crypto in Rivervale. Some characters saw through him immediately. The rest got informed by Veronica. Now, we’re safely back in Riverdale and left all the nonsense of Rivervale behind (although have we?). This mysterious man, Percival Pickens, is now our target of evil and as I’ve said since he stepped on the screen – the devil.

Don’t get me wrong. As an English major, I’ve read "The Tempest" and "Doctor Faustus." I’ve discussed the devil in Church and religion classes but to see the sneaky way you brought him into the show is amazing. I am not an avid fan of horror – it gives me nightmares. When I do watch or read the horror stories, they have to meet the following criteria:

  • have characters I pull for to win.
  • have characters that are so richly drawn I hate them.
  • and have a compelling story.

Enough said on that and this present storyline on Riverdale meets all three. Let’s forget the super trio. I know their powers have a part to play and just get to the nitty-gritty. Percival Pickens is the devil incarnate. Just like in Rivervale, he’s there for a purpose and I’m betting it is to destroy Pop Tates’. If you remember in Rivervale, Crypto wanted Pop Tates’ under his control as it would be the only safe haven for the good people of Rivervale. As I see in the synopsis for Easter Sunday (April 17), dear old Percival wants to control Pop’s for his own purposes. 

Also, I hope you caught the line from Archie: “Percival wants to destroy Riverdale.” Really, I think it is only Archie. Percival can mind control the other brain-dead citizens but it doesn’t appear to work on the Riverdale core characters

Now, here’s what convinces me that we are dealing with the devil. It’s a tried and true formula used by Shakespeare, Marlowe in the past but none other than Stephen King today (which I will point out at the end). Let’s look at the important ones.

Percival arrived in town. Now, Riverdale has never played up the Pickens connection like they do in the comic digests. He arrives quietly and aims for the home of the “heart” of Riverdale, the Andrews’ home. Percival doesn’t say why he wants the bombed-out structure that needs rebuilding. He doesn’t make the offer directly to the owner, Archie. Percival presents his offer to Mary. Mary is older and Percival is sure his charm will win what he wants except Archie comes in and stops the plan. Percival is foiled on that attempt.

When Percival makes his next move, we have no clue about one of his powers. Percival can influence the mind and make people do what he wants. It takes Jughead’s power to realize this! So what does Percival do? He hits on using Alice. Let’s face it. Alice isn’t the brightest resident of Riverdale. She’s already belonged to a cult. (Don’t point out it was to help the FBI because I don’t buy it. She could have stopped the harvesting of organs long before the FBI arrived.) Percival knew she was an easy mark and went for it. We didn’t know what he said that was so convincing but whatever it was worked. Alice immediately wanted to clear out the homeless. Why would the devil want this, you ask? It makes Percival look good to the town because he is helping (although shipping them off to another town makes it worst for that town). Of course, it must be an easy mark number two and fellow cultist, Kevin Kline, who gets sucked into the scenario. With Kevin laid up in the hospital from an injury on “Skid Row,” Sheriff Tom Kline will promise anything because of his son’s injury. I also blame it on the fact that the calming influence of Fred Andrews is no longer in town.

Now, let's move on to Percival’s mental suggestion to Alice and Tom to clean up the gangs. Now, it took me a little time to figure this one out. Percival knows that the Serpents protect their own (don’t know about the Ghoulies because they like destruction). If Toni and Fangs saw Percival as a threat, Percival’s gig could be up. The Serpents would side with the townies and help prevent whatever he has planned. Thus, he must hit at (and use) any angle to get rid of them. With Toni on the board, it will take more than a simple mind control trick. 

Remember! Somehow Toni, Tabitha, and even Fangs seem immune. So, knowing the bad blood (and a little help from Cheryl who wants Fangs gone), Percival plants the suggestion of a drive-by at Pop’s and shots the place up. This gives Percival the chance to suggest that they should be destroyed and Alice and Tom jump on it. Stealing the baby (again possibly planted by Percival in Ghoulies’ heads) was the catalyst that caused the gangs to be destroyed or arrested. (And we also now know that Percival will cause people to commit suicide since that’s how all but Trula of the Ghoulies died. It wasn’t Kline and company!)

For now, the last example I bring is that Veronica set the underworld on finding information on Percival. You would think that someone like Percival might suspect that would happen but surprise, he missed something. When the “bodyguard” and his friends went looking, they found no evidence of a Percival Pickens ever existing. There is no back story for him, no place of birth, etc. Jughead’s learning of Percival’s ability to transmit suggestions happened at the same time Jug was beginning to use his powers. And Percival knew of Jug’s power because he sensed it. Jughead can’t use his mind-reading telepathy against him (or so it appears). 

So let’s get to the good stuff. Remember my reference to Stephen King. It has been nagging me for three weeks about where did Percival come from until Sunday night. I mentioned in my recap the King television mini-series, “Storm of the Century (written by King for television in 1999).” I didn’t mean to watch it but got roped in and remember it to this day. In that King story, a mysterious man, Linoge, appears suddenly in the island town off Maine’s coast during a blizzard. The town is cut-off from the mainland, without help, phones, or supplies. The mystery man keeps saying: “Give me what I want and I’ll leave.” In the meantime, the storm rages, and people start dying by suicide. The man plants the idea in people’s minds to kill themselves. He also knows their sins. All he wants is a young child he can raise to be like himself. Once he gets said child, he will leave. Long story short – the town draws lots, it falls to the good guy (sheriff) to lose his son, the man takes the son and leaves town. Years later, the hero sees his teen son in another city. His son has become like the old man he is complete with a fanged tongue.

Now, I’m not saying Toni’s son, Anthony is the one that Percival wants, and Lady Llorna will be back. Frankly, for some reason, Percival wants Archie dead. I’m not saying he doesn’t want to destroy the town. Remember the season’s promo had all but Pop Tates’ on fire. And if Cheryl is back to being Cheryl (not Abigail), I’m not saying Percival will win. What I’m saying is that the comparison is there. Add to it, Randall Flagg of “The Stand” and you have a foe beyond belief.

I offer kudos to Riverdale for doing this and offer my congratulations. This is what I had expected from the show – characters — I care about, that I can laugh at, that I can pull for to win. Percival will try his best to destroy the town. In the end, will Percival win or did the trio get their superpowers to destroy Percival? We’ll have to wait and see.

Last modified on Thursday, 14 April 2022 22:27

Review: 'Expedition Bigfoot'

Written by 20 March, 2022

If it's hard to find a good man (or woman), that search is apparently infinitely easier than the one to find Bigfoot.

Until the last 15 years or so, the search for Bigfoot was limited to a few people who had devoted their lives to walking around remote forests looking for size 22 footprints and a subculture of Bigfoot enthusiasts who went to talks presented by people who had claimed to have had an encounter with the big hairy one.

But with the growth of cable television came the Bigfoot television shows and there have been a lot of them. Finding Bigfoot ran 12 seasons and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that they didn't find him (or her).

And then there are the more open-minded series such as Mountain Monsters, which spent six seasons looking not just for Bigfoot, but for other Appalachian-related creatures, ranging from the "Lizard Demon of Wood County" to the "Kentucky Hellhound." Somewhat surprisingly, none of those creatures was captured, killed or even recorded by a cellphone camera.

It's true that I am not a Bigfoot believer, but it's not as if I wouldn't like to be convinced. Finding a living specimen of such a creature would literally be a find of the century, especially given the encroachment of civilization into the formerly wild woods. But despite the fact that there have been probably as many Bigfoot-related hours of television produced as there has been for all of the events of World War II, the fact that nothing concrete has been found leads me to suspect that all of these Bigfoot television efforts might be sincere, but that doesn't make them any less a waste of time.

If you feel the same way about the search for the mythical hairy one, your mind will not be changed by the season premiere of Expedition Bigfoot, which kicks off its third season Sunday on the Travel Channel.

The show follows a team of four people who have been combing the woods of Oregon and Washington in search of Bigfoot. Each episode also includes an appearance by some local, who talks about some encounter they had with a creature they believe was Bigfoot.

The first two seasons included a lot of flashy maps and some scientific gear, but most of the "evidence" they collected fell into the familiar Bigfoot evidence categories of random big footprints, weird hair samples and moaning/screeching sounds from somewhere off in the distance. There were also plenty of references to what the area's native population believe about Bigfoot and a lot of theories that seemed unlikely at best. My favorite being that Bigfoot is known to be able to influence electronic devices, which is why no one has been able to take a clear photo of the creature.

Season three begins with a plan to have a repurposed agriculture drone filled with a special mixture of primate pheromone fly over the area, and spray the payload into the in hopes of speaking a reaction. Think of it as the Bigfoot television genre's reaction to introducing a new divorcee into the mix of any random Housewives series.

You will be shocked to learn that the idea didn't get the response they expected, although there were a few random unexplained noises heard during the experiment. Although even the team admits that spraying the equivalent of primate Viagra over a forest filled with hungry bears might lead to some hard to predict results.

Expedition Bigfoot isn't the dumbest show of the genre and the participants at least refrain from saying some of the goofier things you hear on other shows, such as "The woods smells Sqatchy tonight." So I suppose if you really must watch a fruitless hunt for Bigfoot, then this is the show to watch? Although that feels as if I am setting the bar very, very low when it comes to television recommendations.

Last modified on Monday, 21 March 2022 14:08

Review: 'Pieces Of Her'

Written by 04 March, 2022

One of the more difficult things about growing up is realizing your parents had a life before you. Dreams they put aside, plans they changed as they became adults and eventually mothers and fathers.

But few children have as jarring a reminder of that truth as Andy Oliver (Bella Heathcote), who discovers that not only does she not really know her mother Laura (Toni Collette), her mom has built their entire lives around a set of secrets Andy didn't even realize existed.

Laura and Andy live in a small town in coastal Georgia and it's the only place Andy remembers. After moving away to New York, she recently returned to take care of Laura as she battled breast cancer. She's taken a job as a police dispatcher and the two have rebuilt an awkward friendship until one event uproots everything they thought they knew. During a shooting incident, Laura kills the shooter in a memorable way that quickly becomes a viral moment. And as it turns out, being famous is the last thing Laura wants.

She quickly pushes Andy out of her house and struggles to remain out of the limelight as her daughter flails around trying to figure out why her mother has suddenly gone a little crazy.

Without giving any of the major plot points away, it slowly becomes clear that their entire lies have been built on lies. Untruths about their family's past, the identity of Andy's father, even their names. Andy has an entire legacy that she knew nothing about and even more infuriating, it becomes clear that some of oldest friends and family knew at least some of the truth. 

As Laura goes on the run, Andy scrambles to uncover the reasons why and she slowly uncovers a complex and twisted family history that is part Ma Barker and part Patty Hearst. Based on the novel written by Karin Slaughter, Pieces Of Her slowly reveals a story where every revelation and red herring leaves you more confused and unsure of the truth.

The present day storyline is intercut with flashbacks, primarily from the viewpoint of a young Laura. We see her performing piano recitals in concert halls, regular flashbacks to a shooting at a business conference, an evening in which a woman who seems to be Laura's mother attempts to escape in a car with her children.

It's a slippery series of revelations and the only constant is Collette's Laura, who initially just seems to be emotionally distant. But as her pieces of her past are revealed, as she scrambles to figure out the best way out of her situation, it becomes increasingly clear that emotional distance is really just the behavior of a calculating psychopath. Perhaps she's even convinced herself on some level that everything she has done in her adult life has been to protect her daughter. But at some point, you realize she has primarily made decisions in an effort to prevent herself from having an emotional reckoning. If she never fully commits to her life, if she never has to answer for her actions, then she can build this attempted to create in Georgia.

It's a testament to Collette's acting skills that you want Laura Oliver to be misunderstood or at worst, a victim of a difficult childhood which molded her into this unpleasant and morally shiftless person. But in the last few episodes of the season, it becomes increasingly clear that there is a darkness inside of her that was only reinforced by her upbringing. Laura might indeed love her daughter and she might even have moments of regret. But in the end, she's incapable of the empathy that most humans display by default.

That lack of empathy is on full display with her long-suffering ex-husband Gordon Oliver (Omari Hardwick), who followed Laura into hiding originally and who thought he knew her secrets. He had spent their marriage trying to break down Laura's emotional walls and struggling to protect Andy from the consequences of Laura's decision. But as the story unfolds, he realizes that Laura was hiding as many secrets from him as she had revealed and her explanation is little more than a sad shrug.

Pieces Of Her isn't a perfect show. Even after eight episodes, Andy never quite comes into shape for me, other than as a surrogate for the viewer and as a way to move the action along to the next scene. That's not the fault of Bella Heathcote, who is uniformly great in the role. She's just often not given much to work with, other than the default scared/confused/angry emotions that you would expect from anyone put into the position. 

Andy's not-quite-there characterization is a pattern with the series, which never quite figures out how to deal with a character as cold and thoughtless as Laura. Despite everything she puts her friends and family through, she continues to be surprised at their sense of betrayal and loss. Laura is a strong, dark center of the show and everyone else struggles a bit to stay out of her gravitational pull.

But in the end, Pieces Of Her is a well-crafted, slick mystery that works especially well in a binge viewing. Releasing the episodes on a weekly basis would give viewers (and critics) too much of an opportunity to mull over the possibilities for where the next scene is headed. Certain shows are best watched in a way that lets events just wash over you, and Pieces Of Her is one of those shows.

Pieces Of Her premieres Friday, March 4th, 2022 on Netflix.

Last modified on Sunday, 06 March 2022 21:42

Review: 'Relentless'

Written by 25 February, 2022

Those of us in the U.S. tend to take a very Hollywood-centric view of the entertainment business. With American media companies ranging from Disney to Netflix having such an over-sized impact on movies and television, it's easy to overlook what is going on outside of our familiar borders.

One trend that is particularly under-appreciated in the U.S. is how common it is for TV shows and movies to be rebooted and/or reworked numerous times as the ideas travel around the globe. That's especially common with genres that translate well across different regions and cultures.

Restless is a prefect example of that trend and it premiered today on Netflix. The French-produced film is actually at least the fourth incarnation of the idea, which first appeared in 2014 as the dark Korean cop thriller A Hard Day. It was remade for the Philippines marker under the same name and also was produced in China under the name Peace Breaker. And now the film idea has been reworked in French as the first directing project for cinematographer Regis Blondeau.

The film stars Franck Gastambide as Thomas Blin, a corrupt police lieutenant who works in an unnamed French coastal city. Blin and his partner Marc (Michael Abiteboul) regularly earn a bit of money on the side accepting bribes from drug smugglers who take advantage of the city's port facilities. Their commanding officer - like most of the people in the department - looks the other way, in part because he has his own grift going on at the same time. No one says anything, everyone looks the other way and the world is perfect.

Perfect, that is, until Internal Affair shows up to conduct an investigation. When Blin receives word, he is at the hospital watching his mother's body being prepped for a coffin. Worried that IA will discover evidence of his wrongdoing, Blin rushes back to the precinct. But along the way, he kills a pedestrian during a hit-and-run. And then his real problems begin.

Every decision Blin makes after the accident is a desperate one and the consequence of each decision just spins him deeper and deeper into the abyss. It's not just that the man he killed was a well-known smuggler. Things are made even worse by an equally corrupt narcotics captain Marelli (Simon Abkarian), who discovers what has happened and who wants the smuggler's body.

Blin desperately schemes to get out from under this mountain of bad decisions and as is the case in all good B-level action films, there are plenty of anger-filled twists and turns.

I can see why this idea has been so popular around the world. Police corruption is a concept that is familiar to just about every society. And to be honest, audiences love to root for the bad guy. Or at least, the slightly-less-bad-than-everyone-else bad guy.

Restless is by no means a great film, but a solid second-tier action film. As you might expect from a director who has made his living as a cinematographer, the film has a sleek look that helps to propel the movie when it hits its inevitable weak spots. In the 1980s, the remake would have starred Charles Bronson and would have been the darling of drive-in theater audiences. But this is 2022, so it will be discovered by an audience of Netflix subscribers looking for the jolt of action movie adreneline.

Restless premiered Friday, February 25th, 2022 on Netflix.

Last modified on Sunday, 27 February 2022 16:56

Review: 'Into The Wind'

Written by 10 February, 2022

Over the past several years, one of AllYourScreens sweet spots editorially has been content discovery - especially when it comes to lesser publicized titles. There are so many new streaming premieres each week, that it's easy to miss out on some of the new stuff that is worth watching.

I do a lot of radio interviews and one of my go-to bits when someone asks what they should watch next is to ask them for a couple of favorite movies or television shows. And then I'll suggest some off-the-wall title that I think might fit in their wheelhouse. I see part of my mission here as being the streaming media equivalent of that old-school video store clerk who always had cool suggestions for what to watch next.

So if you love a good summer teen movie and think Dirty Dancing is one of the best movies ever made, then let me recommend the dreamy new made-for-Netflix film Into The Wind.

It was produced in Poland and to be honest, I knew very little about the film before it premiered on Netflix Thursday. It was directed by Kristoffer Rus, written by Julian Kijowski and features what appears to be a mostly Polish cast. But Netflix didn't provide any info on the film and I didn't even see any previews online in the Polish-language press. So I can't really provide any context for how the movie came about or the backgrounds of the actors.

But what I can tell you is that Into The Wind is a delight. It's essentially Dirty Dancing at a beach resort. Ania (Sonia Mietielica) is a teen who comes from a privileged background. Her family takes a vacation at the resort and the typical problems arise. Ania is a talented girl who doesn't understand her potential. She meets and falls in love for the first time with Michal (Jakub Sasak), a ski-board instructor with a head of hair that is both full-bodied and appropriately scruffy. There are misunderstandings with her family, lots of random brooding, a resort staff that is mired in personal problems while still having the time of their life.

And despite everything that stands in the way - including an unexpected injury - I don't think I'm giving anything away to say that the two young lovers reunite in the ending that feels very Dirty Dancing-esque, if you substitute a Polish-language hip-hop band for dancing in the aisles.

Despite the obviously dubbed audio and some cultural touchstones that might seem a bit confusing to American audiences, Into The Wind is just a really fun time. The cinematography is first-rate and the brightness of the beach and surf makes it the perfect summer romantic movie. The pacing is a bit slower than you would find in an American movie and there is a lot less snarkiness. All of that helps to make the movie just innocent enough to be soul-cleansing without being hokey or lame.

While the acting in the movie is first-rate, Sonia Mietielica absolutely steals every scene she's in. Ania is written to be the core of the film, but even if she wasn't, Mietielica would be the focus simply by being there. She's just moody enough to be a believable teen, beautiful in a way that makes it easy to believe a guy could fall in love with just a glance. She has a great on-screen chemistry with Sasak and even though she probably spends 15 minutes of the movie staring off into space, she still keeps your attention.

Into The Wind is the first fun summer movie of 2022 and I'm sorry it hasn't received more attention from Netflix in the U.S. It's one of those teen rom-coms that feels as if it's designed to be of interest to a certain slice of Netflix subscribers. 

Into The Wind premiered Thursday, February 10th, 2022 on Netflix.

Last modified on Thursday, 10 February 2022 11:02

Review: 'All Of Us Are Dead'

Written by 28 January, 2022

Television critics (and more importantly, their editors) love a hook they can hang reviews on in a way that might bring in the readers. So every time a new series produced in South Korea premieres on Netflix, you tend to read a lot of reviews along the lines of "Is this the next Squid Game?" Which makes about as much sense as reviewing every series produced in Spain with the headline "Is this the next Money Heist?"

We Are All Dead is a new South Korean series based on a popular webtoon about a zombie outbreak at a prestigious high school. The Squid Game comparison is even more tempting in this case because the cast includes Lee Yoo-mi who played Ji-yeong in Squid Game (player 240), the young woman who made a devastating sacrifice for North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok. But ignore the tempting commonalities between the two series, because while I wouldn't be surprised to see the tautly directed We Are All Dead become a global hit, it's a show that is strong enough creatively to stand on its own.

The series opens with a high school student being bullied on a rainy rooftop by some of his classmates. He fights back and as he does, he appears to change into something that isn't quite human. In the end, he loses the battle and falls to the ground below. Where he doesn't quite die.

We jump to the following morning at Hyosan High School where after a brief introductory montage of the students, the school quickly undergoes a massive zombie outbreak. And what follows is an intense and confusing day for students as they struggle to survive while trapped inside a high school filled with zombified fellow students. At its best, the action rivals the best of early Walking Dead episodes that were set in downtown Atlanta. The danger is non-stop, people die unexpectedly and in ways that are both unfair and jarring. It's often claustrophobic and confusing, as two groups of surviving students dash from room to room trying to survive.

But for all of the action, what gives We Are All Dead its resonance is the way that it shows how the immense pressures of the South Korean high school experience bend students in unexpected ways. Some students are filled with such despair that they almost welcome the end of their lives. While others cope by withdrawing, lashing out or clinging even harder to their friends.

The acting by the young cast is first-rate all the way around. Onjo (played by Park Ji-hoo, star of the independent film House Of Hummingbird) picks the day of the zombie outbreak to confess her feelings to her handsome and broody classmate Suhyeok (Park Solomon). A move that confuses him, since he and every other person who knows her is convinced that she is dating her long-time best friend Cheongsan (Yoo Chan-young). And anyway, Suhyeok is more fascinated by class president Namra (Cho Yi-hyun), who is seemingly uninterested in anything or anyone in the school other than her schoolwork. Squid Game star Lee Yoo-mi plays Nayeon, an arrogant rich kid who somehow manages to be self-absorbed and cruel even in the midst of a zombie outbreak. 

One of the unexpected creative decisions in the show is that throughout the experience, these are just high school students. They still have crushes in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, they still worry about their future after everything hopefully settles down. And as it becomes apparent that the zombie outbreak has spread into the surrounding city, they grieve for their parents and struggle to find meaning in such a dark time. Even in the middle of a disaster that threatens all of them, at heart they are still teenagers who don't let impending death get in the way of a good personal grudge.

Once bitten, people turn into zombies within several minutes and as the students make that realization, they make decisions of self-sacrifice that are as brave as they are heartbreaking. Bitten students throw themselves into the oncoming crowd to give their classmates a bit more time to get away. A teen mother ties herself up so that she can't attack her young baby after she turns. Some teachers sacrifice themselves to save their students and parents give up their lives for their children.

But if a zombie attack brings out the best in some people, it only reinforces the worst in others. Yoon Gwi-nam is a cruel and insecure bully in high school but embraces his dark side as the outbreak reaches its full force. He kills randomly and often for little reason, mostly because he can. Living in a world without consequences is his dream life and he embraces it with a dark passion that is depressing to watch. And the show also contains plenty of the expected moral ambiguity, as the South Korean military struggles to contain the outbreak. How many innocent people should be killed if it means you might save the rest of the country? It's a common theme in these types of shows, but it resonates in a different way when it's filtered through a South Korean prism.

All Of Us Are Dead runs for twelve hour-long episodes and it's not until the last hour that at least some of the students are able to find safety. Although as you might expect, that safety isn't quite what they expect. 

I loved the season and didn't have a problem with the episode's length, although I can see where some viewers might feel it could have been trimmed down a bit. For me, the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the series accurately mirrored the experience of the students. But how you feel about that probably depends on how deeply you find yourself sucked into this.

As for me, I hope to see a second season of the show.

We Are All Dead premieres Friday, January 28th, 2022 on Netflix.

Last modified on Friday, 28 January 2022 08:50

U.S. 'Celebrity Big Brother' 3 — The Lists Of Celebrities

Written by 22 January, 2022

Since early in the week of January 16th, there have been lists of celebrities for Celebrity Big Brother. While I have read them (yes, I admit I looked), I have a hard time thinking that they are real. I’m going to give you the list why below.

  1. Contestants aren’t allowed to reveal that they are doing the show. During the regular season, people can’t tell that they made the final cut. If they reveal (or family reveal) that they are on the show, they are not allowed to appear. I believe they call this the possibility of pre-gaming. With celebrities, the same could be true but it is more complicated than that. Each celebrity can have fans that go overboard. They attack CBS asking for special privileges for their favorites.

  2. In Celebrity Big Brother, the question often arises: “Why are they doing this show?” Of course, I’ve asked that question with Masked Singer also but there is no set in stone reason. Some may do it to jump start their career. Others may do it for exposure. Then others do it because they are bored (and I can understand that with COVID). Ad that brings me to the real laugh I have had this morning. Several people are saying Clay Aiken (American Idol) is doing the show. Just this week in a 1:30 second statement that played on YouTube and other channels, he announced his run for public office. Granted, only North Carolinians may have seen this announcement but I ask you. If you were running for public office would you do Celebrity Big Brother? If he wanted to, I don’t think the party would approve.

  3. Now for the big reason I question these lists. Leak! Even if you have friends on the lot or in production, they can’t tell you a thing about the show. If they do, they risk losing their job. If they do, they could hurt the celebrities (or people) they want on. How do I know this? I worked at a college and saw many students. One who stopped by my office before leaving for the summer had gotten an internship at Big Brother and knew some of the details. I knew about the no disclosure rule and he said: The reason I told you where my internship is is because I knew you knew the rules. It was strongly said: “Don’t tell them where you will be? Don’t tell!” So, the one person I trust on Twitter hasn’t delivered information. Add the student who was supposed to be working the back stage? CBS found out he was good on animations/graphic design and switched his assignment when he reached California.

I hope, for viewers sake, that the cast for Celebrity Big Brother is a good one. I hope some people did have correct names. The one thing I do know if that we really will not have an idea until CBS does their reveal.

The new season of Celebrity Big Brother premieres on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022.

Last modified on Saturday, 22 January 2022 22:53

Five TV Shows To Be Thankful For On Thanksgiving

Written by 25 November, 2021

We live in stressful times right now and while I enjoy a challenging and dark drama as much as the next nihilist, there are times when you just want to watch some television that washes over you like a warm summer breeze. Television that is free from snark and almost guaranteed to wrap you up in their innocent joy like a warm blanket.

Here are five television shows and specials I've been watching when I need to stop worrying about the future for a few minutes. It's a cliche to say that television is an escape. But when I watch these shows, I feel just a bit less like I'm living through an unpredictable pandemic. In a year where it can feel as if all of the joy has been sucked out of the world, these shows are a palate cleanser for your soul.

1) Voices Of Fire (Netflix)
I don't know the definition of "Grace" is, but I know what it feels like to receive it.

Maybe eight years ago, I was at the lowest point of my life. I had been laid off three times in less than two years and there wasn't one aspect of my life that wasn't a dumpster fire. My marriage was collapsing under the weight of all the stress and I had a young autistic son who needed help I couldn't give him. I was lost and feeling simultaneously as if I were carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders while also being a failure and a fraud. One night I was driving home, dreading seeing my wife's disappointed face. And as I was driving, I realized I had to go to the bathroom and when I noticed some people walking into a small church, I stopped to use their facilities. 

It turned out the people were there for a meeting they jokingly called the "Broken Person's Club." It was set up essentially like an AA meeting. A group of people sitting in a circle talking about their lives, their hopes, their failures. Some of the group did have addiction problems, but there was also an elderly woman who was just lonely and a former pastor at the church who had lost his faith when his wife died following a long bout with cancer. All of them were "broken" in some way and they gathered twice a week for some fellowship, sharing of stories and unconditional support of each other. They convinced me to stay and I soon became a regular.

I found Grace, even if I can't quite describe what it is. And that feeling of Grace is the underpinning of this six-episode series that premiered last year on Netflix. At first glance the premise of Voices Of Fire sounds a bit like a Gospel-oriented American Idol rip-off. Bishop Ezekiel Williams - the uncle of Pharrell Williams - has assembled a group of the gospel heavyweights in the Hampton Roads area and hopes to put together what he dreams will be one of the best gospel choirs in the country. And they'll do it by mixing singers who have grown up in the church with people who don't know gospel music, but have the voice and personality to be part of a larger plan.

More than 3,000 people entered to be part of the choir and several hundred were brought in for auditions. And as these hopefuls sing for their chance, it's quickly apparent that this show isn't an American Idol clone. While that show can often seem wrapped up in the celebrity of the judges and the ambition of all of those Kelly Clarkson wannabes, the hopeful participants of Voices Of Fire aren't expecting to become stars by participating. They're looking for a way to find musical redemption, an opportunity to find themselves in a larger purpose. Early on, one singer begins haltingly singing and as she does tears begin streaming down her face. And that emotion sets the stage for a series of personal stories that frame the audition process and the preparation for the choir's public debut at a large theater.

Voices Of Fire is a gospel show, but it isn't infused with modern-day religion or politics. If you believe, you'll see the series in a way that will reaffirm your belief that God changes lives on a daily basis. And if you don't believe or have non-Christian beliefs, you'll be lifted up by the unbridled joy that is interwoven into nearly every scene of the show.

2) "Escape To The Country" (IMDb TV, Dabl)
I know the long-running House Hunters series is amazingly popular, but I find that a little of the show goes a long way. Every episode is structured and plays out in the same way, whether it takes place in San Diego or a small town in Spain. The house hunters are often clueless and for a lack of a better description - so American. 

"Escape To The Country" has been airing on BBC One during the day for twenty seasons and it is everything you love about British reality shows. The current iteration of the show follows a couple who are looking for a place away from the hustle and bustle of the city. One of the show's rotating hosts give the couple of two places they chose from reality listings as well as one "mystery pick" the hosts thinks they might like despite having some disqualifying feature.

Aside from the gentle tone of the show, getting the chance to see some of the rural beauty of the U.K. is one of the show's biggest treats. The couples explore the area around each potential home and you get a real sense of what it might be like to live in that secluded community. It's also fascinating to see these classic country homes, some of them hundreds of years old. They are often quirky & distinctive to the point of unsettling. But unlike the American couples of "House Hunters," these potential home buyers aren't looking at the old homes and complaining that the prefer an open concept in the kitchen.

I wish IMDb TV had more than a single season of the show, but you can also see additional seasons on the over-the-air digital lifestyle network Dabl.

3) "Phineas & Ferb: May The Ferb Be With You" (Disney+)
TV crossover episodes or ones that mash together a couple of familiar franchises are often more interesting in theory than when the finalized version hits the screen. It's difficult to find the right balance between the characters and to keep the best aspects of each show intact while still fully integrating everything together. This special is a parallel telling of many of the events from the original "Star Wars" films, using a combination of familiar "Star Wars" characters as well as all of the "Phineas and Ferb" favorites. The result is a show that plays less like a promotional stunt and more like what the film might have looked like if it had been originally produced by Disney as an animated film.

Phineas and Ferb are youngsters on the desert planet Tatooine and they're friends with Luke, who seems to spend a lot of time gazing off into the distance. Any worries "Phineas and Ferb" fans might have about the special will likely end early on when they hear the duo singing "We love Tattooine," a hilarious number that somehow manages to be catchy while still referencing a basket full of familiar movie facts.

I won't spoil the film by talking too much about the plot. But Candace is there (aided by Baljeet and Buford) as a junior stormtrooper trying to "bust" the rebels. Isabella is the captain of the Centennial Chihuahua and she also happens to have a rivalry going with Hans Solo. And let's not forget Darth Doofenshmirtz, who claims to have come up with the original plans for the Death Star. Although he had originally planned for it to be a handheld nutcracker.

"Phineas And Ferb Star Wars" retains the best of "Phineas And Ferb" while including an impressively funny collection of "Star Wars" references, inside jokes and facts that only a hardcore fan might catch. Two of my favorites include a mention of the hated Jar Jar Binks ("You can't blame him, he's been retired for like, 20 years"), to a nod from a scene in the original movie where a man falls out of the bottom of the Death Star. It's all good fun and  the jokes are respectful of both properties while still tweaking the expectations of fans.

The "Star Wars" universe isn't known for being particularly funny, but "May The Ferb Be With You" is an illustration of why there should be more of these very funny romps through the canon. It's a blast to watch and that damn earcandy of a tune "We Love Tatooine" will be stuck in your mind for days.

4) Good Timing With Jo Firestone (Peacock)
I did stand-up for about decade, through the 1980s into the 1990s. I turned into a pretty good comic along the way, but even when I was terrible I loved the magic that came with making people laugh. I haven't been onstage in close to 30 years, but I still find myself writing jokes for an act I'll probably never do. I've even seriously considered doing an open mike or two, just to see if an old guy can get laughs from a room full of strangers half my age.

I say all this because I know firsthand the magic that comes from a good joke. Or even a not so good one. Laughter is one of the qualities that makes us human and it connects the comedian and the audience in an almost spiritual way. A lot of modern comedy seems so obsessed with breaking boundaries and speaking truth that many comedians forget the most important thing: the way that seeing someone's smile or hearing them unexpectedly laugh can lift your soul. 2021 is a complicated time and there's something to be said for comedy that's free of everything but the joy of laughter and losing yourself for a few minutes in the moment.

Comic and actress Jo Firestone began teaching a comedy class to a group of seniors last year and when the pandemic broke, she moved it over to Zoom. The students range in age from 66 to 88 and while a couple of them have some tangential connection to show business (one woman sold jokes to Joan Rivers for $10 a piece), the majority of them were just doing the class as a distraction. When the pandemic slowed down earlier this year, the class met in person and ultimately everyone performed a short set in front of a live audience.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone splits its 50-minute running time into three different parts, although there is some overlap between the segments. There is a look at the group in-person classes, as Firestone throws out subject ideas and guides the often raucous conversation (and anyone who think seniors are mostly prudes should watch the back-and-forth about a pussy joke). Firestone also does one-on-one interviews, where she is able to explore the senior's lives and experiences a bit. And the final hunk of the special is devoted to the performances.

The performances take place in a theater at 2pm and as you might expect, the quality of the comedy doesn't generally rise to the level of the average open-mike night at any comedy club. But that isn't the point. The performances are engaging, sweet and sometimes unpredictable (one guy shows up nearly naked). There's a joyful earnestness to the event that just puts a smile on your face. These are not people who have illusions about having a comedy career or changing the world. They are just there for the companionship and the laughter. It's infectious and a reminder of what comedy can be.

5) "Saved By The Barn" (Animal Planet/Discovery+)
You know a show is worth watching when it gets you to care about a subject that you wouldn't ordinarily give a second thought. I can honestly admit that I don't think I ever considered the possibility that there are sanctuaries for rescued farm animals. And yet that's the premise of "Saved By The Barn" and from the first episode I've been all in.

The show centers around the story of Dan McKernan, who picked up from his six-figure tech job in Austin, TX and left it all behind to take over his family’s 140-year-old farm in Michigan and transform it into the "Barn Sanctuary." There aren't any big confrontations on the show and often the storyline is along the lines of "we have to put sunscreen on the ears of our rescue pigs." But McKernan and his staff are so earnest and the animals so cute and compelling that you won't mind the lack of action. Instead, you'll just binge a bunch of episodes of the show, letting the good vibrations roll over you like a warm ocean breeze.

Is there a show that I missed? Do you have a go-to TV show for those times when you need to escape? Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll do a follow-up piece featuring some of your choices.

Last modified on Thursday, 25 November 2021 12:51

'Riverdale' Recap: There Be Ghosts Here - Chapter Ninety-Seven

Written by 23 November, 2021

Riverdale—er Rivervale—last week you did the unthinkable. You killed off the title character of the franchise, Archie Andrews. Yes, I know this is billed as a special event. Yes, I know that all can change when Riverdale returns in March but I also know from the many time travel shows that you do not mess with time and space continuums. That can cause everything changes. Wait! That’s not quite true! What if – wasn’t Jughead writing again? Could this be the story that he was creating? Remember I called this first.

So, let’s review. Cheryl has become either an avenging angel or a witch. I vote for witch since she has a coven behind her. She has been doing favors for the women of Rivervale and so far has helped Toni, Betty, Veronica, and Tabitha. Betty lost Archie but is supposedly pregnant. Veronica proved to Reggie that he is the only one that matters. Tabitha got rid of her apartment bugs (except Jug) and Toni’s baby got cured of colic. All they had to do was bring the maple trees back to life in Cheryl’s grove. But there are more spooky things to come and apparently more death.

Let’s get tonight’s “Ghost Stories” going, shall we? Oh, and everything goes Rivervale not Riverdale now (title card, sponsor announcement…).

As tonight’s episode opens Rod “Jughead Jones” Sterling opens again telling the story of Ghoulies and Serpents at war? Now that is a surprise. Knives are pulled and we have our first death with someone I don’t even know. Three months later, Toni is talking about the fight. She’s still upset over the battle and the young man’s death

Tabitha and Jughead — Story One (but not the main one)
Tabitha and Jughead are still living together and he is getting story ideas. Tabitha comes in from work to find her pictures not hung (which he promised to do). She doesn’t realize that Jughead forgets chores easily. She starts to hang the picture on the wall and knocks a hole in the sheetrock. On inspection, they find a room that is filled with “ships in bottles.” Jughead decides to use it for his writing. 

Later at Pop’s (which is miraculously restored to normal), the real estate agent tells Tabitha the truth about the apartment. It belonged to Sam and Diane (a song here) who died in the apartment of murder/suicide. Looks like it is haunted folks! When Tabitha returns home, she confronts Jug for withholding that information. He’s found a picture and asks if she is worried about the ghosts. It seems Diane killed Sam with a hammer and Tabitha has a dream that one night while Jughead is writing, she repeats the story. The next morning, she yells at him for leaving the toothpaste uncapped and he mentions knocking on the walls that kept him awake. (Hey production, we needed to hear that knocking!)

Tabitha gets clumsy at work and drops dishes. She asks Pop if he believes in ghosts and he admits that the Chocolate Shop use to be haunted by a waitress who died there. Her ghost disappeared after all the windows were broken in the 1960s. Meanwhile, Jughead spent the day trying to figure out the ships got in the bottle. Tabitha reminds him that he’s supposed to be writing and he says he was refueling his creative side (I do that writing recaps, reading, and dreaming). The next morning, Tabitha takes a carton of milk (with Archie’s “missing” picture on it) and finds the hammer. She goes to talk to Jughead who is surprised by the hammer in her hand. He’s almost finished the book but won’t let her see it. Seems when she talks to Betty, she finds out that was not how he wrote when Betty was his muse.

Jughead has been out buying bottles. Tabitha has read the novel and is upset about the story of the wife who kills her husband because he left the top off the toothpaste. She smashes his ship-building bottles and almost smashes Jug’s head. Before she can make that blow, she sees herself as Diane and stops. She tells him they can’t repeat the story and tells Jughead that she loves him. Jughead tells Tabitha that he loves her. They scare the ghosts away and close up the room.

Reggie and Veronica – (story two but not the main story)
Veronica calls Reggie at the car lot. Reggie’s dad is seriously ill and not expected to make it. As Reggie gets ready to leave, an older model car (of course, just like the one he had in high school) comes in and he buys it for cash from its owner. Reggie sits in the car and a woman (of course that he knows) appears beside him in the seat. Oh, great – apparently another ghost. She disappears as Reggie gets another call from Ronnie asking why he isn’t home. He arrives home, needing a shower (the ghost did that to him! Amazing!). 

The next day, Reggie is at the high school in the shop with the car. He gets a call and lies saying he’s at the hospital but gets busted. Ronnie shows up and Reggie explains that the car reminds him of Bella. He also tells her the story about high school life and the car. Ronnie seems to understand, and they decide to make love in the car at Pop’s. The only problem is that the Rivervale football team sees them, and Chuck Clayton gets told about it. He plans to ruin Ronnie’s good name with that. Wait, Ronnie’s good name? She clobbered Archie so they could sacrifice him and threatened her dear old dad. Reggie accuses Ronnie of being jealous of a car.

Ronnie sits down in the driver’s seat and lowers the visor. A picture of the real “Bella” drops out. Ronnie goes to Rivervale High to have it out with Reggie but accidentally bumps into Mr. Weatherbee. She drops the picture and he picks it up and tells her who the woman is. Bella was fired from Rivervale High due to inappropriate behavior. Ronnie confronts Reggie with this only to learn that Mr. Mantle has died. Bella did not have inappropriate behavior with Reggie (he says) and was his confidant (in more ways than one I bet). Ronnie gives him the keys to another 1964 Camaro (but not Bella). Reggie later gets in it and sees Bella in that car also. (He goes from talking to Ronnie about his father’s funeral, getting the car, to seeing a ghost.) Too much detail.

Toni (and Betty) versus La Llorona – The Main (and good, sad) Story
As the show opened, remember the battle I talked about. The boy killed was the son of Darla Dickinson (more on this later—just remember the name). During the opening 15 minutes, we see a character arise from the lake. It is La Llorona who lost children and now searches for them. To make amends, she apparently takes away children now from their uncaring mothers. All this happens as Nana Blossom and Cheryl celebrate the return of those (blasted) maple trees already growing tall and thank Archie. As they celebrate, Dagwood comes and tells them that Juniper is in trouble. Cheryl breaks into the bathroom where Juniper is drowning in the bathtub. She saves her niece, but this is just the start of babies (almost) dying.

We then get a chatty scene of Betty and Kevin talking about her baby that will be named either Archie or Polly. Betty gets a call about a drowned child in a bathtub and Cheryl is there also seeking help with Juniper. Betty goes to the FBI and takes the case. Toni has been approached by Betty about the mother, Sandra, who doesn’t really know why her daughter drowned. She’s being held because of bruising on her daughter’s shoulders from being held underwater. Mom saw a figure in the bathroom as she entered and Toni finds out about La Llorna. A folklore character isn’t enough to keep the mother out of jail. 

Just a quick note. I thought I had seen the word before. Checking Google, I found out that it’s from Latin America mythology and roams water looking for her children that she drowned. (This importance comes into focus as the episode plays out).

Toni does her research also and finds the story of La Llorna in a folklore book. She calls Betty who tells her that but it won’t be enough to get the mother out of jail. Toni tells her that the figure always searches for mothers who don’t love their children or have done something to a child.

That night, Betty gets a visit from La Llorna who decides that Betty doesn’t deserve the child she is carrying. Betty wakes up to find her stomach flat and apparently no baby. She visits the doctor who tells her that she is no longer pregnant. The doctor thinks it was a hysterical pregnancy. (Hey doc! Maybe it was because she helped sacrifice the child’s dad to make the maple trees grow.)

Toni has noticed water (or maybe blood) dripping from her classroom’s ceiling. She goes into the hall and sees La Llorna standing there and knows that La Llorna seeks baby Tony. Toni grabs an ax to kill the spirit (that’s not how you get rid of ghosts, Toni) and, pulls the alarm so the students leave. La Llorna disappears as she swings the ax but not before scaring Toni who later gets a visit from child protection services. Toni has been turned in as a “bad” mother and the social worker knows that isn’t true. During the visit, La Llorna appears and tries to steal baby Tony who screams. Toni and the social worker find him on the floor.

Betty talks to Toni and Fangs about the places that La Llorna has been seen. Toni gives Fang’s the baby to be taken to the Whyte Wurm to be cared for and protected by the Serpents while she visits Cheryl. At Cheryl’s, a seance occurs with Nana, Betty, and Toni. La Llorna appears and takes over Nana (although we can see her). La Llorna plans to take baby Tony and almost makes Nana drown.

From the clues that Toni and Betty learn, they head back to the Whyte Wurm and find the Serpents lying on the floor and the baby was gone. Fangs tell her that it was La Llorna and something about a grave. Toni realizes that all this is coming from Darla’s son. They find Darla at the grave and she is the one who called the curse down on Toni. She had lost all of her sons and is doing this to punish Toni.

At the lake, Toni and Betty try to stop La Llorna from going into the lake with baby Tony. Toni pleas with her not to kill her child. Toni will give up anything for her child. She admits to sending Darla’s son into battle and admits she should die for it. La Llorna gives Toni the baby who kisses him. Toni hands the baby to Betty asking her to protect her son and tell him she loved him. She turns back to La Llorna who becomes a part of Toni. As the ghost heads to the water, Betty sees the face of Toni for the ghostly figure. Let me just say, Vanessa Morgan (Toni Topez) deserves an Emmy for this performance.

Jughead makes one more “Twilight Zone” appearance to tell us that what better word of motherhood is there than sacrifice (like he really knows from his own experiences). His philosophical turn reminds me of the old episodes I’ve seen of Rod Sterling at the end of the original series.

So thus, the death of another well-loved character that owed Cheryl a favor. Add to that Betty’s loss of Archie’s child. As each episode comes, I wonder what mayhem will be next.

Next week: Reggie seems to be tempted by the devil who shows up in Rivervale (where else). And we have someone in an alien mask show up.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 23:12

Review: 'The Wheel Of Time'

Written by 18 November, 2021

The Wheel of Time began this week on Amazon Prime.  I wasn’t sure whether to watch it or not but I am familiar with the story.  I read the first five books in the 1990s and had friends who completed them all.  Let me just say, it’s a complicated story with a wide array of characters and often, you lose track of who these people are.  I have friends who still have their character encyclopedia they composed so they could keep the characters straight.  So, buckle up.  If you think “Lord of the Rings” was complicated, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Let’s get this straight for the readers.  The Wheel of Time isn’t the name of the first book.  The title of book one is “The Eye of the World.”  It introduces us to Moiraine and Lan who have a quest ahead of them.  They must find the Dragon and keep him/her in the light (or destroy if he/she is evil).  That’s right.  No one has a clue of who this person is.  Moiraine only knows that he/she has been born. 

Amazon’s first episode is called “Leave Taking” and in actuality is based on the first book of the series.  In many ways, you don’t understand this until the last 20 minutes of the episode.  The story tells of Moiraine and Lan, her bodyguard, leaving the Aesi Sedai on the search for the Dragon.  The Dragon’s return has been seen by one of the Aesi Sedai that was born with white eyes and blind.  They finally arrive at the town of Two Rivers which is located in the mountains and steeped in the Old Ways.  They have a  town is led by the women with a Wisdom lady (who can never marry) serving as the head of the town.  As the viewer arrives in Two Rivers, they find that a new recruit is being inducted into the Women’s Circle, Egwene.  She gets her braid and must survive a fall from the cliff into the river.

That night, a party is held.  When Egwene arrives, the party kicks up a notch and the celebration really begins.  During the party, we are introduced to four key people who will play the main roles during the story  (in addition to Moiraine and Lan).  After the party, Egwene and Rand, her lover, clean up.  Unfortunately, they as a married couple are not to be as Egwene has been asked  to apprentice under the present Wisdom, Nynaeve.  This means a life of loneliness.  We do not learn until later that Nynaeve does not like the Aesi Sedai to which Moiraine belongs.  Nynaeve was adopted by the former Wisdom who had hoped to become an Aesi Sedai but was refused membership because she was poor and of small build.  Let’s just say that this will probably color Egwene’s opinion of Moiraine as the story moves forward.

Moiraine and Lan continue their search the next day:  Moiraine for the Dragon and Lan for problems (Trollocs).  All seems peaceful but a stranger arrived unknown to all during a storm the night before.  Nynaeve and Egwene sense a change in the tone of the wind but no time to figure it out then as the town has a memorial service to attend that night.

At the memorial service, people light lanterns and put them in the river and they float downstream (think Chinese Lantern celebration).  As the party moves back to the town (after the sad service), people start to dance and sing.  Suddenly, the Trollocs attack.  The Trollocs work for the Dark One as his army.  Their one goal is to destroy goodness and stop the Aesi Sedai.  The Dark One knows that the Dragon is somewhere.  As the fight starts (on a set only used for this episode) the town is destroyed.  So are the Trollocs with Moiraine’s white magic and calling the stone from the buildings to destroy the Trollocs.   Moiraine has figured out that the Dragon is one of four people from Two Rivers.  She may have stoped the Trollocs but for how long and at what cost?

As the town regroups, Rand, Egwene, Perrin and Mat are told they must leave with Moraine and Lan to draw the Dark One’s army away.  Rand blames Moraine (for his father’s injury and the attack) but his father (who was saved by Moiraine) signals he must go.  Already the army can be seen on a mountain nearby.  Horses are brought and six ride out.  All do not want to leave as Rand blames Moiraine for the attack.  Knowing that their staying, they must leave even though Mat wants to stay with his sisters and Perrin has lost his wife, Laila.  The Trollocs and Dark One will only go where they think the Dragon is.  Egwene doesn’t know what to make of all that has happened. 

As the ride begins, Moiraine reminds us of the quest as they travel to the White Tower:

The Wheel of Time and come and pass leaving memories that become legends. Legends become myth and even myth is long forgotten when the age that gave it birth comes again.”

The next episode will be dropped November 19th.

I’ve watched fantasy before.  I was a huge fan of Once Upon a Time and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m not sure how I feel about this one.  I will say that the cast, especially the relative unknowns, seem to be able to handle what is thrown at them.  Rosamund Pike is going to be a strong lead as Moiraine and will do wonders in the role.  I wasn’t a fan of Game of Thrones as I found the books and the series too bloody (remember the Red Marriage).  I will definite watch the second episode. 

And remember, this wasn’t my usual type of recap.  I just wanted you to have background on a new series that has promise.  Oh, and by the way.  Bezos tells us that it won’t last 15  years (one book per  year) and the second year has already been filmed.

Last modified on Thursday, 18 November 2021 22:22

'Riverdale' Brings Back Memories Of 'Once Upon A Time'

Written by 18 November, 2021

As I watched the ending of Riverdale Tuesday night (November 16, 2021), I thought I was seeing a revisit of an old favorite program of mine, Once Upon A Time. The setup with Archie rang so true to the character of Henry that it was eerie. After all, Once Upon A Time ended with seven seasons and just celebrated the tenth anniversary of its premiere. But I digress there.

Now, this wasn’t the first time that the creators of Riverdale has borrowed from old movies or television shows. Popular culture plays a big role in all television as seen in the prevalence of law and order shows on the tube now. I even liked this series salute to Rod Sterling. Cole Sprouse did a fabulous imitation. Let’s face it. While this has been done many times, Cole played the role in the same style as the original actor portrayed the role. Kudos to Cole.

The thing that worried me was Archie’s ending. Yes, I know that Cheryl prophesied his death. He was supposed to apologize to her for what his ancestor did to her ancestors for Riverdale to survive. To be honest, I’ve seen that theme before. The part that got me going was the use of Archie as the sacrifice because he was the "soul of Riverdale."

Let’s jump back in time, shall we? The show shoots in Vancouver. Well, another popular show (and still is with its fans) was Once Upon A Time which was also filmed in Vancouver. Why they even shared a common actress in that the girl who played Polly also played the daughter of Zelena and Robin Hood (Tiera Shovbye). So, why didn’t they realize that they were borrowing a theme from Once Upon A Time?

Just like Archie, Once Upon A Time had a character who had the purest heart or as “Once” called it: the heart of the true believer. Instead of bringing life back, Henry’s death prevented change. Henry’s job was to break the curses that surrounded the creation of Storybrooke (and later Hyperion Heights). The show’s first season centered around the “true believer,” Henry, convincing his biological mom, Emma, that she was the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Granted Henry was the only one who believed/knew this (except for Regina, his adopted mom, and curse caster), but in the season one finale, Henry ate the poison apple and it took Emma kiss to awaken him making Emma believe.

Want more proof? In Season 3, Episode One, entitled “The Heart of the True Believer,” the tone was set for the first half of the season. Peter Pan had kidnapped his great-grandson, Henry because he wanted to drain his heart so he can live forever. Mr. Gold (or Rumpelstiltskin) has gone to Neverland to help the rest of the family save his grandson but for another reason, a prophecy that Rumple felt detailed his death. (It didn’t. What the prophecy meant was that Rumple had to kill his father (Peter Pan) and that’s too complicated to explain here.) So Rumple was torn about his grandson. While Pan is defeated while he tries to drain Henry’s heart, he only manages to be absorbed into Henry’s body. The new plan is for Pan (Henry) to cast the dark curse. The family, realizing what is happening, must make the ultimate decision of whether to kill Henry or not. As the fight continues, Pan leaves Henry’s body, appears as Pan, and Rumple God must destroy him while dying in the process. Rumple, though, is the Dark One so his death didn’t take but Pan is gone and appears later in season’s five visits to Hades.

Okay – while that wasn’t enough, it got me to season seven of “Once” which involves curses and nature. In this season of “Once,” Goethel, much like, Cheryl, wants to recreate the forest (maple trees). To do this, there had to be a resurrection amulet and a curse that involved a sacrifice (seeing the angle here). Gothel intends to destroy mankind/humankind and replace it with trees (nature) and her coven. Let’s just say that Gothel causes Regina to cast a curse spell that sends everyone to Hyperion Heights in Seattle and lose their memory. Here’s the trick. To cast the curse, Goethel used Henry (and his heart). Once he remembered, the curse would begin. He remembers after kissing his wife, runs and sees his mother Regina fighting to prevent the curse, and apparently dying at Goethel’s hand.

In the end, season one plays out again with Henry kissing Regina and saving her and this curse breaking. While it doesn’t destroy Goethel, it wakes the rest and Goethel’s daughter, Alice (yes, in Wonderland) stops the curse by fighting/destroying her mother. (And while it didn’t end the season, it did get rid of one of season seven’s annoying villains).

Oh, and one more similarity — the holding/yanking of the heart to “start” rebirth. Cheryl cuts Archie’s heart out as a sacrifice (apparently). In “Once Upon a Time,” Regina (and other witches) would simply yank the heart out to either turn it to dust (kill) or use the person as a servant. Cheryl wanted the heart and blood to nurture the ground so the saplings would grow, and the barren women would have children. This also is different as Regina couldn’t have children on “Once” and had to adopt Henry.

Thus, the two shows have similarities in the plot but it’s just the beginning. We have the curse of Jughead and Betty still around. Add to that the fact that Toni, Betty, Veronica, and Tabitha owe Cheryl “favors” for solving their problems. What will those favors entail? Better yet, how will the curse work against Betty and Jughead. Roberto in an interview with “Entertainment Weekly,” said the deaths just began with Archie. What other destruction will he do? Will it be memorable as this one?

Last modified on Thursday, 18 November 2021 20:59

Review: 'Bering Sea Gold'

Written by 26 October, 2021

Discovery's Bering Sea Gold has been on the air long enough that it doesn't need much of an introduction. People are searching for gold in the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska. It's hard, you can broke and the people most attracted to this feast-or-famine of a profession tend to be...eclectic and quirky.

Season fourteen of the show is premiering on Tuesday and it'll be a bit of comfort TV watching for new and old fans alike, assuming you ignore an annoying bit of framing by producers. But more about that later.

It's wintertime and some of the show's familiar faces are back to try and find more gold under the ice. Shawn Pomrenke has been on the show since the very beginning and like pretty much every season, he's both the miner most likely to find large amounts of gold while simultaneously trying to pay off massive debts. Over the past few seasons he has bought his father's share of the business, invested in new leases and equipment. He ended the summer just making the money he needed to survive and the winter mining season kicks off with him frantically trying to pay down his bills.

Zeke Tenhoff is another season one veteran, although he returned last season after spending a few years away from the show. Although while he's older, he's not necessarily wiser. His summer mining crew wasn't able to stick around for the winter, so he's recruited a couple of friends who are commercial fishermen with no mining experience. It goes as well as you might expect and in the premiere episode, they spend hours digging holes in the ice in hopes of finding good mining ground. Then when they do find it, they manage to forget which hole is the correct one.  To help out, he temporarily brings in Steve Riedel, the erratic goofball miner who is also the father of miner Emily Reidel. Steve is one of those people who can be more trouble than he's worth, but that didn't keep miner Vernon Adkison from bringing him onto his crew last season. So either Steve Reidel is a) a better miner than he appears to be, b) the only guy available in Nome, or c) someone the producers bring in to shake things up.

Speaking of Vernon Adkison, he's back as well. Although he spends the entire premiere episode sitting in a bar, waiting for the storm to clear. 

And then there is Kris Kelly, part of the infamous Kelly mining family. The family joined the show in season three, with father Brad as Captain of the Reaper (formerly the Minnow). along with his sons Kris and Andy. And in the ensuing seasons, the Kellys managed to be agents of chaos in the Bering Sea. They generally found only modest amounts of gold each season, but what they lacked in output they made up for with an uncanny ability to make the absolute worst decision in any situation. There have been inter-family mutinies, a bit of claim jumping, arguments with nearly every other captain on the show and all the while they're not putting a lot of gold in their pockets.

Kris is now on his own and after a decent experience last summer, he is returning with $15,000 worth of new equipment that he bought on credit. So I am sure that will turn out to be a wise decision.

Think of Bering Sea Gold as The Real Housewives of the adventure reality TV genre. The hunt for gold is interesting enough, but it's not all that compelling to watch people vacuum up dirt underwater. It's the personalities that keep viewers coming back and the show has a solid mix of characters.

The one annoying aspect of the season premiere is that producers decided to frame the episode by beating viewers over the head with a gambling analogy. The episode opens with the captains sitting around a table playing cards, and the narration of the episode leans heavily on the poker references. Aside from the fact the scenes are just annoying, the cuts distract from the flow of the episode. The references are also pointless, since it should be clear to anyone who has watched the show for more then ten minutes that gambling money and perhaps your life is the core principal of Bering Sea Gold.

Despite the slight aggravations, Bering Sea Gold is back and I'm glad. It's a show that I use as a mental palate cleanser. And in the case of Kris Kelly, it reminds me that no matter how ill-advised my life decisions might be, there are people in the world who are even worse at decision-making than I am.

Season fourteen of Bering Sea Gold premieres on Tuesday, October 26th, 2021.

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 October 2021 14:43

Review: 'Insiders'

Written by 21 October, 2021

You've probably read a lot of hot takes from media and television reporters trying to explain the reasons why the Netflix series Squid Games has been such a massive success. Aside from the obvious factors - such as the quality of the show - a number of theories seem to center around the anti-capitalist slant of the series and the fact that the show seemed to just explode virally. Netflix didn't appear to send out screeners of the series ahead of time and even the company's executives have admitted that they didn't "get" the show.  The company surfaced the show through its email blasts and via its app interface. But Squid Games ultimately broke through because it is one of the shows that viewers finish and then instantly think "what the F%^k did I just watch?" Squid Games has a unique feel and that goes a long way in today's overcrowded entertainment environment.

Insiders is the first original Netflix reality series from Spain and if enough subscribers sample it, I can see the show quickly building an audience of stunned fans. Produced to be quickly consumed in a frantic binge, this batshit seven-episode roller coaster ride of crazy is the Squid Games of reality television: a show that has to be experienced to be completely understood.

Hosted by Money Heist actress Najwa Nimri, the show is a bit like Big Brother, if that show was produced by a psychopath with ADHD. A group of twelve participants are brought into a studio after auditioning for a reality series they are told will hopefully be purchased by Netflix. The set is a 17,200 square-foot studio that is completely covered by 250 hidden microphones and 70 hidden cameras. The contestants are told they are finalists for the show and are given a Big Brother-style living space to stay in while the final auditions take place. They aren't told they are being constantly filmed and that they will be psychologically tortured like tattooed hipster lab rats.

There isn't one aspect of the show that is predictable. The entire first episode is basically setting up the sting and it's clear early on the show is going to be emotionally brutal on the participants. The contestant interviews are interspersed with later footage secretly recorded inside the house. So as one contestant talks in her screening interview about her unshakeable love for her boyfriend, we see her later sleeping with one of the other houseguests. Another contestant claims to be "easy going, but passionate" in his interview, as we see him later having a screaming, obscenity-filled meltdown. It's clear these interviews are less of a screening process than a way for the show's producers to hone in on everyone's emotional weaknesses. And they take full advantage of every single one throughout the experience. 

It's difficult to fully explain the insanity of Insiders without giving away some of the best "what the F%^k did I just watch?" twists. At one point, the contestants are told they are actually in a competition and the eventual lone surviving houseguest will take home €100,000 ($117,720). But literally ever other aspect of the show is a lie. The "producers" are really actors, the methods used to decide who is eliminated are just made up by producers and there are so many layers of twists and turns that you couldn't keep track of them all with a giant white board and a set of twenty colored markers.  Even after the winner is chosen, there is one last twist as the cameras fade which was so nuts I literally screamed out in surprise. 

I'm not sure why Insiders wasn't promoted more before its release. Part of the problem seems to be that there isn't a lot of promotional coordination between territories on lower-profile global shows. Every country has a limited PR bandwidth and a lot of things just slip through the cracks. This isn't a problem limited to Netflix, by the way. But it is one that affects the company more simply because of the large number of local productions it has going on around the globe.

I know this might be the first you've heard about Insiders, so all I can tell you is that if you enjoy slightly insane reality TV, then this is the series you've been waiting for. The contestants are memorable, the production values are first rate and I can guarantee you won't see most of these twists coming. 

Insiders premiered Thursday, October 21st, 2021 on Netflix.

Last modified on Friday, 22 October 2021 10:28

Review: 'Good Timing With Jo Firestone'

Written by 16 October, 2021

I did stand-up for about decade, through the 1980s into the 1990s. I turned into a pretty good comic along the way, but even when I was terrible I loved the magic that came with making people laugh. I haven't been onstage in close to 30 years, but I still find myself writing jokes for an act I'll probably never do. I've even seriously considered doing an open mike or two, just to see if an old guy can get laughs from a room full of strangers half my age.

I say all this because I know firsthand the magic that comes from a good joke. Or even a not so good one. It's one of the qualities that makes us human and it connects the comedian and the audience in an almost spiritual way. A lot of modern comedy seems so obsessed with breaking boundaries and speaking truth that many comedians forget the most important thing: the way that seeing someone's smile or hearing them unexpectedly laugh can lift your soul. 2021 is a complicated time and there's something to be said for comedy that's free of everything but the joy of laughter and losing yourself for a few minutes in the moment.

I didn't know what to expect from the Peacock comedy special Good Timing With Jo Firestone before I watched it. Peacock didn't provide a screener ahead of time and in fact, the streamer didn't have much to say about the special. I knew the premise, but to be honest, I was afraid it would be some snarky attempt to make fun of some old folks. But instead, the program is the Ted Lasso of comedy specials: a warm, gentle show that seems to exist mostly to make people happy.

Comic and actress Jo Firestone began teaching a comedy class to a group of seniors last year and when the pandemic broke, she moved it over to Zoom. The students range in age from 66 to 88 and while a couple of them have some tangential connection to show business (one woman sold jokes to Joan Rivers for $10 a piece), the majority of them were just doing the class as a distraction. When the pandemic slowed down earlier this year, the class met in person and ultimately everyone performed a short set in front of a live audience.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone splits its 50-minute running time into three different parts, although there is some overlap between the segments. There is a look at the group in-person classes, as Firestone throws out subject ideas and guides the often raucous conversation (and anyone who think seniors are mostly prudes should watch the back-and-forth about a pussy joke). Firestone also does one-on-one interviews, where she is able to explore the senior's lives and experiences a bit. And the final hunk of the special is devoted to the performances.

The performances take place in a theater at 2pm and as you might expect, the quality of the comedy doesn't generally rise to the level of the average open-mike night at any comedy club. But that isn't the point. The performances are engaging, sweet and sometimes unpredictable (one guy shows up nearly naked). There's a joyful earnestness to the event that just puts a smile on your face. These are not people who have illusions about having a comedy career or changing the world. They are just there for the companionship and the laughter. It's infectious and a reminder of what comedy can be.

None of this would work with Firestone, who provides just the right note to the special. Despite the fact that Good Timing With Jo Firestone has her name in it, the special isn't about her. She's there to guide, to encourage, to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. She's a proxy for the audience, most of which I suspect wish they could have been there to see it in person.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone is a palate cleanser for the soul and I've already watched it a second time. And I can't remember the last time I did that with a comedy special.

I hope that you'll both watch the special and share it with others, since Peacock's approach to Good Timing With Jo Firestone seems to be "well, maybe people will find it buried in our library." I realize that the new Halloween movie is Peacock's big priority this week. But if that is the case, then maybe moving this special to another less crowded week might have made more sense. It deserves some extra promotional attention and it has the potential of being a special that can take off on social media.

Good Timing With Jo Firestone is now streaming on Peacock.

Last modified on Tuesday, 19 October 2021 13:39

Review: 'NCIS' - Gibbs Has Left The Building

Written by 12 October, 2021

Deciding when to end a long-running show is never an easy decision. Ideally, it's being done at a natural ending point in the lives of the characters. A moment that allows the audience to feel as if the story has come to a resolution that honors all of the seasons that have come before it. But when the long-running show is still successful in the ratings, then there is a tremendous amount of pressure to keep it going. To keep the crews employed, to give everyone a chance to cash a few more paychecks. From the standpoint of the network, if people still want to watch the show, what does it matter if it isn't operating at that same level it was back in season five or even season ten? If the audience is watching, they must be happy.

And while there is some truth to all of that, as a longtime fan of NCIS it has been disheartening to watch the show lose a lot of its special chemistry over the past few seasons. New cast members have come and gone - most of them never quite gelling with the DNA of the show. There has been a certain "throw a bunch of things against the wall" feel to the episodes, which only serves a painful reminder of what has changed on the show.

Tonight's episode is being billed as the final regular appearance by Mark Harmon's character Leroy Jethro Gibbs and while his exit is not a surprise, it's a near fatal blow for a show that has felt the absence of its original cast in recent years. Gibbs is the emotional center of the show, the glue that allows everything else to work in a coherent fashion. The parts are all there to pull off a reasonable procedural show without Gibbs. But no other character in the series has the ability to make the audience care about the characters. Harmon's acting throughout the series has been subtle and easy to ignore. But he is the primary reason why audiences care about the show in a way that they never have on other competing dramas.

At the same time, it's also been obvious over the past several seasons that it is a natural ending point for Gibbs. He's getting older, weary. The unnaturally youthful and spry Harmon has noticeably lost a step or two. In a better world, NCIS would end as it began - with Harmon.

Instead, the show has scrambled to build a post-Harmon cast and in the first three episodes of the current season, two characters have been added to the mix.  NCIS Special Agent Jessica Knight (Katrina Law) becomes a new member of the team after Agent Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham) exited at the end of last season. Knight had previously appeared in the two-episode season finale earlier this year, so she is a somewhat familiar character to the NCIS audience. The second addition to the mix is Gary Cole's FBI Special Agent Alden Parker and as much as I like Cole, his character feels as if it's fresh off the procedural character assembly line. Cranky to the point of being irritating? Check. But yet, he's an excellent agent? Designed to be disruptive to the NCIS team? Check.

This week's episode is the final chapter of the story arc that was introduced in the season premiere. Gibbs and his new friend Marcie Warren (played by Harmon's real-life wife Pam Dawber) had been chasing what they believed was a serial killer. Of course, it wasn't long before the entire NCIS team was involved, as well as the FBI. Cole's character is there to lead the FBI response and introduce him to the team and he argues with all of them. He might as well be wearing a t-shirt that reads "soon to be working at NCIS."

Gibbs and McGee are off to Naktok Bay, Alaska to try and prove the murders were related to opening of a copper mine. And an FBI team led by Parker is chasing them, armed with a warrant to arrest Gibbs. Because....well, the show needs a reason for Cole to stay in the picture. Hey, maybe Gibbs will end up in prison in some NCIS-style tribute to the Seinfeld series finale. That would be a twist no one would see coming!

Soon, Gibbs and McGee are on the hunt for a missing article which would supposedly prove the mine is a potential environmental disaster. It was written by Libby Alonak, one of the murder victims and when they meet with Libby's father, the show gets the chance to beat the "Gibbs continues to struggle with the murder of his wife and daughter" emotional beat directly into the audience's brainstem one last time. Gibbs and McGee are convinced the mine is at the center of the murders. Which doesn't seem a concern to the global giant Sonova, whose CEO travels to Alaska to do the ceremonial ribbon-cutting/gloating at the ground-breaking for the mine. 

Gibbs and McGee show up at the ceremony to speak with her and her response is the textbook arrogance you see when a procedural wants the audience to know that "this business leader is a very bad person." These are the scenes that grate the most in the show. There was a time when  NCIS was able to accomplish the same story beat without the scene feeling as if it could just easily be a part of an episode of FBI or S.W.A.T.

Back at headquarters, Medical Examiner Jimmy Palmer (Brian Dietzen) is set to examine the body of Libby Alonak and surprise, Dr. "Ducky" Mallard (David McCallum) shows up for another one of his inexplicable appearances. He tells Palmer that Gibbs had asked him to do a psychological profile of Libby and there's a flashback to when Ducky last spoke with Gibbs. He showed up at his old friend's house as Gibbs was frantically packing to leave. Ducky tells Gibbs he's worried and Gibbs finally admits out loud to what he has been going through during the events of the past six months. And it sets up his eventual exit from the show in a way that might as well include a flashing "exit, stage left" sign.

"You're right, lately I've been searching," Gibbs says. "I don't know what I'm looking for. I know..being alone without the job was hard." 

"Then come back," replies Ducky.

"That's even harder."

Gibbs tells Ducky that he has to get to the airport and he unexpectedly hugs him. "Your are a great friend. I appreciate you more than you will ever know." And in the moment that follows, as the old friends quietly look at each other one last time, you see what has made NCIS so compelling over the years. Strong acting, well-defined, nuanced characters and the willingness to not overwrite the scenes. No "will I ever see you again?" comments. No need to explain every single emotion to the audience. All the viewers need to know is written on the faces of Mark Harmon and McCallum. Two veteran actors who are as good as anyone on television.

Back in the present, Dr. Mallard is examining the couple of personal effects found on the victim's body and discovers a QR code attached to the underside of Libby's watch. The QR code leads to a copy of the article about proposed copper mine and it claims that Sonova's own internal environmental impact report said the mine would have "unavoidable catastrophic consequences to the water and surrounding animal life." What!?! The obviously evil CEO was lying? I'm shocked. Well, not really.

Back at NCIS headquarters, it turns out that the primary source for Libby's expose was biologist Brian Stafford, who was one of the other murder victims. NCIS needs to find his original report to take down Sonova, so Torres (Wilmer Valderrama) asks Marcie to contact Stafford's wife and ask for his laptop. This gives Marcie the chance to ask the agent how Gibbs is doing. That whooshing sound means that it time for another flashback, this time it's Torres recalling when he drove Gibbs to the airport for his trip to Alaska. 

They joked about how Gibbs got his boat out the basement, they discussed how well Knight is fitting into the squad and then Gibbs asked Torres how he was doing. "You are a good agent. You've got instincts that don't come along often. More important, you are a good man. Do me a favor, though," Gibbs adds. "Don't let this job become all that there is. You take of you."

Back in the present, Torres lies to Marcie and reassures her that Gibbs is fine. Later at the lab, Kasie unlocks Stafford's laptop and finds his original impact report. And it's signed by Sonova CEO Sonia Eberhart.

As Gibbs and McGee head off to arrest Eberhart, FBI Agent Parker shows up to arrest Gibbs. McGee can't believe the agent had tracked them down and as Parker is putting the handcuffs on Gibbs, he reveals that Gibbs himself tipped off the FBI about his location. Of course, Gibbs and McGee convince Parker to wait to arrest Gibbs until after Eberhart is in custody. 

But even though NCIS can prove she buried the report, they can't prove she is connected to the murders. But Torres and Knight have a theory that Eberhart had an unknown partner. So to draw that person out, when Gibbs and McGee are set to arrest the CEO, Gibbs gets a call and he tells McGee the arrest is one hold because of "red tape." As soon as Eberhart gets into her car, she tries without success to call someone. It turns out that the car is being driven by Agent Parker, who used a cell phone jammer to block her call. Although it apparently works on satellite phones as well. But he does get to see who she tried to phone. 

Cut to Marcie's apartment, where she is speaking with Phil Hanover (John Hensley). She tells him that she's discovered the murders were all connected to a copper mine in Alaska. Oh, you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see where this is headed. He asks what any of that has to do with the death of his wife. Marcie says there is no connection that she could find and then of course, Phil asks the "have you told any of this to the Feds yet?" question. Marcie tells him "no," and she might as well add "so it's safe to kill me."

Of course, Torres and Knight are there to stop him and they lay out the entire scheme for the audience in the world's longest example of laying out backstory in the midst of making an arrest. Phil owns a lot of land in Naktok Bay, Eberhart offered him millions for the land if he could make the mine's opponents disappear. And when his wife found out about the plan, he had her killed as well.

Back in the middle of rural Alaska, Gibbs and McGee get word of the arrests and you can tell it's time for the prelude to the big goodbye.

"How many cases do you think I've worked, huh!?" Gibbs asks McGee.

"In 25 years? At least a thousand, I'm sure, why?"

"Because what we did today, saving this land, may be the most meaningful one of all of them."

"We did something good here, didn't we?"

"You should be proud, Tim."

Gibbs then insists that McGee arrest him, reminding him that it's his duty. And so the handcuffs go back on and off they go.

McGee turns Gibbs over to Parker, who takes the handcuffs off of Gibbs. He tells them that he called and told his boss at the FBI that he wasn't going to the bureau's errand boy. His chief told him that Gibbs had been a rulebreaker for a long time and it was time that he finally paid the price. The agent says he called an old co-worker and asked about Gibbs. "Let's just say that he convinced me that Gibbs doesn't belong behind bars." Parker tells McGee that if he doesn't testify that Gibbs stole his car, the FBI won't have a case. And while he might lose his badge, he is doing what he believes is right. As Parker leaves the two and heads off, he reveals the name of the old co-worker he spoke with to vet Gibbs: Tobias Fornell. 

Gibbs returns to the boat owned by Libby's father, who thanks Gibbs for making sure he received wife daughter's body. The father tells Gibbs that he is having a traditional potlatch ceremony that evening . He also tells him it would be his great honor to present Gibbs with an old Springfield rifle that is a treasured possession. Gibbs tries to decline, but he's told that it is a tradition during potlatch to give away your personal wealth. Gibbs tells the father he has something for him as well. He has Libby's watch. "I noticed it was a man's watch," Gibbs says. "Is it your watch?"

He tells Gibbs that he gave it to his daughter the day she left their village. "She once said to me that this was the wrong mine at the wring place," he tells Gibbs. "And to find out that she helped stop it and save our precious land. I've never been prouder to be her father."

Later, McGee and Gibbs are fly fishing in the lake and they spend some time talking. Gibbs talks about fishing with his father and he opens up a bit more than usual. One of the more interesting things about the past few seasons has been watching the relationship between these two men evolve from boss/employee to mentor/mentee to eventually friends. The plane arrives to take them home and you can see where this is headed.

At NCIS headquarters, Director Vance informs Torres, Knight and the audience about the latest developments. Parker was fired by his boss after not arresting Gibbs. Vance spoke with Gibbs and offered to give him his job back, but Gibbs declined. So when the show returns to the lake we know what's coming. Gibbs tells McGee that he is staying. Not going back to work, not going back home. He tells McGee he's not sure how long he's staying. "I'm thinking I don't have another boat left to build." 

McGee tries to talk him out of it, tries to figure out why he wants to stay. Gibbs can't articulate it precisely, but tells him "Whatever I'm feeling, this..this sense of peace. I have not had this since Shannon and Kelly died. And I'm not ready to let it go."

"I could not have hoped for anyone better to watch my back for the past 18 years than you, Tim," he tells McGee. They hug and Gibbs tells McGee that he loves him. "I love you, too," McGee replies as he begins to cry. 

"Promise me you are going to be okay," McGee says.

"I already am." 

The episode ends with McGee watching Gibbs fishing in the lake as he flies back home. And for all the clunkiness of the episode, the last couple of minutes are a reminder of why NCIS has been a TV staple for so many years. Mark Harmon is as gifted an actor as procedural television has ever produced. He is going to be missed and I have trouble imagining the show without him in it every season.

On the other hand, if he ever wants to return to television, I'd love to see him do a couple of made-for-television movies a year as an ex-NCIS agent who reluctantly agrees to solve some mystery or right some wrong in rural Alaska. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 October 2021 19:01

Review: 'Algren'

Written by 01 October, 2021

The diner interview has become a well-worn political trope in recent years. Reporters hoping to understand what "the real people are thinking" airport into town, find the nearest diner and speak with a few customers as they finish off their generic Grand Slam. It's an exercise that has become a joke because it ultimately leads to lightweight, intellectually useless reporting.

But there was a time when reporters who covered working class people actually lived and reported in the same working class neighborhoods. Chicago produced several working class journalists whose lives were interwoven with the people they covered, including the long-time Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko and the literary icon Nelson Algren.

Algren's output wasn't massive: just five books and several collections of shorter pieces. But his 1951 piece "Chicago, A City On The Make" defines midcentury Chicago as well as anything ever written. And while the movie adaptation of his book "The Man With The Golden Arm" apparently disappointed Algren, it contained one of Frank Sinatra's best film performances.

But the passage of time has not been kind to Algren's reputation. While he is still somewhat remembered in literary circles, it's been decades since his name has been familiar to most people. And while the new documentary Algren might not be able to change that fate, it does provide a solid illustration of why he mattered.

Algren grew up in a middle-class South Side neighborhood in Chicago and after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1931, he planned to pursue a journalism career. But he wasn't able to find a job and spent several years bumming around the United States. Those travels included a several month stint in a Texas jail after he was arrested for attempting to steal a typewriter.

Director Michael Caplan draws on extensive interviews with friends and admirers of Algren, as well as lots of archival footage to flesh out the story of Algren's rise and fall. Returning to Chicago, he published a series of short stories and a first novel, primarily centered around the lower-class residents of the city he loved. His second novel, 1942’s "Never Come Morning," was so upsetting to Chicago's powerful Polish community that the city's mayor banned it from local libraries.

After serving in WWII, he published the 1947 short story collection "The Neon Wilderness" and famously began a romance with French intellectual and feminist Simone de Beauvoir (who was still at the time living with Jean-Paul Sartre). Their breakup was not pleasant for either person and it inspired de Beauvoir’s 1954 novel "The Mandarins."

Then came Algren's biggest success: 1950's "The Man With The Golden Arm" and the 1956 novel "Walk On The Wild Side." Both spawned movies he strongly disliked and while it's unclear from the movie what precisely changed in Algren after that, it's clear that something did.

He never released another novel and pursued various teaching jobs and freelance pieces until he died in 1981. Part of it was that his style of reporting the lives of lower and working class Americans had fallen out of favor with readers. But it's also seems to be the case that Algren felt he had run out of things to say. Or as the movie hints, struggled to find a way to say them.

Algren isn't an expose and doesn't uncover a lot of previously unknown facts about the author. But it does make a case for him being a writer and journalist that still matters and that makes the film a must-see for any fan of journalism and of authors who dig deep into the lives of the people they cover.

Algren opens October 1st, 2021 in live & virtual cinemas

Last modified on Friday, 01 October 2021 15:53

Review: 'Unidentified With Demi Lovato'

Written by 30 September, 2021

If you spend any time around celebrities of a certain level, you become familiar with "the bubble." There is a class of celebrity that travels through society encased in a protective support group of agents, publicists, family members and people who seem to be there mostly just to interact with the star. It's a facsimile of real life that can feel natural and normal if you don't look too closely behind the curtain.

UFOs and experiences with aliens are a staple of cable television and it's not a surprise that the genre has begun attracting a few true believer celebrities who believe they have experienced something mysterious and want to learn more. But I have to admit that as UFO shows go, Unidentified With Demi Lovato is in its own unique bubble boy category.

Lovato apparently has had several experiences with UFOs and those events sparked this show, which follows Lovato, her sister and best friend Matthew Scott Montgomery around the country as they speak to other believers and try and determine what is real and what is not.

But since Lovato isn't just the average UFO enthusiast, the travels take place on a huge luxury bus and her "investigations" take happen at a level mere UFO fans would find as unfamiliar as the inside of a flying saucer. Lovato doesn't just visit Sedona to investigate the vortexes. She has access to a massive private sanctuary and her "social media team" organizes a meditation event with some of the singer's fans. She's given a presentation about the history of UFOs outside in front of this TV screen the size of a freight car while she and her two companions munch on popcorn.

Lovato and the rest of the Scooby squad look into the alien abduction phenomenon (after Lovato has an out-of-body experience) and a possible connection between ETs and ghosts (after Lovato has a near-death experience). It's all harmless fun and it's certainly no less scattershot and unconvincing than any of the other TV shows about UFOs that fill the schedule of the History and Travel Channels.

But the question with these types of shows is not the authenticity of the stories, but whether they are worth watching. And in the case of Unidentified With Demi Lovato, that ultimately hinges on your thoughts about the star.

Lovato seems sincere about her UFO quest and if you are a fan, then this show will probably be a pleasant way to spend a few hours. But I'm not convinced that there is much to see for the average viewer. The stories you will hear will be familiar to anyone who has even briefly examined the UFO phenomenon and Lovato's charisma doesn't extend to listening to them (Lovato came out as nonbinary in May) try and explain what they had experienced.

The most honest answer I can give about Unidentified With Demi Lovato is that if you're a fan, go watch the series. But if you're not, it's likely to be a pleasant but not especially engrossing ride through the desert looking for E.T.

Unidentified With Demi Lovato premiered Thursday, September 30th on Peacock.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 September 2021 09:28

'Big Brother 23' Recap: And The End Of A Good Season -- 09/29/2021

Written by 29 September, 2021

Big Brother 23, let me start by saying thank you! You finally, after more years than I want to discuss, gave us an interesting season. Not only did we have a cast that enjoyed themselves, but we only had one showmance, gameplay that no one saw, and an alliance of six that made it to the final six. Of course, there was controversy. Many on Twitter weren’t happy with the Cookout alliance but if you look back through history, this one has finally given us many firsts. We did have an exit with Kyland that got messy, but I believe everyone who watched Big Brother was expecting it. I don’t know who was in charge of the casting, but please let them do it again. We got an intelligent lot with most knowing the game. That made it so much better. And if there are typos tonight, remember! This is a two-hour episode I’m trying to get up in an hour.

Round One to Xavier, Round Two Goes to …
Julie reminds us that one of Xavier, Azah, or Derek F. will win the $750,000. After the recap of the entire history of the Cookout (and a reminder that Xavier promised to take Derek to the end), Derek evicts Kyland and Xavier wins part one. 

Julie tells us that 85 days have passed. The second round of the HoH competition is called “Four of a Kind Slots” and looks like a huge slot machine. They have to use their feet to line up the answers to the questions with four people who answered the questions. Once a question is correct, they get their next question. It’s tough and both Azah and Derek (Big D) have problems. While Azah doesn’t get the answers right, Big D has problems with his knees and gets hurt. In the end, Azah beats Big D with a better time (Azah 13:19, Big D. 20:22). Big D did try to use his father’s fights with Mohammad Ali as inspiration. He tells us in Diary Room that he did the best that he could. Azah celebrates in the Diary Room and is ready to take on Xavier for the money.

After the competition, Big D is upset because he didn’t do well. He’s also worried that Azah is infatuated with Xavier (but not in a showmance way due to Xavier’s choice). He’s getting very paranoid. It doesn’t help when Azah asks him who he wants to sit next to in the finale. And they fight and disagree. This seems to have been the tone during the last few days. Xavier is happy even though he’s often caught in the middle. One thing Azah seems to forget is that she hasn’t won! My thoughts are that neither Big D nor Azah did much during the early weeks. They both seemed to fall in love with the bedroom and their separate beds. Xavier does tell us that the more they argue, the better chance it will be for Xavier to be in the finale versus Azah. But what will Xavier do if he wins? (Oh, and Big D’s biggest regret is taking Kyland out.) They do (as always make-up.) Azah tells us that she is confused and doesn’t want to lose Big D. (Derek) as a friend.

The Jury House Greets Kyland
The group is waiting for the next juror to arrive. They debate who will be next and Tiffany hopes it is not Kyland. People want it to be Xavier but really don’t seem surprised to see Kyland. After Tiffany asks him “what happened,” Kyland lets it fly and tells them that Big D was the one to evict him. Then, they get down to how to determine the winner. Tiffany says they must look at strategy, social game, etc. Xavier had the relationships but he was always guarded and playing the game (per Claire). Kyland lets it be known that Xavier threw competitions. Tiffany adds that Xavier never had “heavy conversations” or game talk. Big D and Azah flew under the radar. Azah had relationships outside of the Cookout and was good at making relationships with people she liked. It’s going to be hard for Azah if she sits next to Big D. Big D. had a social game. Derek X. jokes that they share the same name. Big D talked a lot and disguised the Cookout from Sarah Beth (and others). He hasn’t won competitions. It was not because of strategy because he couldn’t. TIffany sees that he gave the game his best and his willpower cannot be overlooked. Kyland is talking about winning competitions and Claire rolls his eyes. Kyland has now apparently made the jury mad and Tiffany says he’s insulted Hannah. Kyland sees Big D and Hannah as interchangeable. Britini makes the point it’s going to be determined on how they answer the juror’s question. Wait! No Dr. Will Kirby this year. Well, it’s probably due to Covid.

The Final HoH
This will be a question/answer game called “Houseguest Headliners.” They have to look at headlines and three statements. One statement is a lie. After viewing the video about the juror, they must choose which is the lie. I don’t think studying this would have necessarily helped. Azah is nervous and she misses the first question. In the end, Xavier beats her by one question. (And a question to readers: How do you like how “buff” they made Derek X. look.)

Xavier gives each a chance to make a plea. Big D reminds him that they bonded on day one and he’s had his back since the start of the game. Azah tells Xavier that she appreciates his game and thanks him for starting the Cookout (that’s three that take credit for that!). Xavier is told that he’s guaranteed at least $75,000 and must decide who to evict. It’s the difference between big money and second place. He chooses to evict Azah and she joins Julie on stage.

Azah and Julie
As they watch, Big D. cries and thanks Xavier while Xavier grins and tells him Xavier has had Derek. Big D. can’t believe his luck and says this proves anything can happen. Julie asks Azah how she feels and she is upset. She knew the first question but overthought it. She doesn’t regret anything. When asked who she would have taken to the final two, she says Xavier because he did visible things in the game. Against Big D., she didn’t have a chance. With Xavier, she would have gotten votes but it would be close. Julie congratulates her on making history (Cookout). Azah’s final thoughts are that she’s still trying to process everything. She knows she messed up and wonders what the purpose of her being in the house was. She knows there is a reason and she can’t wait to find out what it was. Julie tells her that “God has a plan.”

Jury Questions Begin
The jury is now on the stage and Julie calls them rowdy and asks who they think is the final juror. Sarah Beth hopes it is Derek but it’s Azah which seems to surprise them all. They welcome her. They’re told that Xavier is the last HoH and chose Derek F. But now it’s time for juror questions to the two. 

The first question is Kyland who asks Xavier what is the most important factor to crowing the first African-American Big Brother. Xavier says he never got personal. He did lie and hopes he didn’t disrespect anyone. To him, he played the best game.

Britini asks Big D. what decisions he made on his own. Big D. tells them that he started the Cookout. He went to HoH to protect the Cookout every week. 

Alyssa asks Xavier what his biggest mistake was. Xavier feels that it was watching her leave. He doesn’t really regret anything.

Hannah asks Big D whether he was only in it for fame. Big D. tells her that he wanted to be on television and help his mom and had made that clear throughout the game. 

Derek X. asks Xavier what move he made that the jury didn’t know. Xavier admitted to throwing two competitions because of the Cookout. He talked around that answer though. 

Sarah Beth goes to Big D and asks what he contributed to get to the final six. He tells her any time there was an HoH won, he was in their ear to benefit the Cookout. If something had to be executed, he made it happened (even if the Cookout didn’t like it).

Azah asks Big D what he did to deserve the $750,000 more than Xavier. Big D tells her he gave it his all. He didn’t think of himself but the rest of the Cookout. He made himself a pawn (to protect the Cookout). Big D. showed everyone his heart (and I’ll give him that).

The final pleas are made. The winner will be the first African- American champion of Big Brother. Big D says he deserve the prize and he came in wanting to be the first African-American winner. He tried to win comps but couldn’t. He knew he wanted to start the alliance of six. Xavier tells all that he played a team game because he had to do that to get everyone to the jury. He won when he needed and gives his credentials. If the length of speech counts, Xavier wins.

Jurors cast their votes. They will vote one at a time and insert the key with the name that should win Big Brother. Of course, they congratulate the two as they cast their votes. (Of all the jurors, I think Sarah Beth is still bitter.) Kyland, of course, has to give a long-winded speech. Azah makes a joke about not evicting and scares Julie. 

The rest of the evicted houseguests join remotely. They’re as rowdy as the jurors. Julie says that they saw what America saw and talks about the Cookout. Christian found out as soon as he got home. He says that the Cookout is the greatest alliance in BB history. When you put a bigger purpose in the game, history can be made. Julie says “unity,” and Christan says yes! Xavier said Christian said it perfectly but Big D and Kyland nodded. Brent was most surprised by Tiffany and thought all she did was hair and braids. He was surprised by her undercover game. He gave her credit and didn’t see it coming. Julie asks Tiffany if she ever thought the plan wasn’t going to work. Tiffany admits that she did and it really hurt when she had to evict Claire. She admitted that the other strong people in the Cookout told her that she had to do it. Julie then asks Derek X. if he knew about this when he was in the house and was only a pawn in the master plan. Derek X. says he didn’t know he was played. He had only seen two seasons. 

The house guests’ secrets are revealed. Julie shows the clips of Hannah saying she’s a protegee, Sarah Beth revealing her job, Claire and math, and Britini’s black belt. Claire is asked about which surprises her the most and she tells all that it is Hannah. Of course, the Cookout is the biggest. 

Big D is then asked to share his secret and Xavier does “the Thinking Man” pose while Big D stands. Derek F. tells them that his lifestyle and other things he said were true. What he hid was that he was the youngest son of “Smoking” Joe Frazier. Xavier gets up, smiling, and jumps in his face laughing. Derek F. was afraid that the houseguests would think he came from money, but he doesn’t. Xavier says you think you know a man. Derek tried to cover up the Frazier tattoo. Xavier says he still would have taken him to the final two. 

Now it turns to Xavier about his occupation and Derek props his chin and says, “oh yes.” Xavier tells all that most of what he said is true. He has done bartending at weddings. He omitted that he’s a college basketball player and a fully licensed attorney and Derek F. gets back at him with the fact that Derek F. guessed it. Julie admits they have that on tape from an early episode. 

Britini has asked to share something on stage. She stands and announces that she did have a black belt but now she wanted to reveal a secret she kept from the house guests. At 22, Britini was diagnosed with autism. She didn’t want any of them to think that she was anything but Britini. She’s much more than her disability and is so proud of her Big Brother journey. Derek X. hugs her while Derek F. wipes tears and Tiffany and others around her take her hand or hug her.

Kyland is asked about the exit confrontation which he still doesn’t regret what he said. Xavier tells him that he shouldn’t have made it personal by bringing up his nephew. Xavier says that it is a game after all. 

Hannah is asked about her feelings when she left the house on day 65. Hannah said while it was a shock. When she opened the door, she knew it was one of the happiest moments of her life because the Cookout (and she) had made history. She was so proud of being a part of the alliance.

And the winner of this year’s Big Brother is Xavier by a unanimous vote. Xavier and Big D. hug and Julie tells them to come out. Big D does hang back and lets Xavier have his moment in the confetti. Xavier’s parents/family/friends are watching live. Hugs and celebration ensue. Kyland and Xavier have a word (but I think there will be more). Tiffany consoles Azah. 

American Favorite came down to Derek X. and Tiffany as the two top vote-getters. Tiffany wins. Tiffany thanks America and tells her son that the money is all hers. Xavier is asked how he feels. He’s thrilled. He loves all. Xavier gets $750,000. BIg D. gets $75,000 (plus what he won at comps). Derek F. wants the money to change his mom’s life and will do so. He thanks the Cookout. 

As the show ends, Julie thanks all the houseguests for a wonderful season (and I agree wholeheartedly). She announces that you can apply for Big Brother next summer (please use the same casting director). Then she announces Celebrity Big Brother will return in February. She will see us then! 

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 September 2021 23:34

Review: 'NCIS Hawai'i'

Written by 19 September, 2021

Unlike a lot of TV critics, I love a good broadcast television procedural. I rarely write recaps, but I wrote recaps of NCIS for years because I enjoyed the subtle myth-building of the series. And Mark Harmon's Gibbs is one of the great iconic characters of television.

But because I love the genre, I also expect a lot from any procedural. Not every show can be great, but I expect more than workmanlike. When I look at a series, I'm hoping to find some small moments of surprise. All genres have tropes - procedurals more than most - but the shows that can juggle the twin challenges of familiarity and freshness are the ones that I ultimately care about the most.

When I sat down to watch the four episodes of NCIS: Hawai'i provided to me by CBS, I didn't have any grand expectations one way or the other. Despite the NCIS name, the show was unlikely to share any DNA with the mother show. Both NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans have managed to have nice runs without having anything in common with NCIS other than the name. But the question for me was whether NCIS: Hawai'i could carve out a distinctive identity and be a show with a unique point of view and chemistry.

The answer to that question is "not yet," but that doesn't mean that you won't like the show. It is slickly produced, and there is not a wasted moment in any of the episodes. The scenes fly across your screen like cars on a NASCAR track, and unlike the case in a lot of procedurals, there weren't any awkwardly constructed interactions that took me out of the moment.

And yet, I am not sure that I can exactly recommend NCIS: Hawai'i. Don't get me wrong; if you're looking for a tightly written procedural, this is the show for you. But in a weird way, the show's slickness and familiarity also makes it feel a bit disposable.

Vanessa Lachey plays Jane Tennant, the first female Special Agent in Charge of NCIS Pearl Harbor. She's driven and good at her job, but she's also juggling the challenges of being a single mom. Is it wrong for me to bring up that these shows seldom feature a single dad balancing work and home life? There is the new guy struggling to fit in, the quirky science tech guy (Jason Antoon as Ernie Malik), the hard-nose local CIA agent who is hiding a tender side (Tori Anderson as Kate Whistler), the guy who is good-looking but doesn't know it potential love interest for Tennant (Enver Gjokaj as Captain Milius) etc. etc.

Every single one of the actors does a great job with what they're given, and there isn't a weak link in the ensemble. But there is so much thrown into every scene that it sometimes feels like it's an exercise in trying to see how much backstory can be crammed into a single episode. It's as if the producers recognize that viewers are drawn to the complex-ish character mythologies of the other NCIS shows. So they are going to try and lure the viewers in by dumping as much as possible into the script in hopes something will stick.

The other challenge for NCIS: Hawai'i comes from the Hawaii part. The scenery is so instantly recognizable that it is a challenge to shoot a show in Hawaii and not have it feel like every other procedural shot in the same places. And there are indeed moments in the show where you could drop the cast of Magnum PI or Hawaii Five-0 into the same scene, and they would look right at home. Things may change as the season progresses, but for now, the scenery works against efforts for the show to build a distinct identity.

I'm not arguing that you shouldn't watch NCIS: Hawai'i. But while it's smooth and goes down easy, it also feels a bit forgettable. I have no doubt audiences will watch the show, But as to the question of whether it's worth watching...let's check back later in the season.

NCIS: Hawai'i premieres Monday, September 20th, 2021 on CBS.

Last modified on Sunday, 19 September 2021 15:50

Review: 'Wheel Of Fortune' Season 39 Premiere

Written by 13 September, 2021

Tonight brings the season 39 premiere of Wheel Of Fortune and while the past few seasons have brought some small changes in gameplay, this literally is a situation where there's no reason to fix what isn't broken. Wheel Of Fortune is a predictable ratings dynamo and while I expect there will be some big changes when Pat Sajak or Vanna White eventually retire, we're not there yet. Instead, we get some modest changes and the beginning of "Teacher's Week."

The set has been updated a bit. The big video splash screen has been replaced by a more subdued background with logo. A bit more modern and less "game showey," even though I realize that's not really a word.

As far as the gameplay goes, there are a couple of tweaks. In the triple toss-up, contestants try to solve three puzzles, all of the same category. Previously, each puzzle was worth $2,000, for a total of $6,000. This season, while that amount stays the same, there is also a $4,000 bonus if a contestant correctly solves all three phrases, which would mean one contestant could win a total of $10,000.

My suspicion is that it's a way to try and make the games closer and we'll see how that works out throughout the season. It didn't turn out that way on tonight's episode, because while one contestant did sweep the three toss-ups and win the $10,000, it was the same contestant who had already won trips to France and Hawaii.

Another change in the game this season is that on the final spin of the game (the one that determines how much money will be at stake for each letter in the final round), the spin is now taken by the contestant who has control of the wheel when the final warning bell rings. I'm not sure how much impact it has to have a contestant do it instead of Pat, but I don't think it'll have any negative impact on gameplay, either.

So why was that change made? Well, when asked about it at the end of the show by Vanna, Sajak tells viewers to go to the show's social media feeds, where they'll find video of him explaining why the show made this particular tweak.

Turns out that the change was made because Sajak says he never really liked the idea of the host imposing something on the players. And they made the change so that the final round was entirely in the player's hands. 

He also mentioned that he is frequently asked how he never hit a bankrupt or prize when he spun the wheel for the final time. He said that he did do that regularly, but they just edited those moments out to save time, since it didn't affect gameplay. And that they'll do the same thing now that one of the players is doing the final spin. I am guessing that editing is one of the reasons why you sometimes see the "this episode has been edited but the results of the game have not been affected" disclaimer at the end of some episodes. 

The final change this season is that the minimum amount a contestant can win in the final round has been increased by $1,000 to $39,000.

In the end, teacher Allison won the $39,000 prize after naming every consonant that was part of the final puzzle. She walked away with $81,225, which is a pretty impressive way to kick off a season.

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 September 2021 00:59

Review: 'Inside Edition' Season 34 Premiere

Written by 13 September, 2021

There are some syndicated television shows that creatively most closely resemble zombies. They exist, they move around and make noise. But they are essentially dead men walking and while they obviously still retain enough viewers to stay on the air, they are entirely off the radar for most viewers.

While I appreciate the history of Inside Edition, I have to admit to being a bit surprised it is still on the air after thirty-four years. There was a time (back in the Bill O'Reilly years) when the show's mx of crime stories and outrage about pop culture issues made it an essential show for viewers who liked their news programs a bit tawdry and controversial. But in 2021, watching the show is a sad and tired experience. Much like watching Madonna's occasional efforts to be "controversial." Instead, it just reminds you that she's now an old woman who couldn't find a new pop culture trend with a tracking dog and a team of detectives.

Deborah Norville has hosted the show since 1995 and as they tease the episode's stories at the top of the half-hour, I'm struck by how many of the pieces are based around some piece of viral video from social media. They are all things I have already seen in a dozen places. But I'm guessing this means Inside Edition is in part a show for people who like viral video but don't spend a lot of time on social media?

The opening story centers on a 22-year-old woman named Gabby who disappeared following a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend. According to allegations, he returned with her camper, but refuses to tell anyone what might have happened to his now-missing girlfriend. There are interviews with her justifiably concerned parents and while the segment doesn't provide much else in the way of details, this true crime tale is the hallmark of Inside Edition.

Next up is a follow-up story about "Gator Girl," an alligator trainer who was mauled by an alligator in an attack that was caught on video and became a viral story a few months ago. The show has an "exclusive" follow-up, which is really just a quick interview with the woman. As it turns out, the alligator's nickname was "Darth Gator," and if the training facility isn't selling t-shirts with that name on them, they are guilty of marketing malpractice. But the interview itself is pretty bland. She is excited to get back to her job, these things can happen, etc., etc.

Segment three is a vapid mashup of video clips that begins with some scenes from the MTV Video Music Awards, before jumping around from everything from the U.S. Open to the the annual lighting of the spotlights at the spot where the Twin Towers once stood. I think the point was to show that New York City has opened back up although it could just all have been an excuse to include a bunch of random celebrity stories that happened to take place in the same city. The segment felt more like a rejected Entertainment Tonight piece than anything useful. But it's also a reminder that I am not the target audience for this type of show. Although to be honest, who is?

The centerpiece of the episode is an interview with the security expert who was tasked with keeping the now-convicted Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin safe during his trial. Not a lot of surprises in the segment. Yes, there were death threats, the security detail wore bulletproof vests, yada, yada. Then an extended segment on the cat who fell from the balcony at a University of Florida game, which is used as the entry point to show some college football highlights from the weekend. 

Then it's back to Inside Edition's true crime sweet spot with the story of two 14-year-old Florida boys who were arrested for allegedly plotting a Columbine-type shooting at their middle school. Not surprisingly, in an interview with one of the boy's parents, they are convinced he would never have committed a crime.

The episode ends with a couple of random pop-culture stories, with much of the video drawn from social media. Britney Spears announced her engagement and a  mascot dance-off.

Then one of the longest half-hours of my life was over and I remain flummoxed by the audience for this show. Obviously there are enough people watching Inside Edition to keep it on the air. But who are these people who like a mix of true crime stories with no memorable details and pop culture stories that are 24 hours past their prime?

Now THAT is an inside story I'd be interested in seeing.

Inside Edition is a syndicated half-hour series that runs Monday-Friday on local stations across the country.

Last modified on Tuesday, 14 September 2021 09:33

Big Brother History: Alliances Through The Years

Written by 01 September, 2021

When I thought of this piece, I had decided to lay out all the Big Brother alliances since season one.  When I started my research, I found a site called Big Brother Wiki ( that had done a very thorough job of chronicling this history.  I want to thank them and it made me limit this piece to famous alliances.  Season one did not have any alliances as the show was so new.  I will not do All-Star years unless something significant is noted. 

Let’s begin with the most famous alliance which has been on multiple seasons — Chill Town.  Chill Town was created by Mike “Boogie” Malin and Dr. Will Kirby. They were the only two members who clearly knew the game play.  In season two, Boogie and Will used Shannon Dragoo with Krista Stegall, and Justin Sebik (who was expelled for threatening to kill Krista).  Chill Town would show up again during the first Big Brother All-Star season (Season 7) with Will and Boogie working with Jase Wirey, Janelle Pierzina, and Erika Landin.  Season two saw Will win while Mike “Boogie” won season 7.  Today, their friendship is no more as Will has a restraining order (and other court cases) against Boogie.  Chill Town resurfaced when Coach Boogie recruited Frank Eudy in Season 14.  Boogie was a coach and with Frank started a new version with Britney Haynes, Dan Ghressling, Danielle Murphee, and Shane Meaney.  Ian spoiled the season for Dan.  So no Chill Town member won season 14.

Season Five saw two big alliances that featured biological siblings of Mike Ellis and Nakomis Dedmon.  The Four Horsemen, consisted of Drew Danie, Jase Wirey, Michael Ellis and Scott Long and had the eventual winner, Drew.  The Pinky Swear Alliance  worked against the Four Horsemen with some success.  It consisted of Nakamis Dedmon, Adria Klein, Diane Henry, Karen Ganci, Natalie Carroll and Will Wikle.  While the Horsemen thought they ran the game, The Pinky Swear started the infamous backdoor. 

We’ve heard of several people during several years using the term “friendship.” Big Brother had its first Friendship in Season 6.  Consisting of Maggie Ausburn, Ivette Corredero, April Lewis, Beau Beasley, Eric Littmann, and Jennifer Vasquez, they were a powerful force in the house.  The counter group, The Sovereign Six, consisted of Janelle Pierzina, Howie Gordon, Rachel Plencner, Kaysar Ridha, James Rhine and Sarah Hreisa.  Many of Sovereign Six would play as S6 in All-Stars.  Maggie Ausburn of Friendship was the eventual winner of the season.

Season Eight (the season of Evel Dick) saw The Late Night Crew (LNC).  This dominant alliance included Dick Donato, Danielle Donato, Amber Sivavus, Dustin Erikstrup, Eric Stein, Jameka Cameron and Jessica Hughbanks.  Dick, as Danielle estranged father, stated multiple times during the season that he wanted Danielle to win.  LMC would eventually turn on each other leading to accusations and the infamous cigarette/burn fight.  When Evel Dick found himself on the block with Danielle, he won POV and took Danielle off.  Dustin went up, assured he would be safe, only to have Dick sway the votes with America’s Player, Eric, voting to please the audience.  Evel Dick would be the winner of season eight.

I hate to mention the Writer’s Strike Winter season because it was one of the worse every shown on television.  Team Christ was the major alliance and consisted of Natalie Cunial, Sheila Kennedy, Ryan Quicksall and Adam Jasinki.  All members of the group made it to the final five with Adam winning on a six to one vote.

The Renegades was an alliance formed with Dan Gheeling, Memphis Garrett, LIbra Thompson, Renny Martyn, and Keesha Smith during season 10.  Dan served as America’s player for one week and completed his tasks.  He also ended up winning the season and becoming an author and commentator.

Season 11 is the season of the unnamed alliance.  The season started with four groups (Athletes, Populars, Brains and Off-Beats) and the return of Jessie Godderz (Mr. Pectacular).  It was also one of the most controversial as Jessie would form an alliance of Natalie Martinez, Kevin Campbell, Lydia Travera, and Chima Simone.  While never having an official name, the players did control much of the action of the game with their plans to take out the rest.  This lasted until America awarded Jeff Schneider the coup d’etat and he used it during Chima’s HoH.  At that point, the power shifted, and Jessie was put on the block.  With Jessie’s eviction, the drama wasn’t over as his parnters (in crime) held a wake and Chima refused to play the game.  She threw her mike into the pool and was evicted.  America would cast the final vote.  While Natalie was sitting beside Jordan Lloyd in the finals, Jordan won the house vote denying this team a win.

Season Twelve saw The Brigade (Bragade) as the dominant alliance.  Consisting of Enzo Palumbo, Matt Hoffman, Lane Elenburg, and, in her mind, Britney Haynes, the group would turn on member, Matt, who was considered a threat.  Hayden, Lane and Enzo would go to the final three.  The winner of this season was Hayden.  Considered one of the greatest alliance of the show’s history (due to their dominance), the final three also, to me, made it boring for viewers as there was no action in the last week.

Season 11 of Big Brother saw the emergence of The Newbies (those who had never played) which formed when the executive producers introduced former players called the Dynamic Duos (The Vets).  The Newbies up of Cassie Calvin, Porsche Briggs, Lawton Exum, Dominic Briones, Shelly Moore, Keith Henderson, Kalia Booker and Adam Poch.  This group did not last throughout the game with The Regulators forming with Cassie, Dominic Kei,th and Lawton defecting from the original group.  Meanwhile, the Dynamic Duos (Dick Donato, Danielle Donato, Jeff Schneider, Jordan Lloyd, Rachel Riley, and Brendon Villegas) were put at a disadvantage near the start of the competition when Dick had to leave for health reasons.  Rachel from the Dynamic Duos would win but Porsche Briggs also took the second  place prize. 

The most remembered alliance of Big Brother 14 was The Quack Pack.  Known for their signal “quack,” the team was made up of Dan Gheesling, Britney Haynes, Ian Terry, Danielle Murphee, and Shane Meaney.  Dan thought he was in control of the game but came in second to fellow alliance member, Ian.

The alliances of Season 15 are not as memorable to me.  3 A. M. consisted of Aaryn Gries, Amanda Zuckerman, Andy Herren and McCrae Olson.  Both Aaryn and Amanda had negative press due to racial comments made in the house.  And speaking of the house, Area 51 (or The House Alliance) was formed by almost the entire house.  The season’s winner would be Andy Herron, a member of 3 A. M.

Season 16 of Big Brother saw The Bomb Squad emerge.  The mastermind of this group, Derek Levasseur, would be the winner of the season.  He was joined in the group by Amber Borzotra, Caleb Reynolds, Christine Brecht, Cody Calafiore, Devin Shepherd, Frankie Grande (brother of singer Arianna), and Zach Rosen.  Marred by Caleb infatuation with Amber and Zach’s strange actions, Derek was kept on his toes.  Frankie, his second in command, would be the eyes for Derek as he could move throughout the house as everyone’s friend.  Due to the Bomb Squad’s success, other groups like the Crazy Eights have dimmed.  This season also saw Team America with Joey Van Pelt (who left early in the game, Frankie Grande, Derrick Levesque, and Donny Thompson.  Donny, who was America’s Favorite Player, was sabotaged by Frankie Grande with Derrick’s help.  Derrick and Frankie were told that as the surviving members of Team America the one who made it to the end would win an additional $50,000.  Derek Levesque would go on to win $550,000. 

Big Brother 17 saw the rise of Sixth Sense which had as it’s members Austin Matelson, Clay Honeycutt, Julia Nolan, Liz Nolan, Shellie Poole, Vanessa Russo (professional poker player), with affiliates of John McCrae and Steve Moses.  While Vanessa did the planning, Austin was supposed to win comps.  Vanessa had to use her poker skills to stay the course of the season but in the end, Steve Moses won the season.

Season 18 saw Nicole Franzel make her mark. Joined by Cory Brooks, Da’Vonne Rogers, Frank Eudy, James Hurling, Michelle Meyer, Tiffany Rousso, Zakiyah Everette, Paul Abrahamian, and Paulie Calafiore, the group was dominant picking off the rest of the house guest.  Paul would try to control the game and would sit next to Nicole who would become the winner of Season 18.

Season 19 was highlighted by Paul Abrahamian and his friendship bracelets return.  A member of The Team (unoffical name given by member Cody Nickson), the group consisted of Cody (and his showmance) Jessica Graf, RavemnWalton (and her showmance), Matt Clines, Mark Jansen (and his showmance), Elena Davies, Christmas Abbott, Dominique Cooper, Alex Ow, Josh Martinez, and Kevin Schlehuber. Paul played the game by trying to build friendship with others but Cody caught on quickly.  This group would splinter.  When it came down to the final two, Paul set next to Josh who he thought had no chance of winning due to his antics.  Paul was handed his second loss when Josh was named the winner.

Season 20 saw Level Six in control.  The alliance members were Angela Rummans, Tyler Crispin, Winston Hines, Kaycee Clark, Rachel Swindler, Kaycee Clark, Brett Robnson, J. C. Moundeux, Kaitlyn Herman, Sam Bledsoe.  While Kaitlyn went out due to an inability of put a easy puzzle together, it would be lifeguard Tyler who would read the house accurately.  Unfortunately, his reading wasn’t very accurate as he came in second to fellow alliance member Kaycee Clark. 

Season 21 had Unde9able as the dominant and most controversial team in Big Brother history.  It’s members included Analyse Talquera, Christine Murphy, Holly Allen, Isabella Wang, Jack Matthews, Jackson Michie, Nick Maccarone, Sam Smith, Monny Braco, and Kathryn Dunn.  This alliance was dominant but also controversial.   Two members, Jack and Jackson (Michie) were told to watch their speech as both made racial comments.  When Jack left the game, he was called out on stage by Julie Chen Moonves and he apologized saying he wasn’t that type of person.  Jackson, after being warned, seemed to pull away from the group with his showmance, Holly.  The eventual winner, Jack was faced with questions about his statements on the final show before winning the prize.  His stunned look on the stage wasn’t about winning but having his statements brought home to him.

Season 22 seemed to be the season of “friendship” since it was an all-stars season.  I am not going to mention any alliances here because according to Twitterverse, the game was decided prior to contestants entering the house.

Season 23, the present season, was hurt from the start by the team concept of Aces, Kings, Queens, and Jokers.  Most house guests thought that those teams would get them to the finale.  While Frenchie started The Slaughterhouse (and its sub-alliance of The Butchers) and Royal Flush developed out of a combination of Kings, Queens, and one Ace member, it has been The Cookout that has run the game.  The first season with a strong POC cast, they quickly formed together with Azah Awasum, Derek Frazier (son of boxer, Joe Frazier), Hannah Chaddha, Kyland Young, Tiffany Mitchell, and Xavier Prather to keep the crew together until the final six.  To do this, they paired up with someone from their “card” team.  At present, this group is running the game as they have slowly but surely picked off everyone else.  Can they keep it together to win?  We have a few weeks before we  know.

So did I leave any big alliances out?  Did I get your favorites?  There are been so many in the history of the show, I’m bound to have missed a few.

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 September 2021 19:46

'Big Brother 23' - The Cookout Issue

Written by 16 August, 2021

In the past few days, Twitter has come alive with complaints and comments about the only true large alliance remaining: The Cookout. Many fans, including me, has no issue with the alliance as they have managed to sustain their group, and few outsiders have figured it out. Others have been increasingly upset because Big Brother producers have allowed “People of Color” to align their side of the house to stay and run the house. The upset group feels that Big Brother should have done something to stop this or called the houseguests on the alliance so that The Cookout was neutralized and the season would be more like previous seasons with the obvious winner.

Past History of the Alliances in Big Brother
The reason I don’t have a problem with this is that this season’s cast is more diverse and, excuse my pun, smarter. When you enter a house with a large segment of the population equally divided not only by sex but ethnic backgrounds, it makes for a more interesting game. For the past few years, we have had to deal with the racist/sexist/age angles. I could go far back and point out house guests that were embarrassed after the show but instead, let’s look at Season 21. It’s the most current season where the problems existed.  

Before this season, the Head of Households would take out the ones that were different based on age, LGBTQ status, and whether they were a Person of Color. In Big Brother 21, Jackson Michie was named Camp Director and had to immediately put up four people to play for eviction. His choices were Cliff (age), Kemi and David (People of Color), and Jessica (difference in appearance/Person of Color). David lost the contest and was sent to an outsider cabin. Over the course of the first few weeks, others from the initial group joined him.

To make matters worse, the alliance of Gr8teful formed with Jack and Jackson making racist and other inappropriate comments. Both were warned by producers but it didn’t seem to make a difference. Jack was out quickly ann when interviewed by Julie Chen Moonves, he felt the issues were taken out of context. When given the evidence in a tape, he seemed ashamed of his actions and apologized. Jackson (otherwise known as Michie) would win the season and then be embarrassed by his actions on the season finale. To say he was shell-shocked is putting it mildly. He was speechless, and I don’t think he has really apologized to this day for his actions.  

Big Brother 23’s The Cookout Forms
Big Brother 23 has strong players in the cast, and they were easily identified. Seven of the houseguests are considered People of Color, and six of them bonded and formed “The Cookout.” Their goal was to take each other to the final six so a person of color could finally win the money. Let’s face it. The majority of the winners have been Caucasian men who played on strength and looks. This year, this group would be different, and here lies the major issue I have with them. They excluded a “Person of Color” who was of Asian descent, Derek X.

The Cookout’s Plan of Action  
The big goal for this group was to keep it a secret. Frenchie didn’t know it during the first week’s HoH, but he led to the group’s success by saying on entering the house: “No person of color or woman will leave.” Frenchie wanted to be fair. While I commend him for this, his method didn’t work. He eventually had to go back on his word after forming so many alliances no one could track them and his handshake with Travis. This led to Travis going up and out the door. This also put a target on Frenchie’s back, along with two others who were considered his strongest allies,” Brent and Whitney. The house was solid that these three had to go. Frenchie left week two, Brent left week three, and Whitney left week four. This immediately saw a decline on the Caucasian side of the house, but no one realized anything had changed. All of the house was having a great time and becoming friends.

The Cookout Members Are Strong
The Cookout is strong and has smart members. This is both a plus and a minus as they can bond together, but the cracks are showing. Derek F. and Azah have been pushed to the bottom of the pack by the others. Azah, in particular, feels that they have no voice and have had several fights with Tiffany. Meanwhile, Xavier and Tiffany feel that they are the leaders, which leaves Hannah and Kyland in the middle of the pack.

The problems are now arising as the group has set up a shield (or pawn, if you will) to use in the voting agenda. Kyland is paired with Sarah Beth. Tiffany has Claire. Hannah has Derek X. (who is a person of color). That leaves Xavier, Derek F. and Azah. Before I get to Xavier, you must understand that Derek F and Azah are paired with Britini. Poor Britini has been considered weak by the house, but she has won competitions. She’s also been on the block three times which her team feels isn’t fair. While Derek F. and Azah had Britini as their shield/pawn, Xavier, the strongest player in the Cookout, had Christian and Alyssa as his shields/pawns. Christian went home last week. The funny thing is that Christian realized he was Xavier’s shield. 

The Future 
So where does that leave The Cookout as nominees are growing tight? Basically, it means that one of them has to go up against their shield to stay. It’s dawning on Derek F. and Azah that they got the short end of the division as Derek F. is on the block. (Spoiler: Claire was up but was taken off the block today by HoH Kyland with a veto. Alyssa had another veto and is Xavier’s shield. Xavier wouldn’t let her go up this week without a struggle.) Tiffany got Claire back. Because of Derek X.’s record, they want to wait for a Double Eviction to take him out. . That leaves Britini and, if the exit goes as planned, she will go and leave Derek F. and Azah without a shield.

Is this fair? Of course not. Of The Cookout, the only ones who have really done any damage to the other houseguests are Xavier and Kyland. Xavier has been HoH once and Kyland twice. While Tiffany thinks she is the “brains” and the Janelle of this season, she hasn’t won anything and has proceeded to cause frissons in the alliance. Derek X. is catching on and questioning. I could spoil more on him but won’t. Azah has lost trust in Tiffany. Derek F. now realizes that he’ll probably be the first to go of the alliance. While Xavier has tried to mend fences, he is unwilling to give up his pawn. For everything he does, Tiffany opens her mouth and causes problems. Sorry Tiffany, you are not the next Janelle. The house guests outside of the key group (Sarah Beth, Claire and even Britini) felt their friendships/alliances with their partner will keep them safe.  

So what could prevent The Cookout from having a member win the season? The High Roller’s game hasn’t worked so far. In fact, Kyland made sure that the second veto came into play (again, no spoiler with this). Below is how it could be prevented.

Derek X. continues to win. He’s figured out much, but he doesn’t know that he’s Hannah’s shield. If he can only put the other chess pieces on the board in the appropriate order, he could play a statistical game and make it to the end. If he can align with a disgusted Azah and whoever is left at the end of the week, a new alliance is born.

Claire needs to realize that it is not teams any longer. She seems to be seeing beyond Tiffany as a cohort and the adversary role but hasn’t been willing to let go of the Royal Flush. She’s been a floater up until recently when she showed she could win comps. Can she shake off the stardust and realize that Tiffany is bad for her game? Better yet, can she do something about it?

Sarah B. has lost her “intelligence” and gone to the sunglasses game. She always appears wrapped in a blanket and clueless. Kyland makes their decisions. Her biggest wish is that Derek F. will go. Can she convince enough of The Cookout to do this?  

Alyssa thinks she is safe with Xavier as her partner. Well, Christian wasn’t that safe! The veto gave her a certain amount of power but Xavier will cut her if he has to do it. I look for it to be a fight between Tiffany and Xavier to save their shield/pawn to the end.

Which brings us to the Britini angle. Most fans think she’s on the way out the door. Some house guests see her as being too popular as she did get the “big bucks” in the high roller game from America. If Derek F. survives the week, he knows where he stands but feels he won’t have the physical strength or “smarts” to stay. Azah plays too emotional, and she and Tiffany are at odds. Will this split them from the main group to form a new alliance with Derek X.?

So, while the chances look good for one of The Cookout to win, I do have the hope that Derek X. can play the spoiler. He has both the knowledge of how to win and the competitiveness to win. We still have some weeks to go, and I may adjust this later. I see fights coming between members of The Cookout. Tiffany and Xavier think they have this game in the bag, but Hannah is a quiet player and smarter than they think. Kyland has a big problem with perception and is making his alliance mad due to the excessive overthinking of the game and relationship with Sarah Beth.

What do you think? Will The Cookout survive?


Last modified on Monday, 16 August 2021 20:44

Saturday Night Rom-Com: 'Murphy's Romance'

Written by 07 August, 2021

There is a generation of male actors that became stars in the 60s and 70s that have a certain something that you just don't see in today's male actors. It's a strain of masculinty that comes from having lived a hard life before audiences ever saw them for the first time. Men who grew up in tough childhoods, served in the military and whose road to stardom was as much a surprise to them as it was to the world at large.

James Garner was one of those actors. He's probably best known to most modern audiences for his starring role in The Rockford Files, which seems to be streaming everywhere in 2021. Watching him in that show, it's hard to imagine how someone could reboot the series today. What modern actor in 2021 could bring the attitude he did to the role? He's masculine, capable of violence but not searching for it. He loves women but also is respectful of their intelligence and sees them as fully-rounded people. He's comfortable with being gentle or vulnerable when he needs to be. He's loyal to his family and friends. When things go wrong for you, Jim Rockford is the guy whose number you want on speeddial.

The role was seemingly so perfect for Garner that I suspect Jim Rockford is the way that most audiences think of James Garner. Which is all well and good, but it complicated things when the show ended in 1980. Two years later, Garner took the role of King Marchand in Victor/Victoria and it's fair to say that role was as far away from Jim Rockford as you can imagine. But the movie (and Garner) were a hit and you would think that might have opened up roles for him. Garner had been a very successful film actor before The Rockford Files and thanks to both his TV success and a long-running series of commercials with Mariette Hartley, he had a huge fanbase.

But when it came to being cast in 1985's Murphy's Romance, he had to fight to get the role. Columbia Pictures didn't want to make the movie at all, because they worried that there wasn't any sex or violence. They eventually greenlit the project, primarily because Sally Field had previously worked with director Martin Ritt on the hit 1979 film Norma Rae. According to press reports at the time, Paul Newman was originally the favorite for male lead, in part because he has successfully worked with Field on the 1981 film Absence Of Malice. But when Newman turned it down, Field and Ritt then argued with the studio to approve Garner. But executives argued Garner was primarily seen as a "TV actor." In the end, Columbia agreed, reportedly after Garner and Field agreed to a sequence in the film where they mention drinking Coke, the company that owned Columbia at the time.

In Murphy's Romance, Field plays Emma Moriarty, a 33-year-old divorced mom who moves to a rural town in Arizona to make a living as a horse trainer. Garner plays the town's pharmacist, Murphy Jones, and despite their age difference, a chemistry develops between them. But Emma admits she is a mess and any romance seems out of the question when her somewhat shiftless ex-husband Bobby Jack Moriarty (Brian Kerwin) moves in with her and their 12-year-old son Jake (played buy Corey Haim).

The description of this movie doesn't give it nearly enough credit. There are so many ways this film could have been a disaster. Every element of the movie has to be just perfect in order for it not to be a slightly creepy disaster. And in fact, I can't imagine having a movie in 2021 that features a man having a romance with a woman half of his age without there being an extinction-level response on social media.

But it's a testament to the skill and chemistry of Garner and Field that you never feel that way as the movie unfolds. It's just this amazing love story that reveals itself in the way a lot of true life love stories do: it's messy, unpredictable and difficult to define. But you know it's real as sure as you know your own name.

If you are a fan of James Garner in The Rockford Files, you will love this film. It's a familiar Garner, working opposite an actress in Sally Field who was probably doing the best work of anyone in Hollywood in the late 1970s and 1980s. Garner received the only Academy Award nomination in his career for the movie and it's a shame it's not streaming anywhere, because Murphy's Romance is one of those movies that should be on the "must-watch" list of anyone who loves a good romantic comedy.

Besides, there is Sally Field, who I admit that I have adored my entire life.

Murphy's Romance is available for rent at all of the familiar digital movie platforms.

Last modified on Saturday, 07 August 2021 17:27

Review: 'Cooking With Paris'

Written by 04 August, 2021

I will acknowledge upfront that writing a review which is essentially "the show is exactly what you would expect" is not very clarifying. But that take is also an extremely accurate representation of the new Netflix series Cooking With Paris. Sight unseen, you might expect to see very little actual cooking taking place, juxtaposed with a lot of Paris Hilton being Paris Hilton. And sadly for all of us, your hunch would be correct.

I will admit that I was pretty amused by the first season of Fox's The Simple Life, which followed Paris Hilton and her friend Nicole Richie as they stumbled their way through everyday situations. I didn't have a preconceived notion of either of them before I watched the show and it was amusing trying to figure out how much of their lack of knowledge about even the most basic elements of American life was an act and how much was the consequence of having enough money so that you didn't have to know how to operate an iron.

But The Simple Life first aired 22 years ago and it is unsettling to watch a now 40-year-old Paris Hilton doing some odd cosplay-version of her public persona. She's smart pretending to be dumb pretending to naïve pretending to be smart and I'm getting dizzy from trying to keep track of the levels upon levels of self-referential commentary. Even worse, she still randomly stops and stares at the camera in that way that someone who secretly doesn't like her convinced her was was sexy. 

Each of the six episodes of Cooking With Paris has pretty much the same format. Hilton tackles navigating a small grocery store so she can purchase the items she needs for whatever meal she is making. She says a few dumb things as she shops and then comes home to cook a meal for herself and a celebrity guest/sous chef. And by "cook," I mean she stumbles through a recipe as she wonders out loud how to zest an orange. Or finds that making a dessert while wearing a pair of fashionable red gloves isn't all that efficient.

Of course, she has a group of party planners come in to redo her house to match each guest. And by "she has," I mean that Hilton has her Chief of Staff handle everything while she occasionally walks through the room holding her dog and saying helpful things like "This looks amazing, guys."

Maybe I'm not that target audience for this show and perhaps this is a universe where people tune in to watch a middle-aged Paris Hilton act like a clueless 18-year-old while chatting with guests such as Demi Lovato or her Hilton sisters. But Cooking With Paris feels like such a waste of time. Selena Gomez has proven that you don't have to know a lot about cooking to have a very entertaining show about food. Cooking With Paris only manages to show that we can look forward to a future where a 60-year-old Paris Hilton is still doing the same schtick, like some modern-day Mae West.

Cooking With Paris is now streaming on Netflix.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 August 2021 06:02

One Season TV: 'Dead At 21'

Written by 01 August, 2021

When people share their memories of MTV, one of the most common complaints is that "MTV doesn't play music videos anymore." While that is a true observation, it is also true that once MTV became a cultural phenomena and (more importantly) a cash-printing machine, its fate was sealed. MTV depended on easy access to the latest music videos and the hottest acts. And once music labels got over their shock about the growth of MTV, they realized they had all of the leverage. MTV ultimately needed the music labels more than the labels needed MTV.

So by the early 1990s, the labels were already playing hardball with MTV. Demanding fees for access to the latest hot videos, setting conditions on how their acts could be covered and the shape of potential interviews. It was clear to MTV executives that relying on a steady stream of music videos would be a mistake. So the rush was on to create original programming and while most of the networks efforts focused on game shows and reality programs, MTV did experiment with several original scripted programs. Most notably, the criminally forgotten Dead At 21.

Created by newcomer Jon Sherman, the series centered on the story of 20-year-old Ed Bellamy (Jack Noseworthy), who discovers that he was experimented on as a child. Microchips were implanted in his brain that made him a genius. The downside is that the chips will kill him when he's 21. Oh, and the people who experimented on him are terminating the project and now want him dead. So he's on the run, accompanied by his friend Maria (Lisa Dean Ryan). To make matters worse, he's framed for murder and is now being pursued by not only by the police, but by the mysterious hitman Agent Winston (Whip Hubley). Ed and Maria travel across the country, searching for the mysterious Dr. Heisenberg, who might be the only person able to save the teen's life.

Ryan and Hubley were by far the best-known actors on the show, with Ryan having just come off of stints on Doogie Howser, M.D. and Class Of '96 and Hubley coming off of the drama Life Goes On. But the cast also included Adam Scott in his first television role, playing Dan, a fellow genius who is murdered in the pilot. And let's not forget David DeLuise (Jesse, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Wizards Of Waverly Place), and Patricia Healy (Days Of Our Lives, Port Charles, Profiler

Dead At 21 isn't a perfect show. Some of the dialogue can be clunky and the relatively small budget for the show is sometimes obvious. But overall, the series is well-acted and the half-hour episodes move along at a properly frantic clip. As is befitting a MTV series, the episodes are jammed with contemporary music, ranging from Guns N Roses to Nirvana. And that music-heavy soundtrack is likely the reason why the series has never been released on DVD and isn't even available on YouTube. 

I've included the pilot episode below from an unlisted YouTube page, but there's no guarantee it will last long.

Last modified on Monday, 02 August 2021 19:34

'Big Brother 23': Why Brent’s Been Bothering Me

Written by 27 July, 2021

Yesterday, I took a break from watching some live feeds to contemplate why Big Brother 23's Brent bothered me so much. During Frenchie's week as HoH, I just thought it was because he was trying to run the HoH. Okay, to be honest, he did run Frenchie's HoH. Of course, he took no blame for the final outcome. When I went on Twitter last night and saw one of the pictures, I finally figured it out. Brent reminds me too much of the character Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast."

I am a graduate who is proud of her AB in English. My period of study was the Renaissance and the 1960s. I have written papers for pop culture on fairy tales and "Once Upon a Time." Why did it take me so long to realize this comparison? Mainly it is because we, as fans, don't look for such things. Last night, the more I looked at that picture, the more it bothered me. Then it struck me! I had read seen the story so much that the image was lurking. All it took was a glimpse of reading something about "Once Upon a Time" that made the picture clear.

The more I thought of it last night , the more I realized that in many ways, Brent IS acting like Gaston. For those who cannot remember his character from the Disney movies, Gaston was the "man about town" who all the girls wanted. He wanted Belle, who would have nothing to do with him because of his arrogance (ignorance). To make matters worse, he was always preening around and talking about how handsome/smart/strong he was. When Belle went to the castle, Gaston turned the towns' people against the Beast to storm the castle and "Kill the beast."

So here is why I see Brent as Gaston in the story of Big Brother 23. Listed are five reasons that come to mind:

First, Brent came in and seemed to want to immediately play the game. Gaston thought he knew it all but didn't. Brent thought he knew how the game should be played and wanted to be HoH in place of Frenchie. He encouraged some of Frenchie's worse decisions. Brent got people behind him using "it's best for the alliance." What Brent wanted though, was opposite to Frenchie's stated purpose, and this came back to haunt Frenchie. Brent proceeded to get Frenchie in trouble with the nominations. What Frenchie had planned went counter to Brent's grand scheme. Thus, Frenchie had to change his nominations, and Brent got out a target that would only help Brent's game. To him, Travis was a threat not only in looks but in competitions.

Second, Brent never took any blame for the aftermath of Frenchie's HoH. He passed his part off on as Frenchie's actions. The problem with this is that it comes back to haunt you. Brent could have said something to help Frenchie when all planned to vote Frenchie out. He could have given a vote to Frenchie. Instead, to keep his image as the perfect alliance(s) member, Brent never took any blame and sold Frenchie down the river. It was no more second in command for Brent. He was taking the reins just as Gaston did in stirring up problems in town. In the process, he has tried to form more alliances.

Third, he's a ladies man. Brent thinks that all women love him. If they don't, they are not worthy of his attention. Brent thinks ladies should be rushing to listen to him and do his every whim. When he doesn't get the attention he craves, Brent thinks it's not his fault. Everyone needs to be amazed by his plans. For those who aren't they are unworthy of his consideration, and he ignores them.

Fourth, Brent's Belle: Brent has tried to make inroads with Alyssa, but she teamed up with Christian. He turned his attention to Hannah, who is not happy with said attention. If you remember the opening of "Beauty and the Beast," you know that Gaston was so obsessed with Belle that nothing or no one turned his attention away from her. Belle wanted nothing to do with Gaston, just as Hannah wants nothing to do with Brent. No matter that Hannah (Beauty) turns away, walks away, says no, here Brent comes. Even feigning sleep doesn't work. Brent is so wrapped up in his fantasy of greatness and control that he is obvious to what is really going on around him.

Finally, Brent's town. Just as Gaston thought that he was in sole control of the town, Brent believes he has the house (except for the Jokers) dancing to his tune. He walks in and makes the conversation about his grand plan. Brent thinks that he is the only strategist in the house. Any strong male who seems to be a target. The only difference is that Gaston could get the town's people to try and "kill the Beast." Big Brother 23's house guests have their own plan as of Monday night. They're going to get rid of Brent by voting him out. They didn't use the veto on him while still implying he's safe (in a vague manner). Just like in "Beauty and the Beast," the supposed hero has turned into the villain and the townspeople have had enough.

I know there isn't a specific Beast in the Big Brother house, but it is sometimes interesting to see the houseguests as characters in books and movies. This time, a chance memory stirs the need to address an issue. As a "Once Upon a Time" lover of Belle and Rumple (the Beast), I hate to make the comparison, but it is lodged in my brain. Does anyone else agree? Can you see Gaston in Brent's character?

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 July 2021 21:00

Commentary: I Want No Part Of Louie C.K.'s Comeback (And Neither Should You)

Written by 09 July, 2021

The phrase "cancel culture" has been so misused and purposely exaggerated that it has lost all meaning in most situations.

I think a reasonable definition of "cancel culture" is applied to those situations in which some slight misstep or old tweet leads to an overreaction and perhaps the loss of a job. Reactions far more severe than the behavior are not the type of thing we should encourage or tolerate.

But actions do have consequences, and if you commit a serious offense - especially if you repeat the behavior until you're caught - you should expect bad things to happen to you, Particularly if you are unwilling or unable to take responsibility for your actions.

I live in the Twin Cities, and on Thursday, local stand-up club Acme Comedy Company announced comedian Louie C.K. would be appearing at the club in late July for five shows. From a business standpoint, the decision to book Louie C.K. makes sense - the five shows quickly sold out.

But regardless of the financial motivations, it is disappointing to see a club that is one of the best venues in America booking a comedian who has demonstrated a repeated inability to keep it zipped (so to speak).

After years of rumors inside the industry, a 2017 New York Times article detailed the accounts of five women who claimed the comedian had asked them to watch him masturbate or forced them to do so. After the article was published, other women came forward with variations of the same story, many of them confirmed by other people.

Louie C.K. had been asked about his behavior for years in interviews and generally managed to shrug off the stories. But after the NY Times expose was published, the comic released a statement admitting to the allegations, although he essentially argued he didn't realize asking women who are less powerful than him if he could masturbate in front of them might cause some problems:

"At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true," C.K. wrote. "But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn't a question. It's a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly."

But it wasn't just that Louie C.K. was influential in his own right. He was represented by manager Dave Becky, who at the time also represented well-known comedians such as Kevin Hart, Aziz Ansari, and Amy Poehler. Complaining about Louie C.K.'s behavior could mean burning a lot of important career bridges in an industry that has long been seen as unfriendly to women.

In the days after this statement was released, Louie C.K. did suffer some severe career setbacks. The FX Network cut its ties with the comedian and his production company. Netflix canceled plans for an upcoming comedy special, and HBO removed his older comedy specials from its service.

And while he stayed away from comedy clubs for a year or two, Louie C.K. began making "unannounced" sets at clubs to work out material. That led to a 2020 comedy special, "Sincerely Louie C.K.," which he sold on his website.

This leads me to my problems with Louie C.K.'s upcoming sets at the Acme Comedy Club. Most rational people who had admitted to yanking off repeatedly around co-workers might approach the subject with a bit of insight into their behavior. Perhaps figure out a way to use their admittedly impressive comedic skills to make fun of themselves in a way that didn't come off as if they were petulant dick-obsessed brats.

But in the special, Louie C.K. attempted to come across as the Richard Pryor of pulling one off, explaining why he enjoyed having an audience for his self-pleasuring:

"I like jerking off, I don't like being alone, that's all I can tell you. I get lonely, it's just sad. I like company. I like to share. I'm good at it, too. If you're good at juggling, you wouldn't do it alone in the dark. You'd gather folks and amaze them," he says.

Now I won't get into the likelihood that any man who claims to be good at masturbation is actually any good - and how does that criteria work anyway? But he continues to be oblivious to the consequences of his behavior as he complained that it's hard for men to know when women are "faking" pleasure or honestly giving consent.

In one bit, he compared slaves singing in the cotton fields to women pretending to be sexually aroused:

"It's kind of like a Negro spiritual. It's sort of similar. So to assume that she likes it is like if they heard slaves singing in the field and you're like, 'Hey, they're having a good time out there."

If recent reviews of his shows are accurate, Louie C.K. doesn't appear to have developed any personal growth or insight following all of these events. Other than something along the lines of "Man, it's so hard to know when a woman is okay with you rubbing one off while they watch."

Louie C.K. is a talented guy. It sucks that he is the man he is and that it's impossible to separate his creepy offstage persona with the only slightly less unsettling onstage behavior.

I'm not arguing anyone should boycott Louie C.K.'s shows. I'm just saying that I have no interest in rewarding someone who has admitted to behaving so badly while still refusing to acknowledge that he was guilty of anything more than some unfortunate misunderstandings.

Some of his fans are going to say, "Well, how long should he suffer? Why should he lose his career forever?"

My answer is pretty simple. If you're fired from McDonald's for repeatedly masturbating in the drive-through window, you're not going to be able to wait a couple of years and hope to get invited to McDonald's University. Especially if you're explanation of your behavior is, "hey, if they didn't want to see it, they wouldn't have driven up to the window."

There are other talented comedians the Acme Comedy Company (and other clubs around the country) could book instead of Louie C.K. Comics who know how to keep it zipped and whose very presence on stage isn't an insult to many of the female comics who also appear in that club. If you are truly committed to running a club that is a safe and encouraging environment for your talent, how can you book a guy who has admitted that he can't be trusted?

Last modified on Friday, 09 July 2021 00:41

Review: 'Sekta'

Written by 14 June, 2021

One of the challenges of reviewing television made in non-English speaking countries is that there is often a cultural gap between the home country and viewers in the United States. That's especially the case with television from Russia, which shares enough cultural DNA with America to feel about 35% off of the familiar.

That's one of the challenges with the Russian series Sekta, which premiered last Tuesday on the international television streaming service MHz Choice. The show is grim and dark, and there are times when you might need to emotionally decompress after watching an episode. But if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded with a story that is hard to predict delivered by some of the best actors in Russia.

Sekta centers around a group of specialists, known as "deprogrammers," whose task is to rescue people from the clutches of cults. Their methods are intense - bordering on abuse - and involve breaking down the target physically and mentally on every level. In this case, the deprogrammers have been hired to "rescue" former model Nika from the Primordials, a sect led by a charismatic hypnotist named Berk.

The deprogrammers need some extra help and someone with a bit of medical knowledge, so they hire Lilya, a moody and distant woman who is hiding the fact that she was once the member of a cult whose members killed themselves in a mass event. She is both drawn to Nika's plight but also well aware of the dangers she faces inside the cult.

The deprogramming is not textbook and it doesn't appear to be working. Which becomes a problem when Berk identifies and strikes back at the team. Things quickly escalate and without giving anything away, the final couple of episodes turn into a whirlwind of crazy.

While Sekta doesn't appear to have had a huge budget, director Gela Babluani's his first Russian project is as impressive as were his European films such as 13 Tzameti . The scenes are relentlessly grim and foreboding. And there are times when it feels as if the despair of the world is just hanging over every scene like a depressing fog.

Lilya is played by Svetlana Khodchenkova, who is arguably one of Russia's best-known actresses right now. American audiences might recognize her from roles in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Wolverine, where she played Viper. Lilya is haunted by her past, looking for redemption while also not being an especially nice person. In lesser hands, Lilya would be hard to watch and there are certainly moments like that in the series. But Khodchenkova's talent transcends the role and will keep you engrossed through the grimmest moments (and there are plenty of them).

But for all of Khodchenkova's talents, she's almost upstaged in the second half of the season by Marta Timofeeva, who plays Lilya's young daughter Kira. As the season progresses, she exhibits a growing somewhat undefined psychic talent and she becomes the subject of a battle between the two sides. Timofeeva is unsettling to watch, equal parts creepy and child-like.

I wasn't sure what to think of Filipp Yankovsky's portrayal of the cult leader Berk, who often comes off as more creepy that God-like. But as I mentioned at the top, sometimes watching it from America we miss the cultural nuance of shows from other places. And that's certainly the case with Berk, who appears to have been based on popular Russian psychics such as Alan Chumak. While America audiences might not make the connection, Russian television audiences seem to have fascinated by the resemblance when the series premiered in 2019.

So you should watch the eight-episode Sekta? I'd answer yes, although with the caveat that it is a grim slog at times. The last episode is worth the ride, but don't be surprised if you feel as if you need a bucket of whiskey when it's all over.

The first two episodes of Sekta premiered Tuesday, June 8th, 2021 on MHz Choice. Two episode a week will premiere each Tuesday through the end of June.

Last modified on Monday, 14 June 2021 00:49

Review: 'Secrets Of The Lost Ark'

Written by 06 June, 2021

There is an entire category of documentary television that could best be described as "searching again for things that are never going to be found." These shows pretend to be "searching" for some iconic historical and/or scientific mystery like Bigfoot or the Holy Grail. In some cases, a number of different series have been devoted to the search, all of which tend to cover the same ground and in the end never discover anything new.

So why do viewers keep tuning in? Part of it is just the familiarity of the search. A search for lost gold (for example) is the science category equivalent of HGTV's House Hunters International. It's comfortable, lean-back television that has some great visuals and maybe you learn a few new pieces of trivia during the travels. Watching these shows doesn't require a lot of deep thought and in 2021, there's something to be said for that type of thought-free programing.

The Science Channel series Secrets Of The Lost Ark focuses on one of television most familiar mysteries: the location of the Ark Of The Covenant. This chest is arguably the most searched-for archaeological treasure in history, because it was said to be the repository of the word of God-the original Ten Commandments. The Ark vanishes from history in the sixth century B.C., right before the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem. And despite everyone from the Romans to the Nazis searching for it over the centuries, there has never been a confirmed mention of the Ark or its contents.

But that doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of theories about what might have happened, some of them more likely than others. The Babylonians don't seem to have acquired the Ark during their sacking of Jerusalem, and the most likely scenario seems to be the Jewish priests used the extensive tunnel system under the Temple to either hide the Ark or somehow smuggle it to safety. But no one knows and there isn't even the slightest archaeological clue to point Ark hunters in a likely direction. Which leaves a lot of room for speculation and Secrets Of The Lost Ark is less about revealing secrets no one has than it is about recounting all of the places the Ark COULD be.

Each episode of the show centers around a different group of theories. From the cable television staple Knights Templar to Roman soldiers. There is speculation that Jeremiah might have hidden the Ark in Ireland or that the Jewish resistance hid the Ark in what is now Ethiopia. While some of the ideas seem quite outlandish, the attraction of shows like this one is that many of the theories sound reasonable on the face of it. Maybe the Ark WAS hidden in the grave of a Goth warrior who was buried under a river in Italy. Maybe the Vatican is hiding it in its massive secret library. Perhaps the Ark remains hidden under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, placed in some forgotten tunnel that has been lost to time.

I can't say that you'll learn much new watching Secrets Of The Lost Ark. But if this is the type of programming you enjoy, it's a solidly entertaining example of the genre. But spoiler: the biggest secret of the Ark is that its whereabouts are still secret.

Secrets Of The Ark airs Sunday nights at 10 pm ET/PT on the Science Channel.

Last modified on Monday, 07 June 2021 08:48

Review: 'Roku Recommends'

Written by 04 June, 2021

Roku announced earlier this week that is launching a new weekly series called Roku Recommends, which will be hosted by Maria Menounos and Andrew Hawkins, who will "present streaming recommendations for the week, from trending originals and premieres to series debuts and not-to-be-missed classics." I suppose it would be considered snarky to mention that Roku might not need a show like this is the content discovery and search on their Roku Channel app wasn't so terrible.  This idea sounds a bit different than the "Roku Recommends" ad unit I reported on in early April.

But if you've been reading this newsletter for awhile, you might remember that I suggested a similar idea for Hulu a few months ago, but in that case I was proposing more genre-specific mini-shows:

One example of this would be for Christmas movies, which are spread across numerous channels. Viewers who enjoy these movies tend to watch a lot of them. And they would likely engage strongly with a five-minute show that highlighted the new Christmas movies of the week and where to find them. The potential internal challenge of this idea is that sales and marketing would see this as a place to wring money out of networks and studios by offering pay-for-play placement. But this idea only works if it's recommendations are organic and have credibility.

And that internal pressure from sales and marketing is why I am skeptical of the effectiveness of this Roku idea. I'm sure the show will push some viewers, but it sounds at first glance like this is more of a feature to sell to advertisers and content partners. And those partners likely have interests that aren't aligned with viewers.

The first episode is live now and it runs 16 minutes. There is a 60-second interview with Patton Oswalt and a "Top Five" things to stream this week. Which for the record, are these titles:

5) Girls5Eva (Peacock)

4) Alias (Roku Channel)

3) Cruella (Disney+ Premiere)

2) Mare Of Eastown (HBO Max)

1) Marvel's M.O.D.O.K. (Hulu)

And then there is the "Child Proof Lock" feature (sponsored by Walmart!), which is the suggestion of a TV show or movie that can be watched by the entire family. Hawkins' suggestion is Paddington 2, which can be rented at Walmart-owned Vudu (hmmmm). They also do a "Trending On Roku" feature, where the hosts pick a series that is "trending on the Roku app." Amazingly, Menounos picks the Roku Original reboot of Punk'd, which is one of the Quibi shows Roku picked up after that service shut down late last year.

There's nothing WRONG with Roku Recommends. But there aren't any surprises and you can see the sales department fingerprints all over the choices. And it's an interesting decision to only highlight things that have already premiered as opposed to promoting content premiering in the coming week.

Last modified on Friday, 04 June 2021 17:59

TV Flashback: Carole King Live At Central Park Featured On Geraldo's 'Good Night America'

Written by 25 May, 2021

In 1973, there was no bigger singer-songwriter than Carole King. Her 1971 Tapestry album had spent 15 weeks at #1 and eventually sold 14 million copies. Two singles from the album - "I Feel The Earth Move" and " It's Too Late" - went to #1 on the Billboard Top 40 singles chart. James Taylor released a cover of the album's track "You've Got A Friend," which also went to #1.  She released three more albums in the ensuing two years and while none of them were as successful as Tapestry, she was a massive star in 1973.

So when she decided to give a free concert in New York City's Central Park on May 25th of that year, it was a big media event. Stars such as Joni Mitchell and Faye Dunaway showed up and so did Geraldo Rivera, who at the point was doing a proto talk show called Good Night America, which aired regularly in primetime on ABC. The show was a bit of a brand extension of the network's long-running morning show Good Morning America, albeit with a "hipper" feel.

On July 1st, a nearly nine-minute segment on the concert aired on Good Night America, featuring a surprisingly sedate Rivera providing a behind-the-scenes look at the concert. It's a fascinating look at Carole King in her prime, as well as a Geraldo was still more newsman & feature reporter than reality TV provocateur.

It's also worth noting that while Geraldo frequently mentions that camera crews were on site to record the concert, it has never been released on either audio or video.

Last modified on Tuesday, 25 May 2021 09:18

Why NBCU Should Renew 'Debris' (And Move It To Peacock)

Written by 17 May, 2021

On Monday, CBS announced it is moving the supernatural thriller Evil to its sister streaming service Paramount+, the third CBS show set to make that move for the upcoming season. There are several factors that led to that decision, but a primary reason is that not only is the broadcast television audience getting smaller - it's getting less ambitious in its viewing habits. In the same way the market for compact discs is over-50 consumers looking for new titles from their favorite classic rockers, broadcast television is increasingly focusing on safe schedules full of predictable spin-offs and premises. 

In this environment, it's tougher than ever for a complex, mythology-driven drama to find an audience. Audiences don't want to invest the time and to be honest, the broadcast networks often struggle to promote shows that have multi-layered story elements. Moving slightly eccentric shows such as Evil and Clarice to a streaming service makes a lot of sense. And I think you're are going to see other networks making a similar calculation.

Which brings us to NBC's Debris, a science fiction series that over the course of its first season has developed into a clever, complex drama full of unexpected turns and real emotional payoffs. And like most mythology-heavy shows on broadcast television in recent years, it has struggled to find an audience.

Created by showrunner J.H. Wyman, here is how NBC describes the series:

When wreckage from a destroyed alien spacecraft scatters across the Western Hemisphere, it soon becomes apparent the pieces are messing with the laws of physics, changing lives in ways we can’t comprehend. Two agents from different continents, and different mindsets, are tasked to work together to recover the debris, whose mysteries humankind is not quite ready for.

While the logline doesn't exactly fill the reader with a strong need to watch the series, the show has made its case for survival each and every week. The concept of the debris unpredictably affecting everything from time to the physical properties of the world is just batshit enough to seem somewhat possible while still feeling insane and unpredictable. And while it took me a couple of weeks to warm to the unsettling chemistry of leads of Jonathan Tucker (playing Bryan Beneventi) and Riann Steele (as Finola Jones), the duo have managed to find that sweet spot which allows the humanity and personal lives of their characters to breath in a show that could easily become nothing but a typical "monster-of-the-week" knock-off of The X-Files.

But the nuance and inventiveness of Debris also makes it a difficult show to love.  It's not one of those shows that you can just lean back and half watch while you're finishing off the latest Sudoku puzzle. You need to actively watch the episodes and absorb some of the evolving mythology. All of which makes Debris an unlikely candidate for survival on broadcast television in 2021.

There is an option for the series that makes much better sense for the show and that also answers the question often asked by network executives in this type of situation: "what value will renewing this show bring to our business and bottom line?" And the answer lies with NBCU's streaming service Peacock.

Fans of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist are already pushing for the show to make the move to Peacock, because it is a series that creatively feels very similar to shows such as Peacock's critically-acclaimed Girls5Eva. There's a proven audience for shows such as Zoey's on Peacock and the series is well-regarded enough by audiences to make the decision nearly a slam dunk.

On the other hand, Peacock hasn't had much success with science fiction-oriented programming such as Brave New World and Intergalactic, which have received some positive press but not much buzz from audiences. It's tough to coax new viewers into a relatively new streamer and what Debris would bring to Peacock is a solid ensemble and clever premise combined with a season full of episodes that most people haven't seen. The show lends itself to bingeing and if it's properly done, the summer could be spent getting subscribers ready for the new season. The best chance for Peacock to develop successes in the science fiction genre is with a series that people might have heard of even if they haven't seen it yet. Debris fits the bill and it certainly seems to have enough creative legs to provide multiple seasons of action to a streamer that desperately needs it.

Debris deserves a second season and Peacock is the best place to make that happen.

Have some feedback? Email Rick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow him on Twitter at @aysrick.

Last modified on Monday, 17 May 2021 22:54

Review: 'Deadliest Catch'

Written by 12 April, 2021

I recently did a radio interview in which one of the hosts asked me which show I considered to be the most influential reality series in television history. While a lot of people might answer that question with the long running CBS competition series Survivor, my answer was Discovery's Alaska crab fishing series Deadliest Catch. While it's true that the early years of Survivor had a large cultural influence, Deadliest Catch helped create an entire genre of successful reality shows. Its format and approach to story-telling has remained enormously influential over the ensuing years and I'd argue that Deadliest Catch continues to be a much more enjoyable show to watch than the recent seasons of Survivor.

Deadliest Catch begins its 17th season this week, and as you might might suspect, the season is focused on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the impact the virus has had on every aspect of society, you would expect to see the familiar crab fishermen of the show battling with possible outbreaks and involuntary changes in the way they do their day-to-day work. All of that is there in the season premiere, but the episode (and apparently the season) is primarily dominated by a challenge that I didn't see coming.

As it turns out, the pandemic prevented the Alaskan Fish and Game scientists from doing their annual survey of the crab population ahead of the season. That had a couple of important impacts on the fishery. First, the survey typically helps narrow down where the king crab populations might be located, giving fishermen a bit of a hint of where to start their fishing. But even more importantly, they decided on a quota based on the scant information they had. And unfortunately for the fleet, the laws that determine how the fisheries are managed don't have any caveats for the impact of a pandemic. The laws state that if the fleet doesn't catch all of the quota it's assigned that season, the assumption would be the reason is because the crab population is unexpectedly depleted. And the entire fishery will be off-limits for a year or two to allow the crab population to renew itself.

That involuntary future shutdown is an over-riding worry for the fleet and veteran fishermen (and longtime Deadliest Catch star) Sig Hansen rallies together the other captains on the show and convinces them to work together. He's convinced the only way there will be a crab season next year is if the captains share information about where the crab are located and how well each boat is doing with their pots.

If you're familiar with the personalities on the show, you won't be surprised to earn that each captain's attitude about sharing is defined a bit differently. And those differences are the center of a lot of what happens in the season premiere. Along with the return of a veteran Deadliest Catch captain, whom Sig convinces to return to the seas in one last effort to catch his quota and help save the fleet.

There are a number of funny moments in the season premiere, ranging from Sig's casual approach to his own idea about sharing to the surprise that greets one captain after he decides to lie about how well he's doing with his crab pots. And it's fun to see Sig struggling to figure out how to deal with his daughter Mandy, who is co-captaining the Northwestern and who sometimes has a very different idea of how the boat should be run.

It's amazing to be how well Deadliest Catch has held up over the years. Some of the faces have changed and the production style has evolved over the show's run. But what hasn't changed is the show's ability to be consistently entertaining without feeling as if every moment is guided by producers or manipulated in the editing process.

I've only seen the first episode of the season, so I don't know where it's all headed. But if this season of Deadliest Catch is anything like the previous sixteen, it'll be a fun roller coaster ride.

Deadliest Catch premieres Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 on Discovery. The episode is already available on the streaming service Discovery+

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 April 2021 14:45

Review: 'Nailed It!: Double Trouble'

Written by 26 March, 2021

TV critics might professionals, but we are also human brings with very human emotions. No matter how hard you try to approach each television series with an open mind and an optimistic heart, there are going to be some shows that you just won't like. Maybe it's the cast or the host or maybe you just have some difficult-to-describe, visceral reaction to it all. But you find yourself not liking the show, even though plenty of your readers love everything about it.

I certainly feel that way about the Netflix competitive baking series Nailed It!, which returns today with a new take entitled Nailed It! Double Trouble.

Hosted by Nicole Byer, Nailed It! is similar to the long-running Food Network series Worst Cooks In America in that all of the participants have marginal cooking talents. But in the case of Nailed It!, the contestants are asked to bake. Specifically, they are asked to recreate elaborate cakes and other baked goods that even a veteran baker would struggle to match. So of course, these home bakers end up slapping together monstrosities that often resemble a random pile of multi-colored baked items piled into an unrecognizable mess. And that is one of my main problems with the show. Every episode is a variation of the same premise. The bakes are a disaster and the winner ends up being the contestant who is least likely to poison the judges.

But while Worst Cooks In America at least has the benefit of entertaining judges/mentors, I find Nicole Byers' take on the show to be the TV equivalent of a two-year-old poking you every ten seconds with a dull stick. While I have liked her in other roles (and she's good in the upcoming Wipeout reboot). But I find her so irritating in Nailed It! that it is difficult for me to get past that. I recognize that is my problem - it's just my own personal taste and I know plenty of people who love her and Nailed It!

Which is why I decided to write something about Nailed It! Double Trouble even though I don't much care for the original version. How does this season compare to the previous episodes and what can fans expect?

The truth is that not much has changed with these new episodes, which depending on your perspective is either good or bad news. Nicole Byer is still Nicole Byer and her on-camera relationship with permanent judge Jacques Torres hasn't changed. The "Double Trouble" in the title refers to the fact that now the contestants compete in teams of two, which brings an added level of conflict to the already chaotic rounds.

And that's pretty much it. Everything else has stayed the same and if you loved Nailed It!, you'll love Nailed It! Double Trouble. So you be you.

Nailed It! Double Trouble premieres on Friday, March 26th, 2021 on Netflix.

Last modified on Monday, 29 March 2021 10:08

Review: 'A Week Away'

Written by 26 March, 2021

One of the most difficult tasks as a critic is to review genres and subjects that aren't in your wheelhouse or aren't what you believe are complex enough to be worthwhile of a close examination. It's part of the reason why so many reboots of beloved family-oriented TV shows from the 80s and 90s are now complex, dark stories of the supernatural. Family-oriented is the equivalent to boring in the eyes of many in Hollywood. And faith-based AND family-friendly? It's the creative equivalent of an old Elvis film in the eyes of many creative people in the industry.

But if you've ever worked on a family-oriented television show or movie, you would know that they can be incredibly difficult to pull off well. The material and performances have to feel authentic and true, while at the same time using the PG-rated premise as an opportunity, not a limitation. It's much easier to add conflict to scene using a ghost or a demon than it is by relying on the difficulties that arise between believable human characters struggling with honest human emotions. And while I embrace the darkness as much as the next person, there are times when it is comforting to be be reminded of the good things in the world. I am not an especially faith-based person anymore, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate the genre.

This is a long-winded way of saying that I don't expect to see a lot of positive reviews of the new Netflix movie A Week Away. It's a family-oriented musical about a troubled teen who is sent to a the Christian summer camp Camp Aweegaway in a effort to turn his life around. And not surprisingly, he finds love and friendship. He also discovers a bit about his true heart as he learns to trust other people.

The performances are for the most most earnest and solid. Kevin Quinn plays bad guy Will Hawkins and he does a nice job of navigating the difficult challenge of being dislikable enough to come off as "bad," but charming enough to be believable as a love interest. Jahbril Cook does a wonderful job as Will's cabin bunkmate and guide to this unfamiliar world. He is just the type of person you'd want as a friend in this type of situation and Cook wrings every little bit of possibility out of every scene.

Bailee Madison plays Avery, the camp owner's daughter who becomes Will's love interest. The character as written doesn't always give her a lot to work with, especially in scenes that any fan of teen summer camp movies can see coming a mile away. But Madison is coy and nuanced and charming in the role and it's easy to see how even the most jaded rap-loving potential felon could look at her and wonder about his previous life decisions. She's the type of person who can make you want to be better and the relationship between Will and Avery is the core of what makes this movie a joy to watch.

The central conflict in the movie comes from the Warrior Games, a multiday contest that includes summer camp favorites like Tug of War and Dodgeball, along with a camp-ending talent show. There is plenty of singing and dancing and just enough teen-centric conflict to be familiar to anyone who has ever been to a summer camp. The games provide a lot of energy and gentle emotional wrangling to serve as a good counterpoint to the budding love story.

There aren't any big surprises in A Week Away, but to be honest, I find that comforting. Because what the movie does very well is create a world that is fun to be part of 90-or-so minutes. Veteran country music director Roman White knows how to craft a great visual and keep the action moving and that's a skill that helps the movie over a couple of its less interesting moments.

This might not be the hippest argument to make, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of semi-predictable comfort and joy in a year that has provided so much pain and disruption. Watching A Week Away is like being wrapped in a warm blanket of optimism about humanity and I am just fine with that.

A Week Away premieres Friday, March 26th, 2021 on Netflix.

Last modified on Friday, 26 March 2021 11:57

One Season TV: 'M.A.N.T.I.S.'

Written by 19 March, 2021

M.A.N.T.I.S. aired on Fox over the 1994-1995 season and it was a unique effort for broadcast television. The series was created by Sam Raimi and Sam Hamm, who had some impressive credentials coming into the effort. Raimi was just coming off of "Darkman" and "Army Of Darkness" while Hamm's most recent work included the co-writing the screenplay for Tim Burton's "Batman" and story for "Batman Returns."

On the face of it, the M.A.N.T.I.S. origin story owes more than a bit to the well-known tale of Tony Stark and Iron Man. In this version, Carl Lumbly played Miles Hawkins, a mild-mannered yet wealthy doctor who was shot and paralyzed during a riot. Bitter about his paralysis and the police's role in the riot, Hawkins creates an exoskeleton (Mechanically Augmented Neuro Transmitter Interception System) that allows him to not just walk, but perform superhuman feats. He builds a secret underwater lair and a space-age hovercraft to aid in his fight against evil. The two-hour pilot was directed by "X-Files" alumni David Nutter and was a sleek and fun action romp. But even more importantly, it was an action movie starring an African-American lead at a time when many in the industry still believed that audiences would never support a drama helmed by a non-white actor. Even more amazing, the ensemble was also African-American.

But the series quickly ran into problems. The show was completely revamped after the pilot. The pilot had featured Gina Torres as a pathologist, Bobby Hosea as a reporter trying to cover the story of the M.A.N.T.I.S., and Wendy Raquel Robinson and Christopher M. Brown as a pair of African students studying under Hawkins. Every major character save Hawkins was replaced for the series, with the not-so-black Roger Rees and Christopher Gartin joining  the cast. The show pretended as if the storyline of the movie had never happened.

The series struggled from the beginning to find an audience despite being the lead-in on Fridays for The X-Files. Most of the episodes in the first half of the run centered around some variation of Hawkins using his suit to perform some rescue or other act of vigilantism. There was also an on-going battle with industrialist Solomon Box, who wanted control of the M.A.N.T.I.S. technology for his own evil purposes. But the show was retooled again in mid-season to make it more compatible with The X-Files and the new direction added all sorts of weird themes, including time travel, parallel universes and mysterious monsters. The season ended with Hawkins appearing to be killed off by (I am not kidding), an invisible dinosaur.

M.A.N.T.I.S. might not have been a great show, but it should be remembered for being one the show that brought the first African-American superhero to primetime television.

NOTE: If you're interested in seeing M.A.N.T.I.S., the entire series is available on Amazon Prime Video.

Last modified on Friday, 19 March 2021 01:07

10 Obscure Classic TV Shows You Can Watch On IMDb TV

There are niche streamers for nearly every imaginable niche, but so far no one has launched one that is devoted to the obscure and lesser known classic TV programs. There are a number of reasons for this - digitizing costs, complicated ownership issues, sync rights and more. But every time I begin to lost hope, I'm surprised to see a handful of truly offbeat programs pop up unexpectedly on some streaming service.

IMDbTV is a free, advertiser-supported streaming service that is owned by Amazon and is somewhat buried inside the innards of the world's clunkiest streaming interface: Amazon Prime Video. Like the larger Prime Video service, the search function is hit and miss and indeed the way you are most likely to run across lesser-known titles is by accident. I've found that looking at IMDbTV on a computer is a bit easier than via the Amazon Prime Video app. But just barely.

Here are some of the quirkier titles now streaming for free on IMDbTV. Some of the programs are really well made and others were just made. But regardless, if you are a fan of the golden-ish age of television, then you will find some stuff here that you won't believe:

Banacek (1972-1974) (2 Seasons)
This show aired two eight-episode seasons as part of the NBC Wednesday Night Mystery Movie anthology series. George Peppard played Thomas Banacek, a Polish American freelance insurance investigator based in Boston. He received ten percent of the value of any of the stolen goods he recovered and each episode featured him solving some seemingly impossible crime. Semi-regulars on the series included Murray Matheson, who played rare-bookstore owner and information source Felix Mulholland and Christine Belford, who was Banacek's insurance investigator rival and sometimes booty call, Carlie Kirkland. 

The crime-solving parts of the show are still first-rate, but some of the early 1970s breezy attitudes towards women can be cringey at times. But it's a fun show to watch and was reasonably popular at the time. So much so that the network ordered a third season but Peppard decided against it in order to prevent his ex-wife Elizabeth Ashley from receiving a larger percentage of his earnings as part of their divorce settlement. One fun piece of trivia: the show inspired a 2018 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Home Is Where The Heart Isn't."

Tenspeed And Brown Shoe (1980)
Based strictly on the pedigree of the people behind this detective series, it should have been a huge hit. It was the first series to come from Stephen J. Cannell Productions as an independent company and Cannell was coming off a hot streak. In the previous five years, he had created the hit shows Baretta & Baa Baa Black Sheep and had co-created The Rockford Files with Roy Huggins. In fact, writer/producers Juanita Bartlett, Gordon T. Dawson both came from The Rockford Files, which has just wrapped its last episode. Co-star Ben Vereen was a well-known performer and Jeff Goldblum was two years away from career-changing roles in the movies "The Big Chill" and "The Right Stuff."

The series was about two detectives who had their own L.A. detective agency in Los Angeles. Vereen played E. L. ("Early Leroy") "Tenspeed" Turner, a hustler who for some reason I suspect isn't quite legal worked as a detective to satisfy his parole requirements. His partner Lionel "Brownshoe" Whitney (Goldblum) was a slightly wimpy accountant, who had always wanted to be a 1940s-style P.I. A running joke involved him reading a series of hardboiled fictional crime novels, written by Stephen J. Cannell. But the series never caught on, although Cannell was fond enough of the premise that he later recycled it into the much more successful Hardcastle & McCormick.

The Tim Conway Show (1980)
Ace Crawford, Private Eye (1983)
Like musicians, some comedians are just better in a group than they are in their own solo projects. That was certainly the case with Tim Conway, who found great success as part of the ensemble on shows such as McHale's Navy and The Carol Burnett Show. But his solo television projects were modest successes at best. The Tim Conway Show was the second series with that name and Conway's friends and co-workers did all they could to make it a success. Conway had recently come off of the success of the Burnett show and this variety series was produced by Burnett's husband, Joe Hamilton and like her show, featured a group of regular sketch performers and it also aired on Burnett's home network CBS. But the hour-long show was cut to 30 minutes after two months and despite adding familiar faces like fellow Burnett Show alum and comedic foil Harvey Korman, the series was gone after a season. But that's much longer than Conway's follow-up series Ace Crawford. That spoof of old film-noir detectives was pulled from the air after a month. Both shows are well worth watching if you're a Conway fan. But if you're not....viewer beware.

The David Steinberg Show (1976)
There was a time in the early-mid 1970s when Canadian comedian David Steinberg was the hottest young comic in America. He had famously helped contribute to the cancellation of the The Smothers Brothers Show by performing a mock sermon where he made fun of passages of the Bible. He was a frequent host of the ABC music series The Music Scene and in 1972 hosted a five-week summer replacement sketch comedy show. In 1975, he hosted a short-lived NBC talk show entitled Noonday. And the following year he returned to Canada to write and star in this faux talk show, which is essentially an early take on the talk show-within-a-talk show format that later became a success with The Larry Sanders Show. The ensemble included a number of familiar faces, including Martin Short, John Candy, Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty. But while this series only lasted a season, those comedians were also working on their own series SCTV, which launched the same week as Steinberg's show and ended up running six seasons.

Decoy (1957)
The late 1950s were the heyday of the quick knock-off 30-minute cop show and most of them are forgettable. Decoy has a number of things going for it, including the fact that actress Beverly Garland was the first female lead in a television detective show. She played Patricia "Casey" Jones, a young police officer who frequently worked undercover. Given the 30-minute length, the stories aren't complicated. But Garland does a good job in the role and since the cast revolved from episode to episode and was shot in New York City..well, there is a lot of great shots of the vintage NYC street life and plenty of guest appearances by young actors on their way to better things. Guest stars include Ed Asner, Petr Falk, Larry Hagman, Suzanne Pleshette, Coleen Dewhurst and many more.

On Our Own (1977)
This one-season CBS comedy is more interesting for the cast than for what you'll see on the screen. Bess Armstrong and Lynnie Greene starred as Julia Peters and Maria Bonino, two employees in the Bedford Advertising Agency in New York City who also share an apartment. Gretchen Wyler played their boss and one of their co-workers was Dixie Carter. The show was taped live in front of a studio audience in NYC, which was unusual at the time. 

While the show aired on CBS, it was produced by Time-Life Television and distributed by Warner Brothers Television. Through a series of sales, the rights are now owned by HBO, which is owned by WarnerMedia. So why isn't this series streaming on HBO Max as part of a "classic TV" vertical? This is the type of thing I find frustrating.

Women Of The House (1995)
You would think a spin-off of the very successful Designing Women would have been a slam-dunk. But the series, starring Delta Burke as her familiar character Suzanne Sugarbaker, was a creative disaster from its earliest days. Burke had finally made-up with Designing Women head Linda Bloodworth-Thomason after a very nasty public fight. But things continued to be strained between the two and the premise of the show (Suzanne's most recent husband died and she took over his Congressional seat) felt cobbled together. There is also the unfortunate fact that Burke's character worked much better as part of an ensemble that would allow her to bounce jokes off of a straight man. The show did have a stellar cast, including Teri Garr, Patricia Heaton, Jonathan Banks and the off-camera guest voice of Bill Clinton. Ratings for the show slumped pretty quickly and CBS ended up pushing the final four episodes over to Lifetime.

Good Morning World (1967) 
Like a number of other shows on this list, this short-lived series had quite a comedy pedigree. It was created and produced by Carl Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff, who in various combinations had been responsible for creating classic TV shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, That Girl, The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. The series starred Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell as Dave Lewis and Larry Clarke, morning drive time DJ's of the "Lewis and Clarke Show" on a small AM radio station in Los Angeles. Schell ended his three-year stint on Gomer Pyle to do this show (and he would return for that show's final season when this one tanked). Famed Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully even did voice-over narration on some of the episodes. But despite all of the comedic talent, the end result is a show that isn't very funny. But it did include Goldie Hawn in her first television role (playing Ronnie Schell's girlfriend Sandy).

Last modified on Friday, 19 March 2021 01:08

Review: 'Sakho & Mangane'

Written by 28 February, 2021

There was a time not that long ago when global television meant some moody procedural produced in Norway. While some of the shows were excellent, at the end of the day they were only culturally a step removed from the traditional American-made detective show. Some of them were even remade for American audiences and that was only possible because the cultural underpinnings of a series made in France or Denmark aren't that far from one made in Vancouver or Atlanta.

One of the best parts of my job over the past couple of years has been getting the chance to see some of the extraordinary television made across the globe. The crazy growth of streaming services has made it possible for TV shows in smaller territories to get global distribution. And it's also sparked a growth in production regionally as American studios and streamers sign deals with talented local writers and producers to create higher-end programming specifically made for a global audience.

Sakho & Mangane is a procedural series produced in Senegal and set in the capital city of Dakar. Created by Jean Luc Herbulot (who also directed four of the season's eight episodes), the show is a stylish and sharply-written take on the familiar buddy cop genre, filtered through a very specific African POV. The result is a fascinating series that can best be described as a unpredictable mash-up of Lethal Weapon, Miami Vice & Fringe

Issaka Sawadogo plays the weary veteran cop Captain Souleymane Sakho, who meets his new partner-to-be when he busts up a drug deal and chases one of the suspects through the streets of Dakar. The chortling suspect ends up flat on his back, still smirking and smoking a cigar while introducing himself as an undercover cop. Lieutenant Basile Mangane (Yann Gael) is the typical young, brash police partner, careless about procedure and pathologically uninterested in being a team player.

But the familiar tropes are soon buried inside a story that is filtered through Senegal's culture. The team gets a new boss, a take-no-prisoners hard ass named Mama Ba (Christiane Dumont). That familiar twist is offset by the duo's first case, the theft of a sacred totem that local fishermen believe gives them favor with the spirits. That supernatural underpinning is a constant throughout the season and by the final two episodes, the story arc includes chemically-created zombies, a mysterious organization and powers that seem to blur the line between reality and the spirit world.

The ensemble of Sakho & Mangane is also uniformly solid. Christophe Guybet plays Toubab, an eccentric pathologist who has outfitted his dissecting room with Eurotrash disco posters, mood lighting and a talking parrot. It's not clear why he's in Dakar and whether he's hiding or on the run. Fatou Elise Ba is also excellent as Antoinette, a self-described modern feminist journalist who struggles to navigate the blurry lines between a new Dakar and the old world culture that still dominates it. Awa (Khalima Gadji) is the station house reception manager, a shy woman who was a victim of some unnamed abuse. But she finds her inner strength as the season progresses and becomes a valuable and insightful investigator. Pope (Ricky Tribold) is a serious and moody young officer who evolves from a critical and serious policeman into a reluctant yet effective bulwark against the supernatural powers that target the police squad.

I loved everything about Sakho & Mangane. The stylish directing, the juxtaposition of American culture in an African setting. Mangane is fond of randomly yelling out "Hasta la vista" in the middle of a chase, which can be unsettling when he's doing it while battling some snarling crime boss/witch. It took me most of the first episode to really be drawn into the unfamiliar beats of Sakho & Mangane. But I quickly binged through the rest of the episodes and the show is one I would recommend to anyone who loves a great procedural drama.

Sakho & Mangane is available on Topic and Netflix.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2021 16:11

Review: 'Assembly Required'

Written by 22 February, 2021

I am probably breaking some TV critic code by doing this, but I am beginning my review of the new History competition series Assembly Required with my conclusion. If you are a fan of the 1990s series Home Improvement or simply enjoy competitive building shows no matter who the host(s) might be, then you are likely really going to enjoy this series. If you don't fall into either one of those categories, then your mileage may vary quite a bit on your level of excitement after watching the first episode.

Home Improvement was one of the biggest TV sitcoms of the 1990s and I think it's fair to say that while audiences loved it, the show was never much of a critical darling. That's also been the case with Allen's current series Last Man Standing, which is wrapping up this year at the end of its ninth season. Tim Allen is just one of those guys who doesn't get as much respect for his talents as he deserves. His comedy might not be your style, but given the success he's had in both television and in some films, he obviously knows how to connect with his audience.

And Assembly Required is designed to appeal to those viewers who enjoyed the chemistry of Home Improvement. Allen is teamed up with his old co-star Richard Karn in a competition series that looks as if could have been cranked out by a production company that's been around since those days back in the 1990s. In Home Improvement, Allen played Tim "The Toolman" Taylor, host of the home-improvement show "Tool Time." He was assisted on the show by his long-suffering helper Al Borland (Richard Karn) and to be honest, their on-camera chemistry was one of the most consistent laugh-getters of the show.

Assembly Required is basically "Tool Time: The Competition," from the chemistry between Allen and Karn to the look of the garage they use as their home base. All of which is great news if you read the previous sentence and thought "Man, that's my kind of show!"

In the premiere episode (and that's all I've seen so far), producers have chosen three "builders" to compete remotely from their home workshops in hopes of winning a $5,000 prize. The competition is two rounds and round one challenged the builders to construct their take on a Class A fire extinguisher that needed to put out a candle from ten yards away. They were provided with a box of materials, ranging from various parts that could be reworked into an extinguisher along with various other tubes, nozzles and random parts. The builders could also use anything from their workshop and were given three hours to complete their build.

They then tested their completed project on camera and one of the three contestants was eliminated. The second challenge asked the builders to put together a combination flame thrower/leaf blower. Something that could be used to clear the driveway in the summer or winter. Once again, they were given a box of materials, but this time they had five days to complete their project. Then their build was sent back to HQ, where Allen and Karn would test the items and choose a winner.

The format of the show isn't especially novel, but it's a good fit for Allen and Karn. Aside from testing the final build, most of their job involves watching the projects come together and then throwing out a few witty comments. The chemistry of the duo goes a long way towards keeping the show entertaining, even when Allen sometimes feels as if he's about 30 seconds away from yelling "Get off of my lawn" to some random passerby. Tim Allen is also a genuine builder of his own, and he and Karn seem to legitimately enjoy testing out these insane products.

The show also wisely has added a younger face to the mix YouTube DIY star April Wilkerson, who is there to be the show's resident hands-on expert. She also gets to screw a bit with the final two builders by purposely breaking something in the box sent to them. It's a simple fix, but they have to find it first and that uncertainly adds a bit more fun to the mix.

I've always enjoyed watching Tim Allen work, so I am likely the target market for Assembly Required. But if you're not, I'd recommend giving the show a try before you decide. If nothing else, Allen and Karn are having fun. Which is something we can all use a bit more in our lives right now.

Assembly Required premieres Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 on History.

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 February 2021 00:24

Review: 'Animals On The Loose: A You Vs. Wild Movie'

Written by 10 February, 2021
Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2021 22:25

Review: 'The Movie Show'

Written by 17 December, 2020

I have to admit that I have a fondness for puppets. Not in a creepy way and why did your mind go there first? Now, I've always found puppets entertaining and truth be told, in an early life I was a financial reporter for a video/audio financial news startup in the Bay area. And while I spent the rest of my week doing serious reporting, every Friday I did a segment where I was the voice of "Stockie," a stock-picking sock puppet who gave surprisingly informed advice while mocking the stuffiness of the tech industry. My crowning moment was when someone from Apple PR called and asked for an apology because they felt the "puppet was being too mean" about their new G4 Cube. A product which, for the record, turned out to be a disaster.

But back to the point of this. Because I love puppet-oriented humor, I was really hesitant to check out the new-ish Syfy late night comedy The Movie Show. Created and voiced by Adam Dubowsky & Alex Stone, the show centers around a public access movie review TV show hosted by "Deb & Wade." Deb is the movie critic for the fictional Modesto Bird and Wade is...well, his personality can best be described as similar to what you'd hear from the sidekick on a mid-market classic rock morning show. He's juvenile, self-centered and thinks the movie The Meg is one of the greatest films of all time. Wade is the kind of guy who - when asked to do a segment where he and Deb would ask each other to watch their favorite movie - fought to name the segment "I'll Show You Mine & You Show Me Yours."

I am likely well past the demo for The Movie Show. And I know I should find the scattershot, sometimes vulgar and often just odd humor of the show off-putting and predictable. But honestly, I binged the first four episodes last night and was laughing so hard my wife came in to make sure I wasn't having some sort of seizure. I did stand-up for more than a decade, I've written a few things I think might be passably funny. I'm a tough audience. But based on what I've seen so far, The Movie Show might be the most consistently funny half-hour comedy I've seen in 2020. 

We all need a laugh right now and I don't think you'll find a more predictable place to find it than Thursday nights at 11:00 pm ET on Syfy. Tonight is the last show before the holidays and it returns in three weeks on January 7th.

Last modified on Thursday, 17 December 2020 16:42

One Season TV: 'Thanks'

Written by 26 November, 2020

The 1960s and early 1970s were the golden age of television shows built around truly insane concepts. A mother reincarnated inside a car (My Mother The Car), a comedy set inside a German WWII prisoner-of-war camp (Hogan's Heroes), a show about a group of inept calvarymen and the Native Americans who cheat and trick them (F-Troop). That type of television has mostly fell out of favor by the 1990s, but briefly resurfaced later in the decade with shows such as The Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfeiffer and the 1996 short-lived CBS comedy Thanks.

Thanks was created by Phoef Sutton and Mark Legan, both of whom had impressive TV credits. Legan was just coming off of stints on Dave's World and Grace Under Fire. And Sutton had previously worked on Bob and Cheers. So if anyone could pull off a comedy about the Puritans settling in America, these two guys could do it. And having watched all six episodes recently, the resulting show has some brilliant moments. But I also have a feeling that there was some network pushback about the execution, because there is definitely a shift in tone after episode four.

The series begins with the Pilgrim's first spring in the New World. There has been more snow and a lot less food than they had expected and a lot of the humor is based around the hunger and the group's puritan ways. Mark Dutton plays James Winthrop, who runs the local general store with his wife Polly (Kirsten Nelson). They have three children - Abigail (Erika Christensen), Elizabeth (Amy Centner) and William (Andrew Ducote). The family also includes James's mother Grammy Winthrop (played by Cloris Leachman). Jim Rash plays John Cotton, the self-described "village idiot," and the role feels as if it was originally written for Chris Elliott.

There are a couple of running jokes in the first group of episodes, including one involving a long-winded, the very religious Reverend Goodacre (Keith Szarabajka) who sees the hand of the devil in even the most everyday activities. There are lots of jokes about potential sinful behavior and the hypocritical behavior of the townspeople. When confronted with tobacco for the first time, the magistrate suggests it must be a sin and should be abolished. "But shouldn't we try something before we say it's a sin?," asks someone. "We never have before now," he replies. People are thrown into the stocks for dancing and in one episode Elizabeth is thrown into the stocks for seemingly predicting a future that sounds a lot like our modern-day lives.

In fact, ten-year old Elizabeth is part of one of the most consistent running gags in the show. She is constantly suggesting better ways of doing things or wondering out loud whether the world might someday change in an unexpected way. When examining the incredibly small carrots the villagers grew in their first harvest, she wonders out loud if someday someone might be able to sell the wee carrots for extra money by claiming that they are "gourmet." "Marketing," she explains to her father. "It's all about the marketing."

Cloris Leachman doesn't have much to do in the first couple of episodes, but episode three has her lobbying for her own room and it gives her a chance to show off her impressive ability to chew up scenery and deliver a punchline. She's also the center of episode five, in which she falls for a traveling salesman played by Orson Bean. That episode might have the funniest line in the series: "My mother always told me, you don't buy a mule before you ride it."

Episode six is the final episode and it is probably also the most consistent. Viewers are finally introduced to the local Native American tribe, who teaches them how to grow crops and catch turkeys. The episode ends with a Thanksgiving meal and a bunch of jokes that mock the impact the Pilgrims would eventually have on this new world (or at least, a world that is new to them).

The episodes do take a bit of a shift in tone midway through the season. A lot of the jokes about sinful behavior and the stocks go away, which makes me suspect that the network was concerned some viewers might be offended by the light-hearted mocking of religion. Regardless, Thanks has some funny moments and I suspect if it had received a longer episode order (and hadn't been burned off in August), it might have survived and lasted several seasons. 

Several of the cast later had memorable roles in other television shows. A decade later, Jim Rash played Dean Craig Pelton on the NBC sitcom Community. Kirsten Nelson went on to play police chief Karen Vick on Psych and Erika Christensen has appeared in a number of movies and television shows, ranging from Traffic to the character Julia Braverman-Graham on Parenthood. 

The entire premiere episode of the show is posted below and you can click here for an episode guide for the series.

Last modified on Thursday, 26 November 2020 16:45

Review: 'NCIS' 400th Episode

Written by 24 November, 2020

NCIS kicked off its 18th season last week and the episode was a reminder that as much as I love the show, it feels like a series that is contemplating its eventual ending.

I would argue that until season 14, there wasn't a more consistent procedural on television. The ensemble was tight, the writers knew the characters and how to gently build out the mythology of the ensemble. Mark Harmon's Leroy "Jethro" Gibbs has always been the creative and emotional center of the series. But Gibb's gruff and taciturn character meant that it was up the rest of the cast to fill in the emotional heart of the show. The result was an ensemble that fit together like a handmade Italian supercar. Every part working in conjunction with the other, every character driving the show forward. 

But the exit of Michael Weatherly (Anthony "Tony" DiNozzo) at the end of season 13 led to a cascade of changes that NCIS has never quite recovered from. David McCallum (Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard) went to a part-time recurring character towards the end of the following season and Pauley Perrette (Abby Sciuto) left at the end of season 15. Leaving Harmon and Sean Murray's Timothy McGee as the only remaining characters from the early days of the show.

NCIS has attempted to rebuild the ensemble back in recent seasons with limited success. Jennifer Esposito (Alex Quinn) only lasted one season. Duane Henry (Clayton Reeves) was brought on full-time for seasons 14 and 15 and then killed off. Even the newer characters that have remained have become little more than ways to provide some exposition for the episode or give Gibbs and McGee someone to interact with on a regular basis. 

Emily Wickersham (Ellie Bishop) was brought in during season 11 to fill the place of the departed Cote de Pablo (Ziva David). But after an interesting debut, Bishop was eventually given a divorce and progressively given less to do each season. For the most part, she now just serves as a foil (and possible love interest) for Wilmer Valderrama's Nick Torres. Neither one of them are given much of a chance to do anything, except react to Gibbs and do a bit of investigation.

Mario Bello (Jacqueline "Jack" Sloane) was brought in during season 15 and the role appears to have been created to be a foil/possible love interest for Gibbs. And watching her character is a frustrating experience because you can tell the writers can't quite get Sloane to jell. Some episodes she does little more than come in, give Gibbs the stink eye and encourage him to talk about his feelings. Joe Spano (FBI Agent T.C. Fornell) has also been frequently used in recent seasons as a friend/sounding board for Gibbs, although to do that his character keeps getting involved in increasingly unlikely scenarios.

But a couple of things have worked very well in recent seasons. Diona Reasonover joined as Kasie Hines, replacing fan favorite Abby Sciuto. And it's a transition that has worked well. She doesn't generally have more than a scene or two in any episode, but she gets the job done and her character brings some much-needed youth to the cast. And as the rest of the ensemble has floundered at times, Gibbs and McGee have evolved into more of a father-son dynamic. Last season's pandemic-shortened season ended with Gibbs asking McGee to sit for awhile so he could share memories of his military service that he had never spoken about with anyone before. Their evolving relationship is often the best thing about NCIS in recent seasons.

And we're left with a show that really only works now when the episode directly involves Gibbs or somehow touches on some aspect of the Gibbs mythology. So given all of that, it makes sense that the 400th episode of NCIS would flashback forty years to tell a previously unknown story about Gibbs and Ducky.

A man is found dead in the NCIS basement and he is connected to a case that Gibbs was associated with back when he was still a young Marine headed off to sniper school. The present-day case doesn't amount to much, but it's really only there to give David McCallum a reason to return (always a welcome sight) and a way to set up the flashback portions of the episode. We get to see how Gibbs and Ducky first met, hear a bit more backstory about Gibbs and his future wife Shannon and even a reminder of how Gibbs was first introduced to the house he has now lived in for years. 

The flashback scenes are most of the reason to watch the episode and they are exceptionally well done. Sean Harmon and Adam Campbell are perfectly cast as young Gibbs and young Ducky and the parts of their backstory introduced in the episode deftly reveal some new facts about the duo for fans. In fact, while I don't think this episode was designed to be a back-door pilot, CBS should really consider signing them both to star in a "Young Gibbs" series. Which would be a great project for the upcoming Paramount+ streaming service.

At the 400-episode mark, it seems petty to complain that NCIS is in a holding action. But it sure feels that way. The series will likely last as long as Harmon wants it to and I hope that the way his character is being framed hints at some exit in the not-too-distant future. I still love NCIS. But sometimes you need to know when to let go of the things you love.

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2020 15:38

Review: 'Voices Of Fire'

Written by 13 November, 2020

I don't know the definition of "Grace" is, but I know what it feels like to receive it.

Maybe eight years ago, I was at the lowest point of my life. I had been laid off three times in less than two years and there wasn't one aspect of my life that wasn't a dumpster fire. My marriage was collapsing under the weight of all the stress and I had a young autistic son who needed help I couldn't give him. I was lost and feeling simultaneously as if I were carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders while also being a failure and a fraud. One night I was driving home, dreading seeing my wife's disappointed face. And as I was driving, I realized I had to go to the bathroom and when I noticed some people walking into a small church, I stopped to use their facilities. 

It turned out the people were there for a meeting they jokingly called the "Broken Person's Club." It was set up essentially like an AA meeting. A group of people sitting in a circle talking about their lives, their hopes, their failures. Some of the group did have addiction problems, but there was also an elderly woman who was just lonely and a former pastor at the church who had lost his faith when his wife died following a long bout with cancer. All of them were "broken" in some way and they gathered twice a week for some fellowship, sharing of stories and unconditional support of each other. They convinced me to stay and I soon became a regular.

I wasn't a religious person then and I still am not. But those meetings saved me. Being able to talk about my fears, sharing the dark places knowing that there was no judgement gave me the space and strength to work everything out. It was brutally difficult. But as I write this I have never been happier. I have a strong marriage, a wonderful son and I make a good living doing work that matters to me. And I wouldn't be here without those meetings that I was almost too afraid to try. I found Grace, even if I can't quite describe what it is.

That feeling of Grace is also the underpinning of the new Netflix series Voices Of Fire, which premieres on Friday, November 20th. In a year where it can feel as if all of the joy has been sucked out of the world, this six-episode series is a palate cleanser for your soul.

At first glance the premise of Voices Of Fire sounds a bit like a Gospel-oriented American Idol rip-off. Bishop Ezekiel Williams - the uncle of Pharrell Williams - has assembled a group of the gospel heavyweights in the Hampton Roads area and hopes to put together what he dreams will be one of the best gospel choirs in the country. And they'll do it by mixing singers who have grown up in the church with people who don't know gospel music, but have the voice and personality to be part of a larger plan.

More than 3,000 people entered to be part of the choir and several hundred were brought in for auditions. And as these hopefuls sing for their chance, it's quickly apparent that this show isn't an American Idol clone. While that show can often seem wrapped up in the celebrity of the judges and the ambition of all of those Kelly Clarkson wannabes, the hopeful participants of Voices Of Fire aren't expecting to become stars by participating. They're looking for a way to find musical redemption, an opportunity to find themselves in a larger purpose. Early on, one singer begins haltingly singing and as she does tears begin streaming down her face. And that emotion sets the stage for a series of personal stories that frame the audition process and the preparation for the choir's public debut at a large theater.

One singer was once in a R&B boy's group that collapsed due to drug use by some of the members. A 15-year-old struggles to learn songs, hampered by the fact that she has lost 50 percent of her hearing. Another man has hands that are partially paralyzed after an accident that nearly ended his life. There are singers who struggle with social anxiety and a lack of support and confidence. Nearly everyone highlighted in the series is broken in some way, but the hard work balanced with unconditional support transforms each of them in ways they never saw coming.

The season ends with a concert and even at that point there are unexpected highlights and powerful emotions that will lift you up and leave your soul at peace. 

Voices Of Fire is a gospel show, but it isn't infused with modern-day religion or politics. If you believe, you'll see the series in a way that will reaffirm your belief that God changes lives on a daily basis. And if you don't believe or have non-Christian beliefs, you'll be lifted up by the unbridled joy that is interwoven into nearly every scene of the show.

While Voices Of Fire probably wouldn't have happened without the presence of Pharrell Williams, the show wisely uses him very sparingly. He makes a brief appearance during the audition phase and doesn't return until the night of the big concert. And that hands-off approach works for the show. His continued presence would have ended up making the show about him and his stardom. In small doses, he becomes a supporter and mentor rather than a celebrity judge.

In case you can't tell by this point, I absolutely loved Voices Of Fire. Its optimism and community is just the type of role model we could all use right now. My only complaint is that I would have loved to have seen the entire concert. So maybe it's time for a "bonus episode," Netflix.

Voices Of Fire premieres Friday, November 20th, 2020 on Netflix.

Last modified on Friday, 13 November 2020 21:46

Review: 'La Révolution'

Written by 16 October, 2020

At its best, television is a reflection of the culture that created it. It's not always an accurate representation, but it's a window into the mythology and stories that culture thinks are important. It's why I love watching television made outside of the United States. It's not just the enjoyment I get from seeing the work of people unfamiliar to me. It's the joy of seeing a familiar story through the lens of a different culture. 

That unfamiliar approach to storytelling is just one of the reasons to recommend La Révolution, a new original series from creator Aurélien Molas and Netflix France. 

The series is set in 1787 France, in a town about 60 miles from Paris. Two years before the start of the French Revolution, local doctor Joseph Guillotin (Amir El Kacim) uncovers a series of mysterious murders. Young peasant women are disappearing and it appears that there may be some serial killer at work. It's not clear why the murders are taking place, but as Guillotin continues to dig, he discovers an unknown virus which turns the victim's blood blue. It also gives them extraordinary strength along with some unsettling urges.

Joseph Guillotin was a real person. In fact, he is best known for his work to convince the French government to execute criminals by guillotine - a method he argued was more humane than the traditional axe or "breaking wheel." He didn't actually invent the guillotine, but it was named after him because of his work. 

But while the Joseph Guillotin in La Révolution bears the same name as France's leading proponent of the guillotine, their stories have very little in common. And that is the case with much of the storyline in La Révolution. It's very loosely based on the real events that led to the French Revolution, but I don't think there is any historical evidence that France blueblood aristocracy literally had blue blood. Instead the story is a "reimagining" of history, drawing on the inequities of French society to frame more traditional tale of monsters - both human and not-so-human.

There are a number of strong performances in La Révolution, including Marilou Aussilloux, who takes an impressive turn as the haunted Elise de Montargis. Elise is the daughter of the local nobility and argues that the population is overtaxed and abused. But she has little sway in a society where women are seen primarily as vessels for giving birth to the next generation of nobility. Her story is one of the over-arching arcs of the season as viewers learn more about how she has been treated and all of the things that have been taken away from her in the past. Amir El Kacem is also extremely effective as Joseph Guillotin, a man who desperately wants to overthrow the current political system. But also somehow believes that change can happen without violence and death. 

It's difficult to say too much about the main storylines of La Révolution without spoiling things. But Molas and the cast do a spectacular job at framing an unlikely premise in a way that seems as if it's the way the French Revolution *could* have happened. And the story also feels contemporary in some very unsettling ways.

I don't know enough about the current political and cultural climate in France to hazard a guess about how La Révolution will feel to French viewers. But as an American, the show's themes of a dismissive and corrupt upper class, a lack of upward mobility and a deck stacked against the working class seems painfully contemporary. While there aren't a lot of factual similarities between pre-Revolution France and the United States in 2020, the feel and emotional weariness of fighting what seems to be a hopeless battle against the powerful resonates deep into me.

La Révolution  was a treat to watch and it's perfect suggestion for viewers wanting something that is entertaining, unexpected and often thought-provoking.

La Révolution premieres globally Friday, October 16th, 2020 on Netflix.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 April 2021 22:30

Review: 'Soulmates'

Written by 05 October, 2020

Nothing about love is guaranteed. But what if it was?

That's the bare bones outline for the AMC anthology series Soulmates, which premieres tonight. The series is set 15 years in the future and scientists have discovered the "soul particle" and as a result can match humans to their soulmate with 100% accuracy. You take the test and if your soulmate is in the database you meet. If they are not, then you have to wait for them to take the test. It's kind of the Minority Report of love. So know what is going to happen before you even meet. Or do you?

While scientifically finding your soulmate sounds wonderful on the face of it, it doesn't take long to see a lot of potential complications. What if your soulmate is dead? Or if they (or you) are already married? Do you spend your entire life waiting for a match that might never come? And what does a soulmate mean, exactly? Does it mean you'll be compatible in every way?

Season one explores some of the consequences of living in a world where everyone expects true love. Because the term soulmate is a bit squishy and challenging. Someone might be your soulmate, but you find you're not attracted to them. Or they are a white nationalist. Or detest donuts (Okay, that might be one of my fears). What do you do when that perfect match comes with some baggage you might not be able to live with? 

But there are even worse scenarios. Imagine you're happily married to someone who feels like your soulmate. They're smart, funny, kind and gentle. And the sex is amazing. Do you take the soul particle test? Does the science matter more than your heart?

And that was the complication of this idea that I was glad to see explored. Most of us have had more than one person in our life that we could have at the time described as our "soulmate." Is finding your soulmate really the thing that will make you happy? 

Like all good "what if" shows, Soulmates creators William Bridges and Brett Goldsteinrs allow the open-ended premise to lead the viewer in all sorts of unexpected directions. The episodes were all over the place thematically, some of them deathly serious and some veering almost into madcap rom-com territory. But in their own ways, each episode explored the complexities of love and relationships in a world where science has convinced most people there is only one love for them.

Soulmates' six episodes explore a lot of those themes and questions and when it's all over, you may find yourself thinking that finding your soulmate might be overrated. As it turns out, maybe isn't all that bad.

Soulmates premieres Monday, October 5th, 2020 at 10 p.m. ET/9c on AMC.

Last modified on Monday, 05 October 2020 15:40

Review: 'Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous'

Written by 18 September, 2020

I'll let you in a little secret about TV critics. There are times when we dread watching an upcoming show. Sometimes it's because you expect it to be dull or because you don't especially enjoy the work of someone associated with the series. But it can also be because you really enjoyed someone's previous work and you really, really don't want this project to fail to live up to their talents. In the end, what separates the professionals from the casual writers is the ability to look beyond your prejudices and fears. The ability to review what's on the screen, not what you are expecting a show to be.

I enjoyed the movie Jurassic World well enough. It was a fun romp and a distracting way to spend a couple of hours. But I wasn't exactly hoping to see an animated series set in that world. So when I first received the episodes of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous for review, I had an open mind but a sinking feeling that I might be disappointed. But going into the episodes, what gave me hope was the presence of Zack Stentz, who is attached to the show as a consulting producer. While Stentz is probably best known for this work on the screenplays for the movies Thor and X-Men: First Class, he also has a solid background writing and producing on some great television shows, including The Flash, Fringe and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He also wrote and was executive producer on the Netflix original movie Rim Of The World, a wonderfully energetic teen scifi/adventure movie that was one of my favorite films from last year. Stentz knows how to successfully assemble an action series and I was hoping I would see some of that magic in Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous.

Honestly, I don't know why I was worried.

Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is an impressively ambitious animated series that follows the story of six teenagers sent to to the far side of Isla Nublar to try out a brand-new state-of-the-art adventure camp set to open soon to the public. And while the first couple of episodes focus primarily on introducing the teens and chronicling their attempts to explore the camp and see some dinosaurs, their story kicks into high gear when the rest of Jurassic World has a meltdown after the escape of some mysterious experimental dinosaurs gone rogue. Left on their own as the island's infrastructure begin to melt down, the campers dodge one danger after another as they attempt to make their way across the island to the safety of the evacuation boats.

The teens are the expected range of backgrounds and talents. Darius is the dinosaur obsessed kid who is there because he beat a videogame. Ben is the frail, nervous kid sent there by his parents to toughen him up a bit. There's a track star, a social media queen and a kid who's there primarily because his rich parents got him a VIP invite,

Like Rim Of The WorldJurassic World: Camp Cretaceous has a nice sense of what it feels like to be a young teen. You're that mixture of cynical know-it-all and scared little kid. It's an emotional balancing act that is difficult to get right on the screen. But the six campers all have individual personalities that are distinct without being stereotypes. You pretty quickly find yourself rooting for this kids to get past all of the unexpected dangers they face on their journey.

One of the most impressive things about this first season of Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is the level of action, especially in the final few episodes. Animated action sequences can sometimes feel divorced from reality and not based enough in facts to provide a genuine sense of the stakes involved for the characters. A lot of the action sequences almost felt as if they were animated renderings of a live-action movie and it's easy to get caught up in the rhythm of the danger. There are some sequences in the show that are as entertaining and memorable as anything you saw in the mothership Jurassic World feature film.

All of that being said, there are a couple of things that in retrospect feel a bit clunky. Without giving anything away, there is a secret involving one of the campers that ends up being a great deal of build-up for not so much of a payoff. It plays out in a way that almost seems as if the secret was less important than the fact that revealing it had a huge impact on the other campers. And the character of Ben basically doesn't contribute anything but some whining for most of the season, although when that does change, it changes in a very big and surprising way.

But those quibbles are minor ones. I saw down to watch Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous thinking I would set away after a couple of episodes. Instead, I eagerly blasted through the entire season in a couple of sessions. Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is a blast to watch and you'll find yourself sucked into the story whether or not you're a Jurassic World fan. 

Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous premieres Friday, September 18th, 2020 on Netflix.

Last modified on Friday, 18 September 2020 05:18

Review: 'Beyond The Block'

Written by 02 September, 2020

There are a lot of househunting shows and the gold standard in the genre are the programs you'll see on HGTV. That network has been cranking out variations of the "let's help you find a house" series for a couple of decades. So it's difficult to watch a new show that tries to do the same thing without comparing it to the industry leader.

By that metric, the Tastemade/ series Beyond The Block compares very well. Hosted by Andrew Tyree, each of the first season's four episodes has Tyree visiting a new town. He's trying to help a budding homeowner (or homeowners) find the right balance between cost, community and convenience. The premise of the show doesn't sound all that different than 50 other similar shows you've probably seen in the past.

But there are a couple of subtle breaks with the norm and the changes serve the show well. Firstly, Andrew Tyree does a really solid job with hosting. He's informative without being smarmy, friendly without being insincere. The structure of the show requires a host who is comfortable in a variety of settings and Tyree navigates the shifts of location seamlessly. 

The second part of the show that works well is that while a fair amount of time is spent on the potential houses themselves, Beyond The Block is as much about the community and the lifestyle as the houses. Buying a house - particularly if you're a first-time homebuyer - is less about the number of bedrooms or whether it's an open-concept kitchen. It's about whether or not you feel at home in the community. Is it close to amenities you enjoy? Your favorite restaurants or clubs? All of those factors matter, especially for younger homeowners.

And the focus on the community is what makes the show more than just a cold real estate showcase. Episode one is set in San Antonio, where Tyree and the potential homeowners spend as much time exploring the neighborhoods as examining the homes. Tyree introduces them to several local business owners, take them for Kayak ride down the San Antonio Riverwalk and for lunch at a neighborhood food festival. He helps the couple discover what area feels like "home" to them and it's a helpful process in the end. is the "brand" in this show and any time a sponsor is helping to pay for the production, there's a fear the finished product won't feel authentic. In the case of Beyond The Block, the brand integration isn't hidden, but it's not intrusive either. There are two times in the premiere episode where the web site is mentioned and in both cases the mentions are woven into the natural progression of the show. In one case, it's using the web site to search just for homes in their target areas. In another, it's taking of advantage of a feature that allows you to see which areas in the city are the loudest. You do notice the integration, but it's no worse that the Wayfair integration HGTV uses in some of its shows.

One quick note about COVID-19's impact on the show. The first episode was shot pre-pandemic, but the producers wisely had Tyree check in remotely with the homeowners and business owners featured in the episode to see how they were doing now. It was a nice idea, especially since it's difficult to watch a show like this and not wonder how everyone was impacted by the pandemic.

Beyond The Block premieres Thursday, September 3rd on the Tastemade Streaming Network. Upcoming cities highlighted in the show include Los Angeles, Raleigh, NC and Fort Collins, Colorado.

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 September 2020 16:36

Review: 'Being The Queen'

Written by 31 August, 2020

I will be to admit that I am likely not the optimal target audience for a television special that has any connection to the British Royal Family. It's not that I have any passionate dislike of them, I am just not especially interested in hearing about the Monarchy. I'll hear a news report about one of it's members and afterwards, all I'll recall is the phrase "Today, Prince Andrew said.." and then the next thing you know I'll wake up from the best 45 minutes sleep I've had in months.

So I approached the new NatGeo special Being The Queen the same way I approach all royalty-related programming: with a mixture of dread and anticipation for enjoying some much-needed sleep.

But watching Being The Queen reminded me that while Queen Elizabeth II is frozen in our collective minds as this stoic, elderly matron, she is intertwined with the history of post-WWII Britain. Utilizing lots of archival footage and interviews with former staff and confidants, the one-hour special puts together a fascinating portrait of Elizabeth the person, not the Queen. Or, at least as much of an intimate portrait as you are likely to get about someone who has believed all of her life that duty comes before everything.

The first 2/3 of the special focus on the earlier years of her life and her reign and that was the most interesting part of her story for me. The daughter of a man who wasn't supposed to be King, her father's sudden death propelled her to the role of Queen at a time when both England and the monarchy were in flux. Serving as Queen brings a lot of challenging responsibilities and requires personal sacrifices most people couldn't accept. And Being The Queen doesn't shy away from the personal prices she paid. She was extremely hands-off with her children and as Queen she was forced to step in several times with her younger sister Margaret. Most notably in the early 1950s when Princess Margaret was considering a marriage to Peter Townsend, an older, divorced man. 

The archival footage from that period is really wonderful and it allows the special's producers to really flesh out those early stories of Elizabeth's reign. But 2/3 of the way through the special, it jumps somewhat jarringly to the life and death of Princess Diana. Which I understand from a programming point of view. But that part of the story has been told a thousand times before and despite some valiant efforts, this part of the special is a lot less compelling. Honestly, I would have been happier if the special had spent that 20 minutes fleshing out more of Queen Elizabeth II's earlier reign. And the jump to focusing on Diana also makes for some unfortunate editorial choices. For instance, while the special devotes some time to Elizabeth's marriage and the challenges they faced once she became Queen, he basically disappear's from her story after the mid-1950s.

The good news is that Being The Queen is much better than the average special devoted to a member of the Royal Family. It's more of historical take on the life of Queen Elizabeth II than you might expect and that aspect makes it a fascinating special.

The bad news is that I still need a nap.

Review: 'Alice In Paris'

Written by 18 August, 2020

Streaming services such as Netflix rightfully receive a lot of credit for having realized that it you want to truly be a global media company, you need to have some studios located outside the United States. You also need to have relationships and production deals with bright young local talent who can provide the international point of view that can help set your content apart.

But digital brands such as Tastemade also have a global audience and global production assets. And while they haven't always been quick to take advantage of them when it comes to scripted programming, there are some indications that is changing. 

Alice In Paris is Tastemade's first long-form scripted series and while I've only seen the first episode of season three, that episode is as well-made and charming as any series that might come from a more traditional streaming video service. The series began about four years ago as short episodic videos that ran less than two minutes. Alice (played by show co-creator Alysse Hallali) was a college student who loved food and always found a reason to end up in some cute little Parisian shop or restaurant. The short videos didn't leave much time for a storyline or even a pause. But Hallali was charming and for lack of a better description, Alice came off as the type of college student most people outside of France picture when they think of Paris. She's passionate, a bit obsessed with food and proud of her city in a way that almost veers into arrogance.

Season two premiered about two years ago and the length of the episodes doubled to between 3 and 4 minutes. That increased length (and what appears to be an increase in budget) allowed the show to have some real storylines and also to introduce some new characters. Including Alice's sister (played by Alex Bénézech), who returns for season three. While the season two episodes often felt a bit short, watching them gives you a sense of why Tastemade execs thought the show merited full-length episodes. "Alice Loves Paris" is a love letter to the city but it's also an entertaining glimpse into the life of a young twentysomething culinary fan in the world's most intense city for foodies.

In season three's premiere episode, Alice gets into trouble when she impulsively steals a microphone at a big culinary festival and provides her own narration for the event. She's surprised when the rest of the local culinary scene doesn't appreciate her spontaneity and perfect sense of taste. To save her reputation, she embarks on a madcap adventure that includes trying to save a restaurant's Michelin Star by recreating a missing chef's prized creation. The episode is charming, witty and entertaining in a very French way. 

Hallali was in college herself when she and her boyfriend created the series and it's impossible to imagine the show being produced anywhere but Paris. Every scene of the series is a love letter to Paris and even if you've ever been there, you'll start to imagine what it would like to live in the world's most romantic city.

Season three of Alice In Paris premieres today (August 18th) on Tastemade's streaming network. Seasons one and two are available on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.

Last modified on Tuesday, 18 August 2020 15:42

Review: 'The Osbournes Want To Believe'

I am enough of a capitalist that I believe anyone should be given the opportunity to make a living. But I also believe that I am under no obligation to help them do it. Particularly if helping them means watching a TV series that is the soul-sucking psychic equivalent of having your body completely drained of blood, then whacked with hammers until your pray for the sweet release of death.

As you might be able to discern from the first paragraph, I am not a big fan of the new Travel Channel reality series "The Osbournes Want To Believe." Truthfully, I watched the series premiere episode two weeks ago and loathed it so much that I decided not to write my review just then. I thought that perhaps I was just in a bad mood or maybe just the stress of an ongoing pandemic and being locked up with my teenage son 24/7 for months has finally broken my spirit. I opted to give it a rest and then revisit the show down the road. "Surely, it can't be this horrifying," I told myself optimistically. "Think about puppy dogs and cotton candy for awhile and give it another chance."

I will not make that mistake again.

The idea for the show - and I use the word "idea" in a very loose sense - is that Jack Osbourne wants to convince his parents that things such as UFOs and the paranormal really exist. So he's turned his parent's basement screening room into a makeshift pandemic-era studio. He shows them "spooky" YouTube videos and viral clips of weird crap. Then encourages them to share their thoughts.

Now Ozzy Osbourne is probably a delightful fellow in real life. But his grasp on the nuances of anything - much less the paranormal - is tenuous. So asking him to provide articulate and thoughtful takes on the existence of ghosts based on some videos is not unlike asking your four-year-old to give you some insight into the career of the Beatles after listening to the Ringo Starr hit "The No-No Song." 

And then there is Sharon Osbourne, who for some reason struck me as a fairly articulate and thoughtful person when she was on the CBS daytime series "The Talk." But in this show, sitting in matching theater seats next to her dazed husband Ozzy, she gives off the impression that she just woke up from a Nyquil-induced dream and can't remember where she parked the car.

I cannot properly convey how terrible "The Osbournes Want To Believe" is and how little effort any of the Osbournes seem to be putting into the show while on camera. There are times when you can see Ozzy just mentally counting down the moments until he's killed enough airtime to earn another paycheck. And I don't think a bank of talented psychics could discern what Sharon Osbourne is thinking in this context. It's just a train-wreck of a show and while I'm happy that the Osbournes have convinced another network to fork over the money for a program, I feel as if watching it is only encouraging a crime against humanity.

"The Osbournes Want To Believe" airs Sunday nights on the Travel Channel.

Last modified on Monday, 17 August 2020 00:10

Review: 'Selena + Chef'

Written by 16 August, 2020

It's not that I am overly cynical, but generally speaking, I am not impressed with the fact that someone may be a celebrity. I can appreciate someone's talent and creative works. I can be intimidated by their accomplishments. But I don't know that I "stan" anyone. Part of this stems from the fact that I have close friends from my stand-up career who are now well-known stars. Spending time with them, meeting their industry friends and hearing their off-the-record stories, it's clear that for the most part the men and women who are stars are not that different than the average civilian on a personal level. Yes, they may have a posse of hangers-on who get paid to hang out with their "best friend." But celebrity tends to magnify a person's core values more than change them. The nice people are usually still nice (most of the time) and the jerks are just going to be jerks to people who are too afraid to push back.

All of this was in my mind as I approached  the first three episodes of the HBO Max reality series "Selena + Chef," which premiered on the streaming service Thursday, August 13th. The premise of the pandemic-inspired series is not that dissimilar to the Food Network's "Amy Schumer Learns To Cook." In both cases, it's a star trying to learn more about cooking. But while Schumer receives her tips from her live-in husband, Gomez is cooking along with a celebrity chef who walks her through the recipe via a video call. 

I honestly didn't know what to expect going into "Selena + Chef." I'm not foolish enough to think that you are really going to get an unvarnished glimpse of a celebrity through a television show, especially one that they are producing themselves. But my measure of success for this type of show is whether or not it feels overly stage-managed. Are there some moments that are unscripted or unexpected? Do you get a clear sense of the celebrity's personality, even if it only the public part of their lives? Is this a show that feels natural and fun?

For the most part, the first three episodes of "Selena + Chef" are a success. Gomez has a long history of being on camera, so she's comfortable with the process and knows what works best for her personality. But more importantly, there are a few moments that come off as organic and she has a slightly cutting sense of humor that comes off on camera as mildly sarcastic instead of mean. For all of her comments about not being comfortable in the kitchen, she displays some decent skills and is even willing to tackle vaguely unpleasant tasks such as breaking down, preparing and cooking an octopus. She cracks jokes about the process, complains in passing that it's hard to find a decent boyfriend and shares stories about her experiences in the kitchen when she was growing up. On a lot of levels, "Selena + Chef" is exactly the show you want it to be, whether or not your're a fan of hers.

No show is perfect and there are certainly a couple of things I'd tweak if I could. The first episode (with Chef Ludo Lefebvre) is noticeably looser than the episodes that follow and Gomez is dressed more casual and seems a bit more thrown by the process of putting together a finished dish. It's also the best episode because that looseness plays to Gomez's strengths. Given the chance, she can be funny and smart in a way that is truly charming. The later episodes seem to be consciously a bit more structured and that structure wrings a bit of the fun out of the process.

Gomez also seems to have a few different people quarantining with her. Episode one features one set of Grandparents along with someone she introduces as a friend. Episode two introduces another friend to the mix. All of which is fine and it's not a criticism. It all just made me wonder how many people are living with her at the moment. Not because I care per se, it's more that the question is one of those things that might be of interest to viewers. If Gomez isn't cooking, then who is? What's a typical meal like in the Gomez compound? 

Weird and minor quibbling aside, I really enjoyed what I've seen of "Selena + Chef." It delivers on the food part of the premise and Gomez is more than charming enough to carry any show. I'm not sure that the fact that it's one of my favorite HBO Max original shows is a great thing for the streaming service. But watching the series will leave you with a smile on your face and maybe a new recipe or two to try out during your quarantine at home.

Episodes 4-6 of "Selena + Chef" will premiere on Thursday, August 20th and episodes 7-10 will be available Thursday, August 27th, 2020.

Last modified on Sunday, 16 August 2020 19:59

Review: 'Sharks Of Ghost Island'

Written by 15 August, 2020

There are a few different types of "Shark Week" specials and one of them can best be described as "kinda interesting shark stuff but we're afraid not interesting enough so we're going to hype the hell out of the danger." The one-hour special "Sharks Of Ghost Island" fits firmly into that category, since it includes both an actual shark-related task (find a number of shark species near an island) with a bunch of random facts & comments designed to make it seem much more dangerous a task to "Shark Week" viewers.

The "Ghost Island" part of the show's title comes from the nickname of The Great Isaac Cay, a Bahaman island located 40 miles east of Miami, Florida on the western edge of the Bermuda Triangle. The intro to the show mentions that it has long been the scene of sightings of large sharks. And besides being in the Bermuda Triangle, it's been abandoned since 1969, after two lighthouse caretakers mysteriously disappeared without a trace. But the mystery part is pretty quickly pushed aside and is really only mentioned to explain why a team of scientists are there. Since there haven't people near the island for decades, the waters surrounding it have become a popular area for creatures of all sizes. And there is a theory that the island has become a popular area for large sharks. But to prove that theory, scientists must discover at least ten species of sharks swimming in the waters near "Ghost Island."

Why ten species? We don't know. If scientists only discover evidence of nine, does that mean the migration theory is incorrect? We don't know. But the "we must find ten species of sharks" sets up a very weird metric for success and leads to a baffling tracking board on the deck of the scientist's ship. The number on the board begins at 0 and is updated baseball game score-style as more sharks are discovered. It just seems a bit contrived and awkward, although the actual looking for sharks footage is often fun to watch.

Like nearly all Shark Week programs, "Sharks Of Ghost Island" tends to treat all species of sharks as potentially dangerous to humans. Even though that clearly isn't always the case. But the real downside of the special is that it doesn't delve more into the mysteries of the island itself, which is rumored to have actual ghosts haunting it.

There's the creepy "Grey Lady," who reportedly haunts the beaches of the island, searching for her son who was the only survivor of a horrific ship disaster. Or the ghost of a young boy who survived being thrown clear of another sinking ship, only to be torn apart by a group of large sharks. And there are those missing caretakers, which is a truly creepy real-life mystery.

Overall, there's nothing wrong with "Sharks Of Ghost Island." There's some interesting footage of sharks and you'll be curious to learn if the scientists do indeed discover ten species of sharks in the area. But the special ultimately feels like a bit of a time filler. Which is useful but maybe not all that entertaining.

"Sharks Of Ghost Island" premiered Saturday, August 15th, 2020 on Discovery.

Review: 'Tyson Vs. Jaws: Rumble On The Reef'

Written by 09 August, 2020

Complaining that a Shark Week special was promoted in a misleading way is somewhat like being unhappy when drinking beer doesn't make you more attractive. Hype is hype and while there's nothing wrong with it, you shouldn't be surprised if you're misled a bit while you're being entertained.

Based on the promos for the Discovery Shark Week special Tyson Vs. Jaws: Rumble On The Reef, you might have thought you were going to see an hour-long battle of the brawn between one of the world's most-recognizable boxers and a massive killer shark. The advertising made for some fun viral moments but all of it has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the actual special. In fact, a more accurate title might have been "Mike Tyson Really Doesn't Like Being In Water." The special in the end is entertaining, albeit in a way that leaves you with the sinking feeling you're been misled.

The special begins with a bunch of hype from someone at the UFC and a boxing match-style introduction that promises a battle for all ages. Which makes it even more jarring when we hear from Mike Tyson. He admits that he doesn't much like water or amphibious creatures and while he won't quite admit to being scared by the prospect of meeting some sharks face-to-face, he's definitely extremely concerned. The plan is for shark experts to take the boxer through three tasks, each with increasing "danger." First, a dive in which Tyson comes face-to-face with some sharks while safely inside a protective shark cage. Then it's a dive to hang with some sharks without a cage, with the final task being surrounded by sharks and then stroking one on the nose until it's put to sleep, a procedure which is called "tonic immobility."

The upside of the special is that Tyson does seem legitimately unnerved by being around sharks. That makes for an entertaining hour of television, even if the closest Tyson gets to "battling" a shark is stroking one on the stout until its immobilized.

It's probably not helpful to wonder just how dangerous these tasks might be in real life. Cynics might suspect that Discovery is not going to take a chance on some shark taking a hunk out of Mike Tyson. And as it turns out, the Caribbean and lemon sharks Tyson interacts with aren't especially dangerous. In fact, these are the types of sharks that are often used in human/shark interaction events. This isn't to say that there was zero danger. But none of this was likely to end up in a "brawl to end all brawls."

Tyson Vs. Jaws: Rumble On The Reef is pretty much what you expect from a Shark Week celebrity special. It's entertaining, not especially scientifically accurate, and guaranteed to be the topic of conversation at the office tomorrow if any of us were still going to the office.

How you feel about the special also probably hinges on how you feel about Tyson and his past criminal history. In 1992, he was sentenced to six years in jail after being convicted of raping an 18-year-old woman (he served three). He has also admitted to physically abusing wife Robin Givens during their stormy marriage. In a joint interview with Tyson on 20/20 in September 1988, Givens told Barbara Walters that life with him was "torture, pure hell, worse than anything I could possibly imagine." By all accounts, Tyson has his anger under control now. But whether you're willing to give him a second chance will have a lot to say about whether or not you want to see him cavorting with sharks.

Tyson Vs. Jaws: Rumble On The Reef premieres on Sunday, August 9th, 2020 as part of the kick-off night of Discovery's Shark Week 2020.

Review: 'Maxxx'

Written by 27 July, 2020
Last modified on Saturday, 15 August 2020 00:58

Review: 'Gold Rush: Parker's Trail'

Written by 30 March, 2017

Next to Deadliest Catch, the gold mining-focused Gold Rush might be Discovery's best known reality series. And one of the reasons for that show's success has been young Parker Schnabel, who was a teenage neophyte miner helping out his grandfather when the series began in 2010. Schnabel is now 22 and the close relationship he had with his grandfather was an emotional cornerstone of the series. 

His grandfather recently passed away and Schnabel decided to honor his memory by retracing the steps of the iconic Klondike Trail - the same path that tens of thousands of budding goldminers trekked more than a century ago to reach the gold fields near Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. It's a brutal, nearly 600-mile trek which includes every imaginable obstacle from icy lakes to a 45-degree hike up a mountain pass. 

Joining Schnabel on his experience is his longtime foreman Rick Ness, cameramen James Levelle and wilderness guide Karla Ann, who once worked with Parker as a rock truck driver. The four of them vow to complete the trip without the help of anything mechanically-powered and they also were given cameras to record their trip. The trip is challenging under the best conditions, but the team is tackling it just as winter is closing in. A decision which makes everything much more dangerous.

Based on the first episode (which is all I've seen so far), there are a lot of things to like about the show. If you've seen any episodes of "Gold Rush," you know what to expect from Schnabel. He's young, driven, hard-headed and not afraid to throw his weight around. 

Teaming him up with the casually erratic Rick Ness is a good decision for the show, since Ness underestimates everything about the trip. He spends the night before the trip begins drinking beer and watching him try and scale a 45-degree mountain with a backpack is not unlike watching Fred Flintstone try and do parkour. Wilderness guide Karla Ann brings a very needed badass female POV to the expedition and James Levelle doesn't get in the way while he seems to focus on the technical aspects of the filming.

But for all of the great things about Gold Rush: Parker's Trail, the show suffers from some of the same production problems that drive me crazy when I watch Gold Rush. All reality shows are "guided" by the producers and I recognize that's a necessary evil in the genre. The problem comes when you can see some of the strings being pulled or you see scenes that just don't feel authentic to the show.

In the case of Gold Rush: Parker's Trail, there are a couple of major problems. Early in the episode, the narration makes a big point of discussing the fact that the group is documenting their trip by shooting their own footage and there are plenty of spots that show them doing just that. While it's never stated that a camera crew isn't traveling with them, that's certainly the assumption the viewers might have early on. But as the show progresses, there appear to be a number of shots that were likely shot by an outside crew. There are some overhead shots that seem to have been taken with a drone and a number of shots at a lake that show the four members of the group in the water - taken from different angles. While it's possible the shots were somehow taken by the group with remote cameras, the confusion really disrupts the flow of the action.

My other issue with the premiere episode is that there is one moment that just seems too convenient to be "real." After being stuck at a lakeside site for five days due to high winds, they have a discussion about whether to break their "no mechanical help" rule. Schanbel refuses to reconsider and the group seems stuck indefinitely. That is until a railway push cart is discovered nearby that will allow the group to easily push their boats and gear down the tracks without using mechanical means of propulsion.

Maybe they did just find the cart and it wasn't there due to a little "help" from the production staff. But the scenes are edited in a way that make the coincidence seem even more unlikely to be real. Regardless of the truth, when it appears, you will likely have the same reaction as I did and yell "Oh, C'mon ON!" at your television. And given that it comes at the end of the episode, it ends up leaving a bit of a bad taste in viewer's mouth's leading into week two.

I like "Gold Rush: Parker's Trail" a lot, and I'm sure I'll continue watching. But I am hopeful that the upcoming weeks will be slightly less manipulative and unclear. This is a story that has its own built-in tension. Sometime the best production is the production that just stays out of the way.

"Gold Rush: Parker's Trail" airs on Fridays on Discovery at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Discovery.

Last modified on Sunday, 27 February 2022 00:34

Review: (Get To) The Point

Written by 02 April, 2013

Back in the mid and late 1990s I was hired to work at a fledgling syndicated radio network based in Phoenix. The theory was that we would provide a non-crude, pop-culture talk alternative to what was at the time a talk radio world dominated by Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. I ended up regularly working three shifts a day. During the 3 to 5 a.m. shift, I was partnered with another guy and we basically did an off-kilter look at the day's breaking news. Three hours later I was the male half of a "he said/she said" show that focused a lot on relationships, dating and non-work issues. Much later I hosted a three-hour overnight shift which aired primarily on classic rock stations in the Midwest and South. Three entirely different experiences but I loved all of them.

I mention this not as an excuse to talk about myself, but as a way of framing my review of the CNN show (Get To) The Point, which gets a one-week tryout this week. I don't pretend to know anything about TV talkers, but I do think I have a sense of what it takes to be entertaining and thoughtful in a talk format.

On the face of it, (Get To) The Point is a smart idea for CNN's primetime schedule. In general it's easier to create a compelling ensemble news/talk show than it is to find someone who can carry the entire show on their backs. CNN hasn't given the format a serious try since the heyday of Crossfire and new network head Jeff Zucker should have the background to frame the show in just the right way.

It's always difficult to fairly review a panel show after just one episode, but after watching night one it's apparent that the biggest problem with "(Get To) The Point" is that the panel often gets to the point in the most predictable way possible.

The panel featured CNN contributor and conservative Republican Margaret Hoover, CNBC gadfly and business executive Donny Deutsch, ESPN columnist Rick Reilly, retired NFL player and ESPN NFL analyst Jason Taylor and conservative writer and commentator Kayleigh McEnany.

In theory, all of the panelists have enough media experience to contribute to the mix, but the first topic quickly illustrated the chemistry problem. They began talking about Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who broke his leg in a televised game over the weekend. There was the ritualistic bemoaning of some media outlets continuing to air the footage of the injury. Then when the topic came up of athletes and whether or not they should be paid, ESPN employees Reilly and Taylor both shrugged off the idea, with Donny Deutsch contributing the "well, let's not forget they do get a free scholarship" talking point. Which might have been helpful if it wasn't also an idea that only tells part of the story.

That segment illustrated the lack of diversity and depth in the panel, whether they were discussing gun control or Victoria's Secret models. The conversation during much of the show just lurched from talking point to talking point, with panelists frequently referring to notes or cards that apparently included some fact they wanted to include in one of their "spontaneous" comments.

There were a couple of flashes of real emotion. At one point Reilly responded to the by now over-familiar "find your husband at Princeton" letter with the comment that the writer's attitude was "just a bunch of elitist crap." And Donny Deutsch pushed back strongly against conservative McEnany when she kept referring to the U.S. as being built on "Christian" principles. "And I'm Jewish," he snapped. "So which one of us is correct? Which religion is the better one?

When those moments did occur, quasi-host Margaret Hoover jumped in with some variation of "Hey, let's focus on the things we can all agree on." I suppose CNN didn't want the show to become some modern answer to Crossfire, but the efforts to corral the passion of the panel just intensified the blandness of the conversation.

I'll keep watching this week and I'll probably write another take on the show on Friday. CNN is on the right track with a show like (Get To) The Point, but this iteration of the panel seems to be the wrong one.

Last modified on Friday, 10 December 2021 18:10

Review: 'Parenthood' - 03/09/2010

Written by 19 March, 2010

I have a 21-year-old nephew who is profoundly autistic. He's not another "Rainman," he doesn't have some magical mathematical talent like you see portrayed in so many Hollywood stories. He's a three-year-old trapped in a man's body. He's never going to live on his own, or hold a job or enjoy the simple things that so many of us take for granted. His life is defined by a few TV shows, a couple of trusted teachers and the family home he'll probably live in until my brother and his wife grow too old to care for him.

I understand in the abstract that autism probably doesn't have a genetic link. But when my son Sam was born nearly five years ago, I worried that some aspect of autism would show up in his behavior. When he was diagnosed with Celiac disease, it was a problem I could work with. A life without wheat or barley is not nearly as tough as it used to be. And when he began having some delays in speech, my wife and I worked with him to improve. Because it was a definable challenge that responded well to predictable exercises.

But by the time Sam was three, it was clear that he faced some other challenge. He just seemed "off" in a way that was difficult to define. He didn't react the way you might expect when faced with an unknown social situation. He sometimes stared off in an oddly lost way even when he was in a crowd. When we had him screened by the local school district, they suspected he had a milder form of Autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. Not classic autism exactly, but he would face a childhood filled with social and personal challenges.

I stayed strong throughout the day, assuring my wife and everyone else that Sam would be fine. Then I would sit on the floor at night next to his bed and cry. Not because I feared Sam wouldn't have a normal life. Because odds are that he'll be independent and social and successful. I cried because I thought it was my fault. I cried because I wanted to protect him from the world and the pain I knew he would suffer as he learned to conquer his problems.

Having a child with Asperger's is knowing that your life will be filled with equal parts of joy and sadness. You'll embrace the small victories and concentrate on the days when things go just perfectly. Then there are the days when your child is overwhelmed or moody over some problem you can't decipher. You learn patience and force yourself to not cling too tightly to your child. You try and explain his condition to friends and family who just can't seem to grasp the situation. You live each day as fully as you can. But you never forget that tomorrow may bring some challenge you won't even see coming.

I held off writing about NBC's new drama Parenthood because one of the core story lines involves a couple slowly realizing that their son has Asperger's. I held off watching the pilot for weeks, then when I did I wasn't sure that I could figure out a way to properly review it.

I'll leave it to others to talk about the show in general. Although I will say that it's a wonderfully written and acted series. But what I can speak to more than most is the portrayal of young Max Braverman (played by Max Burkholder, Brother and Sisters).

I could quibble about some of the details of his story. For instance, it's difficult to believe that he could be in grade school and not have been screened at some point for Asperger's. But putting aside those issues, the character of Max is written in a way that is instantly recognizable to any parent facing these same issues.

There is a scene towards the end of the first episode when Max and his father Adam (Peter Krause, Six Feet Under) are standing outside of a recital being given by a family member. Max is happily splashing in the mud and Adam's hard-ass father Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) comes outside to ask why Adam and Max aren't inside watching the show.

Adam explains that Max can't go in because there are candles inside. And Max won't walk past candles. Zeek just can't comprehend the problem--it sounds childish and silly. He keeps making comments until Adam turns to him with tears in his eyes. And he says "Dad...there's something wrong with Max....There's something wrong and I'm going to need your help."

My wife and I have been there. Those moments when everything is wrong with the world and it all seems so unfair. But that episode of Parenthood ends with another moment that any parent who has a child with Asperger's would recognize. Max unexpectedly asks to play baseball and rejoin "his team." It's those moments of surprise and normalcy that make it all worthwhile.

In tonight's episode, Max's parents are faced with the official diagnosis of Asperger's and I won't ruin the plot twists and turns. But I will say that it's another example of the painful joy that my wife and I have experienced in the past several years.

Jason Katims is an executive producer and the showrunner of Parenthood and he has a child with Asperger's. In interviews, he has said that he wanted to portray Asperger's in as accurate a light as possible. If the first two episodes are any indication, he has succeeded completely.

Parenthood isn't easy for me to watch. But there's something comforting in being reminded that my wife and I aren't alone in this. Other families have gotten through this and we will too.

I don't want to make Parenthood sound self-important or stuffy. For the majority of viewers, it's going to be nothing more than a well-made drama that's worth watching every week. But "Parenthood" also offers viewers a small window into the world of Asperger's. When you see those scenes, know that there are a lot of families out there living out these moments in real life.

Last modified on Friday, 03 December 2021 13:47

Review: 'K-Ville'

Written by 17 September, 2007

There are times when I just don't understand my fellow TV critics.

Many of the early reviews of Fox's new drama K-Ville have argued that it's too early to do a cop drama set in New Orleans. That the wounds are too raw, that the pain from Katrina shouldn't be mined for popular entertainment.

And yet, I would argue the opposite. At its best, primetime TV can offer a glimpse into a different world. It can give viewers a sense of what it's like to live in post-Katrina New Orleans. It's ludicrous to claim that TV dramas shouldn't tackle such complicated and difficult subject matters. To make that argument is to limit dramas to courtroom dramas and sci-fi shows.

I wasn't sure what to expect from K-Ville before I watched the pilot several months ago. I wanted the show to be use New Orleans as one of the stars of the series, without manipulating the audience with cheap pulls on the heart. It does all that and more, making it the first great drama of the fall season.

K-Ville opens during the worst of Katrina's devastation. Police Officer Marlin Boulet (Anthony Anderson) scrambles to help the wounded while his partner Chuck slowly loses his grip. Chuck jumps in their squad car and abandons Boulet on a bridge overpass, leaving him to deal with the carnage as best he can.

The show picks up two years later and Boulet is still struggling. But now it's a struggle to believe in his city, to convince his wife and kids to return from their temporary home in Atlanta. Boulet is determined to rebuild his house and his decimated Ninth Ward neighborhood. He manages to believe, even when it seems no one has the stomach for it.

As in all cop shows, Boulet can't stay partnerless forever, and he's teamed up with Trevor Cobb (Cole Hauser), a former "special-ops" soldier who seems to know the city pretty well for a non-native. Cobb claims to have moved to New Orleans after his tour of duty in Afghanistan, but it's pretty clear that he has a lot to hide.

Doing a show about the New Orleans police department is a gutsy move, regardless of Katrina. The NOPD has long had a shaky reputation with the city's residents. There have been numerous claims of corruption and violence, and even before the flooding, New Orleans was one of the most violent cities in the U.S.

K-Ville doesn't sugarcoat the violence or corruption, although those are both topics that can also seem trite and predictable for an urban crime drama. But the corruption of the NOPD also gives Boulet's efforts an even more heroic feel. He doesn't care about how much he has lost, or how much the city has struggled. He sees the end game, and he is going to get there if he has to drag everyone in New Orleans with him.

The premiere episode deals with a series of mysterious shootings, which are ultimately tied to real estate. It's a plan that could only make sense in New Orleans, which in real life is struggling with claims that developers are buying large swaths of devastated houses on formerly black neighborhoods in an effort to remake the city in a more gentrified manner.

The pilot of K-Ville isn't perfect. There are some lapses of logic and a couple of scenes that seem to only exist as a way to kick up the action for viewers. But what fascinates me about the episode (and the two additional scripts I've read), is that creator Jonathan Lisco is trying to create a show with a real sense of place. K-Ville looks like no other show on TV, and frankly, that's a very positive thing.

You're going to rightfully read a lot of raves about new dramas like Reaper and Pushing Daisies. Those are both quirky shows, and TV critics love to write about them in the same way that music critics like to review Bob Dylan. It's fun being hip and quirky and new.

But don't let the critics lack of enthusiasm about K-Ville keep you from watching. The cast is solid and compelling and setting the show in New Orleans gives it all a resonance that is completely unique.

K-Ville isn't perfect, but it's already pretty good. In some ways, it's a lot like The Closer. It's a show about acting and heart and redemption. With any luck, the same audience that found The Closer will find K-Ville.

K-Ville premieres Monday, September 17th, 2007 on Fox.

Last modified on Tuesday, 25 January 2022 23:54

Review: 'Pearl'

Written by 17 September, 2000

I will be the first to admit that I don't care much for Malcolm McDowell. It's not that he's a bad actor, but his roles haven't been memorable ones for me. Usually, when I hear his name, I get confused and say, "Wasn't he in that Planet of The Apes movie?" So when I heard he was going to be in a sitcom, teamed with Cheer's alumni Rhea Perlman...well, I had a sinking feeling that this was going to as painful to watch as the average High School student performance of "Hamlet".

Imagine my surprise when I saw Pearl and found a funny, quirky sitcom. It's not great yet, but there is a lot of potential.

Rhea Perlman plays Pearl, a working class Mom who finds herself widowed at an early age and decides to go back to school. She applies to the local community college and finds herself dropped into an unfamiliar world, populated with students who are at best, offbeat. And while she's a tough character, she runs into someone just as tough, a sadistic blow hard of a Humanities professor, played by Malcolm McDowell.

You could probably write the story from there. She has trouble fitting in, she quits the class, decides to come back, and upstages the Professor. At the same time, she banters and mothers her fellow students, educating them as much as they teach her.

This is one of the shows that you can't examine too closely. The pilot is written by Don Reo, who has been working on The John Laroquette Show. And like that one, Pearl is charming despite itself. There are some funny lines, and an underlying energy that blows you past the astounding leaps in logic. It was directed by veteran James Burrows and he manages to make the most of the material by visually forcing the material into shape. Try not to think about the fact that the school looks more like Harvard than the average community college, and Malcolm McDowell is certainly too self-important to be teaching there.

There's a lot to like about the series. Everyone is trying way too hard right now, but that's typical in a pilot. CBS may have a winner here, and Rhea Perlman may be the luckiest woman on television. The show was originally scheduled to air on Wednesdays, but the problems with Ink have given her this time slot, between Cosby and Murphy Brown. And I think he's gonna make the most of it.

Beside the leads, there are a couple of other recognizable faces. Carol Kane makes an appearance with a strange inspirational tale of Jay Leno's fear of the open sky. And fans of Unhappily Ever After may recognize Nikki Cox, who plays a sexy, sarcastic coed.

Pearl airs on CBS Mondays at 8:30 PM Eastern.


Rhea Perlman

Malcolm McDowell

Carol Kane

Kevin Corrigan

Nikki Cox

Dash Mihok

Lucy Alexis Lui


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Review: 'SNL's Best Of John Belushi'

Written by

I have to admit that I have a strong prejudice towards John Belushi. Besides being talented, he was hell of a nice guy. At least, he was always nice to me.

When I first moved to Chicago, I used to hang out down by Second City, and this was just the time when Belushi and company were in town filming The Blues Brothers movie. And he and the crew set up an informal and semi-private private club across the street. So most nights, you could find him in there, partying away until the early morning. And my first sight of him was when I walked in the door the first time, as he was pulling his head out of a giant container of ice, attempting to keep himself going.

The trouble with my memories, and most of my other thoughts about him is that they don't matter much anymore. He's been gone for more than a decade, and the public's memories fade. WTBS has aired The Blues Brothers and Animal House to death, but it's hard for people to appreciate his talent past that. And their remembrances of his Saturday Night Live work are colored by Chris Farley, who professed his love for the man by cranking out a number of sketches and movies that screamed, "Hey! I'm a fat guy!"

Which is why it's good to see SNL airing this special, because it's a reminder to everyone how subtle Belushi's acting could be.

The 90-minute special kicked off with his first appearance on the show, a sketch with the late Michael O'Donohue in which he played a foreign-speaking immigrant going through language lessons that seemed to involve a lot of talk weasels and wolverines.

And it also included the segments that you would expect: The Blues Brothers, Belushi's impression of Joe Cocker, his marvelous turn as Captain Kirk in the final mission of the Enterprise.

But as you watch the clips, you recognize the difference between John and someone like Chris Farley. Farley was massive, throwing himself on the set, using his bulk as a comedic weapon to bludgeon everyone into submission.

Belushi had a light comedic touch when he needed it, and his facial expressions were wry and incredibly effective. Watching his eyes dance during the Samarai Deli clip, and the way he paced the scenes of his Mozart impressions, you get a sense of how effective an actor he could be. And his ability to talk effectively and precisely made his segments on the news set with Jane Curtin a beautiful dance to watch.

The show ended with a scene that's easily the most ironic thing ever filmed on SNL. A "Schiller's Reel" piece in which an elderly Belushi went to visit the graves of all of the other cast members. He was the last survivor, he said, because he was a "dancer."

You were much more than that, John. And we miss you.


Review: The 1000th Episode Of 'The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno'

Written by

Jay Leno celebrated an anniversary last night, and it's characteristic of him that he didn't make a big deal about it. September 24th marked the 1000th episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno and while he didn't formally toast the event, the show that he did do illustrated everything that's right and wrong with the program.

The show opened with a sight gag, Leno walking across the stage as a counter clicked from 999 to 1000. But the monologue that followed was as mundane as his usual effort. Sometimes when you watch him work, longtime fans must wonder where his comedic inner clock has disappeared to. As a stand-up comedian, Leno was always able to find the perfect punchline for a joke. He was well known for honing and honing material until it was flawless-with not a spare word in the sentence.

But as a talk show host, much of that inner sense of humor has seemed to evaporate into the ether. Even on his 1000th episode-on what should be a special occasion-Leno only got three jokes into his monologue before he hit a wall, commenting, "Geez, you think I would have learned more in 1000 shows." Part of the problem is that he simply does too many jokes up front. No matter how talented your writing staff, you can't crank out 9 or 10 minutes worth of material a night. That sort of pressure leads to a mind-numbing procession of inane punchlines and mugging that would have mortified a younger Leno.

They have tried to work around the problem by inserting a number of brief pre-taped bits into his monologue. So the audience is treated to quick visual jokes of a Clinton look-alike puffing on a bong to the caption, "Got Pot?". On this, like on most, the quick bits get the biggest laughs, but even those are unfocused and only hitting 50% of the time.

After the monologue, he did a bit called, "What I have Learned", which involved Leno introducing taped pieces that are supposed to illustrate the many things he's learned over the course of 1000 shows. This was not his finest moment, especially when you consider that the funniest line involved Jason Alexander picking a huge wad of lint out of his navel. What has Jay learned? Apparently, not enough.

It's when Leno brings out his guests that he really shows what he's learned. Leno is by no means a flawless interviewer. But over the 1000 shows he's learned much about what it takes to bring the best out of a guest. And he's able to smoothly nudge the interview in the direction he needs it to go.

The guests were Michael Jordan and Elizabeth Hurley and in both cases he did what he was supposed to do. He allowed them to promote their current project and still kept the program from teetering into an informercial. Unlike David Letterman, who oftentimes is anti-social to the extremes, Leno seems to genuinely like most people and that comfort translates into a gently entertaining program.

Watching the Tonight Show on a regular basis can be a frustrating experience. Watching Leno work is like watching Pete Rose play baseball in his last troubled season. Everyone loves him, and you still see the flashes of greatness. But all too often, he's just coasting on memories.


Review: 'Oh, Baby!'

Written by 18 August, 1998

One of the frustrating things about being a TV critic is that every so often, you see someone that *should* be a star. But they end up buried in thankless roles in hapless programs. And you find yourself secretly hoping that someday they'll finally get their chance to shine.

I've always felt that way about Cynthia Stevenson. She's suffered through a procession of roles that only hinted at her talents. She first popped up in a recurring role as Norm Peterson's obsessive secretary on Cheers, but it was all downhill from there. She had a stint as "Trisha," Bob Newhart's daughter on the quickly canceled sitcom, Bob; a starring role on Hope And Gloria; she even played the budding talk show host in the syndicated series My Talk Show. But the programs never lasted, and she was always left being the actress who should have been a contender.

Oh, Baby! is the type of sitcom that the broadcast network weasels would never green-light. While the broadcast executives have no problem airing a series with a lot of sex or violence, pitching a show where the lead is artificially inseminated would have heads exploding all over the executive suite.

It's their loss.

Stevenson plays Tracy, a woman in her 30's with a biological clock ticking like a bomb at a South African Planet Hollywood. She'd love to settle down, and hopes to get married someday. Unfortunately, her boyfriend Grant is not exactly the domestic type.

Tracy takes us through the scenes that led up to her decision to be artificially inseminated, beginning with her three-year anniversary celebration with the moron de jour Grant, who pulls out a black jewelry box over dinner and proceeds to give her...a turquoise ring. As she tells him, that's not exactly an engagement ring..."unless you're an Aztec."

Things don't get much better at work, as it seems like every woman in the office is pregnant but her. And she doesn't exactly have a great bunch of people to use as a support group. Her best friend Charlotte (Joanna Gleason)is the office psychiatrist and after two divorces she's turned into the world of romance's dark princess. Tracy's mother (Jessica Walter) is incapable of having any conversation without the word "I" in it, and her brother Ernie (Matt Champagne) is living a life of quiet desperation, stuck in middle management and in the midst of an unhappy marriage when all he really wants to do is go to Europe and paint.

I couldn't be farther away from the target market for this series, but I really enjoyed it. Stevenson is delightful, the insemination seems logical and not at all a plot device, and I was left wanting more.

Which, now that I think about it, is the same feeling that has gripped Tracy. Geez, maybe that *is* my biological clock ticking away...

Oh, Baby! premieres Tuesday, August 18th, 1998 on Lifetime.

Last modified on Friday, 21 August 2020 22:31

Review: 'Millennium' - 05/15/1998

Written by 15 May, 1998

I suspect that every producer, when faced with the prospect of having their show canceled, toys with the idea of just killing off everyone in the cast.

Of course, that bright idea can backfire. When Magnum P.I. looked as if it were going to be pulled, producers killed Magnum off, only to find themselves having to bring him back to life when the show was renewed by CBS for one last season.

The future for Millennium hasn't been much brighter. The show has never been much of a ratings success during its two year run, and even though it will probably return next season, that certainly didn't seem to be the case before this season's finale was taped.

So given all of that, I suppose it's not too surprising that producers decided to make this episode the ultimate cliffhanger--by threatening to kill off much of the human race.

Millennium started last season as a "serial killer-of-the-week" series, with Lance Henriksen's "Frank Black" coming off as some psychically talented Columbo. His character was more mopey than intense, and it was never clear to me why wife Megan Gallagher would have ever stuck with him.

The show was revamped this season, and for the first 7 or 8 episodes it continued to flounder. The mysterious Millennium Group was more prominently featured, but it wasn't at all clear exactly what they hoped to accomplish. Frank found himself separated from his wife and child and the series seem destined for cancellation.

But by mid-season, things had stabilized and there was a consistent vision and direction for the show. The Millennium Group turned out to be an organization over 2,000 years old, descendants of an early Christian offshoot group who believed that the new Millennium would be death and destruction to the human race. And there were in fact two warring factions in the Millennium group--those who believed that the coming apocalypse could be lightened or dodged, and those who believed that the horrific events were inevitable, and all that the Group could hope for was to save a few worthy candidates.

Thrown into this mix was a new character, Lara Means. She is in many ways the complimentary soul to Frank Black's. They have similar gifts of precognition, but hers are relentlessly violent and sad. She is dominated by her gifts, and hasn't been able to come to terms with why she was given the insight that she has. She believes in the group more than Frank, because she needs to believe in something--needs to believe that her gifts are truly gifts...and not a curse.

On the other hand, Frank has slowly turned from The Millennium Group. He starts to realize that their agenda is selfish and without mercy, and has continued to fight with his group sponsor Peter Watts.

All of which leads us to the season finale--a twisted tale of betrayal and death. There's a plague coming--a quick acting virus which kills within hours and which seems likely to kill most if not all of humanity.

Frank discovers that the group has knowledge of the virus--in fact, they've developed a vaccine and they've secretly inoculated the members with the cure. They seem resigned or willing to let humanity die off--leaving only the chosen few still around to carry on.

By the episode's end, all hell has literally broken loose. The virus sweeps through the world, Peter has apparently been captured or killed by the group, Lara is insane and locked up, and Frank attempts to run for the hills with his family.

The final scenes show Frank and his daughter still alive, his wife most likely dead from suicide, left with nothing but the sounds of a civilization ending.

Now, this is a finale...

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Review: 'Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher

Written by 28 August, 1996

If you saw the recent movie Multiplicity, you understand the concept of cloning: You can clone the original and get a pretty good copy...but when you start cloning the copies, the results are unpredictable. It's the same way with comedians. You can clone Jerry Lewis and get a pretty funny Jim Carrey. But when you start cloning Jim Carrey, you get, well...Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher.

Mitch Mullany stars as Nick Freno, and it's a pretty simple plot. He's an unsuccessful actor, who stumbles into substitute teaching. He's wacky, he's irreverent and he slowly discovers that he loves both the kids and the teaching. Throw in a cute fellow teacher, a tough, inflexible Dean of Discipline and you've got a show that even Gabe Kaplan would be embarrassed to be seen in.

Mullany is best known for being "White Mike" on The Wayans Brothers Show. And he shows all the self-control that you would expect from a guy called "White Mike". He mugs, he smirks, he throws himself around the set like the Tazmanian Devil on acid. There's a lot of action, but there isn't any heart. And even more fatal, there isn't much humor. I'm sure that everyone associated with the show means well. And watching the program isn't a painful experience. But it may make you a little dizzy...and send you over to Nick At Nite for some reruns of Welcome Back Kotter.

Nick Freno: Licensed Teacher airs Wednesday nights on the WB.

Nick Freno............Mitch Mullany
Kurt Fust.............Stuart Pankin
Sarah.................Cara Delizia
Orlando...............Jonathan Hernandez
Davey.................Kyle Gibson
Tyler.................Ross Malinger
Jared.................Arjay Smith

The show was created by and is Executive Produced by Marc Warren and Dennis Ringler. They worked on Full House for eight seasons, and executive produced it for the last three. They are also co-executive producers with Robert Townsend on The Parent 'Hood.


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