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Published: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

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A Trump Voter Plays ‘Black Jeopardy’: Watch This Politically Incorrect, Weirdly Moving SNL Skit

Mon, 24 Oct 2016 08:30:00 -0400

An amazing skit from the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live offers a glimmer of hope that our national political dialogue can still be salvaged once this unrelentingly divisive and demoralizing campaign season is done. Like a lot of good satire, the skit is politically incorrect, relying on stereotypes that the social-justice-left might find upsetting. And yet it says something important about our common humanity. And it's funny! That's the most important thing. Background: "Black Jeopardy," hosted by Kenan Thompson, is a recurring skit on SNL. In this old, representative episode, white person Louis CK is pitted against two black contestants, and fails miserably to answer impossible questions that are hyper-specific to black culture and language. (Answer: "She think she cute." Question: "Who is Monique?") Now watch Saturday's episode, in which the third contestant is a white dude wearing a Make America Great Again hat played by Tom Hanks. The joke, of course, is that Hanks' character "Doug," despite being a Trump supporter—and all the malicious backwardness that implies—is actually more clued-in to the show's logic than Louis CK's character, and has more in common with the black contestants than one might expect. Doug, for instance, is able to successfully answer "They out here saying, the new iPhone wants your thumbprint 'for your protection,'" with "What is 'I don't think so, that's how they get you?'" "Yes!" Thompson cheers. Black contestant Keeley nods in agreement. "I don't trust that," she says. "Me neither," says the third contestant, Shanice. Doug's winning streak continues. After Keeley correctly answers "Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween" to the question "They out here saying, this movie doesn't deserve an Oscar," Doug notes that he also enjoys the Madea movies, which prompts Thompson to shake his hand. The racial/ethnic/political harmony might be short-lived: the final Jeopardy category "Lives That Matter," draws the remark, "well, it was good while it lasted," from Thompson. The writing for this skit is clever and funny, and it actually makes a good point: Politics may try desperately to divide us, but people who have been carelessly written off into different interest groups can still share common interests far more meaningful than their party identification. Good on SNL for finding something profound and funny to say about Trump voters. Of course, it took practically no time at all for the left-of-center media to attempt to ruin the moment. Cue The Hill: "Tom Hanks Mocks Trump Supporters in 'SNL' Skit." Talk about missing the point: "Doug," a contestant on the game show "Black Jeopardy," sports a signature "Make America Great Again" hat. Hanks's character, a conspiracy theorist, distrusts the electoral system. "They out here saying that every vote counts," one of the questions in the game reads. "What is, 'C'mon, they already decided who wins, even before it happens,' " answers Hanks, who said earlier this month that he was "offended as a man" by Trump's lewd talk about groping women without their consent in a leaked video from 2005. The late-night comedy show appeared to be mocking Trump's claims that the election is being rigged against him. During the third presidential debate of 2016, the GOP nominee refused to say whether he would accept the results of the presidential election. The Hill's recap glosses over the fact that Doug's answer, "they already decided who wins, even before it happens," is the correct one. It draws an exuberant, "Yes! The Illuminati already figured that out months ago," from Thompson. SNL isn't mocking Doug's ignorance—it's suggesting one of two things: either that conspiracy theorizing is cross-ideological, or that the idea of a rigged election isn't totally insane, from the perspective of black people. (And hey, it's not!) If SNL is "mocking" Trump voters, it's also making the more sophisticated point that you might not loathe the average Trump voter as much as you would expect, if you stopped to talk to him. The Dougs of the world have redeeming qualities, e[...]

CBS Limps to the Finish Line with Three Lackluster New Shows

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Man with a Plan. CBS. Monday, October 24, 8:30 p.m. The Great Indoors. CBS. Thursday, October 27, 8:30 p.m. Pure Genius. CBS. Thursday, October 27, 10 p.m. My chum and former editor Virginia Postrel once wrote a book called The Future and Its Enemies. If she watches TV this week, she'll undoubtedly add a new chapter on CBS. Its three new sitcoms all cling ferociously (if, in one case, hilariously) to the past. If this keeps up, CBS—where the age of the average viewer is already 59, by far the eldest of any broadcast net—will have to change its boastful slogan from The Tiffany Network to The Methuselah Network. Before we get into a detailed necropsy, it's worth noting that this is the final week of the fall TV season's rollout, delayed a bit at CBS until its Thursday-night football schedule wrapped up. There's no sign of a breakout hit among the new shows, and this final group of CBS stragglers is unlikely to change that. If anything, the madly contemptuous tone toward millennials that drips from every scathing frame of the sitcom The Great Indoors is liable to actually raise the average age of the CBS audience not just to Social Security-benefit age but to the point where undertakers are setting up tents on the front lawn. Joel McHale (Community) plays Jack, a ballsy and distinctly middle-aged adventure reporter who's surprised when his outdoors magazine calls him home from an assignment living among bears. If you work in the journalism biz these days, the conversation with his publisher that follows needs no spoiler alert: Outdoor Limits, his magazine, is teetering on bankruptcy. The print edition is folding, there's no money left for tramping around wolverine lairs, and Jack is being brought home to supervise a team of young Web rats—"the digital day-care division," as he labels it—who know lots about the click-bait potential of frolicking-kitten videos and hipster listicles on surviving a zombie apocalypse, nothing about journalism or living outdoors. On the other side of the divide, Jack's experience with the interwebs is limited to posting a dancing-baby video on his MySpace page two decades ago. What follows is predictably murderous. The easily triggered kids ("I got passed over for a promotion again? What do I have to do? I've been here eight weeks!") regard Jack as a prehistoric artifact—as one says, "a human version of dial-up." Marvels another: "He has no Twitter, no Facebook. It's like he doesn't exist." The head of the magazine's HR department commiserates with Jack—"sometimes I want to beat them senseless with their selfie sticks"—but bluntly warns him there's no escape. "They're the only reason any of us is still employed, so get used to it. Generational warfare has been a television staple at least since Archie Bunker and the Meathead went at it more than four decades ago in All in the Family. And, misopedist Baby Boomer that I am, I'll admit to laughing gleefully at a lot of the snowflake-kiddie jokes, not to mention the idea of peddling $12 "ironic Spam sandwiches" to hipsters. But The Great Indoors flouts the fundamental Geneva Convention rule of generation-gap humor—equal hostility towards all—in its relentlessly one-sided assault on millennials; virtually every line that draws blood comes at their expense. It doesn't require an overdeveloped sense of empathy to see that, for anybody under 40, the show is going to feel less like a comedic experience than the receiving end of a gang-bang. When the show was screened for TV critics this summer, a press conference with the cast and producers nearly turned into a fistfight. In the demographic-centric world of television, that's poisonous. The Great Indoors may turn out to be a historic moment, the Custer's Last Stand of Baby Boomer television, but the key word there is "moment." The week's lone drama debut, Pure Genius, tries to take the opposite track, draping itself in the technotrappings of the digital future, but its heart is pure analog. Augustus Prew (The Borgias) plays a young Silicon Valley zillionaire w[...]

Mike Rowe Wears Trump’s Robe, Fights a Drone, and Solves the Labor Shortage

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:00:00 -0400

What's life like for Mike Rowe without a network television show? Since Somebody's Gotta Do It is no longer on CNN Rowe has had his privacy violated by a drone, the former host of Dirty Jobs survived the rumors of his own death swirling about the internet, and in the home stretch of an ugly presidential election, he worries more than ever about unemployment, the skills gap, and a widespread loss of meaning in American life. Yet Rowe himself remains more popular than ever. Days after Rowe read a letter from his mother detailing how she lost her purse at Wal-Mart, the post went hyperviral. It was seen by over 100 million people – "a third of the country!" he exclaims. "I've never seen anything like it," Rowe tells Reason TV, "I've talked to people at Facebook who said they've never seen anything like it." Rowe has also found a way to turn C.R.A.P – that's Collectibles, Rare and Precious – into philanthropy. His auction of a swanky Trump Tower bathrobe, signed by The Donald himself, fetched a cool $16,000 on eBay. The money then trickled down from the alleged billionaire to The Mike Rowe Works Foundation, which funds "work ethic scholarships" that provide out-of-luck workers with valuable skills for the modern economy. Nick Gillespie caught up with Mike Rowe in Nashville, Tennessee to chat about his affection for the Second Amendment, his adventures in podcasting, the 2016 election, the secret to extracting semen from a prize racehorse, and more. Produced by Todd Krainin. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Paul Detrick and Krainin. INTERVIEW CONTENTS 0:00 - Teaser. 0:45 - Intro. 1:05 - Naked Mike Rowe and a Mossberg 500 vs. a drone. 7:39 - What happened to Somebody's Gotta Do It? 11:34 - Have we lost touch with the important things in life? 15:50 - Work ethic scholarships. 18:56 - How to extract semen from a prize racehorse. 21:45 - Donald Trump's robe 23:33 - Thoughts on free trade. 31:02 - Thoughts on occupational licensure. 34:50 - The false choices of American life. 36:30 - The secret to a successful career: Love the hard work. 40:05 - The Way I Heard It and a massively popular letter from Rowe's mother. INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Check against video for accuracy. Nick Gillespie Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason TV and we are sitting down with Mike Rowe of the Mike Rowe Works Foundation and of recently of Somebody's Gotta Do It and Dirty Jobs. Mike Rowe, thanks for talking to Reason TV. Mike Rowe Last time I saw you, you were wearing that same jacket and I was wearing this same hat. Gillespie Well there you go. What goes around comes around. Now, the two headlines that you are most famous for most recently are 'Naked Mike Rowe' and 'Mike Rowe Dead' What uh why were you naked and how did that lead to you being dead? Rowe Well it's a big week. I was uh in the midst of what I thought was some bizarre gardening dream and in the dream uh a bumblebee was in my ear. And when I awakened I realized A: It wasn't a dream and B: It wasn't a bee. But there was a buzzing sound and it was coming from the other side of my bedroom window and I leapt from the bed in what I described as my favorite pair of imaginary pajamas. And I pulled the drapes aside and there was a camera hovering, not in mid air, but from the belly of a drone and the drone was making this horrible buzzing sound. And I was standing there in my horrible nakedness not fully awake but sentient enough to know that something had to be done. So I retreated to the uh bed, pulled the Mossberg 500 from underneath. Gillespie And, by the way, do you get a uh is that a product placement? Rowe It's not. I just like the way I feel when I say Mossberg 500. It's a great shotgun. I keep it locked and loaded and the familiar chunk-chunk is very gratifying. Gillespie Now, this is in San Francisco. Rowe It is. Gillespie So is that legal to have a locked and loaded shotgun? Rowe It's it's it's it's hard to know. Uh but uh probably not. Gillespie Okay. So, now you're naked with a shotgun. And the drone. [...]

New Cable Thrillers Pick Up Where Broadcast Premieres End

Fri, 14 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Berlin Station. Epix. Sunday, October 16, 9 p.m. Eyewitness. USA. Sunday, October 16, 10 p.m. Looking at the schedule this week, it's hard not to see a metaphor for the roiling changes in television. The broadcast networks take a break in their anachronistic fall rollout, on which they spent hundreds of millions of dollars and drove dozens of marketing focus groups insane—and cable quickly steps in with a pair of high-impact dramas which, though cheaper and lacking any big name stars, are at least as good as anything the broadcasters have offered up this fall. And one of them you can watch for free on-line! (For a couple of episodes, anyway.) USA's Eyewitness and Epix's Berlin Station share little but their high quality. Eyewitness is a conventional if extraordinarily well-executed crime thriller that grabs you almost from the first frame. Berlin Station is more of a slow burn, a grim, complex tale of spies on an existential treadmill who no longer remember why they got on but lack any idea of how to get off. Eyewitness is adapted from the Norwegian series Øyevitne, but its premise—teenagers on an illicit rendezvous witness a crime, but can't report it without giving themselves away—is as old as, well, teenagers. (My favorite example is Pat Frank's exquisitely paranoid Cold War novel, Forbidden Area, subsequently adapted for TV, in which a couple making out on the beach spot the arrival of a Soviet saboteur but don't tell anybody, which nearly leads to nuclear holocaust. Talk about the wages of sin!) Eyewitness gives the premise a very modern twist: The teenagers are gay. Lukas (James Paxton, Term Life) is a high school in-crowder who doesn't think his popularity would survive coming out of the closet. ("I don't wanna be that guy...nobody wants me to be that guy.") Philip (Tyler Young, When We Rise) is less uncomfortable on that score, but as a socially marginal foster kid, newly arrived at the small-town school from a drug-addled household in the city, feels he's in no position to argue. So when they witness a drug shootout in the woods that ends with four bodies on the ground, their lips stay sealed. Yet the complications are many. One of the supposed drug dealers was an undercover FBI agent, which brings federal interest. The local police chief (Julianne Nicholson) is not only Philip's foster mother (which allows him to surreptitiously monitor her investigation, but also stokes his paranoia) but also a former big-city homicide detective with a harrowing secret in her past. Worst of all, one of those drug dealers wasn't really dead—and now he's searching for the boys. Eyewitness is written and produced by Dutch-born Adi Hasak, who also created Øyevitne. His Hollywood resume is thin but nonetheless impressive; he's collaborated with Luc Bresson on a couple of thrillers (Three Days To Kill and Shadow Conspiracy) and created Shades of Blue, the startlingly good corrupt-cop crime drama that NBC used as late-in-the-year filler last season. Eyewitness gives every reason to think Hasak's got a promising career ahead of him. His script for the pilot episode is a model of expositional economy that lays down a complicated premise in just a few minutes, then adds complicating elements one by one. He has also somehow managed to capture the Nordic-noir feel of Øyevitne without the by-now cliched use of bleak weather. The intrusion of urban mayhem into the pastoral small-town setting gives Eyewitness an unsettlingly claustrophobic sense of a village under siege. You may not want to live there, but I bet you'll want to visit once a week. Berlin Station is anything but bucolic. Its astringent Berlin venues—soulless skyscrapers, neo-Isherwoodian techno clubs and harshly lit spy cubbyholes—are the sere landscape for this somber tale of spies who can't come in from the cold. Produced by, among others, spy novelist Olen Steinhauer and veteran TV writer-producer Bradford Winters (whose screenplays cover an impressive chronology from The Borgias[...]

Trio of New Comedies Targets Female Viewers

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 14:00:00 -0400

American Housewife. ABC. Tuesday, October 11, 8:30 p.m. Divorce. HBO. Sunday, October 9, 10 p.m. Insecure. HBO. Sunday, October 9, 10:30 p.m. "The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is: 'What does a woman want?'" A sitcom, dude. Three of them, written by and oriented toward women, debut this week. But if you're seeking some sort of gender epiphany, this may not be the right milieu: Sisterhood may be powerful, but it definitely isn't commonality. ABC's American Housewife—the lone new broadcast show this week as the deluge of fall premieres slows to a trickle—is at once the most conventional and the funniest of the three. It's the latest dysfunctional-family comedy of the line spawned by Married ... With Children 30 years ago, which has expanded to dominate television so thoroughly that it's hard to remember a time when Ozzie and Harriet and Ward and June stalked the Earth, sniffing out and snuffing the unwholesome. That is definitely not the mission of American Housewife lead Katie Otto (Katy Mixon, much beloved as the corpulent party girl Victoria on Mike & Molly these many years). The self-proclaimed third-fattest housewife of Westport, Connecticut, her life goal is to not move up to No. 2, a modest ambition that seems doomed by the imminent departure of Fat Pam across the street. More forlornly, Katie takes an occasional half-heated stab at coaxing her youngest children—little OCDed-out Anna Kat, determined to lead a friend-free life after learning other kids carry germs, and her uber-Randian older brother Oliver, whose preferred bathroom reading is the Robb Report—towards normality. And exactly the reverse with teenager Taylor, whose previously recessive hot-chick gene has just blossomed, threatening to turn her into one of the air-kissing, Stepford Wife size twos who are the bane of Katie's existence. Of little help in these endeavors is husband Greg (Diedrich Bader, The Drew Carey Show), who mostly passively observes events from his perch on the upstairs toilet. The desperate-parents-and-damaged-kids formula of American Housewife is certainly nothing new. But creator and producer Sarah Dunn has had a long career path through some of TV's most successful sitcoms, from Veronica's Closet to Murphy Brown to Spin City, and she's learned a good deal along the way. American Housewife may be a knockoff rather than a tapestry, but it includes threads of wistfulness, paranoia and willful social deviance that will make you look twice. Or even thrice. I was floored by Oliver's retort to his mother's lecture about the virtues of unselfishness. "If I thought I might be a girl on the inside, you'd let me wear a skirt to school," he snapped. "This is no different. I should be allowed to be who I am." At the opposite end of the hilarity scale is HBO's Divorce, where the dialogue mostly runs along the lines of an embittered wife snapping at her overweight husband, "Keep spooning it in, you fat fuck." Rimshot: He collapses of a heart attack and goes into a coma. Created by British actress Sharon Horgan and co-produced by star Sarah Jessica Parker, Divorce chronicles the disintegration of the loveless wedlock of a middle-aged suburban couple, Frances (Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church, Sideways). After seeing one of her best friend's marriages end literally in gunfire, Frances announces, "I want to save my life while I still care about it." That entails walking out on Robert to shack up with her professor boyfriend, who it turns out is unenthusiastic about evolving their relationship from "dirty little secret" to "bourgeois affair." That sends her ping-ponging back to Robert, who's also evolved: from broken-hearted to Defcon 5. What follows is the unrelievedly grim blow-by-blow of what HBO's publicity materials discouragingly refer to as "a very, very long divorce." It's tempting to see Divorce as a seque[...]

The Sitcom and the Surveillance State

Fri, 07 Oct 2016 08:05:00 -0400

One of the weirdest half-hours of nominally normal 1960s television is "Top Secret," a 1963 episode of My Three Sons. This almost invasively wholesome series starred Fred MacMurray as Steve Douglas, an aeronautical engineer raising three boys after his wife's death. In this installment, he has to work at home on a classified project; to keep everything secure, the house is put under surveillance. "We'll handle this job as though the Douglas family was out to blow up New York City," one agent explains to his colleagues. "Every word, every move, every meaningful silence—that's our assignment, from Top Level Pentagon." An apparatus built to combat external and internal threats will be used instead on an ordinary American family, for what we are assured is the common good. For the rest of the episode the government invades everyone's privacy, but the biggest victims appear to be the feds themselves, who are bored to tears by what they find. They file dreary reports on a young boy's movements; they tap the family's phone, yielding nothing but the halting progress of a teenager's love life. At the end, Fred MacMurray's character breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience directly: You know, this security thing was a little tough on my family for a while, but, well, you can see that it was necessary. Of course, now that the project is completed I can tell you what it was all about. You see, what I was really working on was a type of missile— And then the words TOP SECRET appear over MacMurray's face and his next several sentences are scrambled. The security system that hovered over the Douglases turns out to be in our homes too, intercepting information before it can be heard on our televisions. It is difficult to describe this scene without it sounding deeply creepy, but the show presents it as perfectly benign. There's even a laugh track: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> In my book The United States of Paranoia, I contrasted that episode with a bicentennial-year edition of another sitcom, Good Times. (The summary above is adapted from my write-up in the book.) By 1976, the country had seen all sorts of official crimes exposed, from Watergate to COINTELPRO. Between that and the larger cultural revolution of the '60s and '70s, audiences were more willing to accept stories about the national security state abusing its power, even in a genre like the situation comedy. So when Good Times did a story about an ordinary American family falling under federal surveillance, it took a rather different approach to the subject. Here the FBI is shown callously disregarding its targets' liberty, privacy, and well-being, with disastrous results. This is how much pop culture can change in 13 years: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Part two of three: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> Part three of three: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> As you may have noticed, "The Investigation" ends with John Amos looking directly at the camera, like Fred MacMurray at the end of "Top Secret." This time there's no laugh track. (For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)[...]

Fall TV Season Gets Time Travel Type Shows Based on Older Shows and Films

Fri, 30 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Westworld. HBO. Sunday, October 2, 9 p.m. Timeless. NBC. Monday, October 3, 10 p.m. Conviction. ABC. Monday, October 3, 10 p.m. No Tomorrow. The CW. Tuesday, October 4, 9 p.m. Frequency. The CW. Wednesday, October 5, 9 p.m. In 1966, when CBS unveiled a show called It's About Time in which a pair of astronauts pierce the space-time continuum and discover that the human race is descended from a couple of cavemen played by Joe E. Ross and Imogene Coca, the old Philadelphia Bulletin was so unhinged that it called for congressional hearings. While I certainly share the conventional civic wisdom that TV critics should have subpoena power, not to mention droit du seigneur, I believe the Bulletin was a little bit ahead of the curve. A congressional investigation of time-travel shows wasn't probably warranted until 1992, when the characters of NBC's Qauntum Leap jumped back to the 1950s to put the idea of real estate into the head of a 12-year-old Donald Trump. If that didn't call for a "Have you no decency, sir?" moment... Anyway, I wonder what the folks at the Bulletin would have made of television this week, which is mostly one long orgy of time travel, both literal and metaphorical. As William Faulkner might have said if he'd had any Nielsen smarts, the past is never dead, it's not even in reruns yet. The literal part of the week's temporal excursions takes part in NBC's Timeless and The CW's Frequency, in which characters flit around from decade to decade, trying to debug the past. In Frequency—based on the 2000 Randy Quaid film of the same name—all the temporal tampering is aimed at a single event: a 20-year-old cop killing. NYPD homicide detective Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List, Blood & Oil) has built a whole career out of trying to prove she's nothing like her father Frank (Riley Smith, Nashville), murdered by his cohorts two decades earlier after going rogue on an undercover assignment. But when her late father's old ham radio set crackles to life during an electrical storm, Raimy finds herself talking to pop across the years. As family reunions go, this one is a bit on the harsh side. "You're telling me that in 20 years I'm gonna be on the force with my daughter?" Frank says delightedly after learning she's a cop. "No, you're dead," replies Raimy. Try wringing a Hallmark moment out of that. Worse yet, after Frank convinces her that he was—you guessed it!—framed, Raimy passes him information on how to avoid his death, with disastrous butterfly-effect results. Thus are launched what The CW hopes are 100 episodes or so of attempts to contain the ripple effects. Despite your understandable and probably entirely justified fear that the success of a show about a time-traveling ham radio will lead to a painful rash of sequels about time-traveling toaster-ovens and Waring blenders, Frequency is not so bad. The paradoxes of time-travel, though familiar to anybody with even a passing acquaintance with sci fi, are artfully woven in, and List is quite appealing as a daughter remaking her long-held image of a father she hardly knew. The action in the pilot episode moves a little fast, but with any luck, now that the show's premises are established, its metabolism will slow below hummingbird levels. Timeless doesn't admit to being based on anything, but it's sure a dead ringer for the marvelously cheesy and lovably stupid ABC series The Time Tunnel, in which government budget-cutting led to a couple of scientists getting marooned in an experimental device with an amusingly malevolent glitch. Every week it dropped them onto the Titanic or the middle of Custer's Last Stand; and every week their colleagues back in 1966 gave the machine a good hard kick just in time to save them by getting them tossed over to Krakatoa or the Alamo. (It's only fair to note I could be mistaken about where Timeless was stolen from. A bunch of Spanish producers are suing, claiming it was ripp[...]

The Exorcist and MacGyver Are Back with Reboots

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

MacGyver. CBS. Friday, September 23, 8 p.m. The Exorcist. Fox. Friday, September 23, 9 p.m. Watching new TV shows, I often wish I could have been in the pitch meetings in which network executives bought them. "Hey, Dave, when The Exorcist first came out, people in the audience puked right in their seats! Wouldn't it be great if we had some of that?" Or: "Really, Mr. Geller, the original MacGyver was so profoundly stupid that Saturday Night Live is still making fun of it 30 years later! It's a natural for us!" These examples are not, as you have surmised, hypothetical. As the broadcast nets pass the midway point in the rollout of their new fall season, they're offering up two remakes of resurrected video corpses on a single night. All you need is to throw in a frozen Swanson turkey dinner for a complete National TV Archeological Dig Day. One of these, surprisingly, is not half-bad. I was never a fan of even the original Exorcist, much less its various klunky sequels and prequels. It always seemed to me to be a passel of gloppy special effects wrapped around a meager plot, going for cheap gross-outs rather than genuine scares. This new television version certainly has its share of projectilized pea soup. But the characters and story, at least in the pilot, are much more finely honed and much less predictable. The show's surprises are all the more striking because this Exorcist follows, at least in a general way, the framework of its 1973 cinematic ancestor. Alfonso Herrera (Sens8) plays a charismatic young priest in a decaying Chicago neighborhood where his principal duty is raising money to keep his dilapidated church from falling to pieces. The closest he gets to actual theological work is absolving the cats of his aging parishioners for their sins against birds and mice. One day, though, he's visited by a frazzled member of his flock (Geena Davis), the de facto head of a troubled family. She cites the usual complaints—bitchy teenage daughter, noises in the wall, moving furniture, an unquenchable thirst for the blood of virgin goats (okay, I made that one up, but you know it's coming sooner or later—and then sums up: "It's a demon, and it's trying to take my daughter." Replies the blithely post-Vatican II Father Tomas: "Demons are metaphors." And it's not just the existence of demons Father Tomas doubts; he's wondering about the whole foundation of his faith. "If you talk to other priests," he confides in an unguarded moment, "they will tell you they heard God's voice. ... I never had that." What he does have are haunting nightmares about a disastrously unsuccessful exorcism attempt by another priest. And when he learns that the dreams are true, he thinks he may be hearing God's voice after all. He doesn't consider the possibility that someone else, much darker, is going to do the talking. The Exorcist's pilot was directed by Rupert Wyatt, of Rise of the Planet of the Apes fame, and it's photographed in dim tones and silhouettes that lend the show an atmosphere of foreboding and desolation. (Including a couple of shots of priests peering up at the demon's lair from the shadows of the streets below that are definitely an homage to the work of cinematographer Owen Roizman on the original film.) So do the performances of Herrera, note-perfect as the priest whose handsome, friendly mien masks so many crippling incertitudes about his calling, and Davis as the mother holding onto sanity by a frayed thread. The most interesting thing of all about The Exorcist is that it shares the hardball theology of Fox's Lucifer, AMC's Preacher and Cinemax's exorcism show Outcast. One renegade priest in The Exorcist even resolves his doctrinal disputes with Rome not with an encyclical but a .38. It seems television's era of amiable pseudo-Unitarian clergymen of the Touched by an Angel and Highway to Heaven stripe is officially dead. Not that anythin[...]

Friday A/V Club: ABC, LSD, and the CIA

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:15:00 -0400

(image) Watergate and the other scandals of the '70s sparked a surge in skepticism toward the country's most powerful institutions. Here is an artifact from that era: a 1979 ABC News special called Mission: Mind Control. The hour-long documentary examines the CIA and Army's attempts to master brainwashing and other sorts of behavioral manipulation, included unethical experiments in which unwitting subjects were dosed with psychedelic drugs.

The show occasionally lapses into TV-news goofiness—at one point, as psychedelic imagery flashes on the screen, we're told that what we're watching is "considered by many experts to be the closest illustration of the effects of a hallucinogenic"—but at its core it's a hard-hitting piece of journalism. It was preserved, interestingly, by the National Archives and Records Administration, which did not bother to remove the commercials from the broadcast. So along with a harrowing exposé of official crimes, you get to see Will Rogers Jr. pitching Grape Nuts and a promo for a Geraldo Rivera report on a biker gang (featuring "dope, death, and the Bandidos"). Enjoy:

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(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Are Speechless, Designated Survivor, Notorious, or Pitch Worth Your Time?

Wed, 21 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Speechless. ABC. Wednesday, September 21, 8:30 p.m. Designated Survivor. ABC. Wednesday, September 21, 10 p.m. Notorious. ABC. Thursday, September 22, 9 p.m. Pitch. Fox. Thursday, September 22, 9 p.m. As the big rollout week of the fall TV season reaches midpoint, it's a wonderful life for female baseball players, chiefs of dorky cabinet departments, wheelchair kids, sleazebucket pols and the parasitic reporters attached to their veins—and especially TV viewers. The latest batch of new broadcast shows offers a lot of pleasures, even if some of them are guilty—very guilty. Those are plentiful with ABC's Notorious, which—spoiler alert—has nothing to with do either rap music or Nazi spies. But don't worry, there's enough social deviance for everybody. Piper Perabo (Covert Affairs) plays Julia George, the icy producer of America's top cable-news show. "She decides what the country cares about," murmurs a breathlessly awed assistant. "She creates heroes and monsters, victims and villains." Her secret accomplice in this is Los Angeles power lawyer Jake Gregorian (Daniel Sunjata, Graceland), who publicly pretends to feud with Julia while secretly slipping her secrets that make him, if not always necessarily his clients, look good. Their sleazy good times, however, are interrupted when one of Julia's ex-hooker staffers discovers that Julia's federal-judge fiance is a gourmet consumer of call girls, while a client of Jake's is murdered just before she's scheduled to appear on the show. Homicidal hijinks ensue, including lots of lovably sordid stunts by the show's voracious cougar anchor (Kate Jenning Grant, Frost/Nixon) and its stalkerazzi intern (Ryan Guzman, Pretty Little Liars). There's probably no single thing here you haven't seen in one TV show or another. What makes Notorious different is that they all happen at once in a 42-minute package. In practically every frame, somebody is suppressing a news story or submarining a client or engaging in gleeful sexual predation, often all at the same time. It's hard to say which comes off as worse or more priapic in Notorious, journalism or the law; or what the reporters and lawyers enjoy more, extortion or squalid sex. The exuberant and universal cynicism of Notorious makes it a lot of fun to watch, even as your concept of morality shrivels up like a vampire in the sun. Not that the show won't force you to ask some searching questions. For instance: Notorious is supposedly based on the relationship between attorney Mark Geragos (of Gary Condit and Scott Peterson fame) and former Larry King Live producer Wendy Walker, both of whom get producer credits. Even in a confessional age when murderers post their kills on Facebook, you can only wonder if the lure of television celebrity has done so much damage to the human genetic code that we're on the verge of species suicide when people are willing—even anxious—to make a show celebrating their own feral treachery. If that's too existential for you, then count up all the dressing-room couplings at Notorious' notional network and try to guess how the number stacks up against one of Roger Ailes' wet dreams. The appeal of ABC's new sitcom Speechless is less sketchy, if somewhat more surprising, unless you're among the avant-garde TV audience that's been longing for the networks to take that long-overdue comic look at cerebral palsy. But ABC has become increasingly adept in making comedies on hot-button issues ranging from race (Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat) to gay marriage (Modern Family) that play with politically-correct fire without burning themselves. (Though we'll also pause for a moment of silence for Crumbs, ABC's 2006 attempt at a sitcom on mental illness that was ritually put to death by critics after five episodes.) With Speechless, created and written by Friends veteran Scott[...]

New Shows for Your Consideration: Bull, This Is Us, and Lethal Weapon

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Bull. CBS. Tuesday, September 20, 9 p.m. This Is Us. NBC. Tuesday, September 20, 10 p.m. Lethal Weapon. Fox. Wednesday, September 21, 8 p.m. If there was any doubt that the Internet, having wreaked havoc on the music and newspaper industries, has now set its sights on television, the new fall broadcast season should quell it. Not only are the networks pulling back on long-term investment by cutting their series orders, filling out their schedules with specials and sports, but they're actually taking programming advice from the business' heirheads-apparent, digital-streaming companies. Last month, Fox executives admitted at an industry event that their network decided to revive the 2005-2009 drama Prison Break after learning old episodes were drawing a lot of traffic on Netflix. That probably wasn't the only conversation Fox bosses had with their counterparts at Netflix, because no network has more profoundly cast its lot with the ghosts of falls past. More than a third of the shows Fox will introduce over the course of the 2016-17 season are remakes of old movies or TV series. (Or, as network suits prefer to call them, reboots: Hey, kids, we speak that Interwebs lingo!) In addition to Prison Break, The Exorcist, 24 and the Lethal Weapon movies will all shamble back onto the scene, proving that there is indeed something shallower than Hollywood's current creative instincts: Its graveyards. That said, the startling but undeniable truth about the new Lethal Weapon, which debuts Tuesday as the nets start rolling their new dramas, is that it's pretty damn good: sharply drawn characters, snappy dialogue, and awesome action sequences. I'm not sure that Clayne Crawford (Rectify) and Damon Wayans Sr. are going to make anybody forget Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, but they'll be more than good enough for the large audience that's never seen the four films, the last of which is nearly two decades old. The show follows the template established in the movies: Crawford plays a brash young military special-ops vet turned cop left suicidally reckless by a family tragedy. Wayans, with 22 years as a policeman, is struggling with health and retirement issues, which aren't exactly clarified by the near-universal greeting of his colleagues on his first day back at work after a heart attack: "I thought you were dead!" Thrust together as partners, their initial relationship ranges from wary to openly hostile. "I'm just in a place in my life where I don't want to be the cowboy anymore," declares Wayans, to which Crawford retorts: "There's plenty of good people in this world who aren't cops. Go be one of them." But they're eventually drawn together by their mutual antipathy toward the criminal-justice system brass, their love of hardball wisecracks and their affinity for truly insane gunplay and car chases. (One of the latter takes place inside a Grand Prix race.) The madcap stunt work and the buddy-cop badinage make Lethal Weapon seem like a throwback to the 1970s or '80s, which of course is exactly what it is—but in a loopy, fun way. NBC's This Is Us, on the other hand, is not a throwback or a remake. If you get the eerie feeling you've seen it before, it's probably because you actually have—on Facebook, where an early release of its two-and-a-half-minute trailer was viewed a remarkable 51 million times in its first week online this summer. (To put that in perspective, it represents more eyeballs than were assembled for Johnny Carson's final Tonight Show.) The immense popularity of a trailer that doesn't include a fire-breathing atomic lizard remains a mystery to me. But the full pilot episode of This Is Us is a captivating experience, an interlocking series of vignettes of despair, joy, rage, regret and hilarity. Though it takes some time to sense the connections, This Is[...]

Heavenly New Comedy Lampoons Technocratic Rule

Fri, 16 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Kevin Can Wait. CBS. Monday, September 19, 8:30 p.m. The Good Place. NBC. Monday, September 19, 10 p.m. Choose your metaphor—the buzzards returning to Hinckley, the lemmings to Lapland—but every year around this time, we swarm to our TV sets for the new fall broadcast season. And a few weeks later, like—choose your metaphor, sated ticks or Zika-bloated Aedes aegypti—we roll dazedly off our couches, wondering what just happened and why. Between now and Halloween, as the networks roll out 21 new shows, the tube will reel with time-traveling homicide detectives, visionary doctors, bewildered corpses, Mexican exorcists, girl pitchers, Jack Bauer clones, doomed lovers trying to cross stuff off their apoca-lists, stay-at-home dads amazed to find out what wretched little swine they've spawned, and remakes of movies you hated the first time around. Fully half the new shows debut next week as the nets, after several live-and-let-live years of staggering their premieres to avoid quick head-to-head knockouts, resume their ancestral kamikaze ways. The strategy is puzzling, especially since the networks are otherwise proceeding conservatively, avoiding the huge start-up costs of new series (20 is the smallest number in years) and padding out their schedules with sports and one-shot specials. But who am I to question the wisdom of the collective industry braintrust that gave us Supertrain and Viva Laughlin! Admittedly that's a low bar, but the comedies that kick off the season Monday night are several hundred thousand cuts above those two epic disasters. NBC's The Good Place, in fact, is a gem of subversive mockery, trashing everything from New Age cosmic-muffin deism to central planning with gleeful comic bloodlust. The Good Place stars Kristen Bell (Showtime's House of Lies) as Eleanor Shellstrop, an amiable young amnesiac who wakes up in a nondescript office that turns out to be the placement center for the afterlife. But, she's warned, "It's not the heaven or hell idea you were raised on." And yeah, "warned" is the appropriate verb. The great beyond is managed not by some thundering Big Guy but a cadre of technocrats who assign souls based on a strict numerical scoresheet. (Was a commissioner of a professional football league, minus 824.5 points; never discussed veganism unprompted, plus 9,825.41 points) Those like Eleanor who make the cutoff go to the Good Place, which is subdivided into neighborhoods made up of exactly 322 people "selected to blend into a blissful harmonic balance," explains Michael (Ted Danson), the rookie commissar of Eleanor's little chunk of eternity. As for those who don't make the strictly enforced cutoff—including Mozart, Picasso, Elvis, "basically every artist who ever lived," and even Florence Nightingale—Michael's ominously vague advice is "don't worry about it." So Eleanor has the run of the neighborhood, including shops like The Small Adorable Pet Depot and Your Every Anticipated Need, as well as a just-the-right-size cottage decorated in the celestially approved Icelandic Primitive, all in the company of her kind-hearted, officially selected soul mate Chidi (William Jackson Harper, Paterson). There's just one problem: mistaken identity. Eleanor, prior to shuffling off the moral coil, was not a lawyer who worked pro bono to get wrongly convicted inmates off Death Row, but a whorish telemarketer who huckstered old people into buying worthless herbal remedies. (Only rule: "We can't call it medicine because it doesn't, technically, work.") And though she doesn't tell anybody, the presence of a reprobate soul soon sends the Good Place off the harmonic rails, with attacks by giant rampaging ladybugs and other Old Testament-ish plagues. From there, The Good Place becomes a whimsically cockeyed entry[...]

‘70s Pulp Violence Returns in Cinemax’s Quarry

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Quarry. Cinemax. Friday, September 9, 10 p.m. Back in the days when drug-store book racks were crowded with manly-men titles like The Executioner, Death Merchant, and even—maybe, in the back of the store−The Man From O.R.G.Y.,one of the most popular was the Quarry series. Like those other protagonists, Quarry was a hypermasculine gunman who killed and coupled with stupefying frequency and enthusiasm, but he was probably the only one who began life as a character in a master of fine arts thesis project. (Author Max Allan Collins, who would go on to become one of the most prolific pulp authors of the next five decades, was a grad student at the University of Iowa.) And he was certainly the only one with no pretenses to patriotism, national security or crime-busting: Mac "Quarry" Conway was a contract killer who learned his trade as a (moderately psychotic) Marine sniper in Vietnam. His targets were usually marginally worse human beings than he was, but it was always a close call and not one that Quarry spent much time contemplating. Forty years and 13 novels after his birth on the printed page, Quarry is making the jump to television, in an oddly absorbing new Cinemax series about alienation, amorality and blowing people's heads off, not necessarily in that order. Logan Marshall-Green (The O.C.) plays the title character, who with foxhole buddy Arthur (Jamie Hector, The Wire), returns home to Memphis in 1972 from a second tour of duty in Vietnam, but not exactly to the strains of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again." "Y'all got any other clothes you could change into?" Arthur's wife asks the men as they get off their plane. Anti-war protesters, inflamed by accusations (legally dropped, but not in the court of public opinion) that they participated in a massacre of civilians, are surging around the airport. Even safely past the airport fracas, they find themselves in dead-end jobs, haunted by combat flashbacks, and surrounded by families that seem to have moved on while they were gone. The only person who seems unreservedly glad to see them is a shadowy figure who calls himself The Broker, who after a brief bout of shadow-boxing offers a pile of cash and guns in return for their exercise of a proven skill set: "All you gotta do is pull the trigger, something we both know you're good at." Quarry isn't sold. "If you do this, you are who they say you are," he warns Arthur, who scoffs that whoever they're being asked to kill probably deserves it more than their targets in Vietnam: "We're not talking about preachers and librarians here." They take the offer, Quarry reluctantly; but when the first hit is botched, he finds himself in a legal, financial and emotional quagmire from which withdrawal is no easier than it was from the Mekong Delta. Though Quarry will certainly be recognizable to anyone who followed the books, the show makes some significant changes from the novels, all wise. The most obvious is the exchange of the Midwestern setting for the mid-South, which in the 1970s was a free-fire zone for the redneck gangs that became known as the Dixie Mafia. (Whether or not you regard an axe handle as the most effective tool to combat bands of pimps and moonshiners, Buford Pusser, the bully-boy sheriff of the Walking Tall movies, was a real person.) The Southern noir motif lends Quarry some real atmosphere. More startling, in some ways, are the changes to Quarry's character. Instead of the ruthless killing machine of the novels, he's got a streak of moral introspection. He's troubled by the killings, angry that anyone would think him capable of carrying them out … and appalled that he actually can. That change was almost certainly necessary to turn Quarry into a television series—an hour of comp[...]

Friday A/V Club: Don't Blame Me, I Voted for Number 6

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 09:15:00 -0400

(image) Two cult science fiction shows celebrated 50th anniversaries this week. For Star Trek, the '60s series that comes closest to capturing the spirit of New Frontier liberalism, it has been 50 years since their first broadcast. For The Prisoner, the '60s series that comes closest to capturing the spirit of psychedelic libertarianism, it has been 50 years since they started filming at the Village location they'd found in Wales. (Their first episode aired a year later.)

Reason already nodded to Star Trek earlier this week, so today we'll be seeing that other, better show—the surreal spy-fi allegory about Number 6, the individualist held captive in a totalitarian seaside hamlet. As an antidote the presidential campaign, here is "Free for All," the episode where Number 6 runs for office:

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For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For my favorite piece of Prisoner dialogue, go here. For more from Reason on The Prisoner, read appreciations by Emmanuelle Richard here and Larry Niven here.

FX Kicks Off New Sitcoms: Better Things and Atlanta

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Atlanta. FX. Tuesday, September 6, 10 p.m. Better Things. FX. Thursday, September 8, 10 p.m. Stop brooding about the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump. What ought to worry you is what's going on between Murdoch and Louis C.K. Despite generating minimal ratings and even fewer laughs, Louis C.K. is about to place his third sitcom on Murdoch's FX cable network. We are steadily marching toward the extinction of mirth itself. Yes, yes, Louis C.K. wins a ton of awards, and he's all the hot water-cooler buzz of the cutting-edge hip. The thing is, if there were very many of the cutting-edge hip, they wouldn't be either one. Louie, his flagship show of aimless, disconnected and ennui-inducing personal vignettes, rarely topped half a million viewers in its most recent season. The Louis C.K.-produced Baskets, about the misadventures of an unfunny rodeo clown, started off as a weirdly funny sitcom send-up but soon lapsed into undiluted existential despair, its audience scarcely bigger than Louie's. Largely forgotten in all this is Lucky Louie, his single-season attempt at mocking The Honeymooners by portraying a Ralph Kramden-type character as Louis C.K. imagines he'd be in reality: an illiterate, sexually frustrated ("I thought when I got married, I was done masturbating in closets") and misogynist slob. (The genetically imprinted loutishness of blue-collar America is one of Louis C.K's most cherished comic tropes.) I actually sat through all 12 episodes in the certainty that it had to get better, but it was just as humorlessly vulgar at the end as when it started out. And, it turned out, HBO was less patient than I was; when the Lucky Louie DVD set was issued, it contained an unaired 13th episode. Now we have Better Things, co-created -produced by Louis C.K. and longtime collaborator Pamela Adlon, who played his romantic interest in both Lucky Louie and Louie. The new show, chronicling the travails of a single-mom actress named Sam raising three scurrilous, prevaricating daughters in Hollywood, is supposedly based on Adlon's real life. Though frankly it's kind of hard to believe anybody could live for long with kids like this—In the first two episodes, they are demanding parentally funded dope and cliterectomies, the latter apparently some sort of cryptic millennial political statement—without seriously considering their sale to a Honduran sweatshop. What's certainly not in doubt is Louis C.K.'s influence over Better Things. It's stamped all over with his comic trademarks: Sam, examining a script at an audition, barks, "Who writes this shit?" (Hilarious because this is a TV show too and, like, irony!) The teenage daughter screams at Sam, "I really hate you, Mom! You are so unfair!" and Sam screams back, "You are so unfair!" (A gut-buster because bitter family anomie is so funny by itself that it need not be adorned by punchlines or context or, well, anything!) Sam, noticing her gynecologist is pregnant, quips "You got a belly full of dicks there, young lady!" (Because it was a laff riot to say "dicks" out loud in high school, and what's really changed since 1983?) In short, Better Things is a faithful female-themed re-creation of Louis C.K.'s other shows: witless and angry, mistaking contempt for satire, self-important in its clueless disregard for plot, characterization or other niceties of the performing arts. Adlon, who spent seven seasons on Californication as a debauched pubic-hair waxer who even reenacted an urban myth stunt [link to urban myth stunt: ] supposedly pulled by Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, has long since proven her abilities as a comic actress. But she needs to[...]