Wednesday TV: An Unwelcome ‘Stalker’

stalkerPlease welcome the worst new network show in years, with the ugliest aspects of every women-threatening CBS procedural into one series. Kidnapping? Stalking? Setting women on fire? It’s all here, in a format known as network TV thriller. Kevin Williamson, creator of the “Scream” series, is probably kicking himself that he didn’t include beheadings as well. All that and Dylan McDermott too starring in “Stalker” (CBS, 10 p.m.), whose sole faint hope, Maggie Q, doesn’t have a chance.

Earlier, Jennifer Love Hewitt joins the cast of “Criminal Minds” (CBS, 9 p.m.) as the 10th season begins in California, where victims there have been made unidentifiable.

Part two of a three part series based on penguin spy cameras on “Nature” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) concentrates on the newborn.

How they’ve grown: Alex is getting a college tour on “Modern Family” (ABC, 9 p.m.).

And the sex talk is a problem, too, on “Black-ish” (ABC, 9:30 p.m.).

Not surprising that the morning TV appearance by Rayna on “Nashville” (ABC, 10 p.m.) comes on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where actual person Luke Bryan is also on board.

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Tuesday TV: ‘Live Free’ or ‘Selfie’

live-free-or-die-colbert_epsicuaitwlfo42x7yedw6mpvtncurxrbvj6lwuht2ya6mzmafma_610x343Oddly, there’s nobody from New Hampshire in “Live Free or Die” (National Geographic, 10 p.m.), the new series about mountaineering off the grid guys that uses the state motto. Instead the lone wolves are out in Georgia, where a former financial adviser is a new Daniel Boone, in a coonskin cap and out trapping beaver while living in a swamp cabin. Two other guys roam the woods for squirrels or rats to eat, living in makeshift shelters. A fourth at least has a girlfriend to share time with, but they’re not doing so well either, they feast off road kill, of which they say, “This doesn’t taste too terrible” and “No rabies for us.” The highest compliments for road kill cuisine apparently.

As with “Doomsday Preppers,” National Geographic wants to have it both ways — support the lifestyle enough so those who’d like to emulate them will tune in, while employing a narrator with so much irony in his voice that for the rest of us, it’s purely  making fun of more oddballs.

The new shows keep rolling out and both of the ones tonight are romantic comedies. “Selfie” (ABC, 8 p.m.) transposes the “Pygmalion” story of remaking a woman from her various social media addictions to one where she might interact with actual humans. It’s got the kind of deep emoji that might sustain it for one episode tops, but the cast is pretty good — Karen Gillan , once of “Doctor Who,” and John Cho, the Harold of those films with Kumar. Worth a shrug perhaps.

More problematic is “Manhattan Love Story” (ABC, 8:30 p.m.) which tries to sustain the idea that we can hear the thoughts of the dating couple not in one scene or two but throughout the whole series, forever. There is a captivating woman at the center of this, the soft talking Annaleigh Tipton, a former “America’s Next Top Model” finalist, but the guy (Jake McDorman) — and the humor — are so bland, it might not even be apparent.

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Monday TV: Inside the NY Review of Books

50year1It’s funny how they shy away from the word “intellectual” in “The 50 Year Argument” (HBO, 9 p.m.), a documentary about the work of The New York Review of Books that caters to just that group.

Not to seem elitist, though, the film by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi jump around in time to show how the publication, formed in the vacuum of the 1963 New York newspaper strike, when the then-pallid New York Times Book Review wasn’t even publishing, has added deep thought and nimble ideas to some of the greatest events of our time. And while it has begun some of the more prominent literary spats (as between Gore Vidal and amusingly garrulous Norman Mailer), it has uncovered information or presented an independent eye-witness reporting from world hotspots. All the while, editor Robert Silvers has remained a gently prodding, always curious editor. His offices in the West Village, which look like a library, are alone worth a look at the long documentary, along with interviews with contributors from Michael Chabon, Derek Walcott, Joan Didion as well as archival footage of James baldwin, Mary McCarthy, Noam Chomsky, Robert Lowell and Noam Chomsky.

Bernie Williams, Zoe Saldana, Pepe Aguilar, Carlos Vives and Rep. Henry R. Munoz III are among those honored at the “The Hispanic Heritage Awards” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings). The 27th annual event was held earlier this month at the Warner Theater in Washington.

Quite a varied lineup for “The iHeartRadio Music Festival” (The CW, 8 p.m.) with Taylor Swift, Motley Crue, Coldplay, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, the Zac Brown Band, Usher, Bastille and Steve Aoki. Part two of the event, recorded at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, runs Tuesday.

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Sunday TV: Cartoon Families Meet

simpsons-family-guy-crossoverIt’s surprising that after its triumphant 12 day marathon and renewed interest in its excellent series, the people behind Bart, Homer and Marge Simpsons would so easily relinquish their characters under total control of the “Family Guy” (Fox, 9 p.m.) people for the long-awaited crossover episode. Maybe it’s better they wash their hands of it entirely as the lesser, more coarse cartoon takes over.

“The Simpsons” (Fox, 8 p.m.), in its own 26th season premiere has its own event to tout, a death in its very large cast of characters. From all of the promotion (and the episode title “Clown in the Dumps”), one would guess that it’s Krusty, but this show likes to throw you for a loop.

In the live action world, “Masters of Sex” (Showtime, 10 p.m.) ends its second season with the aftermath of their TV appearance on CBS. I found out last week that this well-made, superbly acted show can be easily dropped into for single episodes, as can “Ray Donovan” (Showtime, 9 p.m.), which ends its season tonight as well. (Next week in their place: “Homeland”).

Having already exploited many of the Disney heroines in its first three seasons, “Once Upon of Time” (ABC, 8 p.m.) has a new, very popular one to incorporate from the hit movie “Frozen.” Don’t expect any singing though.

Also back on the network tonight, “Resurrection” (ABC, 9 p.m.), which barely got started last spring, and “Revenge” (ABC, 10 p.m.), which badly needs to reinvent itself in season four.

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The New Fall TV Season: Weekends

Fall TV 2014

Fall TV 2014

There’s no use differentiating Saturday and Sunday in considering the new fall TV lineups: The networks aren’t putting anything new (or interesting) in prime time on Saturday, the night that used to be the week’s showcase a generation or so ago. So everything here is about what’s happening on Sundays, closing our week’s worth of the new fare on the big four networks. But there’s not much new there either, because of a very different reason: the networks are happy with what they’ve been presenting there, already, from cartoons to series to football. Especially football.


“Madame Secretary” (CBS, 8 p.m., started Sept. 21) has a lot going for it, including smart and striking Tea Leoni as a college prof suddenly tapped to become U.S. secretary of state, and the writing of Barbara Hall. But initially at least, it seems bent on solving world drama in 44 minutes or less, making it about as credible as the antics on “Scandal.” It might find some legs enough to be a worthy companion to “The Good Wife,” however.

“Mulaney” (Fox, 9:30 p.m., starts Oct. 5). What was originally my most anticipated series of the fall when it was announced has turned into a kind of disturbing puzzle. The talented writer and comic performer John Mulaney turns absolutely stiff in a sitcom so unblinkingly modeled on “Seinfeld” that they make a joke about it every week. Despite a cast that includes Martin Short, Nasim Pedrad and Seaton Smith, there are just odd moments from Elliott Gould and Zack Pearlman that make you think it’s a parody of somebody trying to do a network comedy.


“Bob’s Burgers” (Fox, 7:30 p.m., returns Oct. 5), “Once Upon a Time” (ABC, 8 p.m., returns tonight), “The Simpsons” (Fox, 8 p.m., tonight), “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (Fox, 8:30 p.m., tonight), “Resurrection” (ABC, 9 p.m., tonight), “The Good Wife” (CBS, 9 p.m., returned Sept. 21), “Family Guy” (Fox, 9 p.m., tonight), “Grimm” (NBC, 9 p.m., Oct. 24), “CSI” (CBS, 10 p.m., tonight).

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Generally Flat Opener for ‘SNL’

Chris_Pratt_MonologueYou might think that entering its 40th season, “Saturday Night Live” would have its late night comedy running smoothly and reliably; and after a long summer off, it would be brimming with material and ideas.

In actuality, Saturday’s debut could scarcely throw one decent sketch; it didn’t have much for host Chris Pratt to do; offered the most bland commercial product in dancing pixie Ariana Grande, the musical guest; and there were so many line flubs you’d think the cue card writer must have flunked penmanship.

It was the odd show where Aidy Bryant was the most featured player in sketches, where a retooled “Weekend Update” provided the most comic possibilities and a new face on his first show stole the show in three different skits.

It didn’t help that the premiere came just after the debut of something now called “SNL Vintage,” which, playing off the 40th anniversary of the show, picks classic episodes of the past to replay. And though it had its own flaws, there was no beating the 1975 show featuring Richard Pryor and Gil-Scott Heron.

That episode from the first season showed how relevant the show could be when it wanted. The 2014 show, by contrast, never acknowledged there was a war going on, or a political season, and as for ebola, it was the topic that Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party would never get around to addressing.

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Saturday TV: 40th Season Start for ‘SNL’

SNL40Chris Pratt hosts the 40th (!) season premiere of “Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 11:30 p.m.) with Ariana Grande as musical guest. There are not a lot of changes in the cast, except that former “SNL” cast member Darrell Hammond returns to do the introductory voice of Don Pardo who died last month, and standout (and recent) “Daily Show” correspondent Michael Che stepping up to the “Weekend Update” desk. Unfortunately he will be replacing Cecily Strong, who was good in the role, and not Colin Jost, who never quite settled into it.

Also back: The one-hour prime-time cut-downs, now called “SNL Vintage” (NBC, 10 p.m.), starts with a rare classic: Richard Pryor hosting during 1975′s first season — with Gil Scott-Heron as musical guest.

Tamron Hall hosts “Music for Change: The Global Citizen Festival” (NBC, 9 p.m., recorded in New York’s Central Park  recently to help stop extreme poverty and featuring Alicia Keys, Jay Z, Carrie Underwood, No Doubt, the Roots, Fun and Tiesto.

“Outlander” (Starz, 9 p.m.) reaches a mid season finale, with no new episodes until April.

Prime time is clogged with college football, with Baylor at Iowa State (Fox, 8 p.m.) and Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (ABC, 8 p.m.).

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The Transcendent ‘Transparent’

transparent-2The fall’s best new series isn’t on broadcast television, it isn’t on cable, and it even isn’t on Netflix.

Sponsored by the company that began as an online bookstore, “Transparent,” which began streaming its first 10 episodes Friday on Amazon Prime, is by far the best thing you’ll see on a small screen this fall.

Like so many comic actors before him, Jeffrey Tambor shows an extra depth as a retired professor who finally decides to tell his grown children that he would prefer to dress and be seen as a woman. Tambor’s worn a dress for comic effect before, in “Hill Street Blues” and “Arrested Development,” but in Jill Soloway’s nuanced, deeply felt series, he truly becomes Maura, such that when he dresses in his male attire, in flashbacks or until he comes clean with his kids, he seems truly uncomfortable.

What might be a one-note gag in other hands is instead part of a complex family story that is so lucidly and realistically depicted by the ensemble, it’s a series that lends itself well to the binge nature of streaming.

Every one of the Fefferman family, we learn, are dealing with their own issues of what is real in their life and whether they are living up to it. Amy Landecker, as the eldest daughter, has her suburban life shaken when she rekindles a past torch with a college flame, in what she thought was lesbian experimentalism. Jay Duplass, a writer/director in his own right, has his own problems trying to get more serious with a young, wispy singer he is producing, while hiding another longterm relationship.

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‘Race’ History Behind Twinnie Turnout

Nadiya-Anderson-voted-offBeing first eliminated on “The Amazing Race: All-Stars” earlier this year didn’t make being cut first on “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur – Blood vs. Water” any easier for Nadiya Anderson.

“It’s just as hard,” she said in a phone interview from Los Angeles Friday. “The only thing that is a silver lining is that Natalie is still on the beach and walking away from ‘Survivor’ this time first, I’m still happy since I’m still rooting for Natalie and it’s awesome to be rooting for someone on the beach. ”

It was hard enough for her that the inseparable (and to some, insufferable) “twinnies” from two seasons of “The Amazing Race” had to be separated to opposing tribes on the outset of “Survivor,” which had its season premiere Wednesday.

Now, assuming her sister is still in it, they are now separated by the distance to Nicaragua.

“It was complete surprise,” Nadiya, 28, said of her being voted out by her tribe. “I had no idea that people were scheming against me solely based on ‘The Amazing Race.’ I went in feeling confident mostly because I knew we were coming off of a losing streak, and I knew I was one of the biggest assets for our tribe and they wouldn’t be dumb enough to get us out so early.”

With only three days on which to base alliances or snap judgments, it was the older player, Dale, who targeted Nadiya, citing the sisters’ willingness to U-Turn other teams.

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The New Fall TV Season: Fridays

Fall TV 2014

Fall TV 2014

We’ve been reviewing the new fall TV offerings each day this week and, as usual, there’s not much left for Fridays, except for a new comedy that would be overlooked except for its Latina point of view and charming star; and a pulpy sci-fi saga that fits in well with other of the nights offerings. Increasingly, Friday nights are a reality showcase, with “The Amazing Race” moving in against “Shark Tank” — and “Utopia” trying to change things up to stay in the competition.


“Christela” (ABC, 8:30 p.m., starts Oct. 10). The fresh face of Christela Alonzo makes would seem just another family sitcom seem like something new, even alongside such tired family fare as “Last Man Standing.” If diversity is what saves the fall broadcast season, from “Jane the Virgin” and “Blackish,” “Christela” will be part of the mix.

“Constantine” (NBC, 10 p.m., Oct. 24.), adapted from a DC comic, might actually be a sleeper. Matthew Ryan helps make it work, bringing a world-weariness and stated reluctance to his job as a demon fighter, aided as usual by TV’s improved special effects. It’s humor and some restraint that makes this adaptation of the star from “Swamp Thing” and “Hellblazer” a hero we can cheer.

“Utopia” (Fox, 8 p.m., started Sept. 7) began with its only goal seeing how a bunch of strangers of different backgrounds would live together and survive when put together. But since ratings have tanked on the twice-a-week show, they are quickly going to introduce a new wrinkle: its citizens will be able to vote out somebody, aided by home viewers, giving the show the kind of built in drama that comes from such shows. The real weakness of the show, though, is the casting.


“Shark Tank” (ABC, 8 p.m., starts tonight), “Hawaii Five-0″ (CBS, 9 p.m., tonight), “MasterChef Junior” (Fox, 8 p.m., Nov. 7), “The Amazing Race” (CBS, 8 p.m., tonight), “Last Man Standing” (ABC, 8 p.m., Oct. 3), “Blue Bloods” (CBS, 10 p.m.), “Grimm” (NBC, 9 p.m., Oct. 24), “20/20″ (ABC, 10 p.m.).


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