Tuesday TV: Weird, Younger Sitcoms

Weird_Neighbors_13999345427895A lot of the family comedies on TV are those involving single people who hang around together as allies. The latest is “Weird Loners” (Fox, 9:30 p.m.) in which four people with definite problems try to support one another one way or another in a pair of townhouses in Queens. The comedy is relatively low-key when it arrives. The cast includes Becki Newton, best known from “Ugly Betty,” the irrepressible Nate Torrence from “Hello Ladies,” Zachary Knighton of “Happy Endings” and newcomer Meera Rohit. Here’s a story I wrote about Becki Newton for the Hartford Courant this week.

In a second new sitcom tonight, Sutton Foster stars as a middle aged woman who tries to pass as woman in her 20s in the workforce on the new “Younger” (TV Land, 10 p.m.). The comedy from Darren Star, the co-creator of “Sex and the City,” benefits from the presence of Foster, the Broadway star who was also in ABC Family’s “Buns.” The romantic comedy has a strong supporting cast with Hilary Duff, Debi Mazar and Miriam Shor.

A slight variation on the Biblical miniseries proliferating this week, “The Dovekeepers” (CBS, 9 p.m.) — one of two coming rom Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, adapts Alice Hoffman’s novel on the siege of Masada. Its big news is that it marks the comeback to the network of Cote de Pablo, who left “NCIS” abruptly in 2013. She stars as Shirah, but it’s just as notable for Rachel Brosahan, from “House of Cards” and “Manhattan” as Yael. Sam Neil rounds out the cast. It concludes Wednesday.

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Monday TV: Battling Dread Cancer

cancer_02_102021cThe disease has touched most American lives and is just growing. But Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee wondered just what the history of cancer was, hence his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings). And now it’s been turned into a miniseries, with Ken Burns getting the executive producer credit, perhaps to give this more attention. Director Barak Goodman entwines the early history of cancer treatment with the actual treatment of young children — a grabber if there ever was one. The fact that it’s entirely possible to survive childhood leukemia gives tonight’s first chapter a bit of a happier ending. The three parts are cut into history before 1970, the Nixon era and ever thing since, it continues Tuesday and Wednesday.

The network presents its easiest target yet (or second only to Trump) in its new “Comedy Central Roast of Justin Bieber” (Comedy Central, 10 p.m.). The badly behaving young popstar also volunteered for the abuse, which tends to make the proceedings less fun than they might have been. Still, Hannibal Buress, Kevin Hart and Chris D’Elia show up to tell jokes (and Snoop Dogg, Ludacris, Shaquille O’Neal and Martha Stewart are there too). The event pre-empts “The Daily Show” tonight, which chose its successor for Jon Stewart this morning in Trevor Noah — bigger news than anything that will happen at the roast.

Kal Penn, the former “Harold and Kumar” star and White House staffer, who also stars in the current “Batttle Creek,” now hosts his own info cable show. “The Big Picture with Kal Penn” (National Geographic, 9:30 p.m.) looks at things that influence our lives, such as the search for treasure. So tonight he looks for gold in Nevada, baseball cards in Ohio and jewels in Poland lost in World War II.

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Sunday TV: Killing Scientology, Jesus

scientologyIt’s hard to believe that the big, paranoid, litigious cult started by L. Ron Hubbard will survive Alex Gibney’s clear-eyed, eye-opening and damning documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” (HBO, 8 p.m.). Based on the book by Lawrence Wright, the film lays out the far out sci-fi underpinnings of the belief, its insistence on deep confessions and junk science, its record keeping of such confessions (lest someone get out of line), and actual physical abuse and jailings.

The information doesn’t come from frightened ex-members who hide their faces or alter their voices; it comes from a handful of former high ranking Scientologists who now frankly wonder what they were thinking (and are now followed by harassing current members with cameras).

A lot of time is used following the highest profile believers — John Travolta and Tom Cruise — with accusations so wild they might come from a tabloid headlines (his marriage to Nicole Kidman was sabotaged because she was less of a believer and her family really doubted it; they arranged to provide his new mistress). Either way, and you might not see either in the same light again.

The typically dour and dusty “Killing Jesus” (National Geographic, 8 p.m.), based on the Bill O’Reilly book, of all things, is the first of what will be three new such films this season — all inspired by the success of “The Bible” a couple of years back and “The Ten Commandments” a half century ago.

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Saturday TV: Slime, Jonas, Kids’ Choice

NickJonasNick Jonas, who first visited the event in 2006 with his brothers, returns to host The 2015 Kids’ Choice Awards (Nickelodeon, 8 p.m.) as host and performer of the 28th annual edition.

That may mean he’s adept with slime, a substance more ancipated at the event than the actual giving of the awards in the various categories of movies, television and music — as we’ll as things like “most addicting game.” Some slime at the show, shot at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., will even be delivered via drone.

In addition to Jonas, 5 Seconds of Summer and Iggy Azalea with Jennifer Hudson will perform.

Katy Perry, a past performer and slime recipient at Kids’ Choice, meanwhile will be having her own concert this year: “Katy Perry: Prismatic World Tour” (Epix, 8 p.m.).

The host provides parting monetary advice and provides a look back on the final edition of “The Suze Orman Show” (CNBC, 9 p.m.) after a 13 year run.

Here come the regional finals in the NCAA men’s tournament alliterative elite eight: Arizona vs. Wisconsin (TBS, 6 p.m.), Notre Dame vs. Kentucky (TBS, 8:30 p.m.)

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Playlist 3-27-15

RadioCPRAn unusual show began with the only band named after a “Tom Terrific” villain, and lurched eventually into a little Jonathan Richman set, an unplanned concentration of Del Shannon, some Beatles and Ramones in response, all of side three of “Electric Ladyland,” some live Velvet Underground from the 90s, a spot of Keith Richards for no particular reason and ended with some Van Morrison.

Here’s what I played on the radio tonight:

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Friday TV: Saving Girls from Prostitution

dreamcatcher_stillNot to be confused with the terrible 2003 sci-fi movie of the same name, Kim Longinotto’s “Dreamcatcher” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) follows the work of Brenda Myers-Powell, a former Chicago prostitute who now works in fighting human trafficking and saving youth at risk through her Dreamcatcher Foundation.

Mark Morris’ bright, sprightly 1988 ballet to Handel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,” now considered a modern masterpiece, is performed by the Mark Morris Dance Group in a presentation on “Great Performances” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) in a performance filmed last July in Madrid. Mikhail Baryshnikov introduces the broadcast.

HBO announced yesterday it would begin running a five-day-a week news cast starting later this year from the people at “Vice” (11 p.m.), who will continue doing their newsmagazine through  the hard hitting newsmagazine show that is currently only shown weekly. Tonight’s new episode concerns the new drug trafficking to Europe that funds terror, and baby farms of India.

The rest of the Sweet 16 play tonight, with UCLA vs. Gonzaga (CBS, 7:15 p.m.), North Carolina State vs. Louisville (TBS, 7:37 p.m.), Utah vs. Duke (CBS, 9:45 p.m.) and Michigan State vs. Oklahoma (TBS, 10:07 p.m.).

IT’s the Sweet 16 in the women’s tournament too, and we get to see complete games: North Carolina vs. South Carolina (ESPN, 7 p.m.), Iowa vs. Baylor (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.), Arizona State vs. Florida State (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m.) and Stanford vs. Notre Dame (ESPN, 9:30 p.m.).

In the NCAA Division II women’s tournament championship, it’s California (Penn.) vs. Cal Baptist (CBS Sports Network, 8 p.m.).

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Thursday TV: YouTube Family Gets Show

holderness-family-video-baby-got-classThey looked like a manufactured family in their overdone family videos that began with “Xmas Jammies” in 2013 and expanded into a full time job, doing music parodies for just about every holiday, like “All About the Baste” for Thanksgiving. There was enough interest in the Holderness Family, led by a toothy former TV anchor from Raleigh, Penn Holderness, to lead to a reality show, mostly about how they stay home now and try to make videos — and commercials for others. I’m thinking ”The Holderness Family” (UP, 10 p.m.) will have far fewer familiar tune parodies though. Teensy cable channel can’t afford those royalties.

Having a Sweet 16 after the field of 64 means there are only two networks playing March Madness games when it returns tonight. But they still play opposite one another. Wichita State vs. Notre Dame (CBS, 7:15 p.m.), North Carolina vs. Wisconsin (TBS, 7:47 p.m.), West Virginia vs. Kentucky (CBS, 9:45 p.m.) and Xavier vs. Arizona (TBS, 10:17 p.m.).

“Bones” (Fox, 8 p.m.) returns from its hiatus with a story guest starring  Cyndi Lauper as a psychic who finds the body of another psychic.

It’s accompanied by “Backstrom” (Fox, 9 p.m.), the struggling new show from Rainn Wilson. Tonight he investigates a hit and run.

Carter gets a bail hearing on “American Crime” (ABC, 10 p.m.).

Rosie alienates everybody she hasn’t already on “The Slap” (NBC, 10 p.m.).

“Archer” (FX, 10 p.m.) and the company get shrunk down, “Fantastic Voyage” style.

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Theater Review: ‘Laugh’ at Studio

Laugh-0892-printThe title of Beth Henley’s new play sounds like an order; at least a nudge.

“Laugh” is her effort to move away from her more serious works from the stage that have included the Pulitzer Prize winning “Crimes of the Heart” and 2013’s “The Jacksonian.” Her setting is the silent movie heyday of the early 20th century.

Its a rich area to mine, considering the innovations on the screen and the speed at which people became international stars. But in the current world premiere at Studio Theatre, it’s not always a smooth road to laughter.

Using slapstick at the outset (in a fussy bit involving stagehands), and then exaggerated action as if from a Warner Brothers cartoon, she also throws in exuberant alliterative wordplay, pure absurdity and straight up jokes before throwing in actual cream pies. It almost feels like she’s trying anything that works after a while, and in comedy such perceived desperation can dry up the mirth.

Like a lot of old comedies, the story is simple. A waif inherits gold after a mining mishap, a distant aunt is anxious to get her hands on the riches; a dim, butterfly-collecting son is ordered to to marry her.

Things go wrong. Despite the ill intentions there is some connection between the young couple played by Helen Cespedes and Creed Garnick — the only actors in the cast of six who aren’t playing a handful of roles. They see a lot of movies, learn about the world through them.

An incident occurs at a Valentine Pornography studio and they part ways; money is involved (about $15). And that would be a good enough end of things.

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Review: Pointless Theater’s ‘Dr. Caligari’

Caligari-3There could hardly be a more reverent salute to a great, twisted film than The Pointless Theater’s well-wrought “Doctor Caligari” which brings the influential German expressionist film to life with the same jagged modernist angles, crazed paranoia and heightened drama.

More than that, the stage version directed by Matt Reckeweg uses the same monochromatic scale of grey to black scale of black and white film and is performed silent. That isn’t to say it doesn’t speak loudly, through its vivid action and especially the jarring, effective score by Michael Winch, an inventive violinist who performs it live on stage with cellist Madeline Waters and bassist Rick Netherton.

While taking a few liberties with the 1920 film, it follows the same innovative pattern, with one man telling another about his fear of a circus hypnotist who uses his sleepwalker (or somnambulist) to commit a series of murders.

As the murders come to life, in the shadows of a screen, the man is having less and less luck in trying to convince authorities (who appear to be apes in the cardboard puppetry of Genna Davidson). Eventually, of course, there is a twist in which the whole narrative is put into question.

So reverent is “Doctor Caligari” to the original “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” that it actually has the same running time of about 70 minutes.

There is something, too, about the black-eyed makeup and exaggerating acting that are true to silent film but also some kabuki theatre. The splendid cast throws itself into it all, with Frank Cevarich as the damaged, delusional Francis who conjures up this horror in his head, to Lex Davis alternately maniacal doctor. Matthew Sparacino and Rachel Menyuk are also luminous in their roles, even as they join the ensemble of Zachary Fernebok, Lee Gerstenhaber, Madeline Key and Scott Whalen in inhabiting any number of citzens, passerby or curious spies (sometimes in the masks of Kyra Corradin.

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Expecting ‘Big Time in Hollywood, Fla.’

big-time-hollywood-florida-castAlex Anfanger and Dan Schimpf were just a couple of friends making funny little films on YouTube until they got this idea.

“We were doing these just horrible, horrible things in New York, and we decided that we wanted to start working on something,” Anfanger, left, says.

Speaking to reporters at the TV Critics Association’s winter press tour, he said he and Schimpf, who he met at NYU, “had been working together through that time, and we decided to go to my parents’ house in Los Angeles, get away from New York and write something. And so while we were there, we came up with these characters. And they’re kind of like us, I guess.”

In addition to writing and producing, Afanger co-stars as Jack Dolfe; Schimpf, who writes and produces, stays behind the camera to direct, so his role is filled by actor Lenny Jacobson, pictured right above, who plays his brother Ben Dolfe.

The brothers are deluded would-be filmmakers who live in their parents’ basement and make bad films. What happens in “Big Time in Hollywood, Fla.” (Comedy Central, 10:30 p.m.), which premieres tonight, is that huge, unexpected adventures fill the days.

“It’s really our first foray into a scripted show that’s so serialized,” says Kent Alterman, president of content development and original programming at Comedy Central. “And we’re really excited about that.”

“Mostly when I’m at home I watch a lot of dramas,” Schimpf says. “And over the past decade or so, you started to see these drama really start to use the form in a way where they expanded worlds. It wasn’t just like one episode or another. It was like these big story arcs, these big storylines, and you started seeing dramas doing that. I always had like a comedic sense. I loved what they were doing in terms of filling their universes.

“Alex and I both have a mutual love for telling big stories and trying to bridge that gap into comedy,” he says. “I had these sort of like idiot characters that kind of go on an odyssey, and really, like, each episode just keeps growing and growing and expanding and expanding. And that, to me, was sort of like why I thought the idea would be fun. If you start small and you keep building the universe.”
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