Hints for Future Watching

technical-difficultiesI’m sorry to say that the daily column this week will be spotty at best, or more likely missing altogether, as  I’m embarking on a trip that will take me away from wifi or make it exorbitantly expensive.

I’ll post when I can, but won’t be back to full service TV updates until March 9.

In the meantime, let me point out some highlights in the interim:

  •  “Secrets and Lies” (ABC, Sunday, 9 p.m.). Like “The Slap,” this is an Americanized series that originated in Australia, about a suburban man who seems to be the main suspect in a boy’s murder. It’s the kind of story that is well told on cable, but here seems stifled by the casting to start, with Ryan Phillippe as the family man turned suspect and Juliette Lewis as a tart detective. File it in the good intentions file, as broadcast networks try to approach cable storytelling heights rather than just program the same procedurals over and over.
  • “Battle Creek” (CBS, Sunday, 10 p.m.) has some pretty good bona finds, starting with a pilot script written by “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” creator Vince Gilligan. The caveat its hat he wrote it a real long time ago and will have little to do with it going forward. It’s still a little different, with its mid-sized city setting and a cast that includes Dean Winters even if it still has Josh Duhamel.
  • “The Good Witch” (Hallmark, Saturday, 8 p.m. ). They’ve made about eight different movies using Catherine Bell’s benevolent character, so it’s hardly a surprise they’ve cut it down into a regular series (even if they’re not doing it at Halloween). It ought to be vary popular with an audience already very familiar with how it goes.  Read More »
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Friday TV: Underwood’s Back, as President

hoc65Things should be quite different for the anticipated third season of “House of Cards” (Netflix, streaming, starting today).  Frank Underwood has already become President (which is where “Veep” will start when it returns in April). His days of pushing someone in front of the Metro are probably over. His wife’s scheming no longer involves political climbing but perhaps political longevity and legacy. New is Kim Barnes, who plays a journalist with better instincts than Zoe Barnes. That the entire season is available at once means your weekend plans are filled.

All the action seems happening online where “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (Netflix, streaming, starting today) was first developed for NBC as a comedy vehicle for Ellie Kemper of “The Office.” That it’s from “30 Rock” producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock may help make it one of the best pedigrees online.

What’s new on the old fashioned cable? Only the afterglow of “Sex Box” (WeTV, 10 p.m.), in which couples go in and do it (out of sight of the camera, but then come out in their robes and all but smoking cigarettes to talk how amazing it was or not.

There is no “Real Time with Bill Maher” tonight, to make way for an elongated premiere of “Vice” (HBO, 10 p.m.) that talks about the cutting edge ideas in cancer treatment, including a so-crazy-it-might-work ploy to use HIV to kill cancer.

“The Amazing Race” (CBS, 8 p.m.) is already underway, having jumpstarted Wednesday alongside the season start of “Survivor.” Now in its regular time slot premiere, the dating teams are competing in Nagano, Japan. Read More »

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Thursday TV: Bikini Season

victorias-secret-swim-special-date-announcedWhy go sexist just once a year for the ratings? CBS doubles up on its usual Christmatime “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” with the even skimpier “Victoria’s Secret Swim Special” (CBS, 10 p.m.). The skin show is accompanied by music by Juanes and Maroon 5, because they’re everywhere.

A second season starts for the online documentary series about the inner life of sports mascots, “Behind the Mask” (Hulu, streaming).

It’s all about Uma Thurman’s character Anouk on the latest chapter “The Slap” (NBC, 8 p.m.), the original version of which is streaming on one of the services.

Steve Buscemi returns to “Portlandia” (IFC, 10 p.m.) this time as an overly friendly real estate agent (instead of his classic role as a celery promotion man. Also guest starring is Anna Gunn.

There might be some resolution in the two hour first season finale of “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC, 9 p.m.), but not complete, I’m guessing. A new “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC, 8 p.m.) completes the complete SHondaLand Thursday, even without “Scandal.”

“Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man” (CNN, 9 p.m.) follows his trash to find out where it goes.

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Wednesday TV: ‘Survivor,’ ‘Race’ Starts

survivor-2015-cast-worlds-apart-00-full-castaways-480x278It’s a full night reality show pileup on CBS with the 90 minute premieres of both “Survivor” (CBS, 8 p.m.) and “The Amazing Race” (CBS, 9:30 p.m.) together on the same night for maybe the first time ever (“Race” moves back to its Friday night slot it inaugurated in the fall later this week).

The ploy on the former, returning for its 30th season, is to divide the 18 contestants between white collar, blue collar and “no collar,” which means those with more freewheeling, or creative lifestyles. At least there’s no celebrities involved or other former members, making this a fresher start than most.

There is a twist on the “Race,” though, as it includes 11 dating couples, half of whom are just meeting for the first time (which is pretty much the plot of another reality competition). This means everybody is younger, and there will be “date rewards” along the race as well as more camera time on the off-race days in the pitstop. This one does have a celebrity contestant, though — Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block, competing with his boyfriend Harley Rodriguez. There are also two Olympians — speed skater Aly Dudek and bobsledder Steven Langton.

Speaking of couples, the new series “Kosher Soul” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.) follows the relationship of stylist Mirmam Sternoff, a Jew, with comedian O’Neal McKnight, a black Christian, as they prepare for their wedding. Before that, though, he’ll convert to Judaism and she samples his Southern ways.

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Tuesday TV: Farewell, ‘Parks and Rec’

parks-recreation-finale-03_612x380_0The series finale for “Parks and Recreation” (NBC, 10 p.m.) will be tinged with more sadness than usual, due to the untimely death of executive producer Harris Wittels last Thursday. But it was going to be sad anyway, so beloved have these characters become (and too big to have a sitcom contain them; Chris Pratt, once a lowly side character, is a No. 1 box office draw; Aziz Ansari is selling out Madison Square Garden; Nick Offerman is practically a cult leader.

But it’s been a funny series throughout, from the unfairly disparaged first season even through this season’s uneven season set into the future (seen largely in distracting transparent electronic devises). One thing for sure about this season is how badly it’s been handled by the network: delayed until midseason and then rushed along on a new night with two episodes a week before tonight’s finale, which is suddenly bumped to 10 p.m. for no other reason than to not bother “The Voice” (NBC, 8 p.m.), still in the chair-spinning audition mode. It will be tough to see the “Parks” gang go, even if an awful lot of them seem to be moving up and on to Washington, from Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope to Audrey Plaza’s April Ludgate.

Here’s a longer piece I wrote about plans for the “Parks and Recreation” finale when the actors and creators met the press last month.

It’s down to Andrew, 11, of New Jersey, and Nathan, 12, of San Diego, for the finale of the “MasterChef Junior” (Fox, 8 p.m.). Their families will be there, as will all of the contestants from this season. One of them will win $100,000.

Also ending its season, is the short-run  “Marvel’s Agent Carter” (ABC, 9 p.m.), making way for the return of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” next week.

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Sesame Street’s ‘House of Bricks’

If you ever thought to tune in as an adult, “Sesame Street” is now pretty much another kiddie show, not the smart, fast-moving adult pleasing thing it might have been. But one arm of the place still makes funny Muppet pop culture parodies they never intend for kids to see. Instead, as much as they emphasize numbers or letters, it is only for nostalgic purposes. It’s all done for grown ups (and it may even have been done to tie into the new season, which is unleashed on Friday). What’s clear is that they don’t want kids to ask who the real Frank Underwolf is or why they’ve rewritten the Three Pigs for the umpteenth time.

It’s just for you to enjoy, so please, do so.

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The Tattoo Was the Signifier

oscars-lady-gaga_3208665cIn the Oscars aftermath, a friend writes:

Still hoping to find a web or press contributor someplace that touches more on the monumental weirdness of the Gaga / ‘Sound of Music’ mash-up. The movie musical itself was somehow almost kitsch from the beginning (not its own fault really either, the 60′s had changed the whole musical landscape underneath it, on the fly)(and before that, I don’t think ever regarded as one of Oscar & Hammerstein’s best) and lately sort of treated that way, with akin-to-’Rocky Horror’ singalongs, etc. (Meanwhile, last year the Academy was moved to make absolutely zip mention of the 50th anniversary of the film of ‘My Fair Lady’, a rather more substantial effort, if a slightly less popular one.)

And then there’s Lady Gaga, whose presentation, anyway, used to be toward the artier WTF end of the spectrum. Whither edification, coolness, irony in all of this? My jaw was dropped the whole time so I may’ve missed any buried signifiers. And then the whole thing was knocked into fourth-dimensional preposterousness by having Julie Andrews come out to thank her for it. With profound sincerity. Of course. Congratulations, Academy. I have absolutely no idea what you’re trying to do.

Gaga moved into the irony-free zone when she sidled up for a Tony Bennett duet project that’s still touring and playing the PBS circuit. Still adamant to prove she has a voice under all that weirdness, she dropped the winks for Tony’s sake, who maybe wouldn’t have been able to tell what was a joke or wasn’t (he did don hip-hop gear at the MTV Video Awards once).

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‘The Bachelor’s Worst Trait

ABC_bachelor1_ml_150224_16x9_992 “The Bachelor” got down to its ickiest episode Monday: The one involving the fantasy suite.

In a world where “50 Shades of Gray” is No. 1, this is the hubba-hubba episode. Never mind that it was also the only exotic episode of the season — in Bali, when heretofore the dates had taken place in the West and in dreary, flat Iowa, hometown of the farmer bachelor Chris Soules. Now, after daylong dates with each of the three finalists, they are handed a card that invites them to forego their individual room if they wish to join the bachelor for a night together in the suite (an icky detail is that it is signed by meddling host Chris Harrison).

In a realm where “on this journey” means “I’ve been dating a lot of girls at once,” then “take it to the next level” means implied sex. Chris is very anxious to take these relationships “to the next level.” The hormones are about exploding from his skin.

Well, the first of the two girls, the free-spirited Canadian Kaitlyn Bristowe, says yes quickly. The second, Whitney Bishoff, who has a high powered job as a Chicago fertility nurse but has one of the worst voices of any contestant in the history of the show, says yes even before she’s done reading the question. The third (and new favorite), Becca Tilley, 26, a chiropractic assistant from Shreveport, is a little rattled since she’s a virgin and hasn’t told him yet. She’s actually worried that she’ll be shown the door right then. Chris does sigh a long sigh when she finally tells him, but then does the right thing (with cameras on him and such) and says he respects her choice. Well, what else was he going to do? Make fun of it?

The curtains and doors close coyly to the cameras once we get a look at their rose pedal-scattered and candlelit suites (and why is the fantasy assumed to be sexual? Why not an ice cream fantasy? Or one involving a lot of dogs?). But often a lot of the storyline of the series happens behind these closed doors. It was only on the the last “Bachelor,” remember, where one woman wised up and left after what happened behind those closed doors (Juan Pablo had bragged about sleeping with the other finalist and was generally a jerk — a trait that was clear before they spent the night together).

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Monday TV: Lead Belly and Snowden

Portrait in New York, in Lead Belly's final days, 1948-49Black history month isn’t quite over until it’s time to salute “Legend of Lead Belly” (Smithsonian, 8 p.m.), the bluesman Huddie Ledbetter, whose songs continued to inspire performers ever since, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Nirvana, and in this documentary, Judy Collins, Robby Krieger of the Doors, Roger McGuinn (who was inspired to pick up the 12-string guitar because of him), and Van Morrison, who isn’t snared too often for interviews of any time. Most eye-opening are some newly found footage of Lead Belly, in prison garb re-enacting his “discovery” and in color, singing forcefully in a cotton field. Here’s a longer story about the new boxed set of Lead Belly recordings that I wrote for Smithsonian.

A day after its Best Documentary win at the Academy Awards, Laura Poitris’ remarkable “Citizenfour” (HBO, 9 p.m.) makes its timely premiere on premium cable. More than the story of Edward Showden’s courageous release of documents proving illegal spying on all American citizens and some foreign powers, the filmmaker was there when it all happened, at every step of his final decision making process. With the tension of a thriller, it all meant more because of the stakes — and its grim, vivid reality. Those who question Snowden’s motives will have a change of heart. Crazily, the movie about Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, “The Fifth Estate” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) is also on tonight.

A 1944 study of Jim Crow by a Swedish sociologist hired by the Carnegie Commission wondering how freedom loving people could allow such a system, is juxtaposed with modern-day racial injustices in Llewellyn Smith’s “American Denial,” making its debut on “Independent Lens” (PBS, 10 p.m.). Another special has the same focus, wondering what creates suchB(Investigation Discovery, 8 p.m.). Tony Harris is correspondent.

Fresh on the heels of that other awards show, here’s “The 2015 BET Honors” (BET, 9 p.m.) honoring Phylicia Rashad, Kanye West and Usher, among others. Mary J. Blige, Trey Songz, Patti Labelle, Ne-Yo and Charlie Wilson perform in the event hosted by Wayne Brady, taped last month at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.

Read More »

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An Even More Boring Oscars Than Usual

chi-oscars-2015-20150222Preshow overkill — and a lot of other movie-related awards ceremonies — almost always make the Academy Awards ultimately disappointing.

This year’s event is full of fully predictable wins for people who already got similar prizes and gave similar speeches at a handful of other event including, just the day before, the Independent Film Awards. And yet they kill time somehow such that it’s past midnight and they still haven’t announced a couple of prizes.

Maybe it’s things like Lady Gaga performing a salute to a 50 year old movie (OK, fine, but at some other awards show) or the pressure on Neil Patrick Harris to do for the Oscars what he had previously done at the Tonys.

Harris lost his golden touch somehow, performing an adequate opening number about the love for movies that was otherwise overrun by special effects (like much of Hollywood’s top grossing product today), and was left to do terrible puns and jokes off the top of his head while introducing presenters. After a winner ended her speech by mentioning a son who was a suicide victim, he cracked something about her dress. I spent a lot of the night tweeting the event, and saw an awful lot of funnier off the top of the head comments as the night went on. I also thought of some terrible tweets that on second thought I didn’t send. Harris had no such filter, and out went his blurts to billions.

Maybe less than billions. Early reports have ratings down as much as 14 percent from last year. This may be because a lot of the biggest moneymakers weren’t among the nominees or if they were (“American Sniper”), they had no shot at winning (although, speaking of shots, it did win best sound).

In most cases, it was up to winners themselves to make the show emotional and relevant by bringing up important issues nobody else was going to mention. Patricia Arquette talked gender pay equality; Common, in easily the most eloquent speech of the night, talked about way to go in racial inequality, following a performance of “Glory” from “Selma” that was easily the night’s best.

Close behind for me was the big goofy number for “Everything is Awesome” that used so many good people from Tegan & Sara to Lonely Island to Questlove and Mark Mothersbaugh from Devo. At that point it didn’t matter that the film from which it came, “The Lego Movie” wasn’t among the animated film nominees.

“Birdman” was great, I loved it, and was glad to see it win a lot of stuff, though it sapped the show of much of the drama. Some people were mad “Boyhood” didn’t win (although Arquette’s win for supporting role was big). Even without the statue, though, I’m sure the work stands on its own. It doesn’t need one of those little s

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