Saturday TV: Black Sails Billow Back Up

black-sailsThe pirate saga “Black Sails” (Starz, 9 p.m.), one of the most popular shows on that network, returns for its second season tonight bigger than ever, adding additional ships to the fleet it’s assembled in Cape Town to replicate a former british colony of the New Providence Islands in the Bahamas in trying to recreate the “Treasure Island” prequel.

“The challenge for us for the second season was to make it bigger, louder, deeper, you know, to try to do things that we hadn’t done yet and to do them in a better way,” says executive producer and co-creator Jon Steinberg at this month’s TV Critics Association winter press tour. “We wanted to see more of the world. We wanted to see London, which brings a whole host of production challenges with it in terms of trying to not just create new sets, but create a new feeling of a new environment, a new world, a new canvas. And we wanted to make sure that we built to a great big finale that didn’t feel like the first one, that felt both bigger in scope, but also qualitatively differently. And that kind of entailed a whole other build of a whole other world.”

Here’s a good deal: The Golden Globe winning “Transparent” (Amazon Prime, streaming) is available free to all today for binging. Have at it.

Last year’s sequel “300: Rise of an Empire” (HBO, 8 p.m.) makes its premium cable debut. Also on is Steve Coogan and Judi Dench in “Philomena” (Showtime, 8 p.m.) and Mark Wahlberg’s 2013 Navy Seal movie,  “Lone Survivor” (Cinemax, 10 p.m.).

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Playlist 1-23-15

radioCPRBack after a two week absence, returning to a newly cleaned and painted studio was a surprise and disorienting. Never did find the wifi password. Had the best intentions of playing new work from The Decemberists, Belle and Sebastian and Sleater-Kinney but could not cross the internet rubicon to get the sounds to come out of my laptop. So we stuck to the augmenting material and it didn’t turn out bad.

Started with some Marvin Gaye, then moved around a whole lot for three hours, settling on some weird synth covers of classic rock and more nuggets from the Basement Tapes.

Here’s what I played on the radio:

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Friday TV: A Magician’s Magician

rickyjayRicky Jay is not only a great magician, he’s a great historian of that corner of entertainment and he’s also an actor you’ve seen in a number of things, from “Deadwood” to “Boogie Nights.” He’s a natural for “American Masters” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) but while his famouns-as-a-kid bio is fascinating, the the best part of the film is his reverence for long gone magicians like Cardini and the film’s spotlight on them. Another former amateur magician, Dick Cavett, narrates.

Stacy London is back to your Friday nights, bossing you around about your fashion choices if they’re not like hers. Her latest show is named after a crude game, “Love, Lust or Run” (TLC, 9 p.m.).

A new “Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO, 10 p.m.) features Bill Burr, Howard Dean, Nia-Malika Henderson, James Fallows and Bret Stephens.

Online, a new comedy special “Iliza Shlesinger: Freezing Hot” (Netflix, streaming), starting today.

The 100th anniversary of tenor Richard Tucker’s birth is celebrated “Live from Lincoln Center” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) in a concert featuring Michael Fabiano, Angela Meade, Joseph Calleja, Zeljko Lucic and Elena Bocherova.

“King of the Nerds” (TBS, 9 p.m.) starts its third season.

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Thursday TV: Rainn’s New ‘Backstrom’

BACKSTROM-articleLargeIt isn’t easy to create a character like “House,” who has a prickly personality but still manages to save the day. The latest attempt is the detective “Backstrom” (Fox, 9 p.m.), borrowed from a Swedish series of books and portrayed here by Rainn Wilson, who tries to bury his Dwight Schrute character forever by being an unshaven, slovenly drunk. Some of his young and shiny co-workers are annoyed with him and others are in awe of his investigative skills, which begin with him putting himself in the place of the perpetrator. That it’s from “Bones” maven Hart Hanson who worked on Bones” makes you think it should be a little sharper than it is, but so far it’s character types in the service of solving another crime of the week.

Another new reality show from Dick Wolf, who used to decry such things is “Nightwatch” (A&E, 10 p.m.), which follows third shift emergency workers in New Orleans in a series that seems a little sleeker than the many previous ride-around-with-first-responders type of shows.

Also new tonight is “Million Dollar Critic” (BBC America, 10 p.m.), featuring a British restaurant critic Giles Coren, who travels to the U.S. to eat its cuisine. The title can’t possibly refer to his salary. First stop is Philly for a cheesesteak.

“Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man” (CNN, 9 p.m.) returns for a new season, this time looking into how close robots have come to replicating people and — with a little mustache — maybe him too.

“The Taste” (ABC, 8 p.m.) reaches a conclusion and hands out a prize. And the failed comedies “Bad Judge” (NBC, 9 p.m.) and “A to Z” (NBC, 9:30 p.m.) play their final episodes.

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Wednesday TV: Restaurant Competition

best-new-restaurantTurns out I ate at one of the 16 restaurants battling it out on the new reality competition “Best New Restaurant” (Bravo, 10 p.m.) the other day. And I can tell you this: Union in Pasadena is pretty darn good.

Then again, I’m no Tom Colicchio, who takes into consideration service and speed as well as quality when pitting two restaurants against each other. Working with two other judges, the editor of Maggie Nesmer and Wichcraft founder Jeffrey Zurofsky, they pass judgment tonight on two Italian joints — one in Beverly Hills and the other in Miami. In addition to judges, they have undercover diners with cameras to pick up on the action.

Meanwhile, finals are getting closer on “Top Chef” (Bravo, 9 p.m.) where they have to come up with creative bean dishes.

The food won’t be as spicy as “The Mistress” (Discovery Life, 10 p.m.) in which Sarah Symonds, who claims to be the former mistress of Gordon Ramsay, tries to convince other mistresses to change their ways.

“American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX, 10 p.m.) packs up the tent with its season finale and a planned freak revolt. That’s always how these stories seem to end.

Abbi is advancing at her job at the gym and given the chance to train somebody on a new “Broad City” (Comedy Central, 10:30 p.m.). It can’t end well.

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Talese on Sinatra

talese_6On the last day of press tour Tuesday, at a panel for “The Italian Americans” premiering Feb. 17 on PBS, I got the chance to ask Gay Talese about Frank Sinatra.

Talese had written an iconic article about the singer in 1965 called “Frank Sinatra has a Cold” that ushered in New Journalism.

But how did his success relate to Italian America?

“The great achievement of Frank Sinatra as an Italian American was his capacity to assimilate,” Talese said via satellite from New York. “It’s very difficult for Italians of his generation — I’m just a little younger — to assimilate because they tended to be clannish.”

Talese said that most of the Italian immigrants to the U.S. are from the South of that country — Naples and Sicily and are by nature insular.

“I emphasize that, but it cannot be overestimated,” Talese said. “Sinatra was the first man in the entertainment world who reached out to other minorities, who had Sammy Davis, Jr., a black man, close to him; who married outside after his first marriage, he married non American non Italians.

“Sinatra was the only person who actually fought for portraying Italians in America in a more positive way,” he said, even though “he had gangster friends. There’s no doubt about that. But he also didn’t want to have Italians portrayed in a negative way.”

Talese says what while celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio did little outside their field, “Sinatra was a very, very significant American Italian, perhaps the most admirable of anybody I ever knew.”

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Tuesday TV: State of the Union and More

obama2012-state-of-union1-wideThe annual State of the Union (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, CNN, CSPAN, Fox News, MSNBC, BET, BBC America, Bloomberg TV, Fox Business, 9 p.m.) is our annual ritual of pomp, handshakes, alternate aisle standing ovations, and finally, the laying out of foreign and domestic plans of the president, just as his approval rating is back up to 50 percent.

The fun continues with the Republican Response, from a former Iowa hog castrator who has been on the job for all of two weeks, Joni Ernst of Iowa, and then, as if that’s not conservative enough, there’s a Tea Party response from another Congressional freshman, Curt Clawson, the Florida representative who made news last year when he mistook state department workers testifying for representatives of India.

Who is not presenting the state of the union? Again, The CW who will instead bring “Supernatural” (The CW, 9 p.m.) after “The Flash” (The CW, 8 p.m.) where Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell of “Prison Break” reunite as and Captain Cold and Heat Wave, respectively.

The sixth and final season of the terrific “Justified” (FX, 10 p.m.) begins with Boyd planning a big heist an his showdown with Raylan seemingly eminent before the Elmore Leonard-inspired season is over.

After some measure of success with their reality series “Friday Night Tykes” (Esquire, 9 p.m.), following the struggles of a Texas youth football association (it returns for its second season tonight), there is “The Short Game” (Esquire, 10 p.m.) about tykes competing in golf.

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Two Recent Plays: ‘Beast’ and ‘T’


The renaissance of timeless animated Disney musicals occurred during the time of “Beauty and the Beast” more than 20 years ago. There followed the golden age of Disney stage musicals based on the cartoons, which have included “The Lion King,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Tarzan” and “Aladdin.”

Undoubtedly there’s someone working on one for “Frozen.”

Meanwhile the Beast rolls on, on Broadway and off, in community theaters and in nationally touring productions, the latest of which rolled into the Warner Theatre this week to take the edge off a chilly night.

It’s comfort food for a lot of musical fans: Songs they know, coupled with a visually vivid presentation of fanciful sets, a complicated, multitasking chorus of a couple dozen, wearing splendid costumes that must number in the hundreds. People stood and cheered opening night.

But they would have done so too, if it were about half as long and tailored more to the young set that was well represented in the crowd.

But since this is Broadway, its makers bolstered the story and especially the songs for the stage, throwing in Tim Rice to finish work by Alan Menken. To be sure, both central characters had been lacking showstoppers, as the movie’s best songs were handled (and continue to be done so) by a candlestick (“Be Our Guest”) and a teapot (the title song).

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PBS Announces ‘Civil War ER’

After scoring big with British drama such that various “Masterpiece” projects will build out of the “Downton Abbey” run, PBS announced it would get into domestic drama now as well.

Shooting begins this summer in Virginia on a six episode series on a Civil War historical drama, PBS officials announced at the TV Critics Association press tour. “The series follows two volunteer nurses on opposite sides of the conflict and is set in a family owned hotel that has been taken over and transformed into a Union Army hospital,” PBS CEO Paula Kerger said.

Based on a true story and set in Alexandria, Va., it’s executive produced by Ridley Scott and David W. Zucker of “The Good Wife” as well as writer David Zebel of “ER.”

Accordingly, one of the working titles of the saga is called “Civil War ER” (another is “Mansion House”).

tca_paula_kerger__onecolumnIn a way, it’s a natural for PBS, Kerger says. “”Obviously the Civil War and history is something that is of great interest to us. Frankly, we were approached with a really great idea. And ‘The Civil War’ series that Ken Burns produced and directed and created is still the most watched television event on public television. ”

“Being able to tie back to that great legacy of telling a story that is such a seminal story in American history and to be able to now reinterpret a piece of that story through a drama, I think is for us, just absolutely perfect,” she says. “So I think all the stars lined up together.”

Kerger said PBS took its time to develop the project, “because we wanted to do it right. We have not done an American drama in a while, probably ten years. So this is a really big deal for us,.”

She says she looks at the project in the same way she does “Downton Abbey.” “It shines a light on a part of history,” Kerger said, ” I think for a lot of people, the best way to bring them into those stories is through drama. And so we’re not looking to do drama just for drama’s sake. We are looking to do drama that we feel is a little different from what everyone else is doing and that very much ties into our goal, which is not just to entertain, but also to educate and inspire. And I think this latest project is very much at the center of that kind of work.”


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An MLK Holiday Start for Larry Wilmore

LarryWilmoreIt seems a little too perfect that “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” (Comedy Central, 11:30 p.m.), once named “The Minority Report” by the former “senior black correspondent” at “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (Comedy Central, 11 p.m.) gets its start tonight, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I had a dream,” Wilmore said, “that a brother needed to work on that day.”

Actually, he told reporters at the TV Critics Association winter press tour this month, “I  was given the option of starting on Monday or Tuesday when they were making the schedule, and I said, ‘Well, is ‘The Daily Show” open on Monday?’ I said, ‘Well, then, I think we need to be open Monday. Let’s just start the week off.’ I mean, there’s no symbolic importance to it or anything like that.”

Wilmore has his work cut out for him. He’s filling the old time slot of the beloved “Colbert Report” and plenty of other shows have died in the “Daily Show” shadow, from a sports show by Norm MacDonald to an  entertainment gossip one by David Spade. But Wilmore has a little bit of a boost since it has the full support and some of the staff of Jon Stewart.

For his own part, Wilmore describes the show as “a kind of a hybrid, if you will, of, let’s say, ‘The Daily Show’ and maybe ‘Politically Incorrect.’

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