Friday, July 31, 2009

Mulling the new "Rockford Files"

Sigh. I'm torn. Seriously torn. This week, Variety reported that NBC has tapped "House" mastermind David Shore to helm a remake of the classic James Garner series "The Rockford Files" (you can read the Variety article here). I really don't know what to think. On the one hand, I think this is an awful idea. "Rockford" was lightning in a bottle, combining the talent of TV auteurs Stephen J. Cannell and Roy Huggins with Garner's laid back charisma to create something truly special. You can't recapture that. To me, Garner will ALWAYS be Rockford. Always. Plus, it's disheartening to see TV execs mulling yet another remake when they should be focusing their energies on creating fresh new properties.
Still...once I heard about the proposed remake, I began considering the possibilities. If NBC did somehow come up with something as good as the original (unlikely, but maybe not as impossible as I think), it would be really exciting. I also started wondering who would play the shaggy, stubborn PI. Ken Tucker of Entertainment Weekly, and others, have named "Castle" star Nathan Fillion as their ideal Rockford, and Fillion does have a rakish, Garner-like way about him. Other names that have been dropped include Bruce Campbell of "Burn Notice" and Damian Lewis of the canceled NBC drama "Life." I have developed my own list of potential Rockfords. Here's my top 5.
1. Dominic West: My first choice. West, so good as the wily-but-dysfunctional Jimmy McNulty on HBO's "The Wire," would be a perfect fit as Rockford. After all, Rockford and McNulty share a lot of characteristics (and a first name). Both are stubborn, independent-minded guy's guys who rely on their charm to get them out of tough spots. Plus, like Garner, West has a great smile -- a key Rockford component in my book.
2. Adrian Pasdar: I stopped watching "Heroes" mid-season, and have no idea if Pasdar's character, Nathan, is still on the show. I hope not. Like many of the "Heroes" cast members, Pasdar is wasted in a skimpy role. Anyone who saw him on the creepy, short-lived Fox series "Profit" knows how good he can be, and I'd love to see him in another starring vehicle. And, if you doubt he has the charm to pull off Rockford, check out his work as a caddish attorney on the otherwise unremarkable second season of "Desperate Housewives."
3. Josh Holloway: As the new Rockford is only in the planning stages, it probably won't hit the air until "Lost" has completed its run, meaning Josh "Sawyer" Holloway could be free to do it. Like West, he's already shown he can play a complex charmer. Side note: wouldn't Holloway's "Lost" co-star Michael Emerson make a great Angel Martin?
4. Dean Winters: Not a household name, but Winters is an established character actor who has worked his cranky, gravelly-voiced magic on a slew of series, from "30 Rock" to "Rescue Me" to "Oz" to "Life on Mars." He has a nice every-man quality, and I'd really like to see him get a central role.
5. Jay Karnes: Dutch wasn't the flashiest character on the excellent FX drama "The Shield" but, thanks to the talented Karnes, he was every bit as interesting as Vic Mackey and Shane Vendrell. Karnes's dry delivery coupled with a surprising vulnerability could make him a fine choice for Rockford.

Those are my choices. What do you think?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Olyphant tries to recapture the "Deadwood" magic

Today, FX officially announced its new drama "Lawman," starring Timothy "Deadwood" Olyphant as a 19th century lawman. Hmm. Olyphant as a lawman? Sounds like an attempt at recapturing that old Seth Bullock magic. Not that I mind. Olyphant hasn't had a good role since "Deadwood" (yes, he was good on "Damages," but that skimpily written part didn't give him much to work with), and this show sound promising. It's based on a story by one of my favorite authors, Elmore Leonard, and comes from Graham Yost, of the underrated series "Boomtown" and the beloved miniseries "Band of Brothers."
Also, the great Walton Goggins of "The Shield" is apparently set to guest star.
So, my hopes are up. For more details, see the press release below.


Drama Series from Graham Yost Based on Elmore Leonard Character

Stars Timothy Olyphant

FX Orders 13 Episodes from Sony Pictures Television and FX Productions

Premieres Spring 2010

LOS ANGELES, July 28, 2009 – FX has placed a 13-episode order for its next original drama series, Lawman, which was developed by Graham Yost (Boomtown, Speed) and stars Timothy Olyphant (Damages, Deadwood), announced John Landgraf, President and General Manager, FX Networks. Lawman will premiere on FX in spring of 2010.

Produced by Sony Pictures Television and FX Productions, Lawman is based on the popular Elmore Leonard character “Raylan Givens” featured in his short story Fire in the Hole. Yost, who created and produced the critically acclaimed NBC drama Boomtown, wrote the pilot and will serve as Executive Producer/Writer on the series. Leonard (Cuba Libre, Rum Punch, Get Shorty) will serve as an Executive Producer on the series along with Sarah Timberman (Kidnapped), Carl Beverly (Kidnapped) and Michael Dinner (Karen Sisco), who directed the pilot episode. The pilot was shot in Pittsburgh and Miami, and series production will take place in Southern California beginning this fall.

“FX has been fortunate to employ some of the finest writers working in television and we’re lucky to add an outstanding talent like Graham Yost to that growing list,” said Landgraf. “Graham began with a memorable character from one of America’s foremost crime novelists, Elmore Leonard, and we scored the hat trick signing Tim Olyphant who is absolutely pitch-perfect in the role of Raylan Givens.”

“Like the other shows we’ve partnered on with FX – The Shield, Rescue Me and Damages – the pedigree of talent behind and in front of the camera on Lawman is outstanding,” said Zack Van Amburg, President, Programming, Sony Pictures Television. “This gripping narrative of justice being served has such universal themes, it’s sure to resonate with FX’s viewers.”

Olyphant stars in the lead role of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. Givens is a modern day 19th century-style lawman, enforcing his brand of justice in a way that puts a target on his back with criminals and places him at odds with his bosses in the Marshal service. That conflict results in a reassignment for Givens to the U.S. District covering the town where he grew up. He is an anachronism – a tough, soft spoken gentleman who finds his quarry fascinating, but never gives an inch. Dig under his placid skin and you’ll find an angry man who grew up hard in rural Kentucky, with an outlaw father, who knows a lot more about who he doesn’t want to be than who he really is.


FX Orders Drama Series Lawman

July 28, 2009

Page 2

Olyphant starred in HBO’s award-winning drama Deadwood, and he co-starred FX’s award-winning drama series Damages last season. Some of his feature films credits include Live Free or Die Hard, Hitman and The Girl Next Door.

The series co-stars Nick Searcy (CSI) as Givens longtime friend and boss “Art Mullen,” and Jacob Pitts (21) and Erica Tazel (Life) as Deputy Marshals “Tim Gutterson” and “Rachel Dupree.” Guest stars include Walton Goggins (The Shield), Joelle Carter (CSI: Miami) and Natalie Zea (Dirty Sexy Money). Lawman is produced by FX Productions, Timberman-Beverly Productions, Nemo Films and Rooney McP Productions, Inc in association with Sony Pictures Television.

For FX, Lawman is the tenth drama series ordered by the network since its rollout of scripted dramas in March of 2002. Other drama series include Emmy® and Golden Globe® award winners The Shield and Nip/Tuck; Emmy and Golden Globe nominated Rescue Me; Over There; Emmy Award winner Thief (received a limited series six-episode order); Dirt; Emmy and Golden Globe nominated The Riches; and Emmy and Golden Globe award winner Damages, starring Glenn Close, and Sons of Anarchy which returns for its second season on September 8.

Lawman is the seventh show produced under the FX Productions banner – Sons of Anarchy (co-produced with Fox 21), Damages (co-produced with Sony Pictures Television), The Riches (co-produced with Fox Television Studios), Dirt (co-produced with ABC Television Studios), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and 30 Days.

FX is the flagship general entertainment basic cable network from the Fox Networks Group. Launched in June of 1994, FX is carried in more than 95 million homes. The diverse schedule includes a growing roster of critically acclaimed and award-winning original series; an established film library with box-office hits from 20th Century Fox and other studios; and an impressive roster of acquired hit series. For more information about FX, visit our web site at

Monday, July 27, 2009

"True Blood" recap: Oink if you're an evil, back-stabbing supernatural minion

Warning: Spoilers for this week's "True Blood" below.

This week's "True Blood" was all about betrayal. We learned that Daphne, the incompetent waitress who recently revealed herself as a shapeshifter, is actually the pig traveling with evil Maryann. We learned that Eric has enticed Bill's maker Lorena to return and drive a wedge between Bill and Sookie. We saw Sarah Newlin betray her husband by sleeping with his protegee, Jason. And we saw that someone betrayed Sookie to the Fellowship, resulting in her unwilling participation in the world's most hostile church "lock-in."
Here are a few of my thoughts, observations and questions about this week's episode "Hard-Hearted Hannah."
* True to the suspicions of many viewers (of many fans of Charlaine Harris's novels), that was indeed Lorena swaggering down the hall at the end of last week's episode. Turns out, Eric summoned her to work her magic on Bill, even though he and Lorena have seen each other in roughly 70 years. We saw some flashbacks to the days when Bill and Lorena rolled together and, man, was Bill nasty back in the day! Judging from the date on the flashback -- 1936, I believe -- I assume this was not that long before Bill and Lorena parted ways. What changed his mind? What turned him into the gentle, sensitive, tormented Bill we know and lust after? I'd like to know, please.
* And the time has come to know just WHAT Maryann is doing over at the Stackhouse house. Did she do something to Eggs? What does she want with Tara (and Sam, for that matter)? And what's with all the freakin' orgies? I'm getting kind of sick of this storyline, and desperately want to know what's up.
* At any rate, it wasn't a total surprise that Daphne is in league with Maryann, was it? She's always seemed a bit suspicious. But here's what I don't get. Early in the season, we saw Daphne waiting on Maryann in Merlotte's. They didn't seem to know each other, and no one was paying attention to them, so there was no need to pretend they didn't know each other. But, that incident was after Tara first saw Maryann with the pig. So how long have Maryann and Daphne been together? Is this a continuity error? Or did Maryann not recruit Daphne as her pig until after her dinner at Merlotte's? Is she a replacement pig?
* Though I'm not a huge Sookie fan, I liked the scene of her trying to sweet-talk her way into the Fellowship, then slowly realizing that they know who she is, that they plan to take her, and that there's nothing she can do about it. It was appropriately tense and creepy, right down to Sarah's clear anguish over this turn in her husband's plans. Very uncomfortable and effective.
* Jason and Luke's discussion about the morality/amorality of pre-marital sex and its many variations was a hoot, particularly Luke's description of the sin hierarchy. Apparently, the only thing worse than sex with vampire is "sex with a dude" or a "vampire dude." Oh Jason, please get away from these people!
* Running out of time so I'll just make one more observation. I really liked the scene between Andy, Lafayette and Terry in the kitchen. The role of Andy is so broad, it doesn't really allow Chris Bauer to show off his subtlety as an actor. I like how Andy started the scene blustery, then slowly eased off after being chastened by Terry (also, his delivery of the word "pizazz" was priceless). I also liked the subtle inference that Terry, the veteran, recognized Lafayette's cowering as some form of post-traumatic stress. The moment at the scene's end, with trouble Terry comforting trouble Lafayette was very touching.
* Ok -- one more observation: I love Hoyt Fortenberry. Loved the way he stood up to his mom and her snooty friend. Loved the way he ran out to the hotel to see Jessica, social conventions be damned. Love him so much. Jessica, please don't eat him. I will be really, really, sad.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Blood,guts and 3 a.m. feedings: A trailer for the new season of "Dexter"

Folks, don't say I never do anything for you. Here, in your hot little hands is a link to the trailer for the new season of Showtime's "Dexter." Here you'll see how our favorite serial killer Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is adjusting to his new daddyhood (spoiler alert: not well). And you'll get a glimpse of Dexter's new serial-killing nemesis (played by John Lithgow, appropriately creepy) and you'll see the return of an old friend. Don't click if you don't want to find out...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Leverage" is "The A-Team." Yes. Yes it is.

Wednesday night, Mr. I Screen and I were nestled on the couch watching TNT's lightweight but thoroughly enjoyable caper show "Leverage," when something dawned on me. I can't believe I didn't see it before, but the character construction (and often the plot construction) of "Leverage" is amazingly similar to that of the 80's classic "The A-Team."
Think about it. "Leverage's" Nathan Ford is the smart, shape-shifting ringleader of a motley crew of renegades, much like one John "Hannibal" Smith. Like Hannibal, he enjoys planning, costumes and abusing substances (in Ford's case, it's alcohol he enjoys abusing, not cigars. Though, he Hannibal ever actually SMOKE those cigars, or did he just chew on them? Oh well -- I digress).
Then you have Eliot, clearly the BA of the group. He glowers, beats people up and has a questionable hairdo. Unlike BA, Eliot doesn't seem to have a real weakness (last season he boarded an airplane without the aid of clandestinely administered pharmaceuticals), but he does have a soft-spot for underdogs. Very BA-like.
Parker, obviously, is Murdock, as she is Howlin' Mad. And, though she doesn't fly planes, choppers and the like, she does sail from building tops with the aid of grappling hooks and wires, so it's sort of the same skill set.
Sophie is Templeton "Face" Peck, as she's sort of the looks and charm of this outfit. Though she does slightly resemble Hannibal in her love of show business.
I'm not quite sure where Hardison fits into all this, because "The A-Team" didn't have a hacker. The closest thing they had was Amy, the journalist who occasionally joined them on missions. In the 80's, I guess, bands of rag-tag renegades didn't NEED a hacker in their midst. In today's world, it's a requirement (see Flinkman, Marshall on "Alias").
When I sorted all this out, two things immediately became clear to me.
1) I had just spent far too my time analyzing "Leverage," a show I enjoy mainly because it DOESN'T require a lot of analysis.
2) I know WAY too much about "The A-Team." Way, way, too much.

"Sunny" promo clips!

So, a few weeks ago, I told you that FX had announced its premiere date for its darkly hilarious sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Well, promos for the new season are up on Hulu and, judging from the few I've watched, the new season looks mighty promising. I'm especially tickled by this clip, in which in the enterprising yet dim Charlie markets a new invention. And check out this promo, in which poor, poor Dee gets judging by an impatient bridal salon saleswoman. This last one, of Frank discovering a new use for rope, is a bit twisted, even for "Sunny" standards. But I'm still all in.
The new season of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" debut Sept. 17 at 10 p.m. on FX.

Monday, July 20, 2009

"True Blood" recap: Don't fence me in

Though I seldom recap the HBO show, "True Blood," this season has been so good, and so worth talking about, that I'm going to make a concerted effort to blog about it whenever I get the chance. Last night's episode wasn't among the season's best, as it had few memorable lines (the sole exception: Sookie telling Bill "You have a heart, whether it beats or not.") and not a lot of action.
But there was enough interesting stuff to talk about. I'd like to start by talking about our dear friend Jason, still holed about with the Fellowship of the Sun folks, and still making himself known as a potential superstar in the vamp-fighting world. Clearly, show creator Alan Ball and his staff are making connections between FOS and religious cults. That was never more clear than in last night's episode, when Jason and his fellow Soldiers of the Sun recruits were yanked from sleep, denied privileges like bathrooms and subjected to a grueling training regimen. This is how they break your will Jason! Don't fall for it!
Jason, to his credit, resists more than the other soldiers. And he shows a shocking compassion when he helps archenemy Luke over a fence during a training exercise (though, in a nice touch, Jason promptly plops Luke in a mud puddle once he's on the other side).
This marks him as true "soldier" material with the Newlins and trainer Gabe, and Steve Newlin gives Jason access to a room of anti-vamp weapons. The most terrifying image of the night? Jason Stackhouse with a flamethrower. Yikes.
Of course, Steve isn't the only Newlin interested in our favorite shirtless dim bulb. The lonely Sarah finally tries to consummate their chemistry during a bathtub scene both erotic and wonderfully awkward, thanks mainly to the terrific work of Ryan Kwanten. Kwanten is often overlooked, partly because the character he plays is such a dolt. But he does a good job of finding the confusion, conflict and vulnerability under Jason's thick skull. The expression on his face when Sarah offers to come in the bathroom to bathe him is priceless.
Here are some more thoughts on this week's episode:
* Having read "Living Dead in Dallas," the Charlaine Harris novel on which this season is based, I can tell you that the Dallas vamps in the book are much smarter (and more interesting) that the blood-thirsty bickering characters we met last night. But it does kind of work. I like the contrast between the violent yahoo Stan and the more practical Louisiana vamps. Also, we got a little more of Eric's background last night, and I can never get too much Eric.
* Can I say how much I love the tender adolescent romance between Jessica and Hoyt? The phone conversation between them was so sweet and adorable, I just wanted to hug them both. Also, I love that Hoyt's ring tone is "When the Saints Go Marching In." Little details like that really make this show worth watching, don't they?
* Also loved Jessica's line to Bill after he scolds her for eating off the hotel's "menu": "You're going to be sooooo sorry when I develop an eating disorder!"
* Is it just me, or is Barry the telepathic bellboy a bit more interesting (and less annoying) than Sookie. I'm thinking spin-off!
* OK, must discuss the opening scene, when Sam learns Daphne is a shifter. I usually like Sam Trammell's performance, but his reaction shot when he sees the doe turn back into Daphne was waaaaay over the top. Sam would be surprised, but, considering he's a shifter, he wouldn't be THAT surprised.
* On the other side of the coin, I'm loving the layers that Lafayette's ordeal have brought out in Nelsan Ellis's performance. No longer just a clown, there's a real sadness to the character now. More of him, please.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A bigger Emmy breakdown

Though I already posted a few thoughts on yesterday's Emmy nominations, I wanted to take the time to write a longer, more involved post on the subject. This year's nominations were fairly unique, as there were seven nominees in the comedy and drama series categories, as opposed to the traditional five. That's due to a new rule allowing six nominees in these categories (a tie can lead to more, which seems to be what happened here).
At any rate, there were some odd picks this year ("The Family Guy" for best comedy series? Really?) as well as some refreshing ones (finally, a series nod for "Big Love" and for "Flight of the Conchords") and the usual horrifying oversights (I can't say it enough -- NO NOMINATION FOR "The Shield"?????).
Here's my rundown of the best and worst of the Emmy nominations. The entire list of nominees can be viewed here. And feel free to post your own thoughts/feelings/wails of anguish over the omission of "The Shield."
The Good: Let's start on a positive note, shall we? It was nice to see at least some fresh faces among the nominees this year, particularly Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad" and Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men." While both work with leading men -- Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm -- who often get all the praise (and award nominations), Paul and Moss more than held their own this season, delivering sad, searing performance. Also nice to see was a nod for Jemaine Clement, of HBO's whimsical musical comedy "Flight of the Conchords." I agree that, of the show's two stars (Bret McKenzie is the other), Clement is a bit funnier, often selling a whole scene with one shrewd reaction shot or disarmingly dry line delivery. I also liked seeing the show get nominated for best comedy.
While we're on the subject of comedy, I was thrilled to see some "30 Rock" supporting players get some love. Yes, stars Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey are great, but this show has a deep bench, so I was thrilled that Tracy Morgan (maybe having his best season yet) and Jack McBrayer (always a daffy delight as Kenneth the page) got nods for their work.
Also, I don't watch Comedy Central's "The Sarah Silverman Program," but I enjoyed seeing the show's star, Sarah Silverman, get an out-of-the-box nod as best actress.
Other positive thoughts: liked that Emmy finally decided to start paying attention to "Lost" again. The show, which had its best season to date, deserved its best drama series nomination. And it's good to see Michael Emerson, whose work as the increasingly complex Benjamin Linus is never less than awesome, back in the supporting actor category. Despite strong competition from Paul and William Hurt ("Damages"), I'm going to go out on a limb and say this award is his to lose.
The Bad: Even with an increased number of nominees and an open-minded approach, there were still MANY glaring oversights. First, why does Emmy refuse to acknowledge the wonderful small town drama "Friday Night Lights" and its stars? Kyle Chandler's sweet, subtle work as Coach Eric Taylor is some of the best acting on TV; ditto for the performance of Connie Britton as his wife, Tami. But Emmy never looks at them twice. Why? I think Britton was far more deserving of a supporting actress nod than, say, Rose Byrne of "Damages" (good, but constantly outclassed by her co-stars) or Cherry Jones of "24" (good, but saddled with a somewhat thankless role). Granted, most of the guys who got nominated in the leading actor category are tough to argue with (except possibly Simon Baker of "The Mentalist," whose success in his role has more to do with charm and presence than acting chops), but I hope against hope they could find a spot for Chandler. He's too good to ignore. I'm also upset by the fresh choices who were overlooked in favor of stale old stand-bys. Did the Academy really need to nominate Charlie Sheen AGAIN for "Two and a Half Men?" I know the show is popular, but I would have much rather seen his spot in the leading comedy actor category go to a fresh face, like Danny McBride of HBO's new series "Eastbound and Down." The comedy category itself was a bit stale, save for the odd nomination of "Family Guy" and the encouraging nod for "Flight of the Conchords." I feel the Emmys are now just nominating "Weeds" and "Entourage" because they've managed to stay on the air for five seasons, not because the shows are so good. In fact, both shows are fading a bit, and I feel it's time to pass them by for some fresh blood.
And let's take a second to discuss that "Family Guy" nomination, shall we? Of all the animated shows on TV over the years, THIS is the one that the academy felt was worthy of recognizing in the comedy category, instead of just the animation category?
Think about it. "The Simpsons." "South Park." "King of the Hill." None nominated for best comedy. Look, I sometimes enjoy "Family Guy," but it can't compete with "The Simpsons" at its peak, or with any season of "King of the Hill." And while I admire "South Park" more than I enjoy it, it's hard to argue that it presents some of the most scathing satire on TV. So why "Family Guy?" Well, I guess we can be thankful they didn't nominate "American Dad" for best comedy. Yet.
The Downright Insane: You might have noticed that I haven't said much about the lack of major nominations for FX's drama "The Shield." That's because I feel this oversight deserves its own category. The last season of "The Shield" was possibly one of the greatest seasons of TV in the past 10 years. I don't even think I'm exaggerating. It was devastating, realistic and impossible to look away from. Nearly every performance was perfect, from Michael Chiklis's mesmerizing work in the lead role of corrupt cop Vic Mackey to Walton Goggins's lacerating performance as Mackey's shunned underling Shane Vendrell, to CCH Pounder's wonderful work as decent, doomed police captain Claudette Wyms. Yet it failed to get a single major nomination. And it will never have another shot. Why? Why didn't the academy recognize this show? Was it even a blip on their radar? Were they really able to convince themselves that there were SEVEN better shows on TV this season? Yes, "Lost," "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad" and "Big Love" all had great seasons worthy of nomination. But "Dexter" got a nod for its third season, its weakest yet. And "Damages," while entertaining, isn't nearly as smart or penetrating as "The Shield." Why couldn't "The Shield" sneak in? And why didn't Chiklis, Pounder and especially Goggins make the cut for their work? We'll never know. It hurts to think about. I guess everyone involved with "The Shield" should view the show's excellence as its own reward. But they shouldn't have to.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Some quick Emmy impressions...

So, as you might know, today the nominations for the 61st annual Primetime Emmys were announced. I don't have a lot of time to write about it, but here are some of my initial impressions on the noms. I promise to have a longer piece in tomorrow.
"The Shield" gets The Shaft: Can I tell you how mad I was that FX's brilliant drama "The Shield" got NO major nominations for its insanely fantastic final season? No best series nod. No nod for lead actor Michael Chiklis. And, most incredibly NO NOMINATION FOR WALTON GOGGINS. That was the one nomination I was pulling for, more than any other. I am beside myself. For real.
Some "Big Love" love, but not enough: Here's what made me happy -- a best drama nomination for HBO's wonderful "Big Love," which arguably had its best season this year. Here's what made me sad: No nominations for any of "Big Love's" actresses, even Chloe Sevigny, whose work this year was simply astounding. But not to Emmy apparently.
"Conchords" takes flight: Looks like HBO's quirky comedy "Flight of the Conchords" just got one step closer to being picked up for a third season. The show earned a best comedy nomination, and one of its two stars -- the wonderfully sly Jemaine Clement -- get a best actor nod. While I think this season wasn't as strong as its first, I was happy to see this show get some recognition.
More doses of happy: In my longer post, I'll get more into which nominations made me happy, but let say quickly that I was glad to see Elisabeth Moss get recognized for her lacerating work on the second season of "Mad Men" and Aaron Paul get a nod for his wonderful work on this season of "Breaking Bad."
Also, feel free to read my piece from June in which I pushed some potential dark horse nominees. That will give you a clearer a idea of which nominations/omissions pleased/upset me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Blue" and "Leverage" -- Same formula, different execution

Previewing the new TNT series "Dark Blue," I kept getting this weird sense of deja vu. The series, debuting today at 10 p.m., centers on a team of cops who go deep undercover to bring down bad guys. Yes, that's right -- another cop show. But that doesn't account for my weird sense that I'd seen the show before. I kept watching and little bits and pieces just kept striking me as so familiar. You had a team made up of a rag-tag assortment of misfits, led by a brilliant but troubled professional still mourning the loss of a loved one. The team includes a tough loose cannon and a mercurial woman. It all felt so familiar...oh wait! I know where I've seen this before! On "Leverage," the TNT series that starts its second season tonight at 9, only an hour before the premiere of "Dark Blue."
Carter Shaw (Dylan McDermott), the cranky leader of "Dark Blue's" cops, is an almost perfect mirror of Nathan Ford (Timothy Hutton), the cranky leader of "Leverage's" band of thieves. Both are dark-haired, smart, slightly arrogant and secretly mourning someone they care about. Carter, unlike Nate, leads a three-man team, not a four-man one. But there are similarities within. "Dark Blue's" Dean (Logan Marshall-Green) is a mysterious gun-slinger and skull buster, not unlike Eliot (Christian Kane), the enforcer on "Leverage's" team. And there's even a slightly flaky blond chick in the "Dark Blue" mix, Jamie (Nicki Aycox), sort of a less larcenous twin to Parker (Beth Riesgraf), "Leverage's" resident nutball.
But despite these similarities, "Dark Blue" is vastly different from "Leverage." Its tone is much darker. In the premiere, Dean has gone missing and might be irreversibly sucked in to a gang of thieves. Another team member, Ty (Omari Hardwick), is facing pressure about his dangerous job from his wife. And Carter seems intent on ticking off everyone from his team to a group of agents investigating the gang Dean's hiding out with. Unlike on "Leverage," there are no jokes. And unlike on "Leverage," there is no fun. There is no life.
"Dark Blue," at least that first episode, seems to be collapsing under the weight of its own seriousness. McDermott is good, as always, and it was fun to see Kyle Secor of "Homicide" pop up in a smallish role, but much of the show just lies there. You know you're in trouble when your show has shootouts and chases and still manages to be boring. I'm not sure exactly what the problem is, but I just couldn't engage with any of the characters.
But maybe the show just needs time. At first, I didn't like all the characters on "Leverage," either, and was particularly put off by Riesgraf's brittle, mannered work as Parker. But, over the course of the season, I warmed to Riesgraf and Parker and the rest of the show. "Leverage" isn't brilliant TV, but it is fast and funny with appealing characters. I wasn't too impressed with the first episode of the new season, which spends too much time reassembling the gang of thieves after their separation at the end of last season. We know this team isn't going to separate. Why waste valuable time trying to convince us otherwise? I'd rather see Parker scale a building or Eliot busting heads or team tech guy Alec Hardison (Aldis Hodge) crack wise with the speed and wit of a young Will Smith. But there was enough of that stuff to hold my interest, and I'm sure more is coming in future episodes.
"Leverage" is a light, engaging heist show -- the perfect summer diversion.
It might have surface similarities to "Dark Blue," but, in entertainment value, these series are different as can be.
"Leverage" returns tonight at 9; "Dark Blue" premieres at 10 p.m.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An I Screen news round-up

Now, usually, I don't post tidbits of TV news mainly because a) with rare exceptions, they're boring and b) by the time I post them, they're often old news. But today, a couple of interesting releases came across my desk, and they were intriguing enough that I felt the need to share them with you.
Let's start with the least surprising and work our way up:
NPH hosts Emmys: In the day's biggest example of "Well, duh!" news, CBS announced that Neil Patrick Harris will host the 61st Annual Primetime Emmys. Though I don't really watch Harris's sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," I do find him to be an engaging presence on talk shows, and he did do a good job hosting the Tonys (or so I heard. Someone who goes to the theater as seldom as I do has no business watching the Tonys. It would just be a perverse charade). Thus, Harris was kind of a natural for the Emmys, which could use someone of his natural wit and charm to spruce them up. The show airs Sept. 20. Nominations come out on Thursday.
FX gets animated: Now this is interesting. The basic cable network FX announced today that it would debut a new animated comedy, tentatively titled "Archer," in the fall. The show centers on the misadventures of a group of spies. Though it's done well with dramas, FX has a spotty track record with comedy, with "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" its only real score in the category. But FX's freewheeling sensibility is a good fit for animated comedy. The show comes from creator Adam Reed ("Frisky Dingo") and features the voices of, among others, Jessica Walter and Aisha Tyler. The 2-minute clip provided to press by FX was rough, but promising. So, fingers crossed.
Um, ok: Look, this next bit of news is so odd, I'm just going to paste in the press release. Enjoy.

“The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on ICE”


Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me,” “30 Days”) is set to produce and direct The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice airing Thursday, January 14 on FOX. The documentary special will be the momentous conclusion to the “Best. 20 Years. Ever.,” a year-long global celebration of THE SIMPSONS that launched in January 2009 and culminates on the 20th anniversary of the series’ debut.

In The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special in 3-D on Ice, Spurlock will examine the cultural phenomenon of THE SIMPSONS in his distinctive and innovative style. The special will document how the world sees THE SIMPSONS and how the Simpson family has seen the world for two decades.

“When they first called me about this, I thought it was a prank and I hung up,” said Spurlock. “And then my agent called back and said, ‘No, no, this is for real,’ at which point I fainted. Then when I woke up, I called everyone I knew because it was the coolest thing I could ever get to do in my career.”

Morgan Spurlock has built a career that spans film, television and web programming. His first feature-length documentary, “Super Size Me,” won the Documentary Directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and was nominated for an Academy Award the following year. In 2005, Spurlock formed his Manhattan-based film, television and web production company, Warrior Poets, which is devoted to making socially significant and simultaneously entertaining work. Warrior Poets has produced the feature documentaries “The Third Wave,” “What Would Jesus Buy?” and “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?”

Now the longest-running comedy in television history, THE SIMPSONS immediately struck a chord with viewers across the country as it poked fun at itself and everything in its wake. With its subversive humor and delightful wit, the series has made an indelible imprint on American pop culture, and the family members have become television icons.

THE SIMPSONS is a Gracie Films Production in association with 20th Century Fox Television. James L. Brooks, Matt Groening and Al Jean are the executive producers. Film Roman is the animation house.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hutton likes having "Leverage"

To actor Timothy Hutton, there's only one major difference between movies and television: "You need to hire a babysitter to see one of them."
Hutton would know. His film career stretches back decades and includes an Oscar-winning performance in Robert Redford's acclaimed drama "Ordinary People." But, over the past several years, he's also developed a thriving TV career. In the early part of the decade, he co-starred for two seasons in A&E's delightful "A Nero Wolfe Mystery." In 2007, he was part of the ensemble of NBC's short-lived drama "Kidnapped."
And last year, he snagged a role as a Nathan Ford, the ringleader of a gang of thieves and con-artists who rip off the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the less fortunate on TNT's drama "Leverage."
"Leverage" returns for its second season Wednesday at 9 p.m., and, arguably, has firmly established Hutton as TV star. But the actor said he doesn't see a lot of contrast between acting in television and acting in films, and doesn't have a preference for one medium over another. "It's all about the material," he said.
With "Leverage," he's been handed some pretty fun, if lightweight, material, and Hutton said we're in for more of the same this season.
When we last left Nathan Ford and his merry gang of crooks, they had parted ways. Spoiler alert: that doesn't last. The season premiere quickly reassembles the group for a new job. Also, we see that Nathan is trying to turn over a new leaf. Last season saw the character -- whose son's tragic death left him with a collapsed marriage and a drinking problem -- flirt tentatively with the idea of getting sober. This season sees him trying to commit to quitting (though he is now living over a bar). "He's off the bottle and he's trying to stay that way," Hutton said.
He added that this season "doesn't go as dark" as the last, so there won't be as much emphasis on Nathan's drinking this time around. His battle with alcoholism will be there but "he has other issues to deal with -- like being a control freak."
Other aspects of Nathan's past might come back into play this season, including his ex-wife, played by "Nero Wolfe" co-star Kari Matchett. Hutton said he's heard Matchett will be back but he's not sure how her character will return.
Meanwhile, the focus of the show will remain Nathan's relationship with the other members of his team, and how this group of seemingly mismatched criminals works together.
Now that these characters know each other better, Hutton said, it opens the door for some interesting complications. "Their relationship is more and more complex," Hutton said. "The big conflict and struggle with the team is how long they can stay together."
The second season of "Leverage" starts Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TNT.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Entourage" seldom veers beyond pleasant

Usually, when I watch a show every week, it's because I enjoy that show. Perhaps I like the writing and/or the acting. Maybe I'm attached to the characters or find the stories addictive. At any rate, there's something that brings me back every week. Then there's the handful of shows I seemingly watch for no reason, other than habit. Maybe I once found them compelling, but, now, they are hit or miss at best.
In the past few seasons, HBO's "Entourage" has become one of those shows. Once a fresh, funny portrait of the life of a movie star and his various hangers on, the show -- which returns for its fifth season Sunday at 10:30 p.m. -- has become a bit tired, with nearly every season subscribing to the same formula: Movie star Vince (Adrian Grenier) is on the cusp of getting a big movie. He doesn't get it. It looks like his career is in jeopardy. Then, at the last minute, he gets either that movie or another, better movie. End of season.
Vince and the supporting characters have grown and evolved little over the various seasons, with Drama (Kevin Dillon) still a clueless pain in the butt, Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) still a goofy mooch and Eric (Kevin Connolly) still a loyal but wussy buddy/manager seemingly incapable of wresting himself from Vince's side.
Judging from the two episodes sent to press, the show does seem to making some movement toward changing the characters a little. Vince, it seems, is on a career upswing (and, in magical "Entourage"-land, does a guest spot on the "Tonight" show -- which is still hosted by Jay Leno!). Eric is planning to move out and is circling his flirty but hesitant ex Sloan. And Turtle, inexplicably, is still dating Jamie-Lynn Sigler (playing herself).
But these changes are too little too late and, as usual, whatever juice the show has comes from the character of Vince's agent Ari (Jeremy Piven, seemingly recovered from his bout with mercury poisoning)
Like the other characters, Ari is still pretty much the same guy he always was: loud, abrasive, occasionally cruel. But if the character is static, at least he's interesting, particularly in his interactions with his smart, ambitious assistant Lloyd (Rex Lee, who, unlike the show around him, is NEVER not funny). This season, Lloyd is trying to move up in the ranks, from assistant to agent, and Ari is struggling with both that and his new partnership with his friend Andrew (Gary Cole).
The scenes with Ari barking at his minions, and sweating over keeping it all together always make me wish that this show was about Ari and not Vince.
But it is about Vince. And, as such, it's not exactly bad -- just unremarkable. It's a pleasant enough way to spend a half hour a week, and, chances are, I'll keep doing just that.
But why?
The new season of "Entourage" premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.