Tuesday, September 21, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 20

Forty seasons of outwitting, outlasting and outplaying. This Wednesday at 8pm on CBS, that's all going to change.

If you're not evolving, you're dying. But if it ain't broke, why fix it? This is the dilemma that Survivor faces, but COVID left the game with no choice. Even Jeff Probst and his crew couldn't escape the pandemic in Fiji.

One thing I love about Survivor is the construct of the game – the contestants were always the entertaining wild cards every season. Sure there were hidden immunity idols and secret advantages, but things always boiled down to 39 days, 20 contestants and one survivor.

Those days are gone. This season’s Survivor will reflect the current times and adapt to the new world we're all living in. Here's what's new:

No Theme – Winners at War. Heroes versus Villains. It's all gone. This time around, it's just Survivor 41. I like the simplicity. The themes are cheesy anyway. Let's play the game.

Game Length – 40 days have been compressed to 26, courtesy of quarantine. That may seem a huge advantage for these new contestants, but Survivor always pushes you to the brink. Gameplay will adjust with an accelerated schedule. Seasons have dragged at the start in the past, but there's no time to waste this year.

Contestants – The number drops from 20 to 18. There are no returning favorites and a truly diverse group of players. This is a welcome change. I've seen a little too much of Boston Rob lately.

Tribe Size – The tribes will stay tight, which means there's no hiding in the background letting the bigger personalities set targets on their backs. With fewer challenges and no daily food staple, smaller groups will bring out more conflict. Can't wait.

Jeff – Yes, his hair is noticeably longer, but he'll go from passive to proactive letting us know about twists before the contestants find out. It's a risky move breaking the fourth wall, but a logical step for accelerated storytelling.

Play at Home – There will be a "Game Within A Game" featuring puzzles hidden inside the episodes for us watching at home. This is an unnecessary step. I'm always looking for clues and trying to get an edge, but the game itself should be compelling enough to stay locked in. Take me to Ponderosa - that's enough of a peek inside.

Three decades on network television is a major achievement, especially for a reality game show. When it started, there were no hidden immunity idols. No tribe swaps. No permanent exotic location. Survivor has always been a malleable beast.

Winners At War was designed to be a greatest hits goodbye to an era. It worked. Change can be painful, but it also can be good and exciting. Jeff and the Survivor team have earned my trust. And we all can use the escape.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Dancing With The Stars (ABC) – The dancers are more well-known than the contestants. Not a good sign. Glitters Monday at 8pm.

NCIS: Hawaii (CBS) – An inevitable spinoff but with a female lead. Surfs Monday at 10pm.

Ordinary Joe (NBC) – Three different futures play out for one guy. Doors slide Monday at 10pm.

FBI International (CBS) – Another inevitable spinoff as Dick Wolf steadies his grip on network television. Badges Tuesday at 10pm.

Foundation (APPLE TV+) – This Isaac Asimov book adaptation stars heavies Jared Harris and Lee Pace. Embarks Friday.

The Tony Awards (PARAMOUNT+) – Apparently the neon lights are brighter on a streaming service. Curtain Sunday at 7pm.

Broadway's Back (CBS) – The Tonys may have gone online, but the theater lives on network TV with this two-hour celebration. Live Sunday at 8pm.

Feel-good romance, rebooting a classic and one last spin for Billy Bob…

Love On The Spectrum (NETFLIX)
Tuesday, September 21st Season 2

Young adults on the autism spectrum looking for love sounds like a horribly exploitative show. The first season ended up being one of the very sweetest dating shows, and a well-earned season two has arrived.

Everything did not turn out well for those seeking love in the first season. That only helped bring out heart and emotion to the stories being told. Now the talkative Michael returns along with other memorable faces, and a new group of singles looking for love charm their way on to the screen. Network dating shows could learn a thing or two from this series.

The Wonder Years (ABC)
Wednesday, September 22nd at 8:30pm ET

One of my all-time favorite sitcoms returns with a twist. The original show focused on the Arnolds, a white middle class suburban family finding its way in the 1970s through the eyes of a 12 year old boy. This time, the story revolves around a black middle class suburban southern family in the late 1960's. Not your typical reboot.

The bar is set high, and Dean Williams (EJ Williams) steps into the Kevin Arnold role, the youngest of three in an Alabama family dealing with turbulent times. Don Cheadle is the voice of grown-up Dean packing a powerful narration reflecting upon prejudice he couldn't clearly see at a young age. Hoping for plenty of wonder from the Williams family.

Goliath (AMAZON)
Friday, September 24th Season 4

Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) is back for one last ride, and now he's got the pharmaceutical industry set in his sights. George Zax (JK Simmons) is the big bad, and these two Oscar winners are a match made in heaven when they're going at it.

The final eight episodes pack the drama and twists we've come to expect from the series. Goliath has never shied away from big issues, and while pharma is an industry even Billy might not able to take down, I wouldn't bet against him.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you. 

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, September 13, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 13

It's Emmy time. Cedric the Entertainer hosts the 73rd annual ceremony celebrating the best in television this coming Sunday, September 19th. Ideally a TV award show like this would be a fantastic program in its own right. It never is.

But this year I've decided to not write about how The Emmys regularly disappoint me.  Last year's Schitt's Creek sweep won't allow it. The best in television deserve to be acknowledged, so here are my picks for this year's golden statues:


LEAD ACTOR: COMEDY - Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso

LEAD ACTRESS: COMEDY - Jean Smart, Hacks

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: COMEDY - Hannah Waddingham, Ted Lasso

SUPPORTING ACTOR: COMEDY - Brett Goldstein, Ted Lasso

BEST DRAMA - The Crown

LEAD ACTOR: DRAMA - Billy Porter, Pose

LEAD ACTRESS: DRAMA - Emma Corwin, The Crown

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: DRAMA - Gillian Anderson, The Crown

SUPPORTING ACTOR: DRAMA - Michael K. Williams, Lovecraft Country

The Crown has never won an Emmy for Best Drama. That pretty much sums up what I think of Emmy credibility.

Jimmy Kimmel did a great job as an Emmy host, but I have a feeling he's much more excited about the four-part documentary he produced on the 1986 New York Mets. Once Upon A Time In Queens is the latest installment of ESPN's award winning 30 for 30 series, and there are few better characters in sports than the roster of this World Championship team from Flushing.

Not everyone loved the '86 Mets, but it's hard not to get caught up in their story. Mookie Wilson's grounder going through Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs is the infamous moment from that championship year, but this doc does an excellent job illustrating how the "other team from New York" reached the pinnacle of the sport in spite of themselves.

Interviews with the players, coaches, super fans and broadcasters shed new light on what was going on in that clubhouse. Every professional athlete battles through personal struggles, but the Mets did it under the New York spotlight in the middle of a decade best known for its self-indulgence. The Big Apple was theirs, and they took every bite. Drugs, women, fights, fame… you name it, this team had it.

The 30 for 30 begins well before 1986 illustrating exactly how much of a joke the Mets were. Forget about the crosstown Yankees — the Mets were basement dwellers in spite of the love of their fans. Failed managers, the Tom Seaver trade, failed prospects and players… it's all there.

But then the different pieces start to come together under the guidance of general manager Frank Cashen — troubled superstars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, the banished Keith Hernandez, squeaky clean Gary Carter, and a laundry list of crazy personalities who wanted to win at any cost.

Naturally the championship run is covered in great detail, but so is the aftermath and failure of keeping this great ballclub together. Wild times catch up with much of the roster. So-called bad influences get dealt away for completely wrong reasons. 35 years later, the Mets are still in search of their next title in the shadow of the pinstriped team in the Bronx.

A good sports documentary can make you love a team that you can't stand. I was no Mets fan, but I enjoy a good story with flawed, vibrant characters. Once Upon A Time In Queens is a trip back to the mid-80's well worth taking.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (PEACOCK) – Not a great sign when you need the author's name in the title of your new series - it's The DaVinci Code guy! Premieres Thursday.

The Premise (HULU) – B.J. Novak’s comedic anthology series tackles "the big questions" with an impressive cast. Premieres Thursday.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie (AMAZON) – Stage adaptation of the hit London musical about an aspiring drag queen. Drops Friday. 

The God's Honest Truth (COMEDY CENTRAL) – Charlamagne the God gets a weekly late-night show produced by Stephen Colbert. Premieres Friday at 10pm.

Sex Education (NETFLIX) – Season three for the comedy that critics seem to adore. Drops Friday.

A solo guy, intense TV mornings and the greatest of all time…

Y: The Last Man (FX ON HULU)
Monday, September 13th

I'm not a comic book aficionado, but my friends who are told me about this Brian K. Vaughan saga long ago. The TV adaptation has been in the works for years, and the ten-episode series is finally here.

An apocalyptic event wipes out every guy on Earth leaving a planet filled exclusively with women… except for Yorick, the lone surviving male human. It's a grim world and there's a monkey involved, but the source material is so strong I've just got to tune in.

The Morning Show (APPLE TV+)
Friday, September 17th Season 2

The hype has been tamped down for the second season of this tentpole series. Season one was a rocky road with an A-list cast and memorable performances from Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup. Life behind the scenes of a network television morning show isn't all smiles and unwanted hugs.

The pandemic delayed the show’s return, but things pick up right where the first season left off. Season one was rewritten to incorporate the #MeToo movement, and season two had its pages torn up to address the effects of the pandemic. Alex and Bradley exposed the network workplace, and you know there's going to be hell to pay when honesty is your best policy. 

Muhammad Ali (PBS)
Sunday, September 19th 8pm

A Ken Burns sports miniseries? A legendary figure who transcends the world? This is the definition of must-see TV. 

The greatest television documentarian profiles the greatest boxer in this four-part eight-hour series. Ali's story had been told many times, but the Ken Burns treatment is always something special. Inspiration and perspiration are all over the screen as the heavyweight champ transforms into a cultural icon who changes the course of history just by being himself.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 6

After a long wait, Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres on FX this Tuesday. The beauty of these Ryan Murphy-produced "series events" is that everyone knows what's going to happen, but taking the ride is enlightening and entertaining as hell. Monica Lewinsky herself is a producer on this telling of the events, and the actress portraying her gives a striking performance, warts and all.

No one ever gets tired of the Lewinsky saga. Impeachment and infidelity are the hooks, but mix in The President of the United States and a White House intern, a friend’s betrayal, FBI involvement and investigations, denials across the board, and a key piece of fabric – what more do you need for some first-rate small screen storytelling?

American Crime Story has an excellent track record. In 2016, ESPN put together an award-winning 30 for 30 documentary on O.J. Simpson. The ten-part American Crime Story version The People vs. O.J. Simpson arrived around the same time, and it packed just as powerful of a punch. I'm generally not a fan of re-enactments, but the top-notch cast led by John Travolta, Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance had me rapt.

The show’s second iteration in 2018, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, didn't have as high profile of a cast, but it reinforced a pattern – tell a sensationalized tale with quality actors and treat it very seriously. It works.

Cred has been firmly established with the two previous versions, so why not explore the Clinton scandal? We know the story, but now it's being re-told as only American Crime Story can. And what a cast. Sarah Paulson is back, this time as Linda Tripp. Clive Owen plays President Clinton, Edie Falco is Hillary, and Beanie Feldstein tackles the role of Monica.

Many great comedic and dramatic actors have played these high profile individuals, but everything hinges on the vulnerability of Monica, and Beanie delivers a breakout performance. This will come as no surprise if you've seen her Lady Bird or Booksmart; Beanie captures the enigmatic White House intern in a way never seen before. Lewinsky's direct involvement could have gone either way, but this feels like you're watching the former White House intern take her journey for the first time.

The relationship explored in the greatest depth isn't the one between POTUS and the intern. It's Lewinsky and Tripp. Understanding their initial trust followed by the ultimate betrayal is a fascinating exercise. The poor treatment they receive from their idolized version of the White House connects them in a profound way and provides deeper context when Linda presses record on those tapes.

Everyone in the talented cast brings an edge to their characters. It would be very easy to present them as cliches at this point, but getting inside what makes Linda Tripp, Ken Starr, or any of those names from the headlines tick is a worthwhile voyage.

The third chapter in American Crime Story rises to the challenge once again of keeping me hooked in spite of knowing how things are going to turn out. It's a formula well worth repeating.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Being James Bond (APPLE TV+) – Craig. Daniel Craig reflects on being shaken not stirred. Arrives Tuesday.

On The Verge (NETFLIX) – Julie Delpy and three female pals explore life in their late 40's in L.A. Embarks Tuesday.

Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. (DISNEY+) – A reboot with the teenage medical prodigy being an Asian American girl in Hawaii. Checks in Wednesday.

Frogger (PEACOCK) – Based on the 80's video game where a frog braves traffic, alligators and turtles. Game on Thursday.

The Smurfs (NICKELODEON) – They're blue and they're back. Smurfs Friday at 7:30pm.

2021 Video Music Awards (MTV) – Doja Cat hosts as MTV fetes all the videos they ignored this year. Moonman Sunday at 8pm.

Canadian hospitality, a broken relationship and Pennsylvania law…

Come From Away (APPLE TV+)
Friday, September 10th

A tiny Canadian town welcomes 7,000 stranded travelers from the 9/11 air travel shutdown. This is a filmed version of the stage play featuring the Broadway cast. It's an uplifting message in contrast with the horrible events that leads these passengers to Newfoundland.

Scenes From A Marriage (HBO)
Sunday, September 12th 9pm

Ingmar Bergman is back again. His 1973 Swedish miniseries has been remade countless times, and this five-episode HBO drama packs just as powerful of a punch as its predecessors.

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star as the married couple whose relationship falls apart as time marches on. Brought to you buy the team behind The Affair and In Treatment, prepare for some heavy emotion and long conversations with your spouse.

American Rust (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, September 12th 10pm

If Jeff Daniels is on television, I'm going to tune in. He plays a police chief in the Pennsylvania rust belt who runs into some complications when the son of the woman he's having an affair with gets accused of murder.

The cast is stacked - Bill Camp, Maura Tierney, Mark Pellegrino and other familiar faces you’d expect to see in a small-town PA drama. Once you're done in Easttown, drive across the Keystone state to another depressing town full of mystery.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, August 30, 2021

TV Picks - Week of August 30

There's nothing better than a bankable star. You see the name, you know the project is worth checking out. Bryan Cranston. Tom Hanks. Regina King.

When I see the names Steve Martin and Martin Short, there's no question that I’m going to be cracking up. And it won't be easy laughs, either.

The legendary comedic duo was last seen together on the small screen three years ago in Netflix's An Evening You'll Forget For The Rest Of Your Life. If you couldn't see them live on stage, this concert performance was the next best thing.

Now they've teamed for the new Hulu mystery/comedy series Only Murders In The Building which premieres this Tuesday. Steve Martin co-created the ten-episode series which takes place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

When it comes to comedy, it doesn't get any funnier or more original than Steve Martin and Martin Short. Steve has been making me laugh since his early stand-up and wild and crazy guy days on Saturday Night Live. Martin was cracking me up at SCTV well before his one-year stint at SNL.

These two first worked together teaming with Chevy Chase for Three Amigos and haven't been all that far apart ever since. On the big screen, Martin played Frank (pronounced “Frahnk”) when Steve was Father of the Bride (twice). They have been touring the country with a hilarious stage show for the past few years.

Originality is what makes Steve Martin and Martin Short so special. It's never the same old thing. Their creativity always leads to more than just a punch line, and neither is afraid to make themselves the butt of the joke.

True-crime podcasts are at the heart of this new Hulu series. Steve stars as Charles, a somewhat forgotten 90's TV tough-guy cop, and Martin plays failed Broadway stage director, Oliver. The two cross paths in their building, The Arconia, and their obsessive knowledge of an Oklahoma murder podcast brings them together when someone is killed at their residence. Joining these two is fellow podcast obsessive Mabel (Selena Gomez), the third member of this comedy trio and the antithesis of Chevy Chase.

You read that right. Selena Gomez is part of the team, and she more than holds her own in the series. She teaches the elder comedy statesmen what makes sense in today's world, but Mabel is just as obsessed with true-crime as Charles and Oliver are. She is the perfect foil to these two wannabe sleuths who are dealing with their own personal crises.

Most of the show’s action takes place in their posh New York City apartment building which feels overcrowded and is starting to show its age. Upper West Siders Tina Fey, Nathan Lane and Sting are along for the ride as the trio decides it's their time to make a podcast of their very own.

The series mocks the true-crime podcast universe as it slips more deeply into it. There are plenty of unexpected twists and turns as we get to know the other residents and others close to our leads. The episode “The Boy From 6B” is told from a truly unique perspective (it's killing me not to spoil it for you) as the mystery continues to unravel.

The seemingly simple premise goes places where only Steve Martin can go. Expect the unexpected until the final minutes of the final episode. The laughs and intrigue are consistent throughout, and the show gets better as it progresses. Just like a good podcast.

Bank on it.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (NETFLIX) – Who's ready to fold? Sparks Tuesday.

How To Be A Cowboy (NETFLIX) – Dale Brisby leads the way on the Radiator Ranch. Mounts up Wednesday.

What We Do In The Shadows (FX) – Two new eps of a show everyone has told me to watch but I haven't gotten to yet. Creeps Thursday at 10 on FX.

Cinderella (AMAZON) – Live-action musical with a star studded cast - what could possibly go wrong? Charms Friday.

Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter To Los Angeles (DISNEY+) – Billie Eilish at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic. Pops Friday.

Money Heist (NETFLIX) – The first half of the fifth and final season stuck in the Bank of Spain. Unmasks Sunday.

Talking dogs, super freaks and Axe Capital…

Pixar's Dug Days (DISNEY+)
Wednesday, September 1st

We all remember Dug, the talking dog from the classic Pixar film Up!. Dug was the comic relief in an uplifting animated classic that deals with loneliness and death. Now he's got his very own series.

Dug Days is precisely what you want it to be – witty scenarios involving a talking dog and plenty of cuteness. The series is cleverly centered around puppies, fireworks, and other issues that drive dogs crazy. If you’ve always wondered what your dog is thinking, this is the show for you.

Bitchin': The Sound and Fury of Rick James (SHOWTIME)
Friday, September 3rd 9pm

Give it to me, baby. Dave Chappelle immortalized Rick James in his Comedy Central show, but this talented musician was much more than a punch line.

This documentary pulls no punches as it explores how this soul singer did things his way, as outlandish as that might have been. The life of the talented James is well worth the trip into his complicated and rebellious soul.

Billions (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, September 5th 9pm Season 5, Part 2

More than a year is a long time to wait for the second part of a season. But hey, this is the COVID world we all live in today. No need to go back – Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) continues to battle new foe Mike Prince (Corey Stoll) with Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) waiting to make the right move.

Alliances will be formed and broken, lives will be destroyed and resurrected, vocabulary no one uses in real life will be omnipresent, good tunes will be heard, cool Manhattan locations will be on display, and money will be everywhere. Can't wait.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, August 23, 2021

TV Picks - Week of August 23

The Netflix documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed premieres this Thursday, and its mysterious trailer already has people talking. They should be speaking with the soft voice of the legendary mellow painter. The "dark side" of Bob Ross' legacy is being heavily teased, but that's not why I'll be tuning in.

I have to confess – cheesy TV has long been my thing. And they don't come much cheesier than this bearded sensation with the hair.

Some say I come off as a television elitist with my distaste for reality and non-scripted programming, yearning for the days before "Chicago this" or "FBI that" dominated the scheduling grid. I admit to always looking for the next brilliant scripted series, but sometimes the "I can't believe this is actually on TV" part of me takes over. I can't help myself.

It started with The Lawrence Welk Show, a musical variety program named after its big-band leader host. Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1970's, I vividly remember stumbling upon this extravaganza following Bowling for Dollars and staring in utter disbelief. Do people actually like these songs? Are they camping this up for the camera? Where did these outfits come from?

Lawrence Welk was wise enough to lean into the cheesiness. I grew fond of the show, wondering if the The Lennon Sisters or Norma Zimmer would be belting out the next classic tune. The production numbers, the holiday shows... this was not prestige television, but I was absolutely mesmerized. It entertained me, and that's really what TV is all about.

Fast forward to the early 1980's. I'm flipping through channels and come to a complete stop on my local PBS station (WLIW Channel 21). There is a smiling white bearded man with a huge afro speaking softly as he paints a canvas of nature that would take anyone else a lifetime to create. He makes a quick addition with his brush and utters three words... "Happy little trees."

Those three words sound like nonsense or something from a children's book to most people. To Bob Ross fans, it is a mantra. This program, The Joy Of Painting, unleashed the Lawrence Welk inside of me.

I'm no artist, but it was blatantly obvious how talented Bob Ross was at painting instant classics. My mother, who is actually an accomplished painter, couldn't stand Bob Ross. Because he made it look so easy. A smudge turned into a detailed item in a matter of seconds. It was beautiful to watch.

The soft-spoken man became a public television sensation. Sure, Julia Child had made some meals and Bob Vila fixed some houses, but both had loud rambunctious personalities. Bob Ross forced you to take a breath and appreciate the little things as he masterfully added grass, clouds, rocks and water to his landscapes. The hair, the clothes, the voice... he had it all.

My vocabulary and knowledge of the color wheel dramatically expanded. Titanium White. Yellow Ochre. Phthalo Blue. These were the shades of my Bob Ross rainbow. I basked in all the different colors.

The only issue I ever had with Bob was when he'd paint a giant tree that covered most of the canvas he had just spent painstakingly detailing. But this was his joy of painting – I was just living in it. And I would have hung one of those paintings right next to my TV.

So now there's this Netflix documentary coming out. Despite what the streamer’s advance marketing would have us believe, Bob himself was the real deal. After he passed away, there was a battle between business partners and family over his legacy. It was the ugliness he seemingly always wanted to avoid in life, and makes for a fascinating story.

Along the way, we get to see Bob do his thing once again and learn how he became a public television star. I wonder how he would fare in today's age of social media. Would his little trees stay happy?

I'd like to think Bob Ross would find a way.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Messyness (MTV) – Snooki hosts a show with a perfect title that I'll never watch. Monday at 7pm.

Untold: Caitlyn Jenner (NETFLIX) – Is there anything left to say? Drops Tuesday.

The Other Two (HBO MAX) – The Comedy Central series about two millennials stuck in between their 14 year old pop sensation brother, and their newly famous daytime talk show-host mother hops to HBO Max for its second season. Premieres Tuesday.

See (APPLE TV+) – Dave Bautista joins Jason Momoa for season two and somehow they'll fit on a single screen. Opens Friday.

He's All That (NETFLIX) – Gender swapped remake of the cinematic classic She's All That. Pops Friday.

Wicked In Concert (PBS) – Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel host a concert celebrating the musical that put them both on the map. Defies gravity Sunday at 9pm.

Video cards, tipping dominoes and an unforgettable day…

Clickbait (NETFLIX)
Thursday, August 26th

A loving father shows up online holding signs claiming he has beaten and murdered women. If the video gets 5 million views, his abductors say he will die.

Entourage's Vinnie Chase (Adrian Grenier) is the dad holding the cards in this limited series, while his wife (Betty Gabriel) and sister (Zoe Kazan) try to find the kidnapper and discover whether there's any truth to what's written on those cards.

Lily Topples The World (DISCOVERY+) Thursday, August 26th

"YouTube sensation" is usually a no-go for me, but if it's a documentary about the world's most acclaimed domino toppler, I am so there. This award-winning doc profiles 20 year old Lily Hevesh, a Chinese adoptee who becomes the only woman in the domino toppling field. She just happens to have over 1 billion YouTube views.

Domino toppling is like watching Bob Ross paint - you get sucked in and mesmerized as art unfolds right in front of your eyes. Lily's story was filmed over three years, and her transformation is as compelling as watching those dominoes fall. Watch trailer.

9/11: One Day In America (NAT GEO)
Sunday, August 29th 8pm

This six-part documentary series takes us back to that fateful day in September and honors the lives that were lost. People who were there painstakingly recall moment to moment details and share first-hand accounts.

The series contains never before seen footage from those who were there as the morning unfolded. Each episode profiles the lengths individuals went to trying to help others and their reactions to such a surreal experience. It's a painful but necessary reminder of these terrorist attacks that took place on U.S. soil.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you. 

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, August 16, 2021

TV Picks - Week of August 16

The stakes are always raised when adapting a novel for television.

Sometimes a showrunner will take liberties and switch things up which fans of the book often end up resenting. When you're at a concert, do you want to hear a song exactly how it's played on the record, or hope there's a live element that makes the experience a little bit different? Book adaptations are tricky — you want the best of both worlds.

There have been some great ones over the years, but since most TV watchers aren't avid readers, many don't realize that their favorite show is based on a book with much more detail and background on their favorite characters.

I was writing a TV column just a few weeks ago when personal worlds collided around an upcoming big adaptation. As I took a break from writing, I turned to my right and had the following conversation with my wife who was fixated on her current book.

Me: "So what are you reading?"

Debbie: "Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. It's pretty good."

Me: (seizing the chance to be the hero) "You know that got turned into a series that's coming out on Hulu this month?"

Debbie: "I didn't know that. Please don't tell me who's in the cast until after I finish."

I totally get this. One of the best parts of reading a novel is imagining what these characters look like and painting that perfect picture in your head. But…

Me: (now really tempted to tell her Nicole Kidman is playing the lead) "Can I just tell you who is playing the lead?"

Debbie: "If you want me to tell you what happens, sure."

Me: (realizing I had just been checkmated) "I won't tell you until you're done."

I waited until my wife finished and then let her know that Nicole Kidman was the big star. But this didn't exactly come as a surprise.

Australian author Liane Moriarty wrote Big Little Lies which was adapted for HBO by David E. Kelley and starred Nicole Kidman. If it ain't broke… the Aussies don't fix it. The Kidman/Kelley/Moriarty team reunited for this eight episode Hulu series.

Do not expect Big Little Lies… that's not what this show is. A talented cast is here in full force, but Nine Perfect Strangers is a much more bizarre story with personalities galore. As for the storyline, it's much more like The White Lotus on HBO.

Nicole Kidman has certainly found her niche on TV playing a woman hiding a deep secret in a privileged world. It began with Big Little Lies, and then she took things to another level in The Undoing with British scalawag Hugh Grant.

In Nine Perfect Strangers, she stars as Masha, a guru with a strong Russian accent who runs the California wellness retreat Tranquillum House. The space is designed to aid others who are looking for all sorts of help. Kidman has never been afraid to make bold choices, and she goes all in on Masha and her accent.

Masha is surrounded by individuals at Tranquillum House who are dealing with pain and seeking spiritual guidance. These strangers are portrayed by top notch talent who are best known for their quirkiness, and it's no stretch to see Kidman as someone who great actors are drawn to.

The characters are a bit cliched, but this is Bobby Cannavale playing an angry former football star and Regina Hall doing her thing as a bitter divorcee. Melissa McCarthy is perfectly cast as Frances, a depressed writer of romance novels. Michael Shannon, who always brings the pain, is the father of a family dealing with a great loss.

This eight-parter follows the David E. Kelley formula, and that's okay. You absolutely know what to expect. You can't help but wonder what's under the mask of all these characters and the actors who are portraying them.

Nicole Kidman carries Nine Perfect Strangers with her Aussie magic, and my gut tells me we haven't seen last of the Kidman/Kelley/Moriarty trio.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Bachelor in Paradise (ABC) – The title is an oxymoron. Monday at 8pm.

Ben & Jerry's Clash of the Cones (FOOD) – Best way to recover from the show above. Monday at 9pm.

House Calls with Dr. Phil (CBS) – Do you really want this guy to show up at your door? Wednesday at 9pm.

Awkwafina is Nora from Queens (COMEDY CENTRAL) – The semi-autobiographical comedy returns for Season 2. Wednesday at 10pm.

The Defeated (NETFLIX) – An American cop looks for his brother and fights in post WWII Germany. Lands Wednesday.

The Walking Dead (AMC) – The three-part final season begins - remember when we cared? Sunday at 9pm.

Naked and Afraid of Love (DISCOVERY) – 16 naked strangers struggle for survival and romance – yet another sign of the TV apocalypse. Sunday at 9pm.

Academia, true-crime and a haunted house…

The Chair (NETFLIX)
Friday, August 20th

The trials and tribulations of an English department at a major university doesn't exactly scream must-see TV. The Paper Chase (I know it wasn't English) and Good Will Hunting (I know it was a movie) are notable exceptions to this rule. This dramedy centers around the first female chair of a prestigious department and all the politically correct problems that come with it.

Sandra Oh is a fabulous comedic actress. She’s been on my radar since she was stealing scenes as Rita Wu in the 90's comedy Arli$$. Her Killing Eve success did not come as a surprise. Here she attempts to shepherd a flailing English department through a series of personnel challenges that she finds, well, personally challenging. Jay Duplass, Bob Balaban and Holland Taylor lead a stellar supporting cast.

Truth Be Told (APPLE TV+)
Friday, August 20th

The first season of this true-crime murder investigation flew under the radar. Octavia Spencer starred as Poppy Parnell, a podcasting sleuth who questions the validity of convicted murderer (Aaron Paul) in her quest for justice.

The HBO docuseries I'll Be Gone In The Dark chronicled Michelle McNamara's pursuit of the Golden State Killer and shined a bright light on civilian true-crime obsession. Kate Hudson joins the cast in season two playing her fellow Oscar winner's childhood friend as Poppy puts everything on the line to get to the truth. The talent is there… will the story deliver?

Chapelwaite (EPIX)
Sunday, August 22nd 10pm

Adapting a Stephen King short story for the screen always presents a challenge. The story is good, especially if it comes from his must-read short story collection Night Shift. As for the adaptations — well there's Stand By Me and Shawshank, but there’s also Children of the Corn and Trucks.

Chapelwaite is a fresh take on King's short story Jerusalem's Lot, but the horror master had nothing to do with the writing this time around. Charles (Adrien Brody) loses his mind in a haunted Maine house as governess Rebecca (Emily Hampshire from Schitt's Creek) helps protect the kids. You might want to stay away from this part of Maine.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you. 

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