Monday, October 19, 2020

TV Picks - Week of October 19

I've always been in awe of any entertainer who becomes identifiable by a single name.

Howard. Oprah. Dave.

These talk show hosts didn't start out with the single moniker like Cher or Madonna – they earned it.

Howard is still the best at what he does. Oprah is busy running an empire. But a funny thing happened on Dave's exit from late night network television. Most thought he would ride off in to the Montana sunset, rarely to be heard from again if at all, Johnny Carson-style.

By the time he retired in 2015, Dave seemed fed up with the cookie-cutter limits of a network TV talk show. Having to interview the star of the latest procedural crime drama some combination of the letters I, C and S in the title was tedious. After spending decades brightening our nights at 12:30 AM, and then 11:30 PM, it was time for our hero to move on.

He spent some quality time with his wife and son. He grew that Santa beard. He did some print interviews about the state of the country and late night television.

And then, two years into his retirement, he made a deal with Netflix to do the interview show he wanted to do. Focus on one guest who piques his interest and take a deep dive into what makes them tick. 

David Letterman first came on my radar in the 1980's when I couldn't sleep and watched Late Night with David Letterman. It was silly, witty, irreverent, and anything but your typical talk show. Dave was charming as heck, and a welcome contrast to his hero in the coveted 11:30 time slot, Johnny Carson.

The battle to replace Johnny has been chronicled time and again. Jay Leno got the gig, and CBS got Letterman. The 11:30 start changed Dave and the show. 12:30 shows have a different vibe and personality. Following the local news, you need to play ball as a cash cow of the network. The anti-establishment guy became the establishment. But even as he stood out there in those double-breasted suits, Dave never lost the respect of his late night fans.

You could tell Dave had had it by the end of his run. He wasn't as locked into his guests until those last few weeks of the show. When the host is engaged, I'm engaged – the interview subject doesn't really matter.

Thankfully Dave found his calling on Netflix where he can do his own thing. The guests are fantastic. The interviews are fun and informative. I do miss Paul and the World's Most Dangerous Band, but I'll take what I can get, thankful that he hasn't ridden off into that Montana sunset just yet.

THIS WEEK'S PICKS

The World Series (FOX)
Tuesday, October 20th 8pm

The fall classic will take place in Arlington, Texas, and the home team Rangers won't be taking the field. The Major League Baseball bubble is fully in place, and as for the weather, well, winter is coming. This playoff run has actually been very exciting. Games were played every single day and the drama has been quite intense. The Tampa Bay Rays (conquerors of the Astros and Yankees) will face off against the Los Angeles Dodgers (who overcame a 3-1 deficit to the Atlanta Braves) for the world title. 

Baseball is a slow sport to watch, but these teams have masterful pitching and timely hitting. Having a World Series also brings a slight sense of normalcy to a topsy turvy world.

My Next Guest Needs No Introduction (NETFLIX)
Wednesday, October 21st (Season 3 Premiere)

Kim Kardashian West, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Chappelle and Lizzo sit in Dave's hot seat for the third season of his Netflix interview show.

Dave doesn't hold back on why he's fascinated with his guests, and the mutual admiration society is in play on each episode. His genuine curiosity about these celebrity lives shines through as if he's on a mission to learn as much as he can while he can.

I’m no Kardashian fan, but the opening episode with her shows Dave at his best. He seamlessly drifts from topic to topic making his guest look good with his self-effacing humor. CVS will never be the same again.

There are only four episodes this season (thanks, COVID), but in a break from tradition Netflix is releasing the entire season at once, rather than one episode at a time.

The Queen's Gambit (NETFLIX)
Friday, October 23rd (Series Premiere)

A female orphan growing up in the 1950's succeeds in the world of chess. If that sounds like it's straight out of a book, it’s because it is. Scott Frank, who created Godless, is in charge and Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Beth Harmon.

Beth is a woman in the male-dominated world of chess who wants to be the best and topple the Russian champ. She is also addicted to pills and alcohol and walking that fine line between genius and insanity.

Exploring genius is always a worthy endeavor. Mix in some addiction problems with the need to be steps ahead of your competition, and you've got a moody drama to dig in to. Your move. 

The Undoing (HBO)
Sunday, October 25th 9:00 PM ET (Series Premiere)

David E. Kelley. Nicole Kidman. A murder at a fancy private school. Sunday night on HBO. Haven't I seen this before? Where's Reese?

The Undoing is not Big Little LiesThe Night Manager director Susanne Bier makes winter in New York look awfully creepy. It's the perfect setting for Nicole Kidman to lose her mind over a murder.

Hugh Grant plays the accused as only Hugh can, and it's great to see Donald Sutherland as his father in law living quite comfortably in NYC. There's plenty of social commentary about race and class while figuring out whodunnit. This isn't Succession, so level your expectations.

Any David E. Kelley show is a crapshoot. It could be really good or it could be really bad. This one gets the Sunday night on HBO treatment, so we know it's going to be beautiful to look at. Still, the plot needs to be strong enough to keep me coming back.

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If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know. 

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, October 12, 2020

TV Picks - Week of October 12

There's no such thing as a sure thing. John Cusack proved that long ago.

But there are names in the entertainment industry who buck that trend. We all have them – a favorite actor, director or TV showrunner. Tom Hanks. Quentin Tarantino. Jack Kehoe (trust me). 

I choose to focus on a different part of the entertainment industry – the writers. We fall in love with certain characters or shows and often attribute those feelings to the stars speaking the words. Awards shows are all about the actors. The writers are often overlooked.

Not by me.

Bankable TV writers are my sure things. Tell me they penned the series and I'm there, regardless of who is starring and whatever the premise might be.

David Simon. Damon Lindelof. Vince Gilligan. Those are just a few of my favorites.

And then there’s Aaron Sorkin – the surest of sure things. The man loves to write, as many of us do, but no one can write for the screen like he can. His credits are impressive not for their box office success and critical acclaim, but for the diversity in the subject matter he has taken on.

The written word is all he needs to get you going. His dialogue is heads above all others. The most mundane conversations become intriguing. Sure he's preachy and his soliloquies are a bit much at times, but when it's right, it's poetry.

Look at his film writing credits…

A Few Good Men
Malice
The American President
Charlie Wilson's War
The Social Network
Moneyball
Steve Jobs
Molly's Game
The Trial of the Chicago 7

I'm skipping his plays which include his most recent take on To Kill A Mockingbird. (Stay tuned Tony fans, I've got a Broadway pick for you to watch this week.)

Sorkin's four TV shows were hit and miss, but I'm glad I watched every one of them. Sports Night was ahead of its time, marrying his love of SportsCenter and behind the scenes TV drama. The West Wing was a game-changer. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip once again took us behind the scenes, but this time it was a sketch comedy show and it just happened to come out at the same time as 30 Rock. Bad timing, and not a great show. The Newsroom was well acted but got way too preachy leaving no one to root for.

Not all of these TV shows may be your cup of tea, but all of them have magical moments that only Aaron Sorkin can conjure up. He is THAT good. So if Aaron Sorkin is the guy who wrote the project, you bet I'll be there to watch and listen.

There are two Sorkin specials being served up on TV this week. Of course they'll be political with a strong liberal stance. But they'll also be the most entertaining things to watch all week.

It's a sure thing.

THIS WEEK'S PICKS

A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote (HBO MAX)
Thursday, October 15th

They're back… and the timing couldn't be better.

The West Wing is a personal all-time favorite. It won every Emmy award of its kind and deserved each one. This fictional presidency would be welcomed in today's world.

Following up on the film The American President, Sorkin rose to the challenge of making everyday life in the White House compelling. It seems commonplace now to capture drama in the Oval Office, but The West Wing was something novel and completely different on the TV landscape during its time.

Martin Sheen got promoted from the movie's chief of staff to the commander in chief. A young Elizabeth Moss played his daughter, Zoey. Alison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe… the list of actors perfect for their parts is endless, making it feel like each of us were part of POTUS' staff.

This presentation will be a staged production of the “Hartsfield Landing” episode (s3 e14). Sterling K. Brown will step into the role of Leo for the late John Spencer. There are many "guest stars" to help get out the vote, and I'll take any excuse to see this magical group reunite.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (NETFLIX)
Friday, October 16th

This feature film was made for the big screen, but COVID took care of that. Aaron Sorkin wears both hats as writer and director, and critics are already calling it an Oscar contender.

Sorkin originally wrote the script in 2007 and did many rewrites over the years. The cast is top notch with Eddie Redmayne playing Tom Hayden and Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman (he openly lobbied for the part).

The story is as timely now as it was back in 1969. We all know how Sorkin does when he tackles a courtroom drama. Enjoy this one from your couch, and see how you handle the truth.

American Utopia (HBO)
Saturday, October 17th

I'm fortunate to have attended a good number of Broadway shows and musicals. The plays are gripping, but often long. Most musicals are cheesy (why are they singing everything?) and try way too hard.

American Utopia is an exception.

Stop Making Sense is my favorite concert film, so I was a little bit biased when watching David Byrne's latest offering on stage. The show is powerful and mesmerizing – so much more than a live concert.

I had the pleasure of meeting David Byrne after the show, and he could not have been more pleasant. He just put on this huge show and took the time to converse with me when I know he just wanted to go home. Class act.

Spike Lee captures the stage performance and tries to create that fascinating theater experience. It's a good reminder of what Broadway can do. Let's hope we get to check it out live again soon.

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If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know. 

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, October 5, 2020

TV Picks - Week of October 5

Not a lot of great new stuff this week, so let's catch up with what has been popping up recently on my screen...

At Home With The Heins 

Every night around 8 o’clock or so, my wife Debbie and I settle in for a night of television. Yes, this includes cell phone glances and an occasional landline conversation with friends and family, but for the most part this is our undisturbed time together. Quality time.

Our first challenge – finding a show we’re both interested in. We each have distinctive tastes but manage to find some overlap on programs that we both like. Don't think for a minute that my television expertise carries any weight in the room – in fact it puts more pressure on me. "You're the expert, why can't you find something for us to watch together?" That's a fair and challenging question.

We've enjoyed shows like The Good Wife (Deb's recommendation), The Split (that was mine), Normal People (my pick too) and most recently, Virgin River (yes, Virgin River). Deb puts up with my prestige TV and sports, and I tolerate Chris Cuomo. Marriage is compromise after all.

Finding a show that hits the sweet spot is a tricky thing, but when it happens, it's pretty special. As we anxiously await the second season of Virgin River, here are a couple of shows that we've recently watched. 

Love Fraud (SHOWTIME)

This saga of Richard Scott Smith seemed right up our alley. A documentary from notable filmmakers about a guy who has taken advantage of countless women who bond together to catch this scumbag. 

The story at the heart of this four-part series is compelling, but the execution doesn't do it justice. As the creators try to build drama and illustrate how long it takes to nail a snake like this, the series drags on and on. The "artful animation" feels like filler as we wait to meet the next wife or girlfriend who got conned.

It's very moving when we hear from the ladies involved and their circumstances, and bounty hunter Carla should have her own series. There's excessive technique and too many pregnant pauses to supplement all four episodes. One less ep and tighter storytelling would have done Love Fraud some good.  

Away (NETFLIX)

This was going to be a tough sell. Debbie is not a sci-fi gal, but if the story is there she'll stick around. The Martian worked, and this is about a trip to Mars, so why not give it a shot? Plus Jason Katims, the mind behind two of our favorites Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, is in the mix. 

Space exploration is not what drives this excellent ten-part series. The heart of the show is personal and professional relationships. Mission Control, the capsule, back at home – it's easy to get caught up in all that's happening here. The visual effects are up to par with most feature films – we still can't figure out how they did all that floating.

Hillary Swank and Josh Charles lead the way with some top notch acting. Astronaut casting makes a point of hitting all demographics, but their stories are anything but cliched. I was most moved by Lu's struggles at home and out in space, but everyone in orbit deals with some major issues. 

Away proves that it doesn't matter where the location is – if characters ring true and their stories are gripping, you really can go anywhere. 

THIS WEEK'S PICKS

The Vice Presidential Debate 
Wednesday, October 7th 9pm

Talk about having a tough act to follow...

After last week's disastrous and embarrassing Presidential debate, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris step into the ring and attempt to persuade the nation on who to vote for. 

Presidential debates have been a farce for a while now – all bluster and no substance. There's no respect for the candidates, the moderator or the television audience. I'm an apolitical TV guy, and arguing typically makes for some powerful television. But I don't want to see the potential leader of our nation acting like a Real Housewife.

Pence and Harris should have a more civil discussion of the issues that plague our country. After last week, there's nowhere to go but up.

The Right Stuff (DISNEY+)
Friday, October 9th 

My first question - why? I read the Tom Wolfe book. I enjoyed the somewhat bloated 1983 film with the perfect casting of Ed Harris as John Glenn and Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager. The drama surrounding the Mercury 7 is arguably the best known and most often told NASA tale. 

Well Leo Dicaprio felt compelled to produce this eight-part series for Nat Geo, and Disney+ made it an original program to hang its hat on. The angle this time around is how the astronauts lives became the first "reality show" in America. The public really wanted to get to know these pilots and their families in the 1960's.

This incredible achievement takes us back to Cold War days when space exploration quickly escalated from being a dream to reality. The story is captivating, but the bar has been set pretty high for another dramatic re-telling. 

I'm curious to see which parts of the book get left on the cutting room floor. In the meantime, I'll keep my feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars while watching from my couch.

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If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.


Monday, September 28, 2020

TV Picks - Week of September 28

Live from New York, it's still Saturday Night.

There are checkpoints in life that remind you of how old you really are. I spend my days getting paid to discuss TV, music, sports and fast food — that keeps me young in a lot of ways.

A couple of decades ago my wife Debbie and I had kids, and that was my first reality check of how old I was. (Wait – I'm a parent? My parents are parents, and I'm nowhere near that age!) Then my oldest daughter Rachel was starting middle school, and I have memories of my first day. My younger daughter Emily is graduating college — didn't I graduate just a few years ago? Can't miss those signs.

Anyone in entertainment, certainly on the comedy side, wanted to be on Saturday Night Live. Put my name on that list. I grew up with the original cast — Belushi, Aykroyd, Radner - who didn't want to be them?

My sketch writing/performing started in elementary school and continued through all four years at the University of Michigan. I spent the next year living out of a van touring the country with the Just Kidding sketch comedy troupe. The carrot at the end of the stick was always SNL.

Like 99.9% of the world, I never got there. But I sure enjoyed trying.

I hold Lorne Michaels' masterpiece in very high standing. There's nothing else on TV like SNL, and they've been doing it for 46 years. The show has evolved (and devolved) with the times, but what hasn't changed is those cameras going live at 11:30pm on Saturday night.

The SNL I grew up with was complete counter culture — goofing on the establishment made it the coolest place to be. I was 8 years old when it popped on the screen and had no idea about the cocaine and craziness going on behind the scenes. What I saw on my TV as I babysat my younger brother made me laugh.

The show’s has had many A-players over the years. Eddie Murphy. Phil Hartman. Tina Fey. The list goes on and on. SNL had to battle becoming the establishment instead of making fun of it, and that's a tough thing to do. If you don't change, you're dead. And the show has certainly changed over the years.

These days, there's less that’s unique about SNL. After 4+ decades, the show plays by its own set of rules. The cast is talented, but they’re generally interchangeable parts. Guest stars are brought in to play the big politicians, and surprise cameos seem designed to be the predetermined highlight on any given week

Still, SNL remains critically important to the world of television. It's still live, which will always be impressive. It has adapted with the times, and it’s still is a comedy touchstone for so many aspiring comedians and writers.

46 seasons — time flies when you're having fun.

THIS WEEK'S PICKS

Monsterland (HULU)
Friday, October 2nd (Premiere)

It's October and pumpkin spice is in the air. Get ready to get scared.

Monsterland isn't messing around. This eight-part anthology series involves mermaids, fallen angels and other strange beasts that will not be singing happy Disney tunes.

You'll recognize most of the excellent cast led in the premiere episode by Kaitlyn Dever, who was fantastic in Unbelievable on Netflix. You're going to want to leave the lights on as you watch things unfold behind every corner.

It's excellent prep for the scariest month of the year.

Warrior (CINEMAX)
Friday, October 2nd 10:00 PM (2nd season premiere)

So great to be going back to the San Francisco Chinatown wars of the mid 19th century and remember that Cinemax is still making originals (that is, until the current crop runs its course).

Jonathan Tropper, the guy who co-created the vastly underrated Banshee, continues to work off the handwritten notes of Bruce Lee which is the foundation of the show. Tropper has proven time and again how to bring out the best in martial arts, and season two is no exception.

We know that newly arrived Ah Sahm can fight, and the Hope Wei puts him to work doing what he does best. This season reveals more about his mysterious background and the ramps up the intensity of Chinatown's most powerful Tongs (organized crime families).

Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Saturday, October 4th, 11:30 PM ET/8:30 PM PT (46th season premiere)

You know the drill. Jim Carrey's Joe Biden and Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump in an election year. I’m excited for Chris Rock’s monologue and to see the show back in Studio 8H.

Live from New York, it's special guest stars. For the first time ever, the show is producing five episodes in a row leading up to election day. Old man that I am, I'll sleep and watch highlights in the morning.

The Good Lord Bird (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, October 5th 9:00 PM (Premiere)

This one had me at the trailer.

Ethan Hawke plays abolitionist John Brown in a seven-part series based on James McBride's acclaimed novel. Hawke has been giving excellent performances as he ages, and this one is no exception. He is a force to be reckoned with.

We know the story, but the sweeping sets and beautiful cinematography make this series feel like a feature film. You'll recognize some of the names from the history books in John Brown's many encounters, but the hero of the story is "Onion," a boy John Brown frees from slavery in early Kansas.

The evolution of their relationship as John Brown continues his fight is simply marvelous to watch.

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If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

TV Picks - Week of September 21

I learn a lot from television. 

My ABC's and 1-2-3's come directly from Sesame Street. My political and grammar education is the result of Schoolhouse Rock. Hey, even Darryl Hannah learned how to speak English watching TV in her hotel room in "Splash." 

I've heard a lot about autism over the years. Family members, good friends and people I work with are directly affected by this. Robert Smigel's Night of Too Many Stars (another introduction courtesy of TV) informed me about NEXT for Autism. But I never really got what being "on the spectrum" actually meant.

There are lots of lectures and documentaries that do a great job explaining all that this condition entails. But when television is at its best, the storytelling breaks through clearer than any seminar or charity event. It helps you see firsthand what these kids and their families are going through and it deeply resonates.

Two recent Netflix programs really educated me when it comes to being "on the spectrum."

Atypical 

Michael Rapaport has become a pal of mine. The actor told me years ago that he was working on a project that was pretty special. Michael has been a part of a variety of different shows and films, so I never know what to expect. He didn't want to spoil anything for me – he told me "Just watch it, you'll see."

He was right. Atypical is the story of a teenage boy on the spectrum who wants to be more independent. As a result, his entire family changes. Sounds like a cliched premise, but this show lives up to its title and is anything but ordinary. Sam's sister Casey, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine, struggles with sexual identity. His mom, played by the great Jennifer Jason-Leigh, longs for life before having to take care of two kids. And his dad, played by a subdued Michael, tries to relate to both of his children as they grow older. 

It feels like you're watching a real family deal with actual issues on Atypical. Sure it's a sitcom, but teenage son Sam's struggles are fair game for jokes within the family. His desire for a relationship and struggle to be independent is portrayed honestly and treated very seriously.

The rest of the family has as many issues as Sam does, if not more. All of the actors do a great job showing the vulnerability of their characters without coming off as cheesy. As Sam's universe expands, the friends, teachers and doctors naturally fit into his world. 

What's most impressive about Atypical is that it's funny. There are poignant storylines all over the place, but the laughs are real and the path to many easy jokes is avoided. The writers do a nice job going the extra mile mixing in cleverness with the material.

My family are huge fans of Atypical, and we can't wait for the fourth season.

Love On The Spectrum

I've been very clear about my feeling for reality shows - other than Survivor, no thank you. Let's just say I didn't shed a tear when hearing the recent Kardashian news about hanging it up after this season. 

On the face of it, an autism dating show set in Australia sounds exploitative and voyeuristic. But my wife heard some good things and that the program was actually very sweet, so we decided to give it the one episode try. Boy am I glad we did.

If you don't feel anything watching these different guys and gals on the spectrum search for love, you need to go to Oz and get a heart. These young adults just want to meet someone who they can share their lives with. And it turns out that dating on the spectrum isn't all that different than dating off of it.

Everyone interviewed is extremely self aware. They describe when and how they learned they were on the spectrum and the different ways they've dealt with it. No two stories are the same. Many have a great sense of humor, and you can relate to their relationship struggles whether or not you're autistic. 

It's the sincerity in this series that rings so true. The eloquence in describing what they want in a partner is heartbreaking. The supportive parents. The helpful coaches. The failed dates. You can't help but root for all of the people profiled to find the perfect match. 

What I enjoyed most about Love On The Spectrum is that it wasn't all happy endings. It echoes real life. Sometimes, you don't get the guy or girl. But that doesn't mean you should give up on love.

The five episode season has you rooting for everyone involved and learning a thing or two about life on the spectrum. It's a lesson we all can benefit from.

THIS WEEK'S PICKS

Agents of Chaos (HBO)
Wednesday, September 23rd 9pm

It's simple...Alex Gibney makes a documentary, I'm going to tune in. He has reached Errol Morris must-see status in my book. 

Alex's last two docs for HBO, The Inventor (remember those blue eyes in a lab coat holding that tiny vial of blood) and Going Clear (Scientology and the Sea Org), were captivating and informative. This one tackles Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential election.

Agents of Chaos is based on years of reporting and diving deep into Russia's dark web. I've heard so much about Russian interference tearing apart our democracy, and here's the opportunity to see firsthand what exactly they're up to. 

Be careful what you wish for. 

The Comey Rule (SHOWTIME) 
Sunday, September 27th 9pm

Every few years, Jeff Daniels drops by Showtime to play a government official caught up in red-tape as he attempts to manage chaos in our country.

This time he's playing the former FBI director in a miniseries based on Comey's memoir "A Higher Loyalty." The man is much more than just the guy who handled that Hilary email.

Forget your political leanings - here are three reasons why you should watch. 1 - The narration of skeptical Deputy AG Rod Rosentstein is done by Scoot McNairy (Narcos: Mexico). 2 - Comey's deputy is played by Michael Kelly (House of Cards) and one Deputy AG is played by Holly Hunter (way too much to list). 3 - Jeff Daniels excels in these types of roles (The Looming Tower) and is perfect to play Comey.

The story gets a bit bogged down in the details, until you remember that this is a real-life recollection that didn't happen so long ago. That's when things get scary and very informative while we watch as November approaches.

Fargo (FX)
Sunday, September 27th (4th season premiere)

I've been waiting three years for this one. I raved in this space a short time ago about rising to the impossible challenge of making a series out of a Coen Brothers movie. Each season of Noah Hawley's masterpiece (yes, I'm using that word) feels like a gritty chapter of a great novel, and season four is a meaty one to dig in to.

We're off to 1950's Kansas City this time around and two crime syndicates just aren't getting along. Chris Rock, in the self-proclaimed role of a lifetime, leads the Cannon Limited gang as it battles Jason Schwartzman and Salvatore Esposito's Italian Fadda family. The law and order is headed up by Timothy Olyphant who has a lock on any U.S. Marshall role these days. There are countless other characters played by "that guy/gal!" excellent actors. 

I won't divulge plot details because half the fun of Fargo is trying to figure out what's what and where things are headed. If past seasons are any indication, that will be a fruitless endeavor. The other half of the good time is wondering how this season will tie in to the previous three, and once again, good luck trying to figure that out.

This is television at its finest. What a great place to learn.

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If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.

 

Monday, September 14, 2020

TV Picks - Week of September 14

When it comes to The Emmys, it's personal. 

I've tuned in every year since I was a little kid, anxiously waiting for the biggest TV stars to gather together for just one night and learn who the best of the best was. It wasn't the Oscars, but that was part of the charm. The Emmys were number two, and they tried harder. 

Much later in life when I sold my Jump the Shark website to TV Guide, they invited me out to The Emmys to provide some commentary. I walked the proverbial red carpet, sweat through my tux in the Hollywood sun, and saw firsthand the scale of this event.

A few years ago as I was dozing off at the end of one ceremony, host Jimmy Kimmel threw my name out there with his goodbyes, and as I did a double take, social media confirmed what I thought I just heard. My Emmy love had come full circle.

The Emmys have been pretty good to me over the years, although Fast Food Mania somehow didn't manage to earn any nominations. But lately, my beloved Emmys having been driving me nuts.

On paper, this should be the finest show of the season. An awards show celebrating the best in television from all networks and streamers in the "golden age" of the medium. It should be entertaining and look spectacular.

But year after year, this show has been a disaster. Viewership has plummeted. It has tried to be the Oscars, and failed. It tried to be the drunken Golden Globes, and failed. Now it's filled with inconsistent numbers of nominees, confusing categories, and shows that have been off the air for years taking home the trophies.

The Emmys feel dated and formulaic with manufactured "moments", and lord knows it's not very interesting to look at. 

I'm hard on the Emmys because I care so much. This should be a visual extravaganza showcasing the talent and brilliance great TV shows have to offer. 

Enter COVID. It changes everything. The mass theater gathering can't happen. Creators are forced to switch things up and keep our attention, and it's a chance to capitalize on a captive audience.

Jimmy Kimmel loves TV as much as I do. His team recognizes the opportunity here and will have fun with it. I can't wait to see the winners accept their awards from home in evening wear of their own choosing. It will be much easier to play people off during the live broadcast.

This year's Emmys won't be about splash and sizzle – it will be about the content and what keeps us watching all of the time. Good luck, Jimmy!

THIS WEEK'S PICKS

The Third Day (HBO)
Monday, September 14th 9pm

It's the end of the world as we know it, and Jude Law and Naomie Harris are not feeling fine.

These two are on different parts of a mysterious island somewhere in the UK surrounded by very choppy seas. Both are hiding something, and the not-so-welcoming islanders have their secrets too.

The show is split into two halves (think The Affair) and there's plenty of darkness and monologuing. The scheduling makes me suspicious, as this screams Sunday night HBO drama, but has been relegated to the early Monday night slot. 

HBO continues to try to bring back prestigious TV. Look for fine acting and lots of symbolism, but keep your overall expectations in check.

Dancing With The Stars (ABC) 
Monday, September 14th 8pm

COVID cannot stop the stars from dancing!

Season 29 is upon us, and the modified ballroom is good to go. 

Poor Tom Bergeron. All he did wrong was expertly host this cheesy dancefest for a little too long. He was the perfect host...and now he's gone. Enter Tyra Banks – shine bright, shine far!

The novelty of DWTS is long gone – it's all about the casting. After a few years with some not-so-stellar celebs, ABC upped its game. Carol Baskin from Tiger King. Nelly. Tough Knick Charles Oakley. A Backstreet Boy. Anne Heche. Yup, they nailed it for this season.

Derek Hough will join Carrie Ann and Bruno at the widened-for-COVID judges table as Len is stuck across the pond.

No audience. No big production numbers. It is a season of transition for this world of ballroom dance. I'm not a fan, but I'll check out the first episode to see how it all works out.

Criminal UK (NETFLIX)
Wednesday, September 16th (2nd season)

This is a heavy interrogation room drama from overseas. Criminal does not mess around. 

The first season took place in a crammed room and the dialogue had to carry each episode. It felt like four one-act plays from four different countries - which doesn't always make for the best TV.  

The second season stays in one location - the UK, and the cast includes some familiar faces. Sharon from Catastrophe, Tatiana from Hotel Rwanda, Raj from The Big Bang Theory, and Jon Snow himself round out the suspects. The detectives return from the first season, and once again they have their work cut out for them.

I love the simplicity and directness of this premise. The episodes play out in real time and keep you guessing until the very end. Hopefully Germany, France and Spain follow suit with a second season as well. 

The Emmys (ABC)
Sunday, September 20th 8pm (LIVE)

Might as well use this space to make some predictions on TV's brightest night...

BEST COMEDY

Should win - Schitt's Creek 

Will win - The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

BEST DRAMA

Should win - The Crown 

Will win - Succession

BEST LIMITED SERIES  

Should win - Watchmen

Will win - Watchmen

BEST ACTRESS - COMEDY

Should win - Catherine O'Hara, Schitt's Creek 

Will win - Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

 

BEST ACTOR - COMEDY

Should win - Ted Danson, The Good Place

Will win - Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method

BEST ACTRESS - DRAMA

Should win - Laura Linney, Ozark

Will win - Olivia Colman, The Crown

BEST ACTOR - DRAMA

Should win - Jeremy Strong, Succession

Will win - Billy Porter, Pose

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If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.