Monday, May 25, 2020

TV Picks - Week of May 25

Memorial Day is when we officially kick off the summertime and get outside! Well, maybe not this year. The good news is that we've got lots of premieres, finales and attempts by broadcast networks to entertain us this week. I'll get to those, but first, some thoughts on what I've been watching.
I realized that I've been taking John Oliver for granted. There's a reason Last Week Tonight takes home all those Emmys. This is the clear successor to Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. His look at recent events with biting sarcasm massaged by a British accent is extremely entertaining. It's silly, poignant, and the best show HBO is airing. By far.
I'm trying to figure out why The Last Dance got so much hype from non-sports fans. ESPN devotees are desperate for sports programming, but this went above and beyond. (To wit, this past Saturday the series began an encore run on ABC.) Michael Jordan is a once-in-a-lifetime superstar who controlled every minute of that footage we saw. Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Steve Kerr added some flavor, but the doc works because we got a peek into number 23's notoriously private life. I enjoyed all 10 parts.
A new streamer! Series premieres! Finales! The worst idea I've ever heard for a network TV show! I've got you covered.
Wednesday, May 27
Not a new show. A new streaming service. Kevin Reilly is in charge of content, so this baby is going to succeed.
If you already subscribe to HBO via your cable company or otherwise, chances are this will be included as part of your package. That's good news.
WarnerMedia is covering all the bases with HBO Max. Naturally, there's the mass market hits like The Big Bang Theory and Friends. Quick side note — I never got the Friends thing. It's an average sitcom at best, but millions of viewers can't be wrong. That reunion will happen - this network will make sure of it.
Add to the mix any show HBO has ever aired and all its movies and documentaries. Sprinkle in an extensive film library featuring classics like Citizen Kane and Casablanca and new stuff like Joker and Crazy Rich Asians.
Animation is also taken care of. They've got Looney Tunes and Hanna Barbera classics. Rick and Morty. Plus Elmo and Sesame Street.
Original programming will roll out slowly, starting with Anna Kendrick's rom-com Love Life. Since they already have 10,000 hours of content, HBO Max can take its time with new series.
Netflix, beware. HBO Max is poised be a serious competitor. I'll be tuning in.
Space Force (NETFLIX)
Friday May 29
Steve Carell. John Malkovich. Ben Schwartz. Lisa Kudrow. What more do you need? 4-star general Carell teams with eccentric scientist Malkovich to run this branch of the U.S. military. Greg Daniels created the U.S. version of The Office, and we all know what Carell did with that. A space-age workplace comedy with this level of acting will generate plenty of laughs.
Quiz (AMC)
Sunday May 31
I've been waiting for this one. The real-life cheating scandal on the UK version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire comes to life. Tom from Succession (Matthew Macfadyen) attempts this "audacious heist" as he squirms in Michael Sheen's hot seat. The excellent cast is directed by Stephen Frears, so my expectations are sky high. 
Speaking of Millionaire, this Thursday on ABC, Lauren Lapkus and Anderson Cooper get a chance to show how smart they are. I doubt either one will cheat, but it's great to see the amazingly talented star of The Wrong Missy on Netflix finally get her due.
The Good Fight (CBS ALL ACCESS)
Thursday May 28
We only get a seven episode season thanks to COVID-19, but thankfully the show has been renewed for a fifth season. This fourth season has been filled with plenty of twists and turns, and shelving the final 3 episodes will leave things in an absurd place. Some of the best acting on television is happening on CBSAA. Glad it's coming back.
Defending Jacob (APPLE TV+)
Friday May 29
I wrote about this drama in a previous post and can't wait to see how things turn out for the young son of Captain America and Lady Mary.
If you haven't started, you have the advantage of binging each episode leading to this climax. Apple TV+ rolled it out weekly to build buzz, but these days, that's not necessary. Just put it all out there and let us decide when to watch.
Sunday May 31
I've been giving Eve a hard time lately, but the last couple episodes have steered it back down the path that made this show work. Jodie Comer deserves better. Here's hoping the finale, which has never been this program’s strength, can redeem its irredeemable characters.
Haircut Night in America (CBS)
Friday May 29 8pm
Jerry O'Connell gets a haircut from his wife Rebecca Romjin as they host this one-hour special about home snipping.
This is the state of network television. I have no words.
I hope you enjoy these recommendations. If there's quality TV that I'm missing, don't hesitate to let me know.
Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, May 18, 2020

TV Picks - Week of May 18

Some weeks, there's tons of new stuff to check out. This is not one of those weeks. Before we dive into my weekly prime cuts, let's start with some shows I’ve checked off my watchlist.

I have a soft spot for British TV. Their version of The Office is better. Sherlock and Luther are two of my all-time faves. I'll take Monty Python's Flying Circus over SNL any day of the week including Saturday. I was excited for the Downton Abbey movie (which absolutely delivered). I'm trying to talk my wife into subscribing to Britbox.

However, there was a huge hole in my telly game that I'm proud to announce has been filled. I have finished The Crown on Netflix and cannot wait for season 4.

It's always impressive when a program can tantalize when you already know what’s going to happen. At the center of The Crown is a controlled, restrained monarch, yet Peter Morgan makes the Queen's slightest glance or ringing a bell compelling. The acting is top notch throughout - escaping the "Same Character, Different Actor" Jump The Shark category. Nice to see the royal family is as messed up as any other just trying to get through life.

Last week, I forgot to recommend The Happy Days of Garry Marshall on ABC. Garry, please forgive me. The celeb talking heads are insightful providing plenty of memories of working with Garry. Forget the films (although I'm partial to "The Flamingo Kid" and the first "Princess Diaries"), just look at the TV. This guy wrote for The Dick Van Dyke Show and tons of other classic sitcoms. He adapted The Odd Couple to TV. He created Happy Days which begat Laverne & ShirleyMork & Mindy, and other spinoffs they wisely skip over in the special. And when Craig Kilborn asked about Fonzie jumping the shark, Garry referred to me saying "the man is absolutely right". Garry Marshall was a true television genius, and this special is worth catching.

On Mother's Day, my family watched Becoming on Netflix which is essentially a behind the scenes look at Michelle Obama's book tour. I saw firsthand the impact she has had, particularly on the children of this country, and how she cares for others in a down to earth manner. Seeing the former first lady offstage provides a glimpse into what she's really like. I was impressed.


We're all still stuck at home, so I've selected a handful of shows from a variety of sources (broadcast, basic cable, premium cable and streaming) to make sure you've got something to watch regardless of the TV package you pay for. 

Patton Oswalt - I Love Everything (NETFLIX)
Tuesday May 19

Patton Oswalt is a hugely successful comedian, yet it always seems like he’s flying under the radar. In his first Netflix stand-up special in 3 years, he copes with being in his fifties and the challenges of being a dad. Patton always delivers the laughs, and expect to hear plenty of "Star Wars" references – I'm surprised this didn't premiere on May 4.

Holey Moley II: The Sequel (ABC)
Thursday May 22 9pm (Season 2 premiere)

Missing sports? Enjoy Wipeout style humor? Love those old school ABC Sports blazers? Mini-golf fan? This is the show for you. Rob Riggle's commentary and occasional drop-ins from producer/3 point specialist Steph Curry mixed in with ridiculously over-the-top mini golf holes will keep you watching. Holey Moley gets a pass because it is self-aware of its own idiocy. Plus one of the holes has contestants jumping a huge inflatable shark, which obviously scores major points with me.

Homecoming (AMAZON)
Friday May 23 (Season 2)

No longer "that Julia Roberts show on Amazon," this second season carries over the conspiracy-filled creepiness of the first. Janelle Monae wakes up on a boat in a lake with no clue who she is or how she got there. The show deviates from the original podcast of the same name, but all roads lead to that nefarious Geist Group. Add Chris Cooper and Joan Cusack to a returning Hong Chau – that's a cast that I look forward to making me feel uncomfortable.

Lance (ESPN)
Sunday May 25 @ 9pm (Part 1 of 2)

The Lance Armstrong saga gets the 30 for 30 treatment. A ton has been documented about the only professional cyclist anyone has actually heard of, but I'd watch a 30 for 30 on badminton because of how well these docs are produced. 

Quick binge tip – watch any ESPN 30 for 30 documentary if you haven't yet. You don't even need to be a sports fan. Start with The Two Escobars – you won't regret it.

Lance's climb from Texas, the cancer, the Tour de France titles, the fall – we know the story, but I'm counting on ESPN to make this two-part series compelling.


I hope you enjoy these recommendations. If there's quality TV that I'm missing, don't hesitate to let me know. 

Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, May 11, 2020

TV Picks - Week of May 11

If you look hard enough, there really is some exceptional television out there. Before we dive into my picks for the week, let's start with some of my recent viewings.

You may have heard about Normal People, which premiered last week on Hulu. My wife and I loved this Irish romance based on Sally Rooney's novel. Actually, I enjoyed the first 8 episodes, but Debbie held out for all of the 12 half hours.

A young Dublin couple from the opposite side of the tracks makes their way through life and each other. Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) are fantastic and connect on a level that will remind you of your true love.

I know this screams "sappy teen romance" which is normally a big no for me, but this series is anything but that. The relationship feels very real as both characters deal with the pressures of everyday life. 

A lot has been written about the intimate, "woke" sex scenes which are handled quite well. There's a lot to see here. The masochism of episodes 9 & 10 designed to highlight depression and lack of self-worth didn't really work for me. What sets this story apart are the daily encounters and emotion conveyed with a simple look or brief pause. 

Connell and Marianne's roller coaster ride of a relationship is one well worth taking. It is one of the best series I've seen this year.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, how many times do you catch yourself watching a show mostly because of the time you've invested in it. At one point, Killing Eve (AMC/BBC America, Sundays at 9:00 ET) was great — but when it has sailed over the fin, you just want to see how things end (I'm looking at you The Walking Dead)And we are only in THE THIRD SEASON.

The first season was great: dark, edgy, funny and smart. The best new program of the year. The second season suffered a sophomore slump, but there was still some snap to it. Hard to go wrong with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Eve (Sandra Oh) leading the charge along with an excellent supporting cast. 

The third season rings hollow so far. The kills remain exotic, major characters are getting bumped off, and the chase is still on...but it reeks of trying too hard. Eve was appointment television for me, but now I'm watching out of habit. It's a pity, but some quality writing could restore its greatness. 


Another week stuck inside means more TV to watch. How's that for a positive Coronavirus spin? I've selected a handful of shows from a variety of sources (broadcast, basic cable, premium cable and streaming) to make sure you've got something to watch regardless of the TV package you pay for. 

Amy Schumer Learns To Cook (FOOD NETWORK)
Monday May 11th (premiere)

Amy married an award-winning chef who will teach her how to make some meals. Their nanny helms the camera as baby Gene hangs around. I'm no fan of cooking shows, but I'll check out one of our best comics goofing around with her spouse as they create some dishes. We can use the laughs.

Bordertown (NETFLIX) 
Monday May 11th (Season 3 premiere)

Finnish crime drama? I'm so there. It's a safe bet that this visually stunning procedural brings me as close as I'll ever get to Finland. Detective Kari Sorjonen moves from Helsinki to a Finland/Russian border town to get away from the crime. It doesn't work. Nordic noir at its finest, but binge now to catch up for season 3.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend (NETFLIX)
Tuesday May 12th 

They're alive, dammit! It's a miracle!

Smiling yet? After 4 seasons, this very special episode lets you take a Bandersnatch as Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) takes on her kidnapper (Jon Hamm). The full cast is back with new special guest stars as you choose your path (and the jokes) to celebrate Kimmy's wedding day. Sure it's hokey, but that's Kimmy’s charm. 

Survivor (CBS)
Wednesday May 13th @ 8pm (Season Finale)

"It's all in the game." Omar Little's maxim rings true with nearly all 40 successful seasons of Survivor

Truth be told, I despise 98% of reality television. There are channels I refuse to turn on due to this type of programming. Reality TV isn't real - it's manufactured and...okay, I'll get off the soapbox.

Survivor is different because at its core, it's an endlessly fascinating social experiment. You're stuck on an island for up to forty days with hardly any food and endless competition for advantages. Whoever you choose to scheme against is part of the jury who decides your fate. Jeff Probst masterfully lets the players do the talking and pries only where he needs to. The players are entertaining but they really don't matter - the game itself is the allure. 

This "Winners at War" 40th season has previous champs competing for a two-million-dollar prize, and now we're down to the final five. It's Tony's season to lose, but if the right person returns from the Isle of Extinction and zeroes in on busting up the Cops R Us alliance, things could get messy. 

The final 3 hours will be compelling, plus I wonder how they'll pull off the live finale and recap. Get your buffs ready.


I hope you enjoy these recommendations. If there's quality TV that I'm missing, don't hesitate to let me know. 

Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, May 4, 2020

TV Picks - Week of May 4

I've been spending quality time on the couch lately — attempting (and failing) to avoid Coronavirus news while tweeting about TV.  In this ever-changing and often confusing television landscape, many of you have asked what's really worth watching these days.

I'm happy to oblige. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a true highlight from last week (and one that's definitely worth checking out if you missed it): Thursday night's return of Parks & Rec on NBC. 

Watching the Parks & Rec reunion felt like checking in with old friends. I miss Leslie Knope and all the residents of Pawnee. This cast clearly enjoys each other's company — it's telling when every single actor in the ensemble participates (although I wonder if Paul Schneider or Billy Eichner got a call). Greg Daniels and crew did an excellent job keeping everyone in touch on Leslie's phone tree via Gryzzl, culminating with a sweet Lil' Sebastian serenade.

Many feel The Office and 30 Rock were the classic NBC comedies from the 2000's, leaving Parks & Rec overlooked. I've always been in the Pawnee camp. This heartfelt comedy with fantastic actors deserved some Emmy love (I'm looking at you, Nick Offerman). Thanks to Greg Daniels and Amy Poehler for bringing this special gang back together one more time. 


I've selected a handful of shows from a variety of sources (broadcast, basic cable, premium cable and streaming) to make sure you've got something to watch regardless of the TV package you pay for. 

Let's do this...

Jerry Seinfeld "23 Hours To Kill" (NETFLIX)
Tuesday May 6th 

There are a few sure things in the entertainment world. If Jerry Seinfeld puts out a stand-up special, it's going to be funny. He is the consummate comedy pro. I've seen Jerry at the Beacon in NYC (twice). This special was shot at that very theater, so I’m confident telling you that you're going to laugh at this legendary comedian's observations. 

Dead To Me (NETFLIX)
Thursday May 8th (full 2nd season)
Welcome back Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini. The second season picks up where the first one left off, and I won't spoil it for those who need to catch up. This show is dark, funny, and really lets these two excellent actresses do their thing. Christina got the well-deserved Emmy and Golden Globe love, but Linda had me at Freaks & Geeks.

Defending Jacob (APPLE TV+)
Friday May 9th (new episodes every week)
We're at the midpoint of this limited series, which happens to be the best thing Apple TV+ has put out to date. Captain America and Lady Mary are struggling with their son being accused of murdering a fellow student in a cushy Boston suburb. Is the "murder gene" a real thing? This drama does an excellent job of examining possibilities without getting too sappy so far.
The Disney Family Singalong Volume 2 (ABC)
Sunday May 10th @ 7pm
We all know network television is anything but must-see these days. If you're looking for recommendations for so-called reality dating or talent shows, you've come to the wrong place. That said, I'm not immune to the charms of unscripted televsion.  I admit this upfront — it's cheesy, but following big ratings from its first time out, Ryan Seacrest once again navigates stars singing along to Disney classics from the comfort of their homes. It's mindless, it's fun, and it's for a good cause. Belt out the classics you know by heart, or just follow the bouncing mouse head at the bottom of your screen.
Billions (SHOWTIME)
Sunday May 10th @ 9pm
I remember sitting with my wife watching the pilot thinking, sure, this is over the top and no one actually speaks like that. But you've got Damian Lewis facing off against Paul Giamatti. I'd watch those two read the phone book, so if the plot is sensationalized, so be it. Billions hasn't let up since. If you live in Manhattan, trying to determine where scenes are being shot adds to the fun. Axe Capital, the D.A.'s office - it doesn't matter. The solid supporting cast doesn’t hurt either. The Coronavirus has broken this season in two, so sit back and enjoy these seven pre-virus episodes.
The Last Dance (ESPN)
Sunday May 10th @ 9pm & 10pm (Parts 7 & 8 of 10)
The best sports documentaries are rarely about the actual games. ESPN's 30 for 30's are top notch and I highly recommend that archive on ESPN+. Michael Jordan's quest for his final Bulls title is all about the cast of characters. We know the Bulls win, but watching Phil Jackson in prime guru/coach status pull together Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Ho Grant and Paxson is a textbook lesson in coaching. MJ is the best basketball player I've ever seen live, and his candid reflections are the highlight of this well-crafted special. A family friendly bleeped version on ESPN2 runs simultaneously.
I hope you enjoy these recommendations. If there's quality TV that I'm missing, don't hesitate to let me know. 

Stay healthy and safe.