Monday, July 27, 2020

TV Picks - Week of July 27

The Muppets made me who I am today – or at least a large part of me.

I'll preview the latest Muppet return in my picks below, but the context goes well beyond a three paragraph blurb. 

The other night my youngest daughter Emily, who is now 23, asked if I'd like to check out Elmo's new late night talk show on HBO Max. Both of my daughters bonded over singing along the Muppets as they grew older, so why not check out the latest take from the furry red monster. It didn't work for me (full disclosure - I'm not an Elmo fan). But what did work was checking out the classic Sesame Street episodes that HBO Max offers.

I was two when Sesame Street debuted in November of 1969, the perfect age for sunny days to sweep my clouds away. I cannot thank my mom enough for plopping me down in front of the TV to fully absorb the latest from the Children's Television Workshop. 

Sesame Street was my preschool. Early episodes never talked down to children – I felt like I was in on the joke and part of an extended family. Only Big Bird could see his imaginary friend Mr. Snuffaluffagus. Oscar pulled no punches living in that garbage can and singing about trash. Ernie and Bert were close pals with different attitudes toward life. Kermit was the ultimate straight man, uh, frog. Mix in some trippy animation counting to 10 or reciting the alphabet, and you've got a better way to learn than most classrooms provide right now.

And Sesame Street was very funny, my first glimpse into sketch comedy. I hoped for vignettes featuring my favorite blue monsters Cookie Monster and Grover. I wanted to go to Roosevelt Franklin (Bah) Elementary School. Guy Smiley made me want to be a game show host in real life. And the lyrics to those songs they sang were building blocks in my education. 

The Muppets aged right along with me. Next up was The Muppet Show featuring a mostly new cast of characters led by Kermit and more adult humor. I was 9 years old and could not get enough of the chaos. Miss Piggy, Animal, Gonzo and so many more made their debuts on this fake stage.  

It wasn't long before the Muppets starred in their first feature film - The Muppet MovieSesame Street had jumped the shark with the forced cuteness of Elmo, but the big screen still had that wit and sense of adventure. We all got caught up in Kermit's journey to Hollywood and finding the Rainbow Connection. 

Then the marketing department took over, and the sequels got away from the core of what made the Muppets work. These beloved pieces of felt possess an innocence and savviness that makes you want to be a part of their world.

I've made a living in the entertainment field for the past couple of decades, and I thank Jim Henson and all of those great performers for getting me started. Checking out Sesame Street 50 years later, I still got that warm feeling watching three monsters count, run around and bump into each other over and over again.



Last Chance U (NETFLIX)

Tuesday July 28 (Season 5 Premiere)

So long, Kansas. Hello, Oakland. My favorite show about junior college football doesn't skip a beat this season.

The first four seasons profiled national JuCo powerhouses stacked with top talent trying to make it back to the big schools. These athletes made the most (or least) of their last shots to play the game they love as coaches filled with personality try to get another ring and keep the kids focused.

The last two seasons got too caught up in the awareness of the show and played to the cameras way too much. Relocating to Laney College was a wise choice. There's no scholarships, free housing or food – all students pay their own way to be there. Head coach John Beam isn't there to be a star - he's there to coach football as he has done for the past 40 years.

Right from the get go, you're invested in the defending champion Laney Eagles as they struggle to stay on top. The real-life obstacles they try to overcome are even more compelling than the final score of any game. 

Frayed (HBO Max)

Thursday July 30 (Premiere)

I'm a sucker for any good fish out of water story. This comedy starts across the pond and then heads to a completely different hemisphere.

Simone lives a lush life in the late 80's in a London mansion with a perfect husband and two teenage kids. Her hubby dies from a heart attack under odd circumstances, and her world gets turned upside down forcing a return to her hometown in Australia where we find out who she really is. 

Sarah Kendall is fantastic in the lead role. Everyone hates her in Australia, and that's just the start of the obstacles she needs to overcome to get back to London. Putting your life back together with your hometown reminding you, and your kids, of who you really are leads to some very funny situations. 

Muppets Now (DISNEY+)

Friday July 31 (Premiere)

It's time to start the music, it's time to light the lights...again.

The Muppets are back for another TV show, but this time, they're going back to their sketch comedy roots. 

The last Muppet reboot felt like The Office gone bad forcing them into situations that made no sense. A single-cam mockumentary centered around Kermit and Piggy breaking up? Big swing, big miss.

The classic Muppet Show was a variety show with real-life guest stars, cheesy acts, and chaos on and off the stage. Muppets Now aims to bring that chaos to the way entertainment is consumed today, so prepare for lots of sketches featuring some of your favorites. 

I've already spotted Kermit, Miss Piggy, Beeker and the Swedish Chef in preview clips. The Muppets can still work – as evidenced by their take on Bohemian Rhapsody and the Jason Segel led 2011 movie. 

I know the reviews from Statler and Waldorf won't be good ones, but if they're brutally honest, I'll be laughing right along with them. 


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.


Saturday, July 25, 2020

TV Picks - Week of July 20

I miss sports. 

It took a pandemic to make me realize how much time I actually spend watching and reading about baseball, football, hockey and basketball games. 

Something has been missing in my life with no professional sports. Don't get me wrong – the 2 or 3 hours I had spent watching games has given me the opportunity to watch a lot more shows. But sports connects me to my childhood. To my late father. To a simpler time when all I cared about was who won or lost and how well certain players I'll probably never meet in my life fared on the field.

Baseball is the first major sport returning this week (apologies to golf and NASCAR). There will be 102 fewer games played. There will be no fans in the stands. It is going to feel weird. But I can't wait to see it on my TV screen.

I hosted a nightly sports show here in New York City on SNY that was a casualty of this pandemic. I miss that too - the camaraderie and the paycheck. I'm happy to be rejoining the TV sports commentary world on MLB Network and paneling on SNY, but masks and social distancing are reminders of how the world has changed.

COVID has rocked any sense of normalcy. Watching a ballgame, even with all of the new awkwardness, helps bring that back. It is one of many small steps that will get us back to life before masks.

The other major sports will follow soon. Hockey in August? I'll take it. Basketball at Disneyland? Fine by me. And the NFL, which had the benefit of its offseason coinciding with the pandemic, still aims to start on time. I"m ready for some football.

Opening day has always been special to me. That will continue this Thursday, even though I can't be taken out to the ballgame. 


Norsemen (NETFLIX)

Wednesday July 22 (Season 3 Premiere)

Unable to fill that Game of Thrones void in your life?  This dark Norwegian comedy can satisfy your hunger.

A group of vikings makes its way through life in the year 790. The humor is very dry and there are tragic moments, but it's best poking fun at how seriously Thrones, Vikings and other period pieces take themselves.

Season 3 is a prequel leading up to the events of the show's initial season, so if you've been missing characters who didn't make it, you just might see them again. Start rowing and grab that sword.

Major League Baseball (ESPN)

Thursday July 23 7pm/10pm

Crank up the opening of John Fogerty's "Centerfield" – baseball is finally back. 

The season starts with a doubleheader featuring the perpetually stacked New York Yankees taking on the defending world champion Washington Nationals. This game will be followed at 10pm by baseball's most heated rivalry - the San Francisco Giants visiting Chavez Ravine to take on this year's favorite, the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Curious to see how COVID rules affect the broadcast of a ballgame. There are no fans in the stands and any noise you hear will be artificial. The Yankees and Dodgers will be there to love or hate depending upon your affinity (I'm a long-time Pirates fan), and an abbreviated 60 game season should be enough to satisfy any baseball lover.

I've always found the national pastime to be quite relaxing. It's the ridiculously slow pace and feeling of summer as the innings play out that gets me. Part of me still thinks I could be out there on that diamond with the pros. Then I go eat a snack and keep watching.

The Good Fight (CBS ALL ACCESS)

I wrote about the fourth season finale back in May, but I wanted to revisit my "Best Show That No One Is Talking About." Robert and Michelle King created a world that is wonderful to be a part of.

I was a huge fan of The Good Wife. My own good wife turned me on to the Julianna Margulies star vehicle. Good writing, great acting, and my favorite actors from The Wire would pop up every week.

The Good Wife took tremendous twists and turns during its seven seasons. Every character on the show was compelling, from Kalinda to Colin Sweeney. Series regulars, guest stars - it didn't matter.  

I heard about a spinoff featuring Diane Lockhart and saw it was regulated to CBS All Access - a mysterious pay service with Star Trek episodes and who knew what else. That did not sound like a vote of confidence.  No Alicia or Peter Florrick? No Ari Gold? How could this work?

Some of the minor players from The Good Wife were on board, but it was up to Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo to carry the ball – and they exceed expectations. In the absence of the Florricks, there's plenty of drama and very strong politicizing happening at Chicago law firms.

The guest star element of the original series has continued with this sequel, but they are having more fun with the storylines. The Good Wife always had a sharp sense of humor, but CBS All Access allowed the Kings to take more chances and really put the characters out there. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but I respect the chances they take. 

The Good Fight has been picked up for a fifth season, and with our real world in total chaos, it will capitalize and provide a welcome distraction. An edited version of this quality drama will make its way to CBS. That's the place it should have been airing all along.


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

TV Picks - Week of July 13

If it seems like every week brings yet another new streaming service, it’s because basically it does. Enter Peacock, NBCUniversal's new streaming platform, launching this Wednesday.

Let's start with the name — I think it's a horrible choice. We get the tie-in to NBC's long-time mascot and its historical meaning, but come on. “Hey, did you see that show on Peacock?” “Peacock and chill?” Did Jack Donaghy's marketing team come up with this? (More on Jack later.)

Next up is the content. Combining NBC' television library, Universal’s movie vault, and licensing shows from ViacomCBS and elsewhere provides a motherlode of viewing pleasure. Almost 20,000 hours’ worth. Most of it is old, but it's all there.

Apple and HBO have proven that a brand name alone will not carry wannabe Netflix rivals. You need to have programming that's worth paying for. Parks & Rec and The Office reruns are great, but not enough for me to crack open my wallet. I need more.

Peacock is offering three tiers. At tier one, 7,500 hours of NBCUniversal programming is yours absolutely free. Yup, free. And there's good stuff, too: Frasier. Downton Abbey. Jurassic Park. Plus they throw in some ads. (You didn't really think it was free, did you?)

Tier two (Peacock Premium) is all inclusive for $5/month. You get the free stuff plus more shows (Two and a Half Men, for example), early access to NBC's late night talk shows, and all of Peacock's original programming. Plus you still get the ads. Tier three at $10/month includes all of the above with no ads.

Leading the pack of "Peacock Originals" is an adaptation of the Aldous Huxley 1932 classic Brave New World (what a metaphor!). We all know the story since it's required reading in most schools, so the production of this updated dark world needs to be top notch. David Schwimmer returns to TV comedy (although I've seen him quite a bit lately) in Intelligence playing the lone American in British government communications headquarters. Also included at launch is Psych 2: Lassie Come Home, the second feature-length movie reuniting James Roday, Dule Hill with the cast of the long-running USA Network series. Further out, prepare for revivals of your favorite NBC classics (Punky Brewster! Saved By The Bell! ANOTHER Battlestar Galactica!).

Bottom line: I'm in wait and see mode on Peacock. I already get the NBC content I want on Hulu (for now), and none of the early originals feel like must-see TV. HBO Max has a comparable library and hasn't exactly lit up the streaming world. Peacock has a long way to go — can I suggest a name change as a first step?


Showbiz Kids (HBO)

Tuesday July 14 (Premiere)

Child actors in the entertainment industry — is it ever the kid's idea or is it always the parents? News flash: even if the child claims to have known since they were two that they wanted to act, it’s always the parents.

Alex Winter, aka Bill S. Preston Esq. from a most excellent adventure, directs this look at some of our favorite child stars and how things turned out. Elliott from E.T., Natalie from Mrs. Doubtfire, Willis from Diff'rent Strokes and others, including Evan Rachel Wood, detail relationships with their parents and dealing with fame at a young age.

Two aspiring child actors are also profiled as they try to maintain a healthy childhood with friends and family. Let's hope they learn their lessons early in life.

30 Rock Special (NBC)

Thursday July 16 (Premiere)

Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy are reuniting for a one-hour special for the NBC upfronts. Tracy, Jenna, Kenneth… they'll all be there, too.

This world really has turned upside down.

An upfront is when new programming is presented to the advertising community, and TV stars show up to hobnob and take pictures with media buyers and planners. My first “real job” was working as a media buyer at the ad agency DMB&B. My first week was the upfronts, and I thought I stumbled into the greatest job in the world as I chatted up the stars of thirtysomething and China Beach. The other 51 weeks were brutal, but upfront week was a great time for the TV geek in me.

While the circumstances are strange, who cares why the 30 Rock cast is remotely reuniting? It was great seeing the Parks & Rec gang, and I'll take any excuse to see this group back in action.

I loved how 30 Rock fearlessly mocked NBC's programming back in the day. This isn't CableTown we’re dealing with here. NBC has always had a good sense of humor about itself — let’s see if that holds up.

Cursed (NETFLIX)

Friday July 17 (Premiere)

Ready for some fantasy? The origin story of King Arthur's lady of the lake — now that's an epic undertaking. Thank you, Netflix.

It starts with the slaughter of a Druid village and a young teen girl on a quest to save her people. She needs the blade and to find a sorcerer whose name we all know. She’ll also be joined by a young future King of the Britons.

Based on the comic adaptation of Frank Miller, there's plenty of conflict in this ancient quest with young Katherine Langford leading the way.

I recommend watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail to gain a comprehensive understanding of this time period.


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

TV Picks - Week of July 6

Hope you're recovering well from your socially distanced July 4th celebration. Now, as always, is a great time to enjoy some air conditioning and catch up on your favorite TV shows.

There's a light slate of new stuff this week, so I wanted to follow up on shows that I've previously recommended in this column and see how they're holding up. 

Bordertown – I'm hooked on this Finnish crime drama. I watch every night after my wife falls asleep. For some reason, they renamed it Sorjonen after the quirky detective in the current third season, but don't let that distract you. This is CSI in its early years on steroids. I'm in deep on the Finland/Russian border.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark – Really enjoyed the first episode. Hate that HBO is making us wait week to week. It's always a good sign for a docuseries when you know how things turn out and don't even care. It’s amazing where a little late night obsession will take you.

Hamilton - Never sprung for the pricey tickets on Broadway, so I watched with my youngest daughter Emily who knows it back and forth. I went in cynical but emerged impressed. Angelica Schuyler and King George steal the show. I honestly didn’t love a lot of the tunes, but I do respect the talent on display.

Search Party - Excellent for binging. It's dark, intended for a younger hipper audience, but works for me. Maybe I should go to Brooklyn to watch it.

Yellowstone - Find the Paramount Network and watch this show!! Kevin Costner is not to be trifled with.

Dirty John - Only two episodes left, but it feels dragged out. The performances are very good, but this San Diego shooting should have been a two-hour documentary at most.


What Would You Do? (ABC)
Tuesday July 7 10pm (12th Season Premiere)

Five years ago, I was very close to co-hosting an episode of this ABC mainstay. Really. 

I had worked out a deal to do a themed WWYD? episode filled with situations happening to characters on existing ABC shows. I came up with a ton of different scenarios, but we never got the green light. What would Cam and Mitch do?

John Quinones somehow has managed without me, and this season's premiere includes a scenario with a man wearing a Confederate flag on his jacket and a Black customer politely asks him to remove it. Timely, indeed. 

The successful premise has always been straightforward, and putting yourself in these situations is an exercise worth engaging in.

Little Voice (APPLE TV+)
Friday July 10 (Premiere)

Get ready to find your voice and learn how to use it with some help from Sara Bareilles and JJ Abrams.

Bess King is a talented wannabe performer struggling to make her dreams come true while dealing with the perils of everyday life. She has the talent armed with lots of Sara Bareilles originals, but does she have the patience and persistence to get through her day?

Apple TV+ takes another shot with some big name creators in this cute tale that feels very Disney.

The Twelve (NETFLIX)
Tuesday July 10 (Premiere)

I've got a thing for foreign trials. First it was The Trial which came from Italy. Now there's this Belgian drama that was a big hit overseas.

When you're watching a show that originated outside of the U.S.A., stick with the native audio and use subtitles. English overdubbing takes away from the power of any drama. I use subtitles all of the time, so this wasn't too much of a stretch for me. Once I started, I couldn’t go back.

This 10-part courtroom drama revolves around a woman accused of murdering her daughter and best friend. Dark stuff.

What sets this series apart is focusing on the members of the jury and how the weight of the case affects their personal lives. The juror baggage sways the courtroom in unexpected ways. 


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.