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.


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.


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."


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.


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.


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!


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...


Should win - Schitt's Creek 

Will win - The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel


Should win - The Crown 

Will win - Succession


Should win - Watchmen

Will win - Watchmen


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

Will win - Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel



Should win - Ted Danson, The Good Place

Will win - Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method


Should win - Laura Linney, Ozark

Will win - Olivia Colman, The Crown


Should win - Jeremy Strong, Succession

Will win - Billy Porter, Pose


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

TV Picks - Week of September 7

Lets begin this week with an answer to Hank Williams Junior's most famous question...

I am ready for some football. 

And I'm not the only one. Year after year, Sunday Night Football on NBC tops the national ratings. It's not even close. Millions across the country can't wait for a primetime matchup of the sport that has become America's pastime (apologies to baseball). 

I don't enjoy the Carrie Underwood-ing of football coverage and turning into more of a spectacle. You can have your Super Bowl Halftime extravaganza, I'm all about the game. But the networks have gotten wise to incorporating the "entertainment factor" into sports and it works.

Football Night in America will air before Thursday's inaugural game. It's a bloated pre-game show light on analysis and heavy on the entertainment. If you're looking for your favorite band to perform its latest single, why not take advantage of a large audience? The NFL knows that football is a business, and audience is everything. Wake me up at kickoff.

College football also kicks off this Saturday night, and there's plenty of controversy here. The ACC is one of the college football conferences proceeding with business as usual while campuses deal with the pandemic. 

Many enjoy pro football from their couches, but college football is a bit of a different story. Most of the appeal is from the passion of alumni (Go Blue!) and live college crowds being true to their school. Those crowds will not be around this year, but the cameras (and gamblers) certainly will.

Football equals fall, which is depressing weather wise. With Labor Day in the rear-view mirror, summer is gone and who knows what the future holds. As a lifelong football fan, I welcome a distraction focusing on X's and O's. We all can use the relief.

This week's picks are all about music, sports and single moms in Britain.    

I Want My MTV (A&E)
Tuesday, September 8th 8pm

It was "M29" in my house growing up. My dad referred to the new music television channel by its number on the cable box, but my brother and I just wanted our MTV.

Anyone who grew up in the 80's knows this mantra. The A&E staple Biography takes its swing at the Vee-Jay era with its documentary on a channel that really did change the world. 

Before MTV, the only place you could see music was on American Bandstand, Don Kirschner's Rock Concert, or other made for TV showcases. These shows were all about the musical performances and almost every one of them was lip synched.

MTV changed all of that. Suddenly there were mini-movies of Corey Hart wearing sunglasses at night, Cindy Lauper battling with Captain Lou Albano, and Nena looking for her luftballoons. The early years took video to new heights and made it an art form while still being entertaining. 

MTV evolved and devolved from its five original Vee-Jays to whatever it is now, but back then the video was more important that the music itself.  In this documentary, talking heads (not those Talking Heads) remember the era and the effect it had on the music and television industries. 

Thursday Night Football (NBC) 8:20pm
Saturday Night College Football (ABC) 7:30pm
Sunday Night Football (NBC) 8:20pm

COVID permitting, the football season will kick off with premiere matchups as it reminds us that it's going to get cold outside. 

The first NFL matchup of the year features premiere quarterbacks as the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans. Arrowhead Stadium was always a tough place to play because of the crowd, so I'm curious to see how the broadcast handles the empty stadium.

On Saturday night, it's college football's turn as defending national champion Clemson visits ACC foe Wake Forest. With no rowdy college crowd, the broadcast becomes all about the game which is bad news for Wake. 

It all culminates with Sunday Night Football, and I'm guessing the number one show in the country gets record numbers. Naturally, the Dallas Cowboys visit the Los Angeles Rams at brand new SoFi stadium in Inglewood. 

And if that's not enough for you, there are two more games Monday night on ESPN. Can't wait.

The Duchess (NETFLIX)
Friday, September 10th 

If something succeeds on television, every network (and now streamer) wants to capitalize and create the next big version of it. We've seen it time and again. It's an unfair comparison for some shows, but the similarities ring true.

This year, it's the next Fleabag. Have you noticed all the comedies featuring a single woman in London with a raunchy vocabulary who doesn't fit in with the status quo? Enter The Duchess.

Creator/producer/star Katherine Ryan rose in the Netflix ranks with her raunchy stand-up act. Now she stars as a "fashionably disruptive single mum in London" who dotes on her daughter, Olive. Katherine wants baby number two and debates whether a new boyfriend, Olive's estranged former boy band member father, or a sperm donor will get her pregnant. 

It's not the Fleabag plot, but the vibe is similar as bad girl/good mom Katherine deals with other mothers and the challenges of having a second child at an "older" age. It's raunchy with some funny moments, and probably unfair of me to compare it to Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Emmy winner. But I just can't help myself.


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.