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