Monday, November 30, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 30

As we enter the final month of an abysmal year it’s time for an avalanche of holiday specials. Classics get rolled out in a sea of Hallmark and Lifetime movies all throughout December.

This week alone, there are more than two dozen different holiday shows airing on TV and dropping on streaming. The tree gets lit, countless singers grace us with their musical gifts, and Freeform goes all in.

I spend a lot of time writing about this type of TV due to its scheduling grid dominance. Don't get me wrong, many of these programs are worth watching… once. Others run the danger of not being so special due to market saturation.

I have seen the Grinch, Charlie Brown and Rudolph countless times. I love them all. But the best time to watch is the first time they appear after missing for months. It's A Wonderful Life respects the rule of the special to a degree. NBC is airing it once this year on Christmas Eve. That's it. (The 5am Thanksgiving Day airing on USA is forgiven.)

When it comes to holiday specials, look for the one-time viewing. For repeated airings, pick one live date and use your DVR as a backup. Record the classics for viewing at your leisure.

There are a plethora of presents under your TV tree. Choose wisely!


Disney Holiday Singalong (ABC)
Monday, November 30th 8pm

Sing along with your favorite (ABC) stars as they belt out holiday classics. Ryan Seacrest hosts (of course). An appropriate way to end November.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (CBS)
Tuesday, December 1st 8pm

I've seen this so many times that I look for network edits made to hit the broadcast run time. Yukon Cornelius is underrated as are the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. Top 3 all-timer.

Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes - At Home Holiday Special (NBC)
Wednesday, December 2nd 10pm

Winner of the longest title of the season. This one is to support Radio City and the New York theater community. The "lighting" of the tree is boring anyway.

My Gift: A Christmas Special From Carrie Underwood (HBO MAX)
Thursday, December 3rd

Biggest American Idol success - Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson or Carrie Underwood? Great debate, but look who's giving the gift of a holiday special to HBO Max.

Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special (APPLE TV+)
Friday, December 4th

How many times will we hear "All I Want For Christmas Is You?" The over/under is set at 3.

Frosty The Snowman (FREEFORM)
Saturday, December 5th 8pm

Happy birthday! Jimmy Durante's finest role. I was always partial to the rabbit, Hocus Pocus.

Euphoria (HBO)
Sunday, December 6th 9pm

A surprise Christmas special for the HBO hit. Zendaya returns as an Emmy winner as her character's relapse bridges the gap to the second season.

This is week one, folks. Lots more mirth on the way.


Baby God (HBO)
Wednesday, December 2nd 9pm

This HBO documentary focuses on a Vegas fertility specialist who impregnated countless women with his own sperm without their knowledge or consent.

Dr. Quincy Fortier opened a women's hospital in Las Vegas back in the 1960's. He was Nevada's doctor of the year in the early 90's and thought of as a miracle worker.

Home DNA kits came along, and suddenly patients were finding out who the father was of their children. The impact of his genes raises many questions about who half of these offspring really are.

Big Mouth (NETFLIX)
Thursday, December 3rd Season 4 Premiere

This animated gem is about the anxiety of growing up and figuring out who you are. Big Mouth is as raw as it gets with puberty bursting through the screen.

This season's guest stars are impressive - Zach Galifianakis, Paul Giamatti, Sterling K. Brown, Seth Rogen, Lena Waithe, John Oliver...the list goes on and on.

Nick Kroll and crew take us through summer camp and 8th grade this season. Get ready for plenty of awkward moments and huge laughs.

Your Honor (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, December 6th Premiere

Bryan Cranston plays a New Orleans judge and...I don't even need to know the rest of the plot. If Bryan Cranston is there, so am I.

This 10 episode legal thriller comes from the producers of The Good Wife and The Night Of. The honorable judge's son is involved in a hit and run accident that involves the local organized crime family.

The supporting cast is impressive - Michael Stuhlbarg, Hope Davis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale… plus plenty of character actors you know and love.

Your Honor has all the makings of a good legal thriller. It's a holiday present that I can't wait to open.

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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 23

Thanksgiving will mean something different for all of us this year. As COVID cases increase throughout the country, traditional family gatherings this Thursday are much more likely to happen on Zoom than in person. If you love your family, just be safe. TV is here to help keep you grounded.

Our family Thanksgiving television routine doesn't vary much from year to year. This holiday is all about family, football and food. The TV is turned on early and remains on after the festive meal. Feel free to follow along with our schedule at home...

9am Thanksgiving Day Parade (NBC)
Remote Controller - My wife and kids

I was not a huge fan of this growing up, but my wife and daughters gave me an appreciation for this event. Debbie grew up watching the parade with her family in the morning, and Rachel and Emily have loved it since they started watching TV. 

My father-in-law and I once took my daughters and niece to see the giant balloons and floats for ourselves. I was awestruck, and I wasn't even a kid. That trip to the city will always hold a special place in my heart.

Sure the performances are cheesy and we end up judging which new pop act did the best job lip synching on a float. Once I was able to laugh at the parade, I was able to enjoy it. Quality early-morning family time.

12pm National Dog Show (NBC)
Remote Controller - My dog

This is another one I've come full circle on. Our dog Molly (@mollyheinthepup on Instagram) is a full fledged member of the family and chooses the next program to watch.

I'm thinking Best In Show as we watch the different classes of dogs get escorted around the ring by owners who often resemble their pooches. We selfishly pay close attention to the Toy Group.

The dogs are adorable, and John O'Hurley does a great job covering all the action as only J Peterman can. Another bonding moment in the Hein home.

1pm 1st NFL Game featuring Detroit (NBC)
Remote Controller - Yours Truly

Are you ready for some football? Time for Lions vs. Texans and some mini hot dogs!  As boring as the annual Detroit game always is, my wife's mini hot dogs more than make up for it. 

430pm 2nd NFL Game featuring Dallas (FOX)
Remote Controller - Still me...sort of

Dallas versus Washington a great rivalry, but these teams stink this year. That's okay because I'm busy carving up a turkey, so the channel has been known to change from time to time.

Full confession – I only eat turkey and corn bread on Thanksgiving. No interest in all the other stuff. Thankfully my daughters are more adventurous eaters. 

6pm A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving AppleTV + & PBS
Remote Controller - Family

If you've got AppleTV+ or PBS, Snoopy will show you how to get your popcorn ready. The Washington/Dallas game will be over by halftime. This Peanuts classic puts a smile on everyone's face. Plus it's time to eat.

820pm 3rd NFL Game - Steelers vs. Ravens (NBC)
Remote Controller - Me

I grew up in Mount Lebanon in the late 70's rooting for my home team - the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's no better way to work off that big meal than to plant myself on the couch for a hard hitting game against the Steelers arch rival. UPDATE: No game, thanks COVID!

Everyone gets their turn at the remote as we get the most out of our TV on Thanksgiving Day. Even during this awful pandemic, some traditions can still be carried out courtesy of your living room screen. 


Saved By The Bell (PEACOCK)
Wednesday, November 25 Premiere

The latest sitcom reboot comes from the halls of Bayside High with a sequel series set in the present day. Six new students are the main focus this time around, but rest easy, the old gang is still somewhat here.

There is lots of goofing at the expense of the original six. Zach is now Governor of California, Jessie is a guidance counselor, and A.C. is the gym teacher/football coach. Following the Full House template, their kids are all part of the high school mix. 

30 Rock vet Tracey Wingfield runs the show and the zingers come pretty quickly. The only question is whether or not the new six will generate the affection the original six still hold over fans from the 90's. 

The Flight Attendant (HBO MAX)
Thursday, November 25  Premiere

Penny leaves Leonard and Sheldon to fly the friendly skies in this new dark comedy/mystery. Kaley Cuoco plays Cassie who works international airline routes with a wise-ass crew and is always up for a good time. After a night in Thailand with a stranger, she wakes up from a blackout next to his bloody corpse and wants to know what the heck just happened.

Cuoco is the executive producer of the show and gives a solid lead performance. The show is a mystery at heart, but there are funny moments as it moves pretty quickly. Most of the focus is on her character, deservedly so.

There are lots of overseas plot twists and turns to keep things interesting and the pacing is very good. I'll stick to the end to see how this international mystery is solved. 

Virgin River (NETFLIX)
Friday, November 26  Season 2

My wife and I like watching romantic shows together, even if they're cheesy. We really enjoyed the first season of this beautifully shot Netflix hit. We are seriously thinking about traveling to British Columbia (not the fictional setting of Northern California) to see the breathtaking scenery firsthand. 

Virgin River picks up right where season one left things off. Mel is back in L.A. after leaving when she heard about Charmaine's baby. Jack is trying to do the right thing but knows who the love of his life really is. 

The challenge of season two is keeping the flame alive between Jack and Mel and not paying too much attention to the supporting characters. When they focus on Jack and Mel's relationship, I'm all in. But love stories featuring Doc, Preacher and new "troubled" teenager Lizzie are nowhere near as compelling. Even Doc and Hope's love story can wear a little thin.

We enjoyed our trip back to Virgin River, and I have a feeling we will be heading back for season three when that inevitably rolls around.


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 16

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Wait a minute — it's not even Thanksgiving yet. That's not stopping television from rolling out the holiday specials while the weather is still warm.

If you're looking for Christmas cheer, just turn on the Hallmark Channel from now until the end of the year to see how your favorite stars from the 80's and 90's are holding up. Lifetime also gets into the holiday spirit this week with Feliz NaviDAD (Mario Lopez stars, Melissa Joan Hart directs).

It's not just the cable networks who are feeling the holiday buzz. Disney+ is all over the holidays as well, kicking things off with The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special. If you're a Star Wars fan from the Ewok era, the words "holiday special" make you cringe, but rest assured the LEGO folks have figured things out. Netflix goes traditional with Dolly Parton's Christmas On The Square, but also combines multiple genres to get your attention with the Holiday Home Makeover with Mr. Christmas and Alien Xmas where a young elf mistakes a tiny alien for a Christmas gift. I'm not joking here.

When I was growing up, I always looked forward to holiday TV as we got closer to the actual holidays. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Charlie Brown Christmas were appointment viewing in the Hein house, because both only aired ONE TIME all year long. It made these holiday classics all the more special. Apple TV+ keeping the Peanuts holiday gang to itself is very Scrooge-like.

I understand the appeal of airing a modern classic like Elf every night and spreading good cheer, especially during a particularly horrible year. But having too much Roast Beast is not necessarily a good thing. The holidays are coming, and it's okay to wait until the end of the month before jingling and jangling.

I will be watching football and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving when my turkey is served. That's the start of the holiday season for me. But if you're looking to feel holly and jolly right now, the networks are more than happy to oblige.


His Dark Materials (HBO)
Monday, November 16th (Season 2 Premiere)

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened during season one. Talking polar bears. Lin-Manuel Miranda in a hot air balloon. An angry Ruth Wilson with an evil monkey. Fantasy is great, but it needs to make some sense.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first season of this literary adaptation. The effects are exceptional and it is staged as an epic, but the plot is hard to follow if you didn't read the books.

The season one climax led the characters into a different world. I'll be tuned in to see where everyone ended up and hopefully find some clarity in a show that should be great, but isn't quite there yet.

Big Sky (ABC)
Tuesday, November 17th 10pm (Series Premiere)

Big Little Lies got the David E. Kelley machine cranking out shows once again. The Undoing is doing its job on HBO, and you can't miss the hype for this adaptation of C.J. Box's 2013 novel.

The challenge for this new ABC show is that the promos make it feel like it should be on cable or a streamer. Big Sky needs edge to make it work, and not since Twin Peaks has ABC been able to pull that off.

There's only one Twin Peaks, but Big Sky promises that the most beautiful places hide the darkest secrets. Let's see where this highway journey takes us.

Belushi (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, November 22nd

This tragic story has been told multiple times, yet every time a new program about John Belushi is on, I can't help but watch.

This Belushi documentary comes from R.J. Cutler who produced The War Room and has been behind many other compelling documentaries over the years. That got my attention.

With the participation of Belushi's widow Judy, Cutler gained access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen (or heard) materials, including his personal letters, photographs and audio recordings with his friends and contemporaries like Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase.

Tears will flow as Belushi's incredible energy and comedy leads to his tragic death. He was a fabulous comedian whose demons grew right along with his fame. Belushi could not handle both and his loss continues to resonate decades later.


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, November 9, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 9

What a week. And I'm not referring to Presidential ballot counting which should end around Christmas. I'm talking about what's coming up on TV this week.

This is the kind of reality television that I enjoy watching. True-crime shows and docuseries are right up my alley — void of fabricated conflicts and everyone wanting to be a star. This is the real deal, folks.

Two shows take us back to worldwide leadership when I was a teen. Everyone remembers Live Aid and the Miracle on Ice, but the administrations on both sides of the Atlantic generated plenty of headlines too. America was back on the rise as England was trying to reaffirm its power. Late this week, there's a taste of both with Season 4 of The Crown and the debut of The Reagans.

The Crown (NETFLIX)
Sunday, November 15th

The Crown is one of my perennial favorites, and Season 4 kicks off in in the late 70s when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and Prince Charles met Diana Spencer.

The casting change shock of the third season is long gone as Olivia Colman returns as Queen Elizabeth with Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip by her side and Helena Bonham Carter as the enigmatic Princess Margaret. Major kudos to the casting directors - Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin nail Charles and Diana. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher. The Emmys the show should have won this past year will be heading your way (in my opinion The Crown blows away Succession — it's not even close).

This is the first season of The Crown where I actually experienced the events covered instead of having read about them in a history book. This superb drama doesn't miss a beat. The Falkland Islands, I.R.A., and of course, THE wedding, are handled with the same precision as events from the first three seasons.

The West Wing was the first behind the scenes political show that knocked me out, but that was Aaron Sorkin's fictional White House account. The Crown is based on true events and continues to provide a somewhat realistic peek into the royal world.

It's hard to be sympathetic to the Royal Family, but The Crown makes quite the case (unless you’re Prince Charles). Savor Season 4 and gear up for Season 5 and a third Queen – Claire Foy and Olivia Colman are tough acts to follow.

The Reagans (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, November 15th 8pm

Not to be confused with the 2003 Showtime scripted series of the same name, this The Reagans is a new four-part docuseries covering Ronald Reagan's ascent from movie star to President featuring interviews with family and friends and footage from back in the day.

This country was not in a good place when Ronnie took over in 1980 and restored this nation's preeminence. The Reagans examines the quest for power and lasting effects of what happened when we were wearing Members Only jackets and Capezio shoes.

The pandemic has slowed down original programming, but the network's documentaries like Love Fraud and Outcry are getting some love.

We thought politics was crazy during the Reagans tenure. Little did we know what was to come.


A Teacher (HULU)
Tuesday, November 10th

Kate Mara plays a new teacher at a Texas high school who decides to help the All-American jock prepare for the SATs. Take a guess what happens next.

Tight quarters lead to more than a teacher/student relationship, and the married teacher doesn't see anything wrong with what's going on since she "wanted to feel free."

Unfortunately this is no longer a unique situation in today's schools. An instructor seeing nothing wrong with her abuse of power is an interesting twist, and Kate Mara is at her manipulative best in this challenging role.

Trial 4 (NETFLIX)
Wednesday, November 11

This eight-part true crime docuseries is relevant to all that's going on in today's troubled world. Sean K. Ellis spent 22 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for a murder of a Boston police detective at the age of 19.

Three trials later, Ellis faces a fourth day in court to determine whether he gets put back behind bars. Ellis has consistently maintained his innocence, and this time around there are questions about how the case was handled with evidence withheld from the defense.

This timely true-crime tale exposes police corruption and racism that started in 1993. The world hasn't changed very much almost 30 years later.

Valley of Tears (HBO MAX)
Thursday, November 12th

Israel's biggest budget TV series ever makes its way to HBO Max. This ten-parter focuses on the 1973 Yom Kippur War through the eyes of those who fought it at a young age.

Based on a true story, you can expect plenty of emotion as four soldiers, no older than 20, fight with their families in a battle for their existence.

If you enjoyed the masterful Band of BrothersValley of Tears is probably right up your alley. Israeli shows like Fauda spotlight the day-to-day fear for your life and cut right to the hell of what war can do any family.

Murder on Middle Beach (HBO)
Sunday, November 15th 10pm

HBO's latest true-crime offering is a four-part docuseries about a son who focuses on finding his mother's killer.

In early 2010, Barbara Hamburg was found violently murdered near her home in an upper-middle class Connecticut town. It was suspected as a crime of passion, but with no evidence to back that up, the case grows cold.

Eight years later her son Madison, who was 18 at the time of the killing, interviews family and others in search of evidence in hopes of solving the murder, and he ends up uncovering family secrets and long-time resentments in his hometown.

HBO has been on a roll with true-crime series like The Vow and I'll Be Gone In The Dark. Madison's quest to learn what happened to his mom and get some closure is the next chapter in a dark but compelling genre.

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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, November 2, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 2

It's finally here. All the rhetoric, the ads, the debates, the all comes down to this Tuesday – Election Day. Please get out there (or mail in your ballot) and vote. If you don't exercise your right to vote, you forfeit the right to complain about things for the next four years.

I'll put my soapbox away – this column is about TV. I've always been fascinated by Presidential election coverage. We'll all be tuned in Tuesday night to see if the White House gets a new occupant or the first family remains for four more years.

When I was growing up, there was one way to find out what happened on Election night. Turn on the TV, and ABC, CBS or NBC would gradually give voting updates, but the real results came out in the newspaper the next morning. In other words, it was nothing like the way things are these days.

There are a plethora of options you can get your election results from. Social media provides minute by minute analysis and speculation, but there's also plenty of misinformation to be had. Since Bush vs. Gore, TV networks have been much more hesitant to call a state prematurely. I still don't understand how with 2% of the results in it can be determined who is going to win.

We live in an era of selecting the channel of your choice for whatever spin you're looking for. Forget the results, just count the number of talking heads analyzing polls and predicting the outcome. As 2016 showed, many of them have as much expertise at predicting the next Commander in Chief as you or I do.

As I watch these broadcasts, I'm all about the maps. My mind is blown by how detailed results can be drilling down to individual counties and regions. An obscure county in Wisconsin or Florida becomes the epicenter of voter curiosity. I'd love to have one of those touch screens in my living room.

Things ratchet up another notch when the polls close on the hour to get the latest updates. You can see the glee in your favorite network anchor's face when the clock strikes :00 and new state tallies are to be released. It's a welcome relief from all the blustering and speculation from so-called experts. 

Television was built for events like this. Nationwide coverage, instant results (hopefully), real-time reaction and plenty of drama. This is better than a sporting event and also a lot more meaningful. We all know the start time, but no one knows when it's going to end. 

It all comes down to the final score, and you can bet those absentee ballots will be counted after the fact. I'm skeptical there will be a clear winner on Election Night, but watching the networks figure out how to best fill time between those hourly updates is must-see TV. 


Save Me Too (PEACOCK)
Tuesday, November 3rd (2nd season premiere)

Another British series travels across the pond and lands at a streamer - this time it's Peacock! Lennie James, who wields a mean stick in the world of the Walking Dead, stars in this London thriller.

He plays Nelly Rowe whose world gets rocked when accused of abducting the daughter he barely knew. A year and a half later, his daughter is still missing and Nelly tries to find her and clear his name.

This second chapter in the Save Me series gets deeper and darker than the first six episodes. The trademark intensity of James is on full display as suspects and secrets pop up on his arduous journey.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2020 Induction Ceremony (HBO)
Saturday, November 7th 

Full disclosure - I am an actual voter for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That privilege was bestowed upon me when I was co-hosting For What It's Worth on VH1 Classic, a show all about music memorabilia. I cast my ballot every year based on whatever acts are nominated.

Just like Joan Jett, I love rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really has become the Music Hall of Fame over the years. Inductees reflect the change in whatever is considered to be rock and roll these days.

Depeche Mode, The Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G. and T-Rex are this year's performer inductees. Jon Landau and Irving Azoff will receive the Ahmet Ertegun award. I voted for some of them.

After seeing this ceremony live in person, I'm curious how they're going to pull this off remotely. Keep the speeches short and provide more musical performances. Let's hope HBO rises to the challenge. 

Moonbase 8 (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, November 8th 11pm (Series Premiere)

It's another comedy in outer space, but this one stars Tim Heidecker, Fred Armisen and John C. Reilly - three of comedy's finest "that guys". 

The six-episode half hour series focuses on this threesome's attempt to qualify for their first lunar mission. The action takes place at NASA's Moon Base simulator in the desert, and the plot is more grounded than expected. 

This trio proves that a comedy in outer space can actually be funny. And an offbeat comedy that takes me away from our current circumstances is exactly what we need this week on television.


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

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe. And vote.