Monday, July 26, 2021

TV Picks - Week of July 26

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can compare to greatness." – Oscar Wilde

"Imitation is the sincerest form of television." – Fred Allen

TV tends to be a predictable business. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. As much as critics like me pine for original programming and new ideas, ratings prove that audiences these days prefer variations on a theme or "rebooting" favorite shows.

Network television is all FBI, L&O, Chicago and -ish. Cable favorites consist of housewives from different cities, dating twists or home renovations. Streamers are stocked with mindless rom-coms, true-crime, and dating games.

This week's new programming puts Oscar and Fred’s quotes to the test with a variety of takes on shows that we’ve already seen.

The Snitch Cartel: Origins (NETFLIX)
Reminds me of: Narcos Season 3 (NETFLIX)

The Snitch Cartel is a Colombian crime film made in 2011, so technically Narcos would be a variation on that theme. In this new Netflix series, two brothers from Cali transform from poor kids into drug kingpins of the Colombian cartel during the 1960's and 1970's. This version of the now infamous story is based on the 2008 novel by Andres Lopez Lopez. Premieres Wednesday.

Behind The Music (PARAMOUNT+)
Reminds me of: Behind The Music (VH1)

The groundbreaking music documentary series returns with new profiles and digs into its vault with updated tales of classic chart toppers who broke through. Ricky Martin and LL Cool J profiles kick off the reboot. What a gift for my brother Kevin who turns 50 on the premiere date. Premieres Thursday.

Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story (PEACOCK)
Reminds me of: Dr. Death (PEACOCK)

Peacock breaks out a four-part companion docuseries right in the middle of an original series that's currently airing! The Joshua Jackson/Alec Baldwin/Christian Slater led program is based on a podcast of the same name. The docuseries features the real-life victims of neurosurgeon Dr. Duntsch. Lots of variation on a terrifying theme. Premieres Thursday.

Watch The Sound with Mark Ronson (Apple TV+)
Reminds me of: McCartney 3, 2, 1 (HULU)

Fresh off Rick Rubin's sit-down with the cute Beatle, the timing of Mark Ronson's new series couldn't be more fortuitous. The Grammy-winning producer explores of the creation of music and extremes undertaken in search of the perfect sound. The six-part docuseries features interviews with prominent musicians including, you guessed it, Paul McCartney. Premieres Friday.

Back On The Record with Bob Costas (HBO)
Reminds me of: On The Record with Bob Costas (HBO)

Bob returns to HBO interviewing sports and pop culture figures from the past and present. His original HBO 2001 series stemmed from Later with Bob Costas which aired on NBC in the late 80's/early 90's. Bob is never afraid to speak his mind on controversial issues and should be a nice companion to Bill Maher. Premieres Friday at 11:00 PM.

Fargo, Battlestar Galactica, Cobra Kai – these programs have proven that this formula can work. TV is entertaining, but it's also comfort. And seeing an old friend or hearing a story you're familiar with feels good when it's done the right way.

I'll be watching this week with a fresh attitude. As for my reviews, I'll quote Oscar Wilde one final time, "the truth is rarely pure and never simple."

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Love Is Blind: After The Altar (NETFLIX) – A second reunion for couples who didn't see love coming. Bows Wednesday.

Turning The Tables with Robin Roberts (DISNEY+) – Roundtable discussions with powerful women from all walks of life. Convenes Wednesday.

FBoy Island (NETFLIX) – The title says it all. Surfaces Thursday.

NBA Draft (ABC) – The Bucks just won the title, but the NBA keeps the ball rolling. Swishes Thursday.

An expensive time machine and love in the UK…

Myth & Mogul: John DeLorean (NETFLIX)
Friday, July 30th

John DeLorean is one fascinating dude. Most know him from the brand of car Doc Brown made a time machine out of in Back To The Future. DeLorean started his car company after heading up the sporting car division of GM at a young age.

The three-part docuseries profiles his ascent at GM, the failure of his car company, and how trafficking cocaine somehow entered the picture. DeLorean's family and peers chronicle his quest to build a "dream car" and shine a new light on the late inventor.

The Pursuit Of Love (AMAZON)
Friday, July 30th

If you're hankering for Downton or some other type of British period piece with a twist, this is the series for you. Based on the 1945 novel, two women seek love during the time between the first and second World Wars in England.

The gorgeous Lily James and Emily Beecham play well-off female confidantes whose relationship gets put to the test. Mix in gorgeous cinematography along with Dominic West and Andrew Scott and there's plenty of eye candy to go around in this three-part series.

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, July 19, 2021

TV Picks - Week of July 19

Ted Lasso was the best television program of 2020. It wasn’t just the best comedy; it was the very best show that aired during a very tough year. This Friday the second season finally arrives.

And I'm nervous.

I couldn't get enough of this fish out of water comedy starring Jason Sudeikis as a successful college football coach who lands a job managing (coaching) a struggling British football (soccer) team.

The character of Ted Lasso was born years ago in ads for real soccer matches that were airing on NBC. A promotional campaign is one thing, but a fully scripted series on the relatively new streamer AppleTV+? I expected the show to be funny, but I also thought the American coach in the UK bit would get old awfully fast.

Boy was I wrong. Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt (who plays Coach Beard) and sitcom veteran Bill Lawrence created a world I couldn't get enough of. All of the characters were multi-dimensional. The backstories made sense. And most important of all, the show made me laugh.

Initially Ted Lasso was an under-the-radar success. It was the first show I'd recommend to anyone asking for something "good to watch" during the pandemic. Since Ted is such a "feel good" character, many have attributed the program's success to being the right show at the right time. As Ted might say, that’s bullcrap. This comedy would work regardless of what's going on in the world because of solid writing and excellent acting.

"Feel good" Ted just happens to be going through a divorce, struggles to stay in touch with his kid overseas, worries about being a failure, and is starting his life over in a new country with a boss who wants him to fail. Plenty of hard-hitting issues are tackled on the show. The plot isn't just schtick and wondering who will win the next match.

The first season benefited from zero expectations. Now that the universal praise and Emmy nominations are out, the next season has been forced to operate on a different playing field. I'm confident Richmond FC will rise to the challenge (in spite of what happened on the pitch last year), but critical eyes are watching.

Jason Sudeikis does the heavy lifting as Ted, but the other characters create a deep ensemble. The ascent of Nathan (Nick Mohammed) is inspiring but also plausible. Team owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is more than just the "shame" nun from Game of Thrones. The romance of Keely (Juno Temple) and Roy (Brett Goldstein) was foreshadowed but complicated. Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) seemed like a spoiled star, but we learned much more about his personal struggles. And who isn't a Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez) fan?

Making a comedy about professional sports is no easy feat. The games matter on Ted Lasso, but every episode doesn't hinge on a last-minute goal or game-saving stop. Ted and the club’s fate is the driving force, but much more interesting stuff happens off the field.

The second season starts off picking up the pieces of the first (no spoilers, just go watch it already!). Bank on Ted's eternal optimism, biscuits, and plenty of witty storylines to carry the day.

Expectations may be sky high, but that yellow sign above Ted's office provides an answer to anyone questioning or doubting season two.


(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Sexy Beasts (NETFLIX) – Dating series where suitors have been transformed into creatures through prosthetic makeup. I wish I was joking. Unmasks Wednesday.

Turner & Hooch (DISNEY+) – If it has a dog in it, even Tom Hanks' not-so-finest moment gets rebooted as a series these days. Fetches Wednesday.

Behind The Attraction (DISNEY+) – New docuseries on how your favorite Disney rides were made. Fast-Passes Wednesday.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation (NETFLIX) – Kevin Smith picks up where He-Man left off in this animated series featuring voices you'll recognize. Powers Friday.

Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage (HBO) – Documentary on the festival’s unpleasant late nineties return. Back to the garden on Friday.

Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC AMERICA) – Helen Bonham Carter narrates this six-part nature series. Springs Saturday.

Going for the gold and some classic film trivia…

Summer Olympics (NBC)
Friday, July 23rd

Start humming that John Williams theme... it's time for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games (one year later, and in front of no live fans). The Tokyo opening ceremonies will be the typical Olympic spectacle, and then it's time for weeks of mostly-amateur worldwide competition.

NBC spent a ton of money on these games, so brace for over saturation. Expect a heartbreaking gymnastics story, controversy with the world's fastest athletes, and wonder how the US basketball team can actually be defeated. Or just stay outside and exercise on your own in the warm weather.

The Movies That Made Us (NETFLIX)
Friday, July 23rd Season 2

The premise is right there in the title. The creators of The Toys That Made Us (another premise in the title) return for a second season of looking back at some modern film classics.

I couldn't get enough of the Dirty Dancing and Home Alone profiles from the first season. This time around we learn more about Jurassic Park, Pretty Woman, Forrest Gump and Back To The Future. If you yearn for the old days of DVD commentary tracks, this is the series for you.


If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, July 12, 2021

TV Picks - Week of July 12

"I'm pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means friendship." – Mayor Larry Vaughn, Jaws

That statement, made by a fictional seaside-town mayor, kickstarted a phenomenon that many, including yours truly, have capitalized upon over the past 46 years: our underlying fear of sharks.

Jaws started it all in 1975. Many sequels and knockoffs followed. Fonzie took his infamous leap (thank you, Henry). And in the late 80's, someone at the Discovery Channel realized they were sitting on a gold mine of shark footage and put together a themed week to air during the summer. According to Discovery, that week has become the longest-running television event in history.

Shark Week began as an idea scribbled on the back of a napkin during an executive chat about fun things Discovery could do. The original week was dedicated to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks. The first program, Caged In Fear, focused on testing motorized shark cages. Everyone's heart was in the right place.

Once the marketing department realized what they’d tapped into, all bets were off. Sharks get eyeballs… so put out anything shark-related and give the people what they want. Ratings grew year after year, and Discovery made the most of the tens of millions who get their shark fix every summer. Nat Geo now offers its own SharkFest, and others are attempting get into the game as well. There's plenty of chum out there to be consumed.

Celebs still line up to be part of traditional Shark Week. This year we'll see William Shatner, Tiffany Haddish, Brad Paisley and the cast of Jackass to name just a few. They're not just capitalizing on a devoted audience, they actually want to be part of the phenomenon.

Which isn’t to say there’s anything highbrow about Shark Week in its current form. Contrast that original week in 1988 to a sampling of titles debuting this week on Discovery:

Monday - Jaws Awakens: Phred vs Slash

Tuesday - MotherSharker

Wednesday - The Real Sharknado

Thursday - Dr. Pimple Popper Pops Shark Week

Friday - Ninja Sharks: Mutants Rising

Saturday - Return To Shark Vortex

Sunday - The Great Hammerhead Stakeout

Nat Geo's programming isn't much different, and it's too bad. Shark celebrations don't require the all blown-out hype. The networks don't need to be in on the joke anymore. The blood is in the water… the audience will feast regardless.

It's reminiscent of when other shows from the past tried stunt casting or something completely out of context in hopes of improving ratings. We all know what happens next. Just ask The Fonz.

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (HBO) – Six-part adaptation of Ronan Farrow's book/podcast investigating Harvey Weinstein. Creeps Monday.

Miracle Workers (TBS) – Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buscemi take to the Oregon Trail as the comedy anthology returns for its third season. Embarks Tuesday.

My Unorthodox Life (NETFLIX) – Reality show about a former Orthodox community member who belongs on Bravo. Sacrifices Wednesday.

American Horror Stories (FX ON HULU) – Anthology spinoff of Ryan Murphy's FX hit with different stories and casts each week. Frightens Thursday.

Schmigadoon! (APPLE TV+) – Backpackers stumble upon a town that believes they're living inside a 1940's musical. Curtain rises Friday.

The End (SHOWTIME) – Dark comedy about three generations dealing with the end of life in different ways. Arrives Sunday.

Real-life robberies, deadly surgeries and a Beatle gets back…

Wednesday, July 14th

Armored cars, planes, bourbon – millions of dollars have been swiped, and the thieves themselves tell us how they (almost) pulled it off. And it's not as easy as knowing the Lufthansa security guard.

This is the next level of the Netflix true-crime craze. Six real-life heists are broken down with candid explanations of crimes and captures. These are thefts, not murders, which makes this docuseries a little lighter than other Netflix fare.

Dr. Death (PEACOCK)
Thursday, July 15th

I vividly remember riding the subway incredulously devouring this podcast. I asked myself how could this not be a movie or TV show? My trip began at 30 Rock, so maybe someone upstairs was listening.

A Texas neurosurgeon is accused of malpractice after more than 30 of his patients are left seriously injured or dead. Joshua Jackson and Alec Baldwin lead the top-notch cast in this eight-episode series. No spoilers here – but keep reminding yourself that this isn't a fictional tale. Watch trailer.

McCartney 3, 2, 1 (HULU)
Friday, July 16th

All six episodes drop as Paul McCartney explores his musical career with the help of Rick Rubin. Most Beatles fans can't get enough of Sir Paul. Count me in.


If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, July 5, 2021

TV Picks - Week of July 5

I'm a TV lifer. Glued to the screen since my mom told me how to get to Sesame Street. Made a career of it – I'm a lucky guy.

When I met my wife in the mid 80's, she knew what she was getting into. Debbie is the antithesis of me – super active, constantly on-the-go, tons of energy. But at night, it's time to settle down, and that's when we watch "our shows" together.

Every couple has their shows. Finding the right program to watch with your significant other can sometimes be a challenge. It requires an open mind, flexibility and compromise, but there are times when you need a little bit more. Allow to me to share our rules to make your TV life as a couple easier.


Dual Appeal – The program has got to appeal to both of you. It doesn't have to be 50/50, and it usually won't be, but interest from both sides is an absolute must.

Everyone has particular tastes. I'm all about prestige TV and need to focus on what I'm watching. Debbie will turn on Bravo and let it run in the background. When we find a show that we both enjoy, everybody wins.

Genre Familiarity – Know which genres appeal to you and your partner, but also remember the ones you both can't stand. My wife has zero interest in Battlestar Galactica or For All Mankind (apologies to Ronald D. Moore). I'll never watch any Real Housewife from any city (apologies to Andy Cohen). Solo flights are highly encouraged and totally acceptable.

Honor Thy Recommendation – If one of you suggests a show to watch, the other is obligated to give it a shot. Knowing each other's tastes helps a lot in this instance. Debbie recommended The Good Wife, and I thought Normal People would be right up our alley. Win win. 

No Repeats – This is a tough one, especially if you start watching a series on your own and quickly realize it could work as something to watch together.

For example, I checked out a sports-themed comedy (Ted Lasso) and realized that Deb might like it, but I was a few episodes in and didn’t want to wait to finish. I offer to re-watch the first season, but this would be her first time meeting Ted and not really a shared experience. The good news – she'll jump in on the second season because both of us have yet to see it.

Staying Faithful – Once you agree to watch a program together, there's no jumping ahead. There will be times when work, friends, family or real life gets in the way of regular viewing. You must watch the series together. This is tough when a program is really good and you've got some free time on your hands, but absence does make the heart grow fonder.

Snooze But Don't Lose – This is a corollary to staying faithful. If either of you fall asleep during the show, the other person can only watch the remainder of that episode and not give anything away. Whoever slept can choose a verbal recap, check out what they missed on their own, or you can watch together (an acceptable re-watch). It's all about being on the same page. 

These rules work for us, and hopefully they provide some guidance to help bring you and your partner together in front of your TV.

Two of "our shows" are returning to Netflix this Friday for brand new seasons… Virgin River and Atypical.

I got sucked in to Virgin River. A few people had told me the first season was "a great date" and I should definitely watch with Deb. So we stumbled into this Northern California town anticipating plenty of sap. The cheesy romance was definitely there, but our expectations were surprisingly exceeded.

The exterior shots in Virgin River make you want to book a trip (it's shot in Canada). The setting is picturesque. The small town where everybody knows everything about everyone is cliched yet charming. Mel's (Alexandra Breckenridge) fish-out-of-water story is deeper than expected, and Jack (Martin Henderson) is a good-looking bar owner just trying to make things right. 

We looked forward to seeing how Doc (Tim Matheson) and Paige (Annette O'Toole) would come to the realization that they needed each other. How Preacher (Colin Lawrence) always has Jack's back and why Charmaine (Lauren Hammersley) can't hold on to him. We got sucked in. 

The second season ran a bit on fumes (focus on those exterior shots) with a little too much melodrama, but this new third season does a good job remembering what makes the show click. The magic is in Mel and Jack's romance, the locals dealing with their issues, and plenty of wide angles to take in the scenery. It's not Emmy winning television, but it's sweet, and Deb and I can't get enough of it.

Atypical is another one of "our shows," but sadly it’s coming to an end with its fourth season. This is one of the best coming-of-age comedy series that I've seen in a long time. The premise has the potential to be gimmicky – a kid on the spectrum figuring out his place in the world, but this comedy is so much more.

Atypical works because it feels grounded in reality. At the center is a flawed but caring family, and creator Robia Rashid stays true to life on the spectrum and how a family deals with a child’s struggle to become independent.

Sam (Keir Gilchrist) is at the heart of the story. He's a charming autistic teen who wants experience life. Family and friends understand Sam and his idiosyncrasies, and the show masterfully gets laughs without mocking being on the spectrum. Sam has progressed from getting through high school to finding a girlfriend, going to college and now prepares to move out and leave the comfort of his home.

Sam's sister Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) was the breakout character of the first season. She's always there for her brother and gets the best lines insulting everyone in her orbit. Casey gradually realizes that she likes women more than men and grapples with her identity. Sam's parents Elsa (Jennifer Jason-Leigh) and Doug (Michael Rapaport) bear the scars of raising kids and deal with their own issues as their nest becomes an empty one.

The supporting cast, which could easily fall into cliché, operates at the same high level as the family. Sam's girlfriend Paige (Jenna Boyd) has become my favorite character as she earnestly pursues her goals and dreams. Sam's best friend Zahid (Nik Dodani) is all about sex and being a "bro", but he's got a heart of gold. Other actors (some of who are on the spectrum themselves) round out a caring community with a great sense of humor that you'd love to have in your town.

It has been a joy watching Sam and his family grow and evolve over the years. Atypical has expertly walked the fine line of dealing with people on the spectrum, but this season's emphasis on Casey's gender identity hits you over the head a bit too much. Her story feels a bit preachy, something that Sam's struggles have never felt like.

This fourth and final season of Atypical draws to a fitting conclusion. I'll miss this family of four. Now Debbie and I need to find another one of "our shows" to watch. 

(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)

I Think You Should Leave (NETFLIX) – Season 2 of Tim Robinson's sketch series – many loved the first season. Returns Tuesday.

Cat People/Dogs (NETFLIX) – Reality shows about your favorite animals. Fetch Wednesday.

Big Brother (CBS) – I don't get the appeal, but it keeps Julie Chen Moonves working. Spies Thursday.

Love Island (CBS) – Back again for Season 3, this time based in Hawaii. Embarks Thursday.

Gossip Girl (HBO MAX) – A new group of teens in a reboot that presumably someone was asking for. Returns Thursday.

The Patrick Star Show (NICK) – A younger version of Spongebob's best pal gets his own show. Docks Friday.

2021 ESPYs (ABC) – Manufactured ESPN awards show which naturally airs on… ABC? Red carpet Saturday.

Wellington Paranormal (CW) – New Zealand spinoff of the original What We Do In The Shadows film. Appears Sunday. 

Hit and run pursuit, comedy history, and resort perfection…

The Beast Must Die (AMC+)
Monday July 5th (premieres on AMC July 12th)

An upset mom wants payback from the man she believes to be responsible for killing her son in a hit and run accident. The show title expresses exactly how she feels.

Cush Jumbo from The Good Wife and Fight seeks revenge from Jared Harris (Mad Men) in this six-episode drama from across the pond. There's no way she's going to let him get away with it in this thriller.

History of the Sitcom (CNN)
Sunday, July 11th 9pm

Following the success of The Story of Late Night, the news network looks at the world of the sitcom throughout the years. The eight-part series is organized by theme and we see our favorite families handle defining issues in front of the cameras.

It's the same formula as the late night docuseries with tons of archival footage and opinion on how sitcoms have evolved. The first two episodes air back to back. Watch preview.

The White Lotus (HBO)
Sunday, July 11th 9pm

Everything is not as it seems with the guests and the staff at this beautiful Hawaiian resort. This six-part social satire peels back the layers of the property and its inhabitants to see if anything there’s any substantial under the hood.

Mike White, the real Ned Schneebly from School of Rock (which he penned) wrote and directed the series. If it's anything like his previous HBO series Enlightened, this trip will be dark and well worth taking. 

If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe.