Wednesday, September 29, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 27

I never stopped believing, and neither should you.

The next chapter of The Sopranos has finally arrived. Actually, it's the previous chapter, but let's not split hairs. David Chase's The Many Saints of Newark makes its long awaited debut this Friday in theaters and on HBO Max.

What's the right amount of time to pass before seeing old friends and "family" again? For Breaking Bad, it was very brief — the show was immediately spun off into the excellent prequel series Better Call Saul and got a full flashback feature film in El CaminoSeinfeld characters showed up on Curb Your Enthusiasm after many years, but Larry David weaved it into a natural fit. The Corner came well before The Wire, but the streets of Baltimore have remained quiet since McNulty and crew moved on. All were worth the wait.

Fourteen years have passed since that controversial finale and the infamous diner scene. I remember it all too well. I was convinced that the power went out in my house. I was stunned by the silent black screen. Some called it brilliant. I still call it a cop out. But hey, we're still talking about it, so David Chase's mission has long been accomplished.

To bring back a legendary series one decade and a half later is, well, very David Chase like. This brilliant creator does things his way. I've long admired his attitude and ownership when it comes to his characters and story.

In the new film, Soprano roots run deep. Michael Gandolfini (son of James) plays a young Tony observing the Jersey world in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The nuclear family names are all too familiar — Livia, Junior and Janice along with the work family of Paulie, Silvio and Big Pussy. We all know how they grow up, but this gives us a more detailed look.

The power of nostalgia is on full display, but this new story packs a powerful dramatic punch. It feels like a two-hour Sopranos episode, and knowing how life will turn out for most of this cast doesn't spoil a thing. This is more than just a Sopranos origin story, and I wish it was more than just a film.

Expectations are sky high, and the man behind the family delivers. This trip to Newark will lead many back to the original series. Watching Tony's saga play out over multiple seasons is more satisfying since there's lots of time to tell it.

As for the film, it's just nice to just hold on to that feeling.

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

Chocolate Meltdown: Hershey's After Dark (FOOD) – If they stuck a camera in the Chocolate World ride at Hershey Park, I'd watch. Monday at 10pm.

La Brea (NBC) – Just in case you were wondering why the networks took home no primetime Emmys this year. Tuesday at 9pm.

All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs (AMAZON) – Inside yet another season of Canada's beloved NHL team failing to bring home the Cup. Puck drops Friday.

Diana: The Musical (NETFLIX) – Lady Di on Broadway before it even opens in the theater. Bows Friday.

Maid (NETFLIX) – A single mother cleans houses to make a better life for her daughter. Debuts Friday.

Seinfeld (NETFLIX) – The legendary comedy about nothing finds a new streaming home. Available Friday.

Movie commonalities, Jon Stewart’s return, and live from New York…

Attack of the Hollywood Cliches (NETFLIX)
Tuesday, September 28th

I did not expect the next project from the creators of Black Mirror to be a special about Hollywood cliches hosted by Rob Lowe. But then again, that makes perfect sense.

This one-hour special covers the origins of practically every film or TV cliche you can think of. Walking away from an explosion, one man battles the world, running away in high heels – all the plot devices you end up watching on Netflix. Rob Lowe's great sense of humor about himself is on full display.

The Problem With Jon Stewart (APPLE TV+)
Thursday, September 30th

The problem with Jon Stewart is that he hasn't been around enough during these crazy times. Trevor Noah has done a nice job with The Daily Show, but Jon's biting sarcasm has been desperately missed. Now he’s got a "current affairs" series on Apple TV+.

Jon Stewart is a brilliant comedian. My fear with his new show is that it will more preachy than funny. He's at his best making us laugh while he poignantly points out what's wrong in the world. Hope the smart laughs keep coming.

Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Saturday, October 2nd 11:30pm ET / 8:30 PM PT

47 seasons. That's a number to marvel at. It also makes me feel very old. I no longer watch "live from New York" since I can catch up with clips in the morning. That makes me feel old too.

Four first-time hosts kick off the newest season, starting with Owen Wilson this Saturday. Kim Kardashian will host next... which speaks volumes about the current state of SNL. It's not an election year… you've been warned.

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

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 20

Forty seasons of outwitting, outlasting and outplaying. This Wednesday at 8pm on CBS, that's all going to change.

If you're not evolving, you're dying. But if it ain't broke, why fix it? This is the dilemma that Survivor faces, but COVID left the game with no choice. Even Jeff Probst and his crew couldn't escape the pandemic in Fiji.

One thing I love about Survivor is the construct of the game – the contestants were always the entertaining wild cards every season. Sure there were hidden immunity idols and secret advantages, but things always boiled down to 39 days, 20 contestants and one survivor.

Those days are gone. This season’s Survivor will reflect the current times and adapt to the new world we're all living in. Here's what's new:

No Theme – Winners at War. Heroes versus Villains. It's all gone. This time around, it's just Survivor 41. I like the simplicity. The themes are cheesy anyway. Let's play the game.

Game Length – 40 days have been compressed to 26, courtesy of quarantine. That may seem a huge advantage for these new contestants, but Survivor always pushes you to the brink. Gameplay will adjust with an accelerated schedule. Seasons have dragged at the start in the past, but there's no time to waste this year.

Contestants – The number drops from 20 to 18. There are no returning favorites and a truly diverse group of players. This is a welcome change. I've seen a little too much of Boston Rob lately.

Tribe Size – The tribes will stay tight, which means there's no hiding in the background letting the bigger personalities set targets on their backs. With fewer challenges and no daily food staple, smaller groups will bring out more conflict. Can't wait.

Jeff – Yes, his hair is noticeably longer, but he'll go from passive to proactive letting us know about twists before the contestants find out. It's a risky move breaking the fourth wall, but a logical step for accelerated storytelling.

Play at Home – There will be a "Game Within A Game" featuring puzzles hidden inside the episodes for us watching at home. This is an unnecessary step. I'm always looking for clues and trying to get an edge, but the game itself should be compelling enough to stay locked in. Take me to Ponderosa - that's enough of a peek inside.

Three decades on network television is a major achievement, especially for a reality game show. When it started, there were no hidden immunity idols. No tribe swaps. No permanent exotic location. Survivor has always been a malleable beast.

Winners At War was designed to be a greatest hits goodbye to an era. It worked. Change can be painful, but it also can be good and exciting. Jeff and the Survivor team have earned my trust. And we all can use the escape.

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

Dancing With The Stars (ABC) – The dancers are more well-known than the contestants. Not a good sign. Glitters Monday at 8pm.

NCIS: Hawaii (CBS) – An inevitable spinoff but with a female lead. Surfs Monday at 10pm.

Ordinary Joe (NBC) – Three different futures play out for one guy. Doors slide Monday at 10pm.

FBI International (CBS) – Another inevitable spinoff as Dick Wolf steadies his grip on network television. Badges Tuesday at 10pm.

Foundation (APPLE TV+) – This Isaac Asimov book adaptation stars heavies Jared Harris and Lee Pace. Embarks Friday.

The Tony Awards (PARAMOUNT+) – Apparently the neon lights are brighter on a streaming service. Curtain Sunday at 7pm.

Broadway's Back (CBS) – The Tonys may have gone online, but the theater lives on network TV with this two-hour celebration. Live Sunday at 8pm.

Feel-good romance, rebooting a classic and one last spin for Billy Bob…

Love On The Spectrum (NETFLIX)
Tuesday, September 21st Season 2

Young adults on the autism spectrum looking for love sounds like a horribly exploitative show. The first season ended up being one of the very sweetest dating shows, and a well-earned season two has arrived.

Everything did not turn out well for those seeking love in the first season. That only helped bring out heart and emotion to the stories being told. Now the talkative Michael returns along with other memorable faces, and a new group of singles looking for love charm their way on to the screen. Network dating shows could learn a thing or two from this series.

The Wonder Years (ABC)
Wednesday, September 22nd at 8:30pm ET

One of my all-time favorite sitcoms returns with a twist. The original show focused on the Arnolds, a white middle class suburban family finding its way in the 1970s through the eyes of a 12 year old boy. This time, the story revolves around a black middle class suburban southern family in the late 1960's. Not your typical reboot.

The bar is set high, and Dean Williams (EJ Williams) steps into the Kevin Arnold role, the youngest of three in an Alabama family dealing with turbulent times. Don Cheadle is the voice of grown-up Dean packing a powerful narration reflecting upon prejudice he couldn't clearly see at a young age. Hoping for plenty of wonder from the Williams family.

Goliath (AMAZON)
Friday, September 24th Season 4

Billy McBride (Billy Bob Thornton) is back for one last ride, and now he's got the pharmaceutical industry set in his sights. George Zax (JK Simmons) is the big bad, and these two Oscar winners are a match made in heaven when they're going at it.

The final eight episodes pack the drama and twists we've come to expect from the series. Goliath has never shied away from big issues, and while pharma is an industry even Billy might not able to take down, I wouldn't bet against him.

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

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, September 13, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 13

It's Emmy time. Cedric the Entertainer hosts the 73rd annual ceremony celebrating the best in television this coming Sunday, September 19th. Ideally a TV award show like this would be a fantastic program in its own right. It never is.

But this year I've decided to not write about how The Emmys regularly disappoint me.  Last year's Schitt's Creek sweep won't allow it. The best in television deserve to be acknowledged, so here are my picks for this year's golden statues:


LEAD ACTOR: COMEDY - Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso

LEAD ACTRESS: COMEDY - Jean Smart, Hacks

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: COMEDY - Hannah Waddingham, Ted Lasso

SUPPORTING ACTOR: COMEDY - Brett Goldstein, Ted Lasso

BEST DRAMA - The Crown

LEAD ACTOR: DRAMA - Billy Porter, Pose

LEAD ACTRESS: DRAMA - Emma Corwin, The Crown

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: DRAMA - Gillian Anderson, The Crown

SUPPORTING ACTOR: DRAMA - Michael K. Williams, Lovecraft Country

The Crown has never won an Emmy for Best Drama. That pretty much sums up what I think of Emmy credibility.

Jimmy Kimmel did a great job as an Emmy host, but I have a feeling he's much more excited about the four-part documentary he produced on the 1986 New York Mets. Once Upon A Time In Queens is the latest installment of ESPN's award winning 30 for 30 series, and there are few better characters in sports than the roster of this World Championship team from Flushing.

Not everyone loved the '86 Mets, but it's hard not to get caught up in their story. Mookie Wilson's grounder going through Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner's legs is the infamous moment from that championship year, but this doc does an excellent job illustrating how the "other team from New York" reached the pinnacle of the sport in spite of themselves.

Interviews with the players, coaches, super fans and broadcasters shed new light on what was going on in that clubhouse. Every professional athlete battles through personal struggles, but the Mets did it under the New York spotlight in the middle of a decade best known for its self-indulgence. The Big Apple was theirs, and they took every bite. Drugs, women, fights, fame… you name it, this team had it.

The 30 for 30 begins well before 1986 illustrating exactly how much of a joke the Mets were. Forget about the crosstown Yankees — the Mets were basement dwellers in spite of the love of their fans. Failed managers, the Tom Seaver trade, failed prospects and players… it's all there.

But then the different pieces start to come together under the guidance of general manager Frank Cashen — troubled superstars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, the banished Keith Hernandez, squeaky clean Gary Carter, and a laundry list of crazy personalities who wanted to win at any cost.

Naturally the championship run is covered in great detail, but so is the aftermath and failure of keeping this great ballclub together. Wild times catch up with much of the roster. So-called bad influences get dealt away for completely wrong reasons. 35 years later, the Mets are still in search of their next title in the shadow of the pinstriped team in the Bronx.

A good sports documentary can make you love a team that you can't stand. I was no Mets fan, but I enjoy a good story with flawed, vibrant characters. Once Upon A Time In Queens is a trip back to the mid-80's well worth taking.

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

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (PEACOCK) – Not a great sign when you need the author's name in the title of your new series - it's The DaVinci Code guy! Premieres Thursday.

The Premise (HULU) – B.J. Novak’s comedic anthology series tackles "the big questions" with an impressive cast. Premieres Thursday.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie (AMAZON) – Stage adaptation of the hit London musical about an aspiring drag queen. Drops Friday. 

The God's Honest Truth (COMEDY CENTRAL) – Charlamagne the God gets a weekly late-night show produced by Stephen Colbert. Premieres Friday at 10pm.

Sex Education (NETFLIX) – Season three for the comedy that critics seem to adore. Drops Friday.

A solo guy, intense TV mornings and the greatest of all time…

Y: The Last Man (FX ON HULU)
Monday, September 13th

I'm not a comic book aficionado, but my friends who are told me about this Brian K. Vaughan saga long ago. The TV adaptation has been in the works for years, and the ten-episode series is finally here.

An apocalyptic event wipes out every guy on Earth leaving a planet filled exclusively with women… except for Yorick, the lone surviving male human. It's a grim world and there's a monkey involved, but the source material is so strong I've just got to tune in.

The Morning Show (APPLE TV+)
Friday, September 17th Season 2

The hype has been tamped down for the second season of this tentpole series. Season one was a rocky road with an A-list cast and memorable performances from Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup. Life behind the scenes of a network television morning show isn't all smiles and unwanted hugs.

The pandemic delayed the show’s return, but things pick up right where the first season left off. Season one was rewritten to incorporate the #MeToo movement, and season two had its pages torn up to address the effects of the pandemic. Alex and Bradley exposed the network workplace, and you know there's going to be hell to pay when honesty is your best policy. 

Muhammad Ali (PBS)
Sunday, September 19th 8pm

A Ken Burns sports miniseries? A legendary figure who transcends the world? This is the definition of must-see TV. 

The greatest television documentarian profiles the greatest boxer in this four-part eight-hour series. Ali's story had been told many times, but the Ken Burns treatment is always something special. Inspiration and perspiration are all over the screen as the heavyweight champ transforms into a cultural icon who changes the course of history just by being himself.

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

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

TV Picks - Week of September 6

After a long wait, Impeachment: American Crime Story premieres on FX this Tuesday. The beauty of these Ryan Murphy-produced "series events" is that everyone knows what's going to happen, but taking the ride is enlightening and entertaining as hell. Monica Lewinsky herself is a producer on this telling of the events, and the actress portraying her gives a striking performance, warts and all.

No one ever gets tired of the Lewinsky saga. Impeachment and infidelity are the hooks, but mix in The President of the United States and a White House intern, a friend’s betrayal, FBI involvement and investigations, denials across the board, and a key piece of fabric – what more do you need for some first-rate small screen storytelling?

American Crime Story has an excellent track record. In 2016, ESPN put together an award-winning 30 for 30 documentary on O.J. Simpson. The ten-part American Crime Story version The People vs. O.J. Simpson arrived around the same time, and it packed just as powerful of a punch. I'm generally not a fan of re-enactments, but the top-notch cast led by John Travolta, Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance had me rapt.

The show’s second iteration in 2018, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, didn't have as high profile of a cast, but it reinforced a pattern – tell a sensationalized tale with quality actors and treat it very seriously. It works.

Cred has been firmly established with the two previous versions, so why not explore the Clinton scandal? We know the story, but now it's being re-told as only American Crime Story can. And what a cast. Sarah Paulson is back, this time as Linda Tripp. Clive Owen plays President Clinton, Edie Falco is Hillary, and Beanie Feldstein tackles the role of Monica.

Many great comedic and dramatic actors have played these high profile individuals, but everything hinges on the vulnerability of Monica, and Beanie delivers a breakout performance. This will come as no surprise if you've seen her Lady Bird or Booksmart; Beanie captures the enigmatic White House intern in a way never seen before. Lewinsky's direct involvement could have gone either way, but this feels like you're watching the former White House intern take her journey for the first time.

The relationship explored in the greatest depth isn't the one between POTUS and the intern. It's Lewinsky and Tripp. Understanding their initial trust followed by the ultimate betrayal is a fascinating exercise. The poor treatment they receive from their idolized version of the White House connects them in a profound way and provides deeper context when Linda presses record on those tapes.

Everyone in the talented cast brings an edge to their characters. It would be very easy to present them as cliches at this point, but getting inside what makes Linda Tripp, Ken Starr, or any of those names from the headlines tick is a worthwhile voyage.

The third chapter in American Crime Story rises to the challenge once again of keeping me hooked in spite of knowing how things are going to turn out. It's a formula well worth repeating.

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

Being James Bond (APPLE TV+) – Craig. Daniel Craig reflects on being shaken not stirred. Arrives Tuesday.

On The Verge (NETFLIX) – Julie Delpy and three female pals explore life in their late 40's in L.A. Embarks Tuesday.

Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. (DISNEY+) – A reboot with the teenage medical prodigy being an Asian American girl in Hawaii. Checks in Wednesday.

Frogger (PEACOCK) – Based on the 80's video game where a frog braves traffic, alligators and turtles. Game on Thursday.

The Smurfs (NICKELODEON) – They're blue and they're back. Smurfs Friday at 7:30pm.

2021 Video Music Awards (MTV) – Doja Cat hosts as MTV fetes all the videos they ignored this year. Moonman Sunday at 8pm.

Canadian hospitality, a broken relationship and Pennsylvania law…

Come From Away (APPLE TV+)
Friday, September 10th

A tiny Canadian town welcomes 7,000 stranded travelers from the 9/11 air travel shutdown. This is a filmed version of the stage play featuring the Broadway cast. It's an uplifting message in contrast with the horrible events that leads these passengers to Newfoundland.

Scenes From A Marriage (HBO)
Sunday, September 12th 9pm

Ingmar Bergman is back again. His 1973 Swedish miniseries has been remade countless times, and this five-episode HBO drama packs just as powerful of a punch as its predecessors.

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac star as the married couple whose relationship falls apart as time marches on. Brought to you buy the team behind The Affair and In Treatment, prepare for some heavy emotion and long conversations with your spouse.

American Rust (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, September 12th 10pm

If Jeff Daniels is on television, I'm going to tune in. He plays a police chief in the Pennsylvania rust belt who runs into some complications when the son of the woman he's having an affair with gets accused of murder.

The cast is stacked - Bill Camp, Maura Tierney, Mark Pellegrino and other familiar faces you’d expect to see in a small-town PA drama. Once you're done in Easttown, drive across the Keystone state to another depressing town full of mystery.

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

Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!