Monday, January 31, 2022

TV Picks - Week of January 31

The cauldron will be lit in Beijing this Friday as the XXIV Olympic Winter Games begin. Athletes from all over the world will be competing in a variety of sports hoping to take home some gold, silver, or bronze. It's a sporting event that's tailor made for television, yet I just can't get excited about the Games.

I want to be a fan of the Olympics. I truly do. I'll never forget Lake Placid in 1980 when I was a 12-year-old screaming "USA!" with the rest of the country as I watched a hockey game I'll never forget. When Al Michaels asked if you believed in miracles, I responded with a rousing "Yes!" from my childhood bedroom.

That magical moment took place over 40 years ago, and it’s the pinnacle of my love for the Olympic Games which has rapidly plummeted over the years. I love sports, but not the Olympics. I'm trying to figure out exactly why that is.

Technology has brought the world much closer together. When I was growing up, ABC's Wide World of Sports was the only place to see sporting events that took place in other parts of the world. Now you can bet Chinese ping pong on your iPhone and watch it play out live. The globalization of sports ironically hurt the Olympics because the international gathering isn't as special as it once was.

Professional athletes should never have been allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. I realize that destroys the Dream Team and a lot of great hockey, but part of the magic of the Games is amateur athletes from around the globe getting their moment on the world stage. Unknowns become household names (albeit briefly) who appear on Wheaties boxes and inspire children everywhere. With all the coverage and prep today, these athletes have social media followings and deals waiting for them before they even compete.

Another cool aspect of the Olympics back in the day was the inability to see all the competition happening live. There's an overwhelming number of events you couldn't get to even if you were in the host city. The aforementioned USA/USSR hockey game from 1980 was broadcast in primetime but played hours earlier on the ice. Access was anything but abundant.

NBC paid a boatload of money to make every event available live on one of its many networks. I'm a sports junkie, but do I really need to see the qualifying round of the Giant Slalom at 4 in the morning? Early rounds of the Nordic Combined or Cross-Country Skiing? Having a buffet of everything makes it feel less special. It can't be Christmas every day (right, Elmo?).

And don't get me started on NBC's promotion of the Olympic Games. The network is determined to get its money's worth with constant reminders. The marketing department should have learned with the sitcom Whitney that too much promotion turns the audience off before the broadcast has even begun.

Let's not lose sight of the big picture here. The world's athletes are gathering in China while we can't even get Omicron under control. I'm all for the thrill of competition, but not at the expense of people from different countries coexisting in tight quarters during the wintertime. That's not a recipe for success… it's potential for disaster regardless how much testing is being done.

It's not all bad news for the Olympics. I do love the fanfare (great theme song) and the opening ceremony will have ridiculous over the top technology worth viewing. As a hockey fan, I'll tune in for a Sweden/Finland battle on the ice. And there's something about Curling that gets me… maybe I could compete with a broom.

In 1980, we all stayed up to watch a hockey game that had already been played. If that was today, you would need Peacock to tune in, and even though we're all connected it wouldn't feel as miraculous as it did in Lake Placid.

I respect every athlete competing and wish them well. I just won't be tuning in to watch them do their thing.

(Really Good Shows You May Not Have Seen)

This Week - Battlestar Galactica (PEACOCK)
You don't need to love sci-fi to appreciate the excellent writing and performances in this unique take on the future. Drama doesn't get much better than this. So say we all.

Last Week - The Split (AMAZON)

Week of January 17 - Bordertown (NETFLIX)

Week of January 10 - Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

The Tinder Swindler (NETFLIX) – Someone swiped wrong and swindled women around the world - three women decide to fight back. From the Don't F**k With Cats producers. Wednesday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

Celebrating Betty White (NBC) – If the Golden Girl had only lived to see 100. Monday at 10pm.

Terry Bradshaw: Going Deep (HBO) – I will relive my Steelers fandom watching the life of #12. Tuesday at 9pm.

Murderville (NETFLIX) – Will Arnett investigates murders with a celebrity guest star who doesn't have the script. Wednesday.

The Tuck Rule (ESPN) – Tom Brady would not be Tom Brady without this pivotal play in the snow. Sunday at 8:30 PM ET.


Pam & Tommy (HULU)
Wednesday, February 2nd

The eight-part series brings us in via a carpenter (Seth Rogen) who gets hold of the now infamous sex tape after the Motley Crue drummer (Sebastian Stan) gives him a rough financial time. With the help of a porn king (Nick Offerman), the tape makes its way into the public to reveal the newlywed couple it all their glory. Pam Anderson (Lily James) never recovers professionally, and neither has our culture when it comes to privacy laws and what passes for entertainment these days.

As the series progresses, the excellent performances make Pam and Tommy into more than just caricatures. Jason Mantzoukas shines as the voice of Tommy's penis (you read that right) and a fun romp in the 90's shifts into the sharp look at modern day celebrity. Sex tapes launched the careers of some reality stars, but this couple was world famous when their flick which was intended to stay private ending being anything but that.

Reacher (AMAZON)
Friday, February 4th

Jack Reacher? Again? Really? Didn't Tom Cruise play this guy in two movies? Yup, that was him. But this is a much different Jack Reacher that rings true to the former MP in Lee Child's books. This eight-part series has plenty of source material that details the life of the 6' 5" military man turned civilian.

Alan Ritchson takes on the lead role, and his size and strength bring an entirely new dimension to the character. The first season is based on the first Reacher book and should pack the same intensity as we get to know what makes Jack tick. Watch trailer

Suspicion (APPLE TV+)
Friday, February 4th

An American media mogul's son is kidnapped in a New York hotel, and four British citizens staying there are accused of the crime. They all insist that they are innocent, but how do we know who is telling the truth?

The team behind Homeland and The Americans produced this eight-episode thriller based on the Israeli series False Flag. Uma Thurman leads a talented cast playing the media mogul whose son has been taken. Expect lots of twists and turns with a surprising reveal at the end as you never know who you can really trust.

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

Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, January 24, 2022

TV Picks - Week of January 24

Good Times. Rhythm Nation. A certain wardrobe malfunction. It has been one heck of a ride for Janet (Miss Jackson if you're nasty). My most vivid JJ memories have nothing to do her music and everything to do with TV. I’m not talking about the infamous Super Bowl halftime show, but rather her early TV roles as Wilona's adopted daughter and as Willis' girlfriend.

Janet Jackson, a new two-part documentary reportedly five years in the making, will debut on Lifetime and A&E this Friday night. It is being billed as an intimate, honest unfiltered look at her career, and what a showbiz ride it has been for the rock and roll hall of famer.

One of the quietest Jackson siblings says she's ready to tell her story. She has taken a variety of stands throughout her career by letting her music do the talking. But now she has decided to step forward in the documentary she produced along with her brother Randy to set the record straight about her life.

The doc is filled with famous friends speaking on her behalf. Mariah Carey, Paula Abdul and Missy Elliott are close pals who detail the effect Janet had on the music industry. The Jackson family is well represented along with a who's who in entertainment ready to express their love and admiration for the artist. A few exes show up with plenty to say.

It is nearly impossible to escape the shadow of any infamous sibling. There are constant comparisons, unreasonable standards to live up to, and all the pressure in the world to succeed when many root for you to fail. Janet more than held her own in a world that belonged to her brother, Michael.

Janet unsurprisingly started performing at a very young age as her brothers made their way through the Motown world. Your perspective on the most famous female Jackson depends upon where you first encountered her. I remember seeing her as Penny on Good Times, and then Charlene on Diff'rent Strokes. Wait a minute… that's Janet from the Jackson family?

Janet was a talented, funny young TV actress, but she wanted to make her mark in music. We all know the stories of actors who try to cross over and miserably fail if they don't have the goods. This one also happened to have five siblings who were already breaking through and one who would become the most famous performer in the world.

Janet's first two albums were not huge successes, and she needed to break free from her father. Producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis helped her assume Control, and the rest is history. She became a music superstar, even rivaling brother Michael during his hottest moments.

She addresses the Super Bowl halftime show controversy head on and the effect it had not just on her career, but also on Justin Timberlake and the entire entertainment industry. What seemed like such a big deal back in the day likely wouldn't register much of a blip on anyone's radar today.

Janet was destined to be a superstar. She could have made it on TV, but the music world was simply part of who she was. It's refreshing to hear Janet and those close to her recall the moments that made her into the icon that she became. She might be soft spoken, but her voice has always carried one heck of a punch.

(Really Good Shows You May Not Have Seen)

This Week - The Split (AMAZON)
A British family of divorce lawyers face their past while navigating the future of their law firm. Heartwarming drama with some sharp comedy mixed in.

Last week - Bordertown (NETFLIX)

Week of January 10 - Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

Gomorrah (HBO MAX) – Fifth season of the excellent Italian mob series shot in Naples - this is the real deal folks. Thursday.

All Of Us Are Dead (NETFLIX) – South Korean series where students are trapped in a high school as a zombie virus breaks out. Get ready for the Squid Game comparisons. Friday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

Resident Alien (SYFY/USA) – Second season of this comedy where a charming doctor who happens to be an alien sent to destroy the planet. Wednesday at 9pm

The Afterparty (APPLE TV+) – Comedy murder mystery set at a high school reunion with a killer cast. Friday.

AFC/NFC Championship Games (CBS/FOX) – Find out who's going to play in the Super Bowl. Sunday at 3:00pm and 6:30pm ET.

We Need To Talk About Cosby (SHOWTIME) – W. Kamau Bell digs in on the life of pre- and post-prison Cos. Sunday at 10pm.

Take early Manhattan and keep your eyes open…

The Gilded Age (HBO)
Monday, January 24th 9pm

Wanting to scratch that Downton Abbey itch? Welcome to The Gilded Age. Downton creator Julian Fellowes addresses the rich and the poor making their way in the big city in late 19th century America.

The series is a long time in the making and very much maintains the Downton vibe. The cast is loaded with recognizable award-winning actors. My eyes will be peeled for a young Cora walking the streets of Manhattan looking for a certain Lord.

The Woman In The House Across The Street From The Girl In The Window (NETFLIX)
Sunday, January 30th

Kristen Bell likes to take chances. You've seen her charming her way through comedies, dramas and everything in between. Now she stars in an eight-part spoof of psychological thrillers that happens to have the longest title you'll ever come across.

This parody of The Woman In The Window mixes plenty of satire and mystery. Every day is the same, just staring out the window watching life pass by… until it isn't. Whether it's Veronica Mars or Eleanor Shellstrop, there's always an edge to Kristen's characters right below her super smile. The plot is dark and funny… just the way she likes it.

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

Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, January 17, 2022

TV Picks - Week of January 17

How I Met Your Father makes its long-awaited debut this Tuesday on Hulu. But do we really need to know out how she met Dad?

The original How I Met Your Mother was a success for CBS. It was a smart show that generated a lot of laughs and was a quality comedy (until it wasn't). The premise was right there in the title for all to see, and throughout the 2000s we enjoyed the tenuous journey to find out who mom was only to be dealt a morbid plot twist that didn't work out so well.

Before the series concluded, CBS shot a pilot for a How I Met Your Dad spinoff starring Greta Gerwig in hopes of keeping its HIMYM mojo (and ad dollars) going. Just switch the parent and keep those laughs coming. That show never got beyond the pilot stage. If the title had simply been Dad, it might have had a shot in the land of three letter spinoffs. No dice.

Viewers crave familiarity, and networks (and streamers) crave viewers. Swapping gender (Battlestar Galactica) or ethnicity (One Day At A Time) on a known program title is a technique that's worked in the past, so it made all the sense in the world for Hulu to pick up the CBS tale and embark on a new parent search.

The title was a no-brainer, but how do you build upon the established premise? HIMYM consisted of flashbacks leading up to the big reveal of what happened to mom in present day. The late Bob Saget was heard, but never seen. The cast was a funny ensemble that got a bit caught up in its cuteness at times but generated a lot of laughs with their hijinks.

The new Hulu series features plenty of twists on what made the original work. Ted is now Sophie, who's played by Hillary Duff. I would have preferred the Lizzie McGuire update, but it's nice to see her return to the family sitcom world.

Naturally the narrator is female, and so just like that Kim Catrall provides the voice. But future Sophie is seen on camera right from the get-go, speaking to her unseen son. If it ain't broke, why exactly are we fixing this?

Sophie hangs out with her group of friends and is constantly searching to find "the one." Criss-cross cast romances predictably ensue. We can anticipate the misdirection and plot twists ahead, but the HIMYF creators insist this is not HIMYM. And they're right – the original was funny. There's no breakout character like Neil Patrick Harris' Barney. The laughs aren't here and it's difficult to care why Sophie met anyone let alone the father of her child.

The bar is set high for any modern-day remake. The more reboots I see, the more disappointed I am. Let's give these slots to new ideas and programming that takes some chances. I've met the mother. I don't need to greet any other relatives on my screen.

(All-Time Favorites You May Not Have Seen)

This Week - Bordertown (Netflix)
Excellent drama about a Sherlock-esque Finnish police detective who moves to the Russian border to clear his head. 

Last week - Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

The Puppet Master: Hunting The Ultimate Conman (NETFLIX) – True-crime documentary about a British imposter who posed as a government agent and stole close to one million pounds. Wednesday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

La Fortuna (AMC+) – A inexperienced diplomat goes sailing to recover a stolen treasure. Thursday.

Single Drunk Female (FREEFORM) – A young alcoholic starts over by moving back in with her mom (Ally Sheedy). Thursday at 10pm.

True Story with Ed and Randall (PEACOCK) – Ed Helms and Randall Park lead re-enactments of everyday life occurrences played by great actors. Thursday.

Fraggle Rock: Back To The Rock (APPLE TV+) – The music plays once again in this reboot of the Jim Henson series. Friday.

As We See It (AMAZON) – The creator of Parenthood and Friday Night Lights adapts an Israeli series about roommates with autism. Friday.

Crooks in the mountains and the big city…

Friday, January 21st

Marty and Wendy are far away from their place in the Ozark mountains, and they've still got a lot of explaining and money laundering to do. This series gets the critical love but flies under many people's radar. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and Julia Garner lead the excellent cast which thins out every season as bodies fall by the wayside.

The fourth and reportedly final season is split into two parts of seven episodes each. The Byrdes have gotten themselves out of some crazy situations but can only zig and zag with the family so much. We last saw Marty and Wendy in Mexico, and who knows what danger awaits the temperamental couple this time around.

Billions (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, January 23rd

There's a new king at Axe Capital, but how long will he sit on the throne? Last season ended with Axe cutting a deal for his company and heading off to Switzerland as Chuck seemingly slayed his elusive dragon. But we know how Chuck feels about those with too much power, so Mike Prince better watch his back as he plans to change things up.

The COVID-ravaged split fifth season ended in October, and we are welcomed back with a new season to start the year. The cool NYC locations, dialogue that you'll never hear in real life, and character development continues and a breakneck pace. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride while listening to one of the best soundtracks in the business.

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

Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe!

Monday, January 10, 2022

TV Picks - Week of January 10

This is my first column of 2022, so what better time to make some resolutions?

New Year's resolutions tend to follow a predictable path. They're made with the best intentions, but they’re not always realistic. Drop that weight. Get in shape. Learn a language or two. This year is going to be different. For resolutions to work, they need be somewhat attainable and they need to make our lives better.

Getting started on the first of January is the easy part. Keeping it going as the year progresses is where the work really begins. And I'm not just talking about real world stuff — the same rules apply to the world of television. Most networks do their best to make entertaining shows that build audience and raise more advertising dollars (or gain more subscriptions). No show is greenlit thinking it will fail, even if the overwhelming majority end up doing just that.

But let's not go there. There's a clean slate of programming in front of us. Let's start off the year with positive thinking! After some self-examination, I'm ready to present my New Year's resolutions (when it comes to writing about TV):

Optimism - My nature is somewhat cynical (I'm a critic after all). I often write about signs of the TV apocalypse and programs destroying the fabric of pop culture. No more! I'm switching things up, scrapping my weekly “SPTIMNBAFOBYMB! (Shows Premiering That I Might Not Be A Fan Of But You Might Be!)” list in favor of a new weekly list: “STIHTGT! (Shows That I Hope To Get To!).” I'll miss goofing on the latest reboot of a cheesy 90's sitcom or yet another so-called reality dating show on a streaming service, but there's too much good stuff out there to dwell on the negative. My TV mug is half full — it's a new me!

Catch-Up - My year-end Top 10 list always includes a few excellent shows I simply didn't make the time to watch in their entirety. Shame on me. Let's start the new year with a bunch of programs I already know are going to be good. What We Do In The Shadows has become my treadmill show (it's great) and I'm almost done with Yellowstone (even better). I feel like I've hit the gym every day since January 1st!

Best Of The Best - At the end of each column I break down two or three of the most notable shows of the week and why they're worth watching. I pledge to be pickier in 2022, selecting only the finest shows and why they make the grade. There will be plenty of other shows to choose from in my STIHTGT! list, but this section will have only the best for my readers.

Greatest Hits - With more couch time courtesy of COVID, a few of you have asked me to list my more obscure all-time favorite shows for quality viewing. I'll gladly oblige. First one: Halt and Catch Fire. This drama about building the perfect PC gets better each season with some top notch acting and exceptional writing. Lots more to come…

Foreign Affairs - Some of my favorite programs originate outside this great country of ours. Subtitles are often required (don't listen to overdubbed dialogue — the entire flavor of the show gets lost). You might need Britbox or Acorn to watch some of 'em, but it will be worth your time. Global village, people!

It is my sincere goal to make all of these resolutions come true, but I might fall off the wagon along the way. I appreciate you taking this journey with me, and here's to some great TV in '22!

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

College Football Playoff National Championship (ESPN) – The two best teams in the SEC meet again for all the marbles. Alabama vs Georgia II kicks off tonight at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT.

Peacemaker (HBO MAX) – This Suicide Squad spinoff stars John Cena as HBO takes a crack at Disney+ Marvel TV magic. Thursday.

Wolf Like Me (PEACOCK) – Josh Gad and Isla Fisher in a genre-bending rom com that wants you to know nothing about it going in. Done. Thursday.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (APPLE TV+) – A Coen brother directs the brilliant Denzel and Frances with his Shakespeare take. Friday.

Ray Donovan: The Movie (SHOWTIME) – Mickey is somewhere, and Ray is going to find him. Friday at 9:00 PM.

Somebody Somewhere (HBO) – Bridget Everett plays a Kansas singer who just doesn't fit in. Sunday at 10:30 PM.

Tumbling pyramids and posthumous consideration…

Wednesday, January 12th

The second season for any reality sensation is always difficult. High expectations are firmly in place along with fame and recognition. Everyone sees the fly on the wall, and the authenticity of the storytelling can be questioned. The makers of America's favorite cheerleading show impressively attack this challenge head on from the very start.

Navarro College, the most famous squad since the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, returns to defend its hard-earned title. Coach Monica Aldama deals with the fallout from season one star Jerry Harris who was arrested for sexual misconduct charges. There's more of a focus on archrival Trinity Valley Community College and how all of these athletes struggle while competing at the highest level. The first-year charm of the competition carries over as we get an even more intimate look at the work that goes into making any squad into a champion.

After Life (NETFLIX)
Friday, January 14th

A local newspaper reporter struggles to move on following the death of the love of his life, so he lashes out at everyone and wonders what's actually worth living for. Tony (Ricky Gervais) started here in season one — not the easiest comedy premise to fulfill. Ricky thrives in these awkward moments where truth is ugly and hurtful, but also makes you laugh.

Now it's the third (and final) season of this bittersweet tale and Tony continues to deal with loss in his life. His late wife left a ton of videos to keep her memory alive, but there's no manual for grief. This brutally honest take on how you choose to move on (or not) is awkward, funny and sometimes heartbreaking. Just like the real thing.

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

Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe!