Monday, February 28, 2022

TV Picks - Week of February 28

March is coming in like a lion with a fantastic first week of TV. The weather might be getting warmer, but there's plenty of programming to check out before the flowers start to bloom.

Last week I wrote about the classic procedural Law & Order, but the true joy of watching TV is finding original shows that aren't scared of doing things a little bit differently, and get it right. You know 'em when you see 'em.

Pamela Adlon's Better Things has been one of those shows since its inaugural episode. It's different for all the right reasons. Five seasons later, the show is now coming to an end but it's going out the way it came in.

The final season of begins tonight on FX at 10pm with back-to-back episodes. Better Things tells the story of single mom/working actor Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon), her three unique daughters Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Riley) and Duke (Olivia Edward), and her British mother Phyllis (Celia Imrie), who lives across the street. Sounds like a typical sitcom setup, but this program is anything but.

Better Things unfolds like real life. There's an overall story arc, but we're really watching different parts of existence played out in real time. Episodes unfold with different vignettes that echo daily pre-COVID interactions we have in real life. Pamela Adlon is constantly mixing things up in intriguing ways.

Every character is endearing and flawed. Sam is the quintessential cool California mom, warts and all. And it's the exposure of these warts that make her such a relatable character. Sam knows she must let her growing kids lead their own lives but she yearns for their company and approval. Sam's ailing mother drives her crazy, but she can't live without her attention. Sam makes some strong career choices, and they don't always work out for the best.

Who wouldn't want to live life like Sam Fox does? Hip, artsy house. Lots of eclectic musical choices. Everyone admires her directness and her natural cool. She treats her kids like adults but is always there for a hug. Her friends represent every color of the rainbow and are treated with respect. And boy does she like to cook.

The real Pamela Adlon also has a British mother, three daughters, and was the voice of Bobby on the 90's animated hit King of the Hill. She has made a shift from acting to directing. That's why the show resonates so strongly — the best stories are based on some kind of truth.

Lots of action takes place in Sam's funky L.A. house, but other locations are always changing. Sam Fox and Pamela Adlon clearly love Hollywood. One scene can be a production number, while the next is an intimate conversation about flawed relationships.

Season five is consistent with the previous four. Plenty of laughs, family drama, surprising twists, and love all around. Pamela Adlon's direction is spot on, and she breaks down life issues poignantly with a smile.

Everyone feels their life could be a TV show, but most of our lives are entertaining to ourselves and wouldn't translate well on the screen. Better Things has always been an entertaining journey through a life worth living, and I'll miss Sam Fox and her family very much.

(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)

This Week's Pick: Justified (Hulu) — Timothy Olyphant does what he does best as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens back in his childhood Kentucky home hunting down bad guys like standout Walton Goggins. This drama has plenty of funny moments while packing a powerful punch.

Previous Picks:
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Amazon)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Amazon)
Bordertown (Netflix)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

The Tourist (HBO Max) — A British gent (Jamie Dornan) is hunted in the Australian outback and has absolutely no idea why. Thursday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

Ragdoll (AMC) – A London serial killer cuts up his victims and patches them back together for the police to solve. Monday at 10pm.

The Dropout (Hulu) – A great cast tells the Theranos fraud story with Amanda Seyfried as CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Thursday.

Joe vs Carole (Peacock) – Kate McKinnon is Carole Baskin and John Cameron Mitchell is Joe Exotic - you know the story. Thursday.

The Problem With Jon Stewart (Apple TV+) – Jon returns from hiatus as the show shifts from twice monthly to weekly. Thursday.

Lucy and Desi (Amazon) – Amy Poehler's documentary shows what it was really like being the Ricardos. Friday.

Shining Vale (Starz) – Courteney Cox moves from Brooklyn to a haunted house in Connecticut. Sunday at 10pm.


The Larry David Story (HBO)
Tuesday, March 1st 9pm

Everyone thinks they know Larry because of Curb Your Enthusiasm. In this two-part documentary, we discover that the brutally honest character of Larry is everything the real individual wishes he could be.

Larry's sense of humor is fully intact as he chronicles his path from choosing a career in comedy and how his life experiences led to creating some pretty, pretty, pretty good comedies. The two parts are entitled "American Jewboy" and "The Jewish Fountainhead." Sit down, relax and laugh.

Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max)
Thursday, March 3rd

I was embarrassingly late to the party for What We Do In The Shadows, the clever vampire comedy co-created by Taika Waititi. Now he's got a comedy about 18th century pirates, and I won't make the same mistake twice.

The underrated Rhys Darby stars as Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat who desires to be a pirate. Waititi plays Blackbeard along with a very funny recognizable cast, and the WWDITS attitude carries over in this swashbuckling tale. It's smart, silly and shockingly based on a (somewhat) true story.

Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty (HBO)
Sunday, March 6th 9pm

When I saw the title, I assumed this was going to be a documentary. Boy was I wrong. Adam McKay pours his NBA love of the Los Angeles Lakers into this ten-part series with a fictional look at the glory days of the 1980's. It would have been called Showtime, but rival cable network had something to say about that.

It's always fun to see which actors will play Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper and other Laker greats from this era (Norm Nixon's son DeVaughn plays his dad). John C. Reilly portrays owner Jerry Buss and the rest of the cast is stacked with recognizable faces living it up back in those greed-is-good times.


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, February 21, 2022

TV Picks - Week of February 21


We all know that opening sound. Law & Order is returning for its 21st season this Thursday at 8pm after taking a dozen years off. There have been plenty of spinoffs (and even more knockoffs) to fill the gaps, but there's only one original L&O.

Dick Wolf has always known that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The police investigate the crime, and the district attorneys prosecute the defenders. It's a magical TV formula that’s tried and true, and the franchise architect has done quite well sticking to it.

Keeping it simple has led to decades of success on NBC in a variety of forms exploring the NYPD. The title and cold opening tell you exactly what's coming in each episode. No need to get fancy. Sadly, our world provides plenty of subject matter for the police and attorneys to explore.

For 20 seasons and over 450 episodes, Law & Order set the standard for a criminal procedural. DA's and detectives would come and go (except for Munch), but it rarely strayed from its formula. Now Anthony Anderson and Sam Waterston return to the famous franchise. Newcomers Hugh Dancy, Camryn Manheim and Jeffrey Donovan feel like they've always been there.

Law & Order has been locked up for 12 years, but countless spinoffs have kept the franchise relevant and alive in unique ways.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
There are more SVU episodes than the original L&O. That's one heck of a spinoff. Olivia Benson and her SVU colleagues focus on crimes against those most vulnerable - children, elderly and the disabled. Many of these sex crimes are "ripped from the headlines" which keeps the show fresh season after season.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent
This deep dive into high profile cases lasted almost 200 episodes during its decade-long run. The spin was getting inside the criminal mind. The Major Case Squad investigated major crimes with high profile suspects and victims. After starting with Detectives Goren and Eaves, halfway through they rotated investigators before bringing the original duo back at the end. Solid variation on a theme.

Law & Order: Trial By Jury
Only one season of digging into the jurisprudence side of things which delved into the prosecution, defense and the jury trial itself. Jerry Orbach's death coincided with the short run of the failed spinoff and the franchise's first stumble.

Law & Order: L.A.
There's plenty of law and order in Hollywood, but this newcomer lasted only one season. Other successful three and four-letter titled shows on CBS were able to expand to different locations. For L&O, Manhattan is a key character for long-term success.

Law & Order: True Crime
NBC tried to leverage the strength of the brand to tell the story of the Menendez murders and enter the true crime game. Although the plot is right out of a L&O episode, true crime was better told on Dateline specials and later on streaming services.

Law & Order: Organized Crime
Last year's return of Stabler to the L&O family was welcomed with open arms. The SVU love carried over, but this was a different Stabler investigating mobsters and other organized crime figures. The new twist is one storyline told over multiple episodes. It is in the midst of its second season and looks like a keeper.

32 years. Over 1,200 episodes. 6 spinoffs. And now, Dick Wolf is bringing back the original to NBC. The cases will be there. Sam Waterston will be in search of justice. It will feel like it never left. And that's exactly what the audience wants.


(Really Good Shows You May Not Have Seen)

This Week's Pick:The Good Wife (PARAMOUNT+) — Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) re-enters the workforce after her States Attorney husband Peter (Chris Noth) gets locked up courtesy of a very public sex scandal. Ripped from the 2009 headlines featuring fantastic acting and wonderful writing — there are no minor characters in Cook County.

Previous Picks:
Freaks & Geeks (HULU)
Patriot (AMAZON)
Battlestar Galactica (PEACOCK)
The Split (AMAZON)
Bordertown (NETFLIX)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

Restless (NETFLIX) — A corrupt French cop gets threatened by a witness and doesn't handle it well. Friday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

The Endgame (NBC) – Arms dealer Monica Baccarin tries to outfox FBI agent Ryan Michelle Bathe. Monday at 10pm.

Cat Burglar (NETFLIX) – Answer interactive trivia questions and make your way through this Bandersnatch-style animated comedy special. Tuesday.

Snowfall (FX) – Season five of Franklin Saint's blossoming drug dealing in mid 80's California. Wednesday at 10pm.

Vikings: Valhalla (NETFLIX) – The sequel to the History Channel hit takes place 100 years later with Leif Eriksson leading the way. Friday.


Killing Eve (BBC AMERICA)
Sunday, February 27 at 8:00 PM ET

The fourth and final season has arrived, and it's time to end things between Eve and Villanelle. The quirkiness that made this thriller so charming has been played out. There are only so many somewhat believable twists and turns one TV program can take.

Still, Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw will continue to shine with masterful performances. The best part of Killing Eve is its edgy sense of humor. Let's hope the script can match the level of the acting and the tension between the two leading ladies finally resolves itself.

Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, February 20th 10pm

Most of us have taken an Uber, but few know how the ride-share company that changed the transportation industry came to be. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Uber founder Travis Kalanick with his usual palpable intensity. He wants what he wants, and he gets it until the board eventually decides otherwise.

Brian Koppelman and David Levien created Billions, and they're the perfect team to tell this story with over the top smart dialogue and unrelenting momentum. This is the first chapter in the Super Pumped anthology series that will explore similar corporate titans who get ahead of themselves. No shortage of material there.

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, February 14, 2022

TV Picks - Week of February 14

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The new season of The Walking Dead premieres this week… and that's all I'm going to write about it. It wasn't too long ago that TWD was a true sensation, eating television audiences alive. But lousy writing and cast defections sent the zombie audience elsewhere. There was a time I never missed an episode, but a few seasons later I couldn’t bring myself to watch a single one.

Great TV shows are often only great for a season or two; it's nearly impossible to stay on top. I created a website that thoroughly explored that phenomenon. Comedies are much more difficult to sustain than dramas (with or without zombies). The days of Cheers, Seinfeld, Friends, The Big Bang Theory or any long-lasting top-rated sitcom are long gone. And I'm not just picking on network TV here. Cable networks and streamers develop quick hits, but the drop-off going into season two is often notable.

Sometimes it's the writing. Or actors moving on to other projects with bigger paychecks. Frustrated showrunners find greener pastures. The audience is fickle, and with the amount of programming being served up these days, you better provide a reason to come back. Extended time away leaves viewers looking for more, and it's easy to be forgotten.

Enter The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The Amazon sitcom was an absolute sensation during its first season only five years ago. Critically hailed for its Palladino writing and stellar performances, the stay-at-home Jewish mom turned comedian won over audiences and took home awards. It was fresh, different, and we couldn't get enough of it. The dialogue was sharp, the jokes were funny, there was family strife, and Midge's plight was well worth the follow. Her secret was safe with her father, Abe, and all the acclaim was well deserved.

Season two tried to build on its winning premise, and Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein led the way with some award-winning acting. It was obvious the budget was increased kicking things off in Paris and showing off exotic exteriors. Mrs. Maisel had enjoyed some success, and its creators were making the most of it. But everyone was learning about her Midge's secret side career and the mystery was slowly evaporating. She wasn't as marvelous… she was becoming more mainstream.

Time progressed and beloved characters began to feel like caricatures. Mrs. Maisel had a rocky climb up the ladder of comedic success and started to get noticed. Ex-husband Joel is suddenly opening a nightclub. Her father Abe is no longer a professor. Plot lines got more outlandish, and focus drifted away from what made the show work — a single mother's struggle to make it as a comedian in the 1950's.

The third season followed Midge on tour opening for smooth singer Shy Baldwin, who's hiding in the closet. Lenny Bruce makes a triumphant Miami return. Susie is managing Sophie who wants to be a dramatic actress and Rose is out in Oklahoma with her estranged family. What the heck is going on here? It was easy to get lost in season three which ends up at the Apollo Theater. As the plane takes off at the end of the season, Midge gets left behind along with the remaining viewing audience.

Season number four arrives this Friday with episodes dropping on a weekly basis. Mrs. Maisel will enter the 1960's back in Manhattan with a chip on her shoulder. The cast is back where it all started. The talent is still on tap, but the novelty is long gone.

(Really Good Shows You May Not Have Seen)

This Week's Pick: Freaks & Geeks (HULU)
Paul Feig and Judd Apatow's one season wonder was way ahead of its time. The cast is recognizable, but they were unknowns back when this comedy premiered on NBC with one of the best pilots ever written. You'll never hear Styx the same way.

Previous Picks:
Patriot (AMAZON)
Battlestar Galactica (PEACOCK)
The Split (AMAZON)
Bordertown (NETFLIX)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

Aftertaste (ACORN) – An Australian celebrity chef returns to his hometown following a memorable fall from grace. Monday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

State Of The Union (SUNDANCE) – A married couple regularly meets for a drink before their counseling sessions. Season 2 kicks off Monday at 10pm.

Icahn: The Restless Billionaire (HBO) – Carl Icahn made a lot of money from incredibly lucrative business deals. Tuesday at 9pm.

Jeen-Yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy (NETFLIX) – Learn why many consider Kanye West to be a musical genius, or just ask him yourself. Wednesday.

Abraham Lincoln (HISTORY) – Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin produced this 8-hour documentary about Honest Abe. Sunday at 8pm.


Severance (APPLE TV+)
Friday, February 18th

Ben Stiller is a bankable director. If he's at the helm of the project, I will be watching. His last TV effort Escape From Dannemora was a thrilling seven-parter from beginning to end. Genre doesn't matter — Ben gets it done.

This new series explores work/life balance in a unique way. Adam Scott stars as a guy who literally splits his time and is two completely different people. One half is trapped working all day while the other is busy exploring life. Severance explores life inside and outside of the office and leaves you wondering which way is better.

Last Week Tonight (HBO)
Sunday, February 20th 10pm

There's a reason John Oliver wins all those Emmys. TV’s most innovative current talk show returns for its ninth season with plenty of subject matter to explore. He consistently informs as he entertains and takes no prisoners when stating opinions.

Celebs are now plentiful (George Clooney is summoned with a finger snap), but the show hasn't lost its edge. Since leaving his COVID void, the spirit of early Letterman is alive and kicking on a show that never takes itself too seriously or fail to deliver the laughs. It's good to smile as the world falls apart around us.

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, February 7, 2022

TV Picks - Week of February 7

How many times have you stumbled across a great newspaper or magazine story and thought, "Wow, this would make a really good TV show!"? You cast it in your mind, you can see it on the screen, it's right there in front of you and it all seems so simple.

But it's not.

For every Saturday Night Fever there are thousands of articles that get optioned but never make it to the big or small screen. Intriguing source material is just the start, but so many elements need to come together. It all starts with the right producer — and preferably one who has the right deal with the right network.

The writers, producers, cast, pulse of the public, relevance… all are key factors in transforming an article into a series worth watching. Production can take forever, so the story needs to stay timely as weeks, months or years pass by. And heaven forbid there's an update in real life that changes everything. As a wise juggler once said, "there's lots of moving parts."

Inventing Anna debuts on Netflix this Friday, and it has the potential to be a perfect storm. So much could have gone wrong, but most of it goes exactly right. Let's break it down:

Source Material - Jessica Pressler's 2018 New York Magazine article "How Anna Delvey Tricked New York's Party People — And Its Banks" details how a young foreign woman scammed Manhattan society out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Everyone loves Robin Hood, even if she might be a bit rotten to the core. The story is there.

Producer - This is the first series created by Shonda Rhimes under her huge Netflix deal. I have not been a frequent visitor to Shondaland since the days of Scandal, but the master producer is putting her cred to the test tackling this big story. Sure, it may be a bit over the top, but you can count on Shonda to take us on an entertaining ride through all nine episodes.

Writer - Jessica Pressler also wrote the article "The Hustlers at Scores" which inspired the 2019 film Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez. Much of the series focuses on her character's struggle to get this story right as she recovers from a source betrayal that damaged her credibility. The pain of her real-life journalistic struggle translates well and rings true.

Cast - I stumbled across Julia Garner stealing the screen in The Americans and Ozark. Her Missouri accent is one thing, but the one she uses portraying Anna is so distinctive it'll drive you crazy. There's a little Russian and German in the distracting accent, but her attitude carries a powerful performance. Anna Chlumsky plays Vivian Kent, an investigative journalist dealing with plenty of her own issues. The supporting cast is top notch highlighted by Anthony Edwards playing a trusting financial mover and shaker, Anders Holm as an understanding husband, and a trio of veteran magazine writers you'll recognize who reside in "Scriberia" with Vivian.

Pulse of the Public - Everyone loves to see the rich get scammed, but there's much more to this story than Anna’s journey through high society. Social media, office politics, courtroom antics, broken relationships, damaged friendships… it's a Shonda recipe done right.

Relevance - Do yourself a favor and wait until the end of the series to read about where Anna is these days. My wife and I refrained from checking out any related material or headlines until we finished the series. Go spoiler-free for maximum enjoyment.

Figuring out who Anna is no small feat, but Shonda does an excellent job of fleshing out the story and making you care about everyone who is involved. We know the end game, but how the heck did that young "heiress" with that outrageous accent get there?

Enjoy the ride and then read up on the real Anna. She won't let you down.

(Really Good Shows You May Not Have Seen)

This Week's Pick: Patriot (AMAZON)
This dramatic comedy is an odd tale that mesmerizes as it entertains. Intelligence officer John Tavner (Michael Dorman) does whatever it takes to keep us all safe, even if it's in spite of himself.

January Picks:
Battlestar Galactica (PEACOCK)
The Split (AMAZON)
Bordertown (NETFLIX)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)

(International Hits)

The Big Shot Game Show (NETFLIX) – This Brazilian entrepreneurial game show features Shark Tank presentations in a 1 vs 100 studio. Wednesday.

(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)

Super Bowl Greatest Commercials: All Time Classics (CBS) – Our network doesn't have the game, so let's show some old ads! Monday at 8pm.

The Girl Before (HBO MAX) – A woman moves into the perfect house as long as she lives by the architect's rules. Thursday.

NFL Honors (ABC) – The NFL capitalizes on its Super week by handing out its annual awards. Thursday at 9pm.

Everything's Gonna Be All White (SHOWTIME) – Three-part documentary on the history of race from the perspective of people of color. Friday at 8pm.

Bel-Air (PEACOCK) – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reimagined as a drama. Sunday.


Jeopardy! National College Championship (ABC)
Monday, February 7th 8:00 PM

What a rollercoaster ride it has been since Alex Trebek passed away. The guest hosts, the failed Mike Richards experiment, and Amy Schneider have made it a memorable season. The plan all along was to have Mayim Bialik host specials, and now she takes center stage in primetime with our universities finest.

Bonus points to Jeopardy! for course correcting after the hosting snafu. Many programs would not. Ken Jennings has proven that he should be the guy. Period. Mayim does a nice job and will charm these contestants in their college sweatshirts as well as the audience.

Super Bowl LVI (NBC)
Sunday, February 13th 6:30 PM ET/3:30 PM PT Kickoff

The Cincinnati Bengals will battle the Los Angeles Rams at their home stadium to determine this year's champion of the National Football League. There's a ton of hype leading up to the game, and I've written before about the best way to spend your Super Sunday.

If you're only interested in the game, commercials and halftime show, turn on NBC at 6:30 PM and enjoy the spectacle of it all. Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will get you ready for some football.

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!