'Frozen Planet' -- Not Your Father's Wild Kingdom
April 21, 2012 6:32 PM
By Jane Boursaw
With the hundreds of nature documentaries that have aired over the years, you start thinking there must be nothing left for us to see on this Big Blue Planet. But that's just silly. This year alone, we've had James Cameron venturing to the deepest part of the ocean in a torpedo-shaped submarine, and shows like Discovery Channel's Frozen Planet.
If you haven't yet checked it out, Discovery Channel is airing an all-day Frozen Planet marathon Sunday, April 22, from 1-9 p.m. -- this time the original UK version with David Attenborough narrating. By the way, our own David Bianculli was critical of the change in narrators, but my feeling is that Alec Baldwin (who narrated the episodes shown this month and last in the States) appeals more to American TV viewers, especially kids and teens who know him from 30 Rock.
The third nature series from the team behind Planet Earth and Life, Frozen Planet is a project four years in the making, a gorgeous documentary that shines a spotlight on the Earth's polar regions. Killer whales, Arctic wolves, polar bears, Weddell seals, and penguins of every ilk are just a few of the hardy creatures who reside in these extreme conditions.
But things have come a long way since the 1960s, when I used to watch Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom with my family.
(By the way: Though original host Marlin Perkins died in 1986, fellow animal-lovers Jim Fowler and Peter Gros are still making appearances across the country touting awareness of environmental issues. Also, Wild Kingdom enjoyed a resurgence in 2002, when all-new episodes began airing on Animal Planet with narrators Simon Barritt and Jason Hildebrandt.)
In a nutshell, Frozen Planet takes viewers on a sweeping tour of the North and South poles, highlighting the inhabitants' struggles to survive the harsh elements of the environment. But it's so much more than that.
We're totally hooked on Frozen Planet in this house, including the two teenagers. When's the last time everyone in your house crowded around the TV to watch a nature show? It's been happening here every Sunday night.
It's partly because Frozen Planet is super interesting and entertaining. It's a family drama, a romantic comedy, a crime-thriller, an action-adventure, and a horror movie all wrapped into one. Discovery excels at walking the fine line between Disney-fying the animals (giving them human emotions) and preserving their creature-ific awesomeness.
We've got adorable crime-sprees as resourceful penguins steal their neighbors' nest-building materials, Orca whales working together to create giant waves that wash unsuspecting seals off ice floes, cute polar bear cubs getting their first swimming lesson, and musk oxen ramming full-force into each other to establish dominance. The Three Stooges got nothing on these animals.
The other element that makes Frozen Planet must-see TV is the amazing film crews. Clearly, I am missing the chip that would compel me to endure bitter winds of 148 mph, bone-chilling temperatures of minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, months of endless squawking by thousands of Adelie penguins, and being stalked by hungry polar bears. But I'm really glad someone is so inclined, because the result is a show like Frozen Planet.
Filming methods have come a long way since Wild Kingdom, and employ recent developments in high-speed photography, time-lapse videography, and digital storage capacity. Frozen Planet is family friendly and educational. These new stars of the small screen not only captivate viewers of all ages, they inspire us to ponder environmental issues like climate change.
There's irony in the fact that while technology keeps our kids glued to their Wii games and Xboxes, it also brings us ground-breaking documentaries like Frozen Planet. It's reality TV at its very best.
Parents Should Know: Frozen Planet doesn't shy away from the grim realities of life and death in the polar regions. It shows animals killing and being killed, freezing, starving, and battling over territory and mating rights. Mating habits are discussed, and scenes of gentle affection are shown, as well as the act itself (though nothing graphic). Rated TV-PG. Okay for kids 7 and up.
'Smash' Is No 'Glee' -- And That's a Good Thing
March 26, 2012 8:45 AM
By Jane Boursaw
When I first heard about Smash, the NBC drama that goes behind the scenes of a fictional Broadway musical, I figured it would be a lot like Glee. But it's not like Glee at all. In fact, it couldn't be any less like Glee if it tried...
About the only thing Smash (which is televised Monday nights at 10 ET, right after The Voice) has in common with Fox's Glee is that both shows are centered on music.
To me, Glee seems more like a live-action cartoon because the characters, although fleshed out over time, are more like caricatures than real people. Glee also is fast-paced, breezy, and rife with snappy dialogue and auto-tuned pop songs.
It also doesn't fit neatly into any genre, which is both good and bad. Good because it's more things to more people. Bad because award shows don't know how to categorize it. When the show started in 2009, a discussion among some members of the Television Critics Association had us questioning whether it was a drama or a comedy or a musical. I guess it's all three.
But Smash fits squarely into the musical drama category, with bits of comedy tossed in here and there. It's slower paced than Glee and includes a mix of original songs and Top 10 hits. It's also unlike any show I can think of, which is partly why I'm so in love with it. The characters seem like real people, only with enough soapy drama to make it fun for viewers.
For those who have yet to sample the series, the story follows the making of a fictional Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe (though, given that Smash has been renewed for a Season 2, don't expect it to stay fictional for long). It's written by the successful songwriting duo of Tom (Tony Award nominee Christian Borle) and Julia (Emmy winner Debra Messing).
I missed the whole Will & Grace craze, but I do love Debra Messing. She seems like the kind of girl who'd sit down and have coffee with you.
Julia recently began the process of adopting a child with her husband Frank (Tony Award nominee Brian d'Arcy James), but despite her best efforts to take time off, she finds herself smack in the middle of this musical.
As you might imagine, there's more drama behind the scenes than on stage, starting with a big rivalry between stage veteran Ivy Lynn (real-life Broadway star Megan Hilty) and youthful ingenue Karen (Katharine McPhee, runner-up on American Idol in 2006, seen at right). Anjelica Huston plays tenacious producer Eileen, who's divorcing her husband and jumps into the Marilyn project with brilliant-but-egotistical director Derek (Jack Davenport).
One thing I love about Smash is that even if you've never been to a Broadway musical and, say, live in the north woods of Michigan and have only done community theater, the show makes you feel like you're part of the in-crowd.
Most members of the cast have been involved with Broadway shows, and there are little in-jokes here and there, as well as real-life Broadway stars like Bernadette Peters showing up in the cast. And there are plenty of frothy suds to keep even disoriented daytime soap fans happy: steamy affairs, marital rifts, bitter divorces, juicy gossip, back-stabbing rivalries, nasty drug issues, nail-biting auditions, financial woes, and a running joke about Anjelica Huston's character throwing a drink in the face of her ex.
And all that was just in the first episode!
Seriously, though, there's a lot to love about Smash, which is why from the minute I screened the pilot last fall, it immediately became must-see TV for me.
Parents Should Know: Smash is rated TV-14 (language, sexual references), and the rating is spot-on. The main concern here is sexual content, which begins with a casting couch scene in the pilot and escalates into affairs, implied intercourse, kissing, and assorted love scenes, including gay lovers in bed together. It's based on Marilyn Monroe, so expect seductive dancing and singing, as well as social drinking and a few drug-related storylines.
Jane Boursaw is a syndicated entertainment writer specializing in family movies and TV. Visit her at Reel Life With Jane or email email@example.com.
'Touch' Mixes Family Drama, Mystical Numbers
March 14, 2012 11:13 AM
By Jane Boursaw
After eight seasons of watching Kiefer Sutherland kick terrorist tush on 24, I wasn't sure I'd be able to see him as any other character. But after watching the pilot for Touch, I'm willing to give it a try. (Previewed in January, the pilot launches the weekly run of Touch this Thursday, March 15 at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.)
And, man, it's good to see Sutherland back on TV again. I'm not sure Touch is going to be a tough-guy role for him, but it's early in the game and anything could happen. It didn't take him long to beat up a guy in the pilot, but mostly, he's just a vulnerable dad trying to connect with his son, which already makes Touch more family-friendly than 24.
In a recent phone call with Sutherland, he said he knew that Touch was an opportunity he couldn't pass up, even though he wasn't ready to return to another television series. "I remember thinking about it really strongly when I was crossing the street in New York. I said to Susan, a person I work with... if we don't do this, how are we going to feel in September watching it and knowing its potential? That answered my question for me. I didn't want to be sitting there watching this fantastic show if I'd had the opportunity to be a part of it." (Read my full Q&A with Kiefer Sutherland at Reel Life With Jane.)
In Touch, he takes on the role of Martin Bohm, a widower and single dad raising his emotionally-challenged 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz), who's never spoken, shows very little emotion, and has never allowed himself to be touched by anyone, including Martin. Having a kid who never interacts with you and barely seems to know you're there is a daunting challenge, and both Mazouz and Sutherland have the emotional chops to pull it off.
On top of that, Jake is obsessed with numbers -- writing long strings of them in notebooks -- and discarded cell phones. He keeps running away from school and climbing to the top of a cell phone tower, breaking the tower's security alarms at precisely 3:18 p.m. each time.
In the pilot, we're also introduced to Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a social worker who believes Jake needs more than his dad can offer. Despite Martin's heartbreaking objections, Jake is placed in foster care. But things start to change when Martin seeks out Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), a professor and an expert on children with special numerical gifts.
Turns out there are more to those long strings of numbers than meets the eye. They're actually Fibonacci number sequences, which connect seemingly unrelated things. Using these hidden patterns, Jake is able to predict events before they happen, and Martin has a new way to connect with his son. Bonus points that the dynamic duo is able to help people around the world by stopping potentially harmful events before they happen.
Number-focused storylines have been done before. There's, well, Numb3rs, the show about mathematicians using equations to help the FBI solve crimes. And Fringe worked the Fibonacci sequence into a major storyline that involved Walter Bishop reciting the numbers at night like he was counting sheep. But Touch brings something new to the table with the father-son connection. As a parent, I want to keep watching not so much for the numbers, but to see if Martin can connect with Jake in a more meaningful way.
There's always the danger that Touch, though well written and compelling, will dissolve into a "case of the week" format. But since it was created by Tim Kring, the mastermind behind Heroes, there's no doubt a bigger story here, one that will keep us guessing from week to week.
Parents Should Know: Touch is an emotional drama with heavy themes, like losing a parent and raising a special-needs child. Violence includes fiery car accidents, bombings, fist-fighting, and references to terrorist attacks (a parent died on 9/11). Also, some sexuality (references to prostitution), mild language ("hell," "damn"), and social drinking. I recommend it for kids 13 and older.
5 Family Classics to Restore Your Faith in TV
February 24, 2012 4:33 PM
By Jane Boursaw
I've had a heck of a time lately writing about good TV shows for families, mainly because there are so few on the airwaves. So to restore my faith in TV's ability to produce true family series that everyone in the house can watch, let's reach back in time to highlight five that made the grade.
Not only are these great shows for and about families, but they're also funny and well written. If they produced more shows like these right now, I bet people would watch.
THE COSBY SHOW
(Weeknights at 8 and 8:30 p.m. ET, Centric; The Cosby Show on DVD)
This year marks the 28th anniversary of the NBC sitcom starring Bill Cosby as a family man, and it's still relevant and funny. That’s because one thing will never change: kids can be weird, funny, sad, joyful, frustrated and irrational, and parents have to figure out how to survive it all.
A few years ago, my then tween daughter decided to watch the whole series from start to finish over the course of a summer. Even though I'd already seen every episode at least twice, I found myself drifting over to the living room, to watch this great show about parents who expect the best from their kids but let their individuality shine through.
And every once in a while, you get the unexpected musical encounter, whether it's Russell Huxtable playing a gig with his trombone, the family singing a snappy group number, or Clair Huxtable crooning a lovely tune with her dad, played by the great jazz singer Joe Williams. The Cosby Show was not afraid to elevate things to a new level, and it's a show worth revisiting from time to time.
MY THREE SONS
(Weekdays at 8 a.m. on Me-TV; My Three Sons on DVD)
I'm not sure if it's because Steve Douglas always knew just what to say or whether the boys seemed like real boys who horsed around and sometimes got into trouble, but this show with the toe-tapping theme song is one of my all-time favorites. I watched My Three Sons as a kid, so watching it now sort of transports me back to those carefree days of growing up on a cherry farm in northern Michigan, before mortgage payments and other grownup issues consumed my life.
Even though the Vietnam war raged during the 1960s when My Three Sons aired, back here was Fred MacMurray calmly raising his boys with the help of curmudgeonly Bub and later Uncle Charlie. It was like an early version of Modern Family. In fact, have you ever noticed how many single-dad shows were on TV back then? The Courtship of Eddie's Father and Family Affair (Uncle Bee-al!) were two, and another was . . .
THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW
(Weekdays 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET, TV Land; The Andy Griffith Show on DVD)
What can you say about this show, other than it may be the best show ever to grace our TV screens? The beauty of The Andy Griffith Show is in the simplicity of a summer's day, a sheriff who took the afternoon off to go fishing with his son, a loving aunt who always had a chocolate cake in the oven. Remember the episode where the stressed-out stranger’s car breaks down and he has to wait until Monday before Gomer can fix it? "Man in a Hurry" -- one of my favorites.
I'd like to think those days aren't gone forever, but we parents have our work cut out for us in this age of HALO and 600 channels and double-income families. We have to work extra hard for family time (or as my kids call it, "forced family fun"; they'll thank me later). Would this be a good place to talk about my plans for family poker night? The kids got poker chips for Christmas.
(Weekdays on Hallmark 3-6 p.m. ET; weekdays on GMC noon-2 p.m., 6-9 p.m. ET; The Waltons on DVD)
My dad loved this show, probably for the same reasons I love My Three Sons. He grew up on a farm during the Depression, so The Waltons took him right back to his own childhood (which I'm sure wasn't as carefree as mine). Watching The Waltons with my dad back then opened a window into his childhood.
And it's always fascinating to watch a show from a bygone era where moms wore hats to church, kids worked hard and had to toe the line, and dads fretted over whether they'd be able to put food on the table (well, we still do that now, don't we?). But amidst all the troubles, you can still feel the Waltons' happiness coming right through the TV set. Their love for each other echoed in their nightly ritual: "Goodnight, John-Boy."
THE WONDER YEARS
(Weeknights at 9 p.m. ET, The Hub; not available on DVD)
This show starring Fred Savage as a kid growing up in the 1960s aired from 1988 to 1993. Though it takes place during the same era as The Andy Griffith Show, The Wonder Years delves into more real-world issues, like teens losing their virginity, a daughter who moves in with her boyfriend, a brother who calls his kid brother "butthead." The show won 22 awards, including a Peabody in 1989 for "evoking a traditional family sitcom while pushing boundaries and using new modes of storytelling."
But for viewers like us, The Wonder Years is just a great show that's both funny and dramatic, with relatable characters and dialogue. The final narration by Daniel Stern says it all: "Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back . . . with wonder."
How Five Midseason Premieres Stack Up for Families
January 2, 2012 10:45 AM
By Jane Boursaw
It's that time of year again. The fall TV shows are wrapping up (those that survived past the first few episodes), and a brand new flock of midseason premieres are heading to our living rooms.
I've watched a few of the pilots, and while some are questionable in terms of family viewing and overall quality, others are practically leaping off the screen and pulling me in...
(Keep in mind that these are first impressions, and it usually takes a few episodes to get a good feel for a show. Also, the screeners that TV critics get often don't have final music, credits or even actors. Then again, if a show tests so badly that the showrunners feel the need to change out a lead actor, that doesn't bode well.)
Let's take a look at five upcoming new shows, and see how they stack up for family viewing:
Work It. (ABC, premieres Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 8:30 p.m. ET.) The last time guys in drag were funny was when Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari starred in ABC's Bosom Buddies -- and, before that, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.
Needless to say, I don't have high hopes for this show, but we'll see how it shakes out. Ben Koldyke and Amaury Nolasco star as unemployed car salesmen who realize they're living in a woman's world. So they decide to dress up as women to score jobs as pharmaceutical reps.
You can see where this is going, and it does -- plenty of teetering in high heels, stuffing themselves into Spanx, and groan-inducing jokes about the opposite sex. I won't completely write it off, because if the writing is smart (it wasn't, in the pilot), and they don't rely on too many stupid stunts, it could work.
But it also doesn't have any recognizable names, so it's got that working against it. This show is okay for kids 13 and older, but I'm not sure it'll make big waves in the TV world. What do women want? Anything but guys dressed up so badly as girls that they wouldn't make the first cut on RuPaul's Drag Race.
The Finder. (Fox, premieres Thursday, Jan. 12, at 8 p.m. ET). I've watched only a few episodes of Bones, from which this series spins, so take my notes with a grain of salt.
The story revolves around Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults), a guy with the remarkable ability to find anything or anyone. That offers plenty of story possibilities, but the most intriguing thing about this show so far is Michael Clarke Duncan as Leo Knox, Walter's "legal advisor" with more than a passing similarity to Hunter Thompson's attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I'd watch it just for him -- but if you or your kids are Bones fans, check it out. Okay for kids 12 and older.
Alcatraz. (Fox, premieres Monday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m. ET.) I cannot wait to see more of this show. It's one of those twisty-turny-don't-know-what's-coming shows that I hope will gain momentum and stay on the air for at least five years (and I say this after having watched only the pilot).
Sarah Jones, Jorge Garcia and Sam Neill come together to investigate the shocking reappearance of Alcatraz's most notorious prisoners -- 50 years after they vanished (and they haven't aged a day).
It's a great mix of veteran actors (including Robert Forster, who knows more than he's saying) and crew (producer Robert Hull worked on 24 and Gossip Girl), a mysterious story (where did the prisoners go and why are they back?), and great settings (including Alcatraz itself). But because of the violence and criminal themes, I don't recommend it for kids younger than 12.
Smash. (NBC, premieres Monday, Feb. 6, at 10 p.m. ET). With the popularity of Glee, I guess it's inevitable that we'd get a show about Broadway at some point.
Then again, they're very different shows.
Smash follows the behind-the-scenes drama of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe. Debra Messing is the woman in charge, Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty (at right below) are ingenues vying for the lead role, and Angelica Huston is a veteran producer who clashes with Messing's character.
This show has "smash" written all over it, because Americans, even those in flyover country, are fascinated with the whole idea of putting on a show. It's great for kids interested in musical theater, but adult themes (including a scene involving the casting couch) make it best for kids 14 and older.
The River. (ABC, premieres Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 9 p.m. ET.) Take one part Lost, blend with one part Heart of Darkness (check out the 1993 movie starring Tim Roth and John Malkovich), and sprinkle in a pinch of Jurassic Park.
What you get is The River, a show about famed explorer Dr. Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood), who goes looking for magic deep in the Amazon and never returns.
Six months later, his son Lincoln (Joe Anderson) is shocked when his dad's emergency beacon suddenly goes off. He teams with his mom Tess (Leslie Hope), Dr. Cole's ex-producer Clark (Paul Blackthorne), and a ragtag crew to go looking for him.
This show is dark, mysterious and a whole bunch of fun, but it's too edgy for kids younger than 13. Watch it with your teens.
What midseason shows are you looking forward to?
How a Family Entertainment Writer Got Hooked on 'American Horror Story'
November 9, 2011 7:25 AM
By Jane Boursaw
I shouldn't like FX's American Horror Story. It's weird and shocking and disturbing. It goes against everything I know is good and true from my Midwest Methodist upbringing. And yet, every time an episode screener arrives here from FX, I drop everything to go watch it, gluing myself to the TV in rapt horror.
I'm not sure how this happened. I'm a family entertainment writer who has shunned scary movies most of her life. I never watched The Exorcist until last weekend, when it aired during a Halloween marathon. But American Horror Story, televised Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX, is different somehow -- maybe because the Harmons seem like a real family with real problems. People can relate to them.
I've managed to pinpoint five reasons why I can't look away from this freak show from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk.
1.) Jessica Lange. It was great to see the Oscar-winning actress on HBO's Grey Gardens, and it's even better to see her chewing up the sinister scenery every week as the mysterious neighbor Constance on American Horror Story. You don't know whether she's running the asylum, or merely a pawn in someone else's game. But either way, she makes me want to tune in to see who gets her next batch of brownies.
2.) Those evil opening credits. Babies in jars! Eerie basement! Creepy Clipper Man! Jittery black-and-white lettering! Dear God, it makes my head spin around just thinking about it. If you watch the opening credits in segments, you might pick up a few clues about this show. Or maybe just more questions. Like, doesn't the bride look a teensy bit like a young Constance? What are all the chains for? And is the fire the same one that left Larry Harvey such a mangled mess? Oh, and in case you'd like to set the opening credits as your ring tone, it was written by sound designer Cesar Davila-Irizarry and Charlie Clouser of Nine Inch Nails.
3.) Dylan McDermott, et al. I wonder if Connie Britton will finally get that Emmy that eluded her twice on Friday Night Lights. Her turn as the knocked-up-by-god-knows-what Vivien Harmon is mesmerizing. Then there's Dylan McDermott as her adulterous husband Ben, a psychiatrist who weeps while not mastering his domain; Frances Conroy as Maid Moira who's a seductive tart (played by another actress) to Ben and a hardworking spinster to Vivien. Zachary Quinto and Teddy Sears as the squabbling, undead gay couple who stop by to offer decorating tips to the Harmons. Denis O'Hare as a maniacal burn victim, and Kate Mara as Ben's scorned zombie-ish lover. Taissa Farmiga (Vera's younger sister) and Evan Peters as teenagers caught in a dark and scary world. And let's not forget the star of the show -- the house itself.
4.) The element of surprise. Forget surprise: The whole thing is downright shocking. You never know what you're going to get when you sit down to watch American Horror Story. Angry spirits, demon babies (maybe), grisly teenagers, basement creatures, shocking deaths, and...
5.) The man in the rubber suit. Just who is that guy who keeps popping up in horrifying ways? Could it be the doctor who did unsavory things with baby parts in the basement? An old demon lover of Constance's? Satan himself? Perhaps that's the reason this show is so spellbinding. If eliminating evil is one of the major struggles of our time, then American Horror Story is a metaphor for the very world in which we live.
Are you watching American Horror Story? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Three New Shows to Watch With Your Teens
October 15, 2011 6:21 PMBy Jane Boursaw
After some recent marathon TV-watching -- so I'd have something useful to say for the TVWW 2011 Fall Preview guide -- I was starting to think there just aren't any great shows anymore. And shows that families can watch together? Practically nonexistent.
Maybe my memory is washed in a fine patina of nostalgia, but doesn't it seem like TV shows used to be better? You know, shows with solid writing, characters you could relate to, and jokes that were actually funny. Shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show in the '60s, M*A*S*H in the '70s, The Cosby Show in the '80s, and Frasier in the '90s. (Yes, the voice in my head just put a cigar in its mouth and said, "Why, back when I was a kid . . . ").
But seriously, folks, I think we can all agree that good shows are few and far between right now, especially if you're trying to find something to watch with your kids that doesn't make you want to throw an invisibility cloak over the TV. But have no fear, I've managed to compile three that make the grade. Well, at least for teens. And they've been field tested at home, since my teens (14 and 17) don't mind watching these with me.
Terra Nova (Fox, TV-14). What I love about this show is that there's something for everyone. There's a Neanderthal storyline with all sorts of fun creatures. There's a family unit, which offers all kinds of dramatic and comedic possibilities. There's Stephen Lang, who's in a class by himself. And even though I was worried when they blew a big chunk of their budget on the pilot, the succeeding episodes have been interesting enough to keep me and the kids watching.
Terra Nova has a fair bit of violence and some grisly scenes involving attacks by dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. There's also some mild language (things like "damn" and "son of a bitch"), some drinking (teens make moonshine in one episode, but pay the consequences), and some romantic entanglements. But it all falls within the TV-14 rating, and the show brings home the importance of family and friends, especially if you find yourself transported back 85 million years for the ultimate Earth Do-Over.
The X Factor (Fox, TV-14). This show barely made the list, thanks to one audition where a guy dropped his pants and was allowed to remain on stage (say what?). The camera panned to the audience, and we saw parents fleeing the auditorium with their kids in tow -- and rightly so. Even Paula Abdul left the room in disgust, barely making it to the bathroom in time to toss up her arugula salad.
Still, we're big fans of American Idol around here, and whether The X Factor showrunners admit it or not, it's a lot like Idol. Tearful stories of people dealing with horrible situations, genuinely talented budding stars, and judges who've been through the mill themselves and have something valuable to offer. It all makes for compelling and inspiring TV that tells both kids and adults it's never too late to reach for their dreams.
Things to be aware of: rampant advertising (but hey, these shows cost a lot to make, and I'm ok with Sony and Pepsi getting their money's worth), heated exchanges between the contestants and the judges, bleeped out language, suggestive dance moves, and a bit of cross-dressing here and there.
Up All Night (NBC, TV-14). There's no doubt this show starring Christina Applegate and Will Arnett as new parents is best appreciated by parents who understand the challenges of making it up as we go along. But it also encourages respect in a marriage, talking things out, and nurturing healthy relationships. And it's darn funny. Please watch it, because the ratings slipped last week and I'd hate to see it disappear.
There's the expected references to sex (talk of "making out" and "doing it"), couples getting affectionate with each other, and the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism (but, you know, sometimes a parent needs wine). "Ass" is about as bad as the language gets, although there are a few bleeped-out words here and there. That just makes it funnier, though, because everyone knows new parents are prone to swearing profusely at the drop of a diaper.
Think these shows are OK for teens? What other new shows are you watching with your teens?
Click over to read Jane's Fall 2011 TV picks for Awesome, Mediocre and Downright Awful.
Can Sarah Michelle Gellar Move Beyond Buffy with 'Ringer'?
September 5, 2011 8:49 PM
By Jane Boursaw
Screeners for the new fall TV shows have been rolling into Reel Life With Jane headquarters, and my family and I have been busily watching to see what's ahead. As is usually the case, some shows are godawful, some are mediocre, and some have us wishing we could jump right into the next episode.
To be fair, these are the raw pilots that often don't have the final music, titles and other details. Sometimes, even the actors get switched out, but as in the case of last year's $#*! My Dad Says, that doesn't always save the day. Not even Mr. Renaissance Man himself, William Shatner, could rescue that show.
But you can usually get a good feel for a show by watching the screener, and one that stands out for me this year is The CW's Ringer. Like millions of other Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans, I've been anticipating the return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to TV since she stood with her friends at the edge of the hollow ravine formerly known as Sunnydale. That was eight long years ago. So maybe The CW decided to take pity on us and offer not one but two characters played by the iconic Gellar.
In Ringer, she plays identical twins, each harboring her own secrets and mysteries. We're first introduced to Bridget Cafferty, the twin who's six months sober, goes to AA meetings, and has a checkered history with the law. She's trying to get her life back on track when -- wham! She witnesses a mob murder and gets called to testify in the case. At the first opportunity, she flees New York and reunites with her estranged twin, Siobhan Martin.
Siobhan is wealthy and spoiled, but don't let that fairy tale life fool you. She's got secrets, too, as we learn when she disappears overboard during a boating trip with her sister. Bridget makes the snap decision to take on her sister's identity, but might just as well have stuck with her own. Siobhan's marriage to Andrew (Ioan Gruffudd) is in turmoil, and it turns out she's been having an affair with her best friend's husband.
As my daughter noted, it's weird seeing Gellar as someone other than Buffy. I would imagine having a show like that from the great Joss Whedon is both a blessing and a curse. Buffy was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime series like no other. But the flipside is that people will always see you as that character, no matter what else you do.
That's a pretty big package for Ringer to fill, and I'm not sure it's up to the challenge. I wonder if people will watch the show for Gellar, but fade away when it doesn't measure up to Buffy.
Sometimes it takes a few episodes for a show to find its groove. Even with the trademark dark hue of The CW and a plot that perhaps drags a teensy bit, Ringer is worth checking out -- especially if you're a fan of Gellar and/or Buffy. I only hope we get to see some of that kick-ass girl power along the way.
Here's the trailer:
Would You Believe Our Family Is Watching the Kardashians This Summer? And That's Not All...
July 2, 2011 4:47 PM
By Jane Boursaw
Summer means sunny days on the beach, excursions to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In, and, of course, plenty of TV time! Sometimes we'll check out new shows, but more often than not, we're watching new seasons of old favorites. Here's a look at five shows we're watching this summer...
1. America's Got Talent. This is must-see TV for us, partly because of all the personalities, from the judges to the contestants to Nick Cannon, and partly because we love it when a humble person blows us away with talent.
Top favorites so far: 11-year-old Anna Graceman, Silhouettes, and "dreadlocked Frank Sinatra" Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. (shown above).
2. The Casey Anthony Trial. Just when you think this case can't get any weirder, it does indeed get much weirder.
Between rumors of George Anthony's affair, Cindy Anthony's alleged chloroform searches, and the possibility that Casey's brother might be Caylee's dad, it's reality TV in its truest form.
And, of course, at the heart of it, our heart breaks every time we see a photo of sweet little Caylee.
3. Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I know it's not hip to like this show, but my daughter and I are kind of obsessed.
We've been watching it since the beginning, and we feel like we know the Kardashians. There are even some valuable life lessons to be learned, like the importance of working hard (Kim), salvaging a broken relationship (Kourtney), and lightening the mood (Khloe). [At right. Kim displays an x-ray of her butt, to prove the absence of implants.]
I must admit, though, we usually have to retreat upstairs to watch it, because otherwise, the snipes from the guys in this house drown out the show.
4. America's Next Top Model. We watch this show only when the marathons run on Oxygen, and though they'll never admit it, even the guys get caught up in the personalities and challenges.
I confess that I tend to think modeling can't be that hard, but as host Tyra Banks reminds the contestants, it's all about getting the poses right, bringing life and energy to your face, and knowing how to work with the designers, photographers and creative directors.
And then there's the fact that when the models wake up in the morning, they look pretty much like the rest of us.
5. Dual Survival. My son and I never miss this Discovery Channel show, and we're geeked that it got picked up for a third season.
There's something so compelling about the odd couple of primitive survivalist Cody Lundin and ex-military guy Dave Canterbury getting dropped off in rugged locations throughout the globe.
And we really love all the Codyisms, like, "Rat is a lot like duck, only with a wonderfully nutty flavor."
I'm not sure I'd ever eat a rat, or wrap a peed-on scarf around my head to stay cool, but if the alternative was perishing in a slow, painful death, then yeah, I'd probably go there.
What's everyone else watching this summer? Any favorites to pass along?
'Teen Wolf' is No 'Buffy,' But It's Entertaining
June 5, 2011 10:08 PM
By Jane Boursaw
Hormonal teens, mysterious creatures, cops with flashlights -- no, it's not a show on The CW. It's Teen Wolf, MTV's new show based loosely on the 1985 movie starring Michael J. Fox. It premieres Sunday at 11 p.m. ET immediately following the MTV Movie Awards, then moves to its regular time slot this Monday at 10 p.m. ET.
I checked out the screener, and while I'm not as enamored with it as with The Vampire Diaries, it's still a fun show with cool special effects and handsome people. I don't think of myself as a Twilight mom, although I do love those movies. I think of myself as more of a sci-fi-supernatural mom, which I inherited from my mom, one of the first Star Trek fans back in the 1960s. At 87, she still loves all things sci-fi and is the reason why I know the Vorlons on Babylon 5 are susceptible to the poison Florazine found in the Damocles Sector.
Because of my mom, I love shows like Fringe, Supernatural, Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I'm super-geeked about TNT's Falling Skies, premiering June 19 at 9-11 p.m. ET. And even though I'm a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, I even started watching all the ghost hunter shows until I realized they rarely ever see a ghost.
So I guess it's no surprise that I'd like Teen Wolf right off the bat. If MTV had sent me the whole series, I probably would have watched one episode after the other, like I did with Buffy a few years ago (though make no mistake -- Teen Wolf is no Buffy).
The show stars Tyler Posey as Scott McCall, a teenager who ventures into the woods one night with his best friend Stiles (Dylan O'Brien) to join a police search for a dead body. Well, "join" is a misnomer. The reason they're there is because Stiles was eavesdropping on his dad's phone conversation.
You can see where this is headed. When Scott stumbles across the blood-spattered body of a girl in the woods (a scene that would probably be too gory for the female-centric Vampire Diaries), he's nearly killed by a herd of stampeding deer, then attacked and bitten by a mysterious beast. Okay, it's not a mystery. We're not dumb. The title of the show is Teen Wolf. Scott's bitten by a werewolf.
The next day, he discovers some pretty awesome things about himself. The formerly shy and nerdy Scott is now a skilled and powerful lacrosse player. He doesn't need his inhaler anymore and can smell his friend's mint mojito gum in his pocket. He communes with dogs, and all the cats go nuts when he's around. Sure, it's kind of cool, but now he has to deal with a whole boatload of stuff on top of the usual teenage angst. And of course, there's a girl.
I don't know if Teen Wolf will gain a following like The Vampire Diaries or Supernatural. There are lots of creature shows competing for our DVR space, and as David said last week, vampires rule.
This one boasts plenty of appealing characters and nighttime shenanigans, but who's to say if it'll last one season or ten? Neither my 16-year-old son nor 14-year-old daughter is the least bit interested, so maybe it'll just be us sci-fi-supernatural moms at the TV. Still, it'll make for fun summer viewing while the kids are out doing whatever they're doing.
Here's a peek at Teen Wolf --
War (What Is It Good For?)
May 29, 2011 4:25 PM
By Jane Boursaw
I admit I'm not really into TV shows and movies focused on war. Up to this point in my life, most of my war viewing has been limited to things like Father Goose, the 1964 movie starring Cary Grant as an aircraft spotter on an isolated island during WW2. But I didn't watch it for the war component. I watched it for his budding relationship with Leslie Caron.
When cable TV came into the house, my husband started watching every war documentary, movie and special across the dial. Then my son grew into a teenager and developed the same fascination with war. Maybe it's a guy thing. Maybe I feel things too deeply and get too heartbroken over watching peoples' lives shattered by war.
Most of the shows my husband and son watch aren't romanticized depictions of these events. You see the real people behind the battles -- aging gunners recalling tense moments in the ball turret of a B17, retired officers mapping out their D-Day strategies, and graying soldiers describing the horror of watching a buddy die in a foxhole.
Ironically, these personal stories are exactly why I stopped walking by the living room and sat down on the couch to watch. I wouldn't say I'm transfixed like the guys. I don't analyze all the strategies, artillery and major players. But these shows are helping me to understand how wars have shaped our world.
Then came The Pacific, Tom Hanks' and Steven Spielberg's super-realistic miniseries that aired on HBO last year. My husband and son started watching it, and then I started watching it and became completely addicted. We watched the entire series nonstop over the course of a weekend.
My obsession stemmed not from the war itself, but from the relationships of the soldiers, their friends and families. It wasn't an easy thing to watch. The carnage and death on Peleliu was depressing enough, but I wept when Sledge returned home with the sadness and desperation on his face that his father so hated seeing. He knew his son would never fully recover from it. If the series could have been summed up in one scene, that would have been it.
Last week, we watched a screener for Gettysburg, a two-hour documentary narrated by Sam Rockwell, premiering on the History channel for Memorial Day (Monday at 9 p.m. ET). Produced by Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, it's a compelling, CGI-enhanced look at the brutal battle that served as a turning point in the Civil War, which marks its 150th anniversary this year.
It's staggering to think that 50,000 people were killed over the course of three days in a small farm town in Pennsylvania. In today's terms, that would translate to millions of deaths right here on our own soil.
The story revolves around Amos Humiston, a 33-year-old "unknown soldier" killed on July 1, 1863. His body was found with nothing to identify him except a precious ambrotype (portraits) of his three children clutched tightly in his hand. Had it not been for the efforts of Dr. John Francis Bourns, who took it upon himself to send a description of the photo to newspapers around the country, Humiston would have faded into obscurity. But once the article reached his wife, she recognized the description and sadly confirmed that she was his widow.
Shows like The Pacific and Gettysburg open a portal into the past to bring these wars home to us in a real way. And who knows? Maybe I'll get to a point where I don't need to have my son explain how a howitzer works or what took place at Vicksburg in 1863. Then again, I kind of like that.
Here's a peek at Gettysburg:
And check out Jane's recent story on the HBO documentary Burma Soldier at ReelLifeWithJane.com.
See Jane Write... About 'Pawn Stars' And Other TV Favorites
May 12, 2011 10:00 AM
By Jane Boursaw
Hola, TV WORTH WATCHING readers! I'm new here, so I thought I'd introduce myself by telling you about some of our favorite shows in this household. But first, a bit about me...
I live in Traverse City, Michigan, and I've been making a living at this writing business for three decades. My work has grown and evolved through the years to where I now write mainly about movies, TV and celebrities, with an emphasis on family fare.
I've written for hundreds of newspapers, magazines and Web sites over the years, including Variety, The New York Times, TV Squad, Moviefone and Family Circle, but now I mainly focus on my own site and services, based at Reel Life With Jane.
My syndicated family movie and TV reviews go out to 300-plus print and online publications, reaching some 20 million readers monthly. I also teach online blogging classes at WriteBlogLearn, and am available for WordPress design and tech issues as well. Yeah, I'm a renaissance girl.
OK, let's talk about those TV shows. With a history-buff husband and two teenagers in the house, our TV viewing habits are varied and eclectic. It's tough to narrow it down, but here are five shows that we look forward to every week -- or did, until some of their seasons came to an end recently.
1. Pawn Stars. I wasn't crazy about the name of this History Channel show at first. It just didn't seem very, well, family-oriented. But we've grown to love the show (new episodes are televised Mondays at 10 p.m. ET), partly because of the banter between Rick, the Old Man, Big Hoss and Chumlee, and partly because it's a great history lesson.
Thanks to Pawn Stars, we've learned about NASA's Gemini launch, the Batmobile, an 18th-century musket, a 1900s Gibson mandolin, and a 450-year-old book once owned by Sir Isaac Newton. These guys make history fun.
2. American Idol. I wasn't sure about the judge-shuffle on this long-running Fox hit this season, but we really like the combination of Steven Tyler, Randy Jackson, and Jennifer Lopez. I'm not sure we really needed to see Jennifer's video of "On the Floor" a few weeks ago and then watch it again live last week. But hey, self-promotion is everything in the entertainment business, so I'll cut her a little slack.
The contestants this year are the best ever, and we look forward to the performances each week. My favorite: James Durbin.
3. The Vampire Diaries. OK, so my son and husband don't get the whole vampire craze, but my daughter and I watch this show religiously. With the season two finale looming tonight at 8 ET on the CW, we've already gone back to revisit season one on DVD.
What started as a typical teen show, with a girl caught between two vampire brothers, has transitioned to include witches, werewolves, and other creatures of the night. If only the show weren't so darned dark! I don't mean psychologically dark; I mean dark as in hard to see. The sound editing needs some work, too, but overall, the show's a keeper.
4. Parenthood. This NBC drama is another show my daughter and I watched each week, especially because we're smack in the middle of revisiting seasons of Gilmore Girls, so anything with Lauren Graham is cool.
But the entire cast is great, and I love that the interactions among the family seem real and not overly Hollywood-ized.
My siblings and I need to work on dancing in the kitchen together, though. If I can get them all watching Parenthood, I think we could make some great strides forward there.
5. Fringe. I'm so glad this show got a fourth-season renewal.
It was touch and go for a while, especially after Fox moved it to the Friday Night Death Slot. But fans rallied, and the show is as brilliant as ever.
From the first season, where we learned about the alternate universe, met the mad scientist Walter Bishop, and started searching for those mysterious Observers in each episode, we were hooked. Maybe the universe will right itself and give John Noble the Emmy he deserves this year.
I love that all of these shows, in their own way, are great family viewing. And this is, by no means, a complete list. Other favorites include The Office, Modern Family, The Defenders, The Celebrity Apprentice, Chuck, The Big Bang Theory, Castle, Glee, House, The Biggest Loser, Dual Survival, and Deadliest Warrior.
What are YOUR favorite shows to watch as a family? I look forward to reading your comments.
Jane Boursaw is a family entertainment writer specializing in movies, TV and celebrities. Syndicate her family movie & TV reviews in your publication; visit her at Reel Life With Jane; follow her on Twitter; become a friend on Facebook; take her online blogging classes; email firstname.lastname@example.org for help with WordPress design and tech issues.
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