HBO's 'Veep': Four More Years!
April 19, 2012 10:27 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
I am still smiling, and I watched HBO's three preview episodes of Veep 10 hours ago.
It's just that funny.
In this new and very welcome half-hour comedy (debuting Sunday at 10 p.m. ET), Julia Louis-Dreyfus is pitch perfect as Selina Meyer, vice president of the United States. The catch to being the free world's second-in-command has always been that it's a largely ceremonial position. (Except when it's not, but more about this later.) Never has the truth of this and the attendant frustrations been so razor-sharp funny.
If you were a fan of Aaron Sorkin's rat-a-tat overlapping dialogue in The West Wing, you will adore the havoc that creator/writer/director Armando Iannucci has wreaked here. And he's got the perfect cast to deliver the goods, led by Louis-Dreyfus. She is brittle, broken, bitchy, bizarre and just plain bananas. Plus, she looks great in a sleeveless dress.
The writing is sly and smart, but the best thing about it -- and maybe the scariest -- is that you can well imagine many of these moments actually happening in today's White House. If you actually read Game Change, or anything else detailing how our government actually works, you will recognize the truth in some of this sitcom's political machinations. Perhaps Iannucci didn't have to exaggerate all that much.
The entire supporting cast is superb, replete with harried chief of staff (Anna Chlumsky), bumbling body man (Tony Hale), sweaty and beleaguered spokesperson who gets no respect (Matt Walsh), and crackerjack executive assistant (Sufe Bradshaw), whom Selina asks pretty much once an episode: "Did the President call?" The answer, of course -- well, you know.
Louis-Dreyfus is perhaps best in a scene when the whole "heartbeat away from the presidency" thing comes into play. Still hilarious, but it's Meyer's conflicted reaction to being, at least for one brief moment, relevant, that elevates Veep from something great to an absolute comedy godsend.
Showtime Laughs at Tragedy, While NBC's 'BFF' Wonders Whether to Wax
April 4, 2012 1:05 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
On paper, who would have thought the best laughs this midseason come from a drug addict in rehab and a woman who may be dying from cancer? Showtime knows what makes us laugh -- while NBC's new Wednesday half-hour flunks the test.
NURSE JACKIE (Season 4 starts April 8; Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, Showtime)
There is no show on television that skates the fine line between comedy and outright tragedy as brilliantly as Nurse Jackie. Just as we are mesmerized by the despicable behavior of nearly everyone on Mad Men, we don't avert our gaze from the train wreck that is Edie Falco's drug-addicted ER nurse Jackie. We may squirm, but we recognize her.
The counterpoint to Falco's brittle brilliance is provided by Merritt Wever, who may be one of the funniest, quirkiest and most nuanced actresses working anywhere today. Weaver, who plays Nurse Zoey, is simply incandescent. When she's not in a scene, I miss her. I love every gutsy choice she makes, as if she does not care how weird she's playing it. I usually hate when an actor's performance is called brave -- we're not talking firemen or soldiers here, we're talking acting -- but Weaver has found someplace to dump all her self-consciousness, and she wobbles out on the high wire in every episode.
In fact, all the inhabitants do this season, as All Saints Hospital is taken over by a conglomerate that elevates the slick Dr. Miguel Cruz (Bobby Cannavale) over administrator Gloria Akalitus (Anna Deavere Smith), who's forced back to the nursing floor of the ER so she can collect her full pension. Even some nifty guest stars -- Rosie Perez, Aida Turturro, Joel Grey, Cannavale's real-life son Jake, and the New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony -- know how to center their off-center characters. There's not a stiff in the bunch, and hats off to casting execs Julie Tucker and Ross Meyerson, who have an eye and an ear for the truth. Particular kudos to Laura Silverman's turn as Jackie's counselor at rehab, who's as much a heavyweight as Falco in the scenes they share as she fights for Jackie to take responsibility for her life.
In the first episode, Jackie finally admits she needs help, but her 28 days in rehab are not going to go any more smoothly than her life on the outside. Her husband, her kids, her lover, her friends, her colleagues and her addiction all present roadblocks she may or may not be able to overcome. Falco effortlessly blots out memories of Carmela Soprano to inhabit a character so flawed, she's perfect.
THE BIG C (Season 3 starts April 8; Sunday at 9:30 p.m. ET, Showtime)
Last year's season finale of The Big C ended with Cathy (Laura Linney) finishing a race and seeing the ghosts of her dead loved ones, including her husband (Oliver Platt) cheering her on at the finish line. Of course, we saw that he suffered a heart attack at a company Christmas party, so we too believe he has passed on. Linney's collapse -- she seemed to pancake in on herself as she fell -- was so devastating that I replayed it a number of times to try and figure out how an actress can be that good. Clearly, Showtime has that market cornered with both Falco and Linney starring in the network's most offbeat comedies, and I applaud Showtime for going dark with this block.
Trying to arrest her late-stage cancer, Cathy's been taking part in a trial helmed by Alan Alda. (Who wouldn't want their doctor to be Alda?) This third season opens with results that will color how Cathy and the rest of her family approach the time she has left. Though The Big C tackles an uncomfortable subject in a way, this show is a lot easier on the wince factor than Nurse Jackie. The Big C cast, save for Cathy's son (a most natural Gabriel Basso), strains toward quirkiness rather than embracing the skew like Nurse Jackie-land. A little of Cathy's brother (John Benjamin Hickey) and house guest Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe) goes a long way. And I'm actually happy to say goodbye to an irritating turn by Cynthia Nixon as Cathy's best friend and brother's lover.
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER (Series premieres April 4; Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
I could do without the feminine "to wax or not to wax" jokes, and the rhythms don't really improve in this comedy about the single BF (Lennon Parham) who rallies around the other (Jessica St. Clair) whose marriage has just gone south.
But for me, the truest sitcom test is, A) After 22 minutes, do I care enough about the characters to come back?, B) Did I laugh and care about the characters?, C) Was the show so genuinely funny, all I can remember is that I laughed my butt off, so it doesn't matter as much about the characters.
Best Friends Forever doesn't pass the A/B/C test, but D) It has its moments (like the Braveheart scene). There just aren't enough of them to elevate this to keeper status.
A Second Look Provides Just the Right 'Touch'
March 22, 2012 11:59 AM
By Theresa Corigliano
I did the pilot of Touch a disservice when I reviewed it here a few months ago. For whatever reason, I wasn't initially receptive, didn't get it; but in the back of my mind, I wanted to re-view, in the literal sense of the word, when it returned (Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Fox).
I don't take back everything I said about the premise, but I think I missed the mark. Rewatching the pilot as well as the next two episodes helped me find it. (The Touch pilot streams free online here.)
Jake Bohm (David Mazouz), son to Kiefer Sutherland's Martin, is an emotionally challenged child who possesses an astounding gift: the ability to perceive through a series of numbers that our lives on the planet are somehow connected. The only way Martin can communicate with his son is through these numerical patterns. Jake cannot or will not speak to anyone. Martin realizes that it's his job to decipher these numbers, follow where they lead, and try to help the strangers he meets as their lives intersect according to what Jake has foreseen.
If you prefer to believe that we zig instead of zag for a preordained reason, and that there are no coincidences in life, then the premise of this show will indeed touch you.
As Sutherland has said in several interviews, he wasn't looking to return to TV after the grind of 24, but after having read the script, he simply couldn't envision another actor playing this role. Where Jack Bauer was always saving the world (not always with above-board methods), Martin in Touch is a quieter, more confused and conflicted hero, and Sutherland is the perfect actor to play him.
His performance is passionate, emotional, and nuanced, and the work he does here with Mazouz is beautiful. It's hard enough to work with kids, but especially hard when the child in the piece doesn't have dialogue. But the connection between Sutherland and Mazouz in these roles seems more intuitive than "directed," and their chemistry informs this drama.
Equally sensitive is British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw's performance as Clea Hopkins, the concerned social worker who questions Martin's ability to care for his son since his wife's tragic death in the North Tower on 9/11. She could easily be seen as a villain, but Mbatha-Raw's empathetic performance creates a push-pull that persuades the viewer to see both sides of the argument as to Jake's future.
The fine actor Titus Welliver will be recurring as a New York fireman connected to Baum through the events of 9/11. The horror of that day lives in his eyes, the way he walks, in his anger and in his reawakening. Welliver nails it.
I stand by my assessment that, as with 24 or Lost, you may not always understand how Jake's equations lead his father to intervene in people's lives. And, because the Touch writers always seem to have to connect the dots, the situations can seem contrived and convenient, which does not satisfy. This will be a challenge for them as the show progresses. Will there be times when Martin is too late and can't save the day (it seems like there must be), and how will this be handled?
But at its best moments, Touch is a show that makes you feel positively human, if only for 42 minutes. If we could see the world as Jake sees it, where we could reach out and change each other's lives for the better, what a wonderful world this would be.
NBC's 'Bent' Has Potential
March 21, 2012 4:15 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
Bent is a situation comedy in the truest sense of the word. If John McCain was "maverick-y" back in 2008, this one is "situation-y."
The "sit" part of this Wednesday premiere (9 and 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC): Newly divorced Alex (the lovely and very talented Amanda Peet) is starting over, leaving behind a jailbird husband and downsizing her life and house. She has hired a rapscallion of a contractor to redo her kitchen. I don't get to say "rapscallion" very often, but it's a pretty good word to describe Pete (David Walton), a talented surfer dude with a hammer and weaknesses for gambling and sleeping with his clients. Luckily, we also get to meet Pete's roomie, his unemployed actor father, played with delicious self-absorption and perfect timing by the terrific Jeffrey Tambor.
We can only assume that lawyer Alex hires Pete because he's a particularly cute and winsome rapscallion (and he definitely seems to think so). If he weren't so cute and winsome, the word to describe him might be something like -- hound.
To further anchor the situation, throw in Alex's wise beyond her years 10-year-old daughter (Joey King), and her new doctor boyfriend (Matt Letscher), whom she's not sure should be, and her unfortunately but accurately named wild-child sister, Screwsie (Margo Harshman). Speaking of names, I had no idea why this show is titled Bent, and had to ask NBC's publicity department. Turns out it's a call back to a line in the pilot where the characters are said to be "bent and not broken." Oh.
Pete's motley crew (I was going to say work crew, but they don't do a lot of that) are also by-the-numbers. We get the African American guy, the Russian guy, and the dumb guy with a heart of gold, all played very well by J.B. Smoove, Pasha Lychnikoff and Jesse Plemons.
The comedy part: It's all about the patter. The jokes are often funny and well-delivered, but relentless. The rapid fire one-liners rarely stop for a moment of actual human interaction. When a "moment" happens, the show skids to a stop for that nanosecond. Then it's back to the jokes. And then there's the sex talk -- there's a lot of it, slick and raunchy and the current fallback position in comedies. There's potential for Bent to be better, given the capabilities of the cast, so it's a little disappointing that the writers go there, a lot.. At some point, the characters will have to find something else to talk about and think about and, well, do.
Assuming the one truth in Bent is that a contractor like Pete can be in Alex's house for years (remember Eldin, Murphy Brown's painter?), the premise is not a stretch. But the question is whether viewers are going to be turned off or turned on by the pat-ness and the patter. Bent is lightweight, which in this case, depending how the viewers take it, will either be a good thing or a bad thing for NBC.
Get Happy! (Via Television)
February 3, 2012 10:43 AM
By Theresa Corigliano
Amazing words. Great actors. Convoluted plots. Two shows with the same title. And a remote control with superpowers.
Midseason has something of everything.
LUCK is the new HBO series from the iconic team of David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) and Michael Mann (Heat, To Live and Die in L.A., Miami Vice), set in the world of horse racing. Supposedly, the two [pictured below] drew a line in the sand: Milch would control the scripts, and Mann would be behind the camera. Hard to imagine either of these two being bound by that kind of separation, but maybe that's what you have to do with opinionated titans.
I will always be a fan of the way Milch writes. I may not love everything he does, or understand everything he says, or has his characters say, but Milch taught me how to listen to TV, and how to write the way we actually speak. Some critics point to Milch-speak as being virtually incomprehensible. And he may be guilty of overdoing it. But we don't talk to each other in diagrammed sentences. Often, we speak without saying a word, and then, without subjects, verbs and objects. For me, this kind of dialogue is what makes his characters sing. Mann makes horse racing and its denizens throb. The colors and camera choices capture the atmosphere whether you care about the sport, or debate that it is a sport rather than a cruelty.
You couldn't browse magazines or work on a laptop while watching Blue, and forget trying it with Luck (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO). Milch demands attention to the words, and the people defined by them. Supposedly, Milch demands that every "um, and, the" in his scripts be said exactly as written, because he is rhythmic and purposeful. Supposedly, in the Blue days, if an actor dared to improvise and leave out one of those mutterings, and Milch was on set, making them do the scene over. I don't know if he's still that specific, but I do know I understand his POV based on how his writing has made me feel. I watched a few episodes of Luck for the purpose of this review, and have another bunch to watch. I am not sure how I feel about the story, but it might be enough just to see Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessy (where has she been?) and one of my personal favorites, Jason Gedrick, along with lesser known spot-on character actors, inhabit the Mann/Milch world.
TOUCH has a big problem. That would be Jack Bauer and how much I wish 24 was still on the air.
Unreasonable, unfair, I know, but I can't help it. Two years gone, and I still talk to people who sigh "I really miss 24."
In Touch (sneaked by Fox Jan. 25, available on-demand and online through Feb. 22; official premiere Monday, March 19 at 9 p.m. ET), Sutherland plays Martin Bohm, the blue-collar father of a young boy who doesn't speak, hates to be touched, and only communicates with his father through a series of what appears to be random numbers. The breakthrough between father and son comes when Martin discovers the numbers may not be random at all: His special son may just be able to predict the future. The boy and his father will connect with seemingly unrelated people and events week to week. Sutherland is terrific in the role, totally believable, even more so than the premise, but still --
Touch shares another similarity to 24. On the latter show, I didn't really understand the terrorist techno talk, but it didn't matter: I had Chloe and Jack, the ticking time bomb, and that ticking clock at the cliffhanger ending of every episode. The confusing stuff didn't matter.
But it's hard to see how the convoluted Touch will connect viewers to story every week. I'm not sure I really understood how this numbers thing is going to work. It felt like a stretch to me, and not a particularly compelling one. And I can't be the only viewer who winced audibly when, in the sneak preview, Martin was punched in the gut and knocked to the ground by someone he was pursuing. It'll take a while to adjust to a Sutherland who's not Superman. And it'll get even murkier, if the 24 movie that's being talked about really does begin production in March, as Sutherland said in a recent conference call. Maybe, sadly, there needs to be a character separation here. Or maybe Sutherland is hedging his bets if Touch fails to catch hold.
And speaking of the supernatural, I'm really glad Syfy's BEING HUMAN (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET) is back for a second season. (You can catch up with Season 1 on Syfy's website.) I'm also looking forward to the Feb. 25 return of the original BBC Being Human, entering its fourth season (other seasons available on DVD). Here's a rare occurrence on TV -- when the original and the remake are both worthy.
I just love the premise: A ghost, a werewolf and a vampire walk into a bar -- no, sorry, they're roommates. Kudos to both sets of producers/writers for great casting, writing that's funny and touching, and really scary effects. If I had to choose, I'd go with the BBC series, part of BBC America's Supernatural Saturday program block, but both shows are well done, and different enough to keep you interested. Even if it's a little schizophrenic to switch back and forth.
Quick takes on other midseason shows:
ALCATRAZ (Fox, running Monday at 9 p.m. ET, encores Saturday at 11 p.m. ET) -- Ghostly, creepy, stylish enough to make me want to see more of inmates who escaped from the Rock 40 years ago now haunting and killing present day. Nice plus: A little Sam Neill gravitas classing up the joint.
SMASH (NBC, premieres Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. ET) -- Creators Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are pitch perfect here. Former Idol star Katharine McPhee dazzles. Knew she had the voice, but she's effortless acting in this musical about a Broadway triple threat fighting for her break. Little bit Chorus Line/All About Eve/Stage Door, very 5-6-7-8. Didn't want it to end. The argument is always that no one outside of New York cares about Broadway, and NBC deserves to prove that's not true. Not sure if Steven Spielberg's idea of actually mounting the Marilyn Monroe musical that actually comes out of Smash will work, but hoping audiences will buy the ticket to the TV show.
THE RIVER (ABC, premieres Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. ET) -- I begged it to stop, then remembered my remote control gives me superpowers. Who doesn't like a good spooky story? But camera tricks will never take the place of one. Unfortunately, the promos and print ads are more compelling than the actual show.
GCB (ABC, premieres Sunday, March 4 at 10 p.m. ET) -- Bitches? Whatever. The initials are annoying. Otherwise, it's sly yet over-the-top, and that's just the wickedly wonderful Kristen Chenoweth. She distracted me from the fact the producers need to find the balance in this series to make it less one-note and worn.
The Most Human Moments at the Most Unexpected Times
January 31, 2012 3:08 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
Mad Men and Downton Abbey -- I know. It seems odd to talk about these two shows in the same paragraph.
But both shows hold up mirrors to their times. Both of them have persuaded me that I would not have been happy as a young woman in either the early 1900s or 60 years later. You might be angry, you might have trouble wrapping your mind around the limitations, but Abbey and Mad Men make you grateful for what you do have, and make you admire the women who would never have the opportunities, and those who ultimately fought to have them.
It's not too late to tune into Season 2 of Downton Abbey on your local PBS station. If you missed the first four episodes, they are available for viewing online. You can catch up with Season 1 of Downton Abbey on DVD or Blu-ray.
Call it a miniseries, as the Hollywood Foreign Press was wont to do in bestowing a Golden Globe a few weeks ago; or call it a limited series or series. Doesn't matter. How many dramas come along where you fall in love with every single character that lives upstairs and downstairs at Downton, the sprawling estate that's home to the Crawley family, headed by the Earl of Grantham?
It's a period potboiler, a costume drama genre that PBS has perfected, and it's an addiction. The heroes are many -- especially Carson the butler, as inhabited by Jim Carter, and Brendan Coyle's Bates, Lord Grantham's friend and valet -- but it is the villains who are exceptional: Thomas (Rob James-Collier), the footman with aspirations, who is unscrupulous, calculating, manipulative, poisonous and narcissistic in only the best way; and his sinister counterpart O'Brien (Siobhan Finneran), Lady Grantham's snake of a lady's maid, who is simultaneously devoted to the woman she serves and inexplicably committed to hurting her, as well as almost everyone else who crosses her path. James-Collier and Finneran inhabit these characters with steely brilliance, and Finneran in particular can turn on a dime. One minute, you want to see her get her comeuppance; the next, she breaks your heart. The way she coils is stunning, the dialogue she mutters, diabolical, but it's the shadows that chase across her face that will haunt you. Who is this O'Brien, and who made her the hard and complicated woman she has become?
The maids who want more, the cook who wants only to keep her place in the kitchen, the Countess and her daughters, all share one trait that has little to do with their position in the household. The women of this era are not expected to have opinions, choose their own futures, have real jobs, or aspire. The Dowager Countess, as illuminated by Dame Maggie Smith, is holding on to the comfort of what she knows best with as much tenacity as others embrace change. Their diverse struggles simply to be who they are elevate Downton Abbey. There's enough soap to satisfy, and enough heart to capture yours.
Which brings me to Mad Men. I confess, I was a late bloomer. At the time Mad Men arrived on the TV scene, I was still primarily a viewer, not a critic, and I wasn't drawn by a drama where the men had the big thumbs, with the women squashed under them. It was a personal thing, and I took a pass, but somehow knew I was making a judgment and a mistake. Fifteen Emmys later, and accompanying accolades over four seasons, with the long-awaited Season 5 poised to return this March, I decided it was time for me to see what I had missed.
The only thing that comes close to the luxury of watching four seasons of a great TV show back-to-back is finding an author you have never read, falling in love, and then discovering they've written 20 other books. That's my definition of heaven, and now, thanks to full seasons on DVD, I get to do that with TV as well.
So I haven't slept much the last few weeks. Haven't wanted to. All I wanted to do once I started with Mad Men's first DVD was to keep watching, episode after episode, season after season. The good news as I am finishing the fourth season is that Season 5 is not that far off (it starts on AMC March 25).
Because I'm going to need a fix. Mad Men is addictive. It is seductive. It is about small moments, not big plot points. It's about holding your breath, hating the amorality, and wincing at the cruelty. It is so carefully crafted that it is impossible to forget the carefully chosen music that runs over almost all of the end credits, leaving you feeling like you've been hit by a truck. That's effective storytelling.
It is not a series for the faint of heart. It's a series that dares to turn on the lives of many characters you will not like. Isn't there some rule of TV that says we will walk away from that kind of cast? These are characters spiraling in a world filled with heartache, disappointment, betrayal and ambition. But they move in a universe of beautifully written words, stunningly acted, and mesmerizing in its authenticity.
There is not a misstep among the cast. They nail it. Looking back over the seasons I watched, I think the smartest thing Jon Hamm did was to break out of ad man Don Draper's straightjacket to host Saturday Night Live. Here is a classic tall, dark and handsome leading man who needed to show his goofy, human side in a hurry, because his Draper is so taut and spare and broken a character, Hamm knew he had to remind viewers that he's acting.
As far as the women are concerned, their 1960s world seems as claustrophobic as the 1860s. The ad men have their own demons, no question, but here are women in the workplace who are not only pinned under the aforementioned thumbs, but might as well be nailed to their desks or the copy machines. There is little freedom at home, little freedom at the office, and no room to grow in either place. Elisabeth Moss's copywriter Peggy is smart enough to want, and eventually, smart enough to go after what she wants. But it is Christina Hendricks's office manager Joan who will reduce you to a nub. If you Google Hendricks, most of the hits are about her generous, womanly, un-Hollywood figure. Ironic that this would be the lead in 2012, rather than the layered performance she is giving.
Season to season, Peggy grows as we expect and hope she would. Season to season, Joan unfolds in ways we could not have expected. She may know where the bodies are buried at Sterling Cooper, and she may even have buried some of them, but Hendricks shows how Joan's strength may have weakened her. The actress unfurls the most human moments at the most unexpected times. Joan can be lush and spare in the same scene. Just when you think you have Joan figured out, turns out, you know nothing.
Cesar Millan Talks to the Animals -- and Us
January 3, 2012 10:31 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
It's really hard to sit across from Cesar Millan -- the man who claims to know our dogs' inner lives, who communicates with them in ways we can't -- and refrain from asking the question that's uppermost in mind: "Can you tell me why my dog -- ?"
In my case, I wanted Cesar's opinion as to why my rescued Deer Chihuahua, Tino Martinez -- so mild-mannered and friendly that he's the only one of his breed to certify as a therapy dog -- had suddenly become a no-rhyme-or-reason biter. I attributed his changed personality to severe dental surgery that cost him 15 teeth and two days in the hospital. But now I had the renowned dog expert's undivided attention.
Instead, I did the professional thing. I punted by asking, "Is it possible for you to go anywhere without people stopping you for dog advice?" After all, we were at a Hollywood club to talk about Millan's show, not my issues with an unpredictable Chihuahua.
Apparently, my impulse to pump The Dog Whisperer for information is a familiar one to the trainer who's turned the phrases "pack leader" and "calm submissive state" into mantras. Millan says it doesn't matter where he is or what he's doing, even while he's eating in restaurants, but when people interrupt him, their question usually begins with: "I'm sorry to bother you, this'll just take 30 seconds." Millan feels bad he has to tell them there is no "30-second cure" for what ails their pets. "I can't really help them because the dog's not there. The human tells you the story," Millan explains, but "the dog tells you the truth."
His millions of fans think Millan has been telling the truth for years about their beloved but sometimes mystifying four-legged family members. On Saturday (Jan. 7 at 8 p.m. ET), when The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan switches channels to NatGeo Wild to start its eighth season, the show will also mark its 150th episode.
For Millan, the biggest difference between the first show he ever shot and the 150th is the relationship between him, his producers, his sound team and his camera crew. "We're in sync," he says. To him, the purpose of Dog Whisperer has always been "to help dogs. The TV show is secondary." Now, his crew knows when they have the piece, how to bring the story out without rushing it, and how to behave when shooting with Millan and the dogs who need his help. "The dog knows how they [the people in the room with me] feel. They know if you had a fight with your wife. The crew members do not have to be dog lovers, just respectful humans."
Millan never meets with the clients and their dogs before the shoot. That, he says, would make the show "lose its authenticity." And confronting aggressive animals has never been a problem for Millan. "To jump the border, you have to be confident and brave," he says, explaining how he first came to the United States, determined to succeed and knowing from the time he was a teenager in Mexico that he was going to be a world-famous dog trainer. When shooting, he never wants to lose his empathy, but, he says, "you still have to find the fastest and best way to get to the point. It is about maintaining the essence of what I do but respecting the rules of television."
The more successful he has become, the more vocal his critics, and Millan knows his methods are not universally embraced. Other experts in the field have criticized Cesar's way as punitive, some going as far as to say he has set dog-training back years. His critics' focus, he says, "is on technique." Millan prefers to talk less about "dominance . . . they don't like that word, but it's semantics. Perhaps they have never experienced being with a pack of dogs." Instead, he uses the word "principles," and suggests that those who think a dog can be trained simply with affection are like "parents who don't set boundaries. There can be harmony between a dog and his owner, but the human must be the leader. For a knowledgeable dog lover, knowledge is power." Seeing the issues from the dog's point of view, and then providing the tools for dogs and their people to live in harmony has been Millan's metier, and for many dog lovers, their salvation.
Before Millan leaves, I have to know what The Dog Whisperer might think about dog psychics. He looks bemused when I tell him a dear friend and believer provided me with a gift certificate so I could find out what my dog was thinking. (Turns out, when the communicator asked Tino if he wanted to have surgery for his bum knee, he said, no thanks, he was doing just fine, which was about the time I thought maybe I was in the wrong line of work.)
Millan didn't come down on either side of the psychic's viability, but it seemed to me that The Dog Whisperer and she did have one important thing in common. Though Millan's understanding of dogs and their instinctual behavior might be more preternatural than psychic, he also has made a career out of what we would all like to do: talk to our animals, and have them finally understand us.
How 'Hell on Wheels' Rolled Over Me
November 6, 2011 6:46 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
I watched AMC's post-Civil War revenge series once. Then I watched it again. Because I couldn't for the life of me figure out what I wanted to say about it.
I was about as conflicted as Hell on Wheels antihero Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount, photo below), Confederate soldier turned vigilante, seeking the men responsible for the death of his wife. His grim vendetta leads him to a job building the Union Pacific railroad, under the bellicose tyranny of Colm Meaney's Doc Durant. Bohannon's your archetypal Western hero -- driven, mysterious and glowery, yet with a nugget of goodness inside (his Yankee wife persuaded him to give his slaves their freedom), even as he murders his way across the country.
I had great hopes for Hell on Wheels (Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on AMC) with the opening scene, as good a character introduction as one could ask. But after that, its homage to Deadwood or Unforgiven or whatever-recent-western quickly turns cliche. Particularly unforgivable are painful scenes of exposition, both featuring boss Durant going on and on and on, talking to no one. This happens twice in the first few episodes, and even a good actor like Meaney can't slog his way through these windy, wince-inducing monologues to make them work.
Of course, in westerns, cliches and clunkiness are not always a bad thing. It's often part of the fun when you know what a character's going to say before he speaks. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of fun here, and there's not enough story depth in the first three episodes to make me feel invested in any of the characters. One exception: Common [photo at top] does some nice work as Elam Ferguson, an emancipated slave, working on the railroad, who's got Bohannon's number. But that's not enough to make me care about any of the others, and isn't that what makes you want to watch week to week?
Yet, I moved from one episode to the next on my preview DVD, and that's what surprised me. Maybe it's because Hell on Wheels, even in its unoriginality, is not about cops or doctors or lawyers. Maybe it's because it's about a bygone time that, no matter how horrifically it's portrayed, seems romantic to us. I also can't help thinking that when TV westerns disappear, so do many jobs you don't even think about -- the wranglers, for instance, who were the original Teamsters. I would be willing to bet a lot of the folks working on this show boast resumes that go back to John Ford and John Wayne.
So, yes, Hell on Wheels will be added to my TiVo, and the reason is probably simple and review-proof. Dang it, I just like westerns, and until something better comes along in the announced crop of upcoming shows, I'll take what I can get.
Ripping Yarns: 'Whitechapel' Extends Jack the Ripper's Dramatic Killing Streak
November 3, 2011 3:00 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
Technically, I may not be a Ripperologist, but I have always been fascinated by the story of the infamous serial killer who haunted London's East End in the 19th century and was never found. Years ago, I worked on the miniseries with Michael Caine, who starred as Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard -- which was a good excuse to add more books on the case to my library, including many of the grassy-knoll theories of who the Ripper may have been.
Much of the 1990 CBS Jack the Ripper drama, for which Caine won an Emmy, was shot at Holloway, a deserted Victorian asylum in the UK. Thinking about that place still gives me the creeps... and I can't even fathom that it's now a residential development.
All of which explains why I am the perfect audience for BBC America's current six-episode drama Whitechapel.
This beautifully shot series, which ran in the UK in 2008 and runs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America), begins with a three-chapter modern twist to the Jack the Ripper murders, and is not for the faint of heart. Jack -- or at least a wannabe -- is back.
The police try to squelch tabloid panic as they search for whoever is following in the footsteps of the Ripper, leaving duplicated victims in the locations nearest where the original killer toiled, and killed on a timetable in accordance with the original Ripper's murder calendar. The only reason the cops even suspect they have a copycat killer out there is because a noted Ripperologist has tipped them off.
Will they be able to do in this century what no Victorian detective managed to do then, and catch the monster? That's what creates the momentum in the series, but the real draw is the fine work on display from the three lead actors.
Detective Inspector Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones) is the new Guv, and veteran Detective Sergeant Miles (Phil Davis) is not at all happy with Chandler's novice theories of the killings and his OCD approach to the squad room.
What I particularly liked was how these actors played off their actual height divergence. Penry-Jones is much, much taller than Davis, and what could be a distracting difference turns into keen character development. At the outset, the shorter Davis towers over the new boss, keeping the upper hand among the men on the force and their investigation. Yet once they start to click as a team, you won't even notice the Mutt and Jeff component -- a job well done.
Steve Pemberton's fussy Ripper expert gets it right, too, in a role that could easily turn into caricature, but he manages to have fun with the role while maintaining the character's heart.
If Only 'Grimm' Wasn't
October 28, 2011 11:16 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
Grimm is, well, grim.
If this were my actual review, you would think I was being obvious and ham-fisted, and maybe even a little lazy.
But even if I did write something that bad, it still wouldn't be as obvious and ham-fisted and clunky as this new NBC drama (which ended up premiering against World Series Game 7 Friday, Oct. 28 at 9 p.m. ET; the pilot airs again Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. ET on Syfy).
Here's a classic case of what might have sounded like a good premise when it was pitched, going terribly wrong. Grimm is this season's other fairy-tale-based drama, the first being ABC's incomprehensible Once Upon a Time. But this one, had it been better executed in the writing, acting and production values, actually might have worked.
If only . . . There are so many if-onlys, let me count the ways. If only it didn't begin with a young college student going for an early-morning run in a red-hooded sweatshirt. Get it? In case that mallet doesn’t deliver a sound blow to the head, if only she hadn't chosen the fork in the forest called Talon Creek where she's ripped to shreds by Some Kind of Animal. Oh, I'm thinking, maybe, a Wolf? Wait a minute, concludes the Portland homicide detective named Nick, he's wearing work boots, so he can't be an actual wolf, so I'm going to go with: a wolf man. That's a kind of wolf, right?
I'm actually not making any of this up, and that's what the cop's beloved yet very creepy aunt tries to tell him -- that none of Grimm's fairy tales were made up, they actually happened, and he's kind of screwed because she's been carrying the burden of this secret and righting wrongs wreaked by these monsters, but now since she's got a terminal illness, he's next in line to defend the world against the creatures, who look normal to everyone else, but not to a Grimm, or a profiler, which he is, which she was, and his parents before him, who all see them for the monsters they really are.
It all sort of has something to do with Grimm's fairy tales, but not, and if that's not clear to you, join the club.
Anyway, all the answers to Nick's questions, and maybe ours, are in Aunt Marie's silver Airstream, which she parked outside his house this very night. But this is also the kind of pilot where Nick doesn't look in the trailer for the aforementioned answers until many scenes after Auntie is attacked by yet another evil thing, and winds up in the ICU. Before you can say "Uh-oh," the doctor tells her nephew the cop: "Go home now, she needs her rest, you can talk to her in the morning." If only the cop hadn't believed the doctor, because you know, if the mallet hasn't completely destroyed every one of your brain cells by this point, that Auntie's not going to be talking to anyone in the morning if the monsters have anything to say about it. And of course, they do.
Anyway, it's all Annie Lennox's fault, and if you don't want to trust me on this, then you're going to have to watch for yourself. If only you didn't have to do that.
In 'Boss,' Kelsey Grammer Breaks New Ground -- But Is Surrounded by the Familiar
October 20, 2011 10:21 AM
By Theresa Corigliano
I didn't think Kelsey Grammer could do it, but I have to hand it to him. In the new Starz drama series Boss, with his edgy, calibrated, scary performance as Tom Kane, the Machiavellian mayor of Chicago with a devastating secret, Grammer blots out any memories of Frasier Crane, as well as the taint of horrible divorce headlines detailing his real-life split from Beverly Hills Housewife Camille. That's no small thing, given the indelibility of both...
I can't quibble with any of the performances. In the series, which premieres Friday night at 10 ET on Starz, Martin Donovan beautifully underplays as Kane's right-hand man; Hannah Ware is poignant as the mayor's estranged and troubled daughter; and Connie Nielsen is beautifully brittle as Kane's distant but determined political wife. But therein lies the biggest problem: the predictability of the characters is dismaying.
Do we really need another drug-addicted child of a politician, no matter how well Ware plays the part?
Or an overly ambitious staffer (Kathleen Robertson, sporting horn rims that are as obtrusive as Maria Bello's hat in NBC's Prime Suspect) who is cold as ice, except when she's screwing someone she shouldn't be?
Or any number of corrupt officials who would put Mayor Daley to shame, including the gubernatorial candidate Kane is going to screw politically? It's not that these people aren't staples in the corridors of power, but couldn't any of them zig instead of zag?
Considering how beautifully the first episode begins, as Kane finds out he has a degenerative brain disease, the preachy, speechy same-old, same-old dialogue that follows this stunning reveal is irritating. There's nothing surprising about Boss, and for me to dedicate myself to any one-hour dramas, I need to be thrown off-balance every week.
Yet I can see why Starz already has picked up the show for a second season. There's something here, and maybe the cable execs are hoping what I am hoping -- that the creators work it out and make the drama, well, more dramatic. And less static.
First, And Second, Impressions of Some New, and Returning, Fall Series
October 1, 2011 8:43 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
This fall TV season has been particularly disillusioning. Could every single show I watched be as bad as it seemed? Was I tired? Cranky? Distracted? Second viewings of almost everything told the sad truth. Other than a few shows, there was nothing that was must-see, must-follow -- and that's the equivalent of a Red Sox 0-and-10 start. It's just not right.
Which is why it was a happy accident that I recently watched previews of American Horror Story, Homeland, Bedlam, Luther, and 24 Hours in the ER all in one sitting -- and not because everything was a home run. More because I was reminded of what works, and what doesn't. Watching these shows helped me to rack focus, and remind me of what I love about television, even with a bad start to the season...
Leading off is American Horror Story (premiering Wed., Oct 5 at 10 p.m. ET on FX), from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk of Glee. The same thing that's been wrong with that singing show lately is what's wrong with this family-buys-a-haunted-house-they-shouldn't series. It's a mess.
A riveting new vision that redefines a genre? Despite the FX promo promises, not exactly true. There's a beckoning basement (what's new about that?), a little girl offering an "everyone who goes into this house dies there" mantra (which brings to mind the infinitely more creepy "Someone's at the door" refrain from the truly original CBS series American Gothic).
Pluses: the wonderful Connie Britton; Dylan McDermott, more underdressed than the bunnies on NBC's Playboy Club; the talented and underrated Taissa Farmiga (Up in the Air actress Vera Farmiga's younger sister), who plays their daughter; and an over-the-top creepy Jessica Lange, who seems to be out of sync with the rest of the cast.
Even though the first two episodes are intermittently shivery and, at worst, violently pornographic, I want to give American Horror Story another shot to scare me the right way. My Rx? Murphy and Falchuk, please revisit two black-and-white, honest to goodness terror fests: The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr, and The Haunting, starring Julie Harris. Modulate accordingly.
Modulation is also at the heart, or the lack thereof, of NBC's Prime Suspect (Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET), starring Mario Bello (at right). To get what I mean, simply watch or re-watch Helen Mirren in the British miniseries of the same name, and you will see precisely what American TV does not get about British drama.
The creative team that gave life to Mirren's Jane Tennison was not afraid to make her unattractive and cold. They wrote about misogyny at the workplace with dialogue that was sneaky, like a shiv to the gut. There was no need to yell. Points were made, in the dismissive flick of a look, or a nasty, cowardly aside.
The creases at her tight mouth from chain-smoking, heavy drinking and the sheer effort of holding her head above water is what made Tennison indelible -- not, as in the American version, the decision to wear a silly hat on her head to show how mavericky she is.
The truth is, Maria Bello is a fine actress who needs no tricks to be believable as a NYC detective. She just needs the producers to believe in her.
Homeland (premiering Sunday, Oct. 2, at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime) is, simply put, the best new show of the season. Period. It's too good to TiVo, because you will not want to wait to watch it.
Executive producer Howard Gordon, of 24 and The X Files, is a storyteller. He knows that in good drama, less is often more, and makes your heart pound all the harder. A look often says what a page of bad dialogue cannot, and Gordon's team has chosen the actors who know how to communicate in any way the taut scripts ask.
Damian Lewis, the accomplished British actor who gave life to Major Dick Winters in HBO's indelible Band of Brothers, is the POW returned home after eight years of isolation and torture.
His family thought he was dead; the CIA agent played by the high wire act that is Clare Danes thinks he's been turned, and is determined to prove it, at any cost.
Her mentor and handler at the agency is Mandy Patinkin, who has taken a page from the David Caruso acting book. Patinkin has left his trademark histrionics behind to go way under with this character. I like the choice, but here's hoping it's not going to be "small ball" every week. Quiet can indeed be scary, but from the looks of Danes' issues in the first three episodes, we will forgive Mandy an explosion here and there.
Another plus: David Marciano, who never got enough credit for the balance he provided in Paul Haggis' Due South. For a time, Marciano left the acting business, but I'm glad to see him back, even in a smaller supporting role as Danes' right hand.
And then there is the second season of Luther (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET, BBC America).
Idris Alba is mesmerizing as the detective who does nothing by the book, and he is what makes this is a superb cop drama. Okay, sometimes he seems like some kind of crime-fighting savant, but don't we all want to believe that's what sets the good coppers apart? They just know. The most interesting thing about the first two episodes of this season's Luther, featuring a truly horrific and sadistic murderer, is how many times I gasped out loud in fear -- a reaction American Horror Story wanted to elicit, but didn't.
You might remember Alba for his searing performance as drug lord Stringer Bell in HBO's The Wire. Technically, Luther is not a new show, but it might be new to you. You need not have seen Season 1 to dive into this year's episodes, but even more good news: Season 1 can be, and should be, downloaded or rented. Or you can buy it HERE.
Bedlam, BBC America's newest spookfest (premiering Saturday, Oct. 1, at 10 p.m. ET) does not come close to trumping its other superlative vampire/werewolf/ghost drama, Being Human. I used the latter as the yardstick for the former, and Bedlam simply does not deliver, no matter how pretty and broody the cast, how whoo-whoo the effects. It takes place in a haunted condo complex, and by the time I got to the third episode, I was yelling at the screen: Move out already!
Finally, I cannot thank BBC America enough for their documentary series 24 Hours in the ER (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET). This program is moving beyond words.
I was a devoted viewer of the ABC docs that ran a while back, two set at Johns Hopkins, and most recently, Boston Med. These were reality shows that triumphed, and they didn't get the coverage or credit they earned, being light on housewives in the storytelling area, I guess.
This new imported series covers any given day in London's King's College Hospital's Accident and Emergency Room, one of the busiest in the UK. The POVs of the patients, doctors, and nurses are honest, revelatory, insightful and life-affirming. The ER is, as the opening voice-over puts it, a place where love, life and death unfold every day.
Adds a nurse: "Everyone should walk through an emergency room once in their lives, because it makes you realize what your priorities are... It's the people you love, and the fact that one minute they might be there and one minute they might be gone."
The damaged citizens who are brought in after the red trauma phone rings in the ER will break your heart. The ones who survive will surprise you, and the ones who do not will remain in your thoughts for days after. My guess is you will hug your nearest loved one after watching -- and there aren't many shows that will inspire that kind of wake-up call.
So You Think They Can Talk?
June 2, 2011 11:37 AM
Injured dancers, cancer scares and Fourth of July parties -- Theresa Corigliano delivers more behind-the-scenes quotes from the makers of So You Think You Can Dance, the unlikely Fox hit that livens up summer nights.
She got the scoop from the entire creative team while personally sitting in on two days of auditions -- read that column here.
JEFF THACKER, CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, ON CHOOSING SYTYCD CHOREOGRAPHERS
I recruit them, accept recommendations, sift through tapes that are sent in, and like to meet all of them one-on-one. The demands of the show, the time constraints the choreographers are under, not knowing whom they are going to be setting pieces on week-to-week, means it is not for everyone. It's like I'm contracting for a carpenter, giving them some plumber's tools, and asking them to build a brick wall. You have to somehow make it work.
CAT DEELEY: SO YOU THINK YOU CAN HOST
Q: Why do you think there are so few female hosts on television?
A: I actually don't know why . . . As a sweeping generalization, we're very good at taking care of people, we're very nurturing, we're very supportive. Maybe as women in entertainment, we have a shorter shelf life . . . There are so many hosts out there that I could name, but I won't, who can hardly bear to touch people, let alone hear their stories or communicate with them on any level or embrace that kind of human element. I think there is nothing better than when two human beings properly connect and listen to each other tell their story. That's when something magical happens. I love finding out about people, what makes them tick, hearing about their sadness, their joy, their passion. I don't run away from people. I don't shake their hands and use anti-bacterial. That's just not me. I will give you a squeeze, I'll eat your breakfast, I will wear your shoes, and take you back home to my Mum.
Q: What makes you such a good multitasker on live television?
A: I have been doing this for 14 years in England. I did a three-hour live show every single week, 52 weeks a year for eight years, so basically everything has happened to me, from falling over, dropping a mic, to Slash talking very inappropriately about groupies. When you do a live show, lots of hosts feel nervous, because it's a thing of 'What if this happens?' It's that fear of the unknown. I don't have that. It's not that I'm full of myself; it's just that I've had more practice. If I fall over, I can darn well get up, make a joke about it, being self-deprecating and taking the Mickey out of myself.
Q: What have you learned from the dancers?
A: The biggest thing I learned is that they push themselves physically beyond belief. When I was a kid I used to get taken to the ballet at Christmas or whatever. It would be very beautiful, but it never really connected properly with me. I didn't fully get it. Doing this show, I have found there are very special moments that happen, every once in a while, when it's the right dancer, right choreographer, right costume, hair and music, that something magical happens. It literally gives me chills and makes the hair on my arms stand on end just talking about it. When it's done beautifully and exquisitely, it becomes a work of art.
Q: Do you socialize with the dancers off camera?
A: They come right to my house on the Fourth of July. We have hot dogs and hamburgers, margaritas for those who can, sodas for those who can't. They swim in my pool. I'm English; I shouldn’t even be bloody celebrating the Fourth of July.
JUDGE MARY MURPHY: EMBRACING HER INNER WOO-HOO
I'm doing really good. I'm cancer-free now and working on my health. You hear news like that it and it gets your full attention. I found out a few years ago when my father had cancer. I got busy, I didn't take care of myself. I was supposed to be in there every six months. I didn't go to my checkups. It's never a good sign when it starts growing. I was told [the tumor] wasn't cancer . . . that it was encapsulated, then it wasn't, so I had a little roller coaster for a while -- everything's great, oh yeah, oh no. I'm still having a hard time; my vocal chords are still irritated. Down in Atlanta, I managed a few little woo-hoos, but I won't be screaming.
CO-CREATOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER NIGEL LYTHGOE ON LAST SEASON'S INJURIES
I didn't think there were a great many injuries last season. We had dramatic injuries, certainly with Alex Wong. [The Miami City Ballet dancer and front runner ruptured his Achilles tendon. Thacker puts Wong's recovery at 60 percent, Lythgoe, at around 80 percent, but neither could confirm if or how he might return this season.] But cracked ribs and broken toes are a dancer's life. I think I've cracked everything that you can crack. What we didn't do last season was a ballet barre every morning, a warming-up process . . . we're going to have to do that, even if [the dancers] are not working immediately afterwards. We need to monitor how much work they are doing because it's a really tough competition.
Visiting 'So You Think You Can Dance' LA Auditions: 'You've Got to Land the Plane'
May 26, 2011 6:00 PM
[TVWW contributor Theresa Corigliano, who has a dance background as part of her very full resume, attended the Los Angeles auditions of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, which returns for season eight tonight at 8 ET. "The good ones make it look easy," she writes. "My admiration comes from the muscle memory that it is not..." -- DB]
By Theresa Corigliano
I think of myself as a dancer.
Yes, my glory years were between the ages of 6 and 13, at Mrs. Thompson's Dance School on Long Island, and later as an adult, when I took classes with some very competitive ladies studying with former Broadway and film star Florence Lessing.
Miss Lessing let me take pointe then (a nerve-wracking audition, but I wasn't kidding myself that my talent was trumped by my ability to pay the tuition). And yes, I did make it to her advanced class, which would sometimes include budding stars from the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater. But that was a long time and a few torn ligaments ago.
Yet it seems like yesterday. There is a concept in dance called muscle memory. If you mark the steps -- that is, walk through them, counting with the music, rather than dancing full out, the body remembers. This is why I can dance the exact same recital steps from a can-can I did when I was seven (step brush brush, step brush brush step, clap-clap), and why my arms automatically form a graceful port de bras in sync with the exercises at the barre, even though the last class I took was a hundred years ago.
It is also why I feel myself choke up as I watch So You Think You Can Dance contestants audition for Season 8 on a March too-chilly-to-be-spring weekend in Los Angeles. The good ones make it look easy. My admiration comes from the muscle memory that it is not...
If you haven't seen this show because you liken it to ABC's Dancing with the Stars, the two are nothing alike. While the celebrities on DWTS do work hard and some eventually perform on an impressive level for non-dancers, SYTYCD is much more serious competition.
The show has been nominated for 14 Emmys and won seven. Not bad for a show concept that even Nigel Lythgoe doubted.
"I'm going to have to tell the truth on this one," the co-creator and executive producer said with a broad smile when asked if he was prescient enough to think a dance show could survive on television. "I never thought it would work."
"It came from Simon Fuller, who created American Idol, and he said, if we've done this for singers, you in particular since you had a career as a dancer, should be able to do it for dancers. I said it wouldn't work, it's not the same, no one watches [dance], and there's nowhere for the dancers to go at the end of it.
"We went away for the weekend to Cabo. Simon sent me down the garden with a bottle of Jack Daniels, I came back with half a bottle of JD and a format for SYTYCD. [I was nervous] until we did the first few auditions, and then I was really excited and thought, no, this is really entertaining, this can work."
For the past eight seasons, exceptionally talented dancers in all disciplines have competed to become America's favorite dancer -- a title with some notoriety that, in reality, means they might be able actually earn a living doing what they love.
There are no mirror ball trophies in sight, but the winner does collect $250,000, and the top dancers get to go on tour, much like the singers on American Idol. Some then will go on to work in film, television (SYTYCD contestants have appeared on Glee and, ironically, Dancing with the Stars), on Broadway, on tour, in videos, or regional companies.
Dancers dance, and they don't do it to get famous. It's unlikely, save for fans of the show, that the general public will ever know their names. They do it because they must.
There will be some format changes this year. Judge Adam Shankman is off making the film version of Rock of Ages, but may make guest shots, schedule permitting. Lythgoe and Mary Murphy will be the two permanent judges, and the third seat will rotate. Lythgoe intends to fill it occasionally with non-dancer/choreographers -- people like Will.I.Am, who have a real sense of dance and music.
"I want to use the revolving judge chair to bring in different points of view," he said, "so we are talking about performances, we're not just talking about how the arched foot is terrific."
Last season, only 10 finalists were chosen, not 20, and instead of dancing with each other, they were paired with all-stars from previous seasons. This year, Lythgoe says he will pair the dancers together for first five weeks, at which point the all-stars will join in.
"Last year we had Top 10," Lythgoe said, "but a lot of people didn't buy that, they wanted to see the relationship between amateurs. My feeling was that putting them with all-stars lifted their game immensely and lifted their confidence, and also lifted the choreographers. What I wanted to do this year is to try and please everybody. Let's see if we can."
AT THE LOS ANGELES AUDITIONS: SATURDAY
A little after dawn, dancer hopefuls who think they are worthy of making the Top 20 have shown up to prove it. The scraggly line takes up three city blocks outside the landmark Orpheum Theater. The first person in the queue arrived on these dodgy downtown streets at 11 p.m. the night before the audition.
Lucy Dorado had come straight from a flight that left Hawaii, just ahead of the tsunami warnings, with chair, food, clothing and a sleeping bag. She waited alone on the sidewalk for a good part of the night, with most of the dancers arriving at around 4:30 am the next day. But when I asked Lucy what style of dance she performed she said: "I actually don't dance and I'm not competing. I'm holding this place for my brother."
She didn't want brother Ben's muscles to lock up in the cold night air. She wanted him to get some sleep. She brushed off questions about why she would do it. "This is my brother's dream. He would do it for me." Her brother, a classmate of last season's injured star Alex Wong, dances contemporary ballet, and he said he has performed with the American Ballet Theater, San Francisco Ballet. These are not small credits.
Kevin Ahearn stands behind the Dorados. He arrived a little after Lucy did, and this hip-hop, jazz funk specialist from Sonoma County makes a living coaching all-star cheerleading at a gym in Pasadena. The implausibility of making a career out of that, Ahearn says, makes his dad laugh.
Miranda Hayworth Curry, a contemporary ballet dancer, auditioned last season wearing one pointe shoe. I have no idea why, and neither did Nigel (supposedly it helped her grip the floor, which was a slippery ballroom dance floor) but this year, she'll wear the pair. She has a 3-year-old son, for whom she put her career on hold, but now she is back and she is here, midway down the line.
Twenty-year-old jazz dancer Melanie Tresson wants to be a Rockette like her grandmother, who danced with the famed Radio City Hall troupe from 1939-1942. She's auditioned twice for the renowned kick line.
"I'm just tall enough," she laughs. "I'll just make it, even though [if I do] I will be at end of line."
The person on the end of today's line, down the street and around the corner, is 29-year-old ballroom dancer Ivy. The age restriction tops out at 30, so she and Miranda Curry have that in common -- this is their last shot, at least as far as SYTYCD is concerned. Ivy has been teaching at Arthur Murray Studios for 8 years, but she had decided today to dance contemporary ballet because, she tells me, bright smile slipping only slightly, she was unable to convince anyone to partner her.
Nearby, Nao and Jon, originally from Florida but now living in LA, are rehearsing. They are street dancers and cousins who pop and lock and study martial arts. They are also best friends with the charming B boy Jose from last season. Both of them had made it to Vegas before, but were done in by the choreography.
(The way it works on SYTYCD is that if you're good to face the judges, you either go straight through to the competition rounds in Vegas, or if the judges need further convincing, it's on to choreography first, where the final evaluation is made and you either get that coveted airline ticket, or you don't.)
This time, because they took dance classes, Nao and John know they will be better. When I ask them if they think their relationship with such a popular contestant as Jose will help, they shake their heads, though they admit anything that might distinguish them in front of the judges can't be a bad thing.
"I don't think it will make a difference," Jon said firmly. There are so any talented dancers, they're just going to say, 'Let's see what they can do.'" He added: "You've got to land the plane."
It is now 6:30 am, and SYTYCD cameramen are shooting the crowd for the Los Angeles audition show open. The closer the cameras get, the more animated the dancers become. They may be young, but they know how to get face time. By the time Cat Deeley, the charming and sociable Brit who hosts the show, comes out the front door of the theater to work the line, it is closer to 10 am, but the line tingles with anticipation. You can almost hear them thinking: Will she notice me so I might be included in the show's opening footage? What can I do to make her notice me?
Deeley, carelessly chic in cropped pants, a short leather jacket, and a scarf knotted artfully around her neck, crouches to embrace the first person she sees, a small child, perhaps a family member, who isn't a dancer. The tall blonde with a broad smile radiates a warmth so genuine, she makes those lined up for hours forget how chilly it is.
She grabs the hat from a Michael Jackson wannabe and claps it on her head, trying to learn his moves. She drops to the filthy, cold sidewalk to swap out her stilettos for another auditioner's tap shoes, and gamely tries to move in tandem with him, verifying what she has claimed as a complete inability to dance. She sees Superman behind another contestant's Clark Kent glasses, and he is more than happy to do a back flip for her. The dancer with the alarm red hair shares his scarlet balloon. Then, after a quick touchup from a watchful hair and makeup team, a few sips of coffee from a takeaway cup, and some laughing exchanges with various producers and crew, she positions herself at the head of the line, megaphone in hand, ready to exhort contestants into the theater. They get it done in one take.
Standing nearby, SYTYCD co-executive producer Jeff Thacker, who has been with the show from the beginning, admitted he was amazed that a proffer for three months of work from fellow Brits Lythgoe and Simon Fuller has turned into eight seasons.
"No one knew who we were in season one," he said. I like to say we never did the same show once. The show just grew and grew."
Thacker sees the critiques the judges offer as constructive not destructive. "You have to be honest. Most dancers like to be critiqued. When I was a choreographer, dancers used to say: 'You keep giving me notes.' I'd say, be happy, that means I'm looking at you."
And that's exactly what he will be doing over the next several hours. Thacker is the first hurdle in the audition process. He will cull through the contestants, choosing those good enough (with a sprinkling of crazies for comic relief, sort of like the tone-deaf singers who audition for Idol) to go before uber judges Lythgoe; instructor and ballroom expert Mary Murphy, who returns to the show after beating thyroid cancer and with a contract that apparently made her happier than the last one that was offered, leading to her departure for one season; and Emmy award-winning choreographer, Broadway and film dancing star Tyce Diorio.
Finally, after their long wait -- warming up on the sidewalks, marking their routines over and over again, sizing up the competition -- the contestants are allowed inside the Orpheum for real, not just for the cameras. The media, unfortunately, are not.
It is the first day of callbacks. In the house, along with vocal family members and supporters, are nervous dancers, identifying numbers pasted on their torsos. These are the lucky ones who made it past Thacker the day before. In all, 320 contestants have made it through to the next round, the second highest number of dancers from any other city other than Atlanta.
They take the stage in groups, lining up on either side of the Orpheum stage. The same Black Eyed Peas snippet of music is played for each of the solo auditions. "Change! And change!" Lythgoe commands the dancers on the sidelines to move front and center for their moment.
As they fling themselves into the air and land as soundlessly as birds on a telephone wire, I swallow the lump in my throat. Their faces light up as they take turns improvising, twirling or flipping or locking or tapping. Some know how to play to the judges; others fight for their moment. Some pop; some with beautiful bodies have no spark, and the sore thumbs stick out.
Lythgoe chides one dancer for not listening to his instructions. "If you don't make it today, you'll know why." The savvier dancers are wearing distinctive outfits. One young man performs in boots and suspenders. Sometimes it works; sometimes it is style over substance.
After they dance, the groups are asked to form two lines by their numbers. "Step forward," Lythgoe says. Sometimes the front line stays, sometimes, it goes. Psych! Most of the time, I find myself agreeing with the judges' decisions, and sometimes, I wonder what they see that I don't.
Those lucky enough to pass this test then audition for the judges using their own music, and will soon know whether or not they will be dancing out of obscurity into the chance of a career. One by one, they step up to the mic (no one, of course, seems to know you don't have to hunch over it for your voice to be amplified, but neither do most of the winners on Oscar night) and introduce themselves.
They all want to distinguish themselves. Some offer willingly. Others have to be drawn out. When one boy admits to a falling out with his mother, Lythgoe tells him, very seriously: "Fix it or you'll regret it for the rest of your life." Even though the judges are looking for stories, Lythgoe insists: "I'm not one of those who thinks backstories should dominate. The talent of the person comes first and foremost. If they have a great backstory that that just gives them extra points in the process."
Over the course of the morning, the judges note lack of personality, not performance. To the untrained street dancers, Lythgoe cautions those hoping to make it to Vegas: "You really have to wow us." (In a later interview, he says a lot of the street dancers have gotten through, which pleases him.
"If we stick rigidly with technique, then it can become a little boring, because then all we can say is you were fantastic. I love the danger of the kid who dives onto the back of his head. He doesn't know if he's going to break his neck. That's what gets my heart pounding.")
Mary Murphy notes one hopeful's intricate moves, but adds: "If you can't sell it, people aren't going to pick up the telephone for you." A krumper dressed like Santa Claus who says he's from Pasadena but originally hails from the North Pole, is entertaining until he rips his shirt off, displaying a less than toned body. After he leaves the stage with no ticket to Vegas, Mary guesses he will be one of the crazies who makes it onto the broadcast.
"We're going to horrify a lot of children out there," she says.
All of the judges are respectful, but they are also direct, and none more so than Diorio, more Simon than Ellen in his assessments. He tells one street dancer: "It's what I've seen before, and others have done it better." He calls another dancer "generic," and adds: "Dance is life, and if you're not living a life up there [on the stage], then it's not going to wake anybody up."
During a break, I ask him about the documentary Every Little Step, which chronicled the casting of A Chorus Line's Broadway revival, zeroing in on the very young, talented, outspoken, egotistical and driven Diorio, who did not get the part he wanted.
"Is that person with you as you critique these dancers?" I ask. He seems nonplussed by the question at first. "It's an amazing documentary and I wouldn't change anything I said in it or did. I have stood in their shoes and I know and I understand them."
I ask if, sometimes, the hardest note to take for a dancer can also be the best one he's ever received. Thoughtfully, he recalls what was said to him during the Chorus Line auditions.
"They said: 'We really feel like you think this is the Tyce Dirorio show. We're sensing a lot of ego.' How do I respond to that? I said I can't apologize for my talent. They were considering me to be the understudy. That is their right to see me how they see me, no disrespect, but I know I'm not an understudy.
"I said in the movie I do see bigger things for myself, I see myself walking up the stair winning an Emmy, and I won it a year later. I could have listened and been an understudy or won the Emmy."
He adds: "It's like the Jennifer Hudson story... They told her she wasn't that good. Well, she certainly showed them. It doesn't make it right, it's just their opinion. It doesn't shape your future. You have to know where you're going. You have stay open, it is what it is for that moment and that's it. I am looking for dancers who have that inner confidence and knowledge. It may not be right for this show, but it is so amazing to see that.
"Who knows where you are going to land? One door closes, another one opens. It doesn't shape your future. You can't buy into that."
Later in the afternoon, the auditions continue, but the media sitting in the audience are told -- very firmly -- it is time for us to leave. I don't want to leave. I could sit there all day, and for the next two days that they are going to be there, but I have no choice. I have not yet seen any of the hopefuls I spoke to on line. I have no idea if they made it past Jeff Thacker, and if they will be appearing before the judges until SYTYCD comes back on the air.
I will be watching, though. And if they don't make it, I will be remembering what Diorio said, and hope these dancers keep dancing, no matter what they have been told.
'Raymond' in Moscow: A Cold War Chill, Sitcom-Style
April 28, 2011 7:23 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
The thing I remember most from my years at CBS working on Everybody Loves Raymond is the sound of Phil Rosenthal's laugh.
The only word I can use to describe it is "joyful." If you listen carefully to most episodes of Raymond, you can hear it, winging above the dialogue. To me, this was a man who loved what he did for a living, and delighted in seeing the perfect fusion of relatable, funny stories played out by one of the best ensemble casts in television. He would stand in the shadows on the soundstage with the other writers, and chortle like an audience member, not the series' creator and executive producer. I always welcomed hearing that laugh. Who wouldn't?
In Russia, not so much.
In the new documentary Exporting Raymond, written and produced by Rosenthal, and due in select theaters this Friday (April 29), the moment of reckoning comes during a taping of the Russian version of the dysfunctional Barone family comedy that ran on CBS for nine seasons, a transfer that Rosenthal has traveled to Moscow to facilitate.
Rosenthal, despairing whether he would ever actually feel amused by the miscast actors and puzzling translations he had been watching for days, finally reacts to the gifted actor playing the Frank Barone part, by laughing. An Everybody Loves Kostya executive promptly shushes him, because apparently, no one in Russia is supposed to laugh out loud when delivered dialogue is funny. Not any of the crew, not the handful of grim-looking audience members that Rosenthal has persuaded the Russians to let watch the taping ("But we'll have to get chairs," they worried), and certainly not Rosenthal. That's what laugh tracks are for, the exec explains, and the genuinely stunned look on Rosenthal's face gives way to horror. Maybe this whole transplantation idea sold to him by Sony executives wasn't going to be so easy. "I thought I'd be welcome as the guy who created the show --Sony told me, like a foreign dignitary."
Again, not so much.
On good days, he wound up feeling like a guest. On bad days, "I felt a little scared," he says ruefully.
For Rosenthal, the problem, literally, and seemingly insurmountably, was how to translate Raymond so it would play in Russia. Rosenthal could not find a way to communicate to his Russian colleagues what he believes was the key to Raymond's success -- recognizable stories about the little things that drive families crazy and glue them together. The Russians didn't understand the heart that Rosenthal was talking about, even if he wore it on his sleeve in production meetings that quickly turned icy. The Russians saw Ray Barone as weak. They saw the little stories about nothing (like the still-packed post-vacation suitcase that will sit on the landing for days till either Ray or Debra gives in to carry it upstairs) to be incomprehensible and, as one Russian TV network honcho put it, "not funny."
Granted, as a hurt Rosenthal says in the film, he did not have to go all the way to Russia to be told Raymond wasn't funny, but at the end of this documentary, you'll be glad he did. In the first place, he concedes that perhaps his deal's K&R insurance clause -- "kidnapping and ransom" -- should have given him pause. (Any clause that boasts its own abbreviation is worrisome, he remarks.) What isn't in the film, Rosenthal told a rapt L.A. audience this week in a post-screening Q&A, is that his burly, former military man-turned-bodyguard, upon picking him up at the airport, revealed that Sony did not spring for "the gun package." Says Rosenthal: "I felt a little less secure."
Overall, he spent about six weeks in Russia, trying to help make Raymond, now re-titled The Voronins, work for everyone. For all the differences that stymied him, he was bemused by how similar television network executives were -- and not in a good way. Rosenthal's idiosyncrasies are what made Raymond tick. In Russia, those peculiarities made him a pariah. At one point, few people were talking to him, or for that matter, even looking at him -- that's how deep the divide was between what he thought they should be doing and what they wanted to do.
Ultimately, Rosenthal let go, and when he did, a sort of sitcom perestroika took place. The journey to get there is at times hilarious -- the impasses, uncomfortable, when no one can find the words to make the other understand what is not working. It is also an eye-opener to find out that an episode of the CBS show, which cost $1-2 million to make on the opulent stages at Warner Bros. with all the Hollywood perks, costs $80,000 in Russia -- an all-inclusive budget, which might explain why the unexpected cost of a few folding chairs on their spartan gulag of a set was not a joke to the Voronins producers (and in hindsight is actually quite poignant).
Some reviews have taken Rosenthal to task for being too arrogant and narcissistic to understand that the differences between cultures should be celebrated, not homogenized. But I don't think this is what Rosenthal is trying to say in Exporting Raymond. The man's not stupid, and he did not go there intending to be a stubbornly ugly American. Of course he understood that people are different, and what plays in America would not always play in Russia. What he is trying to preserve is what he believes to be the universal truth he and Ray Romano found in stories about unpacked suitcases, fruit-of-the-month-clubs, lemon chicken recipes and recorded-over wedding videos, and which he firmly believes shouldn't be lost in translation.
Whatever those moments are in the Russian family, we don't really find out, but Rosenthal believes that they must exist. He points out that the show has been dubbed in 148 countries, so it has to be relatable. And the show won 15 Emmys in its original run, so let's assume he knows something about comedy. That the Russians' first ventures into adapting American sitcoms were remakes of The Nanny and Bewitched may have been an indicator of the kind of comedy they prefer, but you can't blame a guy for trying to nudge his Moscow colleagues in another direction.
At the end of the film, a crawl explains that the transplanted Raymond became the No. 1 sitcom on Russian television.
"So they finally saw the light?" an audience member asks. Rosenthal laughs. "Of course not. I'd like to think I was a huge influence, but it was more like 'Oh, you're right, goodbye,' and then they did what they wanted to do," though, he adds, it did get better. "In Russia, real life can be terrible, so why put that on TV. They were second-guessing what the audience wants, and that kills you over here, too."
Ultimately, says Rosenthal, the show was not for him, it was for them. He adds: "There was an episode where all of a sudden a sexy nurse appears," Rosenthal relates, "like in Laugh-In. When I asked why, I was told, 'because we like them.'"
Fall TV: Why it's bad, but also what's good
September 13, 2010 12:53 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
The hour drama pilot I just inserted into my DVD player is beyond terrible. It shouldn't be terrible. There are good actors in it, and the creative team is a TV A-team. But bad things happen to dramas and comedies, and that's a big disappointment after you've made yourself comfy on the sofa. How does this happen?
The No. 1 reason why a pilot stinks is: the writing. Period. I look at my notes and see "terrible writing" scribbled so many times. Too often, good actors asked to make silk out of sow dialogue. Painful.
Good writing in a drama is about rhythms. It's about capturing how we talk every day and getting it on the page. Think how Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue turned our heads. Good writing in comedy? Again, it's about the rhythms, characters with heart and truth, and oh yeah -- funny lines. The louder an actor is in a sitcom -- rule of thumb -- the lamer the jokes.
A bad show can get better if writers and producers and actors find that rhythm. But good shows can go south, too, mostly because they can't figure out how to carry the promise of the pilot over two dozen episodes. It's hard to write fast and smart for a whole season. The people who can do it, last.
Here are my gut feelings about the fall TV season. What I've learned in all my years of watching pilots is that no one is completely sure what they're completely sure of. You'll always find network execs who are kings of revisionist history. Meaning: "I always knew CSI was going to work." Funny, I remember a lot more of my colleagues that season who thought Tim Daly in The Fugitive was the money.
Here's a look at some shows with particular promise -- shows you might want to TiVo and actually watch. Some of them may be shows that are so promising, you can't wait to watch them in REAL TIME. How about that?
Nikita (Premiered Sept. 9, CW)
I don't know how many remakes we need of La Femme Nikita, but I still like the premise and I liked this pilot, which stars Maggie Q as the very hot spy/assassin who is out to destroy the secret agency that made her who she is. There's a lot of Alias caliber action, and Q has as much star power as Jennifer Garner had. Danny Cannon, who was brought in by Jerry Bruckheimer to give the original CSI its distinctive film look, delivers again. (Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET)
The Event (Sept. 20, NBC)
and Outlaw (Sept. 15 preview, Sept. 17 premiere, NBC)
The Event is a Lost/Alias/X-Files hybrid, and in the hands of these producers, it is just the right blend of creepy and indecipherable. Jason Ritter is the protagonist -- he's on a cruise with his girlfriend, he's going to propose -- and then suddenly his world tilts to hell. The pilot is too heavy on the flashbacks -- I had to sort through it a few times to stay on track -- but there is no way I'm not tuning in to this to-be-continued. I'm a big fan of Scott Patterson (Luke from Gilmore Girls), and he is one wacked-out future father-in-law in this one -- he scared me silly. Did I want to trade Blair Underwood, playing our first Cuban president, for Jimmy Smits, who's toiling in the subpar (and that's the nicest word I could think of) NBC legal drama Outlaw? Yes, if only because I dearly want to see Smits succeed in something in primetime. There has to be TV life after Victor Sifuentes and Bobby Simone. (The Event, Mondays at 9 p.m. ET; Outlaw Fridays at 10 p.m. ET)
Lone Star (Sept. 20, Fox)
I've heard all the comparisons of this show's star James Wolk to George Clooney, and I think it has more to do with how he holds your attention as a flimflamming con man in cahoots with his father (David Keith). Handsome is as handsome does, unless an actor makes it impossible for you to look away. Wolk has the chops to carry the hour, with support from a very good Jon Voight, summoning his inner JR, which certainly helps. But will this two-timing shyster convince audiences there's something inside him worth championing? Because right now, I'm having a hard time rooting for a guy who doesn't seem to care very much about the lovers and strangers whose lives he's systematically destroying. (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET)
Mike & Molly (Sept. 20, CBS)
If you've seen the promos for Mike & Molly from the producer of Two and a Half Men and Big Bang, you'd have high hopes that it won't just be a series of lame fat jokes, that there won't be the hot sister for fat Molly, who always makes her look small. Which is why I am so bummed that two terrific leads -- Billy Gardell and Melissa McCarthy (Sookie from Gilmore Girls) -- are stuck in a show from producers who should know better and write better. This is definitely more Men than Bang. Men, save for the fabulous Jon Cryer, has always struck me as one crass joke after another; Bang is my reason for laughing on Monday nights, and this fall, Thursdays. It's a show that never takes the easy way out, and makes geeks great. Come on, guys -- here's hoping you can smooth this out, because you're better than this. (Mondays at 9:30 p.m. ET)
Hawaii Five-0 (Sept. 20, CBS)
[Photo at top] "Ta da da da da DUH, ta da da da DUH!" If you can "name that tune," you might be thinking, "Awww, why do they have to mess with this again?" This is a perfect Friday popcorn show (my equivalent of a beach read). CBS was determined to stick with Alex O'Loughlin (Moonlight, Three Rivers), and this may be the show that works for him. His Dano is Scott Caan, and their chemistry is what makes this show pop. Third character -- Hawaii -- and it has never looked better. Mix this with some nice action and a sense of humor, and there are worse ways to spend an hour. (Mondays at 10 p.m. ET)
Chase (Sept. 20, NBC)
Yes, Chase is another Jerry Bruckheimer drama, which will be scorned by some critics for what that has come to mean -- Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am one-hours with little subtlety and one-dimensional characters who are hard to care about. But Kelli Giddish stars as a smart and focused U.S. marshal who does good work tracking a genuinely scary bad guy, played with real creepiness by Travis Fimmel. I liked Giddish enough to give this a second look . . . but I'm going to need more substance than surface touches like cowboy boots and Texas filming locations. (Mondays at 10 p.m. ET)
Detroit 187 (Sept. 21, ABC)
and Ride-Along (midseason, Fox)
I want to talk about Detroit 187 and Ride-Along side by side. Detroit 187 is terrific (see aforementioned Hill Street and NYPD Blue references). As far as I'm concerned, Michael Imperioli can do no wrong. He wipes out Christopher Soprano in this new cop drama the first time he appears on screen -- cocky Mafioso is replaced by shop-worn cynical cop who's got the goods. No partner will satisfy him, but his new one intrigues him. And any show with James McDaniel, Lt. Fancy from Blue had me at the credits. (Where has he been?) I am glad they nixed the camera-in-the-back-seat conceit in the original pilot (since refilmed) -- they didn't need it. (Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET, ABC)
Everything that is right about 187 is what's wrong with Ride-Along. I don't believe these Chicago cops for one minute, which is surprising since Shawn Ryan -- the man who made characters so real in The Shield, it hurt to watch them -- created this show. It's all swagger and bluster and mock toughness and bad dialogue and scenes you've seen before. Watching these two dramas back–to-back only helped to magnify what worked in one and what didn't in the other.
Raising Hope (Sept. 21, Fox)
This is the kind of comedy with a very high wince factor, meaning I was laughing and wincing at the same time, and hating myself for laughing at all, because the wincing should have won out. The actual sweet moments that manage to peek through may not be enough to get an audience to stick around -- especially if they can't reconcile the somewhat disturbingly addled grandma character Cloris Leachman plays. (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET)
Running Wilde (Sept. 21, Fox)
I didn't laugh once, so I thought I'd watch it again when I got the reworked version. Let's just jump ahead to "strike three." Will Arnett's rich narcissist is not lovable or funny, and the plot -- Keri Russell as an eco-activist we're supposed to believe wants to live with this ass -- is so ridiculous that the only way it could work is if it were really funny. I will give Fox one thing: I see why they paired it with Raising Hope.(Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET)
Undercovers (Sept. 22, NBC)
Or, as J.J. Abrams should have called this: Mission: Implausible. But then again, we shouldn't have to think too hard about escapist spy dramas that star the exceptionally pretty Boris Kodjoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in a prettily shot pilot. Their husband-and-wife duo get out of every sticky situation without breaking a sweat and always remaining too sexy for their clothes, or lack thereof. This is Alias: Light. In that Abrams drama, I never really understood what was actually happening to Jennifer Garner's Sydney, but the twists and turns were tense enough to keep me worried about her. There are no such worries here. And props to NBC for some much-needed diversity in prime-time. (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET)
Better with You (Sept. 22, ABC)
This is about the older sister who isn't married because "it's a life choice" (right) and the younger sister who's beating her to the commitment punch by marrying a dude she just met who's gotten her pregnant. Add scary-odd parents who freak them all out by never reacting as expected, and what you have is a likeable cast who made me laugh. I'm hoping Better with You can do that more than once. (Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET)
The Whole Truth (Sept. 22, ABC)
This drama stars Rob Morrow, who, borrowing from his Quiz Show persona, wiseguys his way through this legal drama. In the original pilot, I didn't for one minute buy Joely Richardson as a tough and tactical prosecutor who went to law school with defender Morrow. She has since been replaced by the gritty and appealing Maura Tierney. But this show's "look at law from both sides now" has been done -- and better. (Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET)
My Generation (Sept. 23, ABC)
A documentary crew catches up with high school buddies 10 years later, who, for some inexplicable reason, are still intertwined. The myriad players are more types than characters, which makes them unlikable in both decades. Most of their problems could have been resolved if they had only gotten out more and tried to meet people they didn't take to prom. The creators manage to work in every major headline we've lived through since 2000 -- and that, plus the docu style, comes off as contrived and annoying. I fell asleep both times I watched it. (Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET)
$#*! My Dad Says (Sept. 23, CBS)
There's a blog called Shit My Dad Says, which the Eye Network has turned into a comedy, but obviously cannot call Shit My Dad Says. In the notes that accompany the pilot, CBS tells you that $#*! My Dad Says should be pronounced Bleep My Dad Says. OK, whatever. William Shatner is the dad, there is the older whipped son and his overbearing wife, and then there's the good kid, who really doesn't relate to his dad but is willing to try. In the original pilot, Shatner didn't click; the older son/icky wife yelled their lines, and the younger son, who played the comedy for real, actually had some nice moments with Shatner. So naturally, that character has been recast, which sums up my major problem with this one. Maybe everybody else could just lower their voices? (Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. ET)
Outsourced (Sept. 23, NBC)
NBC might think this show is not racist because, the network says, it makes fun of white people and Indians equally. I don't know anyone in this economy who finds outsourcing funny, but maybe the frustration of people who work in and must respond to the call center will touch a comedy nerve. I honestly don't know what to think. It made me uncomfortable because no matter how the creative team behind this justifies the humor, we're being asked to laugh at the workers, not with them. (Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET)
Blue Bloods (Sept. 24, CBS)
I still love Tom Selleck. He acquitted himself well on the Jesse Stone movies, and his Magnum is a TV icon. His latest, Blue Bloods, is a family-of-cops saga. Good actors, love me my cop shows -- but the writing here is the problem. Seen it, heard it all before -- but I hold out hope as CBS tweaks away to make it work. (Fridays at 10 p.m. ET)
Bawdy Betty, wicked Ricky, and other random Emmy notes
August 30, 2010 6:10 PM
By Theresa Corigliano
Only in TV can bringing an award show in at three hours be considered a major accomplishment. The 62nd Annual Emmy Awards telecast last night ended on time. And Jimmy Fallon, a talented guy and a capable host, was sometimes better than his actual material. But there was plenty more left to discuss around the water cooler . . .
--- When Jon Hamm and Betty White presented the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy, the 88-year-old actress was once again given yet another lame, lascivious joke to do...as if the Born to Run bit didn't hit us in the head hard enough. Is this the only way young writers see her? It's getting old. I know Betty is salty in real life, but she's other things, too.
--- Which leads me to beg writers to grow up when they write for Modern Family's Sofia Vergara, who was saddled with "thick accent" comedy. Ugh. No other way to go here either, huh?
--- I can finally shut up about this one, because the Academy voters have rewarded the spectacular work Jim Parsons has been doing on The Big Bang Theory. Here's to the voters for breaking patterns -- including the Best Supporting Actress, Drama, recognition for Archie Panjabi of The Good Wife. Sadly, this did not extend to House's Hugh Laurie. I just don't understand how voters cannot recognize the work Laurie is doing. He's extraordinary. Do they not know that before Gregory House, he was mostly known as a British comedian? That he doesn't limp? Maybe Hugh's picking the wrong episode to be judged. Maybe it's because House is just a procedural, and on a network? What do you think?
--- While we can certainly debate whether Glee and Nurse Jackie are really comedies (didn't Northern Exposure start this whole hybrid debate?), I was pleased to see the Best Actress in a Comedy win for Edie Falco. Hers is a half hour show that I wish were an hour, that's how good Falco and the rest of the cast is. It is one of those comedies that is not just a comedy. "I'm not funny," she insisted in her acceptance speech. I rest my case (but she is).
--- Best Reality-Competition Program: Top Chef. This made me happy, because while I'm a fan of The Amazing Race, it was time to recognize the good work other programs are doing. Four nominations and finally a win. (Love Tom Colicchio, but note to Tom: Craft is too pricey for the amount of food you get. Sorry, just had to say so.)
--- Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay presenting last night only served to remind me that Law & Order is gone. This is just not right. I can watch reruns over and over and over again. Even reruns are comforting to me, especially when I am miserable with a cold, but it was nice to know that there were new episodes coming. L&O LA -- hmmm, jury's out on that one. You can take the show out of NY, but...
--- Note to Aaron Paul, who won Best Supporting Actor, Drama, for Breaking Bad and Kyra Sedgwick, Best Actress, Drama, for The Closer. I cannot figure out how actors who work on stage for a living do not get that the mics can pick up their voices without them having to hunch over the stand. This drives me nuts. For all award shows, can't the stage manager remind them before the show starts to stand up straight and just talk?
--- When the 63rd Annual Tony Awards' Dave Boone and Paul Greenberg won the writing award for a Musical, Comedy or Variety Special for the Neil Patrick Harris-led edition, Boone thanked CBS President Leslie Moonves for keeping the prestigious Tonys on the air, despite year after year of abominable ratings and national disinterest for what is and always has been a NYC-centric awards show. This is no small thing to those of us who do love and patronize Broadway, and Moonves, a former actor with a love of theater, deserves the kudos, considering the pressure of his current day job to get ratings and make money. Prestigious only goes so far in this economy, but Moonves has remained steadfast.
--- I would be happy to have that wicked sprite Ricky Gervais host every single award show on television. He is so naughty -- great Mel Gibson material last night, and great timing. What is it about the Brits that they have no problem saying things we Americans are only brave enough to think?
--- A chyron popped up during the show that said: "George Clooney in 17 minutes." Knowing Clooney, I know this would embarrass the hell out of him. The Academy was very smart to give him the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award three days before The American opens in theaters. How could George say no? And trust me, these things are not even remotely coincidental. The Academy wanted Clooney so they could trumpet his appearance, and Clooney's PR people wanted the Emmys as a platform for the new film. A lovely quid pro quo. I admire Clooney. He has used his power to instigate worthy TV fundraisers when disasters strike, and deserves attention for it, but last night he was clearly uneasy as he delivered his brief remarks, finding it hard to strike a balance of seriousness, which the moment demands, with humor, which is his public comfort zone. Disclaimer: I knew George before he was George. The George I knew had made a few bad shows for CBS, including a pilot or two that never made it to air. That George was kind, considerate, and forthright. You wouldn't want him mad at you, but he was fair. He was also funny and thoughtful. He is still that way, and unlike many actors I have worked with -- some for as long as 6 years -- he still knows my name. I think he is a decent human being. The one thing that I hated in my time working in TV was meeting actors whom I admired and finding out they were -- uh, less than decent. Shame on me, I never grew out of being taken aback by that.
--- When the wonderful David Strathairn won for his role as Best Supporting Actor in the television movie Temple Grandin (his first Emmy? Hard to believe), he gave a most moving acceptance speech because it was so not about him and agents and managers but about autism, the subject of the film. By the way, I applaud HBO for continuing to make superlative movies and miniseries. I miss them on the networks and wish they still existed on Sunday nights there.
--- When Jewel appeared to sing the touching song called Shape of You for the In Memoriam segment, this year it was particularly hard to watch, as so many of the people who passed touched my life in a meaningful way: Art Linkletter, Fess Parker, Jimmy Dean, Gene Barry, Soupy Sales, Jean Simmons, Peter Graves, Robert Culp, Caroline McWilliams, Pernell Roberts, Edward Woodward, John Forsythe, Dixie Carter, Lynn Redgrave and David Wolper.
--- The Pacific, with 24 nominations, won for Best Miniseries, and I think Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg should be lauded for not letting us forget the sacrifices that those who fought in that war made. There are very few of these men and women still living. My Dad was a WWII veteran who served in the Philippines. He loved Band of Brothers, and I only wish he had been here to see this miniseries. He would have been so honored to be so remembered.
GUEST BLOG #78: Theresa Corigliano on The Olympic Games -- From the Point of View of Having Been There
February 25, 2010 4:50 PM
[Bianculli here: Please welcome our newest contributor, Theresa Corigliano, who just returned from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver -- and offers a wonderful column about what it's like to watch the Olympics both on and without television. "Having watched the Olympics on TV all these years made it possible for me to have had the wonderful experience I had last week," she says. "TV didn't rot my brain; it anchored me..."]
Watching Olympics With Help from TV Osmosis
By Theresa Corigliano
The first Olympics I clearly remember was Grenoble, 1968. Instead of pictures of Monkees or Beatles in my high school locker, I had pictures of Peggy Fleming and Jean-Claude Killy. I wanted to marry Killy.
I dreamed about bumping into him somewhere in the mountain town of Val d'Isere. I can still see the bright green of the skating costume that Peggy Fleming's mother sewed for her when she won her medal, and recently found the Life magazine I saved all these years with Peggy on the cover. I keep it because a friend told me Peggy and her husband own a winery in Northern California and sometimes host private dinner parties at their house to talk about their wine. If I ever get to go to one of these soirees, I am going to bring the Life magazine. I visited their wine shop in Los Gatos, CA. Framed, on the wall, is the skating costume, and her skates and her medal. I cried when I saw it.
That's how much the Olympics have always meant to me. For all these years, I have watched the Games obsessively. I always weep when they end, and think to myself: Four years. That's forever in human years. I always think with a chill, how will my life be different four years from now?
Of course, it is always different in ways I could not have imagined, some good, some bad. But the joy I feel when it is time for the Games to return is unparalleled, compared to anything else I anticipate watching. And I am a TV girl. I love TV. I work in TV. I watch TV. But the Games are the kind of drama you cannot make up.
The sacrifice these people make to participate moves me. I was always a sucker for ABC's "Up Close and Personal" peeks into the athletes' lives (though now that I know better, I sometimes wince at the clumsy reach of some of these stories, so the networks can build excitement where there is none: Lindsey Vonn's shin! Russian ice dancers' aboriginal costume controversy! Bode Miller, from disgrace to redemption! Please!)
To my mind, no one did the Olympics better than ABC. There was no better voice of the Games than Jim McKay. But maybe that's because you never forget your first. When I sometimes see clips from these long-ago games, they look like kinescopes compared to how they unspool in my head. In fact, the Innsbruck Games, which I dimly recall, were broadcast in black and white, but those memories of mine -- they are in Technicolor.
So when I had the opportunity this month to go to my first Olympics, as exciting as it was for me to realize I was finally in a position to make it work, I also was a little worried. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but it occurred to me that it could feel like looking down the wrong end of a telescope, a much narrower perspective. Would I miss feeling that feeling, as a TV viewer, of being omniscient?
Having just returned from Vancouver, still glowing, I can honestly say, it was specific, and different, and challenging and exhausting -- and it also was the experience of a lifetime. It was one of the happiest weeks of my entire life.
I smiled constantly -- I don't know, maybe being Canadian is contagious -- and every event I got to participate in was a thrill.
The Opening Ceremony, where we were given drums to play, and ponchos to wear (to everyone who asked, yes, we were wearing pale blue paper ponchos, the better to make us into the background where the light spectacular could play), and two different torches to flash and swirl.
The normal hill ski jump: a three-hour journey to Whistler, where we sat with happy Poles and Germans and Norwegians, and saw only the thrill of victory moments. The short-track night: when the Koreans went down like bowling balls and Ohno found himself just one medal short of his new nickname -- Apolo 7. The pairs skating, the men's short. With no commentary to rely on, I made sure I read newspapers and magazines even more obsessively and more intently for information. Who was injured? Who was favored? With no expert in my ear, I had to be my own color guy.
The irony was that some of the venues were offering little radios with an in-house commentary network for $20, but it was so poorly publicized around the arenas, or I was so immune to whatever ads there were, I didn't hear about it until the last event I was at. But it turned out to be a good thing.
Here's what happened instead. I found myself talking to my friend Marie about the high jump, the body position of the athletes over their skis. I heard myself critiquing the pairs' teams and the men figure skaters for my friend. I talked about toes pointed in boots, finishing a jump, doubling a jump rather than tripling it, the speed and leg position in the spins.
I knew that when a speed skater is in last position it means nothing for the champions; it's a strategy. I remembered athletes of games past and what they had done up till Vancouver. I knew my Olympics history. Marie said, "How do you know all this?" -- and that's when the two-word answer came to mind: TV osmosis.
I realized I know what I know because I have been watching and listening closely for over 30 years, and it stuck. Everything Dick Button has ever said, or Peggy Fleming or Sandra Bezic, or Scott Hamilton, Keith Jackson, Curt Gowdy or Chris Schenkel has stuck with me, and it stuck because I loved it. I realized I didn't need TV to enjoy the Games, but having watched the Olympics on TV all these years made it possible for me to have had the wonderful experience I had last week. TV didn't rot my brain; it anchored me.
What I did miss most, of course, was the aforementioned overview.
When you are at the Olympics, you're lucky to fit in one event a day, and pretty much have no idea what else is going on or what the results are. The one day we tried to do two events (ski jumping at 9 a.m., over at noon, and speed skating at 5 p.m. -- sounds doable, right?), we barely made it to the second event. When you're at the Olympics in this post 9/11 world, the start time of the event has no bearing on when you have to get there. Factoring in travel and security checks, we were often at a venue three hours before it began. That can cut into your day.
You would hear things in passing about other competitions (food station lady to souvenir sales clerk: "We won the gold medal!"), or the horrible news about the Georgian athlete who died while training. So I still counted on the late night Olympic wrap-ups on NBC, or CTV's saturated coverage of the Games for a rundown of what else had happened that day.
In truth, I couldn't wait to see the Opening ceremony on TV, because sitting in BC Place, we not only had no idea how all the special effects looked, we also had no idea till we watched television that there was a fourth post to the Olympic cauldron that didn't rise when it was supposed to rise. We couldn't tell the difference. The replays of the skating performances showed nuances that the naked eye can't possibly see, which is why the judges and commentators rely on their screens at the venues.
And as far as soaking up the atmosphere of the Games, we asked everyone we met where we should go in Vancouver; with no Today show to tell us the must-sees, we found our own.
We were out in the world, with the world, and that is something that television cannot communicate. Turn around at an art gallery, there are the Czech hockey coaches. Who are those guys buying pins? It's the curling team, in their pop art golf pants. Is that Sacha Cohen sitting next to us, in worse seats? Yes, it is, right next to Evan Lysacek's combustible sisters.
The Russian lady sitting next to me at the men's short waves two flags, because her husband is Canadian -- and she tells me conspiratorially that Evgeni Pluschenko was persuaded to un-retire by a concerned Soviet Skating federation, who feared their skaters, for the first time in years, might be shut out of the medals.
We were truly LIVE at the Games, and I am here to tell you, that is the remarkable difference you don't truly understand until you are living it -- and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. When London rolls around, and Sochi, I may be watching the Games on TV as I always have done, but Vancouver's Olympic flame will burn in a different way for me ... because I was there.
[Theresa Corigliano, our newest regular contributor at TV WORTH WATCHING, has an eclectic background in book publishing, sportswriting, and primarily, for the last 20 years, television -- as an executive, screenwriter and reporter.]
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