BOUNCE TV’S “SAINTS & SINNERS” is SINFULLY GOOD!

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BOUNCE TV a digital broadcast network recently debuted its original drama series “Saints & Sinners” shattering ratings records for the digi-net. The show centers on a Southern Baptist church and its relationship with its surrounding community.  But, don’t let that description fool you, “Saints & Sinners” is not about bake sales and prayer circles.  This show is filled with crime, lust, deceit, and passion.  The beauty of the show is that each character is written as fully rounded human beings, with not a real saint among them.

When I first heard Bounce was developing this project I was fearful that because the action was set in the black church, the writers would feel obligated to give the show an overly earnest tone but fear not because “Saints & Sinners” is anything but earnest. Pastor Evan Johnson is quickly revealed to be stealing money not only from the church but from his wife Ella’s political campaign as well.  The Johnson’s lost their son years earlier when he was the unintended target of a gang shooting.  It’s quite evident in early moments of the first episode that the family hasn’t recovered from the loss. Their daughter Christine is a now a doctor running a neighborhood clinic named after her late brother.  Christine has two male admirers that is being set up as a potentially explosive love triangle. The least interesting story revolves around Levi, played by Christian Keyes, who returns to town under a cloud of suspicion for insider trading at his firm in New York City. Levi is a solid character but hopefully his New York set story will wrap quickly and allow him to move into more interesting story with Christine and Ella.

The star of “Saints & Sinners” is Vanessa Bell Calloway as Ella Johnson.  Aside from being the first lady of the church, she’s an aspiring politician who has a big secret of her own.  I’ve been a fan of Calloway’s since she played bad girl Yvonne Caldwell on “All My Children” in the mid-80’s.  Most recently in addition to stage work, she’s had a recurring role as Carol, Veronica’s mother on “Shameless.”  I’ve been screaming for years that a show needs to cast Calloway as a series regular and Bounce was smart to sign her as the lead in “Saints & Sinners.” She expertly plays the heartbroken wife, mother and stately first lady of the church. But Lady Ella is so much more than that. She’s sultry, sexy and knows how to get what she wants.  I’m excited to see how her story unfolds.  She commands every scene she’s in and has no problem selling each story twist that comes her way.  Another noteworthy cast member is Gloria Reuben who came to fame on in the 90’s on NBC’s “ER.”  She and Ella share a complicated professional and personal relationship.

“Saints & Sinners” is the only original drama series on a broadcast digital network.  Because BOUNCE is a small network, I expected to be underwhelmed by the writing and production values. But I was once again pleasantly surprised. The show’s writing is stronger than expected and the production is better than the Tyler Perry offerings on OWN.  “Saints & Sinners” is more subdued than “Empire” on FOX,  but that’s a plus for this show. The storytelling is “edge of your seat” without being over the top, a trait that serves “Empire” well but would be too much for the tone set by the writers of this show.

Season one kicks off with a murder mystery setting up all the players, including local loan sharks, drug dealers, church personnel and the Johnson family themselves for so much drama, there might be little time for prayer. This is a juicy show that’s brave enough to pull back the curtain of the politics and corruption that can occur in the church.

“Saints & Sinners” airs Sundays at 9pm ET.  If you don’t have BOUNCE TV in your local market, the network has launched a free app that allows you to watch the episodes on your computer, tablet or phone.

Here’s a look at the show:

“THE REAL O’NEALS” is a SOLID FIT FOR ABC’S FAMILY SITCOM LINEUP

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ABC didn’t do “The Real O’Neals” any favors with its pre-launch on air promo campaign.  I groaned every time I saw it and expected very little from a show that looked like it was desperately trying to use as many storylines possible to hook an audience.  I begrudgingly watched the first episode and to my surprise, “The Real O’Neals” is so much better than the promos!

The series centers on an Irish Catholic family living in Chicago whose life from the outside looks perfect.  Pat, the father played by “Mad Men’s” Jay R. Ferguson, is a Chicago police officer; Eileen, played by Martha Plimpton is a mom who will settle for nothing less than perfection from her husband and children. But the kids are anything but perfect.  In the pilot this seemingly perfect family reveals shocking secrets: oldest son Jimmy, a high school wrestler is anorexic; middle son Kenny is gay; and their youngest, Shannon runs cons on the community.  Meanwhile, Pat and Eileen have a secret of their own. Their marriage is in shambles and they plan on divorcing.

These revelations set up what is a very funny sitcom.  While Kenny’s anorexia seems to disappear after episode 2 (good call), the family continues to deal with Pat and Eileen’s marital woes and Kenny’s homosexuality.  While his siblings are immediately accepting of Kenny’s news, it’s not so easy for Pat and especially Eileen.  The show does an excellent job exploring the conflicting feelings for devout Catholics regarding what they’ve been taught about homosexuality in the church but still loving their son and wanting what’s best for him and what makes him happy.

The show doesn’t get preachy, but excels at an honest portrayal of a sixteen year old boy who knows who he is, but struggles to understand what that means for his future. Because he is the only openly gay teenager at his private Catholic high school he often thinks he’ll be alone forever as he watches his classmates pair off.  Newcomer Noah Galvin shines as Kenny.  He plays Kenny’s angst, frustration and optimism for truth, never missing a beat. Galvin has such a strong grasp on who Kenny is, that I often forget that there’s an actor playing the character.  Galvin is the heart of “The Real O’Neals.”  For a young actor he has amazing comic timing and his line delivery against seasoned heavyweights Plimpton and Ferguson is stellar.

The whole cast is great. Martha Plimpton who is always amazing makes Eileen, a character you could easily hate, relatable and often fun.  Ferguson who has shed the beard and some of the weight worn by his “Mad Men” character is charming as a forty-something who is realizing he’s a hot commodity on the singles scene. Unhappy in their marriage, both Pat and Eileen are realizing there’s so much more to them than what they’ve allowed society and their church to tell me they should be.

While much of the action does focus on Kenny, the entire cast is well serviced in each episode.  While only a handful of episodes have aired, it will be interesting to see how far ABC allows Kenny to go in his search for love in season 1.  The network is not shy about exploring the sexuality of adult characters on shows like “How To Get Away with Murder” and “Grey’s Anatomy” they might be a bit more restrictive when dealing with a teenage character.  I hope Kenny gets to experience his first kiss by the season finale and continue his journey into season 2, if the show is renewed.

ABC should be applauded for adding this show to it’s lineup of inclusive family sitcoms.  “The Real O’Neals” has become my go-to show when I need a laugh.  I have some episodes saved on my DVR just for that purpose and so should you.

“The Real O’Neals” airs Tuesdays at 8:30pm ET.  Watch an episode and let me know what you think in the comments.  In the meantime, here’s a clip from the show: