“THE CARMICHAEL SHOW” IS A SITCOM WITH SOMETHING TO SAY!

image

When “THE CARMICHAEL SHOW” premiered last year, I wasn’t particularly impressed.  Comedian Jerrod Carmichael stars in the sitcom which is based on his relationship with his family. Although the cast boasts Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier as the family matriarch and patriarch, the series felt ill-defined.  I think a big part of that was Carmichael himself.  While he’s a funny comedian, he’s not the strongest actor.  The show uses the family as a microcosm of America to discuss the issues of the day.  The comedy comes from the fact that the family rarely agrees on any given issue.  While I didn’t take offense in any of the topics discussed during the first season, the show hadn’t found its rhythm. Aside from that, the directors couldn’t find it in themselves to tell the incredible Loretta Devine to stop screaming in every scene.

But something unusual happened in season two. The show found its voice, it’s focus and all the players fell comfortably into their characters.  The directing got better and Miss Devine is still incredibly funny but much quieter.  Set in Charlotte, NC the Carmichael family sees each other all the time.  It doesn’t feel unnatural. I never question why they’re all together.  This is not a situation comedy in the traditional sense. The characters are naturally in each other’s orbits and as happens in real life, they discuss the issues families, friends and communities are discussing everyday. The difference is this show is able to inject humor into the discussions and as a viewer you don’t feel like you’re being hit over the head with a “very special episode.”  This season the show has covered gentrification, xenophobia, and Bill Cosby.  The latter of which was a thoughtful exploration of if it’s possible to separate one’s art from their personal behavior.  The show never tries to give a conclusive answer to any of the questions posed, but allows each character to have a strong point of view, while also taking pause to sometimes question their point of view, knowing that sometimes things are not so absolute.

The show boasts a talented cast and while Jerrod Carmichael is still the weaker link among them, he’s gotten better.  He’s a smart guy and his passion for the material comes across on screen. If the show goes forward, I’m confident he’ll get better.  Let’s not forget that Will Smith was such a weak actor during the early seasons of “FRESH PRINCE” that he can be seen mouthing the dialogue of his co-stars so that he remembers his cues.

It’s also great to see a family of color having these thoughtful, topical conversations on television. They could be any family in America.

You can easily join “THE CARMICHAEL SHOW” in season 2, without having seen the first season. I’ve added the show to my DVR and have found myself laughing loudly during a number of the episodes.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

Check out a clip from the gentrification episode below.

 

 

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” GETS SEASON 2 (MOSTLY) RIGHT!

image

NETFLIX found an unexpected gem in season 1 of “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” from c0-creator Tina Fey.  The show was orginally set to air on NBC but lucky for all involved moved to NETFLIX where its quirky humor was more likely to find a more accepting audience. The show continues its sometimes frenetic story telling pace, along with Tina Fey’s sharp and smart writing.

Season 2 picks up not long after where the season 1 finale left off.  After successfully testifying against the cult leader that kept Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and other women hostage in an underground bunker for fifteen years, she’s determined to put her past behind her and make up for all the time she lost. This being the strongest story thread in the new season, finds us going along on a journey with Kimmy as she  must figure out who she is and learn how to deal with the demons of her past. Kemper continues to be charming in the role and I really can’t think of anyone else who could play the role.

This season also gives a bigger platform to the character of Titus, played by breakout star Tituss Burgess. As with many sitcom supporting characters that become popular, the show gives Titus bigger story, which isn’t always a good thing.  In a season where all the characters are searching for the truth of who they are and what they want for there lives, Titus’ larger than life character is often to0 much in early episodes of the second season.  Fortunately, with the introduction of construction worker and love interest Mikey (Mike Carlsen), Titus becomes less caricature and more human. While he’s given plenty of fun musical numbers throughout the season, nothing comes close to his season one performance of “Peeno Noir.”

This season “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” shares the love of developing the characters of Kimmy’s landlord Lillian (Carole Kane) and her suedo-boss Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski).  Each are given very well throughout character driven story arcs that stay true to the characters to whom we were first introduced in season 1.  Both are incredibly talent actresses and should be on the short list for Best Supporting Actress in comedy category come Emmy time.

This season also boasts two spectacular guest stars.  Tina Fey  plays a therapist with whom Kimmy becomes unusually closed, while Lisa Kudrow pops up in a surprising role. I’m not going to spoil it, so you’ll have to watch to find out!  Again, both actresses should earn Guest Actress Emmy nods.

Like many sitcoms before it “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” addresses the theme of family, the one you’re born into and the one you create for yourself.  I think of this particular group of “THE GOLDEN GIRLS” on acid. The early episodes of season 2 are a little uneven but ultimately saved by an overall story arc that leads to a very satisfying season finale. If you liked season 1, you’ll enjoy season 2.  Again, I was bit frustrated early on and could have done with less Titus, but it all works out in the end.  I will say that this is a show that should be binged. If I had to watch from one week to the next, I probably would have given up by episode 4. But, thankfully NETFLIX put all 13 episodes up at once that made for a quick, easy and ultimately satisfying binge.

In case you missed it, here’s Titus performing “Peeno Noir” from season 1.

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

MV5BMTg1MjIzMDI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYzNDMyODE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_

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:

 

 

 

 

 

5 TV SHOWS to WATCH as an ALTERNATIVE TO THE SUPER BOWL!

MV5BMTAyODg4NDQ3OTReQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDI0NTQxOTAx._V1_UY268_CR12,0,182,268_AL_MV5BMjI3NzY2MzMzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgxMTExNzE@._V1_UY268_CR7,0,182,268_AL_.jpgMV5BMTk1OTYyMjUzOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjAxMjA1NzE@._V1_UY268_CR147,0,182,268_AL_.jpg

If you’re not excited about the showdown between the Broncos and the Panthers in the Super Bowl tonight, here are a few alternate viewing options.  But, you’ll probably want to press pause and check out the half time show to see what surprises Beyonce has in store when she joins Coldplay on stage.

In the meantime check out episodes of these shows where available On-Demand, Netflix, Hulu or their network website:

AMERICAN CRIME (ABC):

AMERICAN CRIME is probably the most daring drama on broadcast television right now.  Season 2 is tackling the subject of male-on-male rape, what it means and peoples perceptions if it being an actual possibility.  Regina King is a stand out among a stellar cast.  Listen to my podcast for more of my thoughts on the show.

SHAMELESS (SHOWTIME):

SHAMELESS is having an interesting season. The Gallagher family has gone through so much over the  years, I was hoping this season would be a little lighter and more fun. But, this is SHAMELESS we’re talking about and the show is cleverly tackling teen pregnancy, abortion, and guns in school.  The show continues to explore the journey of Ian’s struggle with bipolar disorder and how he’s got to figure out how to move on with his life and not keep feeling sorry for himself.  SHAMELESS sets a high bar with this storyline.  Don’t worry the show still finds time to be sexy, messy and funny.

VEEP (HBO):

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is brilliant as VP of the United States fighter her way to the presidency.   While we might cringe at moments during our current presidential race, the faux pas of Selina and her staff will make you laugh out loud.

BEING MARY JANE (BET):

Gabrielle Union is a stunner in BEING MARY JANE. She plays Mary Jane’s sexiness, and messiness as deftly as any lead actress on more buzzed about shows like EMPIRE, HOMELAND and SCANDAL.  As single woman trying to navigate her career and troubled love life, she also has her often needy family to contend with. BEING MARY JANE has set a new bar for the scripted programming on BET and it deserves more notice in the mainstream press than it gets.

MICHAEL JACKSON’S JOURNEY FROM MOTOWN FROM OFF THE WALL (SHOWTIME):

While this is actually a documentary, I highly recommend it to all music or just pop culture lovers. The documentary is filled with interviews with those who worked with Michael Jackson while he was still a member of The Jacksons to his evolution as a solo artist.  The doc also features interviews with Michael, reminding us of what a genius he really was.

 

Eva Longoria and America Ferrera DESERVE BETTER!

MV5BMjIyODU1Mzc1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzc1MjM0NzE@._V1_SY317_CR104,0,214,317_AL_.jpgMV5BMTU5NzQ1MzkwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTQyMTgyNzE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_.jpg

This winter NBC debuted a pair of new workplace comedies “Telenovela” and “Superstore” starring two popular and talented Latina actresses.  Sadly, neither of the shows is deserving to the immense talent of their leading ladies.

First, Eva Longoria whose comedic timing was one of the bright spots of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” stars as telenovela star Ana Sofia Calderon. Ana is the leading lady on her show “Las Leyes” but her life is anything but glamorous.  In this “show within a show” Ana has to contend with jealous co-stars, wacky sidekicks and her sexy ex-husband who has been added to the cast by the network. Longoria is a master at slapstick and brings a great deal of charm to the role.  One fun aspect of the character is that although Ana is a telenovela star, she’s not actually fluent in Spanish.

Unfortunately not even Eva Longoria can save the lackluster writing of “Telenovela.” It’s a shame because her supporting cast is quite strong, but after watching multiple episodes i come to same conclusion of just not caring about the world with in they operate.

With the popularity of real telenovelas, I wish a network would develop and English language version of a show that’s not a comedy (“Ugly Betty”, “Jane the Virgin”) but instead a straight forward interpretation of of the genre.

Next, Emmy winner America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty”) stars in “Superstore.”  I don’t have the words to describe this show, other than NBC was trying to replicate the late comedy “Community.”  I never got that show, and I don’t get “Superstore.”  It’s writing and directing is sluggish. We’re given no reason to care or root for any of the characters.  This show is a mess and I can’t get through an entire episode without either rolling my eyes or turning it off.

America Ferrera and Eva Longoria are great talents who deserve better than what they’re being given on these shows and they should demand better.  It’s shows like these that make me want to give up on broadcast comedies.

It’s frustrating that NBC is spending a lot of time promoting these two shows while basically ignoring the best comedy on their schedule “Undateable Live.”

 

 

 

“YOUNGER” Moves TV LAND in a NEW DIRECTION!

MV5BMjA1MzkwNTk5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTg4Mjg0NDE@._V1_SX214_AL_.jpg

This past winter TV Land signaled a shift in its original programming strategy when it debuted the Darren Star sitcom “Younger,” starring Broadway star and TONY winner Sutton Foster.  The single-camera comedy is a far cry from the traditional multi camera sitcoms the network has offered in the past (“Hot in Cleveland,” “The Exes,” etc.). The premise is built around Liza Miller (Foster), a 40 year-old divorce mother who is desperate to get back into the workforce. Liza left her career in publishing fifteen years ago and after a series of interviews she realizes returning to the workforce won’t be easy.  After a 26 year-old tattoo artist mistakes her for being his age, Liza and her friend Maggie (Debi Mazar) concoct a scheme for Liza to pretend to be 26 to land a job and through the magic of television, it works!

“Younger” benefits from casting Sutton in the lead role, as she’s able to pull off playing under 40.  I thing 26 is a stretch but because she brings so much emotional depth to the role, it becomes very easy to buy into the premise.  The show aims to be a present-day basic cable version of “Sex and the City” (also from Darren Star).  It’s not “Sex and the City” but that’s not a bad thing. “Younger” is a show where the initial setup drives the character while the characters on “Sex” drove the plot.  But “Younger” does get you to care about the character’s and their journeys.  With strong writing and nuanced performances from Sutton Foster and Hillary Duff (Liz’s co-worker turned bff) it becomes easy to be drawn into their world.  The show accurately captures the disconnect between Millennials and Generation X. The younger group has no understanding or appreciation of those who came before them while the older set realizes adapting to a world filled with technology-based relationships is the new norm.

One of the fun aspects of season one of “Younger” is Liza’s “Devil Wears Prada” relationship with her boss Diana (Miriam Trout). Although the two are actually the same age, Liza’s easily believed lie about her age makes Diana instantly judge Liza as just another vapid twenty-something who doesn’t know or value the meaning of hard work. But, since Liza is really older, she’s able to help Diana through personal and professional tribulations. The show is smart in that Diana is not presented as a one dimensional villain, but as a multilayered woman.

TV LAND allows “Younger” to deliver a lot of sex talk with some sex on the side. While there’s not a lot of gratuitous nudity, there is frank language, as has become de rigueur on basic cable.  Liza embarks on a relationship with the aforementioned sexy tattoo artist, Josh (Nico Tortorella).  It’s fun watching 40 year-old Liza pretending to be 26 and immersing herself in Josh’s world trying to navigate the language, activities (dodgeball anyone?) and sexual fluidity. The series is also setting up a love triangle between Liza, Josh and her more age appropriate publisher Charles Brooks (Peter Hermann).

If and when Liza’s big secret is revealed to her new work family, it will be interesting to see if her talent as a writer/editor will allow them to look past her deceit or have her blackballed from the publishing world entirely. I have a hard time seeing “Younger” running for as long as five years on its initial premise, but I’m interested to see how season 2 plays out. Again, Sutton Foster is so engaging in the role that I want to buy into the premise no matter how silly the set up.

Here’s a look at “Younger”:

 

The 5 Best Gifts TV Gave Us in 2015!

With over 400 scripted series on television and countless reality shows, there really is something for every spread across broadcast, cable and digital platforms.  But quantity does not equal quality.  With Christmas right around the corner, here’s my list of the 5 Best Gifts TV (including digital platforms) gave us in 2015 (in no particular order).

  1. Live Scripted Performances on NBC – In the pioneering days of television almost every program was performed live, but in recent history live performances have mostly been relegated to awards shows, reality show finales, the Super Bowl and 2 soaps during sweeps months (“One Life to Live” & “General Hospital”) and sitcoms like “Roc,””Will & Grace” and more recently “Hot in Cleveland.”  But in the spring of 2015, NBC aired a one hour live edition of its struggling sitcom “Undateable.” With musical performances from British pop star Ed Sheeran and guest stars including “Scandal’s” Scott Foley, the show served up it’s funniest episode up to that point prompting NBC to order of third season of all live episodes.  “Undateable” has become the most creative, daring and by far funniest sitcom on broadcast television this season.  While the live production isn’t without it’s technical problems, which have vastly improved, it all still works.  Watching the cast make each other laugh and use timely, real world references is just plain fun, something most returning sitcoms are missing this season. During the past few years NBC has also been staging live productions of classic musicals during the holiday season.  While “The Sound of Music” and “Peter Pan” fell flat, this year the the network wisely chose to update “The Wiz” featuring new-comer Shanice Williams as Dorothy and an all-star cast (Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, and Ne-Yo). “The Wiz” was a success on all fronts. It was expertly directed, choreographed and performed. The success of “The Wiz”should signal a change in the way NBC approaches its live musical productions. With FOX airing a live production of “Grease” this winter I’m hoping other networks look for creative ways to deliver more live scripted programs, especially on the one hour drama front. I would love to see a live episode of “The Good Wife” set in a courtroom during a big trial.
  2. “Empire” (FOX) – “Empire” premiered it’s first season in January of 2015 and became an instant hit and pop culture sensation.  Oscar nominee Taranji P. Henson gave the break-out performance of the year as mother and ex-con Cookie Lyon, but it should be noted that Terrence Howard’s underrated and under appreciated performance and patriarch Lucious Lyon is giving other classic primetime soap villains JR Ewing (“Dallas”), Alexis Carrington, (“Dynasty”) and Angela Channing (“Falcon Crest”).While season 2, which premiered this fall hasn’t benefited from the strong narrative of season 1, and has had some story missteps (Jamal sleeping with a woman, sigh…) “Empire” overall delivers soapy goodness.
  3. “Looking” – Season 2 (HBO) – In 2015 HBO delivered the second season of “Looking,” the half hour dreamed about a group of gay men in San Francisco facing challenges in romance, family and career. The show delivered a sexy and nuanced love triangle between Patrick, Kevin and Richie which I’m sure the writers planned on diving deeper into in season 3 if there was one.  Unfortunately HBO decided to cancel the quiet series that didn’t make as much noise as the creatively challenged “Girls.”  The second season of the show was also notable for introducing HIV positive character Eddie and being the first tv show to have a characters talk about PreP (Truvada) a drug the FDA has approved for use to help prevent HIV infections in conjunction with other safer sex practices such as condom use. HBO ordered a two-hour wrap up movie of “Looking” to air in early 2016, but it still stings that a thoughtful show about gay men as leads had such a short life.  Luckily, for fans of the show and for those yet to discover it, episodes of “Looking” will live on HBO GO (HBO’s digital platform) forever. And if we’re really lucky, the “Looking” movie will do well enough for HBO to revisit the characters with more tv movies.
  4. Mature Audiences Matter on Digital Platforms – With the broadcast networks still chasing the 18-49 demo, digital platforms such as NETFLIX and AMAZON PRIME proved that stories featuring older characters still matter and can draw an audience. Shows like “Bloodline” (NETFLIX), “Grace and Frankie” (NETFLIX), “Transparent” (AMAZON PRIME) proved that older, mature characters are still compelling and can carry story.  With few exceptions, broadcast television has abandoned storytelling for older characters unless they’re male leads on procedural dramas or supporting characters.  Digital platforms have embraced these characters and delivered high quality series centered around them. A few weeks ago I was watching “The Golden Girls” and realized that today that show wouldn’t exist on broadcast television and if it did, it would be a watered down version not nearly as relatable or timeless as what we got in the 1980s.  Digital platforms have created a space for the diversity in story-telling that doesn’t exist on broadcast television.
  5. Regina King wins an Emmy! (“American Crime, ABC) – Regina King is that rare actress who started out as a child star and was able to stay out of trouble as she transitioned into an amazing adult actress.  I always thought her performance on the NBC/TNT drama “Southland” should have been earned her multiple Emmy nominations but it was her performance in the limited series “American Crime” that earned her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.  With every performance, whether on tv or the big screen, comedic or dramatic, King gives strong and nuanced performances.  Based on the reviews and buzz she could find herself back in the race for her performance in HBO’s “The Leftovers.”  King returns for the next edition of “American Crime” in 2016.