“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:

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

 

“YOUNGER” Moves TV LAND in a NEW DIRECTION!

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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.

NETFLIX Comedy “Master of None” is Worth a Look

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Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”) stars in the new Netflix series “Master of None” proving himself to be a solid leading man.  The series, set in NYC, follows Dev (Ansari) a struggling, but working actor navigating life in the big city.

In between auditions for commercial, tv and movie roles, Dev surrounds himself with friends Denise (Lena Waithe), Arnold (Eric Wareheim) and Brian (Kelvin Yu). Unlike many other series set in New York, “Master of None” cast supporting characters to reflect the diversity of the population within the city.  Even the extras represent a diversity not seen in other New York centric shows like “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” and “Seinfeld.”  Much like in the FX series “Louie,” Manhattan looks and feels authentic.  I could actually feel the influence of “Louie” on the show, except “Master of None” is much lighter in tone. The show thoughtfully explored Indian stereotypes within the entertainment industry and confronted the narrow mindedness of studio and network executives head-on.

Much like many other Netflix series, “Master of None” takes viewers on Dev’s personal journey over the course of 10 episodes. Dev questions his place in the world, his choice of career and how his life would have differed without the sacrifices made for him by his parents.  The journey also includes a cute but often rocky romance with Rachel (Noel Wells).  Dev’s parents who immigrated to the U.S. warmly welcome Rachel into their lives with no hangups about her not being of Indian descent, which in 2015 is refreshing. It would have been nice if another young Indian woman had been included in the cast. It would have been a different and interesting perspective of Dev’s story.

“Master of None” is a solid show. By the finale, the story lead Dev in a natural direction that made me wonder what’s next for him.

Check out the trailer for “Master of None” below.

 

CRISTELA ALONZO Deserves Another Shot at a TV SERIES!

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This past season, ABC made history when it picked up the sitcom CRISTELA.  Series creator Cristela Alonzo was the first Latina to create, produce and star in a network sitcom. The show starred Alonzo as a struggling law student trying to prove herself at a top law firm all while living with her sister, brother-in-law, their children and her often disapproving mother.  That was a lot for a half hour sitcom, but the show often got me to laugh and care about Cristela and her family. ABC scheduled the show on Fridays which is a tough night for a show filled with mostly unknown actors.  At the end of its first season, CRISTELA was cancelled.

I wouldn’t give up on Cristela Alonzo as a comedic leading lady.  She’s smart, funny and has a lot of rooting value. I think one of the challenges of CRISTELA was getting viewers to connect with the law firm stories, especially since the stories were rarely about the cases. Instead, CRISTELA used the law firm as a way to show the challenges a young, Mexican-American woman faces in the corporate world.  I do think it is an important issue to explore, but I don’t think the law firm was the right setting for a half hour sitcom.  While I understood the aspirational aspect of the story, I could never quite invest in that world.  The material with Cristela’s family was much stronger, I believe in part because Alonzo drew upon her own life in those storylines.

I would love to see Cristela Alonzo return to tv in a workplace sitcom set in a newsroom. Cristela would be an aspiring on-air talent, living in a town light on diversity, who can only get a job producing fluff segments covering local events like the county fair. When the reporter with whom she works is fired for swearing during a live interview with a kid who pukes on her, Cristela quickly jumps in and saves the story. While she’s given the chance to continue covering light stories for the newscast, her executive producer tells her that although she has a masters in journalism from an Ivy League school, she doesn’t have the “right look” for any serious news stories and most certainly will never sit at the anchor desk. Cristela takes this as a challenge and is determined to use the small on-air opportunity she has to get the job she really wants.

Sitcoms with female leads set in newsrooms have a proven track record (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, MURPHY BROWN) and is aspirational enough to entice a broad audience. The seasoned female news anchor could take Cristela under her wing and be a mentor. At home, Cristela would be sharing a two bedroom apartment with a guy friend that she went to college with, setting up a potential love interest for her. I would cast her former costar Carlos Ponce in that role. They were great sparring partners as in-laws and I think they’d have great romantic chemistry.  Roseanne Barr guest-starred on two episodes of CRISTELA and I’d love to see her as Cristela’s landlady and surrogate mother who is willing to lend her a sympathetic ear and good kick in the pants all within the same scene. Alonzo could still keep her edge and address the social topics important to her.

Cristela Alonzo is a great talent with a strong point of view and should be given another chance to headline a series. She deserves it, as do we.

Take a look at Cristela Alonzo doing stand-up on The Late Late Show with Craig Fergerson below.

3 Spinoff Ideas to Bring More Diversity to CBS

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While CBS has some diverse character threaded throughout a number of its primetime shows, it has yet to launch a series with characters and actors of color as the lead and focal point of the series. So, I came up three comedy spinoffs of series currently on the CBS primetime schedule.

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“RAJ” (THE BIG BANG THEORY)

THE BIG BANG THEORY is the top rated comedy on television and part of the series’ appeal can be credited to Kunal Nayyar’s performance as astrophysicist Raj Koothrappali.  When first introduced, Raj, who hails from New Delhi, India, was very shy around women and unable to speak to them. Over the years, his condition has improved and he’s even started dating a young dermatologist. BIG BANG has had fun playing with the idea that Raj has romantic feelings for his best friend Howard and usually brush it off to him being metrosexual.

CBS has the perfect opportunity to spin Raj off into his own series. BIG BANG should have Raj finally deal with the root of his feelings for Howard and come out. With Howard happily married, Raj decides he needs a fresh start and accepts a job at a new university in the San Francisco Bay area, where his sister Priya now lives. There, Raj experiences the ups and downs as dating as an openly gay man.  CBS should take advantage of THE BIG BANG THEORY’S success and use Raj as an opportunity to showcase an Indian actor in a leading role on sitcom.

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“CARL” (MIKE & MOLLY)

Reno Wilson plays Carl, Mike’s best friend on MIKE & MOLLY and often gets some of the best punchlines on the show. In early seasons Carl lived with his grandmother, played by Cleo King, who raised him.  While they have a combative relationship it’s clear that the two share a deep love for one another.

My spinoff idea for Carl is that his grandmother wants to escape the cold Chicago weather and decides to move to small town in Arizona.  Carl decides that he doesn’t want that amount of distance between them and gets a job as the captain of police in a small town. Carl would be surrounded by motley crew of officers under his command. He and his grandmother could share a house together with her commenting on his still often disastrous dates. Since Carl’s parents abandoned him when he was a small child the show could also introduce a younger sibling that Carl agrees to take in and act as a parental figure, just as his grandmother did for him.

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“REGINA” (MOM)

Oscar winner Octavia Spencer has appeared in eight episodes of hit sitcom MOM as Regina, an embezzling money manager who’s also in AA along with series leads Christie and Bonnie.  Regina was sent off to prison for her crimes but earned an early release.  While in prison, she found religion and is now leading a more “righteous” life.

In her spinoff, Regina needs to rebuild her relationship with her family and find a new career. Regina, now separated from her husband, could rent an apartment nearby after getting a new job working at the church her family attends.  Her husband and kids still attend the church and that’s where he agrees to let Regina spend time with her children. Her husband could have a new girlfriend by whom Regina feels threatened and she comes up with silly stunts to get time alone with her estranged husband in order to remind him why he first fell in love with her. The church setting also allows for some fun recurring characters including the Pastor, with whom Regina shares some chemistry.

CBS desperately needs more diversity in its lineup and by utilizing established characters on already popular sitcoms the network could quickly make strides in this area.