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

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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.

 

 

3 TV Characters Who Could be MY VALENTINE!

It’s Valentine’s Day so I started thinking which tv characters would make the perfect Valentine.  I would accept a rose from any one of these characters!

Richie Donado (LOOKING, HBO)

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During the two seasons of LOOKING on the surface Patrick had a high class problem being torn between earnest barber Richie and his boss video game developer Kevin. But, Kevin is a cheater.  Richie on the other hand always presented himself in an honest way. He wants to love someone purely without agenda. He simply asks for respect. Although he comes from humble beginnings he’s been able to make a life for himself as a barber and although his career choice hasn’t made him rich, he’s happy. And I would love all the free haircuts and shapeups I would get if Richie was my one and only.

Oliver (HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, ABC)

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Oliver has become the heart of HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER. He’s the purest of the bunch, having not committed murder or knowingly been an accessory to murder after the fact.  Ollie is sweet, cute, adorable and smart. He also realizes that we’re all flawed and is willing to accept imperfections in his partner.  The other bonus to dating Ollie is that he’s a computer genius and can hack into the computers of all the people who annoy me and tell me all their secrets!

Brett (UNDATEABLE, NBC)

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Among the diverse cast of characters on UNDATEABLE is Brett, a beefy bartender from the U.K.  Brett is unlucky in love but often gives it the college try, at least if the stories he tells his friends at the bar are to be believed.  Brett’s a nice guy who is alway there for his friends and can make a mean cocktail.  Aside from the sexy British accent, Brett is also an amazing singer and who wouldn’t want to be serenaded by him on a cold winter’s night?

Jennifer Lopez’s SHADES OF BLUE needs a SCRIPT DOCTOR, STAT!

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Full disclosure:  I was hesitant to watch the new Jennifer Lopez drama “SHADES OF BLUE” because the title sounds like a cancelled series.  But, I decided to watch the first three episodes and when I finished I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. Strong performances from Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta peaked my interest in an otherwise just “ok” show.

The framework of “SHADES OF BLUE” is strong.  Detective Harlee Santos (Lopez) is a dirty cop who works for her mentor Matt Wozniak (Ray Liotta) who is also dirty. When Harlee is busted by the FBI the single mom (of course) is forced to choose between going to jail or turning on Matt. She of course agrees to help gather evidence against Matt.  Of course Matt finds out that there’s an FBI informant on his team and is hell bent on rooting out the “rat” as he calls them.  This begins a cat and mouse chase between Matt and Harlee setting up the central conflict of the series.

My biggest issue with “SHADES OF BLUE” is the dialogue.  Throughout the three episodes I kept rolling my eyes when I’d hear a line of dialogue like when Harlee tells and perp “you have the right to shut the hell up.”  It seems the writers found of box of scripts of 80’s cop movies and felt inspired to pepper “SHADES OF BLUE” with lines like “you can’t take back a bullet.”  Yikes!  I’m guessing that NBC thinks of the show as its version of a gritty cable cop.  It’s not.  It’s a broadcast drama promising high stakes but rarely delivering on that promise.  What makes the show watchable are the performances by Lopez and Liotta.

Lopez fails to make Harlee Santos a breakout tv character like Cookie Lyons on “EMPIRE”, Annalise Keating on “HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER” or Carrie Mathieson on “HOMELAND.”  I liked Harlee because I like Jennifer Lopez. Well, I don’t hate Jennifer Lopez and she plays sexy and tough effortlessly. Ray Liotta is no stranger to playing a bad cop. The 1992 film “UNLAWFUL ENTRY” came to mind as I was watching the show. He gives the strongest performance among the ensemble. Former “THE SOPRANOS” and “SONS OF ANARCHY” star Drea de Matteo co-stars as another not-so-clean detective and her talent is mostly wasted in the role. Hopefully the writers will further develop her character and drop some of the dead weight of the other supporting detective characters on their team. The series does get points for diversity, but again, instead of characterization they write the Black drug dealer like any black drug dealer you’ve seen in a myriad of movies and tv shows.

Anyone looking for a high stakes, intelligent and thoughtful drama, this isn’t it. “SHADES OF BLUE” is definitely watchable as long as you have reasonable expectations and remember you’re watching an NBC drama.

UPDATE:  NBC HAS RENEWED SHADES OF BLUE FOR A SECOND SEASON

What do you think? Are you team “BLUE?” Leave your comments below.

Check out some of the riveting dialogue from “SHADES OF BLUE” below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

3 TV Shows That SHOULD Get a REBOOT!

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Most of the tv development news coming out in recent months has been about reboots of old series and in some cases movies.  Networks are trying to lure viewers with known brands, some of which weren’t that successful the first time around such as THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO which originally aired on ABC and is now in development at FOX.

I decided to get in on the fun and offer up some ideas for three series reboots that could be fun, compelling and relevant.

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QUEER AS FOLK originally aired on SHOWTIME from 2000-2005 and at the time was a groundbreaking series about a group of gay and lesbian young adults navigating their love lives, careers, and the political landscape of the early 2000s. I watched all five seasons of the show and thought it was at its strongest creatively in its final season.  This is when the characters took on political activism at the local level fighting for gay rights.  Ten years later, watching reruns of QUEER on Showtime, I realize how ahead of its time the show really was back then.  They were telling stories about the fight for gay marriage, HIV treatment, and job discrimination. Sadly, SHOWTIME didn’t have as high a profile for its original series as it does now so the show didn’t get the mainstream press coverage it would receive today. That’s why QUEER AS FOLK is a perfect candidate for a reboot.

The show could explore the pressures of Michael and Ben’s relationship as a married couple raising their adopted daughter. Ben, who is HIV positive, now has better treatment options with the virus now undetectable. Michael could be one of the early users of PrEP and is now an advocate for use of the drug. Now at 40, still single playboy Brian wonders what his future holds as each of his friends begin to couple off leaving him feeling like the odd man out. Brian could also suffer a bit of a midlife crisis as he discovers his age to be a challenge in the dating scene. Both Michael and Brian have children with lesbian couple Lindsay and Melanie. Gus who is Brian’s son with Lindsay, would now be a teenager and has a lot of story potential. Gus, could be an aspiring artist like his mother and a young rogue like his father.

There’s so much story potential with QUEER AS FOLK that SHOWTIME should revisit the series.

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A DIFFERENT WORLD is another show that I think found its voice during its latter seasons.  The real magic of the show was the relationship of engineering student Dwayne Wayne and socialite Whitley Gilbert. They were truly one of the best primetime love stories of the late 1980s early 90s.  By the series finale in 1993, Dwayne and Whitley were moving to Japan and expecting a baby.

22 years later, Dwayne and Whitley have returned to Virginia after Whitley accepts the position of Dean of Fine Arts Studies at Hillman College. Dwayne, who made a fortune developing video games, has “retired” and agrees to take an adjunct faculty position in the Hillman Engineering department.  Dwayne and Whitley’s oldest daughter took time off from her college studies and is now starting her junior year at Hillman. Part of  Dwayne and Whitley’s motivation to returning to Virginia is to keep an eye on their daughter.  They could have a son, who like his father was, is a late bloomer and is starting his freshman year at Hillman.  The couple find themselves to be surrogate parents to their children’s group of friends while dealing with their marital issues.  Now being financially comfortable, Dwayne would prefer if he and Whitley spent time traveling but Whitley feels as though this job at Hillman is finally her chance to be seen as more than a wife and mother.

A DIFFERENT WORLD explored issues such as date rape, racism, and domestic violence, all issues that are still relevant today.  The setting of a historically Black college is perfect to touch on contemporary issues facing young African Americans.  With Dwayne and Whitley as the entry points to the series, a reboot of A DIFFERENT WORLD would attract a multigenerational audience.  This would be a great project for NETFLIX since they’ve already revived FULL HOUSE (now FULLER HOUSE).

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MURPHY BROWN aired on CBS for 10 seasons and was widely acclaimed for its political satire. Murphy, brilliantly played by Emmy winner Candice Bergen, was a sharp investigative reporter/news anchor, recovering alcoholic, single mother and breast cancer survivor.  The show was unafraid to cover social and political topics with biting humor.

Today we’d find Murphy having just handed over the reigns of the nightly newscast that she anchored to a younger man. Still under contract with CBS Murphy has developed a daytime talk show, a la THE VIEW. Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) has become Murphy’s producing partner and serves as the executive producer of the new talk show.  While Murphy envisions the talk show as a platform for discourse on social and political issues, the network wants it to have more mainstream appeal and Corky is called upon to try to convince Murphy to participate in some of the more populist aspects of the daily show, such as doing live commercials for advertisers and presenting segments about products at discount prices.  Murphy would be joined by Jessica Silverberg, the daughter of Murphy’s former producer Miles Silverberg.  Jessica’s claim to fame is as a conservative blogger with no real journalism experience. While Murphy is still fond of Miles she has little patience for his daughter. Murphy’s son Avery, now in his 20’s is following in his parents footsteps and aspires to be a journalist.  He works as a production assistant on Murphy and Corky’s former newsmagazine show FYI.  Murphy’s new talk show studio is next door to FYI, allowing Avery to stop by and see his mom and flirt, to Murphy’s horror, with Jessica.

Revisiting MURPHY BROWN would allow a television comedy to look at contemporary issues through the lens of two women from different generations and political parties. Smart, sophisticated comedies are in short supply on the broadcast networks and a reboot of MURPHY BROWN would be the perfect companion to the CBS sitcom MOM.

The Reboot of the Reboot is Being REBOOTED!

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It’s long been common practice for the movie industry to develop remakes or reboots of franchises (BATAN, BEN-HUR, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and television development executives are following their lead. It seems as though every day a network is announcing a reboot of an old tv series or an adaptation of an 80s or 90s movie for television. The short list include tv revivals of HART TO HART (with a gay twist); FULL HOUSE (now called FULLER HOUSE); TWIN PEAKS; THE X-FILES; PRISON BREAK; THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR; XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS: THE A-TEAM; MACGYVER; AMAZING STORIES; GILMORE GIRLS (as a limited series on NETFLIX); and this season’s THE MUPPETS and HEROES: REBORN.

In the past, most of these shows would have just returned as television movies, but with the expanded platforms from which viewers have to choose, everyone is looking for content with built-in name and brand recognition.

Among the movies being adapted into tv series are: MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING; LETHAL WEAPON; ALL OF ME (1984 movie starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin); FATAL ATTRACTION; and CRUEL INTENTIONS, which was previously developed as a tv series called MANCHESTER PREP for FOX but the pilot was ultimately released as a movie on home video.

It’s not uncommon to see popular movies in the tv development pipeline. Often times they don’t make it to series but again, they’re a known quantity and it helps networks and other content platforms with their marketing efforts if they don’t have to spend a lot of time introducing the concept to the audience.  In the old days, this was often done with spinoff series, but that practice seems to have lost favor.

Development executives must be having a difficult time getting writers to pitch exciting original ideas.  And, with the myriad of content providers, experienced show runners are in higher demand.  This is both good and bad. It gives new talent an opportunity to shine behind the scenes, but sometimes that lack of experience can show in the execution. On the  other hand, we get new concepts such as BLACK-ISH (ABC), CLUB DE CUEROS (NETFLIX) and TRANSPARENT (AMAZON).

The burning question is just how much do viewers care about revisiting some of the brands being adapted and rebooted. This season has seen mixed results with MINORITY REPORT on FOX finding its episode order reduced after poor ratings results and LIMITLESS on CBS getting a full season pickup this week. My guess is that fans will flock to GILMORE GIRLS since the series didn’t get the satisfactory conclusion it deserved. FULLER HOUSE will probably garner some interest but since the show went off the air series star Candace Cameron Bure has become quite polarizing because of her religious and political leanings.  I still don’t get the PRISON BREAK reboot. The series had such a limited concept to begin with and ran out of creative steam by the end of season 2 of its four year run.

None of the movie adaptations really excite me.  FATAL ATTRACTION could have some soapy fun but seems limited in scope. There are stalking laws that can resolve this story by the end of the pilot.  ALL OF ME seems an odd pick for an adaptation. Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin made for a fun comedic duo, but no one remembers the film.

It will be interesting to see how far some of these projects get in the development process. Hopefully, among all the reboots and adaptations we’ll see original projects as exciting as EMPIRE, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and BLOODLINE. There are a lot of writers out there with fresh ideas, I hope network heads are encouraging their development executives to seriously consider these projects.

Are you excited for any of the reboots or adaptations? Are there any other shows or movies you’d like to see on the small screen?  Comment below.

Also, check back to read some of my ideas for series I think would be fun reboots or television adaptations. Oh, and bonus points for anyone who can name the inspiration for the title of this article.

UNDATEABLE LIVE Debuts its First Half Hour Episode!

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This week UNDATEABLE LIVE premiered its first half hour episode. Its previous live episodes were one-hour.  Last week I mentioned that I thought the plot for the season premiere was a little thin to sustain a full hour, but expected that once the show returned to its normal half hour format it would find its groove, and it was a successful outing.

This week there were fewer technical issues, but there were some. I can be forgiving because even the most seasoned theatre professionals make mistakes during live performances.  That’s the beauty of watching live performances, sometimes they’re flawless, while sometime the most memorable moments come from an unrehearsed moment.

This week’s cameo was from former SCRUBS star Sarah Chalke and it was cute.  i like the guest stars and the fact that the cast openly embraces the fact that they’re live and often acknowledges it throughout the show.  There’s not another sitcom cast having as much fun as the cast of UNDATEABLE.

This week’s musical guest was Irish rock band Kodaline. They were a little low-key for my taste, especially for a show with so much energy. I’d still think they should put the musical act on the stage on the bar set to help their presence feel more organic.

The pacing of the half hour live format was much better than the season premiere while still keeping all the elements of the show that makes it special. The beauty of doing the show live is that the writers and producers can figure out what works and what doesn’t in real time and can address it for the next week’s episode.

Since the show is scheduled on Friday nights, I think NBC should have a marketing campaign that reminds viewers to set their DVRs and that the show is available on other platforms.  If you’re home on Friday nights and you’re debating between watching LAST MAN STANDING on ABC or UNDATEABLE LIVE on NBC, you have to go with UNDATEABLE because it will actually make you laugh.