Emmy winning actress Doris Roberts dies at 90

  
Having met Doris Roberts I can say she was a delightful woman. Her work on ST. ELSEWHERE, REMINGTON STEEL, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND and countless other shows was always stellar. She reunited with her RAYMOND costar Patricia Heaton on THE MIDDLE in recent years as a foil for the harried mom played by Heaton. Throughout her career she was awarded 5 EMMY AWARDS. 
Click here for more on the story from TMZ. 

“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.

 

 

Eva Longoria and America Ferrera DESERVE BETTER!

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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!

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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.

UNDATEABLE LIVE Premieres and Other Broadcast Sitcoms Should Take Notice!

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This past spring UNDATEABLE aired a one hour live episode which was a creative success leading to NBC picking up the show for the 2015 season as television’s only live sitcom.  The show used the one hour format for this week’s season premiere, and while it wasn’t at the same level as this past spring’s one hour episode, it still gets major points for daring to be different.  One of the reason’s the spring edition of the live episode held up so well creatively is because the hour was jam packed with surprises ranging from guest stars, including SCANDAL’S Scott Foley as himself to musical performances from British pop star Ed Sheeran.

The season premiere was more business as usual, which was fine, because the things I love most about UNDATEABLE are the simplicity of the setup and the amazing chemistry among the cast.  I think the overall plot of whether Justin (Brent Morin) and Candace (Bridgit Mendler) dating would eventually impact their relationships within their group of friends was a bit thin for an hourlong episode.  There were a couple of funny subplots but, again, I think the hour format with fewer guest stars slowed down the pacing this time around. But, I did laugh at a lot of the jokes and that;s what matters.  It’s quite evident that the cast thrives on the energy of the live performance, and given that a number of them are standup comics, it makes since.  I think once the show goes back to its half hour format, the pacing will be quicker and sharper.

It seems that having the actors break the fourth wall and watching them break character and laugh at each other will be a part of the DNA of these live episodes and that’s great.  However, I do wonder if the directing could be a little tighter when it comes to cutting to commercial breaks and throwing to the musical acts.  The show plans on having live musical guests each week and this week it was duo Nico and Vinz who performed as part of the opening credits and again at the end of the show.  The live show last spring did such an amazing job of incorporating live music into the plot that my expectation was that it would continue into this season.  I know it’s probably difficult to weave musicians into the plots of every episode, but I hope the writers figure out a way to do it more often than not.

But these are minor issues. Overall, kudos goes to everyone involved with UNDATEABLE LIVE for being daring enough to produce a weekly live, multi camera sitcom. They embrace the tightrope that is live television and it’s quite clear that if any cast can succeed at it, it is this one.  The universe did something right when leads Chris D’Elia and Brent Morin were cast as the most contemporary and funniest odd couple on television.  They play off each other as if they’ve been a comedy duo for a decade.  You can see the sparkle in their eyes as they try to take each other down during their bits, often improvising and making each other break character. The rest of the cast is equally gifted and I hope we get to see them showcased more in upcoming episodes.

I haven’t been happy with a number of returning broadcast sitcoms this season. A few episodes in and a number of them have fallen creatively flat.  They should look to UNDATEABLE LIVE for inspiration. I’m not suggesting they go live, but they should look for ways to reenergize the characters, stories and execution of their shows.  With so many new viewing platforms and options, no show should take their viewers for granted. They should be willing to take some risks and if executed well, the audience will come along for the ride.

UNDATEABLE LIVE is the ONLY returning sitcom I’m excited about this season. Although the setting is familiar, the execution by the writers, producers and actors makes the show exciting and there’s an anticipation not knowing what can possibly happen in each episode.  So, other sitcoms, take notice. It’s a new day and it’s time to raise your game because UNDATEABLE has thrown down the gauntlet.

UNDATEABLE LIVE airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC.

Here’s a clip from the season premiere of UNDATEABLE LIVE:

THE MUPPETS Could Deliver TV’s BEST New Love Triangle!

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When THE MUPPETS return to television this fall on ABC, viewers will quickly learn that Kermit and Miss Piggy have not only broken up, but Kermit has moved into a new relationship with Denise, who is also a pig, proving everyone has a type. While their personal relationship may have ended, Kermit and Miss Piggy will maintain a professional relationship as Kermit will serve as the executive producer of Miss Piggy’s new late night talk show.  With Denise also working on the show, there’s sure to be big drama and laughs as the three settle into their new, yet uncomfortable relationships.

It’s so smart of the producers of THE MUPPETS to throw a new wrench in Kermit and Miss Piggy’s 40-year relationship. ABC is masterful at developing and marketing compelling love stories (SCANDAL, GREY’S ANATOMY, NASHVILLE). It looks like the show will have some fun finding new human love interests for Miss Piggy which I predict will be highly entertaining.

But, when all is said and done, I still root for the Kermit and Miss Piggy to find their way back to each other, but I’ll keep an open mind watching as they expire their personal lives as separate entities. Each incarnation of THE MUPPETS is smart, reflect the times and brilliantly skewers pop culture. Based on the promos ABC has released, the new series looks to continue the tradition in a much more sophisticated way.

USA Today went behind the scenes to find out more about what’s in store for Miss Piggy, Kermit and Denise. Click here for the full article and video.

In the clip below, it looks like Miss Piggy has her eye on CASTLE star Nathan Fillion.