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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a look at the show:

The 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.

Just How Crazy is it behind the scenes of “EMPIRE?”

  
We’ve heard all the rumors surrounding the personal life of EMPIRE star Terrence Howard but what else is happening behind the scenes of the hot FOX soap? In an interview with THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER show creators Lee Daniel and Danny Strong spill the tea on just how wild the writers room gets and how they’re handling the pressure of delivering a stellar second season.   Click here to read the full story.  

3 Iconic TV Characters Who Represent Women’s Equality!

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Women’s Equality Day was this week and I couldn’t let the important day go by without taking a look at a few television characters who represent the gold standard of women’s equality.

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MARY RICHARDS (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW)

THE MARY TYLER MOORE was a groundbreaking show when it premiered in 1970.  Mary Richards was the first independent, never-married career minded woman as the central character of a television series. Mary starts out as the Associate Producer of a local newscast in Minneapolis but is eventually promoted to Producer of the show. Much of the series revolved around Mary’s work and her relationship with her co-workers and friends. While Mary would occasionally date, finding a man and getting married was never the central theme of the show. Mary Richards was representative of women across America who were fighting for independence, equal rights and equal pay. Themes that are sadly still being debated today.

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CLAIRE HUXTABLE (THE COSBY SHOW)

In the 80s, Claire Huxtable really did have it all. She was a African-American woman who was partner at a law firm; a mother who was present in all five of children’s lives and happily married. THE COSBY SHOW never questioned whether a woman could balance having a successful career and family. In many episodes Claire would be seen working on a big case, cooking dinner, managing her husband’s shenanigans and helping her kids with their problem of the week, all while perfecting the perfect “side eye.” Claire was smart, sophisticated, sexy and funny.

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COOKIE LYON (EMPIRE)

When EMPIRE premiered this past season the character of Cookie quickly became a pop culture sensation. It’s important to note that Cookie represents more than her outrageous fashions and quotable quips. After spending seventeen years in prison Cookie returned to claim her family and music empire. While she worked on rebuilding her relationships with her three sons, she quickly proved that her value as part of the family’s music empire.  Cookie can listen to a song a quickly figure out how to fix what’s wrong. While she might not have a formal education, Cookie’s confidence in the boardroom is unwavering among the many MBA’s in her presence. And when Cookie had a “reunion” with her engaged ex-husband, she made it clear that she was not going to be the other woman and if he wanted her he had to commit to her and her alone. Cookie stands as an example that you don’t have to let your past mistakes define your future.

Who would you add to the list? Comment below.