“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.

 

 

“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:

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.