UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” GETS SEASON 2 (MOSTLY) RIGHT!

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NETFLIX found an unexpected gem in season 1 of “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” from c0-creator Tina Fey.  The show was orginally set to air on NBC but lucky for all involved moved to NETFLIX where its quirky humor was more likely to find a more accepting audience. The show continues its sometimes frenetic story telling pace, along with Tina Fey’s sharp and smart writing.

Season 2 picks up not long after where the season 1 finale left off.  After successfully testifying against the cult leader that kept Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and other women hostage in an underground bunker for fifteen years, she’s determined to put her past behind her and make up for all the time she lost. This being the strongest story thread in the new season, finds us going along on a journey with Kimmy as she  must figure out who she is and learn how to deal with the demons of her past. Kemper continues to be charming in the role and I really can’t think of anyone else who could play the role.

This season also gives a bigger platform to the character of Titus, played by breakout star Tituss Burgess. As with many sitcom supporting characters that become popular, the show gives Titus bigger story, which isn’t always a good thing.  In a season where all the characters are searching for the truth of who they are and what they want for there lives, Titus’ larger than life character is often to0 much in early episodes of the second season.  Fortunately, with the introduction of construction worker and love interest Mikey (Mike Carlsen), Titus becomes less caricature and more human. While he’s given plenty of fun musical numbers throughout the season, nothing comes close to his season one performance of “Peeno Noir.”

This season “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” shares the love of developing the characters of Kimmy’s landlord Lillian (Carole Kane) and her suedo-boss Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski).  Each are given very well throughout character driven story arcs that stay true to the characters to whom we were first introduced in season 1.  Both are incredibly talent actresses and should be on the short list for Best Supporting Actress in comedy category come Emmy time.

This season also boasts two spectacular guest stars.  Tina Fey  plays a therapist with whom Kimmy becomes unusually closed, while Lisa Kudrow pops up in a surprising role. I’m not going to spoil it, so you’ll have to watch to find out!  Again, both actresses should earn Guest Actress Emmy nods.

Like many sitcoms before it “UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” addresses the theme of family, the one you’re born into and the one you create for yourself.  I think of this particular group of “THE GOLDEN GIRLS” on acid. The early episodes of season 2 are a little uneven but ultimately saved by an overall story arc that leads to a very satisfying season finale. If you liked season 1, you’ll enjoy season 2.  Again, I was bit frustrated early on and could have done with less Titus, but it all works out in the end.  I will say that this is a show that should be binged. If I had to watch from one week to the next, I probably would have given up by episode 4. But, thankfully NETFLIX put all 13 episodes up at once that made for a quick, easy and ultimately satisfying binge.

In case you missed it, here’s Titus performing “Peeno Noir” from season 1.

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 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:

 

 

 

 

 

PODCAST: SHAMELESS SEX

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SHAMELESS has been one of the most underrated shows on television. It’s great the SHOWTIME has supported the show throughout its run.  In today’s podcast I talk about how sex plays a vital role in the lives of the the characters of SHAMELESS.  Click play and listen!

The Appointment of Channing Dungey as President of ABC Entertainment Group Should Be an Industry GAME CHANGER!

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Yesterday ABC announced that their head of drama development Channing Dungey would be taking over the reigns as President of Entertainment. This is a game changer for networks, studios and content platforms as Dungey becomes the first African American to head of programming at a major broadcast network.  Dungey has an impressive resume as an executive having developed SCANDAL, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., QUANTICO, HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER and AMERICAN CRIME. These shows all feature male and  female characters who are equal parts strong and dysfunctional, just as we all are. The casts are ethnically and culturally diverse. Gay, lesbian and bisexual characters are written as fully formed human beings.

As television and other content platforms have made strides in representing the diversity of the world we live in on-screen, it’s time that they do the same behind the scenes. Dungey’s success as a development executive proves that having diverse voices as part of the development and decision making process only helps to create content that representative of our society. When there is more diversity among the executive ranks at networks, studios and other content platforms it helps to enhance the storytelling.  People with diverse experiences bring different perspectives and provide a new takes on an old tales.

Dungey’s promotion to President of Entertainment at ABC gives hope and inspiration to all the non-caucasian male programming executives who just want the opportunity to be in the room, to be a part of the conversation and to have a voice. But for this to happen corporate leaders have to take the time and make the effort to recognize and develop them.

ABC took the first step, now its time for others to follow their lead. Good luck Channing, I’m rooting for you!

 

 

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?

CBS Should Cast O’Shea Jackson as the Young Lead in TRAINING DAY!

 

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Showbiz 411 is reporting that the CBS pilot for TRAINING DAY, based on the movie that earned Denzel Washington his Academy Award for Best Actor will not be casting an African American man as the rogue detective with a questionable moral compass.  Instead the network is looking to cast a white actor in the role.  This would have been a meaty role for for a black actor in his 40s.  My shortlist for this role included Shemar Moore (CRIMINAL MINDS), Cuba Gooding Jr., and Malcolm Jamal Warner.  Shows like EMPIRE, SCANDAL and HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER have proven that audiences love and are accepting of black actors portraying multi-layered, sometimes messy characters. But, my guess is that the network wants to remain in its comfort zone of having a procedural drama with an older caucasian man as the leading man.

According to Showbiz 411 in the new version, Frank Rourke is the “wolf, a rogue cop, and a man who lives by the law of the jungle.” His protege is Kyle Craig, a young naive black trainee who will try and take Frank down. That would be the Ethan Hawke part from the movie.

So, if this is truly the case, CBS should cast O’Shea Jackson (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) in the role of the young cop paired with veteran cop.  Jackson gave an amazing performance as STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON portraying his father Ice Cube during his time as part of the rap phenom N.W.A.  In his first movie role, he showed a great amount of range inhabiting all of the rage and frustration felt by young black men living in Los Angeles during the late 1980s/early 90’s. O’Shea was also very charming in the scenes where he got show the softer edges of Ice Cube.  Hollywood was buzzing about Jackson’s performance in the film, his first movie role.  Many were surprised when he didn’t land on the list of Oscar nominees in the Best Supporting Actor category.

By casting O’Shea Jackson in TRAINING DAY, CBS has the opportunity to appeal to a younger audience that’s probably not very familiar with their other shows.  He’s young, handsome, and can act!  And maybe his famous father would take time out of his hit movie making schedule for a cameo or two if the show goes to series. This would be a smart casting move by CBS that would get a lot of notice.