“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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

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.

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.

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: