Category Archives: Television

A new generation of family ties

by Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

'Parenthood' photo provided by NBC.

There’s something to be said for sticking with your gut when you’ve got a winning formula on your hands. There’s something completely different to be said for stabbing your competition in the gut, stealing his winning formula and running for the hills.

If this spring’s new family drama “Parenthood” (NBC Tuesdays at 10/9c) feels altogether familiar in more than one way, that’s because, well, it is. Inspired directly by Ron Howard’s 1989 movie, “Parenthood” has also drawn heavy comparisons to ABC’s Sunday primetime standby “Brothers and Sisters,” now in it’s fourth season. While the Walker family of California notoriety looks to a sassy Sally Field for its dose of unwanted motherly influence, the new “Parent” on the block is a bull-headed but well-meaning patriarch played by the Coach himself, Craig T. Nelson.

The endearing combination of family togetherness and sibling rivalry that has earned “Brothers” seven Emmy nominations, including one “Best Actress” win for Field, seems to be missing from the new drama, which focuses more on the second generation children than their thirty-something parents. Lauren Graham makes a sudden return to the small screen as Sarah after Maura Tierney, who was originally cast in the slot, pulled herself out of the show to battle breast cancer. Tierney’s unexpected diagnosis caused network execs to pull the show from their fall lineup and re-shoot several episodes with Graham (who enjoyed much better writers in her “Gilmore Girls” days) stepping in place.

Now nine episodes into their opening run, “Parenthood” has already dragged the viewers along through the discovery of a new son, grown daughter Sarah (Graham) moving back in with her parents and fistfuls of teenage angst as three grandchildren enter the high school ring. Often the only saving grace in this show appears in the form of Max (Max Burkholder), one of the youngest members of the Braverman clan who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in the show’s pilot. Despite the embarrassment of this older sister Haddie (Sarah Ramos) and the chagrin of his parents Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter), Max wants nothing more than to wear his pirate costume to school every day and play baseball with his cousin Drew (Miles Heizer) at night. Max’s socially inept nature makes him so refreshingly unaware of his own eccentricities that the rest of his family comes off as flat and guarded.

Another point of frustration in this parenting nightmare is the fact that it’s impossible to keep the relationships straight. While the siblings on  “Brothers and Sisters” have an established rapport with one another that distinguishes them from their spouses, viewers of “Parenthood” need a certified road map to recall whether in fact it’s Adam or Kristina who is related to the clan as well as which interchangeable child belongs to which branch of the family tree.

For all its positive attributes, however, “Brothers and Sisters” still has not reclaimed the holding power it enjoyed three seasons ago. Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Matthew Rhys and Dave Annable still bring a believable and enjoyable presence to the show each week as four of the Walker siblings. Though they fight like cats and dogs for forty-five minutes at a time, the family invariably ends up sitting around their mother’s dining room table at the end of the night, sharing a glass of wine from the family vineyard to toast averting another crisis. The first season or two of this robust drama provided the plot twists of a telenovela but delivered them in a polished, witty and (generally) logical way. The latest episodes, however, have shown us a magical cure for cancer, a green card that arrives just in the nick of time and job offer for Senator McCallister (Rob Lowe) just vague enough for writers to give Lowe an easy exit when plans for him to join the cast of “Parks and Recreation” become final.

If all of this heavy drama is weighing viewers down, have no fear: at least there’s one “Modern Family” (ABC, Wednesdays 9/8c) in town. Or, as the show’s tagline says, “one big (straight, gay, multi-cultural, traditional) happy family.” Perhaps hoping to spice up its midweek lineup, ABC has essentially taken “Brothers and Sisters” and broken it down to a snappier, spicier, showier version. Instead of an aloof, gay, lawyer for a brother, we have Cam (Eric Stonestreet), who makes Liberace’s costume designer look reserved. Instead of an upstanding senator for a brother-in-law, we have Phil (Ty Burrell), who has the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old and recently spent the entire half-hour slot playing with his trendy new iPad.

Standing at the head of this comedy of errors is retiree Jay (Ed O’Neill) who recently married trophy wife Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and took on her chipmunk-cheeked, preteen son as his second shot at being a father.

The thing that makes “Modern Family” a show worth returning to next week is not the star power of O’Neill as was originally anticipated, but the continually surprising and genuinely funny performances of supporting cast members. In a move that’s got even “Glee” starlets thinking twice about pre-written acceptance speeches, the entire cast of “Modern Family” (including O’Neill) has just announced their plans to enter the Emmy race in supporting categories.

The truly ensemble spirit of the show shines through in a way that makes even the most degenerate cousin consider attending his family reunion after all.

Leno’s inauspicious return to late-night

By Jeremy Walsh

ArtsPost staff writer

Comedian Jay Leno made an inauspicious return last week as host of “The Tonight Show” with a forgetful series of first three episodes, leaving NBC’s decision to switch back to Leno from Conan O’Brien look more and more unnecessary.

“The Tonight Show” had been off the air since O’Brien hosted his last show Jan. 22.  With all of the momentum NBC gained during the Winter Olympics, audiences deserved a strong return to late-night from Leno.  Instead, audiences were reminded why Leno left in the first place, and why his prime-time comedy hour failed:  Jay Leno is no longer relevant as a comedian and talk show host.

The first three episodes seemed to be aimed at making a seamless transition from O’Brien to Leno by featuring generic celebrity guests and performance while weaving in three Olympic gold medal winners, trying to keep some focus on NBC’s successful Olympics run and off of the well-publicized, unseemly context behind Leno’s return.

Leno’s first show back, airing on March 1, treated audiences to few memorable moments.  The episode opened with a mildly entertaining, though unoriginal, satire of “The Wizard of Oz,” with Leno in the Dorothy role, awaking after a strange dream.  But as audiences well know, Leno’s nine-month hiatus from “The Tonight Show,” including his experiment with prime-time, was no dream.

The opening monologue, performed on essentially the same set as his prime-time show, seemed awkward as Leno carefully avoided any serious comment about his transition back to NBC’s late-night, which would have been classy and could have eased viewers’ tensions about the unsavory host switch.

Leno relied primarily on Olympics jokes to get him through the monologue, and most of his jokes received what sounded like forced or obligatory laughs from his studio audience.  One memorable zinger from the opening monologue came when Leno said that actor Keanu Reeves had agreed to appear in a new sequel in the “Speed” film series, and like its predecessors, the new film would center on an out-of-control vehicle, this time a Toyota.

Jamie Foxx was Leno’s first guest, and who better to usher in Leno’s return than an outspoken ego-maniac whose only goal is to make sure the camera remains on him.  Upon his arrival, Foxx incited the audience to shout the host’s name and cracked open a bottle of champagne, spraying it in the crowd’s direction.  At one point, Foxx ran around onstage so uncontrollably that he knocked Leno’s cup of coffee onto the ground.

That being said, maybe Foxx was a perfect choice for first guest because he allowed the home viewers little time to focus on Leno.

American gold-medalist Lindsey Vonn followed as Leno’s next guest, easing the awkward feeling of Foxx’s overly exuberant appearance.  Still the banter between Leno and Vonn was far from funny.  Country music singer Brad Paisley ended the show with a lively performance of his hit single “American Saturday Night.”

All in all, Leno’s first show back seemed to fail for two reasons:  It was excruciatingly unfunny, and it did not ease the awkwardness of his transition back as host.

Night 2 had a similar feel, featuring more downs than ups.  Leno gave another forgettable monologue, but made a successful return to his classic “Headlines” bit in the second segment, taking advantage of hilarious misprints in the nation’s newspapers.

Former Governor of Alaska, and current Fox News correspondent Sarah Palin graced the stage as Leno’s first guest.  Their banter seemed forced and lacked any humor; Leno did not go at Palin for any memorable zingers like a younger, less polite (and frankly, more funny) Leno would have done.

Toward the end of her interview, Palin entertained viewers with a surprisingly funny, fake monologue, practicing the kind of material she might do if Fox gave her a talk show.  The best critique of the Leno’s second night could be that Palin’s mock monologue was much funnier than Leno’s actual opening monologue.

The show featured another American gold-medalist, snowboarder Shaun White.  Again, this appearance saw generally dull banter.  Recent “American Idol” winner Adam Lambert finished the evening with a poor performance of his new song “Sleepwalker,” emphasized by its unoriginal, pseudo-’80s sound.

The final episode in the trio of post-Olympics shows aired on March 3 and continued the trends of lackluster comedy and awkward interviews.  The highlight of this show occurred during a mock trivia game hosted by Leno and featuring six stars of the reality show “Jersey Shore.”

The laughs came easily while watching these real people show off their lack of cultural knowledge by answering basic questions incorrectly.  Perhaps the funniest moment came when Leno asked the panel who becomes President of the United States if the president and vice-president die.  Giving a response someone would be hard-pressed to make up, one of the guests answered somewhat confidently that the person who lost the election would be the new president.

One of the more awkward interviews occurred between Leno and his first guest, comedian and author Chelsea Handler.

At the end of her spot, Leno whisked Handler out of the studio and onto a helicopter (in broad daylight, reminding viewers that the show is taped during the day).  The two flew over the Universal lot in Los Angeles to view a huge copy of the cover of Handler’s newest book, which Leno had made.  The moment seemed pointless because neither comedian really attempted any jokes during the uncomfortable flight.

Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno appeared next in-studio, where the two discussed Ohno’s Olympic career and analyzed video clips of Ohno’s races only days earlier in Vancouver.  Some of Ohno’s insights were intriguing, but the interview lacked the humor necessary to carry a late-night comedy hour.

Singer Avril Lavigne ended the show by performing her new single “Alice,” a song she contributed to the soundtrack of the new “Alice in Wonderland” film.   Though the final guests of the three episodes were well-known music artists, the show would have benefited from booking at least one stand-up comedian to perform in that spot, helping to close one of the nights with much-needed laughter.

In the end, Leno’s return to late night left much to be desired.  He seems to have lost touch with the brand of comedy that made his first stint on “The Tonight Show” so memorable and successful.  It appears that the uninspired Leno America saw in prime-time is here to stay.

Who really needs a referee?

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer

"Marriage Ref"

Tom Papa addresses the panel during the pilot.

The problem with single people is that they are busy looking for their soulmates. Host Tom Papa instructs them to “Find someone you can tolerate…find someone who you can sleep next to and not throw up and marry them.” A seemingly insensitive comedic introduction to a show about marital problems.

The Marriage Ref considers you an expert on marriage, “If you are, been, just got, or are getting out of marriage.” The pilot’s panel of experts includes Alec Baldwin, Kelly Ripa and the show’s producer Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld and Ripa are both married with and Baldwin is past the “getting out of marriage” phase, having divorced from Kim Basinger in 2002.

The pilot of the show featured the couples we had seen on commercials throughout the Olympics, the Ridolfis whose issue involved a deceased pet, and the Hunters’ disagreement about a stripper pole.

Unfortunately the show was not much more than what we had already seen from the commercials and advertisements that had made us want to tune in. We had already heard many of the wittiest comments and had already predicted the verdicts. The only surprise was the introduction of the “Just the Facts Ma’am,” Natalie Morales, who serves up obscure statistics or facts about the issue at hand. For example, stripper poles are an accepted form of exercise and around 1,000 people have their pets stuffed every year.

Both couples won a second honeymoon, though we were told at the beginning of the show only one would be winning. So no one had the craziest, worst or most complicated issue; everyone is a winner in the end.

Later, in the series premier, it was evident that the show would not be much more than one spouse with a crazy idea and one with a sane argument.

The experts of the premier were Tina Fey, who is married and has a daughter, Seinfled, in a return appearance, and Eva Longoria Parker, who is in her second marriage. They weighed in on three couples from all over the country.

The Rios, who actually brought two issues for the panel and ref to decide, seemed to be a happy couple and experts in fighting. Their issues were titled “The Forbidden Table” and “The Possible Porch.”

Dalia Rios has a formal dining room.  It is only to be used at Thanksgiving and for reflecting. Luis thinks that this is ridiculous.

The panel had some lively discussion on the issue. Fey thought the idea was crazy and that it was like saying: “The bathroom is only for Easter.” Longoria Parker however, confessed that she also had a formal dining room, AND a formal living room.  This resulted in a hilarious debate that centered on the issue: if royalty might be stopping by your house in your lifetime or not.

Dalia also wants Luis to build a “do-it-yourself” porch but he maintains he cannot “do-it-himself.” She berates him for being unable to do what all men should instinctively know how to do, and he shoots back that her comments are sexist. The facts from Just the  Facts Ma’am: studies show that women are better at assembly than men.

The panel was split on both issues but did not address the sexist issues and decided that couples that fight well are happily married.  The wife and husband each “won” one issue, but Papa merely gave the verdict with no helpful thoughts or insights on the deeper issues.

The Ramundos also had a conflict that had to do with gender issues.  The husband Joe is a self proclaimed “metrosexual” who spends more time going to the salon than with his wife and kids.  The couple awkwardly discussed the fact that Paula is not attracted to men who are not “manly men” and that Joe is more of the woman in the relationship.

The panel seemed to regard this as a superficial issue. Longoria Parker though Joe probably “watched too much Jersey Shore” and Tina commented that the problem was probably Joe’s desire for more “shnookie” and that Paula should give it to him if she wants to get her way.

This couple’s problem was uncomfortable to watch.  It seemed like they were not attracted to each other because of this issue. Papa and the panel assumed that we all thought men should be manly but well-groomed.  Though the call went to the husband, the audience was left in a strange place, unsure what to think.

The final couple, after a brief look at the Wizas and their flossing dispute, were the Kohlenbergs, who had an issue about wedding rings. Howard refuses to wear it while “playing basketball,” an image we were privy to that resulted in bouts of laughter and insults from the panel.

The panel sided with the wife solely based on the fact that her husband was a terrible basketball player and no woman would be interested in him after they saw him play.  It was strange to see the panel bully Howard, who seemed uncomfortable and embarassed.

-

NBC entertains us but ultimately misses the bigger picture with The Marriage Ref and gives us a show void of insight and advice. As Papa said on the pilot, “Is this a perfect system? Not even close!”

The couples and their problems were treated superficially and did not address any of the underlying societal issues that were brought up by the discussion.  Though Papa was fully of generic advice for couples to get over their disagreements, ending the season premier with “Your marriage is worth fighting for! Now kiss and make up!” the show does not deal with love at all.  It merely tells us to suck it up, tolerate each other and get on with our lives; happiness is not THAT important.

The Marriage Ref airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on NBC. For more information visit www.nbc.com/the-marriage-ref.

The not-so-typical family comedy

By Arrien Davison

ArtsPost Staff Writer

“Modern Family” may seem familiar with its mocumentary structure that mirrors30 Rock” and familiar faces from other family comedies, Ed O’Neill from “Married…with Children.” But this new comedy is in a league of its own. The show is quite complex, the story of one big family with a host of characters. It may seem difficult to follow along with eight main characters, but under the guidance of veteran producers Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd the show flows effortlessly from one funny punch line to the next. Levitan and Lloyd produced comedic hits such as “Wings”, “Frasier” and “Just Shoot Me!” So it’s no surprise that “Modern Family” is a hysterical hit in only its first season.

The show gives viewers a taste of three different types of families. The first is the winter-spring combination played by Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara, as Jay and Gloria. O’Neill is best known as Al Bundy, but “Modern Family” viewers will now see him in a new light. He is a sophisticated older gentleman trying to balance being a grandfather and a newlywed to a sultry Latina more than 25 years his junior. In previous roles, Vergara may have been seen as simply the “hot chic,” but this show really puts her comedic timing on display. In every episode it is funny to watch her attempt to turn her older husband into a romantic lover. This household also includes Gloria’s 10-year-old son from a previous marriage, Manny. This child is wise beyond his years and takes the typical awkward, chunky kid to a new plateau.

The second household is that of Jay’s adult daughter and her family. Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell play Claire and Phil. They are the more common television types, suburban parents with three kids. But Claire is not your typical housewife, she is totally in charge. Phil may make the money, but he knows who really wears the pants in the family. He is a complete goofball who is constantly trying to convince everyone, during his talks to the camera, that he is hip and the coolest dad on the block.  But his children are embarrassed by him most of the time.

The third household may be the funniest of them all. It consists of Jay’s son, his partner and their adopted Vietnamese daughter. Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Cameron and Mitchell, are in a constant, laugh-out-loud struggle to fit into straight society. Cameron is a stay at home dad who takes the baby to playgroups and toddler parties and does his best to fit in with the rest of the moms. Mitchell is a strong willed attorney constantly trying to convince his dad, Jay, that his being gay is not an embarrassing factor. The two move beyond the stereotypical gay characters seen on other shows and show what it’s like to be a real family, but with a twist.

“Modern Family” is on the road to becoming a smash hit sitcom because it offers something for every one.

“Modern Family” airs Wednesday’s on ABC at 9 p.m.

Ugly Betty: Say goodbye to this adorable braceface

By Lauren Linhard
ArtsPost staff writer

Betty’s braces are coming off! Sadly, we won’t be around to see her continue climbing the editorial ranks of Mode minus the orthodontia. In January ABC announced that this fourth season of “Ugly Betty” would be the last.

The new and final episodes began airing March 10th. “We’ve mutually come to the difficult decision to make this ‘Ugly Betty’s’ final season,” said ABC chief Steve McPherson in a statement. “We want to allow the show ample time to write a satisfying conclusion.”

When “Ugly Betty” began in 2006, audiences were introduced to Betty Suarez, a curvy vivacious woman from Queens determined to enter the magazine world. Though lacking the fashion sense that New York City is known for, Betty is hired on the staff of Mode magazine, one of the top fashion magazines. She is placed as the assistant to Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius), the editor-in-chief and famed womanizer. Obviously the odd one out, Betty navigates her way through sassy fashionistas, impossible assignments, corrupt supervisors and huge plot twists.

Even at first glance this Thursday night comedy seems special. In a society obsessed with beauty, plastic surgery and dieting it’s refreshing to find a character that doesn’t fit the “Gossip Girl” body type. Betty is a real Latino woman, proud of both her body and her heritage. However, rather than focus on body type, the show uses Betty’s lack of fashion sense to emphasize the difference between her and her co-workers. This is one of the first television series to take a genuine, though often comical look, at the hardships women face in the fashion world.

America Ferrera, the young Latina woman who plays Betty, brings spunk and exuberance to the role. Ferrera, known for her role as Carmen in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, brings passion and a loving nature to “Ugly Betty”. She wears Betty’s braces with pride and rocks the quirky wardrobe. Ferrera went on to earn Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG awards for her performance as Betty. She seems to love the character of Betty just as much as the viewers do.

“I never really pictured myself being on television,” said Ferrera in an interview with Parade Magazine. “I couldn’t imagine a world coming along that would entice me enough to sign away years and years of my life to one character. Then Betty came around.”

Together, Ferrera and Betty created a strong Hispanic role model meant for center screen. “[Betty’s] not a hot-blooded hoochie, or a floor-scrubbing maid, or a drug-pushing member of a gang,” said Chuck Barney of the Contra Costa Times. “And unlike so many of her TV predecessors who share her ethnicity, she’s not relegated to the outer margins of her show.” “Ugly Betty” was based on a Colombian soap opera called “Yo Soy Betty, La Fea” meaning Betty the Ugly, which ran from 1999 to 2001.

Though all of this makes for some excellent TV time, what really drives “Ugly Betty” is the drama drama drama. If there was ever meant to be an evil queen of fashion it would be Wilhelmina Slater (VanessaWilliams), the creative director of Mode. Driven to become the editor- in-chief of her beloved magazine, Wilhemina will do, and has done, almost anything. In season one, you see her plant various pieces of evidence from the Fey Summer murder in Bradford Meade’s office and try to turn Daniel against his father. In season two, she tries to marry Mr. Meade, but when he dies, she steals his sperm in an attempt to have his child. The seasons continue as Wilhemina resorts to every drastic measure possible to achieve her goal.

But the drama doesn’t stop there. We could talk about how Marc (Michael Urie) and Mandy (Becki Newton) are always trying to trip Betty up. Though they do get away with a lot, you just can’t help being amused by the catty duo. We could talk about Daniel’s transgendered brother coming back from the dead to take over Meade Publications. Then there are always the various women who come in and out of Daniels life, continually causing a stir. Not to mention the men in Betty’s life: Henry, Gio, and Matt. All are completely different types, yet all three succeed in winning your heart. Sadly, because of more drama (if you can believe it), none of them stick around.

“Ugly Betty” began strong with a primetime Thursday night slot. After two and a half seasons of strong ratings, viewership began to decrease. When the third season ended and the fourth season rolled around, “Ugly Betty” was placed in the Friday night death slot. Surely, though ratings may have decreased more than preferred, this quality show didn’t deserve such treatment. In January, after ABC announced this to be the final season, ABC placed “Ugly Betty” on Wednesday night in hopes of increasing viewership.

‘Caprica’ not your ordinary sci-fi

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

caprica

A scene from "Caprica" of Daniel Graystone and his daughter Zoe. Photo from Syfy.

While fans of the critically acclaimed hit series Battlestar Galactica might be a bit put off at first, the new SyFy series Caprica is a promising insight into the world that started it all.  Despite an unfortunate 9 p.m. time slot on Friday nights and scant promotion leading up to the show’s premiere, Caprica shows significant promise and beautifully melds science fiction with modern day relationships and social issues, grounding the back story for galactic battles and robot armies in a world much like our own.

For some, the idea of creating a sci-fi/fantasy prequel is brand suicide, ruining all that was good about the original work and tainting its memory with unnecessary and migraine-inducing characters (here’s lookin’ at you, Jar Jar).  However, Caprica allows Battlestar producers David Eick and Ronald D. Moore to reimagine the universe in a way that is distinct from, yet as richly layered as, its predecessor.

Set 58 years before the fall of man, the series takes place on the planet Caprica, capital of the 12 human colonies.  In this alternate polytheistic reality, humans worship the ancient Greek gods and those who espouse monotheistic beliefs are considered to be religious radical outcasts.  The plot follows the interconnected storylines of two families, the Adamas and Graystones, in their quest to make peace with the deaths of their loved ones while simultaneously shaping the fate of humanity.  Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a smug, computer genius and corporate tycoon skyrocketed to the upper social strata after inventing the holoband, a device that allows people to connect to a virtual reality version of the Internet through life-like avatars.  Joseph Adama (Esai Morales) is a lawyer from the planet Tauron who constantly struggles to reconcile his Caprican life with the traditions of his homeland and his connection to the Tauron mafia, known as the Ha’La’Tha.

The lives of both men are thrown into disarray after Daniel’s daughter, Zoe (Alessandra Torresani), and Adama’s wife and daughter are killed in a terrorist attack.  The attack, executed by Zoe’s boyfriend, was organized by the monotheistic organization Soldiers of the One, to which Zoe also belonged.  Following the suicide bombing, Graystone searches for a way to bring his daughter back and, consequently, save his company from ruin using a free-thinking, self-aware avatar which Zoe created in her own image.  This avatar goes on to become the first Cylon, a race of cybernetic beings that eventually destroys most of humanity in Battlestar Galactica.

This past summer the Sci-Fi channel changd its name to SyFy in an attempt to broaden its audience and steer away from the nerdy, male-centric fan base.  Caprica exemplifies this new brand strategy, contrasting Battlestar’s dark, somber world of space battles and robots with a more vividly colorful human drama.  Caprica clearly focuses on underlying themes more akin to a soap opera than your traditional sci-fi series, emphasizing human relationships and connections.  The show functions more as a drama with sci-fi elements than a clear-cut sci-fi show.  It explores modern themes of racism, terrorism and corruption in a world rife with decadence and excess in the wake of its exponential technological progress.  However, the social commentary can be a bit heavy handed, bordering on moral preaching and blatant cliché.

Although Caprican society is, for the most part, a reflection of modern American society, it distances itself enough from being a mirror image.  Stylistically, it carries an air of nostalgia by mixing 1950s-style fashion with a society much more technologically advanced than our own.  While the mobsters might don their fedoras and drive around in what looks like a 1951 Buick Roadster, their children text each other constantly and use computers that look like nothing more than sheets of paper.

The casting is superb, with Stoltz and Morales giving their best performances as morally conflicted men coming to terms with their grief and the consequences of their actions in the wake of tragedy.  Behind Stoltz’s cool, contemplative demeanor lies a man interrupted by occasional flashes of ruthless arrogance and human frailty.  The chemistry between Stoltz and Paula Malcomson, who plays Graystone’s wife, is palpable, allowing the characters to perfectly complement one another.  While Stoltz may appear more quiet and reserved, Morales shines in the moments where Adama wears his heart on his sleeve, struggling to cope with the longing he feels for his wife and daughter while losing his 11 year-old son to the influences of his Mafioso brother.

In the beginning, Torresani’s portrayal of  Zoe Graystone/Zoe the Cylon paralleled the feel of the pilot episode: drawn out, overdone and exaggerated.  However, as the show approaches its eighth episode, much of the long character development has been replaced with a quicker-paced story arc format.  Torresani, like the screenwriters, has become more comfortable with her character and the flow of the show.

While diehard fans of Battlestar may worry about the focus of Caprica, the prequel remains true to the world it has created while reaching out to a new audience to make a frakking fun time.

Unplanned “Parenthood” could use something extra

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

'Parenthood' photo provided by NBC.

NBC’s new drama “Parenthood” premiered and flopped Tuesday night. Created by Ron Howard and based on his hit movie of the same name, “Parenthood” lacks personality and fails to make a good first impression. The show’s concept sounds promising, but the cast lacks chemistry and bores rather than entertains.

“Parenthood” focuses on the Braverman family. Sarah (Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls”) leaves her dead-beat husband and moves with her two teen-age children back into her parents’ house. She immerse into the lives of her sibling and their families. Sarah’s sister, Julia (Erika Christensen), a successful lawyer, tries to juggle her career with her family. Sarah’s brother Adam (Peter Krause, “Six Feet Under”) must learn to accept his son’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and the affect it will have on his family. The younger brother, Crosby (Dax Shepard, “Baby Mama”), confronts his commitment issues with his current girlfriend and contemplates his priorities. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson, “Coach”), anchors the family while discovering that he must step back and let his children handle their own families.

The cast of “Parenthood” consists of actors from previously successful TV shows. An actor’s success in a previous show does not guarantee success in future shows. Also, actors run the risk of being typecast; Lauren Graham’s character, Sarah, is too similar to her previous role as Lorelei on “Gilmore Girls.” The first scene of “Parenthood” features Sarah talking a mile-a-minute on the phone; fast-talking was one of Lorelei’s character traits.

The cast’s lack of chemistry is “Parenthood’s” biggest problem. It is difficult to tell who is related to whom and who is married to whom. Viewers should look at www.nbc.com/parenthood to learn the family tree. “Parenthood” pales in comparison to ABC’s family drama “Brothers & Sisters.” ABC’s cast members vary in age and look related – there is no confusion.

The creators try to market “Parenthood” as being relatable to parents, encouraging viewers to comment on the show’s blog and interact with other viewers. Each Braverman sibling is given a parent stereotype – the poor, single mother, the career-focused mother and the overly competitive father. The creators exaggerate the stereotypes and make parents look bad. Sarah’s teen-age daughter is arrested for smoking marijuana and the extent of Sarah’s discipline is telling her she is disappointed and that it will take time for her to regain her mother’s trust.

“Parenthood” claims to be a drama, and features previews that make it look like a comedy. But the show is neither funny nor serious. It is not necessary for television to fall into the comedy or drama category, but it is necessary to emotionally enthrall and entertain the audience.

“Parenthood” is on NBC on Tuesday  at 10 p.m.

Why We Love “Damages”

Blood, guns, suicide, sex, corruption, money fraud, billion-dollar busts. In a word, litigation.

The new season of Damages began on Jan. 25 with its third intense installment following the turbulent lives of Patty Hewes (Glenn Glose) and her ambitious young protégé, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). The season commences with a James Bond-esque opening montage of all of the insanity and corruption from the past two seasons. This montage served more as a hell-raiser, keeping us wondering: How could they top the past two seasons?

While I was skeptical within the first half-hour, I was mystified and hooked by the beginning of episode two. Here are the top three reasons why this season can keep up with the rest and why you should tune in.

1. New, unlikely (but awesome) characters

For those new to the four-time Emmy award winning FX production, Damages surveys the high-stakes litigation world of New York’s premiere prosecuting attorney, Patty Hewes (Close). Each season captures one intense case within a six-month time frame. All of these cases have involved untouchable, corrupt billionaires and the shareholders they unrightfully rob out of their financial cuts.

In season one, we saw the haunting Ted Danson as the corrupt and broken CEO Arthur Frobisher. In season two, we witnessed Hewes embody her inner Erin Brokavich and attack corrupt billionaire Walter Kendrick (John Doman) and his environmentally destructive business, Ultima National Resources. This season, Hewes has been appointed by the U.S. government to recover billions of dollars in stolen assets from the largest investment fraud in history – a fraud perpetrated by financier Louis Tobin (Len Cariou), cable’s romanticized Bernie Madoff personality.

It’s a world where men’s lawyers are their best friends, their greatest confidants and stand-in family members. And such is the case for Leonard Winstone, the family’s attorney, fascinatingly portrayed by Martin Short. (Yes, the Martin Short.) This brilliant casting allows Short to introduce his classic one-liners while still maintaining this disturbing dark role of the corrupt alias.

In the fourth episode, there is a quintessential scene in which Martin Short stands purposefully in front of an electronics store. Maybe he is there to prove he isn’t about to murder someone; maybe he’s there to make a phone call. We don’t know. All we see is him walking past the store, only to slowly turn around and stare in the window. There he is – a corrupt lawyer staring into five other iterations of himself on flat screen televisions. He stands there, blankly looking into his soul. Then out of nowhere, he makes a perfect Martin Short blowfish face, leaving us with the Short we love embodying a demented, broken, old character willing to stoop to lows we have never known Short to stoop to – in any of his characters.

Finally, the brilliant Lily Tomlin guest stars as Louis Tobin’s scarred but protective wife, Marilyn Tobin. Damages has been known to introduce a strong female or two to counteract Patty Hewes, but they finally found her housewife parallel in Tomlin. As Hewes states to Ms. Tobin in the first episode, “Men have their secrets, but so do women – and I find that women are better at keeping them.”

Indeed, Hewes is so successful because she is just as dirty and corrupt as the people she prosecutes – which makes us hope that Ms. Tobin is up for the challenge.

But why is the wife’s role so important? Because the question of the season arises: is the Tobin family involved in the debacle? Thus Kesslers and Zelman introduce us to the new, complicated plot twist of season three: family.

2. The family dynamic

What lengths would family go to in order to protect one another? How do our mistakes affect and destroy those around us? While the media spotlight lingers on the Tobin family obliteration, Damages weaves in parallel family stories of its supporting characters. Hewes follows through with her divorce; the intelligently beautiful Ellen Parsons (Byrne) confronts a family member’s drug addiction; and the lovable Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan) loses everything in a single bad investment call.

By the third episode, we realize that this season focuses more intently on the dynamics and fluctuations, controversies and secrets of family – all of which make for a much more vibrant fabric with which to drive the story.

This season is all about the familial meltdown, and it is juicy (and genius)!

3. A brooding, progressive plotline

For creators Glenn Kessler, Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman, Damages is a magically severe game of puzzle pieces. Though relatively novice writers/directors/producers, these men seem to have struck small screen gold. Indeed, Kesslers and Zelman have more acting credits under their belts than producing nods. But it seems like the Kesslers’s short-lived involvement in The Sopranos (in 2000-2001) and the less-than-successful Robbery Homicide Division (2002-2003) provided them with the resourceful insight to create a small yet significant masterpiece in Damages. (Of course, a brilliant industry savvy cast helps.)

With a sort of Law & Order lens, Kesslers and Zelman expose us to one or two pieces at a time, at either end of the chronological timeline, leaving us to insinuate all of the unimaginable holes on our own. But speculation does not stand a chance against the genius structure of Damages.

However, in a culture where we constantly look forward to bigger, better and more devastating plot twists, Damage’s season three opener is less than appalling. In the quintessential “6 MONTHS LATER” flash-forward tag, we are told what terrible forecast we can look forward to in the coming season. In the past, we’ve seen a bloody Ellen Parsons run out of a New York City high rise and vengefully shoot an unidentified person at close range. This season, someone hits Hewes’s car in a hit-and-run homicide attempt. We infer: someone is trying to kill Patty Hewes.

BIG surprise, LAME way of going about it. The disappointment sets in heavily: where is our bloody, psychological American Psycho thriller?

This is why I appreciate the writers of Damages. Nothing is as it seems. And instead of laying all of their cards on the table as they have in seasons past, they decide to lay them down carefully, one at a time, so as to create a progression of deeper, more powerful insight. Don’t misunderstand, it is all still shocking – but it builds in mastermind astonishment.

For those dedicated to Damages, be happy to know that the new threads in the litigation tapestry seem to fit accordingly. Yet so many things remain the same: Glenn Close dominates once again as Patty Hewes, assuring us that she is still willing to get her hands dirty and hit under the belt. And, as always, Damages will leave you astounded after every episode, constantly thinking, “What the…?”

Of course, we won’t actually find out what is really going on until April.

Damages was created by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, who also serve as executive producers/showrunners. The series is produced by KZK Productions, FX Productions and Sony Pictures Television.

Tune in to Damages Mondays at 10 p.m. EST on FX.

King Henry VIII: the Original Pimp

By Alexandra Wells

AU Post Staff Writer

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Born late in the 15th century, this monarch was married six times, but beheaded two of his wives.  He also sired 14 children, only eight of who lived past infancy.  Unrivaled in the amount of true drama surrounding his life, King Henry VIII now has an entire series on the Showtime television channel.

“The Tudorsseries began in 2007 and features England’s reign under Henry (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers) during the Renaissance dynasty. The colorful show has been nominated for three Golden Globes and currently holds more than 27 awards.  Creator Michael Hurst, whose earlier works include “Elizabeth, has been nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and Gemini award.

The three seasons begin when Henry VIII has recently become King of England, after his older brother who was destined for the crown dies early and he is forced to marry his brother’s widow, Queen Catherine of Aragon (played by Maria Doyle Kennedy).  He tries desperately with his new wife to sire a male heir for the throne, but when this doesn’t prove fruitful, he becomes frustrated and has multiple affairs.

As he turns to other women in search of a son to take over his reign, he finds Anne Boelyn (played by Natalie Dormer) and soon becomes truly obsessed, an obsession that will come to rule his life and causes the fate of Christianity to diverge.  Throughout Henry’s juggling of women, he turns to male confidants: Sir Thomas More (played by Jeremy Northam), Charles Brandon (played by Henry Cavill), and later Thomas Cromwell (played by James Frain), who all become key sources of advice when the King feels lost or troubled.

The turbulent history of the Tudor era is not very well known by most television viewers, so many can benefit academically while sitting on their couch watching this show.  Although the show is not a strict biography of a previous King of England, it does bring some educational value to the table, helps to visually portray the time period and gives a loose sense of the historical figures’ lives.

Henry’s life is chalk-full of drama, intrigue, deception, arrogance, affairs and corruption.  So what gossip-loving, tabloid-reading viewer wouldn’t love this hour-long show?  Picture a time where royalty could order servants at their every beck and call while the Black Plague ravaged the neighboring poor countryside.

“The Tudors” is a show that helps to decode the mystery of a forgotten era and will be equally enjoyed by both history buffs and the average television watcher alike.  Combine the phenomenal cinematography with the ingenious casting, throw in a unique royal saga and: voila, a television masterpiece is created.

As the opening of the show explains, “You think you know a story, but you only know how it ends.  To get to the heart of a story you have to go back to the beginning.”  “The Tudorsstarts exactly where it should and continues to engage the viewer throughout the entire journey of King Henry VIII’s tumultuous life.

Pride & Prejudice: Long overdue

By Rebecca Campbell

ArtsPost staff writer

As a 30-year-old English major I am sad to say it took me this long to see the BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice. For years I’ve heard friends swoon over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, in fact for this very role he has been on the top 5 list for several of my friends. I’d seen the Keira Knightley 2005 version by Joe Wright more times than I can count. I’ve read the book. I’ve visited Jane Austen’s house. But I had missed an important rite of passage that most of my girlfriends experienced in high school. I had yet to see the five hour long, made for TV miniseries produced by the BBC.

Maybe it was the length that had intimidated me. Or my love for Colin Firth as, not so ironically, Mr. Mark Darcy, in Bridget Jones’ Diary. (You would think Helen Feilding’s shameless drooling over Colin Firth starring as the Jane Austin Mr. Darcy in her iconic novel about the lovable Miss Jones would have gotten me to see the miniseries, but alas, I did not succumb.) Or maybe it was the difficulty of renting the seven VHS tapes or later finding the 3 DVDs. Or maybe I liked the thought of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy the First and was afraid the series couldn’t POSSIBLY live up to the expectations.

Was I ever wrong.

Um, hello genetic engineering, will you please make me a Colin Firth Mr. Darcy?

Ok, stop drooling. Focus on the quality of the series (and Mr. Darcy’s jawline…).

Maybe I was afraid that this couldn’t be as true to the book. Again, was I ever wrong. Throughout the movie, I almost felt that I could be reading along. Yet I never felt the lines, setting or staging were unnatural or too posed. The BBC was more true to Jane Austin’s writing than the 2005 movie. Granted, having an extra 3 hours had to allow for more detail. But there were specifics about the book that I had forgotten by only watching Keira Knightly. Nuances of the youngest daughter’s childishness (and selfishness), the love a father has for a daughter, the unfairness of the feudal system, the distain for Mr. Darcy and the simple way it turns into undying love. The forgotten language of courtship and a sense of pride.

From costumes to screenplay, to accents and actors, to settings and setbacks, to the progression of emotions of love to hate for Mr. Darcy, the BBC got this one right.

Mr. Darcy will be frequenting my living room from now on.

Pride and Prejudice

Produced by the BBC (1995)