Monday, April 29, 2013

Game of Thrones review: "Kissed by Fire"

Loyalty is a slippery thing. It shifts with victory, defeat, duty, love, lust, bitterness or any number of other reasons. This week's somewhat dull episode (even with hot tubs and butts) featured various characters grappling with what loyalty -- and trust -- means to them.

Friday, April 26, 2013

NBC renews 'Parenthood,' four other dramas

Photo by Chris Haston/NBC

NBC on Friday announced the renewal of five dramas, including "Parenthood," which bounced back in the ratings last year on a solid, heart-wrenching season. AND, it's been renewed for 22 episodes, seven more than last season. So great news for fans -- and for tissue manufacturers.

Also renewed: Revolution, Chicago Fire, Grimm and Law & Order: SVU.

In other NBC news, an hourlong special celebrating nine years of "The Office" will air before the hourlong series finale May 16.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Video: Go! Live with Marcos Cabrera and Jeannie Evers

Jeannie joins Herald features writer Marcos Cabrera to discuss YAC's Live Art event Saturday, other Best Bets plus "Hannibal" and "Game of Thrones."

'The Million Second Quiz': I hope NBC thought this through

OK, help me understand this.

NBC has ordered a live competition trivia show called "The Million Second Quiz." It goes on 24/7 for 12 days and nights, captured on live stream and also airing live in primetime.

It takes place in a giant hourglass in the middle of Manhattan.


I'm pretty sure NBC has lost its mind.

The basic premise as set out by the network is a bit unclear, but it goes something like this: Contestants compete online for a bit before the show airs, and then the four people who have remained in the game the longest "get" to live in the clear hourglass. In primetime, they go up against other contestants who are trying to unseat them. The prize is $10 million.

What it basically amounts to is digital overreach. Yes, it includes online and interactive elements -- "Look how with it we are!" -- but it MAKES NO SENSE.

A few questions (aside from what exactly the game entails):

How big is the hourglass, and what exactly is going to be in it (besides four people trapped inside like fish in a fishtank)? The four top dogs are supposed to be living there during the show's 12-day run. Presumably, the individual contestants will rotate as people get knocked out of the competition, but what if one of the four is a Ken Jennings type who survives every round? Are there toilets? Showers? Any kind of privacy?

And if people only get unseated during primetime, does that mean this silly experiment is going to be airing every night? In fall, when the network supposedly will have a full slate of scripted dramas and comedies? If it doesn't air every night, that means even without a super genius, some of these people are going to be trapped in the hourglass for more than one day, at least. I hope it's ventilated.

Paul Telegdy, president of alternative and late night programming at NBC Entertainment, describes the show as, in part, "a social experiment." All I can say is, the network better have a good psychologist on hand, because this thing could get Stanford-prison-experiment ugly.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Game of Thrones review: "And Now His Watch is Ended"

"And now his watch is ended" -- the men of the Night's Watch say these words as they watch the body of their fallen brother burn, a necessity north of The Wall to prevent him from rising again as a White Walker. It's a fitting symbol for a superb episode focused on the past being brought back to life, and on those who seek to avenge it.

Daenerys, Varys, Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, Arya, the Brotherhood Without Banners and the Night's Watch are all seeking revenge for wrongs done in the near and distant past.

Friday, April 19, 2013

On time sensitivity and violence on TV

It was announced Friday that NBC has decided to pull the fourth episode of "Hannibal," which depicts children killing children, from its lineup because of a particularly violent few months in America.

I read that news on Twitter this afternoon after finishing last night's episode, which I was going to lament for its graphic content because the psychological aspect of the show is what makes it so alluring. So my first thought on reading that NBC was pulling next week's episode was: "Well, that's great, but the show is still unnecessarily gruesome."

Variety reported that creator Bryan Fuller called NBC to say that "given the cultural climate right now in the U.S., I think we shouldn't air the episode in its entirety." Instead, clips will be available on He told Variety: "I didn't want to have anyone come to the show and have a negative experience. Whenever you write a story and look at the sensational aspects of storytelling, you think, 'This is interesting metaphorically, and this is interesting as social commentary.' With this episode, it wasn't about the graphic imagery or violence. It was the associations that came with the subject matter that I felt would inhibit the enjoyment of the overall episode."

ABC this week pushed back an episode of "Castle" where detective Kate Beckett steps on a pressure-sensitive bomb. And, Variety notes, Syfy pulled a school violence episode of "Haven" after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

Time sensitivity is an understandable concern, but are these associations ever really going to go away? "Hannibal" was filmed before the events at Sandy Hook, but that doesn't mean our world wasn't already filled with countless instances of children being victims of violence, as we're reminded constantly by gang-related deaths in Monterey County.

I've seen a slew of essays from TV critics in recent months about violence fatigue, about degrees of violence, about whether violence truly serves a story or is there as some sort of fad. These are all valid discussions to have; I'm in the camp that believes the depiction of violence can serve a larger purpose. But we should pay attention to what happens when we don't have those elements; in other words, if we as viewers lose nothing by the absence of "Hannibal's" fourth episode or by the absence of an explosion or by the absence of school violence, maybe it's time to rethink their necessity.

The argument here is not for a ban on the depiction of violence, but for a consideration of "excess." I realize that's an elusive term; I have a pretty high threshold when it comes to fictional violence and so haven't become as jaded as many TV watchers in recent months. Last night's "Hannibal," however, was the first time I've started to sidle over into that camp. What intrigues me are the mind games that Dr. Lecter plays with victim/suspect Abigail Hobbs and with Will Graham, and I don't need repeated visual imagery of bodies impaled on antlers or people getting their throats cut to understand it; just a few shots will suffice. The show starts with a "viewer discretion advised" warning of graphic content -- certainly nothing new these days -- but the message is repeated at the bottom of the screen after the return from each commercial break. That's gotta mean something.

And maybe making that warning unnecessary is a worthy goal to shoot for, because it's starting to feel like no amount of time between a real violent act and a fictional one is ever going to be enough.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

'Rawhide' coming to AMC, and other news from the network

Saddle up, Clint Eastwood fans, because "Rawhide" is riding into Saturdays on AMC. (Sorry for all the puns. It's been one of those weeks.) The network will start airing the classic Western TV series this Saturday (April 20) from the very beginning, running them in multi-episode chunks starting in the morning. Check your listings.

"Rawhide," which aired from 1959-66 and launched Eastwood to stardom, follows the challenges of a cattle drive in the 1860s from San Antonio to Missouri. Eastwood played Rowdy Yates, sidekick to a trail boss played by Eric Fleming.

The announcement was made in tandem with news that AMC's original series "Hell on Wheels" will move to Western-themed Saturdays with its third-season premiere Aug. 3.

In other AMC news this week, "Breaking Bad" will start airing its final eight episodes Aug. 11. It will be followed by a half-hour live companion show, "Talking Bad," an after-show in the same vein as "Talking Dead" for "The Walking Dead."

And it announced a slate of new shows for spring and summer. You can read about those here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Game of Thrones review: Walk of Punishment

I hope you'll forgive me, because I need to be an unabashed fan this week. That was probably the most fun I've had watching an episode of this series, from the opening scene of bad marksmanship to the rock song rolling over the final credits.

A rundown:

1) What starts out as a solemn moment -- Catelyn's late father being put out to sea -- turns into farce when her brother fails three times to get his flaming arrow to the body to spark the funeral pyre. The first miss and hollow plunk as the arrow hit the water was classic, because it turns that staple of medieval movies on its head -- those arrows always hit on the first shot. As Robb barely suppresses a laugh, Catelyn's uncle steps up to the plate, aims and fires, then turns away before it hits its mark in that cocky way people have when they know their shot is true. That first scene really set the tone for the rest of the episode.

(Bad marksmanship isn't her brother's only blunder. He also botched Robb's plans to bring the ruthless Mountain out into the open so he could be killed, ruining a perfectly good war strategy. And don't worry for poor Catelyn: She got her chance to grieve, in a nice moment with her uncle.)

2) The small council! So much deliciousness was happening in that musical chairs scene, all of it so telling of the characters: Littlefinger rushing to the seat nearest Tywin. Cersei strolling in behind everyone else, then moving her chair to Tywin's other side. Tyrion noisily dragging his chair to the foot of the table, to be on equal ground with his father. Varys poking fun at Littlefinger by rubbing in the fact that Roose Bolton holds Harrenhal, a castle bestowed on Littlefinger last season. Littlefinger's face shifting from amused to crestfallen when Tywin then calls Harrenhal a worthless piece of rubble. I could not stop chuckling. (This show really should be spun off into several two-person series: Littlefinger and Varys, Tyrion and Bronn, Brienne and Jamie...)

3) Whether Tyrion bribed Pod's prostitutes to refuse his money or not (as some theories suggest), I enjoyed watching the young squire return triumphant and somewhat bewildered. Also with that sequence, "Game of Thrones" went from sexing up lineage to sexing up finances -- Tyrion and Bronn were in the middle of a rather droll conversation about how hopelessly in debt King's Landing is. Finally, I'm amused that prostitutes are the only gift Tyrion ever thinks of giving.

4) I cheered a little at this line from Dany, as she walked out of Astapor with the slave she intends to free: "All men must die. But we are not men."

5) I loved the rock version of "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" by The Hold Steady over the end credits -- not so much the song on its own, but its very existence. It was jarring, for sure, but it's not like it came after some solemn event -- it came after an equally jarring behanding. In other words, it fit the moment.

And speaking of that behanding...

Jamie has steadily been growing into a more sympathetic, layered and understandable character, far from the guy who shoved a boy out a window. Though he's been pushing Brienne's buttons, he's come to care for his companion, and genuinely tries to protect her from being raped by their captors, or at least to prepare her for it. (And Brienne got to jab him back, taking aim of his combat skills.) In trying to convince their main captor to back off -- while the assault happened off-screen, with yells from both Brienne and the men, indicating she was putting up a good fight as promised -- Jaime adopted the same conspiratorial tone of voice he used last season when he lured an admiring cellmate to his death in an escape attempt. (Props to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for that choice.) Only this time the person he hoped to sway was not a child, but a man who could see through the bull. While it did seem to work on one level -- Brienne was brought back, apparently unscathed -- Jaime ultimately felt the effects of "no good deed goes unpunished." The loss of his hand isn't a triumph, but a tragedy. And as for the action itself: That's how you end an episode.

Other thoughts:
-- Another shocker was Dany offering up one of her dragons as payment for the Unsullied. But after seeing that hideously long line of strung-up slaves, who look forward to death because at least they would be free, I can understand her motivation. That, plus Jorah's again-sage advice that the Unsullied would not take collateral victims, as a regular army would. Still, I would hope/guess that Dany won't give up her dragon so easily.
-- Amid all the tomfoolery was the nice little moment when Arya and Gendry said goodbye to Hot Pie. It made me sad to see them part, and I wanted to hug Arya for telling Hot Pie that she liked his wolf bread.
-- North of the wall, it feels like people are being situated for something epic.
-- I still have no idea what's going on with Theon.

Did everyone else have fun?

Friday, April 12, 2013

The enigma that is "Go On"

"Go On" ended its first season Thursday. I watched every episode. I'm still not sure why.

In case you missed it, which I think many of you did, "Go On" is an NBC comedy that stars Matthew Perry as Ryan King, a recent widower who joins a grief support group. It's really not as much of a bummer as it sounds. The group is filled with eccentrics, like a woman obsessed with cats and a guy who basically exists to do all kinds of weird stuff (in the season finale alone, for instance, he randomly carried pennies in his hands and ate candles). There's some workplace comedy too, at the sports radio station where Ryan is a host. Most of the show focuses on Ryan's journey of accepting the death of the love of his life, and the group coming together to help him and each other. Lots of warm fuzzies, with the requisite shenanigans.

The thing about "Go On" is that it didn't make me laugh all that much -- the jokes came fast, but often forced and predictable. But something kept bringing me back. More than that, it's a show I tended to watch right away, as opposed to letting the episodes pile up on my DVR like so many others. Why? Is Matthew Perry really that charming? Am I using it to work through some of my own (unknown) issues? Was I just looking for a brain dump at the end of a long Tuesday?

There were aspects of the show I liked: Ryan's friendship with kindred spirit Anne (Julie White), who's adjusting to the death of her own wife; the goofy earnestness of his boss, played by John Cho; even that aforementioned weirdo, Mr. K (Brett Gelman), who started to grow on me. In fact, many of the group members started to grow on me. But again, the laughter...

If you were to ask me if "Go On" is a good show, I would probably hesitate but end up saying yes. It's likely to be renewed, and I'm likely to keep watching. Am I crazy? Can a comedy be good if it's not funny?

Review: NBC's "Hannibal"

I didn't get a chance to review NBC's "Hannibal" from the pilot last week, so I'll pick it up from here and offer my two cents based on two episodes.

I rather like it. It's dark and creepy, and definitely not for the faint of heart. Those images of antler-gorged bodies and mushroom arms are not going to go away anytime soon.

It's also smart, in that it knows it has an established character in Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and doesn't waste any time in telling us who he is as an individual. Instead, it spends that time establishing who he is with FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), and already I'm intrigued by the dynamic of the two of them. The second episode was all about making connections, and while Will was trying to forge a link with a girl in a coma and the Killer of the Week was reaching out through body mushrooms, it was Lecter who got through with a mutual understanding of what it's like to kill someone. And it's fun to know that the bond he's forging with Will is just part of a cat-and-mouse game.

I'm also intrigued that the show seems like it will largely focus on Will and his mental state. Will, who is close to Asperger's on the autism spectrum, has the ability to get into the minds of killers and has a specific process of doing so. The effects for that are cool -- an orange copy-machine-light pendulum that reverses time and allows him to go through the killer's actions and thought processes. It seems like a process he needs to complete uninterrupted from start to finish. And after being stopped mid-process in the pilot, he's been off balance and unsettled, stuck in some sort of middle plane.

Dancy is doing an amazing job so far of showing the darkness creeping into Will and the struggle of someone who has a hard time empathizing coming to terms with how he's feeling. Mikkelsen, who played up the creepy a bit too much in the pilot -- so much so that I was frustrated that other characters couldn't pick up on it -- dialed it back in the second episode and lays on a coolness that works much better. And the man knows how to enjoy a lung. Laurence Fishburne, playing FBI agent Jack Crawford, who recruits Will back into the field to help investigate these murders, so far is just a transplanted Ray Langston from "CSI," but it's early yet.

I have a few small gripes here and there, but "Hannibal" is getting a regular slot on my DVR.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Game of Thrones review: "Dark Wings, Dark Words"

"Dark wings, dark words" is a reference to the ravens that deliver messages across the realm, messages that are sometimes ominous. Robb and Catelyn saw this saying bear fruit with the delivery of two letters to their camp, one about the death of Catelyn's father, the other about the sack of Winterfell and the unknown whereabouts of Bran and Rickon.

But at its heart, "dark wings, dark words" is prophetic, and this episode dumped a heap of prophecy on us along with an overall sense of bad things to come.

Friday, April 5, 2013

News bits: Jay and Jimmy, the Bluths and that celebrity game show

The Big News this week, obviously, is that Jimmy Fallon will take over for Jay Leno as host of "The Tonight Show" in spring 2014. As part of the handoff, the show will move back to New York.

I don't have a lot to add to all the talk swirling around the transition, partly because it had already been widely reported before this week's announcement, partly because we've seen it all before in the Conan debacle of a few years ago, and partly because I watch neither Leno nor Fallon and frankly don't care that much.

But I can see where Leno's longtime followers -- he's been host of "Tonight" for 22 years, all told -- might feel some sadness. These are folks who watch Leno by actually turning on the TV at 11:35 p.m., as opposed to checking out short, funny and talked-about video clips the next day, as I sometimes do with Fallon -- and as, I suspect, many of Fallon's fans do, since video shorts are part of his shtick. Though it will be interesting to see if Leno's crowd will stick around for the young and hip Fallon, maybe the bigger question on their minds is whether they've seen the last of their favorite big-chinned comic. Several critics who say they have a handle on how Leno thinks suspect he'll find some way to stay in the spotlight.

Read on for some other news of the week:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review: ABC's "How to Live With Your Parents"

I wish TV didn't repeat itself.

The worst elements of "How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)," which premieres tonight on ABC, are recycled: quick flashbacks to punctuate a joke, bleeped out swear words, sentimental summation.

The concept is also familiar: Single mom Polly (Sarah Chalke), recently divorced, returns home and intends to stay with her parents (Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins) for just a short while, but ends up staying indefinitely. Polly is the "normal" one of the family, her parents the eccentric, free-spirited type. Her doofus ex-husband (Jon Dore) is still in the picture. But in a departure from recent trends, her young daughter (Rachel Eggleston) is blissfully non-precocious.

With the recycled elements, "How to Live With Your Parents" simply feels like it's trying too hard. But the show has something in Garrett and Perkins, especially, and it succeeds in moments when it sits back and lets them play off each other. They have an easy relationship, one that comes across as believably long-term: When they talk over each other, as they often do, it's subdued and usually serves to complement what the other is saying. Their hands-off approach differs from Polly's, providing the genesis of most conflict on the show. Chalke does a fine job navigating the waters as Polly tries to figure out how she wants to raise her daughter. Polly can be a little manic sometimes, and her life is not nearly as out of control as she pretends it is, but she's charming.

This is not really a laugh-a-minute show, but it could be. Give it a try.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Game of Thrones Review: Valar Dohaeris

"Game of Thrones" is back and ... underwhelming. But in individual moments, still incredible.

The premiere spent most of its time doing the necessaries: picking up where the characters left off, introducing new ones and laying the groundwork for things to come. Not much room for anything to get the heart pumping.

That said, there were a lot of little things I enjoyed quite a bit. Top of the list were Tyrion's encounters with Cersei and, especially, Tywin. Tyrion is still licking his wounds from the after-effects of the Battle of Blackwater. He's been disfigured by a slash across the face (put there by someone Cersei hired), removed from his position as Hand of the King and longing for a little recognition for the stellar job he did. Though he's a dwarf, he has never really seemed small -- until this episode. He holds his own with Cersei as she gloats over his circumstances and tries to pump him for information, but his usual calm with her is replaced by a jumpy wariness. And he's feeling so vulnerable that he goes to his father and openly asks for what is his by rights -- despite knowing how much Tywin loathes him, and being told so again.

While Tyrion is getting beaten down, Dany's fortunes are looking up as she considers buying an army of 8,000 Unsullied warriors from a slave trader. Though the warriors' show of force was small, their precision was impressive and their backstories horrifying. The books spent a great deal of time on her moral opposition to slavery, and I'm curious how much of that will make it into the show. Jorah seems to have already convinced her that she would be a much nicer slave owner than the other guy.

Meanwhile, Jon is falling in with another army north of the wall led by Mance Rayder, played by Ciaran Hinds. I'm not sure about Hinds yet, but he seems to give Rayder just a touch of levity, which works for me. Elsewhere in the camp, there's a giant doing menial labor. Love it.

Other highlights/lowlights:
-- I was happy to see Davos alive, but unhappy to see him carted off. Also, the Stannis/Red Woman dynamic is rather flat by now.

-- Behind Tyrion's scenes, probably my favorite one was the brief exchange between Ros, the prostitute-turned-brothel manager (or whatever), and Shae, the prostitute-turned-lady's maid. For all the sexposition that goes on, it's nice to be reminded that these two women have become far more complex and interesting characters.

-- Nice touch on the main titles, showing Winterfell now as a smoldering mess.

-- Yeah, the dragons are bigger and badder, but they're also less convincing than when they were smaller. But I won't hold it against you, VFX guys, because the direwolves still look awesome.

-- Looking forward to next week, when we get to check in with Arya, Bran and Jamie.

What did everyone else think?