A few days ago, I was able to take part in a Q&A session with Fred Weller, who plays Marshal Marshall Mann on the USA Network’s hit show, In Plain Sight [Sundays, 10-9C]. Marshall may be Mary Shannon’s partner, but he is an interesting character in his own right – as is the man who plays him. One thing that is almost immediately apparent, is that both share a dry sense of humor.
Also taking part in the session were: Jamie Steniberg [Starry Constellation], Troy Rogers [thedeadbolt.com], Chandra Williams [TVJolts.com], Beth Ann Henderson [nicegirlstv.com], Jamie Ruby [Media Blvd], and Kendra White [no affiliation mentioned…].
The SCI FI Channel’s newest sci-fi/fantasy series, Warehouse 13, has added Allison Scagliotti [Drake & Josh] to its cast which already includes regulars Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek and CCH Pounder.
In the series – which focuses on two FBI agents who are assigned to a massive storage facility for “strange artifacts, mysterious relics and supernatural souvenirs” – Scagliotti will play Claudia Donovan, a young, hip, brilliant techno-whiz who cracks the facility’s security in search of Rubinek’s character, Artie. Her natural aptitude for science and technology enable her to figure out and manipulate many of the facility’s pieces in order to help the team.
Artie is the caretaker of the Warehouse, while Pete [McClintock] and Myka [Kelly] are the FBI agents who are charged with finding and securing new objects to cache there.
Warehouse 13 premieres with a two-hour episode on July 7th, 2009, at 9/8 Central.
When Trust Me [Mondays, TNT, 10/9C] premieres following The Closer, there will be a tonal shift of some magnitude. Whereas The Closer is a darker drama with humor, Trust Me is much lighter in tone, with a nearly equal amount of each.
The set up is this: Mason [Eric McCormack] and Conner [Tom Cavanagh] are partners in a creative group for ad agency Rothman, Green & Mohr. Mason is a bit uptight, a bit square and a draughtsman as opposed to an artist. Conner is sly, charming, talented but incredibly immature – and us brilliant at coming up with concepts and taglines.
When one of their biggest clients, Arc Mobile, wants to change their approach, Mason and Conner are pulled away from a cushy assignment to come up with something new – only their boss [Life on Mars’ Jason O’Mara] hasn’t been told. When he finds out, he retreats to his office and has a heart attack. The group’s creative director, Tony Mink [Griffin Dunne] promotes Mason to take his place. Conner has a fit of pique.
Trust Me’s first two episodes [Before and After, All Hell The Victors] deal with the ramifications of the client’s need for change and the fall out form Mason’s promotion – working a newly hired hot shot writer, Sarah Krajicek-Hunter [Monica Potter] who was promised “a window;” two junior copywriters, Tom [Mike Damus] and Hector [Geoffrey Arend] who think taglines are passé, and Mason’s wife Erin [Sarah Clarke] into the mix, along with all their unique arcs.
Between dealing with Arc Mobile and the inadvertent plagiarizing of a tagline from a potential employee, the first two episodes do a good job of setting up the characters and situations that will be the foundation for the series. If the ad agency stuff feels real it’s because series creators, Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny have between them over twenty years experience in the field.
Trust Me wouldn’t be out of place on a major network [or on the “Characters Welcome” cable net, for that matter]. It’s hugely entertaining despite still needing a bit of work on the drama/humor balance and figuring out how to maximum effect out of its minor characters. It’s certainly a better than average series, but it has the potential to be much more.
Tomorrow marks the return of one of the summer’s brightest lights, Burn Notice [USA, Thursdays, 10/9C]. When last we saw burnt agent Michael Westen [Jeffrey Donovan], he was caught in a freeze frame in mid-air after a bomb planted inside his door had gone off. It should come as no surprise that the winter premiere of the show picks up right at that precise instant. Nor will it come as a surprise that Westen survives – though he is banged up enough that he’s less than subtle in both his dealings with Carla [Tricia Helfer] and the con artists who benefited financially at the expense of a perhaps terminally ill boy named Jack. Westen saves Jack’s father from a terrible mistake [suicide] and after a very brief conversation, Kenny [David Barry Gray] becomes his next “side job” [as Carla puts it].
In our interview with Bruce Campbell [Westen’s right-hand man, Sam Axe] mentioned that he thought the show had a core of innocence, like The Rockford Files. Actually, I’d take that a couple of steps further and suggest that Burn Notice is a mash-up of Rockford and It Takes a Thief – only the hero is I Spy’s Kelly Robinson [in an upcoming interview, Nix talks about the way classic TV influenced the show].
In Do No Harm, the Season 2.5 premiere, Westen, who was pretty banged up after surviving the explosion, decides that he’s not exactly in the mood for subtle –something to do with almost dying [attempts on his life, he says, “are like snowflakes. Each one is different – and icy cold]. This puts Sam a bit on edge, and makes Fiona [Gabriel Anwar] a hair crazier than usual. It also means babysitting duty for Westen’s mom, Madeline [Sharon Gless].
The episode – which was written and directed by creator Matt Nix – seems to move a bit faster than usual. Probably because of Westen’s decision to forego subtlety. Also probably because of a twist in regard to his would-be assassin. Mostly, though it’s the combination of the above and con artists who target fatally ill children. As a result, the voiceovers aren’t quite as matter-of-fact as usual. There’s just a slight tonal difference, but we can tell Westen’s objectivity isn’t exactly intact.
Nix proves to be a capable director. He keeps the pace up and knows when to let the show’s trademark humor relieve the tension. Because he is so good, it should come as no surprise that Do Not Harm is one of the series’ best episodes, to date. After all, there’s compromising of the writer’s vision.
USA’s popular spy series, Burn Notice, is returning this week [Thursday, 10/9C] and we had the opportunity to chat with Bruce Campbell [crusty, semi-retired spy Sam Axe] on what to expect in Season Three. Campbell didn’t dip into any classified intel, but it was definitely a fun interview…
Tara Gregson [Toni Collette] is a struggling artist/designer with a charming husband, Max [John Corbett] and two kids – studious Marshall [Kier Gilchrist] and uber-brat Kate [Brie Larson]. She also has three more personalities [slutty teen, T; macho redneck Buck, and super Betty Crocker, Alice – and a sister, Charmaine [Rosemarie DeWitt] who thinks she’s faking [“that’s not even a real disease,” she tells Max after an early incident]. Fortunately, Max is a little more open minded than she is – though the exchange does basically set up two schools of thought on DID. The United States of Tara [Showtime, Sundays, 10/9C] is yet another reason that Showtime is sometimes referred to as “the new HBO.”
UST was created by Steven Spielberg and developed by Diablo Cody – which as likely a combination as Juno and Paulie from Cody’s first film, and turns out to be as an unexpectedly good one. It takes a lot of nerve to tackle DID in the manner of UST – the premise is that Tara has gone of her meds with the approval of her family and therapist in the hope that the appearance and behaviour of her alter-egos might lead to the discovery of the events that led her to develop them in the first place. Not the simplest premise, and one that probably be watched closely by mental health professionals and families of DID victims.
From the moment we meet each of Tara’s “alters,” it becomes apparent that Cody is playing for keeps. There moments with each alter that reach almost profound levels of accuracy – and the humor that arises from these situations ranges from dark to light to dark again. In most instances, the humor is used to relieve the impact of the drama, as when Alice takes umbrage with Kate’s attitude and language in the third ep, Aftermath [in which the family attempts to clean up after the damage T and Buck caused in the first two eps.
The United States of Tara is not an easy show to watch, but despite it flaws [the children are woefully underdeveloped and it’s a tribute to Gilchrist and Larson that they have any presence at all], it is smart and refuses to take it easy on its audience. There are moments that are genuinely raw – that will definitely have an impact on you – and moments that leave you rolling with laughter [and you might feel guilty only about half the time].
The United States of Tara will make you think and feel – and isn’t that what the best television should do?
Secret Diary of a Call Girl [Showtime, Sundays, 10:30/9:30C] may be best known as the television program that helped Billie Piper escape the stereotyping that could have followed her from two seasons as The Doctor’s most popular companion ever on Doctor Who, but it is also a charmingly oddball look at the oldest profession as seen through the eyes of Belle/Hannah [Piper], a high-end, independent call girl.
This season finds Hannah attending a christening as godmother, and having to deal with the prospect of being the featured prostitute in a political scandal; considering cosmetic surgery, and trying to figure out a way to have a real relationship without leaving the profession. The potential relationship thing begins with Belle picking up a guy named Alex [Callum Blue, Dead Like Me], thinking he’s a client, and then being unable to stop thinking about him. This is complicated by a would-be call girl named Bambi [Ashley Madekwe] who picks Belle’s mind for pointers – and steals one of her clients, with near disastrous results.
Season Two of Secrets of a Call Girl is pretty much what you might expect if you saw Season One. Belle’s clients are the source of some humor – as well as some drama, and her personal life, her real life, continues to intrude on her professional one in ways that make her think about changing her line of work. The writing is mostly frothy, but occasionally darker, with the result that we can laugh, cry, shudder and, occasionally, cringe as we watch.
The characters continue to be drawn well enough for us to care about at least a few of them. Blue’s Alex is awkwardly charming; Madekwe’s Bambi is an innocent who thinks she isn’t, and there’s always ex-boyfriend Ben [Iddo Goldberg] to call Hannah on her BS [being the only person from her real life who knows about her profession].
Technically, the show is as glossy and sleek as ever – though the rather awkward cuts from Belle to her body double are a weak point. Secret Life of a Call Girl is occasionally erotic enough to make us feel naughty as we watch, bit just as often so matter-of-fact that we can relate to the characters as people.
I’ve had my review copy of Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition for awhile – but only now have I managed to get through all of its many features. This is the kind of DVD package that you have to actually see, full-size, to really appreciate.
Freaks and Geeks, of course, is the classic one-season wonder set in 1980 that revolved around siblings Lindsay [Linda Cardellini] and Sam Weir [John Francis Daley]. Unlike other shows that used metaphors for “high is hell” [Buffy the Vampire Slayer], or “high school is cruel” [Veronica Mars], Freaks and Geeks proud asserted that high school is real – and it may seem earth-shattering while you’re, but in the end? It’s high school. By using siblings who were at different ends of the school population’s periphery, the series [all eighteen episodes] gave us a look at an institution that was far more real than we’d seen before – and because we saw it through the filter of a newbie freak [Lindsay] and an entrenched geek [Sam], it brought back all the epic highs and devastating lows of that period of our lives.
After sitting through the first four episodes of TNT’s new series Leverage [premieres Sunday, 10/9C, then moves to Tuesday, 10/9C] – one of the easiest assignments of my career, it occurred to me that TNT’s motto could be modified to read, “We Know Dramedy.” Leverage, like its fellow TNT shows The Closer, Saving Grace and Raising the Bar, does have its moments of drama – but like those other show [okay, excepting Raising the Bar], it makes frequent use of wit, charm and humor.
Former insurance investigator Nathan Ford [Timothy Hutton] put has a team put together to steal a supposedly stolen set of plan for a new aircraft on the series premiere, The Nigerian Job. Part of the reason he takes the job is because that insurance company, for which he saved untold millions of dollars in claims, refused his son’s medical treatment and the boy died.
The other four members of the team – grafter Sophie Deveraux [Gina Bellman – Coupling], retrieval specialist Eliot Spencer [Christian Kane – Into the West, Angel], cat burglar Parker [Beth Riesgraf] and hi-tech thief Alec Hardison [Aldis Hodge – Friday Night Lights] – aren’t especially interested in doing the right thing. For them, the money is where it’s at.
Leverage is smart, showing its influences without losing its own identity. One of the keys to its success is that Ford puts together his team from thieves he’s taken on in his old job. As the team leader and token “honest man,” Hutton takes the still grief-stricken Ford and gives him enough dramatic weight that he anchors the show as well as the team.
The rest of the cast fills out their roles in various idiosyncratic ways – all of which work, because series creators John Rogers [Transformers, Global Frequency] and Chris Downey [The King of Queens] have written them with a depth that is striking. There are also twists on the standard caper personalities, the biggest of which is that, whereas the “crazy” member of the team is usually a guy, here it’s beautiful, blonde Parker. That’s only one of many variations of the usual themes that sets Leverage apart – in a good way.
Over the first four eps, the team will steal top secret plans; save a church; tackle the ownership of a thoroughbred and deal with a Blackwater-type mercenary company. In each case, the caper is different – especially when the man who moved into Ford’s old office [played by Mark A. Sheppard, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica] appears on one of their cases!
Tonight’s episode of The Ex List [CBS, 9/8C] – Do You Love Me, Do You, Surfer… Boy” is the fourth of the show’s first [and quite possibly last] season and, despite several ingratiating performances [and a wide variety of ex-boyfriends], it isn’t a substantial improvement over the pilot.
Bella [Elizabeth Reaser] is following her plan to revisit her past boyfriends as per the fortune teller’s [Anne Bedian] prophecy that her soulmate is someone with whom she’s had a romantic relationship – and that if she hasn’t found him within a year, she’ll never marry. As a result, she’s encountering – in various unexpected ways – past boyfriends by the bucket load. This week it’s Shane [Brian Van Holt], a surf bum who has “grown up” to be famous and surprisingly business savvy.
The episode begins when the two meet cute and begin to see each other. We get a token look at Bella at work and there are arcs involving her engaged sister, Daphne [Rachel Boston], getting some photos done; her roommates, Augie [Adam Rothenberg] and Vivian [Alex Breckenridge] having some relationship problems [a showerhead and little to no imagination are involved], and Cyrus [Amir Talai] trying to scam a free board to teach a gorgeous woman to surf.
Although the subject of Bella’s quest is different, the pattern is pretty much beat for beat the same. The reconnect; they feel the generated chemistry; they learn how each changed over the years, and they fall apart just as things might be getting serious. The only difference here is that Shane has the potential to reappear in her life. Of the rest of the arcs, the only one that works is the showerhead one. Daphne might as well not have appeared in the ep, and Cyrus has gotten really old, really quickly.
In the pilot, written by series creator Diane Ruggerio, there were suggestions that we would see more of Bella’s life than just the fun parts and the ex-boyfriend parts. It seemed like we were going to get to see her at work as well as at play – and that her friends were going to actually be characters. The network, apparently, thought that the show should focus on just the play and romance and not the other [biggest] part of her life. The result is a show that entertains only sporadically, held aloft by the sheer charisma of Reaser and the characters of Augie and Vivian.
Given the potential in the pilot, this simply isn’t good enough. After invoking The Three-Ep rule, I was ready to stop watching, but CBS made a screener of the fourth ep available for review, so I asked for one. Sadly, it shows improvement only insofar as the ex of the week has the possibility of returning. In every other respect, The Ex List has not found the balance it needs to make it worth continued viewing.
Last year’s mini-series The Starter Wife chronicled the events that led to Molly Kagan’s [Debra Messing] new, less wonderful life after her Hollywood producer husband, Kenny Kagan [David Allen Basche] told her he wanted a divorce. The mini-series did so well that USA decided to bring it back as an ongoing series [Fridays, 9/8C].
The series two-hour premiere finds Molly trying to get motivated as a writer, so she decides to take a writing class being given by bestselling author, Zach McNeill [Hart Bochner]. When she reads from her first children’s book, the class is quietly dismissive – though she does return for a second class where she reads from her journal – to very positive response. Positive enough that Zach invites her to a party where he can get her together with a magazine editor who is looking for a columnist with her skills. Not only does the party go badly for Molly, someone steals her journal and leaks bits of it to an influential gossip website.
Meanwhile, Molly’s friends, Rodney [Chris Diamantopoulos] and Joan McAllister [Judy Davis] have interesting problems of their own. Rodney’ interior decorating business is flourishing while his social life is a disaster. Joan is finding her sobriety difficult to maintain and when she takes a job at a posh rehab facility, her first assignment is watch over a faded movie star who is very creative in his approach to getting drunk.
Like most of USA’s “Characters Welcome” programs, The Starter Wife features a mystery – who stole Molly’s diary. Unlike the rest of USA’s shows, though, it goes more for the odd balance of soap opera storylines and dark humor –both of which Messing and Davis, in particular, can play adroitly. Those moments of pure soap melodrama are folded into a mix that gives the entire cast moments to shine but the success of the series rests squarely on the shoulders of Messing, who does indeed get all the best material [in her dreams she translates her many crises into versions of hit movies – Elizabeth and Mission: Impossible are among the films referenced in the premiere].
While the dark humor and melodrama work relatively well here, The Starter Wife does have a tendency to get a bit too frothy from time to time. If it keeps that tendency under control, the series should be able to hold an audience geared to the kind eccentric characters at which USA programs excel. If not, the show will be hard pressed to survive.