Entries in Primetime (5)

Tuesday
Dec202011

HBO Cancels Three Fun Comedies, Keeps Awful, Unbearable 'Enlightened'; Ugh

 

REVIEWING THE NEWS: Bored to Death, Hung and How to Make It in America get the axe, while the pretentious, inane, low-rated Enlightened gets a second season. HBO, thou hast betrayed us.

By Kenny Herzog

Ugh, another season of dealing with TV's least likeable lead character. (Credit: Prashant Gupta/HBO)

It was inevitable that Bored to Death would be canceled. It was more shocking that HBO gave the always refreshing noir-buddy-comedy three full seasons. I'd made my peace with it, and the recent finale felt adequate for both its fall- and series-runs. Hung and How to Make It in America were harder to see coming. (Full disclosure: I'd reviewed How to Make It this past season for another outlet.) Enterting their potential fourth and third seasons, respectively, both had made tremendous creative strides and found their voice. The dips in ratings were all but a sure thing (both shows are low-key and have a steady but modest audience), so it's unclear why the network even allowed them to carry on through 2011 if the chopping block were looming. 

Meanwhile, Enlightened, which I'd shared my disappointment with several weeks ago, and which failed to impress me as it went along or surpass any of the aforementioned three comedies in the Nielsens, has been granted another shot in 2012. Not that I expect the world's foremost premium-cable provider to accomodate my subjective viewing habits, but this decision reeks less of commercial imperative than a decision to move back toward "prestige" programming.

Bored to Death is perhaps exceptional in all this. One of its stars (Ted Danson) has moved on to a full-time gig with CSI, another (Zach Galifianakis) is now a bankable film lead and, objectively, the original premise and characters' chemistry could only be stretched so thin without feeling dull. Hung and How to Make It, on the other hand, were just fomenting, but were also the source of presumptuous ridicule from network subscribers and critics who seemed intent on abolishing the airwaves of two shows that, god forbid, aimed to entertain the mainstream with something light and timely. Both series, at their essence, were comedies about friendship, trust and making the best out of bad times. Not, as naysayers would protest, just big dicks and fashion.

The first 10 half-hours of Enlightened, Laura Dern and Mike White's overly earnest meditation on the everyday fuck-up's pursuit of Zen happiness, were more explicit about their search for some kind of mushy, inspiring meaning to the big whatever. The price of admission? Shadowing Dern's deeply unpleasant, shallow, emotionally retarded airhead Amy as she vapidly crusaded and tritely voice-overed her way from stepped-on corporate drone to New Age savior of the environment, her strung out ex-husband (Luke Wilson) and her own intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy. 

Sound fun? Not really. But with Showtime and AMC nipping at HBO's heels for an air of legitimacy in original programming, and a new wave of Home Box Office's own dramas (Luck et al) around the corner, Enlightened suits a certain elite image more aptly than dicks and fashion. Even if most of us would rather watch 30 minutes of the latter than endure one more second of Amy and Enlightened's precious, humorless existential masterbation. 

 

IN OTHER WORDS: It's most definitely not TV, HBO.

BYE BYE TO BORED TO DEATH, HUNG AND HOW TO MAKE IT IN AMERICA: 2/10

ENLIGHTENED'S RETURN MEANING ONE LESS SHOW WE NEED TO DVR: Bright Side/10

WHEN'S TRUE BLOOD BACK AGAIN? Critic-Proof/10

 

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Sunday
Dec182011

Death of Kim Jong Il Puts New '30 Rock' Season in Awkward Spot

REVIEWING THE NEWS: A day after 30 Rock unveiled its extended Season 6 trailer, featuring their continuing, satirical Kim Jong Il storyline, the North Korean leader died of a reported heart attack. Will the sitcom still air all eps as planned? And will there be international backlash?

By Kenny Herzog

Hard to say if Jong Il's passing is cause for 30 Rock to pop champagne. (Credit: Art Streibler/NBC)

 

North Korea's pretty shut off from American pop culture, so it's not very likely that NBC's sometimes-political comedy of the absurd, 30 Rock, has been a major topic of interest for its citizens or government. Even if a good portion of Season 5 focused on network head Jack Donaghy's (Alec Baldwin) efforts to rescue his girlfriend, political reporter Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), who was being held hostage and forced into marriage by Kim Jong Il (who was played with cross-dressed hilarity by Margaret Cho).

Speaking of Jong Il, the longtime North Korean leader and constant nuclear threat died Saturday of what his country's state-run media are saying was a heart attack, brought on by the rigors of "dedicating his life to the people." Man, he must have hated the people.

This brings us back to 30 Rock, which premiered a lengthy teaser this past Friday for its Jan. 12 premiere. Naturally, the clip (viewable below) features new snippets from the ongoing Jong Il spoof. And they are, of course, hilarious. But its fortuitious timing could lead to unwanted attention or protest from overseas toward Tina Fey and co.'s gentle sending up of the late Communist militant. And without having seen the episodes in context, it's tough to say if their satire will appear a bit mean-spirited or simply timely. 

 

But hey, South Park creators Trey Parker and Stone took their shots at Jong Il during the early years of his leadership and were even more on the nose. By the time Jan. 12 rolls around, it's doubtful American audiences or critics will dwell on the connection, nor should they feel particulatly conflicted (Jong Il wasn't exactly a defensible sort). And as suggested above, the jokes will probably just land more effectively. But some of the folks over at 30 Rock, if only to avoid a PR- and logistical-nightmare, have to be crossing their fingers, hoping that Kim Jong-un isn't a Hulu subscriber.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: This could be the best or worst thing to happen to 30 Rock, but will probably just amount to a surreal twist.

KIM JONG IL IS DEAD RATING: Why Can't All Evil Dictators Just Die of Heart Attacks in Their 60s?/10

30 ROCK'S RETURNING! RATING: Yay!/10

THE CRAZY TIMING OF SEASON 6'S TRAILER RATING: Never a Dull Moment/10

 

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Thursday
Dec152011

Relax, Howard Stern Is Gonna Be Great on 'America's Got Talent'

REVIEWING THE NEWS: The announcement that Howard Stern's taking over for Piers Morgan will bring the same tired, decades-old protests, which is what NBC wants. But the legendary radio host should also be great.

By Kenny Herzog

Possibly what Rodin had in mind when he sculpted "The Thinker."

 

REVIEWniverse Editor Robbie Woliver said it best when the rumors were first making headlines: Why not Howard Stern to replace Piers Morgan on America's Got Talent? Moreover, what would make him any less qualified a judge of musical potential than his predecessor or more leery and perverse than American Idol's Steven Tyler?

Stern is not an idiot, even if an enormous percentage of the listeners who call into his SiriusXM show are. But that's kind of the point. The Long Island native and longtime a.m.-radio voice has always been the non-coiffed alternative to condescending media phonies, and the fact that every on-air personality he's influenced merely apes and simplifies his panache is testament to the 57-year-old mainstay's absolutely unique charisma. 

By hiring Stern (and moving production to New York to accomodate his radio obligations, no less) America's Got Talent has found its everyman Simon Cowell and less slithery Steven Tyler in one package. For Stern himself, it's a great opportuntity to re-cement his legacy for a mainstream audience and new generation after years of cushy satellite autocracy. And NBC has guaranteed themselves a seventh season that will boast not only phenomenal ratings, but be a ton of fun for viewers and a surprising positive influence on contestants.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: Everyone wins!

HOWARD STERN ON AMERICA'S GOT TALENT RATING: 10/10

ALREADY ROLLING OUR EYES AT OVERUSE OF THE TERM "SHOCK JOCK" RATING: So 1989/10

A WHOLE NEW GENERATION OF PRIMETIME STERN FANS: Baba Booey/10

 

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Wednesday
Dec142011

Chris Meloni on 'True Blood' = Best News Ever

  

REVIEWING THE TV-CASTING NEWS: Law & Order: SVU and Oz alum Chris Meloni has officially joined True Blood for Season 5, and all is well with the underworld.

 

By Kenny Herzog
Chris Meloni: From doing life to busting people for life to coming back to life. (Credit: HBO)

 

Hard as it is to believe, we here at REVIEWniverse occasionally contribute our editorial wiles to other media. Just last week, I'd helped report on breaking gossip for MSN TV concerning recent Law & Order: SVU defector Chris Meloni, and the possibility of him landing a featured role on the upcoming fifth season of HBO's True Blood.

 

Today, that rumor has become fact, and consequently, the most exciting news to hit Bon Temps since recreational V first rolled into town. Show creator Alan Ball has confirmed to TV Line (and True Blood's Twitter feed has dually validated the story) that Meloni will come on board as a powerful vampire capable of lording over both Bill and Eric.

 

Much as we all loved Denis O'Hare as aggro-pervert Russell, and Evan Rachel Wood as the now-deposed vamp queen, it doesn't get much better far as seductive, sinister badasses than Meloni. Anyone who watched HBO's brutal prison psychodrama Oz during its late-'90s-early 2000s run and remembers the actor's depitction of homicidal loon/perpetually nude sexual predator Chris Keller would agree:

 

 

IN OTHER WORDS: If Meloni's TB character is ostensibly a cross between Keller and his inspired Freakshow from Harold & Kumar, it could be the greatest casting ever.

CHRIS MELONI RATING: 9/10

CHRIS MELONI ON TRUE BLOOD RATING: 9.5/10

TRUE BLOOD'S RETURN MEANING IT WILL BE SUMMER AGAIN RATING: 10/10

 

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Thursday
Oct062011

NBC Cancels 'Free Agents'; Hopefully, Kathryn Hahn Will Get Work

REVIEWING THE NEWS: The Americanization of this British sitcom lacked much appeal beyond its principal cast, but will they at least get another go?

By Kenny Herzog

Well, we gotta at least give Hank and Kathryn a Hahn. (Credit: NBC)

 

Free Agents did itself in. Like Whitney, 2 Broke Girls and several other inexplicably well-received sitcoms that debuted this season, the Hank Azaria/Kathryn Hahn-starring vehicle benefitted from great promotion.... and an even better pedigree (it was a British show! British shows are always good!). Unfortunately, viewers like myself tuned in with optimism that Agents would provde a mature, witty, poignant alternative to the aforementioned competition, but found that it ultimately dwelled in the same toilet-humor tropes and ensemble-cast excess that's perenially doomed lesser fare.

The lone bright spots amidst its banal workplace antics and lazy punchlines were stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn. Azaria, while no doubt disappointed, will be OK. He's Teflon. But Hahn, who's familiar to audiences from her role as a man-eater in Step Brothers and pregnant escort-seeker in a few episodes of Hung, has a less certain immediate future. But she's a sexy, funny and confident presence, like a bridge between the Gidgets and His Girl Fridays of yore and the smodlering Cougartown 40-somethings dubiously scattered through today's culture. And with real talent.

So, Free Agents, we bid you and your prevailing mediocity adieu. And Azaria, we shall be hearing from you soon. As for Ms. Hahn, we're hopeful that now you are indeed a free agent yourself, and despite being north of 35, you'll nail this tricky mid-career landing.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: Crush? What? Us?

FREE AGENTS CANCELLATION RATING: Sad-but-Inevitable/10

KATHRYN HAHN'S BREAKOUT RATING: 9/10

THE NETWORKS NEW COMEDIES ALMOST UNILATERALLY DISAPPOINTING RATING: Like Old Times/10

 

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