Monday
Mar262012

‘Shark Tank’ is Entertaining, Bloodthirsty Fun  

 

TV REVIEW:  ABC’s Shark Tank might not have inspired Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but it has inspired and ignited our Friday nights. 

 

By Robbie Woliver 

 

 

Talk about the TV show that has everything. What series has more mysteries thrills than CSI Miami?; serves up more convoluted twists than Revenge?; showcases more intriguing characters than Jersey Shore?; has more money on the line than Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?; displays more cutthroat action than Survivor?; is more heartstring-tugging than Extreme Home Makeover?; and showcases more talent than American Idol? Answer: Shark Tank, the show where aspiring entrepreneurs seek funding from a panel of gazillionaire business masters. 

 

The show is terrific and inspiring, with lots of lessons to be learned about entrepreneurship, inventing, pitching projects and business in general. Sometimes it’s frustrating that the colorful panel just doesn’t “get” the entrepreneur and his or her vision, and other times you’re yelling back at the TV screen when they do take on a project that you think is ridiculous (hello, Draw Me a Cat). It’s that schizophrenic unpredictability, added to the incredible anti-chemistry of the panel, that makes for gripping TV. 

 

It seems everyone has a dream, and Shark Tank helps many fulfill theirs. The panel—likable, decent but easily frustrated Robert Herjavek, real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran (who I’d make a deal with in a minute), “the undertaker” Kevin O’Leary, FUBU’s Daymond John, and the return of last season’s spectacular addition, Mark Cuban. My advice, folks: If Mark Cuban wants your first-born (which he’s come very close to asking for), take the deal. Lori Greiner of QVC has been alternating with Corcoran (what, room for only one woman?) this season, and if your product is right for her, jump at whatever she offers. She can make you rich so easily.

 

The sharks can be really tough. Well, more like really mean. Not mean-spirited like Donald Trump on Apprentice, but brutally honest tough. They don’t suffer fools (except for this past episode, which I’ll get to), and they won’t let anyone get away easy—they’re sharks, they want blood. But it’s more than likely they’ll make you very rich in return. The phrase, “Don’t be greedy” only applies to the entrepreneurs, not the sharks. Sometimes it’s painful how greedy the panel can be. 

 

And at times they can also be inconsistent. Earlier this season, a young man, Donny McCall, came in with a foldable truck rack that made a lot of sense. He dropped all the right terminology—he talked about God, America and his broken town that needed a financial boost, which he hoped to provide by opening a factory there. He made Herjavek cry, he was so passionate about keeping his production in America. But in the end, the sharks would not have it—it’s too expensive to produce in America, they said, and McColl’s “stubbornness” about not farming his work out oversees ended up costing him a deal. The following week, another person came in with a product that he produced in America, and the sharks praised him and offered a deal.

 

VIEW THE FULL EPISODE HERE.

That inconsistency was no better showcased than in this past week’s episode, when Nick Romero, a very impressive young man, came in and wowed the sharks with his successful Venice Beach, Cali. store, The Ave, which digitally designs clothing on the spot with custom artwork selected and often supplied by the customer. His business generated $575K this past year, which is well beyond most people who are pitching their wares on this show. He wanted to expand the store, and his dreams were big, but seemed attainable. They all gave him that dreaded “…and for that reason, I’m out,” saying his dreams were too big. Ridiculous. This was one of the most obvious potential successes of the entire season. He was followed by two women who designed fashionable protective clothing for motorcycle riders. They had no clue what they were talking about, big dreams that were completely unrealistic, and they had already gone through $400K of their own money! They were lambasted by the panel for their lack of direction—but guess what? Daymond offered them a deal. 

 

You never know how a deal is going to turn on this show, and whether it’s beer-infused ice-cream or perfume that smells like money (Corcoran: “I smell money all the time, and this does not smell like money”). You’re in for a whirlwind of a ride into people’s innovative brains. This show is all you need. It has the best elements of all those other shows you watch, without any of the waste. Because if nothing else, sharks hate waste. 

 

IN OTHER WORDS: American entrepreneurism at its best; a master class in business negotiation and project pitching. Without question, the most interesting reality competition on TV.
MARK CUBAN, PLEASE INVEST IN REVIEWniverse RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
MAVERICKS BEST TEAM EVER RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
HDNET BEST NETWORK EVER RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
SVETLANA IS OUR FAVORITE COMEDY EVER RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
LANDMARK THEATERS BEST THEATER RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
MAGNOLIA PICTURSES BEST FILM COMPANY RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
CHABENISKY BEST SURNAME NAME RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
MICROSOLUTIONS IS BEST MICRO SOLIUTIOONS RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
AUDIONET BEST INTERNET RADIO COMPANY RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
ICEROCKET BEST SEARCH ENGINE RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million 
MARK CUBAN HANDSOMEST MAN IN WORLD RATING: 10/10
BIGGEST SUCK-UP CAMPAIGN RATING: Cuban: “REVIEWniverse, I’m In”/$1 Million

 

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Wednesday
Jan112012

'House of Lies' Flamboyant Tween Roscoe is Character to Watch

 

TV REVIEW: Multi-talent Donis Leonard Jr. brings the Showtime comedy's most unique ensemble member to life, and makes House of Lies a must-see.

 

By Kenny Herzog

Meet TV's most colorful new prima-Donis, Roscoe Kaan.

Very little about the opening scene of House of Lies' premiere unravels as expected. That naked, hungover mess of a woman splayed out beside management-consultant Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) in some sloppy invocation of John Lennon cradling Yoko Ono? For one, not dead. Futhermore, it's Marty's pill-popping ex-wife and rival consultant, Monica (Dawn Olivieri). And the elementary-aged kid in a purple skirt and tights who accidentally walks in on his parents to announce that breakfast is ready, before literally pirouetting into the kitchen? Their son, Roscoe (Donis Leonard Jr.). 

This could be handled in poor taste, you're thinking. As was I and, presumably, a good share of Lies' audience. But as the unconventional family unit (sans Monica, who was off for a commute of shame) sits down for French Toast with Marty's intellectual-shrink father, Jeremiah (a jarringly against type Glynn Turman, recently of In Treatment), we learn a few things: Roscoe is flamboyant, but not effeminate, and is gunning for the role of Sandy in his school's re-enactment of Grease; Jeremiah is a friend to Roscoe, but also treats the boy and Marty's relationship like a trial study; and Marty raises Roscoe between the margins of his own self-absorption with no exceptional discrimination one way or the other. The latter, we also discover, is because Marty grew up without maternal influence after his mother committed suicide.

Sounds pretty interesting, right? It is. It's the most interesting set of circumstances going for House of Lies, a sharply written and charismatic, but familiar and erratic, exercise in adults behaving badly. Young talent Leonard Jr. has been instructed, at least thus far, to play Roscoe as someone with an almost angelic blindness to the fact that he's "different" from others in his class. He's flashy, but not effeminate. He's basically your average school-age boy, assuring grandpa he's going to kick any competition's ass and excusing himself cause, "I gotta poo." It just so happens his competitive aspiration is, as Marty puts it, "dressing up like a slut and gettting John Travolta to fuck you." (He just says those things to get a rise out of Jeremiah in lieu of being clueless about how to speak with his own son, not to mention flexing patience with Jeremiah rather than confront the issue of his mother's death.)

Marty is, no matter what, fiercely protective, and scolds Roscoe's teacher for trying to deny him the part of Sandy. Yet, he's your typical, Hank Moody-esque slob of a dad when it counts, missing the entirety of Grease so he can bang another student's mother in the parking lot.

Marty and Roscoe are a fascinating father-son pairing. It will be charming and, at times, heartbreaking to see how they come to understand one another rather than twirl politely in each other's personal space with grandpa there for balance. And Roscoe on his own could have more to offer House of Lies and its viewers than the grown-up stereotypes we've all seen before.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: We're still not sure Roscoe's funnier than this kid. Or if people will be as fond of him as this kid. But he may just be more nuanced than any similar character that's come before.

ROSCOE RATING: 8/10

HOUSE OF LIES SO FAR RATING: 6/10

THE FACT THAT DONIS LEONARD JR., WHO PLAYS, ROSCOE, SUPPORTS AUTISM-RELATED ARTS CHARITIES BECAUSE HIS YOUNGER BROTHER IS A HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISTIC: 10/10

 

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Monday
Dec192011

'Dexter,' 'Homeland' Finales First Disappoint, Then Have Killer Endings

TV REVIEW: Both Dexter and Homeland had their season finales, and both faced similar problems… until the end.

By Robbie Woliver

Dexter's dark passenger (ugh) may no longer be riding solo. (Credit: Randy Tepper/Showtime) 

The two highly anticipated HBO Sunday night finales both encountered similar problems and triumphs in their season endings. The usually dynamic duo fell flat in their last offerings, and then pulled out killer final seconds that salvaged the entire episode. Was it worth the wait for those last moments? Yes, in both cases.

For Dexter, the dramatic ending salvaged a controversial season of critics and fans griping about the slow pace, the religious theme and the formulaic action. Complaints were well justified. Compared to other seasons' great nemeses like John Lithgow’s Arthur Mitchell (aka the Trinity Killer) and stunners like the murder of Sgt. James Doakes (Eric King), this season’s Doomsday Killer (Colin Hanks) was a relatively sleepy (if not wildly violent) storyline. Add the ridiculously annoying and extremely uncomfortable arc of Deb (the extraordinarily good Jennifer Carpenter) thinking, or being, in love with her faux-bro Dexter, which just about ruined the whole season. And then wouldn’t you know it? Dexter turns that gratingly disturbing, simplistic and uselessly sensational theme on its head in the final seconds and actually makes it sensible and complexly interesting.

Dexter’s main problem this year, and most likely for seasons to come, is that it is so predictable. Dexter finds a mark, he follows the mark, he almost/does get caught, he escapes, mark’s chopped up. You know Dexter will never be killed, so that tension is gone. This is not Oz (hello, LaGuerta), where main characters were killed off weekly, making it one of the most unpredictable and exciting shows on TV to this day.  And Harrison being kidnapped by the Doomsday Killer (sorry Colin, but your character didn’t resonate, and certainly didn’t make it into the pantheon of Dexter’s best killers), while incredibly uneasy viewing, was also predictable.

The problem was that we knew you just don’t kill off a beloved toddler in a beloved show like this. Killing a main character, like Rita, was brilliant and added a lot of life to Dexter’s canon, but you don’t go there with kids. What was frightening however was how the child who played Harrison (two of our favorite child actors on TV, Eric and Luke Kruntchev) looked awfully frightened and was crying during his violent scene.  You couldn’t help think, “Wow, this kid is going to turn out like Dexter because he was so traumatized on the set.”

The episode was also a bit sloppy. Talk about loose ends: The ice truck killer hand? That went nowhere. Although, thank goodness, there was no mention of the “dark passenger.”

It’s not good when viewers think to themselves, “Well, this is disappointing,” after a dramatic scene concludes, especially during a finale. The revelatory climax between Deb and her should-have-her-license taken away shrink was a groan inducer. First, we don’t want Deb to be in love with Dexter. Second, it was played too fast and too broad.

But then leave it to Dexter to switch all that up in the episode’s last moments (hurry up, episode, I’m missing the Survivor finale) when Deb catches Dexter in his kill. The possibilities for this are exciting for fans, and it enriches and actually saves the Deb-loves-Dexter scenario. And knowing that Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall were married and now divorced, it gives that arc another dimension, making the ending even more provocative. But I will promise you one thing. If this turns out to be easily explained away (like “Oops , Deb didn’t really see it," or, “Yikes, it’s a dream”), I will never watch this show again.

So, it all rests on you, Season 7 opener.

 

Homeland didn't exactly go out with a bang or a whiper. (Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime)

 

As for Homeland, arguably the best new show of the season, the finale was a disappointment for a completely different reason. There are no easy outs in this series. The emotions have been honest and raw, and the plots uncontrived and believable. The acting in this show is so far superior to most anything else on TV (except for some last-moment Claire Danes jaw quivering—my pet peeve—a la Tara on True Blood).

We were gearing up for something damn big on Homeland, knowing it was going to be a bit larger than the often quickly diffused crises on 24. The whole season was gearing up big-time, with one extraordinary twist after another (the scene when we first see Brody pray in Arabic was the No. 1 dramatic moment on an any show this season.)

We were expecting something big because not only has show has been so big in its debut year, but the extensive previews promised something big. And big we got. Sgt. Nicholas Brody (the fantastic Damien Lewis), armed with an explosive vest, bunker-hunkered, was about to blow up himself, the Vice President and half the government. It was pulse-pounding TV, thanks to Lewis’ first-rate acting and the fact that this highly decorated Marine’s reasons for turning into a suicide bomber were so very compelling. Not that we’re a bloodthirsty bunch, but Brody’ last minute decision not to pull the plug was a major letdown. It isn’t that we necessarily wanted to see all those people dead, or even punished for their awful deeds. We wanted clever as a fox/loon, Carrie (the supremely talented Danes) to be absolved. We wanted her to be proven right, and given her job back, and go onto her next case. We wanted closure, not a cliffhanger.

But leave it to the clever Homeland to win us over in its last seconds, as Carrie undergoes shock treatment to cure her bipolarity, and realizes moments before she is about to lose her short-term memory (maybe forever) the connection between Brody and Abu Nazir. She solves the case, and then…zap. Lost.

So, lazy us, who wanted this all to be resolved and tied up in a pretty, tidy Christmas bow, have learned the ultimate format of Homeland. It will not be like 24 with a different impending catastrophe each season. Homeland is a slow burn, and will follow the story of Carrie and Brody for at least another season, and that is just fine. Continuing a successful pairing like Lewis and Danes is what we actually watch TV for, what we want, even though we did hope to see that bunker go kaboom. Just like Carrie, Homeland operates on two levels: its manic, exciting twists and quiet, simmering character development, in addition to those slow, contemplative episodes that feel as strong as action-movie adrenaline scenes, which is quite a testament.

Premium-cable Sundays will still have our rapt attention when these shows return. While Deb and Dex will have to prove themselves worthy of their Season 6 finale, Carrie and Brody can carry on as usual.

And hey, that doesn't even take Boardwalk Empire into account. 

 

IN OTHER WORDS: To misquote the great Rebecca Black, "It’s Sunday, Sunday, Gotta get down on Sunday, Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend, Sunday, Sunday, Gettin’ down on Sunday, Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend"

DEXTER FINALE RATING: 7.5/10

DEXTER LAST SCENE RATING: 10/10

DEXTER SEASON RATING: 666/10

HOMELAND FINALE RATING: 9/10

HOMELAND LAST SCENE RATING: 10 Volts/10

HOMELAND SEASON RATING: 10/10

CLAIRE DANES AND DAMIEN LEWIS ARE BEST ACTORS IN THE WORLD RATING:  2012 EMMYS/10

WAIT, OZZY DIDN’T WIN SURVIVOR? RATING: Season 23/Too Many Seasons

NOW I CAN’T GET “FRIDAY” OUT OF MY HEAD RATING: 0/10

 

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Monday
Dec122011

R.I.P. 'Boardwalk Empire' Fallen Hero Jimmy Darmody

TV REVIEW: Last night, HBO's superlative drama took a huge leap forward, but left behind its most compelling soldier, who was also one of TV's best characters.

By Kenny Herzog

It actually hurts to look. (Credit: HBO) 

 

Nucky Thompson giveth, and Nucky taketh away. Last night's Boardwalk Empire finale, "To the Lost," was sad and stunning. But when Nucky (Steve Buscemi, who was incredible in "Lost") put two bullets in Jimmy Darmody's (Michael Pitt, playing an irreperably broken soul) head, it was both mercy and sacrifice. Free from the looming threat of jail and ready to clamp back down on Atlantic City, Nucky had to make a heavily witnessed statement to earn back trust and respect. After seeing Jimmy's condition, and knowing him better than anyone, he realized assasinating the man who he raised like a son was the difficult solution to everyone's problems—including Jimmy's.

I think we all felt a bit of that relief for Jimmy, and should have seen it coming sooner. Last week's "Under God's Power She Flourishes" all but spelled out his inescapable tormet. His death was brutal and pragmatic and staged in decidedly un-Hollywood fashion. No inspired speeches or crises of conscience were stopping the inevitable. But as a viewer, it lifted the angst of enduring his ordeal since Angela's death and grasping the enormity of his Shakespearian life tragedy. 

 

 

Jimmy Darmody was a great character, and Michael Pitt was iconic in the part. Jimmy was also one of the show's few lead roles not largely or entirely rooted in a historical doppleganger. So maybe he had to go. Maybe Season Three goes back to the slightly exaggerated fiction of how the East was won, and how New York's criminal underground grew with the rise of opiate abuse while Atlantic City conformed itself as a mainstream resort town once the fog of Prohibition was lifted.

It will surely be awesome and fascinating to watch, but Jimmy and Michael Pitt were the human heart of Seasons One and Two, and will be missed. And there will no doubt always be a share of the audience pining for a flashback or dream sequence of Jimmy, and anticipating how his death weighs on Nucky's consicence and decision-making. Or that, as Nucky did to Eli during the final stretch of "To the Lost," Jimmy could appear in front of Nucky, a la Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and ask, "Et tu?"

 

IN OTHER WORDS: To the lost.

BOARDWALK FINALE RATING: 9.5/10

MICHAEL PITT BETTER BECOME A HUGE STAR NOW RATING: 9/10

OH NO, YOU DIDN'T, NUCKY RATING: 9/10

R.I.P. JIMMY DARMODY RATING: 10/10

 

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Tuesday
Dec062011

'Jersey Shore' Blah Blah 'Shark Attack' Vinny Blah *NSync Blah Blah Huh?

 

REVIEWING THE NEWS BECAUSE EVERYONE ELSE IS: Syfy is airing an original movie next summer called Jersey Shore Shark Attack. Which could also just be wishful thinking. It's about the blah blah that happens to the blah blah and stars dudes and Jersey Shore's Vinny Guadagino and Joey Fatone and Paulie Walnuts. Blahhhhhhh.

By Kenny Herzog

Say "blahhhhhhhhhhh." (Credit: Syfy/Blah)

 

A few things about the above production image from SyFy's upcoming original movie, Jersey Shore Shark Attack: That guy on the bottom right looks like E from Entourage (aka Kevin Connolly), and it's weirding me out man! Also, the premise of Shark Attack loses some bite when its characters appear in no way exaggerated from the real thing. Lastly, that title seems like it's missing a colon, which is something the flick might actually have in common with JWOWW and Snooki. 

Rimshot.

That's what she said.

What's Jersey Shore Shark Attack about you ask? Really? You do? OK, well, breed Piranha 3D with reality stars, Joey Fatone, a few guys from The Sopranos and Goodfellas, low enough filming costs to afford the aforementioned ringers and cast out blunt stereotypes as bait for profit, headlines and, oh yeah, sharks.

Blah.

 

IN OTHER WORDS: This is the one instance in which it's not passe to suggest that a franchise has jumped the shark.

JERSERY SHORE SHARK ATTACK RATING: Oy/10

IS THERE NO SANCTITY AMONG SOPRANOS RATING? It's a Living/10

REMEMBER THE SITCOM IT'S A LIVING? LOVED THAT ONE RATING: 10/10

BLAH RATING: Blahhhhhhhhhhh/10

 

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