Entries in TV (24)


Bravo's 'Work of Art' Season 2 is Better Than 'Runway,' 'Top Chef' and 'X-Factor'


TV REVIEW: Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, Season 2, returns to Bravo with a strong cast of true characters with talent and issues galore.

By Robbie Woliver


The colorful cast of Work of Art 2, and China Chow's legs. (Credit: Bravo)

There’s fashion designers. Hairstylists. Models. Female impersonators. Potential spouses. Gun enthusiasts. Interior decorators. Top chefs, master top chefs, chopped chefs, pastry chefs, next Food Network chefs. And, of course, vocalists. They have all gotten their chance to compete for bragging rights to be master of their genre in reality TV shows (and we at REVIEWniverse watch them all, yes, including Whisker Wars). And now, with the second season of Work of Art, it is the artists' opportunity to once again shine. And with a very promising Season 2 premiere, we again have a rare, wonderful glimpse into the artistic mind and process.

Really, for a show like this all you need are one or two nutjobs, three or four super talents, a crier, a loudmouth, some heavy-duty egos, a gay guy and his “straight” roommate, a lesbian with a Mohawk (oh wait, that's for chefs), an eccentric senior citizen, a bad guy, a sexy, "exotic" host and a great film editor. It’s all about casting. And guess what? Except for the senior citizen, WOA2 has it all—including a woman who’s obsessed with anatomical dissections.

Work of Art, The Next Great Artist follows that successful pattern—eccentric cast, out-of-the-box challenges, and biting critique. And from episode one of season two, it looks like WOA will be as refreshing an addiction as it was in its debut year. It’s certainly the best reality competition (now that our fave Rocco's Dinner Party's season is over) currently on TV, especially since Top Chef and Project Runway, whose basic template WOA follows, are losing a bit of their sizzle. (Other than Olivier, can you, offhand, name one other Runway contestant from this season? See.)

Painting, performance, illustration, sculpture, street art.... there’s so much potential in the art world, and it looks like the producers (Huh? Sarah Jessica Parker?) have once again assembled a diverse, compelling and talented cast. Egos are all ready to burst open like paint against a Jackson Pollack canvas, and the cameras are ready to document every last creative moment.

In its second season debut, the artists were introduced through their self-portraits, and from the start many stood out (Young Sun is my favorite character so far (his naked tush got a lot of face-time in the premiere), but I have my eye on rural-boy Dusty’s clever work, Jazz-Minh’s strong painting technique (she grew up on a commune), the multi-medium talent Leon, who is from Malaysia and deaf, sculptress Michelle and the troubled Lola, who has many demons we’ll probably meet. Kathryn likes bloody body parts, and the previews show an absolutely fabulous breakdown.

Of course, there’s always one loose cannon who holds your attention. Last year, it was the brilliant OCD-riddled, semen-painting Miles Mendanhall, and this season it is the Sucklord. Yep, that’s correct, the Sucklord. He’s a pop culture geek who works with toys, and before you instantly discount him, as I did, let me give you a bit of news. Probably the most shocking part of this season’s premiere was when ever-elegant WOA’s host, premier art auctioneer and collector Simon de Prury announced to the contestants at the episode’s start that he actually owns a couple of the Sucklord’s pieces. Instant cred. So let’s get to Simon.

The WOA judges are unfamiliar to most of us, but they are highly regarded in their field. Simon (pronounced See-moan) is WOA’s Tim Gunn, except much Frenchier. (My favorite Simon quote from last year: "Ze vibrator chenges everyzing!") He is the contestants’ mentor, and last year at the show’s start I doubted he could fill Tim Gunn’s Pradas, but he did. He is a delight to listen to, and his critiques are somewhat of a masterclass. Following in the footsteps of Runway’s Padma and Kelly Choi (formerly of Top Chef Masters), the hostess for WOA is China Chow, a British actress and model and the required Bravo-reality show-Asian-beauty-hostess. Surprisingly, however, Chow actually does have some interesting familial art cred of her own. And yes, there are nude photos of her on the Internet.

The judges include Jerry Saltz, senior New York Magazine art curmudgeon, and Bill Powers, collector, gallery owner and writer of things art. The special guest judge was photographer Ellen Marks, a first-rate artist on her own, and Sucklord savior (we’ll get to that).      

Put away all your expectations and just enjoy the show—its clever challenges, oversized personalities and remarkable art. You don’t have to be an art major, or even live in Brooklyn, to appreciate this show. It’s an inside look into the creative process, and that rare opportunity is one that should not be missed.

The first challenge, "Kitsch Me If You Can," was to select a piece of "bad" art (painted clowns, ceramic frog, totem pole, an art deco portrait with hair, etc.) and transform it. The Sucklord, of course, loved all the thrift shop-styled art the way it was (his was a painting of the wizard Gandalf, that he turned into an unremarkable action figure—abhorred by Saltz and Powers, but loved by Ms. Mark).   

One show in, and already I do have a gripe. One artist, Ugo, paints in the style of Keith Haring. SPOILER ALERT: And he was the first contestant sent packing because…. his artwork was too reminiscent of Keith Haring’s. Then why was he accepted on the show? They knew this before he came on. It wasn’t fair to him. Bayete’s work was clichéd and amateurish (he selected the portrait with the hair) and he should have gone, as should have the very disappointing Sucklord.

This is going to be a great group of people to follow, and it might even broaden viewers’ cultural horizons a bit, making this the best new reality competition in a long while. 


IN OTHER WORDS: Art can be fun, folks. Give it a chance.





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Oprah & Rosie O'Donnell's 'Rosie Show' Debut Was Like Bad 'SNL' Talk-Show Parody  

TV REVIEW: The premiere of The Rosie Show on OWN was like a parody of bad TV talk shows. We’re hoping this was just first-night kinks that need to be straightened out.


By Robbie Woliver

Get rid of those cards, Rosie, and make The Rosie Show more spontaneous. And, oh, move it to New York; you are so not Chicago. (Credit: OWN)

Rosie O’Donnell’s new talk show, The Rosie Show, debuted on Oprah's network, OWN, and it was just….horrendous. It was like a bad SNL skit—a parody of a lousy talk show that they do so often. The announcer was incredibly over-the-top obnoxious, and the set looked cheap, lacking the lively crispness in-the-moment ambiance of Rosie's previous groundbreaking Rosie O’Donnell Show.

Taking place on the very Chicago Harpo Studio stage where Oprah held court for so many decades, Rosie seemed more like a dress-rehearsal participant, rather than the riveting talk show diva she is. Being a longtime Rosie fan, I was disappointed in the debut, and even Rosie’s nervousness was apparent as she was rushing through the faux-impromptu scripted routines. Rosie is a natural comic, with a wonderful balance of brashness and zen, and she does think quickly on the spot. Her ability to improvise has been the key to her early career as a standup, but we got none of that on The Rosie Show, which is particularly disappointing because the show is live—a rarity today.

She needed to be more spontaneous. It does make sense though that the producers (yes, Oprah) wanted to keep a tight leash on the controversial comic. Unfortunately, no one wants to see a reigned-in Rosie O’ Donnell; we want to be provoked and we want belly laughs. Again, not much of that here. And to add insult to injury, Rosie’s first guest was Russell Brand, who is like the proverbial cup of tea—he’s either yours or not. He can be incredibly hard to take with his egotistical, hyperactive persona, but he can also be a very articulate and insightful guy.  

Inspired by Amy Winehouse, the highlight of the entire show was during Russell's visit to a recovery center for women, a segment attempting to add the seriousness and in-depth celebrity interaction that Rosie promised for the show. At one point Brand asked Center Director Peggy Albrecht, “This is the first time you’ve appeared on television fully clothed, isn’t it, Peggy?” Hello, first solid moment.

But in the long run, this gabfest was like a poor man’s version of the scores of other talk shows that Rosie inspired now existing on more major networks. OWN has been struggling for viewers, and the production quality of The Rosie Show doesn’t match the hype of this would-be stellar network with its formidable pedigree. It had the look and feel of local cable.

Listen, debuts always have some kinks—everyone’s nervous, people are trying to find their footing, and hopefully Rosie will become more comfortable in her new surroundings and stand up to some of the producers whom she alluded to in the debut. Someone on this show needs to look around and say, “Hey, this is a potential trainwreck. We have to fix this.”

The premiere began with a stiff, unfunny monologue (really, Penny Marshall jokes? This was live. Joke about Occupy Wall Street, Terra Nova, Kim Kardashian’s wedding, c’mon). The following segments were just downright silly. The “Ro Game,” where contestants had to guess, from clues given by Rosie, a word with “Ro” in it (roller coaster, arrow, get it?) was another SNL-type skit; the Q&A with the audience was awkward and nowhere near Rosie’s inspiration for it: Carol Burnett. Her corny shtick with a surprisingly uncomfortable Suze Orman was painful to watch, as was the is-this-for-real production number—all worthy of a high school follies night.

When Oprah came out at the end in a shower of confetti to congratulate Rosie and mouthed “very good,” you had to wince for a second, because Oprah’s taste level was taking a hit before our very eyes.

Now here’s the good news: This show is going to continue, and it will continue to get better as Rosie feels more comfortable in her new environment. They’ve got to change the set and starts taking more control, and the show could soar high. If this episode is an indication of Rosie being fully in control, then, Chicago we have a problem. 

Glitz up the set, bring on more interesting guests, go unscripted, take advantage of being live and be funny again…that’s all we want. Oh, and Rosie should really be back in New York. She is so not Chicago.


IN OTHER WORDS: Sorry Ope, so far not one of our favorite things. But we promise we’ll revisit.







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ABC's Sputtering 'Pan Am' Finally Takes Flight By Germany-Bashing



TV REVIEW: ABC’s Pan Am is sputtering for the most part, but when it came to Germany-bashing, it reached altitudes not seen in less frothy shows.

By Robbie Woliver


Yep, this is how Pan Am stewardess Colette pictures all Germans

Pan Am, which is one of the TV season’s most disappointing new shows, took flight this week at the end of an almost unbearable episode, and for its almost-courage, it deserves another chance before the final nail is put into its fuselage. 

A super soapy series about stewardess in the early ‘60s, this show is the weakest of the two Mad Men rip-offs this season—the already cancelled Playboy Club is much better.

Each character is a stereotype (especially pre-hippie Christina Ricci’s Maggie Ryan—even her name is a cliché) and every situation the main players find themselves in is painfully contrived. Trying to depict the ‘60s without being cartoonish or didactic has always been a tough chore for TV and film, and for Pan Am it’s also been a failure, especially this week’s vision of teeming-in-the-streets crowds clamoring to see JFK deliver his “Ich bein ein Berliner” speech at the Berlin Wall. One old man gathers up the stewardesses because he “love[s] Americans,” and rushes them to an apartment building where they can see the speech being given. Uh oh, along the way one stewardess, who grew up in Occupied France, has a mini-breakdown as she hallucinates the Nazis rounding up her family. And another stewardess is hiding a German spy in her hotel room. And yet, we get to see very little of Berlin, a disappointing thread that runs through this series. We never get to travel voyeuristically. We either are in the plane, hotels or at the airport.

The waste of Ricci’s formidable talents is a crime here, as she plays a Greenwich Village rebel so literally wide-eyed it’s difficult to watch. Someone should be kicked off this flight for such bad miscasting. The ridiculous storyline of one of the stewardesses being a CIA courier is outrageous (not that it probably didn’t ever really happen, just how it’s happening). The French stewardess, Colette (even her name's cliche #2)played by French Canadian Karine Vanasse, provokes a little more interest, but her whispery French accent sounds so fake, her character so stock, and the situations she’s placed in so contrived (a man she had a relationship with turns out to be married, and guess who’s on her flight with his family?), that she only adds to the frustration of watching.

Actually, the character with the most depth, and the one who evokes the truest interest is Annabelle Wallace who plays Bridget Pierce, the former stewardess courier, who we only see for fleeting moments. Less is better, Pan Am. The male actors (the captains) are forgettable, a phenomenon I’m noticing this season (see New Girl review.)

Underneath Christina Ricci's prim stewardess image beats the heart of a real rebel. Sorta like Wenesday Addams. (Credit: ABC)

As with Playboy Club, Pan Am tries to divert attention from its inherently sexist theme by constantly pounding viewers over the head with dialogue insisting that these stewardesses are more than just pretty faces and bodies—they have dreams, hopes, higher aspirations.  It didn’t work with the now cancelled-Playboy Club, and it won’t work for Pan Am.

So as I’m groaning through this past Sunday’s Berlin episode, we learn that secretive Colette, lived in Occupied France when she was a child, and this was her first time in Germany. Her final weepy speech about not forgiving the Germans, and JFK making it all right to like the Germans again, was startling in its provocativeness, and more so coming from such an otherwise frothy show. Here’s where the talent of Director Tommy Schlamme (West Wing) and writer Jack Orman (ER) came to the fore. The Germany-bashing scene was a sobering few minutes, and one that resounded deeply. It also made me think this show might have some biceps up its tailored blue sleeve.


IN OTHER WORDS: Slightly entertaining soap opera ends with a powerful scene that will certainly have us taking another flight.






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'Revenge' is ABC's Juicy-Good Hit of the Season

TV REVIEW: ABC’s Revenge is everyone’s fantasy, and a lot of folks’ favorite new TV show.



By Robbie Woliver


Since Revenge is best served cold, every scene on this hit ABC show has an ice sculpture. (Credit: ABC)


THE PREMISE: Very loosely based on Alexander Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte Cristo, Revenge has become a hit out of the box. Emily Van Camp’s Amanda Clarke returns to the tony Hamptons (she grew up there 17 years prior) as Emily Thorne (get it, the thorn in their side) to exact revenge on a long list of double-crossing SOBs who framed her father, David Clarke (James Tupper), for terrorism, a charge for which he was arrested and imprisoned, where he eventually died.  At age 18, she was released from “the system” and inherited her father’s wealth, which allows her to, well, do just about anything she wants in her quest for vengeance. 

THE CHATTER: Revenge is the Adele of the new TV season; everyone, no matter what their demographic, seems to love it. And why not? It’s wicked fun and who doesn’t savor revenge?

THE REALITY: Revenge has provided a perfect formula: young, pretty girl gets revenge—weekly!—on a series of no good bums. Rich no-good bums. While thousands are demonstrating against the excesses of Wall Street in the ever-growing Occupy Wall Street protests, Emily takes on these heartless moneymen/women with a delicious glee.  The first week’s revenge was thoroughly satisfying; the second, against a hedge fun exec, made Emily more transparent as the perpetrator (which she was delightfully not for the first revenge) and no one wants their heroine found out; but in the third episode she was invisible once again, thanks to her super-hacker friend Nolan. The goal, of course, is to bring down the family that destroyed her—the impossibly rich Graysons. The series began in real-time with the murder of Emily’s fiancé, Daniel Grayson (Josh Bowman) and now each week we see how we got there. 

THE PLAYERS: Emily VanCamp, who you might know from Everwood and Brothers & Sisters, is simply stunning in this role. Her acting chops are superb. I caught myself marveling at how natural this terrific reactive actress was in one scene where she was just standing, observing. Being beautiful certainly helps, and when you add a bad girl attitude to her elegant young-money persona, you have a winner of a leading character. The villain is Madeline Stowe who plays the disgustingly wealthy matriarch Victoria Grayson. Another beauty, Stowe icily puts away her enemies with ease—and Emily is certainly in her sights. But wait, do we find a soft spot beating in this wicked heart? Episode 3 hinted at the possibility that Victoria might not be such a baddie after all—she was romantically involved with Emily’s dad, and tried to prevent the prosecution. But she didn’t, did she? Along the lines of Alexis Carrington, but thankfully not as over-the-top, Madeline Stowe steals her scenes with her steely stare. And the dynamic is really about these two women. Nolan Ross’ Gabriel Mann adds an intriguing quirkiness to his characters’ mix, as he helps Emily with her plan, even though Emily barely gives him the time of day. With an apparent deadened heart, she trusts no one—not even this young man who owes his immeasurable wealth to her father who he idolized. 

THE POTENTIAL: Revenge has already met its potential. It has us all hooked. We anxiously wait for this polished gem to serve up another cold dish of revenge—how she gets there is a road worth travelling, and the side stories like reuniting with her childhood love is also well worth the time. And don’t forget—someone was murdered.



BETTER THAN/EQUAL TO/NOT AS GOOD AS: Revenge is BETTER THAN Ringer; EQUAL TO: The Simpsons “Revenge is A Dish Best Served Three Times; NOT AS GOOD AS: The Count of Monte Cristo


IN OTHER WORDS: A slick, juicy, well-acted blueprint for The List I have of my own.







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