Sunday, February 9, 2014

CBS “Intelligence”: Been There Done That

CBS new series ‘Intelligence’, starring LOST’s Josh Holloway and CSI’s Marg Helgenberger, premiered on January 7th to decent ratings.  It boasted a good cast, and an interesting premise.    The drama centers on a high tech intelligence operative named Gabriel, played by Holloway, who has a super computer microchip implanted into his brain, and the director of the cyber security agency named Lillian Strand that he works for, played by Helgenberger. 

The show is pretty much your standard procedural.  Show the crime, solve the crime, and catch the bad guys.  The problem is that this premise has been done before, and better.  NBC had a series called Chuck, which ran from 2007-2012.  It was the story of a computer geek who accidentally downloads critical government secrets into his brain, essentially making his mind a super computer.  Sound familiar?  The difference was that Chuck was a nerd and this thing in his brain made him a spy, and that made it interesting.  Gabriel is already a competent spy, much less interesting.

Granted ‘Intelligence’ takes a more serious approach, while ‘Chuck’ was much more light hearted.  But Chuck was much better acted and written.  ‘Chuck’ built a cult like following over its 5 years on the air and stood out from other shows.   ‘Intelligence,’ however, is loaded with your standard clichés and lazy writing, and does nothing to separate itself from other shows of its kind.  There’s just nothing special to it. 

In the pilot, Strand decides that Gabriel needs a bodyguard, so she hires an attractive young brunette from the Secret Service to watch over him.  Let the sexual tension begin.   Cliché #1.    Midway through the episode we find that Gabriel’s co-worker and friend is actually working for the other side.  The Mole.   Cliché #2.  Throw in a fight with a guy twice his size, an unlikely hero saving the day, and mysterious issues surrounding his missing wife and her possibly being a traitor and you have 3 more clichés that Gabriel has to deal with in the first hour. 

It was really good to see Holloway on TV again, but he is wasted in this series.  I’ve never been a big fan of Helgenberger and watching her in this series reminded me why.  I just never find her believable in her roles.  She’s very wooden and dull in this role although, let’s face it, she doesn’t have much to work with.

There are some good action sequences that will attract fans, Holloway is very likable in his role, and the show may get better as it goes along. Ratings have plummeted since the pilot episode, however, this is the type of series that CBS normally turns into a hit, so we will have to see where it goes in the coming weeks.    If you like “Intelligence,” get your fill of it while you can.  My guess is that it will be unlikely to see a 2nd season. 

With so many choices on TV these days, shows really have to do something to stand out, and ‘Intelligence’ fails to do so.  In fact, it is so unoriginal and boring, that is just blends in with today’s TV landscape and gets lost in the shuffle.  Hopefully Josh Holloway gets a better vehicle to come back to TV in, once this show is put out of its misery. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

My 10 Best TV Shows of 2013


My list of the best that TV had to offer in 2013 was so hard to compile.  There were so many quality programs to choose from this year, so narrowing this list down was a tough task.    You will notice that there are no sitcoms on this list, but unfortunately the crop of comedies on the air right now just didn’t make the cut.  Here are my choices for the best TV shows of 2013. 

10. (tie) Homeland  (SHO) – When I started compiling this list, this show wasn’t on it.  But the final 6 episodes of the season were top notch and propelled Homeland back onto the list.  Claire Danes and Damian Lewis were excellent as always, but this season belonged to Mandy Patinkin and his portrayal of CIA Director Saul Berenson.   The truly gut wrenching finale was one of the year’s best episodes.

10 (tie) Mad Men (AMC) – Mad Men didn’t have its best season, but still better than most series on the air.  Jon Hamm’s Don Draper continues to be one of TV’s greatest characters.  With just 2 short seasons left of this amazing show, I’ll be savoring every episode.

9. The Blacklist (NBC) – The only network series on my list, The Blacklist stars James Spader as one of Americas Most Wanted who now aids the FBI in catching the most dangerous criminals in existence.   Spader is superb in the lead role.

8. Ray Donovan (Showtime) – Liev Schreiber stars in the title role of this exciting series.  Ray Donovan is a Boston raised tough guy, now living in Los Angeles and making his living as a “fixer” for a powerful law firm.  Jon Voight, as Ray’s ex-con father, gives one of the best performances of his career.

7. Masters Of Sex (Showtime) – This freshman series about Masters & Johnson, the the pioneers of the science of human sexuality whose research touched off the sexual revolution, boasts some of the year’s best acting.  Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, and Beau Bridges are excellent.

6. Boardwalk Empire (HBO) – Even though this show is lower on my list than it was last year, that speaks more to the quality of programming on TV today than any decrease in the quality of this series.  On the contrary, Boardwalk Empire had one of its strongest seasons to date. 

5. Southland (TNT) – TV’s best police show, Southland, ended its 5 year run in April with its finest season yet.  Top notch writing and acting, especially by Michael Cudlitz, who gave one of the year’s best performances. 

4. House of Cards (Netflix) – Kevin Spacey’s top notch performance highlighted this political drama.  The series centers on Senator Frank Underwood who, after getting passed over as Secretary of State, decides to exact revenge on his political enemies. 

3. The Walking Dead (AMC) -  Now in its 4th season, AMC’s zombie apocalypse drama continued to evolve by adding something to this year’s episodes that it was previously lacking, a great villain. David Morrissey’s performance as The Governor stood out in a great ensemble cast. 

2. Orange Is The New Black (Netflix) – Weeds creator Jenji Kohan created this dramedy that centers on Piper Chapman, played excellently by Taylor Schilling, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to 15 months in prison.  This engrossing series that mixes dark humor and dramatic storylines, top notch acting and writing was TV best new series of the year. 

My pick for the best show of 2013 is…..

1. Breaking Bad (AMC) – There is just way too much to say about this series in this small space.  Perhaps the finest TV drama ever created, Breaking Bad, came to its immensely satisfying conclusion this year after 5 seasons and 62 episodes.  Vince Gilligan’s epic story of Walter White’s evolution from mild mannered chemistry teacher to hardened gangster intensified its brilliance this year.  Bryan Cranston continued his mesmerizing role as Walter White.  “Ozymandias” was one of the best TV episodes of this or any other series. 


Honorable Mentions:  Modern Family, Bates Motel, The Big Bang Theory, The Americans, Veep

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Give the Gift of Classic TV Comedy for Christmas


Christmas is upon us again.  If you’re having trouble deciding what to buy that TV fan on your list, then maybe some Classic TV Comedies will do the trick.  Here is a little guide as to what’s available this holiday season.  All of these sets are available in stores and through Amazon.com.

M*A*S*H  - The Complete Series
This sitcom, set during The Korean War, successfully balanced between comedy and drama, hilarity and tragedy, filled with one liners and gags and also intense set pieces which set the program apart as one of TV’s all time greats.   The series premiered in 1972 and ran for 11 seasons and 256 episodes.  The series finale, which aired February 28, 1983, was watched by more than 125 Million viewers and still remains the most watched episode of a TV series ever.  It was nominated for a staggering 109 Emmy Awards of its run.  Starring Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers, Harry Morgan, and Loretta Swit.  The set also includes the 1970 film that the series was based on.

Barney Miller – The Complete Series
Set in a New York City police station, this comedy series ran from 1975 to 1982 for 168 episodes, and featured the stories of the detectives of the 12th Precinct and the day to day life in the squad room.  Over its 8 seasons, it was nominated for an Emmy award for Outstanding Comedy Series 7 times, finally winning in its final season.   Widely cited by police officers as the most realistic police series ever.  Starring Hal Linden, Max Gail, Jack Soo, Ron Glass, Abe Vigoda, and Steve Landesberg. 

Seinfeld – The Complete Series
Named by TV Guide as the greatest television series of all time. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, this series about nothing, followed the exploits of Jerry Seinfeld (as a fictional version of himself) and his 3 friends, Kramer, George, and Elaine.   It ran from 1989 to 1998, for 180 episodes.  Through the years of its original run and now in syndication, the show has become a cultural phenomenon.  Spawning catch phrases, merchandise, and many references to the series in popular culture.  Starring Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Everybody Loves Raymond – The Complete Series
Based on the stand up comedy of Ray Romano, this series ran from 1996 to 2005 for 210 episodes.  The show followed the life of sportswriter Ray Barone, and his family life with his wife and 3 kids, while living across the street from his parents.   It was nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series for 7 times over its run.  Starring Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Peter Boyle, and Doris Roberts.

Cheers – The Complete Series
This classic sitcom followed the goings on at a popular Boston bar named Cheers.  It ran from 1982-1993 for 270 episodes.  It garnered a record 111 Emmy nominations during it’s time on the air, and won the Outstanding Comedy Series 4 times.  The show struggled in the ratings at first, but by the 3rd season, it found its footing and remained in the top 10 from season 4, until it went off the air.  Starring Ted Danson, Shelly Long, Rhea Perlman, Woody Harrelson,  John Ratzenberger, George Wendt, Kelsey Grammer, and Kirstie Alley.

Friends – The Complete Series
This series revolved around a circle of friends living in New York City, and ran from 1994 to 2004 for 236 episodes.  It quickly became a critical favorite and commercial success, remaining in the Top 10 of the Nielsen ratings for its entire run.  Starring Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Courtney Cox, and David Schwimmer. 

Hope I gave you some good ideas for that TV lover on your Christmas list. 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Survivor - Still The King Of Reality TV

Survivor premiered on May 31, 2000 on CBS, and quickly became a TV phenomenon.  It was the first show of its kind.  A competition between 16 Americans, stranded on a deserted island off the coast of Borneo. Together they would learn to live in a self made society, build shelter, ration food, all the while competing for a $1 Million dollar prize.
 
The rules were simple.  The groups were split into two “tribes,” each living in their own camp.  Each week the two tribes would compete against each other in challenges for either rewards or immunity.  Rewards would consist of things like fishing gear, flint to make fire, food, etc.  The immunity challenges determined which tribe would be safe for the week.  The losing tribe would need to visit tribal council and one member of their tribe would be voted out.   After 39 days, a winner would be crowned and awarded the million dollars.

The buzz for the show grew throughout the summer and ratings were surging.  51 million people tuned into the finale to see Richard Hatch crowned the Sole Survivor.  It is still the highest rated episode for any show of its kind. 

One of the keys to the shows continued success is that, over the years, the show has tweaked its format here and there, sometimes having 18 or 20 players, some of them returning players from past seasons. Redemption Island was added.  This was a place that players who were voted out could go and compete for a chance to return to the game after a period of time. 

Since its premiere, other reality competition shows have come and gone, often imitating Survivor’s formula.  Getting a number of contestants together and competing for a cash prize, eliminating one player per week.  But Survivor has endured. 

Another of the keys to the show’s success has been its ability to cast very popular and interesting players.  Rob Mariano, known as Boston Rob to Survivor Fans, has become one of the most popular Survivor players of all time.  He met his wife Amber Brkich on the show, she was a competing player.  They teamed up and she won the $1 million dollar prize on the shows “All Star” edition.  Mariano returned in a later edition to win as well.

A big reason for the show's popularity is its host, Jeff Probst.  Probst is more than just a host, he is part of Survivor.  He has won multiple Emmy’s for his hosting duties.  He is incredibly popular with the fan base.  So much so, that fans could never imagine the show being hosted by someone else.    

It's 27th edition, Blood vs. Water, has just completed and in this edition the show has once again reinvented itself adding yet another twist to its formula.  This time, pitting a tribe of returning players against a tribe consisting of their loved ones.   The show has proven that it can continue to evolve and make changes to keep fans intrigued and interested. 

Survivor shows no signs of slowing down.  It has been renewed for 2 more seasons.  It is a staple of CBS programming and still draws consistent ratings.  Still drawing 10 million viewers per week to a very strong and loyal fan base.  My guess is that the show will continue as long as creator Mark Burnett wants it to.  It is the undisputed King of Reality Competition TV. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Breaking Bad - An Appreciation


When Breaking Bad premiered in January, 2008 on AMC, there was very little fanfare.  The reviews were good, even excellent to be sure, but the show barely made a blip in the ratings.  The show’s main character of Walter White was played by Bryan Cranston, who previous claim to fame was starring the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle.  The rest of the cast was even lesser known than Cranston.  Aaron Paul, playing Jesse Pinkman, was the show’s other main character. 
The show centered on Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  Fearing that he would die and leave his family with nothing, he hooks up with an old student of his, Jesse Pinkman to produce and sell methamphetamine.  He uses his chemistry knowledge to create a remarkably potent and soon to be, highly sought after, product. 
            The show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, described the show as “Transforming Mr. Chips into Scarface.”   Walt’s fascination with his “talent” and the need to be the best at it, cause him to become a power hungry, ego-driven, criminal mastermind.
            As the show progressed, the buzz grew, and viewers began to take notice.  Binge watching the show on services like Netflix proved a big boom to the show.  Cranston would win 3 Emmy’s (so far) for his role, and Aaron Paul would win 2.  The series has also won a Best Drama Series Emmy award at this year’s ceremony.
            I’m not going to give up too many details here, for those of you who are in the middle of watching it or who plan to watch the series.  Suffice to say, that as the show drew to a close on September 29, 2013, it had become a cultural phenomenon. 
            Ratings for the 5th and final season of the show have skyrocketed.  For example, the 4th season finale drew 1.9 million viewers.  The final episode drew 10.3 million viewers, an astounding 442 % increase.
            Walter White, or more precisely, Cranston’s portrayal of him, became an iconic television character.  A character everyone rooted for at first.  Rooted for him to make a future for his family, and to beat his deadly cancer.  As time went on, and Walt began to get darker, and more evil, fan’s feeling changed.  You weren’t sure whether you hated Walt for what he had become, or still loved him for what he was, and the reason he did it in the first place.   
            Unlike many other series, the show left nothing open to interpretation in its closing moments.  The episode gave closure, not only to the characters, but to the fans as well.  It was an epic, satisfying, conclusion to what many consider to be the greatest drama series of all time.  Maybe the most important show of all time as well.  The show has set the bar for the next generation of television creators, showing them what’s possible and daring them to do even better. 
            There will certainly be good shows in the future, but none as good, as well written, or as well acted as Breaking Bad, and the future of television will be better because of its existence. 
            Thank you to Breaking Bad for giving us 62 hours of the most riveting television drama ever created, I’m so glad I went along for the ride.   If you haven’t already, buckle up and take the ride too. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Emmy Predictions

With the Emmy's just hours away, here are my predictions for tonight's ceremony...


Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

This is really a tough category.   I think you might see Tony Hale go home with the gold in this category and he is a worthy winner for 'Veep'.  Ed O'Neill could sneak in with a win here too.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

My pick here would be Mayim Bialik from 'The Big Bang Theory'.  She turned a character who was downright annoying at first, into a very funny and endearing performance.  She's a long shot to be sure, but she is who I would pick.  But as to who I think WILL win?  Look for Julie Bowen to repeat for 'Modern Family'.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

As long as it's not Lena Dunham here, I'll be happy.  My choice would be Julia Louis-Dreyfus to repeat for her brilliant work on 'Veep'.  But I think we may see Amy Poehler get a well deserved win for 'Parks and Recreation'.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Tough category.  My choice would be Jason Bateman for 'Arrested Development'.  He just kills it as Michael Bluth.  Even though the return of AD was a little underwhelming, Bateman was excellent as always. Not only is he my choice but I think he WILL win as well.  Like I said though, tough category.

Best Comedy Series

My choice here would be 'The Big Bang Theory'.  This show has overtaken 'Modern Family' as the funniest show on television and should be rewarded.  However I think we still might see 'Modern Family' repeat as the winner.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

In my opinion, this is between two actors.  Aaron Paul and Jonathan Banks, both for 'Breaking Bad'.  If I was choosing, I would give it to Jonathan Banks, he really deserves it and will not get another nomination for this role, and Aaron Paul has already won twice.  I think Aaron Paul WILL win though and take home his 3rd Emmy for his role as Jesse Pinkman.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Another tough pick, but my choice would be Anna Gunn for 'Breaking Bad'.  She has really come into her own the last year as her character of Skylar White has developed into one of the best female characters on TV.  Gunn is also my choice as to who I think WILL win.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

My choice here is easy.  It would be Vera Farmiga for 'Bates Motel'.  Her performance as Norman Bates mother, Norma, was one of the best performances of the TV season.  I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that she WILL take home the award.  There has been a recent buzz for Kerry Washington to win for 'Scandal' but i just don't see it.  If anything, Claire Danes could repeat for 'Homeland'.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

This is a slam dunk category in my opinion.  Bryan Cranston WILL win his 4th Emmy for his portrayal of the chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, Walter White.  I will truly be shocked if anyone else wins.

Best Drama Series

It's going to be a 'Breaking Bad' night.  Look for 'Breaking Bad' to take home top honors tonight.  There really is no other choice.  "Breaking Bad' has been in the forefront lately and fresh in voters minds, so it should really be a no-brainer.

That's all everyone, let me know what you think.  Enjoy the show tonight!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bill's TV Talk Mailbag

From time to time my column will feature questions asked by readers regarding the world of TV.  Feel free to email me with any questions you may have about TV at BillsTVTalk@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to answer you and may feature your question in a future column.  Here’s what we got!

I really love Magic City on Starz.  The 2nd season just ended and I can’t wait for it to return.  Any ideas on when it will be returning and can you give me any scoop on Season 3?  - Jo-Ann from Methuen

Unfortunately, Jo-Ann, Magic City’s ratings just weren’t there and Starz has decided to cancel the series after just 2 seasons.  I thought that the series was starting to really hit its stride, so I’m disappointed that we won’t be seeing any more of it.  There was talk of another network stepping in and picking it up, but it seems unlikely.  Check out my Facebook page or Twitter and I will keep you posted!

So far in all of the previews I’ve seen of the 4th season of The Walking Dead, I haven’t seen The Governor.  Have we seen the last of The Governor or will he be around in season 4? – Michael from Lawrence

Well Michael, I can tell you that he will have a major presence in at least 2 Season 4 episodes.  Both of which are being referred to as “Standalone Governor” episodes.  I don’t have a date on when those episodes will air, but most likely they will be in the first half of Season 4 beginning October 13th on AMC.

I’d love it if you could give me some scoop on my new favorite show, The Following?  – Tim from Dracut

Tim, I’m sure you remember, when we last left Kevin Bacon’s Ryan, he and Claire were laying critically wounded, stabbed by a disciple of Joe’s.  Well what I can tell you, is that Season 2 will jump forward a whole year after the final episode of Season 1.    Ryan will be completely healed and in great shape.  He will be stronger; he’s running, and no longer with the FBI.  Rumor is that they are looking to cast a new love interest for Ryan, so what does that mean for Claire’s fate?  You’ll just have to tune in, word is that Claire’s fate will be revealed immediately when The Following returns in January on FOX.

I haven’t heard a word about Parenthood, please tell me it hasn’t been cancelled?! – Meg from Haverhill

Meg, not only will Parenthood be back, but it will be back for a full 22 episode season as opposed to the 13 episodes we are used to seeing from it.  When the show returns, on September 26 at 10 on NBC, we can tell you that it will be a much happier season for Kristina and Adam.  The season picks up 6 months after the end of last season, and Kristina will be contemplating a run for office.  Mayor to be exact.  We’ll also see Max working for Ray Romano’s Hank.  If you remember, Hank gave Max a camera at the end of the season, well apparently he’s been using it a lot and has gotten interested in photography.

Love your column!  Anything you can tell me about what’s going to happen on Modern Family? – Annie from North Andover

Thanks Annie.  The show returns for its 5th season with a one hour episode on Wednesday September 25th.  This season we’re going to meet more of Cam’s family, specifically his sister.  She’ll appear in the seasons 4th episode.  The role has yet to be cast, but the character is described as “a big-boned, very non-glamorous farm girl, who has something of an explosive personality.”  Also look for a possible wedding for Mitch and Cam.

Do you have any questions about TV?  Email me at BillsTVTalk@gmail.com.  I will answer all of your questions and will feature some of the questions I receive in a future column.

Follow Bill on Twitter @TVNewsandNotes and on Facebook at TVNewsandNotes

Friday, August 16, 2013

'Ray Donovan' - Another Winner For Showtime

     Showtime’s newest series, Ray Donovan, which premiered on June 30th on the premium cable network looks like another winner. 

     The show, about a South Boston transplant working as a fixer for the rich and powerful in Hollywood, stars Liev Schreiber as the title character, and Jon Voight playing his father.   Created by Ann Biderman, the creator of the brilliant ‘Southland’ looks to have come up with another compelling series here. 

     Ray is married to Abby (Paula Malcomson) and together that have 2 children.   Ray also has 2, but soon he discovers he has 3, brothers. 

     Ray’s father Mickey is getting out of prison, in the series premiere, after 20 years, and immediately gets back into a life of crime.  Mickey’s reason for being in prison slowly comes out over the course of the season.  He sets out for California to insert himself into the life of his children.  His sons all allow Mickey back into their lives, except Ray, who threatens to kill him if he comes near his wife and kids. 

     Ray works for LA Powerhouse attorney Lee Drexler (House’s Peter Jacobson), who calls Ray when he needs something “fixed.”  In the first episode Ray is called in to help out a famous athlete who wakes up next to a dead woman who overdosed on drugs.  I won’t spoil it for anyone, but Ray does his job and fixes it so that the athlete’s career isn’t destroyed by this incident.

     Meanwhile, Ray also has to deal with his family, who he has moved across the country from Boston to California, and his wife isn’t too thrilled with it.  She isn’t quite thrilled with Ray’s job choice for that matter either.  The more I watch this show, the more I can see similarities between Abby and another famous TV wife.  Just the scene where Abby bugs Ray to use his connections to get their daughter into a good school has Carmela Soprano written all over it.

     Then Ray’s father shows up and that adds another dimension to this story.  Ray tells Mickey in no uncertain terms, that if comes near his family, he will kill him.  Ray also begs his wife not to allow Mickey into their lives.   Needless to say, Mickey doesn’t stay away, and Abby who has been corresponding with Mickey while he was incarcerated, doesn’t heed Ray’s advice either.
     
Schreiber is compelling as Ray, and Jon Voight gives a tour de force performance as Mickey.  These top notch performances, coupled with great writing, a great supporting cast, and seasoned direction make this show appointment viewing.