Reviews of New Fall Shows 2014


Black-ish: Serious Questions Asked with Humor 

Black-ish deals with serious questions of assimilation and race – but does so in the format of a family-friendly comedy.

Andre “Dre” Johnson has made it. A loving husband and proud father of four, Dre is also a successful, well-to-do advertising executive. But the African-American Dre is promoted to vice-president of “urban marketing,” and his son goes out for field hockey instead of basketball – then requests a bar mitzvah -- Dre  worries that his children have lost touch with their cultural identity. Andre's sensible physician wife Rainbow (herself of mixed heritage) tries to protect their bewildered children from Dre’s sudden emphasis on making the family “black, not black-ish.” 

African-Americans assimilating to wealth and fitting in to mainstream “white” culture has been a consistent theme throughout the history of American television programming, from The Jeffersons to The Cosby Show to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Black-ish provides, if not a backlash, then a counterbalance, asking the question, “While American blacks have gained tremendously, what have they lost? And how do they regain their own unique culture?” – concerns that the show’s co-creators Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne take seriously. But while the program addresses these questions in a humorous fashion, Black-ish is also a warm family sitcom that anyone can enjoy, from Dre’s over-the-top rants to the grumpy responses of his elderly “Pop.”  There is little content of concern: “If I’m not really black, could someone please tell my hair and my ass?” Rainbow says at one point; and when Dre tells his son, “You need to hold onto your culture,” the 13 year old replies, “The only thing I’m trying to hold on to is my first boob.” “You can’t be mad at him for that,” Pop says.

For combining clean family humor with a serious but gentle examination of race in America, Black-ish is definitely recommended for family viewing.

Black-ish premieres: Wednesday, September 24 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Cristela is an Upbeat Sitcom for the Whole Family  

Comedian Cristela Alonzo’s self-titled sitcom brings the positive family sitcom back to TV.  

After six years in law school, Cristela finally lands an upaid internship at a prestigious law firm. But the sunny Latina must cope with clueless and often biased co-workers at the firm, as well as deal with her family at home: sister Daniela (who wants her to get a “real job”), grouchy brother-in-law Felix (who is tired of Cristela’s freeloading), and mother Natalia (who wants her to get married and have children).

At a Paley Center panel, the show’s creator and star, Cristela Alonzo, stated that she was inspired by such past programs as Mary Tyler Moore, The Cosby Show, and Roseanne, to create a family sitcom with a positive outlook. In this, she has definitely succeeded. In this tremendously upbeat program, Cristela faces down her co-workers’ ignorance of Latino life with humanity and humor, while at home she handles her family’s attitudes with the same sunny yet sarcastic comedy. Devoid of sexual themes or profanity, Cristela is another solid home run in ABC’s lineup of family comedies.  

Cristela premieres Friday, October 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Selfie: "All I Want is a Tweet Somewhere..." 

Selfie tells a My Fair Lady story in today’s social media-obsessed world.

Eliza Dooley is a woman obsessed with becoming famous through the use of social media…until a sudden hit to her online popularity makes her realize that she needs actual friends, not just people she "friends" online. Eliza asks snobbish marketing guru Henry Higenbottam to take on the challenge of transforming the shallow, image-obsessed Eliza into a real human being. But Eliza’s journey may affect the closed-off workaholic Henry and change in the process.

Loosely based on My Fair Lady (note the characters’ names), Selfie contains some risqué content which may concern parents. Describing her transformation from “most butt” in high school to her current “fab” self, Eliza notes, “I blew out my curls and pushed out the girls.” She has also been carrying on an affair with a married co-worker, and later makes a casual reference to anal sex (“No backdoor stuff”) to an appalled Henry. There is also little appeal in a show about a vapid narcissist and a hyper-critical workaholic; who exactly are audiences supposed to be rooting for? Finally, it is difficult to see how the show’s premise can be sustained for an entire season…let alone how long viewers will be able to tolerate non-stop dialogue like, “OMG! I was totally LOL’ing. Hashtag loser!”  

Selfie premieres Tuesday, September 30 at 8:00 p.m. ET on ABC.

Manhattan Love Story: Unlikeable People Thinking Nasty Thoughts 

In Manhattan Love Story, viewers hear the lead characters’ thoughts – but they’re not worth thinking about.

This series follows the budding relationship of a new couple, snarky Peter and naïve Dana, by “exposing their unfiltered internal monologues” (letting viewers hear what the characters are thinking).

In the first moments of the first episode, Peter walks down the street, leering at every woman as he does so. Viewers hear his thoughts: “Yep. Yep. No way. I think I already did. I don’t remember her name. Oh God, please don’t recognize me. Yes. Yes!” (Sees the woman is pregnant.) “I dunno. Probably.” (Camera zooms in on the woman’s breasts.) “YES!”

During Peter and Dana’s first date, the following dialogue – both thought and spoken – occurs:

Peter (thinking): “Totally going back to my place. Oh God, did I leave porn lying around?”

Dana (thinking): “Might go back to his place. Wait, did I shave my legs?”

Dana talks about her day.

Peter (thinking): “Nice rack.”

Dana (thinking): “Does he really think I can’t tell he’s staring at my breasts?”

Dana (aloud): “HEY!”

Peter (aloud): “Oh. Um. Sorry, I was just…”

Dana (aloud): “Checking out my boobs.”

Dana starts crying.

Peter (thinking): “Holy sh(bleep)!”

Dana (thinking): “Holy sh(bleep)!”

Producer Jeff Lowell: “We want to establish that men and women think about things differently. He’s into boobs, she likes purses and cries all the time.” That sleazy, sexist sentiment pretty much says it all about Manhattan Love Story.

The notion of “hearing people’s thoughts” may have seemed clever to the show’s creators, but it is a device which works much better in print than in a video medium. It also doesn’t help that the thoughts we do get to hear are so despicably sexist and sex-obsessed – in addition to most of Peter’s other thoughts consisting of the kind of mean-spirited sarcasm that inhabitants of Manhattan and Hollywood types consider “hip” and “ironic,” but which in fact are just plain nasty. With unlikeable characters, sexist language, and a gimmick that will become tiresome by the end of episode 2, there really is no reason to watch Manhattan Love Story.

Manhattan Love Story premieres Tuesday, September 30 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Forever is a Fantasy-Flavored Crime Drama

Catching murderers is easier if you can’t die.

New York City coroner Henry Morgan has a secret: he can't die. (Or rather, he dies, but he doesn't stay dead – he revives immediately after each “death.”) Henry has lived for over 200 years, and uses his lengthy life experience to help recently-widowed police detective Jo Martinez solve cases, using his vast knowledge and Sherlock-level powers of observation and deduction.

There was little content to concern parents in the first episode of Forever. Some of Henry’s “deaths” are a little gruesome, and as he is a coroner some graphic views of corpses and dissections are shown (though not as graphic as those typically seen in NCIS or CSI). With attractive leads and an unusual concept, Forever may appeal to both mystery fans and those of the fantasy genre.

Forever premieres Monday, September 22 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.



Marry Me: Rapid-fire, Mean-spirited Dialogue -- and Profanity  

The “romantic comedy” Marry Me has no genuine warmth or realistic dialogue…but does contain insults and profanity galore.

Stoic Jake and drama-queen Annie have been dating for years, but have never married. On their sixth anniversary as a couple, Annie explodes in a lengthy tirade about Jake’s unwillingness to commit, during which she insults his family and all his friends, unaware that Jake is on his knee ready to propose that very moment – and that his family and all their friends are in the room. Later, Annie tries to redeem herself by proposing to Jake at his workplace, thus causing him to lose his job. The two decide to hold off on their engagement until they can figure out exactly where they are as a couple – thus setting the stage for the series, which will explore their long, awkward, and very bumpy ride on the way to the altar…assuming they get there.

Once again demonstrating that the adage “write what you know” rules Hollywood, Marry Me is loosely based on the courtship of the show’s creator David Caspe (previously producer of the sitcom Happy Endings) and its star, Casey Wilson. The major difference separating Marry Me from a hundred other relationship comedies is the show’s allegedly clever writing, delivered at the speed of sound – a mixture of emotional diatribe, obscure allusion, and mean-spirited insult which results in dialogue totally unlike anything spoken by any real human being in the entire history of the universe, ever. The show’s nasty tone is demonstrated by the following exchange between Annie and Jake’s mother (who, during her tirade, Annie called a “bitch”):

Annie: “I only called you that because the easiest way to hurt a guy is to go after his mother. That’s the way I fight.”

mother: “I admire your strategy. That’s the way I always used to fight with Jake’s father. Though we were bitterly divorced and he died, I regret nothing.”

Other typical dialogue includes lines like, “You’re like my little exploding Challenger” and “We can’t get away from each other, like Paula Deen and the n-word,” and references to erections, sperm, urine, masturbation, and venereal disease. Profanity is also frequent, with the f-word used liberally, along with “s***,” “bitch,” “bastard,” “ass,” “titties,” and many others. During a Paley Center panel, Caspe confessed that “there will have to be LOTS of bleeps when it airs,” and boasted about the show’s “super-messy, dark, drag-out crazy fights” between Jake and Annie, admitting he wants the show to be “funny and uncomfortable at the same time.”

There is little doubt that Marry Me will be praised by other Hollywood writers and so-called TV critics for its “edgy” writing and supposedly “subversive” (read: smutty, mean-spirited, and inappropriate) humor; but most viewers at home will likely find the show’s nastiness, lack of realistic language, and smug tendency to pat itself on the back off-putting. Totally inappropriate for children and unappealing to many adults, Marry Me contains zero heart, zero warmth, zero sincerity – and 1000% snark.

Marry Me premieres Tuesday, October 14, at 9:00 p.m. on NBC.

A to Z is a Bittersweet Romantic Comedy

Sincere and warm-hearted, this series tells the story of a romance…from A to Z.

Andrew Lofland is a romantic at heart and a believer in destiny – so much so, he works at an online dating service, where he can help others find “the one.” Zelda Vasco is a hard-headed lawyer serious about her career, and “destiny” is about the last thing she believes in. When Andrew meets Zelda, he recalls seeing her at a party several years earlier, and believes fate has reunited them and that they’re destined to be together. Zelda is less sure -- but she’s willing to give love a chance.

A to Z is a romantic comedy with little objectionable content, save for an occasional leering remark by Andrew’s sex-crazed buddy Stu. This chronicle of totally different people from totally different worlds, and how they make their relationship work -- or don’t -- promises to be sincere, if bittersweet at the end, as the show’s narration hints: “Andrew and Zelda will date for 8 months, 3 weeks, 5 days, and 1 hour. This program is the story of their relationship – A to Z.”

A to Z premieres Thursday, October 2, at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC.

Constantine: Supernatural Shock, Horror, and Gore

Constantine features levels of violence and horror that are hellish – literally.

John Constantine is a self-proclaimed “exorcist, demonologist, and master of the dark arts.” Because of a botched exorcism, during which the innocent soul of a nine-year-old girl was dragged off to Hell by a demon, Constantine’s own soul is forfeit; yet John continues his reluctant and resentful battle against evil to protect the innocent. Constantine is joined in his fight by his indestructible colleague Chas, mysterious angel Manny, and beautiful, naive psychic Liv, who is new to the world of the occult.

Based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer, Constantine is essentially a cut-rate version of CW’s Supernatural with a British accent.  Demons, magical spells, and bloody violence are par for the course: the first episode showed John undergoing graphic electro-shock therapy; rotting, eyeless corpses vomiting blood; demons literally dragging people off to Hell; bloody, scarred zombies à la The Walking Dead; and Chas being graphically impaled through the chest by a metal pole. Constantine also throws around a fair amount of profanity, though much of it is British slang like “bloody” and “bollocks.” While adult fans of the comic and the supernatural horror genre may enjoy the show’s occult emphasis and gory special effects, Constantine is not recommended for younger teens or children.

Constantine premieres Friday, October 24 at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.

The Mysteries of Laura: It’s a Mystery, Alright…More or Less

Murder mystery? Romantic soap opera? Over-the-top family sitcom? Gritty cop drama? The Mysteries of Laura is all of these – but ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

Laura Diamond is a tough, competent career detective and the pride of her police precinct. But Laura must juggle her day job with her home life as a single mom, including two bratty pre-school boys who delight in wreaking havoc in the classroom, on the street, at home, and everywhere else. Adding to Laura’s problems is her irresponsible, womanizing, soon-to-be ex-husband Jake, for whom Laura still has feelings – and who has just been appointed her new boss. The series will show Laura investigating a different murder each week, while she tries to hold the chaos of her life together.

In addition to standard violence inherent in police shows, The Mysteries of Laura features frequent profanity (“ass,” “bitch,” “douchebag”) and sexual language (“diddling some skank,” “her ass was staring me in the face”). The program also revels in showing Laura acting inappropriately, like blackmailing a teacher to let her kids into preschool, or lying to a parking valet to illegally search a suspect’s car (“I left my underwear in my husband’s car, and I just got a Brazilian and I’m feeling drafty”). Jake is the ultimate in irresponsible fathers, taking the kids for pizza while Laura handles the discipline; while the boys engage in stunts like urinating on one another in a public park.

Unlike this season’s new Fox show Red Band Society, in which shifts between drama and comedy are deliberately calculated to tell a story about terminally ill children without overwhelming viewers with despair, The Mysteries of Laura is a mélange of different genres without any overriding purpose behind the mix…other than, perhaps, confusion on the part of the show’s creative team. By giving viewers a lead character who is sobbing about her divorce one minute, gunning down perps the next, and engaging in wacky sitcom hijinks a minute later, The Mysteries of Laura is completely unfocused. The result is similar to what one would get if one dumped Hawaiian pizza, jalapeño peppers, pickled herring, and tutti-frutti ice cream in a blender: the resulting concoction would be creative, unusual, and definitely different…but it’s doubtful anyone would want to drink it. As these disparate elements demonstrate, The Mysteries of Laura does contain many mysteries – but the biggest mystery is what the show is trying to be.

The Mysteries of Laura premieres Wednesday, September 17, at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.


Mulaney: Better than Seth MacFarlane

Fox’s Mulaney is a nearly perfect copy of Seinfeld – except that it isn’t funny.

Stand-up comedian John Mulaney gets his “dream job” writing for entertainment king Lou Cannon – only to discover Cannon is a self-absorbed narcissist oblivious to common sense. Mulaney's support system includes his roommates, personal trainer Jane and fellow comic Motif, and a pair of wacky neighbors: gay guru Oscar and drug pusher Andre.

The first episode included references to Mulaney lying to his doctor in order to get “drugged up enough for my job interview,” and undergoing a prostate exam; Jane reading her ex-boyfriend’s emails and stalking him; and Motif becoming famous for his constantly-repeated catchphrase, “problem bitch.”

While during a Paley Center panel John Mulaney claimed his program taps influences as diverse as the play Our Town, the 1950s TV program Sgt. Bilko, and old-time radio comics like George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Jack Benny, in another interview he admitted the show’s true point of departure:  “We just watched Seinfeld and copied it.” Indeed, the program is a bare-faced imitation of Seinfeld, down to the friends-and-wacky-neighbors cast set-up, Mulaney’s struggles as a professional comedian, and the program incorporating bits of Mulaney’s real-life stand-up act. The only major difference is that Seinfeld was funny. While Mulaney contains no grossly offensive content (at least in the first episode), neither is it particularly worth watching. Still, as a Sunday-night program on Fox, Mulaney is a welcome relief from Seth MacFarlane’s endless parade of ultra-violent, sex-slathered cartoons.

Mulaney premieres Sunday, October 5th at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.

Red Band Society Blends the Silly, Serious, and Sublime

Mixing off-the-wall comedy, teen soap opera, and serious drama, Red Band Society is the fall’s most challenging and unusual new show.

The Critical Care ward of Los Angeles' Ocean Park Hospital is home to a number of teens, each facing a life-threatening diagnosis, from heart transplantation to cancer, to cystic fibrosis.  Among the residents are thoughtful amputee Leo; new kid Jordi, who becomes Leo’s roommate; hip rebel Dash; brooding know-it-all Emma; snotty cheerleader Kara; and Charlie, who narrates the program from within his coma. Trying to rein in the teens’ wild antics are tough, “seen-it-all” Nurse Jackson, gentle intern Brittany, and top pediatrician Dr. McAndrew.   

Reminiscent of comedies from M*A*S*H, to John Hughes movies like The Breakfast Club, to Fox’s Glee, Red Band Society shifts rapidly – often in the same scene – between wacky comedy hijinks, emotional teenage soap opera, and serious drama literally dealing with matters of life and death.

In some ways, this is the most family-friendly new program of the entire fall season, dealing sensitively and honestly not only with the drama of facing death, but with other typical teen concerns like popularity, body image, eating disorders, and first love. For presenting an inspirational perspective on such issues, as well as those of life and death, Red Band Society is to be commended.

On the other hand, parents should be aware that the teens are hardly well-behaved role models. Over the course of just the first episode they steal a car, smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and lie about their age to buy beer, and one adult character smokes pot from a bong. Language on the show includes uses of “ass,” “bitch,” “balls,” and talk about “getting laid.” In addition, some of the insults used by Kara and Emma are shocking for their heartlessness and cruelty. When asked about the limits to which the show can go in such scenes, series writer/producer Margaret Nagle exulted, “We’re so fortunate we’re on Fox. Anytime we talked to the network, they say, ‘Can you edge it up’? We think we have this happy, inspirational scene, and Fox says, ‘Make the ending dark and twisted.’” 

Producer Steven Spielberg obviously intended this show to be heart-breakingly touching and inspirational; Fox obviously hopes to recapture the teen demographic of The O.C. and Glee . But to those of us old enough to have seen The Breakfast Club (or any other John Hughes movie), there is no tension, no drama, no inspiration, and no surprises – just lots of emo teens being emo teens.
Red Band Society premieres Wednesday, September 17th at 9:00 p.m. ET on Fox.

Gotham Awash in Darkness and Gore

Gotham gives viewers a world filled with Batman’s sadistic villains – but no Batman.

New to the crime-ridden city of Gotham, straight-arrow detective James Gordon vows to make a difference – a task made difficult by the corruption in his own police department, and particularly in his partner Harvey Bullock. With the city’s aging crime boss Falcone losing his influence, Gotham is filled with other up-and-coming criminals eager to supplant him: sleazy nightclub owner “Fish” Mooney; her lackey Oswald Cobblepot, nicknamed "the Penguin"; riddle-loving forensic scientist Edward Nigma; a budding young botanist named Ivy; and a mysterious teenage girl who loves cats.  Gordon also takes responsibility for mentoring a child orphaned by the murder of his parents – a wealthy young boy named Bruce Wayne.

A Batman story without Batman, Gotham is characterized by all manner of mature content. Bullock makes crude references to sex and masturbation; characters spew language including “bastard,” “son of a bitch,” and “kiss my ass”; and violence is graphic, including torture, savage beatings, throats being slashed and gunshots, all with the victims’ blood spurting. Producer David Goyer has unapologetically boasted about the program’s extreme brutality: "This is a crime story, and crime is violence."

Parents are warned that, far from being an upbeat super-hero show like The Flash, Gotham is an extremely dark and gory take on the comic-book universe…especially as it features multiple violent and psychotic villains, but only one beleaguered (and mostly ineffective) hero.  As a result, Gotham is not recommended for children or young teens.

Gotham premieres Monday, September 22nd at 8:00 p.m. ET on Fox.

Gracepoint is an Old-Fashioned MysteryChicago native Michael Pena plays the father of a murdered boy in Fox’s upcoming whodunnit, “Gracepoint.” The 10-episode series is based on the stellar British original called “Broadchurch.” In that version, Pena’s character is falsely accused of committing the crime — as is just about everyone in the grief-stricken small town. “I didn’t have to

The murder mystery Gracepoint is devoted to characters, conspiracies, and clues, not sexual or violent content.  

The small, close-knit seaside community of Gracepoint is rocked when 12 year old Danny Solano is found murdered. Investigating are local police officer (and mother of Danny’s best friend) Ellie Miller and abrasive detective Emmet Carver, who is a newcomer to Gracepoint – and who hides his own shady past.  Suspicion is at first is directed against Danny’s father, Mark; but as the two officers delve deeper, their investigation uncovers many other secrets in the seemingly idyllic town…

Based on the British drama Broadchurch, Gracepoint presents both an intriguing mystery and an involving character drama – and does so without graphic violence, sex, or even much foul language, in a welcome shift from such previous Fox crime dramas as Bones.  While the show’s mood is somber and its subject matter is sad, both adult and teen mystery lovers can enjoy the show’s drama devoid of graphic content.

Gracepoint premieres Thursday, October 2nd at 9:00 p.m. ET on Fox.


Scorpion is a Smart, Action-Packed “Funcedural”

A program full of action without graphic violence, relationship drama without graphic sex, and which makes being smart look cool, Scorpion is a safe, fun pick the whole family can enjoy.

Walter O'Brien is one of the smartest men in the world – and one of the most socially inept. Walter leads his team of fellow super-intelligent misfits (mechanical engineer “Happy” Quinn, “human calculator” Sylvester Dodd, and scheming psychologist Toby Curtis) in dealing with international crises at the direction of Homeland Security agent Cabe Gallo. Helping the team to deal with ordinary people, normal life, and their own emotions is former waitress Paige – who is also the single mother to Ralph, another budding genius who bonds with the team.  

Based on the experiences of the real-life super-genius Walter O’Brien, Scorpion follows the standard procedural format of a team of quirky experts working together to solve the crisis of the week. Delightfully, however, it does this without foul language, sex, or graphic violence. At a Paley Center panel, series executive producer Nick Santora stated that his goal was to provide a “funcedural” – an action-packed, character-driven show “for people who come home from work on Monday night and just want to be entertained.” The sentiment is echoed by the real Walter O’Brien, who also executive-produces; O’Brien noted growing up with “fun” shows about intelligent problem solvers like MacGyver, and hoped to provide something similar for kids today – and the show does. After so many seasons in which television was swamped with sex and serial killers, it’s nice to finally see an action show families can enjoy together.   

Scorpion premieres Monday, September 22nd, at 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

Madam Secretary: Blatant Pro-Hillary Propaganda

Tapped by the President after a tragic assassination, college professor and former CIA agent Elizabeth McCord is the newly-appointed Secretary of State. With the help of her college professor husband Henry, speechwriter Matt Mahoney, press coordinator Daisy Grant ,and assistants Blake and Nadine, Elizabeth must learn to balance her high-profile, high-pressure job with a previously well-functioning marriage and family life – all while facing threats from across the globe…and from the President’s arrogant Chief of Staff, Russell Jackson.

Back in 2007, as Hillary Clinton was preparing her first run for president , ABC aired a series titled Commander-in-Chief, about the first woman president. Not only was that program nothing more than blatant pro-Hillary propaganda, it wasn't even good entertainment; the title woman president was all-wise, all-knowing, all-competent, equally comfortable making gourmet-level omelets, solving worldwide crises, and quoting obscure first-century Roman literature -- in the original Latin, of course. The show was painful to watch on two levels: it was so poorly written and acted that it gave "entertainment" a bad name; and it was so obviously a reflection of its creators besotted love of Hillary Clinton that it was positively well as being ABC's blatant attempt to tell the electorate what to do.

Now, Hillary is preparing to run for president again; and, sheer coincidence, we get a series which glamorizes a blonde woman Secretary of State. Moreover, in the first episode, "Madam Secretary" successfully (and pretty much single-handedly) rescues Americans imprisoned by a fascistic Middle Eastern government. Comparisons with Benghazi are artfully avoided...but then, at this point, what does it really matter?

It really is pathetic the way the so-called "entertainment" networks are so overt about pushing their political agenda on all of America. In Madam Secretary, the lead character is 1) a brilliant college professor who goes out of her way to be snarky and rude to her students; 2) a former “best analyst the CIA ever had,” who was personally trained by the President himself; and 3) a strong, scholarly woman who speaks a dozen languages. All this just proves how brilliant and honest yet down to Earth Hillary Elizabeth is. She’s also tough, feisty, able to outfox foreign leaders, a better writer than everyone on her staff, can outmaneuver anyone else in government, and is pretty much superior to everyone around her at everything you can imagine. Of course. Just like on Commander-in-Chief.

The episode does have one enjoyable scene. Elizabeth and her husband raise horses on their hobby farm, and Elizabeth cleans the stables herself. I like to think there was one conservative writer on the program who very deliberately included a scene which shows that the program's Hillary clone is an expert at shoveling horseshit.

Madam Secretary premieres Sunday, September 21st at 8:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

Stalker: Disturbing Shock and Horror

Stalker aims to tell stories about terrorized innocents - but it succeeds in terrorizing viewers.

Beth Davis leads the Threat Assessment Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department, an organization which deals with the crime of stalking. Paired with the uptight Beth is a womanizing transfer from the New York police, Jack Larsen. The two must deal with their own issues (Beth is a victim of stalking herself, while Jack is “stalking” his ex-girlfriend Amanda, in an attempt to forge a relationship with their son) while also helping the victims of crimes of intimidation and revenge.    

From producer Kevin Williamson (creator of Fox’s serial killer/murder cult program The Following) comes yet another dark, deeply disturbing series centered on terrorized innocents preyed upon by ultra-violent psychopaths. The first episode opened with a woman and her car being doused with gasoline by a stalker, then set on fire and blown up. Another victim, a college student, claims he and his girlfriend were surreptitiously filmed having sex by his former roommate. Beth “stalks the stalker,” and beats the “punk-ass little twit,” then tells him “I can lie better than you, and they’ll believe me. They always do.” A third stalker kidnaps, binds, and tortures his victim. Also included are many creepy, sinister scenes showing stalkers’ methods of following, spying on, and harassing innocents. In addition, Larson constantly leers at and makes unwelcome, sexually-charged remarks to Beth. Children, teens, and any other viewers who don’t want nightmares are advised to stay away.

Stalker premieres Wednesday, October 1st at 10:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

NCIS: New Orleans is Another Trip to the Well

CBS turns to established stars Scott Bakula and CCH Pounder in its latest crime procedural.

The latest in CBS’ successful NCIS franchise features the New Orleans field office of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, which examines crimes involving military personnel. Amid the scenic Cajun-jazz-and-gumbo backdrop of the Big Easy, Special Agent Dwayne “King” Pride heads up his team of investigators: hard-charging agent Christopher LaSalle, interrogator Meredith "Merri" Brody, and eccentric coroner Loretta Wade.

Like NCIS, this procedural features some profanity and frequent references to and flashbacks of sexual crimes. It also contains limited but horrifically gory close-ups of autopsies and corpses in various stages of decay, along with traditional police-show shootouts and the like. Yawn. 

NCIS: New Orleans premieres Tuesday, September 23rd at 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

The McCarthys: Unfunny and Offensive Stereotypes

What does it say when a show’s trailer contains a laugh track?

Loosely based on comedian Brian Gallivan's life and family, this comedy follows gay man Ronny McCarthy, who is ignorant about sports, and his interactions tight-knit family of Boston Irish sports fanatics, including politically incorrect father and high-school basketball coach Arthur, mother Marjorie, brothers Sean and Gerard, and sister Jackie. Arthur appoints Ronny his assistant coach to get him to stay in Boston (and to lure a player with a gay mother onto his team), over the objections of the other brothers. Plots revolve around Ronny’s rivalry with his brothers and his search for a life partner, and unmarried sister Jackie’s pregnancy. 

This alleged sitcom is filled with offensively over-the-top stereotypes (ignorant bigot father, domineering, manipulative mother, dumb jock oldest son, trashy daughter, and a gay son who proclaims his mother is his “best friend,” and with whom he watches soap operas and dishes about fashion). Other gay characters are presented as flamingly flamboyant, with Arthur describing one as a “lez.”  Despite a shrieking, high-decibel laugh track, there is nary a laugh to be found anywhere in the show. Though there was no violence or sexual content in the first episode, and only limited profanity, there also is no reason to watch a program that is just another not-very-good sitcom, and which is unlikely to last out the season.

The McCarthys premieres Thursday, October 30 at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

The CW

Jane the Virgin: More Sex on the CW

For much of its existence, the CW network has been home to sex-centered series like Gossip Girl. Jane the Virgin continues the tradition – with a twist.

All her life, Jane Villanueva has striven to be a “good girl.” A hard-working A student on track to become a teacher, Jane also works part-time at a hotel and is engaged to police detective Michael. Most notably, the 24-year-old Jane has retained her virginity, out of determination not to repeat her mother’s irresponsible mistakes (Jane’s mother Xiomaria became pregnant with Jane at age 16). But Jane’s life is turned upside down when, during what was supposed to be a routine exam, she is accidentally artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant. To make matters worse, the biological donor, wealthy hotelier Rafael, is a married man, the new owner of the hotel where Jane works -- and was also her former teenage crush.

As is obvious from the description above, Jane the Virgin focuses on sex – lots of sex. In addition to the elements mentioned above, Jane, Xiomaria, and grandmother Alba all watch steamy telenovelas together; Rafael’s wife Petra, the intended recipient of Rafael’s sperm, wanted to get pregnant only to hold their marriage together until a pre-nuptial contract condition kicks in (after 5 years of marriage, Petra gets $10 million) – all while Petra is sleeping with Rafael’s best friend; Xiomaria is promiscuous, sharing details of her affairs with her daughter, as well as sending Jane sexually explicit pictures of other women’s “boob jobs” and sex acts; and while Jane and Michael have remained physically chaste, Michael texts Jane and requests they engage in phone sex (when Jane replies that her mother is sleeping in the same room, Michael texts, “How soundly?”) 

Language is problematic, with Xiomaria berating Jane’s doctor, “Where did you get your degree, the University of Dumbass? My daughter said she is a freakin’ virgin, so do another damn test!,” along with frequent references to “boobs” and “boning.”

Also problematic is the show’s attitude towards faith. During a panel at the Paley Center, the show’s producers patted themselves on the back for the show’s “respectful attitudes” toward “diversity” (Jane the Virgin incorporates storylines not only about Latinos, but about Rafael’s lesbian sister); but the show’s producers are far less respectful of Catholicism. Grandmother Alba, the only devout individual seen in the pilot, is portrayed as a narrow-minded, out-of-touch tyrant who traumatizes Jane into remaining a virgin until marriage: when Jane was 10, Alba gave her a white rose, then ordered her to “crumple it up!” After Jane does, Alba sternly lectures, “That’s what happens when you lose your virginity – you can NEVER go back!” Naturally, Alba is also revealed to be a hypocrite: when the promiscuous Xiomaria became pregnant at 16, Alba urged her to get an abortion. And when it is revealed that Jane is pregnant despite not having had sex, Jane’s mother drops to the floor and proclaims her daughter the Immaculate Conception, and prays a “Hail Mary,” changing the words to “Hail Jane.”  (This must be the “religious content” the CW’s network representative boasted the show would contain while speaking at the Family Entertainment and Faith-Based Media convention last month.)

To viewers unfamiliar with Latin American telenovelas Jane the Virgin’s obsessive focus on sexual themes seems both offensive and over-the-top, and is not recommended for children or teens.

Jane the Virgin premieres Monday, October 13th at 9:00 p.m. ET, on CW.

The Flash Is Fast-Paced, Family-Friendly Fun

The Flash is a comic-based program with an upbeat, truly heroic hero.

As a boy, Barry Allen saw his mother die before his eyes. The police and the courts agreed Barry’s father was responsible; but Barry knows what he saw: a ball of lighting shaped like a man was responsible. Raised by detective Joe West, the now-grown Barry is a forensic police scientist, with a crush on his oblivious adoptive “sister” Iris. But when brilliant scientist Harrison Wells’ experimental particle generator goes haywire, it unleashes forces that transform Barry, giving him the ability to run at unbelievable speeds. With the support of Harrison’s science team, Barry vows to protect Central City from other super-powered “metahumans,” and takes on a new, costumed identity as the Fastest Man Alive  -- The Flash!

Unlike its sister DC Comics-inspired program Arrow, which often features a dark, brooding tone and intense, fairly realistic violence, The Flash is largely an upbeat, positive show with lots of exciting action but little graphic violence. Where Arrow’s characters often attack one another with arrows, swords, guns, and brutal beatings, The Flash centers around fantasy-style special effects, such as the first episode’s weather-controlling villain. Unless it changes drastically from the pilot, there is little in The Flash to concern parents of even younger children. Instead, the entire family can enjoy the character drama and thrill to the high-speed adventures of The Flash.   

The Flash premieres Tuesday, October 7th, at 8:00 p.m. ET on CW.

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