As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
The buzz is starting as the major networks get ready to present their hottest pilots to advertisers in New York to determine what will or won't make it to the final fall schedule. Presentations begin May 12, Variety reports.
According to Variety, NBC is looking at some strong sitcom possibilities, including a reworking of the BBC smash sexcom Coupling and the John Larroquette/Christine Baranski starrer Happy Family. Both seem destined for series orders. Also high on the network's list are sitcoms revolving around Saturday Night Live alum Tracy Morgan, who plays a Ralph Kramden-esque mechanic and Whoopi Goldberg, as an ex-diva turned hotel operator. The Heather Locklear sitcom Once Around the Park is being bantered around as well.
On the drama side, the Alicia Silverstone romantic dramedy Miss Match from Sex and the City creator Darren Star could be a sure bet as well as the Rob Lowe starrer Lyon's Den and studio head-turned-producer Kerry McCluggages' Homeland Security.
ABC will lead off with their laffer Platonically Incorrect, described as a straight Will & Grace, with Tom Everett Scott and A.J. Langer starring as platonic best friends. Good things are also being said about the sitcom Hope & Faith, starring Kelly Ripa as a washed-up soap star who moves in with her housewife sister, played by Faith Ford, Variety reports.
Buzz seems to be heaviest around ABC's dramatic series Karen Sisco, based on the female federal marshal character played by Jennifer Lopez in the Steven Soderbergh film Out of Sight. Also creating some noise: The D.A., about a district attorney (Steven Weber) who teams with a private investigator.
CBS generally keeps their fall plans on a tight rein, which makes speculation a little difficult. According to Variety, however, the network has its eye on Jerry Bruckheimer's tentatively titled femme detective drama Cold Cases as well as the quirky Joan of Arcadia and the Joe Pantoliano crime drama Street Boss.
On the lighter side, CBS execs seem to like the Nicole Sullivan laffer Crazylove and Chuck Lorre's 2-1/2 Men, starring Charlie Sheen.
Fox, meanwhile, has already picked up two shows for what the net now refers to as its year-round sked: Dramas The O.C. and Wonder Falls, Variety reports. Other dramas generating buzz include the Keyser/Lippman drama No Place like Home and Steven Bochco's NYPD 2069.
On the comedy front, Fox is digging its Molly Shannon starrer Cracking Up, which boasts an all-star behind-the-scenes lineup of producers/writers--including The Good Girl's Mike White, the Weitz brothers and Brad Grey.
Finally, over at the WB, drama Tarzan and Jane swings in as a heavy hitter, as does basketball-themed One Tree Hill, which is a new take on MacGyver, Variety reports.
When it comes to yukking it up, the Frog network is looking to greenlight a half-hour comedy starring Anthony Anderson (Barbershop) and the Adam Sandler-produced The Mayor.