CBS Television Network
If you're one of the viewers that routinely switches off CBS as soon as Mike and Molly ends, well, shame on you: you're missing out on Mom. The freshman sitcom starring Anna Faris as a recovering alcoholic single mom who moves in with her also recovering mother, played by Allison Janney, holds enough of the audience on CBS' Monday night lineup that it will probably earn a second season, but that's not good enough. The show deserves more.
Faris has had an up-and-down career in the movies, but her emotional vulnerability and comedic timing has found a home on the sitcom. Her Christy, a waitress and AA regular, is hopeful and easy to root for as portrayed by the doe-eyed actress. Having a character that the audience can root for isn't always a given on a Chuck Lorre show, nor is having fully formed female characters... as anyone that's watched Melissa McCarthy descend into caricature on Mike and Molly can attest.
Janney, who's proven her chops in everything from The West Wing to Juno, provides even more incentive to watch. She infuses her Bonnie with a seen-it-all outlook that works perfectly for a character that's not as enamored of the sober lifestyle as her daughter is. More than that, Janney plays Bonnie as a real person, even when the writing is broad. She doesn’t work too hard for the laughs, but instead lets them come naturally, which helps temper the over-the-top elements that are a Lorre hallmark.
The show has also featured an enviable group of guest stars, starting with Kevin Pollak as Christy's long-absent father. The veteran comedian was the perfect choice to play off of the two leading ladies as a mensch who's trying to make things right. Justin Long, Mimi Kennedy, and Octavia Spencer have also put in appearances.
The show isn't perfect; the writers have yet to find a good rhythm for Christy's daughter, played by Saddie Calvano, and her boyfriend (Spencer Daniels). Additionally, Matt Jones and French Stewart, who play Christy's ex and boss respectively, seem like they might be more at home on Lorre's Two and a Half Men. While not everything might have jelled quite yet, the performances by the leads rises above any of the first year quibbles.
It's hard to play addiction recovery for both laughs and empathy, but Faris and Janney are doing a brilliant job of exactly that. Their efforts deserve to be rewarded with viewers that seek the show out as opposed to ones that just forget to change the channel after Mike and Molly.
Show Mom some love and you won't be disappointed.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
Halle Berry is a beautiful and talented actress with a bevy of film credits to her name. When it comes to predicting whether the Academy Award-winner can make the transition to television, however, her success in films means absolutely nothing.
Berry and Steven Spielberg are teaming up for a sci-fi series called Extant, which is scheduled to premiere on CBS in July. Berry will play an astronaut that returns from a year in space and tries to reconnect with her family. Since the title of the show means "surviving" and CBS' teaser for the show shows life being created, rumors have already started that the show's mystery will include an unexplained pregnancy.
Besides Berry, television vets Goran Visnjic (ER) and Camryn Manheim (The Practice) are on board as her husband and best friend, respectively. The fact remains, however, that the show's success will largely hinge on whether audiences are willing to accept Berry in a completely different venue.
The trend for screen actors moving to television for years now has led most to cable, where the production runs are shorter and the creative license is greater, whether that's Laura Dern in Enlightened or Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective. Network fare is a completely different animal, where ratings and advertising dollars trump any creative concerns. For every success like Kevin Bacon in Fox's The Following, there are plenty of others like Kathy Bates, Bette Midler, and Christian Slater that come and go in a blink.
Berry is certainly a capable actress, but do television audiences really want to see her as an astronaut? Even if it turns out to be one that's pregnant with an alien? Spielberg's team will have to come up with some pretty enticing twists for Berry's move to TV pay off.
Should she fail, though, there will probably always be another X-Men movie to help cushion the blow.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
There was a time when Kevin Costner was one of the top actors in Hollywood, as well as an Academy Award winning director. Of course, that was 20 years ago, before his epic debacle Waterworld. It's been so long that it's like saying that there used to be a time when movies weren't in color or didn't have sound.
After years of flying beneath the radar, Costner could have as many as five films released in 2014 (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, 3 Days to Kill, Draft Day, McFarland, and Black and White). Five! That's a lot for any actor not named Elizabeth Banks. How did it come about that an actor-director once vilified for his difficult nature and cost overruns is suddenly the hardest working guy in films?
Costner's is a tale of how to best deal with Hollywood adversity and come out mostly okay. After the fiasco that surrounded Waterworld — which comes honestly by its reputation as one of the biggest filmmaking disasters ever — Costner kept on working. Even when the post-apocalyptic The Postman tanked on a grand scale as well, the actor kept going. In fact, since his breakout role as Elliott Ness in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables in 1987, there have only been four calendar years in which Costner hasn't been on the big screen at all. Typically, it's been roles that play upon the everyman characteristics that made him so appealing in earlier films like Field of Dreams.
It's actually the most recent of those missing years, however, that probably explains the actor's current resurgence. While he didn't appear in a feature film in 2012, he did appear on television in the History Channel's well-received miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. His turn as 'Devil' Anse Hatfield won him a Golden Globe and a wave of good publicity.
After playing Superman's Earth father last year in Man of Steel, Costner's new run of roles has him playing everything from a dying Secret Service agent in 3 Days to Kill to sports related characters in Draft Day and McFarland to a man fighting for custody of his granddaughter in Black and White. It's a diverse group, yet each part harkens back to territory that Costner has covered in the past.
That, in the end, might be the true explanation for why 2014 is shaping up to be the Year of Costner. After 30 years of working steadily as an actor, Costner has found the sweet spot where he knows what kinds of roles that he can excel in and he largely works within that range. Acknowledging limitations is something that many actors are loath to do, but as Costner has demonstrated sometimes staying true to one's self leads to greater rewards… and a whole bunch of movie roles.
When David Mamet's play Sexual Pervesity in Chicago was adapted into the 1986 movie About Last Night, the self-absorbed Chicago twenty-somethings were played by Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Jim Belushi, and Elizabeth Perkins. In the 2014 remake, those parts are now being played by Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, and Regina Hall and nothing about that seems unusual. It isn't that Mamet's play has changed much in the 40 years since he first wrote it, it's that some of the audience's preconceived notions of who can play what role have.Just as it happened with the reworked The Karate Kid that featured Jaden Smith in the title role made famous by Ralph Macchio, About Last Night takes a '80s story and adds some ethnic diversity to come up with something new. Well, there's a whole lot more movies from the '80s that are just sitting there waiting for just such a redo. Here are five stories that would work just as well in a more coloful version.
Molly Ringwald playing the forgotten girl on her birthday, in love with an older boy and tormented by geeks in the John Hughes classic. Everything about the story still works, including the Chicago suburban setting that was ultra-white in the '80s. Disney Channel stalwart Coco Jones is the right age to play the teenager in love, and Zoe Kravitz would make a fine addition as her attention-hogging older sister. So what if Jones and Kravitz don't look alike? Ringwald looked nothing like her onscreen family in the original. In the all-important older guy role, someone like 90210's Tristan Wilds could provide the smolder. The only real issue would be what to do with the original's exchange student, The Donger. That was a role so racially regrettable that it doesn't exactly have a place in today's world.
In Mike Nichols' film, Melanie Griffith played the secretary that secretly takes over for her out-of-commission boss (Sigourney Weaver), proves a capable business woman, and wins the affection of Harrison Ford. The Griffith character would have to be called an assistant now, but otherwise there isn't much about the story that needs to change. Use someone like Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries) or Tika Sumpter (Ride Along) as the underling trying to get ahead, maybe Halle Berry or even Gabrielle Union as the obnoxious boss and Taye Diggs as the love interest, and update the setting from a generic New York investment bank to the entertainment idustry. What Hollywood assistant doesn't want to push the boss out of the way and take over?
Sure, people remember the soundtrack but how many people remember the story? A steel-worker by day who dances in a bar by night, all while dreaming of making it as a legitimate professional dancer, and is pursued by her rich boss. Back then she wasn't really a stripper, but now she would have to be and she'd be trying to break into something hipper than ballet. The role could also be played this time by someone that can legitimately dance, since Jennifer Beals, the original star, was famously replaced by a body double. Someone like That Awkward Feeling's Jessica Lucas would work, or else there's got to be a Janelle Monáe back-up dancer that's ready to break out.
Tiger Woods broke on the scene nearly 20 years ago, so a golf comedy set at a country club and featuring a diverse cast shouldn’t be any big deal. It's near sacrilege to many to consider remaking such a beloved classic, but a new version would be shooting for a whole new audience. After all, golfers of all colors are tired of reciting the same tired lines from the original. Start with Hart taking on the Rodney Dangerfield role of the rich guy that doesn't like the country club set. Imagine letting Hart riff on a bunch of rich people while dressed in ugly golf garb, throw in Saturday Night Live's Jay Pharoah as the wacky grounds keeper, and it just flows from there. You could have a who's who of comedy going... Godfrey, Chris Rock, Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Faizon Love… there would be a part for just about everyone. Heck, even Eddie Murphy might be convinced to do the Judge Smails role that Ted Knight made famous. That would be top notch.
Three Men and a Baby
Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg were three well-off bachelors sharing a fabulous midtown Manhattan apartment that have their lives interrupted by a baby being dropped off at their doorstep. The idea of guys taking care of babies continues to be played for laughs, most recently in the sitcom Guys with Kids. What has been missing since Three Men is the angle of the guys being rich, Type A personalities. Take Jesse L. Martin, Tyler Perry and Damon Wayans Jr., move the setting to Hollywood, make them all successful and sharing a Charlie Sheen-type playpen, and then let a baby screw up their lives. It's comedy gold.
Cartoon Network/Adult Swim
The doctor is back in! John C. Reilly's Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule is returning to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim with new episodes beginning on February 27 at 12:30 a.m.
The show, which originally began as a segment of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and has already completed two six-episode seasons, follows Reilly's clueless doctor as he examines "slice of life" topics as a local news contributor. As fans of the show know, it runs on a fictitious Channel 5 at 4:30 a.m. just before Mass for Shut-Ins. Reilly's character rarely understands what's happening and mispronounces everything from guests' names to words like "spa," all while dressed in a tattered tweed jacket and sporting a haircut somewhere between Eraserhead and the Three Stooges' Larry Fine.
The brilliance comes from the show's look. Trying to recapture the feel of tacky local programming before the digital age, the show's footage is run back through a VCR so that touches like glitches with the vertical hold can be added. With its Chyron graphics, it has the look of something produced in the late '70s or early '80s at a small, middle-of-nowhere station, without ever mentioning a time period or geographic area.
Reilly, who has never had a problem swinging between prestige projects and goofing around with friends like Will Ferrell, is intentionally vague about the character. In an Esquire interview, he told the magazine that it was "just better left mysterious." That said, over the course of the shows, there has been backstory elements revealed, usually adding up to a disturbing image. For example, in the episode above, Brule interviews his own mother, who admits that she wanted to have him stuffed and mounted.
In keeping with the spirit of the show, Cartoon Network has been evasive about what we should expect from Season 3, releasing just a short exclusive promo clip to Entertainment Weekly to announce the season premiere. No matter where Reilly takes the good doctor, however, it's sure to be an interesting ride… one well worth checking out.
CBS Broadcasting Inc.
When the NFL announced that it was opening up bidding for half of the Thursday night games that had been airing on its own NFL Network, most industry insiders believed that NBC — mired in a huge ratings slump on a night that it had once dominated — would make a strong push to acquire the rights.
There was shock in many circles then when it was announced that CBS outbid the competition and will air eight weeks' worth of NFL games in the fall. CBS typically wins Thursday night in the ratings pretty handily thanks to having The Big Bang Theory, one of TV's top rated shows, leading off the night.
Why would CBS reportedly spend over $200 million dollars to acquire football rights for a night where it's already strong, especially when the games will still be simulcast on the NFL Network? More importantly, why would a broadcast network allow anything to mess with one of its top rated shows? For comparison, imagine NBC moving Friends during its mid '90s peak.
The answer is largely tied to advertising. As the culture has become more and more accustomed to watching programming that it has recorded on a DVR, broadcast networks increasingly have difficulty justifying their ad rates. After all, how many people that watch a show recorded on their DVR also watch the commercials? The answer is a lot closer to zero than most advertisers are comfortable with.
In an effort to counter that, networks have begun to charge a premium for advertising time during shows that are considered DVR-proof. While the Super Bowl has always been a safe haven for advertisers looking for a captive audience, now anything that viewers are more inclined to watch live has become desirable. Chief amongst those properties are sports and awards shows. It isn't just the stalwarts of the NFL and the Academy Awards any more… the Golden Globes, the Grammys, NBA, college sports; anything broadcasting live has become manna to Madison Ave.
The other factor is that ratings have continued to rise for such programming. NBC's Sunday Night Football regularly wins the weekly ratings during the fall and finished last season in a dead heat with NCIS for the overall number one. During the week of January 6-12 of this year, the top three rated programs according to Nielsen were a NFL game, the college football national championship and the Golden Globes. Ten years ago, Disney made the decision to move Monday Night Football from ABC to ESPN because of weak ratings… now that would be unthinkable.
What that means for scripted TV is up for debate, but it certainly is just as alarming of a trend to that industry as the rise of reality programming once was. No one is sure what CBS is going to do with The Big Bang Theory. Some have speculated that it will move back to Monday night, where it began, and take the place of How I Met Your Mother. Others believe that CBS will simply delay the show's season and then run it with fewer gaps between new episodes… a tact that Fox has long taken with shows like American Idol to accommodate the World Series. Either way, Big Bang will likely be fine.
What isn't as clear is what will happen to those other programming hours that the NFL is taking up and CBS' less highly rated Thursday night fare like The Millers and The Crazy Ones. Broadcasting NFL games takes up one full night of a network's schedule and even with a limited commitment of eight weeks, there's a good chance that it will eliminate at least one if not more series orders by CBS.
Just as concerning should be the trend that it signals. CBS will already air at least one game on Saturday night and if successful that could be the next domain that the NFL decides to conquer. There have already been rumblings that Monday Night Football might find its way back to ABC as well as networks try to capitalize on the content that advertisers are lining up to pay for.
In the not-too-distant future, it's not unfathomable that broadcast networks will carry NFL games every night from Thursday to Monday and eliminate a block of scripted shows each time. Any network executive will tell you that even Sheldon and his Big Bang cohorts is no match for an increased profit margin. Hopefully, viewers are ready for some football.
During this time of year, guys everywhere start putting on their thinking caps to come up with romantic ideas to impress a woman, whether it's someone that he's just met or the person he's been married to for 20 years.
While many men struggle with the intricacies of romance, the dudes of television have a whole team of writers helping them figure things out. Thanks to those scribes, a little television watching can provide a steady stream of lessons that will help even the most clueless guy navigate the wild waters that Nathan Fillion's Rick Castle and John Krasinski's Jim Halpert have already traversed.
Let Your Partners Be Themselves (and Make a Big Deal of Their Birthdays)When your significant other is the person that the term "adorkable" was coined for, a certain amount of quirkiness is to be expected… but even if you're not dating Jess from New Girl, you have to let your lover be her or himself. Jake Johnson's Nick has grown to love Zooey Deschanel's alter ego because of her individuality. Even when he doesn’t understand what's going on entirely, he tries. After learning that Jess has always been disappointed by her big birthday expectations, Nick didn't just plan a surprise party… he rented a theater and made a movie to honor his girl. Sometimes you have to go big or go home.
Be Patient and Maybe Eventually Your Partner Will Do SomethingAfter Castle bided his time for four seasons, it was finally Beckett (Stana Katic) that made the move after she had a near death experience. Television history is littered with similar examples. Most of our favorite TV fellows have difficulty reading romantic signals — when in doubt, stand there and look stupid long enough and sooner or later they'll tell you what to do (or just do it themselves).
Don't Let Your Partner's Intellectual Superiority Intimidate YouOn Bones, David Boreanaz's Special Agent Booth is a highly accomplished FBI operative. He's a man's man and quite good looking to boot. Even with all of that, however, there's no getting around the fact that he's in love with someone who is smarter than he is. Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan (Emily Deschanel) is too brilliant for anyone to compete with… so Booth doesn't try. He appreciates the fact that Bones is intelligent. Instead of trying to match intellects or stressing out about it, he just tries to get her to like pie. Lesson? Pick battles you might have a chance to win.
Bring Your Partner Coffee (or Some Sort of Beverage)Castle always brings Beckett coffee in the morning. Sometimes he makes her coffee. They rarely show Beckett actually drinking the coffee. For all we know she prefers tea, but Castle brings her coffee every day because it makes her smile. If you find something that makes your partner smile every day, then you keep doing it.
"You Know Nothing" Can Still Mean "I Like You"Everyone knows that adolescents sometimes act poorly towards each other in order to mask other feelings. On Game of Thrones, Rose Leslie's Ygritte's catch phrase is "You know nothing, Jon Snow." Of course, then she saved his life and seduced him. So, even in adulthood, if someone is tormenting and mocking you, it doesn't mean that she or he doesn't dig you.
Disney has proven itself more than capable of milking its properties for every bit of profit that they can. Since acquiring first Marvel and then LucasFilms, there has been a steady stream of buzz over a variety of spinoff projects centered on the various characters that were acquired… from Iron Man to Boba Fett.
Oddly, the Mouse has not done the same with one of its other properties, the Muppets. Sure, there have been some synergistic TV appearances by Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy and the gang, and the feature film The Muppets did enough at the box office to spawn this spring's Muppets Most Wanted. But, as with Star Wars and Marvel comics, the Muppets have their own universe that could be mined for additional projects. These secondary felt performers have enough juice to take a turn at center stage.
The Great Gonzo
Some Muppets observers would argue that 1999's Muppets from Space was Gonzo's vehicle, since he was, after all, the Muppet from space. Be that as it may, if the Incredible Hulk can keep being revamped and re-launched, then so can Gonzo. The weird looking blue guy even has his own established posse with Rizzo the Rat and Camilla the Chicken ready to join in. Take Gonzo and his pals, drop them in some well-known destination like Paris or Las Vegas, and set them loose to wreak havoc. It practically writes itself.
Like all great drummers from Keith Moon on, Animal has always been on the restless side. Does anyone really think that the crazy guy manning the skins for Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem doesn't have a side project or two? We saw him hanging with Jack Black at an anger management retreat in The Muppets, so just borrow a page from the Judd Apatow/Jason Segel playbook and assign Jonah Hill or Michael Cera to get Animal to the big show at the Greek or wherever. Russell Brand will seem innocent -- and less hairy -- by comparison.
The fuzzy lipped Swede has always been a fan favorite and has even done commercial work on his own, like taking over cooking duties at the ESPN commissary in one of the network's "This is SportsCenter" promos. When a network tried to build a sitcom around superstar chef Emeril Lagasse, it was an epic fail, mostly because he wasn't funny and couldn't act. Swedish Chef doesn't have those same limitations. Install him in a sitcom where he's the new chef at a five-star restaurant in Manhattan, give him a strong ensemble, and voila! Or, you know, whatever the equivalent expression is in Swedish.
Rowan Atkinson spent years starring in Mr. Bean projects without talking, so the precedent is already established for Beaker's brand of comedy. Get the inept lab assistant separated from his boss, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and have him be mistaken for a spy or international art thief or an astronaut. Even with just his "meep-meep," he can still save the day and get the girl.
Rowlf the Dog
How many people know that Rowlf was actually Jim Henson's first nationally known Muppet, appearing on The Jimmy Dean Show starting in 1963? Everyone just assumes that it was Kermit, who was still relegated to local TV at the time. In the grand tradition of Ray and Walk the Line, Rowlf really needs a biopic. From his early television success in the 1960s through his transition to ensemble player in the '70s and '80s to largely being forgotten now, his story could be the stuff of little gold statues.
FOX Broadcasting Co.
The general consensus on The Crazy Ones is that the show is all right. It's okay. It's not bad. The issue with those statements is that the show — created by David E. Kelley and starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar — has the components to be more than that. Robin Williams! Buffy! The guy who created Ally McBeal and Picket Fences! Having a group that talented working on a project should equal more than a collective shoulder shrug from the viewing audience. Basically, the outtakes that run over the end credits shouldn't be the funniest part of the show.
Luckily, the show is only halfway through its first season so there's still time for it to grow and realize its unfulfilled potential. The key for all involved is to get a little crazier. By embracing the cray-cray, Kelley could have something special instead of something merely pleasant.
Set Robin Free
Williams' character in the show, advertising executive Simon Roberts, is supposed to be a little bit like the real-life older and wiser actor. But there's no reason that Simon has to adhere that closely to the Williams of recent years' responsible lifestyle. Williams is at his best when he's manic, not when he's reserved. Simon needs to be put in situations where Williams can be unleashed and bounce around. Neither Kelley nor Williams have to sacrifice the gravitas entirely… the show just needs more Good Morning, Vietnam, and less Patch Adams.
Buffy Meets Ally
Gellar as Simon's daughter Sydney is your run-of-the-mill stick in the mud. She's boring, and that's boring to watch. Kelley needs look no further than his own creative background to find the answer. The show might need Gellar to play the straight arrow center but that doesn't mean that she has to be dull. Spike in a little of Ally McBeal's whimsy and see what happens. Having her become obsessed with a video game was a good start, but there needs to be more of that. After all, she's supposed to be Robin Williams' daughter… how stiff could she possibly be?
Bring in New Playmates
It genuinely seems like Williams likes his young cast mates. It also seems like he's stuck being the old man and that's not fun. While it's not perfect, Williams perks up when Brad Garrett shows up occasionally as his business partner. Now, Williams needs a friend or two at his own level to come play with him. Having Pam Dawber, the former Mindy to Williams' Mork, guest star is cute, but she's not really a comedy equal. Bobcat Goldthwait, Christine Baranski, Nathan Lane, Martin Short, Bill Irwin, Bonnie Hunt… there are a number of former costars or friends that could pop in and provide a spark for Williams. (Just as long as none of them are named Billy Crystal.)
Lose the Romance, Increase the Bromance
The show's supporting players — Hamish Linklater, James Wolk, and Amanda Setton — have proven to be more than capable, but the romantic subplots bog things down. Linklater's Andrew has a crush on Sydney. Wolk's Zach and Setton's Lauren are friends with benefits. None of it really works. If there are to be love interests, let them come from outside of the ensemble, but it needs to stop hindering workplace comedy. What does work, however, is the byplay between Linklater and Wolk, especially when Williams is involved. Whether he's working with them or playing them against each other, Williams' appears to have the most fun when he plays scenes with the two young guys. If storylines that pair Williams with his male counterparts helps him unleash his id, do more of it. After all, when it comes to The Crazy Ones, the crazier the better.
Sony Pictures via Everett Collection
In the new movie The Monuments Men, George Clooney and Matt Damon play an unlikely pair of World War II heroes. Based on real events and the real people that took part, Clooney plays an art conservationist and Damon a museum curator that are part of a team of academic soldiers trying to recover works of art and personal artifacts stolen during the war.
While trying to make what amounts to a history lesson interesting, the story holds larger meaning for anyone that values art and cultural heritage. The film features events towards the end of the war when Allied leaders became convinced that Hitler would order the destruction of the priceless artifacts that he had pillaged for his planned German museum and stored in occupied France. Cate Blanchett plays a character based on the French woman, Rose Vallard, who secretly worked to catalogue the items that the Nazis were bringing into the country.
While it's easy to focus in on the major works of art that were recovered as a result of the effort of the real Monuments Men, the movie also showcases the more profoundly personal loss that affected millions of lives. In one scene, Clooney's character finds a barrel that he realizes contains human teeth taken from Jewish prisoners in order to recover their gold fillings. In another, Damon marvels at the large crates that hold everyday items that were taken from Jewish families.
What's just as startling is the number of works of art that were taken by the Germans that still haven't been recovered. As recently as November of last year, a group of paintings taken by the Nazis — including ones by Picasso and Matisse — were found in an apartment in Munich. As part of the effort to promote the film, the producers are trying to raise awareness of the ongoing efforts to find the lost art.
Nearly every major museum in the world holds pieces that were rescued by the Monuments Men. Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote the script, takes some necessary creative license to make the story more contained and exciting, but casting light on the larger lesson of how close the world came to losing a significant chunk of its shared heritage is a worthwhile goal. There are certainly worse ways to learn history than from Clooney, Damon, and Blanchett.