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Bill Hader gets nostalgic in ‘SNL’ promos

- October 8th, 2014

He’s only been gone since 2013, but that doesn’t stop Bill Hader from waxing nostalgic in these new Saturday Night Live promos.

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The former SNL star returns to Studio 8H this week as host and, in these clips, chats with Kenan Thompson about all that’s changed in the past year and a half.

“What’s new since I left?” Hader asks.

“They renovated the bathroom, there’s spaghetti and meatballs in the cafeteria,” Kenan says. “And we got a ton of black people now!”

Cue the bass.

Thompson, of course, is responding to the criticism SNL faced last season after hiring six white castmembers and not a single person of colour.

Fast forward a year, and a lot HAS changed with the additions of Sasheer Zamata and Weekend Update’s Michael Che.

Oh, and out of those six newbies hired last season? Half of them (Brooks Wheelan, John Milhiser and Noel Wells) were fired over the summer anyway.

You can catch Hader as host of SNL with musical guests Hozier on October 11.

The Flash feels The Strain as a Million Dollar Critic of American Horror Story; television this week

- October 5th, 2014

Grant Gustin as The Flash, two

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Oct. 5

1 The Flash
Debut
Yup, more superheroes on TV. Barry Allen (Grant Gustin, pictured above) gains powers when lightning strikes him during a freak storm. Almost immediately, those raw new powers are needed.
When: Tuesday on CW, CTV

2 American Horror Story
Fourth-season debut
A “freak show” struggles to stay in business as TV conquers showbiz in the early 1950s. The likes of Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Evan Peters are back again, in new roles.
When: Wednesday on FX Canada

3 Homeland
Fourth-season debut, back-to-back episodes
Carrie (Claire Danes) makes a critical decision, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) struggles with his new role in the private sector and Quinn (Rupert Friend) spirals out of control.
When: Sunday on Super Channel

4 The Strain
First-season finale
Eph (Corey Stoll) and Fet (Kevin Durand) prepare an assault that Setrakian (David Bradley) assures them will kill the Master. Um, what’s the betting line on that one?
When: Sunday on FX Canada

5 Murdoch Mysteries
Eighth-season debut
While investigating the murder of a merchant, Detective Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) uncovers possible connections to the assault on Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig).
When: Monday on CBC

6 Arrow
Third-season debut
With crime at an all-time low, Oliver (Stephen Amell) lets his guard down. You know, given all of my TV-watching experience, I’d wager that turns out to be a really bad idea.
When: Wednesday on CW, CTV

7 Strange Empire
Debut
A fateful convergence of lost souls near the Alberta-Montana border in 1869 leads to tragedy and a struggle for survival. Cara Gee, Melissa Farman and Tattiawna Jones star.
When: Monday on CBC

8 Million Dollar Critic
Debut
Giles Coren reviews food hot spots across North America, but in the first episode he meets Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to discuss where the city’s best hot dog can be found.
When: Tuesday on W

9 Cristela
Debut
Sitcom stars standup Cristela Alonzo. In the pilot, she gets an offer for an internship at a law firm, but her traditional Mexican-American family doesn’t quite understand.
When: Friday on ABC, CHCH

10 Mulaney
Debut
Sitcom stars former SNL staffer John Mulaney. In the pilot, he gets a writing job that turns out to be less glamorous than he expected. That sounds preposterous to me, boss.
When: Sunday on Fox, Global

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Saturday morning cartoons have officially died

- October 4th, 2014

Saturday morning cartoons are officially dead.

October 4 marked the death of a beloved past time almost everyone can relate to: waking up super early Saturday morning, dumping some kind of sugary concoction marked cereal into a bowl, overloading it with milk, and settling in front of a television set to watch cartoons.

The CW, the last remaining network who dedicated a block of programming on Saturday to children’s cartoons or animation, switched out their “Vortexx” portal in exchange for more live-action shows.

All of which resulted in the figurative death of cartoons, and the literal death of cartoon programming on any kind of network station, including CBS, NBC, and ABC.

Although they weren’t the first network to scrap their animated programs (Fox in 2008 and ABC in 2012), they were one of the last available options for families who didn’t purchase packages that included Nickelodeon or additional Disney channels.

The CW pointed to a multitude of reasons for the decision to scrap cartoons, from modern day DVR capabilities to animated shows becoming too niche for their overall market.

Whatever the reason network executives served reporters, the fact remains that cartoons have become as difficult to watch as ever.

The death of the children’s cartoon has been imminent for years, as more and more creators move toward making cartoons geared toward teenagers and adults.

From the obviously meant for adult programming like Archer or South Park to the questionable Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers, the idea of a safe haven for children to watch cartoons without worrying about the content has slowly been eroding.

Even shows like Adventure Time and The Regular show that appear on Adult Swim are far more lewd with innuendo than Scooby Doo ever was.

Long gone are the days of Hanna-Barbera’s Saturday morning treasures. There haven’t been any adventures in Bedrock or any slip ups from George Jetson in quite some time.

Long gone are the days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fighting crime (that didn’t include a perverse amount of violence, etched in the mind of Michael Bay). Scooby Doo and the gang aren’t solving crimes anymore, Rocky and Bullwinkle aren’t heading out into the world to see all that they can, and even Yogi Bear is resting peacefully in Jellystone Park.

This generation of kids won’t have jovial theme songs to sing with their friends as adults, reminiscing over nostalgic Saturday mornings, hunched in front of the idiot box for hours.

Nor, as the networks don’t seem to comprehend, will they wake up ridiculously early on a Saturday morning to make sure Wolverine and Scott were doing okay in whatever X-Men series was playing that year.

Live action television is great, but it doesn’t replace the fantastical worlds only cartoons can conjure up.

Instead, kids will pick up a Playstation or Xbox controller and have to find their Saturday morning entertainment inside of a console, exploring new worlds with their friends over a microphone.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not the same as sitting with a brother or sister, or even sitting by yourself with a bowl of cereal, and tuning in week after week to watch your favourite cartoon characters.

It was a different kind of immersive experience altogether. It was feeling like you could be one of Batman’s sidekicks, or feeling like you had become friends with different Pokemon masters on their journeys, because of how invested you were allowed to become in them.

It was a time honoured tradition, passed down from parent to child with each generation. It was discovering cartoons of years past during a repeat your mother or father sat down to relive excitedly, or embracing in the feeling of accomplishment when your parents discovered they enjoyed Sailor Moon just as much as you did.

Saturday morning cartoons were the last innocent world of adventure available to kids on television, and now that coveted time of week has been ripped from their grasps and replaced with mediocre live action shows geared toward families.

The world has become a little less Tigger and a little more Eeyore.

I hope children will understand what that means in twenty years time.​

Strange Empire strikes back; new Western remembers Canadian history’s ‘anonymous Janes’

- October 3rd, 2014

Capture strange empire two

“This is Canada. There’s no law but our own.”

If the new series Strange Empire were a comedy set in current times, those words could be used for laughs in a wide array of situations.

But when it’s 1869 and a young orphan girl says something like that, huddled and scared near the Alberta-Montana border, there’s nothing particularly amusing about it. Accepted as a statement of fact, it speaks to the danger that exists in all directions.

That’s the world of Strange Empire, a new Western drama that debuts Monday, Oct. 6 on CBC.

If you watch the first episode of Strange Empire, I think you’ll agree that it’s a bit hard to describe it. Just when you think it’s going to be one thing, it goes in a different direction, and that happens more than once.

But this much is certain: While traditionally the Western genre has been male-focused – probably in terms of audience as well as characters – Strange Empire has three women at its core.

Starring Cara Gee (pictured above centre) as Kat Loving, Melissa Farman (above right) as Dr. Rebecca Blithely and Tattiawna Jones (above left) as Isabelle Slotter, Strange Empire takes mere seconds to let you know that these are trying times. Through a series of tragic circumstances – some of which may have been engineered by the menacing John Slotter, played by Aaron Poole – Kat, Rebecca and Isabelle must work together to protect themselves and others in this cutthroat environment.

“And that’s part of CBC’s transition this year, we want darker shows, edgier shows and serialized formats,” Jones said. “These women are not looking cool. They’re struggling to survive. These are the ‘anonymous Janes’ of history.

“But it’s not just a show about women. It’s a show about the disenfranchised, the forgotten, who have to come together and build a community to survive in no-man’s land. It doesn’t look cool. It looks hard.

“A lot of Western stories are about building civilization, but the road to that civilization is paved with bloodshed.”

Is there a gunslinger in Strange Empire, so to speak?

“We’re the Clint Eastwoods of this show,” Farman said. “But I’m not so good with the gun, since I’m playing a doctor.”

So who gets to stare people down with icy eyes?

“I do,” said Gee, flatly and seriously, a la Clint Eastwood, and then all three laughed.

“It’s just the truth,” Farman added. “That’s the Kat character, for sure.”

Certainly Kat falls into the situation of being a protector, especially to two young orphan girls who are about to be delivered into prostitution.

“You do a million auditions, but every now and then you do one that you really, really, really want to get,” Gee said. “And this was one of those. It was like, ‘I have to, have to, have to get this role.’

“I’m sure for a lot of the people who really were living back in these times, their lives could be tedious, because of the tremendous amount of hard work. But women didn’t have fewer thoughts back then. They just weren’t as heard.”

All three of the main female characters in Strange Empire have to be deft and daring, albeit in completely different ways.

“What’s groundbreaking about this show is that it’s taking a very beloved genre, the Western, and shifting the representational politics,” Jones observed. “We’re seeing and hearing the voices of people we don’t usually get, the other half. Not just the forefathers, but the ‘foremothers.’

“You say that sometimes we rewrite history to make heroes, but these women aren’t heroes. They’re survivors. They have to make really tough choices. Sometimes you have to compromise what you thought your morality was. They’re heroes at times, but sometimes they have to be anti-heroes as well.

“And our audience, I think, will identify with that, because it’s the struggle of outsiders trying to become insiders.”

Call it the ins and outs of Canada’s Wild West. Strange Empire breaks laws in a lawless land.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

The eyes have it; versatile Kurtwood Smith of Resurrection has glaring skill

- September 27th, 2014

MARK HILDRETH, KURTWOOD SMITH, LANDON GIMENEZ, FRANCES FISHER, OMAR EPPS, DEVIN KELLEY, MATT CRAVEN, SAMAIRE ARMSTRONG, SAM HAZELDINE

Kurtwood Smith chuckled when I told him he has great “icy eyes.”

He uses them well for both comedy and drama.

Seeing Smith (pictured above, second from left) in the drama series Resurrection, the second season of which begins Sunday, Sept. 28 on ABC and CTV, those icy eyes reflect turmoil. But back in Smith’s signature comedy role as grumpy dad Red Forman in That ’70s Show, those icy eyes always made me laugh.

I don’t know how quality actors do that.

“Neither do I – sounds great, though,” said Smith, laughing.

“I think you’re probably right in terms of the turmoil you’re talking about in Resurrection. That’s exactly what’s going on for my character (Henry Langston). He has so many different things in his mind and in his heart.

“In comedy usually the approach is simpler, although the technique is not. For the characters in comedy, you’ve got stuff that you need to lay out to set up laughs, and you hit those, while at the same time kind of enjoying what you’re doing. You probably see a little bit more fun reflected in my eyes when I’m doing comedy.”

Well, there was nothing but confusion and stress in those peepers in the first season of Resurrection, and understandably so. Smith’s character Henry and wife Lucille (Frances Fisher) were confronted by the return of their son Jacob (Landon Gimenez), who had disappeared 32 years previously when he was eight. But when Jacob came back, he hadn’t aged.

Lucille went with her heart, believing it was her son right away. Henry went with his head, because this simply wasn’t possible, right?

“But what happened throughout the show in that first season for my character, his arc primarily was coming around to accepting  (Jacob),” Smith said. “So it became much more of an emotional journey for him in that sense.”

Jacob’s re-emergence was followed by the return of several other previously dead people in Arcadia, Missouri, all of them the same age as they were when they died. Obviously, the residents of the town who had just lived normal lives and hadn’t gone anywhere were faced with a maze of moral dilemmas. And there also was the complication of nefarious government agencies poking around.

As for the first episode of the second season, without getting too specific if you haven’t heard about anything, let’s just say that people have not stopped coming back from the dead.

“In season two Henry has a new character come back in the first episode, which kind of changes the entire dynamic,” Smith said. “Myself and my brother, for example, have different ideas and different appreciation for (what has happened), and the same with my wife. So that really shakes up the whole family-at-large dynamic.

“And then, of course, there’s still the business of how the ‘returned’ are being treated. And also, Henry always has to look out for Jacob. So my character has all of that going on and a little bit more. But he’s not quite as torn up as he was in that first season.

“At a certain point, you just end up dealing with things, and not having enough time to really reflect on them and worry. It’s more, ‘What am I gonna do?’ You get up in the morning and you have a house full of dead people.”

I just had to ask, what would Red Forman have said if his son Eric (Topher Grace) had disappeared and then suddenly returned after 32 years, without having aged, in That ’70s Show?

“Red would say, ‘Oh for God’s sake, not you again, dumb-ass!’ ” Smith barked.

There he goes again, switching from drama to comedy. All with those icy eyes.

“A lot of it is what you’re reading into it as well,” said Kurtwood Smith, laughing again. “I’ll go with it, though. As long as you’re enjoying it, that’s fine with me.”

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv