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Archer and Agent Carter read The Book of Negroes and start an Empire with Glee; TV for the week of Jan. 4

- January 4th, 2015

Anna Faris, Allison Janney, People's Choice Awards

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Jan. 4

1 Marvel’s Agent Carter
Debut
Decades before the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, there was Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). She pledged a similar oath, but as a female in the 1940s, she had to fight from being marginalized when all the men returned home from World War II.
When: Tuesday, Jan. 6 on ABC, CTV

2 Downton Abbey
Fifth-season debut
Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) feels a bit insulted when the townspeople choose someone else to head up a local project. Meanwhile, Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) has trouble keeping her distance from her big secret.
When: Sunday, Jan. 4 on most PBS affiliates

3 People’s Choice Awards
Live
From the Nokia Theater in L.A., awards season kicks off by honouring fan favourites in movies, music and TV. Anna Faris and Allison Janney (pictured above) from the sitcom Mom are the hosts, with musical performances from Iggy Azalea and Fall Out Boy.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 7 on CBS, Global

4 The Book of Negroes
Debut
Six-part mini-series follows the harsh journey of Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis), who was abducted and enslaved as a child, but eventually returns home to West Africa. Also with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lyriq Bent and Allan Hawco, among others.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 7 on CBC

5 Empire
Debut
Music-company kingpin Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard) learns he has a disease and must choose one of his three sons to take over. But it gets even messier when Lucious’ ex-wife re-emerges unexpectedly and is determined to claim her share.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 7 on Fox

6 Archer
Sixth-season debut
Notice something different about this long-running animated series? The producers announced last fall that the spy agency no longer will be called the International Secret Intelligence Service – a.k.a., Isis – for obvious reasons.
When: Thursday, Jan. 8 on Teletoon

7 Sunnyside
Debut
Canadian sketch series featuring Kathleen Phillips and Pat Thornton centres on a quirky town where, for example, a voice from an open manhole replaces the internet. It’s the voice of Norm Macdonald, so I assume it’ll be sarcastic.
When: Thursday, Jan. 8 on City

8 Say Yes to the Dress Canada
Debut, back-to-back episodes
Set at a Toronto bridal boutique, Canadian brides must be more patient and polite than their American counterparts, right? Hello? Well, maybe brides are brides wherever you go, and they all speak the international language of tension.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 7 on W

9 UFOs Declassified
Debut
“Take me to your leader” aside, this six-episode series purports to present a balanced examination of the subject matter, with state-of-the-art CGI based on both eyewitness accounts and government/military documentation.
When: Friday, Jan. 9 on History

10 Glee
Sixth-season, two-hour debut
Upon learning that Sue (Jane Lynch) has banished the arts at McKinley High, Rachel (Lea Michele) endeavours to re-establish the glee club. More and more of the old gang will return home to help. Thank goodness this is the final season.
When: Friday, Jan. 9 on Fox, City

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv​

The McCarthys trial; loud and proud, sports-mad Boston clan focus of new sitcom

- October 26th, 2014

The McCarthys cast, two

There are family connections everywhere you look on The McCarthys.

If you tune in for the debut, Thursday, Oct. 30 on CBS and CTV, the first thing you’ll notice is the lead character is played by Tyler Ritter, brother of Jason and son of John.

“I was very impressionable as a young kid, I grew up around the sets of Hearts Afire, which was also a multi-cam sitcom,” Tyler Ritter said. “I got to see my father enjoy himself at his work. And I think any young child who sees that starts taking notes subconsciously. So I did that all my life.

“I got to see my brother on The Class, also in the same format. And I got to see him just loving every second of it, all while preparing and being responsible with their work and getting to make a couple hundred people (in the studio audience) laugh once a week.

“So I don’t actively try to emulate their work. I think we share enough mannerisms and physical characteristics that if I added anything on top of that, it would be disturbing.”

At which point Brian Gallivan, executive producer of The McCarthys, chimed in, “There would be moments where we said, ‘Oh my, that’s John Ritter,’ but with Tyler putting his own wonderful spin on it. So we feel very lucky to have him.

“I think I was writing (the character played by Ritter) as a young Brian Gallivan, but we shifted because actual Brian Gallivan became old Brian Gallivan. We were just looking for the actor who could bring this character to life, and Tyler was by far our favourite choice.”

As you may have gleaned from Gallivan’s comments, The McCarthys loosely is based on his own family.

“They demanded I tell you that, especially my sisters,” Gallivan explained. “But they also said, ‘You tell them we’ve never had a DUI. We’ve never carried a dead man’s baby.’ So now I’ve told you.

“I pointed out to my family that, in creating a sitcom, sitcoms need characters with flaws. So I had to add flaws that aren’t there in our family in real life. And sitcoms also require heartwarming moments, so I also had to add heartwarming moments that don’t exist in our real life.

“They were like, ‘Okay, that seems fair.’ ”

The McCarthys is about a close-knit, sports-crazed Boston family. Son Ronny (Ritter) is fine with the close-knit part of it, but as a gay man, he is considering moving away for a new job, becoming more active in the singles scene and trying harder to find a partner. On top of that, Ronny isn’t a sports aficionado, which always has set him apart from his clan.

Ronny suddenly is presented with a new option, however, when his father Arthur (Jack McGee), a politically incorrect high school basketball coach, stuns everyone by offering Ronny an assistant coaching position.

Ronny has two brothers and a sister – Gerard (Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block), Sean (Jimmy Dunn) and Jackie (Kelen Coleman) – who are far more qualified from a hoops perspective. But maybe Ronny has something in his personality that they lack.

Either way, mom Marjorie (Laurie Metcalf) simply is thrilled that this might mean Ronny stays put in Boston.

“We tried a single-camera version of this show (no studio audience) two years ago,” Gallivan recalled. “When I was first writing it, I was working as a writer on Happy Endings, rest in peace, which was a single-camera show that I loved. So that was sort of the mode I was in.

“But then, because this family (on The McCarthys) expresses love through insulting each other and being hateful, in a single-cam that was a little dark. With a multi-cam, we found it was more fun to have the audience laughing and enjoying it.”

So insults are more palatable in front of a big group of people, got it.

Then again, maybe that’s more of a TV lesson than a real-life lesson.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Jane d’oh! Virginity vagaries abound in Gina Rodriguez’s new series Jane the Virgin

- October 10th, 2014

Gina Rodriguez as Jane, two

People keep dropping to their knees in front of Gina Rodriguez.

Okay, technically they’re dropping to their knees in front of Rodriguez’s lead character in Jane the Virgin, which debuts Monday, Oct. 13 on CW. But the reasons for sore knees are very different from case to case.

First, we have the more traditional situation, with Rodriguez’s Jane Villanueva getting proposed to by her loving boyfriend of two years.

But what Jane says at that moment to her patient suitor Michael (Brett Dier) certainly ruins the mood: “I’m pregnant.”

Just one problem. Jane, as the title of the series suggests, is a virgin.

Flash back to when Jane is at the hospital after having had a supposedly out-of-nowhere fainting spell. A doctor tells her she’s pregnant. Jane and her mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo) both break out in howls of laughter. Impossible.

Another test is done, yet again confirming the pregnancy. This time Jane’s mother drops to her knees, screaming, “IMMACULATA! IMMACUALTA!”

Of course, there is an explanation for all this. Jane is, in fact, a virgin. As a young girl, her grandmother told her that her virginity was the most precious thing in the world, and Jane has tried to live a straight-arrow life and do everything the right way.

But it seems a mix-up at a medical clinic has led to a case of, well, accidental insemination. And that’s the point where Jane’s life unexpectedly and undeservedly turns into a telenovela.

“I never watched telenovelas growing up, I watched Growing Pains and Family Matters,” said Rodriguez, who is from Chicago and has been identified by many as a potential breakout star. “I was like, ‘Cosby Show? What are you doing, Rudy, why?’ So this is a new world to me.”

The tone of Jane the Virgin, which loosely is based on a Venezuelan telenovela, is kind of Desperate Housewives meets Ugly Betty. What I mean by that is, it’s largely a comedy while at the same time dealing with some pretty weighty issues.

Speaking of Desperate Housewives, that show was created by Marc Cherry, who later went on to create Devious Maids. Rodriguez was offered a role in Devious Maids, but she turned it down, largely because she didn’t want her first major primetime role to be as a young woman of Latino descent working as a maid.

“I wouldn’t say that I chose (Jane the Virgin) over Devious Maids,” Rodriguez corrected. “When I was presented with Devious Maids after I did a film at Sundance and I had an ABC holding deal, I found it limiting that this was the one that was available to me.

“I found it limiting for the stories that Latinos have. I feel like there’s a perception that people have about Latinos in America specifically – from somebody growing up in Chicago, English being my first language, Spanish being my second – that we are perceived a very certain way.

“Being a maid is fantastic, I have many family members who have fed their families doing that job. But there are other stories that need to be told. The media is a venue and an avenue to educate and teach our next generation. And sadly right now, the perception they have of Latinos in America are very specific to maid, landscape, pregnant teen. Mind you, I am playing pregnant … not a teen, but … ”

Everyone laughed, including Rodriguez. But the wider point she was making was understood.

“I wasn’t going to let my introduction to the world be one of a story that I think has been told many times,” she said. “So Jane, I waited for her patiently.”

Jane has been waiting, too. But something jumped the queue. It’s enough to bring you to your knees.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

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.​