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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.​

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

Madam Secretary and The Good Wife turn Black-ish in Gotham; TV this week

- September 21st, 2014

Tea Leoni in Madam Secretary

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Sept. 21

1 Gotham
Debut
The Riddler, the Penguin, Catwoman, they’re all here in their formative years, prowling the dark streets under the suspicious eye of Det. James Gordon (Ben McKenzie).
When: Monday on Fox, CTV

2 The Big Bang Theory
Eighth-season debut, back-to-back new episodes
Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) make an unexpected trip to Arizona to fetch Sheldon (Jim Parsons), while Penny (Kaley Cuoco) interviews for a new job.
When: Monday on CBS, CTV

3 Black-ish
Debut
Dre (Anthony Anderson) is close to becoming the first African American senior VP at his firm, just as his son Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner) declares he’s converting to Judaism.
When: Wednesday on ABC, City

4 The Blacklist
Second-season debut
Mary-Louise Parker and Krysten Ritter guest-star as Red (James Spader) faces a new threat from a man named Lord Baltimore and Liz (Megan Boone) tries to move forward.
When: Monday on NBC, Global

5 The Good Wife
Sixth-season debut
Despite pressure, Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is determined not to run for State’s Attorney. Instead, she’s beating Hillary Clinton to the punch and officially running for president. I kid.
When: Sunday on CBS, Global

6 Scorpion
Debut
Katharine McPhee plays a waitress with a supposedly challenged son. But an encounter with a group of geniuses during a crisis opens her eyes to new theories about her boy.
When: Monday on CBS, City

7 Madam Secretary
Debut
Tea Leoni (pictured above) stars as U.S. Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord. Question: Why are there so many TV shows about American government when so few Americans actually vote?
When: Sunday on CBS, Global

8 How To Get Away With Murder
Debut
Every year professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) selects the smartest students to work at her law firm. But she represents only the most hardened, violent criminals.
When: Thursday on ABC, CTV

9 Saving Hope
Third-season debut
After being stabbed in the heart in the season-two finale – literally, not romantically – Dr. Alex Reid (Erica Durance) has a profound experience in the liminal space.
When: Monday on CTV

10 Sleepy Hollow
Second-season debut
Abbie (Nicole Beharie) is stuck in purgatory, Ichabod (Tom Mison) is buried alive and Katrina (Katia Winter) is kidnapped by the headless horseman. Just another day in paradise.
When: Monday on Fox, Global

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv