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In Brie we trust; in life and in new animated Netflix series BoJack Horseman, Alison Brie knows our secrets

- August 22nd, 2014

Diane (left, voiced by Alison Brie) and Bojack (right, voiced by Will Arnett)

Sometimes people just tell you things, no matter how animated you are.

And therein lies the one trait Alison Brie has in common with her character in the new animated series BoJack Horseman, which is available Friday, Aug. 22 on Netflix. Brie’s character Diane Nguyen (above left) is a ghost writer, hired to pen the memoirs of lead character BoJack (above right), voiced by Will Arnett.

“If there’s any resemblance, it’s that there’s something about Diane that even when BoJack is avoiding any writing of the book, she sort of gets BoJack to open up,” Brie said. “And that I can relate to, because people always are telling me their secrets. They confide in me. I seem very trustworthy.”

Brie paused just long enough to make it funny, before adding, “I seem.”

You’ll recognize Brie’s face primarily for her roles as Annie Edison on Community (cast pic below with Brie at far right) and Trudy Campbell on Mad Men. But she has done voice work as well, including the recent Lego Movie, in which she co-starred with Arnett, coincidentally.

BoJack Horseman centres around BoJack, who literally is a horse. The series exists in a universe where animals talk and interact with humans. For example, all the employees at Penguin Publishing are, well, penguins.

Anyway, BoJack was the star of a corny 1990s family sitcom called Horsin’ Around. Presently, trying to plot a comeback, BoJack has been contracted to write his autobiography, but he isn’t exactly a nose-to-the-trough kind of horse. That’s where Diane enters the fray.

“Diane quickly assimilates to that group (which includes BoJack’s roommate Todd Chavez, voiced by Aaron Paul, and his agent Princess Carolyn, voiced by Amy Sedaris),” Brie said. “And because Diane dates Mr. Peanut Butter (a canine rival of  BoJack’s, voiced by Paul F. Tompkins), and Mr. Peanut Butter seems to always make himself a part of BoJack’s life – to BoJack’s chagrin – that makes Diane part of the family as well.”

What I want to know is, what is a serious girl like Diane doing with an upbeat airhead such as Mr. Peanut Butter?

“Well, you know, it is an interesting question,” Brie said. “I have to just assume that Diane wants to take a break from herself. Diane is a very serious person and she has such a dry sense of humour. She always needs to be the smartest person in the room, and I think with Mr. Peanut Butter, that’s very easy.”

Diane may be Brie’s primary character in BoJack Horseman, but if you listen closely, you’ll hear Brie popping up in other places as well.

“Every time I come in there’s a different thing, ‘Oh, yeah, also today, you’re going to be reading cow waitress,’ ” Brie said with a laugh. “That’s one of my favourites, one of my proudest roles.”

Brie said BoJack Horseman came along at the right time, with the upcoming final seven episodes of Mad Men already having been shot, and with Community in between seasons. Community, which has more lives than a cat, recently was picked up for a sixth season by Yahoo! Screen. You know, Community may end up being the longest-running show in TV history before it’s done.

“I would believe it,” Brie said. “Except now it’s on the internet, does that count? I guess it does, since we’re here right now talking about a show on Netflix.

“This did fit in very nicely. And they’ve been wonderful about working around our schedules, which is why we’ve been able to draw such an incredible cast. It’s a smaller time commitment, and it’s a little more flexible.”

Speaking of time flexibility, does Brie think Diane ever is going to get BoJack’s book written? And if so, will Diane get her name on it?

“I doubt it – she’s a ghost writer, after all,” Brie said. “But in any case, I don’t think she wants her name on this book.”

People may confide in Alison Brie, but BoJack Horseman is not a secret she has to keep.

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

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Go beneath the Sheen; Masters of Sex star urges fans to peek under the covers, literally and figuratively

- August 10th, 2014

Michael Sheen as Dr

Masters of Sex and Mad Men have more in common than merely an era.

Both series are filled with rich scenes in which the subtext is so thick, you could slice it with scissors. And I’m talking more about the early seasons of Mad Men, which were set in the early 1960s. Masters of Sex – which airs Sunday nights across Canada on The Movie Network and Movie Central, and on channel-of-origin Showtime in the United States – is inching up to 1960 in its current second season.

Masters of Sex tells the story of real-life sex researchers Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, respectively. Partly due to the era, partly due to the deftness of the actors, partly due to the subject matter, and partly due to the blurred lines between professionalism and personal feelings that existed between the main characters, just about every scene in Masters of Sex is saying way more than it actually says.

“Sometimes we have to be directed to play less subtext, because we’re so aware of what’s going on underneath,” Sheen said. “We have to be careful that we don’t do too much of that. We have to remember to bring it out on the surface.

“By this point we know these characters pretty well.”

At first glance, Sheen’s Bill Masters is a big ball of repressed tension. He is so emotionally shut off to his poor wife Libby (Caitlyn FitzGerald) that if it were any other era where divorce wasn’t such a stigma, I think she would have left him a long time ago. Bill responds to Virginia, with whom he is having an affair in addition to their stop-and-go professional relationship, with a complex combination of desire and guilt, attraction and condescension. He really is one of the most complicated characters on TV today.

“It depends on what you can see,” Sheen observed. “I can’t really take any responsibility for what people are able to see. You bring your own humanity to what you watch. You see as much as you’re aware of in yourself.

“Some people, I think, see the vulnerability (in Bill). Things don’t have to be on the surface for you to be aware of them. One of the things I’m most interested in about this character is how vulnerable he is. The most defensive, guarded, prickly people are the ones who, on the whole, I find are guarding their vulnerability so much, because they’ve been so hurt in some way, or they’re so scared. They’re the most frightened people.

“I think, I hope, that audiences are a bit more sophisticated than just accepting what they’re presented with on the surface.”

On the one hand, Bill Masters craves respectability, and he wants the admiration of his peers. But while many people in that era would take a conservative, safe path to those goals, Bill also wants to be renowned. He is obsessed with his controversial sex study, largely because he feels the work is groundbreaking, which he hopes will get him the respect he craves through an alternate and more impressive door. He wants to be both respected and famous. And for Bill Masters specifically, the puzzle of what is driving him is what Masters of Sex is all about.

“We’ve heard him say a number of times he wants to win a Nobel Prize, so there obviously is ambition that’s driving him,” Sheen said. “And this is an area of research that was open to someone who was pioneering and leading and wanting to make a name for himself.

“Even though (the sex study) is obviously risky, it isn’t like he wants to be on the margins. He wants to be an establishment figure, he wants to be mainstream, but he knows that he has to take a risk. And on a personal level – certainly the character I’m playing, I don’t know about the real man – he’s driven by all kinds of unconscious things as well.

“There are no easy answers to those questions. Hopefully it will take six, seven seasons to answer them.”

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Jonah from Tonga finds Partners and Mistresses at The Knick; TV must-sees for the week of Aug. 3

- August 3rd, 2014

The Knick cast, with Eve Hewson as Lucy Elkins, centre rear

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Aug. 3

1 The Knick
Debut: Set at a New York hospital in 1900, Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) becomes chief surgeon but quickly is pressured by benefactors to hire a black assistant, Dr. Algernon Edwards (Andre Holland).
When: Friday on HBO Canada

2 Partners
Canadian debut with back-to-back episodes: On a bad day for both of them, community lawyer Marcus Jackson (Martin Lawrence) meets unscrupulous corporate reject Allen Braddock (Kelsey Grammer). An unexpected alliance forms.
When: Thursday on Global

3 Jonah from Tonga
Canadian debut with back-to-back episodes: Chris Lilley revisits one of his characters from Summer Heights High, but this update caused a lot of controversy in Lilley’s native Australia earlier this year.
When: Friday on HBO Canada

4 Bachelor in Paradise
Debut: Twenty-five of the franchise’s most controversial contestants, both men and women, are back again, still looking for love. It all begins in an isolated romantic paradise in Mexico. Hey, what doesn’t?
When: Monday on ABC, City

5 The Strain
A secret autopsy demonstrates the bizarre progression of the mysterious virus, while Ephraim (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro) race to find the father of the youngest victim of the plane tragedy.
When: Sunday on FX Canada

6 Halt and Catch Fire
First-season finale: Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Joe (Lee Pace) prepare to transport the Giant, but a suspicious defect threatens the partnership and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) takes control of her future.
When: Sunday on AMC

7 Perception
When an FBI agent is found dead, Pierce (Eric McCormack) must face the one case he never solved. It could mess him up mentally, but he agrees to help Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook) anyway. What a guy.
When: Tuesday on Bravo

8 True Blood
As Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) close in on Sarah (Anna Camp), Adilyn (Bailey Noble) finds refuge with Violet (Karolina Wydra). Um, don’t trust her.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

9 Unforgettable
Al (Dylan Walsh) becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a parolee he helped put in jail, forcing Carrie (Poppy Montgomery) to conduct an off-the-books investigation to prove his innocence to Internal Affairs.
When: Sunday on CBS, CTV

10 Mistresses
April (Rochelle Aytes) worries her past is coming back to haunt her after receiving a shocking phone call, while Savi (Alyssa Milano) reaches out to her long-absent dad. Hey, could it be Tony Danza?
When: Monday on ABC, CTV

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

The Killing, The Quest, Sharknado 2 and Hell on Wheels; TV’s must-sees for the week of July 27

- July 27th, 2014

Sharknado 2

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of July 27:

1) The Killing
Debut of fourth and final season: Sarah (Mireille Enos) made a really questionable decision at the end of season three. She always has been really tough, but is she tough enough to live with what she did?
When: Friday on Netflix

2) Sharknado 2: The Second One
Debut: It’s fin-tastic. See it with a chum. More bite for your buck. Something to chew on. Give it a hand. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid are back to battle double shark storms headed for New York City.
When: Wednesday on Space

3) Hell on Wheels
Fourth-season debut: Awaiting the birth of his baby, Cullen (Anson Mount) toils under the thumb of The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), while Durant (Colm Meaney) feels the chill after an icy miscalculation.
When: Saturday on AMC

4) The Quest
Debut: This sounds like a reality-competition series for Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings geeks, as 12 contestants are transported into an imaginative realm, with ogres and dragons and a dark lord.
When: Thursday on ABC, City

5) Running Wild With Bear Grylls
Debut: Bear leads actor Zac Efron on a survival journey into the Northeast Appalachian mountain range. But then Zac dances his way out of it, dammit! Take that, danger! East High forever!
When: Monday on NBC, Global

6) The Bridge
Marco (Demian Bichir) gains a new ally while discovering that cartel leader Fausto (Ramon Franco) has a wider reach than anticipated. Meanwhile, a disruption at a local bank provides new intel.
When: Wednesday on FX Canada

7) The Leftovers
A hate crime tests the resolve of Laurie (Amy Brenneman), while Kevin (Justin Theroux) turns down an offer of assistance and Matt (Christopher Eccleston) brings his pulpit to the street.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

8) Masters of Sex
When Bill (Michael Sheen) delivers a baby with ambiguous genitalia, he encourages the parents not to surgically assign a gender. Meanwhile, Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) learns about Bill’s troubled childhood.
When: Sunday on The Movie Network, Movie Central

9) Under the Dome
After a bad plan by Big Jim (Dean Norris) and Rebecca (Karla Crome) leaves the town divided, Julia (Rachelle Lefevre) takes over as leader of Chester’s Mill. But that’s not actually a paid position any more.
When: Monday on CBS, Global

10) Masters of Illusion
Debut: Hosted by Dean Cain, this series features illusionists performing everything from sleight-of-hand to great escapes, all in front of a live studio audience. I watched it. Or did I?
When: Friday on CW

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

 

‘Walking Dead’ season five gets trailer, premiere date

- July 25th, 2014

Calling all undead, get your first glimpse at The Walking Dead’s upcoming fifth season.

AMC premiered the trailer at Comic Con on Friday, which situates Rick, Daryl, and their team of misfit miscreant survivors in yet another dangerous predicament with unabashed sociopaths, has just enough drama and gore to keep all deprived fans going for the next couple of months.

“…season five is without a question the most ambitious and satisfying season this amazing team has ever crafted,” Charlie Collier, AMC president, said in a press release.

The show picks up where the last season ended, with the troupe en route to Washington in an attempt to cure the unknown illness that has caused the zombie apocalypse to break out.

Unfortunately, before they can reach their destination, they’re kidnapped by a group of blood lust filled strangers.

It all works out (kind of) for Rick and his odd family, however, when one of the strangers announces he wants to come with them to Washington and receive the cure, too.

“When we get to Washington we will let the dead die and the living will have this world again,” Sgt. Ford says at one point.

It’s obvious that getting to D.C. will be the main storyline audiences will see transpire on screen this season, but there’s a healthy dose of drama between the two leaders to keep the series fresh and engaging.

“These people are my family. If you hurt them in anyway, I will kill you,” Rick utters menacingly to the newcomer.

Most importantly, however, is the ratio of living people to the undead.

Fans of the show will be impressed with the amount of carnage being tossed around in the trailer, and it appears AMC is amping up for their goriest season yet.

It’s like Rick says to Carl toward the end of the trailer, “No matter what anyone tells you, you’re not safe.”

The Walking Dead season five premieres on Oct. 12 at 9 p.m.