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Less singing, more stinging for Katharine McPhee in ‘genius’ new series Scorpion

- September 22nd, 2014

Katharine McPhee stars as Paige Dineen in SCORPION

Call it Katharine McPhee’s version of “networking.”

As one of the stars of the new series Scorpion, which debuts Monday, Sept. 22 on CBS and City, McPhee said she’s very happy to be where she is, network-wise.

“Some people, you know, are like, ‘It’s going to be a hit, it’s going to be a smash,’ whether it’s a song or a show,” McPhee said. “I do consider myself someone who is a bit more reserved and conservative when it comes to talking about those things. A bit more cautious, I guess, is a better word.

“But I am feeling very optimistic about this show (Scorpion), and I think CBS has a lot to do with that. I’m very excited to be on a show that’s on CBS, the No. 1 network (in the U.S.). I just think they’re really smart and they know how to promote a show.”

McPhee’s most recent TV experience, of course, was on the failed show Smash, which originated on NBC. Focusing on the making of a Broadway musical, Smash was very ambitious. But it just never caught on with audiences, and there were endless debates about the reasons for that.

“I won’t stop singing, actually – I will continue to be obnoxious on set with my cast-mates, singing them show tunes,” said a chuckling McPhee, who initially became well-known to TV audiences with she finished second on American Idol in 2006. “I mean, I’m always singing anyway. But I’m still working on releasing a record, although it has kind of gotten a bit unclear, with this show (Scorpion) taking control of the schedule.

“But I don’t say I’m only going to do one thing. I’d like to keep doing as many things as I possibly can. Music was just the first thing I realized I was good at.”

Speaking of being good at things, that’s kind of what drives the plot in Scorpion.

Inspired by a true story, Scorpion is a drama about eccentric genius Walter O’Brien (played by Elyes Gabel) and his team of brilliant misfits who battle high-tech threats. These geniuses wind up working under the direction of federal agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick), who shares an uncomfortable history with Walter.

McPhee’s character, Paige Dineen, comes into the narrative through the side door. She’s a waitress with a young son who speaks only to her, but she never fully has connected with him, and it’s assumed he is challenged in some way. It’s only after a chance encounter with Walter and his team that Paige begins to realize her son could be a genius, way up at Walter’s level.

So Paige needs Walter and his team as translators to help her understand her son. And Walter and his team need Paige to help them interact better with the everyday world and everyday people.

“Much the same way I was thrown into this project – I landed the role on a Sunday and started shooting on a Tuesday – Paige is thrown into this new environment,” McPhee said. “Before she knows it, she has this whole world exposed to her, which she feels is access to her son in a way.

“So immediately when Walter points this out to her, she kind of wants to help. And she certainly does during the (first episode).”

McPhee said she didn’t know Scorpion was based on a real person named Walter O’Brien until the actual guy showed up on set.

“It was my second day and I saw this interesting man, this tall guy who was talking to everybody, and I was thinking, he must have something to do with the series, but it’s kind of awkward that he hasn’t come up to me to say hello, he seems a bit shy,” McPhee recalled.

“Then I was in the casting room and he finally introduced himself, he said, ‘I’m Walter, I’m the real Walter.’ I was like, ‘What?’ And he said. ‘This is based on a real person.’ And I was flipping out.”

Katherine McPhee hopes you’ll flip out for Scorpion. She thinks it’s on the right network. So she wants it to be a smash, but not a Smash, if you know what I mean.

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

New TV fall preview, with Canadian and American debut dates

- September 15th, 2014

Gotham cast, with Donal Logue and Ben McKenzie at front

The beginning of the fall TV season is like the beginning of any season in professional sports. Everyone feels like a winner during training camp. Optimism abounds. Then you start to play the games, and the mood changes quickly for many.

Pre-season “lying to yourself” aside, what do the new shows look like this fall … really?

The fantasy/superhero genre continues to take over television, in terms of volume at least, if not necessarily ratings. Gotham, Constantine and The Flash are the newest entries, and I have to say, they all look pretty good in their own way. With the understanding, of course, that on the lightness-to-darkness scale, it goes The Flash, Constantine, Gotham, so target each series based on your content preferences.

I’ve written before that I was impressed by the pilot episode of Gotham, which stars Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue and Jada Pinkett Smith, among many others. And having been one of the people who was rolling his eyes at the thought of a Batman prequel, impressing me was no small feat in this case. It’s pretty violent by network TV standards, though, so be forewarned. Constantine, starring Matt Ryan, is based on characters that appear in the comic series Hellblazer. The Flash, starring Grant Gustin, is a spinoff of Arrow.

Outside of the superhero/fantasy world, perhaps the most talked-about new series is Stalker. Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott star as detectives who handle stalking cases – including voyeurism, cyber harassment and romantic fixation, etc. – for the Threat Assessment Unit of the LAPD.

When creator Kevin Williamson appeared at the Television Critics Association event in Los Angeles in July, the session actually got a little stormy. Stalker is something of a polarizing series, if we lived in a world with three poles. Some people see it as shining a light on a growing problem in society, and that’s a good thing. Some people see it as a de facto glorification of stalking, a “how to” if you will, and that’s a bad thing. And some people see it as merely a TV show, and think that the people in the other two camps should take a chill pill. In any case, there will be no shortage of Stalker talkers.

There are still more new shows centred on U.S. politics and government (State of Affairs with Katherine Heigl, Madam Secretary with Tea Leoni), more time travellers (Forever), more computer geniuses (Scorpion), a notable spinoff (NCIS: New Orleans with Scott Bakula), and a notable remake (Gracepoint, based on the British series Broadchurch). The Affair, with Dominic West, Ruth Wilson, Joshua Jackson and Maura Tierney, is particularly intense in a rip-your-life-apart kind of way.

Sadly, none of the new sitcoms really jumps out at me as instant hit material, although series such as Black-ish and Cristela are demographically designed to resonate with big chunks of the U.S. population. Marry Me with Casey Wilson and Ken Marino is getting some positive buzz. And as for Selfie starring Doctor Who alumnus Karen Gillan, well, I didn’t despise it as much as many of my colleagues in the critics’ community.

First shows cancelled? For me, two candidates are Bad Judge with Kate Walsh, and yet another young-adult-relationship comedy called Manhattan Love Story.

NEW SHOWS
(Networks always can change their plans, so this is what we know as of now, please check local listings closer to broadcast)

Sept. 17
Red Band Society (Fox)
The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, CTV)

Sept. 21
Madam Secretary (CBS, Global)

Sept. 22
Gotham (Fox, CTV)
Scorpion (CBS, City)
Forever (ABC, CTV)

Sept. 23
NCIS: New Orleans (CBS, Global)

Sept. 24
Black-ish (ABC, City)

Sept. 25
How To Get Away With Murder (ABC, CTV)

Sept. 28
Canada’s Smartest Person (CBC)

Sept. 30
Selfie (ABC)
Manhattan Love Story (ABC)
The Honourable Woman (CBC)

Oct. 1
Stalker (CBS, Global)

Oct. 2
Gracepoint (Fox, Global)
Bad Judge (NBC, Oct. 3 on Global)
A to Z (NBC, Oct. 3 on Global)

Oct. 4
Survivor’s Remorse (Super Channel)

Oct. 5
Mulaney (Fox, Global)
CBC Selects: Janet King (CBC)

Oct. 6
Strange Empire (CBC)

Oct. 7
The Flash (CW, CTV)

Oct. 10
Cristela (ABC, CHCH)

Oct. 12
The Affair (TMN/MC)

Oct. 13
Jane the Virgin (CW)

Oct. 14
Marry Me (NBC, Oct. 17 on Global)

Oct. 17
Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways (HBO Canada)

Oct. 24
Constantine (NBC, Global)

Oct. 30
The McCarthys (CBS, CTV)

Nov. 2
Olive Kitteridge (HBO Canada)

Nov. 17
State of Affairs (NBC, Global)

Nov. 25
Ascension (CBC)

Dec. 12
Marco Polo (Netflix)

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Returning TV fall preview, with Canadian and American debut dates

- September 15th, 2014

Jon Cryer as Alan Harper and Ashton Kutcher as Walden Schmidt in Two and a Half Men

Should Two and a Half Men be renamed Two Men and a Baby?

Two and a Half Men raised eyebrows this summer when it was revealed that one of the main story lines for its 12th and final season will involve Walden (Ashton Kutcher) and Alan (Jon Cryer) posing as a gay couple in order to try to adopt a baby. Walden wants to adopt a kid on his own, but he finds it almost impossible to do so as a single male, thus the ruse.

Some groups immediately were offended by this story line, saying it disrespects the ongoing struggle to make gay marriage legal everywhere in the U.S. The response from Two and a Half Men’s executives and actors essentially was, in no way will this devalue or discredit gay marriage. Rather, they say the story line merely is borrowing from real life, in that, presently in California (where Two and a Half Men is set), it probably is easier to adopt as a gay couple than as a single man (I’m just going by what I’m told, since I haven’t tried to adopt a kid in California in either circumstance).

The bottom line for me is, let’s actually wait to see how they handle it, rather than getting all animated about what we haven’t even watched yet.

And speaking of animation, there will be a convergence of cartoon titans in the season premiere of Family Guy, as the Griffin clan travels to Springfield to visit with The Simpsons. This would be like the cast of Friends visiting the cast of Seinfeld back in the day, or the cast of the afore-mentioned Two and a Half Men dropping in on the cast of The Big Bang Theory.

It will be interesting to see what happens on The Big Bang Theory now that Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki) are engaged. You know, I’ve always wondered how Penny could afford her own apartment, while Leonard and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) have to share what essentially is the exact same apartment. Leonard and Sheldon both have good jobs, while Penny always has struggled. With the prospect of a joint bank account for Penny and Leonard on the horizon, maybe season eight will provide a better window into their mysterious finances.

With the TV landscape so cluttered, it’s always intriguing to keep an eye on the lucky shows that actually graduated past their rookie seasons, to see if they can maintain their momentum, not to mention their audiences. On the drama side, the notable sophomore shows include Sleepy Hollow, The Blacklist, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Resurrection. On the comedy side, we have The Goldbergs, Mom, The Millers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

A critical favourite, Andy Samberg’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine has invaded the Sunday night “animation domination” block, in an effort to attract more eyeballs. Hey, Brooklyn Nine-Nine needs a bigger audience, and creaky old “animation domination” needs a transfusion. So it’s either going to be a win-win or a lose-lose.

And as we creep closer to Halloween, keep an eye peeled for spooky favourites American Horror Story and The Walking Dead. This year’s American Horror Story is subtitled Freak Show, and is set in the early 1950s. Hey, the early ’50s always have seemed spooky enough to me even without the freaks.

RETURNING SHOWS
(Networks always can change their plans, so this is what we know as of now, please check local listings closer to broadcast)

Sept. 15
Dancing with the Stars (ABC, CTV Two, M3)

Sept. 16
New Girl (Fox, Sept. 18 on City)
The Mindy Project (Sept. 18 on City)

Sept. 18
The Bachelor Canada (City)
Haven (Showcase)

Sept. 21
The Good Wife (CBS, Global)

Sept. 22
The Voice (NBC, CTV Two)
The Blacklist (NBC, Global)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS, CTV)
Sleepy Hollow (Fox, Global)
Saving Hope (CTV)

Sept. 23
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, CTV)
NCIS (CBS, Global)
Chicago Fire (NBC, Global)
Person of Interest (CBS, CTV)

Sept. 24
Modern Family (ABC, City)
The Goldbergs (ABC)
Survivor (CBS, Global)
Chicago PD (NBC, Global)
Law & Order: SVU (NBC, CTV)
Nashville (ABC)
The Middle (ABC, Sept. 26 on City)

Sept. 25
Scandal (ABC, City)
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, CTV)
Parenthood (NBC, Global)
Bones (Fox, Global)

Sept. 26
The Amazing Race (CBS, CTV)
Hawaii Five-0 (CBS, Global)
Blue Bloods (CBS, CTV)
Shark Tank (ABC, CTV Two)

Sept. 28
Family Guy (Fox, Global)
The Simpsons (Fox, Global)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, City)
CSI (CBS, CTV)
Once Upon a Time (ABC, CTV)
Resurrection (ABC, CTV)
Revenge (ABC, City)
Heartland (CBC)

Sept. 29
Mom (CBS, City)
Castle (ABC, CTV)
NCIS: LA (CBS, Global)

Oct. 1
Criminal Minds (CBS, CTV)
Reign (M3, Oct. 2 on CW, CTV Two)

Oct. 2
The Vampire Diaries (CW, CTV Two)

Oct. 3
Last Man Standing (ABC, CHCH)

Oct. 5
Homeland (Super Channel)

Oct. 6
Murdoch Mysteries (CBC)
The Originals (CW, CHCH)

Oct. 7
Rick Mercer Report (CBC)
This Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC)
Supernatural (CW)

Oct. 8
American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX Canada)
Arrow (CW, CTV)

Oct. 9
Doc Zone (CBC)
The Nature of Things (CBC)

Oct. 12
The Walking Dead (AMC)

Oct. 14
About a Boy (NBC, Friday on Global)

Oct. 15
Dragons’ Den (CBC)
Republic of Doyle (CBC)

Oct. 17
Marketplace (CBC)

Oct. 22
The 100 (CW)

Oct. 24
Grimm (NBC, CTV)
The Fifth Estate (CBC)

Oct. 27
2 Broke Girls (CBS, City)

Oct. 30
Two and a Half Men (CBS, CTV)
The Millers (CBS, CTV)
Elementary (CBS, Global)

Nov. 7
MasterChef Junior (Fox, CTV Two)

Nov. 9
The Newsroom (HBO Canada)
The Comeback (HBO Canada)
Getting On (HBO Canada)

Dec. 7
Lost Girl (Showcase)

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

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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