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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.​

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