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Friends With Better Lives win Juno Awards while Inside Amy Shumer; TV must-sees for the week of March 30

- March 29th, 2014

Cristin Milioti, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan, Josh Radnor, Cobie Smulders, Neil Patrick Harris, Bob Saget

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of March 30

1 Juno Awards
Live: Co-hosted by Serena Ryder, Johnny Reid and Classified, scheduled performers include Arcade Fire (taped), Tegan and Sara, Sarah McLachlan, Robin Thicke, the Sheepdogs and Thunderface (kudos if you get that joke).
When: Sunday on CTV

2 How I Met Your Mother
Series finale (cast pictured above): There are many rumours and theories about what might be revealed, some of them quite dark. Here’s hoping Ted (Josh Radnor) and “the mother” (Cristin Milioti) aren’t facing some horrible tragedy. It’s a sitcom, people!
When: Monday on CBS, City

3 Friends With Better Lives
Debut: New sitcom following the How I Met Your Mother series finale that clearly wants to be the next How I Met Your Mother, albeit a notably dirtier one. With Kevin Connolly, Brooklyn Decker and James Van Der Beek, among others.
When: Monday on CBS, City

4 Short Poppies
Debut: This eight-episode series sees Rhys Darby – who you will remember as hapless band manager Murray Hewitt on Flight of the Conchords – playing multiple characters in a “mockumentary” about ordinary New Zealanders.
When: Thursday on Netflix

5 The Late Late Show/The Price is Right
It’s an April Fool’s switcheroo, as Drew Carey and Craig Ferguson swap jobs. Note that Carey hosts The Late Late Show in the early hours of Tuesday, a.k.a. late Monday night, with Ferguson hosting The Price is Right on Tuesday morning.
When: Tuesday on CBS, OMNI/CBS, City

6 Inside Amy Schumer
Season-two debut: Another 10-episode campaign for this combination sketch/standup/interview series gets off to a purposely awkward start, as Amy’s characters marry a black guy, lose a tennis match and try to pray away a nasty case of herpes.
When: Tuesday on Comedy

7 Dragons’ Den
Eighth-season finale: The Dragons hit the road to surprise some of the show’s most memorable pitchers. Have the people who landed deals succeeded or failed? And what of those who were turned down but were convinced the Dragons got it wrong?
When: Wednesday on CBC

8 Raising Hope
Series finale: Back-to-back new episodes wrap up this underrated series after four seasons. In the first episode, Downton Abbey’s Lesley Nicol guest-stars. In the second, Kenny Loggins makes a musical appearance, playing himself.
When: Friday on Fox, City

9 Intelligence
First-season finale: Riley (Meghan Ory) and Gabriel (Josh Holloway) are shocked to learn there are foreign sleeper agents embedded in the U.S. government, and even more shocked when the identities of the spies are revealed.
When: Monday on CBS, CTV Two

10 Family Guy
An ad executive guest-voiced by Peter Dinklage asks Peter Griffin (voice of Seth MacFarlane) to be the face of an anti-smoking campaign, as long as he continues to smoke. Sheesh, and I thought Game of Thrones was complicated.
When: Sunday on Fox, Global


The Oscars get Spun Out in Chicagoland; TV must-sees for the week of March 2

- March 1st, 2014


Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of March 2

1 Academy Awards
The 86th edition of the annual hardware handout will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres. Scheduled performers include Bette Midler, Karen O, U2 and Pharrell Williams. What is this, the Grammys?
When: Sunday on ABC, CTV

2 Big Brother Canada
Second-season debut: Pack a bunch of young people into a confined space. What could go right? What could go wrong? Hosted again by Arisa Cox. And new this season is a Side Show following evictions.
When: Wednesday on Slice, Global

3 Bates Motel
Second-season debut: No, this isn’t a Downton Abbey spinoff with Mr. Bates starting his own business. Rather, it’s the return of a creepy Psycho prequel starring Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore.
When: Monday on A&E

4 Spun Out
Debut: Starring Dave Foley from Kids in the Hall, this sitcom is set at a dysfunctional PR agency. Hmmm, they never should have taken on Rob Ford as a client. Also with Rebecca Dalton and Holly Deveaux.
When: Thursday on CTV

5 Kirstie
Debut: Kirstie Alley plays a Broadway star suddenly faced with the son she gave up for adoption 26 years earlier, played by Eric Petersen. Not to be confused with Eric Peterson, a.k.a. Oscar on Corner Gas.
When: Friday on CTV

6 Seed
Second-season debut: Harry (Adam Korson) and “sperm recipient” Rose (Carrie-Lynne Neales) try to raise a baby in a platonic arrangement. Reminds me of Hermey in the Rudolph Christmas special: “Let’s be independent together.”
When: Thursday on City

7 Those Who Kill
Debut: It seems every second show on TV these days is about serial killers in some way, shape or form. Well, here’s another one, with Chloe Sevigny starring as a recently promoted Pittsburgh homicide detective.
When: Monday on A&E

8 Chicagoland
Debut: No, this isn’t yet another scripted series about cops or firefighters in the Windy City. It’s an eight-part documentary series, executive produced by Robert Redford, about real-life Chicago issues and politics.
When: Thursday on CNN

9 The Next Step
Season-two debut: The A-Troupe has won regionals, but the dancers are shocked to learn that prior to nationals they must re-audition with rivals from other studios. Bet those wimps on Fame never had to do that.
When: Friday on Family

10 Almost Human
Season finale: Years ago the father of Kennex (Karl Urban) put away a bad guy. Now new copycat murders are being committed. As always, Dorian (Michael Ealy) is there to help with his dreamy eyes.
When: Monday on Fox, Global


Winter Olympics, Super Bowl, Jay Leno; TV must-sees for the week of Feb. 2

- February 1st, 2014


Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Feb. 2

1) Super Bowl
Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos meet Richard Sherman’s Seattle Seahawks in New Jersey. The weather could be nasty. Hope the power doesn’t go out. Oh wait, that happened last year.
When: Sunday on Fox, CTV

2) MasterChef Canada
Post-Super Bowl slot: The first Mystery Box Challenge takes place. You know, I really don’t like the word “mystery” associated with food. Michael Bonacini, Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile judge.
When: Sunday on CTV

3) New Girl
Post-Super Bowl slot: A chance encounter gets Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Cece (Hannah Simone) an invite to a party at Prince’s mansion. Prince guest-stars as himself. Really, who else could he play?
When: Sunday on Fox, City

4) Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Post-post-Super Bowl slot: Jake (Andy Samberg) learns that Amy (Melissa Fumero) may be up for a new job. This rookie series recently won the Golden Globe award for best comedy.
When: Sunday on Fox, City

5) Downton Abbey
It’s gutsy to air a new episode of anything against the Super Bowl. There probably is more of a crossover audience than you think. Anyway, no surprise, Edith (Laura Carmichael) gets troubling news.
When: Sunday on PBS

6) Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony
Remember that old SCTV skit with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas playing hosts on Soviet television? I’m betting the festivities from Sochi, Russia will be a little more elaborate than that.
When: Friday on CBC, NBC

7) The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
Billy Crystal and Garth Brooks are the guests on Leno’s final Tonight Show. Yes, yes, we’ve heard that before. But Leno might actually be leaving this time. Jimmy Fallon takes over on Feb. 17.
When: Thursday on NBC, CTV Two

8) Saving Hope
When a couple is attacked by a bear, Alex (Erica Durance) and Charlie (Michael Shanks) start to suspect there’s more to the story. Like, who was the bear working for?
When: Thursday on CTV

9) The Best Laid Plans
Season finale: It’s time for the election, as Daniel (Jonas Chernick) finally confesses and Angus (Kenneth Welsh) is faced with some unexpected developments when he returns home.
When: Monday on CBC

10) Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful
Host Heidi Klum is joined by swimsuit icons Kate Upton, Tyra Banks, Marissa Miller, Kathy Ireland and Christie Brinkley. But to me, Brinkley forever will be Mrs. Jerry Gergich on Parks and Recreation.
When: Monday on NBC


Survivorman gets Bitten by Killer Women in Four Rooms at Downton Abbey? Must-sees for the week

- January 4th, 2014

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Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Jan. 5

1 Downton Abbey
Fourth-season debut: This already has aired in Britain, so be aware that the internet is crawling with spoilers. But you know Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) will continue to resist the changing times.
When: Sunday on PBS

2 Helix
Debut: No, this is not a documentary about the 1980s Canadian hard-rock band. Rather, it’s about a team of scientists trying to stop a disease outbreak that could doom the world. Billy Campbell stars.
When: Friday on Showcase

3 Four Rooms
Debut: You have an item you’ve been hanging onto for years. What’s it worth? The twist with this show is, once you’ve turned down an offer, you can’t go back to it. Reshmi Nair hosts.
When: Sunday on CBC

4 Chicago P.D.
Debut: From producer Dick Wolf, this is a spinoff series from Chicago Fire, which is in only its second season but really has re-invented the procedural. This new show stars Jason Beghe and Sophia Bush.
When: Wednesday on NBC, Global

5 Survivorman
Sixth-season debut: Les Stroud finds a new home on a new channel. Well, I say “new home” in the philosophical sense, since each episode starts with him stranded in a remote location. Buy a map, Les!
When: Wednesday on Travel + Escape

6 Intelligence
Debut: Josh Holloway plays a high-tech operative who has a super-computer microchip in his brain. This means he always has access to internet, phone and satellite data. But is his WiFi ever spotty?
When: Tuesday on CBS, CTV

7 Enlisted
Debut: Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell and Parker Young star in this sitcom as three brothers who are getting to know each other again on a small Florida army base. Sort of a Gomer Pyle for the 21st century.
When: Friday on Fox, City

8 The Best Laid Plans
Debut: Political satire about a man trying to get out of politics, played by Jonas Chernick, who is given one last menial task: Run an election campaign in a can’t-win riding. You can guess what happens.
When: Sunday on CBC

9 Killer Women
Debut: Tricia Helfer plays Molly Parker, one of the first women in the elite group of law-enforcement agents known as the Texas Rangers. Executive-produced by Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara.
When: Tuesday on ABC, City

10 Bitten
Debut: Laura Vandervoort plays a female werewolf who is just trying to break away from the pack and live her own life. Can she forget her family ties and repress her own instincts? That’s a howl.
When: Saturday on Space


Downton Abbey has character – lots of them – as season four gets under way

- January 3rd, 2014


(If you wish to view this article in slideshow form, please click HERE)

Downton Abbey turned a corner in North America at a precise moment that I remember clearly. It was when people who had heard of the show only casually stopped referring to it as Down-TOWN Abbey.

The name of the show didn’t sound odd any more. It rolled off the tongue as easily as a quip from the Dowager Countess.

Now Downton Abbey is back for its fourth season, making its North American debut Sunday, Jan. 5 on most PBS affiliates. The lush British period piece, which began with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, has progressed to early 1922, six months after the shocking family tragedy that wrapped up season three.

It’s impossible to set up season four without taking into account the end of season three, so consider this a SPOILER ALERT if you’re behind. Then again, we’re all kind of behind on this continent, as season four of Downton Abbey already has aired in Britain. So if you want to avoid any kind of spoilers altogether, the internet is not your friend.

For our purposes, though, what follows is a look at the predicaments and plot lines and passions facing some of the main characters on Downton Abbey in season four. Change continues to be a constant. But as with all things in life, there are those who handle it well and those who are less adaptable.

(played by Michelle Dockery)
Obviously the death of Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) in a car crash at the end of season three has the greatest impact on his wife, now widow, Lady Mary. She had just given birth to the couple’s first child, a son. As the story picks up a half-year later, she continues to exist in a black fog of mourning. “With Matthew’s death, all the softness he found in me seems to have dried up and drained away,” Mary observes about herself. And she refers to her son Master George as a “poor little orphan.” Mary’s maid Anna (Joanne Froggatt) counters, “He’s not an orphan. He’s got his mother. Orphans haven’t.” To which Mary says blandly, “He isn’t poor, either, come to that.” Now, Mary never was going to be the mother of the year. Nannies are hired for that sort of thing. But with her son’s future in mind, something has to pull Mary out of her funk. Hmmm, might it be an increased role in the running of Downton? Her father shan’t be happy to hear that news.

(played by Hugh Bonneville)
OK, I have just one thing to say: Lord Grantham is dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Yes, he cares for his family in an early-20th-century British aristocrat kind of way. But his pompousness and stubbornness and certainty that “father knows best,” despite all evidence to the contrary, dooms him to making the same types of mistakes over and over. He already has lost the family fortune at least once, and his arrogance contributed to the death of one of his daughters (Lady Sybil, who was played by Jessica Brown Findlay). But now with the death of Matthew, Lord Grantham sees it as an opportunity to go back to running Downton on his own, dispatching with most of Matthew’s reform plans. Lady Mary may have something to say about that.

(played by Elizabeth McGovern)
It appears as if Lord Grantham’s wife Cora has caught a bit of her husband’s disease early in season four. Her gullibility is increasing, especially when it comes to the servants and their overt manipulations for either benefit or spite. Come on, Cora, be a little less trusting of Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and his evil ilk, even when their “advice” turns out to be accidentally right. You have big wide eyes, Cora. Use them!

(played by Rob James-Collier)
I’ve been exceedingly lucky in my life that I haven’t met many individuals who I would describe as, well, just bad people. But there have been a couple. And fictionally speaking, Thomas fits the bill, having channeled his deep-rooted humiliation at being in the service industry at all, coupled with his sexual frustration, into tormenting others, often just for sport. Schemers like Thomas always need collaborators, though, and he finds an eyebrow-raising one early in season four.

(played by Laura Carmichael)
The dourness of her sister Lady Mary is an inconvenience for Lady Edith, who is in a pretty good place – by her “loser” standards, anyway – as season four begins. She has outside interests, a publisher suitor who seems to adore her, and a willingness to adapt to modern times. Lady Edith never has had much “lady luck,” though, so we’ll see how long she can keep her own curses at bay.

(played by Allen Leech)
With his wife, Lady Sybil, deceased, former chauffeur Tom must have an even more acute sense of, “What the hell am I doing here?” If it weren’t for Tom and Sybil’s young daughter Sibby, Lord Grantham probably would have kicked Tom to the curb soon after Sybil died.

(played by Joanne Froggatt and Brendan Coyle)
I’m not sure what this says about me. Maybe I have a little Thomas in me. But sometimes the now-married couple of Anna and Mr. Bates are so “good” and so “in love” that I just want to throw a bowl of Mrs. Patmore’s stew into their faces. But there’s no doubt that Anna in particular is the heart of this show. The very niceness of Anna and honour of Mr. Bates tends to make them victims in this world, though. Mr. Bates was jailed for a murder he didn’t commit before ultimately being acquitted. And more trauma awaits Anna, too. Hey, I said I wanted to soup up their faces a little when they’re making goo-goo eyes at each other. I don’t want anything really bad to happen to them. I take no pleasure in that.

(played by Phyllis Logan and Jim Carter)
The role of Mrs. Hughes has increased substantially through the years. I don’t have statistics to back that up in terms of actual screen time, but her stories absolutely have taken on more prominence. There are many fans of the show who are cheering for some sort of romance to emerge between the widowed Mrs. Hughes and the stiff and stuffy Carson. It appears there has been an effort to soften Mrs. Hughes as a contrast to Carson, and they are an amusing odd couple at times. But I can’t imagine Carson ever would let down his guard enough to entertain any thoughts of even a hint of romance with a co-worker. Would he?

(played by Sophie McShera and Lesley Nicol)
Daisy, the assistant cook, and Mrs. Patmore, the cook, are tied at the hip even though they drive each other crazy. Word of advice to Daisy, though: Mrs. Patmore has proven to be a loyal friend but often a giver of poor advice. Think for yourself, young lady.

(played by Lily James)
A flesh-and-blood representation of the new 1920s generation. She baffles her elders and even shocks the servants. I love that in some of her scenes, with where she likes to go or the music she’s playing in her room, it’s as if we’re suddenly watching Boardwalk Empire. It’s strange when you consider that the worlds of Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire essentially exist simultaneously.

(played by Maggie Smith)
Early in season four, Matthew’s mourning mother Isobel (Penelope Wilton) is wondering about her place in all of this. She no longer is a mother, she laments, which in her mind means she isn’t much of anything. But the Dowager Countess points out that Isobel still is a grandmother. When Isobel says she doesn’t want to interfere with Lady Mary and her infant son, the Dowager Countess drolly observes, “It’s the job of grandmothers to interfere.” Wouldn’t you love to be the Dowager Countess, even for just a day?