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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

Sons of Anarchy pay a visit to Z Nation on a Package Deal and it isn’t Utopia; television’s must-sees this week

- September 7th, 2014

Z Nation

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Sept. 7

1 Boardwalk Empire
Fifth and final season debut
Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) recalls his roots as a poor kid in Atlantic City while simultaneously plotting his next move in the event that Prohibition is repealed.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

2 Sons of Anarchy
Seventh and final season debut
Jax (Charlie Hunnam) eschews legitimacy and makes vengeance a club priority, while Gemma (Katey Sagal) and Juice (Theo Rossi) continue their unholy alliance of secrets.
When: Tuesday on Super Channel

3 Z Nation
Debut (pictured above)
No, the “Z” in this case does not stand for zebras or zeppelins or zippers or Zooey Deschanel. It’s more zombies, dammit, in a new series starring Tom Everett Scott.
When: Friday on Space

4 CCMA Awards
Live
Rick Mercer and Jann Arden host the annual Canadian country music hardware handout. Performers include Autumn Hill, Gord Bamford, Terri Clark and The Road Hammers
When: Sunday on CBC, CMT

5 Package Deal
Season-two debut
Sheldon (Harland Williams) and Ryan (Jay Malone) aren’t amused when they find out Danny (Randal Edwards) went to see the new James Bond movie with Kim (Julia Voth).
When: Friday on City

6 Hell’s Kitchen
Season-13 debut
Eighteen aspiring chefs are split into two teams. The winners this week spend time with Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck. The losers set up the living arrangements.
When: Wednesday on Fox, City

7 Fashion Rocks
Live
Ryan Seacrest hosts a concert honouring the relationship between fashion and music. Like, that needs to be honoured? Performers include The Band Perry, Duran Duran and Kiss.
When: Tuesday on CBS, Global

8 Love Prison
Debut
A carefree bachelor and a single mother who’ve “dated” online for six months finally meet in person, spending a week together on an island. Hey, what could go wrong, Gilligan?
Monday on A&E

9 The Biggest Loser: Glory Days
Debut
Twenty former athletes, including NFLers Scott Mitchell and Damien Woody, and Olympic gold medal-winning tennis player Zina Garrison, aim to regain control of their lives.
When: Thursday on NBC, Yes TV

10 Utopia
Debut
Fifteen pioneer wannabes move to a remote location where they begin the process of creating their own civilization from scratch. First rule: Telemarketing is forbidden.
When: Sunday, Tuesday and Friday on Fox, City

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Tony Soprano never died: David Chase

- August 27th, 2014

Did Tony Soprano die?

It’s a question Sopranos fans have been pondering for eight years, the topic of heated debates in the middle of empty dive diners at two thirty in the morning.

Okay, maybe the last part was just my specific group of friends.

Regardless, legendary showrunner and creator David Chase finally confessed that Tony hadn’t died after the screen faded to black at the end of the show’s sixth season.

“No, he isn’t [dead],” Chase told Vox’s Martha P. Nochimson, shaking his head.

Chase has been hounded for years by journalists, critics, fans, and other screenwriters alike for the answer to television’s proverbial finale.

There’s no rhyme or reason for why Chase finally admitted the answer behind closed doors now, but after almost a decade of constant battering and annoying pleading from both complete strangers and close compatriots, the simplest answer is probably the correct one: he was sick of it all.

As Nochimson explains in the profile of Chase, this was a man who fell in love with cinema, poetry, philosophy, and the carefree, do it yourself attitude of the ‘60s. He enjoyed crafting material that ignited imagination in its audience and for years felt nothing but disdain for the very medium he would be come famous for.

“Chase wasn’t just playing with our heads when he designed the conclusion of The Sopranos; he was part of the ongoing evolution of the American imagination,” Nochimson wrote.

Nochimson explained that at the end of the series, with Tony sitting morosely with his wife and son inside a New Jersey restaurant, ready to settle down and possibly leave behind his vicious illegal life, he’s entered his own version of hell after seasons of sifting through purgatory.

It’s all very Dante Alighieri, a comparison the high-browed Chase would gladly accept, I’m sure.

Chase admitted to Nochimson that poetry played a strong part in both the creation and the conclusion of HBO’s show, citing Edgar Allen Poe’s, “Dream Within a Dream” piece as the major inspiration for fading to black instead of producing a more conclusive end.

Other key inspirations came in the form of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, a show that played heavily with dreamscapes and fantastical sequences that marveled television audiences.

It was important to Chase that The Sporanos end on a high, and most importantly, positive note. A picture of Tony Soprano the family man, not the blood stained, maliciously maelovant  monster that he sometimes appeared to be.

The finale is a contradiction that asks a little something out of its audience, Chase explained. Life is full of contradictions, much like Tony’s. Good versus evil, right versus wrong, personal ambition and gain versus the betterment of others. The decision to fade to black was a simple one for that very reason.

At the end of the day, was Tony a monster or a beloved family man?

The debate that sparks from that very question, even in the dingiest of dive bars at two in the morning, is exactly what Chase wanted.

Update: David Chase’s PR team alleged Wednesday night that Chase’s answer was “misconstrued” and taken out of context. According to Chase, “To continue to search for this answer is fruitless. The final scene of THE SOPRANOS raises a spiritual question that has no right or wrong answer,” the press release stated.

Vox has yet to respond to the allegations that they changed the quote to fit their story.

This story will be updated as details come to light.

SPOILER ALERT: Finale details, as True Blood has been spilled for the last time

- August 24th, 2014

true-blood-season-7-teaser-trailer

The series finale of True Blood turned into a sequel of sorts.

So consider this a SPOILER ALERT if you don’t want to know what happened in the finale, which aired Sunday night on HBO and HBO Canada. But if you saw it, you understand that the episode would have fit snugly within the Kill Bill collection of movies. Call it, Kill Bill: Volume III.

The main drama in the finale turned out to be a battle of love, and wills, between Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin).

Bill was dying from “hepatitis V,” and had refused the cure, thinking he was doing Sookie a favour by finally getting out of her life in a permanent way. The twist, though, was that he asked Sookie to kill him with her “fairy light,” which would have put him out of his misery and also turned her into a normal girl, which is what she claimed she always wanted.

Ultimately, yes, Sookie killed Bill, with a little help from Bill himself. But they did it the old-fashioned way, with a stake. Sookie came to the conclusion that being a fairy is what she was meant to be, and she actually didn’t want to give it up.

Now, had it been up to me, True Blood would have ended with Sookie walking away from the cemetery.

But there was a flash-forward “happy ending” tacked on, with Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) and Pam (Kristin Bauer van Straten) getting rich off “New Blood,” and everyone gathered for a happy thanksgiving three years down the line, including the previously departed Sam (Sam Trammell). Sookie was pregnant with the baby of a mystery guy, but I suppose he was meant to be just the random “normal dude” that Bill Compton never could be.

In other developments, after an entire season building up Mr. Gus (Will Yun Lee) and his evil henchmen, they all were eliminated with relative ease within minutes of the start of the finale. That whole plot line was kind of ridiculous. And by the way, now that I think of it, why were Eric and Pam so keen on stealing Mr. Gus’ idea about “New Blood?” Why do vampires need to make money? Can’t they just take whatever they need, including vast sums of cash? Oh well, side point, not to ruin the mood.

Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) and Hoyt (Jim Parrack) got married. They’re living in Bill’s house, which he left to Andy (Chris Bauer), on the condition that he rent it to Jessica and Hoyt at a decidedly below-market rate. And also in the flash-forward, Jason (Ryan Kwanten) and Brigette (Ashley Hinshaw) had a mess of kids, but overall it seemed pretty manipulative to add Brigette to the mix with just a few episodes remaining in the series, merely as a closure device for Jason.

Regardless, after seven seasons, True Blood is gone. In the end, even though it broke her heart in the short term, Sookie had to “kill Bill” to be happy in the long term.

There will be no more sequels. Blood has been spilled. TV is a little less red.

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv