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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

Mad Men and Orphan Black’s clones visit Fargo; must-sees for the week of April 13

- April 11th, 2014

Jon Hamm as Don Draper

Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of April 13

1 Orphan Black
Season-two debut: Clone-based series sees Tatiana Maslany returning in her signature role as Sarah. And Rachel. And Cosima. And Alison. And on and on and on. I hope Maslany is getting paid accordingly.
When: Saturday on Space

2 Fargo
Debut: This is not a direct remake of the Academy Award-winning movie, but rather a new story, “inspired by” the original. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Lorne Malvo, a dangerous drifter with a cruel sense of humour.
When: Tuesday on FX Canada and FXX Canada

3 Mad Men
Seventh-season debut: This technically is the final “season” for this acclaimed series, but it’s airing over two years, just like Breaking Bad. Last we saw Don Draper (Jon Hamm, pictured above), he was out of a job. Poor ugly schmuck.
When: Sunday on AMC

4 MTV Movie Awards
Live: Conan O’Brien hosts yet another annual hardware handout. So does this officially bring an end to “awards season?” Regardless, scheduled presenters include Kate Upton and Mila Kunis, so count me in.
When: Sunday on MTV

5 Vegas Rat Rods
Debut: No, this isn’t about an infestation of rats in Sin City and the questionable methods used to control them. Rather, it focuses on a company called Welder Up, which specializes in crazy vehicles known as “rat rods.”
When: Thursday on Discovery

6 When Calls the Heart
Canadian debut: Family drama based on a book series by Janette Oke, this stars Erin Krakow as Elizabeth Thatcher, a 19th-century, high-society teacher suddenly living in a coal town. Also with Lori Loughlin.
When: Wednesday on Super Channel

7 Mom
First-season finale: Christy (Anna Faris) and Bonnie (Allison Janney) try to help an emotional Violet (Sadie Calvano) through labour. This series has been renewed, so time to buy some cutesy baby clothes.
When: Monday on CBS, City

8 Unusually Thicke
Debut with back-to-back episodes: This is a reality show with Alan Thicke, his young wife Tanya, and his three sons, including pop star Robin Thicke. I’ll bet Robin gets into more mischief than Kirk Cameron on Growing Pains.
When: Wednesday on Slice

9 Californication
Debut of seventh and final season: As usual, Hank (David Duchovny) is desperate to reunite with his eternal love Karen (Natascha McElhone), while Charlie (Evan Handler) is overcome by performance anxiety.
When: Sunday on The Movie Network, Monday on Movie Central

10 Nurse Jackie
Sixth-season debut: Jackie (Edie Falco) is “using” again. And lo and behold, she is getting her drugs at the gym. You know, this show seemed a lot more daring and shocking before Rob Ford dulled our senses.
When: Sunday on The Movie Network, Monday on Movie Central

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv

Nobody picked Jon Hamm on this ’90s dating show

- April 4th, 2014

Despite his luscious Zack Morris-style  locks, Jon Hamm was rejected for the douche-bro competition on the ’90s game show The Big Date.

The video, unearthed by Lighthearted Entertainment, shows the Mad Men star promising to deliver “fabulous food, fabulous conversation” topped off with ” a fabulous foot massage.” It sounds pretty effing fabulous to me.

But, alas, the contestant misses out on her chance to spend “an evening of total fabulosity” with the future Don Draper and instead chooses the stuntman who vows  to “treat her like a lady” (barf) and  show her his “flexibility” (barf barf).

Better than the Sugar Ray-looking dude whose date plans include a trip to Vegas followed by a series of extreme sports, I guess.

h/t Huffington Post

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax to Childrens Hospital in the Klondike? TV must-sees for the week of Jan. 19

- January 18th, 2014

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Bill Harris’ TV must-sees for the week of Jan. 19

1 The Following
Second-season debut: The story picks up a year later. Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) has tried to get on with his life. But he becomes obsessed with the notion that Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is still alive.
When: Sunday on Fox, CTV

2 Klondike
Debut: Big-buzz mini-series about the 1897 gold rush airs three nights in a row. Stars Richard Madden, who is best known as Robb Stark on Game of Thrones. Um, guess he had some time on his hands.
When: Monday on Discovery

3 MasterChef Canada
Debut: A Canadian version of the international series that gives home chefs a chance to be tasty. The judges are Michael Bonacini, Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile. Please make your own poutine jokes.
When: Monday on CTV

4 Rake
Debut: Greg Kinnear stars as Keegan Deane, a charming, optimistic and brilliant criminal defence attorney. The thing is, he rarely applies any of that trademark brilliance to his own stormy personal life.
When: Thursday on Fox, Global

5 Sleepy Hollow
Two-hour, first-season finale: Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) uncover a secret in George Washington’s Bible. Wow, talk about sentences I never thought I’d type.
When: Monday on Fox, Global

6 Childrens Hospital
Fifth-season Canadian debut: I always have loved this hilarious series from Rob Corddry that spoofs the medical-drama genre. Guest-stars in the first episode of the new season include Mad Men’s Jon Hamm.
When: Wednesday on Much

7 NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other
Debut: Of particular interest heading into the Sochi Olympics, as well as more NHL event-style games, this series follows two dozen top players in that “behind the scenes” style that’s all the rage.
When: Thursday on CBC

8 Looking
Debut: Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez and Murray Bartlett star as a trio of San Francisco friends, exploring the varied personal and professional options available to a new generation of gay men.
When: Sunday on HBO Canada

9 Brave New Girls
Debut: Reality series follows the glamourous life of transgender model Jenna Talackova, who became famous when she took on Donald Trump for the right to compete in the Miss Universe pageant.
When: Sunday on E!

10 Lizzie Borden Took an Ax
Debut: Christina Ricci plays the title character, who was charged with the gory murder of her father and stepmother in 1892. Her headline-grabbing trial made Lizzie the O.J. Simpson or Amanda Knox of her day.
When: Saturday on Lifetime

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca

@billharris_tv