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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

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

Season finale; Aya Cash knows nobody’s perfect – literally – in You’re The Worst

- September 17th, 2014

Aya Cash as Gretchen Cutler

A lot of things came into focus for me when I saw Gretchen’s apartment in You’re The Worst. Regardless of the fact that my first instinct was to turn my head.

The place where Aya Cash’s Gretchen lives is a disaster area of Biblical proportions. And I thought to myself, if this were a standard sitcom or comedy movie, it would be the guy’s place in disgusting disarray.

Not that Chris Geere’s selfish and insensitive Jimmy is perfect in any way. But it says something in a wider sense about You’re The Worst, which airs its first-season finale Thursday, Sept. 18 on FXX Canada, as well as channel-of-origin FX in the United States.

“To have a show where there’s real gender parity in terms of the bawdiness and the debauchery is great,” Cash said. “I think we also want girls to be pretty and cute and accessible a lot, and this is an opportunity to have a woman who is not afraid to get dirty and ugly and messy.

“I really appreciate that, because I think we need more women in our culture presented as all sorts of women, as opposed to just sort of the palatable sweet things we’re supposed to be. The representations that we see are often that.

“So this is really fun to be part of and to play. Perfect characters are boring characters.”

Well, I can say with 100% certainty that there are no perfect characters in You’re The Worst.

Gretchen is a publicist for a fairly successful rap artist. Jimmy has had a novel published, titled Congratulations, You’re Dying. So they’re both accomplished at a certain level, but their careers have kind of stalled. Or maybe Gretchen and Jimmy have stalled as human beings, and their careers are innocent victims.

Gretchen and Jimmy both are rebels without a cause. They both seem kind of angry at life, or at least they’re really disappointed in it, to the point that they have zero expectations of themselves or others. They’re into fun, as long as it’s nothing more than that. Neither of them really knows what they want, but they both seem to be quite clear about what they don’t want, and that’s a normal romantic relationship.

When Gretchen and Jimmy first hooked up to start having sex on a regular basis – for God’s sake, don’t call them boyfriend and girlfriend – their respective friends figured it would end horribly. And certainly, heading into the 10th and final episode of the first season, things have busted apart for Gretchen and Jimmy.

The penultimate episode actually had some very dramatic moments. But make no mistake, You’re The Worst is a comedy, and one that has made me laugh quite a few times as the season progressed. The series pleasantly surprised me by having a lot of layers to it – thanks also to Kether Donohue, who plays Lindsay, and Desmin Borges, who plays Edgar – rather than merely being about how badly these people can behave.

“I think my sense of humour probably matches Gretchen’s a little – I can be very blunt,” said Cash, who had a small role as Leonardo DiCaprio’s assistant in The Wolf of Wall Street, has done some episodic TV work on shows such as The Newsroom and Law & Order: SVU, and was a regular on the short-lived Fox sitcom Traffic Light back in 2011.

“But (Gretchen) is also such a heightened version of someone that I might have become at 17, and didn’t. So I feel like I’m living out sort of a ‘step that way’ life that I did not lead, and I’m probably a healthier human being for it.

“I’m always interested in doing things that are surprising. I wouldn’t say shocking is the goal, but I think surprising is more interesting. If you’ve seen the same thing 20 times, you’re not going to laugh at it. So maybe it’s more interesting to see something that’s slightly different. And that makes it more fun.”

I agree with Aya Cash. You’re The Worst is slightly different. And yes, that makes it more fun.

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