Archive for category TV Sitcoms

Miss Piggy and Reese Witherspoon Battle it Out on ‘The Muppets’

Caution: This review contains spoilers.

Leave it to Miss Piggy to use something seemingly straightforward as charity work as a vehicle for revenge on The Muppets. In “Walk the Swine,” Piggy is determined to outdo Reese Witherspoon. She lost out to the Oscar-winning actress for the memorable role on Walk the Line. As Kermit points out, Piggy’s grudges are not pretty, perhaps with the exception of the fake grudge towards Natalie Portman.

Piggy and Witherspoon get competitive at Habitat for Humanity the next day, complete with the classic Piggy karate. They knock a wall down during an ensuing scuffle, a spat that is caught on camera by the media. “How could something like revenge on a person take such a dark turn?” Piggy laments to Kermit as the fallout emerges. Even if Piggy is so self-centered, one can’t help but feel sorry for her. It’s wonderfully played, but never forget that she is always plotting something.

The Muppets

Photo credit: ABC

What’s interesting here is that Piggy’s jealousy helps tie together a thread that is much less forced than previous episodes. Her self-centered tendencies are clear in many moments, such as “Hello, Humanity!” and mistaking a surveyor for a cameraman. Everything is wrapped up when Witherspoon returns to Piggy’s show, a segment that puts a positive light on revenge. The new contest is to present a better apology (forget intentions), marking Piggy’s triumph in a Broadway number. Sorry, Reese, but Piggy’s rap at the end was quite brilliant.

“Muppets” is a program that succeeds when celebrity guests have clear and simple roles rather than elaborately contrived ones. Viewers should not be scratching their heads and asking, “Why is he/she here again?” It’s why Reese Witherspoon’s guest appearance this week and Ed Helms’s cameo last week are so welcome. Focusing on Piggy’s celebrity status is not new as we move along this season, but the jokes with Witherspoon are of better quality. It’s easier to love moments like, “Look, sweet home Alabama” and “Did you see my movie Wild? I did all my walking!” Kermit is excellently pulled in as the hopeless mediator; he’s better suited to contending with nail-biting moments (literally) rather than his earlier portrayals as a mere whiner.

That being said, the side stories were not as wholly successful this week. The stronger arc is Fozzie’s new stand-up routine, adding jokes about his girlfriend, Becky (Riki Lindhome). The Muppets at the studio get yet another opportunity to break into song, making the bear weepy with Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.” Scooter’s car accident and his discussions with Rizzo the Rat offered very little comic relief beyond the coffee food truck. Nonetheless, “The Muppets” continues to improve.

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Review: ‘The Muppets’ Premiere Offers Few Laughs

“The Muppets” have returned to television on ABC, centering its plot on the behind-the-scenes activities with a show, “Up Late with Miss Piggy.” As might be expected, Miss Piggy comes out in full force as a veritable drama queen, rejecting Kermit’s booking of Elizabeth Banks (“30 Rock”) for one evening. Kermit, the executive producer, feels exasperated for most of the episode as he corrects the crew in staff meetings. It ends up leaving one rather disappointed about a comeback that fails to hit the mark.

The Muppets

Photo credit: ABC

Styled in a mockumentary format, the jokes seem particularly forced with innuendo that does little to raise a laugh. Kermit’s frustrations also don’t rouse much sympathy but instead come off as tiresome. Much has been made in recent weeks concerning the breakup between Kermit and Piggy. Fans are perplexed about the frog’s new choice for a girlfriend, Denise from ABC Marketing. She might be a nice pig, but Kermit’s fascination with her and the flirting are flat out awkward to watch.

In spite of the dragging of the major thread here, two or three small scenes prove to be fun. First, there’s a screen test with Elizabeth Banks and Miss Piggy for “Hunger Games,” in which Piggy latches onto the “hungry” aspect rather than the popular novel series. Fozzie Bear is worried about impressing his girlfriend’s parents, who are quite rightly astonished at finding him to be a bear. He admits to getting his fish at Costco. Later on, Scooter and Elizabeth Banks have a fight on the studio lot.

Kermit turns out to be in the wrong and makes his apologies to Piggy. Both characters are still hurt by the breakup and working together on a show will continue to be a challenge. Overall, “The Muppets” on ABC is a far cry from the more uplifting and entertaining Muppets film of 2011. Tom Bergeron (“Dancing With the Stars”), Imagine Dragons, and Gonzo contribute lines, but all three are sorely underused in this episode. Throwing in cameos for the sake of a cameo is a waste of time for everyone. The program also needs to develop its own style, rather than simply being a tired amalgamation of “The Office” and “30 Rock.” Thus far it’s not a promising start, but don’t count “The Muppets” out yet on ABC.

“The Muppets” airs on Tuesday evenings at 8|7c.

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Looking Ahead to San Diego Comic-Con: Thursday Edition

Comic-Con will be in full swing come Thursday, July 9. If you were fortunate to snag a badge to the biggest convention in San Diego, which panels should you attend? Let’s run through a few must-sees:

“Hand of God”

In this Amazon series, Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Hellboy”) plays a corrupt judge who may be “in the midst of a religious epiphany” after a family tragedy. It’s now a question of whether he’ll continue along the same course or try to do the right thing. It’s a full panel with Perlman, Ben Watkins (“Burn Notice”), Garret Dilahunt (“Justified”), Andre Royo (“Happyish”), Alona Tal (“Supernatural”), Julian Morris (“Pretty Little Liars”), Emayatzy Corinealdi (“Criminal Minds”), and Elizabeth McLaughlin (“Betrayal”). From the trailer, could it potentially fill the void left by the cancellation of Kelsey Grammar’s “Boss” a while ago?

“The Player” Sneak Peek and Q&A

This new NBC drama premieres in the fall. It’s no surprise that the high stakes chase after criminals feels somewhat like “The Blacklist,” because the same executive producers are on the project. Philip Winchester plays successful security tester and agent Alex Kane, whose life is turned upside down by the death of his wife. His adversary and quasi new employer is the enigmatic and smooth Mr. Johnson, portrayed by Wesley Snipes. Catch this sneak peek and the ensuing discussion!

“Doctor Who” Q&A The stars of “Doctor Who” are coming to Comic-Con! It’ll be Peter Capaldi’s first appearance at SDCC this summer. He’ll be there along with Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, and Steven Moffat. Missy is due back for Season 9, but I wouldn’t expect Steven Moffat to be forthcoming with spoilers. Will Peter Capaldi share any surprising facts and possibly outdo last year’s reveal about how he turned down a “Doctor Who” audition years ago?

“Sherlock”

Later on Thursday afternoon, Steven Moffat will address another segment of the BBC America fan base: the “Sherlock” fans! Will there be any more light shed upon the Victorian special? Also joining him are executive producer Sue Vertue and Rupert Graves, who plays DI Greg Lestrade.

While there’s a plethora of things to do at San Diego Comic-Con, you’ll miss out if you don’t put these panels as a priority. For a complete list of Thursday’s programming, visit the SDCC website. Check back soon and we’ll run through Friday’s program schedule.

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Review: ‘HAPPYish’ Premiere is More of a Tragedy than Comedy

Steve Coogan plays the role of Thom Payne in

What’s the key to happiness? Steve Coogan plays the role of Thom Payne in “HAPPYish” in a new series. Photo: Showtime

Caution: This review contains spoilers on the first episode of “HAPPYish.”

There seems to be a fascination with covering the world of advertising and new marketing. Sure, there’s the social media obsession, but it’s more or less overkill to situate an entire television series in that world. 2013 brought us “The Crazy Ones,” which at least started well on CBS. Then last year, ABC brought “Black-ish,” which some may argue, adds the element of being African American to the mix; however, I find it often disintegrates to low humor and gimmicks. The most recent (and hardly improved) endeavor comes from Showtime in Shalom Auslander’s “HAPPYish.”

The comedy-drama focuses on Thom Payne (Steve Coogan), who has reached his 44th birthday. He’s got a great job as a creative director for MGT, a marketing agency. Two Swedes (Nils Lawton and Tobias Segal) are now his bosses, a move that leaves everyone fearful of losing their jobs. His immediate supervisor, Jonathan (Bradley Whitford), advises him to “rebrand” himself and follow whatever the Swedes say.

Thom is married to his lovely wife, Lee (Kathryn Hahn), and they have a cute son, Julius (Sawyer Shipman). Perhaps he should be happy, but he isn’t. That feeling isn’t being helped by the questions about his relevance. His friend, Dani (Ellen Barkin), insists that everyone has a “joy ceiling” and maxes out on happiness.

The name Thomas Payne seems to be a harkening back to the more significant man in history (albeit with a slightly different spelling of Paine), who penned “Common Sense” and inspired the American Founding Fathers. Auslander evokes those allusions right away by bringing Mount Rushmore and the head of Thomas Jefferson into the opening frames. Yet, this Thom Payne is of a different sort of mettle. A discussion leader at the local gym poses the question, “How many of you think Thom Payne is capable of revolt?” Unsurprisingly, that’s a resounding “No” by the group of young people. The references to Jefferson, Camus (listed in the opening credits), and others comprise perhaps the most clever aspect of this premiere installment.

Indeed, Thom’s frustration finally boils over into a workout enhancer-induced rant and a very bizarre (and graphic) dream featuring the Keebler Elves. Keebler really could have done better than “HAPPYish.” It all results in a show that is laden with the overused mid-life crisis theme, stereotypical career woes and personalities, and plenty of time for big brands to have their names dropped in rapid succession. “HAPPYish” offers a couple of promising moments, but it emits a sense of arrogance and anger that is more likely to chase away rather than draw in viewers before Thom even has a chance to engage in any substantive or game changing revolt.

The “HAPPYish” premiere was first released on Youtube. The series debuts on Showtime on Sunday evening, April 26, at 9:30|8:30c.

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‘Fortitude’ Season One Finale is Hardly a Buzzworthy Finish

Caution: This post contains spoilers. “Fortitude” is for mature audiences only.

After such a gain of momentum throughout the first season, “Fortitude” descends into quite a lackluster series of events in its finale. Many of you who have stuck with each installment may also be mourning the loss of arguably the best character, DCI Eugene Morton (Stanley Tucci), in the penultimate episode. I’d been dreading that outcome, too, yet it was expected that Henry Tyson (Michael Gambon), another fantastic character, would eventually crack entirely and wreak havoc. When these characters, particularly the former, are not present, both are greatly missed. Meanwhile, the scientific investigations have led to another dissection, showing that the psychotic and murderous tendencies of some townspeople could be traced back to parasitic wasp larvae.

The finale picks up here, with Vincent (Luke Treadaway) in a desperate situation as wasps emerge from the body of Dr. Allerdyce. (Phoebe Nicholls of “Downton Abbey” never gets a break in this series, does she?) He formulates a plan of triggering a gas explosion to destroy the wasps. It’s a laughable scene though: how does he survive a huge blast that knocks Dan Anderssen (Richard Dormer) off his feet? Also, it appears that the Ichneumon wasps did not infect Vincent, but we’ll know for sure later on. Is it possible to develop a better weapon to use against the wasps? Flamethrowers are neat, but it doesn’t seem wise to set fire to all of Fortitude.

Unfortunately, Elena (Verónica Echegui) has been infected and acts strangely by smearing jam on her face. Her decision to handcuff herself is also unsettling; was she trying to protect Carrie (Elizabeth Dormer-Phillips)? It’s not enough to stop her from attacking the young girl. Dan arrives and he is forced to shoot Elena to thwart her psychotic intentions, despite his vow in the previous episode that he would never hurt her. Will he ultimately kill himself for harming Elena? When Elena wakes up, will she try to harm herself for hurting Carrie? The cycle just continues on the downward spiral, as seen with Jason (Aaron McCusker), who couldn’t deal with the violence replaying in his head from what he unleashed on Ronnie (Johnny Harris).

The other relationships in this series do not feel as strong. There’s a bit of a happy ending for Hildur and Eric when he returns with the drill. It’s debatable whether that fits the tone of the show or if it’s believable, given how set Hildur (Sofie Gråbøl) was on cutting ties with Eric (Björn Hlynur Haraldsson). It’s possible that she’s holding onto whatever she can, because the glacier hotel has slipped from her grasp. Her control over the town has also loosened as fear and panic have crept in.

The wasp explanation was not particularly astonishing in itself. (The actual wasps emerging from Dr. Allerdyce is an entirely different story.) There were hints dropped nearly every episode in everything from the repeated shots of the mammoth to the soundtrack complete with fluttering and buzzing noises.

More importantly, what makes “Fortitude” compelling and amazing to watch is the superb camera work that is used to bring the town and Arctic region to life as well as to make us squirm in our seats with trepidation. On the one hand, there are so many sweeping shots of the landscapes; Dan’s last words about his obsession with Elena might easily describe what one might say about the majestic mountains around Fortitude.

Photo Credit: Pivot

Photo Credit: Pivot

At the same time, there are also repeated sequences wherein nature dwarfs man and even isolates him from civilization. Take for instance, one of the last frames at the close of the finale. Even though Dan stands above the town, the haze and smoke almost seem to taunt him. Despite being in a position of authority as sheriff, he is still rather powerless to get things under control.

Dan surveys the damage in Fortitude. Photo credit: Pivot

Dan surveys the damage in Fortitude. Photo credit: Pivot

Such imagery also appears to be a play on the ruckenfigur, a visual trope made popular by the Romantic landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich. We’re invited to join Dan in his state of powerlessness, shock, and horror at what’s transpired in the past 12 episodes. In spite of its name, Fortitude has not weathered these storms well.

With the news of another season for “Fortitude,” one wonders what will come next, since many of the characters have died already. Richard Dormer is perhaps the next strongest actor in the cast, but I don’t think he can carry an entire season on his own shoulders. Both Hildur and Morton have said that others will come from London or the mainland; that casting decision may be pivotal in determining whether the second season will succeed. (Naturally, I couldn’t resist using the word “pivotal,” considering that distribution rights are held by the Pivot network!) Or will we end up with a situation like “Broadchurch,” where the first season was stellar overall and then the second season just left everyone scratching their heads? I am hoping that the creative team behind “Fortitude” will come through and deliver more surprises and “fun” next season.

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News: ‘Veep’ Creator’s Surprising Departure, an Advance Screening of ‘Mr. Holmes,’ and More

If you’re wondering what on Earth happened to my blog, rest assured that I will return to the full swing of things by the end of next week. I’m working on my debut interview project on film with a planned release date of April 15th.

Anyway, let’s touch on a couple news stories that are circulating today. Firstly, there is the surprise announcement that Armando Iannucci will be leaving “Veep” after 4 seasons, as reported in an exclusive release by The Hollywood Reporter. The creator of the HBO series is returning to the U.K. where his family still lives. David Mandel has been put forward as Iannucci’s replacement.

While “Veep” fans may be shocked, if anyone pays attention to the U.K. press, the development is perhaps not so astonishing. It’s potentially an occasion for “Doctor Who” fans to celebrate. Nearly 3 weeks ago, The Guardian reported that Iannucci wants to write an episode of “Doctor Who” for Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor. Such a venture would likely bode well for the BBC series because it’s a reunion of the creative masters that brought us both “The Thick of It” and “In the Loop.”

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Is “Doctor Who” getting the “Malcolm Tucker Experience” anytime soon? (Personal Photo)

Will the Doctor channel more of Malcolm Tucker, spin doctor and “dark lord of 10 Downing Street,” if Iannucci gets his chance to pen an installment? In the eighth season premiere, the Doctor knew he’d seen a face similar to his regeneration; is it an opportunity for Steven Moffat and others revisit the question with Armando Iannucci? Fans of those shows might relish it, but these aren’t angles that need particular embellishment, as both Malcolm and the Doctor are imposing enough figures on their own terms.

Lest I delve too much into the realm of speculation, let’s move on to the second piece of interesting news: Sir Ian McKellen has been cast as Cogsworth in the live-action film, “Beauty and the Beast.” Again, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed the details for a film that already boasts a star-studded cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and more. Now in his 75th year, McKellen displays no signs of slowing down. If you’re in the San Francisco area, you’ll want to book tickets to the advance screening of “Mr. Holmes” later this month. McKellen plays a 90 year-old version of the famous detective, based on Mitch Cullin’s novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind.” He comes off as a very aged but still impressive Holmes in the promotional tweet below:

The news about both Iannucci and McKellen could make for some very riveting releases in the near future. Stay tuned for updates and more discussions!

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TV Review: Polar Bear Gives Answers in ‘Fortitude’

Caution: This review contains major spoilers on the eighth episode of “Fortitude.”

DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) peers in a window in

DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) peers in a window in “Fortitude.” Photo: Sky/Tiger Aspect Productions

If you haven’t watched the new Arctic thriller “Fortitude,” you are missing an amazing and riveting series. Unfortunately, it’s not a program that airs on cable television in the United States, but rather through the millennial-targeted distributor Pivot TV or through streaming afterwards on the Xfinity service. UK viewers can watch on Sky Atlantic. I’d mentioned “Fortitude” before its premiere in an earlier post and it’s a relief that the series delivers the quality that the previews appeared to promise. It traces a series of murder investigations by outsider DCI Morton (Stanley Tucci) in the town of Fortitude, which hasn’t been hit by any murders before. As we might expect, the supposedly quaint but freezing locale is rife with secrets.

This week, the scientific research of Vincent (Luke Treadaway) and Natalie (Sienna Guillory) continues to grow as a convincing and alarming explanation behind the odd behavior of both Shirley (Jessice Gunning) and Liam (Darwin Brokenbro) in the attacks (and murder for the latter) on Dr. Allerdyce (Phoebe Nichols) and Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston). Read the rest of this entry »

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