FX’s Fargo recaptures spirit of the Coens’ film

Billy Bob Thornton stars in Fargo.

Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton stars as a hired killer with an eccentric notion of morality in ‘Fargo,’ premiering tonight on FX.

When I heard that FX was adapting the Oscar-winning movie Fargo into a 10-episode limited series, which premieres tonight, I felt a mixture of joy and apprehension.
On the one hand, Joel and Ethan Coen’s brilliant 1996 black comedy sits securely in my own private list of the five best American movies ever made. On the other, one of the reasons I loved it as much as I do is that Fargo was so defiantly its own thing, a movie that pretty much defied pigeonholing, I was skeptical it could be adapted to another medium.
Thankfully, series creator and executive producer Noah Hawley “gets” Fargo on every level, and his series uncannily captures the spirit and energy of the Coens’ classic, while striking off in its own direction. You won’t find police chief Marge Gunderson (Oscar winner Frances McDormand) or hapless car dealer Jerry Lundergaard (should-have-been-an Oscar winner William H. Macy) – or even a woodchipper, for that matter – in Fargo the series, but you’ll definitely recognize the distinctive combo platter of comedy, violence and Minnesota Nice.
Among its many new characters, Fargo first introduces us to Lorne Malvo (Academy Award winner Billy Bob Thornton), a laconic hit man whose latest gig goes south in the opening minutes of tonight’s pilot. While he collects himself and prepares to head to his next assignment, Lorne crosses paths with Lester Nygaard (Sherlock star Martin Freeman, making his American TV series debut), a sad-sack Bemidji, Minn., insurance salesman whose wife (Kelly Holden Bashar) belittles everything he does, especially compared to Lester’s much more successful younger brother. Poor Lester is such a meek loser that, even in middle age, he finds himself tormented regularly by Sam Hess (Kevin O’Grady), the bully who made his life a living hell back in high school.
In the way life so often would have it, while Lester is still trying desperately to meet his wife’s lifestyle expectations, Sam is now a local trucking executive married to a former Las Vegas stripper (Kate Walsh, so delightfully funny that I’m ready to forget the silly soapiness of Private Practice).
And while Lorne is, in some respects, a spiritual brother to Anton Chigurh, the stone-cold killer Javier Bardem played in No Country for Old Men, something about Lester’s plight stirs Lorne’s very peculiar sense of moral outrage. Unfortunately, as he tries to set things right for Lester, Lorne sets them both plummeting down a rabbit hole of violence and chaos.
FX very helpfully sent out the first four episodes of Fargo, but I don’t want to give up any more plot details, because this show, by its very nature, is packed with surprises. Time and again, a moment of laugh-out-loud comedy is shattered by a hideous act of violence, and vice versa.
And oh, the dialogue. Fargo is one of those gloriously “written” series, where the characters spout lines that soar just a bit higher than normal conversation. Consider this wonderful moment, near the end of tonight’s pilot, that takes place after smalltown Minnesota cop Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) pulls over Lorne for bombing through a stop sign. Lorne is driving Lester’s car, a fact that could be severely incriminating, especially after Gus asks for his license and registration – and we can tell Lorne is going to kill Gus if he presses the issue.
Locking eyes with Gus, Lorne replies in a level voice: “We could do it that way. You ask me for my papers, I tell you it’s not my car, that I borrowed it. See where it goes. Or you could get in your car and drive away. … Because some roads you shouldn’t go down. Maps used to say ‘There be dragons here.’ Now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons ain’t there.”
I’m not saying that the new FX adaptation of Fargo is as good as the Coens’ masterpiece, but it does have just as strong a creative sense of itself and a confidence to pull it off. I’ll be watching.
Martin Freeman stars in 'Fargo.'

British actor Martin Freeman makes his American TV series debut in ‘Fargo.’

Celebs explore climate change in Years of Living Dangerously

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford (left) is among the correspondents featured in the new Showtime documentary series ‘Years of Living Dangerously.’

Some of the world’s most respected journalists as well as celebrities from all points on the political spectrum explore the sometimes polarizing issue of climate change in Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part documentary series premiering tonight on Showtime.
Executive produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Weintraub, the series sends a battery of correspondents ranging from CBS newswoman Leslie Stahl (60 Minutes) to celebrities including Matt Damon and Harrison Ford to a number of locations around the globe to offer a first-person account on various contributing factors in this worldwide problem, as well as some of the devastating effects climate change is wreaking.
In tonight’s premiere, for example, Ford looks into how cutting down vast swathes of Earth’s forest results in higher temperatures and lowered rainfall due to increased carbon loads in the atmosphere, carbon that previously would have been absorbed by those decimated trees. The actor travels all the way to Indonesia, where entrepreneurs are burning down horrifying stretches of jungle trees to plant far less eco-friendly palm trees, in order to profit from the skyrocketing demand for palm oil.
Meanwhile, Don Cheadle (House of Lies) travels to Plainview, Texas, a small town that is feeling the sharp economic effects of an extended drought, which led to the closure of an industrial plant that provided jobs to thousands of locals. Cheadle meets many of these jobless Texans who, when asked about climate change, simply shrug and chalk it up to God’s will, rejecting the possibility that they can do anything to improve the situation.
Elsewhere, New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman points out how droughts and other manifestations of climate change can exacerbate sensitive political situations in such global pressure points as Egypt, Syria and Yemen.
Other contributors featured in upcoming weeks include Jessica Alba, America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Olivia Munn (The Newsroom), Ian Somerhalder (The Vampire Diaries) and MSNBC pundit Chris Hayes.
Years of Living Dangerously is immediately preceded by the season premieres of two long-running Showtime half-hour comedies that some might argue have passed their sell-by dates. First up, and the better show by far, is Nurse Jackie, with Edie Falco reprising her Emmy-winning role as New York nurse and addict Jackie Peyton. As fans of the show will remember, Jackie spent most of Season 5 clean and sober, trying earnestly to make amends to all the loved ones and hospital colleagues whose trust she had betrayed while in the grips of her addiction to narcotics. Then, in the season finale, Jackie casually and deliberately popped a pill right before heading out to a party honoring her first year of sobriety, standing before her cheering friends and family stoned out of her mind while accepting all their hugs and words of praise.
Nurse Jackie

Officer Frank Verelli (Adam Ferrara) gets a crash course in the down side of loving an addict (Edie Falco) in ‘Nurse Jackie.’

As Season 6 opens, Jackie is in a very bad place. Since that fateful night, she has popped pills like Pez and, as in Season 1 of the series, has returned to hiding emergency stashes of her pills in every conceivable hiding place. More chillingly, however, we watch as Jackie surrenders any pretense that she’s taking drugs for “legitimate” reasons such as work stress and chronic back pain. Jackie Peyton pops pills because she wants to, and God help anyone who tries to stop her. And Edie Falco, one of America’s finest actresses, throws caution to the winds and goes for it. If Jackie spent most of last season trying to reconnect with family and friends, she spends most of these new episodes ruthlessly and brutally dropping napalm on every personal relationship in her life. You want to slap her senseless, because in just about every meaningful context, Jackie finally has it all: an absolutely devoted new lover, New York cop Frank Verelli (Adam Ferrara), a newly supportive ex-husband (Dominic Fumusa), a worshipful co-worker (Emmy winner Merritt Wever’s Zoey), a trusting boss (Anna Deavere Smith) and, as this season unfolds, a reconciliation with her previously hostile older daughter, Grace (Ruby Jerins).
With the regrettable departure last season of Jackie’s best friend, Dr. Eleanor O’Hara (Eve Best), Jackie gets a new confidante in these new episodes in the form of 12-step sponsor Antoinette (Tony-winning Broadway champion Julie White, Go On), who shares Jackie’s decidedly casual attitude toward relapses. Another Tony winner, Laura Benanti (who came out of NBC’s polarizing live broadcast of The Sound of Music smelling like a rose, or edelweiss), also joins the show in a recurring role as the new fiancée of Jackie’s ex-husband, and theater actor Michael Esper gives a powerhouse performance as Gabe, Jackie’s new drug dealer and sometime date.
Showtime already has renewed Nurse Jackie for a seventh season and, given how this new one concludes, I am looking forward to seeing how the writers paint themselves OUT of the climactic corner.
Not so for the seventh and final season of Californication, which immediately follows Nurse Jackie. I haven’t followed this show for several years, since it always struck me as having a terminal case of arrested development. To be honest, I was surprised to discover it’s still on the air. I did, however, wade through last season’s episodes (you’re welcome) and the 12 episodes in this new season.
Guess what? Apparently I made the right call, because during my hiatus, Peter Pan – oops, sorry, David Duchovny’s aging writer Hank Moody – hasn’t experienced any significant personal growth. Sure, he regrets how his exasperated soulmate and baby momma, Karen (Natascha McElhone), is giving him the cold shoulder, but not enough to, God forbid, actually make any life changes.
Even worse, in Hank’s perspective, his bad behavior has rendered him persona non grata with professional colleagues across several different media, forcing him to accept a writing gig in – oh, the horror! – network television, a cheesy police drama called Santa Monica Cop.
Emmy winner Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) joins the cast this season in a recurring guest role as Rick Rath, the hard-driven producer of Hank’s show, and Heather Graham likewise guest stars as a figure out of Hank’s past.
As I watched these new episodes, though, I was struck more forcibly not by who was there but who wasn’t: the extraordinary Madeleine Martin, the young actress who up until last season co-starred as Hank and Karen’s teenage daughter, Becca. At the end of Season 6, Becca departed for a “literary pilgrimage,” and her absence is keenly felt. Forget hearts and minds. Californication has always remained tightly focused on the zone between navel and knee, but Martin’s Becca could make you stop and briefly worry about how this absolutely fantastic kid could ever thrive in an environment filled with such selfish adults.
Becca returns in the penultimate episode of Californication and, in a rare moment of emotional truth for this series, she absolutely throws the book at her dad. It’s a searing moment, worth checking out. You can safely skip the rest of it. After all, this is the kind of show that, in this new season, hires the always delightful Mary Lynn Rajskub to play a writer-producer and then gives her abundant food allergies so she just mainly keeps projectile vomiting at the other characters.
Stay classy, Californication!

Heather Graham (left) and ’24′ star Mary Lynn Rajskub join David Duchovny in the seventh and final season of Showtime’s Californication.

Tyler Labine fans may enjoy his new Deadbeat

'Deadbeat' on Hulu Plus.

Tyler Labine (‘Reaper’) and Cat Deeley (‘So You Think You Can Dance’) star as rival mediums in ‘Deadbeat,’ a supernatural comedy now streaming exclusively on Hulu Plus.

Canadian-born actor Tyler Labine has been acting for more than two decades, but the first time I really noticed him was in Shaun Cassidy’s provocative yet prematurely canceled 2005-06 sci-fi series Invasion. I became a big Labine fan while enjoying his hilarious work in the 2007-09 CW series Reaper, a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style supernatural comedy that found Labine and a buddy trying to outwit Satan himself (Ray Wise). Later, he held his own opposite the dazzling Judy Greer (Archer) in the shortlived 2011 CBS romantic comedy Mad Love.
Now Labine is back in Reaper mode (sort of) in Deadbeat, a new supernatural comedy that began streaming its first 10-episode season Wednesday exclusively on Hulu Plus. The show casts Labine as sad-sack New Yorker Kevin Pacalioglu (pronounced “pack-a-lee-OH-glu,” but just call him “Pac” like everyone else does). Pac is pretty much a slacker who is down on his luck. He has no family to speak of, it’s been eight years since he got lucky with a woman and his only friend is his drug dealer, Rufus “Roofie” Jones (Brandon T. Jackson from the Percy Jackson teen movie series).
Pac’s sole marketable skill is that he sees dead people. He’s a genuine medium, who is compassionate enough to take time to help restless souls wrap up the unfinished business that ties them to the mortal world. Unfortunately, he’s absolutely terrible when it comes to negotiating for his services, so he lives on the brink of financial disaster.
Pac doesn’t call a lot of attention to himself, but he still catches the eye of Camomile White (Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance), a beautiful clairvoyant whose sunny smile and camera-friendly personality conceal the fact that she’s a shameless fraud preying on the grief and superstition of others. Over the course of Season 1, Pac helplessly finds himself attracted to Camomile, who sees him only as a rival and a threat to her career.
It’s a fairly interesting set-up, but I’m not going to kid you, the first few episodes of Deadbeat are fairly deadly, playing like something that was dashed off by the writers at the end of a long night of drinking. When we first meet him, Pac is hard to root for, even as played by Labine. He’s a depressed mess, not to mention apparently an idiot who mangles even very common words and phrases (he actually pronounces “hymn” as “hymen”). The jokes are nothing special, either.
Weirdly, the second half of the season – starting with episode six, a Halloween-themed story that finds an interesting twist on the scary Bloody Mary urban legend – seems like a different show altogether. Pac stops acting quite so mentally disabled and the ghosts he meets are more interesting and start to connect in a meaningful way with Pac’s own journey. By the time we get to the end of the season, when we see Labine reunited with his old Reaper castmate Wise, the writers have taken Pac, Camomile and her mousy assistant, Sue (played by Lucy DeVito, daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman), to an interesting place and set up the potential for a fairly promising second season, if Hulu orders one.
As noted, though, to get there, you have to slog through some dismal creative flailing by the writers in the early episodes. If you’re a fan of Labine – or, for that matter, Deeley, who actually is very good working in stone-cold-bitch mode – it’s probably worth the effort. Otherwise, you probably can sit this one out.

My Bionic Pet makes for awww-some viewing

Chris P. Bacon

A Florida piglet born with deformed back legs is able to speed happily around his yard thanks to a prosthetic “wheelchair” in ‘My Bionic Pet,’ premiering tonight on PBS’ ‘Nature.’

Gather the whole family tonight for My Bionic Pet, a heartwarming and inspiring Nature episode on PBS that looks at how technological innovations – and human compassion – are giving disabled animals a new lease on life and happiness.
Granted, the cost of making and then surgically attaching prosthetic limbs to disabled animals can be considerable, but as this program shows, many kind souls, sometimes with fundraising assistance, have volunteered to adopt and care for these pets, who otherwise would be euthanized. Los Angeles friends Kathy Wyer and Elodie Lorenz, for example, decided to co-foster Roofus, a beautiful golden retriever who was found abandoned in a field as a puppy, blind and with deformed front legs. Thanks to a set of flexible metallic prosthetics, Roofus today is able to frolic freely around the yard with his canine playmates.
In some cases, the disabilities don’t even require expensive, high-tech solutions. Someone brought in a small piglet with deformed, functionally useless back legs to the Florida veterinary clinic of Dr. Len Lucero to have the little critter euthanized, but Lucero, immediately smitten, asked instead to adopt the animal himself. Using pieces from his son’s old toys, Lucero fashioned a tiny “wheelchair” that could be strapped to the piglet’s hindquarters. As My Bionic Pet delightfully shows, the little pig – whom Lucero somewhat questionably christened Chris P. Bacon – quickly adjusted to his “hind wheels” and today tears happily around his yard at a fearsome clip.
Molly the Pony

In New Orleans, a therapy pony with a prosthetic front leg consoles and inspires children who are struggling with disabilities of their own.

In New Orleans, Kaye Harris was impressed by the indomitable spirit of a little pony named Molly, who survived Hurricane Katrina only to lose the lower part of one of her legs to a vicious dog attack. Traditionally, a horse who has been hobbled by a serious injury to his hoof or leg is automatically put down, but instead Dwayne Mara of nearby Metairie, La., fashioned a simple prosthetic extension for the injured leg. If you visit the Crescent City, you may well catch a glimpse of Molly, who enjoys a full and active life as a therapy animal, often mingling with and cheering up small kids who are struggling to adjust to their own disabilities.
These days, nearly 1,000 animals a year are fitted with some form of prosthetic device, which often in turn leads to discoveries that are beneficial to human beings. Among other things, this growing practice reflects a shift in public attitude away from thinking of pets as objects rather than sensitive living creatures, especially as researchers continue to understand more and more about how complex an emotional range many of these animals experience. Subsequently, many animal lovers have begun to think of themselves as their pet’s guardian or companion, not owner.
“I think if we can save an animal and make that animal have a higher quality of life by giving them a prosthetic limb, then we are obligated to do it,” says Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “It sends the message that animals are not just there for our own entertainment and amusement.
“These animals aren’t things or property, like couches. They are sentient beings who have a right to a full and rich life.”
As always remember to check your local listings to see when My Bionic Pet airs on your local PBS affiliate.
"My Bionic Pet" on "Nature."

Los Angeles resident Kathy Wyer is the co-foster guardian of Roofus, a blind but cheerful golden retriever who enjoys free, high-energy mobility thanks to his metallic front leg extensions.

PBS’ glorious Dave Clark Five special is a must-see

The Dave Clark Five

Lead vocalist/keyboardist Mike Smith, guitarist Lenny Davidson, drummer Dave Clark, bassist Rick Huxley and saxophonist Denis Payton (from left) made up The Dave Clark Five during the band’s ’60s heyday.

The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over, a lively and music-packed two-hour Great Performances special premiering tonight on PBS, reminds us that three, not two, truly great British bands came out of the vibrant ’60s music scene.
Everyone remembers The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, of course, but a generation or two of American music lovers may not remember The Dave Clark Five, a group that had a phenomenal international run from 1964 to 1970 and powerfully influenced some of today’s leading musical artists, including Bruce Springsteen.
During their heyday, the band actually rivaled The Beatles in terms of both popularity and professional credibility, as fans debated the merits of the former’s so-called “Tottenham Sound” vs. the latter band’s well-known “Mersey Beat.” The Dave Clark Five may have been more clean-cut and conventionally handsome – especially drummer Clark and his frontman vocalist, Mike Smith – but as Springsteen and others note during the special, there was a power and a raw edge to their performances that neither of the other two superbands could match.
“It was just a much bigger sound than either the Stones or The Beatles,” Springsteen says.
Clark originally formed the group, comprised of gym buddies from the Tottenham community in North London, just as a fun way to earn some pocket money. The band quickly gained a following during their appearances at a London club, and shot to superstardom in 1964 after an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Although The Beatles had appeared on Sullivan’s show a few weeks earlier, The Dave Clark Five eventually would rack up a record-breaking 18 appearances on that hit variety series, and they embarked on a major U.S. tour in May 1964, before either The Beatles or the Stones, packing huge arenas everywhere they went. Their celebrity fans included Lucille Ball (who filmed a TV special with them), Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
When they weren’t touring, the band was in the studio, cranking out a series of best-selling albums and hit singles such as “Glad All Over,” “Because,” “I Like It Like That,” “Catch Us If You Can” and “Over and Over.” For a time The Dave Clark Five was even more successful in the U.S. than in their native Britain, until the group, exhausted, decided to suspend touring in 1967 and work exclusively from the U.K. After selling 100 million records, The Dave Clark Five disbanded in 1970.
The PBS special includes extensive performance footage from The Dave Clark Five’s appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, much of it not seen in decades, as well as home movies by members of the group. There are also newly filmed interviews with Paul McCartney, Elton John, Steven Van Zandt, Gene Simmons, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick, as well as fans Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Ian McKellen, among others.
A major highlight, however, is extensive footage from Tom Hank’s eloquent and ardent tribute to the band when they belatedly were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. By then, two of its members, the charismatic Smith and saxophonist Denis Payton, had died, but bass player Rick Huxley and guitarist Lenny Davidson joined Clark on stage to accept the prestigious honor before a cheering crowd.
Clark himself wrote, produced and directed The Dave Clark Five and Beyond – Glad All Over, which amounts to a nostalgic valentine to the four bandmates he clearly cherished, as well as reminding us of the great music this band produced. If you lived through their glory days, as I did, this special is an unforgettable time capsule. If you don’t remember The Dave Clark Five, it will be a revelation.
As always, be sure to check your local TV listings to confirm when this special is airing in your local market.
Tom Hanks and Dave Clark

Tonight’s special includes extensive footage from fan and friend Tom Hanks’ (left) eloquent tribute to The Dave Clark Five during the band’s 2008 installation into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Selina gears up her presidential run in new Veep season

Season 3 of 'Veep' premieres tonight on HBO.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (front and center) joins (from left) Reid Scott, Sufe Bradshaw, Matt Walsh, Timothy C. Simons, Tony Hale, Gary Cole and Anna Chlumsky in Season 3 of ‘Veep,’ premiering tonight on HBO.

Capping a very full night for HBO, the hilarious, Emmy-winning political sitcom Veep returns for its third season, which sees terrifyingly ambitious Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) launching her campaign to be president.
Each season of Veep has captured Selina at a different stage in her political career. Season 1 found her at her lowest, after a previous presidential bid flamed out and left her in the thankless role as second-in-command to the unseen POTUS, who never returned calls or dropped by her office. By Season 2, set after midterm elections that were disastrous for Selina’s (unspecified) political party, her fortunes started to turn once White House staff noticed that Selina was a first-class populist who could charm a crowd with such cornball mottos as “Freedom is not me-dom! It’s WE-dom!”
As Season 3 opens, Selina faces new hurdles before she can publicly announce her candidacy. First, POTUS refuses to announce he is not seeking re-election until the White House senior strategist Kent Davison (Gary Cole) finds a poll that indicates it’s advantageous to do so.
Second, she has to pick a campaign manager, and in-house rivals Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), Selina’s chief of staff, and Dan Egan (Reid Scott), her smarmy deputy director of communications, are competing bitterly for that position.
Finally, in tonight’s premiere, Selina’s team is dismayed by signs that an unexpected, more conservative contender for the nomination is getting ready to throw his hat into the ring.
Some of Selina’s other staff members have distractions of their own, however. Gary Walsh (Tony Hale, who won an Emmy last season), Selina’s doggedly loyal personal aide, is suffering from crippling shoulder pain that comes partly from toting around the massive bag in which he has packed every conceivable item Selina might need. Some of that pain may be psychological, however, since Gary is starting to fret about being a middle-aged bag-boy.
As for Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh), Selina’s director of communications, Season 3 opens with his wedding to girlfriend Wendy (new recurring guest star Kathy Najimy), which includes a commitment to have a baby together via in-vitro fertilization – which means in turn that Wendy expects Mike to take, um, task-related breaks at work.
Watching the first five Season 3 episodes HBO sent for preview (out of 10 for the season), I was struck by two things: first, how the character-driven Veep just gets stronger every season, as we get better acquainted with the people in its world and its cast members continue to meld into one of the most amazing comedy ensembles I’ve ever seen (it’s easy to see why Veep has won two Emmys for casting).
Foremost, however, there’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus herself, who has won the Emmy Award as lead actress in a comedy for both of Veep’s previous seasons. I don’t expect that to change with Season 3, because I found myself watching some of these new episodes over and over just to try to catch all the incredible details Louis-Dreyfus packs into every moment.
I strongly suspect this actress is probably the Meryl Streep of the American sitcom. I know, that sounds like lazy hyperbole, and you can watch these new episodes casually and still enjoy them. But pay close attention to them and you can see that the blazingly intelligent Louis-Dreyfus is constantly shifting dizzyingly from one emotion to another, and often conveying multiple emotions and attitudes at the same time – and when I say “multiple,” I mean “way more than two.”
Consider next week’s episode, “The Choice,” in which Selina, a very discreetly pro-choice candidate, is rocked by POTUS’s out-of-left-field announcement that he is adamantly pro-life. As calls from various lobbying groups start to pour into Selina’s office asking her to clarify her position, she tries frantically to answer both sides in a manner that will not cost her votes.
Then Mike rushes in with a phone call from the ACCDP. He has no idea what the acronym stands for, but he’s reasonably sure the group is pro-life. As Selina takes the call, however, Amy desperately signals her that, no, no, no, the group is pro-choice. Selina struggles to navigate the call without committing herself, but her attempts at fishing for clues fall short as the caller keeps saying things like “Our position has not changed.”
Maybe it’s just me, but watching Louis-Dreyfus fighting to maintain her calm and sunny phone voice with a volatile caller while furiously miming “WHO THE F—- IS THIS?!” to Mike and Amy is one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen on Veep.
(Spoiler alert: It didn’t really matter, because as it turns out, the call actually came in from the ADCCP, not the ACCDP. Although Mike has no idea what the ADCCP is, either).
God, I love this show.
Director of communications Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh, front-row center) weds his girlfriend, Wendy (Kathy Najimy) in the season premiere of 'Veep.'

Director of communications Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh, front-row center) weds his girlfriend, Wendy (Kathy Najimy) in the season premiere of ‘Veep.’

Silicon Valley gains confidence over time

'Silicon Valley' premieres tonight on HBO.

T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods and Thomas Middleditch (from left) star in ‘Silicon Valley,’ premiering tonight on HBO.

Like one of its nerdy principal characters, HBO’s Silicon Valley, which premieres tonight, seems painfully unsure of itself during its first half-hour episode. Co-created by Mike Judge (Office Space, King of the Hill) and based partly on Judge’s personal ’80s experiences as a Silicon Valley engineer, this sometimes savage new sitcom takes awhile to find its tone and comic groove, but improves steadily over the course of the initial five episodes HBO sent out for preview.
Set in the tech-centric region of Northern California where everyone, it seems, is looking for the next hot app, Silicon Valley focuses primarily on a group of socially awkward programmers sharing quarters in the Hacker Hostel start-up “incubator” owned by dotcom millionaire Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller, The Goodwin Games). In exchange for their room and board, the resident nerds toil away at the programs they have in development, to which Erlich is promised a 10 percent share.
One of the group, Richard (Thomas Middleditch), is concentrating on Pied Piper, an app for songwriters, but billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) passes on his pitch. Some senior programmers at the tech giant Hooli, however, discover that Richard’s Pied Piper program contains a powerful data-compression algorithm that has limitless commercial possibilities.
An intense bidding war breaks out between Hooli’s hyper-intense CEO, Gavin Belson (recurring guest star Matt Ross, Big Love), who wants to buy Pied Piper outright for $10 million, and a newly interested Gregory, who offers to help Richard develop and grow Pied Piper while giving him a $200,000 cash infusion for start-up costs in exchange for five percent of the company.
Overwhelmed by his good fortune, the deeply insecure Richard opts for the latter, dreaming of creating his own Google-like success story, joined by the other house nerds: Big Head (Josh Brener), his longtime best friend; sly Pakistani programmer Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani, Franklin & Bash); arrogant Gilfoyle (Martin Starr, Party Down); and, in episode two, business guru Jared (Zach Woods, The Office), a former Hulli executive.
Alas, Richard – whose social ineptitude is matched only by his naivete – quickly finds that he lacks the right stuff to swim with the big Silicon Valley sharks and he must weather one staggering blow after another as the series unfolds.
Co-creator Judge, who also directs four of the eight episodes in Season 1 of Silicon Valley, clearly has, at best, mixed feelings about the time he spent in this world, given his merciless take-downs of many of its personalities (real-life Silicon Valley engineers reportedly have given the series very high marks for accuracy). Anyone who tunes in expecting a variation on TV’s other hot nerd comedy, The Big Bang Theory, is in for a shock.
Straight-on heroes are hard to find in Silicon Valley, and most of its characters are emotionally stunted, if not obsessively selfish. In some respects, Richard is the most admirable, but he’s a techno-Forrest Gump whose successes are, for the most part, flukes. He doesn’t even grasp the most valuable part of his own computer program until someone else points it out to him, and even then, he can’t even articulate what he wants to do with it.
“You turned down $10 million to be able to develop something that you, as the head of the company, cannot even describe to another human being,” an exasperated Dinesh points out to him at one point.
After weeks of unusually heavy promotion, HBO is giving Silicon Valley a platinum-level launch tonight, positioning the new comedy behind the Season 4 premiere of the very nerd-friendly smash Game of Thrones, and if tonight’s pilot is uneven, by episode three or four Silicon Valley pretty much hits its stride and delivers a reliable number of belly laughs. Among its tight ensemble, I’d give top honors to Welch, who raises social awkwardness to epic new heights, and Woods, whose hilariously self-effacing Jared (“I like angry people, because I know where I stand with them”) is perhaps the show’s most endearing character.
A friendship is tested on 'Silicon Valley.'

Thomas Middleditch and Josh Brener star as two longtime best friends whose relationship is sorely tested in ‘Silicon Valley.’