Tag Archives: Arrested Development

TV Land’s Jennifer Falls is a refreshing surprise

Jaime Pressly and Jessica Walter.

Emmy winners Jaime Pressly and Jessica Walter (from left) star in ‘Jennifer Falls,’ a new sitcom premiering tonight on TV Land.

The first time we meet Jennifer Doyle (Jaime Pressly), the title character in the new TV Land comedy Jennifer Falls, she’s getting fired from her job as a vice president at a Fortune 500 corporation. The grounds? Personality problems – specifically, “anger issues” that make her so volatile no one will agree to work with her.
Six months later, a still-unemployed Jennifer insists she is not discouraged. “Evidently, the men in the industry find me terrifying,” she tells us in a direct-to-camera comment, “but the women find me inspiring … and also terrifying.” With no other means of support and a teenage daughter (Dylan Gelula) to care for, however, Jennifer is forced to an option of last resort: moving back to her hometown and living with her acerbic mom, Maggie (Jessica Walter, Arrested Development), a psychologist.
Created by Matthew Carlson (Malcolm in the Middle), Jennifer Falls, which premieres tonight, diverges somewhat from the traditional TV Land sitcom template. Instead of recording in front of a live studio audience, as Hot in Cleveland does, Jennifer Falls goes the Modern Family route, using no laugh track and having the characters – at least Jennifer, in tonight’s pilot – talk directly to viewers now and then. The show also has a bit more edge than most other TV Land fare, although not so much that it clashes with its time slot neighbors.
What is does have in common with other successful TV Land comedies is a splendid cast of TV comedy veterans delivering lively and laugh-packed dialogue. In addition to Pressly, who won an Emmy for her role on My Name Is Earl, the cast also includes Pressly’s Earl castmate Ethan Suplee as Wayne, Jennifer’s brother, who owns a local sports bar. That helps in terms of giving Jennifer at least a short-term job as a bartender, but sadly, Wayne’s wife, Stephanie (the gloriously saccharine Nora Kirkpatrick from Greek), really calls the shots at the business, and she drives Jennifer nuts with her non-stop passive-aggressiveness.
Also on board is the always smart and funny Missi Pyle (The Exes) as Dina Sumac, Jennifer’s recently divorced best friend from high school. In tonight’s pilot, however, there’s tension between the two former besties, since Jennifer had just sent Dina a massage gift certificate when her marriage was cratering instead of showing up to lend a shoulder.
And then, of course, there’s Jessica Walter, who has been TV’s bitchy mom of choice ever since her Emmy-nominated turn as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development. Her Maggie Doyle is a bit more maternal than Lucille ever was, but she’s still self-absorbed and tactless, as when she tells Jennifer she’s in need of some therapy to deal with her anger.
“Don’t worry, I’ll see you for free,” Maggie says, twinkling. “Or maybe a little yardwork. Just some light weeding.”
I’ve only seen tonight’s pilot, but based on that, I can definitely recommend that you check out tonight’s premiere of Jennifer Falls. Both the writing and performances are well above what passes for the sitcom norm these days.
Missi Pyle

Missi Pyle co-stars as the title character’s best friend in ‘Jennifer Falls,’ premiering tonight on TV Land.

A long-awaited ‘Development’

Jason Bateman and Liza Minnelli
Seven years after Fox canceled the Emmy-winning and critically acclaimed sitcom Arrested Development, the battling Bluths are back in 15 new episodes, available for streaming starting today on Netflix.
The new episodes, which the service cheekily presents as “A Netflix Semi Original Series,” reunites all the original principal players from the show’s original 2003-06 run as well as bringing back several guest favorites (hello, Liza Minnelli as Lucille Two and Judy Greer as Kitty Sanchez!). This time around, though, series creator Mitch Hurwitz is less interested in telling a conventionally linear story than in filling us in on each individual member of the extended Bluth family, ideally to form a bridge toward an Arrested Development feature film he’s been envisioning for years.
With that in mind, each episode focuses on a single character, although other family members are, of course, tangentially involved. Obviously, that must have helped during production, since not all principles were required for every episode, and it doesn’t reduce the number of solid belly laughs per episode (each of which runs to close or over a full half hour, not the puny 21 minutes-plus currently afforded a sitcom on a commercial network).
Still, there’s a bit of a loss in not seeing all the Bluth-Funkes together more often. I didn’t actually realize that until episode three, when suddenly I caught myself grinning broadly at seeing Michael (Jason Bateman), George (Jeffrey Tambor), Lindsay (Portia de Rossi), Lucille (Jessica Walter), Gob (Will Arnett), Buster (Tony Hale) and Tobias (David Cross) all in a room together for the first time in these new episodes.
But then, Arrested Development never has followed the conventional sitcom rules. Where else could you learn that one of the principal female characters has fallen in love with an accidental member of Al-Qaeda who suffers from “face blindness” and runs an ostrich farm and think to yourself, “Yes, that sounds about right”? Or see a sexually ambiguous male character who has resolved to make a new start in his life do so by buying a new vanity plate for his car reading “ANUSTART”?
There are so many fresh surprises and brilliant jokes in these new episodes that I’ll leave fans to discover most of them on their own, but my heartfelt thanks to whoever had the inspired idea to hire Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen to play the younger Lucille and George Bluth in recurring flashbacks, as well as 24 sweetheart Mary Lynn Rajskub as an “aura specialist” named Heartfire.
Waiter! More hot ham water, all around, on me!
David Cross and Porta de Rossi

Caution: ‘Hemlock Grove’ may be toxic to thrill-seekers

Bill Skarsgard and Landon Liboiron
Hemlock Grove, an original 13-part series that begins streaming today in its entirety on Netflix, is the service’s first foray into the horror genre, but despite the presence of Eli Roth (Hostel) at the helm, genuine shivers very rarely materialize.
Maybe it’s because its predecessor, House of Cards, was such an audacious dazzler, or because most of us impatiently are champing at the bit to see the long-awaited new season of Arrested Development due to start streaming in May, but based on the first three episodes Netflix made available for review, Hemlock Grove feels like little more than a listless place-holder.
Based on a novel of the same name by Brian McGreevy, who’s an executive producer on this TV adaptation, the series opens with the brutal murder of Brooke Bluebell (Lorenza Izzo), a beautiful high school cheerleader en route to a covert nighttime hook-up with her lesbian science teacher when she is savagely attacked and partly eaten by something horrifying. As in most werewolf movies, the attack initially is blamed on a large animal of some kind, but in this very weird semi-rural Pennsylvania town, human suspects aren’t exactly scarce.
Among them is Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard, brother of Alexander from True Blood and Gustaf of the current Vikings), a handsome, ruthless preppie who cuts quite a sexual swath through the females of his community. Roman is the future heir to a family fortune that we see tangibly in the form of the Godfrey Institute for Biomedical Research, a sinister local think tank nicknamed The White Tower. Roman’s late father, J.R. Godfrey (Paul Popowich), bitterly blamed researchers there for having a hand somehow in the sad plight of his other child, Roman’s sister, Shelley (Nicole Boivin), a mute giantess who causes electrical sparks in times of distress. (To save time, let me assure you right here that I am not making up any of this stuff).
J.R. “committed suicide” while having a confrontation with his beautiful and enigmatic wife, Olivia (former Bond girl Famke Janssen), who was having an affair with J.R.’s brother, Norman (Dougray Scott). That affair is still in progress when Hemlock Grove opens, but Norman, a psychiatrist, feels positively lousy about it and frequently clashes (while dressed) with Olivia over the projects at their institute. He’s also not very happy to learn that his own daughter, Letha (Penelope Mitchell), is pregnant, allegedly by an angel. Seriously.
About the same time the murder occurs, gypsies Peter and Lynda Rumancek (Landon Liboiron, Lily Taylor) have moved to town and taken up residence in a relative’s abandoned trailer. Almost as soon as they meet at school, Roman senses something odd about Peter and begins to suspect that he’s a werewolf who killed Brooke. Peter, meanwhile, tells his mother that he’s pretty sure Roman is something called an Upir, a vampire spirit that historically has been bad news for gypsies. Against all odds, however, the two young men become friends, especially after they discover they have been having the same dream about a serpent devouring its own tail.
To report more would be to spoil the fairly meager surprises that pop up all too infrequently in this yarn. Maybe I was just too distracted by all the apparent plot holes and/or continuity gaffes to be drawn into the story.
For example, as the first murder is in progress, the victim inadvertently hits a speed dial button on her cellphone, calling her teacher-lover, who listens aghast to Brooke’s dying screams. During the investigation, the local cops note that the phone had been on when they found the corpse, yet no one ever bothers to talk to the last person called on the device. Later, when deputies find Roman and Peter hanging out near the small playhouse structure where the killing occurred, they angrily complain that the boys are disturbing a crime scene, yet there is no yellow crime-scene tape or other barriers around to keep away intruders.
As investigators warily begin to consider the unlikely prospect that a werewolf – or at least someone who believes he is a werewolf – might be behind the killing, one of them, Dr. Clementine Chasseur (Kandyse McClure), encounters a shirtless Peter and remarks on how hairy he is (sometimes regarded as a signifier of a werewolf in human form). Problem is, apart from long locks, some beard scruff and very light chest fuzz, Liboiron ISN’T notably hairy.
For a scene that takes place in a new age-y head shop run by a gypsy, the storefront exterior features a huge window sign advertising “Medicinal Marijuana” inside, which I’m not convinced you would likely find in a smallish conservative Pennsylvania town (Hemlock Grove actually was filmed in Ontario, Canada).
As for the performances, in the three episodes I saw, only Liboiron delivers consistently strong work. He’s so relaxed and thoroughly “present” in all of his scenes, however preposterous they are, that the show wakes up anytime he’s on-screen. Props, too, to young Skarsgard, reared in Sweden, for generally maintaining a credible American accent. I’m still trying to decide whether Janssen’s vaguely British accent is an acting choice she made to underscore Olivia’s exotic strangeness to those around her or whether it’s a plot point that will be revealed in a later episode.
I haven’t read McGreevy’s novel, so I can’t fairly judge how many of the problems in Hemlock Grove originated in his manuscript, but there’s certainly enough blame to go around. Maybe, just maybe, things turn around in the later 10 episodes I haven’t seen, but three episodes in, the series is woefully lacking in urgency or any compelling reason for me to stick around to find out.