Tag Archives: CBS

Intelligence lacks creative smarts

Marg Helgenberger, Megan Ory and Josh Holloway star in 'Intelligence,' premiering tonight.

Marg Helgenberger, Megan Ory and Josh Holloway star in ‘Intelligence,’ premiering tonight on CBS.

I get that everything old is new again on TV these days, but I’m still a little shocked to come across a big-ticket series called Intelligence, no less, that feels like a throwback to the 1970s or ‘80s. And not in a good way.
This new CBS drama, which premieres tonight in the coveted time period following NCIS, stars Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) as Gabriel Vaughn, a decorated hero with a genetic quirk that allowed the U.S. military to implant a super-computer microchip that links his brain to what the show calls “the information grid.” That means Gabriel is able to access even highly classified information at any high-tech facility in the world, making him one of the most important weapons on the planet.
As the series premieres, however, Gabriel is largely preoccupied with his missing wife, another operative who almost everyone believes went rogue and changed sides during a violent episode in India. Gabriel refuses to accept this, however, and he is prone to reckless, loose-cannon behavior on most of his missions, so his boss, Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), hires Secret Service Special Agent Riley Neal (Megan Ory, Once Upon a Time) to protect this vital human asset from outside threats.
Gabriel’s embedded chip allows him to investigate incidents by accessing hard data from the information grid and then interpolating that with informed speculation on his part to form a dreamlike snapshot through which he can physically walk and examine an event literally from every perspective. The snapshot we see in the Intelligence premiere – the moment when his wife supposedly went rogue in Mumbai – is stunningly realized in visual terms, but nothing around it is anywhere near as impressive.
Fans of Chuck, Josh Schwartz’s clever 2007-12 NBC spy dramedy starring Zachary Levi as a young man with the Internet downloaded into his brain, will recognize the basic premise of Intelligence, and that became a problem for me as this “new” CBS series unfolded. Apart from some of the technical visuals, most of Intelligence feels so flat and unoriginal and lazily retro up against Chuck that I started having the weirdest, time-warping feeling that I was watching a much older, inferior sci-fi series that somehow inspired Schwartz to make his own, far more entertaining, show.
Even the villains in Intelligence feel tired and recycled. In the pilot, it’s the Chinese. In episode two, it’s Islamist terrorists looking for new ways to blow themselves up. Who should we expect in episode 3? Lex Luthor?
For the record, Holloway is much better than the writing would seem to allow, adding interesting layers to Gabriel that aren’t really in the script, but I hope Helgenberger is getting a really nice paycheck for Intelligence. This exceptional actress, who has an Emmy Award and four other nominations for past performances, is playing a character who might as well be called Sister Mary Exposition, because all she does is walk through scenes and keep viewers up to date on what’s happening. As for Ory, I thought she looked far too supermodel-y to be a credible Secret Service agent in the pilot, but by episode two, I have to admit, she was earning my respect.
In addition to these three hard-working actors, Intelligence also largely squanders the wonderful character actor John Billinsgsley as – I am not making up this name – Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy, the neuroscientist who designed and implanted Gabriel’s microchip.
I like all these actors, and I like to believe Intelligence can somehow turn itself around creatively and become a much better show. At this point, however, that show would have to be called Blind Faith.
Josh Holloway and Megan Ory in 'Intelligence,'

Josh Holloway and Megan Ory in ‘Intelligence,’

Missing the write stuff

Will Arnett and Margo Martindale (dancing center)
Three fairly high-profile network series premiere tonight, two on NBC, one on CBS. All three have some amazing actors in their casts, and all three are criminally let down by their writers.
My hopes probably are highest for The Millers, premiering tonight on CBS in the coveted time slot following The Big Bang Theory, partly because this new comedy, which is filmed in front of a studio audience, is the brainchild of Greg Garcia, who recently has given us such winning shows as My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope.
The Millers is far more old-fashioned than either of those two quirky hits, though. Emmy winners Beau Bridges and Margo Martindale star as Tom and Carol Miller, a long-married and eternally bickering couple who decide to move in with their daughter, Debbie (Jayma Mays, Glee) after Tom inadvertently floods their basement. Again. Hardly have they arrived, however, before long-simmering resentments reach the boiling point and Tom and Carol decide to end their 43-year marriage, with her moving into the upscale home of their son, Nathan (Will Arnett), who’s currently working as a roving correspondent for a local TV station.
What Nathan, the golden boy of the family, hasn’t told his parents is that he and his wife (Eliza Coupe of Happy Endings in a recurring role) divorced three months ago. Carol initially is horrified by the news, but soon starts trying to resume her long-ago role as the most important woman in Nathan’s life, which means ignoring boundaries at every turn (she clips Nathan’s toenails while he’s asleep and discusses her and Tom’s sex life with upsetting explicitness).
This isn’t a bad set-up for a sitcom, but in tonight’s premiere episode, the jokes are mainly broad and fairly vulgar. Martindale has been on a career hot streak lately, recently scoring another Emmy nomination for her striking guest role in the FX thriller The Americans, but here she is reduced to an extended string of jokes about her character’s tendency to pass gas on a regular basis. Bridges’ role is even more one-note: See Tom fumbling with the coffee maker and microwave and appear perpetually confused by the household’s remote controls! Ha!
Garcia is a funny, funny man who writes brilliantly about dysfunctional families, so I’m hopeful he’s going to give his strong cast the kind of material they deserve in future episodes. Fingers crossed.
The same thing goes for Sean Saves the World, Emmy winner Sean Hayes’ new NBC sitcom premiering tonight opposite CBS’s Robin Williams comedy The Crazy Ones, last week’s top-rated comedy premiere. Like The Millers, Sean Saves the World is filmed in front of a studio audience and has a strong cast, including sitcom veteran Linda Laviin (Alice) and Smash survivor Megan Hilty, as well as Reno 911! madman Thomas Lennon. Tonight’s premiere, however, feels tired and old-fashioned (Hayes also is an executive producer on the decidedly old-fashioned but frisky Hot in Cleveland).
In his new show, Hayes stars as a divorced gay dad who recently assumed fulltime custody of his teenage daughter, Ellie (Samantha Isler). Now that Sean’s former wife no longer is in the picture, his formidable mother, Lorna (Lavin), is trying to swoop in and fill the maternal vacancy, to the pronounced displeasure of Sean’s best friend, Liz (Hilty). Sean’s attempts to be the perfect dad, though, are compromised by his demanding new boss (Lennon), a smothering, hands-on type who wants his staff to have as little of a social life as he does.
The comedy pros in the cast make quite a few of the tired jokes in tonight’s premiere sound, if not fresh, at least less wilted, but it’s discouraging to see such a heavy reliance on uninspired slapstick in the very first episode. I like the show’s main quartet enough that I’ll be sticking around for awhile, but this cast deserves much better. That said, I do think my many colleagues who have put Sean Saves the World on their lists of the fall’s worst shows are going a little far. Sean won’t even save NBC, let alone the world, but it’s not a crime against nature.
Nor is tonight’s other NBC premiere, Welcome to the Family, although it’s far and away the worst of the three. The lone single-camera (no laugh track) series among this trio, this sitcom stars the usually endearing Mike O’Malley (Glee) and, especially, Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight) as Dr. Dan and Caroline Yoder, who are enthusiastically looking forward to their imminent empty nest situation now that beautiful but dim daughter Molly (Ella Rae Peck) has defied all expectations and actually graduated from high school.
Plans to ship Molly off to a party school are derailed, however, when the Yoders discover that Molly is pregnant by a boyfriend they didn’t even know existed: Junior Hernandez (Joey Haro), a Stanford-bound Mathlete and class valedictorian. The pregnancy horrifies his proud father, Miguel (Ricardo Chavira, Desperate Housewives), especially after Miguel discovers that Molly’s dad is the jerk he clashed with that same morning at Miguel’s gym (in a contrived argument that’s only there so these two characters can hold a grudge against each other). Junior’s mom, Lisette (Justina Machado, Six Feet Under), like Caroline, tries to act as peacemaker in this volatile situation.
Anyone who has been watching TV for awhile will recognize the exhausted premise for this show, which stretches all the way back to the 1967-70 sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie, which was based in turn on a 1920s play called Abie’s Irish Rose. I wish I could report that Welcome to the Family reinvents that heavily diluted formula, but sadly, that’s not the case: The show just kind of plods along on its thrice-familiar path, dutifully ticking off scenes that we’ve seen so many times before. Even a fade-out “surprise” for Caroline at the end of tonight’s episode is something you’ll probably see coming a mile off.
I really want O’Malley and McCormack to figure out a way to turn this seemingly ill-fated vehicle around, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. Unless the writers can come up with some fresh ideas and jokes, this Family won’t be overstaying its welcome.

Mike vs. Mork

Tonight’s TV lineup is packed with the return of such hits as The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation and Elementary, but it’s the return to series TV of two A-list stars, Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams, that’s the most noteworthy. Their respective sitcoms, NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show and The Crazy Ones on CBS, both show a lot of promise, but NBC’s decision to launch Fox’s series with two back-to-back episodes means that, tonight only, the two shows are time-slot rivals at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
CBS is giving The Crazy Ones a dream lead-in with a double episode of The Big Bang Theory, but even so, I suspect The Michael J. Fox Show may very well win tonight’s face-off. While a lot of people probably assumed Fox’s career was pretty much over when he went public with his status as a Parkinson’s disease sufferer in 1999, he has rebounded in recent years via his very popular (and Emmy-nominated) recurring comic role on The Good Wife as Louis Canning, a Parkinson’s-afflicted attorney who aggressively exploits his disability to score courtroom points.
Fox and the creators of his NBC sitcom have taken a page from that same playbook for his role as Mike Henry, who was a beloved presence on the New York TV news scene before a Parkinson’s diagnosis led him to retire five years ago to spend more time with his schoolteacher wife, Annie (Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad), and their three kids.
Since Mike left, ratings at his old station have steadily fallen, and his former boss, Harris (Wendell Pierce, Treme) is begging him to return to work. Mike’s understandably reluctant, however.
“I don’t want a pity job,” he tells Harris. “We both know that if I come back, NBC is going to milk it by showing me in slow motion with lame, uplifting music in the background.”
Eventually, of course, Mike decides to accept Harris’ offer, setting up the show’s split focus between family life and workplace. It’s a solid set-up. I just wish it were funnier.
You can’t blame the cast for that. Mike and Annie’s three kids may be standard sitcom issue, but in addition to Brandt and Pierce, clearly relishing this chance to show off their comedy chops after years of intensity on their respective drama projects, the show also co-stars two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran as Leigh, Mike’s comically neurotic younger sister, with recurring roles for Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin (as Mike’s parents) and Anne Heche as Susan, Mike’s bitchy anchor rival at the station.
Nope, the problem, as usual, is the writing. Fox and Brandt have a wonderful, sexy chemistry together, so they can make even underwritten moments seem funny just because they feel so true. Otherwise, though, the story lines seem sitcom-stale. Mike develops a crush on a pretty upstairs neighbor (guest star Tracy Pollan, Fox’s real-life wife and former Family Ties co-star). Teenage daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia) tries to up her hipness by befriending a lesbian. Hypersensitive Leigh pressures Annie for her opinion on Mane Attraction, a ghastly teen novel Leigh has written about a boy who turns into a horse at night. (OK, that last one is pretty funny.)
The writers compound the problem by falling back on the tired mockumentary device of making Eve a vlogger, so she’s constantly taping the other characters, allowing them to talk directly to the camera. What once seemed fresh in a single-camera sitcom like this one now just feels more like lazy writing.
Despite that, The Michael J. Fox Show has done so many things right that it’s impossible not to hope the show will grow into a bona fide comedy hit. NBC certainly could use one, but then, so could we.
The Crazy Ones, on the other hand, is a much harder show to call. The sitcom, from executive producer David E. Kelley, stars Emmy and Oscar winner Williams as Simon Roberts, a former advertising wunderkind who is starting to doubt himself now that he’s reached AARP member status. His no-nonsense daughter and creative director, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), worries about him, and, in tonight’s premiere, the future of their company: McDonald’s, which represents 60 percent of their business, is leaning toward going to another agency.
Simon’s only hope is to land a major talent to star in a series of new ads, but when he and his handsome protégé, Zach (James Wolk, Mad Men), pitch singer Kelly Clarkson on the prospect, she agrees to consider it only if they’ll tailor it to the sexy new image she’s trying to cultivate.
“So we just need to come up with a meat-related sex song,” Zach sums up.
“…for a family restaurant,” Simon adds. “How hard could that be, really? It almost writes itself!”
The two men then launch into what such a song might sound like. This heavily improvised scene is comedy gold, with Wolk (who knew this guy could be so funny?) and Williams riffing seamlessly like longtime improv partners.
Given that each episode will feature a different real-world client (and, presumably, a name guest star playing himself), it’s hard to imagine what this show will look and feel like on a week-to-week basis, especially because Clarkson, I have to say, absolutely throws herself into her guest role, scoring her own big laughs and, I suspect, launching a credible acting career, if she chooses.
Then again, Simon’s motto, often referenced in tonight’s pilot, is “Leap and the net shall appear.” After years of watching him work without a net, I’m inclined to give Williams the benefit of the doubt, but mark my words, if this show becomes a hit, it’s Wolk who’s going to be red-hot and superstar-ready.
The Crazy Ones may take a ratings hit on its first outing tonight, if The Michael J. Fox Show opens as strongly as I expect it to, but next week Crazy will be up against the premiere of Sean Hayes’ weaker new sitcom, Sean Saves the World. It’ll be interesting to see how this Thursday-night network rivalry eventually shakes out.
James wolk
James Wolk

NBC’s ‘Blacklist’ should make the hit list

Megan Boone and James Spader
Tonight at 10 p.m., NBC and CBS face off with rival, high-profile suspense dramas. Of the two shows, the better one by far is on – I cannot believe I am writing this – NBC.
That’s right. The Peacock Network, which has had a dismal time when it comes to launching new hits in recent seasons, has a potential game-changer in The Blacklist, a new action thriller that marks the very welcome return of three-time Emmy winner James Spader to series television. It’s not only the best drama NBC has fielded in a long time. It’s also one of the best shows of the new fall TV season.
As the series opens, fresh-faced Elizabeth “Liz” Keen (newcomer Megan Broome) is heading off to start her first day as an FBI profiler in the agency’s headquarters when she and her bookish husband (Ryan Eggold) are startled to see a helicopter and several unmarked cars swarming their building. Liz is spirited away to a classified location, where FBI Assistant Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) drops a bombshell: Raymond Reddington (Spader), a fugitive at the top of the 10 Most Wanted list, has just walked into the Washington, D.C., headquarters and surrendered. He has a proposal for the FBI, but only if he can talk to her. Liz is baffled. She and Reddington never have met before, nor do they have any personal connection she knows of, yet in their very first meeting, he freaks her out with intimate knowledge of both her and her family, stuff that not even the FBI knows about her. More important, though, he tells her that a dangerous Serbian terrorist has entered the country intent on settling an old score with a highly ranked Pentagon official. A little girl’s life hangs in the balance, and he wants to help Liz stop this potential catastrophe.
Tonight’s pilot episode is a tense hour that follows Liz and her colleagues as she tries to stop the terrorist from carrying out his plot, but more than that, it sets up the big questions at the heart of the show: Why is Reddington obsessed with Liz? What does he want with her? How can she keep her surprisingly dangerous new job from upsetting her life with her new husband, who is intent on adopting a child?
The psychological connection between Reddington and Liz obviously echoes the eerie relationship between Agent Clarice Starling and mad genius Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, seasoned with the fascinating ambiguities that Alias used to do so well. The Blacklist doesn’t feel like recycled goods, however. It just reflects the work of a creative team that knows how and when to borrow from the best.
I’ll leave the show’s many other surprises for you to discover on your own, but let me just close by reporting that Spader’s work in this show just may be the best performance of his career. It’s scary, sly, charming, diabolical and very funny. It would be a huge mistake to miss him, and this very promising new series.
CBS’ new Hostages, on the other hand, set off my Hogwash Detector within the first five minutes, as I watched sharp-jawed FBI Agent Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott) shoot and kill a bank robber disguised as a hostage after Duncan noticed – from a distance of 40 yards or more – that the bad guy’s shoes didn’t match his suit. Clearly he discarded the notion that he was merely looking at an innocent hostage with no fashion sense. A relatively minor style misstep and Duncan (correctly, if inexplicably) pegs this stranger as being worthy of multiple bullets to the chest.
That early scene actually has nothing to do (I think) with the main story, which revolves principally around Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette), a gifted surgeon at fictional Maryland College Hospital who has been selected (for what turn out to be crass political reasons) to remove a suspicious lump from the lung of the American president (James Naughton). Ellen is honored but not terribly intimidated by the assignment. After all, it’s a routine procedure.
Or at least it was until Ellen returns on the eve of the surgery to the posh suburban home she shares with hubby Brian (Tate Donovan) and their two teenage kids. Ellen doesn’t know that her magazine-ready life is concealing a lot of secrets. Brian’s business is failing, and he’s involved in an extramarital affair. Daughter Morgan (Quinn Shephard) has just discovered she’s pregnant by the secret boyfriend she sneaks out each night to see, and clean-cut son Jake (Mateus Ward) is seriously in debt to a dangerous drug dealer.
As if all that’s not enough, Ellen comes downstairs after a pre-dinner shower to find a home invasion in progress, with her family held at gunpoint by four persons wearing ski masks. Their leader pulls Ellen aside to deliver an ultimatum: The intruders will kill Ellen’s family unless she takes steps to ensure that the president dies on the operating table the next morning.
I’m going to stop this recap of the pilot here in the interest of avoiding spoilers. I won’t even reveal how Duncan and Ellen’s story lines intersect. I will say, however, that, even though CBS is describing Hostages as a “limited series,” I frankly see no way the show will be able credibly to stretch out this situation over several weeks.
Then again, given that scene with Duncan and the bank robber, apparently credibility isn’t going to be a huge component of this show (which, for what it’s worth, is beautifully filmed and directed).
Toni Collette, Mateus Ward, Tate Donovan and Quinn Shephard (seated from left)

A new TV ‘Mom’ to embrace

Allison Janney (top) and Anna Faris
Mom, a somewhat dark but mostly delightful new sitcom premiering tonight on CBS, comes from the prolific writer-producer Chuck Lorre, who has put his creative fingerprints on comedy hits as diverse as Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Dharma & Greg, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory during the course of his long career.
On that continuum, Mom falls much closer to the blue-collar tone of Roseanne and Grace than the aging-frat-boys-‘n’-farts humor of the still-running Two and a Half Men. This new show stars movie sex kitten Anna Faris in her TV series debut as Christy, a single mom struggling to make ends meet as a waitress without sliding back into alcoholism (she stopped drinking 118 days ago).
It isn’t easy. She still regrets giving up her dream of becoming a psychologist when she was forced to drop out of high school after becoming pregnant with her now-teenage daughter, Violet (Sadie Calvano). Recently, the frazzled Christy has started to realize that she is turning into her own mother, Bonnie (four-time Emmy winner Allison Janney, The West Wing), who was a grossly negligent drunk and cocaine addict while Christy was growing up, and she is horrified to see Violet repeating her own past mistakes with dim-witted and perpetually shirtless boyfriend Luke (Spencer Daniels). Even worse, Christy knows she doesn’t hold the moral high ground in this situation.
“I can’t tell you not to drink and smoke pot because my senior yearbook quote was ‘Let’s drink and smoke pot!’ ‘’ she sighs to her daughter.
And, while Christy is now sober, she’s still making bad choices, sliding into a demeaning affair with her boss, Gabriel (Nate Corddry, Harry’s Law), who’s married to the daughter of the restaurant owner. It’s a good thing Christy’s pre-adolescent son Roscoe (Blake Garrett Rosenthal) still thinks Mom is the best.
Into this volatile dynamic, Bonnie unexpectedly reappears after a tense two-year estrangement with Christy. She’s been sober(-ish) for a couple of years now, and she wants to mend fences with her daughter and get to know her grandkids.
But while Bonnie tries to present herself as Soccer Grandma of the Year (“I have a steady job! I exercise! I’m in a BOOK CLUB!”), Christy can’t forget the days when Bonnie was in the basement cooking crystal meth while Christy was in the kitchen cooking dinner.
“I’ve watched you lick cocaine crumbs out of a shag carpet!” Christy reminds her.
“It’s no sin to be thrifty, dear,” Bonnie calmly replies.
Tonight’s pilot episode feels a little unfocused as the writers attempt to introduce multiple characters in Christy’s various worlds, including the restaurant kitchen, where a comically autocratic chef played by French Stewart (3rd Rock From the Sun) barks things like “More butter and salt! They only have to live long enough to pay the check!”
The likable Faris makes a credible series debut, although she hasn’t yet figured out how to play this end-of-her-rope character without occasionally sliding into whininess. Janney, however, is absolutely sublime. Bonnie is a soul sister to Holland Taylor’s Evelyn Harper on Two and a Half Men, a still-beautiful cougar whose affection for her loved ones is probably genuine, but not entirely reliable.
Out of all this season’s new network comedies, Mom is the one that feels most authentic, with its delicate balance of familial love and anger. Based on this first episode, I’m in.

Summer chills from Stephen King

Adapted from a hernia-inducing bestseller by Stephen King, Under the Dome – a summer series premiering tonight on CBS – is set in the rural Maine town of Chester’s Mill, a picturesque spot that could be the backdrop of a Norman Rockwell painting … if David Lynch painted under the name Norman Rockwell.
As in so many sleep burgs, Chester’s Mill harbors some unsettling secrets, some sexy, some sinister. A few locals have noticed mysterious propane tanker trucks pulling into town, but who is stockpiling it, and why? Local politician Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris, Breaking Bad) seems to know, and worse, he seems to know how to use that information to his best advantage.
Elsewhere, we see a shadowy out-of-towner, Army vet Dale “Barbie” Barbara (Mike Vogel, Bates Motel), hastily burying a corpse in a makeshift forest grave, and waitress Angie McAlister (Britt Robertson, The Secret Circle) trying to end a dead-end affair with a handsome but unstable player (Alexander Koch) who doesn’t like to be told no. Oh, and the stressed-out sheriff (Jeff Fahey) has a pacemaker installed in his chest. Uh-oh.
Still, to the untrained eye, things appear to be tickety-boo in Chester’s Mill right up until a previously calm morning is shaken by an abrupt tremor and the church bells start pealing at a deafening level, just seconds before an enormous but completely transparent dome slams down around the town with a force that renders a hapless cow into carpaccio on the hoof.
The barrier tingles to the touch, yet is otherwise invisible, although nothing can pass through it, including phone, TV or radio transmissions. Where did it come from? Is it the work of some government, either domestic or foreign? Will it eventually go away? If not, will the people inside eventually suffocate? (Spoiler alert: probably not, because in tonight’s premiere, you can’t help noticing an inexplicable amount of wind blowing through this supposedly hermetically sealed-off town).
Much like King’s disappointing 1999 miniseries Storm of the Century, Under the Dome explores how a small community unites and/or comes apart at the seams when separated from the rest of the world and confronted with a deadly challenge. Since I haven’t tackled this hefty novel, I have no idea where the storyteller is going with this yarn, but tonight’s first hour is well-acted and boasts some very cool special effects, including the arrival of the dome, a trucker turning into an accordion on wheels when it slams into the invisible barrier and, of course, that poor bifurcated bovine.
The cast, which also includes Rachelle Lefevre (A Gifted Man) and teen actor Colin Ford (best known for playing Jared Padalecki’s younger alter ego in Supernatural flashbacks), is solid, even if their characters come across mainly as types more than three-dimensional human beings in the premiere episode.
All in all, there’s enough here to keep me tuning in to see more. I’m doing so with some trepidation, though, because more than once King has handed us a dazzling premise that fizzles in its execution and resolution. Fingers crossed!