Tag Archives: House

Passmore gives ample Satisfaction on USA Network

Matt Passmore and Stephanie Szostak

Matt Passmore and Stephanie Szostak star as a restless married couple in USA Network’s excellent new drama ‘Satisfaction,’ which premieres Thursday.

When first we meet Neil Truman (Matt Passmore) in Satisfaction, the excellent new USA Network drama series premiering Thursday night, he’s deep in a midlife funk, and he can’t understand why. After all, he has an 80-inch 3D TV in his luxurious home, which he shares with his beautiful wife of 18 years, Grace (Stephanie Szostak), and their 16-year-old daughter, Anika (Michelle DeShon), an aspiring musician.
As he enters his 40s, though, Neil is growing more aware that his all-consuming job as an investment banker isn’t leaving any time for family or fun of any kind, really. Working 70 hours a week in a job he is starting to hate, Neil tries to grab odd moments at his desk to read a book on Zen principles, hoping to restore some order to his life, but when his abrasive boss (Spencer Garrett) orders him with little notice to fly to New York to work over the weekend, Neil has a little breakdown on the airplane that is captured for posterity and posted on YouTube.
After an explosive leave-taking from his boss, Neil arrives home much earlier than expected and discovers Grace having a steamy encounter with Simon (Blair Redford), who, we soon will learn, is a paid escort – and, more to the point, a paid escort who accidentally leaves his cell phone behind. Stunned and shaken by Grace’s infidelity, Neil is in a vulnerable place when that phone rings, a call from one of Simon’s clients confirming their amorous appointment in one hour at a nearby hotel.
I don’t want to reveal much more than that about Satisfaction, which kept surprising and delighting me during its first episode. The promos have made the show look somber and heavy, but while it’s true the characters of Satisfaction are playing for some high emotional stakes, the drama unfolds with flashes of the kind of unexpected, out-of-left-field comedy that is a fact of most lives. And that, in brief, is what I love most about Satisfaction, the way it feels loose, unpredictable and a little messy, just like life.
When we get to the scene in which Neil discovers Grace with her paid playmate, the narrative abruptly jumps back six months, to show us how Grace got to this reckless juncture in a marriage she still values with a man she still loves. While Neil has spent the past several years buried in his work, Grace – a once-promising designer who had been forced to give up a scholarship to study abroad when she got pregnant with Anika – has seen her life limited to mornings at the gym and evenings in a book club where the members are far more interested in swilling wine than talking about literature, or life in any larger sense. Now that Anika is nearly an adult, Grace has tried to find work in the design field, only to be told that – metaphor alert! – she lacks life experience.
By the end of Thursday’s pilot, Satisfaction has admirably sketched in the back story of this couple who sense they are drifting apart yet have no real notion how to stop that drift. Grace has no idea that Neil saw her with Simon, partly because Neil frankly doesn’t know how to broach the subject with her. Neil also isn’t sure where Grace stands in terms of their marriage. Is she preparing to leave him?
Szostak shrewdly uses a light touch in her scenes, skirting soapiness while showing us the escalating tension Grace is feeling just under her calm surface. As good as the actress is, however, Passmore is an absolute revelation. The Aussie-born actor broke out as police detective Jim Longworth in A&E’s The Glades, but his performance here is on a whole new level. Passmore looks like he could be a Hollywood action stud, but he gives Neil a fumbling lack of confidence, a vulnerability, that I haven’t seen from him before. When Neil stumbles on Grace and her lover, his first reaction is to fight back his overwhelming urge to vomit, and he momentarily seems to lose control of his body, as if he can’t quite remember how to get his arms and legs moving in sync. It’s just a great performance, tentative, sweet, a little frightened and often sadly funny. I have a feeling spending time with Neil Truman this summer is going to provide a lot of satisfaction to USA Network viewers.
If only that were true of the main character in Rush, a new medical drama that immediately precedes Satisfaction on Thursday night. British actor Tom Ellis stars as Dr. William Rush, who used to be the top attending surgeon at a leading Los Angeles hospital before his fast-lane lifestyle caused him to crash and burn. That debacle cost Rush his job, his relationship with his father (Harry Hamlin), and his romance with beautiful hospital colleague Sarah Peterson (Odette Annable, House).
That was six years ago. Now Rush makes a comfortable living providing a private doctor service to a rich but shady clientele. Forget the Hippocratic Oath. When Rush runs into a person in medical distress, he negotiates a hefty payment up front, usually in cash, before he’ll render assistance.
Rush is, in other words, what is known in medical jargon as “a giant tool.” As Thursday’s premiere opens, he’s snorting vast quantities of cocaine with a blonde party girl, who overdoses and has a heart attack. After Rush brings her around with a portable defibrillator, he drops her at the hospital where his best friend, Dr. Alex Burke (Larenz Tate), works, pausing only to size up a comely new staff worker before dashing off into the night.
Alex is one of three very decent people we meet in the first episode who, for reasons that escape me, treat Rush with kindness and loyalty. The other two are Eva (Sarah Habel), his resourceful assistant, and his old flame Sarah, who has returned to L.A. after undergoing a double mastectomy.
Ellis is a really splendid actor who can deliver highly technical medical jargon at breakneck speed in a very credible American accent, yet I watched the first episode looking for some reason I should care about Rush. He shows up high on coke at a birthday party for his little godson (Alex’s son), shocks some of the guests by demanding a cocktail at this kiddy function, then adjourns to the bathroom to smoke a joint. Is this someone you would want to have in your life, or even spend an hour with each week via your TV?
By the end of the series premiere, Rush has had a couple of scary encounters that may have opened his eyes to how big a train wreck he is. Or maybe not. Time will tell. I like the cast enough to give Rush a couple more weeks to see if this empty suit of a character starts to grow a soul. Maybe he could borrow Neil Truman’s book on Zen, but he – or, more accurately, the screenwriters – need to take some serious measures, stat, or this show is going to flatline in no time at all.
Tom Ellis and Larenz Tate in 'Rush.'

Tom Ellis and Larenz Tate star in ‘Rush,’ premiering Thursday on USA Network.

Fox’s Rake is more than just House in a courtoom

Greg Kinnear stars in 'Rake' on Fox.

Greg Kinnear stars as brilliant but screwed-up attorney Keegan Deane in ‘Rake,’ a new character-driven dramedy premiering Thursday on Fox.

Rake, a very promising new character-driven Fox dramedy premiering Thursday night, is being widely touted as “House in a courtroom.” That terse summary applies only superficially, though.
Based on an Australian series, Rake stars Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine) as Keegan Deane, a brilliant defense attorney whose personal life, like that of Hugh Laurie’s Dr. Gregory House, is a complete train wreck. Keegan owes $67,000 to his bookie, who occasionally sends guys over to rough Keegan up just to save face. He is so far in arrears to the IRS that 70 percent of his income is being garnished. The closest thing he has to a girlfriend is Mikki Partridge (Bojana Novakovic, Drag Me to Hell), a T.S. Eliot-quoting beauty who is working as a professional escort to pay her way through college. And the therapist who is trying to help Keegan work his way through all this mess is his ex-wife, Maddy (Miranda Otto, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), with whom he has an adolescent son and to whom he owes six months’ alimony.
Partly out of financial desperation and partly out of his own lack of an inner filter, Keegan usually tackles cases most other attorneys would deem radioactive. The episode Fox originally sent out as the series pilot, which has been shuffled to later in the season, finds Keegan defending a brilliant economist and mayoral advisor (guest star Denis O’Hare, American Horror Story: Coven) who is accused of killing and eating a young accountant, for example.
That’s where Rake diverges from House, however. Series creator David Shore based his 2004-12 Fox medical drama on Sherlock Holmes (Holmes … Homes … House … get it?), and each episode contained a very strong procedural element as Greg House and his medical team tried to solve the life-threatening case of the week.
Rake, on the other hand, is far more interested in exploring the messy details of Keegan Deane’s life, with the courtroom proceedings providing only a lesser portion of (most) episodes. That’s fine with me, since Kinnear is one of my favorite actors, and one who I think is criminally underrated. He’s got leading-man good looks – I was stunned to realize that he’s now 50 – yet he always seems to vanish into his characters. If you want to see what I mean, and you have a high tolerance for dark material, check out his performance as porn-obsessed Hogan’s Heroes star Bob Crane in Paul Schrader’s intense fact-based 2002 drama Auto Focus. It’s grim yet electrifying.
I haven’t seen the episode Fox has elected to air this week in lieu of the original pilot, but tonally, Rake seems to be shooting for a fairly light touch, with frequent laugh-out-loud moments. I’m not ready yet to place any bets on its odds for success – for some reason, producers keep adapting Australian TV hits that immediately tank in this hemisphere – but with Kinnear in the lead and Peter Tolan (Rescue Me) among the executive producers, I’ll definitely be giving Rake a chance.

Blandings a jolly Wodehouse madhouse

P.G. Wodehouse stories inspired Blandings, a Britcom now available from Acorn Video.

Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Mark Williams and Jennifer Saunders (with the Empress, far left) star in ‘Blandings,’ now available in a two-disc set of Season 1 from Acorn Video.

The holidays have given me a welcome chance to catch up on some of the fall’s video offerings, few of them more engaging than Blandings, a new British TV adaptation of the stories of P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse, an astonishingly prolific writer who died in 1975, cranked out a lengthy series of novels and short stories that delightfully deflated the pomposity of the English idle rich, never more brilliantly than in his stories about hapless Bertie Wooster and his resourceful valet, Jeeves.
That set of stories inspired, and that’s the only appropriate word, Jeeves and Wooster, an absolutely dazzling British TV series starring, respectively, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (House) in the title roles. It’s one of the pinnacles of British TV comedy and, frankly, if you haven’t seen it, stop reading now and log onto Hulu, which has the entire series available for streaming.
Blandings, now available in a six-episode, two-DVD set encompassing its first season from Acorn Video, is drawn from an entirely different series of Wodehouse novels and stories, this time set at Blandings Castle, circa 1929, where Clarence Threepwood, Lord Emsworth (former Oscar nominee Timothy Spall), would love nothing more to devote his every spare moment to his rose garden and, even more, the true apple of his eye: the Empress of Blandings, an enormous show pig who has the run of the estate.
Those dreams are vexed, however, on two fronts: his dimwitted son, Freddie (Jack Farthing), who is perpetually penniless despite a generous allowance, and Clarence’s formidable sister, Connie (Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous, in one of her best roles), who is determined to ensure the family reputation is preserved.
Connie has so successfully cowed her brother that in most cases she has only to issue her most dire threat – “I shall go to my room!” – to get her way, although in one particularly tense confrontation included in this set, she goes completely Lady Macbeth, telling Clarence, “I shall stab you through the heart and have your mutilated corpse dragged around Blandings by a donkey. Naked. The donkey shall be clothed to amplify your total degradation.”
And that’s generally how Wodehouse characters talk. In any other context, if someone entered a drawing room looking for a character named Angela, another person in the room might say simply, “She’s not here.” A Wodehouse character, however, replies, “This drawing room does not seem overstocked with Angelas.”
Stephen Fry’s Jeeves may be missing in this series, but he has a worthy surrogate in Beach (Mark Williams), Clarence’s long-suffering but doggedly loyal butler. You may not recognize Williams’ name off the top of your head, but you definitely know him – he was Ron Weasley’s dad in the Harry Potter movies, and he is a swiftly rising character actor worth watching (he has the title role in a newly syndicated TV series adaptation of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries).
Guest stars in season one of Blandings include David Walliams of Little Britain fame as a personal secretary hired by Connie whose autocratic style clashes harshly with Clarence (and Beach) and Jessica Hynes from the very funny miniseries Twenty Twelve as a penniless aristocrat who sets her cap for Clarence.
A second season of Blandings has been greenlit for production in 2014. For now, this Acorn set will give Wodehouse fans hours of pleasure.
'Little Britain' star David Walliams guest stars in 'Blandings.'

Stuffy personal secretary Rupert Baxter (David Walliams, ‘Little Britain’) comes to grief in Lord Emsworth’s heavily fertilized rose garden in ‘Blandings.’

Schreiber anchors Showtime’s powerful ‘Ray Donovan’

Jon Voight and Liev Schreiber
Move over, Olivia Pope. There’s a new fixer in TV Town.
Unlike Kerry Washington’s central female character on ABC’s soapy hit Scandal, Ray Donovan – the title character played by Liev Schreiber in a terrific new Showtime drama series premiering tonight – is decidedly masculine and based on the West Coast, but like Olivia, he earns his living helping power players sidestep potential career-ending scandals. You say you’re a Hollywood movie stud with a weakness for transvestites or a star athlete whose one-night stand is lying in your bed, dead of a drug overdose? Ray’s your guy.
Helping Ray rescue the rich and powerful are his two associates, an intimidating Israeli named Avi (Stephen Bauer) and tough-as-nails Lena (Katherine Moennig, The L Word). The trio does most of its work for the powerful law firm of Goldman/Drexler, headed by Ray’s increasingly eccentric mentor Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) and his high-strung partner, Lee Drexler (Peter Jacobson, House).
It’s a rare professional challenge that Ray can’t handle without breaking a sweat, but he has less success on the homefront. His brother Terry (the great British character actor Eddie Marsan) struggles with Parkinson’s disease caused by spending too many years in the boxing ring, and kid brother Bunchy (Dash Mihok) hasn’t been able to maintain sobriety since he was abused by a priest while the brothers Donovan were growing up in South Boston. Ray is convinced, however, that most of their problems can be traced back to their father, Mickey (Jon Voght), a brutal Irish gangster who gave his sons no emotional support and left them to fend for themselves.
Years ago, Ray moved his own family, along with Terry and Bunchy, to Los Angeles, hoping to make a fresh start far from the toxic influence of Mickey, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now, however, Mickey is out and heading for the City of Angels, determined to punish Ray and reclaim his position as patriarch of the Donovan clan. And sadly for Ray, his bitter wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson, Deadwood), a seething ball of resentment and jealousy over her husband’s imagined infidelities, is all too ready to offer Mickey easy access to their two teenage kids (Kerris Dorsey and Devon Bagby) just for the petty satisfaction of angering her husband.
Believe it or not, that extended back story just scratches the surface of the complicated emotional tapestry series creator Ann Biderman (the late, great Southland) has woven, brought to vivid life by this very gifted cast. There really isn’t a bad performance or a distractingly false note anywhere in the four episodes I’ve seen so far, but it’s the explosive relationship between Ray and Mickey that really powers this series.
During the past few years, Voight probably has gotten more attention over his occasionally kooky public comments than for his performances but, at 74, this Academy Award winner can still bring it when he gets the right role. Here, his Mickey is all silky charm and false contrition as he reunites with his family and plays harmless Gramps to score sympathy points, but Voight also lets us see the feral beast lurking and waiting just below the surface. It’s entirely believable that this old man still has the power to scare the daylights out of Ray, especially when Ray sees Mickey cuddling up to the kids.
As for Schreiber, well, like his longtime life partner, Naomi Watts, he’s been delivering one fascinating performance after another for several years now, yet he still seems consigned to the B-list in terms of major stardom. If Ray Donovan hits as solidly as it deserves to, that may finally change, because this is a performance that is both tough and tender, deeply poignant and compelling even in these first episodes where we’re still getting to know Ray. And believe me, if you’re a fan of powerful adult drama, you’re going to want to know Ray Donovan very well indeed.

Kelley’s heroes

The departure of Fox’s House last spring from the primetime schedule has left room for a new medical drama that uses its hospital setting as more than a backdrop for soapy sex (yes, Grey’s Anatomy, I’m looking at you), and Monday Mornings, a new TNT series from David E. Kelley premiering tonight, is hoping to be just what the doctor ordered.
If only this prescription didn’t feel quite so generic.
Set at a fictional hospital in Portland, Ore., the new series takes its title from the facility’s weekly morbidity and mortality conference, at which chief of staff Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina, sporting an odd Linda Hunt hairstyle) leads a confidential review of the past week’s errors and complications in patient care. As you might expect, it’s not a lighthearted gathering, and Hooten’s unwelcome attention can shift at any moment to any member of his staff, which includes gifted but impetuous neurosurgeon Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber, Battlestar Galactica); his supportive colleague Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan, Close to Home); insensitive transplant specialist Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin, who played the Dick & Jane serial killer on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation); and the brilliant but socially inept Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim, Glee), whose shaky bedside manner is further undercut by a woeful command of English. The strong ensemble also includes Ving Rhames as trauma chief Dr. Jorge Villanueva and Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow (Southland) as other staff members.
As creator and/or executive producer of such past water cooler shows as Picket Fences, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Legal, Kelley developed a reputation for storytelling that blends compelling drama with quirky character comedy, but based on the three preview episodes TNT provided to TV writers, he’s playing things perfectly straight here – understandable, given that these characters are dealing with, literally, matters of life and death. But who are these characters, exactly?
Bamber’s warmth and nice-guy appeal keeps Dr. Wilson from being a hotshot-in-scrubs cliché, but so far, it’s hard to understand why a doctor who is so patient-focused that he literally is haunted by a child who died in his care is also prone to making high-handed judgment calls that even a casual viewer will recognize as ethical red flags, and Finnigan’s supposedly brilliant Dr. Ridgeway overlooks a major medical factor in one surgery that threatens the promising career of her patient, then compounds the error by entrusting the procedure to a young resident who never before has performed that operation. No doubt we’ll get a better handle on these medics as the series unfolds but already Monday Mornings seems to be settling into a seen-it-before formula that is a little worrisome.
Even more troubling is Dr. Park’s shockingly weak communication skills, which have him spouting what approaches pidgin English to his patients (“Not do, die!” he tells one girl who is reluctant to have a procedure). Is this supposed to be funny? I’m honestly not sure, and I also notice his command of English seems to vary conveniently based on the demands of any given scene.
All that said, I’m hoping Monday Mornings can pull itself together and become the medical drama TV could really use right now. There are no obvious weak links anywhere in the cast, and I especially hope Kelley and his team can find a way to use Irwin – a dazzling actor who can handle both comedy and drama with virtuoso ease – to maximum effect.
At present, however, prognosis for this series is inconclusive.