Mary McNamara, Television Critic

Review: 'Latino Americans' is a stirring history lesson

7:00 AM PDT, September 17, 2013

Review: 'Latino Americans' is a stirring history lesson

Here's the highest praise I can pay a three-part, six-hour documentary series on anything: I sat down to watch "Latino Americans," which premieres Tuesday on PBS, in its entirety with grim determination. When I was done, I couldn't stop talking about it.

Review: 'Sleepy Hollow' a zany spook-fest of a police procedural

5:00 AM PDT, September 16, 2013

Review: 'Sleepy Hollow' a zany spook-fest of a police procedural

A resurrected Revolutionary War hero, a double-ax-wielding horseman (headless), ghost trees, Colonial witches, horned beasts, ancient priests, a sassy female cop and at least one Starbucks joke?

 Movie stars happily flocking to TV

10:00 AM PDT, September 13, 2013

Fall TV Preview

Movie stars happily flocking to TV

The Berlin Wall was a thing of chicken wire and Kleenex compared with the barrier that once stood between film and television in America.

 Review: Billie Jean King's story is about much more than tennis

5:38 PM PDT, September 9, 2013

Review: Billie Jean King's story is about much more than tennis

Forty years ago, Billie Jean King played Bobby Riggs in the most famous tennis match in American history. Dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes," it was as much a contest of ideologies as athleticism.

Review: 'Burn Notice' served notice and, in the end, still roars

7:00 AM PDT, September 12, 2013

Review: 'Burn Notice' served notice and, in the end, still roars

While television pundits work themselves into an honors-English lather deconstructing the minutiae of "Breaking Bad's" final episodes, let us pause for a moment, crack a window and possibly a beer, and consider Thursday's final episode of USA's "Burn Notice," a show that had profoundly altered the television landscape before Walter White was barely a mad gleam in Vince Gilligan's eye.

Review: Ricky Gervais' 'Derek' on Netflix is funny but frustrating

6:00 AM PDT, September 12, 2013

Review: Ricky Gervais' 'Derek' on Netflix is funny but frustrating

With each new member of its inaugural rollout, Netflix continues its creative course of conservative innovation.

A 'Tango' with Derek Jacobi is something not to be missed

6:30 AM PDT, September 7, 2013

A 'Tango' with Derek Jacobi is something not to be missed

I have written exactly one fan letter in my life and that was to Derek Jacobi.

Review: Solving the unsolvable on TNT's 'Cold Justice'

7:30 AM PDT, September 3, 2013

Review: Solving the unsolvable on TNT's 'Cold Justice'

TNT is positioning the real-life investigative procedural "Cold Justice" as reality TV's version of "Rizzoli & Isles." But the first and perhaps most significant thing Dick Wolf's new true-crime show does is remind us how overly groomed, politically correct and inevitably romantic most scripted crime dramas are, even the good ones, even the gritty ones.

Review: 'Last Tango in Halifax' on PBS is the fall's best new show

6:00 AM PDT, September 7, 2013

Review: 'Last Tango in Halifax' on PBS is the fall's best new show

Oh, to live in a world where "Last Tango in Halifax" becomes as crazy-popular as "Downton Abbey."

Critic's Notebook: 'Duck Dynasty' is a canny curation of cultures

7:00 AM PDT, August 22, 2013

Critic's Notebook: 'Duck Dynasty' is a canny curation of cultures

Reality TV is experiencing something of a "Mad Men" moment, with bandannas and iced tea in place of fedoras and highballs.

So far, there's nothing revolutionary about Al Jazeera America

6:30 AM PDT, August 31, 2013

So far, there's nothing revolutionary about Al Jazeera America

Fires may rage and the U.N. roil, but let's scratch one hot-button concern off the national agenda: Al Jazeera America will not be overthrowing the American way of life any time soon.

Review: 'Silk' renders British court drama with conviction

7:00 AM PDT, August 24, 2013

Review: 'Silk' renders British court drama with conviction

"The Good Wife" meets "Law and Order: U.K." in "Silk," a six-hour, three-episode series premiering on PBS' "Masterpiece Mystery!" on Sunday night.

 Review: These 'Modern Dads' are far from clueless about child care

6:30 AM PDT, August 21, 2013

Review: These 'Modern Dads' are far from clueless about child care

Ever since "Three Men and a Baby" hit the big screen in 1987, scripted shows have been exploring the hilarious aspects of bumbling men as primary caregivers. What seemed fresh, perhaps, when "Full House" debuted, now has very mixed results — though ABC Family's lame to middling "Baby Daddy" was recently given a third season, NBC's higher profile "Guys With Kids" was swiftly canceled and I don't even want to talk about what happened to "Up All Night."

 Can women break the antihero's hold on TV?

10:00 AM PDT, August 16, 2013

Can women break the antihero's hold on TV?

The marketing of AMC's new drama, "Low Winter Sun," revolves around a moody black-and-white photo of lead actor Mark Strong and the show's tagline: "Good Man. Cop. Killer."

 Review: PBS' 'Life of Muhammad' an earnest effort to enlighten

7:30 AM PDT, August 20, 2013

Review: PBS' 'Life of Muhammad' an earnest effort to enlighten

Whether a case of divine intervention or just fortuitous programming, PBS begins airing "The Life of Muhammad," a three-part explanation of the history of Islam, on Tuesday, the same day Al Jazeera America makes its debut on the channel formerly known as Current TV. It's a coincidence that only intensifies the PBS series' air of demystification.

Television review: 'The White Queen' courts confusion

6:30 AM PDT, August 10, 2013

Television review: 'The White Queen' courts confusion

"The White Queen," a co-production of the BBC and Starz, debuted in Britain this summer to mostly scathing reviews. Critics objected especially to a few glaring anachronisms — no zippers in the 15th century, nor tourist-friendly castle handrails — and a general lack of the slop-pots-'n'-rotten-teeth realism that has marked period dramas ever since HBO's "John Adams" showcased the horror of early smallpox vaccines.

Why 'Downton Abbey' drama trumps 'Walking Dead' zombies at Emmys

7:00 AM PDT, August 8, 2013

Emmys 2013

Why 'Downton Abbey' drama trumps 'Walking Dead' zombies at Emmys

Emmy voters can't get enough of "Downton Abbey," having just added another dozen nominations to the tony soap's already towering haul. "The Walking Dead," meanwhile, may be a hit with viewers, but it's dead to the academy, receiving but a single nomination for ... makeup. Time to protest or perhaps applaud a showing of good taste. Times television critic Mary McNamara and Times awards writer Glenn Whipp draw the battle lines.

Review: What will 'Breaking Bad's' story mean?

6:00 AM PDT, August 9, 2013

Review: What will 'Breaking Bad's' story mean?

When AMC and Vince Gilligan introduced us to mild-mannered chemistry teacher Walter White five years ago, we literally did not know what we were seeing.

The family on 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' is the real deal

5:00 AM PDT, July 17, 2013

The family on 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo' is the real deal

Last year, TLC invited America into the railroad-track adjacent three bedroom-one bath home of 7-year-old Alana Thompson, her mother June, her father Sugar Bear and her three teenage half-sisters located in McIntyre, Ga., population 642.

Current events put the N-word — and U.S. history — on trial

8:00 AM PDT, July 13, 2013

Current events put the N-word — and U.S. history — on trial

Egypt roils with revolution, Edward Snowden has become the Scarlet Pimpernel of privacy and a new study reveals that, even though Americans are exercising more, we're still fat, which is really unfair. Yet for weeks we've been bombarded with minute-by-minute televised coverage of the George Zimmerman trial.

Review: A return to a more likable 'Newsroom' on HBO

7:00 AM PDT, July 13, 2013

Review: A return to a more likable 'Newsroom' on HBO

Like many of his characters, Aaron Sorkin has a thick-skinned, tough-talking, "that large rectangle to your left is the door" attitude toward public opinion.

TV review: ABC Family's 'Spell-Mageddon' appears d-u-l-l

4:25 PM PDT, July 23, 2013

TV review: ABC Family's 'Spell-Mageddon' appears d-u-l-l

If ABC Family executives had known their new game show "Spell-Mageddon" would be premiering in the social media vacuum left by "Sharknado," they might have considered throwing a few piranhas into the mix. As it is, the film and the series share little beyond titular portmanteau (blending two words to make one) and the attempt to blend two big ideas into an unexpected hybrid.

Television review: 'Broadchurch's' power lies in death's aftermath

5:00 AM PDT, August 7, 2013

Television review: 'Broadchurch's' power lies in death's aftermath

It's tough to beat a good crime drama for many reasons, only some of which have to do with guns, car chases and wise but weary men saying things like "I'm too old for this."

Emmys 2013: 'Walking Dead's' zombies are beneath snobbish academy

1:40 PM PDT, July 18, 2013

Emmys 2013: 'Walking Dead's' zombies are beneath snobbish academy

This year's Emmy nominations reflected a lot of change in TV. Netflix got creative validation; there are more female-led dramas than ever. But one rule has become calcified: No zombies need apply.

Review: NBC's 'Camp' not much to write home about yet

6:00 AM PDT, July 10, 2013

Review: NBC's 'Camp' not much to write home about yet

Most comedy writers prefer the confines of the set, or at least the city, for reasons both fiscal and creative. A crucible cooks up laughs as quickly as it heats up drama.

Review: Ambition, talent drive 'Being Mary Jane' with Gabrielle Union

5:00 AM PDT, July 2, 2013

Review: Ambition, talent drive 'Being Mary Jane' with Gabrielle Union

BET is having a very good week. On Sunday its annual awards ceremony blew out the Nokia Theatre and Tuesday night the network premieres "Being Mary Jane," a movie-length pilot for its first scripted series, which will debut in January.

Television review: Small-town life has its moments in 'Cedar Cove'

12:49 PM PDT, July 19, 2013

Television review: Small-town life has its moments in 'Cedar Cove'

The latest network to enlist big-screen talent and muscle its way into the original scripted-series business, Hallmark Channel premieres on Saturday its adaptation of Debbie Macomber's bestselling Cedar Cove novels. It's called "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove," presumably to avoid any confusion among the author's built-in fan base.

Review: Lock yourself up with 'Orange Is the New Black'

1:35 PM PDT, July 10, 2013

Review: Lock yourself up with 'Orange Is the New Black'

As the fourth series in Netflix's attempt to change television and the world as we know it, "Orange Is the New Black" may feel a bit like the last bridesmaid, trailing in the petal-strewn wake of "House of Cards" and "Arrested Development." But as any rom-com addict knows, it's precisely that gal, the one bringing up the rear with the broken heel and the tilted headdress, who winds up stealing the show.

Paula Deen burns herself again

10:20 AM PDT, June 26, 2013

Paula Deen burns herself again

Did no one pay attention when David Letterman, forced by a blackmailer to make an adulterous affair public, revealed the secret to handling a personal scandal? You show up, own up and shut up.

Review: 'Siberia' full of thrills, chills and scare tactics

5:00 AM PDT, July 1, 2013

Review: 'Siberia' full of thrills, chills and scare tactics

When "Survivor" debuted in 2000, it seemed such a dangerous and unpredictable experiment — dumping strangers into a remote locale where they would have to struggle to survive. "Lord of the Flies" came easily to mind; the prospect of watching human beings both learn to live off the land and wrestle with their primitive inclinations was thrilling and disturbing.

Brett Martin and Alan Sepinwall look at the TV revolution

1:30 PM PDT, June 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW

Brett Martin and Alan Sepinwall look at the TV revolution

The unexpected death of James Gandolfini, who was best known for his work on the series "The Sopranos," recently re-ignited the conversation over How Much Television has Changed, which has become so intense and widespread in the last few years that books are now being written about it.

 James Gandolfini dies: Why men had a love affair with Tony Soprano

5:00 AM PDT, June 21, 2013

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

James Gandolfini dies: Why men had a love affair with Tony Soprano

After the news broke that actor James Gandolfini had died, media outlets everywhere scrambled to put him, and his beloved character Tony Soprano, into cultural context. But if you wanted to understand the importance of the man and the show, all you had to do was listen to sports radio.

 Review: 'Under the Dome' seems in a rush to tell a good story

7:30 AM PDT, June 24, 2013

Review: 'Under the Dome' seems in a rush to tell a good story

You'd think it would be easy to adapt Stephen King to film or television, but history has proven otherwise. King's work is as much about mood as it is monsters, and that's a tough combo. For every masterpiece ("The Shining," "Carrie," "Misery"), there's a mess ("Christine," "Children of the Corn," "Bag of Bones").

 Review: ABC Family's 'Twisted' might be a killer teen drama

6:00 AM PDT, June 11, 2013

Review: ABC Family's 'Twisted' might be a killer teen drama

So many shows begin with the death of a young person that it seems only fair one should turn the conceit on its head. "Twisted," which premieres Tuesday on ABC Family, attempts to discover what might happen if a young man who murdered his aunt returns to his idyllic hometown after five years in juvenile detention.

Television review: 'Graceland' catches a wave of crime fighters

6:00 AM PDT, June 6, 2013

Television review: 'Graceland' catches a wave of crime fighters

USA might want to consider changing its tag line from "Characters Welcome" to "Welcome to Summer."

Review: 'Whodunnit?' reality TV 'murder' mystery off to slow start

5:16 PM PDT, June 21, 2013

Review: 'Whodunnit?' reality TV 'murder' mystery off to slow start

The classic manor house murder mystery would seem a no-brainer for reality TV, but somehow we got "Cupcake Wars" before "Whodunnit?" which premieres Sunday on ABC.

The best-written TV show? 'The Sopranos,' of course

6:00 AM PDT, June 3, 2013

The best-written TV show? 'The Sopranos,' of course

The Writers Guild announced its 101 best-written TV series on Sunday night, and it will surprise exactly no one to learn that David Chase and "The Sopranos" topped the list, followed closely by "Seinfeld" (Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, creators) at No. 2.

'House of Lies' to 'New Girl': Comedy is seriously complicated

7:00 AM PDT, June 6, 2013

Emmys 2013

'House of Lies' to 'New Girl': Comedy is seriously complicated

Comedy is hard, in large part because it's supposed to look easy. Carefully crafted sentences must be delivered with both precision timing and a sense of spontaneity; a double-take that looks rehearsed is just embarrassing. The performers who joined The Envelope's comedy panel this year represent the ever-widening range of the genre — from the indestructible "Two and a Half Men" to the darkly R-rated "House of Lies" — but all are masters of comedic effortlessness.

Review: 'Devious Maids' are sexy, scheming and stereotypical

7:00 AM PDT, June 22, 2013

Review: 'Devious Maids' are sexy, scheming and stereotypical

In a perfect world, "Devious Maids," a new drama written by Marc Cherry and produced by Eva Longoria, both late of "Desperate Housewives," could be judged simply by its own merits, as an attempt to translate a popular telenovela to American television, in this case Lifetime.

Review: 'Love, Marilyn' is a love letter to Marilyn Monroe

5:30 AM PDT, June 17, 2013

Review: 'Love, Marilyn' is a love letter to Marilyn Monroe

Watching "Love, Marilyn," Liz Garbus' pointed, poetic and occasionally overwrought documentary about the life of Marilyn Monroe, I kept thinking about "The Great Gatsby," another tragedy in two acts recently resurrected for our viewing pleasure.

Review: Little charm in these 'Mistresses'

7:20 PM PDT, June 2, 2013

Review: Little charm in these 'Mistresses'

ABC's new nighttime soap "Mistresses," which premieres Monday, is pretty much what we've come to expect from any Americanized version of a British television show that isn't "The Office": lame.

Television review: 'Behind the Candelabra' an all-that-glitters caveat

7:00 AM PDT, May 24, 2013

Television review: 'Behind the Candelabra' an all-that-glitters caveat

Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" was preceded by so much fuss over the casting of Michael Douglas as bedazzled pianist icon Liberace and Matt Damon as the entertainer's young lover Scott Thorson, that you'd have thought the duo did something other than act for a living.

It's hard to 'Love Thy Neighbor' and the Tyler Perry-Oprah union

6:00 AM PDT, June 1, 2013

It's hard to 'Love Thy Neighbor' and the Tyler Perry-Oprah union

"Love Thy Neighbor," Tyler Perry's second contribution to the oeuvre of OWN this week, revolves around a shrill, invective-spewing elderly woman and the family she delights in abusing.

'Dexter' enters last season with knife marks all over TV landscape

11:00 AM PDT, May 24, 2013

'Dexter' enters last season with knife marks all over TV landscape

When Showtime debuted "Dexter" way back in 2006, people couldn't quite grasp what they were seeing. A serial killer? As a sympathetic leading man? Were those the flames of Sodom burning distantly behind us?

Review: A crime drama in search of a 'Motive'

5:00 AM PDT, May 20, 2013

Review: A crime drama in search of a 'Motive'

There is really only one reason to watch ABC's Canadian-import place-holder crime drama "Motive" — Kristin Lehman.

Review: The not-so winning 'Goodwin Games'

6:00 AM PDT, May 20, 2013

Review: The not-so winning 'Goodwin Games'

"The Goodwin Games" is family comedy debuting as a late midseason replacement with only a seven-episode order.

Television review: 'Save Me,' with Anne Heche, goes unrescued

5:00 AM PDT, May 23, 2013

Television review: 'Save Me,' with Anne Heche, goes unrescued

If there were an Emmy for Most Disturbingly Apt Title of Series, NBC's new comedy "Save Me" would win hands down. It just works on so many levels.

TV review: 'Manhunt' keeps Bin Laden hunt as real as possible

8:30 AM PDT, May 1, 2013

TV review: 'Manhunt' keeps Bin Laden hunt as real as possible

How many films about the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden can the market bear? The answer appears to be three — a bad one, a good one and now, a messy but provocative one.

Netflix's 'House of Cards' looks, but doesn't sound, like a hit

6:00 AM PDT, April 27, 2013

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Netflix's 'House of Cards' looks, but doesn't sound, like a hit

If "House of Cards" were an actual television show, this would be the day after its finale — a time to analyze the cultural impact of the E-ticket D.C. thriller starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, and to painstakingly mine the end of the first season for clues to the second. There would be hashtags and recaps, heated discussions and lists of things to love and hate.

'Scandal' has become must-tweet TV

6:00 AM PDT, May 11, 2013

'Scandal' has become must-tweet TV

ABC's "Scandal" revolves around a beautiful, law-breaking Washington power-fixer with killer instincts and a matching wardrobe. She's madly in love with the very flawed president of the United States, who, among other things, recently murdered a Supreme Court justice. And they're the good guys.

On TV, a new breed of Modern Woman

6:30 AM PDT, April 20, 2013

Critic's Notebook

On TV, a new breed of Modern Woman

A ruthlessly self-aware political wife reconsidering her choices. A sensual socialite facing down an oppressive age with informed good humor. A group of young women so busy defying social expectations they've forgotten to have any of their own. A working mother with a gift for passionate stillness. A recently recovered drama addict determined to save the world. A bipolar CIA operative, an optimistic bureaucrat, a frightened sex slave turned canny warrior.

Oscars show review: Despite Adele, Michelle Obama, telecast is dull

6:00 AM PST, February 25, 2013

Oscars 2013

Oscars show review: Despite Adele, Michelle Obama, telecast is dull

Well, that didn't work.

Television review: Kelsey Grammer in 'Boss'

October 21, 2011

Television review: Kelsey Grammer in 'Boss'

There is something essentially likable about Kelsey Grammer as a performer. That broad scholar-like forehead, the strong jaw and mild blue eyes all conspire to create the image of a sometimes bumbling but still powerful guy, best embodied by his most lasting character, Frasier Crane. This ability to project opposing forces is one reason Grammer has been so successful in comedy — he can play the fool and still remain an alpha male. It's also why he is now able to breathe life into Frasier Crane's hard-hearted doppelganger, Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, who is the centerpiece of Starz's new political drama "Boss."

Best TV shows of 2012: The year of Sherlock Holmes

8:00 AM PST, December 14, 2012

Best TV shows of 2012: The year of Sherlock Holmes

For the generations of men who have wondered what it is women want, this year has made it fairly obvious. We want a man of devastating intelligence, cerebrally and physically nimble, whose vast store of arcane knowledge is foundation for a super-human ability to solve problems and the fascinating, frustrating wall that protects a tender heart.

The Petraeus affair: unscripted and simply scandalous

8:49 AM PST, November 17, 2012

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

The Petraeus affair: unscripted and simply scandalous

It's "Homeland" meets "The Real Housewives" — and it's hands down the best serialized show on TV.

Book review: 'Then Again' by Diane Keaton

November 19, 2011

Book review: 'Then Again' by Diane Keaton

It was always the fragile balance of opposing forces that made Diane Keaton's face so remarkable — those tilted melancholy eyes above that frequent and infectious smile. She seemed in a perpetual state of emotional contradiction, which is one of the things that made her such a perfect match, at least on film, for Woody Allen, who as history's most hopeful pessimist is a master juggler himself.

Television review: 'Liz & Dick' romance fizzles in graceless biopic

6:00 AM PST, November 24, 2012

Television review: 'Liz & Dick' romance fizzles in graceless biopic

An epic love story, like a good horror movie, relies more on possibility than actuality. Surprise and anticipation, of what is to come and what it might mean, are what draw viewers in, binding them in fetters of pleasure and pain. Subtlety and nuance create the space between word and glance, between shadow and revelation, where imagination digs in and magnificence blooms.

Women of 'Damages' on ties that bind

7:00 AM PDT, June 14, 2012

Women of 'Damages' on ties that bind

When "Damages"premiered on FX five years ago, it blew everyone's minds for a glistening stack of reasons. The star power (Glenn Close! Ted Danson!), the writing, the crazy two-stepping flashback story line, the hypnotic Evil Queen brutality of Close's lead, attorney Patty Hewes. As the first and subsequent seasons unfurled, and then made its way over to DirecTV, another rare quality emerged: the relationship between Patty and her former acolyte Ellen Parsons, played by Rose Byrne. A wide-eyed baby lawyer who thinks her gravest sin and greatest peril is "selling out" her ideals when she accepts a job with Patty, Ellen soon realizes what she knows about sin and peril could fit on the nail of Patty's little finger.

'Hannah Montana' takes Miley Cyrus on a (safe) voyage of discovery

April 10, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW

'Hannah Montana' takes Miley Cyrus on a (safe) voyage of discovery

" Hannah Montana: The Movie" is not so much a movie as it is a trial balloon to see if Miley Cyrus, with her big blue eyes, exceptionally white teeth and increasingly long limbs, can hold the big screen as effectively as she has the small screen. The answer is yes.

Gil Cates: the Wizard of Oscars

November 2, 2011

Gil Cates: the Wizard of Oscars

Seven years ago, I was asked to cover the Academy Awards from backstage. To get the necessary credentials, I had to be personally vetted by producer Gil Cates. As I made my way along the shiny floor of the Oscar production offices, I was prepared for Oz, the great and terrible — at this point, having produced the show 11 times, Cates was the Oscars. Instead, I met a man who wore blue jeans and cowboy boots, who twinkled when he smiled and even when he swore.

The Reading Life: 'Agatha Christie: An Autobiography'

November 27, 2011

The Reading Life: 'Agatha Christie: An Autobiography'

Last summer, while browsing in a used bookstore in San Luis Obispo, I discovered something I thought no longer existed — an Agatha Christie novel I had not read. Anyone monitoring my vital signs would have thought I had discovered the next Gnostic gospel or a lost play of Shakespeare's. Clutching it tightly as if someone might snatch it from me, I quickly bought it. I promised myself I would take my time, savor the experience and read only a few pages at a time. Instead, I finished it the next day.

Critic's Notebook: The 'Glee' machine

May 23, 2011

Critic's Notebook: The 'Glee' machine

Despite its fresh-faced cast, G-rating and untainted, unapologetic air of jubilance (see, please, the two exclamation points, both of which are quite sincere), "Glee Live! In Concert!" seemed very much at home in Las Vegas, where the stars of Fox's hit show kicked off their second live tour.

Golden Globes: Host Ricky Gervais was just too nasty.

January 17, 2011

Golden Globes: Host Ricky Gervais was just too nasty.

The opposite of dull and deferential is not snotty and abusive.

Mary Tyler Moore's taboo-breaking shows seen in new light

January 29, 2012

Mary Tyler Moore's taboo-breaking shows seen in new light

In recent months the name Mary Tyler Moore has been bandied about with unexpected regularity bordering on reckless abandon. This is not just because she recently made her first TV appearance in many moons on pal Betty White's show "Hot in Cleveland" or because she proved at last month's televised fete for White's 90th birthday that she can still rock a white pantsuit or even because she is receiving this year's Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award on Sunday.

September 18, 2011

The meaning of an Emmy nomination: A round-table discussion

For a television critic, the Emmys are always a mixed bag. It's always great when shows and performances we have supported from the beginning are recognized, but sometimes — if you can believe it — the shows and people we believe deserve to win don't. But there is one consistent bright spot in the process — when people whose work has been consistently terrific over the years are recognized for the first time. This year saw quite a few accomplished performers get their first Emmy nomination.

Review: 'Bossypants' by Tina Fey is funny and heartfelt

April 4, 2011

Review: 'Bossypants' by Tina Fey is funny and heartfelt

Ever since Vanity Fair put her on its January 2010 cover in what looked like a Wonder Woman costume, Tina Fey has seemed in danger of falling for the very canard she has spent a career satirizing: that a woman can "have it all" if she's willing to lose 20 pounds, show her breasts and regularly remind everyone that, although she writes and stars in an Emmy-winning TV show, she is still essentially a loser who eats a lot of cupcakes. (Just like, you know, Larry David does.) An excerpt from her new book in a recent New Yorker didn't help, with Fey assuming the position of agonized career mommy — why do so many people keep asking her if she is going to have another baby when having one is so hard? Fey wonders hysterically, never once considering that these people are Just Making Polite Conversation.

'Jesse Stone: Thin Ice' Sunday on CBS

February 27, 2009

TELEVISION REVIEW

'Jesse Stone: Thin Ice' Sunday on CBS

While most crime series today rely on some sort of technical or psychological twist -- the wonders of forensics, the special knowledge of a reformed fake psychic or a good-guy serial killer, “Jesse Stone: Thin Ice," which debuts on Sunday, sticks with the fundamentals.

Critic's Notebook: Emmy nominations' twists and turns

July 15, 2011

Critic's Notebook: Emmy nominations' twists and turns

How do you argue with any master list that includes Jane Lynch, Kathy Bates, Margo Martindale, Melissa McCarthy, Martha Plimpton, Kelly MacDonald, Betty White, Kristen Wiig and Joan Cusack?

A working mother's guide to writing a novel

September 26, 2010

A working mother's guide to writing a novel

A dozen years ago, my editor at the Los Angeles Times asked if I wanted to interview novelist Mary Gordon, who was in Los Angeles on a book tour. Enormously pregnant, I said yes, partly because I love Mary Gordon and partly because her hotel was two blocks away from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center — if I went into labor during the interview, I figured I could just walk.

Getting over J.D. Salinger

May 1, 2011

Getting over J.D. Salinger

I've outgrown J.D. Salinger, and I don't know where that leaves me.

Christmas in London? Jolly good

December 19, 2010

Christmas in London? Jolly good

For years, my husband and I had wanted to take our children to London before the magic of "Peter Pan" and "Mary Poppins" wore off, before the older two became too jaded for the Changing of the Guard and double-decker buses, before they would rather hang out with their friends than go anywhere with their family. But the pound, at $2 a pop, was just too strong.

Americans sport a laid-back style in Beijing

August 18, 2008

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Americans sport a laid-back style in Beijing

"One world, one dream" may be the official motto of the Summer Olympics, but the Americans have been running more with "The power and politics of mellow."

'Money Walks,' Chapter 1

April 6, 2009

SERIAL STORYTELLING

'Money Walks,' Chapter 1

This is the first chapter in an experiment in serial storytelling called "Money Walks" that we will publish in Calendar during the next three weeks. Every weekday and Saturday between now and April 24, we will bring you another installment, first by our own Mary McNamara, and then by Los Angeles fiction writers including, among others, Seth Greenland, Marisa Silver, Aimee Bender, Denise Hamilton and Jerry Stahl.

The Oscars show itself was puttin' on the fritz

February 23, 2009

REVIEW

The Oscars show itself was puttin' on the fritz

Somewhere in New York, a huge weight has been lifted from David Letterman's shoulders. As Sunday night's Academy Awards began, Hugh Jackman's opening number (pardon me, but did he sing the words "pubic hair"? At the Oscars?) has surely obliterated all memory of the Uma-Oprah thing. Not to mention taking years off the lives of the poor folks preparing to launch publicity for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." They can only hope those teenage boys were too miffed that "Iron Man" wasn't nominated to watch.

Book review: 'I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections' by Nora Ephron

November 14, 2010

Book review: 'I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections' by Nora Ephron

I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections

Of love 'Lost'

May 24, 2010

Of love 'Lost'

Well, it could have been worse. It could have all been a dream.

Fawcett leaves a legacy larger than her roles

June 26, 2009

AN APPRECIATION

Fawcett leaves a legacy larger than her roles

The slightly soft-porn Wella Balsam ads notwithstanding, the infamous appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman" aside, it is impossible to overstate Farrah Fawcett's cultural influence.

Emmy strands 'Lost' actors

September 17, 2008

THE WATER COOLER

Emmy strands 'Lost' actors

" LOST" IS the only nominee for this year's Emmy for dramatic series that doesn't have a corresponding nomination in the lead actor or actress category. Michael Emerson, who plays the chillingly deadpan Ben, is up for supporting actor but that's it for the acting categories. Which is a little strange considering that "Lost" is pretty much crawling with actors.

Television Review: Anne Hathaway and James Franco play it safe

February 28, 2011

Television Review: Anne Hathaway and James Franco play it safe

They played it safe, and who could blame them?

Review: 'The Last Templar'

January 23, 2009

TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'The Last Templar'

Forget boy meets girl, boy loses girl, etc. Knight finds holy relic, knight hides holy relic, modern archaeologist/art historian/guy on the street races Dark Forces to get holy relic --that's the way to go these days. Think "The Da Vinci Code," “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” or even "National Treasure: Book of Secrets."

'Castle'

March 9, 2009

TELEVISION REVIEW

'Castle'

The detective tale is like yellow cake -- at some level everyone likes it, and with a little imagination you can do pretty much anything with it.

A lifetime bond over books

December 5, 2010

A lifetime bond over books

Every Christmas when I was a child and even as a young adult, I knew which present I would open last. Deep under the tree, covered with fallen needles and those home-made paper ornaments you save for the lowest branches, lay a large box. Originally used for some bulky garment — a really significant cardigan or, pushing further back, one of those inexplicably popular fuzzy ponchos —it was the kind of box one saved, once upon a time, before gift bags were invented and gift wrap was dear, when kids were encouraged to slow down and remove the paper carefully so it could be smoothed, folded and used again. To make this box suitable for easy reuse, only its lid had been wrapped in red paper bedecked with some green figure (wreaths possibly, or just festive bows) that over the years frayed at the corners and had a web of inevitable wrinkles so that it eventually looked like a Christmas present might look on a TV screen full of static.

Jimmy Fallon and the Emmys were born to have fun

August 30, 2010

Jimmy Fallon and the Emmys were born to have fun

There was a spring in the step of the 62nd Emmys that's been missing from awards shows so generally and for so long that some of us had begun to believe it had been permanently unsprung. Ambitious, energetically hilarious, and, most important, almost seamlessly constructed, this year's telecast actually did what the Emmys are supposed to do — celebrate television.

Tony Soprano and those other tough guys are muscled out

April 19, 2009

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Tony Soprano and those other tough guys are muscled out

Somewhere, in a prop warehouse owned by HBO, there is a big pile of guns. Dusty, unused, bewildered perhaps by their strange and sudden obsolescence, they can only wait and wonder why premium subscriber television, a business they created, built by God out of nothing, has simply abandoned them.

Disney World: Mad dashes, exhausting schedules and enervating weather

November 14, 2010

Disney World: Mad dashes, exhausting schedules and enervating weather

During the last 10 years, I have written about some of the vacations my husband, our three children and I have taken to Ireland, Italy, Paris, Germany, the Netherlands and London. The response has been mixed. Many found inspiration in our tales; others thought my husband and I were crazy for "dragging" our children on trips that were too expensive and arduous for families with young children.

Television review: 'America: The Story of Us' summarizes hundreds of years in 12 hours

April 24, 2010

Television review: 'America: The Story of Us' summarizes hundreds of years in 12 hours

Two years ago, HBO took 8 1/2 hours to chronicle the life of John Adams; starting Sunday, History will take us from the colonizing of Jamestown through the millennium in just 12. "America: The Story of Us" is being touted as "the most in-depth television series ever produced by History," which is worrisome considering the hour-to-year ratio, as well as "the broadest educational outreach initiative the network has ever undertaken," which makes a bit more sense.

Book review: 'Palo Alto' by James Franco

October 17, 2010

Book review: 'Palo Alto' by James Franco

Most people who write fiction have day jobs mainly because writing fiction tends to pay poorly and sporadically. But James Franco, who has written a collection of short stories entitled "Palo Alto" (Scribners) is a movie star. So when he landed one of those stories in Esquire this spring, it was part of a package that included a dapper cover-shot. Obviously, this doesn't happen to most newbie fiction writers, or even award-winning fiction writers unless you are Jonathan Franzen. And perhaps Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult can stop being so mad at Franzen and start being mad at Franco — "Palo Alto" will no doubt get more ink than most first-time short-story collections, including, you know, this review. It isn't Franco's fault, of course — just because he's a handsome young actor doesn't mean he can't write a book if he wants to

Oscars show has no sense of timing

March 8, 2010

TELEVISION REVIEW

Oscars show has no sense of timing

An hour into the telecast of the 82nd Academy Awards, you couldn't help but hope that somewhere backstage at the Kodak Theatre someone was waving a script and yelling: "Tempo, people, tempo."

January 24, 2009

TELEVISION REVIEW

'The Diplomat' is on a road less traveled

"The Diplomat," which premieres tonight on Ion, is one of those character-driven, complicated miniseries thrillers the British are so fond of, the kind of story in which a highly significant plot point is revealed by the way a person purses his mouth when he gets off the phone.

'Mistresses' on BBC America

February 20, 2009

TELEVISION REVIEW

'Mistresses' on BBC America

“Mistresses,” which premieres tonight, takes itself pretty seriously considering its title. Yes, the one-hour BBC drama is a sexual soap opera in which a quartet of lovely and complicated women negotiates alarmingly fraught romantic lives, but honestly, there's not a "mistress" among them.

Haunting first season show leaves a lasting impact

March 29, 2009

THE EPISODE: LOVE'S LABOR LOST

Haunting first season show leaves a lasting impact

I remember the moment when I realized film could make horror beautiful and thus even more horrifying ("Apocalypse Now") or a stage actor could be so mesmerizing you forget he's on a stage ( Derek Jacobi in "Breaking the Code"). But not like I remember the moment I understood how powerful and long-lasting an hour of television could be.

Luke Campbell's 'Parental Advisory' is too square to shock

August 4, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

Luke Campbell's 'Parental Advisory' is too square to shock

Whatever value there ever was in glimpsing the "real lives" of marginal celebrities was long ago leeched from the likes of the Osbourne family and Anna Nicole Smith. And yet the shows keep coming, one after the other, reality nonchalantly surrendering to banality until the TV grid begins to read like the invitation list to some C-lister bash at the Playboy Mansion.

Review: HBO's 'Taking Chance'

February 21, 2009

Review: HBO's 'Taking Chance'

If you want to understand the over-cited concept of the electronic hearth or see proof of the power and significance of television as a medium, then you must watch “Taking Chance,” which debuts tonight on HBO.

'The Locator' finds raw human emotions

September 6, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

'The Locator' finds raw human emotions

The title of "The Locator,” which premieres on WE TV tonight, is a bit misleading.

Review: 'Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House' on HBO

August 18, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House' on HBO

Helen Thomas, longtime member of the White House press corps, certainly qualifies for national icon status. For many Americans, she has been a permanent fixture of presidential press conferences, the lady in the front row who not only opened and closed the event but who also often asked the pushiest questions. Not surprisingly, where some see a grand dame, others see a crank -- but no one can deny her significance.

September 21, 2008

Emmys race comes down to old or new

It's a race to decide what we value most: the vibrant and new or that which is mellow with experience. Shall we surrender to the seductive nature of callow youth or the guaranteed satisfaction that only maturity can provide?

Reality TV shows tough people doing the rough jobs

May 19, 2008

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Reality TV shows tough people doing the rough jobs

Remember when fishing was television of last resort, revered by dedicated anglers but glimpsed only occasionally by others, perhaps as a joke or during a visit to Grandpa's? These days, fishing is officially hot: Discovery Channel recently announced that men ages 18 to 49 ranked "The Deadliest Catch" No. 3 among all prime-time television on Tuesday night, beating out "Dancing With the Stars" and "Shark" in the demographic. (How hilarious is it that a show called "Deadliest Catch" beat out a show called "Shark"?)

Review: 'The Mentalist'

September 23, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'The Mentalist'

The Sherlock Holmes template has worked so well on “House" that really it was only a matter of time before it was reclaimed by a detective show.

Review: 'DogTown': 'The Michael Vick Dogs'

September 5, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'DogTown': 'The Michael Vick Dogs'

It has been a summer of awe-inspiring, thought-provoking spectacle on television. First the Summer Olympics, then the Democratic and Republican national conventions and now the return of "DogTown." If that sounds sarcastic or snarky, it isn't meant to. The two-hour season premiere of the popular National Geographic Channel show is titled "Saving the Michael Vick Dogs," and if there were such a thing as an Olympics for animal rescue and rehabilitation, this would be it.

Emmys a night to salvage

September 22, 2008

REVIEW

Emmys a night to salvage

SOMEONE at ABC should just cut Ricky Gervais a check. For 35 minutes the 2008 Emmys seemed well on the way to being the Worst Awards Show in the History of Television, including this year's Golden Globes, which happened in the middle of the writers strike and wasn't really a show at all.

Rocking with the Police at Hollywood Bowl, kids in tow

May 29, 2008

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Rocking with the Police at Hollywood Bowl, kids in tow

When you take your kids to a rock concert, it's a good idea to bring cookies. Because kids don't understand about opening acts. So while you are grooving to, say, the aged-in-wood tones of Elvis Costello and the Imposters and remembering that British boyfriend who made all those tapes for you in the late '80s, they are wondering who in the heck this guy in the glasses is and when, exactly, the Police are going to show up.

Tom Wilkinson and Bob Balaban are MVPs

August 6, 2008

THE WATER COOLER

Tom Wilkinson and Bob Balaban are MVPs

TOM WILKINSON had better win an Emmy this year. Me, I'd go with the leading role in a miniseries or movie nomination -- his portrayal of James Baker in HBO's "Recount" -- over the supporting one -- as Benjamin Franklin in HBO's " John Adams" -- although there's really no good reason why he couldn't win both. Playing two such disparate Americans (and Wilkinson is British for gosh sakes) should put a person in the running for some sort of congressional medal and heaven knows the man is due.

May 4, 2008

FAMILY & KIDS

Great gear when traveling with children

After almost 10 years of traveling around the country and to Europe with children, I have learned this: Less is more.

'Weeds'

June 16, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

'Weeds'

When "Weeds" premiered on Showtime, it seemed the quintessential suburban satire: Widowed stay-at-home mom accidentally becomes pot dealer and finds her inner gangsta amid the manicured lawns and granite-countered hypocrisy of a Southern California planned community.

Sidekicks are second bananas no more

May 5, 2008

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK

Sidekicks are second bananas no more

It's not often that box office-numbers send such a clear message to the electorate. But last week's top movies -- "Baby Mama" and "Harold and Kumar 2: Escape from Guantanamo Bay" -- make two things perfectly clear: Americans are desperate for a good laugh, and we'd better be very careful about who's running for vice president this year because sidekicks now officially rule the world.

It's not too late to climb onboard the good ship 'Galactica'

April 4, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

It's not too late to climb onboard the good ship 'Galactica'

The premiere of the fourth and final season of Sci Fi's "Battlestar Galactica" is Friday, and if you think I am going to write anything like a review of it, you are crazy.

'Date My Ex'

July 21, 2008

TELEVISION REVIEW

'Date My Ex'

It's not often a show about modern "dating" brings to mind the quiz-show scandals of the 1950s, but watching Bravo's new reality series "Date My Ex," I found myself inexplicably flashing back to Ralph Fiennes as scholar turned disgraced contestant Charles Van Doren in "."

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