6:00 AM PDT, September 17, 2013
Fox premieres two new sitcoms Tuesday. One I would recommend; the other, I would not.
6:00 AM PDT, September 13, 2013
Craig McCracken, who gave the world "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Foster's House of Imaginary Friends," is back with a new cartoon, "Wander Over Yonder," about a happy alien who polices the universe with love. It premieres Friday on the Disney Channel.
5:00 AM PDT, September 12, 2013
Scott Hamilton Kennedy's excellent scrapbook documentary "Fame High," which premieres Thursday on Showtime (after a brief theatrical release), spends a year at LACHSA, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, a by-audition public institution located on the grounds of Cal State L.A. Quite possibly you were unaware of its existence until just a moment ago.
7:15 AM PDT, September 13, 2013
The Fall Season is here, people. And though premieres will happen up and down what is still anachronistically called a dial, the season remains mainly the domain of the broadcast networks — which seem bent for the moment not on aping cable TV, as many think they should, but rather distinguishing themselves from it. By getting classic.
6:30 AM PDT, September 4, 2013
"Earthflight," which premieres Wednesday on PBS, is a six-part documentary about birds. As often happens with big nature films, it is a rebranded BBC production (nearly 2 years old), presented domestically under the flag of the series "Nature," with rerecorded narration. Oddly, a two-hour version was broadcast here by Discovery Channel last October as "Winged Planet," its title surely meant to evoke memories of Discovery's earlier "Planet Earth" and "Frozen Planet" (also acquired from the BBC).
6:00 AM PDT, August 27, 2013
Though the post-racial world has yet to materialize, there's no denying this country has changed some over the last half a century, with an African American family living in the White House and a 30-foot-high statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Washington Mall.
6:00 AM PDT, August 15, 2013
"Owner's Manual," a new reality series debuting Thursday on AMC, takes a familiar dichotomy of human nature — the way some people will read instructions when assembling some bit of flat-packed furniture or installing a new piece of home electronics, versus the way some people don't — and bumps it up in scale and riskiness, as two men operate powerful and potentially dangerous vehicles (trains, planes, race cars, a sailing ship) with which they were previously unfamiliar.
7:30 AM PDT, August 10, 2013
"Low Winter Sun," which begins Sunday on AMC, remakes a 2006 British series of the same name and with the same starring actor, Mark Strong, as in the Edinburgh-set original. He has left that accent at home and picked up a new one for the duration.
7:00 AM PDT, August 10, 2013
Larry David, who is on a break from his series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" — permanent or not, he will let you know — returns to HBO on Saturday with a full-on movie-type movie, "Clear History," in which he plays not his usual fictionalized self but an entirely different character, albeit one composed of all the old familiar tics. The obsessions are here, as is the self-obsession.
6:00 AM PDT, July 29, 2013
In "The Writers' Room," a highly pleasurable series that begins Monday on Sundance, Jim Rash gathers groups of television writers — they usually travel in packs — to discuss how they make their shows.
6:00 AM PDT, August 6, 2013
CBS, the TV network, and Time Warner, the cable company, are at loggerheads over money. The former, describing itself as "the most-watched television network with the most popular content in the world," would like the latter to pay more than it currently does to carry its shows; the latter thinks the former has set the price too high.
7:55 PM PDT, July 9, 2013
Like it were planned, and perhaps it was, American fans of Chris O'Dowd left bereft by the end of Christopher Guest's HBO series "Family Tree" may jump, as from a lovely frying pan into a really nice fire, to O'Dowd's own "Moone Boy," which begins streaming Wednesday on Hulu.
7:00 AM PDT, July 9, 2013
"Drunk History," which has lived on the website Funny or Die in fits and starts since 2007, graduates to television Tuesday, courtesy of Comedy Central. It is a strange business: a show in which people who have had too much to drink, for real, travel to the edge of coherence. There will be vomit.
6:30 AM PDT, July 6, 2013
Having last year put a toe in the water with an exploratory pilot and found it fine, "Endeavour" returns to the PBS series "Masterpiece Mystery" Sunday with four new episodes. They are excellent company, even if they sometimes feel too coincidental, complicated, clever or corpse-strewn to be true.
5:00 AM PDT, July 29, 2013
The key to "Neurotypical," Adam Larsen's engaging film about autism from the inside, is in the title, a word that some "on the spectrum" use to describe people the world calls normal.
5:30 AM PDT, July 2, 2013
"Venus Vs.," which premieres Tuesday on ESPN, is a new documentary film that follows the career of tennis star Venus Williams and her part in the fight to make the prize money in women's tennis equal to that of men's. There is a special focus on Wimbledon, the last of the four Grand Slam tournaments to eliminate the disparity.
5:00 AM PDT, July 10, 2013
Based, as all American TV will one day be, on a Scandinavian model, "The Bridge," which premieres Wednesday on FX, adapts a Danish-Swedish series about a corpse found straddling a border and the binational investigation that follows. It has its good points and its less good points, but there's enough of the former to merit a look.
12:00 PM PDT, July 5, 2013
"Futurama," the other cartoon series created by Matt Groening, is nearing the end. Now in its final 13-episode half-season, it was born on Fox in 1999, canceled in 2003 and revived from its state of suspended animation by Comedy Central in 2008.
5:30 AM PDT, July 20, 2013
Fox, which once had the renegade TV network market pretty much to itself — "Married With Children" was transgressive in its time — has become semi-respectable as it grays and sprightly basic-cable channels, bound by looser rules, crowd in to occupy the edge.
7:00 AM PDT, June 10, 2013
There is every reason that I would like a bantering-detectives series starring Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn. Everything in that sentence sounds good to me.
5:20 PM PDT, June 21, 2013
In the wide world of movies and television, the words "international production" often seem to mean something akin to "free vacation."
5:05 AM PDT, June 10, 2013
Broadway, you are a place and an idea, a subset of an artform bounded by certain northerly, easterly, westerly and southerly Manhattan streets surrounding the walk-through pinball machine known as Times Square. Sunday night at Radio City Music Hall, which is outside your official boundaries but is, after all, Radio City Music Hall, you celebrated yourself, as you do every year around this time, on national television, with the Tony Awards.
5:00 AM PDT, May 31, 2013
Richard Pryor died in 2005 at the age of 65 from a heart attack related to multiple sclerosis. The unexpected thing, given his life and habits and health, was not that he died so young but that he lived so long.
6:30 AM PDT, June 8, 2013
"Sam & Cat," which premieres Saturday on Nickelodeon, takes the sidekicks from two other Nickelodeon shows — Jennette McCurdy's Sam Puckett, from "iCarly," and Ariana Grande's Cat Valentine, from "Victorious" — and bunks them in together as costarring leads. All these series were created by Dan Schneider, who also created "Zoey 101" and "Drake & Josh" and co-created "What I Like About You," which makes him, like, the Neil Simon of teen sitcoms.
5:00 AM PDT, June 9, 2013
Adult life is made up mostly of expected things, to keep our minds from exploding. But when the unexpected thing does occur, if it is not harmful or tragic, it can bring with it feelings of incredible happiness. Such was the moment when I first encountered "The Aquabats! Super Show!," the Saturday-morning, live-action superhero show whose second season began June 1 on the Hub and whose first season has just been released on home video by Shout Factory.
5:30 AM PDT, June 3, 2013
Although it has some of the new-colt wobbliness common to newborn series, "The Fosters," which premieres Monday on ABC Family, gets on its legs pretty quickly.
4:45 PM PDT, May 31, 2013
"The Killing," whose third season (but only its second case) begins Sunday on AMC, is the story of actors Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman and the characters they play, Seattle police detectives Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder. She is small and he is tall; she's tight, he's loose. Like Scully and Mulder, they call each other by their surnames.
5:30 AM PDT, June 6, 2013
I suppose it has something to do with summertime, these extreme stunt-challenge contests in which people do physically difficult, psychologically intimidating things in the hope of winning big money. Anyway, they're back.
5:00 AM PDT, May 11, 2013
Christopher Guest, the director of "Best in Show" and "A Mighty Wind," has made a TV series for HBO.
6:00 AM PDT, May 16, 2013
"The Office" will close its doors Thursday night after eight years and nine seasons.
9:00 AM PDT, May 17, 2013
After many false starts, television is becoming an interactive medium.
6:00 AM PDT, May 8, 2013
Amazon, the online retailer, recently posted 14 original "TV pilots" on the Web for public viewing and reviewing. In an instant, and before a single show has officially debuted, it has established a brand.
7:00 AM PDT, May 1, 2013
Television is an unusually fluid art. Because a TV series exists in time, over time, change and revision are in its blood. It's as if painters went back to work on their paintings after they were hung in museums.
6:00 AM PDT, May 3, 2013
Funny and trying, "Maron," which premieres Friday on IFC, stars the comedian and podcaster Marc Maron as comedian and podcaster Marc Maron.
8:00 AM PST, January 19, 2013
In an alarming bit of synchronicity, or what some might call a lack of cultural imagination, two new series premiering on network television nearly within a month will revolve around serial killings, and serial killings by proxy: "Cult," which begins Feb. 19 on the CW, and the similarly titled "The Following," which starts Monday on Fox. BBC America's period procedural "Ripper Street," meanwhile, began its eight-episode run Saturday not with the Jack but a murderer — if such a comparative may be allowed — even more distasteful. And NBC has "Hannibal," concerning the early days of Thomas Harris' cannibal killer, on its docket for a date to be announced.
10:00 AM PST, December 11, 2012
Amy Poehler has been a comedian of note for some time now — it's already 11 years since she joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live" (and three and change since she left it), and before that there was "The Upright Citizens Brigade" on Comedy Central and appearances as Andy Richter's little sister, in braces and pigtails, on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien."
4:37 PM PDT, July 29, 2012
Through a fortuitous series of events, because someone knew someone who knew someone, I watched Friday's remarkable opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games by way of the BBC — which is to say, without commercials or Ryan Seacrest and with relatively little intrusion from the commentators. Later, I saw what the United States saw.
October 1, 2011
It's fall on PBS, when the big documentary blockbusters heave into view; and nobody builds them bigger than Ken Burns, whose name always seems to be part of the title, even when it isn't: "Ken Burns' Baseball," "Ken Burns' Jazz," "Ken Burns' Civil War." Burns likes to swallow huge subjects whole — American subjects — and this year he brings us "Prohibition," the story of the 14-year misrule of the 18th Amendment and of the decades-long temperance movement that preceded it.
October 5, 2011
"George Harrison: Living in the Material World," which premieres Wednesday and Thursday on HBO, is a long, lovely meditation on the Beatle sometimes called the Quiet One and the quiet one sometimes called a Beatle. Directed by Martin Scorsese at the invitation of widow Olivia Harrison, it is not especially informative in the way documentaries usually strive to be, a cataloging of causes and effects and significant facts and figures; nor has it been made as a brief for George's unsung genius. In fact, it leaves a lot out and doesn't always explain what it puts in. But it is not really so much a film about a career as it is about a life and not so much about a life of events as of spiritual progress — a portrait of character more than of "a character."
July 18, 2009
For many who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, Walter Cronkite was the voice of unfolding history. On the "CBS Evening News" and on the spot, his eloquent mediation of the great events of an age almost pathologically overflowing with them was essential to the way those events were understood. Even when he was temporarily at a loss for words -- his tears at the death of John F. Kennedy, his inarticulate glee at the moon landing ("Whew, boy!") -- he somehow spoke for the nation he spoke to.
October 14, 2009
Her future boyfriend and sometime musical partner Bob Dylan was still in high school in Minnesota when Joan Baez first played Club 47 in Cambridge, Mass., in 1958 at age 17. We see her there, and then, in “Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound,” airing tonight on PBS as part of the series "American Masters" -- a teenager with long, dark hair; a Spanish guitar; and a mature mezzo-soprano voice. The next year, she appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and became famous. She made records that went gold. She was on the cover of Time.
September 3, 2011
The 10th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon arrives a week from Sunday — I don't think I need to tell you the date — and as might be expected, television is all over it. Our decimal culture encourages comment, celebration or reflection whenever 10 years go by, but there is something about this anniversary that makes it practically inescapable. It is especially inescapable, one might say, now that the death of Osama bin Laden and the upcoming dedication of a memorial that transforms the footprint of the missing Twin Towers into inverted fountains have brought the narrative that began Sept. 11, 2001, to something like a close — though there are volumes left to be written.
October 29, 2011
U2, the Irish pop band, is the subject of a fascinating new documentary, "From the Sky Down," premiering Saturday on Showtime. Like most modern rockumentaries, it was commissioned by the people it is about, and it will be included in some of the versions of the 20th anniversary deluxe re-release of "Achtung Baby," coming in November. (The most deluxe of these, the Uber-Deluxe package, which costs upward of $400, also comes with a pair of sunglasses like those singer Bono wore in his guise of the Fly.) But it has been made by Davis Guggenheim, the director of "An Inconvenient Truth" and "It Might Get Loud," which featured U2 guitarist the Edge, and so comes with an air of directorial independence; it is not a thing of unadulterated self-celebration.
March 9, 2009
RuPaul, the 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-7 (by his own varying accounts) African American drag queen who sashayed his way into mass consciousness in the 1990s with the club hit "Supermodel" and a VH1 talk show, is back on TV with “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” A reality competition show now about three-quarters through its first cycle on Logo, the LGBT-themed cable net, it aims to discover "America's next drag superstar" -- that is, the next RuPaul. It's a little bit "America's Next Top Model" and a little bit "Project Runway," and like drag itself, parodical without being a joke.
March 2, 2011
"Troubadours: Carole King, James Taylor and the Rise of the Singer-Songwriter," a presentation of "American Masters" that airs Wednesday on KOCE, tells the story of the crowd that haunted Doug Weston's Troubadour in the late '60s and early '70s, the music they made, and (to a lesser extent) the mischief.
May 22, 2010
"Lost," the most complicated series in the history of television, will come to its end Sunday and without having seen a second of its 2 1/2-hour conclusion, I prophesy that it will leave many viewers unsatisfied, either because it will say too much or not enough, or because it will be too explicit or too vague, or too prosaic or too mystical, or too final or too inconclusive.
April 6, 2009
The second situation comedy to star Bob Saget, ABC's “Surviving Suburbia,” comes 14 years after the end of "Full House," the cuddly series in which he played loving father to the Olsen twins (conjoined in a single part). It is also 12 years since he hosted that influential bastion of adorable domestic hilarity, "America's Funniest Home Videos." And most every appearance since -- talk show spots, "Entourage" cameo, the dirty-joke movie "The Aristocrats," the hip-hop parody "Rollin' With Saget" and, above all, his dark, blue stand-up comedy -- has been, in effect if not by intent, to prove to the world that he is really Not That Guy.
November 28, 2010
Now that Conan O'Brien has come to rest, presumably for more than seven months, as the host of a TBS talk show, it seems like a good time to take another look at the person who replaced him, and I don't mean Jay Leno. One year and nine months ago Jimmy Fallon — who, like O'Brien, was touched by the hand of Lorne, and I do mean Michaels — followed O'Brien into the "Late Night" chair previously vacated by David Letterman.
April 15, 2009
Billy Mays and Anthony Sullivan sell things on television, famously. Mays, a burly man with a black beard and a voice that suggests incipient deafness, and could possibly cause it, is the more famous. But the cooler Sullivan -- who also produces and directs DRTV (Direct Response Television, as in "Operators are standing by") advertisements -- is the more versatile. Between the two, they have moved more than a billion dollars' worth of things that light up your house, clean up your yard, shape your body and otherwise improve your life -- products with names like Awesome Auger, Hercules Hook, Glass Wizard, Swivel Sweeper, the Stick-Up Bulb and Slimming Pants.
January 16, 2009
The family comedy has undergone some transformations of late, thanks mostly to cable television and its restless search for buttons and/or envelopes to push. “ United States of Tara,” a new Showtime series about a woman with four personalities (including her "own"), is solidly within this new tradition of the strange, alongside shows like " Weeds," "The Riches" and "Big Love" -- stories of families whose unusual lives or lifestyles set them apart from the supposedly normal world, which we are typically invited to see as grotesque.
March 20, 2009
Rob Thomas, the man behind "Veronica Mars" and "Cupid" (the old "Cupid," with Jeremy Piven, and the coming new "Cupid" with Bobby Cannavale) and briefly associated with the rebranding of "90210," has found a new outlet on the relatively remote reaches of Starz, the cable network that shares a name with a bushy-haired 1970s power-pop band. “Party Down,” which premieres tonight, is the show in question, and it is a smart, affable, mostly unpredictable ensemble comedy that reminds us that in the 500-channel universe, fine things can happen in unlikely places, as long as you are clever about budget, commit to a sensible number of episodes -- in this case 10 -- write well and cast right, and that what matters ultimately to heaven is not the eminence of the venue but the quality of the work.
March 12, 2011
Without making any too great claims on its behalf, I would like to direct your attention, in a good way, to the Nickelodeon TV movie "Best Player," featuring two stars of "iCarly" who aren't Miranda Cosgrove. You won't mistake this for "The Lady Eve" or "The More the Merrier" in either invention or wit, but it has been made (by director Damon Santostefano, working from a script by Richard Amberg) with a light, sure hand. And although the film, which premieres Saturday, runs toward the obvious and the preposterous — sometimes both at once — it's cheery and charming and, in spite of its calculated commercial appeal, never feels cynical.
May 23, 2011
"Too Big to Fail," which premieres Monday on HBO, is the latest of that network's high-toned original films ("Recount," "The Late Shift," "From the Earth to the Moon," the upcoming "Game Change") in which a large cast of medium-big-to-big-named actors assume the skin of the real people to put you backstage at history. In this case — the story of the 2008 financial meltdown and the attempt to keep us all from ruin — the paint is barely dry on the actual events. Indeed, their ongoing consequences will affect the next election.
April 17, 2009
There was reason enough to expect something special from “Sit Down, Shut Up,” a new Fox animated sitcom created by Mitchell Hurwitz of "Arrested Development" and featuring a cast -- derived mainly from "Arrested Development" and "Saturday Night Live," with Tom "SpongeBob" Kenny bringing the cartoon cred -- that deserves to be called "all-star." But the show that premieres Sunday night, between "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy" in the space formerly occupied by "King of the Hill," is weak -- not hopeless, but given the pedigree, heavily disappointing.
March 11, 2009
I don't know whether it's still the American dream to own a restaurant -- it may now be just to hang on to that horrible job you had hoped to quit soon -- but there are at least 16 people who still dream it, and they are contestants on “The Chopping Block.” Premiering tonight on NBC, this latest in a lengthening line of food-themed reality shows shares a title (and creators) with an Australian food-themed reality show, has much in common with another Australian food-themed reality show ("My Restaurant Rules") and the BBC food-themed reality show "The Restaurant," and boasts the same host as the UK version of the food-themed reality show "Hell's Kitchen," Marco Pierre White.
April 11, 2009
If you are not a boxing fan (I am not a boxing fan), the HBO documentary "Thrilla in Manila” -- the story of the Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali rivalry, as it played across three fights from 1971 to 1975 -- is not the film to make you one. And if you are a boxing fan, well, even those here seem appalled at the brutality of the famous final bout, called one of the greatest fights in history, even as they celebrate the participants' gladiatorial resolve. But either way, the movie works.
March 7, 2009
“Ashes to Ashes,” which premieres tonight on BBC America, is a sequel to “Life on Mars,” the 2006 series whose American remake ABC has just canceled. It's an unlikely thing, given that the first series' main character killed himself in the final episode (though perhaps survived in another reality) and that all the other characters were (possibly) figments of his imagination. But it's in that "perhaps" and "possibly" that "Ashes to Ashes" finds a way forward, and although it's not as good as the original, it pushes many of the same buttons and sews on a few new ones. It's quite enjoyable.
April 10, 2009
February 1, 2009
"Project Runway" is the show I name whenever I am asked to defend reality TV or my unwillingness to condemn it all out of hand. The popular fashion-designing competition finished its fifth season on Bravo last October and now circles in a holding pattern over its intended new network, Lifetime, while lawyers from its old home try to keep it from landing. (The disputed sixth season, minus its finale, has already been filmed -- and, for the first time, in Los Angeles.) I might also mention "Top Chef" as part of my reality defense, but "Top Chef" is just "Project Runway" with food.
September 4, 2008
The night formerly known as Night Three of the Republican National Convention was dedicated to "Reform and Prosperity." But more important, it was the party's, and the country's, first substantial look at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who in no time at all has become not only a national politician but a subject of controversy and a figure of symbolic import.
May 27, 2008
A comedy about kids that was not made for kids but was not not made for kids, "Square Pegs" premiered on CBS in the fall of 1982; a quarter of a century later, it has come to DVD in its surprisingly modest, 19-episode entirety. But 9 1/2 hours is time enough to make a point, when you have one.
April 1, 2009
“Pedro,” which premieres tonight on MTV (and simultaneously on sister station Logo), dramatizes the short, productive life of Pedro Zamora, a third-season cast member of "The Real World" -- the 1994 San Francisco season, known also for the abrasive, abusive and generally uncooperative bike messenger Puck, who was kicked out of the house, in part because of his treatment of Zamora.
December 12, 2008
Now that we've got electing a president out of the way, it's time to get back to the more important business of giving awards to television shows and motion pictures. More than a month out from the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nominees for the 2008 Golden Globes have been announced; the statuettes will be handed out nine days before power shifts in Washington. And then we can all go back to sleep until Oscar time.
January 17, 2009
"Wuthering Heights": A Victorian novel with a name (and plot points) fit for a 1980s prime-time soap. It's one of those titles that rattles around in your head even before you've ever read the book or the Cliffs Notes, or seen it adapted for TV or the movies, which it has been at least once a decade since 1920, not even counting foreign-language films or the 2003 MTV musical update.
July 21, 2008
“Heidi Fleiss: The Would-Be Madam of Crystal,” premiering tonight on HBO, reacquaints us with a woman never too long out of the public eye. It has been almost a decade since Fleiss left prison, where she'd spent 21 months of a three-year sentence for tax evasion, money laundering and pandering. In that time she has run a West Hollywood boutique, published a kind of scrapbook memoir, put out a "sex tips" DVD, written a magazine column, had a radio show, sold the rights to her life story to Paramount and accused boyfriend Tom Sizemore of domestic violence. (He was convicted.) Not necessarily in that order.
July 11, 2008
"Ashley Paige: Bikini or Bust" is a Bravo-style entrepreneurial reality series centered on Hollywood bikini designer Paige, who, despite her big-name clientele, lives on the edge of penury, scrambling to pay bills or avoid paying them. "I'm an artist," she says. "I'm obviously not a businessman."
August 11, 2008
In simplest terms, “The American Mall,” which premieres tonight on MTV, is MTV looking at the Disney Channel's burgeoning teen-musical empire and thinking, "I got to get me one of those." It's “High School Musical” -- but in a mall! Instead of a dance set in a cafeteria, there's a dance set in . . . a food court!
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