9:00 AM PDT, May 17, 2013
After many false starts, television is becoming an interactive medium.
6:00 AM PDT, May 16, 2013
"The Office" will close its doors Thursday night after eight years and nine seasons.
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 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.
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.
3:30 PM PDT, May 2, 2013
Though his time in the national spotlight amounted to only about a decade, Clerow "Flip" Wilson was one of the great comic voices of the 20th century, a compact fireball whose early-1970s NBC variety series embedded characters such as the Reverend Leroy of the Church of What's Happening Now and Geraldine Jones (a self-assured bundle of sass whose catchphrases were "The devil made me do it" and "What you see is what you get") in the national consciousness.
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, April 20, 2013
Thanks to Sherlock Holmes and his Doctor Watson, we are used to detectives coming in asymmetrical pairs: Your Batman and Robin (superheroes, you say, but their career began in Detective Comics), your Poirot and Hastings, your Morse and Lewis, your Lewis and Hathaway. Your Doctor and his current companion. The hero and the protégé, the genius and the occasionally inspired sidekick.
6:00 AM PDT, April 13, 2013
The large child known as Jonathan Winters died Friday at age 87.
7:30 AM PDT, April 20, 2013
"All the President's Men Revisited," which premieres Sunday on Discovery Channel, returns us to those thrilling days of yesteryear when everyone read newspapers and the legislative and judicial branches of the U.S. government were capable of acting out of something other than political self-interest and scorched-earth partisan intransigence. No, young people, I am not making that up.
7:00 AM PDT, April 13, 2013
It is heartening in a way that perhaps the biggest comic in America — in a sense of cultural import if not necessarily in income, though he is obviously doing well there too — is a doughy, bald man of 45. It's heartening both from the aspect of one's own advancing age and as notice that kids these days are not entirely consumed with things made in their own image.
10:00 AM PDT, April 12, 2013
Late-night television, busier than ever (and at its best, better than ever) with talk shows and comedy, has been in the news again lately, with the hand-over of "The Tonight Show" from Jay Leno to Jimmy Fallon officially announced for next spring — a change in stewardship that will also take the show back to New York from Burbank.
6:30 AM PDT, April 5, 2013
If you are under 30, male and interested in sex, drugs or anything paired with the word "extreme," you are likely to be familiar with Vice — the magazine, proprietary websites, YouTube channel, ad agency, record label and now TV show.
8:00 AM PDT, April 3, 2013
Some fine actors have contracted to appear in "How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life)," a multi-generational family comedy premiering Wednesday night on ABC. It should do their careers no lasting harm.
7:30 AM PDT, April 3, 2013
It's a big week on BBC America for fans of "Doctor Who." Saturday brought the return of the series itself and Wednesday sees David Tennant, its no-longer-employed-there 10th Doctor, starring in the prewar romantic thriller "Spies of Warsaw."
7:00 AM PDT, March 30, 2013
From the nation that brought you "Are You Being Served?" comes "Mr. Selfridge," a loose dramatization of the founding of a British retail institution, the Selfridge & Co. department store, familiarly called Selfridges. Its eight-part run begins Sunday, under the colors of PBS' "Masterpiece."
7:00 AM PDT, March 23, 2013
"Phil Spector," a new HBO film that purports both to be and not to be about the famous music producer and creator of the Wall of Sound, now serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life, is a vexing piece of work. Well-crafted, with interesting Big Talent attached — writer-director David Mamet, stars Al Pacino and Helen Mirren — it's better than most films of its kind, even as it remains unsatisfying as historical re-creation, philosophical meditation or pure drama.
12:00 PM PST, December 8, 2012
Angus T. Jones, the fraction in the CBS sitcom "Two and a Half Men," made news recently when he called the series "filth," bemoaned his own participation in it, and advised people not to watch it. The call came in the course of what he at least would call a religious testimony, delivered on video and posted on YouTube.
2:30 PM PDT, March 16, 2013
"Survive and Advance," which premieres Sunday on ESPN as part of its excellent "30 for 30" series of sports documentaries, is a sweet and moving depiction of the sweet and moving story of the 1983 North Carolina State men's basketball team, the Wolfpack, and its colorful coach, Jim Valvano. You will need a handkerchief or two to get through it, unless you are some sort of soulless, inhuman monster.
5:00 AM PST, February 8, 2013
"The Job," which premieres Friday on CBS, puts a reality-show spin on the hiring process — which is to say, it does explicitly what many reality shows do figuratively. Here, five "highly qualified candidates," a new batch each week, sell themselves to a tribunal of executives who will hire one for their company (also new each week) within the hour.
6:00 AM PST, February 1, 2013
Premiering Friday night for a modest six-episode run on TV One, the black-oriented basic cable network that is not BET, is "Belle's," a sweet if slightly undercooked sitcom about an Atlanta soul food restaurant and the family that keeps it.
6:45 AM PST, February 16, 2013
In "Wendell and Vinnie," a new sitcom premiering Saturday on Nick at Nite before taking up its regular Sunday time slot, Jerry Trainor (as Vinnie) becomes the guardian of his orphaned 12-year-old nephew — that would be Wendell. Their names define them: Vinnie, loose and goofy; Wendell, tight and brainy.
6:19 PM PST, January 25, 2013
Loving Shakespeare with a love so immoderate it would take a Shakespeare to describe it, I was pretty well pre-sold on "Shakespeare Uncovered," a six-part analytical-historical gambol through several of his plays, beginning Friday on PBS. By the same token, I am liable to be more critical of the product; but as it turns out, it's a treat.
5:00 AM PST, January 15, 2013
Kevin Hart's amiable, loose-limbed "Real Husbands of Hollywood," which premieres Tuesday on BET, is not so much a parody of the Bravo franchise, whose name it echoes and structure it borrows, as it is a kind of (mostly) black "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
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.
6:00 AM PST, January 14, 2013
In 1982, Sarah Jessica Parker, who 16 years later would play Carrie Bradshaw on "Sex and the City," played a smart, suburban teenage outsider on Anne Beatts' paean to high school unpopularity, "Square Pegs."
7:00 AM PST, January 17, 2013
Australian comic Jim Jefferies, who worked for years out of England and is known in the U.S. for some HBO comedy specials and whatever else winds up on YouTube, is now the star of his own American situation comedy, "Legit," in which he plays Australian comic Jim Jefferies.
6:00 AM PST, November 29, 2012
"A Fairly Odd Christmas," which premieres Thursday on Nickelodeon, is the second (mostly) live-action TV movie to be sprung from the network's long-running cartoon series "The Fairly OddParents" (ninth season coming! 2013!). Though its appeal will be primarily to fans of the show, and its details confusing to everybody else, it should be diverting enough to anyone wanting to consume a few holiday tropes prepared with a pinch of attitude.
7:00 AM PST, December 14, 2012
Roll up, America; step right this way. Here comes the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," getting a big night on domestic television, 45 Christmastimes after it first aired in the United Kingdom, on Boxing Day, Dec. 26, 1967.
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."
January 5, 2013
"Downton Abbey," a period British TV series that has become an American obsession, is back Sunday night for its third season, in the framework of "Masterpiece: Classic." For the several millions who have waited months for its return, it is a day that has not come too soon; I am not unhappy to see it myself.
6:22 PM PST, December 7, 2012
We're lucky if we have the gift to do one thing well in this life. Even most superheroes just get a single superpower. ("Wait — you're faster than a speeding bullet and you're more powerful than a locomotive? How is that fair?")
8:00 AM PST, December 2, 2012
As a child of the San Fernando Valley, I knew the yuletide as a time of frost-free mornings when I could not see my breath. Turning down my collar against the warm, I would trudge sludgeless streets past yards absent of snowmen, where green and even flowering hedges hid no foes waiting to pelt me with snowballs, on my way to school, where we would sing songs of sleigh rides and mistletoe and holly. Of Frosty. Rudolph. Santa.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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