"The Future With Emily Heller" and "Sound Advice With Vanessa Slater" (Above Average/YouTube). Two similarly structured, similarly themed good-things-in-small-packages series from the Broadway Video YouTube channel Above Average. (Lorne Michaels is the sun who shines down on it all.) In each, the star plays counselor to celebrated Real People, not in a pranking way exactly, but in what feels like semi-improvised double acts. (Each has that good-bits-cut-together feel -- the blooper reel turned into narrative style.) They are transactional comedies, in psychospeak.
Comedian Emily Heller represents herself as a "celebrity psychic" or "psychic-style performer" on "The Future," in which she reads tarot cards for a succession of fellow comics, including Janeane Garofalo, Tim Meadows, John Mulaney, Reggie Watts and Kal Penn. That she has no idea what she's doing but does it anyway is as much of a premise as the series musters, but every episode has its own flavor, its own power relationships and its own miniature story arc. With latest guest Moshe Kasher, the intersecting ideas are that he knows quite a bit about tarot, and also that Emily's attracted to him ("There are some women for whom being professionally threatened is an irresistible turn on," she tells him). Next-to-latest guest Alia Shawkat comes with a large kitchen knife and the intimation of something bad having happened ("Is there any way for me to interpret that as me not going to jail?" Shawkat asks when the Justice card turns up). With Tim Meadows, Emily has forgotten the cards and so just reads things dumped from her purse. (Emily: "The debit card; this card represents limitations, financial limitations." Tim: "Are you making this up?" Emily: "I have a vocal disorder that makes it sound like I’m making stuff up.")
In "Sound Advice With Janessa Slater," "Saturday Night Live" artist Vanessa Bayer plays Janessa Slater, "a media coach who has helped hundreds of bands," or so she claims. Where Heller's guests are professional comics and actors who give as much as they take in these playlets, Bayer's are musicians, and though it is true that some musicians can act and many can improvise, they mostly play increasingly offended straight persons to Bayer's self-approving boob. (At times they seem, and may be, genuinely offended.) The joke is that they have no need of her advice, being successful already, and that all her ideas are terrible, besides, in inverse proportion to how much she loves them. Slater stands for every show business expert or executive convinced that the talent knows nothing and owes them everything; she insults her interlocutors in the name of helping them. To Tegan and Sara she suggests "a slightly more age appropriate wardrobe." To fun: "You guys have kind of a hipster vibe. If I was walking down the street, let’s say in Williamsburg, how would I be able to distinguish you from every other … hobo?" To TV on the Radio: "Your music works in so many different kinds of genres but it makes them all sound like garbage. So I’m just wondering how is that possible?" To Drake, disbelieving: "You have 14 million Twitter followers? And you made up YOLO, right? What does it stand for? You Owre Lying Olways?"
"Danger 5" (Hulu). Beautiful fun from Down Under. This brief 2012 Australian series, from some of the makers of "Italian Spiderman," may remind American viewers of certain Adult Swim and IFC series in its embrace and Mixmastering of the tropes, motifs, mistakes and economies of C-grade action films; fans of "Eagleheart," "Children's Hospital" and "Saul of the Mole Men" will know where they are. (Postmodernism is put to no better use than this.) A World War II adventure filtered through a '60s sensibility, sort of, in saturated colors, with nods to Japanese monster movies, "Thunderbirds" and low-budget Bond knockoffs, it follows an international team of variously styled blue-clad agents as they battle Nazis, robots, dinosaurs, clones, espresso-drinking Italian truck drivers and fascist Atlanteans in an attempt to win the war "and as always," says the eagle-headed superior who gives them their assignments, "kill Hitler." There are also intramural rivalries, inconvenient stirrings of the heart and their own extreme characters for our heroes to contend with.
The impressively multilingual dialogue is entirely dubbed, even the English, with no care to make the words fit the lips; the special effects are all models and wires -- great care has been put into letting the seams show. There are dance numbers and deathbed drink recipes. (They may be good ones -- I haven't experimented with them yet.) One feels the love and hilarity that went into every lighting effect, camera zoom, costume choice, set decoration and midnight inspiration (Stalin's mustache contains a cocktail lounge, Mussolini is represented by a small child in a bad bald cap). There are only six episodes (and a YouTube-based prequel), but a second season seems to be in the offing -- and what there is is so rich in detail and reference you can, in any case, watch them 10 times over and not wear them out.
"The Divide" (WE TV). The first scripted drama from WE tv (formerly Romance Classics) originated as a pilot for AMC, which owns WE, and the mother network could have done worse than to have kept the series for itself. (AMC Studios is producing, though, so it's all good.) If you are not too burned out on stories of death row inmates and innocence projects and old crimes wrongly assigned, with a troubled heroine driven forward by her past and out to save her own life, even as her manic drive threatens to destroy her own home life, this is an excellent thing of that kind -- and also less of that kind than the first part of this sentence might suggest. Indeed, by the end of the opening, feature-length episode, which premiered Wednesday, we are in a different place than we might have imagined, given long experience with movies and television shows that go exactly where you expect them to. (The pilot remains available on the WE website, where you'll need to sign in with a cable provider, and via Amazon, for a charge.)
Co-created by Richard LaGravenese (writer of "Behind the Candelabra" and "The Fisher King") and pilot director Tony Goldwyn, whose 2010 film "Conviction") tackled similar territory, it is less metaphysical than "Rectify" and less rainy than "The Killing," and in some ways very much a straightforward thriller, in which there is a mystery to solve, and wheels behind wheels and inside wheels and next to wheels. There will be some dark hearts involved, for sure, but dark-heartedness is not the series' subject. The twist, if you want to call it that, is that both the power structure and victims are black and affluent; the working-class criminals and the caseworkers white. Damon Gupton and Paul Schneider are former college friends turned affectionately disputatious opponents: the former, Philadelphia's African American D.A. whose suits fit well; the latter a scruffy scrapper for the convicted innocent. Marin Ireland, the story's prime mover, is Schneider's more-than-eager intern; Nia Long Gupton's attorney wife. Hopefully "The Divide" will not be invisible on WE, better known as the home of "Kendra on Top" and "Braxton Family Values"; it is worth seeking out, and telling a friend about, friends.
Robert Lloyd is completely unscripted @LATimesTVLloydCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times