TV Picks: ‘Moone Boy,’ Bob Balaban, Larry King, ‘Playing House’

“Moone Boy” with David Rawle and Chris O’Dowd
Chris O’Dowd, right, plays Sean, the imaginary friend of Martin (David Rawle) in “Moone Boy,” whose second season is on Hulu.
(BBC / Baby Cow Productions)
Los Angeles Times Television Critic

“Moone Boy” (Hulu). Tall and shaggy Chris O’Dowd, whom you may have seen in “The IT Crowd,” “Bridesmaids,” “Girls” or Christopher Guest’s dear departed “Family Tree” -- or even possibly on Broadway, where he is now playing opposite James Franco in a revival of “Of Mice and Men” -- is back with a second season of his delightful Irish-made, Hulu-hosted series, “Moone Boy.” Written with Nick Vincent Murphy, it is a memory piece -- the year as we reopen is 1990 -- set in O’Dowd’s actual home town of Boyle, County Roscommon, and again featuring the impeccable David Rawle as O’Dowd’s dreamy yet determined boyhood self, and O’Dowd as his imaginary friend, Sean Murphy, surviving Martin Moone’s promotion into secondary school.

One advantage for the American viewer, to whom the whole shebang is a little exotic, is that it plays as less of a cataloging of historical points of interest and funny fashion choices than does, say, “The Goldbergs.” (That said, some of those points of interest are American-made: “Back to the Future,” Patrick Swayze, Talking Heads.) Like many if not most coming of age stories, it’s set in the halcyon days of its author’s own childhood; but more to the point, the bygone time allows O’Dowd to tell a story in which kids are not only ordinarily let out to roam free but are sometimes completely forgotten by their parents.

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Martin and Sean, who dress alike mostly, are one and yet not one; Sean, like most imaginary creatures of the screen, has independence and agency, and sometimes the two are at odds. Sean is at once smarter than Martin (“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Martin asks Sean at one point. “Do you know how this works?” asks Sean. “Not a clue,” says Martin) and as ill-informed: “Women love tall men,” Sean says, of Martin’s new art teacher “who makes her own jewelry and smells like glue and chardonnay,” and over whom the two conceive a rivalry, “because they don’t like the idea of their boyfriend stealing their clothes.”


There is a potted lyrical quality to the text that, marshaled in the service of an Irishy irony, brings to mind Flann O’Brien: “The boring old summer holidays were finally over, and the dull damp autumn had arrived at last, bringing with it that sweet-smelling slanty rain, enchanting early evenings and endless darkness.” When Martin goes to apply for a job at a local golf club, he lists his proposed occupations as “bunker boy, golf stick maker, brolly dolly,” and his work experience as “paint stirring, dish drying, architect.”

“Approach the Bench” (Above Average). The first installment of this comical Web series, written by Zhubin Parang (“The Daily Show”) and starring Bob Balaban (“Best in Show,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” much else) as a judge, will take up less than two minutes of your life, your time, your lifetime. The subject of the sidebar is whether that’s Danny Aiello sitting there on the jury. Its ambitions are limited, but its authority is palpable.

BEST TV OF 2013 Lloyd | McNamara

“Larry King Now” (Ora TV, Hulu). As the talk show world once more gyres and gimbels in the wabe, Larry King -- who was cast off or was cast out from CNN in 2010 -- hunkers down among the borogoves in his little corner of cyberspace, vorpal sword in hand, wearing celebrated suspenders to keep his pants up, and does his thing. With his triangle head and mantis hands (I am just now realizing the resemblance to Zorack, from “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”), King is a great creature of television; and though he made a casual offer to CNN to replace Piers Morgan, his own, already departing replacement, he is doing good work right where he is.


If it’s something of a comedown to go from cable to VOD/Web TV, the lessened pressure lets King totally be King, for better or for worse (which is also for the better); and if he is not plugged quite as directly into the American mainstream, he has no trouble finding people to talk to. Up and running since July 2012, “Larry King Now” (streaming from Hulu and Ora TV, which King founded with Mexican billionaire Carlos Sim and whose other offerings include “Jesse Ventura: Off the Grid” and “Real Girls Kitchen,” with Hilary’s older sister Haylie Duff) offers new half-hour sessions, four nights a week, with guests of many persuasions and ages. Recent guests have included William Shatner (they shared bagels and wine and Bill tried to explain the Internet to Larry), Tony Hawk, Stan Lee, Akon, dog-talker Cesar Millan, Danny Pudi, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (“Come on,” he wanted them to confess, or realize, “you two are a couple”) and the cast of “Workaholics.” (“Why ‘Workaholics’? You don’t look like workaholics.”)

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If anything, I prefer the new show for its very lack of perceived importance. It’s casual; King has the attitude of a slightly eccentric, sometimes inappropriate uncle, exercising the prerogatives of his age. You half expect him to pull a nickel out of his guest’s ear, and then make him for work it. An everyman interviewer, notwithstanding the occasional dropped name, he mixes meat and potatoes queries others in his line might find too basic (“One has to ask,” he had to ask “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter, “why all the tattoos?”) with random favorites like “Space travel or time travel?” and “First kiss?” He is not equally engaged by or prepared for every visitor -- there is a lot of “I am told that” and “I understand that” prefacing the questions -- and he sometimes steps on the answers, out of impatience or inattention or perhaps a sense of flying time.

King turned 80 in November -- he is also the father of teenagers, one should note, as he frequently does -- and, when he’s with his peers, or elders, he compulsively turns to questions of age and death. (To Robert Wagner, 84: “Do you think about dying? I do, I gotta admit it.” To Betty White, 92: “Do you fear leaving the planet?” To Willie Nelson, 80: “Do you ever think about departing the Earth?”) There is an accompanying nostalgia for the old days (King: “How great was Chasen’s?” Wagner: “It was the best, it was the greatest.... Went there a lot of times with Frank”) and a certain amount of bewildered head-shaking over the small fry: I’m told there are kids on my lawn -- should they get off? King’s show strikes an unusually melancholic note at such times -- “You know,” he said to White, on April 22, “Frank Sinatra told me that one of the saddest things about aging is losing your friends,” having said to Nelson on April 7, “Frank said the hardest part is seeing friends go” -- that is in its way quite welcome, if only for being so rare, and raw.

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“Playing House” (USA, Tuesdays). With “Broad City” settling in on Comedy Central, a Garfunkel and Oates series due from IFC later this year, and “Ghost Ghirls” waiting for you on Yahoo Screen, it feels right to ask whether, if not state definitively, that female friends represent the new power modality in comedy. (“Soromance,” is that a word yet?) Here, Upright Citizens Brigade vets Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair present a sort of conceptual reboot of their short-lived NBC series “Best Friends Forever,” as two women setting up housekeeping after one’s marriage fails. Here there’s a baby on the way (Lennon’s) rather than, as in “BFF,” a live-in boyfriend to complicate things, and the setting is a small town rather than fashionable Brooklyn. But the vibe is much the same -- Lucy and Ethel Unchained (and equal). The stars (who are also writers) share a background in sketch comedy, and those rhythms animate the long-arc plot lines. Keegan-Michael Key, of Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele,” costars as St. Clair’s old boyfriend, a policeman, married to a woman they call Birdbones (Lindsay Sloane). Gangly Zach Woods (“Silicon Valley”) also pops in. Loose-limbed, but deft.

Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd


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