Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘Community,’ ‘Decker,’ ‘Empire,’ ‘iZombie’
“Community” (Yahoo Screen, Tuesdays). The philosophical farce that put the meta in metacomedy is back, but not on NBC, which has washed its corporate hands of the sort of cerebral yet not unfeeling sitcoms with which it once lined its Thursday nights. Rather, it will stream into your home and life via Yahoo Screen -- not so uncool after all, old Yahoo, is it? Notwithstanding the loss of Donald Glover (now the artist known as Childish Gambino, but also still the artist known as Donald Glover) and Yvette Nicole Brown (gone to “The Odd Couple”), it is substantially the same show as before, still built on the bones of a network situation comedy, still doing backflips with form, still with its special language and pop-cultural mash-ups; this is not the Velvet Underground’s “Squeeze.” Keith David, bringing back the AARP demo, and Paget Brewster -- who is either the new Shirley or the new Abed, or even the new Jeff despite the continuing presence of the old one, but really her own kind of weirdo -- make productive additions. As ever, creator and commander Dan Harmon manages to find heart in a series whose self-awareness amounts almost to sentience, to achieve a tricky balance of cynicism, sentiment and surreality whose tics somehow never devolve into schtick. Episodes will appear weekly, as on television. Watch here.
“Decker: Port of Call: Hawaii” (AdultSwim.com/You Tube). Tim Heidecker is the star and creator of this perfectly imperfect Web series, now in its second season, in which he plays Tim Heidecker, the star and creator of a vanity production called “Decker: Port of Call: Hawaii” in which he plays a secret agent named Jack Decker. The first Tim is the one you know, or should, from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and “Tom Goes to the Mayor”; the second, the one that he has created superficially in his image, is a flag-waving, idealistic dimwit who has set out on a shoestring budget and with little talent to make his own version of “24.” (This is all subtext; all you see is the finished the product.) The terrible dialogue is awkwardly delivered, the desktop special effects are cheap and clumsy and the camerawork inelegant. In the first series, “Decker: Classified,” still online if you want to catch up -- it’ll take you less time to watch than to make and eat a grilled cheese sandwich -- we meet Jack Decker and the thorn in his side, the president of the United States (Joe Estevez). “Why should I trust you?” Decker asks. “You’re the worst president we’ve ever had.” Much of it is shot, authentic to the subtext, in Griffith Park, the backdrop for countless student films lost to time. (It stands for both Afghanistan and Central Park.) There is also a novelization of the series -- an astonishing thought -- available here.
The new season, now ongoing and set in “Hawaii,” ups the ante a little. (There’s a helicopter shot in the credits.) Decker, worn from years of saving the country “just so they can tax and spend on entitlements that people don’t even deserve,” has come to the islands to “have fun and party and see old friends ... and sample some of the local cuisine and I’m not talking about food either.” The first few episodes take place mostly in a tiki bar, and Tim’s devolving performance (that is, the Tim, played by Tim, who’s playing Decker) suggests that he might have been drinking the whole time. Unfortunately for Decker, the president has also come to Hawaii, to address the National Assn. of Special Interests; the Taliban takes over the island, kidnaps the president and states its aim to conquer the whole United States. “It’s like Pearl Harbor, point, 2.0,” Decker manages to say, “all over again.” To be continued.
“iZombie” (CW, Tuesdays). Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero are behind this snappy supernatural detective series, made as much in the model of Thomas’ “Veronica Mars” as any show about zombies possibly could be; and you are to take that as an endorsement. (Ruggiero, a “Mars” writer and producer, also created the lovely “That’s Life,” about a bartender going back to college, back at the turn of the century.) Loosely adapted from a comic by Chris Alberson and Michael Allred, it keeps the book’s main character and conceptions and rebuilds them into the tale of Liv Moore (Liv Moore, that’s a joke, son), a newly zombified former medical resident who is passing for not-undead and working down in the Seattle morgue. (They have brains there, to eat.) Undeath has given Liv special powers -- eating a brain transfers into her own some of the memories and abilities of its former owner; this can prove useful in, say, solving a murder. As Liv, Rose McIver (“Masters of Sex’) has something of the sparky impudence of Kristen Bell, who was Veronica, and something of her looks; but like the show itself -- not nearly the first series to mix the uncanny and crimefighting, after all -- she has her own way of doing things. At times genuinely scary in the way it’s meant to me, it’s also moving in the way it’s meant to be -- like “Veronica Mars,” it’s also a story of ongoing human relationships, which a lack of life can totally complicate.
“Empire” (Fox, Wednesday). This week brings the two-part season finale of Lee Daniels’ and Danny Strong’s smart and crazy hip-hopera, which just since January has become one of the most watched shows on television. It’s also the first network drama in forever (literally forever, maybe) whose main cast is almost entirely African American; and that it’s a massive hit in the bargain is a message Hollywood could profitably hear. The series, which began with a premise out of “King Lear” and dips into Shakespeare for the odd episode title or “Antony and Cleopatra” reference, has since run helter-skelter into places the Bard never considered or at least had names for. (Was Hamlet bipolar? Discuss.)
That it’s a straight-up soap opera makes it no less a cause for celebration, and certainly no less fun. There are times when the story, by virtue of the writers’ desire to keep things moving, makes less sense than it might, and it is not what anyone with even a little bit of knowledge of that world would mistake for a documentary on the music business. But it has life to spare; old-fashioned musical exuberance (dressed in modern weeds, but pure MGM in its way); and a host of great performances, from less featured but crucially grounding work by Malik Yoba and Gabourey Sidibe to Taraji P. Henson’s much and rightly celebrated star turn as Cookie, out of prison and back to claim her share of the musical and merchandising kingdom ruled by ailing ex-husband Luscious Lyon (Terrence Howard). Henson, whose every utterance has as much music in it as a Lester Young saxophone solo, takes a character that might easily slip into random outrageousness and makes her human, and a heroine. (The entire series is available to watch on the Fox website.)
Robert Lloyd is looking out for your best interests on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
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