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10 Dec 2014

True TV: Netflix Serves Up 'Marco Polo'; Syfy Gets Back to Sci-Fi With 'Ascension'

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Ascension is a top-secret U.S. starship launched in 1963 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, who believed that since mankind seemed bent on blowing itself up here, we might as well send 600 men, women and children on a 100-year space mission to find a new, habitable planet. Ascension is a top-secret U.S. starship launched in 1963 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, who believed that since mankind seemed bent on blowing itself up here, we might as well send 600 men, women and children on a 100-year space mission to find a new, habitable planet.

Marco Polo (Friday, Dec. 12, Netflix), series debut: Networks are jumping on the sweeping, quasi-historical period-piece bandwagon: HBO set it off with Game of Thrones; History has Vikings; Starz has Outlander and Black Sails; AMC has Turn and Hell on Wheels, The CW (still?) has Reign; and now Netflix is dropping the 10-episode Marco Polo. Showtime, who were ahead of the curve with The Tudors years ago (and, currently, Penny Dreadful), could launch a dark, sexy H.M.S. Pinafore any day now. Netflix’s version of Marco Polo—it’s difficult to just say once, ain’t it?—focuses on the early (read: young and hot) years of the infamous adventurer, and while the source material is vast, and the series’ budget is vaster ($90 million!), CW-lite star Lorenzo Richelmy can’t carry this behemoth, which seems to have been scripted via a dartboard and several boxes of wine. As couch-bound winter-binge eye candy, however, it’s oddly perfect. Netflix FTW.

Nick Offerman: American Ham (Friday, Dec. 12, Netflix), standup special: Meanwhile, in a far narrower niche, Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman—you know, Ron Swanson—debuts his one-man show American Ham on the streaming service, which offers far more creative space than those prefab Comedy Central specials. (Check out the wonderfully weird Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats, which premiered on Netflix in November.) Offerman is, and simultaneously is certainly not, Swanson: American Ham’s “10 Tips for a Prosperous Life” mostly involve proper oral-sex techniques, overshares you’d never hear from Ron, but the rest is the kind of man-up-or-shut-up material you’d expect—and there are even some musical numbers, though he’s no Duke Silver. American Ham comes off more like a demo than a finished product (even though it screened at Sundance 2014), but Offerman drives it home through sheer force of personality—and, really, it’s not the worst comedy special from a Parks and Rec star.

Best Christmas Party Ever (Saturday, Dec. 13, Hallmark), movie: Uptight Jennie (Torrey DeVitto, Pretty Little Liars) thinks she’ll be inheriting New York City’s hottest party-planning business after the holidays—but then the boss’ fun, hunky nephew (Steve Lund, Bitten) shows up to claim the gig. Will she learn to loosen up, fall in love, know her place and set aside those silly career aspirations? Yes—and just in time for the big Christmas party, which she organized. Oh, Christmas in Vancouver, er, New York City.

Ascension (Monday, Dec. 15, Syfy), miniseries debut: Syfy has made the case that the network is serious about getting back into actual sci-fi this year, and the three-night event Ascension is a helluva convincing capper. Ascension is a top-secret U.S. starship launched in 1963 at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, who believed that since mankind seemed bent on blowing itself up here, we might as well send 600 men, women and children on a 100-year space mission to find a new, habitable planet. While they live and repopulate in a sealed, old-school-Star-Trek-meets-Mad-Men environment, back on 2014 Earth, the Ascension project is simply a 51-year-old “conspiracy theory” few people believe and the government won’t acknowledge. When orderly-if-dull life aboard the ship is disrupted by a murder—the first ever—the plot accelerates from zero to WTF? rapidly, with the first two-hour installment ending in a mind-blowing twist. The aesthetic is gorgeous; the cast is solid (especially Tricia Helfer, back in full-tilt Battlestar Galactica villainess mode as the ship’s “first lady”); and Ascension’s story is genuinely new and unpredictable. Welcome back, sci-fi Syfy. (Continues Tuesday, Dec. 16, and Wednesday, Dec. 17.)


DVD ROUNDUP FOR DEC. 16!

The Americans: Season 2

Covert KGB operatives Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are in deeper than ever as the Cold War escalates, alliances are tested, and ’80s wig technology fails to keep pace. Soundtrack available on cassette. (Fox)

Arrested Development: Season 4

The Bluth family is back, if not necessarily all onscreen at the same time, in the 2013 Netflix comeback season that had critics raving, “Well, it’s better than no new season, right?” Right, and it’s still funnier than any other TV comedy. (Fox)

Cam2Cam

Tourists in Bangkok are turning up beheaded after visiting a sex website, so of course traveler Allie (Tammin Sursok) jumps right in and meets up with some guys who run a sex website. You’ll never not use Chatroulette the same way again. (IFC)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Michael Bay further plunders your childhood with the reboot that pairs four super-turtles with a $125 million budget, no story and the thespian talents of Megan Fox—and it’s still better than the ’90s originals. Can’t wait for the sequel! (Paramount)

This Is Where I Leave You

Funny people (Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Rose Byrne, Dax Shepard, Kathryn Hahn and others) unite to make one of those maudlin, semi-indie films with few laughs, because they’re Serious Actors, man. (Warner Bros.)

More New DVD/VOD Releases:

Cowboy Bebop: The Complete Series, Coyote, Dark Mountain, The Device, The Devil’s Hand, Extant: Season 1, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, Left of Center, Magic in the Moonlight, The Maze Runner, The Skeleton Twins, Stonehearst Asylum.

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