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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Admit it: You’re dreading the same old home-for-the-holidays family Thanksgiving dinner with the same old question, “How’s your job going?” To which you’ll have to mumble the same old answer between bites of turkey and slugs of Wild Turkey discretely hidden in a Coke Zero can: “You mean my soul-sucking 9-to-eternity corporate Power-Pointed hellscape? Fan-damn-tastic, you MAGA-hatted motherfuckers!”

Now … imagine how cool it would be if you could reply with, “Actually, I’ve embarked upon an exciting new career path as a contract assassin—as you can clearly tell by my white tuxedo and Bentley parked out front. Pass the cranberry sauce?”

Movies tend to paint the life of a hitman as glamorous; TV … not so much. Here are seven killer-for-hire series to stream over turkey sandwiches and 101-proof sodas:

Barry (Season 1 on HBO Now): Ex-Saturday Night Live square peg Bill Hader struck dramedy gold in the 2018 debut season of Barry, wherein he plays a skilled-but-disillusioned hitman who discovers his “calling” to be an actor while infiltrating a middling improv-comedy troupe. (Aren’t they all?) Barry’s sweetly-absurd-to-brutally-bloody shifts are masterful, as is Hader’s performance.

Killing Eve (Season 1 on Amazon and iTunes): Like Hader, longtime ensemble player Sandra Oh blew away all dramatic preconceptions in 2018’s Killing Eve. As brilliant MI5 agent Eve, she’s left alone to pursue her “crazy” theory that a European serial assassin is a woman, and soon develops a mutual obsession with daft fashionista executioner Villanelle (Jodie Comer). Smart, twisty and utterly unexpected.

Mr. Inbetween (Season 1 on FX Now): It’s a good year for assassins: Australian import Mr. Inbetween premiered quietly in late September 2018, starring unlikely leading man (and show creator) Scott Ryan as blue-collar killer Ray Shoesmith. He’s a blunt object of a man who does dirty deeds for shady characters, like a trailer-park Ray Donovan—but he’s also a sympathetic family man. A short, but addictive, series.

The Americans (Seasons 1-6 on Amazon Prime): Maybe you’ve heard of this one: Russian spies Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are embedded in 1980s Washington D.C., posing as a married couple by day and pulling off hits (and a dazzling array of wigs) by night. The Americans gets deeper and darker from there, and its 2013-18 run cemented its rep as one of TV’s greats. Sound familiar now?

Nikita (Seasons 1-4 on Netflix): The CW’s 2010-13 Nikita was different from ’90s cable series La Femme Nikita in that it wasn’t a broody slog, and even more unlike the various Nikita movies in that it didn’t suck. Junkie-turned-assassin Nikita is hell-bent on destroying Division, the shadow government agency that made her, and star Maggie Q sells the action and the pathos with smoldering ferocity.

Good Behavior (Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): Grifter Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery, miles from Downton Abbey) is fresh out of prison and low on prospects when she hooks up with a hottie hitman (Juan Diego Botto) who'll obviously derail her already-shaky plans for getting straight. Good Behavior is a Southern-fried crime noir that doesn’t always play out as expected, and Dockery and Botto are a magnetic Bonnie and Clyde.

Cleaners (Seasons 1-2 on Sony Crackle): Obscure 2013-14 series Cleaners takes ’90s Quentin Tarantino rip-off films, says “hold my vodka-soda,” and vacuum-packs every QT cliché into a tight, sexploitation-lite series. Hitwomen Veronica (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Roxie (Emily Osment) are crossed by their boss (Gina Gershon); gunplay, squealing tires and snark ensue. No over-thinking allowed.

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Making History (Sunday, March 5, Fox), series debut: After Frequency (R.I.P. at The CW), Timeless (the best of the lot, but struggling at NBC) and Time After Time (more in a moment), Making History finally lightens up the current TV season’s glut of time-travel shows, even though the timeline-twisting consequences are no less dire. When Massachusetts college employee Dan (Adam Pally) discovers a time-traveling duffle bag (just go with it), he begins making regular, continuum-cocking trips to the 1700s to visit his easily impressed new colonial girlfriend (Leighton Meester). No sooner than you can say “Hot Tub Time Machine meets Drunk History,” Dan’s dragging a history professor (Yassir Lester) back in time with him to re-reset the outcome of the American Revolution, lest the USA come to be ruled by a … psychotic dictator. Anyway: Making History is a funny, Fox-y comedy, unlike …

Time After Time (Sunday, March 5, ABC), series debut: Ugh. Based on the slightly less-terrible 1979 time-travel movie of the same name, Time After Time follows a pretty H.G. Wells (Freddie Stroma) tracking a pretty Jack the Ripper (Josh Bowman) from 1800s London to present-day New York City, because god forbid we have a TV crime drama not set in NYC. What follows is the expected “What sorcery is this?!” marveling at modern technology, and the gentlemanly wooing of 21st century womenfolk that Sleepy Hollow already does waaay better. As with Making History, there’s the nagging question of: “How do you get 13, or more, episodes out of this?” Time After Time should be gone after three, so problem solved.

Feud: Bette and Joan (Sunday, March 5, FX), series debut: On one hand, Ryan Murphy’s new secondary career as History-As-Meme TV director is already getting tiresome—FX already has, like, 12 seasons of American Crime Story planned, and the first sucked (admit it). On the other, watching stars playing dress-up as classic pop-culture fixtures is irresistible (The People v. O.J. Simpson was a visual hoot, at least). The eight-episode Feud: Bette and Joan chronicles the legendary Hollywood rivalry between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon), who also battled sexism, ageism and every other -ism the early ’60s dished out. Predictably, Lange and Sarandon chew scenery portraying famed scenery-chewers, but at least there are some crumbs left for Sarah Paulson, Alfred Molina, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stanley Tucci and Kathy Bates. Resistance is futile, darling.

The Arrangement (Sunday, March 5, E!), series debut: The producers and stars of The Arrangement insist that E!’s new scripted soap is not based on Tom Cruise and Scientology … but it’s totally based on Tom Cruise and Scientology. Rising Hollywood starlet Megan (Christine Evangelista) is offered a $10 million contract to “marry” A-list actor Kyle (Josh Henderson), a member of a sketchy “church” called The Institute of the Higher Mind (!). The Institute’s leader, Terrence (Michael Vartan), also manages Kyle; Terrence’s wife, DeAnn (Lexa Doig) is Kyle’s producing partner; they all have secrets, as well as an interest in keeping up appearances with Megan (who has her own skeletons, because, drama). There’s a lot going on in The Arrangement, and, like The Royals, the series is surprisingly well-executed, for E! (read: not reality trash). Check it out before the lawsuits fly.

The Americans (Tuesday, March 7, FX), season premiere: Everything Cold War is new again, right? Much like daily news-cycle life in 2017 ’Merica, every season of The Americans is a white-knuckle ride through ’80s Soviet Union fear and loathing, and Season 5 (the series’ second-to-last) cranks the anxiety yet again. Suburban Russian spies Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) have begun training teen daughter Paige (Holly Taylor, slowly becoming the real star of the show) in the ways of the KGB, but can they keep her away from the cute boy next door who happens to be the son of an FBI agent? Of course not—devushkas will be devushkas.

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Party Over Here (Saturday, March 12, Fox), series debut: Fox’s history with late-night comedy programming ranges from near-great (1995-2009’s MadTV; 2006-09’s Talkshow With Spike Feresten) to passable (the current Animation Domination High-Def) to WTMFF? (1993’s The Chevy Chase Show, one of the most famed flameouts in TV history). Party Over Here has near-great potential: It’s a sketch-comedy half-hour from The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) and Paul Scheer (The League, NTSF:SD:SUV), mixing live-in-front-of-a-studio-audience bits with filmed shorts while being fully aware of the elusive target audience: “In an age where most Millennials don’t even know what a TV is, we’re really excited to be getting into the TV business,” Scheer says in the Fox PR. At least Party Over Here won’t be going directly up against Saturday Night Live … right?

Crowded (Tuesday, March 15, NBC), series debut: After tonight, NBC will sentence Crowded to die on Sundays with The Carmichael Show—when was the last time any network besides Fox sustained a half-hour comedy on Sundays? Who besides a TV critic would know such a stat? Why am I talking to myself? Anyway: Crowded is yet another “multi-generational family comedy,” and a lazily written waste of the talents of Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement, every cartoon ever), Carrie Preston (True Blood), Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly), Mia Serafino (Shameless), Stacy Keach (everything) and Carlease Burke (Ballers), so it’s easy to see why NBC has zero faith. But, as he proved through, what was it, 58 seasons on Rules of Engagement, Warburton can bring the funny to even the bleakest, laugh-track-ridden sitcom hellscapes, and Preston ain’t bad, either (as she proved in Showtime’s late, great Happyish). Just don’t get attached to Crowded.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (Wednesday, March 16, CBS), series debut: No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Quit trying to make a Criminal Minds “franchise” happen already! Five years ago, CBS launched, and crashed, the ill-advised Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and the memory of Forest Whitaker and Janeane Garofalo straining to tolerate the show and each other still burns. Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, an international-FBI twist, at least has a better cast (including CSI:NY’s Gary Sinise and Forever’s Alana de la Garza), but still little reason to exist, because we already have a perfectly good Criminal Minds—even if the current Season 11 has been more uneven than a stack of dead hookers in an alley behind a Wichita waffle house (which I believe will be CM’s season-finale case).

The Americans (Wednesday, March 16, FX), season premiere: When last we left The Americans, Ronald Reagan was giving his infamous 1983 “Evil Empire” speech, and couple of actual Americans had been made aware of the true identities of “Americans” Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) as undercover Russians working for the KGB. The big question at the onset of Season 4 is: Who will meet their inevitable end first? Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), the mutual-friend-of-Jesus of distraught daughter Paige (Holly Taylor); or Philip’s FBI informant, Martha (Alison Wright)? Let’s say Pastor Tim—dude’s creepy, even by early ’80s standards.

Hap and Leonard (Wednesdays, SundanceTV), new series: Further proof that There’s Too Many Shows: The premiere of SundanceTV’s Hap and Leonard slipped right by me—and I never miss anything even remotely connected to Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks! Based on a series of novels by Joe Lansdale, Hap and Leonard is a six-episode story about 1988 Texans Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams), a pair of luckless laborers dragged into a get-rich-suspiciously-easy scheme by Hap’s ex-wife (Hendricks), who has a lead on a cool million residing at the bottom of a river from a botched heist 20 years earlier. But what seems like a simple plan (or the 1998 flick A Simple Plan) soon spirals into a cacophony of conflicting agendas and colorful characters with Fargo-like comic-to-violent jolts. Catch up on Hap and Leonard now; the other Too Many Shows can wait.

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Backstrom (Thursday, Jan. 22, Fox), series debut “I don’t see the worst in everyone. I see the everyone in everyone.” That’s just one of dozens of hack lines delivered half-heartedly by Rainn Wilson (The Office) in the premiere episode of Backstrom, this year’s Let’s Get This Over With midseason slot-filler from Fox. (At this time in 2014, it was Greg Kinnear’s Rake.) Wilson stars as Portland, Ore., detective Everett Backstrom, a disheveled, hard-living mess we’re supposed to believe is a “brilliant” crime-solver, even though he seemingly just stumbles into every clue between blowhard rants. (Imagine True Detective’s Rust Cohle, minus any ounce of charm or competence.) No one onscreen looks like they want to be here, least of all Wilson—and don’t be fooled by the quirky promos: Backstrom is an under-lit, unpleasant stab at cable “edge” that doesn’t work on any level. Stay tuned for Bones reruns.

Love, Lust or Run (Friday, Jan 23, TLC), series debut: Former What Not to Wear co-host Stacy London gives “make-unders” to women whose garish fashion senses fall somewhere between Kmart Drag Queen and Rodeo Clown From Mars. The show asks strangers on the street to rate the subjects’ before and after looks as “Love It,” “Lust After It” or “Run Away From It.” I’m only mentioning Love, Lust or Run because, 1. I have a weird thing for Stacy London (I know, right?), and 2. It’s a new TLC show that involves no gay Mormon husbands, polygamist clans, pre-diabetic hillbillies or cake bosses. You take the “Learning” wins where you can.

Black Sails (Saturday, Jan. 24, Starz), season premiere: Last year’s hit debut of Black Sails was no surprise, as it loaded with blood, boobs and Bay—producer Michael Bay, that is, whose touch gives the pirate drama an expensive, blockbuster look not usually associated with Starz originals. (Settle down, Outlander fans.) Instead of just delivering more of the same in Season 2, Black Sails will delve into characters’ pre-pirating back-stories this time around, flashing back to more-proper, crisper-uniformed times—but don’t worry: New and more-ruthless dirty bastards are introduced into the pirate pack as well. Black Sails may not be content to simply remain escapist blue-sea trash, but no series does escapist blue-sea trash better.

Sirens (Tuesday, Jan. 27, USA), season premiere: The bad news: USA just canceled promising comedy series Benched because, surprise, no one watched it in the dead of December. The good news: The network did pick up second seasons of other promising comedies Playing House and Sirens, granting me another chance to explain that, while Sirens is a stoopid name for a show, it’s still funny stuff. Even though it’s exec-produced by Denis Leary, Sirens (it’s about Chicago EMTs, who, of course, have sirens on their ambulances—still a lame title) plays more like a cousin to Brooklyn Nine-Nine than Leary’s black-humored Rescue Me, but suffers a bit from the same self-conscious restraint that runs through all USA originals: It’s almost there—go weirder or dirtier (or both) already, Sirens.

The Americans (Wednesday, Jan. 28, FX), season premiere; photo below: It’s 1982, and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev is dead—what are covert Russian spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) to do? Will they follow orders from the homeland to recruit unknowing-but-suspicious teen daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) into the KGB, or leave her in the dark as to who and what they really are? What’s going to happen to treasonous Russian double-agent Nina (Annet Mahendru)? Are the producers aware that The Police’s stalker-y “Every Breath You Take,” featured heavily in The Americans’ Season 3 promos, was actually released in 1983? So many questions (and wigs).

Published in TV

True Detective (HBO): Creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto probably screwed himself by launching this mesmerizing crime anthology with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson at the top of their respective games. Good luck following up these eight near-perfect episodes.

Banshee (Cinemax): This left-field, visceral mashup of Justified, Twin Peaks and Fight Club went pulp-gonzo harder in Season 2, expanding the world of Banshee, Penn., just enough to introduce even more Amish mobster/Ukrainian thug mayhem. It’s that weird, and that cool.

Shameless (Showtime): Things somehow got worse as they got better for the Gallagher clan in Season 4, with William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum delivering alternately heartbreaking and hilarious performances. This is America’s family.

Justified (FX): Star Timothy Olyphant put his boot down and rescued Justified from becoming entirely the show of Boyd (Walton Goggins) in its fifth and penultimate season, and brought some new colorful characters along for the ride.

Broad City (Comedy Central): Few comedies arrive as fully-realized as Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Broad City (though it did have a head-start as a Web series); their broke Brooklynites are the female flipside of Workaholics, only smarter, funnier and occasionally grosser.

Helix (Syfy): This Arctic Andromeda Strain/Walking Dead hybrid from Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) crept up with no big splash, but it did earn a second season for 2015—catch up on Netflix now.

The Americans (FX): Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys continued to out-spy Homeland while still stuck in Cold War 1981, facing down more danger (and wigs) than Carrie and Brody could ever imagine.

Archer (FX): Meanwhile, Archer (code-named Archer Vice) blew up its spy premise and dove face-first into cocaine and country music. Literally.

House of Cards (Netflix): Vice president Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) delivered a shocking twist in the first episode of Season 2, and the train didn’t stop a-rollin’ from there. As with actual D.C. politics, it’s best not to think too hard about the machinations en route to the presidency

Fargo (FX): Lorne (Billy Bob Thornton), Lester (Martin Freeman) and Deputy Molly (Allison Tolman) shut down the “You can’t touch that movie” doubters from frame one with this dark, funny adaptation that faltered fewer times than True Detective. Oh, you bet’cha.

From Dusk Till Dawn (El Rey): Another film-to-TV transition that defied the haters, From Dusk Till Dawn expanded the 1996 cult classic into an even crazier, racier 10-episode ride where the definition of “the good guys” is subjective.

Game of Thrones (HBO): Like anyone’s going to make a list without Game of Thrones. Get real.

Silicon Valley (HBO): Mike Judge finally, if not intentionally, created the sequel to Office Space with Silicon Valley, a hysterically profane (and tech-jargoned, at least at first) saga about programmers in waaay over their heads. If only Halt and Catch Fire had been half this much fun.

Veep (HBO): Speaking of profane: VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her team continued to fail upward in Season 3, from WTF? to the brink of POTUS. Pray for your country.

Bates Motel (A&E): Murder, drugs, love triangles, commercial zoning disputes—Bates Motel has it all! Norman (Freddie Highmore) became as intriguing as mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) in Season 2, no small feat, as did some of the supporting players. Why wait for Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival? It’s already here.

Mad Men (AMC): Splitting the final season in half was a lousy idea (the Mad Men buzz is pretty much nil at this point), but those first seven episodes provided a course-correcting jolt that should make for a hell of a 2015 finale, whenever that happens (hopefully, not in the ’70s).

Orphan Black (BBC America): See Game of Thrones.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO): Sure, it’s a Daily Show knock-off with F-bombs—but those rants! Corporations, media, condiments—suck it! Everything the overblown Newsroom attempted over three seasons, Oliver nailed in 30 minutes.

Legit (FXX): Poor Jim Jefferies. His Louie-like Legit finally got good by the end of its first season, then FX exiled it to the untested FXX for Season 2: no promotion, no viewers, just yelling into a vast, empty room. See what you missed on Netflix (along with Jeffries’ stand-up specials).

Playing House (USA): Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham as almost-uncomfortably close BFFs failed on network TV, but found a niche on cable with Playing House, which could be the first series ever to make pregnancy play funny and inclusive.

Parks and Recreation (NBC): While as excellent as ever, Season 6 probably should have been the last (maybe even halfway through), but at least we’ll get a proper sendoff for NBC’s last great Must-See comedy in 2015.

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim): Few “get” Community, but Dan Harmon’s other TV project, the animated, and simultaneously brainy and crude Rick and Morty—imagine Back to the Future with more universes, booze and malicious aliens—clicked immediately on Adult Swim.

Louie (FX): Louis C.K. made us wait two years for a new season, then delivered 14 arty-if-not-always-funny installments of Louie, which were rightfully hailed as “brave,” “experimental” and “mostly free of black T-shirts.”

Maron (IFC): Marc Maron didn’t stray too far from the formula of his debut season in his second go-round—regarding how difficult it is to be Marc Maron, specifically, and a middle-aged white dude with a podcast in general. Still brilliant.

Orange Is the New Black (Netflix): Season 2 leaned more dramatic than comedic, and pulled killer performances from everyone in (and out) of Litchfield Penitentiary. Creator Jenji Kohan is well on her way to achieving the heretofore-thought impossible: Topping her previous series, Weeds.

The Leftovers (HBO): Life sucks when you’re not Raptured, and The Leftovers was the ultimate summer-bummer wallow, not to mention the vehicle that finally made Justin Theroux matter.

Rectify (Sundance): And while we’re on the topic of dramas filmed in Depress-o-Vision … damn.

Longmire (A&E): In its third season, Longmire fully broke away from its Justified Out West trappings and became a gripping, dusty crime drama in its own right. A&E rewarded this creative triumph—and high ratings—with a cancellation notice in order to make way for more Duck Dynasty. Fortunately, Netflix came to the rescue, and Season 4 will be streaming by late 2015. I’m beginning to understand you cable-cutters …

Coming next week: Part 2—even more shows!

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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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Private Lives of Nashville Wives (Monday, Feb. 24, TNT), series debut: We’re going to need a ruling on the definition of “Private,” here—does it mean, “Followed around by a camera crew capturing every calculated second of our scripted ‘lives’”? Don’t expect an answer from TNT anytime soon, because they’re floating in an alternate timeline when this catty Housewives crap is still viable, and not realizing that just injecting “Nashville” collagen doesn’t instantly make them Bravo circa 2008. Of all the cable nets chasing a quick buck with reality-TV filler, none get it more consistently wrong than TNT. Can’t they just be happy with Rizzoli and Isles?

Game of Arms (Tuesday, Feb. 25, AMC), series debut: AMC hasn’t had much luck with reality outreach, either—but at least their offerings have been original and interesting. (C’mon, who wasn’t simultaneously intrigued and horrified by Small Town Security?) Game of Arms, about the sleeveless lives and sweaty struggles of competitive arm-wrestlers, strikes a winning balance of colorful characters and semi-genuine drama that at least feels worth rooting for, in the same weird fashion you may have cheered on IFC’s Whisker War-riors, or Olympic curlers. Problem is, AMC should have slotted GoA on Sundays after The Walking Dead/Talking Dead block, instead of attempting to launch a whole new night with it on Tuesdays. Kevin Smith must have some serious extortion goods to keep Comic Book Men alive.

About a Boy, Growing Up Fisher (Tuesday, Feb. 25, NBC), series debuts: Just as in the 1988 novel and the 2002 movie of the same name, an uptight Brit (Minnie Driver) and her oddball son (Benjamin Stockham) move next door to a free-spirited playa (David Walton); laughs and Valuable Life Lessons ensue. NBC’s About a Boy is no letdown from either of its previous iterations, but, even with a post-Olympics preview and a Voice lead-in, Tuesday is tough for comedy (unless you’re Zooey Deschanel or Andy Samberg). And don’t even bother to learn the names on Growing Up Fisher; just move along …

Mind Games (Tuesday, Feb. 25, ABC), series debut: Speaking of heartwarming, how about a Christian Slater/Steve Zahn dramedy about a human-behavior expert (Zahn) and his ex-con brother (Slater) who form a team that uses trickery and “Jedi mind tricks” to bend the will of Big Bads (like, say, insurance-company heads) to the benefit of their downtrodden, salt-of-the-earth clients? Sure, Leverage did it with more style and less warm-fuzzies for years, but that’s canceled—so this is where we are now. Slater and Zahn make an effortless, charming duo (and the rest of the cast mostly keeps up), but Mind Games is either going to have to go edgier or sweeter to stick. ABC already has a show called The Middle.

The Americans (Wednesday, Feb. 26, FX), season premiere: The cultural touchstone in 2013’s debut episode of The Americans was Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”; in the Season 2 opener, it’s the Meryl Streep tear-jerker The French Lieutenant’s Woman—we get it: It’s still 1981. With Elizabeth (Keri Russell), her gunshot wound and her marriage on the mend, it’s time for her and Philip (Matthew Rhys) to return to the field and the business of bringing down America for Mother Russia—but is she off her game? A terribly-botched first mission back says da. Meanwhile, Stan (Noah Emmerich) continues to be played by now-double-agent Nina (Annet Mahendru), who doesn’t appreciate the sentiment of The French Lieutenant’s Woman at all. By the end of Season 1, The Americans proved it was more than a retro Homeland, and Season 2 looks to go even deeper—Brody who?


DVD ROUNDUP FOR FEB. 25!

Gravity

A doctor (Sandra Bullock) and an astronaut (George Clooney) are set adrift in space when their shuttle is destroyed; now it’s a race against time before the oxygen runs out and/or someone asks, “Why’s it called Gravity when there is none?” (Warner Bros.)

Hollywood and Wine

An nobody actress (Nicky Whelan) impersonates a famous movie star to help her boyfriend (Chris Kattan) get out of debt from a mobster (Chazz Palminteri). Also starring Pamela Anderson and other movie-star impersonators. (Green Apple)

L.A. Law: Season 1

The 1986 debut season, finally on ’Merican DVD! The groundbreaking drama about Los Angeles attorneys with great suits inspired a generation to pursue legal careers, which in turn brought about the demise of the country. So, yay? (Shout! Factory)

Legit: Season 1

The first season of Australian comic Jim Jefferies’ Legit starts off shaky, but gets better over the course of 13 episodes—hell, even DJ Qualls in a wheelchair couldn’t ruin it. Season 2 starts Feb. 26 on FXX; start looking for that channel now. (20th Century Fox)

Thor: The Dark World

The Marvel sequel that made more than $200 million—almost enough to cover the cost of maintaining Natalie Portman’s hair, which looks spectacular. Chris Hemsworth’s locks, however, suffered due to the budget drain. Still, decent flick. (Marvel/Disney)

More New DVD Releases (Feb. 25)

Amber Alert, Blue Is the Warmest Color, Curse of the Dragon, The Guide, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo: Season 1, Holla II, Ice Soldiers, Mr. Nobody, Muscle Shoals, Nebraska, Pulling Strings, Scarecrow, Surviving Evil, Twice Born, The Wait.

Published in TV

Waaay back in September of last year, The Only TV Column That Matters™ passed judgment on all of the new series premiering on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW for the 2013-2014 television season.

Though the majority of my pilot reviews were, of course, dead on, a handful of the shows drifted into disappointing territory—or, in some cases, a whiplash-inducing tailspin of suck—as the weeks wore on.

Now that we’re past the midpoint of the season, here’s where I was …

Wrong!

Sleepy Hollow (Fox): I was iffy on Sleepy Hollow in the beginning, believing it might be too “thinky” as escapism fantasy. Nope. The good-lookin’ time-traveler/good-lookin’ cop/good-lookin’ murderous torso triangle blew up into a hit and earned a second season. (It only had to sustain its crazy-ass storyline for 13 episodes instead of the usual 22, but that’s nitpicking.)

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC): Since ABC didn’t allow critics to see it before the premiere, the general speculation on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was, “It’s Marvel; it’s Joss Whedon; it’ll be awesome!” So far the only “awesome” aspect of the series is the divide between fans and haters of character Skye (True TV is on Team Skye, FYI—back off), but it’s still Marvel, and it’s still Joss Whedon, so …

Super Fun Night (ABC): Good god. The rapid decline of Super Fun Night is either the result of micromanaging network notes (“Can you make them … less pathetic?”), or our too-high expectations of Rebel Wilson as a show lead after only proving herself a reliable second banana. Or both.

The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC): The Peacock wanted a bridge between the smart comedy of Parks and Recreation and the less-smart/more-watched comedy of Must-See Yesteryear; instead, they got The Michael J. Fox Show, which leans too hard into “family” comedy with a dulled edge. Playing it safe gets you nowhere—or on to CBS.

Dracula (NBC): Much sound and fury (and blood and boobs) signifying nothing. Dracula was never going beyond one season, anyway, as NBC reportedly had to tell star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, “When you finish all 10 episodes, you can have your drugs back, mm-kay?”

Enlisted (Fox): I wrote it off as just a Stripes rip-off, but Enlisted got damned good, damned quick, balancing sharp humor, subtle sentimentality and real military issues like a boss. Too bad Fox has nowhere else to slot it but Fridays with the equally-funny/equally-doomed Raising Hope.

But, in Most Cases, I Was … Right!

The Blacklist (NBC): The best new show of the season—and it keeps getting better every week. It’s no surprise that James Spader is killing it, but co-star Megan Boone (and, yes, her wig) has consistently stepped up to match his game. Surprisingly, NBC hasn’t screwed this up. Yet.

Mom (CBS): Then: “Another disposable, canned-laughs yuck machine.” Now: “Another disposable, canned-laughs yuck machine that’s somehow still on.”

Dads (Fox): Then: “I have a suspicion that Seth MacFarlane produced this on a dare.” Now: “I know Seth MacFarlane produced this on a dare.”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox): Awarding Brooklyn Nine-Nine a couple of instant Golden Globes may have been premature, but it’s still the best new comedy that Fox—or, really, any network—has produced in years. As of February, it also gets a sweet new timeslot after New Girl. (Sorry, Mindy Project.)

The Crazy Ones (CBS): The surprise isn’t that Robin Williams’ crapfest holds on to Two and a Half Men’s lead-in audience; it’s that Two and a Half Men still has any audience. But seriously: The Crazy Ones suuucks.

Sean Saves the World (NBC): [The sound of a toilet handle jiggling.]


DVD ROUNDUP FOR FEB. 11!

The Americans: Season 1

Two deep-cover Russian spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) pose as a suburban married couple in 1980s Washington, D.C. But in their mission to destroy America, did they count on … falling in love? No, no they did not. Also: wigs. (20th Century Fox)

Anna Nicole

The true-ish story of Anna Nicole Smith (as played by Agnes Bruckner), the stripper-turned-supermodel who fell into a life of sex, booze, drugs, rich geezers and fame addiction before overdosing in 2007. Not sensationalized in the least. (Sony)

The Counselor

Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz star in Cormac McCarthy and Ridley Scott’s tale of Tex-Mex drug trade gone bad, with more weird hair and clothes than American Hustle. Story, not so much. (20th Century Fox)

Ender’s Game

In the future, the fate of the planet lies in the toggle mitts of “Ender” Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), the Chosen One who can defeat the alien invasion. Any resemblance to The Hunger Games is wishful thinking on Orson Scott Card’s part. (Summit/Lionsgate)

The Returned: Season 1

The creepy hit French series about people trying to come back home to a small village, only to learn that they’ve been dead for years—and, if that weren’t enough, there’s a serial killer, too, as well as a Mogwai (!) soundtrack. (Music Box)

More New DVD Releases (Feb. 11)

All is Lost, Austenland, The Best Man Holiday, Chastity Bites, Dallas: Season 2, Diana, GBF, Grace Unplugged, Haunter, I Heart U, Jewtopia, Killing Kennedy, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, The Reverend, Sherlock: Season 3, Sorority Party Massacre.

Published in TV