Inside TV+Movies with Daniel Fienberg
Lots of style and atmosphere, but little comedy or drama in this 'Urban Outfitters: The Series'
Although Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk are its leading men, the breakout star of HBO's "How to Make It in America" is likely to be Aloe Blacc. The younger rapper-singer-songwriter is responsible for the criminally infectious "I Need a Dollar," which plays over the show's stylish and thematically illuminating opening credits. If there's any justice, this is gonna propel Blacc to a Talib Kweli/Mos Def level of visibility or, at the least, let him make a few cents off of "I Need a Dollar" downloads on iTunes.
I'm a bit cult-y about the "How to Make It in America" credits, which I watched straight through on each of the four episodes HBO sent out and then went back and rewound several times just for fun. Using still photos and documentary footage -- no actual shots or images from the show -- the credits establish New York City in all of its racial and economic diversity, from the diamond merchants to the hot dog vendors to the street buckers and the Wall Street mavens. It establishes the nightlife, the street culture and the public art that are the city's cultural life's blood, showcasing the it's many faces. You've got food, booze and Gotham spirit and it all ends with the Statue of Liberty because, darnit, this is a show about the American Dream.
There is a flavor and texture to the opening credits of "How to Make It in America" that carries through into the series itself. Unfortunately, beyond that flavor and texture, "How to Make It in America" doesn't offer all that much substance. A loose and affectless (but not devoid-of-charm) half-hour, "How to Make It in America" is either a mostly laugh-less comedy, or an entirely stakes-free drama, so while it isn't hard to sit through, it's also unlikely to become mandatory viewing.
[Full review of "How to Make It in America" after the break...]
The BBC's remake of the '70s cult favorite feels like too many of its post-apocalyptic predecessors
The danger in remaking something that was already influential is that chances are good your remake will draw unavoidable comparisons to the things that the original inspired.
Does that make sense? No?
Let me try it in plain English: On Saturday (Feb. 13), BBC America is premiering "Survivors." The post-plague drama is based on a cult favorite British series which premiered in 1975. That means that the source material for "Survivors" predates Stephen King's "The Stand" (and the subsequent miniseries), predates Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" and predates the briefly resurrected "Jericho." And whether or not the original "Survivors" directly influenced "The Stand" and "28 Days Later" and "Jericho" and "The Walking Dead" and "Lost" and "The Road" is almost beside the point, because the remake can't escape their shadow, as well as the shadows of a dozen other similar stories of post-apocalyptic rebirth.
So while I wouldn't say that "Survivors" is without its creepy pleasures, familiarity supersedes originality and freshness fairly early on. Because BBC America kindly provided me with the complete first season/series, I watched that entire first run and while I occasionally admired the creative team's ability to keep finding new angles to explore within the extremes of the circumstance, I tired of the stylistic sameness and monotony of the pacing.
[Full review of "Survivors" after the break...]
The first contestant eliminated from the current All-Star season discusses her rollercoaster ride
Jessica "Sugar" Kiper didn't have a very long journey on CBS' "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains."
The "Survivor: Gabon" finalist and occasional pin-up model was the first person voted off in the Thursday (Feb. 11) night premiere of the new All-Star season.
What Sugar's run lacked in duration, though, it made up for in memorable moments. She started the episode as a star, shedding her top and two would-be tacklers to key her tribe's victory in the season's initial Reward Challenge. But in the Immunity Challenge, Sugar was part of a quartet of Heroes who squandered a big lead on a climactic puzzle. Coupled with an unfortunate night trying to snuggle with Colby, it was no surprise when the Heroes opted to write down Sugar's name at Tribal Council.
Or at least that's how the episode made things look. HitFix caught up with Sugar on Friday morning to discuss editing, toplessness and whether she thinks of herself as a Hero.
Click through for my full conversation with Sugar...
Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall talk 'Chuck,' 'Lost' and 'Friday Night Lights'
Welcome to another week's Firewall & Iceberg podcast, a podcast characterized as much by its technical difficulties as its content.
Last week, if you'll recall, Sepinwall and I didn't like our first podcast and we recorded a second one completely from scratch.
That didn't feel necessary this time around, but we had to pause twice due to Skype issues and I sound as if I'm in a lead-lined coffin. Alan sounds great, though! So there's that. It's possible we're actually backsliding, technically, but Sepinwall's researching new techniques as I type.
We talked a bit longer this week and covered a wide variety of topics. If you're looking to catch some things and avoid others, here's a brief breakdown:
The "Chuck"-pocalypse: 1:00 - 9:30
"Lost": 10:20 - 17:10
"American Idol": 17:15 - 20:10
"Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains": 22:00 - 26:30
"How to Make It in America": 26:30 - 30:40
"Friday Night Lights": 31:30 - End
We talk about a few other things in there as well, but that's the basic outline.
And now, enjoy Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 3:
It's reincarnation-made-boring on FOX's new crime-solving procedural
If you were TV creator and you set out with the expressed goal of taking the daffiest premise imaginable and turning it into the most mundane series possible, you probably couldn't achieve that goal more successfully than FOX's new drama "Past Life."
Previewing on Tuesday (Feb. 9) night after "American Idol" before migrating to Thursday, "Past Life" dulls down the field of reincarnation and regression therapy into the kind of leaden drama that recalls the less inspired works from the Jerry Bruckheimer procedural family. I'd tell you to to think "Cold Case" meets "Medium," but both of those comparisons might be too complimentary.
Shuffling into a nearly impossible time slot in an Olympics/Sweeps month and with an already reduced episode order, "Past Life" may only last long enough for its stars to get a quick showcase before being resurrected on other pilots.
[Full review of "Past Life" after the break...]
Watch all the big commercials: Alice in Wonderland, Prince of Persia, Last Airbender, Jay/Oprah/Leno, Betty White's Snicker's Ad, Simpsons drinks Coke, Google searches Paris and more
3:00 p.m. PT Welcome to HitFix's live blog of Super Bowl XLIV. Mostly, of course, that means a live blog of the commercials, but that doesn't mean that I plan on ignoring the football game.
CEOs learn that life is hard for their employees, earning an hour-long commercial for their pains
There's a theme that runs through CBS' populist-skewing advertisements for "Undercover Boss": In these troubling economic times, there's something cathartic about watching CEOs and CFOs brought down to the level of their lowest employees, something liberating about watching the boss of a mega-corporation humbled and forced to see how the other 99 percent live.
CBS is counting on the universality of that statement ring true for Super Bowl viewers when "Undercover Boss" has its special premiere on Sunday (Feb. 6), because nothing in the show itself feels even vaguely truthful.
"Undercover Boss" is manipulative, exploitative and meretricious to its very core and, given those attributes, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it's a big hit for CBS.
[Full review of "Undercover Boss" after the break...]
Expect Claire Danes to get Emmy buzz for this based-on-fact telefilm
One of the most interesting trends currently making its way through the small screen collective consciousness is an embrace of normalized, unacknowledged autism. Whether we're talking about Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" or Brick on "The Middle" or Dr. Brennan on "Bones," TV is full of characters who almost certainly fit somewhere on the autism spectrum, even if none of them will ever utter the A-word. Without knowing it, casual viewers are being educated that autism is more than just Rainman counting toothpicks.
That education takes a big leap forward in HBO's "Temple Grandin," a glossy and glorified movie-of-the-week that takes an unblinking look at living with autism. The drama isn't about beating or curing an unbeatable and incurable condition, so much as learning to work with autism and nurture those who live with autism to meet their full potential which, in the case of Temple Grandin herself, turned out to be nearly limitless.
It's a beautiful and inspirational story turned into a movie that becomes increasingly formulaic as it goes along.
[Full review of "Temple Grandin," which premieres on Saturday (Feb. 6) on HBO, after the break...]
There's a lot of TV to watch this Thursday. HitFix looks at a few of the options
Thursdays are a pain, aren't they?
I have a dual tuner DVR and a magical East Coast Slingbox and I still find myself scurrying to Hulu and OnDemand on Friday morning making sure that I've caught everything that needs to be seen.
Tonight, for example, we have new episodes of "Burn Notice," "Community," "Parks and Recreation," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Bones." We get Kathy Bates guesting on "The Office," more time-travelling on "Vampire Diaries," plus a "Survivor" special on CBS to whet our appetites for next week's "Heroes vs. Villains" premiere. That doesn't even touch on shows that I don't watch regularly, but which draw big audiences, dramas like "CSI," "The Mentalist" and "Private Practice."
Fortunately, I got a handful of screeners for Thursday offerings, which helped me get a little viewing clarity and maybe it'll help you as well.
If you click through, I have a few spoiler-free thoughts on the "Fringe" midseason finale, a "Saturday Night Live" legend guesting on "30 Rock" and the season premiere of "The Sarah Silverman Program."
Like I said... Minimal spoilers...
Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall talk 'Lost,' 'Fringe' and the Super Bowl
Wednesday (Feb. 3) was a long morning of attempting to put up the second Firewall & Iceberg (wt) Podcast. Our first recorded version was well over 45 minutes long, covered a wide range of topics and, in addition to technical problems, neither Sepinwall nor I felt happy with it.
Verson 2.1 is shorter (just under half-an-hour), more topically limited (we discuss "Lost," "Fringe" and the Super Bowl) and still suffers from some of the same technical issues.
We're posting it, because not all podcasts can be perfect and if you want to have a regular podcast, you have to make it regular, even if not every podcast is a total winner. Let's just say we're still working out the kinks, especially since we weren't in the same room, like we were for Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 1.
The most important thing I want to note: The discussion of the "Lost" premiere -- complete with spoilers -- runs from the 2:00 mark to the 12:15 mark. If you haven't seen the premiere yet, you probably want to skip that part.
With that all in mind, sit back and try to enjoy Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 2a...