<p>&nbsp;The cast of &quot;The Secret Circle&quot;</p>
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 The cast of "The Secret Circle"

Credit: The CE

TV Review: The CW's 'The Secret Circle'

Witchy teen drama makes a solid companion with 'The Vampire Diaries'
Robert Browning, who observed "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" would not have lasted very long running a broadcast television network.
Sure, it's easy to point to the huge risks that pay off hugely and change the fate of TV networks. A singing competition in which a British guy nobody has heard of insults the talentless? Airing in the summer? Crazy. A drama about plane crash survivors on an island with weird things in the woods? In the same season as you're airing a comedic soap opera narrated by a dead woman? Crazy.
But in most seasons and on most networks, "dice-rolling" usually takes a backseat to "managed risk." And this is even the case in circumstances where you'd think wild gambling might be the order of the day.
The CW did a little gambling with "Ringer" and the results weren't overwhelmingly successful, unless you think that an audience of 2.7 million viewers against zero scripted competition is likely going to hold up in Week 2, especially given reviews that I'll generously call "mixed."
And I guess The CW is even gambling a tiny bit on "Hart of Dixie," banking on another Old WB-style dramedy after similar offerings like "Privileged" and "Life Unexpected" had only brief runs.
But nobody anywhere is going to classify the Thursday drama "The Secret Circle" as a gamble.
Thursday 9 p.m. is one of TV's most crowded time slots, but on The CW, it's also the time slot after the network's biggest hit, "The Vampire Diaries." After giving "The Vampire Diaries" variably compatible lead-outs in "Supernatural" and then "Nikita" the past two seasons, The CW's approach this fall has been to put fish in a barrel and load up a rifle.
"The Secret Circle" comes from "Vampire Diaries" author LJ Smith and it has been adapted by "Vampire Diaries" producer Kevin Williamson. And although the star-making promotional legwork didn't necessarily pay off for Britt Robertson on "Life Unexpected," The CW is hoping that it at least laid the groundwork for a full-scale breakout with "Secret Circle."
There are many ways to design a show and "The Secret Circle" feels like it was developed with compatibility as a higher priority than creativity. But there are worse things than being compatible with what is The CW's most popular and also best series. "The Secret Circle" may be over-calculated and under-inspired, but that doesn't necessarily mean "The Secret Circle" is bad. There's something to be said for setting reasonable goals and largely succeeding, especially when there are plenty of shows that aspire to a good deal less and still fail.
More on "The Secret Circle" after the break...
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<p>John &quot;Cochran&quot; Cochran of &quot;Survivor: South Pacific&quot;</p>
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John "Cochran" Cochran of "Survivor: South Pacific"

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'Survivor: South Pacific' Premiere - 'I Need Redemption'

Ozzy and Coach return to the game, getting different responses
["Survivor" recaps have typically been in the Monkeys as Critics blog, but they'll be migrating over to my blog starting this season. That way, my recaps and exit interviews and whatnot will at least be in the same place, which ought to be more convenient. Click through for the recap of Wednesday's (Sept. 14) "Survivor: South Pacific" premiere.]
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<p>&quot;Free Agents&quot;</p>
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"Free Agents"

Credit: NBC

TV Review: NBC's 'Free Agents'

Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn and John Enbom and Todd Holland can do better
There's a moment in the pilot for NBC's "Free Agents" in which a reference is made to the "Celebrate Ricky Sargulesh" episode of "Party Down," one of the finest episodes in the first season of that short-lived Starz favorite. It's a reference that's only there for the miniscule overlapping audience that will realize that John Enbom wrote that "Party Down" episode and also is responsible for translating the British "Free Agents" property for NBC.
In several conversations, Sepinwall used the line as proof that something -- even if it was only one piece of tossed off dialogue --  in "Free Agents" was actually funny.
I wasn't amused. 
At all.
In fact, I was annoyed.
If the only plausibly funny thing in your entirely unfunny pilot is a reference to something you were previously involved with that actually was/is funny, that's just rubbing salt in the wound that comes from suffering through the current unfunny project in the first place. 
Or, to put it in a different way, if the only indication that your pilot comes from somebody with the talent to have been involved with "Party Down" is that it directly references "Party Down," you're probably in trouble.
Then again, being the least funny comedy on a network that also has "Whitney" is about a good a sign of trouble as I can possibly imagine.
And "Free Agents" is in trouble. The sympathetic part of me would like to believe that the roster of talent associated with "Free Agents," from Enbom on down, is so good that subsequent episodes are almost guaranteed to get back. The cynical part of me figures that if a roster of talent this good was capable of making a pilot this bad, all bets are off.
More after the break, but only a bit more. [I've got a "Survivor" premiere to recap in a bit and then I have to write a "Secret Circle" review. These are busy days and eventually there'll be a new fall show I won't review, but it's much too early for me to drop the ball for the first time.]
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<p>Will Arnett of &quot;Up All Night&quot;</p>
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Will Arnett of "Up All Night"

Credit: NBC

TV Review: NBC's 'Up All Night'

Likable comedy could be really good if the workplace material gets up to speed
As hard as it is to believe, I'm not an inexhaustibly gouting fountain of hatred, much to the disappointment/relief of Mario Lopez. I spent a lot of time last night and early this morning ranting and raving about the new CW reality show "H8r." I felt like I got that out of my system, but at least in the immediate present, my bile supplies are a little low.
That means I can't tackle NBC's new comedy "Free Agents," which has a special premiere tonight and is oh-so-very-bad. I'll try to get to it this afternoon, perhaps in shortened form, if I've recharged.
Fortunately, NBC is giving a special premiere to a second comedy tonight after the finale of "America's Got Talent" -- because using that slot for "Outlaw" last season worked oh-so-very-well -- and it's a comedy I kinda like.
"Up All Night" is a loose, well-acted single camera comedy that has potential to grow into something far funnier, even if early indications on its capacity for evolution have been largely negative.
A full (far shorter than "H8r") review of "Up All Night" after the break...
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<p>Mario Lopez of &quot;H8r&quot;</p>

Mario Lopez of "H8r"

Credit: The CW

TV Review: The CW's 'H8r'

Mario Lopez plays Anti-Robin Hood taking dignity from the weak and restoring it to the strong
Dramatically satisfying humiliation rolls only one way and that's uphill.
CBS can get a hit reality show out of sending CEOs into the workforce and letting blue collar workers laugh at their inability to pick up trash or handle an assembly line.
CBS could not get a hit reality show out of sending a high school dropout, hand-to-mouth single father of four, into a corporate boardroom unprepared, let the guy make a couple dumb suggestions and then watch the suits mock his ignorance before sending him home empty-handed. [Ignore, for a second, how frequently that's exactly what happens on "The Apprentice."]
There are exceptions in the case of a show like "Same Name," in which an Ordinary Joe had to live the life of a Famous Joe and invariably learned that being famous isn't nearly as easy as he might have imagined. But in the case of "Same Name," not only was there an equal level of humiliation, with the Famous Joe recognizing that he probably wouldn't do so well living the life of an Ordinary Joe, but beyond simple reciprocity, "Same Name" episodes ended with the Famous Joe doing just a little bit to improve the life of the Ordinary Joe, through a well-considered gift. The need for the episode-ending present was a tacit acknowledgement that even if you conclude with a less powerful person recognizing the difficulties of a more powerful person's life and *even* vice versa, equality isn't sufficient for dramatic satisfaction. The viewer realizes that whatever lesson the powerful person learned isn't sufficient payback, because they're still returning to their position of power (usually with a welcome dose of humility), while the normal person learns a lesson and returns to their second mortgage, their failing business and their more relatable struggles. On an intellectual level, viewers know that nothing the famous person could possibly do would even that playing field (and it's all a bit condescending), but viewers appreciate the token, at least on an emotional level.
When the weak mock the powerful it's counter-hegemonic, it's iconoclastic, it's revolutionary.
When the powerful mock the weak, it's bullying.
Even if we weren't in a period of economic unrest, it would require a profound disconnect to think it a good idea to do a humiliation-based reality series in which the humiliation rolls downhill, a show in which the powerful make the essentially disenfranchised look like fools and then lecture them on their failings.
Enter Mario Lopez and The CW.
The "Saved by the Bell" star and the "TBL: The Beautiful Life" network have joined forces on "H8r," an astoundingly stupid and offensive reality series in which Mario Lopez's D-list friends confront people who dislike them and make it clear that it's unacceptable for anybody to have an opinion or express it on the Internet, or at least a negative opinion. 
So when The CW encourages you to tweet or Facebook during its programming, I have some advice: BE CAREFUL. Feel free to praise Blake Lively's fashion sense or celebrate the "Supernatural" stars and their cheekbones. But don't think that it's OK to suggest that a budding thespian on "One Tree Hill" is an inadequate actor or that one of the "90210" kids is much too old to be playing a high school student. Because if you do... Mario Lopez is coming for you, and when it comes to people who aren't tolerant of his friends, Mario Lopez is not a very tolerant guy. And Mario Lopez doesn't care how little money you make or what you do or even if anybody out there on the Internet cares about whatever mean thing you might say, because he's got a point to make, one that he believes in strongly: Even the lowest-level celebrity -- ESPECIALLY the lowest-level celebrity -- should be exempt from criticism. But feel free to love them and write about that.
It's pretty insecure stuff, but I guess if Mario Lopez wants to be the Anti-Robin Hood, stealing dignity from the less fortunate and restoring it to Snooki from "Jersey Shore" and The CW wants to enable him, that's their mutual prerogative. 
More after the break. I'm hoping that if I type for long enough, Mario Lopez will come bursting through my door, because I'm sure that if there's anything less acceptable than h8ing on Kim Kardashian, it's h8ing on "H8r."
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<p>Sarah Michelle Gellar of &quot;Ringer&quot;</p>
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Sarah Michelle Gellar of "Ringer"

Credit: The CW

TV Review: The CW's 'Ringer'

New Sarah Michelle Gellar drama has identity issues of its own
Part of me likes to think that in 1955, Alfred Hitchcock could have taken the premise for The CW's "Ringer" -- icy blonde dopplegangers, infidelities, double-crosses and attempted murder -- and made a classic suspense yarn. Grace Kelly clearly would have played the twins. Cary Grant or James Stewart would have played the husband. James Mason or Raymond Burr would have played the cheating lover. Critics would still hail it as a classic.
Part of me likes to think that in 1982, Brian DePalma could have taken the premise for "Ringer" and made a piece of perverse operatic schlock (in the best way possible), all Hitchcockian flourishes through a funhouse mirror of erotic obsessions. Nancy Allen would have played the twins. Some really wooden, blonde pretty boy as the husband. John Travolta as the brooding boyfriend. Auteurist critics would have a soft spot for it, but they'd probably admit it was no "Blow Out" or "Carrie."
The 1991 version of "Ringer" would have been written by Joe Eszterhas and directed by Paul Verhoven and it would have been straight-up exploitation. Sharon Stone would have played the twin sisters, Michael Douglas would have been the duped husband and, for absolutely no good reason, there would be an incestuous make-out scene. Chances are good that it would have sucked, but the VHS would have been a cherished possession passed around by teenage boys and eventually transfered to the Internet in loving HD by the gang at Mr. Skin.
Those are all imaginary versions of "Ringer," of course.
The real "Ringer" is an exposition-heavy soap opera developed with half-in/half-out conviction through the CBS pipeline, but then shuffled off to The CW. Officially, CBS executives have said that the network just didn't have room for "Ringer" and the opportunity to give this shiny bauble to sister network The CW was too great to pass up. The reality is that "Ringer" would have been a disaster on CBS. Its heavily serialized structure would have stood out like a sore thumb, its demos would have skewed uncomfortably young and even if CBS were to make an exception for a totally off-brand show, the Tiffany Network wouldn't make that exception for a subpar pilot. 
And "Ringer" is, alas, disappointingly subpar. I mentioned those fake versions of "Ringer" because, at least to me, they illustrate a point. If you're a student of cinema, you knew from my description *exactly* what each of those "Ringer" iterations would feel like. If you're going to do something as loopy as "Ringer," you have to have a voice. You have to have a certainly of purpose. This is ludicrous stuff and there are many different correct ways to handle it. So I'm not saying I disliked the pilot for "Ringer" because it wasn't what Hitchcock or DePalma or Verhoven would have done. That'd be stupid. I disliked the pilot for "Ringer" because no two aspects of its production seem to be on the same page. Writers Jon Liebman and JoAnne Colonna aren't doing the same thing as director Richard Shepard. The composer isn't doing the same thing as the effects supervisor or the costume designer. And nearly every member of the sturdy cast is on a different page, including star Sarah Michelle Gellar, who may be on a different page from herself.
So I can tell you exactly what a trio of fake versions of "Ringer" might be, but after multiple viewings of the real "Ringer" pilot, I don't know what it's trying to be, only that it isn't succeeding.
More details after the break...
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<p>Britt Robertson of 'The Secret Circle'</p>
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Britt Robertson of 'The Secret Circle'

Credit: The CW

Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 92

Dan and Alan review new shows like 'Ringer,' 'Secret Circle' and 'H8r'


Happy Monday, Boys and Girls!
It's not officially Premiere Week, but it feels like Premiere Week on The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
As this podcast was recorded before I'd had the chance to watch this week's "Breaking Bad" (or the series finale of "Entourage" [or the season finale of "True Blood"]), this podcast is all about new series premieres.
We've got reviews of all of the new shows launching on The CW and NBC this week, including "Ringer," "H8r" and "The Secret Circle." You've already heard my thoughts on a couple of these either in Take Me To The Pilots or my gallery of the 10 Worst New Shows of 2011.
Here's the podcast breakdown:
"Ringer" -- 05:00 - 16:30
"H8r" -- 16:35 - 26:45
"Up All Night" -- 26:45 - 35:45
"Free Agents" -- 35:50 - 43:40
"Secret Circle" -- 44:00 - 53:15
"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" -- 54:40 - 01:06:00
"Archer" -- 01:06:00 - 01:10:10

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.] 

And here's the podcast...
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<p>Deborah Ann Woll of 'True Blood'</p>
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Deborah Ann Woll of 'True Blood'

Credit: HBO

Thoughts on another bloody 'True Blood' finale

If all else fails, Jessica in Red Riding Hood garb will always succeed
Anybody who read my early-season "True Blood" review knows that I took a vow of Not Caring. I decided that expecting "True Blood" to be anything other than country-fried hokum slathered with several ladles of silly-sauce  was folly and that expecting meaning, nuance or consistency from Alan Ball and his team could only lead to disappointment.
I tried.
I swear I tried.
[Spoilers coming, y'all...]
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<p>The zombies of &quot;The Walking Dead&quot;&nbsp;</p>
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The zombies of "The Walking Dead" 

Credit: AMC

'Walking Dead' producers talk Season 2, Frank Darabont's departure and more

What did Robert Kirkman, Glen Mazzara and Gale Anne Hurd have to say?
On Thursday (September 8) morning, a small group of reporters packed into Beverly Hills' Aidikoff Screening Room to watch a rough (but not very rough) cut of the 90-minute second season premiere of AMC's "The Walking Dead." 
I can't tell you much about the super-sized episode, which airs on October 16, other than to say that it's a mighty tense block of television and that it ends on a note that had one normally reserved reporter sitting next to me swearing in eager anticipation of the next installment.
"What you just watched is the entirety of the second episode and the first episode put together," said "Walking Dead" executive producer Robert Kirkman, who also moonlights as creator of the acclaimed comic book source material. "There wasn't anything taken from later episodes. They were combined together to produce a 90-minute [premiere] just because we wanted to give it more of an event feel, like we did with the first season.  We thought the two episodes would work well together, so it was crafted into what you guys saw." 
Kirkman was joined by fellow executive producers Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert and Glen Mazzara, whose recent elevation to "Walking Dead" showrunner received just a little bit of press on this website and a handful of others.
Remarkably, in a far-reaching 45-minute Q&A, it took more than 15 minutes before the name "Frank Darabont" was mentioned. Of course, we had a lot to discuss about the episode we'd just watched and about the second season in general.
Click through for some highlights from the Q&A, highlights that spoil very little, though "very little" is in the eye of the beholder.
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<p>The cast of &quot;Entourage&quot;</p>
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The cast of "Entourage"

Credit: HBO

Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 91

Dan and Alan talk 'Wilfred,' 'Louie,' 'Entourage' and more


Happy Wednesday, Boys & Girls. After taking last week off, it's time for the [triumphant?] return of The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast.
Starting next week, all heck breaks loose. We'll have new series premieres, old series returns, Emmys and all sorts of wackiness. It's a safe bet that we'll have a couple multi-podcast weeks ahead.
For this week, with things a bit slower, we chatted about "Wilfred" and "Louie," which end their seasons on Thursday. We also answered a lot of Listener Mail, allowing us to touch on the final season of "Entourage" and a bunch of other stuff. And then we had two weeks of "Breaking Bad" to get to.
[Oh and apologies for the one really awful edit. My bad.]
The breakdown:
"Wilfred" and "Louie" -- 2:30 - 22:45
Listener Mail: "Entourage" -- 23:00 - 33:15
Listener Mail: First Series canceled -- 32:20 - 37:50
Listener Mail: Premise Pilots -- 38:00 - 45:30
Listener Mail: More on Pilots -- 45:35 - 50:05
Listener Mail: Talking TV at Parties -- 50:15 - 53:40
"Breaking Bad" -- 53:45 - 01:13:45

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.] 

And here's the podcast...
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