<p>Maggie Gyllenhaal of &quot;The Honorable Woman&quot;</p>

Maggie Gyllenhaal of "The Honorable Woman"

Credit: SundanceTV

TV Review: 'The Honorable Woman' is another SundanceTV winner

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
Maggie Gyllenhaal shines in Hugo Blick's complex, occasionally ponderous, miniseries

Mike Leigh's 1996 drama "Secrets & Lies" is a very good movie, at times even a great movie. It's full of great performances, rich thematic underpinnings and, like so many Mike Leigh films, fine naturalistic dialogue.

But then it also has that scene where Timothy Spall's Maurice wails, "Secrets and lies! We're all in pain! Why can't we share our pain? I've spent my entire life trying to make people happy, and the three people I love the most in the world hate each other's guts, and I'm in the middle! I can't take it anymore!"

I've never quite been sure what Mike Leigh wanted that speech to accomplish. 

Did he really think, "Without this, nobody will know why we called this movie 'Secrets & Lies' and audiences will leave disgruntled"? 

Did he think, "Yes, viewers will probably get what the movie is about, but there's no harm in underlining it just a little"?

Or did he just figure that speech was the key to Spall getting an Oscar nomination and he left it in because we all know Mike Leigh is deeply invested in award recognition for his movies?

I tend to suspect option "B," because nobody ever placed the requirement of "subtlety" on great art. Sometimes artists like to make sure they're understood, even if a largely inert sponge probably would have gotten the point anyway.

Hugo Blick's eight-part miniseries "The Honorable Woman" -- I really, really want to call it "The Honourable Woman," but once you open the door to British spelling, that door can never be closed -- is a nuanced and occasionally gripping political thriller bursting with strong performances, anchored by the clearly Emmy-worthy Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's also really, really worried that you won't understand what's happening beneath-the-surface and I'm not sure that I've ever seen a movie or TV program spend so much time directly articulating and then repeating its underlying themes. 

It's an odd combination, because while writer-director-producer Blick has almost no faith in the audience's ability to parse this text for its message on truth, lies, secrets and the Middle East, he's reasonably confident that viewers will be able to follow a fragmented narrative that withholds key pieces of information for long stretches. So "The Honorable Woman" is probably the most subtle and least subtle thing you're likely to watch on TV this month, which actually makes it of a piece with a lot of SundanceTV's original programming, which could practically have the tagline, "Pay Close Attention: We're Only Going To Tell You This 50 Times." [SundanceTV placed two shows in my Top 10 for 2013, so don't take this necessarily as a damning criticism. I like things that are both obtuse and willing to beat you over the head with a mallet.]

More on "The Honorable Woman" after the break...

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'Sharknado 2: The Second One' breaks Syfy records including meaningless Twitter milestone
Credit: Syfy

'Sharknado 2: The Second One' breaks Syfy records including meaningless Twitter milestone

Tangibly, 'Sharknado 2' nearly triples the ratings for its predecessor

Last August, Syfy's "Sharknado" premiered to a, um, sharknado of Twitter attention, but almost no live audience. 

That appears not to have been a problem for Wednesday's (July 30) premiere of "Sharknado 2: The Second One."

Syfy boasts that "Sharknado 2" drew 3.9 million viewers, including 1.6 million in the key 18-49 demographic. The original "Sharknado" drew under 1.4 million viewers total, so that's not unimpressive.

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<p>&quot;Penn &amp; Teller: Fool Us&quot;</p>

"Penn & Teller: Fool Us"

Credit: The CW

TV Ratings: 'Extant' ties 'Taxi Brooklyn,' 'Penn & Teller' works Wednesday magic

NBC rules Wednesday overall, splits the key demo with CBS

Fast National ratings for Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

A move to a new time period didn't hurt "Extant" among young viewers, but it didn't help the Halle Berry drama overall. CBS stayed second overall for Wednesday night behind NBC, but "Big Brother" helped the network tie for the primetime lead in the key demo.

Interestingly, the night's most notable result came not on The Big Four, but on The CW, which got a rather impressive premiere for "Penn & Teller: Fool Us," which delivered the network's best non-"Whose Line" ratings of the summer.

And yes, you'll have to wait until the afternoon (or later) for "Sharknado 2: The Second One" figures. Sorry.

On to the numbers...

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TV Review: 'Sharknado 2: The Second One' offers more polish, slightly less charm
Credit: Syfy

TV Review: 'Sharknado 2: The Second One' offers more polish, slightly less charm

HitFix
B-
Readers
A+
Ian Ziering and Tara Reid return, with a slew of cameos

I know I've thought it and said it and probably even written it, but there's something vaguely condescending about the notion that the "Sharknado" franchise is somehow review-proof or review-immune or however you'd prefer to view it. 

Just because something is designed to be a guilty pleasure doesn't mean that it can't achieve its goals with more or less craft.

And just because something isn't necessarily meant to be taken seriously doesn't mean that those aspirations can't be achieved with more or less success.

Because the desire to be taken seriously or viewed as legitimate is hardly an argument to be reviewed or acknowledged in the case of utter ineptitude. 

For example, look at CBS' "Under the Dome." It has a literary pedigree, some respectable creative auspices, a cast of familiar TV faces, a position of some prominence in CBS' lineup and a reputation as a summertime success, even if that reputation hasn't been supported by recent ratings.

And "Under the Dome" is awful. It's as inert and inept a show as there is on TV, a showcase for shoddy effects, leaden pacing, dead-ended plotting and a slew of performances that run the full gamut from wooden to petrified wooden. 

No matter the patina of frivolity that coats Wednesday's (July 30) premiere of "Sharknado 2: The Second One," there's almost no level on which this Syfy original movie is inferior.  

Unlike "Under the Dome," "Sharknado 2" has a sense of playfulness that infuses its variably successful effects shots, its sometimes stumbling momentum and its unflagging commitment to delivering ridiculously audacious set-pieces. And unlike "Under the Dome," every one of the actors on-screen in "Sharknado" clearly wants to be there and even if that's because they're aware they couldn't be doing anything else, why is that so bad? 

This isn't to say that "Sharknado 2" is some great piece of made-for-TV art. In improving its empirical quality, the sequel has absolutely lost some of its ephemeral charm. But it's absolutely a thing that is capable of being evaluated objectively, as more than just an "It is what it is" or an "If you liked the first one you'll like this one" level.

So let's do that, eh?

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<p>&quot;America&#39;s Got Talent&quot;</p>

"America's Got Talent"

Credit: NBC

TV Ratings: 'America's Got Talent,' rising 'Food Fighters' lead NBC Tuesday

'Celebrity Wife Swap' posts a small dip for its season finale

Fast National ratings for Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

"America's Got Talent" topped Tuesday night in all measures, while "Food Fighters" rose from last week's premiere, allowing NBC to dominate primetime.

With NBC doubling up the competition among young viewers and cruising overall, there weren't many other Tuesday notables, though ABC's "Extreme Weight Loss" was up a hair and "Celebrity Wife Swap" dipped a hair in its season finale.

On to the numbers...

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<p>Allison Williams</p>

Allison Williams

Credit: Evan Agostini/AP

'Girls' star can fly in NBC's 'Peter Pan Live!' title role

No, Lena Dunham isn't joining Christopher Walken in NBC's musical

There has been a long history of girls playing the title role in "Peter Pan," so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that NBC's "Peter Pan Live!" has found its leading lady on HBO's "Girls."

NBC announced on Wednesday (July 30) morning that Allison Williams will play Peter Pan in the network's second live musical, which will air on December 4.

Williams will appear opposite Christopher Walken, who was previously cast as the nefarious Captain Hook.

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<p>Jim Gaffigan</p>

Jim Gaffigan

Credit: Comedy Central

'Gaffigan' in, 'Kirstie' out at TV Land

Ashley Williams, Adam Goldberg and HOT POCKETS! co-star

In a changing of the self-titled comedy guard, TV Land announced on Tuesday (July 29) that it has given a series order to "The Gaffigan Show," while also confirming that "Kirstie" has been cancelled after only one season.

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TV Ratings: Low 'Bachelorette' finale leads ABC Monday, while NBC's 'Ninja' rises
Credit: ABC

TV Ratings: Low 'Bachelorette' finale leads ABC Monday, while NBC's 'Ninja' rises

'Running Wild With Bear Grylls' has an OK start for NBC

Fast National ratings for Monday, July 28, 2014.

ABC's finale for "The Bachelorette" was far below last summer's "Bachelorette" finale and was barely up from last week's installment, but the three-hour telecast lit season highs anyway and led ABC to Monday wins in all key measures.

Other Monday notables saw "Under the Dome" stabilize among young viewers (but dip overall), FOX's "MasterChef" drop a hair, NBC's "American Ninja Warrior" continue its summer charge and "Running Wild With Bear Grylls" premiere to decent numbers.

On to the numbers...

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TV Ratings: 'Big Brother' leads CBS Sunday, while 'Rising Star' drops again
Credit: CBS

TV Ratings: 'Big Brother' leads CBS Sunday, while 'Rising Star' drops again

'Unforgettable' and 'Reckless' also win overall

Fast National ratings for Sunday, July 27, 2014.

"Big Brother," "Unforgettable" and "Reckless" were all steady for CBS, leading the network to Sunday victories in all key measures.

Animation repeats put FOX in second overall (and first in the 18-34 demo), while ABC was second overall, as "Rising Star" continued to lose steam after a couple seemingly encouraging weeks.

On to the numbers...

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Guillermo del Toro brings 'The Strain' to Comic-Con: Live-Blog
Credit: FX

Guillermo del Toro brings 'The Strain' to Comic-Con: Live-Blog

Guillermo del Toro, Carlton Cuse and company lead the last Hall H panel of Comic-Con 2014

After live-blogs for "Sons of Anarchy" and "The Following," it's time for the final Hall H panel of Comic-Con 2014.

It's Guillermo del Toro and company taking the stage for FX's "The Strain," which will be preceded by a screening on Sunday (July 27) night's episode, which was one of my favorites so far, featuring some jaw-droopingly gross moments, as well as a hilarious sequence for Corey Stoll's wig.

Apparently this is the first TV show ever to be paneled in Hall H during its first season.

Who knew?

Click through for the highlights...

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