Inside Television with Alan Sepinwall
Dan and Alan mix in reviews of new shows with anecdotes from the TV critics' tour
It's the most wonderful time of the year for the Firewall & Iceberg Podcast! I'm in California for the TV critics' press tour, which means Dan and I get to record a few podcasts in the same room. No technical issues, no guessing at the other's body language - just briliant damn insight and hilarious comedy. (Maybe)
This week's first episode (there may be another later in the week) is a mix of press tour anecdotes and reviews of shows debuting over the next week-plus. The run-down:
Press Tour - 00:00:00 - 00:21:10
"Off the Map" - 00:25:40 - 00:35:50
"Lights Out" - 00:36:00 - 00:50:05
"Harry's Law" - 0051:20 - 01:01:30
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, download the MP3 file or stream it on Dan's blog.
And as always, feel free to e-mail us at email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions you want answered on the show. Please put the word "podcast" in your subject line to make it easy to track them down amid the hundreds of random press releases we get every day.
Renewals and philosophy talk, but no concrete vision yet
Back in August, Paul Lee appeared at press tour on literally his first official day as president of ABC entertainment. He had had nothing to do with any of the new shows being previewed that day, or the schedule on which they had been placed, or really anything about the network of which he was now in charge. So he mostly sat around and talked about the kinds of programming he enjoyed, and might one day bring to the network. (In my favorite moment, he lamented the fact that "The Middleman" didn't work out during his tenure at ABC Family.)
Five months later, Lee has actual tenure on the job, has been responsible for canceling some shows ("The Whole Truth") and the rescheduling of others (postponing the Dana Delany crime drama "Body of Proof" from fall to spring). And today at press tour, he announced the renewal of six ABC series: "Castle," "Cougar Town," "Grey's Anatomy," "The Middle," "Modern Family" and "Private Practice."
But because those shows were, again, all developed and greenlit by his predecessors, and because we're still many months away from seeing the actual new shows Lee chooses to place on the network, the ABC executive session was still largely devoted to hypotheticals and philosophical questions.
(You can read Fienberg's exhaustive live-blog of the event here.)
FX brought him in to fix the pilot, kept him around to run things
Warren Leight is not necessarily the first writer you'd think of to run a boxing drama, but he's the man in charge of FX's excellent new series "Lights Out," which debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m. (You can read my review here.)
A Tony-winning playwright (for "Side Man," a play about his jazz musician father), a showrunner for several seasons of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and the showrunner on the second season of HBO's psychiatry drama "In Treatment," Leight is a small, cerebral guy. (Back in the summer, he appeared at a press tour session alongside his hulking leading men - Holt McCallany as retired heavyweight champ Patrick "Lights" Leary, Pablo Schreiber as his manager brother Johnny and Stacy Keach as their father - and thought, "One of these is not like the other.") But he had a childhood passion for the sport, and when FX felt the original version of the "Lights Out" pilot was having creative problems, they brought in Leight to get it back on track, then left him in charge when they picked up the series.
I talked with Leight last week about the changes he made when he took over, his own history with boxing, what he learned from the coterie of ex-fighters who came in to meet the writing staff, dealing with the expectations of fight movie fans, relocating the series to Tony Soprano country, and more. As with a lot of these showrunner interviews - and just like the one I did with Leight at the end of his "In Treatment" stint - the answers are long but, I hope, interesting.
I've seen the first five episodes of the season - which deal with Lights' increasing problems in retirement and his desire to get back in the ring despite the objections of wife Theresa (Catherine McCormack) - and I feel comfortable that none of what we discuss is any kind of significant spoiler. (I even deleted a few specific references made by one or both of us, while leaving in the larger point that brought us there.)
A quiet, self-effacing, inspiring leader of men
Dick Winters, World War II veteran, winner of the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism on D-Day, and the central character of HBO's "Band of Brothers" miniseries, has died.
If you watched the miniseries (which I reviewed on my old blog a couple of summers ago), or read Stephen Ambrose's book on the exploits of Easy Company that inspired the miniseries, or watched the various documentary tie-ins, then you know that Winters (played in the miniseries by Damian Lewis) was a calm, selfless, inspiring, exceedingly decent man, and the very model of what Tom Brokaw dubbed The Greatest Generation.
After the jump, three clips: one involving real members of Easy Company singing the praises of Winters (he's the first man who speaks), one featuring Lewis at the end of the D-Day episode of "Band," and one the "Band" recreation of the assault on the German guns at Brecourt Manor on D-Day that won Winters his biggest medal:
What did everybody think of the new superhero show?
If you read my review of "The Cape," you know I liked the idea of it (straight-forward, unironic, throwback superhero show) much more than the execution of it, particularly in regards to star David Lyons. (My old partner Matt Seitz also made a point I wish I had: the show races through all the familiar beats so quickly that it's hard to enjoy any of them as much as we should.)
I won't be writing about the show much, if at all, going forward, but I'm curious what everyone thought of these first two episodes - and specifically whether you noticed any notable change between the first hour and the second, which were produced many, many months apart.
What did everybody think of the family dramedy?
If you read my review of Showtime's "Shameless," you know I liked the tone and many of the performances but wasn't completely in love with it yet. Now that the first episode has aired, I'm curious what everybody thought. Are you going to want to spend an hour a week with the Gallaghers? And I'm curious what fans of the UK show thought of it (without offering spoilers for that version of the show).
What did everybody think of the showbiz satire?
If you read my review of Showtime's "Episodes," you know that I was not a fan of the show outside of Matt LeBlanc (who only appears briefly in the first episode, in a scene that's actually taken from a much later episode), and will not be adding it to the regular rotation. Still, I'm curious for people's initial impressions of it. A lot of critics whose opinions I respect enjoyed the show a hell of a lot more than I did, so I wouldn't be surprised if many of you were amused, as well.
What did everybody else think?
If you missed it, you can watch the entire first episode (edited for language) on HitFix.
What did everybody think of FOX's new animated comedy?
IÂ didn't quite have time to write a review of "Bob's Burgers"Â - or, rather, IÂ might have had time but wasn't sure what to say about it. The strange, deadpan style of creator Loren Bouchard can be an acquired taste, and it doesn't always work (IÂ liked "Dr. Katz"Â a lot more than "Home Movies"), but IÂ like a lot of the voice actors (particularly H. Jon Benjamin from "Archer"Â and Kristen Schaal), and IÂ think maybe there's a show here. But IÂ think the only time IÂ laughed at this first episode was the gag about the Burger of the Day.
Right now, I advise you to go watch Fienberg's video interview with some members of the voice cast, which is itself very strange, but also quite funny. And then for those of you who watched "Bob's Burgers," what did you think?
Faithful British adaptation strongly led by actress Emmy Rossum
Broadcast network shows have largely done away with opening title sequences. The artform still exists on cable, thankfully, because when done well, a title sequence tells you all you need to know about what a show is like. Think Tony Soprano driving from Manhattan to his McMansion, or Dexter Morgan going through his surprisingly violent-looking morning routine.
Showtime's family dramedy "Shameless" has a terrific opening title sequence - albeit one that you won't see on the pilot episode that premieres tonight at 10. (TV pilots are often title-less for some reason.) The sequence places a fixed eye on the lone bathroom shared by the sprawling Gallagher family. Alcoholic dad Frank (William H. Macy) has to be dragged out of there by eldest daughter Fiona (Emmy Rossum) so she can go to the toilet, and then we watch Fiona and her brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors and everyone's assorted boyfriends and girlfriends use the bathroom for both its intended purposes and many others, from sex to the toddler using the toilet to brush his teeth.
That's "Shameless" in 30 seconds or less: messy, overcrowded, unapologetically frank and, at times, darkly funny.
Revelatory performance by Holt McCallany as struggling ex-champ
We start "Lights Out," FX's terrific new boxing drama (which debuts Tuesday at 10 p.m.), in the dressing room after Patrick "Lights" Leary has just been dethroned as heavyweight champion of the world. He is unconscious and looks like his face just collided with a freight train that was covered in barbed wire, sandpaper and bits of broken glass.
His physician's assistant wife Theresa comes in and begins sewing up the hideous cut over his eye, and as Lights starts talking about how the rematch, she lays down the ultimatum:
"Please, Patrick, I love you too much to watch you die. Either you stop, or we stop."
So Patrick stops. For five years, he plays dutiful househusband. He puts Theresa through med school, makes breakfast and drives their three daughters to school, sets up his father in his own boxing gym, puts his brother in charge of managing his fortune, and tries to enjoy a life where he's not getting his brains beaten in.
But the ring has a gravitational pull on him, especially as his retired life falls apart. The economic crash wipes out most of his fortune. His brother's in a variety of jams. The gym is a sinkhole without a champion-level fighter operating out of it. The boxer who dethroned him keeps calling him out in public for a rematch.
And then there's this: though it's not polite to say in most company, Lights Leary enjoys hitting people.