Z NATION: TV Review

An interesting review of the latest new zombie (aargh!) series in the Hollywood Reporter. We like it cuz the reviewer actually addresses the writing. Too bad there’s nothing better to say about it. (Yeppers, kids, to paraphrase Stan the Man, “With great public exposure comes the chance for great humiliation.”) Oh, well, at least the article doesn’t come out and tell us the guilty writer’s name cuz writing about writing is one thing but writing about a writer? Nah!”

Is this what writers really look like?

Is this what writers really look like?

by Tim Goodman

The best thing that could ever happen to The Walking Dead is the arrival of Z Nation on Syfy on Friday. The super-popular but critically underappreciated Walking Dead may be seen more favorably for its writing, acting, visual acumen and storytelling capabilities now that Z Nation proves you can’t just put hungry zombies on the screen and have something worth writing home about.

On the other hand, if all you want to see are zombies, zombies, zombies — meaning it’s all about the gory and not about the story, then Z Nation may be your thing. In fact, as a B-level entry it’s at least entertaining, and if some of the sillier aspects of the pilot can be improved on could be one of those mindless entertainment options we all need now and again.

But as a top-notch drama — nope.

Z Nation has the normal zombie premise — there was a zombie virus and the world as we know it was overrun by crazed flesh eating dead people. (At least in Z Nation, like the film 28 Days Later, the zombies can run instead of stumble along which heightens the action quite a bit — some of the running dead are pretty damned fast.).

The series picks up three years after the virus has cut most communication, destabilized the government and any working order and left every man and woman to fend for themselves. Except that Lt. Mark Hammond (Harrold Perrineau), a surviving Delta Force member, is still trying to carry out his orders, which is to take Murphy (Keith Allan), the only known human to survive a vicious zombie attack, from the East Coast to California and the last functioning viral lab where they will try to make a cure from his antibodies.

Simple enough — as most zombie stories are. Getting from one coast to the next is also a nice bit, since it will take forever and mean lots and lots of action.

Along the way, Hammond meets up with a ragtag group that will assemble almost against their will to see the mission through. They are Charles Garnett (Tom Everett Scott), an active member in the National Guard; Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith), another National Guard member; Pvt. First Class Simon Cruller/Citizen Z (DJ Qualls), who is stationed/abandoned in the Arctic as part of the NSA listening base; Mack and Addy (Michael Welch and Anastasia Baranova), two college kids learning how to fight for themselves; Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), who’s not a real doctor but does sell illegal meds; Cassandra (Pisay Pao) a quiet but strong survivor they found who also looks fantastic in limited clothing; 10K (Nat Zang), a military sniper who doesn’t talk much but also doesn’t miss much – his goal is 10,000 zombie kills.

The trouble with Z Nation is in the writing, which in turn makes some of the acting seem off.

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Herbie J Pilato: Happy Silver Anniversary to Samantha and Darrin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today is the 50th anniversary of BEWITCHED’s debut on our screens. What better way to celebrate it than to turn this space over to the World’s Foremost Authority on this show, Contributing Editor Herbie J Pilato, author of 3 definitive books on the subject –  The Essential Elizabeth Montgomery, Twitch Upon A Star, and Bewitched Forever? Take it away Herbie J:

bewitched-hp

by Herbie J Pilato

So, what makes Bewitched great – and why are we still talking about it fifty years after its original lengthy hit run on ABC (from September 17, 1964 to July 2, 1972)?

Like any superior television show, feature film or live stage production, it all begins with the script.

And the pilot script for Bewitched, written by Sol Saks, is one of the most well-rounded half-hour initial teleplays ever conceived.

Saks explained it all in his wonderful book, The Craft of Comedy Writing, first published by Writers Digest Books in 1985 (and which I recommend every writer should reads, be they novice and veteran).

In a tight thirty minutes, the Bewitched not only introduces and marries the two main characters – Samantha, the graceful good and wise witch-with-a-twitch (portrayed by the one and only Elizabeth Montgomery, who was nominated eight-times for the role), and her mortal husband Darrin (a role shared by Dick York and Dick Sargent) – it manages to intertwine a solid B-story about Samantha meeting Darrin’s arrogant ex-fiancé (played by Nancy Kovak).  In the process, the pilot sets up nicely the entire premise of the series:  Samantha and Darrin love each other despite their differences, and the stern objection of her feisty sorceress mother Endora (played to perfection by Agnes Moorehead), and while he is initially shocked with his wife’s heritage, he loves her no matter what – if only requesting that she promise not to use her powers.

As the series continues, of course, Samantha breaks her promise on a weekly basis.  And the human home she shares with Darrin is not only frequently visited by the interfering Endora, but nosy neighbor Gladsy Kravitz (first played by the Emmy-winning Alice Peace, then Sandra Gould), and any number of witches, warlocks and various supernatural beings, or other-worldly sorts that arrive because of any assorted amount of magic mayhem.

Behind Sol Saks, the core premise of Bewitched was inspired by the show’s executive producer, Harry Ackerman, the master-mind of many of classic sitcoms, including Dennis the Menace, The Famer’s DaughterHazel, and the under-appreciated Gidget (which introduced the world to the Oscar-winning Sally Field).

Ackerman, a former executive for CBS, had an idea for a weekly witch series, which he titled, The Witch of Westport.  In a meeting with Ackerman, Elizabeth Montgomery and then-husband producer/director William Asher (who worked with Ackerman on I Love Lucy at CBS) had introduced a show concept called The Fun Couple, about a wealthy woman who falls in love with an auto-mechanic.  Ackerman suggested Bewitched and witchcraft instead of The Fun Couple and “richcraft.”

Elizabeth and Bill Asher loved the Samantha series idea, and the rest is history.  Bewitched became an instant hit for ABC.

However, that would not have transpired if all the pieces were in place beforehand…the pieces placed, again – in the script.

The characters of Bewitched were finely-tuned.  No two characters talked alike, looked alike, or behaved alike.  The stories were fanciful, but whatever transpired within the world of Bewitched made sense in that world.  There was a logic to the illogic of what was portrayed.  If Samantha placed a spell on someone, only Samantha could remove that spell.   Witches could work any kind of sorcery imaginable, but they could not alter time, and so forth.  The Bewitched writer’s bible for the series was crafted with immense detail by William Asher, and the show’s early writers, including genius minds like Danny Arnold (who later created the heralded Barney Miller sitcom for ABC), and Bernard Slade (who went on to attain super success on Broadway with “Same Time, Next Year”; and also with ABC’s The Partridge Family).

An important component in the over-all quality and presentation of Bewitched’s was the high-likeability factor and various talents of its cast:  Elizabeth, York, Sargent, Moorehead – and others like David White (Darrin’s conniving ad-man boss Larry Tate), Marion Lorne (the bumbling witch Aunt Clara), George Tobias (Abner Kravitz, the curmudgeon), Kasey Rogers and Irene Vernon (who shared the role of Larry’s wife Louise Tate), Bernard Fox (witch Dr. Bombay), Maurice Evans (Samantha’s warlock father Maurice, pronounced “Moor-eese!”), Paul Lynde (the practical-joking Uncle Arthur) – and twins Erin and Diane Murphy (as little magical Tabitha), and the also twinned David and Greg Lawrence (as Tabitha’s younger brother Adam) always hit their magic mark.

In short, their is no one reason why Bewitched remains a classic and beloved series five decades after its debut.

Just like there is not any one reason why any quality TV show, film or stage play becomes a hit.

Such success is always a result of a combination of factors.

With Bewitched, in particular, however, it was the perfection combination “X” factors – times a million.


Herbie J Pilato is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about him HERE.

The New Fall Comedies – First Impressions

If only network television had half the attitude that the interwebs do. These new show reviews, for example, have more strength than any series they’re writing about:

black-ishby the TV.Com Staff

The fall TV season is upon us, and right now you may be wondering what’s worth watching and what’s not worth your time. Which new shows look the most promising, and which ones deserve a spot on your Dead Pool. TV.com is here to help.

We’ve screened the inaugural episodes of nearly every new fall series and compiled multiple (and sometimes contradictory) opinions of each network newbie. Pilots will be pilots, of course, and lots of shows get better once they’ve had a chance to settle in. But for now, first impressions are all that matter.

Below, you’ll find our take on which new network comedies are looking good, bad, average, and just plain ugly. Check back soon for a rundown of the new network dramas!

BLACK-ISH:

TIM: I’ll like Anthony Anderson in anything, and I’m not sure there’s anyone who can play this role—black father wants his kids to be more “black”—better than he could. Black-isheasily could’ve focused only on what it means to be black, and much of it does, but it’s the family message that really comes through by the end of Black-ish‘s pilot, and that’s exactly why it could be a surprise hit for ABC. Well, that combined with its post-Modern Family timeslot. I’ll watch more of this.

NOEL: Black-ish isn’t perfect (ditch the voiceover stuff, please) but I’m eager to see what Anderson and showrunner Kenya Barris can do with this series that deals with race and class. Anderson’s great, Tracee Ellis Ross is perfect, and while he’s not as much of a comedic revelation as Andre Braugher was on Brooklyn Nine-Nine last season, Laurence Fishburne is so relaxed that he’s rather infectious.

JEN: Everything that both Tim and Noel said, plus more praise for Black-ish‘s cast. Not only is it full of great individual performers, but there’s an early chemistry within the group—even in the pilot and even with the kids—that makes the show feel real right off the bat. It’s enough to make you wonder why we’re often so forgiving of comedy casts that haven’t “clicked” yet; these guys don’t seem to need the extra time, and I’m eager to see what the show can do.

SELFIE:

KAITLIN: I’ll admit that Selfie, despite its stupid but actually fitting title, isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I genuinely like the way it wants to take down superficial American culture by poking at how ridiculous it has become. But even though the pilot was better than I expected it to be, it wasn’t really good. Similarly, Karen Gillan’s American accent isn’t awful, but it will certainly take you by surprise if you’re accustomed to her natural Scottish one. And maybe I’m slightly biased because I would like to see more of John Cho on Sleepy Hollow, but I think he deserves better than this show.

JEN: Based on the somewhat-thin premise—a shallow, social-media-obsessed Internet star attempts to fix her image and make some friends after an embarrassing video goes viral—I was ready to hate everything about Selfie. And the pilot is full of annoying, predictable, and trope-y elements, plus some cheeky allusions to My Fair Lady, on which the show is loosely based. But it’s not nearly as irritating as I thought it would be, and Karen Gillan and John Cho have potential as an “two different people who can each learn from the other” pairing. Bottom line: It’s starting on a really short leash, and I’m not sure how it will ever evolve beyond its initial set-up, but I can be convinced to watch a few more episodes.

TIM: The first several minutes of Selfie‘s pilot are so unbearably terrible that even when it gets slightly better (it’s still awful) toward the end, it’s too late. You’ll still be so furious over hearing about “likes,” “hashtags,” and “pushing up the girls” that nothing will ever make it better. Eliza Dooley is one of the worst characters to arrive on television in a long time, and watching Karen Gillan embody such a wretched person is painful. I want to watch Selfie like I want to watch people take photos of themselves at the 9/11 Memorial. Please, no more social media shows.

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Why ‘Modern Family’ — The Most Formulaic Show On TV — Is An Emmys Favorite

We here at TVWriter™ luv a well written and damning analysis, don’t you?

Not sure what we mean? Well, you won’t find out from the following article…which is a well written analysis to be sure, but far from damning. Which we also think is kinda nice:

modern-family-winsby Ashley Burns

TV company when it won its fifth statue for Outstanding Comedy Series. Only Frasier had ever had that kind of success before, having won five in a row from 1994 to 1998, and some could argue that Modern Family’s current run is more impressive, because it didn’t have the benefit of being spun off from a beloved series like Cheers (and others might then argue that Frasier was more impressive, because spin-offs are usually hot garbage).

Now with five wins in the five seasons that the show has been on television, Modern Family is arguably the most celebrated sitcom in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, with more Outstanding Series wins than Cheers (4), All in the Family (4), Taxi (3), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (3), The Dick Van Dyke Show (3), 30 Rock (3, despite being the best show ever created), The Golden Girls (2), Murphy Brown(2), I Love Lucy (2), Seinfeld (1), and even Friends (1), which was beloved, but not actually a good show.

Better yet, how on Earth did a show that debuted in 2010, anchored only by the star power of Ed O’Neill, become such a critical juggernaut? After all, the “mockumentary” style had already been celebrated at the Emmys in 2006, when The Office took home its only trophy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Simply put, Modern Family was created by two men, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, who know a thing or two about writing, developing and cultivating TV hits.

Levitan already had five series under his belt by the time that ABC gave Modern Family a full season order right out of the gates in 2009. While Just Shoot Me! was his only show to catch on for more than two seasons, he also had writing credits on Wings, The Larry Sanders Show, Frasier, and The Critic, so there were hits among the misses. (He’s also the guy who brought us the horrendous Stacked, which will forever be cemented in my head as a hilarious Greg Giraldo roast bit.) Lloyd, on the other hand, wrote for The Golden Girls, Wings and Frasier, so he presumably picked up a number of tricks along the way. Together, Levitan and Lloyd had the experience to put together a winning formula, so all they needed was the story, and they found that in their own personal experiences.

Modern Family, like so many other sitcoms before it, is a show that was developed out of the idea that all of our families are crazy, but this fake family takes the cake while serving us pieces of morality. This “modern” family, as it is, focuses on one side – in this case, the Pritchetts – and the dissimilar people that they’ve chosen to marry, as well as the children they’re raising.

The series formula is quite simple, as each of these seemingly different but tightly-connected couples faces new problems each week, and they must overcome their differences to get past these obstacles. After all, the moral of this series is that no matter how wide the divide or the differences between two people, love and family are all we ever need. What makes us modern, I suppose, isn’t that a family features mixed-age or same-sex couples, as much as we’re still learning to overcome the new problems affecting us by using the same basic morals and lessons that we learned in Father Knows Best.

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Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 4

Tom-Hollander-as-Adam-Sma-006

Tom Hollander as the Reverend Adam Smallbone

REV.
by Cara Winter

In the BBC’s Rev., Tom Hollander and James Wood have created something wholly unique.  And by wholly unique… I mean, I have no idea what I’m watching.  Not only have I never seen anything like it, I was for a long time at a loss for words for even how to describe it.  Except…I’m in love.

Rev. is a comedy, of that I am sure.  Or, at least I think I am.  I find it funny – but not CBS- sitcom-laughter-at-precise-intervals-funny.   It’s more like a cold dish of awkwardness, smothered in general hesitancy, with a side of human suffering – which, as it turns out, is really, really funny.

Rev. is the story of a small town vicar (the Reverend Adam Smallbone) who’s all of a sudden at the helm of an inner city parish.   In addition to co-creating and writing for Rev., Tom Hollander also plays the title character, and in this role he’s absolutely perfect.  His characterization of the Rev. is completely original – wistful, earnest, prone to doubt (both of himself and his creator), fond of beer, and occasionally completely nuts.  In short, he’s human.  And unlike the caricatures we’re so used to when it comes to members of the clergy, the Rev. Adam Smallbone is painfully real; sweet, searching, and maybe a little F’d up.  (Sorry, Reverend.)

Not a single person at BBC seems to have complained to the creators that Adam isn’t “cool enough”, so blessedly he’s deeply uncool… which in this show is everything.  Because therein lies all the humor, and all the pain.  The Rev. Adam is in our world, but he is not of it – and his calling to serve God is precisely what distances him from everybody.  Adam’s shock, horror and/or dismay at discovering the godlessness of modern life is terribly amusing; his occasional attempts to join in with the godless are even better.  I wonder, how long can one watch one man’s naiveté being shattered into a million tiny little pieces?   Forever, that’s how long!   It.  Just. Never. Stops. Being. Funny.

The supporting cast includes Adam’s wife Alex (Olivia Colman), a solicitor, who unlike her husband is a well-adjusted, smart go-getter, someone who could be at home anywhere (be it London, Suffolk, or Kabul);  Nigel (Miles Jupp), a church volunteer who’s convinced he’d do a better job than Adam, if only he were vicar; and Colin (Steve Evets), an aging, brutish, very un-PC parishioner who has some of the best one-liners in the show.   Occasionally, Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville drops by as the Reverend Roland Wise, and he’s a delightfully blustering, happy-go-lucky opposite to Hollander’s small, self-conscious servant of God.   Rounding out the cast is parishioner Adoha Onyeka (Ellen Thomas) who is sometimes a little too moved by Adam’s sermons, and Adam’s nemesis, the Archdeacon Robert (Simon McBurney) who routinely invites Adam to a meeting in the back of his chauffeured car, only to tire of him and kick him out (usually in the middle of traffic).

The writers on this show are evil, evil geniuses.  To Adam’s horror, Colin wonders aloud if Muslims might be “religious ninjas,” and admits to finding Muslim women in their full burkas “sexy”.  In another episode, Adam describes the students he’s supposed to be guiding as “feral, apathetic ten year olds”.  But my all-time favorite?  “Sorry to disappoint you; there are no pedophiles.”   You just have to watch, you just have to.   The episode entitled “Ever been to Nando’s”  is probably my favorite thus far, when the Rev. decides to take a break from being vicar and proceeds to smoke, veg out, binge-eat, and shop lift, followed by more binge-eating, and a nice “wank”.

And just when Rev. has you laughing hysterically, BAM – they sock you in the gut with some plain, old fashioned existential suffering.  It’s really, really odd and very, very good.  That’s what it is.  It’s the very definition of “droll”:  amusing, in an odd sort of way. 

So, obviously, I’m a fan of Rev., as we all should be.  Luckily, all three seasons are available via Hulu Plus.  So go get your Hulu Plus on, and go with God.


Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Sitcoms are Hard

Ken Levine strikes again – and brilliantly so:

Miranda

The daring duo in TVWriter™’s current favorite TV sitcom, MIRANDA, on BBC

by Ken Levine

There seems to be a new trend in sitcoms – the knockoff Romy & Michele’s. Two single ditzy twentysomethings who sort of blunder through life. The difference is that the characters of Romy & Michele were carefully developed, well crafted, and there was a definite story.

BROAD CITY on Comedy Central, GARFUNKEL & OATS on IFC, and PLAYING HOUSE on USA are all very similar. Two comediennes who have worked together either as an act or a musical comedy team write and perform their own sitcoms. They’re all single-camera with a very loose format. Most of the dialogue sounds improvised, and occasionally they say some very funny things. But for the most part it’s just vamping. You’re listening to two people grope around in search of something genuinely funny.

So at times it’s forced and other times it’s vulgar for the sake of being edgy.

Now it can be argued that these new R&M-lite sitcoms are fresh because they don’t follow established rhythms, and the fact that the performers are somewhat amateurish is the great appeal. And that’s fine for five-minute webisodes.

But for my money, if I’m going to devote a full half hour I would prefer a great comic actress like Julia-Louis Dreyfus who has acting chops delivering lines from seasoned comedy writers who really know how to create stories, get the most bang for their buck out of comic situations, and can provide funny lines on a consistent not sporadic basis.

All three of these comedy teams are talented. I am a huge fan of Garfunkel & Oats’ songs. They’re funny, razor sharp, and inspired. But every word is clearly tailored. They didn’t just start riffing.

Abbi and Ilana from BROAD CITY are fresh faces, and it feels like they’re trying to do a funny GIRLS, but again, it’s so uneven.  Agreeing to clean someone’s apartment half naked for $200 and then learning the guy can’t pay, thinks he’s an actual baby, wears a diaper, and has an accident is an example of their hilarity.    “Bad job.  Really bad job.

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