Diana Vacc sees ‘The Gifted’ Opening Episode ‘eXposed’

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

Monday October 2, 2017, Fox premiered the new series The Gifted. The series takes place after the X-Men film Days of Future Past. It tells the story as a “What if the X-Men didn’t succeed in defeating the Sentinel Program?” adventure.

Basically, the show addresses the issue of, given their failure, what happens to the X-Men next? The main focus of the series is that mutants are on the run from a government agency tasked with imprisoning them.

THE GOOD:

  • Over the years, what fans call the “X-Men saga” has always done one thing very well: It shines a bright light on bigotry and on how we need to learn to accept one another and embrace each other’s differences.
  • This theme continues in The Gifted. One scene particularly effective in making the point is when Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes White) is pulled into the school showers by bullies and tortured with blasts of both hot and cold water. Through his terror he triggers mutant abilities that nearly tear the school down.
  • That storyline continues as we follow the very normal Reed Stucker (Stephen Moyer) searching for entree into the secret mutant underground in order to get help for his children their mutant natures become clear. I loved the way we could see his desperation, even though previously he had been instrumental in hunting mutants down.

THE BAD:

  • The performances in general aren’t exactly the best. The actors seemed strangely (unprofessionally?) uneasy in their roles.

THE REST:

The acting problems aren’t stopping me from wanting to see more episodes of The Gifted, and as an X-Men saga fan I’m hopeful that the performances will improve as the cast gets more into the storylines and writing in general.

If Marvel superheroes, and the X-Men in particular, are your kind of thing, then I believe you should give this series a try. It’s no Legion – not by a longshot – but over time it evolve into something interesting…and besides, it’s always fun to watch mutants kick the butts of biased abusers.


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ or ‘The Orville?’ Who do you love?

Bleeding Cool’s chief film writer Kaitlyn Booth and a crew of in-the-know TV journalists have a few words to say about the relative merits of two of the newest science fiction shows on TV, Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville, each show highly controversial in its own way.

It isn’t exactly a boxing match, but still, we can’t help but wonder: What corner of the ring are you in? Let us know!

Diana Vacc sees Outlander S03 Episode “Of Lost Things”

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

Sunday October 1, 2017, Starz aired season 3, episode 4 of Outlander. In this episode, Jamie (Sam Heughan) is serving as a groomsman for a noble British family and is pulled into a web of intrigue by the scheming Lady Geneva Dunsany. Meanwhile, in a much later time period, Claire, Brianna, and Roger continue their search for Jamie’s whereabouts via history books.

THE GOOD:

  • Toni Graphia pens this episode, and takes a difficult chapter of material from the novel “Voyager” written by Diana Gabaldon, which this season is based on, and builds up the drama and intrigue with care. I was very impressed and happy with how this part of the story was handled by all involved.
  • Lady Geneva (Hannah James) is a spoiled brat and really doesn’t want to marry the much older Lord Ellesmere. After eyeing Jamie and liking what she sees, Geneva threatens his family, leveraging him into sleeping with her three days before her wedding. What makes this turn of events so powerful is that after the “deed” Geneva professes love for Jamie, totally changing my perspective about her and putting me more on her side even after all her deceit. Heughan and James have terrific chemistry in this episode, their characters challenging each other brilliantly.
  • The union of Geneva and Jamie produces a child, Willie (Clark Butler). After Geneva’s death in childbirth, Lord Ellesmere, now her husband threatens the life the newborn child, who is saved – yay! – Jamie. Gratefully, the Dunsanys give Jamie the opportunity to go home, but he rejects the offer because he wants to watch his son grow, even if it’s from outside the family. Jamie stays for a while, and whispers about Willie looking like him begin. To protect the boy, Jamie leaves and return home to his estate.

THE BAD:

The Claire storyline in this episode is dull both conceptually ands visually, with nothing at all exciting to push it along. Research is not a dramatic enough replacement for conflict!

THE REST:

I LOVED the Jamie storyline in this episode. So heartfelt! Heughan shines as he grows his character’s relationship with his son. I couldn’t help but tear up as he rides away, with 4 year old Willie calling out, “Don’t go Mac” and runnint after him futilely while Jamie continues with a perfect single tear falling down his face. Truly perfection. We feel the hurt in both of them.

I’ve said it before and must say it again. If you haven’t watched this series yet, what are you waiting for?


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

How ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ Changed TV Writing Forever

by B. O’Malley

We’re writers for television and film. So let’s start off with a completely inappropriate cosmological metaphor:

If I Love Lucy was the “primordial big bang” of television comedies—spontaneously birthing into existence all we know and love about television’s situation comedy format, and causing the formation of galaxies such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family, Cheers, and every other interstellar mass of wonder that comprise television’s brights and best sitcoms—

If we can use that clunky metaphor, with your permission…

… then HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998) was nothing less than that “big bang’s” greatest aftershock; one that we’re still feeling today as we scroll endlessly through our seemingly limitless streaming and cable choices.

So what was The Larry Sanders Show? Here’s the skinny:

It was a sitcom about a fake network talk show, but mixed in real celebrity guests who played themselves. That’s it in a nutshell.

Garry Shandling played “Larry Sanders,” an ego-soaked talk show host a la Carson, Arsenio, and Letterman. His foils were his Ed-McMahon-esque sidekick Hank Kingsley Jr. — a loaf of simultaneous self-love and self-loathing played by Jeffrey Tambor—and his bulldog producer/charmer/svengali, Artie, played by Rip Torn.

The show only ran for 6 seasons, but the ripple it left behind continues to reverberate as its tone, its format, its style, even its attitude, continue to influence the writers we love and the shows we watch today.

In what ways? Here are the two big ones:

Larry Sanders proved it was okay for mainstream sitcoms to make us squirm

The core mission of any good clown can be distilled down to one essential phrase: “Look at me. I’m a goofball.”

As an example: in I Love Lucy, Lucy regularly finds herself knee-deep in goofball and slapstick (as only Lucy could do) from stuffing chocolate into her mouth to keep up with the candy on the conveyor belt to getting stoned on Vitameatavegamin while hawking it on a commercial shoot. You’ve seen the reruns. They’re like Beatles songs. You know them all by heart.

Lucy’s clown is never dumb, but the comedy happens because her character—her version of the clown—quintessentially earnest. She’s trying to do good, even if she gets herself into a lot of crazy tangles. So we root for her.

Larry Sanders’ clown, on the other hand, is very difficult for anyone to root for. But that’s by design.

We hear the canard all the time as tv- and screenwriters: “Your main character has to be likable.” I’m going out on a limb and making a bold statement:

The reason we can call that “likable characters” thing a canard is because of characters like Larry Sanders.

From where I sit, without Larry Sanders’ overblown ego, we likely wouldn’t have had Ricky Gervais’s character David Brent in the BBC’s The Office.

And without David Brent, The Office likely would not have worked.

And if the BBC’s The Office didn’t work, we probably wouldn’t have had the NBC version of The Office, with its own lovable egotistical jerk Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell.

And without the success of that show, who knows if shows like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation would’ve been given a chance.

Larry Sanders, the character, makes us squirm at how much of a jerk he can be, as did David Brent, just a few years later on the BBC.

And now, speaking of Larrys, a different Larry is coming back to HBO after a bit of a hiatus:

Larry David, creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm. If we’re talking about egotistical, insensitive jerks playing the clown, Larry David’s fictionalized version of himself on the show is the legendary marble statue of David by Michelangelo.

And if Larry David is the Michelangelo’s David, then Larry Sanders was the original block of marble, the chisel, and the sweat. That is, I argue that a straight line can be traced from Larry Sanders’ egotistical, pampered clown to Larry David’s selfish, egotistical jerk clown.

Yes, it’s fair and accurate to say the character he plays on Curb is based on himself, and is the “freed from network tv’s constraints” version of the autobiographical jerk he brought to life as Jason Alexander’s George Costanza on Seinfeld in 1992.

And yes, Larry David is a brilliant writer and actor and the character he plays is nothing short of unmitigated genius.

But I argue that the character of Larry Sanders showed Larry David what was possible, in many ways, and David ran with it. And is running with it. And I’m addicted to Curb Your Enthusiasm and I love it.

Throwing out another example, for us fans of Louis CK:

Without Garry Shandling’s willingness to be unlikeable, would Louis CK’s FX show Louie have half as many cringeworthy moments?

I’d say it’s definitely possible. Louis CK is an extremely funny, extremely creative artist.

Without showing us it’s okay to cringe at a lead character, would Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy have as many cringey moments? It’s possible. Lots of good people on that show, (including my friend and fellow Roger Corman alumnus, editor Chris Miglio.)

Would Kenny Powers on Eastbound and Down be simultaneously so “punchworthy” and so enjoyable to watch at the same time? It’s possible.

Bottom line: The cringeworthy clown wasn’t invented by The Larry Sanders Show

And, similarly, the guitar solo wasn’t invented by Jimi Hendrix.

But like Hendrix’s explosive entry into the zeitgeist, Larry Sanders‘ paradigm-shifting happened at just the right moment where TV was about to make a big step away from years of traditional clowning and traditional “fast food” situation comedy.

Liberation from the traditional situation comedy format

After almost four decades of tv shows being locked into either film or video, or 3-camera and single-camera, The Larry Sanders Show blew everybody away by proving that a show’s format could be flexible.

While it’s hardly worth mentioning in today’s mixed-media jumble that a tv show would shoot on two different formats—video for the talk show portions to add to the verisimilitude and film for the behind-the-curtains lives of the people behind the show—it can’t be overstated how bold of a choice that was when The Larry Sanders Show did it 1992.

Beyond that was even more innovation, which I argue was even more important:

Fast-moving, handheld, documentary style filmmaking that grounded the show by giving it a sense of realism we hadn’t seen mixed within a traditional situation comedy previously.

And even better: the show didn’t try to signal where the laughs should come, a la any traditional sitcom.

As far as approaching overall pace and realism, the closest example I could cite might be M*A*S*H, but two key differences set M*A*S*H apart:

1) That legendary sitcom only rarely used handheld and moving cameras, and was 100% film, and

2) M*A*S*H had a laugh track.

By liberating the sitcom from format, I argue, perhaps a bit enthusiastically, I’ll admit, that Larry Sanders liberated the sitcom.

Again, I point The Office, or I can cite Flight of the Conchords, or even the show’s direct descendants in terms of style and tone: 30 Rock and Arrested Development.

Should Larry Sanders be credited with the creation and success of any of these shows, or any shows on network, cable, or streaming? Almost certainly not.

Yet The Larry Sanders Show proved a crucial, cosmological theory about the universe:

And that’s

1) that a sitcom’s format could be stretched, considerably,

and 2) that a sitcom’s central character could be a cringeworthy clown, and the show could still make a “big bang.”

That’s the theory, anyhow.


Brian O’Malley started his career working for legendary B-movie maverick Roger Corman in 1997 and has written and directed three feature films. Since 1999, Brian and his team of experienced script readers at Screenplay Readers have been providing expert and brutally honest script feedback to writers, agents, and filmmakers.

Diana Vacc sees the 4th Season Premiere of ‘Gotham’

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

Monday September 21, 2017, Fox premiered Season Four of Gotham. This premier episode opens six months after the tragic release of the tech virus that ravaged Gotham in Season Three.

The city is finally getting back on its feet with the help of crime boss Penguin, who has issued “licenses” to commit crimes. As you might expect, this does not sit well with Detective Jim Gordon (who, in case anybody is wondering, just happens to be my favorite character in the series).

THE GOOD:

  • Writer John Stephens delivers an episode of fantastic dialogue, full of a combination of wit, humor, and seriousness not seen in many TV shows today. An example of such creative writing occurs after Detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is beaten up by fellow cops and says “I think we can forget about backup.” The timing is perfect and welcome relief from the intensity of what came before
  • I enjoyed how focused this episode was on how the crime rate has lowered due to certain criminals being issued licenses to commit crimes…because although the crimes still are being committed the permits mean that they’re no longer considered illegal and therefore don’t count in Gotham’s statistics.
  • The opening of the episode showed a teenage Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) continuing toward his destiny to become the Dark Knight by fighting two grown men mugging a young couple. As a Batman fan, I love seeing this transition into the classic vigilante. And as a TV fan I was impressed by the brilliant choreography of the fight scene.
  • The chemistry between Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue, who plays Harvey Bullock, was classic buddy/brother material pulled off perfectly.

THE BAD:

  • The bad – and when say bad I mean terrible – thing about this episode was the unfortunate decision to have David Mazouz use a voice very similar voice to that of Christian Bale’s Batman. Homage? In-joke? Whatever the intention, it came off as very derivative, no, outright cheesey and totally unnecessary, to me.
  • While we’re on the subject of Christian Bale, the scenes with the Scarecrow were in my opinion total rip offs of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films in terms of tone, photography, and evenstructure.

THE REST:

  • Gotham is a great show for Batman fans, especially Dark Knight Saga aficionados. It isn’t perfect (like, say Outlander, as those of you who read my reviews regularly “know”), but it’s certainly worth checking out. And if you do, please let me know your thoughts below.

Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE

Kathryn Graham Conquers ‘The Voice.’ Almost.

OMG! It’s THE VOICE stage. Squee!

by Kathryn Graham

Who’s been on the stage of The Voice? Supremely talented singers… and this idiot.

Yeah, that’s right, me.

We had a Lip Sync Battle at the Big Name That Shall Not Be Named Here TV and Film Studio where The Voice is shot and also where I work. I signed up solo for P!nk’s F**kin’ Perfect, thinking I could get a routine done in time before the contest. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

So what happens is, I mix up the dates, and then suddenly: Oh, the contest is tomorrow. Also, if you want to get costumes from the wardrobe department, you need to make an appointment and go there. The day comes and I’m replaying the song on my way into the office for forty minutes. I’m running around wardrobe an hour before I have to go on stage, still thinking to myself: Do I really want to do this? I should cancel. I have nothing prepared. Fucking perfect.

Not quite stardom but, you know, baby steps

Even as I was standing backstage waiting for a hairy fella in an evening gown to finish “Dreaming” by Selena, I was debating turning back.

Then, a funny thing happens. I decide to do it anyway. My reasoning goes thus: How many chances do I have to be on the stage of The Voice? How big of a fool can I really make of myself? We’re all going to die one day anyway, so fuck it.

I don’t have a full routine. I have a couple things I’d come up with on the commute and some moves from my newfound love of Dance Central. I get called onto the stage by two hosts trying so hard to figure out how to announce the name of the song without saying “the f-word”.

I practiced F**kin’ Perfect using the explicit lyrics, thinking: If they don’t let me use the explicit version, how hard is it to remember to go “less than, less than perfect” rather than “less than fucking perfect”? Turns out pretty hard. I mouth “fuckin’ perfect” every time.

Some bigwigs I don’t know from the company are judging from those rotating chairs (but they didn’t get to rotate, since it’s lip syncing, that’d be pretty stupid). Three women and a dude. All three women stared at me like… What. The. Fuck. The guy? He looks like a sandy-haired dad from an eighties sitcom, and he’s smiling. Lots.

So I focus on dad because a) he’s super encouraging and b) my other choice are three gorgons who’ll just turn me to stone. And the stage is a lot smaller than it looks on TV, and I just did the same move like eight times, and my mouth is dry, but… Then there’s a big cheer from the stands. It’s a group from IT dressed as construction workers. And suddenly, it’s fun again. I’m relaxing, and I’m doing better at this. Like, fuck yeah, construction team. You feel me. You were up here like goddamn gladiators. I salute you!

I think they won first place. So much love to IT.

Co-workers ready to battle it out for fame & glory

It was by no means a fantastic performance. I didn’t get into the finals. If I had more time, I know I could have done better, but that’s not how it worked out this time. But I’m infinitely happier that I went up there than if I had backed down because I wasn’t prepared. I had nothing to lose. I just had to get my dumb ass on stage and start dancing.

And this guy in this awful photo backstage? He’s my co-worker. He went on after me, and he made it into the finals. He was so confident I’d make it into the finals while I prayed I didn’t (and kind of thought it’d be nice to be there at the same time).

That smiley judge? He stopped me on his way to the elevator and said I was great. I don’t believe either of them for a second. I was objectively awful, but it’s endearing of them both to say so.

Plus I got to run through wardrobe and get dressed by a ‘mean lady’ who was actually pretty awesome? Like I kind of want to work in wardrobe just to be subjected to this biting wit daily?

This isn’t something I probably would have done years ago, and I’m really happy with the me that can get on stage and just dance already, even if it’s not even close to f-word perfect.

(That’s the song link up there, er, warnings if you go to watch it? But Mac from Veronica Mars is in it, and the song is awesome.)

“Pretty, pretty, please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than fucking perfect
Pretty, pretty, please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothing. You’re fucking perfect to me”


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor and munchman’s secret fav. Learn more about Kate HERE

Droughtlander is OVER!!! Diana Vacc sees Outlander S03 “The Battle Joined”

by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

Sunday September 10, 2017, Starz premiered season 3 of Outlander.   This episode follows Jamie hoping for survival during the Battle of Culloden as a pregnant Claire returns to life in the 1940’s.  As an avid fan of the series I was truly excited for its return and had high expectations after the previous two seasons.

THE GOOD:

  • The beginning of the episode is brilliant.  The writing, the directing, the acting certainly don’t disappoint.  It opens with bloody bodies lying on the ground of Culloden.  The focus comes to Jamie (Sam Heughan) whose eyes open slowly after being unconscious.  The episode fades to the beginning of the battle.  The transitions back and forth of Jamie lying on the ground with a dead Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) on top of him to his recollections of the battle makes you feel so much emotion that you can’t help but cry the entire time.
  • The fight between Jamie (Heughan) and Black Jack (Menzies) is deeply personal and the perfect way to end “the devil himself” – Black Jack.  After all that Black Jack put Jamie through, it is fitting that Jamie be the one to take his nemesis’ life and was truly satisfying to watch.
  • Heughan is by far the MVP of the episode as his heroic Jamie shines.
  • Claire (Caitriona Balfe) has to re-adjust to life back with Frank (played also by Tobias Menzies).   Their marriage is one of convenience for Claire and Balfe beautifully plays a woman trapped in a domestic prison, without the man she loves.
  • I love how Menzies brings us a character who is forced to make a normal life with Claire and raise another man’s child.  Can’t be easy for any man, but Menzies makes Frank touchingly human, especially when, unable to contain himself any longer, he has it with Claire, telling her how much it hurts when she pulls away from him, which is, actually, every time he touches her.  This scene makes your heart ache for Frank.

THE BAD:

  • If you find something badly done here, please write and tell me. Because what I see is that Outlander and its creator Ronald D. Moore, have arrived at the perfection Moore has been striving for.

THE REST:

  • All I have to say is if you haven’t watched this series yet, what are you waiting for?

Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a student in the TVWriter™ Online Workshop. Find out more about her HERE