The last few weeks have reminded me that when television is good, it just makes you happy.
Enchanting characters, indelible performances, memorable moments that resonate, stories about make-believe circumstances that touch your real life. And, more surprising, shows that grab you even if you're not sure why.
LUCK is the new HBO series from the iconic team of David Milch (Deadwood, NYPD Blue) and Michael Mann (Heat, To Live and Die in L.A., Miami Vice), set in the world of horse racing. Supposedly, the two [pictured below] drew a line in the sand: Milch would control the scripts, and Mann would be behind the camera. Hard to imagine either of these two being bound by that kind of separation, but maybe that's what you have to do with opinionated titans.
I will always be a fan of the way Milch writes. I may not love everything he does, or understand everything he says, or has his characters say, but Milch taught me how to listen to TV, and how to write the way we actually speak. Some critics point to Milch-speak as being virtually incomprehensible. And he may be guilty of overdoing it. But we don't talk to each other in diagrammed sentences. Often, we speak without saying a word, and then, without subjects, verbs and objects. For me, this kind of dialogue is what makes his characters sing. Mann makes horse racing and its denizens throb. The colors and camera choices capture the atmosphere whether you care about the sport, or debate that it is a sport rather than a cruelty.
You couldn't browse magazines or work on a laptop while watching Blue, and forget trying it with Luck (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO). Milch demands attention to the words, and the people defined by them. Supposedly, Milch demands that every "um, and, the" in his scripts be said exactly as written, because he is rhythmic and purposeful. Supposedly, in the Blue days, if an actor dared to improvise and leave out one of those mutterings, and Milch was on set, making them do the scene over. I don't know if he's still that specific, but I do know I understand his POV based on how his writing has made me feel. I watched a few episodes of Luck for the purpose of this review, and have another bunch to watch. I am not sure how I feel about the story, but it might be enough just to see Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessy (where has she been?) and one of my personal favorites, Jason Gedrick, along with lesser known spot-on character actors, inhabit the Mann/Milch world.
TOUCH has a big problem. That would be Jack Bauer and how much I wish 24 was still on the air.
Unreasonable, unfair, I know, but I can't help it. Two years gone, and I still talk to people who sigh "I really miss 24."
In Touch (sneaked by Fox Jan. 25, available on-demand and online through Feb. 22; official premiere Monday, March 19 at 9 p.m. ET), Sutherland plays Martin Bohm, the blue-collar father of a young boy who doesn't speak, hates to be touched, and only communicates with his father through a series of what appears to be random numbers. The breakthrough between father and son comes when Martin discovers the numbers may not be random at all: His special son may just be able to predict the future. The boy and his father will connect with seemingly unrelated people and events week to week. Sutherland is terrific in the role, totally believable, even more so than the premise, but still --
Touch shares another similarity to 24. On the latter show, I didn't really understand the terrorist techno talk, but it didn't matter: I had Chloe and Jack, the ticking time bomb, and that ticking clock at the cliffhanger ending of every episode. The confusing stuff didn't matter.
But it's hard to see how the convoluted Touch will connect viewers to story every week. I'm not sure I really understood how this numbers thing is going to work. It felt like a stretch to me, and not a particularly compelling one. And I can't be the only viewer who winced audibly when, in the sneak preview, Martin was punched in the gut and knocked to the ground by someone he was pursuing. It'll take a while to adjust to a Sutherland who's not Superman. And it'll get even murkier, if the 24 movie that's being talked about really does begin production in March, as Sutherland said in a recent conference call. Maybe, sadly, there needs to be a character separation here. Or maybe Sutherland is hedging his bets if Touch fails to catch hold.
And speaking of the supernatural, I'm really glad Syfy's BEING HUMAN (Mondays at 9 p.m. ET) is back for a second season. (You can catch up with Season 1 on Syfy's website.) I'm also looking forward to the Feb. 25 return of the original BBC Being Human, entering its fourth season (other seasons available on DVD). Here's a rare occurrence on TV -- when the original and the remake are both worthy.
I just love the premise: A ghost, a werewolf and a vampire walk into a bar -- no, sorry, they're roommates. Kudos to both sets of producers/writers for great casting, writing that's funny and touching, and really scary effects. If I had to choose, I'd go with the BBC series, part of BBC America's Supernatural Saturday program block, but both shows are well done, and different enough to keep you interested. Even if it's a little schizophrenic to switch back and forth.
Quick takes on other midseason shows:
ALCATRAZ (Fox, running Monday at 9 p.m. ET, encores Saturday at 11 p.m. ET) -- Ghostly, creepy, stylish enough to make me want to see more of inmates who escaped from the Rock 40 years ago now haunting and killing present day. Nice plus: A little Sam Neill gravitas classing up the joint.
SMASH (NBC, premieres Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m. ET) -- Creators Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are pitch perfect here. Former Idol star Katharine McPhee dazzles. Knew she had the voice, but she's effortless acting in this musical about a Broadway triple threat fighting for her break. Little bit Chorus Line/All About Eve/Stage Door, very 5-6-7-8. Didn't want it to end. The argument is always that no one outside of New York cares about Broadway, and NBC deserves to prove that's not true. Not sure if Steven Spielberg's idea of actually mounting the Marilyn Monroe musical that actually comes out of Smash will work, but hoping audiences will buy the ticket to the TV show.
THE RIVER (ABC, premieres Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. ET) -- I begged it to stop, then remembered my remote control gives me superpowers. Who doesn't like a good spooky story? But camera tricks will never take the place of one. Unfortunately, the promos and print ads are more compelling than the actual show.
GCB (ABC, premieres Sunday, March 4 at 10 p.m. ET) -- Bitches? Whatever. The initials are annoying. Otherwise, it's sly yet over-the-top, and that's just the wickedly wonderful Kristen Chenoweth. She distracted me from the fact the producers need to find the balance in this series to make it less one-note and worn.
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