Fall 2014 Network TV

There’s quite possibly too much television to talk about nowadays and sorting through it can be quite a daunting task. But, alas, I’ll try my darnedest.

CBS has never interested me as a network, probably because I’m not in their target demographic, so there’s not much for me to discuss here.

ABC has launched a campaign to diversify their lineup. SelfieBlack-ishHow to Get Away with Murder, Cristela, and mid-season replacement Fresh Off the Boat, all feature minority leads, countering the network’s Caucasian-dominated programming.

NBC, on the other hand, seems to be adding more of the same “white-centric” sitcoms, with shows like A to Z, Bad Judge, and The Mysteries of Laura. The latter two sitcoms might have too specific of a premise to survive the year (think back to other NBC flops like Save Me and The Michael J. Fox Show). Once the kings of comedy, NBC is putting all the eggs in their Saturday Night Live basket, where they are still in a sort of generational transition. With a set of powerfully comedic women, lead by Kate McKinnon and Aidy Bryant, as well as strong newcomers Michael Che and 20-year-old Pete Davidson (yes, 20…like, my age), the show premiered last weekend to mixed reviews, as Guardians of the Galaxy star and NBC family member Chris Pratt hosted alongside musical guest Ariana Grande. The best bit of the night came as Pratt poked fun at the obscurity surrounding Marvel’s blockbuster hit, and the gang mocked a some of their upcoming flicks, including Marvel’s Pam 2: Winter Pam (a play on Captain America 2: Winter Soldier). Click the picture below to see the full sketch on Hulu!

AidyBryant_Marvel_Pam-690x262Last, but not least, is Fox. And I like Fox this year. Their solid Tuesday line-up of The Mindy Project and New Girl is sure to cure your mid-week blues, not to mention the sigh of relief that came with the solidification of both of their casts. Brooklyn Nine-Nine took a move to Sunday nights, along with the network’s famed Animation Domination, which includes newly-crowned Emmy winner Bob’s Burgers. While Fox seems to know their comedy, they’ve also taken a dark turn to fill the gaps in the drama department, once championed by House, M.D. and 24 (might we see yet another return of Jack Bauer??). Gotham takes a look at the world of the Batman before the Bat-Call. The heroes and villains we have come to know and love all have their own backstories, from the Riddler to Poison Ivy, Commissioner Gordon to the Penguin. Rumor has it that the Joker will be revealed at the end of the first season, so let’s hope they make it past the mid-year cuts.

In the coming weeks, the cable networks will take control of the airwaves. This Sunday, Showtime revamps Homeland sans Damien Lewis. On Wednesday, FX takes us under the tent with American Horror Story: Freak Show. And the following Sunday, AMC hunts the hunted with the Season Five Premiere of The Walking Dead. 

The Zoe/Zoey/Zooey’s of TV

Zoe or Zoey or Zooey is a pretty unique name. And it’s no wonder why all the most compelling characters on television today bear this name. Let’s take a look:

Zoey Barkow

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Show: Nurse Jackie
Actress: Merritt Wever
Occupation: ER Nurse
Description: This fun-loving, colorful scrub-wearing ball of fun scored an Emmy this past year for taking her character to a new emotional level. When taken home by Dr. Ike Prentiss, she confesses that she’s “not the nurse that goes home with the doctor.” But we’re cheering for you, Zoey. We’ll watch the edited-for-television version of Dirty Dancing with you and attend your Nurse’s Appreciation basement bash. And maybe we’ll throw in a driving lesson if you promise to wear your kimono to work.

Zoe Barnes

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Show: House of Cards
Actress: Kate Mara
Occupation: Journalist
Description: She’ll blackmail you until the day you die, but she won’t kill you – so that’s a plus! With the nation’s most prominent media outlets at her fingertips, she will do whatever it takes to make a name for herself. And she’s not above sleeping with members of Congress – I’m looking at you this time, Francis Underwood.

Zoe Benson

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Show: American Horror Story: Coven
Actress: Taissa Farmiga
Occupation: Witch/Student
Description: With a vagina that kills, this is one witch you do not want to mess with. I didn’t mean for that to sound crass, but Zoe Benson’s super power in this horror thriller is to take the life of any man she has sex with. Tragic, yet she works it. When she’s not out protecting the coven, she can be found having a three-way with her undead boyfriend and undead classmate. If they’re already dead, she can’t kill ’em!

Zoey Brooks

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Show: Zoey 101
Actress: Jamie-Lynn Spears
Occupation: Boarding School Student
Description: By joining the first ever class of women at Pacific Coast Academy, it’s not an overstatement to say that Zoey Brooks is truly a pioneer. From the spacious dorm rooms straight out of a PB Teen catalog, to the mouthwatering dining hall food, she made us all want to go to boarding school. Until she got pregnant and ruined everything!

And because I couldn’t resist:

Zooey Deschenel

New-Girl
Show: New Girl
Character: Jess Day
Occupation: Teacher
Description: Quirky.

HOMELAND: “The Star”

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The time has come to say goodbye to the greatest magician in the game. In Homeland’s third season finale, Sargent Nicolas Brody finally met his demise – arcing full circle to serving his country one last time. But Carrie didn’t cry as much as I expected/hoped she would.

The episode, entitled “The Star,” picks up as Brody is stashing the dead body of Iranian dictator Akbari, an action that should place Javadi – Carrie and Saul’s ultimate pawn – in power. Brody reaches out to Carrie, who frantically escorts him to a safe house, where they await the arrival of an extraction team.

Back in the CIA headquarters, people are skeptical of Saul’s master plan and begin to toy with the idea of having Javadi capture Brody to gain his nation’s confidence. Bad news for Saul – the president approved this new plan and he’s sent packing with eleven hours left as commissioner.

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In a scene worthy of a Golden Globe nomination *ahem ahem* Carrie and Brody discuss their allegiances to their country, to themselves, and to each other, leading to the bombshell baby announcement. Right when we think these lovers will fly off in the Middle Eastern sunset, Javadi’s men come and take Brody prisoner, leaving Carrie alone with her feelings.

Soon, word is released that Brody stood before an Iranian military tribunal and was sentenced to death by hanging in the public square. With that in mind, us (the audience) thinks of a million and one different ways our hero can make it out unscathed. But that’s when it hits us – is Brody our hero? Has he ever been our hero? Or has he just been dragged along to test Carrie – tangling her allegiances to herself and to her nation. Once we understand these facts, it’s too late. Brody is being hoisted up on a noose by a crane, his body twitching as his lungs search for the air that just won’t go in. In his final moments, he sees Carrie climbing the fence, wailing his name, “Brody! Brody!.” She said she would be there, and she was.

In a sort of epilogue to the events of the first three seasons, we find a retired Saul vacationing in Greece with his now loving wife (I still don’t really get their relationship, but whatever). Carrie, now eight months pregnant, has been appointed to oversee operations in Istanbul. But she doesn’t want the baby. After a talk with her family, her father decides that he will take the child – who Carrie sees as both a burden and a painful reminder of the life she could never have with Brody.

At a commemorative ceremony honoring the brave men and women who lost their lives protecting the country they love, Carrie looks on with disgust, knowing that Brody has done more for this country than anyone would ever dare give him credit for. In a tearful final moment, she walks up to the wall of stars and discretely draws an additional star, honoring the man who opened Iran’s clenched fist and was betrayed by the CIA operatives who swore to protect him.

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While I understand Homeland is a money-making operation for Showtime, I really would have liked to see Carrie be executed alongside Brody. To be honest, I don’t think she has much left to live for. She has compromised so much about herself to be with Brody, that the epilogue didn’t really do her character justice. Another thing that has been irritating me about this season is the complete lack of jazz music, which was a staple theme throughout the first and second seasons. As trivial as it sounds, Carrie’s music taste truly defined her character from the start and played into her solitary lifestyle.

Also, where was the Brody clan in last night’s episode? Didn’t we need to see Dana’s reaction to her father’s death to make her season long drama worth sharing?! I think I am the only one on the face of the planet who appreciated Morgan Saylor’s portrayal of the disturbed teen who faced public scrutiny by her father’s actions. I’m glad to see reports that both her and Morena Baccarin will be returning for the fourth season, even if their roles are downsized. Part of what made Homeland so intriguing was the added aspect of the Brody’s home. Hurt hits on all fronts, people.

Here’s to Damian Lewis, who crafted such a compelling character that we despised, yet cared for; vehemently hated, now mourn for. Rest in peace, Sargent Nicolas Brody. A U.S. prisoner of war has turned. And now, he has fallen.

My Open Letter to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

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Dear Hollywood Foreign Press Association,

Did you watch this season of Homeland? Like, actually, did you watch it? Even past the first seven episodes? It got better, you know. How about Game of Thrones? Does the phase “Rains of Castamere” not sing “Golden Globe nomination” to you? Oh, here’s another one: Did you watch Mad Men this season? It was a lot darker than usual, so maybe you turned it off because you got a little scared. The Hershey Pitch? Anyone? 

On the other hand, did you per chance watch Downton Abbey? Maybe you were just watching Joanne Froggatt’s heartbreaking performance in episodes 4-8. Because other than that, the season was shit (no offense, Downton, I still love you). And Masters of Sex? I know you like to give experimental shows a chance, but not this year. Not when the three most talked about dramas are left out in the cold. Just throw a nod at Lizzy Caplan and call it a day. Just kidding, you didn’t do that either. How about Anna Gunn? Wasn’t she great on this season of Breaking Bad? It’s like she was SO GOOD she won an Emmy for it, or something. I see you gave some love to Taylor Schilling for Orange is the New Black, but, as the also-snubbed cast of Arrested Development would say, “Her?” Really? You had an entire ensemble of amazing breakout artists (Uzo Aduba, Danielle Brooks, etc.) and you only shed light on Schilling? Shame on you. Shame. On. You.

You’re lucky Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are hosting, because their comedic gold will make me forget about all the wrongdoings you have done this holiday season.

Best,

Rob Zappulla

 

I Finally Start NURSE JACKIE

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After years of seeing nominations for Nurse Jackie at various award ceremonies – and Merritt Wever’s now infamously hilarious acceptance speech for winning the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy – I finally sat down to watch the comedy…or drama…or dramedy. And I love it.

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Edie Falco (The Sopranos) shines as a cynical ER nurse, whose addiction to pain killers toggles with her own morality – all while leading a double life with a loving husband and two daughters. Jackie’s good cop/bad cop style of nursing allows the writers to add a host of compelling trauma patients to come through the doors of the bustling New York City hospital.

In the pilot, Jackie is tasked with mentoring a skittish nursing student, Zoey (Wever), who learns right off the bat to barf away from the severed human ear. The hospital has the most prestigious staff in the city, with the adorkable, Dr. Cooper (Peter Facinelli) – Coop for short – and the egocentric diva, Dr. O’Hara (Eve Best).

Something I love about the editing. Most shows fade to black during transitions, but in Nurse Jackie we fade to white. There’s something very lucid about this – mixing Jackie’s immoral addiction to pain killers with the very real sense of mortality in the hospital. In a very powerful moment in the first season, Zoey loses her first patient, and the quick-to-judge Jackie stands down for a moment to acknowledge the many dark horrors that come with working in the medical profession.

If you haven’t starting watching Nurse Jackie yet, don’t fret! It’s not too late! Well, I guess it’ll never be too late, unless, well…we all die eventually.

The Lies in HOMELAND and the Rape at DOWNTON ABBEY

Sunday night was chalk full of great television with Showtime’s Homeland returning to its prime and the UK’s Downton Abbey giving me the chills.

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First up is Homeland. While the plot still lingers around Dana, this season’s second episode created a sort of closure to the Brody family saga while Sargent Brody is off the map. Dana sneaks back into the loony house to see Leo, played by Sam Underwood, who had a brief stint on Showtime’s now-ended drama Dexter, as a serial killer much like the title character was in his youth. Anyway, Dana’s mother begins to scold her daughter when she comes home, but Morgan Saylor delivers a powerful monologue about how she has chosen life because of Leo and other declarative statements that makes Jessica Brody look at her life and look at her choices – most regrettably, her husband. Now that we know Dana is no longer suicidal, we can abandon the household and focus solely on the terrorist father, who has been absent for the first two episodes of the season.

Meanwhile, Carrie is out for blood. After being pinned as the CIA officer who had an affair with Sargent Brody and for knowing about the Langley bombing, Carrie seeks to crush the CIA from the inside-out by going straight to the media. However, Saul sends in the feds who detain her in a psychiatric correctional facility.

Peter Quinn witnesses Carrie’s trial and knows that what Saul is doing is wrong. While his character has been sketchy from his introduction last season, he has become my favorite character this season. He has to live with knowing he killed an innocent nine-year-old on his covert operation and he calls Saul out for not taking responsibility for his own mistake – Carrie.

Nazanin Boniadi joined the cast as the young, burka-wearing CIA analyst Fara Sherazi, who you may remember as Nora from How I Met Your Mother. Boniadi is terrific so far, as she takes on a group of corrupt bankers who lent money to the Iranian terrorist group responsible for the Langley Bombing. But it’s Peter Quinn who gets the last laugh, taunting one of the bankers as he exits a dinner party.

At the end of the episode, Carrie is being injected with a tranquilizer as Dana discovers her father prayer rug and assumes the position – even though she has no clue what she’s doing.

I’m looking forward to next weeks episode when we finally meet up with Brody and find out why he’s bald!

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This episode of Downton Abbey left me with a terrible taste in my mouth because of Joanne Froggatt’s heartbreaking performance – but that comes at the end.

Dozens of guests gather in Downton for a much needed house party to lift the family’s spirits. Among them is Lord Gillingham, a childhood acquaintance of Mary’s, who brings along his valet, Mr. Green, whose happy-go-lucky personality clicks with that of Anna’s, but Mr. Bates isn’t too keen on her flirtatious manner. Gillingham is played by Tom Cullen, a star of the independent film business.

Edith brings her man, publisher Michael Gregson, but her father doesn’t give him the time of day – that is, not until Gregson is able to win back a large sum of money Lord Grantham lost to the scheming Sampson in various poker games through his stay.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, Mrs. Padmore can’t keep up with the meal preparations, leading to an acute heart attack. Thankfully, Alfred, the aspiring cook he has eluded to be, is there to whip up the sauces for the lot of dinner guests.

At the same time, cousin Isabelle has fallen into a slump of depression, so the Dowager feels it her duty to occupy her time to comfort her and get her mind off her dead son, much like she feels the need to pair her granddaughter Mary up with the “glorified pirate,” Lord Gillingham.

While most of this is the wishy-washy drama we have come to love from Downton, we were all caught off guard by the violent beating scene that left the lovely Anna Bates a victim of rape by Lord Gillingham’s valet, Mr. Green. There has a great deal of backlash from the audience about the controversial scene being aired on British television, especially since the episode peaked at 9.9 million viewers. My stomach nearly flipped as the Grantham family and their servants enjoyed the vocal stylings of a famous Australian singer, drowning the screams of the Lady’s Maid.

So before you go to bed tonight, say a prayer for Anna Bates. And then, ask the Devil to take Mr. Green far, far away.

I Like MASTERS OF SEX

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I feel uncomfortable saying this, but I watched Masters of Sex and I ilked it. The new Showtime drama (really a dramedy, but who’s counting) follows the true story of Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) as they embark on a scientific escapade to discover what happens to the body during sex.

The duo truly shine in terms of acting, but the supporting cast is very hit or miss. Caitlin Fitzgerald plays Libby Masters, Dr. Masters wife, who blames herself for not providing her husband with a child. Fitzgerald’s performance is reminiscent of January Jones’ portrayal of Betty Draper in the first few episodes of Mad Men, so hopefully we can see her become a more dynamic character. The biggest casting mistake for this show is Nicholas D’Agosto playing Ethan Haas, a resident under Dr. Masters and the unrequited romantic interest of Virginia. Signing an actor whose film credits peak at Final Destination 5, Fired Up, and a reoccurring role on Heroes (where his very essential character disappeared from the plot) probably wasn’t the best decision. Thankfully Lizzy Caplan is able to counter some of his inexperience – especially in the powerful “slap” scene.

So far, I am impressed with the pilot. It has a very Mad Men feel to it, except instead of being ad men, they’re sex doctors. The second episode is entitled “Race to Space,” which indicates that the writers might try to intertwine the historical events that shaped the ‘50s and ‘60s, much like Mad Men played on JFK, MLK, and the like.

You can watch the full pilot of Masters of Sex for free here.