The Light from the TV Shows: TV Comfort Food for Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Eve ’round Bullz-Eye HQ as I write this piece, which means that anyone here who’s still working wants to be doing it about as little as I do. In fact, the biggest reason I’ve waited this long into the evening to get moving on the piece is because I’ve spent way too much of my day watching a marathon of a certain series on the USA Network…which brings me to the premise of this week’s column. Lord knows it’s become a small-screen staple for networks to offer programming which provides the one-two punch of 1) allowing the employees of these networks to do as little work as possible, and 2) inspiring all those TV viewers with Tryptophan surging through their veins to set down their remotes and bask in as many episodes of their favorite show as their holiday weekend downtime will allow.

Now you’re wondering what marathons you can catch this weekend, right? Well, there are a few good ones out there, to be sure:

Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America (Travel Channel, 9am-3pm Thursday)
ALF (The Hub, 3pm Thursday – 3am Friday)
The Andy Griffith Show (TV Land 4pm-9pm Thursday & Friday)
Behind the Music (VH1, 2pm-10pm Friday)
Beverly Hills, 90210 (SOAPNet, 8pm Friday – 1am Saturday)
Breaking Amish (TLC, 11am-9pm Saturday)
Castle (TNT, 10am-11pm Thursday)
Chef Race: UK vs. US (BBC America, 8am-5pm Sunday)
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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kathleen Robertson (“Boss”)

Although I get plenty of opportunities to do in-person interviews when I’m out on the west coast for the Television Critics Association press tours, I very rarely get the chance while I’m here at Virginia, so when I was offered the chance to meet Kathleen Robertson for coffee, one of the stars of a show I already have a lot of love for (“Boss”), you can imagine that I didn’t have to think twice before answering, “Absolutely!” Indeed, I didn’t even blink an eye when it was casually mentioned that it might be nice if I managed to find a way to bring up Starz’s new app for Cox subscribers, Starz Play, because, what, like it’s such a bad thing to hype something that helps more people see some of my favorite series? (As you hopefully recall, I’m a big “Magic City” fan, too.) As I was assured in advance, Kathleen was a total sweetheart, and as we chatted over the course of a half-hour, the topics included the series that brought us together in the first place, of course, but also “Maniac Mansion,” “90210,” “Tin Man,” and even the hilarious-but-underrated IFC series, “The Business.” Read on…but don’t forget that the “Boss” Season 2 finale airs Friday night on Starz!

Bullz-Eye: So the second season of “Boss” is coming to a close…

Kathleen Robertson: Yep!

BE: Your character, Kitty O’Neill, had a decidedly different dynamic in Season 2 than she did in Season 1. How much forewarning did you have about how Kitty’s storyline was going to play out during this season? Did you know from the get-go, or was it only doled out to you on an episode-by-episode basis?

KR: I knew from the get-go. I sat down with the writers at the very beginning of the season, and they sort of explained to me what the storyline was for her. With the exception of the finale. They were very secretive about the finale, and I didn’t know what was going to happen until the week before we shot it and I read the script. Have you seen the finale?

BE: I have not yet.

KR: [Tries and fails to disguise her giddiness.] It’s so good. It’s so good. They kept saying to me all through the year, “Just be patient. Just be patient and wait for (episode)10.” I said, “What does that mean, though? Like, am I gonna get killed? What are you…what happens in 10?” “Just be patient.” And then they’d say, “10 is your episode, and you’re gonna be really happy with it.” So I was. And I am really happy with 10. It’s amazing.

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BE: 10 may be “your episode,” but it’s arguable that you’ve had a lot of episodes. Kitty’s evolved throughout the season, at least in a certain sense. At the same time, though, she also ends up making it pretty clear that she doesn’t really know who she is unless she has someone to serve.

KR: Yeah, that’s true.

BE: Did you see that as being a part of her character from the very beginning, or was that something you discovered as time went on?

KR: Well, with Season 1… [Hesitates.] Farhad (Safinia) said to me at the beginning of the series, “For Season 1, Kitty almost has a reverse arc.” She kind of starts here… [Holds hand up and then begins lowering it.] …and ends here. And it’s kind of like that in Season 2 as well, because from the moment we meet her in this season, she’s pregnant, she’s sort of deciding if she even wants to be in politics anymore…she’s deciding who she is. So the journey for her over Season 2 was a much more internal one, and it was much more a case of asking, “Who am I without my identity?” And for her, the identity isn’t just working for Kane. It’s being in this whole world that she’s sacrificed everything for. So she sort of flirts with the idea of trying to be an alternate Kitty throughout the season, and by the end… [Smiles knowingly.] When you see the finale, I think she ends up where she belongs.

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The Light from the TV Shows: “We’re Back, Baby” – Attempts at Reviving Old TV Series

Tonight marks the return of “Dallas” to the airwaves, with TNT offering viewers a look at the latest generation of Ewings while also giving original cast members Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray an opportunity to get in on the fun. For what it’s worth, I quite enjoyed the pilot, but I’ll freely admit that the only reason that I was interested in revisiting Southfork Ranch in 2012 was because of those original cast members.

No matter how brilliantly or badly they turn out, I’ve always been a sucker for TV series revivals, be it as a “next generation” sort of series like this one or as a reunion movie, so I thought I’d throw together a list of some of my favorites for your reading enjoyment. The only caveats: I’m not counting occasions when a series jumped to the big screen, i.e. the not-very-good theatrical “Get Smart” movie, “The Nude Bomb,” nor am I including animated series in the mix…although if I did, you can bet the animated “Star Trek” series would be at the top of my list.

Okay, let’s roll…

90210 (2008-present)

When The CW first kicked off its return to West Beverly High School, the burning questions from virtually every TV critic who covered the series involved which of the original cast members would be returning. In the end, Jennie Garth (Kelly), Shannen Doherty (Brenda), Tori Spelling (Donna), Ann Gillespie (Jackie Taylor, Kelly’s mom), and Joe E. Tata (Nat, the proprietor of the Peach Pit) all ended up making it back to the familiar zip code for an episode or two, generally proving to be the most entertaining parts of those particular episodes. Since the show’s gone all new-school, though, I can’t be bothered to keep up with it.

Homicide: The Movie (2000)

This feels like a bit of a cheat, since it wasn’t so much a revival of an old series as it was an attempt to wrap up plot threads that had been left dangling when “Homicide: Life on the Street” departed the airwaves the year before. With that said, however, it still technically falls within the realm of a reunion film, and it’s one of the best ones you’re likely to find, so that’s why it’s here.

Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees (1997)

I always thought that the concept of this film, which posited that the Monkees continued to live together even after their series was cancelled, was an extremely clever one. I just wish the band’s reunion album, Justus, had been even half as enjoyable.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Shannen Doherty & Kurt Iswarienko – A Match Made in Reality-Show Heaven

Despite its title and its subject matter, “Shannen Says” – the new WEtv reality series in which Shannen Doherty plans her latest and, God willing, last wedding – isn’t just about Shannen Doherty. It’s also about her husband-to-be, photographer Kurt Iswarienko, who, to hear the couple tell it, earns as much focus on the show as his blushing bride. Granted, they may have been feeding me a bit of what I wanted to hear, since I began our encounter at the TCA Press Tour with the explanation that Bullz-Eye is very much a guy’s site, but they certainly spun their story well, ’cause I bought it. Or maybe I was somewhat swayed by having had a slight crush on Ms. Doherty since we were both in our teens. Either way, the conversation went swimmingly, and in addition to discussing their TV endeavor, I also got a bit of insight into Iswarienko’s photography, and by the end of it all, it was all “Wilford Brimley” this and “Jennie Garth” that, like we were old pals. Good times…

Bullz-Eye: Kurt, most guys have a tendency to view weddings as more of a means to an end rather than something to really get excited about, so I can’t imagine what it took to get you involved in a show that focuses on every single aspect of the wedding process.

Kurt Iswarienko: I agree with you that most guys probably share that sentiment. [Laughs.] The cool thing is that I didn’t have to deal with planning the wedding at all, because my job was to plan the honeymoon. And Shannen did the planning of the wedding. So it wasn’t any kind of hassle or nightmare at all to go into.

BE: Shannen, I’ve read the press release for the show, and this is obviously something that you’ve been looking forward to for quite some time, the definitive dream wedding.

Shannen Doherty: Yeah. Uh… [Long pause.] Yeah. [Laughs.] I’m not quite sure how to… [Another long pause.] Yes, since we’ve been engaged, we’ve sort of talked about, “Okay, we’re doing to do a wedding, we’re going to do it right,” and definitely this is. But I’m also not that girl who, from the time I was six, dreamed about having this fantasy dream wedding, or that I just had had had to get married.

BE: So how early did David Tutera come into the mix? Was he always going to be a part of it?

SD: You know, I think… [Hesitates.] He probably came into the mix pre-production, when, y’know, you’re sort of talking about the show and the wedding, and I had said to my executive at the time, “I think I’m going to hire a wedding coordinator, just because I need one, but also because while I’m working I need someone to take my vision and make it happen.” And then the network said, “Well, how about David?” And I said, “Uh, duh!” [Laughs.] “Great!” So he came on pretty much in pre-production, I guess. Pretty early on.

KI: That, and we spent a whole Sunday watching…

SD: …a “My Fair Wedding” marathon. [Laughs.]

KI: …a “My Fair Wedding” marathon. We both got sucked into it somehow, and we were, like, “Of course he’s the guy!”

BE: How has he been to work with? Does he throw things at you, or does he try to get you to brainstorm?

SD: I think what probably even David would say, because it was something we actually talked about, is that, on his show, the brides come to him and he goes, “No, no, no, your idea is awful, let me change it and make it mine.” And this was very different, because it wasn’t about a show. It was about an actual, real wedding, and I had a definitive vision, and there was no negotiating with me. None. And he didn’t even try, because that wasn’t his job. His job was to actually be a wedding coordinator. And a wedding planner and a wedding consultant. And that means you take the bride’s vision and you make it happen. It doesn’t mean that you look at her and say, “Your idea sucks.”

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HS TV 101: 12 Great Shows Set In or Around High School

High school: it’s a rite of passage we all must endure. Some of us weep when it’s over, others can’t wait to say goodbye forever, but for better or worse, it’s an experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. The same goes for some of the many TV series that have been set in high school. Here at Bullz-Eye, we’ve polled our writers for their favorite shows within the genre, and the end result is, not unlike high school itself, a mixture of both comedy and drama.

12. Life As We Know It (ABC, 2004 – 2005): Lasting only 11 episodes before ABC unceremoniously yanked it from the air, “Life As We Know It” premiered during perhaps the most cancel-happy era in television. Developed by two of the producers of “Freaks and Geeks” (maybe the writing was already on the wall), the series may have ultimately been undone by poor ratings, but the Parents Television Council’s campaign against the show’s sexual themes certainly didn’t help. Then again, when you green light a series based on a controversial young-adult novel called “Doing It” that follows the exploits of a trio of best friends (Sean Faris, Jon Foster and Chris Lowell) navigating the highs and lows of adolescence, you can hardly pretend to be surprised when its characters discuss sex on a fairly regular basis.

Featuring a great cast of young up-and-comers that also included Missy Peregrym and Kelly Osbourne (yes, that Kelly Osbourne, who’s never been cuter than she was here), “Life As We Know It” certainly wasn’t perfect by any means, but it easily outshined similar shows like “Dawson’s Creek” and “The O.C.,” particularly in its handling of its adult characters. The series wasn’t without the usual high school clichés, but the writers never shied away from edgier material, either – like a student having a secret affair with his teacher or a star jock dealing with performance issues – resulting in a smart, sweet and incredibly honest look at how sex changes everything. – Jason Zingale

11. Welcome Back, Kotter (ABC, 1975 – 1979): Despite suffering through remedial classes and acting far more rebellious than was deemed socially acceptable, Gabe Kotter (played by the suspiciously similarly-named Gabe Kaplan) still somehow managed to graduate from James Buchanan High School, but who would have thought that the dreams that were his ticket out would lead him back there? (John Sebastian did, of course, but that’s not really relevant to this discussion.) With his teacher certification tucked into his back pocket, Kotter returns to his alma mater and takes on the challenge of trying to educate the new generation of remedial students. Oh, sure, their names have all changed since he hung around – now they’re called Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), Freddie “Boom-Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes) – but they’re still “sweathogs” all the way.

Most would likely agree that “Welcome Back, Kotter” was at its best when it was still the original four Sweathogs, i.e. before Travolta slipped away from television, put on a white suit, and found big-screen success on the dance floor, but even at its funniest, few would probably describe it as the most realistic look into high school life.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to replicate the high school experience so much as they were trying to service those particular characters and write stories about them,” said Mark Evanier, who served as a story editor for the show. “If you could get a good joke out of it, great…though there were times I think we settled for a decent catch-phrase.”

While the words “up your nose with a rubber hose” lend credence to Evanier’s theory, the Marx-Brothers-inspired chemistry between the Sweathogs helps their slapstick shenanigans hold up nonetheless. And, besides, who needs realism when you’ve got Gabe Kaplan doing Groucho? – Will Harris

10. Glee (Fox, 2009 – present): Is it telling that one of the most popular current shows on TV came it at only the #10 spot? If nothing else, maybe it proves we here at Bullz-Eye aren’t prone to fads. Except that maybe we are, as “Glee” has made it onto our TV Power Rankings lists time and again since its debut. But this list isn’t about what entertains us in the broader sense; it’s about great high school shows. As entertaining as “Glee” can be, it has almost nothing real to say about the high school experience, and in fact most of the high school kids I know find it to be pretty nonsensical.

The one area that it seems to excel in as far as capturing the high school experience is in its ability to play romantic musical chairs with its cast of teenage characters. These kids are fickle, and the only guarantee that seems to come with a relationship on “Glee” is that sooner or later it’s going to end. Some props should probably also be given for their attempt to zero in on the bullying issue that so seems to afflict kids today, but “Glee” chose to unfortunately treat the topic with kid gloves rather than say something truly meaningful. None of this is to say that “Glee” isn’t one hell of an entertaining series, because it is, but anyone looking for something a little deeper would do best to dust off their old DVD of “The Breakfast Club.” – Ross Ruediger

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