The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Lennie James (“Low Winter Sun”)

Lennie James is a familiar face to fans of cult and comic-book-inspired TV series, having been a regular in “Jericho” and guesting on “Human Target” and “The Walking Dead,” but now he’s trying his hand at an American cop drama, starring in AMC’s “Low Winter Sun.” James’s career has also featured several notable film roles as well, and he was kind enough to chat about a few of those, too, most notably reflecting on the passing of his “Snatch” co-star Dennis Farina. First, though, we dove into discussion about how he came by his current gig, the difference between how his character’s written and how he plays the part, and his fondness for AMC’s way with surprises.

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Bullz-Eye: So were you actively looking for a series gig, or did “Low Winter Sun” just kind of fall into your lap?

Lennie James: Um…I’m trying to remember how it went around! I think it was… I’d gone home to Britain to do a television series over there, and then when I got back, “Low Winter Sun” was… [Hesitates.] Oh, that’s actually what happened. I was just about to lie to you. I’ll tell you the truth now.

BE: The truth is always preferable when I can get it.

LJ: Yeah! Well, I shot a pilot that didn’t go, and the script for “Low Winter Sun” kind of came in, and…it was very conventional: I read it, I liked it, and then went and met on it, and it happened.

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Bullz-Eye’s 2012 TV Power Rankings

So…where were we?

Oh, fine, let’s go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room: it’s been nine months since Bullz-Eye doled out its last TV Power Rankings. What can we say? There were a lot of good shows on the air between May 2011 and February 2012, and somewhere around late October, it just kind of reached a point where we said, “You know what? It’s way more fun to watch TV than it is to write about it.” Eventually, though, the powers that be pried us off the couch (there’s still an indentation where we were sitting), set us back in front of the computer, and said, “Look, the readers demand to know Bullz-Eye’s take on the best shows of the past year* and, frankly, they’re starting to get a little belligerent about it.”

(*Rounded up for statistical purposes.)

So here we are, ready to offer up our list of the 25 best shows on television** as well as several shows bubbling just under our list, plus a new section called “Still Too New to Call,” where we praise shows that seem pretty damned good after their first few episodes but simply haven’t been around long enough for us to feel comfortable including them in the other two lists.

(**Okay, technically, it’s the 24 best shows on television plus one show that hasn’t been on since 2010, but we’re so excited about that particular show coming back that we included it, anyway.)

All told, we hope you’ll walk away from this piece either nodding your head in agreement or wondering why you haven’t been watching some of these shows. If not, however, there’s a perfectly good Comments section that’s just waiting for your opinions about what’s good on TV.

Everybody ready? Then let’s get this thing started…

25. The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

No, it’s not quite the same show it used to be, owing to the fact that the cast now consists of almost as many women as it does men, but with the series now in its fifth season, the trio of Kaley Cuouo, Melissa Rauch, and Mayim Bialik have probably infused “The Big Bang Theory” with more laughs than the it would’ve had at this point if it had stuck strictly to the original four geeks. The only question now is how much longer we’ll have to wait for Raj to come out of the closet…because, seriously, you don’t need to possess gay-dar to see that that’s what they’re leading up to.

24. Weeds (Showtime)

When we first picked back up with Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) for the seventh season of “Weeds,” she’d spent three years cooling her heels in the clink while the rest of the Botwin clan had been chillin’ in Copenhagen, but with Nancy being shifted to a halfway house in New York City, a family reunion was only inevitable. Big shock: Nancy started selling pot again. Possibly bigger shock: even going into its eighth season, “Weeds” is still reliably entertaining.

23. New Girl (Fox)

When it comes to watching “New Girl,” one’s level of appreciation is directly proportionate to how one feels about the concept of “adorkability,” which Zooey Deschanel brings to the small screen in seemingly limitless quantities as Jess, a too-cute twentysomething who moves in with a trio of guys on the heels of an excruciatingly bad breakup. As with most ensemble comedies, it’s taken time for the chemistry of the cast to find its feet, but it’s coming along nicely.

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The Light from the TV Shows: Great Quotes from the January 2012 TCA Press Tour

Now that I’m back from the January 2012 TCA Press Tour, I’m very, very tired…and, trust me, if you knew how much work I’d done during the course of the tour – January 3 – 15 – then you’d understand why I’m so very, very tired. I tried to attend as many of the panel coverage of the next six months of television as I possibly, but given that I was bouncing between one-on-one interviews throughout the day and trying to round up a few more every night, I’m not going to pretend that I was able to attend them all. I attended enough of them, however, that it doesn’t take a great deal of effort to produce a collection of my favorites quotes of the tour. That’s not to say this is all of them, mostly because some of the panels (like, say, “Archer”) were very much of the you-had-to-be-there variety, but it’s enough to give you an idea just how entertaining the last two weeks have been.

Tiring as hell, but definitely entertaining.

“When (Johnny Carson and I) talked, after 12 years of writing him, in 2002 he finally actually called me, and I thought it was a joke when on the PA it said “Peter, Johnny Carson on 601.” And he said, “Peter, it’s Johnny Carson. I want to tell you, you write a damn fine letter, but I’m not going to participate in anything on my life because, you know what? I don’t give a shit.” He said, “One day something may get done, and you know what? You’re probably the guy to do it. But it will never happen while I’m alive. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve said anything I want to say. There is nothing more.”director Peter Jones on trying to secure an interview with Johnny Carson for the long-gestating “American Masters: Johnny Carson”

To be honest, it’s one of two minutes in a 90 minute episode, and it’s pre the 9 o’clock BBC watershed. There is nothing that you see. It’s very suggestive. It’s very clever camerawork, and it’s just a character device. It’s not about nudity being displayed in ‘Sherlock.’ She’s a dominatrix. Nudity is nothing to her, but it was no mean feat for me to shoot it being naked for eight hours in just a pair of Louboutin shoes. (It) was a challenge…and one I’ve never met before.”Laura Pulver on her nude scene in “Sherlock II”

One of the things that is amazing is to look back at a song that is so inevitable, like ‘Over The Rainbow.’ That’s like a folk tune. We all know it so well. And I discovered that (songwriter) Yip Harburg was having trouble coming up with an idea for the words that proceeded ‘rainbow.’ ‘Somewhere beyond the rainbow.’ ‘Somewhere near to the rainbow.’ It just didn’t feel right. And then he came up with ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ because, as a lyricist, he realized that the ‘o’ sound sang well, and it was a pleasing for a singer. And, technically, it worked right, and it gave him the right setting for the word ‘rainbow.’ ‘Somewhere over the rainbow.’ And then I discovered that, the end of that song, they were having trouble with it.

“Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, Arlen being the composer and Harburg being a lyricist, they were having trouble with the last line of the song. And they were working at Ira Gershwin’s house, and they couldn’t come up with the idea to end the whole thing. They’d gone through the whole song, and they couldn’t come up with the end. And they were working for hours at Ira Gershwin’s house, and he was tired, and he wanted to go to bed. So he said, ‘What about ‘Birds fly over the rainbow. So why can’t I?’ And they said, ‘Hey!’ And he gave him the idea, the whole end of it, and then he came up with this: ‘If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can’t I?’ And when Mr. Gershwin was alive, I said, ‘Ira, why did you meddle in somebody else’s songwriting?’ He said, ‘Because it was late and I wanted to get to bed.’”Michael Feinstein on “American Songbook II”

“I had great Italian American family that were in the grocery business. And it was during the Depression, and we were all very, very poor. The whole country, the majority of the country was really, really poor, a lot worse than it is today. And so my father died when I was ten and my brother and sister and I would entertain my family because my family all my uncles and nephews and aunts and relatives they all would come over on a Sunday and make a circle around my brother, sister, and I. And they were so knocked out with trying to make my mom feel good because she had to work on a penny a dress to raise three children, and the whole family felt so much for her, but they wanted to show her how much they loved her children. And they treated me and my brother and my sister with so much love, and they I remember at a very early age, they said to me, ‘Look at the way he makes us feel good, you know, and he’s so happy, and he’s always doing something to make us feel good, and look at the way he paints flowers and all that.’ I remember very clearly saying, ‘This is who I am. My family is telling me that I sing and I paint,’ and they created a tremendous gift in my life to continue that, and each year it’s become stronger and stronger. I will never retire, and, you know, if my voice goes, I’m still going to paint. I just want to keep improving as I go on, and it’s just taught me what a beautiful life it is to be possessed with. It’s not that I want to do it. I have to do it. And it will always be that way. I will never retire.”Tony Bennett on the secret to his longevity

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The Light from the TV Shows: 12 Shows to Look Forward to in 2012

Just as 2011 is sure to end in a few days, 2012 is equally likely to follow on its heels, which means that the January TCA tour is right around the corner. As such, yours truly is about to be bombarded with the best and worst that the midseason has to offer…and, fortunately, there’s a lot more of the former than the latter. Indeed, there are a couple of shows that the broadcast networks have been unjustly sitting on for almost six months, even though they’re a damned sight better than most of the dreck we got back in September. (Stand up, please, “The Playboy Club.” Or, you know, pick the program of your choice. That one’s just easiest ’cause it was the first to go.) Much as last week found me offering up 11 shows, give or take, that I was sorry to bid adieu to in 2011, this week I’ve pulled together a list of 12 shows that I’m looking forward to checking out in 2012. Keep in mind, however, that I’m basing my excitement either on a rough cut of a pilot or, in some cases, merely on the hopefulness I get when I read about the show. Yes, this does often come back to bite me in the ass, but such is the life of a TV critic. If I’m wrong, I’ll roll with the punches. In the meantime, though, these are my personal picks for what’s looking good in the new year…

The Firm (NBC)

So sayeth the network: Based on the best-selling novel by world-renowned author John Grisham, “The Firm” is a new drama series that continues the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas), who, as a young associate 10 years earlier, had brought down the prestigious Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After a difficult decade, which included a stay in the Federal Witness Protection Program, McDeere and his family now emerge from isolation to reclaim their lives and their future — only to find that past dangers are still lurking and new threats are everywhere. Abby McDeere (Molly Parker), Mitch’s supportive, smart and resourceful wife, who had helped her husband expose Bendini, Lambert & Locke, is excited to start a new life in Washington, D.C., as a school teacher and mom to their daughter, Claire (Natasha Calis). Ray McDeere (Callum Keith Rennie) is Mitch’s charming, yet volatile, older brother whose work as an investigator in Mitch’s office is uniquely informed by his past stretch in prison for manslaughter. Despite a gritty past that stands in stark contrast to that of his Harvard-grad brother, Ray shares one key quality with Mitch – a loyalty that is unbreakable. Tammy Hemphill (Juliette Lewis) is Mitch’s feisty, sexy receptionist whose work life is made all the more tumultuous by her on-again, off-again relationship with Ray. With a personality as arresting as her ever-changing hair color, Tammy is leery when Mitch accepts a deal to partner with a top law practice, as she’s not cut out for the conservative culture of a white-shoe firm.

My take: I literally only just got the pilot episode this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, but the combination of Lucas, Parker, and Lewis has me very intrigued, and the fact that Grisham himself is part of the mix makes me hopeful about the possibilities of where this series could go if it’s given the chance. That’s a big “if,” though, because this isn’t the first time a Grisham novel has made the jump to the small screen. Anyone remember “The Client,” with JoBeth Williams and John Heard? It’s become so obscure that there’s neither a Wikipedia page for it nor even a clip from it on YouTube. Let’s hope “The Firm” gets a better go of it than that.

(Premiere date: January 8, 9 PM; regular 10 PM timeslot begins January 12)

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