Kudos to Neil Patrick Harris for trying to bring something different to TV, and to NBC for being open to the idea. But Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris wasn't much of a good time, let alone "the best." Best Time Ever has been described as a variety show, but the reality was more comedy-game-prank show, with segments that felt like outtakes from Fallon or Kimmel, or possibly from Harris' failed Oscars gig.
Good thing FX executives opted to air the first two episodes of The Bastard Executioner together as a two-hour premiere: The first hour offers a sometimes confusing mix of violent battles, sex, mysticism, scenes of torture, child murders, world-building and a defecating villain before the more gripping, grounded second hour that gives a better sense of the show’s direction going forward. Complex, sometimes convoluted storytelling is popular these days — see HBO’s Game of Thrones — so there’s certainly a place for The Bastard Executioner, which may still settle in and become more comprehensible as it goes.
In the dog days of August, just a few weeks before the fall season begins, NBC sneaks in an unheralded sitcom. You, the savvy viewer, are expecting the primetime equivalent of a turkey surprise. But The Carmichael Show on NBC is something different, a show about an African-American family that manages to draw on and update the bite of All in the Family and the silliness of its spinoff, The Jeffersons.
Edward Burns’s new series, Public Morals on TNT, is set in Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960s and filmed in New York, at Silvercup Studios and at locations like the Russian Tea Room, the Park Lane Hotel and Barrow’s Pub in Greenwich Village. It doesn’t seem to take place anywhere in the real world, though. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if Burns had the imagination to pull it off, but the 10-episode Public Morals is a mess. Written by, directed by and starring Burns, it’s an even stronger argument than the second season of True Detective against the auteur impulse in television.
Whether its star intends it this way or not, TV Land’s The Jim Gaffigan Show will correctly be perceived as a sunnier answer to the cloudy-day tendencies of FX’s Louie. Gaffigan’s world is much less artful, more straight-on and also culled from his real life. Gaffigan has perfected his shtick, mixing deep sarcasm and negativity with a fine-line inoffensiveness. It works as a stage presence, but not so much as a TV character.
Denis Leary’s new FX sitcom, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, would have been everything he hopes it could be if he’d made it 20 years ago. Maybe even earlier. S&D&R&R has several things going for it that make it passably enjoyable, including some funny dialogue, good performances and, of course, Leary’s trademark grumpy charm. But many viewers are right to expect something more and fresher from Leary.