Two Jews walk into a bar .... There's no punchline. It's a silly, sentimental episode of FX's The Comedians in which Billy Crystal and Josh Gad sing karaoke in L.A.'s Little Tokyo and reminisce about aging, family and the nature of comedy. The generation gap provides the crux of a comedy collaboration by Crystal (old-school Borscht Belt) and Gad (youthful Broadway) that is by turns gently narcissistic, occasionally gross and musically inclined. The 13 episodes are fun, not groundbreaking, but slickly produced and accented with musical comedy. Like the two stars, the series is endearing, loud and desperate for attention, but ultimately a love letter to comedy and comedy history.
Kings, queens, presidents and dictators all have official histories, but power brokers, as they embody the precepts of Machiavelli, often operate in whole or part behind the scenes. Henry VIII takes second billing in PBS's Wolf Hall, the sprawling six-hour adaptation of two historical novels by Hilary Mantel. The miniseries is both brilliant and maddening and only really pays off in the final two episodes, after you’ve more or less figured out who the characters are, how they’re related to each other, and what the hell they are saying during endless, slow-moving conversations spoken, of course, in what to many Yanks is a foreign tongue: British English.
HBO's four-hour documentary Sinatra: All or Nothing at All captures all the singer's swash and buckle. It also reminds us, in a smart way, that Sinatra became one of the four or five best popular singers of the 20th century. In other words, director Alex Gibney hasn’t set out to make headlines by focusing on the flaws or the dark side of a life that had plenty of both.
NBC describes American Odyssey as “Traffic-like,” which might explain the lack of inspiration permeating this multi-pronged drama, which, much like sibling USA’s Dig, hinges on a vast (and tedious) conspiracy. The intersecting threads involve a U.S. soldier in North Africa, a corporate lawyer and an Occupy-type political activist, each embroiled in a monstrous plot reaching up and into government. First-rate casting — including Anna Friel, Peter Facinelli and Treat Williams — can’t obscure the been-there, seen-that sensation, which doesn’t spur much curiosity about how these tentacles connect or offer much hope the show will last long enough to find out.
Quotation marks should be used as disqualifiers whenever the “Church” of Scientology is put into print. This is no more a “Church” than an apple is an orange. But it’s been recognized as such by the IRS. How and why make for one of the more startling and dismaying segments in Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. It’s an extraordinary investigative documentary with the power to provoke anger, astonishment and any number of other strong emotions. HBO, despite an organized campaign of threats and intimidation from the “religion’s” legions of automatons, will premiere the two-hour film on Sunday, March 29. Must-see television? That’s an understatement.
It’s the Walking Dead/Quincy/Psych mashup you didn’t know you wanted. But give iZombie a chance. You just might love it. CW, home to the DC Comics hits Arrow and Flash, dips into the medium again for this horror dramedy loosely based on the book from DC’s mature reader imprint Vertigo. iZombie is superbly cast and displays wit and surprises you don’t often find in the comics-to-TV genre.
Just a few weeks ago Netflix debuted The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a smart, funny series originally ordered by NBC and then sold off to Netflix when NBC executives realized they were cultivating a schedule that couldn’t possibly abide intelligent comedy. So in its place viewers get the Ellen DeGeneres-executive produced One Big Happy, a truly dreadful comedy that is the antithesis of Kimmy Schmidt. Obvious, dumb and mostly unfunny, One Big Happy is an embarrassment for all involved. It won’t have a happy ending. For all involved, it will be best if it just fails quickly and then quietly disappears.
Mark Schwahn has accomplished the near-impossible feat of making fake British royals behave worse than the real ones. Also, wisely, E!'s The Royals, a big new soapy drama about a fictional British royal family, isn’t populated with characters who mirror specific individuals in the real-life ruling Windsors. The quirks and neuroses are more mix-and-match.
TV fans who decry the dearth of quality comedies, especially viewers who appreciated NBC’s late 30 Rock, will revel in the first Netflix half-hour comedy series, the Tina Fey-produced Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Originally developed and ordered by NBC, the show segued to Netflix once NBC executives realized they didn’t have an obvious, hospitable place to put it on NBC’s primetime schedule. In other words, it was too smart/too weird a fit for NBC’s more mainstream fare. It’s a smart, funny series, and it’s a relief to know Netflix saved it from what was sure to be terminal neglect had it aired on NBC.
ABC's American Crime is, like a lot of TV drama lately — Secrets and Lies, Broadchurch, The Killing — built around a murder. Someone has been killed, suspects have been apprehended, no one is sure yet what went down and why. But while the first four episodes of the series are gripping, and each introduces new complexity to a sweeping story, I would not call it a murder mystery. And that’s precisely why it works.