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TV Review
Syfy’s ‘The Almighty Johnsons’
By Brian Lowry, - Jul. 10, 2014

Occasionally, a lack of resources breeds ingenuity, and so it is with “The Almighty Johnsons,” a Syfy import from New Zealand. The out-there premise — four brothers, each of whom, upon his 21st birthday, acquires the powers of a different Norse god — yields fewer pyrotechnics than one might expect, but creates intriguing discussion about the show’s peculiar backstory. Decidedly different content standards between American and Kiwi censors (there’s some obscured nudity and a lot of bleeped-out expletives) creates a bit of awkwardness, but here, that’s a quibble. While it’s popular for series to talk about their mythology, not many revel in the process with quite as much gusto as this one.

The introduction to this Asgardian birthright comes through Axl (Emmett Couling Skilton), who is just celebrating his 21st birthday. In the midst of his party, however, he’s dragged away from the friend who constantly looks longingly at him (“Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes, all grown up) by his three brothers, who fill in the disbelieving lad on the family legacy.

Not only do they each have unusual powers — diminished, admittedly, from what they once were — but Axl might be the reincarnation of Odin, which has enormous consequences. Simply put, he can either unite the gods and restore them to their lost glory, or, if he fails to achieve his destiny, lead to all of their deaths.

Written by James Griffin and directed by Mark Beesley, “Almighty Johnsons” contains only the smallest dollops of special effects, as the premiere relies on the characters talking about what might happen. Indeed, big brother Mike (Tim Balme) helps convince Axl — skeptical at first, but increasingly excited at the possibilities — by playing rock-paper-scissors, which, thanks to his god-like powers, he never loses. It’s about as low-tech a demonstration of magic as one could conceive.

And yet, it’s all strangely compelling and fun, if still a little half-baked, including what’s motivating the rival group apparently determined to prevent Axl from completing his mission by trying to kill the poor kid off.

Syfy has built international acquisitions of programs that fit its brand into the network’s programming — much of it from Canada, such as “Lost Girl” and “Continuum” — with mixed results.

By that measure, this Kiwi extract is certainly a cut above. And while the feeling isn’t quite like being struck by Thor’s proverbial thunderbolt, for a hardy few who don’t mind their gods in street clothes, it will be easy to develop a pretty sizable crush on “The Almighty Johnsons.”

Syfy's 'The Almighty Johnsons'
(Syfy, Fri. July 11, 10 p.m.)
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Summer TCA Tour Notes
‘Naked and Afraid’ stars discuss surviving the wilderness in the nude: ‘The naked part just adds to the challenge’
By David Hinckley, New York Daily News - Jul. 9, 2014

BEVERLY HILLS -- Several survivors of Discovery’s hit reality show “Naked and Afraid” insisted to TV critics at the TCA Press Tour Wednesday that “naked” is the least significant part of the experience.

“You’re not thinking about being naked, you’re thinking about surviving,” said Jeff Zausch.

“Clothing offers protection, like from bugs,” said Dani Julien. “The naked part just adds to the challenge.”

The premise of the show is that a man and a woman – strangers – are sent into a wilderness environment with no food or water and must survive for 21 days.

It was Discovery’s all-time highest rated premiere when it launched last season, with four million viewers.

“The first half hour, when you meet, is as awkward as it looks,” said Zausch. “But you forget about the naked part pretty quickly.”

Executive producer Steve Rankin said stripping the contestants of their clothes does have a psychological impact.

“It adds to the vulnerability,” he said.

The producers pixilate frontal nudity for the contestants, a process Rankin said is handled by six graphic designers “who go frame by frame.”

He joked that some male contestants “want us to make them a bigger blur.”

The contestants said that while they were all experienced survivalists, they also did some preparation for the show.

“But no, you don’t walk around naked,” said Justin Bullard. “That just adds to the degree of difficulty when you get there.”

Julien said she walked barefoot for a month to get her feet in shape. She also said that unlike most TV performers who try to lose weight when they know their body will be exposed on camera, “I gained about 10 pounds to store more protein.”

Contestant Eva Rupert said that the nudity and the rest were entirely incidental.

“Being on this show was a life-changing experience,” she said. “Being naked was just one more way it brought you down to the core of your existence.

“It was an opportunity to grow as a person. It was an honor to be on the show.”

When the contestants were asked “what was the most messed-up thing you did in the wilderness,” Rupert said, “Nothing was messed up, really. It was all about what you had to do to survive.”

Zausch said “biting the head off a lizard” was “something I didn’t expect I’d be doing.”

Contestants don’t win a prize for surviving, but they do get paid for their filming time. The show has been shot in places such as Madagascar and Namibia.

The Discovery series' success has spawned other “naked” shows, including VH1’s upcoming naked dating show. The producers of “Naked and Afraid” downplayed any sense they had pushed an envelope or helped launch a trend.
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Summer TCA Tour Notes
New season of 'Masters of Sex' turns up the angst
By Ann Oldenburg, USA Today - Jul. 10, 2014

When last we saw sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, they were

sharing a moment straight out of a romantic comedy: It was raining. Bill had just arrived at Virginia's place. She opened the door. And he declared he couldn't live without her.

It was a sweet

ending for Season 1 of the Showtime drama.

So Season 2 (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET/PT) kicks off with Masters and Johnson happily in love with each other?

"Hardly," says executive producer Michelle Ashford. While much is known about the real-life careers and events in the lives of Masters and Johnson, Ashford says the series is creating much of the emotion and chemistry that sizzled — and fizzled — between the two.

"One thing we know for sure: They didn't spend a ton of time in any kind of romantic, blissful state," says Ashford. "They were a very curious couple. It becomes clear that they were never in the same spot emotionally at the same time. If one had just said, 'I love you and you love me; let's go forward happily,' the story would have been very different. They were very complicated."

One fallout of the complicated couple is that this season, which features new stars including Sarah Silverman, Courtney B. Vance, Keke Palmer and Danny Huston, might offer less sex.

Less sex?

"Someone on our crew said, 'I think there is less sex this year,'" says Ashford, who concedes the crew would know since "they have to stand all day and watch it."

Michael Sheen, who plays Bill Masters, says, "From my point of view, we see more. We certainly start to have more focus on what's happening between him and Virginia."

LIzzy Caplan, who plays Virginia Johnson, says it was easier to get into the "mind-set" of her character with a season under her belt, so to speak.

In "Season 1 we were figuring out who these people were, who we wanted them to be on-screen. Second season, even though there was almost a year between, it was easier to switch back into that mode."

But getting naked is never a breeze. "I feel as comfortable as a person can feel doing something so strange," says the actress. "There was only one moment this season where I was in my trailer thinking, 'I just don't want to do this. I want to run away.' It wasn't like I was hanging upside down from the ceiling. It was just fear. And I know I have to do it, and it's the safest possible environment. I let it pass and got it done."

Because Masters was kicked out of his hospital in the first season, his career is in flux, and that also affects their relationship, as she relies on being part of his work.

"Things get rough for Virginia," says Caplan. "The relationship between Bill and Virginia gets a whole lot darker. These are two people who really get to know the depths of each other in ways that nobody knows. He shares with Virginia stuff nobody has ever heard come out of his mouth before. They come tangled up with each other, and sometimes it's lovely and sometimes it's not."

While Masters is finding his way in the professional world, single mom Johnson has to bide her time. "She's a survivor, a bit of a cockroach, if you will," says Caplan. "Virginia is always setting up backup plans for herself." Some of those plans revolve around the story line between cancer-stricken Dr. Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson). "It gets brutal," says Caplan, adding that those scenes are some of her favorites this season in a job she loves.

"I'm beyond happy," she says. "Happy doesn't even begin to describe it. I recognize daily how lucky I am that I'm a comedy actress that got a shot at a real dramatic role on a show that's rich and complex. The pinch-me moment has yet to wear off."

And maybe it won't for many years.

Season 2 covers 1958 into 1961, the beginnings of the sexual revolution. Masters and Johnson didn't marry until 1971. "Our show is going to change a lot every year," says Ashford. "It's because their lives changed very radically."
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Summer TCA Tour Notes
Dave Grohl Talks ‘Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways’ HBO Docuseries
By The Team - Jul. 10, 2014

Dave Grohl was TCA’s only one-person panel today as he took the stage to talk about his eight-part documentary series following himself and his band Foo Fighters as they record their 8th album in 8 different American cities. Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways debuts on HBO in October and the as-yet-untitled album will be released in November.

Grohl — also director of the feature film doc Sound City — said the idea for the series (coming on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the band) came to him when the last Foo Fighters record was being made in his garage. “I thought maybe we should do a documentary about the band, about the last 14, 15 years, that would explain why we were making a record in my garage,” he said.

He added, that while working on Sound City he learned that fusing music and documentary together could reach a whole new audience. “Music can seem a little one dimensional…but when you get a little deeper into the artist or the song, it creates this emotional connection,” he said.

Grohl spoke passionately about how isolated American cities and their modest recording studios played a role in developing an authentic, culture-based sound. “These studios, they are churches, monuments, history has been made in these shitholes all over the country,” he said.

Grohl took a good natured swipe at TV’s many music competition shows. Making music, he said, should not be about standing in a line-up to “have a bazillionaire tell you that you are a bad singer. Don’t get me started…” he joked.

* * * *

Summer TCA Tour Notes
HBO Reveals Details Of Mike Nichols/Meryl Streep ‘Master Class’, Queen Latifah ‘Bessie’ Project, Launch Date For ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Final Season

HBO parsed out some details on Mike Nichols directing of Meryl Streep in the network’s adaptation of Master Class, Terrence McNally’s Tony Award-winning play about Maria Callas. The project is a reteaming of Nichols and Streep, who worked together on the premium channel’s Angels In America nearly a decade ago. Master Class begins production in early ’15, depicting the master classes the operatic great gave to hand-picked students at the Juilliard School in the early 1970s.

During its day at the TCA Summer Press Tour, the network also reiterated that Queen Latifah will star in and exec produce HBO Films’ Bessie, about blues singer Bessie Smith, written and directed by Dee Rees, with shooting in Atlanta, debuting next year; Michael K, Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps, Tika Sumpter, Tory Kittles, Oliver Platt, Bryan Greenberg, Charles Dutton and Mo’Nique co-star. The project focuses on Smith’s growth from struggling young singer into “Empress of the Blues” and one of the most successful recording artists of the 1920s.

Boardwalk Empire’s eight-episode fifth and final season launches September 7, HBO said today. While the first four seasons of the series from Terence Winter and director Martin Scorsese were set during Prohibition in the ’20s, when Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) was the undisputed leader of Atlantic City, the fifth season is set in the depths of the Depression in 1931, with Nucky plotting a post-Prohibition future.

Jonah From Tonga, a new comedy series from Chris Lilley, debuts August 8. It centers on Jonah Takulau, whose father banishes him to the island of Tongapatu when he’s expelled from Summer Heights High, in order to spend time with his extended family and get his life back together.

The pay cable network, which recently announced a Monday night documentary block, confirmed its docu lineup for the second half of 2014. Among the new films to debut in the weekly slot are Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s The Newburgh Sting (July 21), an inside look at the rarely told story of the FBI’s involvement in a homegrown terror case; Nixon By Nixon: In His Own Words (August 4), exploring Nixon through thousands of hours of recently declassified audiotapes recorded in the White House, with Peter Kunhardt directing; and Jeremiah Zagar’s Captivated: The Trials Of Pamela Smart (August 18), looking at the 1990 trial of the 21-year-old woman accused of plotting her husband’s murder, which was the first trial televised gavel-to-gavel. Steve Buscemi’s A Good Job: Stories Of The FDNY (Sept. 8) details life working for the New York City Fire Department; Hunted: The War Against Gays In Russia (October), is the story of a group of citizens who attack and torment gay men and women in that country; directed by Ben Steele. And Nancy Kates directed Regarding Susan Sontag (December), which profiles the life of the literary, political and feminist icon through archival materials and accounts from friends, family, colleagues and lovers, as well as her own words, as read by Patricia Clarkson.
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Critic's Notes
False Starts Before Cable’s Golden Age
By Mike Hale, The New York Times - Jul. 10, 2014

In the golden age of the high-class cable drama, it’s easy to forget that no cable channel started its life with such fare. HBO and Showtime? Movies. AMC? Old movies. USA? Sports. ABC Family? Pat Robertson.

But over the years, these channels, and many others that began with just baseball games, infomercials, talk shows or network reruns, have found the new religion of original scripted dramas and comedies. It’s a trend that shows no signs of stopping. On Wednesday, WE begins its first scripted series, “The Divide,” a legal drama. Bravo, once an arts and film channel and more recently home of the “Housewives” franchise, is in production on its first scripted series, Marti Noxon’s “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

With shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “Masters of Sex” and “Louie” now defining excellence in prime time, let’s take a look at back at where some of today’s top cable channels got their start in the scripted-series business. It wasn’t always Emmy nominations and Top 10 lists. (A few of these shows, including “Faerie Tale Theatre” and “Hey Dude,” are available from major streaming-video services. Episodes of nearly all of them can be found on YouTube.)

Showtime, ‘Faerie Tale Theatre’ (1982-87)

Long before “Masters of Sex” (or “Gigolos”), the actress Shelley Duvall, fresh off “The Shining,” hosted, produced and occasionally starred in this great-looking, ambitious series of fairy-tale adaptations. The first episode featured Robin Williams as the Frog Prince and was written and directed by Eric Idle; later episodes included Francis Ford Coppola’s “Rip Van Winkle” starring Harry Dean Stanton and Roger Vadim’s “Beauty and the Beast” with Susan Sarandon.

HBO, ‘The Hitchhiker’ (1983-87)

“Fraggle Rock” began the same year, but we’ll give the nod to this noirish half-hour mystery anthology. The Hitchhiker (played for most of the show’s run by Page Fletcher), a self-righteous noodge in a weather-beaten jacket, narrates tales of moral perfidy with supernatural twists and tasteful nudity. Maybe things haven’t changed that much at HBO in 30 years.

USA, ‘Sanchez of Bel Air’ (1986)

“Monk,” beginning in 2002, set the pattern for USA’s current lineup of lightweight, amusing dramas. But the channel’s first scripted effort was this Hispanic family comedy starring Reni Santoni and, as the neighbor, the onetime pop idol Bobby Sherman. A promo clip on YouTube indicates why you’ve never heard of the show: “Look at the bright side. Your son isn’t gay, and your daughter’s not pregnant.” Pause. “At least not yet.”

Lifetime, ‘The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd’ (1989-91)

Jay Tarses’ show was ahead of its time in many ways — a single-camera sitcom without a laugh track, a forerunner of legions of romantic dramedies. It could set your teeth on edge with its forced whimsicality at the same time that it provided long stretches of sharp, funny writing and excellent performances by Blair Brown as Molly, a divorced woman trying to make ends meet in New York, and David Strathairn as Moss, the shy bookstore owner who gave her a job and became her lover. NBC gave it two partial seasons before canceling it; Lifetime picked it up in one of the first instances of a cable channel rescuing a network show.

Nickelodeon, ‘Hey Dude’ (1989-91)

Technically, the first Nickelodeon scripted original (in a schedule dominated by children’s variety shows) was “Out of Control” in 1984, but that was sketch comedy. This sitcom western set on an Arizona dude ranch was the channel’s first scripted narrative show, and set a durable pattern — cute teenagers taking pratfalls and learning life lessons — for the channel’s live-action programming. TeenNick will recognize the 25th anniversary of “Hey Dude” with a marathon on Monday.

MTV, ‘Dead at 21’ (1994)

This early move away from music videos (the channel’s logo still read “Music Television”) was a paranoid science-fiction thriller with psychedelic touches. The premise — that the 20-year-old main character had been subjected to a high-tech medical experiment that would kill him when he reached 21 — anticipated cyber-dramas like “Jake 2.0” and “Chuck” and may have been a perfect expression of the young-adult narcissism that has been the channel’s stock in trade. (Of course, the reality series “The Real World” had established that even earlier, in 1992.)

AMC, ‘Remember WENN’ (1996-98)

More than a decade before “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” made AMC cable drama’s heavyweight champion, the channel carried this much — much — lighter drama about the glory days of live radio (though darkness occasionally crept in, courtesy of World War II). Heavily nostalgic with a redeeming dose of astringency, it presented the lives and loves of a Pittsburgh station’s staff in the melodramatic and farcical styles of the programs we saw them producing.

Syfy, ‘Mission Genesis’ (1997)

Six clones, made from the cells of exceptionally accomplished people, are sent into space to reboot the human race on a new planet. Based on the “Deepwater Black” young-adult novels, this was the first scripted series for what was then the Sci-Fi Channel. Syfy would hit its heyday in the next decade with another space opera, “Battlestar Galactica,” but the channel has become more earthbound since then — none of its current dramas take place off the planet.

TNT, ‘The New Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1997-98)

This blissfully low-rent, amateurishly acted series, filmed in Lithuania, told new stories featuring a Robin and Marian with impressively styled and blow-dried hair. TNT continued in the fantasy-action genre with the better-known “Babylon 5” the next year, but now focuses on crime and legal dramas. The adolescent’s-adventure spirit of “Robin” continues, though, in the channel’s outlier series, the postapocalyptic war story “Falling Skies.”

FX, ‘Son of the Beach’ (2000-2)

Remember when FX was mostly a bunch of young people sitting in a room in the Flatiron district talking about pets or music or the news of the day? Oddly, it didn’t last. Beginning in 2002 with “The Shield,” the channel would become one of cable’s strongest, most interesting sources of drama and comedy. But before that came this sitcom, a broad satire of buoy-and-bikini beach-rescue shows.

ABC Family, ‘Wildfire’ (2005-8)

In the channel’s corporate history, which stretches back to Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, there had been earlier scripted shows, like “State of Grace” under the Fox Family label. But its modern era begins with this teenage drama about a troubled girl whose life is changed by a stint at a horse ranch. In the channel’s current roster, the earnestness of “Wildfire” is reflected in a show like “The Fosters” but not so much in its biggest hit, the dark soap opera “Pretty Little Liars.”

TBS, ‘10 Items or Less’ (2006-9)

We’re fudging a little here — in its TBS superstation days, when it was known for reruns, movies and Atlanta Braves games, the channel had some original nighttime soap operas. But on TBS proper, the first scripted show was this downsizing comedy about a family grocery store. Another comedy, “My Boys,” began the next night, and TBS has kept its focus on original sitcoms.

WE, ‘The Divide’ (2014)

WE began life 17 years ago as Romance Classics, a movie channel, before being re-branded as WE: Women’s Entertainment and then just WE. Before now, it has spent its money on reality shows aimed at women like “Bridezillas” and “Braxton Family Values.” A desire to draw in more men may have something to do with the channel’s surprisingly high-profile foray into scripted drama, which was created by the screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (“Behind the Candelabra”) and the actor and director Tony Goldwyn (“Scandal”). Marin Ireland plays a caseworker for an Innocence Project-like organization investigating whether a death-row prisoner was wrongfully convicted.
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Originally Posted by aaronwt View Post
Then for not being a comedy I typically laugh alot during the episodes.
Surprisingly, I do too, Aaron. Based on comments here, I was all set to turn it off after a few minutes, but I don't see any reason for the disdain shown here. True, it's not close to reality, but I like the main characters together. I won't miss it when it gets cancelled, but I think it's a bit of fun to watch for a summer series.

Cheers, Dave
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Originally Posted by archiguy View Post
Or why 'Fargo' is a "miniseries", but 'True Detective' is a series.

Yep, it's even more of a mess than usual.
True Detective may be rotating the players and decade but the storyline is still continuous and being told over several seasons.

Fargo was one story with a set of specific characters and done.

Plans for a possible season two are most likely going to involve different, unconnected stories and characters. Hawley said it would be silly to have the same amount of weird stuff happen to the same people in the same place. So as long as the show doesn't revisit the same characters and stories and since the nominations are announced before any real plans for a season two, then the first season exists on it's own as a miniseries.

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Originally Posted by VisionOn View Post
True Detective may be rotating the players and decade but the storyline is still continuous and being told over several seasons.
That's not as I understand it. That story, down in the bayou, is finished and they'll start over someplace else next season with new actors and a new location. Is that not the case?
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