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TV Reviews/Notes
For the weekend, a good drama, a lousy mystery and slow start to 'House of Cards'
By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's 'Tuned In' Blog - Feb. 27, 2015

It’s a bustling weekend for TV drama with the debut of Hallmark Channel’s “The Good Witch” (8 p.m. Saturday), based on a series of TV movies, and the emotionally satisfying and uplifting conclusion to season five of PBS’s “Downton Abbey” (9 p.m. Sunday, WQED-TV).

But that’s not all: Let’s consider the merits of new Sunday dramas on CBS and ABC and today’s return of a streaming favorite.

‘Battle Creek’

CBS’s “Battle Creek” (10 p.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV) may be promoted as “from the creator of ‘Breaking Bad,’” but while “Bad” creator Vince Gilligan wrote the original script for the pilot to this series a decade ago, he’s not really involved in running the series. Sunday’s premiere episode credits Mr. Gilligan and “Battle Creek” showrunner David Shore (“House”) with writing the pilot teleplay.

This is all to say: Do not expect “Battle Creek” to play like a “Breaking Bad” or “Better Call Saul.” It doesn’t. But as CBS procedurals go, “Battle Creek” is smarter and a little funnier than average.

“Battle Creek” is a buddy cop show where the buddies’ world views are polar opposites. Dean Winters (“Oz”) stars as Battle Creek, Mich., police detective Russ Agnew, who is fed up with his department’s broken-down equipment and is shown writing a letter to “60 Minutes” begging for help. Shortly after, the FBI opens a branch across the hall from Battle Creek’s police headquarters staffed by special agent Milton Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel, “Vegas”).

Rough-around-the-edges Russ, a star in the Battle Creek police department, is suspicious and sees the worst in people; slick Milt displays a more trusting world view, but why did he get sent to Battle Creek anyway? Russ thinks there’s a darker story behind Milt’s sunny facade and “Battle Creek” certainly suggests that, showing Milt’s former boss in Detroit muttering “good riddance.”

But “Battle Creek” is told from Russ’ point of view, so it will likely take a while before Russ and viewers learn more about Milt’s true nature. In the meantime, the handsome FBI agent’s presence ties Russ in knots.

“If this guy is just better than me, why do I hate him so much and want to prove I’m better than him?” Russ asks.

The show’s supporting cast includes Russ’ pot-smoking partner (Kal Penn, “House”) and the Battle Creek police commander (Janet McTeer).

“Battle Creek” largely follows the rhythms of a typical police procedural but is different enough to stand out on procedural-heavy CBS. There’s more emphasis on character through the Russ-Milt relationship and the plots embrace dark humor – an anchovy leads to a breakthrough in a case in the premiere and a maple syrup cartel figures into the plot of episode two. That may not be enough to woo “Breaking Bad” fans but for a CBS crime show, it’s a noticeable evolution.

‘Secrets and Lies’

One of the worst murder-mysteries to come along in a while, ABC’s “Secrets & Lies” (9-11 p.m. Sunday, WTAE) is completely undone by its casting and writing.

Juliette Lewis stars as almost comically stone-faced, sourpuss detective Andrea Cornell, who investigates the murder of a 5-year-old boy in a Charlotte, N.C., neighborhood. Maybe she’s supposed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum like the female detective in “The Bridge,” but the first two episodes airing Sunday never make that clear, so viewers are left to marvel at her awkward demeanor and how unmoving her face is.

She’s pitted against Ben Crawford, the man who found the dead boy while jogging. He’s played by a mumbling-as-usual Ryan Phillipe. It doesn’t help that Ben seems clueless that he’s a prime suspect in the murder until three-quarters of the way through the premiere episode, and even then he makes stupid choices that make him appear more guilty.

Much of the first episode offers setup and introduces potential suspects, including Ben’s womanizing buddy, Dave (Dan Fogler), who lives in the Crawford basement and whose appearances bring lighthearted moments that are completely out of tune with the rest of the show, and the ex-husband of the dead boy’s mother (Natalie Martinez, “Under the Dome”).

Give “Secrets & Lies” credit for a juicy revelation at the end of its first hour, but even that’s not enough to warrant sticking with this disappointing series.

‘House of Cards’

Netflix’s soapy “House of Cards” stumbles out of the gate in its third season with a first hour that’s short on lead character Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and long on a supporting player whose foibles are by now a TV cliche. It’s an inauspicious start for the returning streaming series — all 13 episodes are available today on Netflix — but the show recovers in its second episode, returning the emphasis to Frank’s political brinksmanship.

Turns out the Underwood presidency is not going well with low approval ratings. Demanding wife Claire (Robin Wright) doesn’t help when she demands the U.N. ambassadorship, damn the bad optics.

Episode two also features a bizarre and seemingly impossible sex scene and the beginning of Frank’s latest playing-the-long-game scheme.

Through the first three episodes of season three, “House of Cards” butts up against the challenge the show’s writers created for themselves when they installed Underwood as U.S. president at the end of season two. “Cards” is no longer about striving to achieve one’s ultimate goal; it’s now about maintaining the power that’s been accumulated. Will that prove as satisfying? We’ll see.

Channel surfing

Dakota Johnson (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) hosts NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” this weekend with musical guest Alabama Shakes; Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) hosts March 7 with Zac Brown Band. … Disney Channel ordered a spinoff of tween sitcom “Jessie.” ... Disney XD will revive the late 1980s animated series “Duck Tales” for a new series to air in 2017. … Amazon Studios renewed kids shows “Creative Galaxy,” “Annedroids,” “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street” and “Tumble Leaf” for second seasons. … PBS’s Fred Rogers Co. show “Peg + Cat” (noon weekdays, WQED-TV) debuts four new episodes next week. … Nat Geo Wild’s “Unlikely Animal Friends” returns tonight at 10 with an episode about a Chihuahua and a chicken. …Late last week MSNBC canceled its daytime shows hosted by Joy-Ann Reid and Ronan Farrow, though both will remain at the network for now. … It’s a South Hills reunion at 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO’s “Girls” as Mt. Lebanon’s Gillian Jacobs (“Community”) and Green Tree’s Zach Quinto (“Star Trek”) both guest star.
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post #100142 of 100142 Old Today, 08:43 AM
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TV Review
'Sex Box’
By Brian Lowry, - Feb. 24, 2015

A titillating title that’s more illusory than indecent, “Sex Box” is just a blatant gimmick, and a silly one at that. Adapted from a U.K. format, WE Tv’s version is weighed down by a trio of irksome experts who deliver bedroom/relationship advice that renders the off-camera sex virtually irrelevant. Mostly, it’s an excuse to ask each of the couples, with an inflated sense of faux drama, “Are you ready to go into the Sex Box?” Beyond why viewers should care about the answer, the more obvious question is would this show even exist if they weren’t?

As if to ensure that the format doesn’t venture into anything approaching depth, the premiere hour features three different couples, introducing and briefly interviewing them before having them enter the box, an opaque chamber. Inside, they have sex (or so we’re told), with the hosts talking about them and their issues while a clock ticks, recording the duration of their alone time. (Most of the encounters run around 30 minutes, evoking considerable sympathy for the poor studio audience.)

The pairs then emerge wearing what look like Hugh Hefner’s old pajamas to discuss how it went — the idea being that people tend to be more open and vulnerable post-coitus. Yet while the first duo have a specific sexual issue — he doesn’t behave as if he cares whether she has an orgasm or not — the second are contemplating whether to bring a third party into the marriage, which makes their trip into the box seem to be one person short.

The mix of “Ooh, they’re doing it in there” teasing and relationship advice might come across as interesting to some, except the Three Wise People, all doctors of something or other, are uniquely annoying: Chris Donaghue, a sexologist; Fran Walfish, a relationship psychotherapist and “keeper of Hollywood’s bedroom secrets,” whose delivery is at best cloying; and Yvonne Capehart, a PhD. and pastor who gets offended a little too easily, given the subject matter, if anybody says anything even remotely explicit.

WE and the producers might try to couch all this as helping couples enjoy better and more fulfilling sex lives, but the segments are too brief and disjointed to be educational, and the show is predictably scored as if this were a “Friday the 13th” movie — to the point where one periodically wonders what horrors might lurk inside the titular receptacle.

“Sex Box” has already been condemned by the Parents Television Council, an indefatigable ally in terms of promoting such fare with its seal of disapproval. Still, as the time elapses in the corner while the so-called experts wait for the couples to finish (or not), it becomes increasingly clear that those viewers enticed into investing their time watching this are the ones who are truly getting screwed.

'Sex Box'
WE Tv, Fri. Feb. 27, 10 p.m.
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