Monday, February 28, 2011

Remembering Jane Russell: Last Of The Great Broads

She was the last of the great movie sex symbols.
"Just call me a broad with attitude," smiled Jane Russell, the only time I interviewed her for a TCM documentary on her studio RKO.
The year was 1986 making the silver-haired Russell a simply stunning 65-year-old.
She died Monday at her home in Santa Maria of respiratory problems.
"I had the Lord on my side," she whispered to explain how she survived the rigors of Hollywood stardom and why her pal Marilyn Monroe did not.
Russell became an instant star with the 1943 release of producer Howard Hughes' risque western The Outlaw. The film was so provocatively sexy for its date that it did not go into general release for three years because of censorship problems.
Photos of Russell sprawling in a haystack helped sell the film. So did stories that Hughes had engineered a specially designed pneumatic bra for Russell to wear.
"I put it on once, it hurt so I took it off and stuffed tissue in there and Howard never knew the difference."
"Today it looks so sweet," smiled Russell of The Outlaw.
"I never did a nude scene, I was never even allowed to show my belly button. No bad words, no nothing. But I became a sex symbol because of my attitude. It was Louis B. Mayer who told me never to show my backside. Garbo never did."
Russell became a pin up staple of fighting American soldiers everywhere along with Betty Grable, Dorothy Lamour and Lana Turner.
"Unlike the other girls I never believed in any of that publicity guff," she said. "I was a Four Walls dame --just hadda get home at night to my husband and my kids --and my God. The other gals would be out partying all night long. Me, I'd be home studying my Bible --mother was a preacher and I wanted to be as good a Christian as she was.""
But Russell could do more than pose fetchingly. She was Bob Hope's sidekick in two comedy romps, Paleface (1948) and Son Of Paleface (1952).
"On my first fday Bob told me I'd play the straight guy, the one who tosses him the innocent line and then he responds and gets the big laugh. When I asked for a funny line he acted out out and refused. When I did holiday tours for the troops with him I got all the wolf whistles and he still got all the laughs."
And she "absolutely adored" working with Clark Gable in The Tall Men (1955). "He joked he was just an ordinary guy but there was no ordinary way he kissed me. He may have had dentures and a hair piece but here was the King of Hollywood."
"My favorite co-star --I was going to say it was Trigger --but seriously it was Bob Mitchum. If I told you he was just about the smartest guy around you'd fall off your chair. A real big reader. He play acted at being tough, he was a real sissy when it came to brawling."
When it came to directors Russell was a man's woman. "Howard Hawks was the tops. He once told me how lucky we were to work with Marilyn Monroe before she became strange. Raoul Walsh --now there was a man. I'd call him Papa. As in 'Papa, come over here to mama right now!' He loved that sort of thing.
"I think my movie career would have lasted if I'd had the opportunity to work at MGM. But Mr. Mayer told me they had enough screen tramps under contract! I understood what he meant."
Opposite Marilyn Monroe she was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953): "A scared kid. Always chose the wrong man --Joe DiMaggio was no help to her and neither was Arthur Miller --both were plain wrong.
"She was killed by the Kennedys. I know that. A few months after her passing I saw Bobby Kennedy at an event and he turned away quickly. He knew I knew what they had done to her."
"Marilyn came out to our Malibu ranch weeks before she passed. And she romped in the surf with the kids. Was real happy. A gal that happy does not commit suicide."
Howard Hughes made his last movie with Russell in 1955 --it was Underwater with the entire premiere held underwater in the Florida everglades.
"I told Howard he should have cast Esther Williams because I spent a lot of weeks acting under water. For once the critics were right in saying I was all wet."
But he kept Russell on full salary for the next 25 years just in case he should ever decide to make another movie.
"I didn't exactly hang around waiting for the phone to ring.-- I was touring all over the world by then. Occasionally he'd phone saying 'Just one more picture Janie?' I'd humor the old guy but he got strange after his plane crash. Stayed holed up on a Vegas hotel --when they threatened to evict him he bought the joint -- out of petty cash. He hated the local TV outlet's movies so he bought the station and ordered them to run only westerns."
Later on she became the TV pitch woman for Playtex bras --for the full figured woman.
I first met Russell on the set of her TV series The Yellow Rose (1983) --she played Sam Elliott's mother and joked about the transition.
"I'd even play Trigger's mom if the salary was right."
What I'm remembering is her niceness, her continuing beauty and her sheer delight at still being recognized and applauded as a true movie queen.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Wanted To Like the Oscars But....

Look, I like the Academy Awards and really hoped to watch every minute of the long winded ceremonies.
But wanderlust got to me.
I wandered off to get a sandwich. I read a few pages of a book. Wrestled with my cat. Did some dishes in the kitchen sink.
The Oscars just dragged on and on.
For one thing I'd seen it all before.
I'd watched the Golden Globes, The DGA Awards, the Screen Actors Awards.
Same group of contenders at every pit stop. Same winners.
By the time the Oscars stagger on the awards season had been in full tilt for months. There's nothing left to say. Everybody looks bushwhacked.
It never used to be like this.
Nobody ever bothered with the Golden Globes until a few seasons ago. And those other peripheral awards? Forget it!
But all those entertainment shows are competing with each other to produce a strange case of over coverage.
The Oscars all came out as predicted.
If only The Social Network had won as best picture! Or Annette Bening as best actress! That would have stirred up the pot a bit.
But three hours of these Dale Carnegie speeches left me pretty well exhausted. And bored. And just plain fed up.
The red carpet treatment? Blah! Where was Joan Rivers to deflate all that pomposity.
By Oscar standards this one clocked in at just over three hours. But it really dragged!
Hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway were way out of their league. These pretty young actors were imported to attract a younger demographic.
But what the show needed was a Rickey Gervais or a Billy Crystal.
One highlight was the appearance of 94-year old Kirk Douglas. The audience collectively held its breath, feating he might make a gaffe but he sailed away with some of the best lines of the night.
Another big moment was a salute to the departed talent as Celine Dion warbled away --that segment really worked.
Billy Crystal also introduced a brief salute to Bob Hope whose zingers sounded better after 50 years than the current stuff I was hearing.
This year was a strong one with Inception, The King's Speech and The Social Network all contenders as best picture.
I really wanted Jeff Bridges to duplicate his win of last year --that would have shook things up.
But I kept watching. I wondered why so many "B" List actors were selected as presenters. Where were the truly greats of the business?
To become truly competitive again the Academy Awards should be held in early January so all those ersatz award shows won't be able to hog the spotlight.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Powerful, Shattering Documentary

Talk about relevancy! Here I am watching the TV newscasts focusing on the ongoing Arabian revolutions when I switch on my preview DVD of Remote Control Wars.
The hourlong documentary is on CBC-TV's Doc Zone Thursday night at 9 p.m. and nothing on TV this week could be as relevant.
The news showshots from Libya and Bahrein are all about such new technologies as Facebook and Twitter permitting oppressed people to rise against well entrenched dictators.
But Remote Control War goes far deeper as it probes into new warfare techniques already being practiced over the skies of Pakistan and often against innocent civilians.
Then those same techniques, refined and miniaturized, might one day be practiced over the skies of North America.
It's Robotic Warfare and it's the hottest killing technique of the decade.
Every night in remote Indian Springs, Nevada, well outside of Las Vegas, normally dressed civilians go to work to fight the rebels in far distant Afghanistan.
They do so using the most sophisticated computers commanding the most highly specialized drones yet devised, drones than can follow civilians on the ground and often bomb, maim, even kill many innocent people.
The images are dazzling --we see the way drones hover in the air and how they can spot movement. What they cannot do is selectively chose between the ordinary populace and the Taliban. And so many mistakes are made as the bombs go off.
But since U.S. casualties are diminished by this impersonal way of killing the U.S. military chiefs and the Congressional politicians are very much in favor of the new ways of war.
Dead U.S. soldiers come home in nbody bags to grieving families and an increasingly sceptical civilian population.
The list of experts director Leif Kaldor and producer-writer Leslea Mair have chosen to take us into this hitherto unknown war is dazzlinng: New York Times writer David Rhode, U.N. investigator Philip Alston, University of Sheffield's Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence, Peter W. Singer, author of Wired For War.
Together they take us into a new form of modern warfare --one done almost entirely by robotics instead of the usual soldiers.
The robotic planes can hunt people down but they cannot discriminate. Anybody fleeing becomes a target and U.S. robotic planes now number 7,000. And another 43 countries including Canada are investing in drones as the preferred choice of future conflicts.
Kaldor has gotten unprecedented access to hitherto classified footage, Pentagon sources and dissenters both in North America and Europe who wonder who will make the decisions about future kills.
When does the robotic method amount to killing for the sake of killing.
And what happens when the adversaries of the U.S. become as technologically advanced. We go to one robotics fair where amateurs have miniaturized everything and produced their own tiny planes for as low as$300. Could these planes swarm Manhattan in a future attack? Or Toronto?
U.S. Lt. Gen. David Deptula and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams grapple with the morality of the issues. This rush to a new way of waging war is scary as hell and reinforced by the images of conflict throughout Arabia on the newscasts.
In Short Remote Control War is perfectly positioned --it asks all the questions we should be asking with conflict all around us. The hour was made by Regina-based Zoot PIctures which made such past documentaries as Eco-Home Adventures and Weekend Wonders.
REMOTE CONTROL WAR premieres on CBC's DOC ZONE Thurs. Feb. 24 at 9 p.m. Two additional showings are on CBC News Network Frid. Feb. 25 at 10 p.m. and Sunday Feb. 27 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.
MY RATING: ****.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Time To welcome Back Mighty Ships

Mighty Ships is back for its fourth season with a real winner.
This weekly look at cutting-edge vessels kicks off its new season with a profile of the futuristic 157 metres-long DSV Skanti Arctic.
the Canadian made series salutes the Norwegian ship used in northern oil exploration.
The stakes are truly high stake here --this is a saturation dive support ship supporting diving workers who toil hundreds of meters below the surface.
Because everything that happens in this hour is totally real the tension is very high.
The divers work on repairing sunlen oil machines that dredge the oil from the sea bed.
The men are so fardown that it takes them five days in a compression chamber just to reach the surface after 20 days of underwater exploits.
If anything happens on the ship they are literally sunk. In one hair raising shot smoke is discovered in the ship --if it spreads or turns into a full blown fire the divers will all be lost.
The ship was designed for the utmost safety, comfort and efficiency. We see how every facet works --even the planning and execution of sumptuous divers which is dispatched down an air chute for the men.
If they get injured they may die because it would take five days to get them back up.
We see the usual preparation for the mass dive --one worker has high blood pressure which might impede his health working on the ocean floor. And we see their working on the actual sunken machinery --every rusted bolt spotted must be replaced by hand.
The men use a combination of oxygen and heliox which gives them the voices of chipmunks down under.
And finally near the end of the assignment the ship's captain must face the decision how to face massive waves during a brutal winter storm.
Might Ships is produced by Exploration Production Inc. (EPI) in association with Discovery Channel Canada and the series remains a winner.
Next week there's a profile of the USCGC Bertholf, the first of eight Legend Class ships buil;t for the U.S. Coast Guard.
MIGHTY SHIPS returns to Discovery Canada Wed. Feb. 23 at 8 p.m.
My Rating: *** 1/2.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Raccoon Nation: Outwitting The Critters

Toronto filmmaker Susan Fleming has a knack for explaining nature.
In last season's hour- long documentary Crows she explained how the black birds are among the most intelligent in the wild kingdom.
And she's done it again with Raccoon Nation --the hour premieres on The Nature Of Things Thursd. Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.
I felt this one might be specifically made for me --it opens with a tracking shot of the Don Valley and I pick out my street very clearly.
"You live in one of the most heavily infested raccoon areas in the city," Fleming explains to me on the phone.
Tell me about it. On garbage night as I'm putting out the trash I can look up in the trees and see the raccoons waiting for their chance to knock the cans over and enjoy a feast.
They're not there on other nights and I swear some of them have even figured how to unlock the cache.
Fleming spent a year documenting the problem in Toronto and elsewhere. She guesstimates she spent at least 90 all nighters tramping through Toronto backyards in search of her subjects.
And she gets some terrific shots: one has a mother raccoon showing her three kits how to compress their spines and slither through a wedge in a garage door.
Two of the kits learn pretty quickly but the third seems to be a slow learner and finally mother has to pick him up in her and through the tight opening.
The kits are so sweet, Fleming is saying and they need complete supervision during the first year of life. But once they reach sexual maturity --watch out!
In fact she has a whole segment on the raccoon problems in Japan?
Excuse me but I thought raccoons were native to the Americas? Well, Japanese parents saw how entranced their children were with a cartoon series on raccoon kits and bought the kits at pet stores...
When the raccoons matured they turned nasty and were let go and with no predators to contain them started running amuck.
One strange scene has normally peaceful Japanese monks involved in an extermination campaign before their temples crumble from the raccoon pests munching away at the timber.
In Germany it's the same problem: a pair of raccoons escaped in 1936 and have been taking over in the forests ever since.
Fleming worked with Chicago researchers to collar raccoons in the city and then release them to determine their field of operation.
"Surprisingly it's only a few blocks for each animal," she says. "And they don't seem to intrude on another's territory."
Fleming says city slicker raccoons have many of our health problems: they're obese from eating trash and can suffer from diabetes and tooth decay. Their country cousins may be fewer in number but are smaller, slimmer, more healthy.
Toronto with its network of ravines has been dubbed the raccoon capital of the world. Fleming manages to explain their word. She says evidence is mounting that the raccoons are getting smarter as they try to live in an urban jungle.
"I was surprised by a lot of what I saw. For example females can band together in a kind of nursery school for their kits. "
Besides multitasking the raccoons are also shown solving problems like how to tackle those pesky garbage locks. We see them spending hours at the task of picking the locks.
And Fleming insists picking locks is actually making their brains smarter.
I know what animal Fleming will next study but am sworn to secrecy here.
All I can say is it is an equal menace in Toronto and has four legs. Care to take a guess?
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

CBS Adds Another Spin Off

I remember when CBS used to be a forest of spinoffs.
Sometime in the mid1970s CBS threw a gigantic press party at legendary Chasen's for all the MTM series then running on the network.
Let's see, of course, Mary Tyler Moore and her gang all had tables. I sat at Cloris Leachman's table --her character of Phyllis had just been spun off.
Ed Asner and Valerie Harper also had tables --both their shows were spin offs.
It got quite congested, I can tell you.
And nights later CBS threw a similar fete for producer Norman Lear and all the sitcoms spun off from All In The Family including Maude, Good Times, The Jeffersons. Later on there'd be another, Gloria, with Sally Struthers.
And this is exactly what CBS is doing these days.
Only now the number one rated U.S. network is spinning off its investigative dramas.
CBS begat CBS: Miami and CSI: New York and CBS wound up with three very similar procedurals.
After JAG drooped in the ratings a spin off with Mark Harmon, NCIS, flourished and in time begat NCIS: LA.
Now along comes a spin off of Criminal Minds called Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.
I find th\ie original very gory and rarely watch but 2.5 million Canadian viewers caught the CTV premiere Wednesday night making it CTV's number one new series of the season.
Of course CTV had a little help from CRTC's blackout policy meaning the CBS signal in Buffalo gets blacked out on the cable package you're paying for so a duplicate CTV signal can be imposed.
But still Criminal Minds: SB did better than the combined competition from Global, CBC and Citytv.
Of course cloning TV style doesn't always work.
NBC tried it this season with Law & Order: Los Angeles but the cast never jelled and the situations seemed overly familiar.
Let's see, what other CBS shows could be cloned?
How about a spin off from The Good Wife titled The Bad Husband?
Or why not take Neil Patrick Harris's character from How I Met Your Mother, set him loose in another city in a little something called How I Left Your Mother?
Or just maybe CBS could clone another drama series and present us with Before Flashpoint casting younger versions of the characters when they were at police academy?
Just thinking, that's all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yawn! CBC Announces Fall Line Up!

I have absolutely no idea why CBC sneaked out details of its fall TV schedule on a drowsy Friday afternoon.
Could the reason be there's not much to celebrate so far this season?
Its few big hits --Rick Mercer, Heartland, Dragon's Den --have been predictably renewed.
And other shows that are almost hits --Republic Of Dole, Ron James--are coming back.
The big surprise to me is the pickup of Little Mosque which has wilted right away. On the other hand it's one of those shows hand picked by new general manager, programming Kirstine Stewart. But ratings wise it's in the "brain dead" category.
The renewal list does not include 18 To Life, Men With Brooms, Village On A Diet, Debbie Travis and the venerable Just For Laughs.
Could any of these be possible pick ups later on? CBC sources aren't saying.
Men With Brooms had such promise and a great cast of funsters. But two episodes had to be made at the same time and this lack of quality showed.
The currently running InSecurity? The jury is still out. It has potential but not a whole lot of guarateed laughs every episode. But it will be back not because it deserves another chance but because CBC isn't going to cancel all its new shows. CBS did that once and emerged with a stronger schedule.
But at CBC this year it's been a time of waiting for the dust to clear after the quick departure of controversial head programming honcho Peter Stursberg.
His successor, Kirstine Stewart, hasn't been in the job long enough to effect any turn around.
Contractually she's obliged to another season of those cheesey U.S. imports Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy!--I have no trouble with that because they draw in big advertising bucks as well as huge ratings that can help the CBC prime time schedule.
The U.S. webs wait until the May sweeps to announce new product. But CBC has its five new series already chosen.
Mr. Dee will star Toronto comic Gerry Dee.
Michael Tuesday and Thursdays written by Bob Martin and directed by Don McKellar has Martin, Martha Burns and Jennifer Irwin. Let's hope it fares better than McKellar's last CBC seffort, Twitch City which wassadly neglected by the Corp.
The co-production of the season will be Camelot, another mediaeval thingy, starring Joseph Fiennes, Eva Green and debuts first on the U.S. cable web Starz.
Of two other new shows I only know the titles: Dealer To Leader from Kevin O'Leary and Cover Me Canada.
I still see no culture show --a major omission on a publicly funded network.
May I suggest CBC's Stewart instantly revive an old stand by: Rear View Mirror, stock it with fancy reruns from the CBC vaults from opera to ballet and even plop in a few choice episodes of Front Page Challenge, and run it for six weeks on lazy Sunday afternoons?
Why? To prove CBC is more than just imitating the trends on American TV.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

CTV Must Change For The Better

When I wrote my appreciation of departing CTVGlobemedia president Yvan Fecan I mentioned that others who worked closely with him would also depart.
So it's no surprise to see that Fecan's programming czar at CTV, Susanne Boyce, is also decamping followed by CTV's expert on regulatory matters, Paul Sparkes, and CFO John Gossling.
It's an indication the once and future owners of CTV, Bell BCE, agrees that the current model of operation is broken and big changes need to be done fairly quickly.
No question about it the soft-spoken Boyce rearranged the broadcasting company as primarily a carrier of imported American series.
To accomplish this clear goal CTV had to be ruthless in outbidding the competition to get the big hit series.
In those days CTV was so flush with cash it actually bought series to keep Global and Citytv from acquiring them.
One example is Desperate Housewives which CTV plunked down big bucks as its extra show in case something else failed --for the first month or so CTV ran it off Sunday afternoons at 4 until it zoomed to the top in the U.S. and quickly got pride of place in the Canadian schedule.
Another example is Kevin Hill which CTV bought just to keep Global at bay --CTV never ran this drama with Taye Diggs and the irony is it was made in film studios just down the street from the Toronto Star.
At the big launches every fall Boyce would parade in front of a gaggle of American stars all lined up to show CTV was number one.
In recent years these stars disappeared because CTV understood it was sending out the wrong message. After all it was supposed to be a Canadian based national network.
For the last decade CTV bought so many U.S. shows at top prices it spent comparatively little on Canadian programming. In refusing to promote homegrown talent CTV in the process lost much of its own identity.
But things are changing. Ailing Global TV was sold off in a fire sale to ambitious Shaw Media which presumably has the bucks to outbid CTV if it wants.
And feisty Citytv used to get the left overs but all that might change with feisty Rogers Media behind it.
Boyce's fixation on U.S. shows did give CTV big ratings but only with the connivance of the CRTC. Prime time on CTV and Global turned into a sea of simulcasting with Buffalo stations blocked out for most of the evening and CTV or Global signals substituted.
There have been recent CRTC attempts to force the Canadian networks to spend as much on Canadian shows as they spend on U.S. imports already available on American channels. Let's see how far that goes.
What's readily apparent is the slow and inevitable decline of conventional networks and the growing competition from cable weblets and digital alternatives.
Costs are skyrocketing. I remember CBC's top programmer Thom Benson once confiding to me in 1972 he was spending all of $2,500 a week on Mary Tyler Moore. Today a top sitcom might cost CTV or Global upwards of $400,000 an episode.
And can CTV afford anymore to buy up series just to keep them from the competition?
In the new BCE configuration CTV sports head Phil King takes over duties for independent Canadian broadcasting which he'll have to quickly grow.Rick Brace who once headed TSN is now in charge of specialty and in-house programming.
But don't forget BCE owned CTV once before and sold off much of its interest because of a lack of synergy.In the new configuration of Canadian TV everything is about product. American product may be harder to control in the future --the simulcasting blackout of border stations is a clumsy device that could quickly become outmoded. A computer geek down the street is peddling a device that gives a false computer destination --thus he can unblock the website hulu which shows NBC programming.
CTV and its weblet cable affiliates do have bright futures only if they start paying attention to their Canadian roots.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

CBC's Nature Of Things: Back To Its Roots?

A friend seemed surprised when I cut short a telephone conversation by saying I had to get back to watching a TV documentary about ferrets.
Once upon a time this would not have been so unusual.
When I started out as TV critic of The Spectator way back in 1970 CBC-TV was awash in nature series celebrating the wonders of this great country.
Let's see there were the monthly specials of naturalists John and Janet Foster --I vividly remember one on the rain forest of Queen Charlotte Islands.
And tugging and pressing against Nature Of Things there was that great CBC rival This Land which eventually got killed off for lack of funds.
That only leaves Nature Of Things and it must cram in all of science into its 13-week yearly schedule.
I'm not sure what I expected to find with the ferret profile, Return Of The Prairie Bandit which premieres on CBC-TV Thursday Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. but the hour is jam packed with great shots and a belief this Canadian ferret deserves to survive back in its native prairie habitat.
Filmmaker Kenton Vaughan took a real gamble in focusing on the black-footed ferret, the only ferret native to North America.
This ferret unlike the store bought European varieties is almost wholly noctural and difficult to film.
It was long thought to be extinct --the last sighting in Canada was in 1937.
This particular ferret became a victim of evolution: for centuries it lived in the North American grassland and by a trick of evolution gradually fixated on prairie dogs who once numbered over a billion before the introduction of European settlers.
The early settlers on both sides of the 49th parallel tried to exterminate prairie dogs because they were simply a nuisance. When the prairie dogs disappeared so did the ferrets who could not switch diets after centuries of single source dependency.
"I'm a Saskatchewan farm boy originally," says Vaughan. "I'd always wanted to do something on Grasslands National Park." When he learned black-footed ferrets were going to be reintroduced he decided to try and film this experiment.
The hour would not have worked before the advent of night vision photography.
We travel along with biologist Travis Livieri as he unleashes 19 females and 15 males back into reconstituted prairie dog colonies. The ferrets obligingly scatter down abandoned prairie dog colonies.
And Vaughan had to return the next season to check and see how many survived a cruel winter or other predators like wolves and Coyotes who would go after them.
These ferrets were zoo bred and teaching them the ways of the wild meant long sessions at "ferret boot camp" where they were re-taught how to kill prairie dogs --it's one of the film's highlights.
Another great shot: on the lone prairie a prairie dog happens upon a ferret during daylight hours and has the better of the encounter --prairie dogs are bigger and the only way ferrets can kill them is at night --as the prairie dogs sleep in their tunnels the ferret pounces for the kill by strangling them with vicious bites to the neck.
The hero of all this is Livieri who is seen trudging through the night searching for signs of the ferrets he had unleashed the season before --his sighting of three ferret kits is one happy ending to this story. But another tragedy unfolds as one colony of prairie dogs is infected and destroyed by flea-bearing plague.
Vaughan skillfully gets us emotionally involved in this true life story of survival. It took him a year to film the beginning and the outcome and it was surely worth the time and effort.
Nature shows on CBC are fighting a similar struggle just to survive. Return Of The Prairie Bandit is the kind of venture fully justifying CBC's mandate.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Is There Life After Friends?

Never have a bunch of young actors seemed as friendless as the cast of the smash NBC sitcom Friends (1994-2002).
Since the series finally went into permanent rerunland the six actors have been struggling to find new identities for themselves.
And that's hard to do when you've just co-starred in such a monster hit that is now in repeats from morning to night.
Let's see now, the most successful of the gang is actually the least talented. Yes, it's Jennifer Aniston who has starred in a whole rush of romantic movie comedies.
Only occasionally has one of them been a big it --Marley And Me is one example.
More famous for her boyfriends than her acting ability, Aniston has spoken about a long proposed Friends reunion either as a TV special or on the big screen.
The most beautiful surely is Courtney Cox currently starring in the variable TV comedy Cougar Town.
At 47 she's still straining to break free from her Friends role --she played Monica Geller.
After Friends she tried another show, the aptly titled flop comedy Dirt (2007-08) and is mounting a movie comeback in Scream 4. But these days she's making headlines for divorce proceedings against husband David Arquette.
The most talented gal was certainly Lisa Kuydrow, now 48.
Her comedy style is certainly offbeat. On TV she's been in the series The Comeback (2005) as well as last year's Web Therapy. But I thought she was funniest in 1997's Romy And Michele's High School Reunion.
Matt LeBlanc, 44, was the only one of Friends to see his character spun out into the unfunny sitcom Joey which struggled for 46 episodes from 2004 to 2006.
But like Perry he's attempting another comeback --this time it's in the cable series, Showtime's Episodes
David Schwimmer, 45, who played Ross basically got away from it all by jump starting a new career as a TV and movie director.
Which takes us back to Matthew Perry who is making another TV comeback on ABC's new show Mr. Sunshine debuting Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. By the way did you know Perry narrowly beat out *(*(*(*(*( to get the Chandler part in the first place?
Let's not forget the stellar job Perry did on the Aaron Sorkin series Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip which was over written by brilliantly performed by an ensemble cast headed by Perry.
Mr. Sunshine is something else.
I saw it last fall with the other new series and was underwhelmed. Simply stated it just might flourish on a cable weblet where it could have freedom to frown and develop.
Network TV is another matter.
CBS has a new episode of the big hit Criminal Minds at 9, NBC has an easier show to knock off, Minute To Win It.
ABC has hammocked Mr. Sunshine between the super popular Modern Family at 9 and something called Off The Map at 10.
Trouble is there's nothing really sunshiny about this very strange sitcom. Perry is still playing Chandler --with ease.--Chandler 15 years on.
He does PR for a San Diego sports arena, the Sunshine Center. His boss is one Crystal Cohen played with amazing verve by Allison Janney as a pill popping nut case.
Her grown son played with joyful innocence by Nate Torrence doesn't get or deserve respect from anyone.
And Perry's hopeful squeeze is the delightful Andrea Anders from Better Off Ted. But she's attracted to James Lesure from the series Vegas.
Honestly,. I didn't know how to approach this one. Weird? Yes! There are no standard sitcom situations but I found myself laughing out loud on occasion.
If American viewers are ready for something completely different then Mr. Sunshine is just the right ticket.
If not? Then those Friends can continue plotting a TV reunion or two.
MY RATING: ** 1/2.