THE SURF REPORT Check-In: Highlights, Lowlights & Stuff In Between–12/17/13

Hi everyone. I’m happy to report that my day job at Studio System News has me running around like crazy – and I mean crazy in a good way. Lots more events to attend and more shmoozing than ever. It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it. Thankfully, as Sondheim wrote, “I’m Still Here” – and speaking of Sondheim, be sure to watch the recent HBO documentary SIX BY SONDHEIM in which Sondheim himself talks about six of his songs. I could’ve watched hours more of this documentary and I’m hoping HBO will make this a series of specials as Sondheim is extraordinarily eloquent and articulate when it comes to talking about creating art and his personal experiences doing just that. I thought he was a genius before I saw the docu, what word surpasses genius?

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OK — let’s talk TV – oh how I’ve missed sharing my many thoughts with you. One odd thing about my job is that I don’t get to watch as many shows as I used to watch and I’ve cut down on my Bravo viewing because of my more limited viewing hours. I mean, life is too short for SHAHS OF SUNSET. It’s also tougher to make it through the REAL HOUSEWIVES shows as the fights are so obviously set up and manufactured and rehashed so many times that the shows have lost all sense of spontaneity and fun. I know some viewers tune in for the fights but I’ve grown weary of them. I still find women like Lisa Vanderpump and Nene Leakes engaging, but mostly because they’re fed up with the bulls–t from the other women. Women who should be banished from TV forever: Brandi Glanville – the newest flash in the pan Drunk Girl, Kim Richards – if ever a woman shouldn’t have a camera trained on her, it’s Kim. She needs quality time with her therapist, Kyle Richards – she gives Narcissus a run for the money, Kenya Moore – quite possibly the most hateable woman on TV, her mannish look scares me and in this week’s episode, she revealed she owns both a taser and a regular gun. Shudder.

Here’s what I’ve been watching, thinking and tweeting @thesurfreport about:

HOMELAND – it was an uneven season — and I’m not saying that because Brody was not in all the episodes – I was ok with that. I thought the Carrie pregnancy story fell flat. The season finale did exactly what the show should’ve done about halfway through: hit the reset button and blow the show up so it had to go in a new direction. It was announced that Morena Baccarin and Morgan Saylor would not be returning to the show next season but that was pretty much a no-brainer given the way their storylines went this season – there’s no real role for Brody’s family anymore. I love that they chose to do what they did with Brody. I found myself wishing they’d cultivated more strong female characters because I’m pretty much over teary, edge of losing it, quiver-lipped Carrie Mathison. Don’t get me wrong: I love Claire Danes but I feel like they’ve trapped her into a one-note (three notes, max) character and she’s capable of far more. I still want Saul to be part of the show but again, I’m in the Mamet frame of mind of “things change” so I’ll be ok if he only pops in now and again next season. I’m hoping Quinn (Rupert Friend) takes over as the male lead as he and Danes work well together and they’ve already set up Quinn as someone who calls Carrie on all her erratic behavior.

MASTERS OF SEX - this Showtime drama was far and away my favorite new show of the season. The pilot did not grab a lot of people but if you stuck with it, the show drew you into it’s grasp and didn’t let go. While Michael Sheen delivered a quietly confident performance of Dr. Bill Masters, Lizzy Caplan stole the show as Masters’ secretary-turned-research assistant Virginia Johnson. Caplan’s performance as Johnson is absolutely stellar as Virginia and the good doctor move from having a professional relationship building data about human sexual habits to a much more intimate relationship when they make the decision to participate in their own study. Johnson is a fascinating woman in her own right as she was ahead of her time in many ways: divorced with two children, she was not shy about expressing her desires in the bedroom and as portrayed here, she was artful about using a charm offensive to achieve results at work. As portrayed by Caplan, Johnson was very savvy about social cues and learned to deal with the boys club of doctors at the university where she and Masters did their sex study. I also have to rave about Allison Janney’s turn as the university provost’s wife Margaret (Beau Bridges is also terrific as the provost); a woman who discovers that though her husband loves her very much, his sexual desires lie elsewhere. Janney’s performance is so tender, wounded and heartbreaking, it made you want to hug her every time she was onscreen. The writing of the series is so smart, thoughtful, non-tawdry, and moving. It also reminded me yet again that America is so uptight about sex, yet so uncaring about violence. And that thought led me back to the idea that if everyone got laid more, we’d all be a lot happier as a society. If you didn’t watch MASTERS OF SEX, make the effort to catch up. It’s so worth the time.
Related note: here’s the link to my interviews with Lizzy Caplan and Allison Janney:

SONS OF ANARCHY - I watched this entire season and liked some episodes more than others. The supersizing of episodes was not a good idea because the pacing dragged to a crawl in many episodes and it felt like there was a lot of filler. I love watching the guys hug and call each other “Brutha” but there was a lot of air. Most of all, Gemma’s hot-headedness continues to be her downfall as she keeps attacking people without getting all the facts. I continue to love Jimmy Smits but will Nero Padilla be around much next season as it seems he and Gemma are pretty much through? One of my favorite moments was when Gemma suggested Nero marry her and he said, “I’ve seen what happens to your husbands, momma.” As next season is the show’s final season, I’m already wondering if Jax will kill Gemma or vice versa. Or will they both die in some sort of horrible mother-son flameout death scene? Kurt Sutter’s brain is a dark, dark place so I bet he’ll come up with something even more twisted. If you watch, what did you think of the season?

THE GOOD WIFE – My second favorite show this season and it’s all because of the cast and the writers’ willingness to blow up the show — noticing a pattern yet? The Kings (Robert and Michelle King, the co-creators/showrunners) were not afraid to split Lockhart Gardner up and have Alicia and Cary strike out on their own with a handful of LG’s associates. They also used Peter Florrick very well, as the newly elected Governor of Illinois, his stature became both an asset and a liability to Alicia. Eli Gold’s role was complicated more by Alicia’s new firm and ethics advisor Marilyn (Melissa George). Eli’s take when Marilyn said she would name her baby Peter was classic. I’m also a huge fan of Jason O’Mara and I love that the show has thrown him and his sexy accent into the mix of personalities. I’m just waiting for him to get into a fight. Really looking forward to more new episodes after the holidays.

THE MINDY PROJECT – I’m loving this second season of the show – I think my only problem with it is that there aren’t enough women besides Mindy in the ensemble. There’s an overload of funny, adorable men: Chris Messina, Glenn Howerton, Adam Pally, Ed Weeks, Ike Barinholtz. It’s too much testosterone but I’d hate to 86 any of the guys because they’re all fun to watch. Balance is important and Mindy needs some female energy to work off of. Anna Gunn will guest as another doctor in upcoming episodes. Maybe it’s time for Mindy to make a new female BFF? If you’re not caught up, you can watch episodes on Hulu Plus.

BROOKLYN NINE NINE – One of my favorite new comedies this season, the show quickly found it’s groove and the ensemble works so well, it’s pretty incredible. I was skeptical about Andy Samberg working with Andre Braugher but it really works in B99. Terry Crews continues to make me laugh AND adore him anytime he’s onscreen. Chelsea Peretti’s comic delivery is so good. Stephanie Beatriz has lifted deadpan to new heights and Joe LoTruglio manages to get a laugh with almost every line he’s given. Mike Schur and Dan Goor have done a brilliant job of making the modern-day BARNEY MILLER, a character comedy about people who happen to be cops.
Here’s a link to the SAG Foundation panel I moderated with the cast:

TROPHY WIFE - Malin Akerman proves her star quality over and over – she’s a true team player as this family comedy scores time and again with a lot of sweet moments to boot. Albert Tsai as Bert will charm your socks off. Michaela Watkins is ditzy, funny and very sweet. Marcia Gay Harden brings a smart archness to her character and Bradley Whitford grounds the whole thing. The show is not going to change the face of comedy as we know it but it’s a lot of fun.

THE GOLDBERGS - Continuing in the fun vein, Adam F. Goldberg’s show about his own family is a consistent winner for humor, heart and ’80s flashbacks. Jeff Garlin and Wendi McClendon-Covey are superb as the parents and all the kids are solid too. McClendon-Covey as Beverly is especially wonderful as she alternates between smothering her kids with affection, annoying the crap out of them, and just being overbearing. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of my own family but The Goldbergs have found a place in my heart and my DVR.

THE CRAZY ONES – This will no doubt make me sound like a dinosaur but one of the things I love most about this show is that they talk openly about the subject of age and how Robin Williams’ Simon is not the youthful wunderkind he used to be. His age is alternately seen as both an advantage (experience and wisdom) and a demerit (out of touch with the times.) Williams’ brand of manic energy is a little different now that he’s older but it works in the space of the show and his favorite-son/bromance-y relationship with James Wolk’s Zach is a strong point. Hamish Linklater is also wonderful as Andrew, the nerdier and brainier guy of the group. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Sydney still seems stiff and ill at ease but they’ve made it part of her character so I’m more ok with it now than I was at the start of the season. Some of the shtick bits run on too long but for the most part, the show is pretty smart and likable.

MOM – I haven’t seen every episode and I still wince when Anna Faris is given crude jokes to say but her scenes with Allison Janney make the show watchable. What I like about the concept of the show: how long can you blame your mom for your problems? When do you have to just stop doing that and move forward? I’m not sure how well the show is answering that question but I like seeing Faris and Janney together.

SNL – I’ll miss Seth Meyers on Update but I think Cecily Strong is growing into the job nicely. I love Bobby Moynihan as Drunk Uncle more than I should. Kate McKinnon is THE next breakout star and I want Paul Feig to direct her in a comedy feature ASAP. The digital shorts have been very good this season and though the show is called Saturday Night LIVE, I’m ok with this as every show needs some kind of component that keeps it alive in the zeitgeist between new episodes. I’m still getting used to the new guys but I already loved Beck Bennett from the AT&T commercials. Quick reminder: this Saturday 12/21, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake return to co-host the show which means the funny quotient will grow exponentially.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE – Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Valentin Narcisse – wow. And wow again. Wright always makes an impression in any role he takes on and he was especially effective as Dr. Narcisse. I loved his scenes with Nucky and Chalky (the now departed Chalky.) I also liked Patricia Arquette as Nucky’s new friend. The show doesn’t grab me the way it used to but I watched this season because it’s like floating in another era and I love shows that make me feel that way.

AHS COVEN – Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Frances Conroy. These powerful women were the reason I watched this season. Though I still needed to close my eyes during the gory moments, these women OWNED the screen and what a pleasure it was to see. I still have the last two or three episodes to watch so I haven’t seen the Stevie Nicks bit yet or seen if Kyle the Frankenstein Boy (as I like to call him) is still around.

PSYCH THE MUSICAL - This just aired this past Sunday 12/15 and Steve Franks and Adam Cohen did a fantastic job adding original songs to the movie-length episode. Franks loves movie musicals and it shows. James Roday, Dule Hill, Kristen Nelson, Maggie Lawson and Tim Omundson all rose the occasion and sang their hearts out and looked like they were having a lot of fun while doing it. I also loved Barry Bostwick’s appearance, if only for the Rocky Horror flashback.
Here’s the link to my interview with Steve Franks:

Still watching WHITE COLLAR but I feel like they have their formula down so well that they need to change things up to keep viewers interested. I’m still nuts for Tim DeKay, Matt Bomer and Willie Garson (Mozzie) but I think it’s time for Peter Burke to change sides and join Neal and Moz in a life of crime, at least for awhile.
I’m missing SUITS and looking forward to new episodes in March.

I’m still making my way through ORPHAN BLACK and THE RETURNED. I finished RECTIFY and while I wasn’t as blown away as many critics, I plan to watch the second season when it returns. I also liked TOP OF THE LAKE and thought Elisabeth Moss deserved all the praise heaped upon her for that role. If you don’t already have IFC and Sundance Channel in your cable or DirecTV package, be sure to add those channels as they’re producing more and more original programming that’s worth checking out.

WEBSERIES: I like THE AWESOMES on Hulu a lot, probably because of my love jones for Seth Meyers and Ike Barinholtz. I’m loving THE FALL, the Danish murder mystery starring Gillian Anderson, on Netflix. I’m slowly watching LILYHAMMER with Steven Van Zandt as a mobster living a new life under a new name in Norway – also on Netflix. I’m watching the new Amazon Studios series ALPHA HOUSE and BETAS – I’ve only seen a couple episodes of each so I’ll reserve judgment until I watch more. I love the AOL On Originals – there are a lot of different ones – check them out here:

WINTER TV – here’s a quick rundown of what’s coming up in 2014:
CHICAGO P.D. – NBC – 1/8
ARCHER – FX – 1/13
LOOKING – HBO – 1/19
RAKE – FOX – 1/23

OK, I’ve gone on too long. Tell me what you’re watching and loving or hating.Thanks for reading. I will try to blog more in the new year as I love talking to you and sounding off about shows. Even if I’m not sending emails all the time, you can email me or tweet me @thesurfreport. I’m still here…

Wishing everyone a happy, safe, healthy holiday and a new year filled with peace, laughter and lots of great TV.

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