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June 6, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
USA might want to consider changing its tag line from "Characters Welcome" to "Welcome to Summer. " Beginning with the groundbreaking "Monk," which premiered in July 2002, the NBC/Universal-owned network has staked a successful claim to the months previously synonymous with reruns. During the once slow summer season, they've built a brand that combines wit, sentiment and suspense, and often in beach-friendly locales. The network, known for its "blue sky programming," has six scripted dramas this year - five returning and one new. As it enters its final season, the terrific CIA-centric, Miami-based "Burn Notice" is now followed by the new FBI drama "Graceland," which premieres Thursday.
May 24, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra" was preceded by so much fuss over the casting of Michael Douglas as bedazzled pianist icon Liberace and Matt Damon as the entertainer's young lover Scott Thorson, that you'd have thought the duo did something other than act for a living. Yes, biopics are hard, and Liberace was quite a character. That elfin face and sweet whine of a voice appear so at odds with his carefully controlled career. And certainly not every actor can convincingly rock sequined pants and an ermine cape.
May 23, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
If there were an Emmy for Most Disturbingly Apt Title of Series, NBC's new comedy "Save Me" would win hands down. It just works on so many levels. "Save me" is certainly the phrase that surges to a critic's mind moments into the ludicrous machinations of the pilot. It is easily imagined in thought-bubble form above the head of the show's star, Ann Heche. FOR THE RECORD: "Save Me": A review of the NBC comedy "Save Me" in the May 23 Calendar section misspelled star Anne Heche's first name as Ann. - More important, it is becoming the network's not so subconscious mantra.
May 7, 2013 | By August Brown, Los Angeles Times
This week, you can see a film that buries its main character's motivations in scenes of decadence from the big city. The movie is a tale about class divides, and the mix of resentment and envy between the one-percent and the lesser ninety-nine. There is lots of champagne, and Jay-Z makes a behind-the-scenes cameo lording over the music. And then, after you've wrapped up the frothy and unrevealing "Rihanna 777" documentary, you can walk over to "The Great Gatsby. " "Rihanna 777," which aired in an edited version Monday on Fox, was filmed over a seven-day press junket last fall where the singer chartered a jet to haul a couple hundred people - journalists and contest winners - to club shows in seven countries.
May 1, 2013 | By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Television is an unusually fluid art. Because a TV series exists in time, over time, change and revision are in its blood. It's as if painters went back to work on their paintings after they were hung in museums. Series of films or books based on repeating characters also evolve - Sean Connery, meet Daniel Craig - but their progress is relatively glacial. TV series are fruit flies by comparison, mutating not just from season to season but week to week. The inauspiciously titled "Family Tools," which premieres Wednesday on ABC, is based on a middling British series called "White Van Man. " On the basis of its pilot episode, taken alone, I might have warned you to be out of the house Wednesday night in case you might see it even by accident.
May 1, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
How many films about the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden can the market bear? The answer appears to be three - a bad one, a good one and now, a messy but provocative one. National Geographic Channel's docudrama "Seal Team Six" was first out of the Bin Laden box, although its combo of histrionic drama and sketchy intel made for a better headline than film. Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," on the other hand, provided a master class in how to turn a crowded, complicated, highly emotional series of events into a beautifully constructed, if factually controversial, story.
April 19, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Back when I was young and the world was new and only one kid we knew had a (very small, black-and-white) TV in his room, my cousins, my brother and I used to put on plays in the basement. We were big fans of "Night Stalker," so these were often quite violent plays, involving pentagrams, blood rituals and monsters constructed with whatever we had on hand - my mother's old hula skirt got a lot of use, as did her sheared raccoon coat, a ratty old "That Girl" wig and the fake blood we breathlessly purchased with Our Own Money from the back of comic books.
April 12, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
Like its title character, "Da Vinci's Demons" prefers to flaunt rather than follow, flagrantly borrowing from film, television and video games to create something new, inarguably flawed, possibly revolutionary and certainly fun to watch. For several years, Starz has been flailing around in search of a show that would satisfy the youthful proclivities of its "Spartacus" audience while lending the network a bit more artistic heft. With its "Assassin's Creed" overtones and "Game of Thrones" top notes, "Demons" should satisfy the former, and even a story that too often turns Leonardo da Vinci into a Florentine Sherlock Holmes can't diminish the artistic heft of the original Renaissance man. After a quasi-mystical "Leonardo liked to get stoned" opener, creator David S. Goyer flamboyantly uses "Downton Abbey's" Hugh Bonneville to quickly establish the show's premium cable status: Bonneville's Duke of Milan greets the morn by first urinating, naked and on-camera (when did this become the new hallmark of cable's hard R?
April 4, 2013 | By Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
NBC sent out five episodes of its "Silence of the Lambs" prequel "Hannibal," and although the reasons to stop watching (when in doubt, impale a woman!) too often outweighed the reasons to continue (Hugh Dancy, tracked by a dangerous dream deer), I swallowed my bile and soldiered on. And indeed, Episode 5 proved an epiphany. No spoilers here, but it costars Eddie Izzard, whose natural gift for twinkling malice threw everything into perspective. The problem with "Hannibal" is not the graphic violence or the absurd back-story tweaks - Dancy's Will Graham is no longer just a super-great FBI profiler with a photographic memory, he's a shivering, night-sweating, natural-born empath, whatever the heck that is - or even the fact that it is rather late to a very crowded serial-killer crime scene.
April 3, 2013 | By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
It's a big week on BBC America for fans of "Doctor Who. " Saturday brought the return of the series itself and Wednesday sees David Tennant, its no-longer-employed-there 10th Doctor, starring in the prewar romantic thriller "Spies of Warsaw. " Burn Gorman of the "Who" spinoff "Torchwood" is in it, too, for incidental frisson. Adapted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais from Alan Furst's 2008 novel of nearly the same name, it features Tennant as Jean-Francois Mercier - you can tell he's French by the English accent - a World War I hero and aristocrat diplomatically posted to Poland but engaged in a variety of undercover activities.
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