David Bianculli

Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli reviews Legion, a new series inspired by the ‘80s Marvel comic. It comes from Noah Hawley, who adapted the Coen brothers film Fargo into a TV miniseries: 

“Hawley’s TV versions of Fargo are all about character and acting, and plot twists, and deliciously rich visuals. The same is true of Legion — especially about the visuals. Now that I think of it, that’s the third thing you need to know about Legion in advance: You have to watch it. I mean, really watch it. No multi-tasking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a TV series that demands you watch it more attentively — or rewards that effort quite as much.

Images come so fast and furiously, it’s impossible to make sense of them at first. But that’s because Legion, as a TV show, is reflecting and refracting the perspective of its central character, David Haller, whose senses are bombarded the same way, and who feels just as overwhelmed.”

Legion premieres Wednesday, February 8, on FX. 

David Bianculli reviews the new FXX series, “Man Seeking Woman.”

‘Man Seeking Woman’ Examines How It Feels To Be Single, Dating And Rejected

“On the one hand, it’s pretty straightforward: In the opening moments, a young man named Josh, played by Jay Baruchel from Undeclared, is sent packing by his now ex-girlfriend. The rest of the episode, and presumably the series, has him weaving his way through the tricky currents of dating in the 21st century – enduring blind dates, attempting pick-up lines and checking out dating websites and phone apps for potential new acquaintances and experiences.

But on the other hand, Man Seeking Woman is as devoted to examining how it feels to be single and dating and rejected as to what actually occurs. This very unusual new TV series is inspired by The Last Girlfriend on Earth, a collection of darkly comic, and proudly bizarre, short stories by Simon Rich, who’s one of the show’s writers. So while portions of Man Seeking Woman tell a literal narrative, other parts are more impressionistic, even surrealistic.”

Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli weighs in with his first impressions of Trevor Noah’s first night as host of The Daily Show

“[Trevor Noah’s] first show gave viewers plenty of reasons to tune in again tonight, and for days and weeks to come. He’s young, attractive, funny – and not afraid to be honest, even if it unsettles his viewers a bit. And that, more than any other reason, is why I think Trevor Noah should settle in just fine.”

Holy Smokes ‘Batman,’ The '60s Series Is Out On DVD

Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli writes: 

If you’re an impressionable young kid hitting your teens right now, chances are pretty good you’ve been watching and enjoying some Batman — either Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s just-completed

Dark Knight trilogy, or the prequel series, Gotham, now showing on Fox. If you came of age a generation ago, your Batman of choice was likely to have been the big-screen caped crusader played by Michael Keaton or George Clooney. Or maybe even Val Kilmer.

But between 1966 and 1968, long before any of those versions of the DC Comics hero, Batman came to the screen in a much lighter, and brighter, ABC series, starring Adam West. The Dark Knight it wasn’t. This Batman was played for laughs, with its star’s no-nonsense delivery making it all the more tongue-in-cheek.

With its pop-art sensibility, vibrant colors and rogue’s gallery of playful guest stars, Batman was a brief but major hit. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Julie Newmar as Catwoman — these were some of the original villains who made this Batman a TV phenomenon right from the start. That first season, ABC presented two episodes per week in a serialized cliffhanger format — and both installments made that year’s Top 10.

David Bianculli on the new Sundance Channel drama series, Rectify, about an exonerated man who finds himself back in the outside world:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a TV character, at the center of a TV series, who’s anywhere near as passive as Daniel Holden is written and portrayed here. Daniel doesn’t do anything — at least not in these six episodes, which dramatize his first week of release from prison. Instead, he either accepts or refuses invitations, engages in conversations or declines to, as he’s approached by those around him. It’s a gripping performance, but not a showy one.

Image of Aden Young in Rectify via the Sundance Channel

David Bianculli from TV Worth Watching reviews 4 DVD releases of vintage television shows: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes, Dirk Gently, and China Beach: The Complete Series. 

“Funny is funny – and whether TV was made in the Fifties or Eighties or just a few years ago, good is good.”

ps. The bathing suit on the left. Yes. 

image via Time Life

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J.J. Abrams is a master of crack-addiction television. I’m hoping Alcatraz hooks me like LOST… maybe I should lower my expectations a bit? My hopes might be too high.

David Bianculli reviews a new series on Amazon, Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  Tambor plays Mort Pfefferman, the patriarch of a fractured family, who, at 70, decides to transition to be a woman–Maura.  

“Tambor plays this character completely straight — so to speak — without any hint of cheap humor. And it’s Tambor’s commitment to the role that makes Transparent work so well, and so quickly. When Maura, dressed in a wig and a loose-fitting blouse, explains to her support group where she is in her journey to a new sexual identity, there’s no condescension whatsoever. Not from the group — and certainly not from the way Tambor plays her.”

NPR (fresh air) interview w/ David Bianculli

Holy Crikey!. I mean. I just listened to the radio interview of Michael C. Hall, by David Bianculli (much much more than the print article). And this.. this! is maybe my favorite interview EVER!!!!!!! Go listen!!! MY GOD that man is sharp. And intelligent. F******CK!!!! :).

I have been pondering for a while on David Simon’s (The Wire) comments re Dexter, and here we have a reply from MCH on that, and so much more. Awesome interview. Go Bianculli!! (who did a beautiful job interviewing).

TV critic David Bianculli wants to steer you towards the good and the obscure: the Starz miniseries “Dancing on the Edge,” about a 1930s jazz band struggling to make it big in the face of prejudice:

Dancing on the Edge will please TV fans who are eagerly awaiting the next round of Downton Abbey – and music fans as well. This isn’t period music they’re playing and singing in this miniseries – it’s just made to sound that way, written by Adrian Johnston. It’s a beautiful job. The music has to be good enough to make you root for the Louis Lester Jazz Band to make it big –and as the core of this new TV import, it works.  Dancing on the Edge is as much fun to hear as it is to watch.

Indulge your craving for period-piece drama and hear some excellent music while you’re at it. You can read the full review here.

Peter Pan’s Magic Is In The Pixie Dust by David Bianculli

Peter Pan, in America, really took off in the ‘50s. Walt Disney’s full-length animated Peter Pan movie came out in 1953, there was a Broadway musical production in 1954 and the first live telecast of that production aired in 1955 on NBC.

That TV version, like the Broadway show, starred Mary Martin — Larry Hagman’s mother — as Peter Pan. It was such a hit on TV that it was performed all over again the following year, a rare event for television. And then it was performed live once more, four years later, this time in color.

The date was Dec. 8, 1960 — and I know that because my diary entry for Dec. 7, 1960, when I was 7 years old, reads, “Today I am too tickled because tomorrow PETER PAN is on.” And before I went to bed the following night, I wrote what I consider one of my earliest surviving pieces of writing as a TV critic: “Was PETER PAN good today.”

And it was. Back then, NBC referred to its ambitious TV specials as “spectaculars.” And that version of Peter Pan, with Martin suddenly lifted into the air by wires I never noticed, certainly qualified.

By now you’ve probably heard the theme to the Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black. The song was written and performed by Regina Spektor who spoke about writing the theme:

It was mostly … thinking about the idea of what it must be like to be in prison and the different states of mind. One of the things she told me when we had lunch that first time was that it might be really cool to use ideas that obviously come to your mind if you’re thinking of somebody in prison.

If you haven’t already, check out our interview with Regina Spektor

Also, David Bianculli’s review of Orange Is the New Black

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In 1981, NBC presented a new police series called Hill Street Bluesa pivotal show in the history of quality television. It’s just been released on DVD, in its entirety, for the first time – and our TV critic, David Bianculli, says the show was a game changer – 

“Before NBC televised Hill Street, most continuing drama series were presented as stand-alone, interchangeable hours, starring the same characters. Every week, Mannix or Kojak or Baretta would investigate a crime, catch the villains, and wait for next week to do it again. Hill Street borrowed from daytime soap operas, and presented sequential story lines, which carried over from week to week.

There were other innovations, too. Instead of one or two central stars, Hill Street featured a large ensemble cast. Camerawork was often hand-held and frantic, more like a documentary. Dialogue overlapped and sounded natural, as in a Robert Altman movie. Scenes of intense drama sometimes were followed by moments of broad humor. And the crimes themselves, and the solving of them, usually took a back seat to the private lives of the cops, officers and lawyers who populated the show.”

Photo of the Hill Street Blues cast via Fanpix

This isn’t a Halloween trick, just a TV treat: On Halloween night, at 9 p.m. ET, Sundance Channel presents the premiere of an eight-part miniseries that’s unusual and intelligent and interesting enough to deserve notice – even if it is subtitled, slow-moving and very, very subtle in revealing its secrets.

It’s called The Returned, and it’s an eight-part 2012 French miniseries shown on Canal Plus as Les Revenants. Sundance is showing it in prime time, subtitled, and Halloween is the perfect night to unveil it, for reasons I’m reluctant to reveal.

I’m reluctant because this is the type of moody, creepy, cerebral drama that is best enjoyed by those who come to it knowing as little as possible about what they’re about to say. So all I want to do, here, is to steer you in its direction. Every episode of The Returned haunted me long after I saw it – and I expect, and hope, it provides you with the same singular, lasting experience. It premieres Thursday, Oct. 31, at 9 p.m. ET on Sundance Channel.

        –  Fresh Air TV critic, David Bianculli