David Bianculli

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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.”



BET, 7:30 p.m. ET; 8/15/2012

There are lots of reasons to watch this 1997 TV musical, starring Brandy Norwood in the title role. First, its impressive cast includes the late Whitney Houston (pictured, with Brandy) as the Fairy Godmother. Second, other co-stars include Bernadette Peters, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg and Victor Garber. Third, it’s a new version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written especially for television 40 years earlier, originally starring Julie Andrews in 1957 – the same musical being readied now for a new production on Broadway. And finally, its executive producers include the talented Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, two of the executive producers behind NBC’s Smash.

-David Bianculli

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).

La vitesse est affaire de culture, pas de marché

Leçons du roi de la rupture managériale.
Netflix est spécialisée dans la distribution de programmes télévisés à la demande en flux (streaming) sur Internet. C’est une activité qu’elle révolutionne et, avec elle, la manière dont nous regarderons la télévision à l’avenir (lire… - http://goo.gl/eMGgM5 #Management #Changement #Valeurs #Culture @netflix


Fresh Air TV critic David Bianculli says there’s a talk show we should be watching that’s not broadcast by CBS, NBC or ABC, or even Comedy Central. It’s The Graham Norton Show imported by BBC America and shown on Saturday nights. And though it and the host have been around for years, David says it’s never been better. Matt Damon even said “This is the best time I’ve ever had on a talk show." 

Hear the review:

Why did Damon enjoy himself so much? Well, he got to swap stories with fellow guests Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville while swigging champagne, and even knock an audience member off his chair in a specially rigged ejector seat. One secret ingredient of Norton’s show is that, most of the time, the guests all come out at once, sitting and interacting together the way they used to on the old Merv Griffin Show. The other secret ingredient is that Norton, like Craig Ferguson, isn’t so much interested in what a celebrity is there to plug as almost anything else.

  • Listen

via @nprfreshair:

David Bianculli reviews Sunday’s season premiere of #MadMen (He promises no spoilers!)—

For decades, when broadcast television called the shots and dominated the TV landscape, the biggest event of the year was “the fall season,” when networks would unveil their new shows and return with fresh episodes of old favorites. But now, because of cable and satellite TV, the fall season isn’t the only game in town.

There’s the summer season, which used to be nothing but reruns; now it’s the time when HBO brings back True Blood, and when AMC, in just a few months, is going to present the final episodes of Breaking Bad. There’s the winter season, when we get new episodes of Justified, Girls and House of Lies — and in which we just finished a batch of exciting new Walking Dead episodes.

“ Best of all, there’s AMC’s ‘Mad Men,’ which begins Season 6 on Sunday, delivering all the pleasures that today’s most ambitious drama series can bring.

Now we come to the spring TV season — which, as in nature, is a time to rejoice in the spirit of rebirth. Game of Thrones is back, with its strongest season yet, and so is Doctor Who. And best of all, there’s AMC’s Mad Men, which begins Season 6 on Sunday, delivering all the pleasures that today’s most ambitious drama series can bring.

Way, way back in the 1970s, NBC used to present a rotating series called Novels for Television, and all the networks then were big on miniseries adaptations of popular novels. These days, the best weekly drama series are the novels for television. As with the classic soap-opera form, loyal audience members get to know these characters so intimately that subtleties of plot and personality carry echoes not only of recent episodes, but of earlier seasons.

Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, has established his own narrative rules for his Emmy-winning drama series, the continuing story of advertising executive Don Draper in the 1960s. On Mad Men, the breaks between seasons sometimes take longer than a year — and when the show returns, it doesn’t pick up where it left off.

Instead it leaves a gap, and viewers have to start each season as though they’re the ones who left — they have to catch up. What year is it? What’s the status of Don’s marriage? And what’s going on with all the other people in and around Don’s life?

Those are the very basic questions that, as each season begins, Mad Men is eager to protect. And I’ll honor that, so you can tune in Sunday and figure it out for yourself. But my favorite moment from the two-hour season premiere is one that reveals something only about Don, played so sparingly and perfectly by Jon Hamm.

It’s in a setting so familiar that it could be any year, at any time: Don, with his advertising team, is pitching a new campaign to his clients. Those who have kept up with Mad Men know that this is the place where Don Draper thrives and shines — where he can come up with just the shimmery language and images necessary to seduce his clients, like a snake charmer, into seeing and raving about his vision.

This time, the clients own a luxury hotel in Hawaii, and Don has come up with an ad campaign that doesn’t show the hotel at all — just a set of footprints in the sand, leading into the water and vanishing. Don spins his magic while the clients react, and Don’s colleagues, smarmy Pete and loose-cannon Roger, chime in. But this time, for the first time, Don’s verbal seduction doesn’t have the desired result.

I’m guessing — and this is only a guess — that this will end up being the primary theme of this new season on Mad Men. It’ll be Don Draper losing his touch as the '60s march on. It’ll be Don Draper doing, in the show, what his drawn caricature does in the beginning of every episode as the opening credits play: He goes into free fall, surrounded by all the images of happiness and desire he helped create.


Image courtesy of AMC

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.



FX,10 p.m. ET; 9/11/2012

SEASON PREMIERE: If you’re into televised sex and violence, the Season 5 opener of this drama about an outlaw motorcycle gang starts things off with eye-catching examples of both. It also makes room for some powerful recurring guest stars, including Jimmy Smits and Harold Perrineau in roles quite different than the ones you’re used to seeing them portraying. Katey Sagal stars.

-David Bianculli

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

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

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

“Louis C.K., by writing, acting and directing in this series, is taking on more than just about any TV auteurs this side of South Park. And he keeps doing amazing work, pulling off the most unexpected twists and turns, anchored by his under-appreciated acting ability and his eagerness to go where few comics have gone before.”

David Bianculli reviews The Comedians and the new season of Louie.

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.”


James Corden Hits Late-Night TV With His Own Skill Set And Mindset

On his own talk show, James Corden has borrowed a lot from the Graham Norton play book. Instead of hiding behind a desk, he sits in a chair next to his guests. Instead of bringing them out one at a time, he hosts them all at once – a distinct difference that pays almost instant dividends.

- David Bianculli, Fresh Air TV Critic