First, let me tell you what’s great about HBO’s newest policial comedy, The Brink, from brothers Roberto and Kim Benabib and director Jay Roach.

Tim Robbins.

It’s so fantastic seeing Robbins back in action – even if it is for this middling outing. Robbins plays U.S. Secretary of State Walter Larson who attempts to guide the president through a dangerously expanding crisis in Pakistan. Of course, Larson hates his job and is a classic boozy womanizer. In the pilot, he waves away the potentially critical crisis of leaving in a bar a highly classified file containing the names of U.S. covert operatives in Pakistan. His rationale for being the classified document to be secure? The bartender is a good guy, despite the fact that he may be banging Larson’s wife. Also, Larson hates his job and laments going for the Secretary of State position over lesser problematic posts such as Secretary of the Interior.

“This job sucks ass. I should’ve asked for secretary of the interior,” Robbins says. “No one’s going to take you away from a hooker in the middle of the night to save Mount Rushmore.”

Is any of Robbins’ material original? Not in the slightest. Walter Larson is a carbon copy of just about every major Washington politician for the past two or three decades – either incompetant buffoons or greasy sex fiends. But Robbins delivers the character with such glee, such pure joy, that he breathes life into the otherwise dead proceedings. Call him Secretary Frankenstein.

The rest of the show, based on at least the pilot, is a dull affair with too much screen time given to the underwritten role of Alex Talbot (Jack Black), a low-level foreign service officer whose main job is apparently scoring prostitutes and weed. Black’s skills as an actor cannot overcome a role that is so poorly, obviously conceived as to stop the proceedings dead cold whenever he’s on screen. He’s saddled with the role of the insenstive American insulting local culture. His most famous scene from the pilot consists of marveling at his Pakistani driver’s home and beautiful pool, surprised that the home is not a mud hut.

Really???

Even a low-level foreign service officer would have a larger, more cultured world view than this. What makes The Brink truly suffer is the comparison of these scenes to the subtle and brilliant execution of similar traits in Veep. It’s not that Veep‘s characters are any better – they’re not – but they do come across as less obvious in their comedy. Perhaps the character grows beyond the pilot, but you have to at least gain our interest enough to warrant a return visit. A third subplot is a little better only because it features Orange Is the New Black‘s Pablo Schreiber (“Pornstache”) as “Z-Pak,” a prescription-drug dealing naval pilot. And don’t even get me started on the women here – all submissives and hookers and the butt of too many jokes.

I will step onto The Brink once more, but only if they continue to focus on Tim Robbins and highlight his brilliant work. Sure, I’d love to have the character (and the entire show) a tad more original, but his performance will do. If he keeps this up, then he’ll be very hard to beat come Emmy season 2016.

Dr. Lecter will see his last patient on NBC this September.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal will finish out its third, critically acclaimed, 13-episode season on September 3 with a possibility of being shopped to a different network. THR cites other sources as indicating the reason for the cancellation revolved around the introduction of Clarice Starling in a potential fourth season. The rights to the character, played by both Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore, were unavailable to the television production.

While the series has developed a rabid cult following, there is an unmistakable feeling that the series was lucky to have aired as long as it did on NBC. All three seasons of Hannibal featured graphic deaths and other gore that is not frequently seen on network television. Season Two, in particular, spared nothing in its depiction of the famed Mason Verger (Michael Pitt) storyline introduced in Thomas Harris’s source material. Ratings for the third season started promisingly for its summer outing, achieving 2.57 million in its season premiere, but fell to a series low of 1.66 million in its following outing.

“There’s very few people that deserve a second chance and even less that deserve a third.”

This line comes late in the pilot episode of Ballers, which premiered last night on HBO, following True Detective 2’s season premiere. The line pretty much sums up the show, which follows injured and disgraced NFL football players in Miami and their financial woes. It’s a thoughtful concept. A look at America’s fallen, forgotten athletes. But I feel like this show would have been more timely a few years ago when Ben Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods, and other athletes were facing similar controversies as Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), who gets involved a sex scandal that gets him dropped from his original team’s roster. (Even then, South Park pretty much covered that terrain in one succinct and perfect episode.)

A lot of people are comparing Ballers to Entourage, and while the misogyny and “bitches” would concur with this (“These girls was bangin’”), the premise actually has higher stakes. These are athletes who either are out of options or money. Spencer Strassmore (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) has turned his post-NFL career into trying to help these financially-challenged and –managed individuals, and yet, he’s still broke himself.

In one scene, Spencer is on the phone with Vernon (Donovan W. Carter), asking why he didn’t attend the funeral of Rod Slater, a fellow NFL player.

Turns out, Vernon’s in a spot. He needs $300,000, saying it in passing like it’s 20 bucks. Spencer asks why he needs this much when he signed for $12 million out of school.

“You know how it is man,” says Vernon. “You spend the rookie deal.”

78 percent of NFL players end up bankrupt after their career ends, something this show addresses head on. This isn’t just whether or not to do Aquaman. It’s whether or not to be able to survive and find a post-NFL existence.

In the case of Charles Greene (Omar Benson Miller), he has to take a job at a car dealership in order to just do something with his life, since he spends most of his days watching Dr. Oz on the couch. It takes his wife, a doctor, to push him, and of all the relationships on the show, they have the most human one in the pilot episode. Plus, it’s nice to see a Ballers woman doing something besides getting it from behind.

One only wishes that the other relationships had as much depth and honesty as this one. Most of the show feels like a glorified beer commercial. But of course, maybe that’s the point. Maybe there’s still some things fans don’t want to see when it comes to football players.

“Bad life choices, son,” says a random Miami boater to Ricky Jerret, who’s late to meet the Miami Dolphins coach to secure a spot on the team.

“Bad Life Choices” could have been an alternative title to this series. But just like the way some of the players sweep real-life problems under the bench, it’s better just to call it something more glamourous and fleeting.

On this week’s Water Cooler podcast, Joey, Megan, and Clarence talk about the phenomenon of expectations. Sometimes, we are pleasantly surprised by massively lowered expectations, but, more often that not, our great expectations of a piece of entertainment overwhelms the work and causes us to suffer disappointments. We kick off the discussion this week with Lifetime’s A Deadly Adoption which had viewers anticipating a slapstick parody of a Lifetime TV movie, which wasn’t what stars Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig had in mind when they signed up for the film. Next, we’ll dive into our own personal exceeded or underwhelmed personal expectations on various bits of entertainment, including things that we are most excited for this summer. Clearly, we never learn.

Finally, we close out the podcast with a Season Two review of HBO’s True Detective, a series that (based on early reviews) seems destined to be plagued by too-high expectations. Is this fair assessment given we’ve only been exposed to one episode? We take a deeper look into the episode and decide we might need to look again…

3:48 – A Deadly Adoption
17:18 – Great Expectations
49:18 – True Detective Season Two

Confession time: I never watched the first season of HBO’s word-of-mouth hit, True Detective. The first season was a huge sensation, but I simply never caught up with it. Will my perspective be completely skewed since I didn’t see Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson pairing from the original outing? Comparisons are inevitable, but luckily we have an anthology series on our hands, people!

If you like your drama super gritty and grimy and dra-ha-ma-tic, True Detective Season Two will be right up your alley! There is a LOT going on in this first hour, and it’s natural if everyone has a question or two. We meet our four main characters, but they aren’t interacting with each other just yet.

Colin Farrell plays Ray Velcoro, a burned out detective in every sense of the word. Within the first five minutes, we learn that his wife was brutally raped and became pregnant. She had the child, and Ray did the right thing by raising him as his own. Ray’s problem seems to be the bottle (ah, that dependable cop cliché), because this episode also shows us Ray drunkenly pressuring his son to squeal on a schoolyard bully. He goes to the bully’s house and beats his father to a pulp right in front of him. Ray won’t be winning any Father’s Day awards this year.

Vince Vaughn (who has never looked taller!) is quiet as Frank Semyon, a mobster who helped track Ray’s wife’s attacker years back, and Frank wants Ray to find the city manager, Benjamin Casper. The town of Vinci is apparently LA’s roughest and most dangerous borough, and the town is under investigation from a pesky reporter. Ben’s disappearance could mean trouble for Frank and his seedy casino.

The other two primary characters are Paul (Taylor Kitsch), a highway patrolman put on leave after refusing a blowjob from a fleeing starlet, and Ani (Rachel McAdams), a sheriff with a slew of family drama. Paul seems to have a death wish (he speeds around on his motorcycle with the headlights off), but that doesn’t compare to anything Ani is going through. Her sister, Athena, is caught in a webcam sex ring, and it appears that she was raised in some sort of cult by her “wellness leader” father. And you thought your family reunion was awkward…Oh! And her mother committed suicide by walking into a lake.

The four main characters don’t meet until Casper’s body is discovered late one evening at the end of the episode. Will the second season truly kick off now that they are all assembled?

There is a lot to take in here, and it feels like it will require a second viewing just to make sure all the threads are clear. The four actors are drenched in drama. Colin Farrell proves that he’s an underappreciated actor by delivering this with such gusto. He’s gross and seedy in this. It’s kind of the embodiment of a barroom floor in the first episode. Vaughn seems to be holding back, so hopefully we will soon see what he has to offer the show, but the standout is McAdams. She is never allowed to do anything big in her career, and this feels like a step in the right direction. Ani seems more complicated than all the movie wives she’s played in the last five years combined. I’m personally stoked to see where she’s going as the show progresses.

As far as the comparisons go, it seems a bit unfair to judge the first season’s greatness from 55 minutes of a new season. Let’s see where it goes. Let it breathe. But what do I know? I know nothing.

  

Like much of the imagery in Orphan Black, this or any season, you are not always quite sure if what you are seeing is happening now, is a dream, hallucinations, memories. All of the above? Just one of the shows many mind games. In the season three finale, the eye-bandaged Rachel appears to be remembering old times when she was a little girl with her parents. Memories, then, is how I was perceiving this at the time of viewing. And was that the Northern Lights I got a glimpse of? Rachel wakes alone, seemingly having been operated on, and finds she has a new prosthetic eye. We’re not quite sure where she is or why, and her cries of “Where am I? Who’s keeping me here?” means she is in the dark too. So to speak.

When Rachel actually wakes up later in the episode I was scratching my head as I was now doubting if the opening scene was a reality or a dream (though not doubting it now). With Delphine at her bedside scoping Rachel’s nice new nails – wait a minute! That’s not Rachel at all, it is Krystal all bandaged up. She recognizes Delphine from the salon, but is more concerned about why she is in this predicament. Removing the eye patch there are sighs of relief all over the place when we see her eye is still there. Didn’t see that coming, though. Where’s that scheming Dr. Nealon?

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Cosima visits Shay with the largest piece of humble pie, still unwilling to explain the whole clone mystery to her. Surviving the razor blade interrogation / chat with Delphine, Shay feels very downtrodden. Fair enough, but as it goes Shay is so far down the character pecking order, we are forgiven for not caring more than we perhaps should about her feelings. In a no-nonsense kind off place, Cosima now arms herself with a gun in preparation for a meeting with Ferdinand. Unbeknownst to him, Sarah is also here to make a deal, on her terms.

Art, the detective, finds Sarah and Felix a safe house. Well, it is more like a warehouse, but hopefully safe nonetheless. Scott is there too, to do the, you know, science stuff. Siobhan brings her mother Kendall along, not for the ride, but because she wants her in clear sight so she can incinerate her rather than those Castor clots getting hold of her. I’m no genius, but that particular mother-daughter relationship needs a bit of TLC. Cosima soon arrives too, to take some blood, and handles the hostility from Kendall marvelously, almost taming the beast. I guess she has a right to lash out given the weight of Leda and Castor in her blood. I would also like to add that actress Alison Steadman (a former Mike Leigh favorite) is terrific here, chewing up as much of the scenery as she can without breaking sweat.

Elsewhere, it’s Election Day for Alison and co. Not far behind them, with little interest in who wins the school trustee position I suspect, is Rudy. He and Dr. Coady are now clutching at straws, and are way behind the race. And Donnie has found Jesse and his tow truck as a surprise for Helena. It’s a sweet, guilty-pleasure moment, for we want Helena to ride off into the sunset with her cowboy one day. But before Helena can get jiggy with her “boyfriend” she is requested to stall Rudy as he is lured back to Alison’s house. Helena wants a knife fight though, prison style, beginning with her kicking a roll of duct tape right into his face – nice move. Following a brief duel, she pierces his arm with the screwdriver, which is all the more impressive as she did tell him she would do that. He appears to die in front of her, both temperamental souls share childhood memories as he passes. Aww.

What else? Tracking down Mark (and Gracie), Felix surprises himself (and Sarah) when he kicks down the door like a TV detective – reminding us he is still important here. Having found Mark and Gracie, Sarah and Felix take the Castor boy to the warehouse where they trick Dr. Coady to meet them there. AKA he pretends to be a beaten Rudy via video chat. Ferdinand gets to Coady first, shooting the driver, and joining her in the backseat.

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It all comes to blows when Dr. Nealon, for the moment a hostage, tries to kill Delphine. The very weird part here (because people trying to kill each other is commonplace) is Nealon tries to omit a creepy worm from his own mouth into Delphine’s, but she shoots him. Before he dies he tells her she won’t survive a day. Delphine calls Sarah in the nick of time, looks like the Neolutionists were behind this after all. And “they are everywhere” appears to the last words from Ferdinand’s henchman’s mouth following a head-bashing with a baseball bat. Ferdinand implores the gang to move Kendall on, to hide, while he disposes of his former employee.

The finale attempts to end with some reminder that we have managed to muster some closure here. Alison wins the election by the way. When the Leda sestras (as well as Art, Donnie, Felix, Mrs. S et al) all sit around the table for what could well be a roast dinner, you can’t help be touched. It is nice to see them all together, for one, but toasting to Beth Childs and all the sisters united might bring a tear to a few eyes. You know while watching this, though, there may be too much comfort and sentiment for it to end there.

True to the show’s form, Cosima is asked to meet Delphine outside, who effectively says goodbye without actually using those words, and they kiss. Delphine is later shot before she gets in her car by someone she knows. The final sequence has Rachel reunited with her mother Susan, and the Leda child we saw last season, Charlotte, gives Rachel the news she will be her mommy now. Amidst a snowy landscape, Sarah is reunited with Kira.

Loose ends are tied up, and many of our characters know a little bit more about where they stand, and where they are going next. But this is not over yet. It’s a fitting finale to the twists and turns we have had to endure thus far in Orphan Black. This final episode feeds us enough to ease our nerves and settle our hearts, while leaving a few doors ajar, as well as opening a couple of new ones. I am more worried about how I will get through the next nine months before the birth of Season Four.

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There are those names on the television that are pretty hard to forget, or shake off, with regards to potential Emmy nominations in the Lead Drama categories. The same can be said for Comedy. And “potential” might not be the right word either. Names like Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Julianna Margulies, Jon Hamm, Claire Danes,  are household names now – that might be five slots taken already. Recent juggernauts riding a popularity wave include Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Bob Odenkirk, and Kyle Chandler. Is that another five slots filled?

If that is the case, though nothing is set in stone, then with six slots apiece for Drama Actor and Actress, only one more from each can make the nominations list. Are we saying that Ruth Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, and Taylor Schilling can not all possibly be nominated? That Jeff Daniels, Clive Owen, and Dominic West will not share the list in the Actor category?

Go to that corner of your mind, you know the place, it is where you are given the freedom to think “but what if…”. That tiny chance, a window of opportunity, that choices might not go exactly the way we expected. That a Vera Farmiga or a James Spader could sneak into the mix at the last minute. Emmys breed familiar more often than not though, even with the winners. So you may have to dig really deep for that rabbit’s foot or horse shoe. You don’t have to go far though for alternatives to the so-called obvious.

They love the British over in the States don’t they (fans of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys will be hoping they like The Americans too)? I mean, BAFTA winner Olivia Colman would likely make my own personal ballot – Michelle Dockery though, would not. I have also seen Hugh Bonneville’s name a couple of times, but as good as Downton Abbey has been I just don’t think it can keep up here. “Has been” may be the appropriate phrasing there. Will Emmy follow suit? Even fellow Brits Michael Sheen and Andrew Lincoln have little chance at all as I see it.

Step up to the plate then, Gillian Anderson (raised in England) and Jamie Dornan (actually from Northern Ireland) from The Fall. We all know both of those names for very different reasons. Due to the show’s success simmering rather than bubbling over the surface, their names are not so much synonymous with this gritty detective drama. The Fall is close to excellent, one of the very best series I have personally seen in the last twelve months. It’s gripping narrative is lean and to the point, and throws punches without warning. Had it not been for the barrage of quality drama this year, then who knows, maybe The Fall could have peered it’s head further from the ground.

Gillian Anderson’s Superintendent Stella Gibson is a rough-around-the edges but magnetic woman. A good woman, who tries hard to hide her own personal insecurities by projecting herself as a no-nonsense police detective. A damn good detective. Anderson does vulnerable and ruthless extremely well, and knows exactly when to glide between the two here. As well as lugging around her various emotional baggage, she allows her face to do a lot of the work. There are countless examples of this, but one I have touched upon before is when her watery eyes tell us that she is completely focused on her work and the people at risk, but also that she has a heart and is deeply moved by the circumstances of a potential victim. Emmy know Anderson well from her skeptical-of-aliens days, and with The Fall, some twenty years later, her acting and presence on the screen have also clearly, and mercifully, matured.

Jamie Dornan is Paul Spector, the mouse to Gibson’s cat, and a seemingly remorseless tormentor and killer of women. A far cry from that performance he made thousands sit through in Fifty Shades of Gray. I am still not sure if the undeniable contrast between these two very recent roles is a hindrance or a light-shiner. Dornan in The Fall is simply extraordinary, and I mean that as a big fat compliment. You are never going to admire a character like this, who does these awful things, and with method. Even with his role as a husband and father to contend with as an audience member. But you remain glued to this twisted murderer. Dornan makes your stomach curdle at times, but you can’t take your eyes off him (sure, he is handsome I suppose, but that’s not what I meant). Spector is a casual character, his body language and engagements with others would suggest he has no guilt whatsoever for what he has done. Even when in danger of being gunned down by thugs, caught by the police, or sussed out by his family, he remains eerily calm.

Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, then, are two names that should have been in the midst of much more conversations than they have been – and because of The Fall. Two compelling, strong, yet very opposing performances, from terrific actors doing some of their very best work. I will keep my fingers crossed for two such outsiders come Emmy nomination time, likely in the same vain I did for Jenny Slate and Tom Hardy prior to the Oscar nominations.

Oh well, the underdog game is one I enjoy playing.

Awards Daily TV live-tweeted A Deadly Adoption tonight during its east coast premiere (that sounds so important, doesn’t it?). If you missed the fun, then go find it a copy and follow along on our Twitter handle. Joey Moser and Megan McLaclan also joined in the madness.

Also, Bryan Safi is our new favorite supporting actor.

Here are some of the high(low)lights…

 

 

 

 

 Kudos to the PR team behind Jane the Virgin. No idea if it will work, but it’s definitely buzz-worthy. 

 

In this Walking Dead spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead appears to heavily feature people running in terror from unseen foes. Gee, wonder what’s chasing this guy?

All kidding aside, it’s an odd teaser assuming the standard zombie masses used in the parent series will be similarly employed here. Perhaps the zombies are slightly different given their early outbreak stage.

Fear the Walking Dead premieres in August.

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