These eight days, that included Memorial Day Weekend, seem to be the kickoff for summer. My DVR fills up almost nightly with new shows to review. This time through, some of them were actually watchable. For clarity, I have listed the new shows in the order they originally aired. As a reminder, red means stop, blue (yellow being too difficult to read in my world) means proceed with caution, green means go.
The Ghost Army (PBS)
The 603rd was an Army division during the Second World War whose only goal was to deceive the Germans about what the Allies were truly up to. Filled with artists and other creative types, these guys travelled the length of Europe building fake tanks, recording fake troop movements and sending out fake radio broadcasts. It worked and they are now credited with saving thousands of lives. This documentary tells their story, using interviews with members of the 603rd and showing many of the sketches that they did during the tour. A fascinating account of a part of the war that was Top Secret until recently. It is well worth an hour of your time.
Save Me (NBC)
Beth Harper (Anne Heche, who is sadly miscast) nearly chokes to death and wakes up being able to speak to God. Turns out she is a pretty awful person. Her husband is ready to leave and her daughter wants nothing to do with her. In the pilot (!), husband comes back because Beth “smites” girlfriend with some help from above and daughter finds new respect for her mom. This is one of those shows that doesn’t know what it wants to be and, therefore, fails to be anything. I didn’t like it at all.
Does Someone Have to Go? (Fox)
A small business based outside of Chicago is abandoned by the owners and turned over to the employees for forty-eight hours. Fine, except that they must decide which of their number will lose his or her job. In this economy, the fact that someone is losing a job in the name of entertainment I find appalling. What was so awful is that this particular company is a hive of nepotism and the employees used this opportunity to try to fire the owner’s mother. As you can imagine, this did not go down well with said owner. A two hour show, I struggled through the first and then had to stop. I can’t tell you who lost the job; I hope you will never know either.
Two Hollywood mentor/coaches travel around to small towns staging talent shows with the local residents. An amateur version of America’s Got Talent, there is something oddly sweet about this show. The one I watched took place in Holland, Michigan and the talent was varied, to put it politely. The town, however, came out to support its residents and the winner was the one who should have won. I won’t keep watching this, but it was an entertaining enough hour.
Sanjay and Craig (Nickelodeon)
The latest animated series created by a group of guys who credit Nickelodeon for their sense of humor. Twelve year old Sanjay and his pet snake Craig have adventures that are meant to make us laugh. In the pilot, they sneak into the hospital where Sanjay’s mother works to see a butt transplant. Other critics have praised this show for its intelligence. To each his own. I thought it was the worst kind of pre-adolescent humor. If you like cartoons and like shows geared towards kids, you may agree with the other critics. I gave it all of five minutes before I couldn’t take it any more.
Marvel Avengers Assemble (Disney XD)
OK, it’s time to come clean. So many people on this site are excited about S.H.I.E.L.D., but I have yet to catch the bug. I will, of course, watch the pilot (I must, for this column), but will be very surprised if I keep watching beyond that. I watched the first fifteen minutes of this version and gave up. The writers assume that the viewer has a working knowledge of the backstory of everyone involved, which I do not. As a result, I was lost and bored and turned it off fifteen minutes in. For those of you who are fans, give it a watch and let me know.
Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
Similarly to Julianne Moore sweeping every possible award last season for her turn as Sarah Palin, I expect Michael Douglas will do the same this year for his portrayal of Liberace. A truly astonishing performance, it was easy to believe I was watching the man himself. Less brilliant, but still very good, is Matt Damon who plays Scott Thorson, Liberace’s lover for five years. But, for a film directed by Stephen Soderbergh, I expected more. The acting is magnificent and there are many other faces you will recognize, but the story never kicked off for me. The film couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a true love story or a story about the loss of innocence. It did neither, and I found myself drifting off. Too bad. With this talent pool, it should have been the best of the best.
Rock My RV (Travel)
Bret Michaels rebuilds RVs, making them “cooler” and “sexier.” Think Pimp My Ride on a larger scale. If you like watching shows about cars being rebuilt, this one isn’t too bad.
Hit the Floor (VH1)
A drama series about the dance squad for a Los Angeles basketball team. The producers made a mistake with this one. They hired girls who can really dance, but who can’t act at all. If this were truly a dance show, that would be fine. It is, however, a soap filled with such cliche characters and plot lines that I saw the “twist” at the end of the pilot coming about five minutes into the show. Don’t bother.
Ring of Fire (Lifetime)
A biographical movie of June Carter Cash, played by Jewel. This is not Walk the Line as it is based more on the life of June than it is Johnny and it has been whitewashed to within an inch of its life. What saves this movie from being absurd is Jewel’s singing of the classic songs you may not even know you know. I loved the music; I was disappointed in the lackluster story.
Bakery Boss (TLC)
Buddy Valastro, who owns a wildly successful bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, travels around to small town America to help struggling Main Street bakeries. What elevated this show from the usual reality nonsense was that Buddy is interested in getting the owners to face up to why their bakeries are struggling in the first place. In the pilot, it was very much a generational thing. By getting the family to actually talk to each other, great things began to happen. I won’t watch another episode, but this wasn’t as bad as I expected when I hit “Play” on my DVR.
The Haves and the Have Nots (OWN)
This is a daytime soap masquerading as a nighttime drama. The “Haves” are the Cryer family. Daddy is a judge who pays for sex; Mommy is a high maintenance housewife; Son is in his third stint in rehab; Daughter is the perfect child who has just become roommates with Daddy’s latest mistress. The “Have Nots” are the staff who work for the family. The pilot is about new mistress finding out who Daddy is and beginning to blackmail him. In a word, this show is unwatchable.
Family S.O.S. with Jo Frost (TLC)
The English nanny goes into families in crisis to help them address their issues. And, boy howdy, did the family in the pilot have issues. Parents who are so angry with each other that they are taking it out on the kids and kids who are, understandably, hurt and acting out. Unfortunately, addiction runs through this family as well and is rearing its head in one of the young daughters. What Frost does well is inject some common sense, but many of the themes addressed are highly personal and uncomfortable to watch. Too personal for me to watch on a continual basis.
Brooklyn DA (CBS)
A reality series that follows cases being pursued by prosecutors in the Brooklyn DA’s office. I found it very interesting as, unlike scripted shows, real life is not always pretty and the good guys do not always win. In the pilot, a young prosecutor who has been prepping a sex trafficking case for two years, has to dismiss because her witness lied on the stand. Watching her disappointment and disillusionment was moving and I am intrigued to see where the other stories being told are going.
Never Do This at Home (Spike)
This show starts with the following warning: “The scenes depicted in the following program are really, really, really dangerous. All of the experiments were designed and performed by highly trained professionals… and our hosts. They should never, ever be attempted by viewers at home.” No kidding. The first two “experiments” are throwing an aerosol can into a barbecue and setting off fireworks indoors. Seriously? That was all I needed to see.