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New Shows: February 1-7, 2014

This was a big week for television events, so this week’s column differs slightly from the norm. Besides a fair amount of new shows, I have also reviewed three of those events.

The New Shows color code: red means don’t bother; blue means maybe; green means good; magenta means great.

Jay Leno: Mr. Comedy (CNN)
In recognition of Leno leaving The Tonight Show (see below), this was a half hour puff piece about the man and his career. Truly puff -- there was not a single negative comment made which rather skewed how I saw the entire piece. A full on documentary might be interesting; this was simply all right.

The Gabby Douglas Story (Lifetime)

Superbowl (Fox)
One of the few sporting events I watch every year, I was really excited about this year’s game. I was not all that invested in which team won, but I was expecting an even match on the field. Silly me. The Broncos scored for the Seahawks in the first twelve seconds of the game, and the tone was set. Dull match.

Many of us, however, also watch for the half-time extravaganza and the commercials. These, thank goodness, did not disappoint. Bruno Mars, looking and sounding fantastic, took the stage at half-time and rocked out. The Red Hot Chili Peppers joined him and were marvelous. Mars closed the set with a version of “Just the Way You Are” with pyrotechnics galore that brought a tear to my eye. Fantastic.

The commercials were the usual mix of incredibly good and incredibly weird. The worst was a Full House reunion for Dannon Yogurt that was just tacky. Not too far behind was a long spot with Bob Dylan promoting American cars. As I tweeted at the time, I have now lived to see everything there is to see. The two best were both by Budweiser. The Best Buds ad was as good as had been promised; the Hero’s Welcome made me cry.

Of course, you can’t make a great ad without controversy. Coke produced a beautiful America the Beautiful ad that, as soon as it aired, sunbunny tweeted would have the Fox News set up in arms. She was right. Before the game was over, Twitter exploded with both positive and negative reactions. Here are some examples, but beware of your blood pressure as you read the tweets. For a real experience, read the comments at the bottom.

Fish Bowl (National Geographic Wild)
Kitten Bowl (Hallmark)
Puppy Bowl X (Animal Planet)
-- Although I didn’t watch any of the three alterna-bowls, here is a great recap of how they were.

Quality Balls - The David Steinberg Story (Showtime)
Steinberg is one of those comedians of whom I was aware, but whom I thought of more as a director and talk show host than a stand-up. This documentary takes us from his early days at Second City through the directing gigs he has done recently. The clips showed us how very funny this man is and I really enjoyed it. I would have liked to see more of his failures and his challenges; but, if you are interested in comedy, this is worth a watch.

Stem Cell Universe (Science)
A riveting hour on stem cells -- what they are, how they work, and how they are changing the face of medicine on nearly a daily basis. I was fascinated by this show and learned much more on a subject that is highly controversial. If you are even slightly interested in science, medicine, or how our bodies work, don’t miss this.

Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: 50 Years of Beautiful (NBC)

The Amish: Shunned (PBS)
Although American Experience is always a good program, I found this one to be a bit disappointing. Clearing, speaking to (and forget filming) people still in the Amish faith would prove problematic, but this documentary settled for those who have left the church. They were shunned after they had already made the choice. I would have liked to see a bit more about those who choose to remain. Yet, the stories told were interesting and the program made it clear that some Amish communities are becoming resigned to their children leading an English life. Worth a watch, but don’t expect too much.

Hunting Hitler’s Stolen Treasures: The Monuments Men (National Geographic)
Essentially an hour long advertisement for the movie coming out on Friday, this was nonetheless very interesting. I had no idea the extent to which the Nazis had purloined art and how much work went into restoring it. The show didn’t really have time to delve too deeply into the people involved, choosing instead to focus on the pieces that were stolen and where they were recovered. Still, I was certainly not bored watching this. Worth a watch if you are interested in art history.

Backroad Gold (Travel Channel)
Buy This Restaurant (Food Network)
Super Skyscrapers (PBS)

Jay Leno’s Tonight Show Finale (NBC)
It’s been years since I have watched The Tonight Show and tonight, unfortunately, reminded me why. It’s not very funny any more. Granted, tonight was all about tributes and special guests, but the writing was forced and the montages were painful. Billy Crystal, who was Leno’s first guest, was his usual comic self, but even he seemed to be trying too hard.

The last few minutes were moving. Garth Brooks sang “The Dance,” a song that always makes me cry for reasons that have nothing to do with Jay Leno. But then, Leno’s goodbye was heartfelt and his emotions were so evident that, I must admit, I shed a tear or two with him.

Leno said in his closing remarks that it is time for the next generation to take over The Tonight Show. Having recently watched the Fallon special and comparing it to this, I have to agree. Fallon takes over on February 17th.

2014 Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremony (NBC)
Say what you will about Russia politically or socially, our cultural world would be horribly diminished without the contributions of Russian artists. Luckily, the opening ceremony spent a fair amount of time highlighting the music of some of the greatest composers ever. The dance to Swan Lake was one of the most beautiful things I have seen in a long time.

When one tunes in to watch an Olympic opening ceremony, one expects a fair amount of pomp and circumstance. This one had both in abundance; dare I say too much. While I enjoyed much of it, it went on. And, on. And, on. Unfortunately, it did not go on without a hitch. Right at the start, a snowflake that was meant to turn into one of the rings malfunctioned. Oops.

The parade of nations is always fun, not only to get an idea of the sheer number of athletes competing, but for the fashions. While the vast majority of the counties looked gorgeous, let’s just pause for a moment and wonder who gave a nod to those US sweaters. Truly hideous.

The running commentary by NBC was irksome and I am convinced that whoever writes their comments believes that the vast majority of Americans are ignorant of basic geography and basic history. Having said that, here is the lowest common denominator for you. I watched a vast majority of this ceremony at work as I served drinks. One of my customers asked those sitting around him how the people in the parade knew when to stop marching. There was a bit of a pause until another customer asked him what he meant. “You know, during the commercials.” Bless his heart.

Amazon has uploaded ten pilots, all of which you may watch for free even if you do not subscribe to Amazon Prime. Unlike Netflix, Amazon plans to use its viewing data and customer reviews to decide which of these pilots will go to series. Because of the Olympics (I presume), next week has almost no new shows, or at least ones I am going to bother to watch. I will, therefore, post reviews of these pilots next week. Stay tuned.

Dirty Wars
In the second of our Oscar nominated documentaries, this week’s has Jeremy Scahill, an investigative reporter for The Nation, tell us the story of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). This is the secret military group that came into the spotlight briefly for killing Bin Laden. He is not the only one this group has killed. This film is harrowing and scary in that it depicts the JSOC missions as not only being done in the name of national security, but now as a means to an end. Because they are so secret, little things like due process and the right to a trial are thrown away -- even for a sixteen year old American citizen. Watch this and worry.

The Walking Dead and The Talking Dead both return Sunday, February 9 at 9:00 and 10:00 respectively on AMC.
Twisted returns Tuesday, February 11 at 9:00 on ABC Family.
House of Cards will return on Friday, February 14 on Netflix.


  1. Great job as always, Chris.

    I usually catch the Puppy Bowl, but was just too busy this time. I don't think we get Hallmark or I would have made time for the Kitten Bowl. My two cats are wrestling on the floor as I type, so that will have to do.

    Yay for the winter Olympics! I often space out the summer Olympics but I love the skating, skiing and luge.

    The world's fascination with the Amish is beyond me. But then again, I grew up around them.

  2. Not a big fan of the opening ceremonies this year. Some parts were beautiful, but on the whole, I don't know… The projections on the floor were insane. So cool looking.

    Would like to add that I am not part of the Coke ad outrage, I just predicted it. :) I thought it was a sweet commercial.


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