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New Shows: April 19-25, 2014

This one's for you,
THIS WEEK: Billy Crystal 700 Sundays -- The Real History of Science Fiction -- In My Dreams -- Salem -- Tracy Morgan: Bona Fide -- Faking It -- Nashville: On The Record -- Bad Teacher -- Black Box -- Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp

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

Billy Crystal 700 Sundays (HBO)
Crystal talks for two hours about his family and growing up on Long Island. Intensely personal, I laughed out loud as he described his extended family. When he talked about his father’s death, I found myself sobbing into my coffee. What I loved most about this, however, was that everything he talked about he did with respect and love. I highly recommend this special.

The Real History of Science Fiction (BBC America)
A four part series about science fiction. Each episode will discuss one of what the producers call the four corners of science fiction: alien invasion, time travel, space exploration, and artificial life. This first episode discussed artificial life, robots. It was brilliantly done, discussing how the concepts of robotics and AI has evolved in books and film. If you are a science fiction fan, or even if you are just marginally interested, don’t miss this.

Big Ass Spider! (Syfy)
A Day Late and a Dollar Short (Lifetime)
A Lesson in Romance (Hallmark)
Tobacco Wars (CMT)

In My Dreams (ABC)
I have an unbelievably high tolerance for cheese, especially Hallmark Hall of Fame romantic cheese. This one, however, was too much even for me. Ridiculous script, horrible acting, every cliché you can think of. Too bad. Hallmark usually produces better than this.

Salem (WGN America)
What sunbunny had to say about this show:
It's not for everyone, but I'm a fan of the semi-historical fiction genre. The Tudors. Reign. Salem should be in my wheelhouse. And yet I turned it off halfway through. It was just dreary. WGN seems to feel that all they have to do to be the basic cable Game of Thrones is make everything super dark. Add in some unnecessary nudity and presto. Not quite. It felt bland and the premise was more than a bit offensive. It really didn't help that all the actors looked essentially the same. Things like that drive me crazy. It makes the story harder to follow than it was already. Give it a miss from me.

What I have to say:
I couldn’t agree more. I, too, turned it off before the pilot was over. Give it a miss from both of us.

Tracy Morgan: Bona Fide (Comedy)
A mixed bag. A lot of this was just Morgan swearing and making fun of his family, which got old quickly. He did, however, a section on the use of drugs in baseball that was hilarious. Don’t go out of your way to see this, but it wasn’t horrible.

Filthy Riches (National Geographic)
The Perfect Murder (Investigation Discovery)
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (Hallmark)

Cell Block Psychic (Investigation Discovery)
The Ex and the Why (MTV)
Rewrapped (Food)
Times Up (MTV)

Faking It (MTV)
Two high school girls pretend to be lesbians to increase their social standing in their very progressive Texas school. I found myself thinking a lot about this show after I watched it. On the one hand, I applaud the show’s intention of making an LGBT relationship normal and not something to be mocked.

My issue with the show is that, finally, these girls are not lesbians. One of the girls is struggling to define her sexuality, but the other is straight and uses her popularity to hook up with the cutest boy in high school. In a twist on the norm, the straight kids have to keep their relationship under wraps to maintain the lie.

Legions of kids across America struggle with being honest about who they are. My guess is that very few of them will find coming out as freeing and as popularizing as Karma (seriously) and Amy do. While I applaud the issues the show is addressing, I just wish they could have chosen a better way to do so.

Africa’s Wild Coast (National Geographic Wild)
Bad Teachers (Investigation Discovery)
True Tori (Lifetime)

Nashville: On the Record (ABC)
An hour long special featuring the songs from Nashville. I watched this show into this season, but it became too soapy even for me, so I stopped. I do, however, miss the music and this was a reminder of the talented songwriters and singers who are part of it. I immediately downloaded one of the showcased songs. My guess is that the network is trying to bring people either to the show for the first time or back; its numbers leave it right on the brink of cancellation. In that regard, it failed for me; but, if you like country music, there are some great songs in this hour.

Marooned (Discovery)

Bad Teacher (CBS)
This is the best title in a while. Bad writing, bad acting, bad adaptation of a bad movie. What is the word I am searching for to describe this dud? Oh yeah, bad.

Black Box (ABC)
Grey’s Anatomy with an edge, this show revolves around Catherine Black, a brilliant neuroscientist who is also bipolar. I went into it expecting to hate it. I was surprised by how caught up I became. Kelly Reilly brings a true humanity to the lead and I felt for the character as she struggled to stay on her meds. Some of the supporting characters are stock and the procedural stuff felt a bit like House, but I turned off the pilot wanting to watch more.

Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends (Adult Swim)

Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp (Showtime)
A compelling and heartbreaking account of Robert Beck, the man who wrote books under the pseudonym Iceberg Slim. This documentary does not shy away from the harsh realities of this man’s life, or the lives of those around him. His family is portrayed as a troubled lot; his publisher is slowly revealed to be a horror. I was mesmerized and, as soon as I finished watching this, bought one of his books. This is a documentary worthy of your time.

Relative Insanity (Lifetime)

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.


  1. Yay for kitty picture! The premise of Black Box sounds interesting, but Kelly Reilly's had so much work done, it makes me sad to look at her anymore.

  2. I'm sorry to hear Salem was so bad, since it has Seth Gabel from Fringe. But it sounded so bad that I couldn't even bring myself to give it a try.

    As for Black Box: a friend of mine recently pointed out that there are many shows that feature women with a sort of "tragic superpower" mental disorder: Claire Danes on Homeland and the female police detective on The Bridge are two examples. Root from PoI might be another.

    It's such a bizarre trend, and I wish we could see more examples of super-smart women who are just super-smart without that brilliance being somehow linked to a look-there-is-no-stigma-here-we-swear disorder.

  3. Chris, just about every week there's a show you list which I secretly long for you to review. Last week it was Bermuda Tentacles and this week it was Big Ass Spider!. I've just realised they're both on Syfy - what on Earth is up with that channel?!

  4. Wow, weird coincidence. Here's an article in the New Republic about how "TV Needs to Stop Treating Mental Illness as a Superpower." The article is not written by my aforementioned friend, and I definitely didn't see it before posting my above comment:


  5. About the article-yes..good point. There are also male examples-Steve Zhan's lead role on Mind Games who is supposed to be bi-polar and Eric McCormack's Daniel on Perception who has convenient visions of clues for cases he solves with the FBI. Nothing like real life schizophrenia. The only plus is-and that's debetable-that these characthers get to be heroes rather than perps or victims. But very rarely do they act like real life human beings with mental disorders.

  6. Gavrielle -- your comment made me laugh. I wish I had the time to review every new show. Even if I did, I'm not sure I would be able to get through these ridiculous Syfy movies. The network hit it big with Sharknado and keep trying to recapture that lighting in a jar. What they fail to realize, however, is that people were watching it because it was so, so bad.

    Josie -- that was an interesting article. A fair number of the other reviewers of Black Box compared the show to Homeland, and not in a flattering way. The show is flawed and I agree with the New Republic's argument that the portrayal of Catherine's mental illness can be twee. Yet, there were moments in which we watch her boyfriend, her brother, her sister-in-law, and her niece have to cope which moved me. I will watch another episode or two to see what happens, but I expect to give up quickly. Mind Games lost me during the second episode.

  7. It's a shame to hear that Salem failed to wow. TBH, I didn't hear about it until after it had already premiered. Can't say that I'm super-curious about it but it did caught my eye somewhat.

    I hadn't heard about Black Box until just now. FTR, the premise sounds very unappealing to me. No one I know has watched it/is interested in it. I...might eventually check it out? Though, this new trend of equating people with mental illnesses as being "(tragic) superpowered" (to quote Josie) is not quite pinging me. Especially because a lot of the TPTB behind most of the media tend to go OTT about illnesses that real people have.


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