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New Shows: September 1-20, 2014

REVIEWED: Houdini -- The Chair -- Utopia -- A Good Job -- The Roosevelts -- Play It Again, Dick -- The Mysteries of Laura -- Red Band Society

Houdini (History)
Adrien Brody plays “the greatest escape artist of all time” in this four hour miniseries biopic. Details that have long been suspected, such as Houdini spying for the English, are presented as fact and quite a bit of time is spent on his illusions. What really works well is that each illusion and escape is explained in detail. It doesn’t detract from the fact that some of these were quite astonishing to watch. The second half spends far too long on Houdini’s quest to bring down false psychics and mediums. This entire section needed a good editor. My advice is watch the first part for the tricks and skip the second.

The Chair (Starz)
Two first time directors are each given the same script, the same budget, and the same shooting schedule to make the film he or she wants to make. One is an independent filmmaker out of New York; the other is a YouTube star with millions of followers. While they are making their films, they are being filmed for this show. If you are at all interested in the filmmaking process, don’t miss this. It is a fascinating insight into the world of independent filmmaking as well as a director’s process. Two episodes in and I am hooked.

Utopia (Fox)
Someone came up with a brilliant idea. Put fifteen strangers together and have them create their own world. The dramatic possibilities are endless. What Fox did, however, was find fifteen reality show stereotypes, all of whom are mildly crazy. The pilot showed one of these people going completely off the rails resulting in a sexual assault. It was at this point that I turned it off.

America has better taste than we often give it credit for. Numbers fell from the first episode to the second by 55%. My guess is that this “social experiment” will not last the year it was meant to.

A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY (HBO)
Steve Buscemi was a member of the FDNY for four years back in the early ‘80s. In this relatively short documentary, he talks to today’s firefighters about their jobs and their lives. What’s especially moving is listening to these guys talk about the tragedies they have witnessed, most significantly 9/11. Incredibly powerful stuff.

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (PBS)
Nobody does history better than Ken Burns and this is his best to date. Seamlessly moving back and forth among Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor, this documentary shows this family at its best and at its worst. Wonderful interviews with historians and biographers bring these three to life in a way that is mesmerizing. The best of the best, be sure to add this one to your must watch list.

Play It Again, Dick (cwseed.com)
A huge fan of Veronica Mars, I went into this with an open mind. Ten minutes later, my mind slammed shut and I turned it off. It is simply terrible. It is too meta and too desperate. Too bad.

The Mysteries of Laura (NBC)
Is this a procedural drama or a family comedy? Trying to be both, it fails to be either. The mystery is laughable; the family is absurd. The low point is this mother using cough syrup to sedate her two boys who are so out of control it is clear they are in dire need of some serious parenting. Debra Messing is one of the great comic actors, but even she can’t elevate this horror of a show.

Red Band Society (Fox)
Six kids are receiving long term care in an LA hospital. Like The Breakfast Club, they all become friends even though they couldn’t be more different. My biggest problem was that I couldn’t believe these kids were really sick enough to need long term hospital care. The boy with lung problems skateboards, dances, and smokes weed. The nasty girl needs a heart transplant. You get the idea.

The other problem is that the show can’t decide what it wants to be. It veers suddenly, and jarringly, between comic moments and overly sentimental moments. I liked the kids, but what will stop me from watching this is that it makes being terminally ill look like fun. I don’t like that message.

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. I'm so sad that Veronica Mars is getting a substandard coda. I was planning to ignore it anyway, and now I'll feel comfortable doing so. Thanks, Chris.

  2. I'm with Billie, thanks for curating our viewing possibilities and saving me (and I'm sure others) the pain of watching some terrible TV while also making sure that I don't miss the good stuff!

  3. I am so there for The Chair - thanks Chris!


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