Two new series and a returning favorite mark an amazing two hour block for the premium cable channel. Sunday, January 9 is the big night and we have a look at all three shows for you.
CALIFORNICATION – “EXILE ON MAIN ST.” Airs at 9:00 PM
Hank Moody (David Duchovny), the king of bad life decisions, returns for a fourth season and proves he’s still not able to get his life together. He seemed to be on the straight and narrow path last year, but in the season finale his dalliance with then 16 year old Mia (Madeline Zima) in the series’ pilot finally came back to haunt him. In the aftermath, Hank ends up getting arrested.
In the season premiere, Hank gets bailed out of jail by his best friend Charlie Runkle (Evan Handler). After Charlie gives the writer three of his favorite things, a smoke, booze and a pair of shades, he tells his friend that Hank is not welcome back home. He insists on facing the music with Karen (Natascha McElhone) and Becca (Madeleine Martin), but Hank is met at the door by Charlie’s ex-wife Marcy (Pamela Adlon) and a furious Karen. Things don’t get much better from there. There’s Hank’s new lawyer Abby (Carla Gugino), who won’t stand for his bullshit. There’s movie Sasha Bingham (Addison Timlin), who is interested in starring in the film version of Hank’s book (reclaimed from Mia), but only if a reluctant Hank writes the screenplay. Oh, and she declares she won’t sleep with Hank. Things actually start to look up for Charlie before Hank’s situation takes a nose-dive at episodes end. And all this happens in the first episodes of the season.
The is a pretty phenomenal season premiere. All the regulars are so good at playing their characters by now and really make their fictional counterparts sparkle, even if they are all kind of at loose ends. There is a particularly poignant conversation between Hank and Charlie where they each admit that Karen and Marcy, respectively, are their true loves. Later, Hank admits that he loves Karen and Becca “so much so that the words themselves become unspeakably lame,” but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with someone new. And that, more than anything, probably speaks to the heart of the show. Hank can love Karen and Becca that much and yet give no more thought to having sex with a stranger than any of us give to breathing. That doesn’t bode well for any sort of happy ending for Hank in the eventual series finale.
EPISODES – “EPISODE ONE” Airs at 9:30 PM
If you’ve ever wondered how a US remake of a British TV series could so horribly astray from the original, then Episodes is the show for you. Actually, even if you’ve never wondered that, Episodes is still the show for you. The brainchild of Friends co-creator David Crane and his The Class partner Jeffrey Klarik, Episodes follows the adventure of successful writing duo Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Grieg) as they translate their successful show Lymans Boys into an American sitcom for Hollywood producer Merc Lapidus (John Pankow). They quickly discover that Hollywood works vastly different than things in the UK Television world as they make an ever increasing nuber of alterations of the show in order to appease a wide-range of people, not the least of which is the star of their show, Matt LeBlanc (playing an over-exaggerated version of himself).
This show has three big things going for it right off the bat. First, while created by a couple of Yanks, it is a British co-production with the production company behind it being based in the UK. This lends the show quite a bit of authentic Britishness in regards to the married couple that created the original fictional show within a show. They aren’t just American versions of a British couple, they are the real deal. Secondly, the entire season is only seven episodes. This sort of format works supremely well for British comedies and perhaps even more so here. The whole story is completely planned out and no joke goes on too long, it’s all just right. This allows the first episode to begin with a scene from episode six before flashing us back to the beginning and taking us through the whole story. Nice touch as things mentioned or happening in the “flashforward” slowly fall into place as we progress through the season.
Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, Matt LeBlanc is absolutely fearless in his portrayal of himself. Far from being the ultimate ego boost, LeBlanc mostly paints himself in very unkind light. He acts the epitome or a celebrity gone wrong, while also never missing an opportunity to take a huge dig at himself, http://popculturezoo.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=7686&action=edit&message=10specifically not being able to escape the shadow of Joey Tribbiani, the character he played for twelve years on Friends and Joey. The fictionalized Matt LeBlanc is shown to be an arrogant womanizer who is desperately looking for another hit show to attach himself to. This alone makes the show worth watching, but when combined with the other elements mentioned, plus Pankow’s stereotypical Hollywood Executive and his assistant Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins), the results are pretty extraordinary. Miss this at your peril, for your sense of humor may never forgive you.
SHAMELESS – “PILOT” Airs at 10:00 PM
Rather ironically, the show following Episodes is an actually US remake of a long running British series, Shameless. I’ve not seen the original so I really can’t give you any comparisons, but it’s quite possible that this is the 21st Century’s All In The Family, in that this show pulls no punches and instead embraces the flaws of it’s characters. You will start out rather appalled at the state of affairs in the Gallagher family, but feel oddly warm and fuzzy by episode’s end. William H. Macy is the drunk, seldom-conscious patriarch of six kids who rely on themselves to survive. Yet they all seem to love their dad in a remarkably sweet way. Each of the kids have their own issues, but at the end of the day they manage to lead their lives in a much more mature fashion than their father.
This show is certainly being billed as a William H. Macy vehicle, but within the a few moments after the voice-over introductory scene, it became pretty clear to me that Emmy Rossum, playing eldest daughter Fiona, steals the show and definitely shines as the star. She is the de facto leader of the clan and gives a truly remarkable performance in the pilot. The other actors playing the kids do a damn fine job as well as they struggle to keep the functional going in their decidedly dysfunctional family. This show is mainly painful to watch sometimes because it is uncompromisingly honest, but it also makes for an amazing hour of television. Sometimes painful, sometimes funny, but all awesome, you will be glad that you stuck all the way through the pilot.