esoTarik #11: Black Women are Killing it


2014 is the year of the Black woman. In the latest episode of esoTarik, Tarik Davis discusses the addition of Sasheer Zamata to the SNL cast as well as writers LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones.

But that’s not all. While SNL may be getting all of the media attention, black woman have been rising up in entertainment, from late night talk to liberating anthems.

Eso-Tarik Episode #2: I see you Kanye and Donald Glover


In Episode #2 of Eso-Tarik, Tarik shares his empathy towards Donald Glover (Community) and Kanye West, who have both expressed emotional heartache to the public.

He explores the trials actors and entertainers go through in fitting into the mold the broad entertainment community tries to force people of color into.

Finally, Tarik lets loose his frustration with regard to Kenan Thompson’s statement on woman of color and SNL casting.

Watch Eso-Tarik Episode #1: The Problem with Agents of Shield and Race

NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’ – If It Tastes Like Chicken…

The first day of a new job can be a memorable moment in one’s life for some and an insignificant, ordinary day for another. On the pilot episode of NBC’s new profiling FBI procedural, The Blacklist, it’s hard to tell whether the first day of Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) is either memorable or just another day.

She’s late for her first day at the FBI in the counter-terrorism department when helicopters and black SUVs swarm her residence. If only the FBI were that diligent in keeping their tardy employees in order. Elizabeth’s been named by a mastermind criminal, Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington (James Spader), as the only agent he’ll speak to with the information to catch another person of interest, possible terrorist Ranko Zamani (Jamie Jackson). But before she can find out what intelligence Reddington has on a kidnapping, he creeps her out by knowing secret details of her life, including having a father who was a criminal and knowing her mother died, dealing with some deep issues. Coming from a stranger, that kind of reveal is always comforting.

Yes, it’s another fully loaded FBI procedural that is NBC’s answer to gluttony of shows centered around the Bureau. CBS has Person of Interest, USA has White Collar and Covert Affairs, there was 24 on Fox and now there is The Following. I’m sure I’m forgetting a dozen or two. It’s the latter show that it’s nearly impossible not to compare The Blacklist to, minus the fetish to see people murdered every episode of course.

Spader’s Reddington is a well-manicured know-it-all who has some master plan, and network of international villains that the FBI would like to get their hands on. Reddington can lead them to these people, as long as he can do it through one Agent Keen. She, along with the other agents are at the mercy of Reddington, his list of reasonable demands and he seems to have super human abilities, like being able to repel out of a hospital high rise without anyone knowing, and surviving a pen-stabbing in the neck.

Seriously. He does.

The pilot episode was directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) and it has a cinematic quality. It moves at the speed of an intense Luc Besson-produced film and truth be told, it is entertaining much in the same way Covert Affairs is, minus the catchy theme song. There is plenty of choreographed violence, Silence of the Lambs-like riddle solving and dire situations that you’re waiting for Taken’s Bryan Mills to swoop in on and kick some tail.

But we don’t have the benefit of Liam Neeson. We have James Spader and TV fresh face Megan Boone to carry us through each episode. Spader manages to always add that cerebral element to whatever show he’s in and so he’s believable as a crime syndicate puppet master, while the relatively unknown Boone is not only easy on the eyes, her character has her own set of secrets that piques a viewer’s interest.

What criminal activity was her father up to, and how was it hidden from FBI records? How did her mother die? How does Reddington know so much about her? Elizabeth is honest and upfront with her new powerless boss, Sr. Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) that she is trying to fool herself thinking that adopting a child will allow her to heal from all of the psychological damage of her own parentless-childhood. But by the end of the episode, another set of questions get added to the fold, as the identity of her husband is put into question, and somehow Reddington knew it all along, because he’s the Oracle, too.

There’s a lot being thrown at the audience and one has to wonder if they can keep every episode cocked and loaded with this much ammunition. The Following fizzled out quickly when there was little redeeming quality to all of the senseless killing. The Blacklist is hoping all of the mystery in connecting Keen with Reddington will be a big enough of a dangling carrot to string the audience along. The other reason to come back is to watch TV’s latest odd couple check off a laundry list of terrorists and criminal deviants while kowtowing to the biggest villain of them all, Reddington. How long can Spader being bad carry a series?  How long can we stomach a rookie and a criminal run the counter-terrorist division of the FBI before it gets too illogical for the logical viewer?

If you like your procedurals that are filled with FBI agents who simultaneously look both foolish and brilliant, while the bad guy unbelievably trumps everyone in the story, then The Blacklist might be for you. This new series has its share of eye roll-inducing scenes, mixed with plenty of moments to tickle your need for joyful, casual entertainment. Consider The Blacklist the latest in what appears to be a new sub-genre of FBI agents and maniacal masterminds working together, spinning out of the relationship of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. Let’s just hope it can be a unique enough recipe to keep us coming back.

Evolving and Overachieving with The Way Way Back’s Jim Rash and Nat Faxon

In the opening scene of the  The Way, Way Back, Jim Rash and Nat Faxon’s (the Oscar-winning screenwriters of The Descendants) dynamite coming-of-age film, Duncan (Liam James, The Killing) is asked by his mother’s boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) to rate himself on a scale of 1-10 on their way to a beach house. Strucken by the question, Trent steps in and rates the 14-year old boy a ‘3’ and demoralizes him. It’s a humiliating confrontation but it is effective in immediately rooting the audience to Duncan’s much-needed journey out of his shell.

duncan

The title refers to the far back seat in old station wagons, the one that seats the passenger so that they look out to oncoming drivers and it’s while sitting there, listening to Trent’s idea of tough love, when Duncan comes face-to-face with his own private hell: he must spend his summer vacation with his newly divorced mother (Toni Collette) and her jerk of a boyfriend while his daughter (Zoe Levin) makes him feel more socially awkward than he already is. Trent’s invasive neighbor, Betty (Allison Janney) accelerates the need to escape, and so Duncan ditches them to wander the resort town by himself and that’s where he meets and eventually befriends Owen (Sam Rockwell) who is the manager of the local Water Wizz water park.

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, but recently, few have been as special as The Way, Way Back. It’s full of vivid characters, fully-realized people that audiences can endear to, dialogue that sounds natural and situations that are universal. There are several reasons why this film works so well because Rash and Faxon made it so distinctive. That tragically sad opening, was a real experience shared by Rash.

“It comes from a personal place,” Rash told BuzzFocus. “The very first scene of the movie is the exact same experience I had, being in a car and having my stepfather ask me what I thought I was on a scale of 1-10.”

EDITOR’S PICK: Read our review of The Way, Way Back

Rash went on to explain that for both he and Faxon shared the connection to the east coast summer vacation. “That destination stayed the same and year after year we would regroup with the same people who have evolved each year. We can always connect to it. Coming of age films do have that timelessness to it because we all did have a rite of passage, but for us it’s always been about character. The nuances and differences within the characters makes any story, coming of age or whatever unique.”

Some coming of age stories, like fellow indie gem The Kings of Summer, the challenge for some youths to come into their own is affected by their parents. While Collette’s Pam has her own issues, this story pushes Duncan into uncomfortable spaces and with the help of others who are more wiser, he is able to push through those barriers and mature before our eyes. He does so without his mother’s guidance but it’s clear that the bond is still there, there’s just someone else in the way.

“They’re both having a rite of passage,” Rash explained. “They’re both fish out of water. We do have a context of what Pam’s and what Duncan are going through, but  the point of view is pretty much Duncan’s observation of his mother’s behavior, of Trent’s behavior, and in order for them to find their way back to each other, we follow Duncan from scene-to-scene in every page, but the most important aspect of a true ensemble is that all of these characters connected via Duncan. These lives are impacting him and he’s impacting them in either minor or major ways. While the water park is our B story and the family is the A story, he’s the thread for both of those.”

Faxon said that both stories had their high points, though the water park in particular was a challenge as it was unpredictably loud and hot, “We didn’t have the budget to shut it down and control the environment. So we were facing obstacles like background or sound we couldn’t control. A lot of the scenes we were shooting there were the light and fun moments so it almost felt okay when you encountered those issues.”

“Both were very different and rewarding for different reasons. Shooting at the water park was an experience, certainly [Laughing]. The house had more of the intimate moments and dramatic scenes. Both places we had such talented actors performing and no matter where we were shooting, we were getting lost in the ability of our cast.”

confrontation

Water Wizz is where The Way, Way Back starts to become a full story. Amidst all the doom and gloom, who couldn’t have fun at a water park? It’s the vacation away from the vacation, Duncan’s desperate prison break and is enabled when he finds a (girl’s) bike in the garage and sets off looking for something to salvage his situation. The alternative choice is to stick it out for his mother and follow Trent’s overbearing rules. After that opening scene, who cares about a bright pink bike and a banana seat? Besides, mom is having fun.

“No matter what that bike is, he wants to get out of there,” Rash explains. “It is the beginning of the journey because it is taking him to what will be his Oz, which is the water park. The chariot is leading him to something unique and different. Also at that moment he’s also written off his mom. He kicked and screamed and now he’s leaving the house, even though Trent was in his brain saying, get out!”

Duncan’s afternoon ride lands him at Water Wizz and for the first time in the film, someone who shows some care and interest in him. The film suddenly turns into a modern day version of Meatballs as Rockwell doing his own version of Bill Murray. But Owen isn’t the only help for Duncan. Betty is no doubt a beautiful hot mess, but her daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb) is old enough to know better and ignore her mother. She serves as something more than a love interest for Duncan. She’s been through a divorce much longer than Duncan and we can see that she’s learned much earlier than most that her own individual tastes and interests driver her, not those of her friends. There’s a confidence about her and willingness on her part to be patient with Duncan.

“She shares a connection with Duncan,” Faxon said. “They are going through similar experiences in terms of their parents splitting up and obviously there’s baggage that comes with that, probably worry from their parents about losing their kid to the other spouse or whatever certain alliances are there. Susanna is wise beyond her years as a result of all of those experiences.”

“Finding her own individuality and those moments are helping her shape who she is becoming and wants to impart some of that wisdom onto Duncan with a wonderful analogy about Ghost Crabs. This is a spring break for adults kind of place. She’s obviously a very instrumental person for Duncan and his journey and I feel she’s offering him a quite a bit in terms of guidance and allegiance.”

JimRashNatFaxonFinal

It took nearly eight years to bring the film to the big screen, after it had come close to going into production a handful of times, only to have something trip it up. Yet despite all the time it sat on the shelf, it remained largely unchanged once it got traction again after the actors (most recently Rash on Community, Faxon on Ben and Kate) got notoriety as writers with The Descendants. When it looked like there would be interest again in The Way, Way Back, Rash and Faxon had the opportunity to direct for the first time and they successfully did that together too, except for the rare occasion when they were in front of the camera at the same time, playing two of Owen’s Water Wizz employees. The new venture gave the pair a new appreciation for the collaborative process of filmmaking, especially in a low budget film.

“As being actors and writers before being directors, you have an understanding,” Faxon said. “But I don’t think you have fully have an appreciation for every single component that goes into it. Every single stage there are so many crucial elements that you overlook or take advantage as an actor. You do your thing and you just see the finished product, but you don’t necessarily see the sound department pulling dialogue or fading it in a sound design fashion that enhances the movie in a such a way that creates another layer that you hadn’t thought of. So there’s a new appreciation to every single piece of making a movie, from the  pre-production to production and post-production.”

“There’s nothing more powerful than watching when it gets tough on set and watching your crew rise to that occasion,” Rash shared. “You absolutely realize that we’re making a small movie here. We’re all working long hours for not a lot and it’s just for the passion of making a movie. That’s a lesson you can get reminded of over and over again. At times you think this is frustrating and then you realize what it takes to push past that frustration and make a movie.”

When asked if they were going to continue creating these small-scaled, personal stories, Rash said that it doesn’t necessarily have to come from them directly or be so true that it’s ripped from the headlines of the news. With adapting The Descendants, they shared a fondness for Kaui Hart Hemming’s writing, they felt connected to the story, appreciated and understood who Matt King was. Regardless of whatever the story may be, if they’re both passionate about a project, then they’re going to let that lead the way.

Now it’s not rare that one person act, write, and direct, but to show great skill in all arenas is something that is unique and to decide where to lean towards could be a challenge moving forward. Faxon believes as long as they’re constantly evolving, never getting too complacent with any one aspect of the industry, they’ll be happy. Rash thinks they can do it all.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be matched up at all times. It’s always been important to us. We started as actors and we want to continue that. We became writers and became writing partners and we want to continue that. As for directing, this was our first foray so hopefully we’ll continue [Laughs] – it’s all about evolution and get better in each one of those things and learn more from other people–

“And become action stars,” Faxon interrupted. “Probably all of that and become action stars.” [Laughs] Rash summed it up, “Action star is I guess the highest you can go.”

Take note kids, all of this from someone who was rated a three.

The Way, Way Back opens wide this weekend at a theater near you.

Katharine McPhee goes from Starlet to ‘Depravity’

Truth be told, I enjoyed NBC’s short-lived series Smash. Perhaps not the second season, save for a few great songs from Jennifer Hudson, but the first season touched on the unsung world of Broadway and off-Broadway theater.

Now that series Katharine McPhee is back on the casting blocks, she’s looking to shake the good girl, Sandra Bullock image and do something a little more dicey. In Smash, McPhee played the small town girl who tries to make it big through a theatre staging of Marilyn Monroe.

McPhee is attached to Paul Tamasy’s new thriller, Depravity, which was scribed by Dennis Lehane.
Depravity centers on “a group of roommates accidentally kill an innocent man they thought was a thrill killer.”

If you’re looking to make the jump from TV to Film, or remind Hollywood that you used to do features, thrillers are always a great way to go. The shooting schedules aren’t as demanding as TV. Also small screen actors can usually nab themselves a lead role since thrillers are often looking for “star” talent at a fraction of the cost.

Kiefer Sutherland did Mirrors during his 24 era, while Michael C. Hall did Gamer during Dexter‘s heyday. While both actors had bigger names than McPhee, doing those films kept their names floating around the feature film circle – a good thing when TV shows run out of steam.

[Source: Deadline]

Revolution Mid-Season Premiere: Can More Elizabeth Mitchell Bring Salvation?

revolution diner

Revolution, NBC’s latest attempt at appeasing (or is it teasing?) the science fiction crowd, is back on the air; did you miss it? Yeah, me neither. But they promised so much for Revolution’s next 10 episodes, like getting Danny Matheson (Graham Rogers) AND his mother Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) back together with Charlie (Tracy Spiradakos) and their warlock uncle (Billy Burke). We’ll find out why the power was turned off, who was behind it, oh and in the present day, the power gets turned on whenever it’s convenient. Network sci-fi is all about providing the audience with questions and stringing them along for those answers, oh those elusive answers… it worked for Lost, right? Seriously, how many times has that been said in studio meetings since 2004?

“The Stand” picked up right where Revolution left off in November with a newly juiced helicopter about to shred the reunited Matheson family. After 15 years of collecting dust, anyone else find it amazing how fast Bass Monroe (David Lyons) suddenly has a fleet of helicopter pilots? Despite having a rotary gun, and a guy armed with automatic rifle, the air crew was rusty at one thing, hitting moving targets in the open field. But they did manage to incinerate a diner with a missile–two actually–but Miles knew that a giant freezer doubles as an indestructible, explosion-proof bunker. Miles must’ve seen Indiana Jones 4 before the power went out, since jumping into an old refrigerator shields the blast of a nuke–the only reason why anyone would remember that film.

revolution helicopter

It’s a good thing that Rachel gave Bass the amplifier to increase the range of the amulets, because he turned the entire east coast into present-day Los Angeles, with ghetto birds flying over the skies and destroying every known rebel base the Mathesons were looking at to take refuge. With our heroes on the run, what are viewers going to take away from this episode the most? How about wiping out the reason anyone was watching the first 10 episodes in the first place?

Danny took out two helicopters with a rocket launcher, thus finally giving him one heroic moment, only to take him away seconds later in a spray of enemy fire. I’m not saying it wasn’t the right thing to do. He honestly was one of Revolution’s least interesting characters, and his asthma was more of a eye-rolling crutch than an interesting story device. How many times was he going to put the group in danger because he couldn’t keep up or how long until he ran out of medicine? It marred what was a solid though unspectacular return.

Charlie is still annoying for too many reasons to list, and now we can predict how long until Danny’s male presence is replaced with Nate Walker AKA Jason Neville (J.D. Pardo) who had a fallout with daddy dearest (Giancarlo Esposito) and is trying to worm his way into camp Matheson–odds are another four episodes. But enough of these sniveling, ungrateful and unmotivated kids. I’m waiting for one of the older characters to say, “Back in 2012, we had Google to do everything for us… meddling kids.” Halfway through “The Stand,” viewers could see the real victory from “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” was retrieving Rachel Matheson, not Danny.

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Mitchell continues to show that she is the only one worth watching in the series, besides Esposito that is, by offering a range of acting notes, a dozen more than the one we were introduced to. Rachel offered us more intriguing mysteries in this episode than what’s been shown so far, like, what’s with that awkward near-kiss with Miles in the woods? How does she know all of these people who happen to have giant arsenals of weapons ready for them? How is it the only profound thing she can say after Danny dies is something she told him when he a kid? What’s up with being hesitant about the experimental procedure done to save Danny’s life when he was young, and does it have anything to do with that glowing blue implant she surgically extracted from his corpse?

Talk about your random endings. Wouldn’t this leftover rave prop cease to work when the power went out? I assume that people with pacemakers keeled over dead too when the power went out. Unless of course, this is some new technology that was immune to the power outage. That’d be awfully convenient.

Whatever. Rachel is still more interesting than Miles’ relationship with Nora (Daniella Alonso) and his militia ties. She appears to know more about the technology than any other character including the Google guy, Aaron (Zak Orth). She has the inside track to the inner workings of the militia more than Miles. Rachel is a pretty damn important character, which is probably why it was crucial that Mitchell replaced Andrea Roth. And it’s probably why they’re featuring her more in this second half of the season. When you have talent like Mitchell and Esposito, use them. When you don’t, well, you keep certain characters to minimal screen time. Seriously, you can do the math. Sadly not even 48 minutes worth of Elizabeth Mitchell and Giancarlo Esposito could save Revolution.

revolution danny

A death to a major character, a change in chemistry, the power is back on, or at least in some places. Does anyone ever think that when NBC tries to do science fiction that it’s making big changes to get ratings vs. letting the story evolve organically? We didn’t expect they could run the whole first season without incorporating power back into the story, that’s why the story leaped over the really boring 15 years and ended up in the slightly less boring present. So many changes happening in one episode reeks of pressure to get attention and ultimately ratings than it is to truly reward people who invested 10 hours. Otherwise, I don’t think Danny would have been killed the first episode back after a four-month break, leaving viewers saying, ‘WTF?’ Revenge for Ben (Tim Guinee) wasn’t enough, they had to make sure Charlie had even more motivation to take out Bass.

Allow me revise that earlier statement, network sci-fi is all about questions, answers and meaningless deaths. Or is it all about ratings? This show just might survive yet, if The Voice can carry it though another nine weeks, depending on what NBC deems a success. The 2.7 rating it got last night is probably far from the goal. It’s a shame that viewers had to wait four months for a disappointing return, and that’s just one reason why Revolution is still doomed to fail.

What did you think of Revolution’s Mid-Season Premiere “The Stand”? Share your thoughts below.

Smash Season 2 Episode 3: Tale of Jimmy cry-to-much and fair maiden Julia

“The Dramaturg” was a mix of too much predictability, an overdose of emo and an overall lack of personality. At least Jennifer Hudson was there to remind us that this show is more about great musical numbers and less about an engrossing plot. On the positive side, we actually had a slight twist this week thanks to the most despised character on the show rearing his backstabbing head.

Let’s start with the basics. Where’s the conflict?
Talk about a bland episode. Absolutely nothing happened. We watched Jennifer get fondled by a few dancers and then saw her mom talk smack to Derek. Julia had a few students tell her how much her play sucked, which she already knew. And Ivy and Karen basically made up. They even got to caress each other on stage, while Ms. Hudson sang. Yay. But who cares?

Peter. That’s who. Julia’s friend Peter helps her to see the flaws in “Bombshell” by staging a mock reading with his students. Within thirty minutes, he was already asking her to go back to his place so that they could work together away from the prying eyes of Tom. We all know what that means. Peter and Julia are going to make love. Sex…love… same difference on Smash. The only person on the show getting more action than Derek is Julia. Now that her marriage is over, we won’t need to see her son or husband anymore and that gives Julia room to play playwright damsel.

You want conflict… then meet Jimmy cry-too-much.
He’s supposed to be this hardcore guy from Brooklyn, but all he does is storm off in a hissy fit every chance he gets. Well, at least he got a kiss from Karen, while apparently doped up on some unnamed drug cocktail. Their movie kiss was about as artificial as they come. She closed her eyes and when their lips parted, he was all “wowwwww.” Too bad the fireworks only went off in his head because watching it was a snooze fest of obvious. Sometimes tears do work. Jimmy’s many temper tantrums eventually led to Jennifer Hudson singing one of his songs. Good for him.

So what was good about this episode?
The closing scene. The back-and-forth Rand battle may be a bore, but we always loved seeing Eileen throw a drink on her husband in season one. Now, Eileen is supposedly out of the picture so that her husband can take over “Bombshell.” With a management change, we should start seeing a nice shakeup with the cast, which is missing now that the Ivy-Karen rivalry is done.

But what really made the closing scene interesting was that we found out that Ellis was behind Eileen’s problems. That smug little bastard (and not a bastard in a good way like John Snow on Game of Thrones) ratted out Eileen. At the end of “The Dramaturg,” Jerry cuts a check made out to Ellis. So we now know Ellis tipped Jerry off about Eileen’s private funding. Even though Nick is screwed, thanks to his mob connections, hopefully he’ll get one more episode to confront Ellis and punch him in the face. If not, then lets pray Ellis doesn’t come back into the mix. He hasn’t physically appeared in Smash Season 2, and I’m fine if it stays that way.

9 Focus Points on the Smash Season 2 Premiere

Smash returns to NBC for its second season tonight, with a 2-hour premiere. After seeing watching the first two hours, I can attest that the beating heart of this soap-opera drama is still alive and well with Broadway’s “Bombshell” black sheep.

Without giving away too many spoilers here are a few Focus Points on tonight’s 2-hour tv-theatre extravaganza.

Jennifer Hudson is amazing
Jennifer Hudson makes her Smash debut as Veronica Moore, a Tony Award winner who offers Karen (Katharine McPhee) some sage advice. In addition to a riveting solo performance of “Momma makes three,” Hudson ushers Karen into the hearts of Broadway’s elite with a duet.

Ivy Fallout
If you expected something dramatic from the Ivy pill-popping cut at the end of Smash‘s frosh season, think again. Season 2 takes place after the ensemble has returned to New York. Ivy is still a key character so you won’t see any drug-induced actor depression. She’s a little more humble this season even if she’s treated like the bastard stepchild.

Karen vs Ivy
We’ll see an interesting change in the Karen vs. Ivy relationship. Ivy’s done a lot of growing since she slept with Karen’s fiancee, but forgiveness takes time — a lot of time.

Julia (Debra Messing) and Frank (Brian d’Arcy James)
Can Julia and Frank really get past Julia’s indiscretions? Just ask yourself, would it be a soap opera if they could? Julia may be trying her best to patch things up, but it all boils down to Frank to make the decision. Can he really live as second fiddle to Julia’s stage family?

Eileen (Anjelica Huston) has to lawyer up
The problems with “Bombshell” extend beyond cast, crew and creative difficulties. Eileen has been struggling with financing the film since the beginning. At the start of Season 2, she’ll face new problems that may force her into some unholy allegiances.

There’s a NEW Julia and Tom (Christian Borle) Creative Team
Meet Jimmy (Jeremy Jordan) and Kyle (Andy Mientus), two bartender friends, who dream of becoming the next big theatre hit. Unfortunately, Jimmy has a chip on his shoulder, named Brooklyn School of Hard Knocks.

Margo Martindale makes a guest appearance
Around the office, we’re all a part of the Margo Martindale fan club ever since she appeared as Mags Bennett on Justified. We’ll see her in the second hour of tonight’s 2-hour premiere. It’s a small role, but she’ll have a “fun” scene with Tom and Julia.

Tom still spineless
Ah, Tom. If he could only tell the truth at the right time or keep secrets when they should stay buried, he might not find himself engulfed outlandish lies once a season. The lies never last long because as spineless as Tom is, he has the best intentions in mind.

Derek’s womanizing catches up with him
Derek beds just about every girl with a heartbeat, but his sexual indiscretions will catch up with him this season. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing sparkles between Karen and Derek since her first “home audition.” Sorry Karen, you can’t teach an old-dog director new tricks.

The Smash 2-hour season premiere starts at 9/8C on NBC.

Can Community make it to Season 5 despite fickle studio treatment?

Community’s brief history has already been a tumultuous one. The Thursday night NBC comedy debuted to high ratings and higher acclaim, but by the end of its first season, it started trying unique ideas, which went along way to satisfy the show’s hardcore audience but likely hurt its chances at a wider audience, who turned to mainstream comedy like Big Bang Theory.

But Community was unwavering in creator and showrunner Dan Harmon’s vision to bring something original to the world of sitcoms. In doing so, the show not only built up an incredibly strong cult following but also joined the lineage of outstanding comedies — like Fox’s Arrested Development — that outsmarted and out-weirded a large portion of the television audience, with falling ratings making the show subject to questionable decisions made by the network.

In its third season, Community dealt with an awkward mid-season hiatus after it did not return at its regular time. Instead, fans waited (and took to twitter, as well as Rockefeller Center) for months, while NBC promised the remainder of Community’s 22-episode season would air, even if they didn’t clarify that with a specific date and time. In January 2012, the network confirmed the show was not canceled. In February, Dan Harmon confirmed it would return in March. And on March 15, 2012, Community returned in its regular time slot, and NBC aired the remainder of the season.

EDITOR’S PICK: 6 places Dan Harmon & Like-Minded Showrunners Can Shop a Comedy

But the show may be facing its biggest challenge yet in the wake of yet another lengthy hiatus, the threat of cancellation and the loss of Harmon, as well as other producers and writers.

Harmon was notably ousted from his position as showrunner at the end of last season, after some public spats with Chevy Chase, who stars as Pierce Hawthorne — an elderly, often racist, sometimes delusional man still attending community college. News recently surfaced that Chase, himself, agreed to part ways with the show in the fourth season, while having already filmed most episodes.

If they had filmed in order, a high point to look forward to this season may have been seeing how they wrote Pierce out of the crew, but reports are that he filmed for the final episode, so it’s unlikely that will happen unless Community finds renewal and a fifth season.

That’s the least of its problems, though. After NBC toyed with the idea of airing it in a different time slot so it wouldn’t face the same competition, it settled on returning it to its regular 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) spot on Thursdays, starting Feb. 7. That’s all well and good, as if Community has any hope of sticking around — it does — it could eventually be helping Parks and Recreation hold down a mostly new comedy lineup that’s set to lose 30 Rock and The Office.

The problem is the show was originally slated to return in October and started filming for that return. Now it appears the episode to air on Valentine’s Day will be “Paranormal Parenting,” which one can only assume is the Greendale gang’s Halloween episode. It wouldn’t be surprising then, either, to see a Christmas episode air at the end of March or in April.

Fans will also likely be keeping a close eye on the tone of the show, which has always featured incredibly quirky humor, steered away from delving too deeply into any of the romantic tropes, and tends to wrap up with John Hughes-esque warm moments, only to hit reset, as if no one really learned from the revelations in the previous episode — at least until the third season, when some things finally started to stick for ongoing story threads. The question is whether or not the formula will remain intact in the absence of Harmon. There’s a reason he’s gone, and it will be interesting to see if those is his place uphold the things most important to the show.

It will also be interesting to see if the show still has a home on NBC after its fourth season, and a lot of that will depend on fans, as well as critical response. At one point, it almost seemed certain that this would be the final run of Community, but NBC’s Robert Greenblatt has in recent interviews indicated nothing is a done deal just yet. And along with NBC losing some of its other cornerstone programs, the network’s attempts at new programming haven’t been met with as much success as hoped, meaning if Community pulls even decent ratings, in comparison to its possible replacements, it could stick around.

Parks and Recreation is a good example of a quality NBC show that found itself near cancellation several times and bounced back to be one of the network’s best comedies. That show, however, has found critical success, especially in the realm of awards — whereas Community has not. And that could be a critical blow to the show. On NBC, it seems executives would love great ratings but are willing to forgive shows with lower ratings if they find that awards success. But without ratings or the awards, there would be little reason to keep the show around.

But there are three things of which fans can be sure. Community has shot and will ideally air all of a fourth season. Joel McHale will shamelessly promote the show on The Soup on E! And if nothing else, Community will live on in syndication on Comedy Central, which picked it up and plans to start airing reruns sometime after the new season starts. But let’s hope it sticks around for more than just that.

2013 Mid-Season Returns: Premiere Watch List & Hot Picks

Justified Season 4 (FX)

Timothy Olyphant returns to Harlan County for Justified Season 4. After last season’s trials with Quarles and Crowder, fans can look forward to a new mystery centering on Arlo. It begins with a flashback and a dead body.

Don’t worry. Arlo isn’t Raylan’s only concern. Boyd is back to blowing things up, and this season Mr. Crowder has got a new teammate. Unfortunately, there’s also a new religion in town that threatens to break up the Kentucky’s Oxy trade. Expect prostitute reformation, snakes and a whole lot of gun shots.

Premiere: January 8 at 10pm

House of Lies Season 2 (Showtime)

house of lies

The first season of House of Lies ended with a cliffhanger between Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle) and Jeannie Van Der Hooven (Kristen Bell). Following a sexual scandal at Galweather & Stearn that blocked the sale of the agency, Marty and Jeannie got especially “friendly” over drinks. But, did they become friends with benefits?

When House of Lies returns, dynamics within the group will slightly change, as Clyde and Doug try to figure out what happened between Marty and Jeannie. Also of note, in the season 2 premiere, we won’t see any of the freeze frame, fourth-wall gimmick that the series used in its frosh season.

Premiere: January 13 at 10pm

Girls Season 2 (HBO)

HBO’s Girls returns for its second season a few weeks after the events in the season one finale. Jessica is back after her post-surprise wedding honeymoon and Shoshanna has to come to grips with her one-night stand with Ray. As for Hannah, needless to say she is dealing with new relationship woes with Adam.

Premiere: January 13 at 9pm

Archer Season 4 (FX)

If you’re a fan of H. Jon Benjamin (voice of Sterling Archer) or Bob’s Burgers, then you’ll have a coronary laughing at the spoof opening to Archer Season 4.

Season after season, Archer continues to boldly push the boundaries on spy humor. I’ve watched the premiere three times and each time it’s a blast. Old cyborg enemies may return in season 4, but the laughs are still fresh and deserved. Look forward to more mommy issues, Lana exposed, Cyril in the field and lots of boozing. Oh yeah, SHAZAM! SPLOOSH!

Premiere: January 17 at 10pm

Spartacus: War of the Damned Final Season (STARZ)

Spartacus enters its final season this year, with Spartacus’ band of rebels ready to take on the might of Rome.

While there may not be any major surprises (after all it is historical fiction), we can look forward to Steven S. DeKnight raising the bar on blood, gore, sex and vulgarity. This is one of the most visceral action series on TV and will surely be missed by long time fans.

Premiere: January 25 at 9PM

Shameless Season 3 (Showtime)

It’s been over 130 days since Frank left and the Gallagher family couldn’t be better off. Well, everyone except Debbie.

While Fiona and Steve continue to figure out “what” their relationship is, Ian and Lip have mended their differences and are back to brotherly thievery. Unfortunately, a visit from South America threatens to disrupt the Gallagher peace.

Expect the Season 3 premiere to get a little bloody and more than a little bizarre (you’ll get my point when you see Kevin and Veronica’s new business idea). Also, Frank gets a new job that may help him earn some extra drinking money.

Premiere: January 13 at 9pm

Being Human Season 3 (Syfy)

What does the future hold for Josh? If you’re wondering who died (because someone had to, right), then you’ll want to tune-in to the Being Human premiere.

Last season ended with an abundance of cliffhangers (curses, deaths and so much more) that tore our trio apart. Now, we’ll have to wait to see if Aidan, Josh and Sally ultimately reunite. And if so, how much will have changed?

Premiere: January 14 at 9pm

Californication Season 6 (Showtime)

Californication series may be on its last legs, but loyal fans will want to find out what the future holds for Hank Moody after Carrie drugged him at the end of Season 5. The first half of the premiere is a bit somber and dull, but the humor slowly eases its way back in.

Don’t worry. Drugs and alcohol are still in style with a depressed Moody as he checks into the Happy Ending rehab clinic (no relation to ABC’s Happy Endings).

Premiere: January 13 at 10:30pm

Touch Season 2 (FOX)

Fox’s feel good drama returns this February with everyone wondering if Jake did in fact lead Kiefer Sutherland to the “right woman.” This series may be a soap opera of happy coincidences, but it’s a welcome break from the typical TV dramas.

Premiere: February 8 at 8pm

Community Final Season (NBC)

After fighting through cancellation doldrums, one of TV’s most inspired comedies returns for its final season. Although Dan Harmon won’t be helming the last episodes, we’re still eagerly awaiting the return of Jeff, Britta, Abed, Shirley, Annie, Troy, Senor Chang and Pierce.

Premiere: February 7 at 8pm

Psych Season 7 (USA Network)

After six seasons, Psych is still going strong thanks to James Roday and Dulé Hill. This tag-team of comedy detective returns to USA Network at the close of February.

What can you expect? For starters, how about episode 100 and a smorgasbord of guest stars!! Series stars Maggie Lawson and Timothy Omundson chatted with us about expectations for Psych‘s seventh season, while Roday and Hill talk fashion and the finer points of rapping.

Premiere: February 27 at 10pm

Smash Season 2 (NBC)

One name: Jennifer Hudson

When Smash returns, we’ll have a new diva to sing her way into the hearts of Broadway. Hudson joins the cast as a series regular in what is sure to be a season filled with standing ovations.

Although last year’s “cliffhanger” wasn’t really a cliffhanger at all, fans will want to tune in to this Broadway soap that captures the underbelly of make-or-break theatre.
Premiere: February 5 at 9pm

Game of Thrones Season 3 (HBO)

Although Game of Thrones won’t make its way back to HBO until the dawn of Spring, it remains one of the most anticipated series returns of Q1 2013.

The North remembers. Winter is coming. And, oh yeah, you know what else is coming… The Others and the Dragons.

Regardless of whether you read the books or not, Game of Thrones continues to amaze viewers with its smart dialogue and storytelling. Now, all we need to do is cajole HBO into adding on a few more episodes to each season.

Premiere: March 31 at 9pm

Also of note…

The Legend of Korra – Book Two: Spirits (Nickelodeon)

Although we’re still waiting on a return date for The Legend of Korra: Book 2, it remains one of our most anticipated series returns of 2013.

Premiere: TBA