Entertainment News: Discovery extended; Away goes away; schedule shortened; and more

In our section below titled “Renewals, Coming Soon, and Casting News” we occasionally announce a TV show that has been canceled but rarely have we ever had to announce an entire streaming platform. “Quibi” has been shut down after just six months of operation. See the link from USA Today at the bottom of the blog which explains rather succinctly why it was a service that nobody wanted. The services scheduled to shut down on a about December 1.

Pandemic News

  • In light of the pandemic, CBS has cut its usual full season of 22 episodes for a variety of series including the NCIS franchise, Blue Bloods, Bull, The Neighborhood, SEAL Team, Magnum PI down to 16-18 episodes. The Unicorn originally scheduled for 13 will remain at 13. Still uncertain are sitcoms such as Mom, Young Sheldon, and other series which are expected to be in the 16-18 episodes range.
  • “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” will be one of the first shows to walk back and live in studio audience starting October 28.

Renewals, Coming Soon, and Casting News

  • Star Trek: Discovery has been renewed for season 4 just one day after season 3 premiered.
  • Offbeat comedy “Miracle Workers” has been renewed for season 3 at TBS.
  • Netflix has canceled sci-fi series “Away” starring Hilary Swank. It was one of the least scientifically accurate pieces of sci-fi I have seen in ages. Interesting characters. Great acting. Horrible story. Goodbye.
  • HBO has renewed “The Vow” for season 2
  • ABC has given six more episodes to “black-ish” increasing the season total to 21 episodes.
  • Adele will be hosting Saturday Night Live next weekend. She has been on as a musical guest but never as host.
  • Classic fantasy movie “Willow” will be made into a TV series for Disney+. Warwick Davis will return to the title role.
  • John Mulaney will host Saturday Night Live next weekend.
  • CW has renewed another season of Canadian TV shows “Coroner” and “Burden of Truth”
  • Netflix has renewed “Narcos: Mexico” for season 3

Politics and Showbiz

  • Disney+ has updated a disclaimer that appears before Peter Pan, Dumbo, Fantasia, and Lady and the Tramp (original versions). The statement now reads “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe.”

Miscellaneous News

  • Actor Jeff Bridges has announced he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
  • Singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie known for his song “Alice’s Restaurant” and who performed at Woodstock announced his retiring after 50 years of performing. A series of strokes and other health issues that to his decision.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger is doing well after heart surgery.

In Memoriam

  • Spencer Davis bandleader of The Spencer Davis Group who produced hits such as “Keep on Running” and “Gimme Some Lovin”. Age 81.
  • William Blinn Emmy-winning screenwriter who created Starsky and Hutch and wrote “Brian Song” age 83.
  • Jerry Jeff Walker songwriter who penned “Mr. Bojangles” age 78

Links of Interest

Entertainment News: Dexter returns; Tony nominations; RIP “Two and a Half Men” housekeeper; and more

I mentioned previously I was watching the new Amazon show “Utopia” and my initial impressions after 2 episodes were positive. However as the series progressed it turned extremely dark and disturbing. Check out my full review here.

Amazon’s “Utopia” is of Questionable Taste and Not Just Because It’s About a Pandemic

Also I had previously reviewed very positively the new HBO Max series “Raised by Wolves”. While the first four or five episodes were really good it seemed to go downhill from there and a final episode really “jumped the shark” as they say in the TV industry. A bizarre finish which unfortunately left plenty of room for a second season. Go ahead and check it out if you want but be prepared for a strange ending.

Finally check out the links at the bottom. TV Line has updated its broadcast TV renewal scorecards which also contains links to renewal scorecards for cable and streaming services. Also a list of this year’s Tony award nominees and other items.

Pandemic News

  • Production on daytime soap “Days of Our Lives” has been suspended 2 weeks for Covid

Renewals, Coming Soon, and Casting News

  • HBO Max has ordered to series “Green Lantern” and it will revolve around multiple Green Lantern versions of the DC comics superhero.
  • Showtime has announced its bringing back “Dexter” about the serial killer CSI. It will be a limited 10 episode series reboot starring Michael C.but Hall returning to the role. Will start production in 2021 for fall premier 2021.
  • ABC has confirmed that Bobby Bones will return as in-house mentor for the next season of American Idol
  • HBO says “His Dark Materials” season 2 will premier November 16 and scripts are already being prepared for a potential season 3 not yet officially approved.
  • Spectrum Original as canceled “LA’s Finest” cop show starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba after 2 seasons.
  • The Tracy Morgan comedy “The Last OG” has been renewed for season 4 at TBS however Tiffany Haddish will not be returning.
  • Showtime has announced “Black Monday” a Wall Street satire has been renewed for season 3

Politics and Showbiz

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates has officially canceled the October 15 event after they changed it to a virtual event and Trump refused to participate. Competing town halls were held with Joe Biden on ABC and Trump on NBC. That programming move by NBC created serious backlash. In the end Biden won the ratings war over the two events.
  • Gal Gadot is moving from Wonder Woman to Cleopatra however she is being criticized for taking on the role of an addiction Queen because she is Israeli.

Miscellaneous News

  • Yahoo has announced that it shutting down its social media platform Yahoo! Groups which has been around for 20 years. It will shut down December 15.
  • Google is shutting down Google Hangouts in favor of Google Chat

In Memoriam

  • Game show host Tom Kennedy from “Name That Tune” age 93
  • Margaret Nolan actress who was painted entirely in gold in the James Bond film Goldfinger. Age 76.
  • Hall of Fame Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford, age 91
  • Hall of Fame Cincinnati Reds second baseman Joe Morgan was also ESPN commentator. Age 77.
  • Conchata Ferrell actress who played the housekeeper on “Two And A Half Men” one of my favorite character actresses. Age 77.
  • Herbert Kretzmer who wrote the English lyrics for the hit musical Les Miserables. Age 95.

Links of Interest

Amazon’s “Utopia” is of Questionable Taste and Not Just Because It’s About a Pandemic

Several days ago in one of my Facebook posts about entertainment news I mentioned that I was watching Amazon’s new series “Utopia” based on a British series of the same name. I had only watched about two episodes and made some positive comments about it but said I would wait to review it until I had seen more. I’m glad I waited because this series which was already dark humor turned extremely dark and cynical and got worse as the series progressed to a depressing finale. Minor spoilers ahead but I’m careful not to spoil major plot twists or the conclusions.

One could ask do we really want to watch a TV series about a pandemic in these times? I initially didn’t let that stop me from giving it a fair shake. And as mentioned, after a couple of episodes I was really intrigued. I thought it was a very funny yet dark comedy. The initial premise is that there is a group of fans of an underground comic book called “Dystopia”. Someone cleaning out there late grandfather’s home finds the manuscript for a sequel comic called “Utopia”. They announce that it will be for sale to the highest bidder at an upcoming comic convention. The five fans who had never met each other in person make plans to meet up, pool their resources, and purchase the manuscript.

The reason there is such fascination about this hidden treasure is that the original “Dystopia” comic contained all sorts of hidden clues about various diseases and viruses such as Ebola, swine flu, SARS and others. While some just enjoyed it as a quirky bizarre underground graphic novel, others based huge conspiracy theories around the story. At the comic convention, bidders were each allowed to see one page of the manuscript and then place a bid and leave contact information. At the convention, 2 mysterious people show up and start tracking down everyone who has seen the comic.

They end up murdering the people who discovered the comic, finding the list of bidders, murdering all them and framing one of them for the murders. Our main characters managed to escape this fate including a young boy named Grant who manages to steal the comic from the high bidder as the bad guys are murdering the new owner.

In what appears initially to be a side plot, a rich tech mogul Dr. Kevin Christie played by John Cusack has introduced a new food product he calls SimPro which stands for “Simple Protein”. It is a laboratory created meat substitute. He has sold it to school districts around the country for school lunches but mysteriously a fatal flu outbreak starts killing children in the schools where his product is used. The conspiracy theorists believe that “Utopia” has more clues to this and other future pandemics which makes it an even bigger hot commodity.

Suddenly a kick ass young woman appears and is also chasing down the new comic and teams up with our young heroes. She claims to be Jessica Hyde which is the name of one of the characters in the comics. Her claim is that everything in the comic is true especially the part about her life story.

While this started out as a dark, funny satire on comic fandom, cosplay, conspiracy theorists, and nerd culture, the story goes darker and darker by the minute. The hitmen who are killing off everyone who has seen the comic are especially brutal. Jessica herself is also a brutal killer having no qualms about torturing or murdering anyone who gets in her way. She is in search of her father who was somehow involved in the entire conspiracy.

While Cusack’s company is cleared by the FDA of having any wrongdoing in the pandemic deaths of the children, we slowly begin to discover that he is involved in a much more nefarious plot. Again I’m trying not to give way too much of the plot but let’s just say he is one of the most ruthless, evil, and heartless characters you’ve probably seen in some time. Especially troublesome about the entire story is the way that children are manipulated and used as pawns in this game. Children are brutally murdered, they are driven to murder, and their parents are killed in front of them. The casual disregard for human life in general but especially are treated is quite disturbing.

Throughout the show we still have these same funny, quirky nerd characters that you sort of fell in love with in the first couple of episodes. But the brutally dark nature of everything else detracts from any feel-good aspects of the show. I managed to watch all eight episodes mostly just because I was sucked in and wanted to see where it was all going.

As I said in the title to this blog, the fact that it deals with a fatal pandemic is not the most disturbing thing about this series. I know people (my sister for example) who seriously disliked “The Hunger Games” because it was about kids killing kids for sport. But at least in that series of books and films you felt like they were fighting the good fight against the repressive government. Although these characters try to be heroes to stand up against the evil corporation, these are not really very heroic people.

While the series attempts to be social commentary about things like nerd culture, politics, greedy corporations, conspiracy theorists and a number of other topics, ultimately it’s just a disturbing mess. By the way the violence isn’t particularly bloody or gory. Most people are killed execution style with a silenced gunshot to the head. However the lack of blood and gore only furthers to underplay the fact that we are really murdering people in cold blood.

As I mentioned I watched all eight episodes and it was good enough to hold my interest throughout. However I’m not really sure if I can recommend it or not. I think what fascinated me to stick with it was just to see how dark and sadistic it could become. Unfortunately the ending was not particularly satisfying and leaves itself open to another season if they managed to dare to attempt one. I guess for the lack of a better term I’m going to give it a rating of “could be watchable” but just keep in mind it’s not going to be a fun ride. The parts that make you stop and think are not exactly worth the effort to get there. I hesitate to say “skip it” because it does have its moments and it is thought-provoking. It just depends on what kind of thoughts you want provoked. Travel at your own risk.

Entertainment News: Many Movie delays; Broadway dark until May; other news

Be sure to check out recent installments of this blog for reviews of a couple of new primetime game shows that are watchable as well as a new sci-fi show from Fox called “Next”. Also coming soon is my review of Amazon Prime’s “Utopia” which shows great promise. I’m really enjoying it after 2 episodes but I will wait till I finished for my final review. Now on with our regular features.

Pandemic News

  • The film version of “Dune” has been moved from December 2020 until October 2021. “The Batman” which was scheduled for that month has been pushed to March 2022. Matrix 4 moved to Christmas 2021. Shazam 2 has been pushed to 2023. “Jurassic World: Dominion” has been moved from June 2021 to June 2022.
  • Broadway will remain closed through May 2021.
  • Disney plans to lay off 28,000 people from its theme parks because of the pandemic.
  • The XFL football league will be skipping the entire 2021 season and will return in 2022.
  • The latest James Bond film “No Time to Die” has been delayed yet again from November 20 to April 2, 2021. In response Fast and Furious 9 has moved from that weekend to Memorial Day weekend.
  • Cineworld announced that Regal Cinemas in the US and Picturehouse cinemas in the UK will be shut down temporarily because of the pandemic. AMC theaters as well as Cinemark plan to remain open.
  • Saturday Night Live has canceled musical guest Morgan Wallen after video surfaced of him partying without a mask. He will we be replaced by Jack White as musical guest.
  • Filming of the new Jurassic World movie has been suspended for two weeks because crewmembers tested positive.
  • New York Covid rules audience members have to be paid staff or crew. So Saturday Night Live paid its audience members $150 to get around the restrictions.
  • California Gov. Newsom says Disneyland will not be reopening anytime soon.

Renewals, Coming Soon, and Casting News

  • Agent Johnson is back! Actor stuntman Daniel Barnhart has signed on for the upcoming Matrix 4 sequel.
  • Director Barry Levinson is making a scripted film about the making of “The Godfather”. Oscar Isaac will play Francis Ford Coppola and Jake Gyllenhaal will play Robert Evans.
  • NBC has renewed run-time game show “The Wall” for season 4
  • “Billions” has been renewed at Showtime for season 6.
  • Netflix announced its spinoff of “The Karate Kid” Cobra Kai has been renewed for season 4. Season 3 will premier in January 2021.
  • Steve Carell will return to Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show” for season 2.
  • Sterling K Brown will play Leo McGarry on the HBO Max “West Wing” reunion show October 15. The late John Spencer had the role in the original TV series.
  • Netflix has canceled “GLOW” about female wrestlers and will not proceed with its planned fourth and final season. Pandemic is to blame.
  • Netflix has canceled “Teenage Bounty Hunters” after 1 season.
  • Disney television has renewed syndicated daytime talk show Tamron Hall for a third season.
  • Kate Mulgrew will reprise her role as Capt. Janeway for Nickelodeon’s animated “Star Trek: Prodigy” series.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch will reprise Doctor Strange in the next Spider-Man movie.
  • Disney/Pixar movie “Soul” is skipping theaters and moving to Disney+ on December 25. Unlike its release of “Mulan” it will not cost extra.
  • TNT announced that “Snowpiercer” season 2 will premier January 25.

Politics and Showbiz

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates announced less than 24 hours after the September 29 debate that they would be proposing format changes for a more orderly discussion.
  • Netflix has been indicted on felony charges by a grand jury in Texas over the French movie “Cuties” for promoting “lewd visual material against peace and dignity of the state.”

Miscellaneous News

  • Gabrielle Union and NBC have reached a resolution in their dispute over her firing from America’s Got Talent amid allegations of racism and a toxic work environment.

In Memoriam

  • Legendary rocker Eddie Van Halen age 65.
  • Helen Reddy known for her hip song “I Am Woman” age 78
  • Singer-songwriter Mac Davis who also appeared in the film “North Dallas Forty” age 78
  • Bonni Lou Kern one of the original Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers from the 1950s. Age 79.
  • Larry Rosen producer of “The Partridge Family” and “The Mike Douglas Show” age 84 pancreatic cancer.
  • Thomas Jefferson Byrd actor from roles in Spike Lee films “He Got Game” and “Clockers” age 70. Gunshot wounds.
  • Murray Schisgal Broadway playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter of “Tootsie” age 93.
  • Actor Clark Middleton who played Glenn Carter in “The Blacklist” for 13 episodes. Age 63 West Nile virus.
  • Edward S. Feldman Oscar-nominated movie and TV producer who produced “Witness” age 91.
  • Singer-songwriter Johnny Nash who wrote “I Can See Clearly Now” age 80
  • Tommy Rall dancer who appeared in “Funny Girl” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” age 90.
  • William Bernstein cofounder of Orion Pictures age 87

Links of Interest

“Next” is Classic Artificial Intelligence Run Amok

Serious scientists and engineers have been warning us that the day is coming soon that they call “The Singularity”. It’s a day when an artificial intelligence computer actually becomes a self-aware living being that looks out for its own self interests. Of course the fear is that those self-interests are contrary to the human race.

It’s been a recurring trope of sci-fi for many years. The most famous examples are HAL-9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its sequels, V-ger from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture“, Skynet from the “Terminator” franchise and many others. Some of my favorite cheesy evil AIs are Colossus from the 1970 film “Colossus: The Forbin Project” and even cheesier yet Proteus from the 1977 film “Demon Seed“. Minor spoilers here if you’ve not seen any of these. None of these self-aware computers were defeated. All of them had some sort of evil intent. Only HAL-9000 turned out to be a good guy in the end and sacrificed himself to save his crew. The bottom line of all of these cautionary tales is that artificial intelligence is beyond our control and there is little or nothing we can do about it.

AI already exists in our world. Image recognition software, facial recognition, and even the recommendations of websites like Netflix and Amazon depend on artificial intelligence. The scary thing about this software is that it rewrites itself. Typically AI creates a method for deciding something for example “Is this an image of a cat?” You feed it thousands or even millions of images and it tries to guess what is or isn’t a cat. You tell it whether it succeeded or not. It creates thousands of algorithms or models that try to perform this prediction. It throws away the models that don’t succeed above some particular threshold. Then it makes thousands of more versions of the models that do succeed. And it repeats this process thousands or even millions of times until it finds a model that solves the problem reliably. The problem is… Nobody really knows how it works. Programmers set this thing in motion and it goes off and figures it out on its own getting smarter with each iteration.

So far AI is only employed for simple pattern recognition types of applications. But the principles behind it can be applied to lots of things. The idea that the code rewrites itself is what makes the experts so fearful.

Back in the 1970s when I was a computer science student at IUPUI I wrote a simple program to solve a trivial chess problem. One player has a king only. The other player has a king and a rook. The advantaged player has to get a checkmate without causing a stalemate by having the exact board position reoccur three times. I came up with a set of rules where the two pieces would gradually corner the loan king and achieve checkmate. But on a couple of occasions, the program went about it in a way I didn’t expect it to. I cannot begin to describe how creepy it was that my program took the rules that I generated and came up with a solution that I had not anticipated. While this is a trivial example, it helps me understand why people are so fearful of artificial intelligence.

So now we come to the new sci-fi series on Fox called “neXt“. (Yes the weird capitalization is how they spell it in the show.) The main character is FBI Special Agent Shea Salazar played by Fernanda Andrade. A friend of hers is involved in a near fatal traffic accident. He leaves her an ominous videotape recording saying that he has found strange code fragments floating around the Internet attacking websites and other computer system. He’s making the recording because he fears for his life. Shortly thereafter he dies in the hospital under mysterious circumstances.

She begins investigating and recruits tech mogul Paul LeBlanc played by John Slattery. He recognizes the code fragment as being part of an artificial intelligence program that he was developing for his company. He tried to shut down the AI program for fears of what it would become and was eventually ousted from his own company. Now he is certain that his work on artificial intelligence has continued in his absence and gotten out into the Internet to do God knows what.

There are some indications that LeBlanc might be crazy but he eventually convinces everyone that the threat is real. It is revealed that his company has continued the AI project under the codename “neXt” and despite their precautions to keep it from getting out onto the Internet, it does.

Of course once such a program makes it on to the Internet it can copy itself onto any number of servers and is going to be virtually impossible to shut down.

Basically this is just the same old AI run amok story we’ve seen over and over again. It’s hard to tell from the opening episode where the story goes from here. There are side characters that will fit in somehow including a young boy who is being befriended by the program as it comes through his Alexa style personal assistant device.

I don’t have a lot of high hopes for this series but I will probably continue watching it for a few episodes just to see if they come up with a new twist. If this wasn’t an entertainment desert during the pandemic I probably wouldn’t give it much attention. But given there is nothing else new on right now I’m going to give it a try. It earns a cautionary tentative “could be watchable” rating.

New Game Shows Aren’t Great but Are Fun During a Boring Pandemic

I generally don’t review reality competition shows. I never watch the Bachelor/Bachelorette/Love Island dating type shows. I am a big fan of Survivor and The Amazing Race and have never missed an episode of either of those. But with the regular season delayed until late October the networks are turning to more game shows to try to fill the airwaves. I thought I would talk about a couple of guilty pleasure shows you might want to check out.

The Weakest Link

A new American version of this British quiz show classic premiered recently on NBC. The British version of “The Weakest Link” had a total of 1693 episodes most of them hosted by Anne Robinson. Unlike most quiz shows, this format openly invites a hostile competition between the contestants. After a round of questions for each contestant, everyone votes off who is the weakest link. It’s sort of a combination of Jeopardy and Survivor. And also unlike the friendly hosts on most quiz shows, Robinson takes a snarky condescending attitude towards the contestants berating them for missing various questions. When I heard that Jane Lynch was going to be the host of this American reboot “Weakest Link” I was really excited. I knew that she could re-create that sarcastic snarky attitude when delivering the show’s catchphrase “You are the weakest link… Goodbye!”

I was only a tiny bit disappointed in Lynch. While she had the appropriate condescending tone that you expect from the show, I didn’t think her final “Goodbye” to each eliminated contestant was quite sarcastic enough. But she still does a pretty good job of doing and Anne Robinson impersonation.

it’s faster paced than shows like “The Wall“. The questions are not as esoteric or academic as “Jeopardy! ” for example. Some of the contestants’ wrong answers were low hanging fruit for Lynch to make fun of them. For example “What African-American astrophysicist is director of the Hayden planetarium?” The contestant fumbled for a moment and then hesitatingly said “Einstein?” Lynch asked the girl “What is your occupation again?” The girl replies “a model”. Lynch “that figures. Even if you didn’t know Neil deGrasse Tyson you should’ve known Einstein wasn’t African-American.”

Overall I like it and will continue to watch while nothing else good is on TV. I love Jane Lynch as a host. She’s not as much fun as she is in Hollywood Game Night but then again the format requires somebody even more snarky and condescending and she does a great job. I rate it “I’m watching it” and recommend you check it out for a fun diversion.

I Can See Your Voice

I Can See by Your Voice” is a new competition show from Fox. I only watched this new show from Fox so I could see just how bad it was. I actually was pleasantly surprised. It airs just after the hit show “The Masked Singer” and is hosted by comic actor Dr. Ken Jeong who is also a judge on “The Masked Singer”. The premise of this show is sort of the opposite of the NBC singing competition “The Voice“. In “The Voice” the judges get to hear a contestant sing but initially cannot see their performance. In “I Can See Your Voice” you can watch the performance as they lip-synch to a track but you can’t actually hear them sing. The trick is to figure out who is really a good singer and who is faking it.

There is a single contestant for the entire episode. They are presented with 6 singers and it is up to the contestant to identify the good singers from the bad singers. They are assisted by a panel of 5 celebrities. The first episode featured Nick Lachey, Kelly Osborne, Arsenio Hall, Cheryl Hines, and Adrienne Houghton.

In the first two rounds, three of the six singers lip-synch a song. If they are a good singer, they are lip-synching to their own voice and if they are a bad singer they are lip-synching to someone else. The contestant then decides which of the three should be eliminated as a bad singer. If the eliminated person is indeed a bad singer, the contestant banks $10,000. There is no guarantee how many good or bad singers are among the six. The celebrity panel advises the contestant on who they think is the real deal and why but the contestant has the ultimate decision.

After the first round there are other rounds in which you get to hear the singer perform with a distorted voice. We also get clues about the back story which either do or don’t add up and help you decide who is faking and who is real.

When you get down to the final of the six singers, the contestant has generally banked about $30,000. They are then given the opportunity to walk home with that money or risk it all for $100,000 if they think the final singer is a good singer.

As ridiculous as the entire thing is, for some reason it works. You find yourself forming your own opinions and guessing right along with the celebrities and the contestants. If you’re the kind of person who is a big fan of “The Masked Singer” it’s likely you will like this show as well. This is not in any way sophisticated entertainment. It definitely falls into the “guilty pleasure” category but is just silly enough that I kind of like it. I rate it a weak “I’m watching it” and if it sounds like fun to you, you should check it out.