“The Unicorn” Verifies Walton Goggins Can Do Anything

Ever since his starring role as Shane Vendrell on the hit police drama “The Shield” I’ve been a big fan of Walton Goggins. Like the rest of the strike team in that series he was a tough hard-nosed detective who had no qualms about breaking the rules to get the bad guys and making a little money on the side. Staying true to his tough guy image he followed that up by playing Boyd Crowder in “Justified“. Another memorable role. Along the way he then proved his versatility by playing the transgendered prostitute Venus Van Dam in six episodes of “Sons of Anarchy” proving that he could play a comedic role with a touch of pathos thrown in. A truly memorable performance all around. Going back to his roots as a tough guy he did 11 episodes of military drama “Six” playing Navy seal Rip Taggart. He is also recently appeared in “Deep State” and “The Righteous Gemstones“. When I heard he was going to do a sitcom at first it seemed to me he would be out of place since he always plays such bad ass characters. But remembering his comic chops playing the transgendered prostitute gave me hope that he can master a full-fledged comedy.

Much to my delight, my hopes were fulfilled in the new CBS sitcom “The Unicorn“. Here he plays Wade Felton, a widower who is trying to raise 2 teenage daughters on his own. As the series opens it has been a year since he lost his wife. The family has been eating frozen casseroles that people made for them when his wife died. He has a sort of a meltdown when he takes the last casserole out of their freezer. Meanwhile his friends are trying to get him to go out in the world and start dating again.

Through various scenes we see that he has dealt with his grief by being highly involved in his daughter’s lives. He is fluent in videogame jargon in a way most parents would not be. His daughter Grace is played by Ruby Jay most known for playing the title role in the Hulu children’s series Holly Hobbie. The other daughter Natalie is played by McKenzie Moss who is most known for voice work on the “Pup Star” films.

Wade is accompanied by 2 couples who are his best friends Forest played by Rob Corddry and his wife Delia played by Michaela Watkins. Also his friend Ben played by Omar Benson Miller and his wife Michelle played by Maya Lynne Robinson. Corddry is a comedic character actor recently seen in Ballers and voice work on a variety of animated shows. Watkins is most known for being on the 2008-2009 season of SNL. Miller was also in Ballers but is most known for 63 episodes of CSI: Miami. Robinson appeared in last year’s episodes of “The Conners” as DJs wife Geena who spends much of the show away in the military.

After going through a sort of sitcom clichĂ© scene as his friends help him fill out an online dating profile, he soon discovers he’s quite a catch. He’s available but not divorced or not some sleazy guy who has been sleeping around. He is what all single women have been looking for. An elusive creature like a unicorn. He can’t believe the number of women ready to throw themselves at him. He finally goes on a first date which of course is a disaster. In the end the woman is ready to take him back to her house for a night of passion but he realizes its pity sex because he’s a widower. He just isn’t ready for this.

The characters are all likable. The situations are not overly contrived although having contrived situations is a staple of most sitcoms. Goggins proves he can pull off comedy. The show has a lot of heart. The kids are funny without being pretentious. His friends are a little bit shallow but I presume in future episodes we will get to know them better.

My ultimate test of a sitcom is did it make me laugh? In several places it did. Although not a kind of must-see sitcom like “The Big Bang Theory” or “Seinfeld“, it is an enjoyable show. I’m not sure I’ve got room for it in my already overcrowded viewing schedule. So I’m giving it a rating of “Recommended Watchable” which means I like it but I may not end up adding it to my regular schedule. But I can recommend you check it out and see if it tickled your funnybone.

“All Rise” has Potential to Give Shondaland Competition

I was skeptical that we needed another legal drama on TV but I decided to give the new CBS series “All Rise” a trial run 🙂 Our main character is Lola Carmichael, a newly appointed LA Superior Court Judge on her first day on the bench. Carmichael is played by Simone Missick who has been recently seen as Misty Knight in several of the Marvel comics Netflix series Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Luke Cage.

In the first couple of scenes I didn’t know whether it was going to be a legal drama or an action show. In the opening scene as Carmichael is getting out of her car in the parking lot, someone tries to steal her laptop. A friend witnesses the theft and stops the guy by hitting him with his car. In the next scene she walks into a courtroom thinking it was hers but it was not. She notices that a woman defendant is standing there in her underwear being arraigned. Outraged, she wraps her coat around the woman and berates the public defender and the prosecutor and the judge for not noticing the woman was standing there half naked. A bailiff is then outraged at the way we kowtow to criminals. He pulls his gun and starts waving it around eventually firing at the judge and missing. Another bailiff shoots the rogue bailiff.

I don’t know why they felt like they had to have 2 big action scenes and what is actually an ordinary courtroom story. The rest of the episode was more along the lines of what you would expect. We fast-forward two weeks to where Carmichael returns to the bench and finds the same female defendant before her for a different offense. Over the objections of her judicial assistant Sherri, she rejects a plea agreement entered on behalf of the young defendant who maintains her innocence of a burglary charge. The assistant sort of plays the role of comic relief in this show… sort of a plucky sidekick to the judge.

Judge Carmichael is a former prosecutor who is young, idealistic, and out to do “real good” in the judicial system. We also have a Carmichael’s boss Judge Lisa Brenner played by former CSI Marg Helgenberger. Other characters include a young public defender and the bailiff who shot the rogue bailiff in the opening scene. He’s going to law school part-time and wants to be a lawyer himself.

The entire thing reminds me of a sort of “Grey’s Anatomy” except in a courtroom instead of a hospital. We’ve got lots of young, idealistic, good-looking people crusading for truth, justice, and the American way. It’s not at all cynical like many legal dramas are these days. It’s sort of a “feel-good” kind of show. Unlike shows like “How to Get Away with Murder” the plots are not so complicated that eventually you give up trying to keep up with all of the twists, conspiracies, and unnecessarily disjointed storytelling methods. My other current favorite legal drama is “The Good Fight” which is only available on CBS All Access. It’s very good but it is also highly political which we don’t get that in this new show.

I don’t really have room in my schedule for another legal show despite the fact that I’m currently watching the series finale of “Suits” as I write this review. If I do pick up another legal show it might be the new Jimmy Smits show “Bluff City Law” on NBC which I have not yet seen.

But if you like stories of people crusading for the underdogs, don’t want the overly complicated stories of HTGAWM, or the political commentary of “The Good Fight” then perhaps this show is for you. If I had room for it on my schedule I would stick with it but I doubt I will watch more than one opening episode. I give it a rating of a strong “Recommended Watchable“. However you might want to wait on my review for “Bluff City Law” if you only have room for one new legal show on your schedule.

“A Million Little Things” Celebrates Friendship and Makes You Cry along the Way

Television viewing audiences have proven that no matter how sad or tearjerking a dramatic TV program is, they will still watch it religiously if the stories, characters, writing and acting are top-notch. I’m of course talking about “This Is Us“. ABC’s new drama “A Million Little Things” is putting that theory to the test. Just how much crying are we willing to do in order to be entertained?

The title comes from a tagline that appears at the beginning of the program “Friendship isn’t a big thing… It’s a million little things”. An ensemble cast of TV veterans tells the story of four friends who met by chance 10 years ago when they were stuck in an elevator. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours they shared their life stories with one another and discovered a common passion for the Boston Bruins hockey team. One of the four Jon suggested they get season tickets together and they been attending the games and building a friendship ever since.

However in the opening scenes Jon played by Ron Livingston is completing a business deal over the phone, stepped out onto the balcony of his office, and jumps off killing himself. The remainder of the episode deals with the other three friends trying to come to grips with his suicide. Naturally they wonder how they could’ve missed any signs of depression and they are wrestling with the guilt over their failure to prevent this tragedy.

Each of the three surviving friends has a complex story of their own. Eddie Saville played by former “Grimm” star David Giuntoli is a recovering alcoholic who is cheating on his wife. He gives a memorable eulogy of his friend revealing the back story of how they all met and some of the history of the friendship. Rome Howard played by Romany Malco is a filmmaker who makes TV commercials but longs to make more significant films. He’s carrying some secrets of his own. Finally we have Gary Mendez who is played by James Roday. You will recall him as Shawn Spencer on “Psych“. He is recovering from breast cancer and we are reminded that yes… men can get breast cancer. He’s a bit of a womanizer and picks up a woman at his cancer survivors support group, has sex with her in a bathroom, spends the night with her and then brings her as a date to the funeral of his friend.

Filling out the ensemble cast includes the wives and girlfriends of the friends. We have the widow Delilah Dixon played by Stephanie Szostak who you might recall from the USA Network series “Satisfaction“. Rome Howard’s wife Regina is an aspiring restaurateur is played by Christina Marie Moses seen recently in “The Originals“. Maggie Bloom is the girl that Gary brought to the funeral. She is played by Allison Miller who is been recently seen in “13 Reasons Why“.

There are a few plot twists and revealed secrets that I won’t discuss. But I will say they will give ample opportunity to move the story along in future episodes.

It’s interesting to see James Roday in a serious role much different from his character from “Psych”. Although he does have a few comic lines it is for the most part a straight dramatic role and he handles it well. Similarly David Giuntoli’s character is significantly different from Detective Nick Burkhardt in “Grimm” and he handles it well as well.

Overall it’s well-written, well acted, heavy drama and while the comparisons to “This Is Us” are unavoidable, I’m not sure it has the charm or heart of “This Is Us”. It doesn’t have the family element or the children’s stories that are at the core of “This Is Us”. So if that is what you are looking for, you won’t find it at least not in the opening episode. But other than that this has potential to be a big hit if it can move on with the stories of the characters and not being stuck in the issues surrounding the suicide.

Unfortunately I don’t have room for it in my schedule but I’m giving it a very strong “Recommended Watchable” rating. If you’re looking for a good cry check it out.

“New Amsterdam” Might Be a Good Alternative to Existing Medical Dramas

Broadcast TV already has several successful medical dramas such as the long-running “Grey’s Anatomy“, and newcomers “The Good Doctor“, “The Resident” and “Chicago Med“. Recently we’ve also had shows such as “Code Black” which ran a few seasons. Are we really in need of another medical drama such as NBC’s new series “New Amsterdam“?

After seeing one episode of the new series I think it might be a tentative answer of “yes”.

First of all I don’t watch “Chicago Med” so I can’t really compare. I’ve probably seen every episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”. While I enjoy it, at times it’s a little more soap opera than I care for with too much focus on the personal romantic interactions between the characters. It does tell compelling medical stories so I’ve stuck with it all these years even though the soap opera aspects are not my favorite. Although I have continued to watch the entire first season “The Good Doctor” I am still uncomfortable with the basic premise that someone as severely autistic as Dr. Sean Murphy could be accepted as a surgical resident. I watched a couple of episodes of “The Resident” and found it to be extremely cynical and exploits people’s fears about incompetency of medical personnel. That made it a rather unenjoyable experience for me.

“New Amsterdam” confronts the flaws in the healthcare system head on but does so in a much more positive way than “The Resident”. Our main character Dr. Max Goodwin is the new medical director of New Amsterdam Hospital which is the fictional institution described as America’s oldest public hospital. Producers say it was inspired by New York’s Bellevue Hospital. In a staff meeting wrong his first day he fires much of the cardiac surgical team because they are more focused on profits than patient care. It’s a bit unclear how he came to that conclusion but the scene is really designed to illustrate how he’s willing to shake up the system.

Goodwin is played by Ryan Eggold who is most famous for playing Tom Keen on “The Blacklist“. His passion for fixing the system and taking care of patients is obvious and credible. However the show doesn’t get preachy about the flaws in the system. It’s just focused on dramatic storytelling about the patient’s and the doctors who work their best to treat them.

One storyline involves a young man who recently came from Africa and is possibly infected with Ebola. He’s been sent here unwittingly as a terrorist weapon to try to infect Americans. The challenges of treating such a patient are illustrated and as you might expect one of the doctors becomes exposed to the virus.

Another storyline involves the psychiatry department dealing with a young woman who has been passed from foster home to foster home. The doctor tries to find an appropriate permanent placement for her. If he cannot find placement he’s willing to bend the rules to keep her in the inpatient psychiatric care department just to give her some sense of stability.

So if you agree that “Grey’s Anatomy” is too much of a soap opera and don’t care for “The Resident” or “The Good Doctor” then you might want to check out “New Amsterdam”.

I’m thinking of creating a new category in my rating system. Based on how much I enjoyed the show I would normally give it a rating of “I’m Watching It“. However I’m already watching way too many TV shows on a regular basis so I may not continue to actually watch it but I would give it a strong enough recommendation as if I was going to watch it. So let’s add a new category… “Recommended watchable” which is better than the rather tentative category of “Could Be Watchable”. The “Recommended Watchable” means I would watch it if I had the time.