Monday, February 22, 2016

TV: HULU scores another win (and so does NETFLIX)

How does this end for James Franco?

He's diversified his roles and projects in a way that few ever do.

In the process, some argue that he's diluted his star power.


Maybe not.


Tuesday Weld chose art over box office and though she has no Academy Award or film franchise, she does have a reputation that earns respect and is considered a real actor.

Valerie Perrine is the same age as Tuesday and, like Tuesday, has an Academy Award nomination.

But that's all Valerie has.

She never diversified.

She was the blonde bimbo in SUPERMAN, in SUPERMAN II, in THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN, in THE BORDER . . .

If she's remembered for anything, it will probably be for performing the female lead in the cult classic CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC.

Valerie was talented in every role.

She never embarrassed herself and usually came across (even in small roles such as with MAID TO ORDER).

If Tuesday had just stuck to roles like the one she played in Bob Hope's I'LL TAKE SWEDEN, she might be in the same boat.


She creates roles that defy logic and scripts, people who come to life on the screen and seem completely real.

In the seventies, there weren't a lot of great roles for women.

If it was a musical role, Barbra Streisand had first rights; if it was comedy, Goldie Hawn had first rights; if it was melodrama, Diana Ross was the go to.

When film makers finally decided they were interested in women, the roles tended to go to Jane Fonda and Shirley MacLaine.

Valerie frequently took the best roles available in commercial films during this period.

Tuesday Weld took the roles in questionable films if she thought the role would let her really explore.

So, yes, there's a good chance that in ten years Baby Franco might not be offered the lead roles in whatever a studio hopes will be their summer blockbuster.

But there's always that chance.

And so better Franco should use the time now to explore his craft.

That's what he's doing in Hulu's new 11.22.63.

The mini-series is based on Stephen King's book of the same name.   J.J. Abrams stepped in as show runner after the original one (Jonathan Demme) had some loud and bitter fights with King about the direction of the project.  (Demme wanted to use the book as a jumping off point while King felt the point of turning the book into a mini-series was to utilize the book.)

Franco is a teacher, Jake Epping.  He loves creative writing.

But life itself goes creative when he notices, in basically the blink of an eye, his friend Al (Chris Cooper) goes from healthy to deathly ill.

What happened?

Go into the closet, he's told.

Al tells him to walk to the back of the closet, that it will make more sense that way.

So Jake walks through the darkened closet until he suddenly emerges outside in daylight in the year 1960.

Al's been using the closet in an attempt to go back and alter time and events to prevent the assassination of JFK.

He wants Jake to continue the effort.

HULU earns high praise for this mini-series.  It's a must-watch, their second one they can boast of.

Their other strong effort is the sitcom DIFFICULT PEOPLE.

Sitcom is a hard thing to do.

Especially for HULU and NETFLIX.

GRACE & FRANKIE succeeds but NETFLIX's other offering, LOVE, falls flat.

It's just not funny.

It, at times, approaches pithy and at other times manages to embrace whimsy.

But funny escapes it over and over.

And that brings up a problem that both HULU and NETFLIX have been having: Single-camera sitcoms.

The most popular sitcom on HULU is . . . SEINFELD -- taped before a live studio audience.  The most popular sitcoms on NETFLIX?  FRIENDS and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND -- both taped before a live studio audience.  The most popular sitcom on broadcast TV?  THE BIG BANG THEORY -- taped before a live studio audience.

Jane Fonda is wonderful in GRACE & FRANKIE but, let's be honest, her performance would have more of an edge if she were performing in a front of a live audience.  There's a comfort level in her performance that would fly out the window if they weren't shooting each episode piecemeil.

Lily Tomlin can be hilarious either way -- studio audience or without.

That's because her process is workshop.

She's always done workshop, she's always played with this element or that element, before audiences and alone, honing the role.

Lily got the Emmy nomination for the first season of the series and deserved it.

Jane deserved to be nominated as well.

And the only criticism we have of her performance is that a studio audience would add an edge to her performance that is so far missing.

When we've noted the need for HULU and NETFLIX to either offer sitcoms filmed before a live audience or stick to dramas, industry friends have insisted that the two streaming services can't afford it.  We have no idea where that nonsense comes from.

It can be done and it should be done.

And good for NETFLIX, it is being done.

February 26th, NETFLIX debuts FULLER HOUSE.

For those arriving late, ABC aired new episodes of FULL HOUSE from 1987 to 1995.  The show revolved around a dad and his brother-in-law and his friend raising the dad's daughters.  This was not Chekov nor was it Neil Simon.

But it was a family show that appealed to many and offered some laughs.

FULLER HOUSE finds D.J. (the oldest of the daughters on FULL HOUSE, played by Candace Cameron Bure) now a single parent and her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and her friend Kimmy (Andrea Barber) join her to help raise D.J.'s kids.

We expected the show to be a huge embarrassment.

When we were offered four episodes to view, we were frank that we probably would ignore the show.  We'd watch the episodes but we didn't think we'd have anything nice to say about it and we'd probably ignore it.

But the show is actually funny.

The three leads are wonderful and the writing is quality writing for a family show.

In addition, the regulars from the original series who drop by are all welcome additions -- Lori Loughlin and John Stamos are especially strong and welcome guest stars.

A family sitcom has a whole set of rules and guidelines it has to follow.

It can't be 'edgy,' the way some hipsters demand because it's attempting to appeal to multiple generations.

It's can't be dull or it ends up easily forgotten like THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER (remembered today, if at all, for the show's theme song).

We anticipate that the show will be trashed.

First of all, you have three female leads and, if you haven't noticed, The Water Cooler Set really loves to bash women -- Ashley Judd, Whitney Cummings, Jennifer Lopez, etc.

Second off, it's a family sitcom which won't provide the snickers hipsters feel a comedy must have.

But it's a strong show and it's going to appeal to many people -- including original fans of FULL HOUSE.

HULU needs more original shows -- especially for the summer which, as we've noted for years, finds HULU with little new programming to offer (since the networks produce so few new shows during the summer).

11.22.63 is a strong offering which should earn praise for them.  FULLER HOUSE probably won't please The Water Cooler Set but it's a brave step for the streaming service and it's one that's probably going to deliver strong numbers.

We started out wondering how this all ends for James Franco but we end up wondering what it means for the future of these new 'networks' (streaming services)?

Stephen King is a major talent.  James Franco is a major talent.  J.J. Abrams is a major talent.  That HULU got them is big news in and of itself.  That 11.22.63 is actually entertaining is news as well. While that offers an indication of where streaming services can go, we'd argue that NETFLIX's FULLER HOUSE is just as important to the future of streaming services.

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