Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Stats: Houdini

Part One of History Channel's Houdini Pulls a Respectable 3.7 Million Viewers

Part one of Adrien Brody's star vehicle, Houdini, debuted on Monday to an audience of 3.7 million viewers, based on History's analysis of Nielsen's fast cable ratings. It so far ranks as the No. 1 cable TV miniseries of 2014. (Watch the full episode here.) Part 2 airs tonight at 9pm.

Preview: The Fidel Castro Tapes

The Nearly Forgotten Hope That Fidel Castro Brought to Cuba

Cuban leader Fidel Castro's poor health forced him a few years ago to cede power to his brother Raul. And, since then, Fidel has been mostly out of the public eye. He's not forgotten - his reign of terror and his own political miscalculations have left his country weak, un-influential and literally falling apart.

Which makes the Fidel Castro of a half century ago barely recognizable in much of PBS's eye-opening and enthralling Fidel Castro Tapes (9pm).

Early on, captured in TV interviews, in the 1950s, Fidel was a leader who rallied millions of Cubans to dethrone dictator Fulgencio Batista with the hope that Fidel - young, mustachioed, speaking English and referred to at the time as Dr. Fidel Castro for his many college degrees - would turn the island country 90 miles south of Florida into the energetic and vibrate country it had once been.

That Fidel was passionate, smart and engaging. Which makes his more than half century of rule - of anything but vibrancy, all the more shocking and horrific. And surprising.

Preview: Face Off - Judge Match

The Tables Turn on Face Off's Trio of Judges

There are few reality competitions on TV as reliably entertaining as Syfy's Face Off (9pm). This isn't a highbrow show or one so exquisitely produced that you'll be chatting about the show for years to come. What it is, is fun.

On the show, Hollywood special effects makeup artists compete in turning goop and goo into incredibly detailed, movie-ready creatures. Tonight, on the special Judge Match, the table turns on judges Ve Neill, Glenn Hetrick and Neville Page who show the wannabes how the pros do it.

Preview: Superhuman Animals

Earth Night Series Takes a Look at Sound
BBC America

Superhuman Animals (BBC America, 9pm) - Using specialized technology Helen Czerski and Patrick Aryee reveal how alligators use low pitch rumbles to make the water around them ‘dance’, show what it’s like to be a bat and to ‘see’ with sound, and convert a classic camper van into a giant speaker to conduct the ultimate hearing test for a herd of elephants.

Daytime TV: Worldwide Exchange

CNBC's Wall Street Pre-Show Expands Its Anchor Team

CNBC's global financial news show, Worldwide Exchange (4am Eastern), based in London, is beefing up its anchor team starting yesterday with Wilfred Frost joining current anchor Julia Chatterly. Wilfred, an Oxford graduate, has been a City of London fund manager the past few years. Later this month, they'll be joined by Seema Mody who has been covering Wall Street for CNBC since 2011.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Houdini

History Channel Mini-Series Houdini Isn't as Good as Star Adrien Brody
Boston Globe

Alas, Houdini, a new two-part miniseries on History (9pm), is not exceptional. It’s a boilerplate biopic that fails to deliver any sense of intimacy with Harry Houdini, as it skips among Houdini’s major life events with an abundance of clunky expositional dialogue and a painfully heavy-handed voice-over.

Adrien Brody gives a committed performance as the famous magician who died at 52 in 1926. He’s particularly dynamic in the scenes that reproduce Houdini’s acts, playing the expert showman and self-promoter with his wife, Bess (Kristen Connolly), as his stage partner.

Keep reading.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Preview: The X Factor UK

Simon Cowell is Back at the Judges' Table on U.S. Television

The thrill of television's singing competitions died out a season or two ago with a combination of factors killing off what had been the unparalleled, shared joy of watching America's unsung singers rise to fame - and judge Simon Cowell slamming down those who shouldn't sing several pegs on Fox's yup-it's-still-on American Idol.

Simon himself may've done the TV genre the most harm. His The X Factor on Fox opened the floodgates for American Idol knockoffs that simultaneously siphoned off Idol's viewers and created a joyless commodity you could find on TV on any network at any time of year. Worse, The X Factor started creatively strong and got worse and worse as Simon or Fox or someone desperately tried to make it more popular than it was.

Kids, the televised singing competition is dead. Rising Star, anyone? Anyone? Right.

Preview: Breathless

Sexy Doctors in 1960s London

TV may have lush, stylish period pieces like AMC's Mad Men and, going further back in time, PBS's Downton Abbey. But do any of them have Jack Davenport starring as a doctor in 1960s London, just as the sexual revolution is taking off? PBS's three-part Breathless (episode 2, 9pm) does. The drama also gives TV something it's in desperately short supply of: sudsy soap operas.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Preview: Doctor Who

Beware the Dalek Fleet on the New Doctor Who

Presciently, the brilliant team behind BBC America's love-it-or-love-it Doctor Who (9pm) - if you don't love it, you already clicked away - perhaps sensing Whovian unrest about the new doctor, Peter Capaldi, have loaded the second episode of the new season with a whole fleet of oft-retuning and reliably, deliciously evil daleks.

The fearsome, robot-like creatures kill everything that's not a dalek. Their evil nature gets Doctor Who wondering who he himself is: evil or good. Which is fairly typical of a casting change for the lead actor.

The previous Doctor, Matt Smith, had a personality that evolved and changed over the years. His evolution gives Doctor Who fans hope that Peter will claim his own Doctor personality and maybe, just maybe will in time be as loved as his predecessors.

Friday, August 29, 2014

5Qs on Friday: Mira Sorvino

A Scary Mystery is Swirling Around Mira Sorvino

About a quarter of the way into last week's season premiere of BBC America's wonderfully dark Intruders (Saturday, 10pm), John Simm's Jack Whelan says to his wife, Mira Sorvino's Amy Whelan, "You have not been yourself." To put it mildly.

On the show, from X-Files' Glen Morgan and based on the novel "The Intruders" by Michael Marshall Smith, Mira's character is a mysterious woman whose odd behavior and sudden disappearance are as dark and spooky as the show itself. Men dressed in black suits stealthily bump around suburban neighborhoods, unlocking doors and thrusting people into exorcism-type convulsions, when they're not killing them.

Mira spoke with TVFirstLook about Intruders, her strange character Amy and being part of TV's Golden Age of dramas.

TVFirstLook: Glen Morgan is a legend in creepy TV. What's it like to work with him?