Brian Lowry (Variety.com)
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Critics should avoid bringing too many expectations to projects, trying to view each with a fresh set of eyes. But inevitably, returning programs, the occasional new show and even entire networks/services foster certain preconceived notions, based on what's come before, the premise or the creative auspices.
From that perspective, 2014 produced a number of pleasant surprises, in part from existing programs that received a creative makeover, as well as projects or providers that proved more appealing than anticipated. (The following is in alphabetical order, and as always, beware of spoilers.)
"Almost Royal"- BBC America's unscripted spoof -- about two sprightly youths, several dozen places down on the list of succession to the British throne, visiting unsuspecting Americans -- looked like just another "Borat" knockoff. But it turned out to be great fun, thanks in large part to the heroics of Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart in those roles.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - After the explosive action and plot twists of the previous three episodes, "Homeland" closed its fourth season on a quieter note, withCarrie Mathison looking inward to slay a few personal dragons.
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you have not seen the Dec. 21 episode of "Homeland," "Long Time Coming."
The season that saw Carrie get back to what she does best -- tenaciously fighting terrorists -- ended with her trying to adjust to dealing with the stuff of everyday life: being a mother, dealing with the loss of her father and the painful reconnection with her long-AWOL mother.
“SNL” veteran Mike Myers returned to the show on Saturday as Dr. Evil to mock North Korea’s cyber war with Sony Pictures.
The Austin Powers nemesis, appearing in the show’s opening sketch, ripped everyone from the hackers (“There’s already a GOP and they’re already an evil organization”) to Sony, who, according to Dr. Evil “hasn’t had a hit since the Walkman.”
He also poked fun of “The Interview.”
By Elizabeth Wagmeister
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Sarah Jessica Parker is eying her return to HBO.
The "Sex and the City" star is expected to star in and exec produce HBO's "Divorce," although the pilot has not yet been greenlit, Variety has learned.
The half-hour comedy is described as the story of a very, very drawn-out divorce. Parker will make up one half of the divorced couple.
Cynthia Littleton, Variety.comA wistful Craig Ferguson wrapped a 10-year run on CBS’ “The Late Late Show” on Friday with a surprise closing segment that paid tribute to a handful of classic TV series finales.
Ferguson signed off after 2,058 episodes in characteristically quirky fashion, running through many of the show’s regular comedy bits, such as bantering with sidekick Geoff the talking robot skeleton and showcasing Secretariat, the show’s “fake horse” brought to life by two people in a classic pantomime horse costume.
The guest segment featured Jay Leno in a candid, and for Ferguson fairly low-key, session of swapping stories of talkshow host gripes about lame guests, pushy publicists and the trials of aging on the job. Leno, who signed off “The Tonight Show” in February, looked like a guy who’s been semi-retired for 10 months, with a shaggier mop of silver hair and more casual look than he sported on NBC’s air all those years. He assured Ferguson that great experiences awaited him on the standup circuit.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Federal authorities have determined that hackers working on behalf of the North Korean government were behind the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, according to CNBC and CNN.
"We have found linkage to the North Korean government," a source told CNBC.
CNN's Evan Perez said that an announcement is expected on Thursday that would "assign attribution" to the country, which threatened retaliation over the release of "The Interview."
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Buoyed by superb casting and an organic setting for flamboyant, larger-than-life characters, "Mozart in the Jungle" may not qualify as a masterpiece, but it falls squarely into the pleasant-addition-to-the-neighborhood category in Amazon's impressive package of original series. Indeed, on a conventional network, this half-hour show - whose producers include Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman - would feel like the perfect lead-out to "Alpha House," the streamer's D.C.-set comedy, which also provides a satirical window onto a world of money, power and egos that operates by its own arcane set of rules.
In what feels like a particular coup, "Mozart's" ensemble features Gael Garcia Bernal as the new conductor of the New York Symphony, taking the baton from his imperious predecessor, Thomas, played with appropriate swagger by Malcolm McDowell. Bernal's maestro Rodrigo is the sort who can get by with one name, Cher-like, while bringing a rock-n-roll vibe to classical music (his hair receives inordinate attention).
That said, he's uncomfortable with efforts to exploit that mystique by, say, trotting himself out like a prize pony in front of well-heeled donors, as well as a board led by a trustee (Bernadette Peters) seemingly more interested in marketing than music.
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Sometimes great TV comedy makes you laugh so hard you cry. And sometimes it just makes you cry.
If one thing became entirely clear in 2014, it's that traditional descriptors like "sit-com" are so last century. Defining what makes a small screen laffer is no longer cut and dry. Digital platforms like Netflix and Amazon are following in the footsteps of industry innovators like HBO and Showtime and shattering the barrier between drama and comedy -- and the obvious winner in this genre revolution is the viewing audience.
That doesn't mean there aren't great examples of the classic multi-camera comedy format still on the air (our list includes two of them), or that trendy single camera shows can't be non-stop joke machines (we'd argue both "Veep" and "Silicon Valley" place laughs over pathos in every episode). But let's also thank the shows pushing the envelope to make TV comedy a riskier, edgier, more exciting place than it ever has been.