Wednesday February 6, 2019

An all new season of The Challenge returns tonight on MTV. They’ve significantly deepened the pool of competitors and upon watching the preview (which ran a full hour), I’m hesitant to throw support behind that decision. More below.

Harvey and Donna are caught in the crosshairs when Stu is blackmailed; and Samantha revisits her past. #SUITS

CBS has ordered 2 more seasons of Mom.

ABC has renewed Modern Family for an 11th and final season.

They also renewed Bachelor In Paradise for a 6th season and handed out renewals to Shark Tank, A Million Little Things and The Good Doctor.

Freeform has renewed Good Trouble for a 2nd season and Grown-ish for a 3rd season.

Netflix series Cricket Fever: Mumbai Indians, will premiere March 1. Produced by Condé Nast Entertainment, the 8-episode series features the Mumbai Indians cricketing club as they compete at the Indian Premier League 2018 in search of their record 4th title.

Jennifer Lawrence is engaged.

I still find Lolo Jones to be an absolutely horrible and deplorable human being.

Netflix is adapting an America Ferrera-produced digital series into a half-hour dramedy.  The streamer has ordered 10 episodes of Gente-fied, a bilingual Latinx series about the lives of three Mexican-American cousins chasing the American dream in a rapidly changing Los Angeles even as that dream threatens their neighborhood, their immigrant grandfather and their family taco shop.  Gente-fied began as a Macro-produced web series following seven characters as they deal with change to their Boyle Heights neighborhood. It premiered at Sundance in 2017.”

No, you’re not crazy, it did look like Stacey Abrams was standing in front of a green screen.

Some praise for Stephen Dorff.

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Per The Hollywood Reporter, “The Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons is taking his next producing project to Netflix.

“The streamer has picked up Special, an eight-episode comedy series from writer and star Ryan O'Connell (Will & Grace, Awkward). It is based on his part memoir, part manifesto I'm Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.

“The series, set to premiere April 12, will follow O'Connell's character, a gay man with mild cerebral palsy who decides to rewrite his identity as an accident victim and finally go after the life he wants.

“Special also stars Jessica Hecht (Friends, Breaking Bad), Punam Patel (Adam Ruins Everything), Marla Mindelle, Augustus Prew (Pure Genius) and Patrick Fabian (Better Call Saul). 

“The project comes from Big Bang Theory producer Warner Bros. TV, studio-affiliated Stage 13 and Parson's That's Wonderful Productions. O'Connell executive produces with Parsons and That's Wonderful's Todd Spiewak (who is also married to Parsons) and Eric Norsoph. Flight of the Conchords and Insecure veteran Anna Dokoza directs and exec produces.

“Parsons is also an executive producer and the narrator of Big Bang Theory spinoff Young SheldonSpecial marks his first time working with Netflix as a producer; he stars with Zac Efron in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a feature film about serial killer Ted Bundy that Netflix picked up at Sundance.”

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From For The Win: “You might chuckle at this, but it’s actually a pretty close comparison when you think about it.

“Johnny ‘Bananas’ Devenanzio — star of MTV’s The Challenge— thinks he and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady have a lot in common, so much so that Bananas thinks he’s the Brady of the network’s long-running competition reality series that we here at For The Win consider a sport.

“‘He’s the GOAT of the NFL, I’m the GOAT of The Challenge,’ he told For The Win over the phone last week. ‘I’m in my late 30s, he’s in his 40s. We’re both defying the odds of age and physics season after season. I’m 36, but I don’t feel 36 mentally or physically. I have a better overall sense of well-being than I had in my 20s. I take care of myself.’

“Oh, and as of Sunday, they’ve both won six titles.

“The context of that answer came from a question we keep asking Bananas: Is retirement in his future? Not yet, he says.

“Ahead of him is another season of the show, War of the Worlds, which mixes a group of veteran players with new blood from various reality shows around the globe. Here’s what we learned from Bananas ahead of the premiere on Feb 6 at 9 p.m. ET:

1. This will be a no-frills Challenge with a tougher ending than last season

“'This season is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,’ Bananas says. ‘We were in the middle of a desert. It’s exactly what it looks like: Post-apocalyptic Mad Max style. Forget everything you know about past seasons of The Challenge and the location and the beautiful house and the swimming pool and the lap of luxury. This was anything but. Just the environment and location tested you right out of the gate.’

He also said any negative fan reaction to the lackluster final challenge in last year’s Final Reckoning will be addressed with a much more ‘brutal’ test.

“‘From a mental standpoint, (Final Reckoning) was the hardest season I’ve ever done,’ Bananas says. But he could see how fans might have felt differently. ‘The redemption house, love it or hate it … how many more chances are these people going to get? You get people like Paulie and Natalie who came back seven times. The final, for a million dollars? You should have to cut your arm off in order to win that. What I had to do on past challenges for an iota of what they earned was way more brutal.’

2. Bananas hints that new competitors doesn’t necessarily help him out

“One of the biggest storylines that’s developed in recent years is the anti-Bananas strategy that came to a head in Final Reckoning. But with some new names who may not know him as well, you’d think it would help his cause to get some newbies on his side … right?

“‘That was my thought coming in. I was stoked,’ he says. ‘Half the cast will be new faces who don’t know me. But then you have consider the format and how that cast will be broken down. Will we be paired up? Us against them? Who will take the lead? I was a lot more optimistic going in knowing the elements would be different than the last two seasons. You’ll watch to see what wins out.’

3. There’s no offseason in The Challenge anymore

“Just like the NFL!

“‘Even when football isn’t on, you’re talking about it,’ he says. ‘The Challenge is the same way. It used to not be like that. Now it’s constant.’

“The reason? The pool of players used to be just from Real World and Road Rules. But now that competitors can be taken from shows like Big Brother or Geordie Shore, along with the advent of social media, you’re eligible to participate.

“‘Because there’s so much competition, people are trying to stand out. Every single day, I get Twitter mentions, comments in Instagram, DMs from reality television people I don’t know. Ex on the BeachAre You the One?, people are trying to start beef with me.’

“They hope that will give themselves a leg up on appearing on the show, but Bananas says he doesn’t respond.”

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From TheWrap: “ESPN’s streaming service, ESPN+, has surpassed 2 million paid subscribers, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced during its first quarter earnings call on Tuesday.

“ESPN launched its streaming service last April, attaining 1 million subscribers within its first five months. It’s now reached 2 million in less than a year. In January, ESPN+ debuted its first UFC Fight Night, where it added 568,000 subscribers on Friday and Saturday alone, the biggest two-day sign-up stretch (though some of those were via the 7-day free trial).

“The app gives sports nuts thousands of live MLB, MLS, NHL and English Premier League games, along with access to its “30 for 30” documentary series archive. ESPN+ also offers users exclusive shows like Kobe Bryant’s basketball breakdown show Detail.

“The service was hyped up for months leading up to its April launch last year, with Iger teasing the app during quarterly earnings calls. ESPN+ runs $4.99 a month, or $49.99 for a year, and is available on iOS, Android, and a host of TV streaming options, like Apple TV and Roku. While it offers thousands of live events, which recently included the addition of NCAA football to the mix, it’s still missing certain things — chiefly, NFL action — that’ll drive subscribers even higher.

“Last month, ESPN hired Brian Lockhart, who spent the last decade with the NFL’s media arm, to be its executive producer of original content for ESPN+.

“The subscriber news for ESPN+ comes as Disney is readying the launch of its own branded streaming service, Disney+, which still does not have a price point or launch date outside of the fourth quarter of 2019. Disney has an investor day on April 11 where it will demo Disney+.”

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Per Deadline, “Netflix has given an eight-episode order to Pieces of Her, a series based on the 2018 book by best-selling crime author Karin Slaughter, from an all-female creative team of executive producers Lesli Linka Glatter (Homeland, Madmen), Charlotte Stoudt (Homeland, House of Cards) and Bruna Papandrea (Big Little Lies).

“Written by Stoudt, who serves as showrunner, in Pieces of Her, when a Saturday afternoon trip to the mall with her mother suddenly explodes into violence, an adrift young woman’s conception of her mother is forever changed. As figures from her mother’s past start to resurface, she is forced to go on the run, and on that journey, she begins to piece together the truth of her mother’s previous identity and uncovers secrets of her childhood.

“Stoudt exec produces with Papandrea via her Made Up Stories and Glatter, who will direct the first two episodes.

“The project was announced as being in development at Made Up Stories and at-the-time Endeavor Content in June, about six weeks before its publication by William Morrow. “From the moment I started reading Karin’s visceral new novel, I felt like there was nothing like it on TV – an emotional mother-daughter story living in the skin of a heart-pounding action thriller,” Papandrea said in the announcement.

“Slaughter has penned 18 novels including Cop Town, Pretty Girls, The Good Daughter and the Grant County and Will Trent series. Her books have sold more than 35 million copies and been translated in more than three dozen languages.”

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From Vulture: “The first time I watched Big Mouth, I thought, Okay, this is the only way to make a truly frank, no-holds-barred TV show about middle schoolers.

“But it turns out that there is another, non-animated approach that also works. It’s the one taken by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle in PEN15, a new Hulu series that the two co-created, along with Sam Zvibleman, and in which they star as middle-school versions of themselves. In case this still isn’t clear: Erskine and Konkle are 31-year-old women who play seventh-graders in a ten-episode season of television in which all the other middle schoolers are played by actual middle-school-age kids.

“The fact that this unusual, semi-autobiographical stroke of casting works is a testament to Erskine’s and Konkle’s innate understanding of preteen-girl behavior and their ability to translate their real-life friendship into a bond that provides the foundation for this very funny, cringey coming-of-age comedy. With its attention to the details of American life in the year 2000, idiosyncratic protagonists, and mix of brutal honesty and gentle poignance, PEN15 is an ideal blend of Freaks and Geeks and Napoleon Dynamite. It’s also heavy on imagery and references that tap into millennial nostalgia, millennials being the demo most likely to fall hard for this series. That said, the show is so relatable and well-written that even if you’re too old or too young to have hit puberty around the time of Y2K, you’re still likely to be charmed by it.

“The first scene of the series, which starts streaming Friday, finds Maya and Anna gabbing on the phone, trading gossip about what’s happened to their classmates over the summer. ‘I heard that Connie M. grew double Ds her last night at camp,’ Maya says authoritatively. ‘It, like, happened in the middle of her sleep.’ They’re also buzzing about their first day of seventh grade, which both predict will mark the beginning of the best year of their lives. Unfortunately, the first day of seventh grade suggests that forecast may need to be revised. After being dubbed the ugliest girl in school and getting into a fight with a boy she has a crush on, by day two, Maya is already tearfully declaring: ‘I don’t want to do seventh grade.’

“But do seventh grade they must, which provides us the opportunity to watch Maya and Anna navigate school concerts, embarrassing parents, AOL Instant Messenger relationships, petty popular girls, first kisses, and early experiences with masturbation. PEN15 doesn’t focus nearly as exclusively on pubescent sexuality as Big Mouth does, but it’s certainly part of the landscape, a dicey proposition considering that the boys Anna and Maya are interested in are portrayed by actual boys. The show handles that strategically, though, and in a way that really could not be pulled off if two grown men were pretending to be preteen boys opposite actual young girls. (That’s always going to seem predatory, no matter how it is handled.)

“The only significant physical contact between the two leads and their objects of affection comes in the form of slow dances; a first kiss, shot in a way that clearly implies that Konkle and Brady Allen, who plays Anna’s first “boyfriend” Brendan, never actually lock lips; and a scene where the two girls get to second base with another classmate in an extremely unsexy way. Most of the hormonally driven exploration is confined to the girls’ own experiences. In one episode, Maya, having discovered masturbation, goes on a rampant humping and rubbing spree, then grapples with feelings of guilt about it. In another, they get their hands on a thong that belongs to Heather (Anna Pniowsky), the most popular girl in their grade, and take turns wearing it once they realize that the skimpy underwear gives them the 2000 equivalent of big dick energy. These are almost-women trying to figure out how to navigate their emerging sensuality. But the great love of both of their lives, ultimately, is each other.

“It is remarkable how easy it is to forget that Erskine and Konkle aren’t actually kids. That’s due in part to their own youthful appearances. Erskine is petite, given an unflattering, childish bowl cut, and wears a retainer. Konkle sports shiny braces and, though quite tall, frequently slumps over or crosses her arms, as if she’s trying to hide her height, which is exactly what early bloomers do in middle school. Beyond those cosmetic things, they also project a naïveté that makes it easy to consider them immediately as their characters. Konkle has a gift for casting an innocent, fantastical glaze over her eyes, especially when daydreaming about a crush or imagining the prospect of winning tickets to see B*Witched from Q102. Erskine, who previously demonstrated her range on Hulu’s Casual, is fluent in teen speak, adding extra ‘uhs’ to the end of certain words when she’s excited or annoyed. (‘Oh my God-uh,’ ‘Mom-uh,’ ‘Get out of my room-uh,’ etc.) She’s self-conscious yet so amused by her own comic sensibility that she has no qualms about making herself the center of attention, especially when that involves doing her Ace Ventura impression and talking out of her own butt.

“Together, the two share a giddy, whispery intimacy that will look familiar to any girl or woman who ever had a BFF. That intimacy can be fragile, though. When something happens to shift the balance between Anna and Maya even slightly, the relationship can rupture. In the sixth episode, when the two work on a school project about osteoporosis that involves making a Spice Girls video, several of their classmates jokingly treat Maya, whose mother is Japanese, like she’s a second-class citizen because of the color of her skin. This leads to a rift between Anna and Maya, one preceded by Anna handling her white guilt in the most year-2000 way possible: By going to Ask Jeeves and typing ‘Am I racist?’ in the search bar.

“Those throwback-style details provide much joy in PEN15. AIM, an episode that revolves around the girls’ first foray into instant messaging, will take you right back to the days when the sound of digitally opening and shutting doors were a regular feature of your life’s soundtrack. That episode also just might blow the minds of those who never had to use the home landline to access the web. (‘You couldn’t use the phone and internet at the same time?’ No, we couldn’t! You have no idea how hard life was 19 years ago!)

“But the most joyful thing in PEN15 is the relationship between Anna and Maya, which is a refreshing testament to the role girls play in propping each other up during a period of life when every rug they’ve ever known is pulled out from under them with little warning. In the finale of what will hopefully be the first of several seasons of PEN15, Anna gets to stay at Maya’s for a couple of days while her parents are out of town. As soon as Anna arrives, the two explode with irrepressible glee that plays out in a montage of them running around the house and acting silly to the sound of the song Dreams by the Cranberries.

“It’s the perfect musical accompaniment for a moment that captures the absolute bliss of spending unlimited hours with your best friend. ‘I know I felt like this before,’ sings the late Dolores O’Riordan as the girls squeeze into the same T-shirt and practice a dance they choreographed together. ‘But now I’m feeling it even more. Because it came from you.’ PEN15understands that feeling, and knows exactly how to make you remember what it felt like, too.”