Roush Review


GREEK, Skins: Let the TV Youthquake Begin

Get the party started. With the CW’s 90210 remake and a new season of Gossip Girl right around the Labor Day corner, TV’s fountain of frisky youth is overflowing with buzz. Getting a jump on the competition this month: a sophomore year for ABC Family’s cutesy, chirpy GREEK and, more than earning its viewer discretion warning, BBC America’s shockingly bawdy teen romp Skins.

Skins goes places that would make even those jaded Gossip Girl brats blush. Think a British “Superbad,” or a debauched “Ferris Bueller” clone, to get the flavor of this gritty, anarchic, proudly profane and desperately funny study of public-school buds who often sound like they took vocabulary lessons from South Park. (My screeners include subtitles for when the raunchy dialogue flies by too fast.)

The ringleader of this group’s mischievous misadventures is 17-year-old Tony (Nicholas Hoult, the former chil read more

AT THE MOVIES: TV GONE BAD

Would it be a crime if some classic TV shows were to stage their comebacks in the medium that made them famous and for which they’re maybe better suited? Such wishful thinking came to mind as I headed to the movies several times over the summer, hoping for a nostalgic escape, but ended up yearning for the good old days when these shows were still on TV, where they belong.

With the disappointingly drab “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” I left wanting more. With the criminally overlong box-office hit “Sex and the City” movie, which felt like an unnecessary one-season-too-many of contrived breakups and makeups, I wanted less. With the charmlessly heavy-handed “Get Smart” remake, starring a bland Steve Carell as a—would you believe—smart Maxwell Smart, I wanted something, anything, to evoke the ’60s spy spoof’s cheeky spirit.

My expectations were greatest for the new “X-Files” movie, given my fo read more

Sci-fi’s Great Escapes: Primeval and Eureka

People love taking their science fiction seriously. (Just check out any report from the latest Comic-Con if you doubt it.) But there’s also something refreshing about sci-fi shows that have little more than fun on their escapist minds.

BBC America’s fanciful new creature-feature series Primeval and Sci Fi Channel’s whimsical Eureka share a cheeky irreverence as they ground their mind-blowing misadventures in a modern world where the fantastic is commonplace. When Eureka’s harried sheriff declares of humanity, “We so don’t rule,” it’s a laugh line shrouded in a shudder.

In Primeval, fearsome prehistoric beasts and icky CGI creepy-crawlies invade today’s London, squirming through shimmering crystal windows—“a door between time zones in the world’s history,” as the show’s scientist hero Nick Cutter (Douglas Henshall) puts it. When he and his team leap through the prism read more

Mad Men: Clouds in Camelot

Mad Men smokes. That’s an understatement. “Two packs a day, but you’re cutting down,” a doctor mocks leading man of mystery Don Draper (the quietly brilliant Jon Hamm) in one of the opening scenes of the long-awaited Season 2.

Mad Men also sizzles, simmering with erotic tension and crackling with cynical wit as it explores with high style and tantalizing substance the mores and often naughty manners of ad men—and the women who suffer them—in the early 1960s. When Don’s boss, Roger (the dryly funny John Slattery), enters Don’s office and heads straight to the bar, he quips, “They say once you start drinking alone, you’re an alcoholic. Really trying to avoid that.”

Crisp as a martini yet spicy as a Bloody Mary, the intoxicating Mad Men goes down smooth and gives great afterglow but also can leave you with a hangover of unease. Matthew Weiner’s moody masterpiece is the rare period piece read more

War Is Hell—No Matter the Era

“It’s really pretty country out here,” says a marine, admiring the view during a mission in Iraq. “Except for the mortars,” cracks a reporter along for the harrowing ride.

War is never pretty, whether presented with the unflinching immediacy of journalism—as in HBO’s riveting seven-part docudrama miniseries Generation Kill—or in the more genteel light of bittersweet nostalgia, the approach of PBS’ engrossingly intelligent WWII-era whodunit Foyle’s War, now in its final season on Masterpiece Mystery!

While the last three chapters of Foyle’s unfold on the British home front in the waning days of that conflict, Generation Kill embeds us with sordid, graphic and profane detail in the first weeks of the ground assault on Iraq in 2003. Kill, produced by The Wire’s David Simon and Ed Burns with the same searing authenticity they brought to their Baltimore drama, i read more

7th Heaven Goes to Hormone High

In this age of Facebook and MySpace—and, let’s face it, Gossip Girl—is there any teenager today with a truly secret life? I don’t remember seeing anyone texting or using cell phones or doing anything teens regularly do (except
obsess about sex) in the opening hour of The Secret Life of the American Teenager. This show would seem awfully stale and soggily simplistic even if we hadn’t already seen it all done much better in My So-Called Life, “Juno” and any
number of Afterschool Specials—not to mention John Hughes movies.

That last association comes courtesy of the casting of a so-far underused Molly Ringwald as the dutiful mom, who as the show begins is putting pot roast in the microwave while her 15-year-old band-geek daughter, Amy (the nicely pensive Shailene Woodley), discovers she’s got a bun in her own oven.

A good girl’s surprise pregnancy is a strong premise, but creator Brenda Hampto read more

Fear Itself: A Gruesome Reality Break

Want to see a critic cringe in fear? Force me to watch Dina Lohan’s narcissistic celebreality atrocity, or another hour of Mark L. Walberg presiding ghoulishly over the Moment of Truth’s hot seat. By comparison, ravenous vampires, sadistic ghosts and spectral serial killers are almost welcome and charming company.

Not that charm has anything to do with the grisly stories told on Fear Itself, a horror anthology that should represent a welcome break from network TV’s summer reality obsession. Too bad watching the show is so oppressively unpleasant. I wasn’t so much scared by the three episodes I’ve seen as ultimately repulsed.

Suspense should be nerve-tingling fun, not necessarily punishing, and most of what I’ve seen so far has been about as enjoyable as taking a sledgehammer to the temple. And just about as cheesily predictable.

On the plus side, the show looks great, even when gross, and watching familiar TV faces get read more

Call Girl: Sex and Another City

While the “Sex and the City” movie plays on at the sin—sorry, cineplex, Showtime steals a bit of HBO’s thunder by importing a spicy and worthy successor from England that might make Carrie Bradshaw blush. I know she’d be hooked.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl is, like Sex, that rare show that can balance sophisticated humor with graphic vulgarity. It’s titillating without being truly trashy, because it also has heart—for that, thank Bil-lie Piper (formerly of Doctor Who), who brings wit and warmth, but also a crisp and unpredictable edge, to the tricky role of Belle by night/Hannah by day.

An elite London call girl, Belle seduces the viewer by letting us in on her trade secrets: talking directly to the camera (“I never actually ‘sleep’ with clients”) and shooting knowing glances, as if to say: “Can you believe this?”

We often can’t. Her torrid misadventures have a comi read more

A Smorgasbord of Summer TV

Used to be that TV’s off-season really meant “lights out.” No longer. As you’ll see throughout this Summer Preview issue, the variety of TV on display from June through August is even more eclectic than it often is during the regular season, ranging from the good (So You Think You Can Dance) and the awful (a new batch of The Moment of Truth episodes) to the exquisite (a second season of Mad Men on the horizon). The first wave of summer TV is already upon us, with new and returning series and specials that offer something for just about everyone. Here’s a quick look at some of the standouts.

MILLION DOLLAR PASSWORD

Who’s it for? Game show/word game fans. Finally, something my mom can watch.

How is it? I liked it better when they passed the word from team to team. This flashy update of the classic guess-the-word game is like an endless lightning round. Tireless hos read more

Swingtown: Welcome to That ’70s Sex Show!

Do you know anyone who’s truly nostalgic for the ’70s, with those ugly clothes and even less flattering hair? (I lived through it and have seriously thought about burning my yearbooks.) If Fox’s That ’70s Show played the
decade for laughs, CBS’ smirky, smarmy drama Swingtown plays it for leers.

“They look happy,” says airline pilot Tom (Melrose Place stud Grant Show), who does everything but lick his lips as he peers through his window at the new neighbors innocently moving into their cul-de-sex of an upscale Chicago suburb. Tom and wife Trina (Boomtown’s Lana Parrilla) have just wrapped up a threesome when they lay wolfish eyes on the naive newbies.

Susan and Bruce (Deadwood’s Molly Parker and Jack Davenport), trading their old life of block parties and barbecues for a new world of Quaaludes and open relationships, are fresh meat to these sensuous predators. They’re not even fu read more

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