The Week In TV

It was mostly a slow news week in TV Land, aside from a few premieres (which I watched) and the return of pro football (which I barely remembered, then kindly changed the channel). This is the week that was:

• The premiere of FX's Terriers was a rock-solid pilot that continued FX's trend of smart series that mix action, drama, comedy, and a sense of lawlessness. Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James are perfect together as a pair of unlicensed private eyes who aren't the brightest guys, but they're are also far from stupid.

Hank (Logue) is a recovering alcoholic and former cop trying to make ends meet and dealing with the bitter fallout from a painful divorce (and Logue played the hell out of the scene where he learns his ex is getting remarried), while Britt (Raymond-James) is an affable guy being dragged into adulthood by his girlfriend. They've got a real chemistry together, able to play off each other without feeling forced. That's going to go a long way to grounding the show, which this season will see them dealing with individual cases while also butting heads with the affluent land developer behind the killings in the first episode. Smart plotting, strong momentum, and complex, likeable characters at the center of it all; even though the fall season is just ramping up, Terriers is definitely one of the shows to watch. It airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. CT.

• Universal Pictures and NBC Universal Television are taking a two-pronged approach to Stephen King's The Dark Tower, announcing last week that the seven-volume literary series will be adapted with a feature film trilogy and a TV series. The first film will be followed by TV episodes that bridge the story to the second film, after which the TV series picks up again and focuses on the main character of Roland as a younger man. Then the action comes to a head in the third and final film. It's an interesting approach to the material, but one that seems to ignore how good TV can be on its own. Ron Howard, who's directing the first film and first TV season, said that "the scope and scale call for a big-screen budget" but that the nuance and length of the story need the commitment TV can give. My question is: Why not put that budget toward TV, period? If he and others really believe that the story deserves the length of a TV series set to run two or three seasons, why act as if three theatrical films -- which will run maybe eight hours, maximum, all told -- are such a benefit?

Plus let's not kid ourselves: Ron Howard is not a good director. King's Dark Tower series is a mix of fantasy, western, sci-fi, romance, and horror (I know, it's a lot), and the last time Howard made a run at fantasy was 1988's Willow, perhaps the only thing more embarrassing to George Lucas than Jar-Jar Binks.

Howard has stuck mostly with historical fiction, but even there he's fallen flat: Apollo 13 was a love story that forgot to reunite the leads, while Cinderella Man was so by the book it felt carbon-copied from every other period piece. He also helmed two films based on Dan Brown books. He's a competent, well-meaning, completely unimaginative storyteller, and having him and scribe Akiva Goldsman (Lost in Space, Batman & Robin, I probably don't need to go on) attached to a potentially intricate and costly high-concept fantasy series does not bode well for the final product.

• Not long after Saturday Night Live announced the names of the cast members who will fight not to be one-season wonders like the ousted Jenny Slate, word came down that Amy Poehler will host the season premiere on September 25. This is basically an oasis in the desert for us, since we love Poehler and hate that NBC bumped the stellar Parks and Recreation back to midseason in favor of the please-have-more-than-one-joke Outsourced. It will be wonderful to see Poehler in action again, if only for an hour and a half; I wouldn't mind seeing the Needlers, Kaitlin, or "Really!?! With Seth & Amy." The musical guest for the episode will be former Christian pop star and current famous-for-cleavage person Katy Perry, whose limited vocal stylings will probably put her performance in the lower ranks of SNL history, though perhaps not the lowest.

• Speaking of Ke-dollarsign-ha: The MTV Video Music Awards were last night. Some of you might think that being paid to write about TV happenings means we would have to watch the VMAs, but the good news is that the event is so over-covered and under-important that whatever fleeting joke that will be turned into a meme for the next six months has already been bouncing around the intertubes for hours how, letting us off the hook. Will Kanye interrupt someone? Will Lady Gaga do something just wacky enough to fool people into thinking it's brilliant? Will an old lady kiss a younger one? You probably already know the answer. Instead of worrying about that, though, just watch this video of a sleepy kitty:

• Larry King's retirement sent shockwaves through the community of people who haven't paid much attention to things since 1995. Yet CNN is refusing to let the idea of a little-watched talk show go, signing British host Piers Morgan to take over in January. American audiences probably know Morgan best as one of the host's of America's Got Talent, so he's definitely got practice asking inane questions of people while only occasionally pretending to care about them on anything other than a superficial level. Remember, he's following Larry King, who couldn't be bothered to read the Wikipedia entry on Jerry Seinfeld or remember which Beatles were alive or dead. If Morgan buttons his shirt correctly and manages to look directly into the camera, he'll already be on King's level. Godspeed, CNN.

At the Movies was cancelled a few months ago after years of struggle and a few bad attempts at reinvention. (Ben Lyons, the bringer of doom, did wreak his vengeance on all who beheld his terrible visage.) Now, Roger Ebert is reviving the brand he started more than three decades ago with the announcement of Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies, which he will produce with his wife, Chaz. Premiering in January, the weekly review show will be hosted by film critics Christy Lemire and Elvis Mitchell, with online critics/bloggers Kim Morgan and Omar Moore pitching in as contributors. Ebert himself also plans to contribute with the aid of computer-created voice tech that will let him talk about classic films; after complications from cancer, he hasn't been able to speak aloud since 2006. So, for those of you who prefer your film analysis boiled down to three-minute shouting matches, keep an eye peeled on local listings after the new year.

• If you've got HBO, be sure to check out its latest documentary, My Trip to Al-Qaeda, a fascinating movie (based on the one-man play) about author Lawrence Wright's personal journey researching the history behind the 9/11 attacks for his book The Looming Tower, which won a Pulitzer Prize. The film is directed by Alex Gibney, who also helmed Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, and the new Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and Gibney's track record with complex stories of corruption and spin makes him a perfect fit for the source material. The documentary is airing throughout the month, and is running several times this Wednesday during the afternoon and evening.

• On the air this week: More shows returning and debuting as we work our way into the new season. There are a few CW series in the mix, but it's the CW, and really not worth the bother. Parenthood returns to NBC on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. CT, while It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League return with new episodes on FX Thursday starting at 9 p.m. CT. But the one we're really looking forward to is the debut of HBO's Boardwalk Empire Sunday night at 8 p.m. CT. The drama, set during Prohibition, has all the earmarks of being the net's latest Big Awesome Thing, and it's bound to be worth our while.

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