Happy Birthday, Bill Maher

Friday, January 15 saw the return of Real Time with Bill Maher, and a triumphant one it was. A lot happened in the annual winter break, but the best talkshow on television jumped right into current affairs, because there was a lot to talk about.

realtimewithbillmaher20160115.png

Easy?
Bill’s lungs were still pretty tired, from the hiatus, he says. Hawaii can do that. That didn’t stop him from delivering another quality show. So good, in fact, that President Obama has been ducking his invitations for the past 7 years, but more on that later. Maher comes out flying, with a great monologue about ‘human screensavers’ and ‘robbers breaking into your house in a tank’, but we didn’t expect anything less. The GOP debate on Thursday provided enough material to fill a month of Real Time monologues. Especially the things Trump, Carson, Cruz and Christie said were comedy gold. All Maher had to do was follow their reasoning and then add the inevitable conclusion. Punchlines don’t come easier than this. That said, it’s remarkable how Maher always distills the best punchlines. Aren’t the other late night talkshow hosts paying attention? It might just be an example of how geniuses operate; they make it look way too easy.

Al Gore
First guest of the night, a fan of the show, the person who brought the internet, and ‘the 43rd President of the United States of America’: Al Gore. A big name, but one that’s right up Maher’s alley. Two climate change enthusiasts (well, enthusiastic to do something about it), sitting in a room, agreeing with everything the other person says. Sound boring? It kind of is. Maher tries to put a little friction in there, dragging up a wrong campaign decision back in the day, but they quickly go back to the (historic) Paris Agreement.

Let’s Meet Our Panelthedailynewscruzcover.png
Cornel West, Nicolle Wallace and Ralph Reed are the Knights of the Real Table this week. The night before, Republican candidate Cruz tried to position himself, presumably with the intention to distance himself from Trump, by vomiting all over ‘New York values’. He didn’t go into specifics, though; it was just a cheap shot, using a stereotype, of some sort. The Daily News quickly responded with a cover of a pissed off Statue of Liberty. They’ve made it extremely easy for Cruz to comment to it, though. He’d only need 4 words: ‘I rest my case.’ Still, these so-called typical New York values remain a bit of a mystery; what does the panel think about this? Well, it’s a ‘dog fight’. Iowa’s coming up and Ted ‘most punchable face’ Cruz has some catching up to do in the polls. Trump’s still Top Dog, but, as Cornel West puts it: ‘The problem with Trump is, is that he’s a multi-billionaire pseudo-populist with autocratic sensibilities and some fascist proclivities. That’s what’s dangerous about him.’

13 Hours
Special guest: John Krasinski (The Office, Promised Land), who’s there to talk about his new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Maher believes it will be a hit movie, and sure enough, not mentioning the director can certainly play to its advantage. So, to spoil the party (but go see the movie anyway, because it’s an important one), Michael Bay translated Mitchell Zuckoff’s book to the big screen. People are known to only know bits and pieces about the political shit storm that is ‘Benghazi’. Kudos to Bay, Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Max Martini (to name a few) and screenwriter Chuck Hogan for not just making the film, but also promoting it Bay-style; it’s everywhere.

billmahersignthepetition.png

New Rules
New Rule: People who are about to turn 60 and don’t have kids, shouldn’t be allowed to look as young as Bill Maher. You know what to do, hipsters. When you turn 30 and feel like settling down, take a long hard look at your Bill Maher refrigerator magnet and remember: Don’t marry, use a condom, smoke weed and rebel. Those are the 4 Commandments in the Book of Maher of the Real Testament, right there. He’s never ‘burdened the audience with his personal shit’. He’s ‘old school show business. You’re not here for me, I am here for you.’ He does, however, have one request. After 23 years, he’s allowed himself an exception. The biggest birthday present you can give him is persuade President Barack Obama to come on his show. He’s done literately every other show out there, so why not Real Time? Every invitation seems to get lost in the mail. So, if you want to make this happen for the best talkshow host there is, sign the petition.

How I Was Wrong About The Wire

Reconciliation time. Sometimes, you’ve never watched a show – or only a few scenes here and there – but you just know it ain’t what it’s all cracked up to be. The praise in reviews, on message boards, those so-called critics, those so-called ‘fans’ have got it all wrong. It almost feels like a conspiracy. A conspiracy of ‘good taste’; a way to distinguish yourself by joining the agreement that, for example, The Wire is the best cop show ever made. So that’s where I found myself, wondering why this HBO series – that never became a real hit – was apparently a masterpiece. I was a sceptic. But a curious one, so years later, I gave the pilot a chance.

thewireseason1.png

Twin Brother
And it sucked. Really, it did. Why? Well, it didn’t match my expectations – which, I know now – was the problem. I expected something like The Shield, but with an HBO icing over it. I was excited to learn there was a series out there that a lot of people preferred over my most favorite cop show of all time. It was like discovering Vic Mackey had a twin brother. So I sat down, got myself some popcorn, and turned on The Wire’s pilot episode ‘The Target’.

Talking Heads
It was slow. Dragging. Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) wasn’t Vic Mackey by a landslide. There wasn’t a clear case. People were talking in an office maze. People talked some more in a basement. People just couldn’t stop talking, not even on and around an orange couch in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Baltimore. There were too many characters and there was no telling if or how anyone was connected. And on top of it all, the frame size was still 4:3, as if it was made in the nineties. Actually, that’s precisely what it looked like; like one of those nineties cop shows. As Donald Trump would say: all talk, no action.

Second Try
So after pulling myself through the pilot, I decided this show wasn’t for me and anyone who claimed this boring television drama was amazing would have to be seriously misguided. But sometimes even misguided people can make you doubt yourself. So when The Wire was rereleased at the end of 2014 – in the 16:9 format! – I gave it another shot. I didn’t remember much of the pilot, so I’d be going in as fresh as the first time. Unfortunately, at this point, my expectations still hadn’t changed. For some reason, I couldn’t shake my reference point. So, needless to say, I was disappointed again, and I never got myself to check out episode 2.

The Revolution Was Televised
It’s been a year and I don’t know what happened. Well, I do know, actually. I read the book ‘The Revolution Was Televised’ by Alan Sepinwall (The Star Ledger, Hitfix). Released in 2012, I only came across it recently, and it’s about the best TV shows of the first decade of the 21st century. The Wire ranks number 2 on the list. That had to mean something. After reading the chapter on it – while skipping the spoiler heavy paragraphs – I decided to return to the orange couch of Baltimore. At the very least, I’d watch two episodes this time, I said to myself.

Different Set of Eyes
A strange thing happened. Either the show, because I’d seen the pilot twice already, had somehow marinated in my brain, or because of Sepinwall’s lyrical praise (and by doing so had demolished my hopes for a The Shield 2.0), I was watching ‘The Target’ with a different set of eyes. I ate it up. In a time when quality drama (House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Hand of God) tends to move slower, the pace of The Wire didn’t bother me at all. And I recognized the writing now, too, and it was brilliant. It became clear to me, this wasn’t about solving a case every week. Or a Strike Team, knocking down doors. This show was about a team of detectives, who weren’t necessarily fighting very clever drugdealers but the system in which they themselves had to operate. Bureaucracy was their biggest opponent.

Close Second
Every step takes a lot of trouble and even more patience. It’s a chess game. The Wire is, but what do I know, the best reflection of the real world – and real police work. One step forwards, two steps back. It’s fascinating to see how people are able to do their jobs despite the job. If I had to compare it to The Shield, the first season of The Wire looks similar to the fourth of its counterpart, where Vic Mackey spends a whole season trying to take down Antwon Mitchell. Jimmy McNulty’s nemesis Avon Barksdale goes about running his business a lot smarter (and less aggressive) than Mitchell, though. The Shield still remains my all time number 1, but The Wire has come in at a close second. If you have any doubts or, like I had, a bad case of prejudice, give the show another chance. Take it from a convert; you won’t regret it.

Springsteen Up Close and Personal

HBO knows how to ‘do’ their music documentaries. Earlier this year, they gave us the packed story of Kurt Cobain in ‘Montage of Heck’, which included every kind of footage you can think of, from private home videos to animated sequences. ‘The Ties That Bind’ couldn’t be more different, if not a total opposite. The outcome is the same, though. A very interesting dissection of important music history; the making of the double LP ‘The River’ by Bruce Springsteen.

thetiesthatbind.png

Own Personal Documentary Man
Bruce and his guitar. When has that ever not been enough? Precisely what director Thom Zimny must’ve thought. No one better to make that call, too, given Zimny’s track record. He’s Springsteen’s own personal documentary man. ‘The Ties That Bind’ surely isn’t his first step into Boss Territory. He’s pieced together the making of ‘Born to Run’, ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’, a few more Springsteen related features and I’m sure this reconstruction of the ‘The River’ sessions won’t be his last; there are many more classic albums to sink his teeth into.

Getting It Right
Sitting in his backyard, sitting indoors, there’s always a guitar in Bruce’s hand. He explains what it was like, almost 4 decades ago. An extensive recording process it was. It sounds like musicians back then were allowed lots of time to ‘get it right’. I wonder, but I’m assuming that’s no longer the case in this age. Could it be because of the time restraints and the huge influence of just a couple of producers, that makes today’s music all sound so similar? As Bruce describes, they used to produce their records all by themselves. They didn’t know what they were doing; they learnt as they went along. There was just one goal: getting it right. When would one reach that? No one knew. You’d just have to feel it, and in the case of ‘The River’, the band didn’t feel it for a long time.

Energy
They tried different things, wanting to capture the energy of their live performances. And Bruce was writing a lot. So much, in fact, that a double album wasn’t even enough. He had to kill darlings due to balancing out the record. One of my favorite Springsteen songs, ‘Loose Ends’, was cut, but was eventually released on the 1998 collection ‘Tracks’.

Roots
‘The Ties That Bind’ – named after the opening track – shows less is more. Bruce, looking better than ever – how’s that possible at 66? – shares his thought process, not just about the production itself, but also about where he was coming from and was headed. He’d turned 30; a crucial age. It’s when you realize you’re operating in the grownup world. You’re no longer an observer. ’The River’ would be an album about Bruce’s roots, politics and about figuring out how to get his message across. He discovered sometimes it’s easier to sing something in the third person. It allowed him to be autobiographical, funny and a storyteller at the same time.

No Nonsense
It’s very refreshing to see one of the biggest rock stars since rock music recall what it was like to create one of the biggest rock records. Plainly, straight and nuanced. What it does is reinforce his image even more as the working man’s singing man of the people. You can’t get any more no nonsense than this.
The documentary is just one part of the celebration. Next week, the 35th anniversary of ‘The River’ will be on sale. ‘The Ties That Bind: The River Collection’ will feature everything ‘previously unreleased’ from this classic record.

Project Greenlight & The Leisure Class

And an intensive run it was. Reality show contestant Jason Mann kept his head just above water during the production of The Leisure Class. But everybody’s happy now, because the (TV) movie got ‘locked’. It has an official HBO postmark on it, and it’s out there for everyone to enjoy. Subsequently, the fourth season of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s documentary series Project Greenlight has come to a close, with ‘Hug and Release’.

projectgreenlight48

Go Ahead
Eight weeks ago, a dozen hopeful amateurs travelled to the walhalla of make-believe. Jason Mann, a bit of a cocky fellow, but no doubt the most gifted contender, was chosen to helm ‘Not Another Pretty Woman’. A comedy script with a lot of questionable ideas. Jason didn’t feel much love for it, and that was the first and last time he and producer Effie Brown saw eye to eye. He had a different script, his own script, and everybody loved it. After a lot of retooling, which he did with writer Pete Jones (whom Jason wanted to fire, even before his first day, but then a serious bromance got in the way of things), HBO gave him the go-ahead.

Tension Growing
Good news? Yes and no. Yes, because Jason couldn’t be more invested in the movie. This was going to be his vision, his big break, his perfectionism. No, because of his perfectionism. He wanted to shoot on film instead of digital, which not only caused tension between him and Effie, but there were actual casualties: the Farrelly brothers dropped out. Then he didn’t like the locations, which basically put the whole production on hold. At the last moment, the very last, he settled for a mansion that had been on his desk the whole time.

Right and Wrong
Jason has the quality a great filmmaker needs: vision. And of course, he was right most of the time. He was shooting for the best possible version of his movie, like anyone would. There was just one problem. Effie Brown. She was also right most of the time. They were both right and wrong at the same time, which had an interesting effect: the show switched its protagonist and antagonist constantly.

Brown Star
It all boiled down to Jason stubbornly trying to get everything and more from whoever was willing enough, and on the other side there was Effie, controlling the budget. The ‘no’-lady, as she called herself. The producer who’d done over 17 movies, facing off against a slim shady boy who’d done a couple of homemade shorts? There was no question in her mind who’d win the fight. By the way, anything from those 17 movies we might’ve seen? Probably not. But I love her. She really classed up this season of Greenlight. Put some much needed spice in there. As far as I’m concerned, not Jason, but Effie won the competition. It won’t be long before we see her again, I reckon. And Jason? Well, let’s review The Leisure Class, too, while we’re at it, shall we?

The Leisure Class
As I mentioned in an earlier post, it’d seem impossible to both have an interesting documentary and a good movie. I really enjoyed Project Greenlight this year, so my expectations for the movie were set pretty low. At precisely the right height, as it turned out. The Leisure Class lacks a lot. I suppose Jason Mann should stick to directing, not writing.
Whether or not it’s because of shooting on film, the look of the movie is great. There are a few weird cuts here and there, especially in the beginning, which makes it clear a storyboard didn’t exist – in Jason’s head or otherwise. Other than that, the performances were as great as the script allowed them to be. Maybe the story could’ve indeed used some notes from the Farrellies, we’ll never know. Truth is, at the end of the film, the audience is left with a lot of questions. What kind of person is William really? What’s his relationship with his brother? Where does Leonard come from? Who is Edward? Who is Fiona? The script moves from one defecating-on-a-car joke to the next. Anyone’s backstory is practically non-existent. That makes the movie quite shallow. But hey, it gave us Project Greenlight. It gave us Effie Brown. For that, we should be forever grateful.

The Resurrection of Project Greenlight

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have breathed life back into their documentary series Project Greenlight. They’ve found a home at HBO, where they pick an unknown, amateur director, give him or her the keys to the castle, and then watch what happens.

projectgreenlight41

All Signs
It’s the fourth season and the dynamic movie duo Damon/Affleck seems to be more driven and positive than ever. They’re going to make a movie again, a comedy this time, and will be documenting everything. Did it ruin their friendship last time? Absolutely, they say, more or less jokingly. But with HBO backing them, and the world’s corniest film makers they could find (Peter and Bobby Farrelly) taking seats at the table, all signs point to green.

In Place
Everything’s already in place, basically. The crew, the writer (Pete Jones, the first ever handpicked writer and director from the first season, back in 2001), the script (‘Not Another Pretty Woman’) and everybody else involved with making a movie, all going by the name of ‘producer’. Every base is covered, but the most important one. The captain. The decider. The veto filcher. The director. The big question is: how much fun is it to shoot a comedy script? If the premiere episode is any indication, humor might be happening on screen, off screen is an entirely different story.

On The Lot
Damon and Affleck have been binging through hundreds and hundreds of submission videos by talented nobodies, and came up with a shortlist. The chosen few are asked to shoot the same three minute script, and after watching those short movies and having conducted face to face job interviews, Matt and Ben come to their final decision. It reminds me a lot of the short-lived reality series On The Lot, back in 2007. On that show, amateur directors would compete against each other – like American Idol but instead of singing they’d be shooting – until everybody was voted off except for the winner. He’d been promised a job at DreamWorks to direct his own feature film (which never actually happened; welcome to hard reality of reality). However, that decision process took On The Lot no less than 16 weeks. Project Greenlight just needed one.

Mann
And a bold choice it is. Much to the dismay of the Farrellies, the majority of the room picked a pretentious (and skinny) young man called Jason Mann. Of all the job interviews, he was the least interested, the least enthusiastic. He didn’t know whether he would be able to make the changes to the script that he wanted to. He definitely wasn’t going to make a family friendly, mainstream comedy for a broad audience, that’s for sure. But in the end, his three minute video was the best of all, so despite being a potential pain in the ass, did they really want to send away the most talented guy for the job? Apparently they didn’t. Mann got the gig. His first order of business? Firing Pete Jones.

What’s More Important?
There’s something quite interesting about this show. Apart from the obvious draws, like Hollywood royalty Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Also producer Effie Brown is one to keep an eye on. She’s got opinions and she’s not afraid to ventilate them. But the real interesting aspect lies in the concept. This is a documentary about making a movie – about trying to make the best possible movie given the people and resources. Simply put, it needs to make more money than it costs. But that’s just one side of it. Because the real question is what’s more important. ‘Not Another Pretty Woman’, HBO’s newest comedy, or Project Greenlight, season 4?

Paradox
There’s a bit of a paradox going on here. I’m sure HBO would like the movie to be good and do good, as well as Greenlight. However, a sceptic would claim that’s impossible. The best thing that could happen to Greenlight is a totally disastrous production, where everything goes wrong. Everybody gets fired and replaced, rehired and fired again. The whole thing goes over budget, the main character dies, footage gets lost or stolen, just like the equipment, everybody’s at each other’s throats, etcetera. Reality cannot exist without a serious drama injection. Unfortunately – for HBO – a good movie is not going to come out of it. That’s option 1: Greenlight triumphs, the movie fails.
If everything’s going according to plan, the production goes smoothly, everybody’s annoyingly reasonable all the time, then you may get a good movie, but Greenlight will probably not be resurrected again. That’s option 2: Greenlight fails, the movie is a hit.
A romantic would claim there’s always a third option. Both succeed. We’ll see.

Satire’s Last Hopes: Bill Maher & John Oliver

They’re both going to be off next week, and one of them won’t even be back ’til August 7, so I’d like to take some time (and reserve some space) for celebrating the two most important American talkshows out there. I’m talking, of course, about HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

johnoliverbillmaher

Talkshow
One could argue Last Week Tonight isn’t exactly a talkshow, but who cares; there’s talk, show and plenty of it. John Oliver has been building his own Daily Show-esque gig to what it is today: a very funny, serious, heartfelt and honest look at current events, without shying away from sporadically flirting with activism.
His timing used to be a bit off at times, but Oliver’s settled in firmly into the groove at this point. He’s clearly having a great time, too, and his enthusiasm is infectious. That may just be an advantage of doing a show on a weekly basis, instead of 4 or even 5 days a week; Fallon, Conan, Kimmel, Meyers and Corden suffer from an obvious off day regularly.
Apart from sticking up for transgender people, dissecting multiple laws (the Patriot Act, for example), calling out FIFA officials, his biggest accomplishment this year must surely be his interview with Edward Snowden.

Snowden
Oliver secretly travelled to Russia, where he was supposed to meet Snowden in a hotel room. While waiting for him, the Russian secret service gave him a heads up: they knew Oliver and his crew were there and what they were doing. Was it still safe for Snowden to come? Was this actually going to happen, or was it indeed too good to be true? He was late already.
But then there he appeared, America’s most wanted man, casually dressed, same glasses, same haircut – nothing seemed to have changed since the documentary Citizenfour. Oliver had prepared a few funny bits, and basically just tried to make him laugh, but Edward Snowden isn’t particularly one to easily burst out into affectionate laughter. It made the interview feel a little stiff, also because Oliver had deliberately opted for a light-hearted, comedy approach. What if you managed to arrange a sit-down with the world’s biggest whistleblower, would you tell jokes or have a serious conversation?

Jokes on Top
No matter the stiffness, the fact alone that Oliver met Snowden in secret (to a certain extent), showed his versatility. He was going to do whatever he wanted to do. He was going to shake things up, and has been doing so ever since. It’s not just jokes, there’s real human emotion and serious groundwork at the heart of his topics, where he puts his jokes on top of. Not to relativise or debunk his claims right away, but to make them clearer. Comedy served as cherries, instead of cotton candy. That’s such a welcome way to entertain the audience, especially in these times, where other talkshows usually go from punchline to punchline, without really saying anything.

Real Time
Except Real Time with Bill Maher, the second show we would’ve happily given an award to, if we did such a thing (maybe next year; The Silver Oxies, or something? Who knows).
In his show, Maher leans more towards serious, political business. There are comedy easter eggs everywhere, though.
Even more so than John Oliver, Bill Maher is the most outspoken comedian on television and therefor a breath of fresh air. Sure, his guests usually have something to promote – books, rarely movies or music – but you’d better have something to say. Like no other, Maher knows how to present a thesis and loosen the tongues on his panel; small talk is not allowed.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to enjoy and make fun of. His segment ‘New Rules’ never fails to be both hilarious and edgy, as well as his Jerry Springer-esque ‘final thought’. Every week, he hits the nail right on the head. He takes on politicians, judges, the media; no one is safe. Is it just me, or is Maher the last Mohican of political satire? Where have all the other ones gone?

PC
My two cents: there are two things at play here. Firstly, stirred up by Jerry Seinfeld a few weeks ago, the political correctness, which is taking the country by storm. No matter the joke, someone is always going to be offended – and the internet has made it possible to instantly attack the joker, shame him in front of millions, connect with other offended moodkillers and before you know it, you’ve got a hate campaign on your hands.
Religion, diseases, women, cursing, students, you’d better stay away from these topics if you want to survive. As a result, comedians are self-censoring, talking more and more about trivial things, personal things, stuff that doesn’t involve other people. I think bananas are still okay to make fun of, but that could change tomorrow.
Secondly, people – and millennials in particular – have been born and raised in a time of wealth. They feel that they’re in a position to demand respect, luxury, everything that their little hearts desire, just because they’ve been put on this earth. They’re not going to do anything for it, though. It should be handed to them. They just deserve it, because they exist. It’s a demented 21st century version of the famous philosophical proposition by René Descartes; ‘I think, therefor I am’. It’s mutated into ‘I exist, therefor I’ve earned it.’

Blasé
There’s a whole generation that’s born blasé. Except when it comes to opinions. This group has become such egocentric beings, that their opinion is their most prized possession. Opinions are like assholes; everybody’s got one, as Dirty Harry used to say, almost 30 years ago. But their egos have found a warm home in opinions, and you’d better stay out of there – fresh air is forbidden.
I think that is why comedians are easy targets, when the things they should be angry about – politics, big companies, gun laws, the food industry, the water shortage, trading deals, climate change, to name a few – are met with complete passiveness. Their day-to-day lives don’t look too different since the Arctic’s ice caps started shrinking, do they? So why be concerned? Well, you should be concerned, is what Maher’s message is every week. I don’t want to think about what the world would be like without him intellectually analysing, deconstructing the political and capitalistic machinations with integrity, heart and a great sense of humor. It’s an outrage he’s the only one who dares to.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver returns July 12.
Real Time with Bill Maher returns August 7.

Californication Reboot by The Rock

The new comedy Ballers, starring superhuman Dwayne Johnson AKA The Rock, isn’t exactly a comedy. That doesn’t have to be a problem, but it might become one since HBO has specifically been promoting the show as such.

ballers11

Tattoo You
Johnson plays Spencer Strassmore, who’s obviously a big fan of diplomatic security service agent Luke Hobbs from the Fast & Furious movies, because he’s got the exact same figures tattooed on his upper body. He’s got the build for it, so why not, right?

Congratulations
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the second paragraph. That was an easy joke, but actors with (big) tattoos have a serious disadvantage in their profession. They’re in different roles all the time, aren’t they? At some point, a tattoo that keeps being inherited by the next character they play will get in the way. It’s precisely for this reason that Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) put his one (the Breaking Bad logo) between two fingers; undetectable on screen, unless he ends up in a Star Trek sequel and starts doing the Vulcan salute.

Californication
Johnson’s tattoo is not an issue in the reboot of Californication called Ballers. Wait, what? Yes. The show has a lot in common with Showtime’s series about lovestruck writer Hank Moody, and not just because there are boobs to be seen. They’re a little out of place, anyway. In Californication, boobs would be shown because they’re the topic of a conversation. In Ballers the nudity’s plainly gratuitous. It happens twice, when girls have their tops off, both times during a seemingly meaningless sex act. It makes you question what this show is pursuing to be.

Boobies Aside
Boobies aside, Ballers has captured much of the dramedy tone of Californication. If The Rock had been asked to think of a way to reboot Hank Moody, this is probably what he would’ve come up with. That doesn’t mean it’s a ripoff or a mediocre copy; the show’s perfectly capable to stand on its own. You have to get through the very first scene, though. It’s an odd choice to start off a new show with a funeral and make comedy out of it. It’s such a hard thing to pull off, even if the show’s been on the air for a number of years. We all remember Charlie Harper, don’t we? After burning every bridge Charlie Sheen had left, Two and a Half Men let him die in the premiere episode of season 9. Despite the laugh track, it wasn’t funny.

Act
After the funeral, the show quickly gets into a groove. There’s fast dialogue, many back and forths, it’s snappy, to the point, quick on its feet. More importantly, it also gives Johnson the opportunity to… wait for it… act. He’s not the one in charge of saving the world, on the contrary. He’s trying to make a living after his professional football career, and it’s not going so great. Relying on his contacts, old friends, he’s fighting an uphill battle and taking risks. We’re probably going to have a lot of fun watching him struggle to keep away from the black hole that is retirement. At the same time, he’s trying to advice the players who are still playing, to not make the same mistakes. But they do, of course.
Despite playing bad asses in bad ass movie franchises, Johnson actually has an acquired taste in roles. Every now and then, he steps out of the box and takes on a part you don’t immediately associate with him. This is one of those times. Spencer Strassmore’s one step away from being down on his luck. His story’s a balancing act and Johnson does a fine job walking that tightrope.