Author: Heather Mason

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Great News: Season 1 Review


Tina Fey and her fellow 30 Rock producers debut another look at the making of a TV series.

By Heather Mason

Note: This is a mostly spoiler-free review of the entire 10-episode season of NBC’s new comedy, Great News, which will air two episodes a week on NBC beginning Tuesday, April 25th.

30 Rock fans prepare for good news… Nay, Great News! From Executive Producers Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Jack Burditt, David Miner and series creator Tracey Winfield — who all hail from 30 Rock, along with other comedies like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and The Mindy Project — comes another quirky sitcom centered around a career-driven woman producing a TV show.

Katie Wendelson (Briga Heelan) is a segment producer on cable news show The Breakdown–which provides for plenty of opportunities to comedically jab at actual news shows. Katie is a smart and driven 30-year-old who has reached the point in her career where she’s ready to be taken seriously. Instead of assignments covering the hard-hitting journalism she hopes for, Katie is typically relegated to fluff pieces (like one about the world’s obsession with a Candy Crush-type app). Katie’s desperation to be successful in her job is one of the continuing threads of Great News, but the main premise and central point of conflict occur when after receiving divine inspiration Katie’s 60-year-old mother Carol (Andrea Martin) joins the show as the new intern.

Chuck Pierce (John Michael Higgins) and Portia (Nicole Richie) are the co-anchors of The Breakdown. Chuck, the aging “serious newsman” is reminiscent of the baby boomers who curse those “darn millennials and their new-fangled technology” at any chance. Portia is his opposite. She’s young, hip, and often dropping the names of the latest ridiculously-named DJs (or anything she thinks sounds cool) around the office. Portia and Chuck are naturally in conflict with one another but begin to realize they’re more successful when they work together – which is actually a heartwarming subplot. Their relationship is one of the best of the show, demonstrating just how well the show manages to balance that thin line between love and annoyance. Greg (Adam Campbell) is the Brit in charge of the news team with editor Justin (Horatio Sanz) and wacky meteorologist Beth (series creator Tracey Wigfield) rounding out the main cast of characters and each stand-out in individual moments they’re given to take the comedic spotlight.

The first episode of Great News struggles to meet the expectations this 30 Rock fan hoped for, but as the season continues the ensemble finds a rhythm and hits its stride. The relationship between Katie and Carol demonstrates the way the show deftly handles the balance of comedy and heart. Katie’s insecurities in her own ability are one of the most relatable and compelling storylines of the season. And the greatest emotional moments of the show come when Katie not only believes in herself but realizes the benefits that come from having a supportive mother in a stressful situation. And oh, does Andrea Martin do a fantastic job walking the line of hovering yet supportive.

Great News relies on many of the same type of quick cultural reference jokes that 30 Rock employed. You know, those lines that take you a second to realize just how funny they are and the dead-panned deliveries that really sell them. The show takes swipes at the settings (suburban New Jersey and New York City) while also mocking their own ridiculousness – like how newscasters transition between gruesome murders and the weather as if it were nothing. And if you’ve missed the ridiculous antics of fake TV talent (a la Jenna and Tracy on 30 Rock), Great News provides that too. Whether it’s the requests of Chuck Pierce to write his own song or for Portia to re-think the set when Chuck is out, the pair keeps the team – and the audience as well — on their toes with their sparring. A few ongoing bits throughout the season reward dedicated viewers and famous guest stars appearing in small but memorable roles will probably also give 30 Rock fans little moments of recognition.

But don’t misunderstand, while Good News has plenty of 30 Rock-esque moments, the show is its own. Over the course of its 10-episode season, Great News manages to cover issues like agism and sexism in the workplace without every feeling preachy. Then, of course, there’s the idea of helicopter parents and the complexities that come with it. The jokes made at the expense of Portia’s shallow ideas of what’s “cool” are balanced with her actually being right. Overall the comedy is similar to the awkward-situation jokes we’ve come to expect from NBC comedies like The Office, Parks and Recreation, Community. The jokes don’t feel too harsh but still land emotional punches.

Even though we might roll our eyes at her intense dedication to her daughter, Carol’s only real crime is just how much she wants to see her daughter succeed—giving her tough love when she needs to and bending over backward when she can. There never seems to be malice between the main characters and their intentions are good. Even as they find themselves in an increasingly stressful situation in the two-part finale of the season, they’re still “all in this together”. This genuine affection and respect they have for one another is the through-line for what makes the show actually work comedically.

Great News: Season 1

The Verdict

Great News improves throughout the season and by the end, you’ll have forgotten some of the more uncomfortably unfunny moments from the beginning. Each member of this ridiculous, dysfunctional family finds a way to have their moment to shine in the heartwarming ensemble.

Editors’ Choice


Budding Prospects: Amazon Pilot Review


Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

By Heather Mason

Amazon’s “Pilot Season” is here once again and we’re taking a look at all the new offerings. The pilots, which you can see here[1] are presented to everyone, for voting and feedback purposes, and then Amazon picks up the ones they feel are received the best to series.

From Ghost World and Bad Santa director Terry Zwigoff, Amazon’s new half hour comedy pilot Budding Prospects focuses on a trio of pot-smokers as they embark on a journey to grow marijuana on a remote farm in 1980s Northern California. Based on a book by T.C. Boyle, the premiere episode introduces interesting characters in a world we grow to believe in while simultaneously feeling like the real story never quite gets started.

By the end of the first episode, directionless Felix (Adam Rose), wannabe entrepreneur Phil (Joel David Moore), and skeptical Gesh (Will Sasso) leave their established world in San Francisco to start a lucrative marijuana farm in remote and unknown circumstances. Although we never actually get to see this new world in the pilot – perhaps the greatest downfall of the episode. The eclectic, wealthy man Vogelsein (Brett Gelman), who is creepy in a non-threatening way, brings an understated comedy to the show and is the catalyst for the move. The ultimate hippy, Vogelsein and his lady friend, Aorta (Natalie Morales), may be the driving force behind the marijuana farm but by the end, it becomes apparent that Felix, Phil, and Gesh are the ones who will push the story forward as they embark on their new money-making venture.

The pilot takes too long to set up the premise considering it’s only a half hour. By a third of the way through I was left wondering exactly what this show would be and even starting to hope the unique cast of characters would remain where they are. Tonally more like an indie film than what you expect from a half hour comedy (potential) series, the authentic-feeling portrait of 1983 in the Mission district of San Francisco is well-drawn but ultimately we find out it will be abandoned just when it starts to grow on you (no pun intended).

Amazon&#Array;s Budding Prospects.

(L-R) Joel David Moore, Adam Rose and Will Sasso in Amazon’s Budding Prospects.

The opening shots of the neighborhood set the scene appropriately as a nostalgic look back on “simpler” times. The show feels decades away yet strangely pertinent, with “then or now?” references that could be a staple of upcoming episodes – feeling slyly relevant while literally placed in another time. The lazy group of directionless 20-somethings just “trying to get by” and milling around doesn’t feel too far from a show like Love on Netflix – even if it’s set in the 1980s.

The comedy is occasionally crass but ultimately feels more understated. The awkwardness and delivery bringing the small laughs rather than over-the-top physical comedy often expected by a group of guys just getting silly while trying to smoke pot. The meandering lives of the characters fit solidly with the tone of the pilot and how the plot ultimately moves forward—randomly and unexpected.

It’s easy to envision the trouble the trio will get into at their remote marijuana farm but they haven’t even arrived there by the end of the pilot. It feels too short somehow as if the direction-lessness of the characters slowed down the episode as a whole. By the time they’re in the car (and hitting a trouble spot), it seems like a different show than it began. However, the world created delivers a nostalgic feel that leaves us wanting more – even if we aren’t sure what that will look like.

The Verdict

The Budding Prospects pilot is mostly set up but the chemistry of characters plus their guaranteed shenanigans could make for an interesting season… Even if we are left with little idea of what that season would be.

Editors’ Choice


  1. ^ The pilots, which you can see here (
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Beyond: Series Premiere Review


We need to talk about Holden.

By Heather Mason

Freeform seems to be taking notes from Netflix’s Stranger Things with their new sci-fi show, Beyond, and not just because they’re making the entire season available to binge online[1] (episodes will still air weekly on Freeform).

The series follows Holden Matthews (Burkely Duffield) who, after a creepy light from above shines down on him (aliens?) as a 13-year-old, ends up in an unexplainable coma. When Holden wakes up from the coma 12 years later, he’s just as confused as the doctors who simply can’t explain the miracle. Holden’s mother and father (Romy Rosemont and Michael McGrady) are just happy to have Holden back – so they aren’t too worried about the details. But it soon becomes clear that Holden’s re-entry into life won’t be a smooth transition. He’s got some intense supernatural powers and people keep telling him that “They” are after him.

Also joining Holden’s new life post-coma is his younger brother Luke (Jonathan Whitesell), whose dynamic with Holden is one of the best parts of the two-hour premiere. The obvious bond between the brothers grounds the show, which could easily be overwhelmed by all of the unanswered questions. Including those of a mysterious girl Willa (Dilan Gwyn), who brings conspiracy reminiscent of The X-Files to the show. Yes, she literally tells Holden to “trust no one”. His best friend from before the coma Jeff (Jeff Pierre) is probably the character that seems to be the least fully-formed, but also serves as a reminder of the disconnect between Holden and his old life.

Overall, the show is cinematically Spielberg-esque. There are lens flares galore, bright shining lights, and a bicycle race through the woods a la E.T. Holden’s coming-of-age (er, time) storyline is the most compelling of the premiere. Duffield’s Holden has the innocence required to make the unbelievable land emotionally. You feel for Holden as he tries to navigate this new world he’s been thrown into, in addition to supernatural abilities that he’s struggling to control. Gwyn’s Willa also makes the frustrating lack of information almost charming. She obviously cares for Holden and that relationship is one reason the show works in the first two hours.

The conspiracy storyline isn’t given much explanation and seems disconnected from Holden’s re-entry into the world in the premiere. It could almost be a show of its own following mysterious members of the unknown governmental-type organization and their lives. Assuming these divided stories soon become interwoven in a concrete way, all of the pieces of what could be a fun addition to the sci-fi TV landscape exist in Beyond. With the success of Stranger Things and superhero shows that pop up on every network now, it’s tough to imagine adding yet another mysterious sci-fi show into the jam-packed schedule. But with Beyond you’ll get a conspiracy, supernatural abilities, and the heart-warming family moments to give you those fuzzy feelings.

The Verdict

The premiere of Beyond hits the right emotional notes. The mystery of what happened to Holden is given enough room to be intriguing without overwhelming – yet. As Holden tries to adjust to life out of the coma and being more “normal”, the supporting characters are only raising more questions. Now that the world of Beyond is established, it’s time to start filling in the gaps.

Beyond’s two-hour premiere airs Monday, January 2nd on Freeform.

Editors’ Choice


  1. ^ entire season available to binge online (
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Ransom: Series Premiere Review


CBS tries its hand at, GASP, a new crime procedural!

By Heather Mason

Co-created by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files, The Man in the High Castle) and David Vainola, Ransom — debuting Sunday night before moving to its regular Saturday (!) timeslot — is CBS’s new take on the inherently tense job of hostage negotiations. The hostage negotiator in this case is the classically handsome and trustworthy Eric Beaumont (Black Sails’ Luke Roberts) and his team from the slick Crisis Resolution—who appear to have very nicely monetized the hostage business. Because he works outside of the law, Eric is able to get away with questionable tactics, which could alienate audiences who aren’t able to suspend disbelief so easily.

Most likely because hostage negotiations already have built-in drama, the show does a commendable job creating tension, although creating memorable and impactful hostage situations each week with characters we actually care about could prove difficult over time. Roberts stands out as Beaumont, who must convince both terrified parents and hostage-takers to trust him—a delicate line to walk that Roberts manages to make believable. Throughout the premiere episode it’s easy to see why anyone would trust Eric with a loved one’s life.

The crack team that assists Beaumont in his profitable venture are newbie Maxine Carlson (Sarah Greene), psychological profiler Oliver Yates (Brandon Jay McLaren), and security specialist Zara Hallam (Nazneen Contractor). The team does work well together, and each of their individual skills feel important to the cause, but none stand out from the group or feel like full characters yet. Other than a few quick quips, they aren’t any more than their job titles in the premiere. Maxine is the newest member of the crew—a fan girl really. She’s obsessed with hostage negotiations, yet also appears to get herself into trouble by flat out ignoring the experts she works with. Perhaps this will improve moving forward but right now I can’t see why she wouldn’t be fired immediately. This is perhaps the biggest flaw in the writing, as Maxine is the character the audience is supposed to enter the world through yet she doesn’t appear to have the smarts or professionalism to be a meaningful member of the team.

The show certainly has the international feel you’d expect from Spotnitz who also recently produced Medici: Masters of Florence in addition to Man in the High Castle (he left mid-way through the latter’s second season). The cities in the pilot felt like “any city Europe” or “any city America” while the bad guys have nondescript European accents. The Crisis Resolution team is called to monetize hostage situations around the globe and you can certainly feel that in the pilot.

In the dangerous world we live in, Ransom won’t feel like the escapism some of the audience might seek – though that’s assuming that sometimes the negotiators fail and lives are actually eventually lost. Mostly, Ransom feels like yet another CBS procedural, attempting to help new cases each week with a nice little bow at the end to tie it up.

The Verdict

Ransom provides tension and intrigue in its premiere but might not be enough to keep interest week to week. The main characters need more to draw the audience in as they mostly just fulfill their job titles in the pilot. However, if you’re just looking for another CBS procedural to casually watch on a Saturday night, Ransom is a solid choice.

Ransom premieres Sunday, January 1st on CBS before moving to its regular timeslot on Saturday, January 7th.

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