On TV: General Tso’s Fall 2014 TV Pick or Pass ABC Edition

September brings a new football season and a slate of new network TV programs. We at General Tso’s Revenge will be watching some of these shows because TV is a drug and we’re addicted. But even we have standards. Here’s our picks and passes for the fall season. Here’s our look at upcoming ABC series.

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GALLIVANT

STARS: Joshua Sasse, Mallory JansenKaren DavidTimothy Omundson, Genevieve Allenbury, Vinnie Jones and Luke Youngblood.

PREMISE: Galavant (Sasse) seeks to reclaim his lost love, Madalena (Jansen), by taking on evil King Richard (Omundson). There are musical numbers. Sunday, midseason.

PICK OR PASS? It’s like the worst of the unwatchable and inexplicably popular “Once Upon A Time” and “Glee.” We miss the high point of musical television, “Cop Rock.” Pass.


 

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AMERICAN CRIME

STARS: Felicity HuffmanTimothy HuttonW. Earl BrownRichard CabralCaitlin GerardBenito MartinezPenelope Ann MillerElvis Nolasco and Johnny Ortiz.

PREMISE: ABC promise a crime drama that will examine a racially charged murder and the subsequent trial that will examine race, class and gender politics. Sunday, midseason.

PICK OR PASS? If you want to watch racially charged crime drama, turn on the news about Ferguson. If you want excellent television about that, binge watch “The Wire.” ABC does not have the guts to broadcast a show that will do these weighty topics justice. Pass. 


 

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SELFIE

STARS: Karen GillanJohn ChoTim PeperDa’Vine Joy RandolphAllyn Rachel and David Harewood.

PREMISE: A modern reimagining of “My Fair Lady,” Henry (Cho) tries to get self-obsessed Eliza (Gillan) to see there’s more to life than social media. Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Premieres Sept. 30.

PICK OR PASS? If you want to watch “My Fair Lady,” see Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison do it right in the 1964 film. The premise is impossible. There’s no way you can convince a millennial to get off social media. Can’t. Be. Done. We love Gillan from her time as the fearless Amy Pond on “Doctor Who,” but not enough to watch this show. Pass.


 

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MANHATTAN LOVE STORY

STARS: Analeigh TiptonJake McDormanNicolas WrightJade Catta-PretaChloe Wepper and Kurt Fuller.

PREMISE: Series looks at the questions two young lovers have at the beginning of a relationship. Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 30.

PICK OR PASS? You lost me at “Manhattan.” Everything on TV is set in New York or Los Angeles. Set your love story somewhere else, just for kicks. Pass.


 

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AGENT CARTER

STARS: Hayley AtwellDominic CooperEnver GjokajChad Michael Murray and Edwin Jarvis.

PREMISE: Atwell reprises her role from the first “Captain America” movie as a pioneering agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Set after World War II. Tuesdays, midseason.

PICK OR PASS? “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” quickly became tedious and dull, but the spin-off shows more premise focusing on Atwell’s Peggy Carter and having a period spy thriller. If it teeters too much into the Marvel Comics superhero minutia, it could quickly become another lukewarm DVD extra rather than good weekly TV. Pick.


 

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FOREVER

STARSIoan GruffuddAlana de la GarzaLorraine ToussaintDonnie KeshawarzJoel David Moore and Judd Hirsch.

PREMISE: Gruffudd stars as an immortal medical examiner seeking clues as to why he can’t do. Tuesdays, 9 p.m. Two-night premiere begins Monday, Sept. 22.

PICK OR PASS? Gruffudd lacked the charisma to carry two bad “Fantastic Four” movies and the Sarah Michelle Gellar CW show “Ringer.” Nothing suggests this premise, which feels like a rehashed “Tru Calling,” will benefit from him as lead. Pass.


 

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BLACK-ISH

STARS: Anthony AndersonTracee Ellis RossYara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin and Laurence Fishburne.

PREMISE: A successful black man worries his family is losing its culture in the white suburbs. Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. Premieres Sept. 24.

PICK OR PASS? I’m white, so I feel like I’m going to spend every episode wondering if it’s OK for me to laugh at this? But then if I don’t watch, it makes me racist, right? What to do? What. To. Do. I know. Pass.


 

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HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER

STARS: Viola DavisBilly BrownAlfred EnochJack FalaheeKatie FindlayAja Naomi KingMatt McGorryKarla SouzaCharlie Weber and Liza Weil.

PREMISE: Davis plays a Philadelphia law professor who helps her students when they become entwined in a murder plot. Thursdays, 9 p.m. Premieres Sept. 25.

PICK OR PASS? I live by a simple rule: Produced by Shonda Rhimes. Not watched by me. Pass.


 

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SECRETS & LIES

STARS: Ryan PhillippeJuliette LewisKaDee StricklandNatalie MartinezDan FoglerIndiana Evans and Belle Shouse. Midseason premiere.

PREMISE: A body is found. The wrong man is accused. There are secrets. There are lies.

PICK OR PASS? It’s nice to see Lewis getting work, but let’s face it, I’m thinking about her from “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “Strange Days,” rather than her current work. I haven’t paid much attention to her since she became a musician. It’s always a bad idea to watch a show on a nostalgia trip for one of the stars. Pass.


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CRISTELA

STARS: Cristela AlonzoCarlos Ponce, Terri Hoyos, Andrew LeedsSam McMurray, Jacob Guenther and Isabella Day.

PREMISE: A Latino law school graduate balances the needs of her career against the needs of her family. Fridays, 8:30 p.m. Premieres Oct. 10.

PICK OR PASS? Alonzo is a stand-up comedian that’s been making the rounds of the late-night TV circuit. Her stuff is solid, with a few of those racial jokes that I’m not sure if I’m allowed to laugh at, what with all my guilt over white privilege. I hope she does well, but I’m not big on family comedies. Pass.

 

 

On TV: ‘Doctor Who: Into the Dalek’

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Into the Dalek” was weaker than the season opener of “Doctor Who.”

The Daleks are headline bad guys in the fiction of “Doctor Who,” but there hasn’t been a good Dalek story since “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End,” the two-part capper to Series 4. There they were scary and deadly, nearly indestructible.

doctor_who_series_8_ep2___into_the_dalek_poster_by_umbridge1986-d7wlzogBut in the era of show runner Steven Moffat, the Daleks blow up like Christmas crackers. Sometimes they serve tea to Winston Churchill during World War II (“Victory of the Daleks“) and often they’re getting run over by a flying TARDIS (“Day of the Doctor.”)

This time, a Dalek has gotten sick. And now it’s a good guy. It sees its own race as a terrible, destructive force that must be stopped. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) arrives. He’s miniaturized with a couple soldiers and Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) and they journey inside the Dalek, a direct rip off of “Fantastic Voyage,” which the Doctor references either in homage or apology.

Capaldi is still a master craftsman. He renders his Doctor as harsh, detached and rude. He delivers sharp, staccato and sometimes ruthlessly funny dialogue as if the episode were written by Aaron Sorkin.

But the Doctor is the hero of this piece. Much of the time, though, he’s an ass. He’s so much of an ass that Clara properly slaps him.

The Doctor and crew repair the Dalek, which promptly turns evil and starts killing all the regular-sized people in the spaceship. Clara convinces the Doctor to try and get the Dalek to be good. He tries, but the Dalek, whom the Doctor calls “Rusty,” looks into the Doctor’s soul and sees beauty, divinity and hatred — especially for the Daleks.

Rusty murders his Dalek compatriots and pledges to return to the Dalek ship to do more murdering. The Doctor is sullen, realizing his own hatred has fueled more killing.

One character whom we scarcely meet, sacrifices herself to aid Clara and the Doctor inside the Dalek. The woman, Gretchen, reappears in the mysterious “heaven” — the same spot where the Two-Headed Man popped up at the end of the season opener — in time for tea with the equally baffling, Missy, a plot thread to be picked up later, one supposes.

Another character, Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton), asks to join the Doctor in his travels. He says no, because she’s a soldier and apparently he doesn’t like soldiers anymore. He spent years working with the Brigadier, but he’s dead now. So it is a mystery for another episode, too.

We also meet Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). He teaches at the school with Clara. He was a soldier and the experience has made him very sad. He and Clara decide to go out for drinks.

The special effects, which have generally been very strong in the revived series, were dodgy in this. When the Doctor confronts the one-eyed biological mass at the heart of Rusty, it looks like the kind of rubbish green screen work one would expect from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” and not one of the most successful programs on BBC.

I’m still enjoying Capaldi’s Doctor, even if he is cruel and distant. And even a below-average episode of “Doctor Who” is still better than most of the dreck on my idiot box.

But it was disappointing. For having a new Doctor in only his second full episode, it felt very much like I had seen most of this before.

Great Paragraphs: On eyebrows and Scots

It’s all right up until the eyebrows. Then it goes haywire. Look at the eyebrows! These are attack eyebrows. You could take bottle tops off with these. They’re cross! They’re crosser than the rest of my face. They’re independently cross! They probably want to cede from the rest of my face and set up their own state of eyebrows! … That’s Scot! I’m Scottish. I’ve gone Scottish. Oh, no, that’s good. Oh. It’s good I’m Scottish. I’m Scottish. I can complain about things. I can really complain about things now.

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), “Deep Breath

On TV: Peter Capaldi shines in ‘Doctor Who’ Series 8 premier

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Peter Capaldi makes a magnificent debut in the title role of “Doctor Who.” While predecessors Matt Smith and David Tennant, and to a lesser extent Christopher Eccleston, hid their menace behind cheerful, boyish faces, Capaldi lets his rage and anguish boil right on the top.

The departure is wonderful. Capaldi’s Doctor is fierce, feisty and quarrelsome. He calls Earth the “plant of the pudding brains.” His catchphrase seems to be “Shut up!” He isn’t afraid to be harshly critical of dainty Clara (Jenna Coleman), who had a flirtatious relationship with Smith’s Doctor.

Doctor_Who_diamond_logo_by_gfoyleThe story, “Deep Breath,” is more character building than adventure. The straightforward approach, though, is welcome. The Doctor is discombobulated after his regeneration. The TARDIS crash lands in Victorian London, accidentally dragging a Tyrannosaurus Rex into the future.

The trio of detectives — ancient Silurian lizard Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and the dim-witted, dome-headed Strax (Dan Starkey), a Sontaran warrior turned nurse and carriage driver — arrive to find the Doctor confused and helpless.

Clara is angry with the Doctor because he can’t remember her name and has somehow turned into an older man, with gray hair and a wrinkled face. Vastra confronts Clara on her vanity and suppositions about the true nature of the Doctor.

Vastra supposes the Doctor has worn the face of a younger man to gain acceptance in a world that would reject him. Clara rumples at this, but the truth of it damning. Clara is just as shallow as the rest of us humans.

And the boyish face of the Doctor made her feel beautiful and wonderful as they shared adventures. But the face of a codger throws off the dynamic and the bubbling romantic feelings she denied having now have nowhere to go.

“Deep Breath” is excellently written by show runner Steven Moffat. He and Capaldi have a delightful time describing his new face, in terms both sad and farcical. Capaldi delivers a rant about his own eyebrows that is uproariously funny. He follows that with a delightful celebration of his own Scottish heritage. It’s a high point in the episode.

Another great moment comes when Clara and the Doctor meet in a restaurant and bicker over who is vain, manipulative and self-centered. The back-and-forth is, at times, harsh. The Doctor uses a hair he rudely plucks from Clara’s head to discover they’re surrounded by killer robots. Clara protests. The Doctor snaps, “Sorry, it was the only one that was place. I’m sure that you would want it killed.”

I think that was the moment I fell in love with Capaldi’s Doctor.

The new Doctor is rougher. At one point, when he and Clara attempt to escape killer robots, she is trapped. The Doctor attempts to raise the door she’s stuck behind but stops. “Sorry, no point in us both getting caught.” She pleads with him to give her his sonic screwdriver. “I might need it.” Then he wanders off, leaving Clara to fend for herself.

It’s a cruel act and my heart sank when he did it, but it was yet more beautiful writing. Our hero is the same hero, only completely different. Clara, left to fend for herself, learns lessons taught her by the Doctor and her own life as a schoolteacher to keep the villain at bay and doling out information.

The Doctor, of course, rescues her with the help of Vastra, Jenny and Strax. And he is beginning to sound like he knows who he is, threatening to destroy the robots’ power source if he sees “one thing I don’t like. And that includes karaoke and mimes, so take no chances.”

The Doctor goes to confront the villain, a robot who has become more man than machine. And a cold, calculating moment, the Doctor sits at a table and pours two drinks. The machine man asks what he’s doing. The Doctor replies, “I’ve got the horrible feeling I’m going to have to kill you. I thought you might appreciate a drink first.”

The villain is defeated, of course. The day is saved.

Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor admits he’s made many mistakes in his 2,000-year life. “Clara,” he says directly, “I’m not your boyfriend.” She protests, as women do, that she never said he was. The Doctor, politely replies, “I never said it was your mistake.”

Clara decides she can’t handle the new, darker Doctor. But she receives a phone call on her mobile. It’s Matt Smith’s Doctor moments before his regeneration on Trenzalore. He pleads with Clara to help his future self.

The Capaldi Doctor is saddened that Clara cannot see him for the man he is beyond his features. She softens and hugs him. She decides to stay, at least for now. And the two friends go off for coffee.

Capaldi’s delivery is wonderful. He fully and masterfully embodies one of the biggest characters in all of television and genre fiction. He is what the Doctor always needs to be: the most interesting man in the universe.

On TV: David Letterman pays tribute to Robin Williams

David Letterman downplays his contribution to late night television. He was not as cool as Johnny Carson, people say. And that’s probably true. Still, Dave, now in his final year, remains funny and relevant. He speaks from the heart with a decency that is all too absent in these times. Here is his kind tribute to his longtime friend Robin Williams.

Moments: On Robin Williams and the daily struggle

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Robin Williams died Monday. Authorities said took his own life. He was 63.

Williams struggled with alcoholism and other addictions. He also struggled with mental health issues. His publicist told the Los Angeles Times that Williams was suffering from depression in recent weeks. It appears the depression took his life.

robin-williamsI never met Williams. I knew him through his work, which was often terrific. But I feel for him and his family, especially because he carried the burden of depression.

Twice in my 39 years, I’ve been to an emergency room with suicidal thoughts. I could have very easily taken my own life on both occasions. For whatever reason — blind luck or divine inspiration — I reached out for help instead of killing myself.

My late mother struggled with mental health issues in her life. My dad tried to get her help, but he always felt guilty. He grew up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression and loaded ships as a Navy seaman during World War II. To him, psychiatry was akin to witchcraft and asking a therapist to talk to his wife meant she would be confined to a room with padded walls and straightjackets for the remainder of her days.

I want to believe we as a society are more enlightened about mental health than we were when I was a boy. But I worry that people still think padded asylum cells and violent criminals when mental illness is discussed. We are not far removed from a time when Tom Eagleton was shamed out of being a vice presidential nominee because he sought treatment for depression.

Mental illness is a broad spectrum of ailments, but it is all rooted in one thing: The brain is an organ — just like the heart or liver — and sometimes it malfunctions. In exceptionally rare cases, it means people cannot function at all. But in most mental health cases, the disease is simply something that we live with day to day.

I am diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. The clinical words simply mean I sometimes get very sad or very scared, sometimes both, for long periods and greater intensities than I find tolerable. I control it with medication and therapy. Most days, that’s enough. But sometimes my brain doesn’t work right.

I get very depressed. I work every idea out to its ultimate outcome, which is usually slow, painful death. I feel disgusting and loathsome, even though I have a wealth of family and friends who would tell and show me otherwise, I am unable to feel anything but misery. Panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside. Everything is an emergency and I can only focus on negative thoughts.

Sometimes, not often and certainly not every day, those thoughts turn suicidal. I am in pain and the only way I can get out of it is to die. The times that I have seriously considered suicide, I don’t really want to die. I want relief. Of course one can’t feel relief when one is dead. But when your brain isn’t working right, it becomes all too easy to forget that.

Robin Williams apparently lost sight of that sometime Monday. The world lost a great entertainer to a disease that affects about one in 10 Americans, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

My second set of parents, the retired east Des Moines hairdresser and printer, would be hesitant about me writing publicly about my mental health problems. They would worry, rightly so, that people would look at me differently or treat me as lesser or perhaps a dangerous nut who will run amok at any moment.

People do react differently to you when you struggle and are open about it. But I talk openly about it amongst my colleagues, on my blog and with my friends, family and sometimes my sources when reporting stories where the revelation is relevant. I talk about it not to brag about it or complain in a “woe is me” kind of way.

I talk about it because mental illnesses are really no different than high blood pressure or diabetes – other health problems that can be fatal. And that’s what suicide really is: the fatal heart attack or liver failure of depression and anxiety.

I talk about it because people who suffer, my fellow travelers, need to know they are not alone. As my friend Bill McClelland, the great St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, once told me: “We are all walking on the thin ice.”

I talk about it because people need to hear from those of us who suffer from the illness that sometimes it is a daily struggle, but most of the time we survive and even thrive. But it is a scary thing. Because I have been to that place Williams visited, with the instrument of my death in my hand, and thought there was no way out.

I found another way out. Williams didn’t.

That Williams lost his fight and I’m still fighting isn’t a measure of character, strength or determination. My cancer just went into remission. Williams’ got stronger.

Mental illness is often a brutal, cruel fight against your own thoughts. And one gets so tired, so very damned tired.

I don’t have any more answers or magic solutions.

But I have a bit of advice: Put as much kindness into the world as possible.

If one measures kindness by laughs inspired, Williams left one heck of a legacy for us to follow.

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Morning Mixtape: ‘Rawhide’ By Frankie Laine

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This move continues to grind me mentally and physically. But progress was made today. Keys for the new apartment are in hand. The mysterious man from the Midway known only as the Slaking Fool helped pack the DVD collection this afternoon. Army Lew will help me build shelves for the DVD collection in the morning. Syd Spink is on tap to help with more packing and take me away from it all for a movie in the evening. My home is movin’, movin’, movin’ like the immortal Frankie Laine sang in the 1959 hit “Rawhide.”

Morning Mixtape: ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’ By Don Williams

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The AMC series “Halt and Catch Fire” is less moody, atmospheric drama and more meaningless spectacle, but one thing it gets right is good period music for each of its characters. A lesser production would have simply used the top pop hits from the late 1970s and early 1980s for the background, but “HCF” has created smart playlists that fit the mindset and mood of the characters. In fact, AMC published those playlists on Spotify. I recommend you check them out. I discovered a lot of ’80s college rock and alternative sounds through those playlists. And for once character, a native Texan, there is a high quality country playlist that includes this gem from Don Williams, “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend.” Williams took this straight-shooting song to No. 1 in 1977. I enjoy this song. I hope you do, too.