Fall Preview: the Lavender Tube

  • by Victoria A. Brownworth
  • Wednesday August 29, 2018
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Where did the summer go? Gone in a whirlwind of Trump tweets (as we write this he's calling for the Attorney General to investigate Hillary Clinton), Trump associates going to prison, climate change nightmares of fires and floods, and the general decline and fall of our democracy. Aretha Franklin is dead, and Trump is still healthy as a Clydesdale. Is it any wonder we need scripted TV to keep us sane?

TV is all-season now, but the networks still hold their best shows for fall, the traditional start of all things shiny and new on the tube. There's a whole lot of TV coming your way, so set the DVR, settle in and check out some of the new offerings and old faves. We'll be adding to the list each column as more is revealed.

There is likely no better new series for these days under the Trump regime than USA's new 10-week limited dystopian horror series, "The Purge." Based on James DeMonaco's popular movie franchise of the same name, it's a horror series that looks disturbingly like where we might be headed. The first time we saw a promo for it, we thought it was a political ad for a GOP candidate.

"The Purge" is set in an America that looks remarkably like our own, ruled by a totalitarian political party. The people in this world look like us, sound like us, and regrettably act like some of us. The premise is an annual 12-hour period when all crime, including vandalism, theft, arson and even murder, is legal. There is, of course, an apocalyptic element to it. Surviving Purge Night is what everyone strives for. But what is each person willing to do to make that happen?

For those with power and control, Purge Night is a time to exact that control: play to their strengths, have evening-dress parties (there are pro-Purge socialites, of course: think Ivanka and Jared with the power of life and death) where others are tortured and killed. Others troll the streets looking for someone to capture and toy with. Into the mix there are, of course, heroes whose innate morality is there to remind us that even though Purge Night is legal, it's still morally corrupt and deeply, irrefutably wrong.

"The Purge" plays like a chic mashup of "Lord of the Flies" and "The Lottery." To be honest, it looks fabulous. But having seen the original film in the franchise, we warn that it's not for the faint of heart. Whenever you have folks wearing masks, patrolling the streets with hatchets and flame-throwers, according to Chekhov's rule, someone is bound to get burned. It tells a dystopian, Darwinian tale of survival of not necessarily the fittest, but rather the wiliest and the most ruthless. The series begins Sept. 4 on USA network, and stars Gabriel Chavarria, Lili Simmons, Lee Tergesen, Amanda Warren, William Baldwin and Fiona Dourif.

We scorn most re-makes, being of the mind that if it was done once, that was enough. But some remakes can be better than the originals. The Judy Garland version of "A Star Is Born" immediately leaps to mind. Having seen the extended trailer for Rob Lowe's remake of the 1956 noir classic "The Bad Seed," we think perhaps this is another remake that will outshine the original.

When the film was first made, the concept of some children being intrinsically evil was so foreign that the studio added a spanking of the lead character after the credits to assure audiences it was All in Good Fun. (There was a previous remake in 1985, which we did not see.) But in 2018 we know that sociopaths walk among us, and children can be damaged early on in ways that might not be fixable. "Bad Seed" Emma may be one of those children, and her psychiatrist is searching for the key to her complex little-girl psyche.

Films like "The Bad Seed," basically two-character dramas with some secondary and tertiary characters filling out that main dynamic of antagonist and protagonist, rely heavily on the acting skills of the main characters. Mackenna Grace is, frankly, brilliant. (She co-stars in "Designated Survivor," and played the young Tonya Harding in "I, Tonya.") Grace's Emma is chilling as she mimes normalcy, and we get a frisson of fear watching her face revert from a delightful little-girl smile to a smooth, unreadable malevolence. On the surface, Emma is a smart, attractive, even winsome girl; her dark inner core is a thing of true and unrelieved horror.

Rob Lowe has always been an exceedingly handsome, almost pretty man with exceptional bone structure and serviceable acting skills. We grew up alongside him watching the rat pack films of our youth, "St. Elmo's Fire" and "The Hotel New Hampshire." He was part of "The West Wing" cast that we all loved in the 90s, and a member of the ensemble cast of Greg Berlanti's beloved "Brother's & Sisters." For the past year he's been one of the most complex characters on "Code Black."

"The Bad Seed" is his baby. He directed, executive produced and stars in the film, which debuts on Lifetime Sept. 9. (Don't knock Lifetime until you've watched as many series and films on it as we have. Lifetime has been remade, and it's not your single straight bestie's Lifetime anymore.) The plot is unsettling. Lowe is a single father (in the original and the 1985 remake, the character is a widowed single mom) whose daughter is emotionally distant. He's seeing a shrink, and has his daughter see her, too. In an homage to the original, the psychiatrist is played by Patty McCormack, who got an Oscar nomination playing the original Bad Seed.

When something terrible happens at Emma's school, Dad is sure Emma has something to do with it, and can't shake that feeling. He begins to question if Emma's behavior (on the surface she's the perfect daughter and student) is just a fa�ade and she played a role in the horrific incident at her school. When other questionable things happen, the battle between Good and Evil is on. The trailer is up, and trust us, you will be riveted.

More 'Horror'

We're still aching in the place where "Pose" was in our lives, so we're grateful that Ryan Murphy is back with season eight of his "American Horror Story" franchise. "AHS: Apocalypse" is everything gay and high camp we could have wanted and needed right now, while also being truly terrifying.

First, Joan Collins has joined the cast. The queen of our 80s "Dynasty" shoulder-pad dreams, the 85-year-old Dame Collins is the latest female star to join Murphy's retinue. And Stevie Nicks is in the cast. Yes, Stevie "Rihannon" Nicks. Playing herself, no less. Be still our hearts. Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy, Gabourey Sidibe and Connie Britton are back after a hiatus from the series.

And we have gay, lots of gay. Emmy winner Sarah Paulson is back as the lead playing not one, not two, but three roles. The gorgeous Cheyenne Jackson will be burning up the screen with his hunky heat. Billy Eichner (let us take a moment to thank him for his daily takedowns of Trump on Twitter) will be giving it to us. The brilliant Evan Peters, who broke our hearts in "Pose" and gave us chills in "AHS: Cult," stars again, here. The premise is deeply under wraps, because that's how they do with "AHS," but "AHS: Apocalypse" is bringing back characters from "AHS: Murder House" and "AHS: Coven" in a mashup of sorts.

The story begins with the end of the world (Trump really is fueling the dystopian), hence apocalypse in the title. On Aug. 22 the show tweeted out a teaser of Sarah Paulson dressed as the mystery character Venable (she looks amazing) with the message, "Survive. This is your chance." There will be a lottery of some kind to determine who lives and dies at the end of the world. A different teaser showed a child blowing out candles on a cake, nuclear holocaust left in its wake. Other tweets have shown Hieronymus Bosch-style images. All we know for sure is it will be fabulous. Premieres on FX on Sept. 12.

We didn't think we wanted a reboot of "Will & Grace" and we couldn't have been more wrong, so we are looking forward to the reboot of "Murphy Brown," which we loved in its original incarnation as it took on politics from a feminist perspective. Who will ever forget Dan Quayle getting in a fight with the fictional Murphy Brown when she had a baby out of wedlock? Ah, the simplicity of the 80s. Now Candace Bergen is 72, that child is an adult, and Trump's in the White House. CBS doesn't have a promo because showrunner Diane English says she wants the show to be as politically and socially immediate as possible. Cue Mr. Burns voice: Excellent. The original gang is mostly all there. Jay Gold has died, but Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto, Grant Shaud are in the cast. The series debuts Sept. 27 on CBS. We'll be watching.

A series with major buzz is "Manifest," debuting on NBC Sept. 24. This thriller has a "Lost" aura about it. The premise is a jetliner, disappeared for five years, reappears. But the lives of the 191 passengers are forever changed. Is it a miracle or something quite different? "Manifest" is executive produced by the great Robert Zemeckis, and if you thought "destiny" after "manifest," you aren't wrong.

For those who need some lighter fare, we recommend dallying in the Food Network. This is our go-to place to soothe ourselves. Not only are half the contestants and chefs on these shows gay, but it satisfies some kind of craving to know we really could cook like this if we wanted to because, if gay 12-year-olds in bow ties are doing it, why can't we?

The latest new series, debuting Sept. 6, looking marvelous, is "Bite Club." We can't imagine why no one else has come up with this title before, but now that someone has, we are so there for it.

The most talked-about new sitcom will be ABC's "The Conners," the spin-off of "Roseanne," cancelled after the eponymous star went on a series of racist Twitter rants earlier this year. ABC has assured everyone that Roseanne Barr will have nothing to do with the new series, but we're not sure why we would want to watch it. The entire premise of the "Roseanne" re-boot centered Roseanne and her Trumpian politics pitted against the complexity of a family with LGBT members, a black child and people with opposing politics. It's difficult to envision where the new series takes us, if John Goodman and Sara Gilbert can helm it, and if the specter of Roseanne doesn't hang over it like an oppressive, white nationalist pall.

We understand ABC didn't want to penalize the other actors, and even more, that they didn't want to lose any more money. But if they had taken five minutes to peruse Roseanne's Twitter account before building a little industry around her, they would have seen other questionable tweets that would have been a huge red flag.

Everyone will be tuning in to see how they erased Roseanne from the story. Will it be like that season of "Dallas" when Patrick Duffy turns around in the shower and the previous bad season was all a dream? Or will they have killed her off?

"The Conners" debuts on Tues., Oct. 16, the launch for three other family comedies: a new series, "The Kids Are Alright"; returning fave "black-ish," which has several lesbian characters; and season 2 of the delightful "Splitting Up Together." Set in the 1970s, "The Kids Are Alright" is about an Irish-Catholic working-class family of many boys, one of whom leaves the seminary, upending the family in myriad ways. The tone seems a cross between early "Roseanne" and "This Is Us," and there are some gay intimations.

ABC caps that premiere night by bringing back audience fave Nathan Fillion in a new crime drama, "The Rookie." The 47-year-old Fillion plays John Nolan, a 40-year-old rookie cop, the oldest in the LAPD. This series is based on a true story. We love Fillion, but we're not sure about this one. If he brings the same insouciance to the role as he did to "Castle," it will work. The majority of the cast is non-white, except for Fillion. Co-starring Afton Williamson, Melissa O'Neill, Alyssa Diaz, Richard T. Jones.

Other returning ABC series faves this fall include "Dancing with the Stars " (Sept. 24), "Grey's Anatomy" (which axed its lesbian characters at the end of last season, hopefully will be introducing new gay characters) on Sept. 27, "Fresh Off the Boat" with "Crazy Rich Asians" star Constance Wu (Oct. 5), and "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors" (Oct. 7).

ABC also announced "black-ish" creator Kenya Barris is rebooting the 60s classic sitcom "Bewitched" with a multiracial cast and a black Samantha. Will Uncle Arthur be queer, as he was when played by Paul Lynde 50 years ago? We hope so. Debuting later this season.

Amy Poehler executive produced the new NBC sitcom "I Feel Bad," based on the hilarious book by Orli Auslander. Starring Sarayu Blue, Paul Adelstein, Aisling Bea and Johnny Pemberton, this series focuses on "Emet (Blue), a wife, mother, career woman (are we still using this term, NBC? None of your other descriptions say "husband, dad, career man") trying to have it all." Despite the dreadful description, the trailer is hilarious. Poehler got NBC to do a series with gay people doing crafts. She's really good.

Law and order are on the docket this season, as always. CBS debuts "FBI" from Emmy winner Dick Wolf, whose "Law & Order" and "Chicago" franchises have been on the tube for a quarter-century. NBC's "L&O: Special Victims Unit" is the longest-running drama series on TV. Wolf's latest is bound to be good, delving into the inner workings of the FBI's New York office. Lead agents are Special Agent Maggie Bell (Missy Peregrym) and her partner, Special Agent Omar Adom Zidan (Zeeko Zaki). Their missions include terrorism, organized crime and counterintelligence, so they could be looking into the Trump family.

There are a plethora of other crime series upcoming, but they are later in the season. NBC's "The Enemy Within," about a super-max criminal who is a woman, looks great.

There's a lot more coming, including an AMC miniseries of John Le Carr�'s "Little Drummer Girl" and a Fox series of Justin Cronin's "The Passage." So for the apocalyptic, the cryptic, blasts from the past but thus far just a soupcon of gay, you know you really must stay tuned.

USA has a new 10-week dystopian horror series, "The Purge." Photo: USA Network