Eric Deggans

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

When House of Cards' third season opens, Kevin Spacey's murderous politician Frank Underwood is fooling the world again.

From the very first scene, he's bringing a presidential motorcade to his tiny hometown of Gaffney, S.C., pretending to honor his father's grave for the press.

"Nobody showed up for his funeral except me, not even my mother," Underwood says in one of those sly asides where he speaks directly to the audience. "But I'll tell you this: When they bury me, it won't be in my backyard. And when they pay their respects, they'll have to wait in line."

As CBS' Two and a Half Men airs its final episode tonight, capping its 12th season, critics like me are stuck trying to answer a single, niggling question:

How did a show like this end up as the longest-running multicamera comedy in television history?

Here is something that seems like a spoiler, but really isn't.

The first few minutes of Better Call Saul will answer a question that nagged Breaking Bad fans since the show ended in 2013: Whatever happened to fast-talking lawyer Saul Goodman?

Bob Odenkirk, who plays Goodman, says Better Call Saul had to answer that question first so viewers could focus on the new story.

"To satisfy that a little bit gets that out of the way," he says. "Now let's go and do this journey about who is Saul Goodman, really?"

The TV industry is scrambling to understand the runaway success of Fox's Empire, the story of a family-run hip-hop music company that has set ratings records in its four weeks on air.

The questions, as always, are simple: Why are people drawn to this show? And how can a TV network pull it off again?

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It happens at least once every episode: A scene in Parenthood carefully crafted to make you cry.

Like the moment when devoted parents Adam and Kristina Braverman try to console their son Max — who has Asperger's syndrome — after a school camping trip goes bad.

"Why do all the other kids hate me?" Max Braverman asks, voice wavering, just before telling his disbelieving parents a classmate relieved himself in his canteen during the trip. "Asperger's is supposed to make me smart. But if I'm smart then why ... why don't I get why they're laughing at me?"

A few days ago, I entertained myself for a few minutes watching ESPN's Stephen A. Smith lose his cool — this time, over an "incompetent" NFL for not interviewing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady regarding the team's deflated-football controversy.

But what made this moment noteworthy, was where I was watching Smith: not on a TV connected to a cable box, but on my iPad. Thanks to Sling TV.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Larry Wilmore nearly succeeded Stephen Colbert with a TV show called Meet the Rest.

The title was a cheeky reference to the way Sunday politics shows tend to feature only one kind of guest. But it was also a reminder that his new Comedy Central series — which he eventually settled on calling The Nightly Show — is also a distant parody of all the panel shows and group discussions that clog Sunday morning television and cable news.

At least, that's the plan for now.

Amazon has announced that Woody Allen will write and direct a new half-hour series for its video-streaming service — news that feels a little like hearing Mad Men's Don Draper just founded an Internet advertising agency.

Surrounded by his cast mates and the show's executive producer, Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor faced a crowd of journalists backstage at the Golden Globe awards Sunday, and made the case for why his win as best actor in a comedy meant more than a typical Hollywood honor.

"This is about changing people's lives," said Tambor, who won his award playing a 70-year-old coming out as transgender. Earlier, while accepting his award on national TV, he dedicated his award and performance to the transgender community.

When critics asked Tina Fey how her new series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt would be different now that it's airing on Netflix instead of NBC, she had quite the zinger ready.

"I think season two's gonna mostly be shower sex," Fey said during a press conference last week, drawing laughs. But she also had a point.

Fey's first series since 30 Rock was developed for her longtime TV home, NBC.

When I asked Tina Fey how she felt about the attack at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I wasn't aiming for a big headline — though that's exactly what her answer produced.

She was facing a roomful of journalists at the TV Critics Association's winter press tour Wednesday, talking up her latest television series — an eccentric comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, that was developed for NBC but will be unveiled to the world on Netflix.

Like many devoted fans, I jumped on the release of newly reconfigured, high-definition versions of HBO's classic cop series The Wire, binge-watching much of the show's five seasons on the HBO GO streaming service over the holidays.

What do a woman freed from a religious cult, a crooked lawyer and TV's longest serving late-night host have in common?

That's not the setup to an oddball joke. Instead, they're all part of the hottest trends coming to television in 2015, when a deluge of new shows combined with a boatload of new platforms threatens to transform the TV business over the next year.

It is, perhaps, the worst nightmare for those of us constantly trying to get a white-dominated Hollywood to widen its doors of opportunity for people of color: All those executives who say the right things in public and give to the right causes, just might think something much less admirable about diversity behind closed doors.

When I was a kid, I loved reading Gene Siskel's movie reviews for the Chicago Tribune.

As the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee clash over whether so-called enhanced interrogation techniques are considered torture, another question arises: Have depictions of torture on TV and film helped convince us that it works?

Consider this warning that recently greeted viewers of ABC's political soap opera, Scandal:

"The following drama contains adult content. Viewer discretion is advised."

Sons of Anarchy is probably the most macho drama on television, featuring a gang of gun-running, porn-making bikers.

Now more than ever, America needs productive conversations about race, stereotyping, police, crime and social justice. And too often, our national media continues to fall short.

After many years of dissecting how race works in media, I was both disappointed and but, sadly, not surprised by much of the coverage so far. It repeats many of the same mistakes we've seen for years in how we talk about race-fueled controversies in America.

We don't have the right conversations.

It's one of the biggest ironies of NBC's gamble tonight with the blockbuster production Peter Pan Live!

This incredibly earnest TV musical just might succeed if enough people hate it.

Language advisory: Quotes from The Walking Dead in this story contain language some find offensive.


For The Walking Dead, it was less like a conversation between two characters and more like a mini manifesto.

The moment came during an episode called "Four Walls and Roof," as Bob Stookey spoke to hero Rick Grimes about a central theme this season: keeping your humanity in midst of a zombie apocalypse.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This may be the first time in a long while that Bill Cosby can't control the public conversation about Bill Cosby.

Read the recent biography Cosby: His Life and Times, and you see a portrait of a talented performer who took control of his business and career interests early on, forever suspicious of journalists and industry executives who might try to interfere.

It was, perhaps, one of the biggest gambles on television this year. And it has worked out beautifully.

British character actor extraordinaire Peter Capaldi stepped into the shoes of the biggest character in science-fiction TV, the Doctor, alien star of the BBC's Doctor Who. And his portrayal of a morally conflicted, intensely knowledgeable, occasionally ruthless 2,000-year-old Time Lord has added new depth to television's longest-running science-fiction series.

Jon Stewart may be the only media figure who started his election coverage Tuesday with an apology.

"I did vote today ... I was being flip and it kind of took off," said Stewart, who had told CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour in an interview earlier Tuesday that he wasn't voting because he "had just moved, and I don't even know where my thing is." The comment sparked loads of stories about how the comedian wasn't voting in an election he had been talking about for months.

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