by Julian Spivey
The season one finale of Fox’s breakout freshman hit “Empire” aired last night and undoubtedly will further upon its record-breaking ratings climb that has seen every episode have more viewers than the one before it. But, it was something that “Empire” star Terrence Howard wants to see added to the show for its second season that has caused quite the controversy.
Howard, who plays Empire Entertainment CEO Lucious Lyon, said in an interview with “Access Hollywood” on Monday, March 16 that he would like for the show to add the “N-word” into its dialogue for the second season. Howard said he feels the controversial word would allow “Empire” to be more authentic.
He told “Access Hollywood”: “Well, I believe if we’re gonna really tackle racism, if we’re gonna tackle bigotry, if we’re gonna tackle homophobia, we need to attack it dead on you don’t just sit up, you know let’s give a little Aspirin right here, no we need to take the sutures, open up the problem and reach in and grab it. And since n**** is used in almost every conversation in most black neighborhoods, why is it that we don’t hear it on TV anymore? Are white people afraid of it? Did they create the word? But if this is something that we use on a daily basis, then let’s address what it really means.”
The entire interview can be seen here and while I don’t agree with everything Howard has to say about the “N-word” I do agree with him that the word would give “Empire” a more authentic feel. I don’t really believe there’s a way one could argue that it wouldn’t make the show more real given the fact that the word is used frequently within the real-world culture that’s being displayed in the fictional world on the television series.
Those who will argue that using the word on the show is a danger to society or culture should keep in mind that Lucious Lyon murdered a man in cold blood in the pilot episode and drugs have a key role in the storyline, as well. If people can watch “Empire” without being induced to kill or sell drugs surely it wouldn’t have a negative impact on their daily vocabulary either if the “N-word” is thrown into the show’s dialogue on occasion.
It’s highly unlikely you’ll be hearing the “N-word” anytime soon on “Empire” despite Howard’s opinion. It is something that has come up in writer’s meetings though according to writer David Rambo who told TMZ, “It’s such a powerful word. It’s a huge issue. It came up a lot in our writer’s room.” But, he ultimately felt that as a white man he didn’t have the right to make the call on whether or not to include the word in his scripts.
Howard’s co-star Taraji P. Henson, who’s perhaps the show’s most popular character as Lucious’ ex-wife Cookie, isn’t a fan of using the word on the show. She told TMZ when asked if “Empire” should start using the word, “Naw, you might piss people off.”
Irritating viewers isn’t really something shows should focus on, but in the world of network television where ratings are king the use of the “N-word” might see the show’s record climb start to dip if the word offended some viewers. Howard’s right that it would make the show more authentic, but you’re not going to get completely authentic drama on Fox. If the show was on premium cable like HBO or Showtime you’d more than likely see the word used, except in that case it’d probably be overused.
by Julian Spivey
One of those moments that truly hits home the fact that David Letterman has only two months left as host of the ‘Late Show’ came on Wednesday, March 19 when comedian Norm Macdonald, one of the true underrated guests of the show and personal favorite of mine, made his final appearance.
Macdonald has long been one of the greatest guests on Letterman’s ‘Late Show’ and you can tell that Letterman generally loves it when Macdonald appears on the show. When Macdonald is on the ‘Late Show’ the clock turns back many years and late night television truly turns into a talk show. Macdonald wasn’t on the show to pitch anything. It was just two friends and all-time legendary comedians telling stories and enjoying each other’s company for 15 to 20 minutes.
Macdonald is quite possibly the best storytelling celebrity. He frequently uses the unusual for storytelling medium of Twitter to spin amazing tales that leave his followers mesmerized like recent tales of how Eddie Murphy turned down an offer to play Bill Cosby at the “Saturday Night Live” 40th anniversary special, how he met Bob Dylan and the time he played poker with the late James Garner. As great as Macdonald is at telling tales on Twitter it’s always nice to see him do it in person on a television talk show – something that few give him an opportunity to do these days.
Macdonald has a great history of hilarious late night talk show appearances, not only on “Late Show with David Letterman” but other ones (typically Conan O’Brien hosted ones). His appearances on Letterman particularly stand out because the two seem to have such respect and a great liking of each other. Macdonald tweeted after appearing on Letterman’s ‘Late Show’ for the final time on Wednesday: “Tonight, my last Letterman ever. Never happier than sitting beside my comic hero.” Letterman on the show referred to Macdonald as “could be the funniest man in the world,” which is an unbelievably huge statement from a comedian of Letterman’s legend and stature.
Watching Macdonald blast through hilarious stories of legendary character actor Jack Warden blowing lines on his old sitcom “Norm,” in which Norm Macdonald played Norm (a great running joke throughout the segment), and how dirty of a talker hall of fame baseball announcer Bob Uecker is made Letterman’s statement seem not quite so ridiculous at all – but anybody who’s loved Macdonald’s style of humor over his career realizes there aren’t many who can draw laughs quite like him.
Macdonald’s final appearance on the show was just another in a long line of terrific appearances on Letterman. You could tell the two of them generally had a ball the entire time. As Yahoo TV critic Ken Tucker, who brilliantly live tweeted the interview (actually at Macdonald’s request), tweeted: “When Letterman has a guest he likes, his smile gets sappy, he’s more than willing—relieved--to turn it all over.” Letterman let Macdonald do most of the talking as he sat there with one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen from him, almost busting a gut laughing at the sheer hilarity of Macdonald’s stories. At one point I even swear I saw Letterman wipe a tear from his eye he was laughing so hard.
Macdonald called Letterman his comedy hero. Letterman called Macdonald the funniest man in the world. Both of these legends are my comic heroes and both quite possibly the funniest men in the world. Their shared loved of sarcastically witty humor has always drawn me in and left me hanging on the edge of my seat. I hate that this was the last time I’ll ever see these two comedy heavyweights together – but may the greatness they’ve created together live forever on YouTube.
by Julian Spivey
Ichabod Crane isn’t the only one that can seemingly come back from the dead. Fox has decided to renew its supernatural drama “Sleepy Hollow” for a third season, despite the show having lost 40 percent of its audience from its popular first season.
The network had previously announced its concerns over the show’s drastic decline in the Nielsen ratings and thought that the second season’s more serialized tone had led to its decline. The show’s original showrunner Mark Goffman recently announced that he was leaving, which left fans wondering whether that had any impact on if the show would be renewed or canceled.
It turns out Fox was intrigued on what a new showrunner might be able to do for the once successful series and announced on Wednesday, March 18 that “Sleepy Hollow” had been picked up for a third season with executive producer Clifton Campbell taking over as showrunner. Campbell previously oversaw “The Glades” for A&E and “White Collar” for USA.
The third season of “Sleepy Hollow,” which Fox announced will consist of 18 episodes, will take on a more episodic feel with Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) tackling a crime or villain per week. The season will reportedly also delve further into the partnership/relationship between the two friends.
The bad news is these last ditch efforts on the part of networks attempting to revive once successful series rarely, if ever, seem to work. When a show loses almost half of its audience from its first season to its second there’s probably no way possible for it to regain even a fraction of that number back – no matter what they do. Switching from serialized to episodic episodes and killing off a particular character that many fans seemed to dislike probably will only do so much. It’s nice that Fox is giving “Sleepy Hollow” another chance, but season three will probably be its final season.
I’ve been a fan of CBS’ crime drama “Blue Bloods” ever since the show premiered in the fall of 2010. For the last five seasons the show has been one of the most underrated dramas on network television, especially in the packed crime procedural field.
A big reason why I’m such a fan of the show is it’s one of the most moralistic shows on television in an era where such a thing rarely exists. And, in an era of television that’s touted and revered for its anti-heroes, Tom Selleck’s New York City Police Commissioner Frank Regan harkens back to the days of Marshal Matt Dillon on the long-running CBS Western “Gunsmoke” as the type of moralistic heroic figure who’s always going to do the right thing no matter what. I’ve even said more than once in conversation with people that Frank Regan would make a good candidate for President of the United States – both on television and in real life.
But on “Bad Company,” the most recent episode of “Blue Bloods” that aired on Friday, March 13, the Frank Regan storyline featuring restorative justice rubbed me the wrong way. It rubbed me the wrong way because it almost scoffed at the serious subject of mental illness and did so in a horridly dangerous manner.
You can watch the episode here, but the storyline in question features a young woman, Sarah Grant (played by Amelia Rose Blaire), coming to Regan’s office with a letter from the killer of her entire family. He wants to meet her as part of a restorative justice program that seeks to rehabilitate the incarcerated by giving them a chance to apologize to their victims or victims’ families face-to-face. Regan and the girl go back most of her life as he was the one on her family’s case. He’s also been tasked with walking her down the aisle at her soon-to-be wedding.
Grant doesn’t want to meet with the killer of her family at first, but later changes her mind saying it will eat her up inside if she doesn’t do it. The audience thinks she’s going to forgive him, because this is how these clichéd storylines typically go. What happens next starts out as something refreshing before ultimately delving into something rather infuriating and borderline dangerous on the part of showrunner Kevin Wade and writer Bryan Goluboff.
Grant, with Regan by her side, meets the killer of her family and immediately tells him that she cannot forgive him for murdering her entire family – her parents and five-year old brother. This was quite refreshing. I didn’t really feel like seeing this young woman forgive someone who brutally murdered her entire family in what Regan had called the most disturbing crime scene of his long career.
Unfortunately, the scene didn’t end there. The killer tells Grant that he doesn’t expect her to forgive him and that he can’t forgive himself either. He tells her he tried to kill himself, but was unsuccessful as the guards caught him before he died. Then he tells her how he found religion and it changed who he was. This is where it seems she will relent and accept his forgiveness, but again thankfully the show doesn’t go cliché. However, cliché probably would’ve been a whole lot better than what actually comes next.
The killer tells Grant that finding God and being locked up helped him realize that he had mental illness. It helped him get the medication and help he needed to deal with his disability. It stopped the voices inside his head that made him do the truly horrific things he had done.
The scene takes its turn for the worse when Grant doesn’t care about the man’s mental illness. You can’t really blame her for that, but she turns on him telling him that the only way he can make things better would be to commit suicide and do it right this time. The scene gets even uglier when we get a close-up of Regan responding to her response and there really isn’t one. In fact, it’s almost as if he’s scoffing at the mental illness as an excuse by the look on his face. I almost expected Regan to step up and say “enough” when Grant suggested that the killer of her family commit suicide. Even though he has a close relationship with her she surpassed a moralistic barrier that I didn’t believe Regan or the show would pass. The scene ends there and Regan soon walks Grant down the aisle at her wedding.
The entire scene made me feel very uncomfortable because of its treatment of mental illness. It led me to believe that the show doesn’t have a high opinion of mental illness being used as defense or excuse for committing crimes, even though it is something that comes into play every day when crimes are committed. For the scene to turn on mental illness and use the suggestion of suicide as a means of fixing one’s mistakes caused by it was simply an incredibly dangerous and ignorant stance for “Blue Bloods” to take. The show could’ve taken a good stance on helping those with mental illness, but instead has us questioning whether it really believes mental illness can cause someone to commit atrocities, even though professionals will tell you it can.
“Blue Bloods” is a show that often walks a fine line on moral issues (and I’m glad that’s a focal point of the series), but this is the first time in its five seasons where they’ve completely missed the mark – and they missed it by not just a mile, but about 100.
by Julian Spivey
Has “Saturday Night Live” finally gone country?
Recently it was announced that award-winning country music group the Zac Brown Band will be appearing as the musical guest on the March 7 episode to be hosted by actor Chris Hemsworth. Zac Brown Band will appear on ‘SNL’ in support of their newest single “Homegrown” and an upcoming, as of yet unnamed album to be released at some point in 2015.
The announcement of Zac Brown Band as musical guest comes on the heels of country superstar and “The Voice” coach Blake Shelton recently serving as both host and musical guest on ‘SNL’ on Jan. 24.
In its 40-year history “Saturday Night Live” has mostly ignored country music, even though the genre has statistically been the most popular in the United States at least when it comes to the number of radio stations supporting the genre for a good portion of the show’s run.
The show has aired 780 episodes to date, with over 800 musical guests (many episodes early on during the show’s run featured multiple musical guests), and there have only been a measly 20 episodes featuring a country music act as musical guest. This doesn’t include the episodes hosted by Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, which had separate musical guests. Zac Brown Band will make the 21st. In total there have only been 16 different country acts, counting the Zac Brown Band, as Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift have all appeared more than once.
I was frankly shocked when I heard that Zac Brown Band would be performing on ‘SNL’ because I felt that ‘SNL’ had already met its country music quota for about five years with Blake Shelton and also felt like Zac Brown Band was too country for the show. Shelton has crossover appeal being on NBC’s “The Voice” and previous acts like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood have crossover pop appeal. Zac Brown Band is going to be the most country act, by far, to appear on ‘SNL’ since Garth Brooks in the late ‘90s.
It was so shocking that the show had booked a second country music act on the same season that I had to research whether or not multiple country music acts had ever appeared in the same season before and it has only happened once previously in the 40 years the show has been on the air – in season 32 when both Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood. Prior to that season there hadn’t been a single country music act on the show in seven seasons, which is the longest streak in the show’s history without a country music act. I’ll save you the epic rant on how ridiculous it is to go seven whole seasons (nearly 150 episodes) without a single musical act from one of the most popular, if not the most popular, genres of music in the country.
But, on March 7 the Zac Brown Band will attempt to make up for four decades of a mostly snubbed genre at Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center.
Maybe the show has finally noticed that the rest of the country has gone country and will start booking shows accordingly? Or maybe the booking of the Zac Brown Band is a mere fluke and it’ll be another few years before we see another country music act appear on the show? Only time will tell.
by Julian Spivey
This week’s episode of “Saturday Night Live” hosted by “Fifty Shades of Grey” actress Dakota Johnson caused quite the stir when a fake commercial for ISIS was deemed offensive by many of the show’s viewers, who took to Twitter to show their outrage.
The commercial was a parody of a recent Toyota ad where a teary-eyed father drops his daughter off to leave for the Army.
In the ‘SNL’ parody the father, played by Taran Killam, is dropping his daughter, played by Dakota Johnson, off at an airport and is nervous about his daughter leaving. He tries to talk her out of going. She leans down inside the window and tells him ‘thanks’ and then he looks over and says, ‘looks like your ride is here.’ Just then a pickup truck with men equipped with larger weaponry and an ISIS flag on the driver’s side door pulls up. The studio audience mostly laughs, but it’s kind of a half-shocked laugh from the sound of it. The father tells his daughter, “you be careful, OK.” To which she responds, “Dad, it’s just ISIS” and gives him a wink. The dad looks at the main ISIS guy and says, “take care of her” and the ISIS terrorist responds, “death to America.” The teary-eyed father looks into the camera as the commercial tagline pops across the screen, “ISIS: We’ll take it from here, dad.”
This commercial sent Twitter into an uproar with the majority of people seeming to believe that it was done in poor taste and that ‘SNL’ had crossed the line of decency.
Tweets like: “SNL has gone too far with the ISIS skit they just did... An all time low....they lost me as a viewer” and “#SNL ISIS ski… I’m done. #BoycottSNL” were prevalent directly following the airing and many posters claimed they would never watch the show again.
Comedy is no stranger to pushing boundaries – some would even say it’s the job of comedy to push boundaries – and the fake ISIS commercial definitely does this. It’s for every individual to decide for themselves whether they are offended or not, but I don’t believe that ‘SNL’ did anything too egregious in airing a skit mocking ISIS. It’s not like this was a pro-ISIS commercial or anything. It’s ultimately just a comedy bit that shouldn’t be taken as seriously as people are taking it.
ISIS is a horrific terrorist organization that commits unspeakable atrocities and some people don’t believe that comedy should be made of a group that does such things. However, if you’ll remember back 13-14 years ‘SNL’ was making fun of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, as well, and those attacks hit home for the show as they happened in the very city where the show airs. Why should the show treat ISIS any differently?
Comedy knows no bounds. If you have strict boundaries as to what you find funny and don’t or rather what you think should be joked about or not then maybe you should be spending your Saturday nights watching something different.
by Julian Spivey
The best comedians not only know how to make us laugh, but they can also make us think while at the same time sending important messages to the masses. Jimmy Kimmel did just that on his show Friday night when he took on the ridiculousness of the anti-vaccine movement in a fake public service announcement using real doctors.
Kimmel said that in Los Angeles there are schools in which 20 percent of the children attending are not vaccinated because “parents here are more scared of gluten than they are small pox. As a result we now have measles again.”
You can tell by watching Kimmel’s riffing on the topic before he airs the fake PSA that this is something that is not just a joke to him, but a serious subject. This is interesting to see and something we need more of from comedians on late night television. You’ll see it from the soon to retire David Letterman, but Jimmy Fallon is too squeaky clean to ruffle feathers in a similar fashion as Kimmel.
The anti-vaccine movement is something that should be made fun of and harshly, because it’s incredibly dangerous to our society and the people who refuse to vaccinate their children because they trust random emails they see on social media or former Playboy models over the advice of doctors are certainly asking for this criticism.
Kimmel added that people who don’t vaccinate their children shouldn’t be allowed to go to the doctor.
“If you are one of those people who knows more than doctors, that’s fine. You’re not allowed to go to the doctor anymore. Why would you even want to go to a doctor who knows less than you do? So, if you fall and you cut your head open you will not be admitted to the emergency room. Stay at home, find that sewing kit you stole from the Marriott and stitch it up yourself, doc. The doctor will see you never,” Kimmel joked.
The PSA features real doctors, at least according to Kimmel, angrily admonishing the public for taking an anti-vaccination stance despite the expertise of doctors saying otherwise.
It’s a hilarious bit by Kimmel, but beyond that it’s even more important than anything else. The anti-vaccination movement is dangerous and while Kimmel uses it for some good laughs he also gets this point across rather brilliantly.