Brownstein: Pay-TV picks up networks’ slack

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Brownstein: Pay-TV picks up networks’ slack

Posted on: April 5th, 2014 by tommyj

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Brownstein: Pay-TV picks up networks’ slack

MONTREAL — It’s Christmas in April. And we’re not just talking weather here. Turns out that the pay-TV overlords have decided to bestow upon us a bonanza of quality, albeit off-centred, fare at a time when the mainstream networks are closing out their TV series for the year and, in some cases, forever. Say good night, How I Met Your Mother.

Leading the way is HBO Canada with a trio of shows on Sunday. Say hey to the debut of Silicon Valley and to the launches of Season 3 of Veep and Season 4 of Game of Thrones. The Comedy Network unleashed Season 2 of Inside Amy Schumer last Tuesday. AMC premières Season 7 of Mad Men — its last season — on April 13. And The Movie Network brings out Season 6 of Nurse Jackie and Season 7 — its last season — of Californication on April 13.

On paper, Silicon Valley — airing Sunday at 10 p.m. — is a no-miss. Not with Mike Judge at the helm. Judge, the twisted genius behind Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill, is creator as well as head writer and director of the show. Nor does it hurt that the series is based on Judge’s own experiences as a Silicon Valley dreamer/engineer in the late 1980s.

The good news is that beyond its provenance, the series is a direct hit to the funny-bone — in rather droll, understated fashion. Judge has his way with many of the eccentric brainiac high-tech schemers and geeks who people the valley and who make for easy targets. But he also shows compassion — admittedly in most humorous fashion — for the little guys with the big ideas who are about to be exploited.

Judge’s anti-hero lead is Richard (Thomas Middleditch), a lowly, bashful computer programmer toiling for the tech-giant Hooli and living in a hostel of sorts with his three Jobs-wannabe buddies. The guys are provided food and futons by calculating dot-com millionaire Erlich (T.J. Miller) who lets them reside in his home free — in return for 10 per cent of their projects when they take off.

Richard has developed a seemingly useless website called Pied Piper, which enables composers to see if their musical creations are infringing upon those of other composers. But as fate would have it, Richard’s site requires the use of an innovative compression algorithm — whatever the hell that means — and suddenly he becomes the flavour of the day in the valley. His invention sparks a bidding war between rival conglomerates. He is offered $10 million by one and a fancy package by another.

Richard is overwhelmed. The pompous Erlich tries to explain to him just how his life has taken a dramatic turn in most simplistic and sexist fashion: “Your whole life, you’ve been an ugly chick. Now you’re a hot chick.” The only problem, Erlich goes on to mention, is that Pied Piper is a bad name, and not just because the Piper is alleged to be a psychopath and a pedophile. No, says Erlich, “you need a name that you can scream out during (intercourse).”

And you can clearly see where this series is heading. And those sounds of uncontrolled laughter emanating from the heavens are, doubtless, coming from the soul of Steve Jobs.

Extra brownie points to Judge for beginning the season with a Silicon Valley concert featuring Kid Rock, who is most miffed because the crowd is paying no attention to him whatsoever. “Where is the noise?” he asks in vain. Say good night, Kid Rock.

The high-larity continues on HBO Canada, Sunday at 10:30 p.m., with the machinations that encompass Season 3 of Veep. No Seinfeld Curse here for Emmy-winning star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is once again a blast as Selina Meyer, the disenchanted U.S. vice-president, ever-surrounded by her gaggle of backstabbing, conniving aides.

And once again, though bigger on platitudes than deep-seated political convictions, Meyer is no one’s patsy. She is one wily political critter.

When action begins this season, the foul-talking Meyer is on a book tour in Iowa, shilling her bio — which she didn’t actually write. She’s down in the dumps until word seeps down to remotest Iowa that POTUS, the U.S. president, may not be running for office again. Suddenly, Selina is revitalized and starts fantasizing about occupying the West Wing.

And suddenly the Veep’s chief of staff Amy, (Anna Chlumsky), and her top aide, Dan (Reid Scott), begin battling to see who will become their boss’s campaign manager. But there is a hitch: the president has changed his tune and come out on the pro-life side of the abortion debate as has another potential candidate for the White House while Meyer is pro-choice — or was.

Ah, but politics is a ruthless business, with players only too eager to change allegiances for the proper payoff. As one of the Veep’s aides muses: “Is there a pro-I-don’t-give-a-s–t-lobby?” Because if there is, that’s the one that would be the natural home for most of these players.

They love a good wedding on Game of Thrones. On the heels of last season’s Red Wedding massacre, they’ve come up with quite the encore nuptials bash for Season Four, kicking off Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO Canada.

Yup, preparations are being made for the marriage of the weasel boy-king Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), who still holds the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. And it promises to be a hell of a blowout, and let’s say that the dessert served will be most just.

Murder, mayhem, skulduggery, sorcery and swordplay — both in and out of the boudoir — are ladled out in abundance once again in this mythical kingdom where the men are men and the women are diabolical and the animals are all rightly terrified. The show’s legions of fans will be engrossed — in every which way. And once again, even the most passionate fans will need a scorecard to figure out who is who among the unpronounceable names of characters and who most deserves to be smote, beheaded, devoured by wild dogs and/or burned at the stake.

Back for more maniacal thrills are Joffrey’s Machiavellian mom, Cersei (Lena Headey), and the sage, wisecracking Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). And joining the fray this season is Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), the “Lannister-loathing Red Viper of Dorne.” He’s been invited to the royal wedding by someone with a real sick sense of humour. Suffice it to say, that with a handle like that, the Red Viper could be the ultimate party-pooper. Never a dull moment, or blade, in Westeros.

After the savagery of Game of Thrones, a shower will be required, and a little levity could also be in order. So, welcome to Season 2 of Inside Amy Schumer, airing Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on The Comedy Network.

Based on the opening show of the season, it’s safe to say that writer/creator/star Schumer goes where few female comics this side of Sarah Silverman dare to tread. This is pretty bold stuff: dark and dirty and oh-so-irreverently hysterical.

What else to make of a debut episode titled You Would Bang Her?, wherein a focus group of suspect guys has misgivings about engaging in matters carnal with Schumer. That is followed by a phone call from a friend who informs Schumer that she has herpes. This, in turn, has Schumer reaching out to God (played by Paul Giamatti in a casual white ensemble), who notes that seven per cent of those who reach out to him are herpes sufferers.

God tries to cut a deal with Schumer to rid her of the herpes, short of “killing off a small village in Uzbekistan.” Schumer balks at deals requiring her to stop drinking or using hairspray, or to call her mother more. Lucky for Schumer that this God is as merciful as she is not.

Alas, if it exists, Schumer is heading straight to hell when her days are done. A small price to be paid for our amusement.

Twitter: billbrownstein

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