Fall 2019 – part 2: The Unicorn, Carol’s Second Act, Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside

More US also-rans

Carol's Second Act

Normally, around this time this week, I’d be reviewing a boxset. I had selected Netflix’s The Politician for that singular pleasure, mainly because Walter was only getting round to presenting Hotel Beau Séjour on Sunday.

But unfortunately, watching all of last week’s remaining TV shows and playing catch-up with the regulars got the better of me, so I’ve not watched either. Guess which one will be next week’s Boxset Monday (assuming I don’t try Raising Dion instead), though?

Rather than dumping reviews of all those new shows on you tomorrow at the same time as discussing the usual regulars, including the season/series finales of כפולים (False Flag)Flateyjargátan (The Flatey Enigma) and Glitch, I thought I’d discuss them all now. Plus, just like last week, with a few exceptions, there’s honestly not been a great crop, so they’re not worth dealing with individually anyway.

So after the jump, I’ll be casting my eye over new, lacklustre arrivals The Unicorn, Carol’s Second Act, Perfect Harmony and Sunnyside.

See you in a mo.

TV reviews

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The Unicorn
Walton Goggins, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Omar Benson Miller, Maya Lynne Robinson. Photo: Michael Yarish/CBS ©2019 CBS

The Unicorn

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Plot

A tight-knit group of friends and family band together to help Wade (Walton Goggins) embrace his new normal in the wake of the loss of his wife a year earlier. As a sometimes ill-equipped but always devoted single parent to his two adolescent daughters, he is taking the major step of dating again.

To Wade’s amazement, he’s a hot commodity with women, and his friends explain that he’s the perfect single guy: employed, attractive and with a proven track record of commitment. With his daughters and best friends rooting him on and hoping he’ll find happiness, Wade and his healing heart are ready to try life and love again.

TMINE verdict

The Unicorn is a somewhat inexplicable show. Firstly, it’s another nice CBS show just like Bob ♥ Abishola. CBS shows aren’t typically ‘nice’.

Secondly, it requires you to believe that Walton Goggins is a babe magnet. I don’t care how perfect his character is on paper – he’s still Walton Goggins. I know that seems harsh (and who am I to throw stones from inside my glass house?) but let’s get real – he’s Walton Goggins and no amount of dead wives is going to make him “first-date sex” irresistible.

Thirdly, who thought this was a good idea? “Let’s talk about how sexy widowers are, even Walton Goggins”? “Let’s make those married men wish their wives were dead so they could be a widower and be hot properties?” I mean how many sad, middle-aged, lonely guys watch CBS?

Okay, maybe it’s not that inexplicable.

Lastly, how’s this going to play out? Every week, Goggins dates someone new and messes up? Are we now going to be in some horrible non-non-linear show called How I Met Your Replacement Mother?

Those general philosophical and ontological concerns to one side, The Unicorn‘s okay. It has heart and even pathos. Goggins does make you root for him. It has the occasional joke, mostly of the ‘dads are clueless without mums around’ and the ‘guys who haven’t dated in years aren’t very good at dating or spotting women are into them’ variety, but they’re not bad. The cast are decent. Rob Corddry does the Rob Corddry thing and unsurprisingly, he’s not that bad at it.

It’s just a show that makes you wonder why it exists – and then you don’t bother turning up for a second date

Carol's Second Act

Carol’s Second Act

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, CBS
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Plot

At age 50, Carol Kenney (Patricia Heaton) has raised her children, gotten divorced and retired from teaching. Instead of kicking up her heels and taking a well-earned break, she decides it’s time to start over, committing to the pursuit of her dream of becoming a doctor.

As the oldest medical intern – by a lot – she must sink or swim with peers who are half her age. Luckily for her, her enthusiasm, perspective and even her age may be exactly what makes her second act a great success.

TMINE verdict

If The Unicorn is CBS’s attempts to flatter its sad, single, middle-aged male audience, Carol’s Second Act is its attempt the same night to woo its sad, single, middle-aged female audience using what it reckons are the equivalent tools in its arsenal.

Where The Unicorn attempts to flatter men into thinking that even if they look like Walton Goggins and act like Mr Spock, they can still be sexually irresistible to hot babes, Carol’s Second Act flatters women into thinking that if they act look like Patricia Heaton and act like Lucille Ball, they can still be liked and regarded as wise seers by young and old, rich and poor, black and white, male and female – and be sexually irresistible to Kyle MacLachlan.

A multi-cam comedy rather than a single-cam comedy – apparently, the budgets at CBS for wooing women are smaller than for wooing men – everyone is naturally acting as OTT as possible and the joke rate is pretty rapid. Quite a few of those jokes hit home, but you’ll still see most of the coming, thanks to some quite remarkable levels of telegraphing.

But as with The Unicorn, it’s still not too bad. Heaton’s as amiable as ever, perhaps more so than when she was paired with Ray Romano. MacLachlan’s fine, even though he’s doing sitcom work for a change, and I could easily keep watching just for him. The rest of the cast is entirely missable, although there’s no one you’d actively campaign to have fired.

The script is also semi-decent, although maybe it’s a new America when the we’re all supposed to feel sorry for the rich boy who could only get the job by getting his father to pull strings (“I’m just not sure I deserve to be here” – ya think? I wonder which better qualified BAME intern you displaced from the intern programme to make it). It has a few things to say about age and experience, as well as the nonsensical machismo of medical training depicted in shows like Code Black.

But don’t blame your age or even dementia if you discover you forgot to set the PVR for the second episode.

Perfect Harmony

Perfect Harmony

In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Plot

When former Princeton music professor Arthur Cochran (Bradley Whitford) unexpectedly stumbles into choir practice at a small-town church, he finds an oddball group of singers that is out of tune in more ways than one.

Despite the ultimate clash of sensibilities, Arthur and his newfound cohorts, including temporary choirmaster Ginny (Anna Camp), her ex, Wayne (Will Greenberg), vocal powerhouse Adams (Tymberlee Hill), gentle giant Dwayne (Geno Segers), the impossibly upbeat Reverend Jax (Rizwan Manji) and more, may just be the perfect mix of individuals to help each other reinvent and rediscover a little happiness… just when they all need it most.

TMINE verdict

If The Unicorn was CBS’s inexplicable show of the season, Perfect Harmony is NBC’s. First off, we already have a much better sounding musical show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, lined up for mid-season, so why is NBC leading with this weak note?

Equally, we have yet another widower who needs a reason to live. What’s going on here?

More oddly, given that NBC has something of a reputation for being elitist, Perfect Harmony is a big old sneer down the nose at southern folk. The cravat-wearing Whitford gets shot down a couple of times for being a snooty coastal type, but largely this is “Southern people are stupid, borderline-violent, God-botherers with all the class of tanktop soaked in goose fat” fare.

As a result, we spend our first episode watching Whitford intervene in everyone’s relationships, be a cock and generally make everyone unhappy in a PG-13 attempt to do for choirs what Whiplash did for drum-playing. It’s not particularly fun to watch, no matter how much style Whitford exhibits or how much spunky pluck Anna Camp summons up. About the only thing I did enjoy were Segers’ singing and Manji’s alternative names for the movies he never got to see properly when he was growing up.

Sunnyside - Season 1
© NBCUniversal

Sunnyside

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Plot

Garrett Modi (Kal Penn), the youngest Queens councilman ever elected, was a rising star in New York politics until he was pushed out of office after a very public fall from grace. Now, with his reputation in shambles, Modi is forced to move in with his sister Mallory (Kiran Deol) until he can figure out a way to redeem himself and earn a pay cheque.

An unexpected opportunity emerges when he’s hired by a quirky and diverse group of idealists – hardworking Griselda (Diana Maria Riva), cab driver Hakim (Samba Schutte), crazy-rich siblings Mei Lin (Poppy Liu) and Jun Ho (Joel Kim Booster), American-raised Moldovan Brady (Moses Storm), and dive bar DJ Drazen (Tudor Petrut) – to help them achieve their dream: citizenship.

TMINE verdict

Being created and written by Harold and Kumar‘s Kal Penn, who actually was a politician for a while, Sunnyside should be a whole lot better than it actually is. Instead, it’s little better than – or different from – similarly unfunny, borderline racist, patronising NBC predecessor Outsourced, beyond insulting ethnicities other than Indian.

Its heart is in the right place and it really wants to say a lot of things about ICE, what it means to be an immigrant in the US and the kind of people who want to become US citizens. Instead, even while it works to be a little different at least, it merely throws up an imperial fuck-ton’s worth of updated stereotypes about the Chinese, Eastern Europeans, Latinx and Africans.

You could almost forgive it, if it managed to be funny at the same time. But by the time Riva’s off to her fifth job, Liu and Booster are being clueless about money yet again, Petrut’s put on yet another terrible bit of Europop, you’ll have bored of the jokes and eyeing the clock because there’s still half the episode to go.

What it does do well at least is give Kal Penn something to do. He’s funny and a great screen presence. Plus he does write brother-sister relationships well and he has something interesting things to say politically.

Turn up for Kal Penn. Stay for Kal Penn. Just ignore the rest of it.

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