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The Spoils of Babylon: The Saviors and Spoilers of IFC’s Not-So-Epic Minsieries

It's no accident that IFC announced its rebranding as… IFC on the same day it debuted The Spoils of Babylon. After all, this star-studded spoof of old-school television miniseries (made in conjunction with Will Ferrell and his Funny or Die outfit) has next to nothing to do with the channel's original identity as the "Independent Film Channel" and everything to do with its burgeoning line-up of alt-comedy shows like Maron and Portlandia. So, going forward, IFC simply stands for IFC and if Spoils works ratings magic, you can expect to see more stunts like it in the future.

Alpha House: Needs More Paint

by Ethan Alter November 14, 2013 5:00 pm
Alpha House: Needs More Paint

Veep has Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Armando Iannucci. House of Cards has Kevin Spacey and David Fincher (at least for the first two episodes). How can Alpha House, the new political comedy that's launching on Amazon on Friday (the first three episodes will be made available then, followed by a new installment every week), hope to compete with those dynamic duos? Easy -- by partnering the always-reliable John Goodman up with Doonesbury mastermind Garry Trudeau. Based on the pilot episode at least, it's a combination that holds a lot of promise… even if it's not fully realized yet.

Welcome to the Family: Thanks, But We’ll Stick With Our Own

You know, I may not have been 100 percent on board with NBC's last attempt at creating its own Modern Family-style comedy hit, Ryan Murphy's The New Normal, but I did appreciate that show's full-throated endorsement of blended families and the way it filtered the relationships between parents and their children (both of the grown-up and still-youthful variety) through a sweetly sarcastic lens. I found myself particularly missing Normal while watching its replacement: Welcome to the Family, a more straightforward Modern Family knock-off that's twice as annoying even the worst episode of The New Normal… and possibly even Glee. (Though that's a harder case to make, what with last season's school-shooting episode, among other things.)

Hello Ladies: Goodbye Stephen

by Ethan Alter September 30, 2013 6:00 am
Hello Ladies: Goodbye Stephen

Since the original British run of The Office propelled them out of obscurity and into the comedy big leagues, Stephen Merchant has largely existed in the shadow of his friend and creative partner, Ricky Gervais -- the gawky Samwise to his jerky Frodo. Initially, his sidekick status was something as a hindrance as much of the attention and acclaim that greeted The Office and later Extras was directed at his co-writer. But in the long run, being in the background has probably paid off for as Gervais has steadily gone from being the life of the party to the guy nobody wants in the room (courtesy of those initially funny, then disastrous Golden Globes gigs), Merchant's career prospects and public persona have remained largely unchanged. He's still the gangly guy who practices the same brand of awkward humor as his buddy, but seems far less mean about it.

Back in the Game: A Swing and a Miss

by Ethan Alter September 26, 2013 6:00 am
Back in the Game: A Swing and a Miss

Every network has at least one (and usually more) bench-warmers hidden amidst their fall line-up, the shows that you know are only on the air to pad out the schedule until a better series -- or, at least, one with more salable elements -- comes along. The baseball-themed Back in the Game then, is the bench-warmer amongst ABC's new comedies (Lucky 7 fulfills the same slot amidst its collection of dramas), a show that gives the network something to put in between Wednesday night hits The Middle and Modern Family besides dead air. It's not that Game is actively bad per se, but last night's season premiere revealed a series that's so half-hearted in its ambition and execution one gets the feeling that the writers don't think they're ready for the big leagues either. We call the pitches the show's pilot threw as we saw 'em.

The Goldbergs: The Wonder Years, ’80s Edition

by Ethan Alter September 25, 2013 6:00 am
The Goldbergs: The Wonder Years, ’80s Edition

Twenty-five years ago, ABC premiered The Wonder Years, a lovingly nostalgic look back at a young boy's coming of age in the late '60s. To mark that award-winning, fondly-remembered show's anniversary, the network has decided to dress The Wonder Years up in '80s duds and re-brand it as, The Goldbergs, which aired its pilot episode last night.

Dads: Much Offense Taken

by Ethan Alter September 18, 2013 6:00 am
Dads: Much Offense Taken

Much ink has already been spilled about the way the Fox sitcom Dads has pissed off Asian-American groups with its "jokes" about sexy Asian schoolgirls and Chinese businessmen with strange sexual peccadilloes. Based on the jaw-droppingly unfunny pilot, though, there are plenty of other demographics that can and should be offended by this fall's worst new comedy series, co-created by Seth MacFarlane during, we're assuming, whatever downtime he had while directing his sophomore feature film, A Million Ways to Die in the West. (The show's laziness and general absence of humor certainly suggests that his attention was elsewhere.) Here are the various lobbying groups Fox should expect to hear from any minute now.

The Roast of James Franco: Grading the Roasters

by Ethan Alter September 3, 2013 12:42 pm
The Roast of James Franco: Grading the Roasters

Comedy Central netted a big fish for its annual celebrity roast when they got James Franco interested in being mocked and ridiculed by his famous friends -- like Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill -- on national television. But the night itself turned out to be a mixed bag, with some of the roasters killing it and others seeming to hold themselves back, not wanting to piss off their pal. Here's our roaster report card from a B-level Roast of an A-list star.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?: Same Show, Different Network

A small-screen staple since the late '80s, the improv comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? returned in its latest incarnation on The CW last night, with a few familiar faces (Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, who were regulars on the long-running ABC version) and a couple new ones (host Aisha Tyler and guest player Gary Anthony Williams, whose seat will be occupied by a rotating crew of comics -- among them Heather Anne Campbell, who appeared in the second episode that aired right after the premiere, and Keegan-Michael Key -- in the weeks ahead). But the format hasn't changed at all; it's still a half-hour of intro-level improv games where, as Tyler constantly reminds us, everything is made up and the points don't matter.

Veep: The Finale’s Best Insults

by Ethan Alter June 24, 2013 11:16 am
Veep: The Finale’s Best Insults

So, will Season 3 of the series be called POTUS?

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