News Column

New on cable TV: Sarah Silverman, 'Getting On,' 'Ja'mie,' 'Atlantis'

November 23, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 23--The most remarkable thing about Emmy-winning comic Sarah Silverman's first HBO stand-up special, Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles, which debuts Saturday at 10 p.m., isn't the program itself -- it's uneven, but with some terrific moments -- nor the mixed reviews it's been getting.

The most remarkable things about the 60-minute special are the reviews of the reviews of the HBO special: The blogosphere was abuzz this week with reaction to trade mag Variety's damning review.

The Silverman special is one of three comedies HBO is rolling out this weekend, including two new weekly sitcoms on Sunday, Getting On at 10 p.m. and Ja'mie: Private School Girl at 10:30 p.m.

Also this weekend, BBC America debuts its new family fantasy adventure yarn, Atlantis, at 9 p.m. on Saturday, hoping it'll get a ratings boost from the two-hour Doctor Who 50th anniversary special episode, The Day of the Doctor, set to air at 7 p.m.

Silverman's potty mouth

Silverman, whose canceled Comedy Central series, The Sarah Silverman Program, was one of the most brilliant comedy shows on TV, is probably the best female comic operating in America today. (Sorry, Tina Fey fans.)

Filmed in the small, 39-seat side room at Los Angeles' legendary Largo nightclub (a favorite of Louis C.K.), We Are Miracles is Silverman's first concert film since 2005's Jesus Is Magic, and her first for HBO.

We Are Miracles became all the rage on the blogosphere after Variety's Brian Lowry slammed it for its foulmouthed lingo and dirty subject matter.

In his review, Lowry bemoans Silverman's lack of mainstream success (huh? ever heard of Saturday Night Live?) and suggests she should be more ladylike, using her looks and talent to get somewhere on network TV. (He mentions her failed pilot for NBC earlier this year.)

Throughout, he treats Silverman as if she were an ing nue. Hardly! The 42-year-old is an accomplished actor and comic with an impressive 20-year career.

Writes Lowry, "Despite all manner of career-friendly gifts -- from her looks to solid acting chops -- she's limited herself by appearing determined to prove she can be as dirty and distasteful as the boys."

It's hard to see Silverman limit herself to anything. She admits in a recent interview she's not exactly network material, but she hardly seems fazed by it.

She's specializes in biting social commentary, and she's not about to apologize for it. In We Are Miracles, she pushes the envelope -- yeah, just like the boys -- with a series of bits that make the adoring audience alternately laugh, cringe, or cry out in mock outrage.

She covers a wide territory, from rape victims to Sept. 11 widows, from the peculiarities of her sex life to her unusual porn preferences (gang-rape videos rate a mention).

Like Larry David, Silverman has a genius for creating cringeworthy moments that have her embroiled in the most embarrassing situations. Unlike David, Silverman excels at turning the joke around on itself and using it to land solid social and political commentary.

We Are Miracles isn't consistently brilliant. There are real moments of excess and a few flat jokes. But it's sure to make Silverman's (growing) fan base stand-up and cheer.

Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles debuts Saturday at 10 p.m. on HBO. Info: http://www.hbo.com/comedy/sarah-silverman-we-are-miracles.

'Getting On': Get me off this ride!

Dear TV viewer:

Are you looking to get off, comedically, that is, on the miserable world of elder care? Do you love story lines about extended discussions about geriatric bowel movements, or the Kafkaesque intricacies of hospital bureaucratic systems?

Then Getting On is for you.

A remake of the far superior British comedy of the same name, Getting On is the latest creation of Big Love's Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. HBO has picked up a six-episode first season.

The series is set at the woefully underfunded female wing of the Extended Care Unit of Mt. Palms Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., where more than half the patients suffer from Alzheimer's or dementia. The first episode opens with a touching tableau: Dawn, the unit's most experienced nurse, gently holds the hand of a terminal patient.

The camera pushes in to reveal that Dawn is using her other hand to play a video game on her smartphone. She stops when she realizes the patient already is dead.

Dawn (Family Guy voice actor Alex Borstein) is one of the sitcom's three core characters. She's a timid, deeply neurotic creature whose low self-esteem makes her a target for the doctors, including the ward's consulting physician, Dr. Jenna James (Roseanne's Laurie Metcalf). Once a promising physician and researcher, James has been banished to the ward after having a meltdown -- and she wears her resentment very much on her sleeve.

Getting On is told mainly through the eyes of newbie nurse Denise "DiDi" Ortley (The Soul Man's Niecy Nash), a no-nonsense gal bemused by her colleague's apathy and the hospital's insufferable policies.

The first episode gets going when DiDi discovers one of the residents has left excrement on an easy chair. DiDi's first instinct is to clean up the mess! But Dawn stops her, declaring that first the nurses need to fill out an incident report and an official request to have the offending object bagged and removed.

Then Jenna stops both women and demands she take the thing for herself: She's in the middle of a major research project on human feces and needs more research samples.

In another scene, the nurses discover that one of the guys from the male wing (the great Harry Dean Stanton) has been indulging in sex acts with a woman in her 80s.

Getting On could focus on so many topics -- the sorry sate of elder care in America, the social and moral issues around our tendency to warehouse the elderly, the failing health-care system, even Obamacare. Instead, it stays pretty much on the fecal level -- and tries to sell its potty jokes with quasi-British dry humor.

Despite excellent performances from Metcalf and Nash, Getting On is a snoozer.

Getting On premieres 10 p.m. Sunday on HBO. Info: http://www.hbo.com/getting-on.

Je n'aime pas 'Ja'mie'

One of the best comics in Australia, Chris Lilley has the manic energy of Robin Williams and Jim Carrey's rubber-face ability to inhabit a wide range of different characters. He demands an enthusiastic fan base Stateside following the release of the sketch shows Angry Boys and Summer Heights High, which was a success on HBO.

But he has made a serious tactical mistake with his latest offering, the forgettable sitcom Ja'mie: Private School Girl, which premieres 10:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO.

Presented as a faux reality show, the comedy centers on one of the characters Lilley introduced in Summer Heights High, the insufferable Ja'mie King, a spoiled, rich high-school senior who has become the BWOC at a posh private school in Sydney.

But Ja'mie: Private School Girl isn't a collection of sketches: It's presented as a unified, ongoing series with Lilley playing only the title character. It's a disastrous decision: Ja'mie is a caricature, a character far too insubstantial and undeveloped to hold viewers' interest for six 30-minute episodes.

Each episode is basically the same. Surrounded by a squad of hot, blond sycophants, Ja'mie (she was born Jamie, but added the apostrophe for effect) lords it over the other students, while manipulating her teachers to back her at every turn. They all think she's the bee's knees.

The story, such as it is, is about Ja'mie's quest to win the school's highest honor, the Hillford medal. To fulfill the community service requirement, she makes a big show of going to Sydney's inner city to read The Hunger Games to "the Africans." She even "adopts" one, a handsome Ugandan immigrant, whom she takes home to show off to her pals.

Ja'mie: Private School Girl has little to offer. All we get each week is yet more examples of Ja'mie's cruelty, narcissism, and hatefulness.

To viewers not familiar with Lilley, the sitcom will seem like a thin, one-note visual gag: It's a show about a hot, nubile teenager in tight jumpers and short skirts played by a very masculine adult male.

As it turns out, that's all it is.

Ja'mie: Private School Girl premieres at 10:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO. Info: http://www.hbo.com/jamie-private-school-girl.

'Atlantis': Tepid adventure

BBC America follows up its failed one-season family adventure Sinbad with the very similar family adventure Atlantis, a yarn about the various deeds of the ancient Greek mythological hero Jason.

Except this Jason isn't exactly the Jason we read about in school. The story opens in contemporary England. Young deep-sea explorer Jason (Jack Donnelly) is obsessed with the disappearance of his legendary deep-sea explorer dad, so he decides to launch himself in a mini-sub at his dad's last-known location.

Woe and behold, Jason disappears, only to wake up in the ancient Greek city of Atlantis. Chased by city guards for killing a domestic two-headed dragon at the city market, Jason is saved by Hercules (Mark Addy) and a young, super-geeky incarnation of mathematician Pythagoras (Robert Emms).

Atlantis' Oracle (Juliet Stevenson) tells Jason his father was a great hero -- and a rebel -- who was brutally hunted down by the cruel King Minos (Alexander Siddig) and his even meaner queen Pasipha (Sarah Parish). The young Englishman also is told he has a great destiny ahead of him. Drum roll, please . . .

Atlantis has a fun time with mythology: Its version of Hercules is overweight and quite a scaredy-cat. And we learn that many of Hercules' legendary feats were all actually performed by Jason -- sometimes with the help of Minos' hot daughter, Ariadne (Aiysha Hart).

Viewers looking for an epic story may be disappointed by Atlantis. But the adventure drama is a fun, engaging show with solid acting and good special effects.

Atlantis premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday on BBC America. http://www.bbcamerica.com/atlantis/

tirdad@phillynews.com

215-854-2736

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