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What to Watch in February?
A Guide to TV’s Hottest New and Returning Shows

By Gerri Miller



THE VOICE
THE VOICE
Premieres Feb. 26, 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC

When Season 14 of the chair-turning singing competition begins, veteran coaches Alicia Keys, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton—all of whom have guided singers to victory—will be joined by pop superstar Kelly Clarkson, who knows a thing or two about winning a TV talent contest. The original American Idol, who appeared as mentor to Shelton’s team in the second season, has wanted to be a coach on The Voice for years, but pregnancy got in the way. Now the mom of two is eager to get back to work, on a show she loves.

“It is based off merit. I love that the people that are chosen to be on this show are chosen to be there because they're talented and they deserve it,” says Clarkson, who has known Levine and Shelton—who is managed by her husband and manager Brandon Blackstock—for over a decade. “We have a really fun, competitive rapport,” she describes the onset vibe. “It's how we fight and just are completely trying so desperately to win these people on our teams. It's hilarious how much we grovel.”

She was a judge on the short-lived competition series Duets, but was uncomfortable with having to dash somebody’s dreams. “I'm not really good at that. I always feel sh**ty afterwards if you have to say something [negative] and they don’t receive it well,” she says. “But I really enjoy the coaching aspect. My favorite part is that I get to be part of a team. I get to be involved with [the contestants] and cultivate their career and help them navigate this competition.”

After all, she’s been in their shoes. With The Voice, “I definitely do feel like I've come full circle,” Clarkson says. “I've navigated a competition and I think bring that kind of knowledge to the table. But I still feel like the same kid that entered this industry,” she adds. ”I still have the same sense of awe about it and the same excitement.”



UnREALUnREAL
Premieres Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime

After a critically acclaimed, Emmy-nominated first season in 2015, UnREAL hit a sophomore slump in its second. But the acidic drama set behind the scenes of dating reality show Everlasting aims to get back on track with juicy plots involving its first female love seeker (Caitlin FitzGerald) and all sorts of extreme behavior from ratings-chasing producers Quinn (Constance Zimmer) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby).

Elaborates showrunner Stacy Rukeyser, “It's fun, because we sort of let Rachel go really, really far. We open on her having pretty much left the world; we let her be in a totally different place than we've ever seen her. And with Quinn's realization at the end of the last season that she couldn't have kids, she started doubling down on work. So they're both just coming back in very, very interesting places, with a lot to work out between themselves.”

As for the female suitor Serena, “She is a smart, successful tech mogul, who is in what we find to be an all-too-familiar position: the more successful she gets at work and the higher she goes up the ladder, the harder it is for her to find a man,” says co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. “That is a sexual politics situation that we examine a lot this season. In the office, we're supposed to be hard driving and all that. And then the second we go on a date, we're supposed to turn into a completely different person and be this demure flower. That gives us a lot to explore within the context of Quinn, and Rachel, too,” who, as women in the workplace, must work extra hard to be taken seriously, she notes.

“They each are going on very intense, emotional journeys as they deal with the fallout of what happened at the end of Season 2,” Shapiro adds. “Quinn brings in a new therapist for Rachel, who takes her on a journey to look into her childhood traumas and find out where her darkness comes from.”


LIVING BIBLICALLY LIVING BIBLICALLY
Premieres Feb. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS

Inspired by the best selling book The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, this sitcom centers on newspaper film critic Chip Curry (Jay R. Ferguson) who embarks on a nine-month spiritual journey, vowing to live his life to the letter of the Biblical law with guidance from his ‘God Squad, Father Gene (Ian Gomez) and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz). Not surprisingly, it’s easier said than done.

Chip “will learn every step of the way that strictly following the Bible doesn’t always work in today’s society, which I think is a good message,” says creator Patrick Walsh, who is eager to present religion in a comedic context. “Eighty-four percent of the world aligns themselves with some form of religion, and yet the only times you hear religion discussed on television are either harshly critical or so sanitized that people who are not religious would never enjoy it.  Our goal is not to preach but treat it fairly and with respect. Chip’s wife is a nonbeliever so you get that point of view as well and I think it makes for very interesting discussions,” he says. The cast also includes Camryn Manheim as Chip’s boss and Sara Gilbert as his co-worker.

“But the ultimate goals is to be funny,” Walsh emphasizes. “I think religious people are not given credit for having a sense of humor, and I think non believers are not given credit for being curious about religion and want to know more about it. We get into some pretty interesting topics on this show, and that is a goal, to serve an underserved audience.”



THE WINTER OLYMPICS
Premieres Feb. 8 on NBC

Eighteen exciting days of 2018 Winter Olympics competitions will take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, available for viewing on NBC, its cable networks, and streaming live online. “For the first time ever at a Winter Olympics, we will be broadcasting in primetime live across the country. And part of the reason for that is that Korea is 14 hours ahead, which is actually perfect,” says Jim Bell, executive producer and President of Olympic Programming and Production. “So many of the marquee events, figure skating and Alpine skiing, among others, are taking place in the morning in Korea, which is live on primetime the night before. So if it’s 10 a.m. Wednesday in Korea it’s 8 p.m. Tuesday in New York and 5.p.m. in L.A.”

To capture outdoor action featuring such medal hopefuls as snowboarder Shaun White and skier Lindsey Vonn, “Drones will be an important part of the coverage,” Bell says. “We get new angles and push that envelope. When you see those angles of a skier coming down the mountain, it takes your breath away.”

In addition to biographical pieces on the athletes, broadcasts will spotlight Korean culture. “We have a renowned Korean-American Chef David Chang who will introduce us to some of the spectacular Korean cuisine, and of course K-Pop music.” And the opening and closing ceremonies--on Feb. 9 and 25 respectively--are sure to be spectacular.


GOOD GIRLS
GOOD GIRLS
Premieres Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC

In this darkly comic dramedy that brings new meaning to the phrase ‘desperate housewives,’ three suburban moms find a solution to their financial straits in a secret life of crime. Beth (Christina Hendricks), her sister Annie (Mae Whitman) and BFF Ruby (Retta) think robbing the grocery store where Annie works will solve their money woes, but it only gets them into more trouble when a blackmailing witness threatens to expose them and a gangster whose cash the store was laundering demands payback.

“Until this point in their lives, they have never crossed the line and have never done anything illegal,” says executive producer Jenna Bans. “They’re backed into a corner and forced to take their power back in a way that is shocking and desperate, and I think the blend of the comedy and that desperation is what makes it unique.  And tonally, it's a fun tightrope we get to walk every episode and make sure we're telling these stories in a really grounded, relatable way.”

While trying to extricate themselves from the trouble they’ve gotten themselves into, the women have responsibilities and issues to deal with. Ruby’s daughter is critically ill, Beth’s husband (Matthew Lillard) is cheating on her, and Annie’s ex-husband (Zach Gilford) is suing her for custody of their child. “They’re trying to balance their personal lives and their friendships with each other, which really get tested by the circumstances they're in,” says Bans. “It only gets more complicated.”


McMAFIA
McMAFIA
Premieres Feb. 26 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC

According to executive producer James Watkins, this eight-part drama is set in “a world in which the criminals have become more corporate and the corporations have become more criminal and how those things have intersected.”

Hedge fund manager Alex Godman (James Norton), the English-raised son of Russian exiles with organized crime ties, has deliberately distanced himself from that activity, but finds himself drawn into it. “Alex is a good man and wants to do the right thing but he's tempted [to take] the offer of a pact with the devil,” says Norton.

Shot on location in 12 countries including Russia, Israel, Croatia and Serbia, McMafia, ”holds the mirror up to the world in which we live today where crime and corruption has become global on an epic scale and touches the fabric of our lives on every level,” says Julia Rylance, who plays Alex’s girlfriend Rebecca.

“The modern corporate gangster world has somehow managed to cloak inside under the invisibility of the legitimacy of corporations and structures and politics,” adds James Watkins. “The criminals have become more corporate and the corporations have become more criminal.”

THE LOOMING TOWER
THE LOOMING TOWER
Premieres Feb. 28 on Hulu

Set in the 1990s and based on Lawrence Wright’s nonfiction bestseller about the rise of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and the planning of the 9/11 attacks, this ten-episode drama focuses on the rivalry between the FBI and the CIA and the part that played in the tragedy.

The two government agencies “are supposed to share information, but not everything does get shared,” says Wright. “The CIA has an obligation to collect intelligence, and they're jealous of that information. The FBI has an obligation to trace criminals, arrest them, and put them on trial--in other words, take the intelligence and spill it out into courtrooms and newspapers. Those antagonisms that spill out from those two differing missions will never really go away.” In the series, the tension between CIA analyst (Peter Sarsgaard) and FBI special agent (Jeff Daniels) personifies the conflict. And a Muslim-American FBI agent (Tahar Rahim) is one of the good guys.

“He’s trying to wrest his religion back from those who are hijacking it for a terrible purpose,” says showrunner Dan Futterman, who was drawn to tackling these complicated characters’ inner struggles as well as the big-picture terrorist crisis. “The opportunity to tell the story of a Muslim-American hero was really exciting, particularly in these times.”

THIS CLOSE
THIS CLOSE
Sundance Now Feb. 14

The first show produced for Sundance’s digital streaming service, This Close is a comedy about the relationship between two best friends and their work, love lives, and the unique problems that deaf people face in a hearing world.
Created, written and starring Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, who are deaf and speak American Sign Language, the six-episode series follows junior publicist Kate, who is newly engaged, and writer Michael, who is gay and dating, as they navigate life in L.A. Cheryl Hines plays Kate’s boss, and Zach Gilford and Colt Prattes play Kate’s and Michael’s respective love interests.

“We are the first show written, produced, and created by deaf people.  And we're hoping we won't be the last show,” says Stern. “We're hoping to show that representation matters, not only in front of the camera, but behind the camera as well. I think every minority group, every community has the right to tell their own story.”

But the issues portrayed are highlighted with hilarity. “As deaf people, if we don't have a right to make fun of ourselves, then who does?” asks Stern. “Honestly, being deaf can be a little funny sometimes. Life is a little funny sometimes. We would be remiss if we missed an opportunity to laugh,” she says. “And hopefully, we make everybody else laugh with us.”

QUEER EYE
QUEER EYE
Netflix Feb. 7

For five seasons between 2003 and 2007, Queer Eye For the Straight Guy changed appearances, lives and attitudes while helping men in dire need of a makeover. Returning to Netflix with eight episodes and a new Fab Five (food and wine expert Antoni Porowski, interior designer Bobby Berk, culture maven Karamo Brown, grooming guru Jonathan Van Ness, and fashionista Tan France), the series updates the format for the digital age.

“The new series couldn’t simply be the same show with new tips. It also had to speak to a modern cultural reality, where gay rights had fundamentally transformed,” says executive producer David Collins. The experts will spend a week with their subjects, who range in age from 18-57 and live in small towns in Georgia (home base has moved south from New York to Atlanta). “The show is all about transformation through information told with humor and heart,” Collins says. “That’s our throughline.”

Adds Tan France, “I think what was lovely about the original Queer Eye was that it was light-hearted, but they were still doing great work. They built bridges as they were fighting for tolerance. We’re now fighting, but we’re fighting for acceptance.”

Showrunner Jennifer Lane relishes the chance to bring people together at a time marked by divisiveness. “We’re here to reach our hand across the great divide and to bridge differences with a good laugh,” she says, “No one show is going to change the world, but if we can make people laugh, and make people realize that we’re just like everybody else, then we’ve done something.”


ALSO NEW THIS MONTH

The seventh season of Homeland, set in Washington D.C., finds Carrie (Claire Danes) in a war of wills with President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) and at odds with Saul (Mandy Patinkin), who
has joined Keane’s administration as a condition of his release from prison. HomelandAfter the attempt on her life last season, Keane broke her promise to Carrie by arresting 200 members of the Intelligence community, and Carrie vows to stop the corrupt, power-abusing Chief Executive before she can inflict more damage upon the already divided country. (Showtime, Feb. 11.)

Subtitled Ghost Island, and once again shot in Fiji, the 36th edition of Survivor revisits epically bad decisions from the past to haunt the players with immunity idols, advantages, and challenges from previous seasons, serving to remind them that one little error can cost them the game and a million dollars. (CBS, Feb. 28.)

As the relationship between them sizzles, Rodrigo (Gael Garcia Bernal) searches for inspiration and Hailey (Lola Kirke) struggles to prove herself as a conductor in the fourth season of Mozart in the Jungle, which was shot in part in Japan. (Amazon, Feb. 16)

Beauty bloggers compete for a chance to impress with their makeup skills in the competition Glam Masters, which is hosted by Laverne Cox, who judges alongside makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic, makeup expert Kandee Johnson and Marie Claire senior fashion editor Zanna Roberts Rassi. (Lifetime, Feb. 28.)

Designated SurvivorDesignated Survivor ended its fall finale with a shocking blow, the apparent death of First Lady Alex Kirkman (Natascha McElhone) in a car accident. Now coping with that devastating loss, President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) must hold himself and his family together while doing the same for the country. (ABC, Feb, 28.).

Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter play the parents in a multi-ethnic family that includes children adopted from Vietnam, Liberia and Colombia in the Alan Ball dramedy Here and Now, which also follows a Muslim family and has a supernatural twist. (HBO, Feb. 11.)

Stana Katic stars in Absentia as an FBI agent who disappears while investigating a serial killer and is declared dead, but turns up six years later with no memories of what happened to her. Worse, she discovers her husband has a new wife, and she’s the suspect in a series of murders. (Amazon, Feb. 2.)

The documentary Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars chronicles the guitar hero’s early life and rise to stardom, with commentary from his contemporaries including BB King, Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison. (Showtime, Feb. 10.)

An espionage thriller set during World War II and following a team of young American, Canadian and British operatives on covert missions, X Company launches the first of its three seasons on Ovation Feb. 19.


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 199 - June 8094
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