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TV Critics Tour: The next 'Fargo' will forgo big stars (maybe)

"Fargo" will be returning for a second season

Beverly Hills -- "Fargo" will return for a second season — no surprise — and will be written (along with assists by a number of top writers) by Noah Hawley — also no surprise — and will eventually be a huge magnet of commentary, bloviation and gaseous analysis by critics (like me.)

Again, no surprise. But here is the surprise: FX chief John Landgraf said Monday that fans should not expect...

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TV Critics Tour: Can 'Sons of Anarchy' be redeemed?

From left, ?Sons of Anarchy? creator Kurt Sutter,

(Credit: AP)

BEVERLY HILLS — As longtime fans know, "Sons of Anarchy" is one of TV's smarter series. It's an endlessly inventive plot pretzel that showcases writing, acting and direction at a very high level and has done so more or less consistently for six seasons.

But "SOA" also has a deeply twisted soul. It doesn't celebrate violence, but it doesn't condemn violence either. Last season ended with the...

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FX's 'Fargo' and 'Louie' finale reviews

This image released by FX shows Billy Bob

(Credit: AP)

FX's "Louie" wrapped its fourth season Monday night while "Fargo" comes to an end Tuesday. A pair of quick reviews....

Fargo, FX, Tuesday, 10 p.m.

"Fargo" has been something of a sensation for FX -- loving critical response, some buzz and decent if not outrageous good fortune in the Nielsen department. Billy Bob Thornton will almost certainly get -- or at the very least deserves -- a...

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FX's 'Louie' returns Monday: A review

Louis C.K. and "Louie" are back after 19

(Credit: HBO / Kevin Mazur)

"Louie" is back Monday, after a TV  eternity -- 19 months or so during which time  the star and creator, Louis C.K., apparently figured things out. To that end, we offer our review ... and this guarantee, no spoilers. Meanwhile, check out the "Late Show with David Letterman" appearance from tonight's (Thursday) show. C.K. offers a reason why there has been such a long break... 

"Louie,"...

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'Fargo' on FX is pretty good, but not 1996 'Fargo' good

Billy Bob Thornton arrives at the Fox All-Star

(Credit: AP / Richard Shotwell / Invision)

FX's much much anticipated "Fargo" arrives Tuesday at 10 p.m. our time and I'm not quite sure what time in Minnesota.  But you probably want to know the basics besides times, yaa -- can William H. Macy ever possibly be bettered? Is there someone out there who even remotely approaches Frances McDormand in terms of sheer Coen-esque perfection? (Or Peter Stormare? Or Buscemi? Of the latter, of course not.)  This series, as you may already know, is not a remake whatsoever, but "homage."

Newsday's review:

"Fargo," FX, Tuesday, 10

What it's about: The arctic wind blows down over Bemidji, Minn. with a killing numbness. The immensity of whiteness left in its wake seems to absorb all living things -- except for hitman, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) who has a job to do. A minor car accident lands him in the local emergency room. There he meets Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), an insurance salesman tending to a swollen nose caused by the local bully. Lorne wonders if he'd like the bully dead? One thing leads to another and before long, death stalks Bemidji. This 10-part series from Joel and Ethan Coen is billed as an "homage" to their '96 film classic.

My say: Just to be perfectly clear, "Fargo" is fictional. The movie was fictional, too, so don't be thrown by the (by now) classic opening line on-screen that reads "...Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred."

That's bull -- or, more kindly, that's homage to the original (which also had the message, even though the movie was broadly based on a "true story" or stories). But also a gimmick, a tease, and a way to get you in the right frame of mind for what is to come.

And "what is to come" is what came in the 1996 film -- all that gentle, buttery "Minnesota Nice" leads directly into sudden, percussive violence. Peter Stormare, as the ruthless butcher Gaear Grimsrud, had the profoundly dead eyes in the film. Thornton as Malvo has them here.

The Coens have even found another Margie (Oscar winner Frances McDormand in the film): She is Molly Solverson -- played by relative newcomer, Allison Tolman, who is excellent as the cop five times smarter than the Barney Fifes who surround her.

Since comparisons are inevitable, let's go ahead and make more: "Fargo," the series, is funnier than the film, more bleakly so. The Coens, of course, got brilliant performances out of their film actors and they do here as well -- Thornton especially, who is a magnificent sociopath-monster. Freeman -- a superstar already -- simply reminds everyone again how good he is.

But the film was a masterpiece of storytelling economy that didn't spill over into side-stories, a few of which are patently ridiculous in the series (four episodes were provided for review). The film's essential weirdness felt real. The TV series' weirdness is more often just comical (or disgusting. One word: Spiders.)

Still, there are many memorable Coen-esque touches - the series was co-written by Noah Hawley - that will stay with you long after you've finished watching. Some of them even seem reminiscent of non-Coen films: The two bone-headed brothers, or "wolves," for example, seem to come straight out of "Nebraska." Then you realize: A film like "Nebraska," and so many others, were directly influenced by the Coens.  

  Meanwhile, be sure to check out the opening of the fourth episode. A long-standing "Fargo" mystery is solved...Whatever happened to the money by the fence...?

Bottom line: If you love the movie, you should love this, but ...

Grade: B+

'The Simpsons' marathon on FXX: But why?

Judd Apatow, Will Arnett and others guest on

(Credit: Fox)

But why a "Simpsons'"  marathon on FXX - the largest one of its kind and which will extend roughly 11,484 minutes, not including commercials, or roughly eight days (again, not including commercials)? 

 Because FXX can - that's why. It recently paid $750 million for syndication rights. Nothing like a marathon to help start earning some of that money back... 

In an unusual announcement today at FXX's upfront - timed clearly to draw attention to the new network and its new offerings - FXX air this twelve-day marathon in August. All 522 "Simpsons" episodes over twelve days which means four days of commercials...

Many of those commercials will be devoted to some new show teases, like "The Strain," from Carlton Cuse and Guillermo del Toro - based on the Chuck Hogan/Del Toro vampire novel of the same name. The show will air on FX....Or Howard Gordon's thriller, "Tyrant," also coming on FX; or "The Comedians," on FXX, with Josh Gad and Billy Crystal; or the new Tracy Morgan comedy, also on FXX...

The network also announced that an all-things-"Simpsons" app will be launched shortly...  

Billy Crystal has a new TV series ... on FX

Billy Crystal stars in "700 Sundays," and has

(Credit: Carol Rosegg, 2013)

Billy Crystal - who hasn't been in a TV series since forever-and-when - will headline a new FX series, also starring Josh Gad, of "Book of Mormon," and most recently, "Frozen."  Larry Charles is attached, too, in a production role.

Per FX, this 13-episode series -- to air in 2015 -- 

In "The Comedians," Crystal plays a superstar veteran comedian who is reluctantly paired with Gad ("Frozen," "The Book of Mormon"), an edgier up-and-coming star, in an unfiltered, behind-the-scenes look at a late night sketch comedy show where egos and generations collide. Rounding out the cast are series regulars Stephanie Weir, Matt Oberg and Megan Ferguson.

After his mid-70s run on ABC's "Soap," as Jodie Dallas, Crystal headed to "Saturday Night Live," for a pair of memorable seasons ('84-'85). There were other bit cameos here and there, but this is his first return to series TV since then, when he was on the show which ran from '77 to '81.

Crystal's one-man play, "700 Sundays," is also coming to HBO.

'The Americans:' Still good, still frosty

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Cold

(Credit: Handout)

"The Americans" returns tomorrow night, and because last season was such a winner, perhaps inquiring minds would like to know...another one?

"The Americans," FX, 10 p.m.

What it's about: The first season of "The Americans" ended last May with a wild chase involving Soviet spies, and "married" couple, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys). With FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) in too-close-for-comfort pursuit, Elizabeth is shot. Tonight's opener begins deep in the woods early one morning: Elizabeth has spent months recuperating at a safe house, and is set to return to active duty. Philip has been tending to family life, with Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and Paige (Holly Taylor) busy in school. But Paige is beginning to wonder: Why has her mother been gone so long, and where do her parents go in the middle of the night? Stan, meanwhile, is in much deeper -- mostly deeper under the sheets -- with double agent Nina (Annet Mahendru.)

My say: After nearly a year's absence, I'm happy to report that "The Americans" is still emphatically "The Americans" -- a superior television series by just about every measure: direction, story-telling, writing, plot and an immaculate performance by a pair of leads who fully inhabit not only their "real" selves but all the other selves that are part of their unusual daily grind.

Even so, "Americans" didn't fully break out last season, and the early episodes suggest this will remain a hard sell to a broader audience. Paige – trying to puzzle out her puzzling parents -- offers the best reason why: "It just feels like something is going on [and] I'd like to know what..."

Bingo. If they remain ciphers to their kids, how then must viewers feel? At times they are compassionate, other times vicious pre-programmed robots in abeyance to a regime and ideology rotting before their eyes. Who are they really? Good or evil? Or is that the wrong question altogether, and if so then what's the right one?

Surely that would offer the key to how we should think and feel about these two. But like their accessorized spywear -- wigs, glasses -- the personas continue to shift and shuffle, as chameleons who keep viewers off balance as much as their antagonists.

It's terrifically difficult to locate the heart, and without heart, love is hard to muster. "Like" -- or even "like very much" -- will do for now.

Bottom line: Still excellent, still hard to love.

Grade: A-

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