Inside Streaming - February 17th, 2017

Inside Streaming (Feb 17th, 2017)

"The Good Fight" debuts / "The Good Place" on Hulu / The Good Michael Bolton Special / More good stuff

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"The Good Fight," CBS's streaming-only spin-off of its acclaimed dramatic series "The Good Wife," debuts this weekend. The show's pilot - depicting "Good Wife" lawyer Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) losing her life savings to a Bernie Madoff-inspired figure - will broadcast on CBS, while subsequent episodes will arrive weekly on the CBS All Access subscription service. Unlike the 22-episode "Good Wife" TV seasons, the first season of "Good Fight" will consist of just 10 shows. The show has received mostly positive reviews from critics: Maureen Ryan of Variety calls it "promising," James Poniewozik labels it "distinctive" and a good vehicle for Christine Baranski, Daniel Fienberg of CNN finds that it fills the void left by the absence of "Good Wife" and Ken Tucker of Yahoo TV says it's both "comfortable" and "strong." BuzzFeed predicts it will be a star-making turn for actress Cush Jumbo. – CNN

According to Bloomberg, the next Apple TV will be capable of streaming in ultra high-definition 4K. The fifth-generation version of the device, codenamed "J105" internally, could land in stores by the end of this year. Anonymous sources familiar with the company's plans revealed the 4K upgrade, which will enhance the brightness of the image and promises more vivid, bolder colors. Apple reportedly hopes it can salvage the reputation of the device, which was initially promised as a revolutionary shift in home entertainment, but has become, as one source terms it, "a cluster of apps with a store." – BLOOMBERG

Amazon ordered a second season of its award-winning dramatic series "Goliath," and will bring in Clyde Phillips as a new showrunner. Billy Bob Thornton picked up a Golden Globe award last month for his performance as Billy McBride, a brilliant defense lawyer whose life is upturned when a former client goes on a murder spree. The show was co-created by David E. Kelley, who's also currently working on HBO's "Big Little Lies" and a new Audience Network series, "Mr. Mercedes." Phillips served as executive producer and showrunner on the wildly popular first four seasons of Showtime's "Dexter." – DEADLINE

Competitive bidding from Amazon and Netflix are driving up acquisition costs for Sundance films, potentially pushing out smaller distributors entirely. The two companies negotiated distribution rights for a combined 15 features at this year's festival, compared to 13 last year and just one in 2015. The costs of the deals themselves have also skyrocketed: 11 Sundance films this year sold for over $5 million, up from just 5 films the year before. (As recently as 2014, 0 Sundance films sold for over $5 million.) On the other side, Lionsgate - which acquired multiple films at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 festivals - made no deals at this year's fest. – VARIETY

A new study from 7Park Data indicates more people are streaming reality shows than ever before. Reality TV viewing is up 10.3% on Hulu and up 28.3% on Netflix vs one year ago, ranking it among the fastest-growing genres in terms of popularity. The services also saw upticks in history-themed programming, documentary series and content for kids and families. Horror and sports-related shows saw the steepest declines. Netflix will increase its concentration on unscripted content this year, including the upcoming competition series "Ultimate Beastmaster." – VARIETY

A new device from startup Caavo unifies all of your streaming services and systems into a single interface. The unit itself comes with eight HDMI inputs. Once users update the device with all of their subscriptions, they can navigate using a voice-activated universal remote, and can even select which service they want to use through which device. The Caavo device and remote will sell together for $399, beginning with a limited run of 5,000 this fall. (Pre-orders will open in June.) The company was co-founded by the late entrepreneur Blake Krikorian, who was also the co-founder of Sling Media. – TECHCRUNCH

South African VOD service ShowMax hopes to compete against Netflix in Europe. According to CEO John Kotsaftis, the company's strategy will include entering new markets, scrutinizing local viewing habits and commissioning original content, produced in the area, specifically tailored to meet those standards. ShowMax opted to begin European expansion in Poland in the hopes that the population - many of whom pay to access Polish shows on pirate sites - would pay directly "for a truly Polish service with content that excites and entertains people." The service is owned by Africa's largest media company, Naspers. – QZ


NBC's "The Good Place," the first season of which can now be streamed in its entirety on Hulu, is the best new network sitcom I've seen in a long time. A very long time. Long enough that I'm struggling to remember the last network sitcom I liked as much. (It might be "Parks and Recreation," which makes a lot of sense, as creator Michael Schur also co-created that show and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine.")

It opens with a high-concept fantasy premise: a not-particularly-great person named Eleanor (Kristen Bell) dies and wakes up to find herself in a Heaven-like small town, known as "The Good Place." Unfortunately, it turns out that the somewhat angelic "architect" of The Good Place, Michael (Ted Danson), brought her there by mistake, impressed by a laundry list of generous deeds that she never actually committed. Revealing the truth threatens to send Eleanor straight to mysterious and never-discussed "Bad Place," but NOT telling the truth threatens to rip apart the very fabric of The Good Place. What's Eleanor to do?

Though the tone remains lightly comic, "The Good Place" actually manages to explore a lot of weighty questions. What is the real difference between "good" and "bad" people? Is it enough to evaluate people based just on the outcomes of their actions, the quantitative results of their time on Earth, or is it important to take a more nuanced approach? How can the people in The Good Place truly enjoy The Good Place if they know that not everyone can join them there? If goodness is part of someone's genetic make-up, and comes naturally to them, are they really being "good" or are they just doing what comes naturally? (In other words, are good actions MORE good if they're performed by someone inclined to be bad?) And of course, the classic: If a bad person found themselves in a Good Place, would it make them happy, or would they still want to be bad?

That's a LOT to tackle for a brightly-colored, zany situation comedy, and it's truly impressive that "The Good Place" manages to honestly explore this stuff WHILE hitting such a high joke-per-minute ratio.

(The writing staff, which includes a lot of "Parks and Rec" vets, get a ton of mileage out of the differences between the good and bad residents of The Good Place, and the Good and Bad Places themselves. In The Good Place, you can watch any TV show, automatically, just by thinking about it. In The Bad Place, there are "Bachelor" marathons, but you still have to get home in time to watch them to avoid spoilers.)

All that, PLUS the ensemble introduces some really memorable, fun characters. In addition to Eleanor and Michael, there's Chidi (William Jackson Harper) the uptight ethics professor who's (wrongfully) assigned as Eleanor's soul mate; Tahani (Jameela Jamil), the former philanthropist who was friends with Beyonce on Earth and can't help bringing it up from time to time; and Janet (D'Arcy Carden), the adorably anthropomorphized computer program who can answer any question you have about anything.

"The Good Place" is both a whimsical flight of fancy AND a pretty compelling riff on ethics and morality. Hard to ask much more from a network sitcom than that.


Title: "The Good Place"
Where to Watch: Hulu
Episodes: 13 (1 season)
Runtime: About 24 minutes each
Genre: Fantasy-Comedy


"Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special" is hilarious and doesn't feel like it could have existed at any other time in TV history before now. The iconic '90s adult contemporary singer hasn't even been associated with comedy for very long. (He teamed with The Lonely Island for their "Jack Sparrow" SNL digital short in 2011. It gets a shoutout here.) 

The tone is anarchic and unpredictable. The pacing is spastic and relentless. Even the format of the hour-long musical comedy event doesn't adhere to any kind of traditional rules. Bolton participates in comedy sketches and sings funny songs, but also takes on sort of a Master of Ceremonies role, introducing and riffing with a huge cast of notable comic performers. (The cast includes Sarah Silverman, Randall Park, Eric Andre, Chris Parnell, Will Forte and Andy Samberg, all playing zany original characters.) Bolton's clearly not a professional actor, but acquits himself pretty well, especially considering the caliber of comedians with whom he's appearing.

The concept sort of resembles a romance-themed episode of the podcast/IFC series "Comedy Bang Bang," fitting as it was the co-creation of "Bang Bang" host Scott Aukerman. (Jorma Taccone of The Lonely Island co-directed, and appears as a love-hating street punk.)

But where the "Bolton Valentine's Day Special" really thrives is in its sustained weirdness. (The loose concept, after all, is that Bolton is holding a telethon to get 75,000 people to have sex, thus making new babies in time to save Christmas 2017.) This is a VERY odd (even kind of dumb in the more charming sense of the word) project for Netflix to tackle, and the fact that it's a total one-off makes it an even stranger, less predictable and more singular experience.


Title: "Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Runtime: 54 minutes
Genre: Sketch Comedy/Parody


Amazon's dramatized retelling of the early life of socialite Zelda Sayre (later Zelda Fitzgerald) isn't BAD, necessarily. But it feels a bit OVERLY dramatized, less like a realistic take on the woman herself and her life, and more an inspirational statement about being defiant, standing your ground and making your dreams come true.

That's a nice lesson, to be sure, and the recreations of first the American South during WWI and later Manhattan during the Jazz Age both LOOK terrific. But the series itself is a bit pat, a bit over-written, and a bit too simplistic, especially considering the complexities of the characters it studies.

If you think about the task at hand, it's almost unfair. Unless the person writing the film or show about an iconic, brilliant writer/thinker is ALSO a brilliant writer and/or thinker, how are they expected to match the other persons' tone and voice?

The result feels more like a by-the-numbers romance than a story about an iconic real-life American: A wealthy girl wants to escape her overbearing father's expectations and see the world. A handsome, talented man sweeps her off her feet. But all is not as glamorous and exciting as it appears... The fact that these are some of modern American literature's most famous names is almost an afterthought.

Christina Ricci gives a solid performance as Zelda, balancing her occasional naivete and her headstrong self-determination carefully. The show asks the 30-something actress to play an 18-year-old debutante in early episodes, which feels a bit unfair. (As well, Ricci has a somewhat tenuous grasp on the specific Montgomery, Alabama, accent.) Still, it's not her fault that "Z" fails to really take off and become appointment viewing.

I can't strongly recommend "Z," but for anyone fascinated by the era or these specific historical figures, it may still be of some interest.

Season 1 is streaming on Amazon. You can also preview the entire pilot on YouTube.


Title: "Z: The Beginning of Everything"
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Episodes: 10 (1 season)
Runtime: 25-30 minutes each
Genre: Period Drama

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