TIME Television

Bryan Cranston Responds to Mom Against Breaking Bad Toys

Tread lightly, action figure haters

Multiple Emmy-winning actor Bryan Cranston became the One Who Tweets Monday afternoon, following an uproar over Toys “R” Us selling action figures of Breaking Bad‘s drug-dealing characters.

The action figures of chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-maker Walter White and his sidekick Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) stirred controversy with a Florida mom.

Susan Schrivjer, based in Fort Myers, Fla., launched a petition to have the store remove the toys from shelves. Schrivjer was a fan of the AMC series, despite her opposing views on the toys’ appropriateness for children.

“I thought it was a great show,” she told a local TV station. “It was riveting!”

The petition calls for Toys “R” Us to stop selling the doll collection, which comes “complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth.” Cranston, however, got in on the fun:

Aaron Paul has yet to chime in, but seems to have no problem with children being involved in the fun of the characters.

As of Monday evening, the Breaking Bad action figure collection did not turn up in a search of the Toys “R” Us website. The company did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

TIME Television

Zombies, Aliens and Robots: The ‘Walking Dead’ Producer on Her Greatest Hits

Producer Gale Anne Hurd at "The Terminator" 30th Anniversary Screening on October 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California.
Producer Gale Anne Hurd at "The Terminator" 30th Anniversary Screening on October 15, 2014 in Hollywood, California. Albert L. Ortega—WireImage

The executive producer of 'The Walking Dead' talks about the making of the hit show, the 30th anniversary of 'The Terminator' and how 'Aliens' got its name

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

When The Walking Dead premiered on Halloween 2010, long before it would become AMC’s most popular show to date, one name in particular stood out in the opening credits. It was not Robert Kirkman, the cult hero/comic-book writer whose graphic novels (created with Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard) gave the series its sickening, gory source material. It was not Frank Darabont, the filmmaker best known for directing The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Mist (2007) who would be Dead‘s first showrunner and help set its course. It would not even be one of the cast member’s names, as most of these talented journeymen actors would become famous via the show later on.

No, the name that would give those in the know pause was one of five listed executive producers on the show: Gale Anne Hurd. For genre-film fans, this was the credit that suggested this serialized tale of zombies and survivors might be more than a Sunday night lark. If you grew up watching The Terminator movies, if you ever ran around your front yard pretending to be Ripley or Vasquez or Corporal Hicks from Aliens, if you remember when superhero films were still considered pulpy pleasures instead tentpole collossi, if you still love that certain B-movie thrill, then you knew what this pioneering writer-producer’s name on a project meant. And as The Walking Dead became a gigantic hit, lost key creative team members and experienced growing pains, viewers would come to realize exactly how important her continued involvement would be. Showrunners would come and go. Hurd’s hand on the wheel not only kept things steady, it insured that someone who understood what the series was really about was helping to call the shots. “The title doesn’t refer to the walkers,” she says. “It refers to the survivors. That’s the key to the whole show right there.”

Speaking to Rolling Stone as she was getting ready to attend the Season Five premiere in Los Angeles (“I’m literally trying to get into my dress as we’re talking, so my apologies in advance”), Hurd talked about where The Walking Dead had been and where it was headed, the 30th anniversary of the film that established her as a producer — the original Terminator — and how she and then-husband James Cameron turned the sequel to Alien into a template for blockbuster sci-fi action flicks.

MORE: The 10 Best ‘Walking Dead’ Episodes

Let’s go back to the very beginnings of The Walking Dead. Zombies were already prominent in pop culture, but not on TV. What made you think these comics would work as a series?
Anyone who’s read Robert Kirkman’s books can tell you that the story he’s telling…it’s not really about the zombies, or what you need to do to survive a zombie apocalypse — thought you will pick up some tips on that, definitely. [Laughs] They exist to ask a certain question: What does it mean to be human? More specifically, can you maintain your humanity in a world where there is essentially no civilization left, no law and order left? The zombies were simply a way to raise the stakes for the characters in a way that wasn’t, you know, “They are trying to survive in a warzone, they’re experiencing something that people actually went through.” I mean, you could not tell this story if it was set during a real war — it would be genuinely horrible! But you set it in a world beset by zombies, and look at these issues in a situation that could never possibly happen…

So you say!
I think it’s a pretty safe bet that this will remain a work of fiction [laughs]. I was impressed by the way Robert had set it up without losing the key questions behind everything. That, more than anything else, was what drew me to this.

Why not adapt it into a movie, then?
The idea that these characters were all on a journey, one which didn’t really have an end in sight — that meant something longform. That didn’t mean two hours. Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman and I all shared a vision of doing this in a way that wouldn’t rush things and wouldn’t be camp. Thankfully, when we brought this to AMC, they didn’t want to turn this into something silly either. They were committed to taking something that might seem preposterous but playing it very straight, and very, very real.

Did the fact that the show was hugely popular right out of the gate surprise you? Horror TV shows have traditionally been cult hits, not pop-cultural phenomenons — so you can’t really chalk it up to genre.
I’ve thought about this a lot. I think it’s this sense we all have that each and every one of us is dancing on the edge of some sort of abyss. I think social media and the Internet has made every global catastrophe feel like it’s right next door. Whether it’s civil war, an Ebola epidemic , a tsunami, global financial collapse — we now get this news immediately, and it feels as if it’s happening right next door to us. So our characters are in the worst of all possible worlds — a world which, as I said, any one of us is very unlikely to encounter. But the moral and ethical dilemmas they face…we can all identify with those right now. You know, “What would I do if everything collapsed around me?” I think that struck a chord with everybody.

So it’s the moral and ethical dilemmas that keep people tuning in, you think?
If you go on social media after an episode airs, you’ll find a small percentage of people talking about the “kills” — and a large percentage of people talking about the choices and decisions these people had to make. We took a risk in doing an episode like “The Grove,” in which we had a character, Carol, who had grown to love these surrogate daughters — and then had to do something absolutely horrible. When we went on Twitter or Facebook once the episode had aired, we had no idea what to expect. And what we got was a lot of people admitting that they’d cried. That, and a lot of discussions over “What would you have done in that position?” It generated discussions like that for days afterward. They responded to the human element, not the fantastic elements. It made me think, “Okay, this is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. This is still working.”

MORE: No Guts, No Glory: The Rise of Gross-Out TV

There have clearly been a lot of behind-the-scenes changes that have gone on around the show, all of which have been widely reported. In a lot of ways, however, The Walking Dead seems to be very much the same show four seasons in that it was when it started. How has you managed to maintain a sense of consistency when so much was in flux?
[Pause] You know, the great thing about television is that it’s a collaborative medium. So, you absolutely have a showrunner — but you’ve also got a writer’s room, and you have a certain core of our actors have been there since the very beginning. The cast…they know who their characters are, and they would call bullshit if that changed.

It’s not like a movie where sometimes a sequel is really a remake, or it’s a complete reinvention. The world is the same, and you have to put any kind of upheaval aside and say, “You know what? We’re still telling Robert Kirkman’s story.” There is very much a universe, and as long as we stay within that universe and we work with people who embrace and understand that universe, it’s going to remain fairly consistent.

So what can you tell us about Season Five?
[Laughs] Ah, right. Well…we left our characters split up. Beth is gone; we assume she’s been kidnapped. We’ve got Carol and Tyreese with Baby Judith, separated from the rest of the group; we’ve seen a number of people reunited in the worst of all possible circumstances. And we’ve seen Rick come full circle to…it doesn’t matter how tough or bleak the circumstances, he’s embraced that mantle of leadership again. He’s no longer “Farmer Rick.” He’s, excuse my language “don’t-fuck-with-me Rick.”

So they’re in a fairly precarious position when we see them again, and it’s a question of who will get out of this situation and who won’t. There will also be a number of new characters getting introduced — some from the comics, and some not.

That was very deftly played. You managed to do that without really giving anything away.
I have to choose my words very, very carefully, here [laughs].

This year marks the 30th anniversary of The Terminator, which you co-wrote and produced. What do you remember about making it?
Oh God, I remember it all!

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
[Laughs] Good question. You have to remember, both Jim [Cameron] and I worked for Roger Corman at the time. Jim’s first movie was Piranha II: The Spawning for Roger; had he not directed that, there would be no Terminator films! So Roger was the first person we took the script to, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said something along the lines of “I really don’t think you want to do this for me. You should do this for someone who will actually give you a budget.” [Laughs] Even he could see that this was not a quickie, do-it-for-no-money film. He was nice enough to know when someone had outgrown working with him, and that was the point when he basically told Jim and I, you should fly the coop with this.

MORE: In Pics: 8 TV Shows You Should Be Watching Right Now

Was there a moment when you realized that this would not be something that would just play on the back half of a drive-in double bill, and that it would have life 30 years later?
Oddly enough, it was the guy who was on the financial side of things, this industry veteran named Lindsley Parsons, who caught on very early that this would work. Actually, he saw a rough cut that didn’t even have any of the effects in there, and he still said, “This is going to be a classic.” We thought he was nuts. But that was what we needed to hear, because everybody else looked at it and called it a down-and-dirty exploitation film that they were embarrassed to have been involved in. It’s funny though, that the money guy is the one who had the greatest passion for it and protected us. He was there to make sure the interest of the bond company was represented, and when certain people were coming to take the film away from us, he was the one that threatened to post guards outside the editing room’s doors so we could finish cutting the movie. You just don’t get those kinds of ballsy individuals anymore.

You said in 2003 that The Terminator would not have been made in this day and age. Do you still think that’s true?
We could if we still made it for $6.4 million, sure [laughs].

Really? Because if you look at how the Comic-Con demographic has completely taken over mainstream culture, it actually seems like you get this made in a heartbeat today.
You have to realize that most people underestimated the fact that, once the quality of the entertainment based on genre books and and comic books had the production value and the talent to make them A-picture quality, the audience would show up. Most people in the industry looked down on genre stuff in a condescending way until the one-two-three punch of 2001, Jaws and Star Wars hit within a decade. And even then, it still took a while.

As someone who’s always loved genre movies, it’s an exciting time, but the fear — my fear — is that it’s going to be nothing but tentpole movies based on pre-existing material. So 30 years later, yes, people want to remake the Terminator movies. If it hadn’t been something people already knew, however — it doesn’t matter that sci-fi movies are now accepted. It wouldn’t get made.

So Aliens would get made today, but the Terminator wouldn’t?
Probably, yeah. But the funny thing is, in terms of Aliens…this was a time when people weren’t really making sequels, certainly not like they are now. What happened was, we were all set to make The Terminator, but Dino De Laurentis had Arnold [Schwarzenegger] under contract to make a sequel to Conan the Barbarian. So we knew we were making the movie, but we weren’t going to start for a year. In that time, Jim took a couple of writing assignments — one of which was Aliens, though it wasn’t called that yet.

The story, and it may or may not be apocryphal, was that Jim went into a pitch meeting with the studio executives and the first thing he said was “I am not making another gothic sci-fi film; I’m making a combat movie.” Then he walked up to a white board in the room, wrote “Alien” — and then added a dollar sign to it.

Alien$.
Exactly! That’s how he came up with the name. [Pause] Again, no idea if it’s true, but I’ve heard this story so many times from so many people, including Jim, that, you know…print the legend! [Laughs]

MORE: The Best TV of 2014 So Far

TIME celebrities

Martin Short’s Big Fat Funny Autumn

Actor Martin Short during the 52nd New York Film Festival on October 4, 2014 in New York City.
Actor Martin Short during the 52nd New York Film Festival on October 4, 2014 in New York City. Jim Spellman—WireImage

The dynamic comedian talks about his 'Mulaney' role, the joys of working with Paul Thomas Anderson and his famous last words

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

Martin Short is having a bit of a moment. His memoir, I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, is out in November, and he’s earning huge buzz for playing a drugged-out dentist in the upcoming Paul Thomas Anderson film, Inherent Vice. Right now, you can see him on Mulaney, the new Fox sitcom starring stand-up comic John Mulaney. Short plays Mulaney’s boss, Lou Cannon, a narcissistic TV game-show host who comes on to female guests and obsesses over how his eventual death will be covered on TV. “He’s a moron with power,” says Short, 64. “Those people are my specialty.”

It’s surprising that it’s taken you this long to become a regular on a sitcom.
Actually, my first job in America was a small role on a James L. Brooks sitcom called The Associates [in 1979]. It didn’t last a season. Then I was on another sitcom called I’m a Big Girl Now, which was about a think tank in Washington – but then, suddenly, by episode 12, we’d become a newspaper. No explanation whatsoever.

SCTV came soon after that, and SNL a little while later, so I found myself doing stuff that was either a late-night show or, eventually, the movies. At a certain point when you’re not struggling for rent money, you have the luxury of keeping yourself intrigued by something. The idea of being a regular on a series felt limiting; you know, you’re on a TV show every week, and that’s what you do. The eclectic nature of being able to do a sketch show and then a movie and then go out and do live shows with Steve Martin for a bit — that intrigued me.

However, Lorne Michaels, who I have a huge amount of respect for, called me up and said “You know, I know you’ve never really done something like this before, but John [Mulaney] is a great guy and I think you want to be part of this.” Once I met John, I got what he was saying. It made perfect sense. The voice of that show is very specific.

MORE: Fall TV Preview 2014: The Good, the Bad & the Gotham

How would you describe Lou Cannon?
Lou can’t comprehend why people wouldn’t be constantly thinking about what’s most important in life – which is Lou and his well-being.

I think you’ve just described 90% of people in show business.
Oh, absolutely.

Is the character based on anyone in particular?
President Harry Truman. [Laughs] Oh, I don’t know. Every character I’ve done has been based on one or two specific people, but then they’re colored by many, many other folks. It’s the same with Lou. He’s more of a type.

But you know, I do have famous friends who I’ve sat with over the years, and they’ll go on and on about themselves for so long that — since you tend to drift when these conversations take place — I wonder what they would think if they saw a transcription of this exchange. I think they’d be stunned. It’d be me going “Uh-huh” and then pages and pages of them droning on. [Pause] That’s my long-winded way of saying I’m not telling.

He’s essentially sort of a descendant of Jiminy Glick [the preening, clueless fake talk-show host Short played on Primetime Glick], who once said, ”You know, the problem with Charlie Rose as an interviewer is that he listens.” Lou would agree.

MORE: The Best Movies For Fall 2014

You originally came up with Glick when you were doing an actual talk show, right?
It was a syndicated talk show, and I wanted to create a celebrity interviewer who could go to junkets and looked nothing like me, so that people literally wouldn’t recognize it was me. Since my show was being broadcast at all sorts of different hours, including during the day, I thought, Well, I’d better take a look at daytime TV and see what it’s like. These were the pre-Ellen days, mind you; Rosie [O'Donnell] was on, and that was cool. But other than that, it was mostly people with large staffs and huge budgets who had no business being on TV whatsoever. To me, the notion that they’d be terrifying to the people who worked for them and that there would be some production assistant who’d be scared that they’d messed up someone’s tuna-fish sandwich order made me laugh. That’s where Glick came from.

You’ve got a busy fall: There’s your memoir, and you’ve got a small role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice.
If you ever have a chance to play a horny, swinging, coke-snorting dentist, you really have to take it. I was expecting Paul to be this brooding auteur, but he’s really a regular guy. He likes doing fast takes, and lots of them. I’d improvise something and he’d say, ”That’s great, Marty, do some more of those.” ”You sure it’s not too big, Paul?” ”Nah, nothing is too big!”

He keeps a very relaxed, cool vibe on his sets, which is something he and Mulaney have in common. You have some actors where they need the World War III of it all to be creatively juiced; unnecessary tension stifles my creative instincts. I just find that to be such pretentious bullshit. But those guys aren’t like that at all. They keep it loose. The best stuff happens that way.

MORE: The Best TV of 2014 So Far

SNL is coming up on its 40th anniversary. Do you have fond memories of your time on the show?
I was on during the Dick Ebersol years – or the George Steinbrenner years, as we called them, since that was when he brought in a bunch of players who were already well-known and gave us one-year contracts. You’ll get horror stories from some folks, but I was treated like a prince.

My situation, of course, was very different. Having just come out of doing SCTV for three years, there was a part of me that really wasn’t sure whether I wanted to jump back in to something like that. Dick called me up and said “We’d love to have to have you on the show for the next year, along with Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest.” I thought, well, they certainly aren’t going to do it, so I said “Hey, as soon as they agree, phone me, Dick!” I figured I was safe until they’d called a press conference announcing those guys had joined, so I jumped aboard at the last minute.

Since I knew I was only going to be there for a short time, I treated every show like a stand-alone TV special. I drove myself crazy, putting all this pressure on myself, so it was like final exams every week. That’s my only regret, that I didn’t enjoy it a bit more or be a little more open to the idea of staying for a few seasons and seeing what I could have done with it more.

Is there a surefire way to get a laugh?
You know, I had done some stage work in the Seventies and was a funny guy at parties but having to come up with it on demand? But as I watched a bunch of my friends go to Chicago when Second City opened up a sister company in 1973 — people like John Candy, Eugene Levy, Gilda [Radner], Danny [Aykroyd] — and thought, well maybe I could do that. It still took me four years to join them, of course.

But what I quickly leaned was that it was usually the reaction that got a laugh. The fact that you could have a drycleaner sketch and you could say “I cleaned your stain out, mister” — and if you said it right, you could get a laugh. When I first played Ed Grimley at Second City, I’d stick his hair straight up to try to make [scene partner and Danny's younger brother] Peter Aykroyd laugh. Then the audience laughed too. So, basically, a funny look is a surefire way to get a laugh. That, and falling down.

Lou’s ideal last words are “I did it for the laughs”. What would yours be?
Something more practical: ”Pass me a tissue,” maybe. ”Could you hold this for just a second?”

MORE: The 50 Funniest People Now

TIME Television

Sharknado 3 Will Sink Teeth Into Washington, D.C.

"The entire Eastern seaboard will be devoured by flying sharks"

First Los Angeles, then New York, now the nation’s capital — the third installment of the over-the-top original movie franchise Sharknado will partly take place Washington, D.C., SyFy announced.

But the third film in the so-bad-it’s-good series can’t just be confined to one location when it touches down in 2015. Oh no. This new Sharknado will only begin in Washington before it chews the scenery all the way down to Orlando, Fla.

“The entire Eastern seaboard will be devoured by flying sharks,” Syfy’s website reads. “No seaboard city below our nation’s capital is safe!”

Perhaps some politicians will contribute another round of memorable celebrity cameos.

TIME Television

New Ryan Murphy Anthology Scream Queens Coming to Fox

Ryan Murphy
Ryan Murphy Tonya Wise—Invision/AP

“We hope to create a whole new genre — comedy-horror"

Ryan Murphy really loves his anthologies.

Fox has announced a straight-to-series order for Scream Queens, a new anthology series with hour-long episodes from Murphy and his Glee and American Horror Story co-creator Brad Falchuk, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The 15-episode series will premiere next fall and focus on a college campus that becomes the site of several murders.

“We hope to create a whole new genre — comedy-horror — and the idea is for every season to revolve around two female leads,” Murphy said in a statement. “We’ve already begun a nationwide search for those women, as well as 10 other supporting roles.”

It’s the second new anthology series from Murphy coming to television soon. Earlier this month, FX, the home of American Horror Story, announced American Crime Story, which will devote its first 10-episode season to the O.J. Simpson trial.

[THR]

TIME Television

Jay Leno Deserves His Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

Comedian Jim Norton during an interview with host Jay Leno on June 27, 2012.
Comedian Jim Norton during an interview with host Jay Leno on June 27, 2012. NBC/NBCU/Photo Bank/Getty Images

As a friend and mentor, Jay Leno helped me countless times

“I was with the same girl for three years and I started to have erection difficulties. We had different ideas as to what the problem was. She bought me Viagra — I bought her a treadmill.” This was the first joke I ever told on The Tonight Show. My second joke dealt with hating my man breasts and wanting to fall on a knife (not to be confused with the reference to shooting myself because I hated the rest of my torso two jokes later). This was September 9, 2004, and it marked the beginning of my 10-year relationship with Jay Leno and The Tonight Show.

Being a harsh, dirty comic, the last person on earth I ever expected to help my career was Jay Leno. I had always thought of performing on The Tonight Show as an unachievable goal, because I bought into the myth that only squeaky clean, family-friendly material would be welcome there. In the years that followed, I can’t remember one instance where I felt like I couldn’t do the material I wanted to do.

I arrived at the studio the day of that first appearance around 3:00pm for a 4:00pm taping. One of the producers brought me onto the set to show me where I’d be entering and walked me out on the masking tape X I was expected to stand on and do my set. I was grateful to be physically walking through the process: I was so nervous that if he hadn’t showed me, I probably would have walked straight off the stage and plowed into the audience.

As I was dutifully standing on the X and confirming (“Here, right? This X right here?”), I glanced over and saw Jay at his desk going over a piece with his executive producer. My nervousness (mortal terror) must have shown, because he stopped the rehearsal and walked over to introduce himself to me. He asked how I was doing and I blurted out, “Fine, just fine!” nodding my head like John Candy in Stripes.

I’m sure he could sense the impending disaster on hand, and immediately launched into calm-this-nervous-idiot-down mode. “You’ve got nothing to worry about,” he said. “The crowds are here to laugh and they’re gonna love you. There’s no pressure. If it goes great, you come back. If it doesn’t go great, you’ll have a cool story. And then you can come back and try it again anyway.”

Obviously I knew that if I was awful I wouldn’t be asked back, but I also understood what he was doing and it meant a lot to me. Jay was notorious for loving comics and treating us well, and his taking that minute to help me is something I never forgot. Unfortunately, that type of altruism isn’t as common as you’d think. There are some hosts who are legendary for the immeasurable apathy they manage to show every comedian with whom they come in contact.

The better I got to know him, the more I began to use him as a sounding board whenever I was stuck at a crossroads in my career. I spent the majority of our dressing room chats picking his brain for solutions. He was such a great person for me to talk to because of his level-headedness and ability to think before reacting. When things go wrong, my first instinct is to strap on a bomb belt and run through the front door screaming. Jay’s advice was always smart and well thought-out, and he saved me on more than one occasion from making a total ass out of myself.

He stressed to me to never make it all about the money — that if you do the right thing, the money will eventually come. He also tried to drill into my head not to feed into the negativity in the business. He meant it. In all the talks we had, even when the country was preparing itself for civil war over the Conan O’Brien situation, he never once came from a place of bitterness or cynicism.

I have so many great memories of Jay and The Tonight Show, but that first moment together is still my favorite. He did so much not only for me, but for countless other comedians. I don’t know one comic who did the show and wasn’t blown away by how Jay treated them.

Congratulations, Jay, on receiving the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. You were one of the most respected headliners in the country and then went on to dominate late night television for almost 20 years. You deserve it. And thank you for taking such good care of me for so long. I will never be able to repay the debt.

TIME Television

John Oliver Mocks the Supreme Court’s Camera Ban by Dressing Up Dogs as Justices

Plus, he offers up some raw footage so you too can reenact your favorite Supreme Court cases

In the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver criticized the Supreme Court’s refusal to allow cameras during oral arguments in the court chamber. The Court does release audio — but according to Oliver, this simply isn’t enough to get Americans as interested as they should be.

Oliver’s solution? Reenact SCOTUS activities with footage of cute animals instead of actual justices. The Last Week Tonight writers were inspired by the Internet’s beloved feline star Keyboard Cat, who paws away at a keyboard as terrible electronic music plays. “Think about it,” Oliver says. “If someone made you just listen to the audio of that, you would punch them repeatedly in the face. But the visual makes it irresistible. Why? Because a cat’s paws are doing things you wouldn’t expect them to do.”

After just a few seconds, Oliver proves this is a great idea. Scalia as a bulldog? Yes. The Notorious R.B.G. as a bespectacled chihuahua? Yes.

But wait — there’s more! Last Week Tonight put together a tool kit featuring 10 minutes of raw footage so we can all reenact our favorite Supreme Court cases. One guy already did a great job with Florida v. Harris:

Okay, everybody else. Get to work.

 

TIME Television

Manhattan, the TV Season’s Secret Weapon

MANHATTAN
Greg Peters

This drama about the race for the atomic bomb showed in its first season that, just like in nuclear science, powerful forces can come from small things.

I cannot always pretend to understand this new age of television, with its surfeit of TV series from websites and tiny channels and online bookstores. But I am enjoying it.

Take Manhattan, the richly textured period drama about scientists trying to create the atomic bomb, in Los Alamos, N.M., during World War II. It comes from WGN America, the cable-broadcast “superstation” that’s trying to rebrand itself with original scripted dramas. (The first, the loopy supernatural serial Salem, debuted earlier this year.) It’s created little pop-culture buzz. (It’s apparently being recapped only at a few sites, chief among them Scientific American and Popular Mechanics.) It’s drawing live ratings well under a million, with its 18-49 advertising-demo audience practically a rounding error.

Yet it was recently picked up for a second season. How does this work? Is it a loss leader? Has WGN figured out, like the architects of nuclear fission, how to extract tremendous power from a tiny mass of viewers? I have no idea. But its season finale, “Perestroika,” left me very happy that somehow it’s working.

Manhattan began as one of those shows that seemed just good enough–one of the growing mass of competent cable series that I might watch regularly if I had 72 hours in a day. I would fall behind and catch up, but as it went on, it grew into something special. Like Masters of Sex, it used a fictionalized version of history to tell human stories at the same time, while dramatizing the excitement of scientific discovery.

Through the families of the scientists brought to the middle of nowhere for who-knows-what, it asked, what are the unintended costs of a culture of secrecy? Through the internecine competition of the bomb-race, it asked, where’s the line between necessary ambition and self-aggrandizement? And through the politics and paranoia of the project, it asks, how much individual sacrifice is acceptable in the name of a greater good?

“Perestroika” brought those themes to crisis while setting up the series strongly for a second season–in particular, through Frank Winter’s decision about whether to let Charlie twist in the wind, accused of espionage, rather than spill about the breach of compartmentalization. With the Thin Man project now over–and Reed fatally out of the way–his implosion program is the only game in town. He’s won, and all he needs to do to keep winning is to cut Charlie loose, one more unfortunate case of collateral damage, like Sid Liao.

Why he doesn’t, but rather arranges to be “caught” telling Liza what they’re really doing out in the desert, is an intriguing question. It may simply be human guilt. But there may be a larger recognition that once you accept the win-at-all-costs mentality and let it go unchallenged, there’s no telling whom it will claim. It’s understandable that people like Frank would develop a Messiah complex; after all, they’re being treated like messiahs, with the individual power to stop the slaughter of millions and save the free world. As Babbit (an excellent Daniel Stern) tells Frank, “It doesn’t matter that you’re a good man. Maybe a good man couldn’t have made implosion work.”

But their power is also terrifying to those who rely on them. Having to place so much faith in these inscrutable eggheads creates suspicion and resentment in the powerful, from the menacing Occam to the Secretary of War (Gerald McRaney), who bellows at Oppenheimer for selling the President “a Buck Rogers fantasy.” (In real life, after all, Oppenheimer was dogged by red-baiting accusations.) The godlike power of these physicists makes them invaluable and suspect at the same time. It may be that the prospect of unleashing such a tremendous power had led Frank to realize that win-at-all-costs is not longer a sustainable doctrine. Maybe we do still need good men.

Manhattan‘s first season hasn’t been flawless; its themes and exposition can be clumsy, and the production seems a little threadbare. But it’s been a fascinating twist on the disparate-soldiers-thrown-together-in-a-foxhole war story, following people whose wisdom doesn’t always match their intelligence. Even Frank, in his revelation to Liza, suggests a kind of sad-in-retrospect naivete, predicts that thanks to their work, “There will never be another war.” If there’s one thing Manhattan‘s first season showed us, people will always find reason to fight–even when they’re on the same side.

TIME Television

The Walking Dead Watch: ‘Strangers’

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier and Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier and Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon. Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC—© AMC Film Holdings LLC.

Episode two is a mostly meditative palate cleanser before what will surely be a gory continuation

Episode two of the fifth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead is titled “Strangers,” but it might as well have been called “Meditations” or “Aphorisms.” The bulk of the episode is composed of multiple, one-on-one ruminations on the fundamental question (after basic survival) for our group: how to be in this world.

Carol and Tyreese, Rosita and Abraham, Bob and Sasha, Carl and Rick, Carol and Daryl all take part in these brief discussions at the beginning of the episode. Rick tells Carl, summarizing his world view, “You are not safe,” in pretty much the exact opposite speech of the one given every day by every helicopter parent everywhere. Bob, in contrast, comes to a more optimistic conclusion: “This is a nightmare, and nightmares end.” (More on Bob’s nightmares later.) Michonne, who doesn’t have her samurai sword anymore, expresses an anti-materialistic worldview. She doesn’t miss her blade, she misses her friends who have died. (I miss her samurai sword.)

The stranger we meet is Gabriel, a world-weary pastor without a flock. In Christianity, Gabriel is the angel of God’s revelation, the messenger who comes to earth to tell people important things they should probably know, like a holy low balance alert. He tells Mary about Jesus, for example. This Gabriel, in contrast, is anxious, frightened, barfy. He tells the group he is a pacifist, having neither killed the living or the undead since the outbreak. The writers, in other words, paired the group’s self-searching with the meeting of a character who supposedly should have the BIG answers.

(Gabriel is portrayed brilliantly by Seth Gilliam, who played Sergeant Ellis Carver on HBO’s The Wire. Though, given his illustration in the comics I would have thought another Wire actor, Andre Royo who played Bubbles, might have been a better fit.)

Gabriel leads some of the crew to a canned food repository to get supplies, while Abraham and Eugene try to fix a broken down short bus that, they hope, will take them to Washington, D.C. The cans are submerged in about four feet of water and obstructed by about a dozen very water-logged walkers. When a walker was pulled out of the well on Herschel’s farm back in season two, it was a terrifying and pivotal plot point. Now, melty zombie faces are just par for the course.

Back at Gabriel’s church, it becomes clear he is hiding something. He’d panicked at the food storehouse when he saw a walker wearing church-lady glasses and Carl has found scratch marks on the outside of the church, suggesting it was locked from the inside. Somebody also took the time to carve “You’ll burn for this” on the side of the church before being bitten to death. Rick tells Gabriel we all have secrets but that if his threaten the group, he will kill him.

What happened exactly, we’ll surely find out. But Gabriel is an interesting new character for a number of reasons. He recalls Graham Greene’s whisky priest, the ordained man with obvious moral failings. (Gabriel’s not an alcoholic, but he is obviously a coward.) Think Friar Tuck or Robert Mitchum’s character in The Night of the Hunter. He is interesting because his moral quandaries are singularly different from everybody else’s. He isn’t grappling with kill-or-be-killed. He’s grasping with his own failings, personal sin outside of the basics of survival. He’s a pre-apocalyptic figure in a way.

The show ends on a double set of cliff-hangers. Daryl and Carol see the car that kidnapped Beth last season and go on the hunt. Poor Bob meanwhile is captured by Gareth and some of the surviving Terminus members. When Bob comes to, Gareth gets his turn at answering the “how to be?” question, making the case for the ultimate pragmatism being cannibalism. In one of the show’s more deliciously gruesome twists, the camera pulls back to reveal that everybody is having a fine old meal on roasted Bob leg. Ew.

Zombie Kill Report
1 gun handle to the face by Michonne; 1 bullet to the head by Carl; 3 blunt force traumas to the head by Rick, Michonne, Carol; 1 arrow to the skull by Daryl; 11 sharp objects to the waterlogged face by multiple; 1 knife to the throat by Carl.
Estimated Total: 18

New credits!
Unless I missed this last episode, the credits have been redone to reference more recent and upcoming scenery.

Was Bob infected or what?
Moments before the Termians knock Bob unconscious and drag him away, he’s looking at the church and begins to ball. What’s up with that? Did something happen—a cut? a bite? pukey zombie water in the mouth that infected him? If that’s the case Gareth and company are not eating the finest quality meat…

TIME Television

Letterman Cue-Card Holder Canned After Writer Altercation

The Late Show With David Letterman Resumes Filming
NEW YORK - JANUARY 02: A general view of the exterior of the Ed Sullivan Theater during a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman on Jan. 2, 2007 in New York. Bryan Bedder—Getty Images

“I know I shouldn’t have put my hands on him”

A cue-card holder for CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman says he lost his job after getting into a physical altercation with a co-worker.

Tony Mendez says he grabbed a writer for the show, Bill Scheft, by the shirt on Oct. 9, which resulted in his dismissal, the New York Post reports.

69-year-old Mendez, who says Letterman wasn’t aware of the conflict between him and Scheft, told the Post that the outburst had been “coming for a long time.” Scheft declined to comment to the Post.

“I know I shouldn’t have put my hands on him,” Mendez said.

A spokesperson for Worldwide Pants, Letterman’s production company, declined to comment on the matter, according to the Associated Press.

Mendez joined Late Show in 1993.

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