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The story of settling, founding, and shaping of The United States of America has been told in countless ways over the years. Students see movies in school; read about it in books, networks run specials every Fourth of July as we celebrate our nation’s independence, but what History has undertaken is a contemporary look at over 400 years of history on our continent and the major events that shaped the lives we lead today.

History’s America: The Story of Us is an engrossing look at what it takes to build a nation and while it treads familiar territory, it does so with the aid of modern technology like impressive, although not perfect, uses of CGI as it tells the story of our country.

The series starts in the years leading up to the founding of the original thirteen colonies and ends with the shaping of America at the turn of the 21st Century. The only problem with the series is with nearly 400 years to cover, a lot of important events are merely mentioned or glossed over to make room for even bigger ones.

The CGI is one of the most impressive, and disappointing things at the same time. While its nice to get a cinematic take on the battles of Lexington and Concord complete with Matrix-like effects of musket balls flying through the air in bullet-time, at some points it feels overdone, ditto to the use of slow motion in combination with the aforementioned. Nevertheless, this never detracts from the impressive selection of events that are focused upon and for once in a long while, the interviews from real Americans (Michael Douglass, Colin Powell, et. al.) actually provide some powerful insight and are melded into the program rather nicely.

NBC’s Parenthood is based on the 1989 film directed by Ron Howard, and aside from a large cast of characters who are all related in some easy-breezy way, the similarities with the movie seem to end. The series is a dramedy focusing on the Braverman clan and the trials which shaped their lives.

Where Parenthood really excels is its excellent casting much like ABC’s Modern Family, its all about the people behind these characters and how well they gel together. Anchoring the show are the beautiful Lauren Graham (Sarah Braverman), Peter Krause (Adam Braverman), and Braverman patriarch Zeek Braverman played by Craig T. Nelson who always shines.

The first hour provides a decent amount of laughs, mostly when Graham is in the room, and sets up a seasons worth of storylines with Sarah moving back in with her parents have a financial downturn, Adam dealing with the diagnosis of his son Max with Asperger’s. There are your typical sitcom moments, such as Sarah’s son catching her sexual escapades with a portly, balding former-classmate (Mike O’Malley) and your typical drama moments with long pauses and furrowed brows.

There’s definitely a lot to like here, and while the episode blows all of its comedic chops in the first 20 minutes, and loads up the final two acts with heavy drama, it’s still easy to see that the writers are mixing in a healthy balance of both. Ultimately the show needs time to grow into its own, but from what we’ve seen so far there are very capable people both behind and in-front of the camera and Parenthood can easily make its way into can’t miss territory with a few more episodes like the pilot.

Plain and simple FX’s new series Archer delivers the irreverent comedy that was experienced during the glory days of Warner’s adult swim. Not since the days of Sealab 2021 (another Adam Reed project) has a show come up with some of the most ridiculously funny and brilliantly absurd comedy as does Archer. Having seen the first five episodes of the series its no wonder why the network ordered more, aside from ABC’s Modern Family, Archer is the frontrunner for the best new comedy of the 2009-2010 season.

Sterling Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) is a secret agent for ISIS, a freelance spy agency run by his mother, Malory (the always funny Jessica Walter), and works with a cast of characters including his ex-flame Lana (Aisha Tyler), her new beau, and ISIS comptroller Cyril (Chris Parnell), and secretary Cheryl (Judy Greer) who changes her name from episode to episode.

From the very beginning the roots of the aforementioned adult swim classic, and Reed’s follow-up Frisky Dingo, are readily apparent, and that’s what makes Archer such a pleasure to watch. For an animated show to not be about the animation is always a risk, but the story, dialog, and just overall fun of the series clearly make up for it. Granted the animation has come a long way from Reed’s reusing of frames from Sealab 2020, but it has always been about the story, the situations, and the gratuitous violence that has brought viewers in.

The style of the show, set in a contemporary world, but with throwbacks to the spy movies of the 1950’s and 1960’s is excellent. More than a few Bond gags make their way into the early part of the season, including ridiculously named villains with quirks built in. Archer himself is a bumbling moron who, at times, seems to only have made it this far because of his overbearing mother, but does show flashes of how good he can be in later episodes.

Being on FX gives the animators and producers some more leeway on what they can show and what they can say, and while it’s usually shameful to push the envelope for the sake of shock, that’s what really works here. No show has done better cutaways since Family Guy, and even FOX’s cash cow could take a few notes.

In the end Archer comes together in a great mix of classic characters, hilarious dialog, visual gags, throwback jokes and a sense that we haven’t learned anything in the last 22 minutes, but we had a damn good time spending it with the ISIS team, even if our codename is Duchess.

Food Network has long prided itself on showcasing some of the world’s greatest chefs, and that doesn’t really change with its newest series, Worst Cooks in America, however the great chefs showcased have to deal with some of the country’s worst. In the pilot episode, lovingly titled “Into the Fire” the chefs bring in 24 of the worst of the worst and have them prepare a signature dish, and you get what you would expect.

Several of the contestants can’t even cook, throwing together several cans of soup, warmed over the stove top and presenting it as something edible. From there Chef’s Anne Burrell and Beau MacMillan throw in a twist, they’re picking the six finalists for each other, and they’re picking the very worst in an attempt to sabotage the other. The “winner”, besides being able to actually create food not considered toxic waste in 27 states, will attempt to fool a panel of food critics into believing Anne and Beau cooked a meal for them.

The series hook is that these cooks know they are pathetic and each are looking to better themselves by participating in the contest, a big difference from series like Hell’s Kitchen where the Chef’s are usually filled with illusions of grandeur and listening to them is like reading a textbook out loud describing how to be a complete failure on reality TV.

Most importantly though, the show is fun to watch because they have about as much skill as the rest of the general population, who will cut asparagus wrong, garnish the hell out of a dish, and take two hours to make a 30 minute meal. Worst Cooks in America‘s six episode run should give hope for mankind that even if you screw up mac & cheese now, it may not always be that way.

Where FX has excelled in the drama game the network has always seemed to struggle on the flipside of the programming coin in the comedy genre. Save for the wildly popular It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, shows like Starved, Testees, and Lucky have always missed the mark for various reasons. The network recently unveiled a new slate of original programming including several comedies and dramas, the first of which is the fantasy football-themed The League which continues the network tradition of vivid characters based on excellent writing.

Breaking away from the sight-gag laced Testees, The League centers on an ensemble cast of characters all joined together by friendship and their desire to one-up each other in fantasy football. The competition is nothing to be taken lightly as characters influence each other in their work and home lives, all to get Peyton Manning.

The writing is sharp in the first two episodes with more than a few laugh out loud moments and more than a few hearty chuckles strewn about. What really works is the believable, relatable characters all pulled from the sitcom stable including the recently separated, charming guy; the clueless friend who drafts retired players; the married dude who has to watch porn in the garage while working out. Well, you get to expand the normal staples when you’re on cable.

A few standout moments are Taco’s (Jon Lajoie) wholly inappropriate song at a pre-teen’s birthday party, you know where its going from the very beginning, but there’s something about harmonizing and explaining various sexual positions that really makes you laugh. Nick Kroll’s Ruxin and his desire to win the fantasy league so bad he kidnaps an “oracle” leads to another stand out, laugh out loud moment that looks really, really bad, but you never realized implied pedophilia could be so funny.

The show has a semi-serialized nature to it, at least in regards to the first few episodes, and the “league” aspect is used (so far) as merely a framing device for a few jokes and as an excuse for everyone to stay together. In the end, however, The League is a very funny entry into FX’s already stellar lineup or originals, as long as the first season stays Sunny and avoids being Starved the future looks bright.

NBC’s long list of great comedy shows can add another entry in Community, which is aptly being called The Office in Community College. The series doesn’t present itself as a documentary like the aforementioned workplace comedy, however the cast of characters is every bit as memorable and the writing is top notch throughout the pilot.

The series focuses on Jeff, played by the very funny and criminally overlooked for years Joel McHale (The Soup, The IT Crowd), the series centers on the happenings of a group of students from all walks of life at Greendale Community College. From the opening speech by the school’s dean till the end credits role there’s a lot of clever moments even while some of the problems borrow from the sitcom cliché handbook.

Jeff is a washed up lawyer whose degree from “Columbia” has been brought into question. Now he needs to secure a degree from the United States to prevent himself from being disbarred. Our introduction to him and Danny Pudi’s Abed is just one of the episodes shinning moments. Jeff wants to get with Britta (Gillian Jacobs) so he organizes a Spanish study group which grows to eventually include several other students including Chevy Chase’s Pierce whose grandiose stories could only be true if he owned the college and was just milling about.

While a lot of the pilot’s jokes hit, only accentuated by the wonderful cast, the predictable story about boy meets girl, boy lies to girl, tries to cover it up, girl finds out, etc. is so overplayed that the ending of the episode is pretty much known from the very beginning, however getting to the end is the fun part and that’s where Community is able to keep your interest for 22 minutes.

While it remains to be seen if Community can break out like The Office, or if it will disappoint like Parks & Recreation, but when the season starts in mid-September there will be at least one person firmly tuned in.

There’s always something alluring about the fish-out-of-water turmoil that can result from plopping people into an alien land with different customs and a different culture. Such is the Mark Burnett-produced Expedition Africa on HISTORY, a Survivor-lite of sorts using the reality angle of the Emmy winning CBS show, but also throwing in a certain Man vs. Wild element to the whole thing with four adventurers attempting to recreate the journey of Dr. David Livingston and the journalist, Henry Morton Stanley, who sought him out.

War Journalist Kevin Sites, navigator Pasquale Scatturo, survivalist Benedict Allen, and wildlife expert Mireya Mayor are the brave ones to take on this reenactment of man vs. nature in the African bush. Well also throw in a film crew, dozens of native porters, and two Maasai warriors hired to protect the expedition as it traverses the planned 970 plus miles. While trying to recreate the journey taken by Stanley the show manages to represent this well, however facts like funding and compensation, and the existence of a film crew kind of mar the authenticity of the whole thing. Funds seem to be unlimited, and while the crew is never seen, are we to believe that if someone was seriously injured that the production crew wouldn’t have a satellite phone ready to go? It’s a fun trip, but the perceived threat of danger seems to be mainly manufactured by clever editing than anything really dangerous.

It would only be fair that the collection of characters would be ripped straight from every reality show known to man. There’s the crazy, all-knowing, old man who could go from sweet to cut-throat in a matter of seconds, the “true” leader of the group who uses public opinion to get what he wants, the collected handsome guy who’s going to last until the end, and the generic girl character, with tank tops and the ability to identify snakes and not run the other way.

Each act break presents another artificial cliffhanger for you to ponder for a few minutes. In the pilot Sites becomes separate from the rest of the group, however he has a trained warrior and a porter with him, as well as a loud whistle and is found within minutes of being lost. Akin to most reality shows, a confessional cam is used to get the four main adventurers reactions to events, such as the group leaving camp without water, deciding where to make camp, and a general disregard for basic logic.

Taking Expedition Africa at face value, its four trained explorers making a nearly 1000 mile journey through some of the most treacherous terrain on earth in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable, but it feels manufactured in ways to create an entertaining experience. For people who are almost in a life or death struggle with the elements, should there really be so much bickering and in-fighting, that doesn’t seem to let up throughout the eight-part series?

Comedic-drama Rescue Me returns in its fifth season with more of what we love, funny jokes interspersed with serious drama as the dysfunctional lives of Number 62 Truck play out in front of all of us to enjoy.

Creators Denis Leary and Peter Tolan have crafted a fine example of how to see into the lives of the FDNY and the situations that everyone finds themselves in are both uproarious and hard to grasp at the same time. But it’s really the characters that bring everything back, with each member of the house bringing something new to the table and the dynamics of how well they play together only aids the believability somewhat lost on the incessant drama each character experiences.

Season five picks up where the last ended. Tommy Gavin’s (Leary) father has passed away at a baseball game with his son and we’re reintroduced into the fold shortly after with Tommy day dreaming about desecrating his father’s coffin at a mock memorial in his head. The episode also introduces the highest profile guest star thus far, Michael J. Fox, as Janet’s (Andrea Roth) new boyfriend. Fox plays the a-hole card really well confusing Tommy if he’s being mocked. Fox’s story will surely play out more as the season continues, so it would be unfair to judge his character and performance based on this three minutes of screen time.

The major subplots to the season seem to be Sean Garrity (Steven Pasquale) being injured, and Garrity, Franco (Daniel Sunjata), and Probie (Mike Lombardi) attempting to open a firefighter oriented bar to score with the ladies after hearing the successes of their favorite establishment of the same theme.

As mentioned before, Rescue Me is one of the finest examples of bi-polar drama on TV today. In one pivotal scene where Mickey Gavin (Robert John Burke) relapses and its up to Tommy to pull him from a church where he’s hassling a baptism, the conversation goes back and forth between philosophical enlightenment and the image of a dog defecating in a pantry. As the conversation continues neither participant knows what’s subject is really being talked about. These are times when you both think and laugh at the same time, and these are the times that make Rescue Me one of the best shows on TV.

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