Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who has a soft spot for a good, old-fashioned multicam sitcom.
“The Big Bang Theory” veteran Melissa Rauch, who stars in NBC’s new revival of “Night Court,” knows a thing or two about the format, as both a performer and a viewer, and she joins Screen Gab this week to explore what makes the genre appealing — and the original “Night Court,” which ran from 1984 to 1992, such an appealing example of it.
Also in this week’s edition, recommendations galore, from a classic movie with a heartwarming Oscar narrative to the animated adaptation of a “Dungeons & Dragons” role-playing adventure. As always, we want to know what you’re watching too! Pretend we’re at the water cooler and give us your review of a TV show or streaming movie you’ve loved and it may be included in a future edition of Screen Gab. (Submissions should be approximately 100 to 150 words and sent to email@example.com with your name and location.)
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Recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times
One of the challenges of any “Dungeons & Dragons”-related adaptation is that what you see on screen rarely lives up to your imagination. Not to mention that playing is generally more fun than just watching. But “The Legend of Vox Machina” (Prime Video) has managed to translate the joyous unpredictability of dice-based collaborative storytelling into a solid animated fantasy. Based on the popular “D&D” play web series “Critical Role,” “Vox Machina” follows a ragtag group of self-interested adventurers who become unlikely protectors of the realm. Those familiar with the tabletop role-playing staple will recognize the gameplay-related beats and tropes, but it’s the characters that truly make the series shine. While the first season was a strong introduction to the core cast and their party chemistry, Season 2, which premieres Friday, digs a little deeper into individual backstories while also showing off the incredible world building needed to sustain hundreds of hours of play. “Vox Machina” is serious high fantasy without being self-serious, mixing high-stakes action with contemporary sensibilities and (vulgar) humor. And did I mention this season involves dragons trying to take over the world? —Tracy Brown
If anyone reading this has also spent the last several weeks slowly but surely catching up on this season’s awards contenders and, like me, desperately needs a break from the disappointment and the discourse, feel free to join me on my trip back to 1953. I’m talking about “Roman Holiday,” which will be screened next week in various theaters nationwide via Fathom Events in honor of its 70th anniversary, and is also available to stream on Paramount+ and Pluto TV. Not only does the classic romantic comedy remain a wonderful watch after all these years, it also remains one of the best awards stories: Opposite Gregory Peck, the movie starred a then-unknown Audrey Hepburn, who went on to win the Academy Award for her performance and set the foundation for the rest of her illustrious career. I wonder if an Oscar win might do the same for another up-and-comer in the very near future. —Ashley Lee
Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about
HBO’s superb, highly faithful three-season adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s anti-clerical, anti-theist, anti-authoritarian, pro-desire, pro-love, coming-of-age sci-fi-fantasy trilogy, “His Dark Materials” — the title comes from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” — came to its conclusion last month. Set across multiple worlds, including (but not centered on) our own, it focuses on Lyra (Dafne Keen, astonishingly good), an extraordinary wild child from an alternative Oxford, where a person’s inner being is externalized in the form of a talking companion animal — a device that adds an emotional edge to a series that can at times be almost unbearably moving. Her world is also a fascist-church state whose clergy will torture and murder as profits their interests. (The series, a BBC co-production, can also be terrifying — young viewers need to be as brave as its young protagonists.)
Each volume is named for the objects or gadget upon which much will turn: “The Golden Compass” (it tells the truth), “The Subtle Knife” (which cuts on a subatomic level and can open doors between worlds) and “The Amber Spyglass” (which allows the user to see dust, the sentient cosmic pollen that animates the world). On her way to She Knows Not Where, Lyra will encounter witches and angels and specters — none quite what we associate with those words — armored polar bear warriors and various helpful or dangerous adults, including scientist-adventurer Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), who is out to “kill God,” “experimental theologian” Mrs. Coulter (Ruth Wilson), Lin-Manuel Miranda as a Texan balloonist and Simone Kirby as a nun turned particle physicist, all players, whether they know it or not, in a battle for the fate of the multiverse. It’s also a slow-developing love story, with Lyra and Will (Amir Wilson), a boy from our Earth, prophetically linked.
With its political skulduggery, authoritarian villains — its remote, corrupt deity is literally called the Authority — and portrait of worlds out of joint with nature, it feels particularly timely. The monsters are human; no orcs here. —Robert Lloyd
A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching
Along with the likes of “Cheers,” “Family Ties,” “The Golden Girls” and “The Cosby Show,” “Night Court” is among the sitcoms that defined the 1980s, with actor/magician Harry Anderson’s Judge Harry Stone presiding over the courtroom antics of rakish prosecutor Dan Fielding (four-time Emmy winner John Larroquette) and a cavalcade of guest stars. The series, Larroquette in tow, returned this week to NBC and Peacock as an updated (but not too updated) revival, with Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”), as Stone’s daughter, Abby, now on the bench. Rauch stopped by Screen Gab to discuss her love of sitcoms, her Jean Arthur kick and her favorite episodes of the original “Night Court” — though you won’t find those on Peacock. It’s streaming on Freevee. —Matt Brennan
What have you watched recently that you are recommending to everyone you know?
“Working Moms” (Netflix). It’s really terrific. I think Catherine Reitman has done such an incredible job with that show.
What’s your go-to “comfort watch,” the movie or TV show you go back to again and again?
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO Max) and “Playing House” (Roku Channel, VOD), written by and starring the hilarious Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. Also, I love curling up with an old black-and-white movie. I’ve been on a Jean Arthur kick lately.
As a veteran of “The Big Bang Theory” and now “Night Court,” you’re no stranger to the network sitcom. What is it about the format that appeals to you as a viewer? As an actor?
I always love when a good sitcom can make you laugh and also warm your heart a bit at the same time. The multicam sitcom format is how TV was first conceived, so I think there is something very special about that medium. There is nothing I enjoy more as an actor than getting to film a show in front of a live audience. It’s like getting to do a play every week. I love the instant feedback of knowing what’s working and what’s not. The energy from the crowd is electric and they really inform the process.
What’s your favorite episode of the original “Night Court” and why?
I love the episode where Michael J. Fox guest stars as a teen runaway. There is a beautiful moment with him and Harry Anderson in the judge’s chambers that always stuck with me. And I also love the “Dan’s Operation” episode. There’s a phenomenal scene with Harry and [Larroquette’s] Dan Fielding where Dan discusses how he just wants to find love. I, of course, always enjoyed all of the comedic moments of the series, but something about these more poignant beats always stuck with me. I think that’s the brilliance of a sitcom done well. They are made to make people laugh first and foremost, but if you earn the audience’s trust enough to make them feel a little something in between the laughs, I think there is something really extraordinary about that.
Recommendations from Screen Gab readers
I enjoyed the compelling characters and dramatic story line in “The Recruit” (Netflix), starring Noah Centineo as a newbie lawyer at the CIA who becomes embroiled in a potential scandal. It has intrigue, moral dilemmas, action, and a little romance (of the more sensual variety).
Listings coordinator Matt Cooper highlights the TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on
Fri., Jan. 20
“Bake Squad” (Netflix): They’re getting their just desserts in a second season of this baking competition hosted by Christina Tosi.
“Bling Empire: New York” (Netflix): They’re just as crazy, just as rich and just as Asian in this new reality-TV spinoff set in the Big Apple.
“The Cabin Chronicles” (HBO Max, Discovery+): They’re not out of the woods yet in new episodes of this real-estate series.
“One Way” (Hulu): A young hoodlum (Colson Baker, a.k.a. rapper Machine Gun Kelly) in a jam turns to his hardened criminal father (Kevin Bacon) for help in this 2022 thriller.
“Truth Be Told” (Apple TV+): Your intrepid true-crime podcaster (Octavia Spencer) is back on the case for a third season. Gabrielle Union and Mekhi Phifer co-star.
“Real Time With Bill Maher” (HBO, 10 p.m.): The veteran comic’s late-night current affairs-and-talk show returns for a 21st season.
“Game Theory With Bomani Jones” (HBO, 11 p.m.): The journalist’s sports-talk series serves up its sophomore season premiere.
Sat., Jan. 21
“The Wedding Veil Journey” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.): Greece is the word, and the destination, in this new entry in the TV movie franchise. With Alison Sweeney.
“Bad Behind Bars: Jodi Arias” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): This new TV movie sequel continues the saga of the Arizona woman convicted in 2013 for the 2008 murder of her boyfriend.
“Saturday Night Live” (NBC, 8:29 and 11:29 p.m.): “The White Lotus’” Aubrey Plaza hosts and British singer Sam Smith performs in this new episode.
“Austin City Limits” (KOCE, 11:30 p.m.): Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada performs on a new installment of the concert series.
Sun., Jan. 22
“Accused” (Fox, 9 p.m.; also Tuesday): “The Shield’s” Michael Chiklis stars in the debut installment of this new crime anthology that will feature a new case, a new location and different characters each episode.
“The Plot to Kill My Mother” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): A young woman who grew up in witness protection searches for her mother’s killer in this new TV movie.
Mon., Jan. 23
“The Omega Man” (TCM, 5 p.m.): A mini-marathon of post-apocalyptic tales kicks off with this 1971 thriller starring Charlton Heston.
“The Bachelor” (ABC, 8 p.m.): “The Bachelorette’s” Zach Shallcross will be handing out the roses this time ’round as the reality series returns.
“Death by Fame” (Investigation Discovery, 9 and 10 p.m.): This new true-crime series tells the stories of rising stars who met unfortunate ends.
“Extreme Sisters” (TLC, 9 p.m.): Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters as in new episodes of this reality series.
“Independent Lens” (KOCE, 10 p.m.): The 2021 documentary “No Straight Lines” profiles five queer comic book artists including “Fun Home” creator Alison Bechdel.
“The Playboy Murders” (Investigation Discovery, 10 p.m.): Hugh Hefner’s onetime girlfriend Holly Madison (“The Girls Next Door”) hosts this new true-crime series.
Tue., Jan. 24
“How I Met Your Father” (Hulu): Hilary Duff suits up for a second season of this sitcom spinoff. Kim Cattrall also stars.
“9-1-1: Lone Star” (Fox, 9 p.m.): Rob Lowe is back in the saddle for a fourth season of this Texas-set action drama.
“Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” (KOCE, 8 p.m.): Cyndi Lauper, Danny Trejo and “The Real World’s” Jamie Chung explore their family histories in this new episode.
“American Auto” (NBC, 8:30 p.m.): This workplace comedy starring “SNL” alum Ana Gasteyer clocks in for a second season.
“American Masters” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): Roberta Flack, the Grammy-winning R&B singer known for her confessional vocal style, is celebrated in this new episode.
Wed., Jan. 25
“Air Force the Movie: Danger Close” (Netflix): They feel the need — the need for speed! — in this Jerry Bruckheimer-style 2022 action thriller from Malaysia.
“Extraordinary” (Hulu): In a world where everyone else has a superpower, our 20-something heroine woefully does not in this fantasy comedy from the U.K.
“Nature” (KOCE, 8 p.m.): Sea creatures compete and/or cooperate in underwater ecosystems around the globe in the new documentary “Soul of the Ocean.”
Thu., Jan. 26
“Clean Sweep” (Sundance Now): An Irish wife and mother resorts to extreme measures to keep her criminal past a secret in this fact-based drama.
“Killing County” (Hulu): This new three-part true-crime series follows one grieving family’s quest for answers in the shocking death of a loved one at a hotel in Bakersfield.
“The Lair” (Shudder): Shot down over Afghanistan, a female Royal Air Force pilot (Charlotte Kirk) hunkers down in the wrong bunker in this 2022 terror tale directed by “The Descent’s” Neil Marshall.
“Poker Face” (Peacock): “Russian Doll’s” Natasha Lyonne drives around the country solving mysteries in this star-studded comedy from “Knives Out” writer-director Rian Johnson.
“The 1619 Project” (Hulu): This new six-part docuseries expands on the New York Times’ exhaustive 2019 exploration of the legacy of slavery and its impact on Black Americans today.
“Teen Wolf: The Movie” (Paramount+): I saw Tyler Posey reuniting with former castmates from the 2011-17 supernatural drama for this all-new thriller … and his hair was perfect.
“Wolf Pack” (Paramount+): I saw Sarah Michelle Gellar heading the cast of this all-new, teen-themed supernatural drama … and her hair was also perfect.
“Jersey Shore Family Vacation” (MTV, 8 p.m.): Fuhgeddaboudit! The shenanigans continue for a sixth season of this reality TV franchise entry.
“Nikki Bella Says I Do” (E!, 9 p.m.): The pro wrestler prepares to tie the knot with “Dancing With the Stars’” Artem Chigvintsev in this new four-part special.
“American Terror: Extremism in the Ranks” (Vice, 11 p.m.): This new docuspecial investigates the popularity of extremist ideology among some members of the U.S. military.