Roku Launching Original Talk Show Hosted by Randall Park

Roku, in collaboration with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, July 14 announced the premiere of “The Show Next Door,” a weekly talk show hosted by Randall Park (“Fresh Off The Boat,” The Interview), who sits down with actors, athletes, and musicians for conversation, games and comedy. The first two episodes of the six-episode series are streaming for free on ad-supported The Roku Channel.

Developed in partnership with Maker’s Mark and the Roku Brand Studio, “The Show Next Door” aims to stream the ambiance of having a quick drink with friends (who are of legal drinking age, of course) in the living room.

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Roku launched its Brand Studio in March to help marketers go beyond the traditional 30-second TV ad spot and amplify moments in the marketing calendar, including advertiser-commissioned short- and mid-form TV programs, interactive video ads, and other branded content on The Roku Channel.

Each episode of “The Show Next Door” takes place in Park’s “living room,” and begins with him crafting a favorite cocktail during his opening monologue. Season One guests include Tony Hale, former NFL star Terrell Owens, Fortune Feimster, Jason Mraz, Mark Duplass and Gina Yashere, among others.

“I always wondered what it would be like to host a talk show, and now I know — it’s super fun,” Park said in a statement.

The show’s focus is based on consumer insight, with Roku saying comedy content has performed particularly well on The Roku Channel. In the first quarter of 2021, Roku saw streaming hours for comedy content grow 798% on the platform compared to the first quarter of 2020.

“We turned to the Roku Brand Studio because we want to go beyond the traditional ad experience on the largest screen in the home,” said KK Hall, global senior marketing director for Maker’s Mark.

Brian Toombs, head of content at Roku Brand Studio, said “The Show Next Door” is an example of moving beyond the traditional 30-second ad and creating a “fun and uplifting” comedy so an advertiser reaches streamers
whether they are watching ad-supported or subscription-only content.

The show will be available to stream for free on The Roku Channel and across Marker’s Mark social media channels. Starcom USA, which oversees media on behalf of Maker’s Mark, developed the partnership alongside Roku and Maker’s Mark.

WandaVision

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Disney+/Marvel;
Sci-Fi/Fantasy;
Not rated;
Stars Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Parris, Randall Park, Kat Dennings, Josh Stamberg, Julian Hilliard, Jett Klyne, Evan Peters.

The way it plays out, WandaVision could leave viewers both glad to welcome the return of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after a year-and-a-half hiatus, and cautiously optimistic about its future following the events of Avengers: Endgame.

However, it’s definitely a fitting choice for Marvel Studios’ first direct foray into television with MCU content (previous shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Netflix “Defenders” group were supposedly set in the MCU as well, but they were produced by a different studio division and their canon-status has fallen into doubt).

Due to the pandemic, the last MCU release before this was Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019. Since then, Marvel has been preparing a slate of Disney+ shows, but its schedule has been rearranged a bit, most notably the delay of the Black Widow movie for more than a year.

Thus it is that “Phase Four” of the MCU kicks off with WandaVision on the small screen.

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WandaVision embraces its television origins, as several episodes pay homage to classic sitcoms of the past. Right off the bat, viewers are treated to what sounds like a typical 1950s family sitcom theme song, revealing that Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and The Vision (Paul Bettany) of the Avengers are now married and moving into a house in the suburbs. This of course raises many questions, as Vision died in Avengers: Infinity War.

In fact, the first three episodes are devoted to parodying the sitcom format, from the 1950s in episode one, to the 1960s in episode two, and the 1970s in episode three, complete with bespoke title tunes and elaborate credit sequences. There are hints of the outside world trying to break into whatever reality we’re watching before we finally get a sense of what’s happening in episode four. It’s a slow burn, but worth it. Heck, the stylings of classic TV should be enough of a draw, especially for viewers who enjoy identifying all the tropes on display and guessing where the show’s creators drew inspiration. My favorite is the 1980s-style in episode five, particularly the pitch-perfect ’80s-style theme song.

For the rest of the nine episodes, the limited series slips back and forth between TV parody and the outside world trying to figure out why an energy field has turned a small town in New Jersey into an evolving sitcom. The team trying to figure things out involves a number of established MCU characters, from Randall Park as FBI Agent Jimmy Woo from Ant-Man and The Wasp, to Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis from the “Thor” movies, and Teyonah Parris as the grown up Monica Rambeau from Captain Marvel.

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The show will likely take a few rewatches for fans to truly appreciate it, especially when placed in the context of the future movies and TV shows it sets up. Some mixed reaction after its finale probably stems from the usual debate over releasing streaming shows for bingeing or week-to-week. As with all its shows, Disney+ released WandaVision as a weekly over the course of two months, allowing the mystery to build up and the audiences questions to mount as so many plot twists and revelations episode-to-episode fueled fan speculation about what was going on and who the new characters would turn out to be. Given the rabid expectations that had been built up for the ending, what turns out to be a low-key finale may not have sated the appetites of hardcore fans, and leaves a few questions hanging. Maybe they will be addressed when this story supposedly picks up in the next “Spider-Man” and “Doctor Strange” movies over the next couple of years. Maybe not. But there is no doubt that the show’s craftsmanship is impeccable.

I suspect those bingeing WandaVision going forward will not have the same issues with the slow buildup, since they won’t be waiting the whole week for answers, and the show will play more like a five-hour movie.

Still, the show is a trove of references to previous MCU movies involving Wanda and Vision, and the comics on which they are based. The performances are uniformly excellent, particularly Elizabeth Olsen as the heart of the series, both the sitcoms that seem built around her and WandaVision itself. She does a great job playing to each period while also bringing depth to her character at those times when the illusions are broken, as Wanda starts to learn the true limits of her powers, which may not have originated from where the audience has been led to believe. 

Kathryn Hahn is a delight as Agnes, Wanda’s nosy neighbor who keeps popping up and opportune times and turns out to be more important to Wanda’s fake reality than it seems. And Evan Peters, who played the “X-Men” movies version of the speedster Quicksilver, Wanda’s brother (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the MCU) provides what could have been Marvel’s most meta cameo ever had the show pushed the implications of it to their natural storytelling conclusions rather than walking it back a bit with subsequent revelations.

And then there’s Paul Bettany, the veteran character actor who took on a small voiceover role as Tony Stark’s computer system in the original Iron Man, which blossomed into one of the key characters on the Avengers, to the strange but satisfying offbeat superhero love story of WandaVision. It just goes to show you never know where the smallest decisions could lead when you’re making it up as you go along. But that’s the kind of thing the MCU excels at, constantly.

Ant-Man and The Wasp

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 10/16/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $216.42 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for for some sci-fi action violence.
Stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas.

The 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe arrived in a somewhat awkward position for the franchise. Coming off the dire circumstances of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp offers more of the lighthearted, fun romp first served up in 2015’s Ant-Man. It’s certainly a shift in tone for dedicated Marvel watchers, but also serves as a satisfactory palate cleanser for the despair that “Avengers” movie dished out.

Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man wasn’t in Infinity War, and this movie delves into what he was up to as Thanos was preparing to battle the rest of the Avengers. Under house arrest as a result of the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Rudd) is once again recruited by the father-daughter science whiz team of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly), who are now fugitives because Lang used their shrinking technology to help Captain America fight Iron Man.

Hank needs Scott’s help to locate his wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the quantum realm, where she vanished 30 years ago after going too microscopic to return. Hope, meanwhile, has become The Wasp, fulfilling the setup from the first film for her to don a shrinking suit of her own.

However, their efforts have attracted some unwanted attention in the form of a criminal (Walton Goggins) who wants to get his hands on their technology, and a girl (Hannah John-Kamen) who needs energy from the quantum realm to reverse the effects of an accident that is causing her to phase out of existence.

Scott, meanwhile, has to avoid getting caught by the authorities by making sure he’s back home before they stop by for an inspection, lest he be sent back to prison for 20 years.

Director Peyton Reed takes advantage of the size-shifting premise to present both some very funny gags and some inventive action sequences. Reed says in an introduction to the film and his feature-length commentary that one of his main goals on the sequel was to really take advantage of the different perspectives that shrinking and growing can offer, much more than he did in the first film.

The film also sets up how Rudd will make his way into the fourth “Avengers” film, leaving even more clues with which fans can speculate about how the whole Thanos saga will be resolved next year.

For the here and now, though, the Ant-Man and The Wasp Blu-ray includes more than 20 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes with some good insights about establishing the characters in this new story, plus how the production design team mixed practical and CG effects to create sets and sequences that immerse the viewer into a world where the scale of everyday items is often out of whack.

The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes running about a minute each, which are interesting on their own but weren’t essential to the overall story. Then there are about four minutes of gag reels, including a minute of Stan Lee’s outtakes trying different lines for his cameo.

The digital editions include an exclusive eight-minute retrospective on the concept artists of the now 10-year-old MCU, plus a minute-long commercial for a company at the center of one of the film’s key running gags. Vudu also offers a two-and-a-half-minute featurette about Reed.