BIG RELEASE: Identity Thief (Feb. 8)
THE BIG PICTURE: It's Trading Places (remember when Eddie Murphy used to be funny?) meets Planes, Trains and Automobiles (BTW: If John Candy were still with us, I wouldn't be speaking about him being funny in the past tense). For those born after 1990, it's Due Date meets George Michael Bluth's dad meets that hilarious plus-sized woman who cussed, burped and farted her way through Bridesmaids. Melissa McCarthy and Jason Bateman join forces in this hybrid of two Hollywood staples: the road trip and the identity switcheroo. McCarthy plays Diana, a deceptively harmless deviant and Bateman plays Sandy, a -- you guessed it! -- mild-mannered, buttoned-up guy (he really needs to branch out). When Diana steals Sandy's identity, and goes on a spending spree, he heads to Florida to bring her back and clear his name.
FORECAST: McCarthy will play scene-stealer yet again, and Bateman is the perfect foil. He is the best straight man in the biz. Identity Thief warms us up for Bateman's return in Arrested Development's all-new season on Netflix. Other road trip movie combos I'd like to see in the future: Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston; Tommy Lee Jones and Clint Eastwood (Grumpy Old Men 3?); Charlie Sheen and a bottle of absinthe.
HONOURABLE MENTION: Side Effects (Feb. 8). Starring Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones, this drama tells the tale of a woman who turns to prescription meds to ease her anxiety over her husband's prison release. Coincidentally, I've turned to prescription meds as a way to handle my anxiety about not having abs like Channing Tatum.
BIG EVENT: Community (Feb. 7, City, NBC, 8 p.m.)
BIG PICTURE: Greendale College is finally back in session. You can "thank" NBC for the delay. The network pulled the cult sitcom from its fall schedule at the last second. Enjoy this 13-episode season while it lasts -- this time really, really could be the audience-challenged series' final run. Gone is Dan Harmon, series creator and show runner -- so the show's web-savvy fans will be ready to pounce on any changes in tone and structure. Even co-star Chevy Chase was fired/quit (depending on who you ask) before this season wrapped filming. But none of that really matters. The important thing is that the most innovative, endlessly-surprising 30 minutes of comedy on TV has returned.
FORECAST: Before the series becomes history, Season 4 will find the gang studying history (under the tutelage of guest star Malcolm McDowell). New escapades will include a Halloween episode at Pierce's (Chase) mansion and Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) finally facing off against his estranged dad (James Brolin). Sounds like a full syllabus. Form your study group now.
HONOURABLE MENTION: The Job (Feb. 8, CBS, 8 p.m.) Most job interviews aren't exactly must-see TV (with the possible exception of auditions for Lindsay Lohan's personal assistant), but that hasn't stopped reality TV guru Mark Burnett from making a show about them.
BIG RELEASE ON FEB. 5: Hayden (Us Alone)
BIG PICTURE: The Eeyore of Canadian indie rock returns after his seventh studio album -- his first with the Arts & Crafts label. No one makes melancholy and self-reflection seem so inviting. With an album that includes tracks titled Oh Memory and Old Dreams, Hayden is clearly up to his old tricks.
FORECAST: Us Alone will be pitch perfect (unless you're in a dance club). And now for a pop quiz. Is this an Eeyore quote or a Hayden lyric?: "One can't complain. I have my friends. Someone spoke to me only yesterday."
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Bjork (Bastards); Tim McGraw (Two Lanes of Freedom). Bjork wins my award for favourite album title of the year. Country's Tim McGraw wins my award for most clichéd album title of the year. Because there's nothing Americans love more than cars and freedom. The only thing that would have topped it was Two Lanes of Freedom While Firing Guns.
"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," but these days, a guide through the seemingly endless flurry of pop culture offerings is just what we need. With that in mind, here is what's on the radar screen in TV, music
and film for the
-- Chris Lackner