The live-action adaptation of the blockbuster Xbox video game franchise Halo scores at Paramount+. Joseph Gordon-Levitt will star as Johnny Carson in a biographical series. Lizzo will pull double-duty as host and musical guest in an upcoming episode of Saturday Night Live. A U2 series is in the works. Plus, trailers for The Godfather making-of series The Offer, A Very British Scandal, and anthology series Roar have arrived, and more of the biggest TV and streaming news of the past week.


Halo Bests Paramount+’s All-Time Viewership Record Globally

In its first 24 hours online, the first episode of video game adaptation Halo broke Paramount+’s record as the most-watched original series premiere worldwide. The Paramount+ original series is produced by Showtime, 343 Industries, and Amblin Television. Steven Spielberg serves as executive producer on the series.

“Bringing Halo to life as a streaming series has been one of the most rewarding efforts for Paramount+ to date and we could not be more thrilled at the massive fan response to the series’ debut,” Paramount+ Chief Programming Officer Tanya Giles said in a statement. “We cannot wait for fans to experience more of this incredible universe.”

Based on the Xbox gaming franchise, Halo has already been renewed for a second season. It stars Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief, one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time; Natascha McElhone as Dr. Halsey, the creator of the Spartan super soldiers; and Jen Taylor reprising her Halo game series role as artificial intelligence Cortana, which is potentially the key to humanity’s survival. The series also stars Bokeem Woodbine, Shabana Azmi, Natasha Culzac, Olive Gray, Yerin Ha  Bentley Kalu, Kate Kennedy, Charlie Murphy, and Danny Sapani. Also joining the cast as original characters are Ryan McParland, Burn Gorman, and Fiona O’Shaughnessy.

The series takes place in the universe that first debuted in 2001 with the first Halo game and dramatizes a 26th-century conflict between humanity and an alien threat known as the Covenant. The Halo video game franchise has sold more than 82 million copies worldwide and grossed more than $6 billion in lifetime total sales revenue.

NEW TRAILERS: The Offer: 10-Episode Paramount+ Series Celebrates The Godfather 50th Anniversary by Unfolding the Classic’s Making-Of Story

The Offer is the limited series that unfolds the backstory of the making of Oscar winner The Godfather, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Stars Miles Teller, Matthew Goode, Juno Temple, Giovanni Ribisi, Dan Fogler, Colin Hanks, and Patrick Gallo. Premieres April 28. (Paramount+)

More trailers and teasers released this week:

• A Very British Scandal, a limited series starring Claire Foy and Paul Bettany, tells the true story of the brutal, scandalous divorce of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll. Premieres April 22. (Prime Video)
• Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story is a documentary about the late, beloved British TV host who turned out to be a serial sexual abuser of hundreds of children at the height of his fame. Premieres April 5. (Netflix)
• The Survivor is the Barry Levinson-directed HBO movie starring Ben Foster in the true story of Harry Haft, who was sent to Auschwitz and not only survived the horrors of the camp, but also of being forced into gladiator-style boxing matcheswith his fellow prisoners. Haft was boosted by a will to survive for the love of his life. Premieres April 27. (HBO)

• Roar is the dark comedy anthology about eight women, with fresh genre stories told through each woman’s eyes. Stars Nicole Kidman, Issa Rae, Merritt Weaver, Cynthia Erivo, Alison Brie, and Betty Gilpin. Premieres April 15. (Apple TV+)
• Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns for season 13 in its own virtual theater! Premieres May 6. (Gizmoplex)
• Killing It is the new comedy series starring Craig Robinson in a story about class, capitalism and one man’s quest to achieve the American dream. And also about hunting really big snakes. From Dan Goor and Luke Del Tredici, it premieres April 14. (Peacock)
• City on a Hill season 3 begins with Jackie starting a new gig, working security for a wealthy family. Stars Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge. Premieres July 10. (Showtime)

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CASTING: Joseph Gordon-Levitt Will Star in a Johnny Carson Bio Written by Deadwood David Milch and Austin Powers Director Jay Roach

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

(Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Vulture)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is going to star in King of Late Night, a series that will be pitched to streaming and cable networks, about legendary talk show host Johnny Carson. Deadwood creator David Milch has been writing the project for five years, and Austin Powers and Meet the Parents director Jay Roach will, along with Gordon-Levitt, executive produce the project. King of Late Night will follow Carson’s career from New York to Los Angeles (with time spent in Las Vegas), and highlight Carson’s gift for connection with his audiences, as well as the “more colorful aspects” of his personal life. (Deadline)

Christina Ricci, who so brilliantly played Wednesday Addams in the 1991 The Addams Family movie and its 1993 sequel Addams Family Values, will play “a major part” in Tim Burton’s live-action Netflix Addams Family series Wednesday. (Deadline)

Back to the Future and Taxi legend Christopher Lloyd will guest star in the third season of Disney+’s The Mandalorian, but reports details of his character “are being kept locked in the trunk of a Delorean.”

Laurie Metcalf has joined season 2 of HBO comedy Hacks, along with Margaret Cho, Ming-Na Wen, and Martha Kelly, who will join best comedy actress Emmy winner Jean Smart and co-star Hannah Einbinder.

NYPD Blue star Jimmy Smits will star in the CBS drama pilot East New York, playing police chief John Suarez, “whose experience, commanding presence, and strong moral center helps oversee the melding of communities and the precincts that serve them,” Deadline reports. Amanda Warren stars opposite Smits as the new deputy inspector of the titular impoverished NYC neighborhood, while Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Richard Kind also star.

Mckenna Grace (The Handmaid’s Tale) will star alongside Anna Paquin, Colin Hanks, Jake Lacy, and Lio Tipton in Peacock’s true crime limited drama A Friend of the Family, about the Broberg family, whose daughter Jan was kidnapped multiple times across several years by an obsessed family “friend.”

The CW has cast the leads for its Supernatural sequel The Winchesters, with Meg Donnelly and Drake Rodger playing Mary and John Winchester, whose sons are Sam and Dean Winchester, the main characters on Supernatural. Jensen Ackles, who played Dean and is an executive producer on the spin-off, will narrate The Winchesters pilot.

Another Supernatural alum, Misha Collins, has lined up his next project: He’ll play Harvey Dent in The CW pilot for Gotham Knights.

Lizzo at SXSW 2022

(Photo by Chris Saucedo/Getty Images for SXSW)

Upcoming Saturday Night Live hosts: comedian Jerrod Carmichael with musical guest Gunna on April 2; Jake Gyllenhaal with music guest Camila Cabello on April 9; and on April 16, Lizzo does double duty as host and musical guest.

Black Lightning star Cress Williams has joined Scott Bakula in the pilot for NBC’s Unbroken, a family drama about ranch families on the central coast of California.

GLOW Emmy nominee Betty Gilpin will star in the Peacock drama Mrs. Davis, a drama written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof and The Big Bang Theory writer Tara Hernandez, about a nun (Gilpin) who is pitted against a powerful artificial intelligence.

Gabrielle Union will star with Octavia Spencer in season 3 of Apple TV+’s anthology series Truth Be Told, about the world of true-crime podcasts. (Deadline)

Domenick Lombardozzi, Max Casella, Vincent Piazza, and Jay Will have been added to the cast of Tulsa King, the Sylvester Stallone mobster drama created by Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan. 

Steven Weber is returning to his role as Dr. Dean Archer on Chicago Med’s eighth season.

Geena Davis has left CBS’s untitled mother-son legal drama. Deadline reports, and Marcia Gay Harden has taken over the role that will pair her with Skylar Astin as her character’s son.

Harry Hamlin will star in AMC’s Anne Rice adaptation Mayfair Witches, playing the patriarch of the Mayfair clan, Cortland Mayfair. (Deadline)

Life in Pieces star Zoe Lister-Jones has created and will star in the Roku comedy series Slip, about Mae Cannon (Lister-Jones), a 30-something who finds herself restless inside a marriage that totally works. The series will follow Mae through a fantastical journey of parallel universes, as she enters new relationships, trying to find her way back to her partner, and ultimately, herself. Lister-Jones will also write and direct all seven episodes. The series is also the first from Dakota Johnson’s production company, TeaTime Pictures.

Natasha Henstridge has joined the cast of The CW’s Charmed, where she’ll play Diana, who is revealed to be a Whitelighter, even though Harry (Rupert Evans)was thought to be the only one. (Variety)

Good Girls and Parenthood star Mae Whitman will star in Up Here, a Hulu musical romantic comedy written by written by Tick, Tick… Boom! and Dear Evan Hansen writer Steven Levenson and set in New York City. The eight-episode series will revolve around Lindsay (Whitman), who leaves her Vermont home to move to NYC and find out who she wants to be. (Deadline)

PRODUCTION & DEVELOPMENT: J.J. Abrams Producing Scripted Series About U2 at Netflix

U2 in 2019

(Photo by Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

J.J. Abrams, via his Bad Robot Productions, is collaborating with Netflix to develop a scripted series about Irish rock band U2. THR reports. The project is in the early stages, and will be written by Oscar-nominated writer Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody). U2, fronted by Bono and known for hits “With or Without You,” “Beautiful Day,” and “Vertigo,” is said to be involved with the project.

Amazon and Imagine Documentaries are teaming up for a documentary on Judy Blume, one of the most beloved children’s and YA authors ever. The film will span 50 years and all the many young people who have loved Blume and her books, including Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing, Blubber, Deenie, Superfudge, Forever, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. The doc will also examine the occasional controversies of her books, including surrounding sex and puberty (who among us didn’t pass around a copy of Forever with our friends?). Blume’s books sold more than 90 million copies. (Variety)

Possibly coming to a country near you: Netflix is experimenting with the idea of charging customers a fee if they want to share their passwords with family and friends. (THR)

We’d still rather have Isaac the bartender shoot us the finger guns and be greeted by Gopher the purser, but this could be fun, too: CBS is ordering The Real Love Boat, a dating series in which people will compete to win a chance at love and cash aboard a Princess Cruises ship for a month-long excursion of destination dates, challenges, and the test of chemistry and compatibility.

(Photo by Netflix)

The first-look images for Stranger Things season 4 doesn’t reveal exactly what the teens are looking at, but they suggest it’s something that’s scaring the bejesus out of them. The season kicks off on May 27, and is split into two parts, with part 2 premiering on July 1. (See the photos and read more about the new season here.)

The 10-day OutFest festival in Los Angeles in April will debut the documentary Keep the Cameras Rolling: The Pedro Zamora Way, a new doc by filmmakers William T, Horner and Stacey Woeful about The Real World: San Francisco cast member and AIDS activist Zamora, one of the first openly gay, HIV-positive men featured prominently in pop culture. Zamora, who spent his time teaching and helping others about HIV on and off-camera, and memorably married his love, the late Sean Sasser, on the series, tragically died shortly after RW: SF’s 1994 series finale.

David Spade is debuting his first Netflix comedy special, Nothing Personal, on April 26.

After a lot of drama, and sinking ratings – both of which led to the series skipping its signature reunion specials for season 13 – Bravo has decided to completely recast The Real Housewives of New York City, and create a sequel series that will feature a cast made up of former cast members; that is, they’re firing everyone, but possibly rehiring some of them. (Variety)

Good Morning America host and NFL vet Michael Strahan is executive producing The Front Line, a drama pilot ABC is developing about a pro football player who leaves sports behind to become a medical resident. There are several real-life athletes-turned-medical professionals whose career swaps have inspired the feel-good series. (Variety)

And another source for free classic TV: YouTube, which has added 100 ad-supported TV series, and roughly 4,000 episodes. Available only to YouTube users in the United States. Among the shows available: Hell’s Kitchen, Heartland, Unsolved Mysteries, 21 Jump Street, and Iron Chef, and YouTube will continue to add 100 new shows a week as it moves to compete with other ad-supported TV services like IMDbTV, Pluto TV, and Tubi.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Nearly 21 years after the first Halo video game hit Xbox (and changed the gaming world forever), the highly-anticipated Halo TV series is finally set to arrive on Friday, March 24, on Paramount+. The program follows Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 — known simply as “Master Chief,” the franchise’s iconic cybernetically-altered super-soldier — as he defends humanity from a militant alliance of alien races known as The Covenant. Pablo Schreiber (American Gods, Orange Is the New Black) steps into Master Chief’s boots and armor and leads a diverse cast that includes Natascha McElhone as Dr. Catherine Halsey, Yerin Ha as Kwan Ah, Bokeem Woodbine as Soren-066, Shabana Azmi as Admiral Margaret Parangosky, Danny Sapani as Captain Jacob Keyes, Charlie Murphy as Makee, and Jen Taylor as the voice of Cortana.

Paramount+ has already renewed the program for a second season, showing the streamer has high hopes for the project. So, does the sci-fi series live up to the hype? Here’s what critics, who were provided with screeners of two episodes for review, are saying about Halo:

How does it compare to the video games?

Halo season 1 keyart

(Photo by Paramount+)

What I can say is that it is more ambitious in scope than I expected, but in becoming so it veers away from the original games. – Kevin Fox, Jr., Paste Magazine

Watching the first two episodes of the series feels similar to listening to a song that has sampled an iconic piece of music. The notes and some of the lyrics are immediately recognizable, but the shell wrapped around it is entirely original. The result is a series that manages to evoke many of the core themes and the visuals of the video games while also delivering a compelling narrative that’s more driven by its character’s motivations than chasing objective markers highlighted on a Heads-Up Display. – Brad Lang, CBR

Seeing the world through a vacant perspective might work for a game in which the audience has its own agency, but not for a show that requires its own point of view. In its first two episodes, “Halo” doesn’t quite have that yet. But as another entrant in the ever expanding “Halo” universe, it at least has enough ambition to make it worth a closer look. – Caroline Framke, Variety

Based on the two episodes provided for review, developers Kyle Killen (Awake) and Stephen Kane (The Last Ship) have opted not to straightforwardly adapt the scope and grandeur of the games to a television format, but to graft the lore, characters, and aesthetic of Halo onto the rhythms and tropes of sci-fi/fantasy streaming shows that came before. – Clint Worthington, Consequence

Paramount+’s Halo series marks an interesting departure for the franchise. Up until now, all the Halo media — the games, the novels, the comics, the previous live-action web series — has taken place within the same continuity. Halo has always taken the Star Wars approach of emphasizing a unified, cross-media shared universe. However, this live-action series breaks tradition by establishing its own continuity separate from that of the games and their various tie-ins. Even after one episode, it’s clear that approach was the right call. – Jesse Schedeen, IGN Movies

How are the action and production value?

Pablo Schreiber as Master Chief in Halo Season 1

(Photo by Adrienn Szabo/Paramount+)

For a show based on an action franchise, though, Halo tends to be pretty skimpy on the shooting in the early going. Watching the SPARTANs calmly disassemble the Covenant Elites is admittedly thrilling, but it’s also over pretty quickly—leaving behind an impression of well-choreographed action, but cheap CGI. (Later close-ups on some of the Covenant’s leaders will show a more delightfully grotesque attention to chin-wattle detail, but the base alien soldiers often just look like football players with globs of CGI applied to their domes.) – William Hughes, AV Club

The action feels more like watching kids play with their toys than slickly choreographed cinema, but the money invested in this massive production is certainly up on screen. – Ben Travers, IndieWire

While the copious amounts of alien CGI are convincing enough and the fight choreography feels lifted right out of the game engines (regenerative shielding and melee attacks, game-accurate plasma rifles, and aerial ships!), this entire sequence unintentionally highlights the inherent restrictions of bringing material designed and created for video games into the uncanny valley of live-action. No matter how the sound design tries to sell it, neither the Spartans nor the Elites come with any actual weight or dramatic heft. – Jeremy Mathai, Slashfilm

I’m apprehensive by nature, but I’m enamored by the cast and generally impressed by the composition of the design. A lot of expensive projects end up looking cheap these days, but when I say it feels more like a high-end SyFy show than a low-end HBO show, I don’t mean the production values are bad; but rather, that this collaboration between Showtime and Amblin Entertainment does feel, in its bones, like it’s made for people that want to visit the world of the Halo franchise. – Kevin Fox, Jr., Paste Magazine

What about the writing and story pacing?

Given the wealth of lore needed to understand the looming events of the series, the first couple of episodes occasionally become bogged down in exposition dumps that aren’t necessarily communicated effectively. – Brad Lang, CBR

If the action in the first two episodes of “Halo” comes with a series of drawbacks, then the plot itself fares a little better. Rather than retreading narrative ground told elsewhere in franchise lore (like author Eric Nylund’s novel “Halo: The Fall of Reach” or the video game prequel “Halo: Reach”), the Paramount+ series boldly strikes out on new ground entirely — even if the scope and scale of the story at this point seems bizarrely limited. – Jeremy Mathai, Slashfilm

The series is so concerned with making sure that new fans understand this world of Spartans, Covenant foes, artifacts, and shady military dealings that it often chooses to over explain rather than let this new story breathe. Unfortunately, room to breathe is what Halo seems to need the most. – Kayla Cobb, Decider

How is Pablo Schreiber’s performance?

There are trees smaller than Schreiber, but his best performances have a wiry small-guy energy, like James Cagney woke up one morning in the body of an Eastern European power forward. Master Chief isn’t a completely thankless role — he shows his face more than you’d think — but any actor would look shrunken inside the Spartan mega-armor. – Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

Schreiber is, indeed, the most interesting thing about Halo—which isn’t necessarily saying all that much. – William Hughes, AV Club

Schreiber is decent in the early outings of Master Chief’s identity crisis, though nowhere near as immediately charismatic or deftly written as, say, Pedro Pascal’s wry “Star Wars” warrior. – Caroline Framke, Variety

Schreiber’s performance is about as good as one could hope considering his character is concealed beneath hundreds of pounds of reinforced titanium armor at all times. His voice and posture are enough to always make it clear what John is thinking and feeling at any given time. That said, let’s hope the series is a little more liberal than The Mandalorian when it comes to showing the main character’s face. – Jesse Schedeen, IGN Movies

What about the rest of the cast?

Yerin Ha as Kwan Ha in Halo Season 1, streaming on Paramount+ 2022. Photo credit: Paramount+

(Photo by Paramount+)

All of the actors playing UNSC officials and scientists are stuck delivering clumsy dialogue clumsily, and it’s only Natascha McElhone, as Spartan mastermind Dr. Halsey, who contributes a hint of mania that counts loosely as personality. As a human with some power with the Covenant, Irish actress Charlie Murphy is enigmatic enough for me to want more details about the character’s origins — perhaps the only piece of the storyline to evoke any curiosity at all. – Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

McElhone’s Dr. Halsey is another early highlight. The premiere dives right into her unusual status within the UNSC, a brilliant scientist with more than a few skeletons in her closet and the closest thing the Spartans have to a mother. She’s clearly not a figure who’s fully trusted by her military peers, and the series gives us little reason to trust her either. McElhone conveys the quietly ruthless, self-serving nature of Dr. Halsey very well. – Jesse Schedeen, IGN Movies

Kwan (Yerin Ha), a young colonist who sees her entire village wiped out by a group of elites, deserves special attention. She’s a fantastic foil to John-117, introducing a fiery rage that pairs well with his stoic determination. Their dynamic, while unconventional for Halo, works better than expected, allowing audiences to see a gentler side of John-117 that is rarely on display. Kwan also acts as a serviceable anchor for audiences who may be unfamiliar with the lore as she learns of a conflict that has been hidden from her for her whole life. – Brad Lang, CBR

Similarly, there’s Charlie Murphy Makee, a human member of the Covenant who opposes her own race. She’s a character so riddled with contradictions that she’s immediately interesting, and Murphy’s acidic performance highlights her mysteries at every turn. – Kayla Cobb, Decider

Any final thoughts?

​​Worth remembering that one of the first Halo game’s sharpest decisions was an act of genre-stripping moderation. Players could only carry two weapons at a time, an invitation to careful strategy. In TV form, so far Halo’s all assault rifle but no direct hits. – Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

Creators Kyle Killen and Steven Kane have adapted Halo in a way that basically renders it — with the emphasis on “basic” — a clone of The Mandalorian (or Sweet Tooth or The Road or Lone Wolf and Cub). Boasting no technological innovation to speak of, few performances to offer meaningful grounding and only limited action thrills, Halo is aggressively forgettable, which is at least several steps up from “bad.” – Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter

Packed with action, adventure, and so many video game references, this series is a fan’s dream come true…but also a great introduction to the franchise for newcomers. – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

This “Halo” series isn’t a one-to-one adaptation of the game by any means, which is sure to turn diehard fans away. It’s not particularly successful so far at forging its own path on its own merits, either, which might not appeal to those looking for a satisfying story. But at the very least, the foundation and the good intentions exist to make up for a slow start. In his time, the Master Chief has overcome much worse odds than that. – Jeremy Mathai, Slashfilm

With gorgeous production design, impressive visuals and thrilling action — not to mention a solid cast and a healthy respect for its roots as one of the most successful video game franchises in history — Halo is off to a very auspicious beginning. – Brent Hankins, The Lamplight Review

A surprising taste for cruelty isn’t a substitute for adequate use of a budget, and the end result is something that’s going to be at least a little repulsive to both fans of the game series—likely to be turned off by a universe that only sort of looks like the one they’ve spent hundreds of hours blasting their way through—and more general sci-fi fans looking for their next fix. – William Hughes, AV Club

Halo (2022) works for me, and I hope it works for you, or at very least you open yourself to allowing a new story to be told for a franchise we all hold dear. – Kate Sánchez, But Why Tho? A Geek Community

What we see is intriguing and demonstrates how there is a lot of potential for this Halo adaptation to thrive where many other forgotten attempts have failed. – Chase Hutchinson, Collider

70% Halo: Season 1 (2022) premieres on Thursday, March 24, on Paramount+.

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