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TV Talk: Pittsburgh-filmed 'Dear Zoe' debut; 'Blockbuster' streams; 'Links' comes to Starz

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Filmed-in-Pittsburgh coming-of-age-in-grief drama “Dear Zoe” certainly earns its Western Pennsylvania bonafides thanks to Pittsburgh native Marc Lhormer’s attention to local detail. It’s also a pleasant, heart-warming movie that, while about grief, doesn’t succumb to it.

In addition to the main story — teenager Tess’ letter to deceased little sister Zoe, whose death Tess feels responsible for — there’s also a love story between Tess and her father’s neighbor, teenager Jimmy (Kweku Collins); and plots about Tess’ relationship with her mom (Jessica Capshaw), dad (Theo Rossi) and sister Em (Vivien Lyra Blair).

Star Sadie Sink, a stand-out on “Stranger Things” since she joined the cast in season two, carries the film well and is sure to draw teen girls to “Dear Zoe.” Newcomer Kweku Collins makes a positive first impression and deserves more acting roles.

“Dear Zoe” is edgier than a Hallmark Channel movie, but with a similarly predictable plot. The film’s appeal is probably limited to a niche audience nationwide, but may broaden somewhat in Pittsburgh thanks to all the local details (Steelers, Penguins logos abound, a touch of Pittsburghese creeps into dialogue here and there).

“Dear Zoe” will be available Friday on video on demand for rental or purchase on cable and satellite systems and via streaming platforms (Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu, YouTube) as well as showing at some area movie theaters.


This new Netflix single-camera comedy set at the last Blockbuster on the planet — but in Michigan and not at the actual last Blockbuster in Bend, Ore. — wants badly (desperately?) to be a workplace comedy similar to “Superstore.”

“Blockbuster” is likeable enough thanks to a game cast, but in early episodes made available for review, it’s not all that funny.

Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat”) stars as Tim Yoon, manager of the Blockbuster store who has an unrequited love for his co-worker Eliza (Melissa Fumero, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), whose marriage is on the rocks ( again, shades of “Superstore”).

Now streaming its 10-episode first season, “Blockbuster” features a large cast of characters that populate this overstaffed video rental store, characters who begin to show their personalities in early episodes, particularly deadpan Kayla (Kamaia Fairburn).

“Walking into a dusty time capsule every day and having some gross dude in a ‘Gremlins’ T-shirt mutter, ‘You probably weren’t even born when this movie came out’ is honestly every 16-year-old’s dream,” Kayla says sarcastically about her Blockbuster job.

Credit series co-creator Vanessa Ramos (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Crashing”) with sticking with the premise and dealing with the repercussions of the store becoming the last Blockbuster. In episode two, Tim is faced with managing the store without support from corporate HQ, which no longer exists.

In its first scene, “Blockbuster” acknowledges it was the rise of Netflix and streaming that really brought an end to the video store era, but then later in the premiere weirdly pins the blame on a Netflix rival.

“We as a society have lost something huge: Each other,” Tim tells a TV news reporter. “Shopping, buying party supplies and even renting a movie used to be our chance to interact with a familiar face. But big corporations like Amazon stole that. It’s why people are so pissed off nowadays, because you can’t replace getting to know a person with a computer program.”

Tell that to the Netflix algorithm.

Starz gets ‘Dangerous’

It’s been more than three decades since the celebrated 1988 film “Dangerous Liaisons” starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, and while viewers have seen plenty of love triangle stories in the interim — most notably 1999’s “Cruel Intentions” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar , Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon — Starz revisits “Dangerous Liaisons” in a prequel series about lovers Marquise de Merteuil (Alice Englert) and the Vicomte de Valmont (Nicholas Denton).

Premiering at 8 pm Sunday, this new “Dangerous Liaisons” explores themes of sex, privilege, class and power, particularly of a woman navigating power in a man’s world.

“I was always aware of the movie and the book. I loved both and (1988 film co-writer) Christopher Hampton, who I’m a huge admirer of and he’s an exec on our show and a real champion of this interpretation,” said Harriet Warner, showrunner of the new “Dangerous Liaisons” during an August Starz press conference that was part of the Television Critics Association summer 2022 virtual press tour. “For me, going back to the book, I was really struck by one letter in particular, Letter 81, which is really about how Merteuil … created herself from nothing. She is a construct. Everything about her she has very consciously developed. And for me, I never saw that when I watched the movie. I didn’t pick it up the first time I read the book. But that really was the starting point to think, actually there’s a huge space here to reinvent something.”

Executive producer Collin Callender (“All Creatures Great and Small”) said Warner rooted the characters in their backstories.

“You have a sense that there’s a depth to them and there’s a history to them … in a way that isn’t quite there in the book,” he said.

Warner said in a TV series as opposed to a one-off film, the story can be told in a different way.

“The novel (is) very much an inspiration,” Warner said of “Dangerous Liaisons,” already renewed for a second season at Starz. “There are key scenes and key narrative drives from that novel that you will find in this show. Some of them are slightly repackaged, some of them come from a surprising angle. This is very much of the world of ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ but it’s a prelude to the novel. Our characters, over the course of hopefully multiple seasons, will get to that point that we meet them in the novel, (a point of) real moral compromise and corruption. And we go with them on that journey in season one but there is still innocence.”

Channel surfing

Season two of HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” premieres Dec. 1. … Amy Schumer hosts NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” this weekend (11:30 pm Saturday, WPXI-TV) with musical guest Steve Lacy. … Liam Hemsworth will replace Henry Cavill as the lead in Netflix’s “The Witcher” for its fourth season; season three will debut in 2023 … Pittsburgher Margaret Shelton got the final question correct on Wednesday night’s quarter-finals of the “Jeopardy!” tournament of champions, but her wager was not enough to overcome competitor Tyler Rhode who won the episode.

You can reach TV writer Rob Owen at or 412-380-8559. Follow Rob on Twitter or Facebook. Ask TV questions by email or phone. Please include your first name and location.