Story By: G. H. HARDING
Roger Ebert

LIFE ITSELF --- There was one show that growing up, I could never seem get enough of, At The Movies with film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. This half-hour program was so unusual on so many levels: Who were these upstart film critics, Siskel and Ebert, who brilliantly heightened the demeanor of film criticism. Siskel, from the Chicago Tribune, and Ebert, via the Chicago Sun Times, were rivals who were seemingly everywhere; be it Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show; magazines covers; or, Oprah. Siskel with his urbane flair and Ebert, rotund, stinging and succinct … they were an unexpected, but terrific match.

Siskel passed from brain cancer and Ebert developed cancer too which eventually robbed him of his jaw … and, his voice. This weekend I finally caught the movie (via director Steve James) of Life Itself, which chronicled Ebert’s improbable rise to superstardom … and, loved it.

Maybe it’s sharing Ebert’s love for the written word – he won the Pulitzer Prize- or, maybe it’s just recovering a prize memento of my youth, but the movie was so much more than just a biopic, it showed brilliantly the person Ebert was and became, from his youth to his travails in the newspaper industry to his success with Siskel.

It seems the two, who were thrust somewhat unexpectedly together, had a healthy dislike for each other, but like brothers, they too had a healthy respect. Siskel loved getting Roger’s goat –which he did quite often- but together, they were an unbeatable team. There were some outtakes from the show shown here, which are startling, but, not surprising.

I also loved the behind the scenes stories about the two; including Siskel’s burgeoning friendship with Hugh Hefner of all people. Says Siskel’s widow, “Gene lived the life that he and Roger talked about. He flew in the bunny jet.” I also loved the stories from the filmmaker’s that Ebert championed; some becoming lifelong friends.

Director Steve James benefited from an Ebert plaudit; he directed the brilliant movie 1994 Hoop Dreams.

There are the inevitable plaudits from fellow critics, who clearly realize they wouldn’t even be here without Siskel and Ebert and they do make some good points about how the two made film criticism respectable.

At the height of their fame, there must have been a dozen copy-cat shows; some good, but nowhere near the real thing.

If it's all about catching lighting in a bottle, Siskel and Ebert did. I can't recommend this picture highly enough.

SPACE ODDITY --- We watched CBS’ Extant starring Halle Berry over the weekend and just adored it. First: there’s a Lost-like vibe to the show which is terrifically engaging and second: unlike HBO’s The Leftovers, we got it immediately.

Btw: I think I'm giving The Leftovers one more shot – still having trouble figuring it all out.

In addition to serving up some serious heebie-jeebies and bringing Goran Visnjic back to the TV screen, the Steven Spielberg-produced thriller poses some big questions in its first outing. Among them: If a machine can fake love with precision and aplomb, does it really matter if the emotion isn't real? How much do we really know about what’s floating around in the gaping void just beyond our atmosphere?

The first episode, titled Re-entry — opens with a boy flying a toy spaceship around his room but stopping when he hears his mom throwing up in the bathroom. The woman is Molly. She recovers in time to attend a party in her honor later that day: After being away on a solo space mission for the past 13 months, the astronaut has returned to normal life with her husband John (Visnjic) and son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon, One Tree Hill). It’s all very normal and futuristic in the in five or 10 years from now.

But we soon get the sense that not everything is as normal as it first appears. When Molly takes out the trash later that evening, a shadowy figure appears on the street nearby, then disappears. Meanwhile, upstairs in Ethan’s bedroom, we learn that John and Molly’s son may look like a real (if creepy) boy, but he’s actually a robot – pardon me, a humanise prototype created by John, who hopes to get the funding to build many more.

Even weirder: When Molls visits with her doctor pal Sam, she gets some news – she’s pregnant. But I'm infertile she says! Molly protests. Still, the space-age EPT doesn't lie, and the gobsmacked mom-to-be begs Sam not to say anything to anyone just yet.

Flashback time! Throughout the episode, we see Molly in action during her mission. The footage looks very cool, and all seems to go according to plan until the computer craps out, the lights dim and she sees a shadowy figure ... who turns out to be her first husband -now deceased- Marcus.

The low hum of the machinery, the camera work, the weird-acting, possibly alien embodiment of Molly’s probably-dead former lover/husband Marcus… if you wanted to fill me with dread and fear, Extant, mission accomplished.

|John – flanked by his colleague Julie (Grace Gummer, The Newsroom) and Ethan – goes before the board of a big-deal corporation to ask it to back his project. What about a robot uprising? One of the board members queries, but John pooh-poohs the concern by stressing how his humanises are raised as humans and therefore pose no threat.

Another board member angers John with her questions about kill switches if the androids get out of control, and when he shoots back, Do you have a child? Do you have a plan to kill her? ... the meeting’s over.

Things look up when Hideki Yasumoto, the head of the company, invites John to his home and offers to privately finance the venture. Two things John doesn't know: Yasumoto is in league with Molly’s suspicious superiors, and Yasumoto was (until very recently) encased in goo and possibly kept in a state of stasis or something equally weird.

Of all the questions raised in Extant's first hour, we get at least one answer. When the shadowy figure once more approaches Molly at trash time, she sees that he’s her former colleague Harmon Kreiger, who allegedly killed himself after his own trip to the stars. And he’s got one piece of advice for her: Don’t trust them. Who, exactly, does he mean? Anyone. Houston, we have lots of problems.

We loved it and recommend it highly.

OVERLOOKED --- Here’s this year’s most grievously overlooked occurrences at The Emmys:

*The Good Wife: Not one broadcast network show broke into the best drama ranks. But critics say The Good Wife had a creatively strong season and deserved recognition — plus had a crafty Emmy campaign that pointed out the show has to make 22 episodes a season compared to other dramas like True Detective and Breaking Bad making only eight. What does this show have to do, shockingly kill off Josh Charles? Oh wait, it did that too!

*Brooklyn Nine-Nine: You can argue about whether Fox’s new comedy deserves a spot on the list. But after winning the Golden Globe for best comedy of the year, it definitely feels like a rebuke to not make the nomination cut. Same goes for star Andy Samberg — who won the Golden Globe for best comedy actor, yet nothing here. Perhaps Academy voters felt the show was over-honored by the Globes?

*Masters of Sex: Tough to argue against any of the nominations in the drama category. But when a program gets five nominations in other categories yet misses the top one, it feels like a bit of a snub.

*Charles Dance: You can point to several overlooked actors on Thrones that arguably deserved a nod, but possibly none more than Dance, who had his last chance to get nominated this year as tyrannical Tywin Lannister. Also: Fans thought Pedro Pascal as Prince Oberyn was a shoo-in for a guest actor nod, but nope.

*James Spader: NBC’s The Blacklist was one of broadcast’s few new bright spots this season, and Spader deserves so much of that credit for all his scene chewing. Really one of the most blatant errors I've ever witnessed. His is the best performance on TV. Spader rules!

*The Americans and Sons of Anarchy: Clearly Academy voters are watching FX, but two of the network’s best shows got squeezed out of most categories, with the absence of Americans co-star Matthew Rhys and Sons’ actress Maggie Siff being particularly painful. At least Americans’ Margo Martindale received a guest-star nod.

*Timothy Olyphant: Can’t say FX’s Justified deserves a slot this year above the other nominated dramas. But hopefully the Academy will someday once again recognize star Timothy Olyphant for his work on this show.

*Inside Amy Schumer: Missed out in the variety category, though nabbed a writing nom. If Wahlburgers and Million Dollar Listing New York can now get a series Emmy nomination (Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program, anyone?), so should Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer.

*Emmy Rossum: Her Shameless arc this season had fans buzzing. Besides, she has Emmy in her name!

Snubs runner-ups: Dean Norris in Breaking Bad (not much screen time, but amazing); Elisabeth Moss for AMC’s Mad Men; NBC’s Hannibal team; Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina for The Mindy Project; Vera Farmiga in A&E’s Bates Motel; and Peter Sarsgaard in AMC’s The Killing.

CLOSING NOTES --- Anyone ever hear about what happened to radio-caster Brett Winterble; musician Adrian Niles; or, writer James J. Kaufman?

Winterble interviewed Buzz Aldrin and Ted Nugent for God sakes and Niles had two of his songs featured in F/X's Justified.

Bad management ... bad judgement, or both? Amazing!

NBC's The Voice has picked up a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer for its fall season.

Stevie Nicks will be joining the competition program as an adviser for Adam Levine's team. In her new role, Nicks is working with Levine's chosen singers on their techniques and performances in preparation for the Battle Rounds which pairs down the contestants to finalists.

The current season of the show is being shot now with the selection process complete and the Battle Rounds about to be shot. The programs will be shown starting on September 22 leading to the live final rounds. This season's teams will be selected by Levine and Blake Shelton, who have been part of the show for all seven seasons, along with new team leaders Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams.

Nicks will be joining Fleetwood Mac, with returned member Christine McVie, on September 30 in Minneapolis for a 33-date North American tour …

Congrats to PR-pasha David Salidor who has just joined the board of the America’s Pop Music Hall of Fame.