Celebrity Entertaiment

Get ready to hear a lot more about comedian Yassir Lester

You’ll be seeing and hearing a lot of Yassir Lester in the next few months (and beyond).

The writer/comedian/performer makes his animated debut Feb. 16 on Fox’s comedy “Duncanville” — opposite Amy Poehler, Ty Burrell and Rashida Jones — and returns in mid-March as Yassir X on Don Cheadle’s Showtime comedy “Black Monday.” (He also writes for the series, about a funky Wall Street trading firm in the days leading up to the October 1987 stock market crash.)

“I’m not going to say I’m not tired, but at the same time, you work to get to a certain level and once you’re there you don’t let your foot off the gas until you retire,” says Lester, 35, whose bursting resume includes writing for “Girls” and “Mrs. Fletcher” (HBO), “The Carmichael Show” (NBC) and “Detroiters” (Comedy Central). He’s also co-starred with Adam Pally and Leighton Meester on Fox’s “Making History” and has a busy stand-up career.

“It’s a bit of a high-wire act,” he says. “I take two jobs at once; I was doing ‘Duncanville’ and ‘Black Monday’ at the same time and had to leave early or show up late to ‘Black Monday’ while I was doing my voice for ‘Duncanville.’ And after that I hopped onto something else.

Paul Scheer as Keith, Horatio Sanz as Wayne and Yassir Lester as Yassir in "Black Monday."
Paul Scheer as Keith, Horatio Sanz as Wayne and Yassir Lester as Yassir in “Black Monday.”Erin Simkin/Showtime

“When I was writing for ‘Girls’ I was also writing for ‘The Carmichael Show,’ so it was mornings for ‘Girls’ and afternoons for ‘Carmichael,’” he says. “If I wake up one day when I’m 50 and I’m weirdly paralyzed, I’ll know why.”

“Duncanville,” co-created by Poehler, centers around a teen named Duncan (voiced by Poehler) who lives a fairly normal suburban life with his mother (Poehler again), ponytailed father (Burrell) and two sisters (Riki Lindhome, Joy Osmanski). He has a vivid imagination, aided and abetted by his pals: get-rich-quick schemer Yangzi (Lester), slacker Wolf (Zach Cherry) and class clown Bex (Betsy Sodaro). Rashida Jones (“Angie Tribeca”) plays Duncan’s crush, Mia.

“Yangzi is the hustler of the group, for better or worse, the one always looking for an opportunity to make money,” says Lester. “He can get his friends into concerts because he’s doing like 12 Instagram sponsorships for some weird energy drink or something, and he wears gold chains. He’s designed to look like me — he even wears my glasses and my outfits.”

The cast on "Duncanville."
The cast on “Duncanville.”Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Lester says that working with “Duncanville” co-creator Mike Scully helped him land the role.

“The moment this show was even an idea, he asked me to audition,” he says. “He sent me an email and was like, ‘What was that weird character with the weird voice you used to do in the ‘Carmichael’ writers’ room? Can you do that voice?’ So I did that a few times into a recorder, and that’s it. I got the role. I’m just acting like that guy behind you in the grocery store.

“This was the first time I met Amy [Poehler],” he says. “You know that anticipation when you meet people you admire, that they’re not going to be a cool as you think they are? Amy absolutely lived up to all my expectations and Rashida [Jones] is so funny.

“I’m giving a shout-out to everyone,” he says “This is the most incredible cast.”

Lester says Season 2 of “Black Monday,” premiering March 15, will find all the main characters, including Yassir X, continuing their journeys in very different directions.

“We can explore a little more,” he says. “Yassir and Wayne [Horatio Sanz] are kind of the dirty dynamic duo of the show and they get into an entirely different subplot in Season 2. You’ll see how they effect one another and the plotline of the show. You’ll also see Mo’s [Cheadle] return and the way that Blair [Andrew Rannells] goes from being a sweet boy to who he becomes in Season 2.

“The show is such a weird balance of comedy, drama and action — even more so this season.”

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Celebrity Entertaiment

Here are the most anticipated shows of winter 2020

Winter TV season is upon us.

From popes to aliens to cops, there are a slew of colorful characters coming soon to the small screen. Here are the most notable premieres to watch for over the next six weeks.

“Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector”: Jan. 10, NBC

Based on the novel “The Bone Collector” by Jeffrey Deaver — also a 1999 movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie — this crime drama follows NYPD officers Amelia Sachs (Arielle Kebbel “Midnight, Texas”) and Lincoln Rhyme (Russell Hornsby, “Lincoln Heights”) as the duo solve crimes together. She’s the rookie, he’s a paraplegic who works remotely.

“The New Pope”: Jan. 13, HBO

After a four-year hiatus (“The Young Pope” aired back in 2016) Jude Law returns in this outlandish series as Pope Pius XIII, aka Lenny. This time he’s joined by the titular new Pope, played by John Malkovich. Drama and scenery-chewing performances will abound.

“68 Whiskey”: Jan. 15, Paramount Network

Based on the Israeli series “Charlie Golf One,” “68 Whiskey” is a military dramedy following a diverse group of Army medics stationed in Afghanistan with stars Sam Keeley (“Dublin Murders”), Jeremy Tardy (“Dear White People”) and Gage Golightly (“Teen Wolf”).

“Avenue Five,” Jan. 19, HBO

This new sci-fi comedy from “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci is set in the future and follows the captain and crew of a luxury space ship as they deal with grumpy passengers and technical issues. Starring Hugh Laurie (“House”),  Zach Woods (“Silicon Valley”) and Josh Gad (“New Girl”).

“Star Trek: Picard”: Jan. 23, CBS All Access

The eighth series in the “Star Trek” franchise will center on Jean-Luc Picard, starring Patrick Stewart reprising the role from previous installments. The story will pick up at the end of the 24th century, 20 years after the events of 2002 movie “Star Trek: Nemesis.” Ahead of the 10-episode first season, CBS All Access has already renewed it for a second season.

“Outmatched”: Jan. 23, Fox

This new sitcom follows Mike (Jason Biggs, “Orange is the New Black”) and Cay (Maggie Lawson “Two and a Half Men”), a blue collar couple living in Atlantic City, NJ, while trying to get by and raise their four kids. The catch? Three of their kids are certified geniuses.

“Duncanville” Feb. 16, Fox

This new animated sitcom, which hails from co-creators Amy Poehler and “Simpsons” duo Mike and Julie Scully, follows 15-year old Duncan Harris (voiced by Poehler). Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) and Wiz Khalifa (“Dickinson) co-star.

“The Good Lord Bird,” Feb 16, Showtime

Based on a 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride, Ethan Hawke both created and stars in this historical miniseries set in the 1850s. Co-starring Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) and Wyatt Russell (“Lodge 49”), the story follows a crew of abolitionist soldiers that participate in the 1859 raid on the Army Depot in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia — instigating the Civil War.

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Celebrity Entertaiment

Showtime Told Me to Write Out Ruth Wilson

Her side of the story. The Affair showrunner and co-creator Sarah Treem responded to new allegations stemming from Ruth Wilson’s 2018 exit from the Showtime series.

Treem addressed the claims from The Hollywood Reporter piece published earlier this week in a lengthy guest column for Deadline on Friday, December 20.

“When the Lenny Letter came out, I repeatedly urged Showtime to do something. I wanted to shut down production, do sensitivity training, address the cast and crew and apologize for what had occurred,” she wrote of a 2016 incident between Affair producer Jeffrey Reiner and Lena Dunham, in which he urged the actress, 33, to encourage Wilson, 37, to agree to more nudity. “But instead, I was told to stick to certain talking points and let the network handle the response. By the time the third season was over, Showtime executives told me to write Ruth out of the show.”

'The Affair' Showrunner Sarah Treem Claims Showtime Ordered Her to Write Ruth Wilson 'Out' After Alleged Misconduct
Sarah Treem and Ruth Wilson Shutterstock (2)

Treem went on to claim that she “tried to protect [Wilson] and shoot sex scenes safely and respectfully,” despite their frequent differences in opinion about how the moments should play out. “We didn’t agree on the choices of the character or whether or not a sex scene was necessary to advance the plot, but that is not the same thing as not respecting or supporting an actress’s need to feel safe in her work environment, which is something I always take incredibly seriously,” she added.

The producer alleged that the Luther star’s notes on her character — which began during the second episode — led her to abandon “my original plan for the character” and try to “write Alison closer to Ruth’s vision.”

As for Alison’s violent death, Treem defended her exit strategy for Wilson’s character. “Alison needed to go. But for a character to disappear, on a show like this, she needed to die,” she explained. “She couldn’t just walk away into the sunset because we followed our characters wherever they went. I could have written that she got hit by a bus in the first episode, but I loved her character and wanted to finish her story meaningfully. So I put my head down and tried to write her a brief, but satisfying final season.”

The playwright concluded: “I did not always agree with Ruth Wilson, but I did always have respect for her craft, her ability and her process and I tried to write her a character deserving of her immense talent.”

Wilson starred as Alison on The Affair during seasons 1 through 4. She made headlines in August 2018 when she admitted in an interview with CBS This Morning that she “did want to leave [the show] but I’m not allowed to talk about why.”

The Hollywood Reporter delved into the behind-the-scenes issues in a story posted online on Wednesday, December 18, citing friction between Wilson and Treem, problems with onscreen nudity and a “hostile work environment” as reasons for her departure.

Us Weekly has reached out to Showtime for comment.

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‘The L Word’ star Rosanny Zayas dishes on reboot of iconic series

Showtime’s groundbreaking drama “The L Word” is back for a new generation.

The show, which originally ran for six seasons from 2004-2009, followed the lives and loves of lesbians living in West Hollywood, Calif. and was the first show to exclusively feature gay female characters. The revival series, “The L Word: Generation Q,” premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on Showtime with three of the original cast members (Jennifer Beals, Katherine Moenning and Leisha Hailey) joining the new, younger cast of characters.

“I was in high school [when the original premiered],” says new cast member Rosanny Zayas, 29, a native New Yorker. “I remember it coming on really late at night, and knowing I had school the next day — but I didn’t care. I stayed up late while everybody else was sleeping. I’d go to school the next day tired, but it was worth it!”

Zayas, a Juilliard grad, starred as Helena in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and appeared in an episode of “Orange Is the New Black.” Landing a role on a series that she’d been a fan of during her teen years in Queens was a dream come true, she says.

“The original cast were so welcoming, so openhearted. They made it feel like this was everyone’s show,” she says. “It was so beautiful, because you saw everyone on set giving one thousand percent. We all believed in the show and each other.”

“Generation Q” (the “Q” stands for “queer”) relocates the story from West Hollywood to Silver Lake (in LA) and picks up following original cast member Bette Porter (Beals), who’s now running to be the first lesbian mayor of LA. Her friend Shane McCutcheon (Moenning) is a millionaire with a swanky mansion while her other pal, Alice Pieszecki (Hailey), is the host of a trendy talk show. Viewers who remember Jenny (Mia Kirshner) from the original series are reminded via expository dialogue that she died by suicide.

Zayas plays Sophie Suarez, a TV producer who works with Alice. She’s joined by Adrienne Mandi as Dani, a PR exec who works with Bette; Leo Sheng as Mica Lee, their roommate (a trans man); and Jacqueline Toboni as Shane’s houseguest.

Stephanie Allynne, Arienne Mandi, Jacqueline Toboni, Katherine Moennig, Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, Sepideh Moafi, Rosanny Zayas and Leo Sheng.
Stephanie Allynne, Arienne Mandi, Jacqueline Toboni, Katherine Moennig, Jennifer Beals, Leisha Hailey, Sepideh Moafi, Rosanny Zayas and Leo Sheng.AFP via Getty Images

“This is my first role playing someone who is Dominican American from New York, just like me,” says Zayas. “I’m really excited to show parts of that on television, especially details like hair and hair texture and food and speaking Spanish and portraying a Dominican family. I hope people in the community can really see that and feel like they have a place on television as well.

“When you’re growing up in New York, living in a neighborhood where sometimes it’s not the safest to be outside, you watch TV – that was how we really kept ourselves entertained,” she says. “If you can sit in front of the TV and see [a version of yourself] that, to me, is amazing. This show is doing that.”

Of the young cast members, Zayas was hardly alone in being a fan of the show’s first incarnation.

“There were times on set where we’d sneak into a room watching episodes from the original,” she says. “And then we’d look across the room and there’s Leisha and Kate and Jennifer. The fact that I got to work with them every day was such a dream. People think there’s only one ‘coming of age’ story but I think what’s so amazing about this show is that you get to see two generations grow together.”

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‘Pariah’ doc claims boxer Sonny Liston’s OD was a mob murder

Sonny Liston ranks among boxing’s greatest — even Mike Tyson called him “a badass.” But the man who beat Floyd Patterson to become the 1962 Heavyweight Champion of the world led a brief, brutal much-reviled life that ended, at 40, under mysterious circumstances.

As recounted in the Showtime documentary “Pariah: The Lives and Deaths of Sonny Liston,” premiering Friday, Liston had it rough from the start. A sharecropper’s son, he was reportedly yoked to a plow and whipped while tending his father’s fields. He later became a drug dealer and a kneecapping money collector for the mob. After learning to box while in prison for armed robbery, he bragged about throwing high-profile fights.

By 1970, six years after he lost the championship to the former Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali, “there were a lot of people who wanted him dead,” says director Simon George. He says Liston was supposed to throw his final fight — against Chuck “The Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner — but didn’t. “The mob is unforgiving,” George says. Six months after the Wepner fight, Liston was dead.

Liston’s long-suffering wife, Geraldine, said it was heart failure, but George and others say it was a heroin overdose. There was a needle mark on the fighter’s arm and a green balloon of heroin in the Las Vegas home where Liston lay lifeless for five days before Geraldine found his body.

MUHAMMAD ALI (Cassius Clay), fighting Sonny Liston, circa 1964
Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) fighting Sonny Liston in 1964.Everett Collection

One theory has it that Liston blabbed about being paid to throw his 1964 fight against Ali for payoffs down the line, and was murdered to shut him up. Shaun Assael, author of “The Murder of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, and Heavyweights,” on which the doc is based, says that whether or not Liston had money coming to him, “his announcing it was not good.”

Many believe Liston died of what’s called an “enforced overdose.” Some theorize that a jazz musician who dealt heroin with Liston had a role in it. Alternatively, a cop is believed to have been hired to kill Liston at the request of the mob.

At least one person, a drug dealer/beautician named Earl Cage, may have feared Liston’s loose lips. “Cage thought Sonny was an informant for the cops,” Assael says, and was offed before the feds could flip him.

Other theories abound — including one involving a mobbed-up prostitute as the killer — but everyone seems to agree that Liston was a gifted but doomed man. “Sonny Liston’s fate was sealed in the womb,” boxing insider Don Majeski says in the film. “He reached for the stars and when he grabbed the star, it burned him up.”

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New Showtime comedy ‘Back to Life’ is about a horrific murder

Daisy Haggard is the first to admit her British import, “Back to Life,” doesn’t sound like a comedy — or at least what Americans think of when it comes to funny stuff.

The series, premiering Sunday night at 10 on Showtime after a six-week run on the BBC in April, follows the return of Miranda “Miri” Matteson to her parents’ home after 18 years in prison. The crime — a murder — rocked the sleepy coastal town where she grew up. (The show was filmed in the southeastern Kentish seaside town of Hythe.) Haggard, 41, describes Miri as “an adult beginner with a terrible past.”

Re-entry into her new life runs the gamut from awkward to humiliating: posters of David Bowie, George Michael and Prince on the walls of her old bedroom remind Miri how much life she’s missed. Her ex-boyfriend has married and started a family. Local vandals spray-paint insults on the garden wall on her parents’ home. As for her parents, they have their guard up, too: Mom (Geraldine James) has hidden the kitchen knives.

“By putting a woman in her late 30s back in her hometown where she’s got no job, no friends, and a town that hates her, we thought it presented the most number of challenges,” says Haggard, who is married with two children. “Extremes are quite fun, aren’t they?”

Haggard’s open face, broad smile and bright blue eyes keep you wondering how Miri could have gone so wrong. But one by one, she wins people over. She gets a job at a fish and chips shop (“Everyone deserves a second chance, even murderers,” says her interviewer) and makes friends with a neighbor (Adeel Akhtar) who “makes her feel normal.”

“I am a relentless optimist who, every time I fall down, I get back up again, keep on trying,” says Haggard, who co-wrote episodes with a newborn baby on her lap. “So I suppose [Miri] shares my sort of hope. It meant that I could bring the lightness to the part when it was needed.”

After “Fleabag” swept the Emmys in September, imported series that are comedies with a dramatic edge stand a better chance of finding a TV home; it’s no coincidence that “Back to Life” comes from the same production company that gave us the Phoebe Waller-Bridge hit. Haggard says the British run of the show prompted a positive response from viewers who felt like they were outsiders, and from former prisoners themselves. Says show writer Laura Solon, “British humor is more about pain and suffering. American humor is more joyful, upbeat, can be very ironic.”

Or to put it another way: “Maybe we are quite mean in Britain,” says Haggard. “We love watching people struggle.”

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