For and Against JFK: American Experience | American Experience Offers a Warts-and-All Portrait of the Controversial President

TV Shows: Nov. 6-12, 2013

JFK, from PBS’s American Experience.

I’m powerless to resist a documentary about John F. Kennedy. Though I’m well aware of the late president’s faults, I’m drawn in by his charisma every time. I cheer his triumphs and bemoan his tragedies. And I always respond to images of the assassination as if I’m seeing them for the first time.

In other words, I’m not the guy to ask for an objective assessment of JFK, PBS’s two-part profile (Monday & Tuesday, 8 p.m.). Predictably, I think it’s wonderful. American Experience assembles enough gorgeous photos, intimate film footage, and perceptive commentary to keep a Kennedy fanatic happy for hours.

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Young JFK, from PBS’s American Experience.

I can tell you that, to judge from Monday night’s part one, the documentary is far from a puff piece. We get a good look at JFK’s bad side, including his legendarily reckless adultery. After his first year of marriage to Jacquelyn Kennedy, we learn, she was walking around "looking like the survivor of an airplane crash."

But let’s the give the man his due. As one commentator says of his presidency, "He had the ability to step back and be cool, and not get sucked into the passions of the moment." I haven’t seen part two yet, but I just know I’ll be a wreck during the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the civil rights emergencies. If only I had JFK’s ability to step back and be cool.

Guinness World Records Unleashed
Thursday, 7 pm (truTV)

In this series, Americans try their luck at breaking Guinness world records — the dumb ones that exist only because people dreamed them up. The season premiere features a run at the record for Most Spaghetti Eaten in One Minute Through the Nose. A woman tries for the Most Rope Skipped in One Minute with a Foot Behind the Head. And a dude breaks the record for the Most Kicks in One Minute to One’s Own Head. "The record might have cost me a few brain cells," he admits afterwards. One assumes he didn’t have all that many to lose.

By the end of the season, I predict the United States will break the record for Most Idiots in One Country.

Raising Hope
Friday, 8 pm (Fox)

As a sitcom specializing in dumb characters, Raising Hope has some competition from new series in 2013-14 (The Millers, Mom). Still, in season four, it continues to find creative ways to befuddle the clueless Chance family. The season premiere focuses on Virginia Chance (Martha Plimpton), who discovers that her birth father (Jeffrey Tambor) is a gay intellectual with sophisticated tastes. Virginia and husband Burt (Garret Dillahunt) gamely accompany him to French art films and sushi restaurants, but they don’t feel comfortable in such rarefied pursuits. Meanwhile, Dad labels any criticism of himself as homophobia.

How will this conflict end? The only thing I’ll reveal is that the resolution is dumb—and I mean that in the best way.

MTV Europe Music Awards
Sunday, 6 pm (MTV)

In my preview of last August’s MTV Video Music Awards, I predicted that Lady Gaga would overshadow all the other performers, adding, "I think it’s safe to say that on Monday morning no one will be talking about Miley Cyrus."

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Katy Perry at the 2009 MTV Europe Music Awards

Of course, Miley Cyrus was all people talked about on Monday morning — well, and maybe me, in passing, just to note what a fool I am.

But in my defense, how was I to know that Miley would simulate masturbation with a foam finger and copulation with Robin Thicke while teddy bears shook their booties and…oh, never mind. I will make no predictions about tonight’s MTV Europe Music Awards. I will simply tell you that Katy Perry, the Killers and, yes, Miley Cyrus are scheduled to appear.

You can talk about any of the performers you want on Monday morning. Just please don’t talk about me.

Killing Kennedy
Sunday, 7 pm (National Geographic Channel)

Bill O’Reilly executive produces this TV movie based on his best-selling book about the 1963 presidential assassination. Rob Lowe opts for a broad Boston accent in the role of John F. Kennedy, but the stunt falls short of the intended effect. Instead of imagining you’re watching Kennedy, you can only think, "Rob Lowe is really trying to sound like Kennedy." Ditto for other familiar faces in the cast, including Ginnifer Goodwin as a breathy Jackie Kennedy and Michelle Trachtenberg as the Russian bride of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. "Why you breeng me here?" Trachtenberg screams at her hapless husband in a cartoon Russian accent. "Dallas no good!"

Killing Kennedy‘s coarse approach matches its coarse title. It parallels the lives of Oswald and Kennedy over the course of three years, pouring on the ominous music. The characters are merely puppets yanked through early-’60s political crises and the sensationalized murder in Dallas.

On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, Killing Kennedy turns tragedy into trash.