TV Reviews: August 20-26, 2014
TCM’s The Essentials Jr. introduces kids to movie classics like The Maltese Falcon.
I was going to start talking about the overrated shows nominated for this year’s Emmy Awards (Monday, 7 p.m., NBC), as I don’t understand why critics have fallen for Masters of Sex, Homeland and Boardwalk Empire. But I got sidetracked by the much bigger list of nominated shows that are among the wonders of the world.
Am I dreaming, or does TV really have this many brilliant comedies (Veep, Girls, Silicon Valley, Episodes), dramas (True Detective, Breaking Bad, The Americans), miniseries (Treme, Luther), actresses (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Julianna Margulies), actors (Andre Braugher, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bryan Cranston), sketch series (Key and Peele, Inside Amy Schumer), reality series (Survivor, Top Chef), fake news programs (The Daily Show, The Colbert Report), specials (Billy Crystal: 700 Sundays, Sarah Silverman: We Are All Miracles) and even cartoons (South Park, Archer)?
I feel like going outside and shouting to the rooftops about our golden age of television. But I won’t, because I don’t want to miss a second of what’s going on inside on the small screen.
Saturday, 9 pm (BBC America)
If you’re the kind of person who likes hanging out in the Twilight Zone, you’ll love this eerie new series. Heavy on ominous sound effects and light on dialogue, it’s about a secret society that takes over people’s bodies as a way of ensuring immortality.
The plot comes together in fragments: The wife (Mira Sorvino) of a troubled ex-cop (John Simm) vanishes; an assassin (James Frain) mows down victims on the trail of a 9-year-old runaway (Millie Brown). What emerges is a multifaceted conspiracy that will keep you busy until next month’s fall premieres start rolling out.
Great Performances at the Met
Sunday, 1 pm (PBS)
I admit I was getting tired of a summer’s worth of tawdry TV, full of infidelity, pranks and chauvinist pigs. So I looked for some high art to swoon over and found Mozart’s Così fan tutte, presented by the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine. Imagine my surprise to find the plot full of infidelity, pranks and chauvinist pigs, as a pair of friends decide to test their fiancées’ faithfulness.
Host Renee Fleming admits that the politically incorrect libretto will raise eyebrows in the 21st century. But, she says, “With music so divine, who’s going to argue with Mozart?”
Point taken. The overture alone, with its ecstatic swirls of woodwinds and strings, washes away all thoughts of Real Housewives and Impractical Jokers. Let the swooning begin.
The Essentials Jr.
Sunday, 7 pm (TCM)
I love this TCM series, which is designed to introduce kids to classic movies. But I question this week’s choice: The Maltese Falcon, the 1941 film noir in which Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) falls in with a group of grotesques chasing after a jewel-encrusted statuette. This is one of the most cynical stories ever told about greed, double-dealing and man’s inhumanity to man.
In short, if you let your 7-year-olds watch the screening, they’re liable to become more jaded and world-weary than you’d like. If the kids start walking around with a fedora pulled down over one eye and a cigarette hanging out of their mouths, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Video Music Awards
Sunday, 8 pm (MTV)
Last year’s ceremony became a sensation due to Miley Cyrus’ raunchy performance of “We Can’t Stop,” complete with unwholesome-looking bears and a naughty foam finger. The spectacle was either a travesty or a triumph, depending on which hyperventilating cultural critic you listened to.
Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” is up for Video of the Year, and it’s hard to imagine how she’ll top herself. But I’m pretty sure she will, given her track record as a provocateur. I hope the hyperventilating cultural critics have their oxygen masks at the ready.
Tuesday, 8 pm (GSN)
In this new game show, teams face off to solve clever visual puzzles – the kind that require close observation to answer a slightly deceptive question. For example, contestants look at a picture of houses sporting a variety of national flags on a residential street and try to figure out which flag “shows no national pride.” The correct answer, of course, is the raised red flag on a mailbox tucked in the picture’s lower left-hand corner.
Idiotest is your basic game show, with countdowns, flashing lights and overwrought music. But it’s boosted by host Ben Gleib, who mercilessly teases the “idiots” trying to get the answers right. Gleib is caustic without being cruel – a neat trick.
Although Idiotest has no redeeming social value, I’ll keep tuning in for the puzzles and the patter. If that makes me an idiot, so be it.