Saturday TV: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Story

lynyrdskynyrdI was never a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd — too many nights of people yelling “Freebird”; too many oversized Confederate Flags, the single line “Watergate doesn’t bother me” in “Sweet Home Alabama.”

But the band did provide me with one unforgettable rock star moment, when I was interviewing Ronnie VanZant backstage after a show in college and he leaned back and said “I can do anything I want” and promptly fell over.

A better back story is found in the documentary “If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film about Lynyrd Skynyrd” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) that has a lot of footage of early high school days in Jacksonville, Fla., and just as much scouring the woods where their plane went down in 1977, killing half the band, still finding parts of the fuselage as they do.

One still doesn’t expect new offerings from the Children’s Television Workshop to end up on the network of “Westworld” and “The Deuce,” but the “Sesame Street” relations with HBO has brought a new animated children’s show, “Esme & Roy” (HBO, 9:30 a.m.) about a girl and her monster.

Gary Oldman’s Oscar turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” (HBO, 8 p.m.) makes its premium cable debut.

In yet another travel-related romance film, Jill Wagner plays a travel photographer working on a piece with Kristoffer Polaha to find an elusive Fijian “Pearl in Paradise” (Hallmark, 9 p.m.).

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Two Rascals Rock (with Carmine Appice)

felix-cavaliere-gene-cornish-s-rascalsOne of the great underrated American bands of the 1960s is the Rascals, purveyors of a soulful brand of East Coast that provided a few hits that everybody knows and who forged an expansive, spiritual course before petering out in the 70s.

There have been attempts this century to reunite the original four, primarily by Little Steven Van Zandt, whose efforts also led to a short Broadway stint of reminiscence and rock five years ago, “Once Upon a Dream.”

The dream did not live on; members Eddie Brigati and Dino Danelli went their own ways. But Felix Caviliere, who wrote and sang lead on so many of their songs, has forged on at age 75 with a new iteration of the old band that includes one other original member as well as a renown classic rock drummer who would be seen at first as an odd fit. They played a show at the BIrchmere in Alexandria, Va., Thursday.

But the cumbersomely named “Felix Cavaliere & Gene Cornish’s Rascals with Special Guest Carmine Appice” was actually a more muscular version of the band that might have otherwise been a pleasant nostalgia excursion.

The Brooklyn-raised Appice, still with the black Fu Manchu mustache at 71, was actually influenced by the Rascals just before he started with the Long Island rockers Vanilla Fudge. Danelli’s drums were an unsung component of the Rascals, providing exact time and tasteful fills that were integral to the music.

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Aretha Franklin’s ‘Amazing Grace’

aretha-franklin-amazing-graceHere’s something I wrote in May, 1999, upon the reissue of the 1972 “Amazing Grace” album by Aretha Franklin, who died Thursday at 76. 


It should have been the most natural thing on Earth when Aretha Franklin entered the Los Angeles New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in January 1972 at the age of 29 to record her landmark gospel album `Amazing Grace.’’

The daughter of renowned preacher C.L. Franklin of Detroit, she had grown up in the church. It was at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church where she honed her otherworldly vocals in praise of the Lord, influenced by the galaxy of gospel stars who came through town, from Mahalia Jackson to Clara Ward. No less than the Rev. James Cleveland taught her to play piano by ear. It was in her father’s New Bethel church where she recorded her first album — a gospel release — at 14.

“It was the church that first taught me how to stand on the stage,” she once told Down Beat magazine. “I was scared to death, but finally I learned how to stand there without fainting. It also helped me learn how to communicate with the audience, something very important because their response has a lot to do with the way I sing. If I feel it, and they don’t, I’ll lose something. But if they’re with me, we’ve got it.”

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Friday TV: Groenig’s New ‘Disenchantment’

disenchantment-As father of the longest running scripted prime time TV show, ’The Simpsons,” Matt Groenig has also lent his sensibility to “Futurama,” which lasted seven seasons all told. Now he turns to the past in his latest, “Disenchantment” (Netflix, streaming).

The castles and dragons and knights and gremlins that draw from “The Happy Little Elves” that Maggie Simpson watches are now full blown, computer assisted backgrounds with those little squibs as characters for which Groenig has become famous.

Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” lends her voice to the main character, a feisty princess who likes to fight her own battles; Eric Andre is an advisory imp. But plenty of the other voices come from the “Futurama” cast. It’s a fine looking production that may rely a little too much on action, with a continuing story and the luxury of no commercials and a flexible half hour-ish run time.

Netflix has become adept at romantic comedies for the younger set. The latest is “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (Netflix, streaming), based on the 2004 novel by Jenny Han, about a girl (Lana Condor) whose letters to past beaus actually are received by them.

Also new tonight streaming is the imported Polish series about amateur detectives, “Ultraviolet” (Netflix, streaming) and a show that advises owners of vacation homes to up their profits, “Stay Here” (Netflix streaming).

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Remembering Aretha Franklin, 1942-2018

arethaThe decline and hospice of Aretha Franklin over the past days still didn’t prepare for the loss of her death Thursday at 76.

For decades the undisputed Queen of Soul, the daughter of a Detroit pastor, helped define soul with a voice that exuded joy, pain and power like no one else.

I was lucky to see her several times in a kind of career revival of the late 90s during which she  found that being on the road was the simplest way to sustain her career.

In these shows, she’d march on stage with her purse — a holdover from the chitlin circuit days when you were paid before the show and took the cash with you — and breathe new life into anthems we knew so well — often with songs that she had borrowed from others and made her own,  Otis Redding’s “Respect” and Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools” among them. Her version of “Say a Little Prayer” or “Spanish Harlem” made one forget the original hits by Dionne Warwick and Ben E. King.

She retained the power of gospel that originally inspired her, infusing it into a “Bridge Over Troubled Water” that often grew into “Spirit in the Dark.” Her piano playing on these was nearly uplifting as her vocals.

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Thursday TV: ‘Strange Angel’ Finale

StrangeAngelOne of the most unusual shows from a network — and the only original series on CBS All Access not tied to a previous franchise — “Strange Angel” (CBS All Access, streaming) winds up its first season tonight. It follows the true story of a janitor turned rocket hobbiest who on the way of inventing liquid fuel propulsion also joins a sex cult headed by Alastair Crowley.

Jack Reynor and Bella Heathcote star, and Rupert Friend of “Homeland” is a standout. Its makers are having fun with the freedom afforded in streaming shows. Here’s a little something I wrote about the finale for TV Guide / TV Insider this week.

Elsewhere, Sam is on the brink of fatherhood on the second season finale of “Detroiters” (Comedy Central, 10:30 p.m.).

Franklin clears the air with an old business partner on “Snowfall” (FX, 10 p.m.).

The four remaining teams on “The Great Food Truck Race” (Fooc, 9 p.m.) pull into Yuma, Ariz.

On the new “Nightwatch Nation” (A&E, 10 p.m.), emergency medical workers in four towns are followed in their work. It’s from Dick Wolf, better known for his scripted shows like “Law & Order.”

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Wednesday TV: A&E’s ‘Raising Tourette’s’

tourettesRelaxed language standards on late night cable may be just the thing for the new series “Raising Tourette’s” (A&E, 10 p.m.), which follows a group of teens thus diagnosed.

It follows the fourth season start of “Born This Way” (A&E, 8 and 9 p.m.), the series about adults with Down syndrome seeking independent lives. Two episodes kick off the season which will focus on the impending wedding of Christina and Angel.

Twenty-two singles move into a house in Hawaii to pair up in the seventh season premiere of “Are You the One?” (MTV, 10 p.m.).

Thunder and rain usher in a new season on “Outback” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings).

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS, 10:30 p.m.) looks at undocumented food workers with Padma Lakshmi, and gets a healing cry from a Brandi Carlile performance.

The desert life in northern part of the country are examined on the “Wonders of Mexico” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

In the Kalahari Desert is where the lions of “Kings of the Desert” (Smithsonian, 8 p.m.) reside.

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Tuesday TV: Lupe Vélez All Day

Mexican_SpitfireTurner Classic Movies spotlights the Mexican femme fatale Lupe Vélez all day in “Where East is East” (6 a.m.), “The Squaw Man” (7:15 a.m.), “Kongo” (9:15 a.m.), “Mexican Spitfire” (10:45 a.m.), “Mexican Spitfire Out West” (noon), “Mexican Spitfire at Sea” (1:30 p.m.), “Laughing Boy” (2:45 p.m.), “Playmates” (4:15 p.m.), “Strictly Dynamite” (6:30 p.m.), “The Girl from Mexico” (8 p.m.), “Hot Pepper” (9:30 p.m.), “Honolulu Lu” (11 p.m.), “The Half Naked Truth” (12:30 a.m.), “Ladies Day” (2 a.m.), “High Flyers” (3:15 a.m.) and “The Cuban Love Song” (4:30 a.m.).

Chef Marcus Samuelson samples the Ethiopian cuisine available in Washington, D.C., on “No Passport Required” (PBS, 8 p.m.).

Ms. Bennigan wonders whether Hot Dad is a serial killer on the third season finale of “Teachers” (TV Land, 10:34 p.m.).

After weeks of auditions, the first third of the 36 finalists on ”America’s Got Talent” (NBC, 8 p.m.) finally perform before live audiences in Hollywood.

Two hours of “Bachelor in Paradise” (ABC, 8 p.m.) wan’t enough on Monday? Here’s two more hours and a visit from Becca.

Edible creations are made on “Making It” (NBC, 10 p.m.).

Smurf still wants Pope back in the fold on “American Kingdom” (TNT, 9 p.m.).

“Post Radical” (Viceland, 8 p.m., check local listings) ends its season with a look at the most extreme skaters.

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Monday TV: A Deeper Look at Iran

IRanThe first of a two night “Frontline” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) looks at the efforts of the Dutch New York Times correspondent Thomas Erdbrink to find a more humane face of Iran than is often depicted. His explorations are explored in “Our Man in Tehran.”

Not to be confused with Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent, Egypt’s Karnak Temple Complex, second only to the pyramids as the most visited site in the country, is the first of the “Sacred Sites” (Smithsonian, 8 p.m.) explored for the second season of the series.

Jimmy seeks a new gig on “Better Call Saul” (AMC, 9 p.m.).

Dud learns more about “Lodge 49” (AMC, 10 p.m.).

The award-winning 2016 limited series from FX, “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (National Geographic, 10 p.m.) gets a replay on a different network and begins by showing two episodes.

A pro wrestler gets a date card on the second “Bachelor in Paradise” (ABC, 8 p.m.).

A robotics engineer is murdered on “Elementary” (CBS, 10 p.m.).

Two of the top ten are eliminated on “So You Think You Can Dance” (Fox, 8 p.m.).

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Sunday TV: The Other TCAs, ‘Insecure’

NickCannonWhat many of us think is TCA means something very different to the youth interested in the Teen Choice Awards (Fox, 8 p.m.). Khalid, Megan Trainor, Evvie McKinney, Bebe Rexha and Lauv all perform as part of the event at the Forum in Los Angeles. Zac Ephron, Chris Pratt and the cast of “Riverdale” are all slated to appear; Taylor Swift has the most nominations. Nick Cannon (above) and Lele Pons host.

On the third season premiere of “Insecure” (HBO, 10:30 p.m.), Issa is couch surfing to save money.

A pretty good show whose first season never caught as many viewers as it should, the series version of “Get Shorty” (Epix, 9 p.m.), based on the Elmore Leonard novel (and subsequent movie) returns for its second. Its sharp cast includes Ray Romano and Chris O’Dowd.

Sonya Yoncheva and Placid Domingo star in a version of Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” on “Great Performances at the Met” (PBS, 1 p.m., check local listings).

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is celebrating the return of her favorite show, “Ballers” (HBO, 10 p.m.).

A hurricane bears down on Palmetto on the season finale of “Claws” (TNT, 9 p.m.).

A storm is brewing also on “Fear the Walking Dead” (AMC, 9 p.m.), returning after a two month break.

On “Sharp Objects” (HBO, 9 p.m.) Adore provides the chief with key evidence.

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