Sunday TV: A Promising ‘Madam Secretary’

Madame_Secretary_BTS_General_Fall_Campaign_381649_640x360“Scandal” has given a bad name to the woman in political power saga, turning it into another exaggerated soap opera, so it is up to “Madam Secretary” (CBS, 8:30 p.m.), one of two such new network series this fall to resurrect the genre. And it has a lot going for it, including the smart and striking Tea Leoni as a college professor suddenly tapped to become U.S. secretary of state by a president (Keith Carradine) last scene running a diner on “Fargo,” and the writing of Barbara Hall, who has brought some smarts to TV on series from “Joan of Arcadia” to “Homeland.”

The network has the money to pack the cast with familiar names, including Tim Daly, Bebe Neuwirth and the omnipresent Zeljko Ivanek. But the series hangs (and may well hang itself) on international situations that are solved in 44 minutes by a single woman. With the world situation in its current corner, it seems impossible to replicate the real drama with any credibility; that the pilot has hostages in Syria seems to only diminish the actual tragedy; making some turns seem trifling as a result. But it has the goods to right itself and a strong role model in the accompanying  “The Good Wife” (CBS, 9:30 p.m.).

That series, featuring broadcast TV’s only dramatic Emmy winner in Julianna Margulies, is at its own nifty crossroads, with her character having left her old firm for a rival, even as she considers her own run for political rival. It’s all building up, maybe, for a crossover episode with the secretary of state.

DVRs beware: A firm start time for these series is put in question, as they will be all season, by the unreliable end times of late afternoon football, including tonights Denver at Seattle (CBS, 4:25 p.m.).  Prime time Sunday Night Football has Pittsburgh at Carolina (NBC, 8:30 p.m.). Earlier NFL action includes Washington at Philadelphia (Fox, 1 p.m.), Baltimore at Cleveland (CBS, 1 p.m.) and San Francisco at Arizona (Fox, 4 p.m.).

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Saturday TV: Back to Black and White

beyonceAfter weeks of preview songs easy Saturday, the first couple of current recorded music presents the full version of “On the Run Tour: Beyonce and Jay Z” (HBO, 9 p.m.) from a pair of concerts filmed earlier this month near Paris, a concert at which Nicki Minaj was invited to perform their “Flawless” remix live for the first time and at which Beyonce was accused of lip-synching at least part of her singing. As if her fans care.

The concert film is filmed in black and white, which is what most of “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) has been. Ken Burns’ epic film of the epic political family ends its seven-night, 14-hour run tonight with the death of FDR in 1944 and Eleanor Roosevelt 18 years later, in 1962. You may want to have a small cocktail to celebrate your making it through.

Beginning his work in black and white was perhaps the most celebrated amateur photographer, Sid Laverents, who used his 16mm camera for fantastical editing and multiple exposure mini-epics. Four of them run tonight, “Multiple SIDosis” (TCM, 2 a.m.) followed by all three parts of “The Sid Saga” (TCM, 2:10 a.m.). Those two are followed by two documentaries by Les Blank about musicians, “A Well Spent Life” (TCM, 3:45 a.m.) about Mance Lipscomb, and “Hot Pepper” (TCM, 4:30 a.m.) about Clifton Chenier.

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Playlist 9-19-14

radioCPRThe vote in Scotland moved us to play an hour or so of Scottish bands including Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, Belle & Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand.

There were long sets of Ryan Adams, who played here recently and just issued a new album; The Black Keys, who also have a recent album and come to town next week and a bit of Ralph Stanley, who is also on his way.

But also a bunch of stuff from the Replacements, who were that moment playing Forest Hills, N.Y. And a spot of the Kinks, Otis Redding and Traveling Wilburys.

Here’s what I played on the radio tonight:

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Friday TV: ‘Fashion Police’ Salutes Rivers

FashionPolice_PTonight is the Joan Rivers tribute on “Fashion Police” (E!, 8 p.m.) that you have been waiting for, with her show colleagues Kelly Osbourne, Giuliana Rancic and George Kotsipoulos and daughter Melissa Rivers taking part in the 90 minute salute. It follows a 12-hour marathon of past shows in which Rivers took part.

World War II dominates the penultimate episode of “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” (PBS, 8 and 10 p.m.) though Pearl Harbor doesn’t happen until halfway into the two hours. By the end, FDR is gravely ill.

A special Friday night edition of “Big Brother” (CBS, 8 p.m.) is also its second to last episode of the season, with the final three of Derrick, Cody and Victoria set to become a final two by show’s end before Wednesday’s finale. It comes opposite a new episode of “Utopia” (Fox, 8 p.m.).

How will next Friday look, once we are into the new TV season? Not that much different. A “Shark Tank” ((ABC< 9 p.m.), a rerun tonight, will have a two hour premiere, and “The Amazing Race” will make its debut of a new night.

Back in Los Angeles after last week’s Washington blitz, “Real Time with Bill Maher” (HBO, 10 p.m.) hosts Colin Powell, Rep. Jack Kingston, Katrina van den Heuvel, Matthew Segal and Wendall Pierce.

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Thursday TV: Tim & Eric Tell Some Tales

tim-and-erics-bedtime-stories-adult-swimThe latest new show from Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, TV’s most consistent absurdists, throws in a storytelling and horror aspect that’s likely to help garner even more guest stars than they did on their earlier Adult Swim offerings, “Tom Goes to the Mayor” to “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” “Tim & Eric’s Bedtime Stories” (Cartoon Network, 12:15 a.m.) scheduled at a time much later than most bedtimes (good thing for DVRs).

What’s the best series you didn’t watch this summer? Probably “The Honorable Woman” (Sundance, 10 p.m.), the series of intrigue and political intrigue almost too close to the headline. Maggie Gyllenhaal has been terrific. Go ahead and binge watch the whole thing today before the finale.

There’s no hint of the new fall TV season on broadcast TV tonight unless you count double reruns of shows set to return next week, from “Sleepy Hollow” (Fox, 8 p.m.) to “Scandal” (ABC, 9 and 10 p.m.).

Hey, FDR finally reaches the White House on part 5 of “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” (PBS, 8 and 10 p.m.). But there’s a whole big Great Depression to deal with. People call him a dictator, while a real dictator rises in Germany.

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Stage Reviews: ‘Belleville,’ ‘Fool for Love’

BellevilleCrop-0220-printTwo different plays featuring couples stuck in one place, slowly revealing the secrets that are destroying them, are currently playing in the D.C. area in productions so relentless they have no intermissions.

One, Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” at the Round House in Bethesda, has been staged for decades; the other, Amy Herzog’s “Belleville at the Studio, is still quite new. And it’s certainly the best of the two.

In it, a young woman named Abby returns home unexpectedly one afternoon after nobody showed for her yoga class, she finds her husband Zack home even more unexpectedly. That he was in the bedroom with the laptop and she came in at an inopportune time might have set the tone for any number of the more crass cable sitcoms these days.

But here, that’s the very least of their problems.

Herzog has gained attention and some Pulitzer nominations in recent years for such plays as “4000 Miles,” produced at Studio last year, and “After the Revolution,” two contemporary plays that tied current generations to past ones. There’s no grandparents in “Belleville,” though Abby keeps calling her dad from their apartment in the trendy Paris neighborhood. Instead, the action is laser focused on the young couple.

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Wednesday TV: A Couple of New Shows

RED-BAND-SOCIETY-altThe first new broadcast series of the fall TV season begin tonight and they’re not a great harbinger of the year.

The better of the two, and the most obvious, is “Red Band Society” (Fox, 9 p.m.), about a ward where teens with terminal illnesses get care — beautiful teens. The duty of the pilot is to identify the characters of this “Breakfast Club” in a hospital not so much by disease but by stereotype: Mean girl, nice guy, shy girl, comatose boy. It’s the boy in a coma who gets to narrate, suggesting that maybe he’ll snap out of it, or at least that he knows more than he lets on.

It’s hard to be critical of a show imbued with such good intentions, but it seems likely it will be as obvious and tough to watch after a while as “Glee.” And this one doesn’t have any songs. Octavia Spencer is very good in it, though, suggesting she might need a series where she plays more of a central role.

For more Spencer, you can catch the premium cable premiere of “Fruitvale Station” (Showtime, 6:30 p.m.), the highly regarded and awfully timely film about a black man’s shooting death by a  rapid transit officer. Would that any TV series would be as immediate, relevant and free of stereotype.

The other new series tonight is just a mystery, with Debra Messing starring in “The Mysteries of Laura” (NBC, 10 p.m.) as a supposedly skilled police detective who spends half her time trying to keep her super-bratty twin boys in line and do the household duties. The mix of comedy and drama, obviously meant to emulate something somebody saw on cable, has rarely been done so clumsily. Messing loses sympathy among the other cardboard characters and there ought to be juvenile detention for the worst kids ever in a network TV series. Might be worth a watch just to see how bad TV can get.

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Tuesday TV: ‘New Girl,’ ‘Mindy Project’ Return

new-girl-season-4-premiere-jessi-640x360The fall TV season isn’t here for another week, but a few shows are trickling out, such as two of the better network sitcoms, “New Girl” (Fox, 9 p.m.) and “The Mindy Project” (Fox, 9:30 p.m.). On the former, the romance that carried the previous season seems to be over for good as Zoe Deschanel and Jessica Biel vie for a guy’s attention at a wedding, and the guy is Reid Scott of “Veep.” On the latter, Mindy’s romance with Danny only seems to be progressing, in its way, but they have to figure out its parameters.

Already someone has to go on “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, 8 p.m.). It’s usually one of the septuagenarians or comedians, and Tommy Chong fills both categories. But it was the designer Betsey Johnson, with solid 5s for her cha-cha, who got the lowest judges scores by far.  Smokey Robinson will also stop by, to sing a duet of “My Girl” with Aloe Blacc.

The final six acts perform in Radio City Music Hall for their last votes on a two hour “America’s Got Talent” (NBC, 9 p.m.). Which means that the each act should be about 20 minutes long. Which will not be the case.

The next celebrity with a home renovation show is one from “Beverly Hills 90210,”  “The Jennie Garth Project” (HGTV, 9 p.m.). First looking to improve her living room, she is soon embarking on a full gutting of her 1970s ranch house in the Hollywood Hills.

In the special “Alan Alda and the Actor Within You: A YoungArts Masterclass” (HBO, 7:30 p.m.), the actor leads a young class in the art of improvisation.

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Monday TV: Violence Across the Centuries

Terror-at-the-Mall-Movie-Still-2The shocking terrorist attack on a modern shopping mall in Kenya that killed 71 last year — a year ago this week as a matter of fact — is relived through the most stark of footage: from more than 100 security cameras. Recollections of survivors on site and some of their cell phone coverage also help tell the alarming story in the documentary “Terror at the Mall” (HBO, 9 p.m.).

The banality of the setting and the abject fear of those who happened to be there led to some compelling examples of bravery and leadership under (literal) fire.

The biggest documentary continues to sail like an unstoppable barge — the second two hours of “The Roosevelts” (PBS, 8 and 10 p.m.) moves into the 20th century, with its own shocking use of violence — the assassination of William McKinley leading to Theodore Roosevelt’s ascension to the presidency. Also, Franklin marries Eleanor and runs for the New York state senate.

The least appealing group of celebrities yet are assembled for the 19th (!) round of “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, 8 p.m.), where the judges panel is expanded to include an ex-pro on the show, Julianne Hough, who may be more famous than most people on the floor. Among them: Tommy Chong, Betsey Johnson, Lea Thompson, Alfonso Riberio and Tavis Smiley. The season premiere runs two hours.

Two other reality shows name winners. “American Ninja Warrior” (NBC, 8 p.m.) takes three hours to close its unending summer season; a winner is crowed to close the fifth season of “MasterChef” (Fox, 8 p.m.), winning $100,000.

Turner Classic Movies begins a 24 hour salute to Lauren Bacalll who died Aug. 12 at 89 with a number of her greatest films beginning with a 2005 interview, “Private Screenings: Lauren Bacall” (8 p.m. and 2:45 a.m.) plus her unforgettable bow in “To Have and Have Not” (9 p.m.), “The Big Sleep” (11 p.m.), as well as “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1 a.m.) and “Harper” (3:45 a.m.). It concludes Tuesday, which would have been her 90th birthday.

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New Faces and Old on ‘Boardwalk’

boardwalk-empire2Old faces returned to “Boardwalk Empire” Sunday, from Nucky’s brother Eli, in his own kind of exile, working for Van Alden under Capone; and Gretchen Mol’s Gillian, not seen since she was nabbed for murder, to Eli’s fresh faced son Willie, now out of law school and looking for a prosecutor’s job.

But it was also an episode that unveiled some prominent historical figures who would make their mark, from Elliott Ness to Joseph Kennedy.

It’s Ness, played by Jim True-Frost from “The Wire,” who is behind a huge raid in Chicago in which a lot of whiskey and $20,000 is seized from a Chicago warehouse that was supposed to be under the eye of Eli. The episode actually begins with Eli’s bloodshot, barely focusing eye, recalling a swirl of booze and broads as he lies passed out on a floor above the warehouse. When he wakes up, he gets out of there, but learns that Capone intends him to have Eli — and his gruff, ever robotic overseer Van Alden — to come up with the $20K lost.

When they decide to “rob Peter to pay Paul” by lifting the money by gunpoint from another Capone operative, it all goes wrong and they have to kill the guys. Only later do we learn that Mike D’Angelo, Capone’s new right hand man, played by Louis Cancelmi, is also a G-man.

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