Thursday TV: Gene Wilder Tribute on TCM

YoungFrankensteinTurner Classic Movies has its night long tribute to Gene Wilder tonight, following the comic actor’s death Aug. 29 at 83.  It includes “Young Frankenstein” (9:15 p.m.), which he wrote and also starred in, “Start the Revolution Without Me” (12:30 a.m.), “The Frisco Kid” (2:15 a.m.) and his first film appearance, in “Bonnie and Clyde” (4:30 a.m.). The night also features a couple showings of the 2008 interview with Alec Baldwin, “Role Model: Gene Wilder” (8 and 11:15 p.m.).

“The This Old House Hour” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) begins its 15th season under that name (and 37th overall) with Tom Silva and Norm Abram again staying close to home by working on a 1909 Arts and Crafts home in Arlington, Mass.

On “Better Things” (FX, 10 p.m.), Pamela Adlon’s Sam is up for a lead in a new comedy and she doesn’t even know it.

A sinkhole opens on “The Good Place” (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) that seems to lead to a bad place.

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Billy Bragg and Joe Henry: Train Love

BraggCapping one of the more remarkable concept recordings of 2016, the next phase of Billy Bragg & Joe Henry’s celebration of the U.S. train system, “Shine a Light: Field Recordings from The Great American Railroad” is a U.S. tour that started Wednesday at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va.

The two seemed a little startled to see so many people. After all, there seemed little passerby interest when they had recorded their collection of classic train songs just last spring, while on board the Texas Eagle from Chicago to Arkansas through Texas and then on the Sunset Limited up to Tuscon to Los Angeles. In addition to recording while they rolled along, they set up inside grand old train stations, alongside the track or inside hotel rooms nearby (the same one, in San Antonio, where Robert Johnson first recorded).

It’s a lovely and evocative set of songs, of course, from Lead Belly and Jimmie Rodgers (“The Singing Brakeman”) to the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie, whose lyrics  Bragg had previously put to song in his “Mermaid Avenue” project with Wilco. Still, when they did their recordings, they said they had next to nobody stopping to listen.

In concert, Bragg’s deep British baritone works as well on these old songs as they did old labor tunes, standing out on things like Jean Ritchie’s “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore” and “John Henry.” He brings a steady authority and empathy for the bypassing era.

Henry, who may have started this project as producer but elevated to co-singer and guitarist adds key harmonies and intricate strumming. Their singing together lessens the loneliness of the troubadour traveling by rail.

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Wednesday TV: ‘Criminal Mind’ Messing

criminalmindscan1“Criminal Minds” (CBS, 9 p.m.) returns for its 12th season with a new recruit, Luke Alvez, played by Adam Rodriguez, who will be needed since the show has announced the dismissal of Thomas Gibson, who is out after the season’s first couple of episodes because of a fight with a producer.

The hospital saga “Code Black” (CBS, 10 p.m.) returns for its second season with Rob Lowe joining the cast as a war zone doctor adjusting to civilian life.

On the third season premiere of “Younger” (TVLand, 10 p.m.) Sutton Foster’s Liza is suddenly deciding between two men, even as she sends her daughter off to college.

The sitting president gets some news time in a town hall, “America’s Military and the Commander in Chief” (CNN, 9 p.m.) between President Obama and Jake Tapper.

The vice president Joe Biden, meanwhile, pops up on an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (NBC, 9 p.m.) inspired by “Making a Murderer” in which a convicted rapist (played by Henry Thomas, the kid from “E.T.”) is exonerated by evidence is a suspect again.

The new fictional president has to get to work on “Designated Survivor” (ABC, 10 p.m.).

“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS, 10:30 p.m.) moved this week’s program from Monday to Wednesday just so it could comment on the first presidential debate. it will probably have been worth it.

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Sir Tom Jones Live at the Warner Theatre

TomJonesHe’s not moving his hips quite so much any more. His dark hair has long since gone to silver. But time has done little to take the pipes of Tom Jones, who at a remarkable 76 is doing far more than just reciting the hits that made him a star in the ’60s, but reinterpreting contemporary songwriters, great ones from the past and the pillars of the blues and R&B that got him started in the Welsh clubs more than a half century ago.

He’s so beloved by loyal fans, they’ll follow his creative side trips into more obscure music that he loves, or go along with his different approaches to the songs they came to hear.

For three albums now, Jones has been working with Ethan Johns, the English producer who has worked with Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne and Kings of Leon (his father is the famous Stones producer Glyns Johns). Together, they’ve created an echoey, booming version of roots music that nevertheless makes way for Jones’ own large voice.

There’s nothing subtle about his approach. Like a 747, his engines start big and then he soars from there. At a packed house at the Warner Theatre in Washington, D.C., Sunday night, he started with John Lee Hooker (“Burning Hell”), moved to Odetta (“Hit or Miss”) and the first of a couple of Randy Newman songs that have served him well, “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” (“You Can Leave Your Hat On” came later).

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Tuesday TV: Stomach for More Politics?

The ChoiceOne highlight of election year coverage is usually “The Choice” episode of “Frontline” (PBS, 9 p.m.), which goes deeper into the biographies of the two major candidates. Perhaps it will get lost tonight in the aftermath (and coverage overkill) of the first debate. But there are aspects of the lives of the candidates that are not often talked about, from Hillary Clinton’s adjustments to being a young governor’s wife in Arkansas and her childhood penchant of secrecy because of a difficult homelife to Donald Trump’s career-long efforts to fight humiliation.

Still, it’s hard to believe some of the theses in the two-hour documentary. Did Trump’s political ambition really happen after Obama roasted him at a White House Correspondents’ Dinner? (It was Seth Meyers at that event who really took him apart). Solid reporting, but maybe for another day. Nothing at this point will certainly change anybody’s mind.

Sometimes it’s more illuminating to look at historical campaigns that fell short. So “The Contenders: 16 for ’16” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) looks at the shortfalls of Michael Dukakis and Mitt Romney.

Finally, one of the funniest commentators on the political season offers some additional scenes from his visit to the conventions, “Triumph’s Summer Election Bonus Poop” (Hulu, streaming).

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Stage Review: ‘Be Awesome: Theatrical Mixtape’

Be Awesome Prod Photo 04Music streaming services allow kids these days to put together digital playlists for every mood or activity.

Once, not so long ago, it was a more hand-crafted effort to put together a series of heartfelt songs on handmade, personalized cassette tapes, often intended to capture a moment, resonate a mood or woo a potential girlfriend.

The mystique of mixtapes was so strong, the term outlasted its original format — cassette tapes — to be used as a term to described similarly self-burned CDs of handpicked songs.

The deliberately-chosen songs in Flying V Productions’ “Be Awesome: A Theatrical Mixtape of the 90s,” a kind of flashback of a life through representative tunes, are still rendered on a cassette, though. And we hear the essence of one young man’s life, also on tape, as the show begins: An only child, Josh, grows up raised mostly by his mother, adjusts to high school and college, meets a girl, marries, and is diagnosed with terminal cancer just as his wife is pregnant.

He doesn’t mourn, he makes a tape for his unborn daughter.

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Death Returns for History and Rock

Death“Are y’all ready for Death?”

Such went the call from the opening band, referring to the headliners.

That it would come out as such a sobering question of mortality may have been one of the reasons the band named Death never became the stars they might have 40 years ago.

The sound of Death (not to be confused with the ‘80s Orlando metal band with the same uncommercial name) predated the Black Rock Coalition by a decade but the trio of Detroit brothers conjured up a hard rock sound of bluntness and soul. From the town of MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges, here was a straight ahead band playing the kind of rock Hendrix was hinting at in the Band of Gypsies five years earlier — a Detroit sound quite different from that that came from Motown, which had only recently fled to Los Angeles.

Still, the brothers Hackney — particularly its guitarist David — refused to compromise on the name. Record companies had contracts ready for them if only they’d change it. But they were adamant on keeping the name.

So aside from a couple of local singles that now fetch hundreds of dollars, the band went unknown until Drag City looked them up, acquired the master tapes, and issued an album in 2008 that held up quite well to a new generation. There followed one of those movies, about another long lost act making a comeback, in the tradition of “Searching for Sugar Man” (about another Detroit active about the same time, Sixto Rodriguez, who was unaware of his legions of fans in South Africa) or the one about the obscure metal band “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.”

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Monday TV: Politics’ Main Event

trump-clintonThe endless predicting, pontificating and poll-watching that’s served as political coverage for two years makes way for something potentially substantive: The first Presidential Debate (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, Fox News, C-SPAN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox Business, 9 p.m.) in which Donald Trump faces Hillary Clinton for the first time in the election cycle. The event at Hofstra University on Long Island will be endlessly parsed, excerpted and analyzed afterwards, at least until the next political debate Oct. 9. But it would be best to see the whole thing, in its entirety, as it happens. Lester Holt has a lot of pressure on him as anchor, the question being whether he should correct obvious untruths as they happen (that’s usually his job as an NBC anchor). I’m thinking the spotlight won’t often be on him though.

There is already pre-debate analysts going on as we speak, talking the debate as if it were “WWE Monday Night Raw” (USA, 8 p.m.). My advice is to watch none of it, before or after.

Might be fun to tape a version of the debate in Spanish, where it is known alternately as “El Debate: Clinton vs. Trump” (Univision, 8:55 p.m). and “La Gran Batalla, Clinton vs. Trump” (Telemundo, 9 p.m.).

But the debate definitely gives a reason to watch “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” (CBS, 11:35 p.m.) doing a rare live show to comment directly on the debates. (Tonight’s Samantha Bee, accordingly, has been bumped to Wednesday for her own reaction show on TBS).

One good thing about the debate: It keeps “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, 8 p.m.) to a manageable one hour. Its resident politician, Rick Perry, somehow managed to survive the first elimination though he had the fewest judges’ points. It was kid actor Jake T. Austin who had to go. Fitz and the Tantrums and Florida Georgia Line perform.

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Sunday TV: ‘Poldark,’ Other Returnees

Poldark2If it had never had “Downton Abbey,” “Poldark” would have been a standout on “Masterpiece” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings), a sweeping, romantic literature-based story. Instead it will fight for attention with its second season premiere, in which George plots against Ross, who fights all attempts to save him and Demeiza tries to influence a hanging judge. On the accompanying “Indian Summers” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) the maharajah arrives.

Amy Schumer stars in three animated season premieres tonight — she’ll be the mother of Mr. Burns in the 28th season premiere of “The Simpsons” (Fox, 8 p.m.), in which Springfield burns to the ground. Immediately beforehand, Schumer will be the voice of a toy shop customer on the seventh season start of “Bob’s Burgers” (Fox, 7:30 p.m.). Finally, she’ll voice a construction worker on “Family Guy” (Fox, 9 p.m.), starting its 15th season.

“The Last Man on Earth” (Fox, 9:30 p.m.) is also back for its third season. It’s not a cartoon and doesn’t even have Amy Schumer. Instead, there’s an attack of armed invaders in hazmat suits.

The much delayed second season of “Secrets and Lies” (ABC, 9 p.m.) has Juliette Lewis investigating a different case, this one about a private equity firm heir whose wife is found dead.

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Saturday TV: Outdoor Events, ‘Gringo’

museumA lot of today’s big TV events are outdoor daytime events. Chief among them is the opening ceremony for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (CSPAN, 10 a.m.; BET, 10:30 a.m.) opens with a ceremony that includes President Obama and former President Bush. Here’s a story I wrote for Smithsonian Magazine about the Musical Crossroads exhibit of the new museum.

In New York, the Fifth Annual Global Citizen Festival (MSNBC, 3 p.m.) features performances from Usher, Rihanna, Demi Lovato, Kendrick Lamar and Metallica. Tamron Hall and Willie Geist host.

Nanette Burstein’s “Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John AcAfee” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) looks at the computer antivirus software mogul who skipped the country for a compound in Belize, possibly to get away from allegations he murdered a neighbor.

The 29th season of “48 Hours” (CBS, 10 p.m.) looks into the murder this year of a 13-year-old in Virginia who was killed after meeting a stranger online.

You’d never know it was the first week of the fall TV season on broadcast networks, with most of them gone to college football, with Oklahoma State at Baylor (Fox, 7:30 p.m.) and Stanford at UCLA (ABC, 8 p.m.).

Danny Boyle’s bio film of “Steve Jobs” (HBO, 8 pm.) starring Michael Fassbinder, with a screenplay by Asron Sorkin, makes its premium cable debut.

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