Friday TV: Eastwood Back in the Saddle

At 91, Clint Eastwood returns in the Western “Cry Macho” (HBO Max, streaming), about a fading rodeo star driving his former boss’s young son home along the Texas/Mexico border. Dwight Yoakam and Fernanda Urrejola also star in the adaptation of a 1975 novel that Eastwood also produced and directed, which is also premiering in theaters today. 

Steve McQueen, whose “Small Axe” was one of the underrated triumphs of last year, returns with another set of films, this time documentaries about UK racial history: “Uprising” (Amazon Prime, streaming), “Black Power: A British Story of Resistance”  (Amazon Prime, streaming) and “Subnormal: A British Scandal”  (Amazon Prime, streaming).

The prestige series “The Morning Show” (Apple TV+, streaming) returns for a second season with Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston returning to their roles as during anchors who first must fix the messes at the end of season one. Billy Crudup, Marcia Gay Harden and Steve Carell return; added to the cast are Julianna Marguiles, Holland Taylor and Hasan Minhaj. With all this gloss and talent, it should be a better show. 

The season premiere of “The Morning Show” does prominently mention Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” which is also turned into a dance by choreographer Matthew Bourne on “Great Performances” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings). Ashley Shaw, Adam Cooper, Dominic North and Michela Meazza star. 

The hit West End musical about a blue collar teen turned drag queen, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (Amazon Prime, streaming), gets a feature adaptation, starring Max Harwood. 

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Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap

Americana kingpin Jason Isbell is always a gracious frontman and performer. But he had to stop his show with his band The 400 Unit a couple of times Tuesday at Wolf Trap in Virginia to take in what he was seeing: a nearly full outdoor amphitheater packed with fans who had been waiting as long as had to hear songs from his most recent album “Reunions,” released in May 2020.

Sixteen months later he was performing it as he intended before an appreciative crowd under a rising half moon. “Here we all are!” he marveled. “No screens!”

A lot of the new album’s songs were built for playing live and the first couple selections from his set, “Overseas” and “What’ve I Done to Help,” snarled with expressive guitar solos from he and guitarist Sadler Vaden. Both favor a kind of wild, electric slide tonality echoing the best of 70s inventiveness from Duane Allman to David Lindley.

Isbell has attracted wide attention with his songwriting, though, with compositions full of the kind of detail and turn of phrase that can stun midway through. 

With his wife Amanda Shires back in Nashville recovering from an unnamed malady, it’s tempting to say the band played harder and tilted more toward rock than they might have had she been there with her countrified fiddle and backing vocals. Vaden added Pete Townshend-style windmill slashes to his guitar more than once, which might have triggered drummer Chad Gamble rumble like Keith Moon, while bassist Jimbo Hart conjured up a bass solo or two in the tradition of John Entwistle.

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Thursday: B.J. Novak’s Anthology Series

Anthology series jump a couple levels in quality with the premiere of B.J. Novak’s sly new series “The Premise” (Hulu, streaming) which concocts little morality plays peopled with talented actors. Novak, a sharp writer (in addition to a cast member of “The Office”) finds unusual twists in contemporary subject matters with results that can be funny, chilling, or just make one think.

In the first of the two episodes released today, Ben Platt plays a guy so anxious to prove himself an ally of Black Lives Matters, he agrees to allow an embarrassing sex tape to prove police brutality in a pinnacle of cringe comedy. The second is a much more tense meditation on the gun lobby, starring Jon Bernthal. Like “The Twilight Zone” without the sci-fi, future episodes are likely to be just as unexpected.

Less promising is what looks like a muddled adaptation of “Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol” (Peacock, streaming) full of the usual symbols and puzzles. Ashley Zukerman takes on Tom Hanks’ old role as symbolist Robert Langdon from Brown’s previous “Angels & Demons” and “The Da Vinci Code.” Ron Howard, director of those film adaptations, is executive producer here. Valorie Curry, Sumalee Montano, Rick Gonzalez and Eddie Izzard also star. 

An end comes to the Andy Samberg cop comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC, 8 p.m.) after eight seasons on two networks (it began on Fox). Expect the hour-long episode to provide a suitable series finale. 

“The Harper House” (Paramount+, streaming) is a 10-episode adult animated series about a family in small town Arkansas. Rhea Seehorn, Jason lee, Tatiana Maslany and Gabourey Sidibe are among the high-end voice talent. 

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Ted Lassoes Another Virtual TCA Awards

Getting a four day jump on the Emmys, the second Covid-preempted Television Critics Association Awards Wednesday, showered “Ted Lasso” with three wins — for outstanding new program, outstanding achievement in comedy and program of the year. But Jean Smart won individual achievement in comedy for “Hacks” the same year she was bestowed a career achievement award. 

“I want to thank all the folks out there who watch it, and care about it, and it’s been really, really amazing to be embraced by yourselves, the critics,” “Ted Lasso” star Jason Sudeikis said in a videotaped message, a likely warm-up for the Emmy Awards Sunday, where the first season Apple TV+ comedy snared a record 20 nominations.

Smart, for her part, was humbled by the outstanding individual achievement but a bit skeptical of a possibly premature career achievement recognition.

“It does make me feel a little bit old, but it’s OK,” she said. “Actually in a funny way I feel like my career is just beginning.” 

Indeed, in addition to starring in “Hacks” this year, she was also part of the cast of HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” which won for outstanding miniseries. 

But at least she wasn’t part of “The Golden Girls,” which won the TCA’s Heritage Award (though she was in “Designing Women,” which was seen in its day as a “Golden Girls” knockoff).

It’s notable that “The Golden Girls” was also the only broadcast network winner of the year, with all other awards going to streaming or cable programs. 

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Wednesday TV: ‘Younger’ No Longer

After seven seasons, “Younger” (TVLand, 10 p.m.), starring Sutton Foster about an editor who lied about her age, really is older. The series comes to an end with tonight’s finale. 

The young poet is interviewed on the special “Amanda Gorman: Brave Enough with Robin Roberts” (ABC, 10 p.m.). 

The Formula One champion Michael Schumacher is profiled in the documentary “Schumacher” (Netflix, streaming). 

“Too Hot to Handle: Latino” (Netflix, streaming) gives an accent to the hands-off dating experiment. 

A sixth season begins for the amateur baking competition “Nailed It!” (Netflix, streaming). 

“Future of Work” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) ends its run by rethinking offices and the 9 to 5 workday.

In the new spinoff series “Counting Cars: Under the Hood” (History, 10 p.m.) which involves purchasing classic cars, is staffed by the same people from “Counting Cars” (History, 9 p.m.), returning for its 10th season. 

Winners are named for both “MasterChef” (Fox, 8 p.m.) and “America’s Got Talent” (NBC, 9 p.m.). 

“Nova” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) looks at the aspects of bats that may help promote healthier lives. 

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Tuesday TV: When the Mets Were Good

Jimmy Kimmel and his Cousin Sal Iacono are among the co-producers of the new two night documentary in the series “30 for 30” (ESPN, 8 p.m.) 

“Once Upon a Time In Queens” follows the stories of the 1968 New York Mets featuring old footage and interviews with Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra. The film, directed by Nick Davis (who did “Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived”), it concludes Wednesday at the same time. 

Another new sports documentary series premiering tonight, “Level Playing Field” (HBO, 8 p.m.) is a four-part series that looks at big league exploitation of poor communities or athletes of color, starting with a midnight basketball program that began in Glenarden, Md. It continues weekly. 

Netflix returns to the interactive storytelling with a faux nature adventure, “You vs. Wild: Out Cold” (Netflix, streaming) starring Bear Grylls, who supposedly gets amnesia and audience members choose his moves. 

Winners are named in the season finale of “Lego Masters” (Fox, 8 p.m.).

“America’s Got Talent” (NBC, 8 p.m.) begins its own finale week, with the last performances by finalists. Results come tomorrow.

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Monday: Women Rule in ‘Y: The Last Man’

Diane Lane, Ben Schnitzer and Amber Tamblyn star in a strong new series “Y: The Last Man” (Hulu, streaming), based on the graphic novel series by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra. The set up is gripping, with something that has killed half the population in their tracks. That the half is entirely male (except for one) sets up a female society trying to survive – and one guy on the loose. What makes the FX production stand out is writing that rises it above the genre origins. 

“Ultra City Smiths” (AMC, 11:05 p.m.), the hardbitten detective drama with a stellar voice cast of Jimmi Simpson, Kurtwood Smith, Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Bebe Neuwirth — and Tom Waits as narrator) gets a different cast as its animated with baby dolls. The latest quirky work from Steve Conrad (of “Patriot” and “Perpetual Grace”) makes its cable debut after its debut earlier on the streaming AMC+.

The new British series “Finding Alice” (Acorn TV, streaming) (not to be confused with the Apple+ Israeli import “Losing Alice”), stars Keely Hawes as a woman surviving in an odd dream house after her husband died falling down the stairs. 

The animated “Little Ellen” (HBO Max, streaming) tells the tales of a 7-year-old Ellen DeGeneres, who by the way, begins her final season of her award-winning daytime show “Ellen” (syndicated, check local listings).

It’s also the first day for fellow daytime shows “Dr. Phil” (syndicated, check local listings), “The Drew Barrymore Show” (syndicated, check local listings), Jerry Springer’s “Judge Jerry” (syndicated, check local listings) and “The Kelly Clarkson Show” (syndicated, check local listings).

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Sunday TV: ‘Scenes from a Marriage’

Peak fall TV comes early with the debut of a couple of solid series starts.

First Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain (above) star in “Scenes from a Marriage” (HBO, 9 p.m.), a bold update of Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 classic. It’s from the maker of “In Treatment,” so it can be kind of talky. But the acting is so strong, and the issues so deep, it’s hard not to be compelled by its courageous soul-searching. 

Then comes Jeff Daniels and Maura Tierney in the new “American Rust” (Showtime, 10 p.m.), based on Phillipp Meyer’s novel, about a police chief in a crumbling western Pennsylvania town, who tries to protect the son of a woman he’s interested in. In many ways, it’s a plot similar to Showtime’s earlier “Your Honor” with Bryan Cranston — with a respected community leader covering up. But the drama too has a caliber of acting that equals the exacting sense of place. 

Doja Cat hosts the MTV Video Music Awards (MTV, CW, BET, Nickelodeon, Paramount, Pop, TVLand, VH1,  8 p.m.) from the Barclays Center in New York City, with performances from Camila Cabello, Chloe, Justin Bieber, Kacey Musgraves, Lil Nas X, Machine Gun Kelly, Shawn Mendes, Olivia Rodrigo and Twenty One Pilots. Bieber leads all with nine nomination, followed by seven each for Megan Thee Stallion, BTS and Giveon. It’s simulcast on seven other Viacom networks. 

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Saturday TV: The 20th Anniversary of /911

You will be reminded that today is grim 20th anniversary marked by a special that began with four doomed flights, examined in the two hour documentary “9/11:Four Flights” (History, 8 p.m.). It’s followed by a collection of personal videos by eyewitnesses stitched together as “9/11: I Was There” (History, 10 p.m.). Also premiering tonight is “Surviving 9/11” (Discovery 8 p.m.). 

The Metropolitan Opera commemorates the date with a live performance of Verdi’s “Requiem,” hosted by ballerina Misty Copeland on “Great Performances” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings). 

Remembrances will proliferate through the day and replays of some of this week’s earlier documentaries such as “Return of the Taliban: A Vice Special Report” (Showtime, 8 p.m.), “9/11 Firehouse” (Discovery, 5 p.m.), “9/11: One Day in America: Told in Full” (National Geographic, 9 p.m.) and “Memory Box: Escoes of 9/11” (MSNBC, 10 p.m.).

 Also: the entirety of Spike Lee’s “NYC Epicenters 9/11 to 2021 1/2” (HBO, 4 p.m.) will play back-to-back, crowned by its final two hour episode at 10 p.m..

Sports dominates prime time again with Washington at Michigan (ABC, 8 p.m.) and Stanford at Southern California (Fox, 10:30 p.m.) in college football after the baseball of Yankees at Mets (Fox, 7:30 p.m.). Other games are listed below.

The 2020 Noel Coward adaptation “Blithe Spirit” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) with Dan Stevens, Leslie Mann and Judi Dench makes its premium cable debut. 

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A Fuller Portrait of John Walker Lindh

The withdrawal of the U.S. from Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban makes particularly relevant a documentary on the so called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, “Detainee 001” (Showtime, 9 p.m.).

Director Greg Barker doesn’t show his hand; he follows the story as it unfolds. What’s surprising is how much Lindh spoke about how he got involved with the Taliban and whether or not he had anything to do with the prison uprising that lead to the first U.S. casualty, a CIA agent — and how little of it has been reported before.

Barker told me that CNN ran two or three minutes of it at the time; and then played smaller and smaller variations of it since. “They never showed the whole thing,” he said. 

“It just became this bit of media for us all to consume and get angry over ,” Barker said. “This two or three movie minute clip — and totally taken out of context — with a guy who’s really just been through…this horrific, week-long ordeal. And suddenly we’re judging him and everything based on this one short clip.”

Though some called for execution for treason, Lindh ended up in prison and was released in May last year. But he wouldn’t participate in the film; nor would his parents, which made it hard, the filmmaker said. 

“I’ve never made a film where basically so many key players from all different sides did not want to be a part of the film. In fact, they didn’t even want us to tell the story.  Because, frankly, nobody comes out looking good 20 years on. I don’t think John looks particularly good. I don’t think the government looks particularly good, the justice department or the military, the soldiers on the ground. 

“Normally when you spend four years on a project, people start opening up,” Barker says. “No, they did not.  So, John didn’t want to speak. His family and lawyers played nice with us for a while but didn’t want to speak. And, frankly, it just made us all the more determined to tell the story and persevere.”

The fascinating finished product runs tonight after an hourlong special “Return of the Taliban: A Vice Special Report” (Showtime, 8 p.m.) that looks at more recent developments. 

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