Wednesday TV: ‘Assassination of Versace’

versaceThe bar was set high for Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story” series that began two years ago with the remarkable retelling of the O.J. Simpson Trial. Although a lesser known crime, with a less direct social point to make, the new “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX, 10 p.m.) also has a stellar and sometimes surprising cast, matched with exacting sets and production.

Following the shooting of the design icon, played in an understated way by Edgar Ramirez (“Carlos”), the story reels back to the four murders that led up to it by the maniacal Andrew Cunanan, chillingly played by Darren Criss (“Glee”). Penélope Cruz plays Donatello Versace; Ricky Martin plays his lover.

Along the way, there’s a point to be made about gay panic in the 1990s. [Here’s a longer story I’ve written about the series for Smithsonian Magazine.com].

Murphy’s other recently debuted series, the very different procedural “9-1-1” (Fox, 9 p.m.) has done well enough for it to have been already renewed for season two.

“Corporate” (Comedy Central, 10 p.m.) is a new series that takes an especially dark look at the workplace, written and starring Jake Weisman and Matt Ingebretson. The cast also includes Lance Roddick of “The Wire” and the comic Aparna Nancherla.

“We found that a lot of office comedies that we’ve seen in the past portray the office as, sort of, a fun, hi-jinxy, sort of, environment,” Ingebretson told reporters at the TV Critics Association winter press tour, “and we wanted to our experiences working at jobs like this were that they were soul crushing and nightmarish, and we wanted to try to find the comedy in that and dig into the darkness versus shying away from it.” [More of my reporting from the press tour can be found here].

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Tuesday TV: ‘Black Lightning’ Strikes

BlackLightningJust as we were reaching superhero saturation on the big and small screens, here comes a highlight. worth rallying around. “Black Lightning” (The CW, 9 p.m.) is an adaptation of a DC comic that first appeared in 1977 and has appeared sporadically since then.

In the series Cress Williams is the former hero who is now doing his heroics as a high school principal, forced back into action by a gang infringing on his town and his family. It’s got a fresher feel than the other caped dramas, with a nod back to the best of Blaxploitation and a tasty soundtrack to match.

The fifth superhero saga on the channel, it’s paired with a new episode of “The Flash” (The CW, 8 p.m.), on which Barry is on trial for murder.

On the new “This Time Next Year” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.) Cat Deeley meets a variety of people who vow to change something about themselves in 365 days and, in the same show, come out a second door to show how the results for instant (or at least more timely) reveals. “It’s a bit like “Back to the Future” but without the flux capacitor,” Deeley told reporters at the TV Critics Association winter press tour Sunday. [My reporting on the event can be found here].

Shot in Jacksonville, the latest online comedy special, “Katt Williams: Great America” (Netflix, streaming) has a backdrop that makes it look like the Oval Office. In addition to political comedy, Williams addresses aging, technology and specifically, self-driving cars.

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Remembering Dolores O’Riordan

DoloresIt was shocking to hear today of the death of Dolores O’Riordan, the memorable vocalist for the Irish band The Cranberries. She was only 46.

The last time I had spoken to her, in a 1999 interview amid a summer Cranberries tour, she had talked about how difficult it was in the band — at least util her son was born in 1997.

“I hated singing, I hated being on stage, I hated being in the Cranberries,” O’Riordan said. “I was constantly crying. I was going insane.

“I wanted to be a shopkeeper, a hairdresser, anything. I was so desperate to have a reality, friends, a regular boring life. I missed that. I wanted to make my own toast in the morning and just call my friend Nora and see what was up. I got so lonely and depressed.”

The band nearly broke up following its 1996 tour that ended with a string of cancellations because of exhaustion.

And O’Riordan, the force behind such Cranberries hits as “Linger” and “Zombie,” had had enough of the dizzying cycles of recording, promotion and touring. She thought she might not ever sing again.

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Monday TV: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’

baldwinMartin Luther King  Day is the perfect time for the broadcast premiere of Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated “I Am Not Your Negro.” It’s an imaginative look not only at the intellectual powerhouse of writer James Baldwin, as seen on TV interviews and in speeches, but also his own words from an unpublished manuscripts on his three strong relationships with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and MLK, all assassinated in his lifetime. The strong film debuts on “Independent Lens” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

Anthony Anderson hosts The 49th NAACP Image Awards (TV One 9 p.m.), where Danny Glover is slated to win the President’s Award.

National Geographic takes a look inside the government forces working on going after extremists on the documentary series “Chain of Command” (National Geographic, 9 p.m.). National Geographic noted its 130th anniversary (of the society and magazine if not the channel) this week at the TV Critics Association winter press tour. My coverage on that event can be found here.

The Marvel family mutant drama “The Gifted” (Fox 9 p.m.) winds up its first season with a a two hour battle against the the government. And the season will continue; it’s just been renewed for a second season.

“The Good Doctor” (ABC, 10 p.m.) returns from his getaway and confronts Dr. Glassman.

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Sunday TV: Queens, Past and Current

victoriaJust as it did in its first season, the lavish and well wrought “Victoria” falls a bit under the shadow of the regal doings in the Netflix series “The Crown.” But Jenna Coleman’s luminous Queen Victoria is just as compelling as she enters season two finding her footing on the throne and asserts herself against her husband Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) in the splendid looking series on “Masterpiece” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) — especially for those who have already completed the other streaming series. The addition of Diana Rigg as a wry Duchess seems intended to add a “Downton Abbey”-Maggie Smith type role.

Speaking of queens, Queen Elizabeth II, who is the subject of “The Crown,” speaks out on her own in a rare interview recalling her own coronation 65 years ago in a special about the ceremony and a close up look at the Royal Jewels in “The Coronation” (Smithsonian Channel, 8 p.m.). Here’s a story I wrote about it for Smithsonian Magazine.com.

Second seasons begin tonight for two HBO comedies that really came into their own before their first seasons ended.  “Divorce” (HBO, 9 p.m.), written by Susan Horgan of “Catastrophe,” has made Thomas Haden Church and Sarah Jessica Parker into nuanced and knowing comic actors, seem to hint that they’re sorry on occasions that they broke up.

On the accompanying “Crashing” (HBO, 10:30 p.m.), Pete Holmes has successfully created a likable standup comic (which is tough enough to create) whose struggle is something we root for. The new season which will continue to include a number of familiar guest star comedians, most playing fictionalized versions of themselves. First up: Penn Jillette talks theology.

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Saturday TV: Jason Isbell Plays a Set

isbellAmericana star Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit play five songs from their latest album, “The Nashville Sound,”on  a new “Austin City Limits” (PBS, 11 p.m., check local listings). Also on the bill is his wife, the singer and fiddler Amanda Shires, who had her own new album out last year, “My Piece of Land.” Tonight is her “Austin City Limits” debut.

Rachel Leigh Cook plays a woman who tries to save her bookstore with a public relations stunt involving a suspended hockey star, played by Niall Matter in another new winter romance, “Frozen in Love” (Hallmark, 9 p.m.). [Tonight, I’ll be crashing the Hallmark party at the TV critics winter press tour. More reporting from that event here]. 

It’s Atlanta at Philadelphia (NBC, 4:35 p.m.) in the NFC divisional playoffs, and Tennessee at New England (CBS, 8:15 p.m.) in the AFC divisionals in prime time.

“The Fate of the Furious” (HBO, 8 p.m.), the eighth installment of the Vin Diesel “Fast and Furious” franchise that came out last year, makes its premium cable debut. Also on tonight Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux in “The Girl on the Train” (Showtime, 9 p.m.).

The animated “Flushed Away” (ABC, 8 p.m.), with voices by Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet and Ian McKellen, from 2006 gets a broadcast platform.

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Friday TV: Coupla Retired Guys Talking

Letterman2When David Letterman retired two years ago, late night television lost not only a singular comic voice but also a host who could have a natural curiosity about his guests (He could also have contempt for them, and it was a delight to watch that natural reaction as well).

He only chooses the best ones for his new “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman” (Netflix, streaming), six one-hour specials that starts with a guest other late night hosts would die for: Barack Obama. It will be good to see the two recently retired men — one with a big, bushy white beard and the other, presumably, without — talking about race, retirement and other things without the considerations of commercial breaks or censorships.

You couldn’t have picked a more graciously appreciative recipient — or one who can still blow away most of the others on the bill than the honoree of “Tony Bennett: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song” (PBS, 9 p.m.). There are lapses in the lineup — none of his most prominent recent duet partner, Lady Gaga; nothing from Bob Dylan, who was singing one of his hits in D.C. the night before this was taped, and instead of Willie Nelson, his son. But Stevie Wonder showed up and did the harmonica solo to “I Left My Heart in) San Francisco” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings). I reviewed the show when it was taped; also saw Dylan the night before).

Friday is the big night for streaming and here’s a new feature comedy. Jack Black stars as “The Polka King” (Netflix, streaming), a Polish entertainer who ends up jailed for a Ponzi scheme. Jenny Slate and Jason Schwartzman also star.

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Thursday TV: More TV and Film Awards

MunnThe Broadcast Television Journalists Association throws in with the Broadcast Film Critics Association to combine their night of handing out honors with the 23rd Annual Critics’ Choice Award (The CW, 8 p.m.). Olivia Munn, left, hosts the live event. “Feud: Bette & Joan” received the most nominations among the TV shows. “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot will get a special honor.

As “I, Tonya” gains attention at the box office, here’s a documentary special on the facts of the case, “Truth and Lies” The Tonya Harding Story” (ABC, 9 p.m.) featuring the subject herself.

The same week the latest iteration of “America’s Next Top Model” premiered, here’s another variation on the ambition: “Making a Model” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.), hosted by Yolanda Hadid of the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Laurie Metcalf returns as Sheldon’s mother on “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS, 8 p.m.). It is Metcalfe’s daughter Zoe Perry who plays a younger version of herself on “Young Sheldon” (CBS, 8:30 p.m.), tonight’s episode of which focuses on the lad’s personal survey of religion. In a set visit Wednesday, Perry said she’s had years to develop the role. [For more reporting on the TV Critics Association winter press tour, go here].

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Wednesday TV: New ‘Alone Together’

aloneTogetherBenji Aflalo and Esther Povitsky have pretty good chemistry as best friends navigating their fraught social lives as millennials in Los Angeles on the new “Alone Together” (Freeform, 8:30 p.m.). Not only are the stars young grads of such improv groups as Second City and the Groundlings, the series is produced with the help of members of Lonely Island. It may be Freeform’s hippest series yet. And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Howie Mandel washes his hands and fist bumps comedians at The 3rd Annual Howie Mandel Stand-Up Gala (The CW, 8 p.m.), from the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal last summer. Among the performers are Ron Funches, Cedric the Entertainer and Cristela Alonzo.

On another comedy special, “Animal Crackers” (The CW, 9:30 p.m.) team mascots pull pranks in a show hosted by Dan Marino. First, disarm them of their T-shirt guns.

Neil deGrasse Tyson inevitably shows up during a two hour discussion of black holes in space on a special “Nova” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

WWE heads spoke of female breakthroughs and name changes in the organization in a session Tuesday at the TV Critics Association Winter Press Tour, but this reality show is still called “Total Divas” (E!, 9 p.m.). [More coverage of the TCA sessions can be found here].

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Tuesday TV: Teddy Visits the Amazon

amazonAlec Baldwin plays quite a different president than usual when he provides the voice of Theodore Roosevelt in a documentary about the 1914 adventure trip that almost killed the former president. The joint Brazilian-American expedition with Cândido Rondon.

Eight weeks into the trip, one member of the expedition had drowned, another had committed murder. Roosevelt, after injuring his leg, begged to be left behind to die, but his son Kermit wouldn’t allow it.

The story “Into the Amazon” is told on a new “American Experience” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings).

The premise of “Undercover High” (A&E, 8 p.m.) is a little creepy: Seven young adults, aged 21 to 26, pose as students at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kan., to see what’s going on among young people. It figures that it’s from the makers of “60 Days In,” about voluntarily breaking into prison.

Tyra Banks returns as host of “America’s Top Model” (VH1, 8 p.m.) as it reaches its 24th season. Judges include Ashley Graham, Law Roach and Drew Elliott.

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