Sunday TV: Cheadle in ‘Black Monday’

black-mondayThere’s a lot of energy behind “Black Monday” (Showtime, 10 p.m.), a frantic Wall Street comedy that purports to explain why the big crash of 1989 happened by looking at an unusual broker team led by Don Cheadle’s character. The 80s centric series from David Caspe, the creator of “Happy Endings,” also stars Andrew Rannells, Regina Hall and a Lamborghini limo. Will there be enough to sustain a continuing story?

It accompanies the second season premiere of “SMILF” (Showtime, 10:30 p.m.) in which Bridgette goes to Philly in search of her father.

Showtime has big competition from a couple of HBO’s best current comedies, each returning for their third seasons. “High Maintenance” (HBO, 10:30 p.m.) exchanges the streets of Brooklyn for an RV vacation in upstate New York, where romance is in the air.

On the return of “Crashing” (HBO, 10 p.m.), Pete returns from his college tour, pledging to help a young comic he met.

The NFL Playoffs have the big divisional championships with Rams at New Orleans (Fox, 3 p.m.) and New England at Kansas City (CBS, 6:30 p.m.).

Details of Hays’ marriage emerge on “True Detective” (HBO, 9 p.m.).

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Saturday TV: Benedict’s ‘Brexit’ Turn

BrexitAt the moment where the UK seems in crisis over its plan to leave the European Union (or lack of it), the intriguing film “Brexit” (HBO, 9 p.m.) shows how the surprising vote happened. Its plunge into new metrics, social media influence and exploiting dissatisfaction in the hinterlands is useful how to explain how other surprising votes happened in the U.S. at about the same time (with the added plus of not mentioning anything about American politics at all).

Benjamin Cumberbatch is very good as usual as a single minded organizer who wants to break from the staid conservative politicians who have failed on the issue for years.

Christina Ricci plays the pioneering 19th century journalist in “Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.), a higher profile film from the network that also stars Judith Light as the head nurse at the women’s asylum where she’s gone undercover.

The latest variation of “Planet Earth: Dynasties” (BBC America, AMC, IFC, 9 p.m.) has host David Attenborough looking at five different endangered species. First up: lions.

Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro star in the drug war action film “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (Starz, 8 p.m.), making its premium cable debut, as does Jason Reitman’s “Tully” (HBO, 7:30 p.m.), starring Charlize Theron as an overwhelmed mom.

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Friday TV: A Nuanced ‘Butterfly’ on Hulu

ButterflyAnna Friel stars in the new British series “Butterfly” (Hulu, streaming) as a mother as odds with her estranged husband (Emmett J Scanlan) about how to raise their youngest child (Callum Booth-Ford), who was born a boy but identifies as a girl. It’s a thoughtful, nuanced family drama from playwright Tony Marchant that avoids easy answers.

Similar identity issues emerge in “Girl” (Netflix, streaming), in which a 15 year old girl wants to become a ballerina though she was  born in the body of a boy.

If you were wondering where in the world she was, “Carmen Sandiego” (Netflix, streaming) returns as an animated series, with Gina Rodriguez providing the voice. Now she’s a Robin Hood type who is pursued by authorities.

Suddenly there’s a lot of information about the failed 2017 luxury Fyre festival, hyped by Ja Rule and Kendall Jenner, with the new documentary “Fyre” (Netflix, streaming) joining “Fyre Fraud” (Hulu, streaming) which debuted earlier this week.

“Grace and Frankie” (Netflix, streaming) returns for its fifth season; “Marvel’s The Punisher” (Netflix, streaming) is back for its second.

There’s a new post-apolyptic film on Netflix and it has nothing to do with blindfolds. “IO” (Netflix, streaming) stars Margaret Qualley as one of the last people on Earth, who has to decide whether to join other survivors on a final shuttle to a distant colony.

The rapper wants to take on social issues in the six-episode “Trigger Warning with Killer Mike” (Netflix, streaming).

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Thursday TV: Fix Up Your Own Backyard

Backyard Envy - Season 1Landscape designers James DeSantis, Melissa Braiser and Garrett Magee join forces on the new “Backyard Envy” (Bravo, 10 p.m.) to fix up lawns and patios, but one of the first projects has a bit of a water problem.

A historian with magical powers meets a vampire to start the British series “A Discovery of Witches” (Sundance Now, streaming), which adapts the best-selling novel by Deborah Harkness. Teresa Palmer stars opposite Matthew Goode, once of “Downton Abbey” and “The Crown.”

“Lip Sync Battle” (Paramount, 9 p.m.) starts its fifth season with a battle among the “Queer Eye” Fab 5.

Janet makes a reconnection on “The Good Place” (NBC, 9:30 p.m.).

Gregory Peck’s grandson Ethan Peck joins the cast for the second season of of “Star Trek: Discovery” (CBS All Access, streaming) as a version of Spock ten years before the one we knew from the original.

Penguin is on the move on “Gotham” (Fox, 8 p.m.).

On “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC, 8 p.m.), a windstorm blows out the power.

Three hours of “Planet Earth: Yellowstone” (BBC America, 8 p.m.) cycles through a year’s seasons.

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Alejandro Escovedo and a Touch of Italy

IMG_6510“Are you ready for some romantic Italian music?” guitarist Antonio Gramentieri calls out to the audience.

Well, honestly, no.

The crowd at City Winery was actually there for the more Tex-Mex flavored ballads and rockers from longtime songwriter Alejandro Escovedo, who has toured with all kinds of configurations over the years, from bands to duos to solo. But wanting to hire a band to back him on a European tour two years ago, he ran into an outfit from a small town near the Italian alps, Don Antonio.

Not only did they manage to bring a full sound to back Escovedo’s songs, they helped inspire his new album The Crossing. Where once it might have been the story of a Mexican-born kid hitchhiking his way from Mexico to an L.A. amid the punk boom, now it’sabout a trip by Diego and Salvo, who meet while working at Salvo’s uncle’s Italian restaurant in Galveston. The two share a love of punk rock, beat writers, and filmmakers like Antonioni.

And they go off to L.A., “looking for an America they both believe exists,” Escovedo explains. So while it’s not exactly about immigration, he goes on, and more about two kids going after something better, there a number of insights about the issue, as he notes Southern Italy has its own immigration from the African countries south of it.

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Wednesday: ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Season Five

Schitt'sCreekTwo episodes herald the fifth season start of “Schitt’s Creek” (Pop, 10 p.m.), the comedy created by Eugene and Dan Levy about a formerly wealthy family now relegated to a small town where they live in a motel.

In the new series “Deadly Class” (Syfy, 10 p.m.), Benjamin Wadsworth stars as a homeless teen recruited to join a shoddy academy for assassins, from the graphic novel series by Rick Remender, who helped create it. With Benedict Wong, Lana Condor and Maria Gabriela de Faria. While tonight’s pilot already had a full length preview last month; the official premiere is tonight.

“The Dictators Playbook” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) turns its attention to Saddam Hussein.

Earlier, “Nature” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) looks at the history of the horse and its long connection to humans.

The latest series from the longtime crimefighter and television host is “In Pursuit with John Walsh” (Investigation Discovery, 10 p.m.) in which he looks at cold cases.

On some of the far-flung streaming services “A Discovery of Witches” (Sundance, streaming) follows the adventures of a modern day witch. “Wayne” (YouTube Premium, streaming) stars Mark McKenna a 16-year-old taking a dirt bike from Boston to Florida to relieve a stolen Trans Am for his father. His girlfriend, played by Ciara Bravo, tags along on the road trip.

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Tuesday TV: Return to ‘Roswell, N.M.’

roswell-new-mexicoThe rebooted “Roswell, New Mexico” (CW, 9 p.m.) starts much the same way the original “Roswell” did on CW nearly 20 years ago — a young woman returns to town, meets a guy who resurrects her from a random shooting at her family’s diner, then learns that he’s an alien. This time the characters are 10 years out of high school and people seem more worried about undocumented aliens.

Jeanine Mason, formerly of “Grey’s Anatomy” (but also the fifth season winner of “So You Think You Can Dance”) is an appealing lead. Nathan Parsons, Tyler Blackburn and Lily Cowles also star in the series, shot in the expanses of New Mexico.

“Drunk History” (Comedy Central, 10 p.m.) begins its sixth season with Evan Rachael Wood, Elijah Wood, Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen joining forces to tell the story of Mary Shelley, who wrote “Frankenstein,” published 201 years ago.

Two underrated comedy return tonight, “Corporate” (Comedy Central, 10:30 p.m.) and “Teachers” (TV Land, 10 p.m.) begins its third season, with Ms. Watson facing Toby for the first time since their breakup.

Scandalous when it first appeared 18 (!) years ago, “Temptation Island” (USA, 10 p.m.) seems almost benign in the era of “Bachelor Pad” and “Married at First Sight.” Mark Walberg returns to navigate four couples in Maui, where they are separated and set upon by hungry singles. But it’s mostly introductions tonight.

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‘Hitmaker’ Jon Spencer at the Black Cat

IMG_6506When Jon Spencer took the stage arranging his amps before his latest band started playing Saturday night at the Black Cat in D.C., nobody much responded. Maybe they didn’t recognize him with glasses.

But when he doffed the glasses, Clark Kent-like, suddenly he was the mercurial rocker, with an Elvis Presley voice, a rock ’n’ roll soul and manic psychobilly punk style.

Once part of such bands as Pussy Galore, Boss Hog, Heavy Trash and the epic Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, he now fronts a trio modestly called The Hitmakers. As such, the bulk of his set came from playing all 12 tracks on the recent Spencer Sings the Hits he recorded in Benton Harbor, Mich.

“Ready for more hits?” he’d say mid-set, with no little irony. As influential as he’s been on rock’s underground, he’s never come close to having a hit — even if his sounds helped powered a recent Hollywood hit, “Baby Driver.”

But what he did was hard hitting, that’s for sure. The tight circle of the band had Sam Coomes, of Quasi and Heatmiser, on keyboards, and the young M. Sord on drums, augmented by the unusual percussion by onetime Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, who spent time in Pussy Galore with Spencer.

People talk about the gritty, piston-beats of industrial Michigan coming through its home-grown rock, but here was Bert wailing away on what looked to be an old Chevy gas tank with a pair of hammers. (On the album, the equipment is identified as “gas tank, strut spring, brake rotor, metal table, ventilation duct, unistrut, 2” EMT conduit, ball peen hammer”). Its distinct ping plays off Sord’s cellar-floor boom but helped conjure the heavy beat that’s always been a part of Spencer’s innate swagger.

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Monday TV: Vampire Twist in ‘The Passage’

the passageScientists are working on a virus that could save humanity but could also destroy it. All they need is a test subject. A federal agent (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is sent out to pick up the girl chosen for the test (Saniyya Sidney) but decides to save her instead and they go on the lam in the new series “The Passage” (Fox, 9 p.m.). Liz Heldens adapts the story from Justin Cronin’s fantasy trilogy that puts a scientific spin on old vampire tales that blends action and sentiment in the manner of the failed Fox series “Touch.”

Some kids just want to be on TV, even if it makes them look like criminals. That’s the case with “Made in Staten Island” (MTV, 10 p.m.), an exploitive reality series which is kind of like “Mob Wives” except with repellant young people.

More mobsters are found on two episodes of “Gotti: Godfather & Son: Behind the Don” (A&E, 8 and 10 p.m.).

The limited series is over, so it’s time for a documentary on the actual case on a sister station, “Dirty John, the Dirty Truth” (Oxygen, 8 p.m.).

The life of the recording star turned Broadway subject is told in the special “Donna Summer; Disco Queen” (Reelz, 9 p.m.).

A bayou fisherman fights swamp rats on “Independent Lens” (PBS, 10 p.m.).

How sexy should cheerleaders be? ”Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” (Starz, 9 p.m.) tracks the beginnings of that squad and their short short success. Then “Sidelined” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.) covers the 1978 fallout when NFL cheerleaders posed for Playboy.

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Sunday TV: ‘True Detective’ Finally Returns

truedetective2Nic Pizzolatto’s “True Detective” (HBO, 9 p.m.) brought with it a grim foreboding, a visual splendor and a kind of philosophic approach to dogged criminal investigation of lurid crime, using indelibly linked pairs. The first season five years ago, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, was a classic (they linger on as named executive producers). The reactions to the second season were generally unfair; it was still one of the best shows on TV.

Now comes season three, fully three and a half years since the last new episode was aired. The completely new story echoes the first season in many ways – a grisly crime, two brooding guys with their own problems becoming obsessed with it, oddball rural totems, a Southern landscape (this time in Arkansas).

Where the first season had a detective looking back, this one has two time flips – from the original action in 1980, a reopening of the case in the 90s, and a true crime interview in the present day, with the memory of the lead character questioned because of Alzheimer’s.

Because that actor is Mashershala Ali, it’s a remarkable tour de force, keeping three balls in the air at once, in three eras, adjusting his performance in each one, based on what he’s learned since. Stephen Dorff is his partner; Carmen Ejogo, Stephen Dorff and Mamie Gummer all turn in remarkable performances.

The early days of the internet may have been explored before, but “Valley of the Boom” (National Geographic, 9 p.m.) looks specifically at the war between the first web browsers. Matthew Carnahan (“House of Lies”) does some wild work here with a cast that includes Bradley Whitford and Stephen Dorff, but also (and maybe confusingly), documentary interviews with some of the principals. It’s a genre the network is cultivating – mixing dramatization with nonfiction commentary, as they do in the series “Mars.”

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