Thursday TV: Smart People Are Tested

SpellingBee1It’s the unusual night on TV where being smart counts.

First the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee (ESPN, 10 a.m., 8 p.m.) has its finals today at National Harbor, four hours today and two hours for the conclusion tonight. Kevin Negandi of “SportsCenter” is host. Six of the last eight winning words still come up as misspelled on Microsoft Word. Last year’s winning words were scherenschnitte and nunatak. The last two years had co-champions.

The quiz show “500 Questions” (ABC, 8 p.m.) returns for five nights with tougher than usual questions — miss three and they’re out. The host is a guy from “Nightline,” Dan Harris.

A one-hour documentary, “Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement” (BET, 9 p.m.) looks at the history and future of the cause. Directed by Laurens Grant, the film is executive produced by actor Jesse Williams of “Grey’s Anatomy,” who also appears in it.

For the annual “Red Nose Day Special” (NBC, 9 p.m.), a number of celebrities including Elton John, Julia Roberts, Bono, Kobe Bryant, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Margot Robbie, Will Ferrell, Trevor Noah, Ludacris, Jay Leno, Blake Shelton and Jeff Goldblum all perform, participate in skits or otherwise put on red noses. It’s all meant to raise money for child hunger, though it’s not clear how. Craig Ferguson hosts.

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Wednesday TV: Pines, Ever Wayward

WaywardPines“Wayward Pines” (Fox, 9 p.m.) winds its way back for a second season. Produced by M. Night Shyamalan, it told the story in Blake Crouch’s series of books in season one, so it retells the story on its own now, with a substantially different cast.  Matt Dillon is gone now, replaced by Jason Patric as a newcomer who has to go through all the same things: What is this place? How do I get out of here? (You don’t). Instead of a weird mystery tension, though, it’s quite dull and repetitive.

Meanwhile, a number of network series end their seasons, none more prominently than “Nashville” (ABC, 10 p.m.), a beloved series not only because it showcased country music, but because it was one of the only hour-long family dramas on TV (that is to say: one that didn’t involve blood).

They try to tie up some storylines in the finale titled, a little peevishly, “Maybe You’ll Appreciate Me Someday.”

Also showing its last episode is the wrong-headed and short-lived medical drama, “Heartbeat” (NBC, 8 p.m.), amid a hospital lockdown.

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Tuesday TV: Profiting from the Hurricane

FrontlineWho made money from Hurricane Sandy? A number of insurance companies for one, according to a new report on “Frontline” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) titled “Business of Disaster.” Contracted to administer the government flood insurance program, they’ve been making hundreds of millions of dollars at the same time thousands of homeowners said they were being underpaid. And government agencies established to build back seem to be learning on the job.

The best drama of the past few weeks (and the most succinct), “The Night Manager” (AMC, 10 p.m.) concludes its gorgeous, tension-filled six-episode run.

Gordon Ramsay commence yelling at hoteliers as a new season begins on “Hotel Hell” (Fox, 8 p.m.). He focuses first on a family-owned inn in Idaho where the owner has lost interest.

It leads into the second episode of the network’s own “Bachelorette” show, “Coupled” (Fox, 9 p.m.).

Winners are named on the season finales of both “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC, 9 p.m.) and “The Voice” (NBC, 9 p.m.). On the former, guest performers include Pitbull, Aloe Blacc, Fleur East and Fifth Harmony; on the latter, it’s Ariana Grande, Little Big Town, Zayn, Blake Shelton and Sia, who may give out some of her own money, as she did on the “Survivor” finale last week. It’s all preceded by a “Voice” recap at 8.

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Puppet Takeover at Helen Hayes Awards

HelenHayesConstellation Theatre’s adult puppet musical “Avenue Q” swept the 32nd annual Helen Hayes Awards honoring professional theater in Washington, D.C., on Monday with seven awards including outstanding musical.

Two other international productions shone brightly at the awards held at the Lincoln Theatre as well, Shakespeare Theater Company’s Salome,” its choice for the big Women’s Voices Theater Festival, won seven awards including best play, as did a a contemporary take on the tale by poet Federico Garcia Lorca, “Yerma,” won six honors including best non-Equity play for the GALA Hispanic Theatre marking its 40th anniversary.

And there three awards for Happenstance Theatre’s “IMPOSSIBLE! A Happenstance Circus” including outstanding ensemble and the Robert Prosy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for Mark Jaster, who said he was first nominated 30 years ago.

After being shut out in a number of categories, Arena Stage’s “Dear Evan Hansen,” currently being staged on Broadway, eventually won outstanding musical and outstanding director, Michael Greif.

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Stage Review: Robin Hood in a Bar

Robin and MarianClose-up magic, where the cards and tricks fly right under a viewer’s nose, is always quite effective. So why not close-up theater?

That’s what’s going on in the Petworth bar DC Reynolds, where the living room-sized front barroom has been cleared of tables for LiveArtDC’s original production of “The Merry Death of Robin Hood.”

One can still grab a stool on the periphery and all are encouraged to grab a beer and engage in the many toasts. But when the staged  fights break out, you might have to move out of the way quickly.

LiveArtDC has staged theater in barrooms before, but this production, written by Paul Reitman and directed by Jason Schalafstein, is the first the company conceived on its own for a specific space. So the green roped lights overhead alight every time the scene is Sherwood Forest; boxes are lifted in when it’s time to approximate a river crossing for the Little John scene, and there’s no shortage of handy ales to animate the central action – a wake for the fallen leader.

As the no longer Merry Men reminisce about Robin (Matthew Aldwin McGee), his spirit mingles among them as he corrects the record, stops the action and reminisces on the story himself. That makes for a lot of time shifting and times when Robin is seen by others, or not seen by them. But nothing gets too out of hand because it is all so close at hand.

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Monday TV: Prisoners, Shows Return

thereturn-1500x844The 29th season of “POV” (PBS, 10 p.m.) starts with an in-depth look at the result of prison reform, specifically the “three strikes” law adopted in California more than 20 years ago that packed the prisons with crimes sometimes as small as selling small amounts of Prop 36, which reformed the law 2012 that made thousands of inmates who were resigned to life sentences eligible for release.

“The Return,” a film by Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway that won the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival, looks at two such cases. One was a life sentence for a purse snatching. The problem is that inmates who have resigned themselves to life sentences and cut themselves off from families, are unprepared for the sudden re-entry.

Speaking of returns, “The Bachelorette” (ABC, 9 p.m.) is back again, this time with runner up JoJo Fletcher doing the picking. She’s the one who seemed too wild to make a sensible choice for bland Ben Higgins on last season’s “Bachelor,” Now there’s two dozen guys competing for her heart if not her hand.

The guys are always worse than the women; they’re far more into it for the competition than the woman in question and the show goes out of its way to pick suitable villains (if not making villains out of ordinary people through editing). The sooner this is over the sooner we get to “Bachelor in Paradise.”

Also back: “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (The CW, 9 and 9:30 p.m.) with guest appearances from Alfonso Ribeiro and Keegan Michael-Key.

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‘Preacher,’ Latest Comic Book Adaptation

preacher-teaser-picAMC must buy its blood by the tanker truck. So after amassing huge audiences for “The Walking Dead,” it’s about to spill some more, amid explosions, elaborate fights and other expansive action in another comic book adaptation, “Preacher” (AMC, 10 p.m.).

It’s set in the tiny, underpopulated West Texas town of Annville, where a new preacher, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) is doing a particularly poor job trying to uplift and inspire people. At the same time, some unknown force has been inhabiting men of faith, where they explode before their congregations, in Africa, then in Russia and even (we hear briefly in a news clip) Los Angeles, where Tom Cruise has apparently exploded. But something empowering happens when it inhabits this preacher.

The Preacher joins forces with an ex-girlfriend Tulip (Ruth Nega) up to her neck in her own trouble. Add to this an Irish wild man who drops from the sky and may be some sort of evil force of his own, Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) and there’s a posse to fight whatever force is assembling.

The adaptation is from a pair of big fans of the comic, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, so there is no little humor involved, a dark humor that is more like the stuff from the old EC Comics and the beginnings of “The Walking Dead” series (and not the dour thing that it became).

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Also On Sunday: Billboard Music Awards

106 & Park With Ciara and LudacrisLudacris and Ciara co-host the three hour Billboard Music Awards (ABC, 8 p.m.) from Las Vegas, where performers include Demi Lovato, Meghan Tranor, Rihanna, Fifth harmony, Justin Bieber, DNCE, the Go-Go’s, Shawn Mendes and Pink. Prince gets a salute from Madonna; Britney Spears and Celine Dion each get special awards. Adele’s new video gets a debut. And Kesha gets to sing, if she doesn’t mention her suit against her producer.

The “Wallander” series comes to an end on “Masterpiece” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) with the detective losing his grip on reality as he tries to find Linda’s missing father-in-law.

Dr. Turner discovers the reason for a rise in birth deformities on the fifth season finale of “Call the Midwife” (PBS, 8 p.m.).

Arya gets a chance to prove herself on “Game of Thrones” (HBO, 9 p.m.).

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As LBJ, Cranston Goes ‘All the Way’

bryan-cranston-s-hbo-drama-all-the-wayBryan Cranston already won a Tony for his work portraying President Lyndon Baines Johnson on Broadway.

He goes a step further in the film version of “All the Way” (HBO, 8 p.m.), making its debut tonight, by seemingly becoming the Texan thrust into the presidency by the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

There’s no doubt he’ll add another Emmy for the work he brings in recreating the garrulous, uncompromising but often quite insecure president. But it’s amazing the transformation a lot of extensive makeup achieves into making him a spitting image.

“We decided to go full on,” Cranston told reporters at the TV Critics Association press tour earlier this year. “ Fortunately, my own natural physical makeup is what every man searches for — beady eyes and thin lips — and that’s what I share with LBJ.”

While on Broadway, he did his own makeup, putting on those distinctive ears, slicking back his hair and putting some grey in it.

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Also on Saturday: Insurance Adjusters

DoubleIndemnityWho says insurance isn’t an intriguing field? Well, most everybody. But there have been a few films about insurance investigators.

Turner Classic Movies has four of them: “Double Indemnity” (8 p.m.), pictured right with Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray, followed by “Cover-Up” (10 p.m.), “The Pitfall” (11:30 p.m.) and “Timetable” (1 a.m.).

The hobbyist filmmaker Sid Laverents gets a showcase later with a collection of the films he made over three decades in “The Sid Saga” (TCM, 2:30 a.m.).

The extensive Showtime documentary “The Spymasters: CIA in the Crossroads,”  gets a replay before a major broadcast audience for a two hour “48 Hours” (CBS, 9 p.m.).

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