Thursday TV: New ‘McCarthys’ Not So Bad

McCarthysThe last network sitcom to premiere in the fall TV season, “The McCarthys” (CBS, 9:30 p.m., ) isn’t so bad. It shows how much a skilled cast can carry a comedy and here much of the work is being done by Laurie Metcalf as the needy mother. It’s one of two great comedy roles for her this fall — she’ll return next month on HBO’s underrated “Getting On.” Jack McGee of “Rescue Me” is the dad. The grown children include Joey McIntyre, Jimmy Dunn and Kelen Coleman but the star is Tyler Ritter as the gay one who is not as into Boston sports.

Thankfully, they don’t seem to dwell on his orientation; it isn’t the central point of each joke and the family all seems to accept  him fine. Really, the oddest thing in the pilot is that the family gets so upset that the he’s considering moving to Providence — which isn’t exactly across the country; it’s about a half hour drive from Boston.

Metcalf also appeared a handful of times on “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS, 8 p.m.) which moves back to its regular time slot now that Thursday Night Football has moved back to cable with New Orleans at Carolina (NFL, 8:25 p.m.). Also returning for the first time this season — which is also its last — is “Two and a Half Men” (CBS, 9 p.m.) with Ashton Kutcher. In between is “Mom” (CBS, 8:30 p.m.).

Back for its third season is “Elementary” (CBS, 10 p.m.), with the additions of Gina Gershon and Ophelia Lovibond.

Ryan Murdock’s documentary “Bronx Obama” (Showtime, 7:30 p.m.) follows the odd career of Louis Ortiz who decides to make some money out of the fact that he vaguely looks like the President.

The oddest annual awards show may be the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards (Hallmark, 8 p.m.) for the canine set. There, the concern on the red carpet is less for wardrobe malfunction than it is for accidents.

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Wednesday TV: Dylan Thomas’ Demise

dylan-thomas-a-poet-in-new-york-tom-hollander-bbc-americaThe centenary of his birth this weeks is marked by the excess that lead to his death of the poet Dylan Thomas in one of the best TV movies of the year, “A Poet in New York” (BBC America, 8 p.m.).

Andrew Davies wrote the remarkable, necessarily literate script about the poet who marked his frequent trips from Wales to New York with binge drinking and carrying on, leading to his death there in 1953 at the age of only 39. His messing about at the Chelsea Hotel and the White Horse Tavern are the things of literary legend. Tom Hollander (“Rev”) put on weight to portray the pudgy poet and comes off with a certain gravitas in a remarkable performance.

Essie Davis and Phoebe Fox round out the cast as his long-suffering, battling wife and his assistant and mistress respectively. Here’s a thing I wrote last summer about the film and its writer Davies.

It’s the kind of thing that could only be cooked up by reality TV producers: As if to show a way to meet halfway, they get two U.S. senators — the Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Martin Heinrich — to go to a remote island for a week to make them realize that it’s the only way they could survive. After all, the strangers on “Naked and Afraid” have to cooperate and they don’t even have any clothes. Expect things to change completely in Washington after “Real Survival” (Discovery, 10 p.m.).

The documentary “To Russia with Love” (Epix, 8 p.m.) chronicles the experiences of the gay delegation that went to the Winter Olympics in Sochi to protest Russia’s treatment of homosexuals.

A World Series winner will be determined tonight with San Francisco at Kansas City (Fox, 8 p.m.) and teams tied 3-3 going into the decisive Game 7.

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Kelley Caught in ‘Survivor’ Tribe Reshuffle

survivor-kelley-wentworth-voted-off-jeff-probst-600x300Being voted off of “Survivor” is a drag. But there were perks after Kelly Wentworth was eliminated from the newly reshuffled Coyopa tribe last week.

“Eating! Running water!” she said over the phone last week. “It’s just so weird to be holding a cell phone again.”

It wasn’t quite a merge last week, but a reshuffling of teams, needed especially after one team had los three members at tribal and the other only one.

“As a fan of ‘Survivor,’ I knew there was a good chance that would happen,” Wentworth said. But it didn’t go well for her, being one of four people who came from Hunahpu to Coyopa. And the new Coyopa was all coupled up, with Jon and Jaclyn reunited, Baylor and her mother Missy both there and Kelley back with her dad Dale. Only Wes was still playing with a relation on the other team (he and Keith essentially swapped).

Tribal showed that anybody could have gone home — Dale had two votes, Baylor had two as well, but three voted for Kelley (all from the other women on the tribe, as it turns out).

Mostly there was a fight between Baylor and Dale that only intensified when their loved ones arrived on tribe and Kelley was the victim (to get at Dale).

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Tuesday TV: The Rise of ISIS

ISisA new “Frontline” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) looks at the rise of ISIS, a steady rise that went mostly ignored according to the report by Martin Smith that begins with the U.S. pullout of Iraqi in 2011, and grew during the political mayhem in Syria in 2011-2012 and money raised from obtaining oil fields.

The harmless Christmas home outdoor display decorating competition they had last December is back for another holiday with “The Great Halloween Fright Fight” (ABC, 8 p.m.) and families competing for a $50,000 prize.

In the new comedy “Benched” (USA, 10:30 p.m.), Eliza Coupe stars as a corporate lawyer turned public defender.

Is Captain Cold any kind of competition for “The Flash” (The CW, 8 p.m.)? His name sounds like he’s merely aloof.

Every murder is now suspected as terrorism on “NCIS” (CBS, 8 p.m.).

Back in Missouri, it’s Game 6 of the World Series with San Francisco at Kansas City (Fox, 8 p.m.) and the Giants up three games to two.

A thriller you’re not likely to see as an in-flight movie is the Liam Neeson action film of the air, “Non-Stop” (MoreMax, 9 p.m.) with Julianne Moore, Corey Stoll, Michelle Dockery and Lupita Nyong’o.

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Mailbag: ‘Boardwalk’s End, ‘Murder’s Start

boardwalk-empire-finale-terence-winter_article_story_largeA friend writes:

How did you think ‘Boardwalk’ ‘s finale rated on the satisfaction scale? More intellectually resonant than emotionally, maybe. But extra points for being self-reflexive to a fault with the whole ‘cable series are always about anti-heroes’ business. The whole season’s worth of flashbacks can be read as leading up to the moment he turned bad! Major think piece stuff.

I’ve been out traveling for a few days and only just saw the finale last night. I’d say it was a very measured conclusion, making sure to wrap up its many story lines in a manner other than just gunfire (though there was some of that).
The revelations of the flashbacks all season were mostly in the remarkable casting — has the attempt to hire actors playing younger versions of show stars ever been done better? That Nucky was scarred by his first wife’s childbirth tragedy and having a role in Gillian Dormody turned over to the Commodore were things that were certainly established before this year. Maybe they meant to just remind us and give us details.
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Monday TV: Soul Brother Number One

james-brownWhile producing the recent bio pic “Get On Up,” Mick Jagger thought to also help produce — and contribute — to an Alex Gibney-directed documentary on James Brown, “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown” (HBO, 9 p.m.). It’s certainly a story that deserves to be told again — with the electrifying music of the soul singer determined to leave his bleak life of poverty and end up on top.

A lot of the same details are recalled, and a number of smart musicologists, musicians and former band members comment on his distinctive style and manner. For his part, Jagger admits stealing as much as he could from his performances, and goes on so much about how Brown didn’t upstage the Rolling Stones at the 1965 “T.A.M.I Show” (there were different audiences for each, he claims, though the classic film of the event clearly shows Brown having decisively torn up the place), you almost think he decided to fund the film in order to make this distinction.

The film goes on from there, however, to his conquering of mainstream show business on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” his part in the Civil Rights marches, his handling of potential rioting Boston audiences after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and his embracing of Republican politics and Richard Nixon (it was all about business).

Things stop before Brown performs in the “Blues Brothers” movie, is parodied on “Saturday Night Live” or has a hit with “Living in the U.S.A.” And there’s very little of his volatile personal life. But there’s a lot see here, including the birth of funk and some candor from the band.

Another onetime black hero gets different treatment tonight in a new series that takes its cue from the early 80s “Mr. T” cartoon series. “Mike Tyson Mysteries” (Cartoon Network, 10 p.m.) is a spoof on that era’s cartoons, as Tyson’s Scooby Doo” style crime fighting team include an adopted daughter, Norm MacDonald as a crude pigeon pal, and Jim Rash as the ghost of the Marquees of Queensberry. The first mystery is literary, involving Cormac McCarthy and is pretty funny, loopy stuff.

Japanese traits of punctuality and obedience may have made a 2005 train crash in Osaka an even bigger tragedy, according to the documentary “Brakeless.”  making its debut on “Independent Lens” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings). When the train conductor tried to make up being 80 seconds behind by speeding, the train crashed into an apartment, killing 107.

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Two Stage Reviews: Ali and Pirandello

Fetch_Clay_Make_ManThe unusual alliance, in 1965, of boxer Muhammad Ali with Stepin Fetchit, the Depression-era comedian and stereotype, seemed so odd that it certainly deserves an imagined play chronicling their interaction.

Will Powers’ “Fetch Clay, Make Man” does just that, and in a dynamite production at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre direct from California, packs in all manner of pertinent race issues of the Civil Rights era as well.

Almost wholly imported from the Marin Theatre Company of San Francisco, where Round House producing artistic director Ryan Rilette had that same job five years before coming to the D.C. area, it brings in a number of talented actors.

None are more perfect than Eddie Ray Jackson as Ali, bringing a rare athleticism and boxer’s build to a role that doesn’t attempt impersonation of the rhyming champion as much as it does the embodying of his spirit.

Jackson brings the brash confidence of the good-looking boxer who had changed his name from Cassius Clay after embracing the Nation of Islam, but also a vulnerability in how much is riding on his shoulders and whether he can actually beat Sonny Liston again in the looming rematch.

Roscoe Orman is perfect as Fetchit, a character almost lost to history, who was in fact the first black actor with a screen credit and Hollywood’s first black millionaire — all from a laconic character he created so well, people thought it was his actual personality. It was such an effective characterization that Fetchit, whose real name was Lincoln Perry, was blamed for promulgating the widespread stereotype, effectively putting an end to his career especially as the civil rights movement was building.

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Sunday TV: ‘Boardwalk’s End

boardwalk-empireIt’s been a wonderful series. “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO, 9 p.m.) fleshed out the bootlegging business that made Atlantic City bustle in Prohibition Days through the character of Nucky Thompson, Steve Buscemi’s career character — a tough businessman who has somehow survived the increasingly bloody turf war of battling gangland criminals.

Tonight’s series finale will likely spend a lot of time on some final gun battle, but also wind up some of the nicely done (and impossibly well cast) flashback scenes that have been the hallmark of the final season. With impeccable art direction, set dressing, and costumes “Empire” was also blessed with well drawn characters, sharply written episodes and fine direction. Overlooked and underrated in its time, it will be sought out for future binging. And it will be missed.

P.D. James’ novel “Death Comes to Pemberly” is adapted for “Masterpiece Mystery” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings). using the characters of Jane Austen in creating a murder mystery a half dozen years after Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have been wed. Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin star in the handsome two-part production, which concludes next week.

National Geographic jams together four different outdoorsy adventures for one marathon night of expeditions. The centerpiece is the two hour “Mammoths Unearthed” (National Geographic, 8 p.m.) in which scientists Trevor Valle and Tim King reach a couple of mammoths when the permafrost around them melts in Siberia. Also tonight: “The Man Who Doesn’t Breathe” (National Geographic, 6 p.m.), “K2: Death Mountain” (National Geographic, 7 p.m.) and “Die Trying: Crossing the Ice” (National Geographic, 10 p.m.).

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Saturday TV: The Good Witch’s Return

goodWitchThe longest running franchise in Hallmark history involves a good looking witch in a small town. Catherine Bell returns as Cassie Nightingale in the new one, “The Good Witch’s Wonder” (Hallmark, 9 p.m.), in which she has to plan her nephew’s wedding and plan a silent auction. Frankly, it doesn’t sound all that scary.

Also new tonight is the TV movie “High School Possession” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.), which they restrained from calling “I Was a Teenage Exorcism Victim.” Jennifer Stone, Janel Parrish and Ione Skye star.

Mostly, the last Saturday before Halloween is filled with campy or scary movies, including: “The Conjuring” (HBO Signature, 7 p.m.), “Addams Family Values” (ABC Family, 8 p.m.), “Seed of Chucky” (AMC, 8 p.m.), “Scary Movie 3″ (MTV, 8 p.m.), “They Live” (Sundance, 9 p.m.), “Resident Evil: Extinction” (Syfy, 9 p.m.), “The Lost Boys” (VH1, 9 p.m.), “Hocus Pocus” (ABC Family, 10 p.m.) and “Fright Night” (MTV, 10 p.m.).

It will be hard to beat the classic horror triple feature “The Haunting” (TCM, 8 p.m.), “Village of the Damned” (10 p.m.) and “The Curse of Frankenstein” (11:30 p.m.).

Painkillers have been turning into actual killers in the U.S. according to a new report on “Fault Lines” (Al Jazeera America, 7 p.m.), with Zohydro joining the ranks of OxyContin and Vicodin.

Trees are giving “Doctor Who” (BBC America, 9 p.m.) problems in tonight’s episode.

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Friday TV: ‘Constantine,’ Bennett, Gaga

Matt-Ryan-as-ConstantineThe TV landscape has never been littered with so many comic book heroes, but my favorite of the bunch just might be “Constantine” (NBC, 10 p.m..), adapted from a DC comic but not requiring costumes and capes.

Its star Matthew Ryan helps make it work, bringing a world-weariness and stated reluctance to his job as a demon fighter, aided as usual by TV’s overall ability to show improved special effects. It is the humor and some restraint that makes this adaptation of the star from “Swamp Thing” and “Hellblazer” a hero we can cheer. It also serves as good fit with “Grimm” (NBC, 9 p.m.), which starts its fourth season, with Nick getting worse as keeping his identity secret.

The unusual pairing for a duets record proved worthy of a whole album and concert with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennet joining forces to sing standards on “Great Performances” (PBS, 9:30 p.m., check local listings), taped from a Jazz at Lincon Center concert in July. While Gaga seems at a point where she could use any boost she could get, the collaboration also proves that you can’t tarnish the ever-smooth Bennett at 88 no matter what you do.

It’s quite a night for music, it turns out, with the full length documentary “Leave the World Behind: Swedish House Mafia’s Final Tour” (Showtime, 9 p.m.) about the dance music group’s swan song.

And for his second episode of “Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways” (HBO, 11 p.m.), Dave Grohl goes back to his hometown in suburban Virginia and relives his youth in the D.C. punk scene, interviewing some of his heroes from back in the day, including the talky Ian MacKaye of Fugazi.

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