Wisdom from Terrence McNally, 1938-2020

Terrence McNallyTheater suffered a loss this week when the playwright Terrence McNally died at 81, of complications of our current plague, the coronavirus. It was a sad irony since many of McNally’s plays dealt with the effects of a previous plague, AIDS, in the 1980s.

His plays, musicals and screenplays, which included “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Ragtime,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “The Full Monty,” made him one of the most vital and produced writers around.

The deserving subject of an episode of “American Masters” last year, McNally was brought by PBS to the TV Critics Association’s press tour in early 2019 as well. Hundreds of press conferences are held twice a year at press tour, but very few still linger in the mind like McNally’s did.

Thoughtful and expansive, he went on about his craft and his community and gave insight on a variety of topics, including why he writes plays.

“I do it because it’s fun,” he said. “I enjoy it. I enjoy communicating with people. Nothing makes me happier than to make an audience moved or make them laugh.

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Wednesday TV: Traveling by Television

earths sacredWhen travel began to be shut down due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, religious landmarks were among the first to close. Thus a new series like “Earth’s Sacred Wonders” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) may be the only way for now to visit such places as Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Jerusalem and the Shaolin Temple in China — all featured in the first episode of the series.

(The regular Travel channel is showing haunted house fare like “True Terror with Robert England” (Travel, 10 p.m.).

The latest documentary from the Obamas’ production company looks at the beginnings of the disability rights movement in the 1970s, which had its beginning in a summer camp. “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” (Netflix, streaming) is directed by Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham.

“Humboldt: Epic Explorer” (Smithsonian, 8 .m.) looks at the discoveries of Alexander von Humboldt in South America.

The new “Eating History” (History, 10 p.m.) doesn’t so much blend two disciplines as it has two guys eating way expired foods,from a 1947 box of Wheaties to Civil War hardtack.

“CMT Crossroads: Halsey & Kelsea Ballerini” (CMT, 10 p.m.) combines the talent of two young performers, caught during a show in Nashville.

“Pandemic: COVID-19” (Discovery, 10 p.m.) takes a scientific look at the virus and its transmission.

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Tuesday TV: ‘Council of Dads’ Debuts

councilofdadsA fragile and emotional time is probably the perfect atmosphere to introduce the new drama “Council of Dads” (NBC, 10 p.m.) in which a group of friends take over parenting for a father of five after he learns he has cancer. The cast includes Tom Everett Scott, Clive Standen, Sarah Wayne Callies and Michael O’Neill. After its debut tonight, it returns at the end of April. The reason it’s on tonight is to use some of the Kleenex left over from the season finale of “This is Us” (NBC, 9 p.m.) in which the Pearsons gather to celebrate baby Jack’s first birthday.

Causing great consternation when it was canceled by Netflix last year, “One Day at a Time” (Pop TV, 9:30 p.m.) was picked up on the modest cable network for its fourth season. Norman Lear’s adaptation of his old sitcom with a Cuban-American family begins with an episode featuring Ray Romano as a census taker.

A new documentary by Sarah Burns and David McMahon looks at racism in housing by concentrating on a project in Atlanta called “East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings).

The second season of the documentary “Dark Side of the Ring” (Vice, 9 p.m.), looking at the underbelly of professional wrestling, begins with the tragedy of Chris Benoit the WWE star who killed his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007.

“Project Blue Book” (History, 10 p.m.) reaches a second season finale as a rogue admiral is bent on starting a war against UFOs near Russian waters.

A new standup comedy special “Tom Segura: Ball Hog” (Netflix, streaming), was shot in Austin.

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Monday TV: A Boy’s Move to Fisherman

The_Rescue_List_-_Still_-_Rescued_child.max-1860x1050The documentary “The Rescue List,” making its premiere tonight on “POV” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings) follows a team working to rehabilitate two boys in Ghana who were trafficked into slavery into fishermen on Lake Volta. Alyssa Fedele and Zachary Fink direct.

Robert Finster plays a young “Freud” (Netflix, streaming) who is trying to investigate a murder in 19th century Vienna before he makes his breakthroughs. The imported Austrian series if from director Robert Kren.

The first feature film from the streaming service, “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” (Acorn TV, streaming), continues the story of the 1920s-era female detective played by Essie Davis in the series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries,” the three seasons of which are also streaming. Acorn TV has extended its free trial for new subscribers from seven to 30 days with the promo code FREE30.

Here’s a good use of ESPN at a time when there are no sports to show — a repeat of its first rate 2016 docuseries “O.J.: Made in America” (ESPN, 7 p.m.). The first two episodes of the five-part series is on tonight.

“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” (Comedy Central, 11:30 p.m.) returns with a low tech avoid-the-virus version.

It’s Goodman v. Weller in court on “Better Call Saul” (AMC, 9 p.m.).

Winona Ryder’s character is taking a shine to the Lindbergh campaign on “The Plot Against America” (HBO, 9 p.m.).

On “My Brilliant Friend: The Story of a New Name” (HBO, 10 p.m.) a photo of Lila on her wedding day is exhibited at a shop.

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Sunday TV: Damian Lewis Spills on Spies

DamianLewisHe’s kind of a king of Sunday night TV, on shows like “Homeland” and “Billions” and even before that on the “Masterpiece” series “The Forsythe Saga” and HBO’s “Band of Brothers.” Now he’s just himself, hosting the new series recounting famous intelligence operations from the FBI, CIA, KGB and MI6, “Spy Wars with Damian Lewis” (Smithsonian, 8 p.m.).

The world of the Huns and the location of a burial spot are explored in the special “Attila’s Forbidden Tomb” (Science, 8 p.m.).

They sing duets on a Hollywood Week episode of “American Idol” (ABC, 8 p.m.), and yet none of the hopefuls realize the season will never make it to the live shows because of the virus.

Another change: Because production has halted on a lot of shows, some of the schedules are starting to change. And while they once were going to show two episodes of “Black Monday” (Showtime, 10 p.m.) each Sunday, now they’ll stretch it out longer with just one.

“Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” (Bravo, 10 p.m.) may be worth tuning in, since its host has tested positive and put himself in quarantine.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO, 10 p.m.) ends its solid season with some sort of determination of how successful his spite store has become.

It could be the title of a new HGTV real estate series. But “Killer Dream Home” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.) is a made-for-TV thriller about an interior designer with malicious intent. Maiara Walsh, Eve Mauro and Brooke Butler star.

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Remembering Kenny Rogers, 1938-2020

kenny-rogersI feel kind of bad now that I pressed Kenny Rogers a few years back on whether a tour he was calling “The Gambler’s Last Deal: Final World Tour” would actually be his last.

Similar ventures by, say, Kiss, Cher and the Who over the past few years had not resulted in actual farewells.

When Rogers died Saturday at 82, I realized he knew more about his own intent than a reporter trying to get him to say he knew when to fold em.’

“If I don’t do it now, I may not be around for a farewell tour,” Rogers told me for the 2016 article in The Washington Post. “I really want to do this. I want to go to all the places I’ve been before and say thank you and do a final show and have some fun with it.”

Of those other farewell tours, he said “look how young they are. They don’t come close to me. I am my age and I know it…I just hope I’ll be able to finish the tour.”

Recapping his entire career on stage meant jumping genres, from jazz with the Bobby Doyle Three, to folk with the New Christy Minstrels, to psychedelic rock with the First Edition, whose enduring hit “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In)” was used in both the dream sequence of the 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski” and a season of “Fargo.”

“A lot of this stuff I’ve kind of forgotten about,” he said, “so it’s good for me to go back and relive it, too.”

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Saturday TV: Not Much, Frankly

sayYEsFor a Saturday night when perhaps a record number of Americans will be home, there isn’t quite a lot of new or recommendable programs on. More bad planning!

After marrying off representative brides from each state last week, a new season starts for “Say Yes to the Dress – Atlanta” (TLC. 8 p.m.), a city big enough to have its own hard-to please brides.

A new season starts up north for “Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet” (Nat Geo Wild, 8 p.m.). Got some masks to spare, doc?

“Seasonal Wonderlands” (BBC, 9 p.m.), which looks at the changes over a year in different locales, switches its focus to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

“Henry Danger” (Nickelodeon, 8 p.m.) ends its run after five seasons; a spinoff is on its way next week.

What would have been the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship in prime time is now reruns of “Hawaii Five-O” (CBS, 8 p.m.), “S.W.A.T.” (CBS, 9 p.m.),

See it while you can: The network canceled the rest of the season of “American Idol” (ABC, 9 p.m.) before they got to the live competition. There are still a few taped episodes in the can. Here’s a replay of what happened last time during Hollywood Week.

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Friday TV: Streaming to The Rescue

self-made-netflix-tv-reviewIt would seem that streaming services are stepping to keep up with the demand of a nation being asked to stay home. But then again, it’s just Friday, when they regularly release a load of new titles.

Octavia Spencer stars as a entrepreneur who built an African American haircare company that made her the first female self-made millionaire in “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” (Netflix streaming). Written by Walker’s great-great-grandaughter A’Lelia bundles, the film also stars Blair Underwood, Tiffany Haddish, Garrett Morris and Bill Bellamy.

Anthony Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Nia Long star in the movie “The Banker” (Apple TV+, streaming), a civil rights era story about men who bought homes in white areas with an intent to rent them to the black middle class.

“A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story” (Netflix, streaming) is a documentary about the famous Formula One racecar driver from Argentina.

The seven-part documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” (Netflix, streaming) follows a dude who dyed his hair blonde and called himself Joe Exotic, who raised his own zoo and his own exotic troubles, eventually getting himself arrested for attempted murder.

A knight is sent on a dangerous delivery duty in the new series “The Letter for the King” (Netflix, streaming), based on a popular Dutch children’s book.

They’ve already moved up “Frozen II” (Disney +, streaming) for distribution during the current crisis, and announced plans to include the new “Onward” in a couple of weeks. So now they also open up their boardroom discussions, looking at various projects on “Disney Insider” (Disney+, streaming).

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Thursday TV: Conspiracies to ‘News’

cometThe insidious networks of misinformation who snake their conspiracy theories into mainstream news media are deftly explored in the chilling new documentary “After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News” (HBO 9 p.m.), which begins with that weird belief that the military were training a secret operation in Texas during the Obama administration and moves through recent horrors, and includes the most complete report of Pizzagate and its aftermath to date. And there’s a fascinating inside camera on plans to discredit Robert Mueller with a lie.

The new series “Feel Good” (Netflix, streaming) created and starring Mae Martin, is a semi-autobiographical tale about an aspiring standup Canadian comedian in London who strikes up a romance with a woman who is new to same-sex flings.

The 17th season of “Top Chef” begins after an absence of about a year. It’s also got a new title “Top Chef All Stars: L.A.” (Bravo, 10 p.m.) which takes place, yes, in Los Angeles, where 15 past challengers return to compete at at Griffith Observatory. Host Padma Lakshmi and judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons all return. Celebrity guests will include Kelly Clarkson, Jon Favreau, Ali Wong and Randall Park.

There are more than one prime time specials addressing the pandemic. Lester Holt hosts “NBC News Special Report: Coronavirus  Pandemic” (NBC, 10 p.m.). And “Confronting Coronavirus: A PBS Newshour Special” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) is followed by a replay of an old special on past viruses, “Spillover: Zika, Ebola & Beyond” (PBS, 9 pm., check local listings). And there’s another “Global Town Hall” (CNN, 8 p.m.) on the epidemic.

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Other Things I’ve Written Lately

GarthSome of the other things I’ve written lately for other outlets include:

  • A report on the Library of Congress Gershwin Award given to Garth Brooks, for Entertainment Weekly
  • A look at a new exhibit of John Singer Sargent charcoal drawings at the National Portrait Gallery (before the coronavirus shutdown), for Smithsonian Magazine.com.
  • An interview with Cáit O’Riordon about the Poguetry tour celebrating the music of the band she helped originate, the Pogues. For The Vinyl District.
  • A review of the Washington National Opera’s production of “Samson and Delilah” at the Kennedy Center, for Broadway World.
  • An overview of 20 shows coming to the Smithsonian this year (not anticipating the current temporary museum shutdowns).
  • A review of a pair of Tennessee Williams one acts in Arlington.
  • An Q&A with Sergio Mendes for The Vinyl District.
  • A report on Alex Trebek’s visit to the TV Critics Association winter press tour, for TV Worth Watching.
  • Dance review of the National Ballet of Canada, visiting the Kennedy Center with some new work.
  • A look at a new exhibit built around a portrait of artists in Denmark, for Smithsonian Magazine.com.
  • Dance review of a South African troupe doing “Bolero” at the Kennedy Center.
  • An assessment of the 20 splashiest acquisitions at the Smithsonian museums last year.
  • A report explaining the new divisions of FX networks from the TCA winter press tour.
  • Review of Harrison David Rivers’ strong “This Bitter Earth” by Theater Alliance.
  • A thing about the time Hillary Clinton visited the TV Critics Association winter press tour.
  • Reviews of two things at the Taffety Punk theater company: “I Take Your Hand in Mine” and “Suicide Chat Room.”
  • Review of Washington Stage Guild’s “Bloomsday.”
  • A play that brought a Pulitzer prize winning playwright to town gets a review.


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