Pete Holmes Introduces Himself Again

CrashingThere will be a couple of new series on premium cable this season about comedy, comedians and the trials of comedy clubs — not that that’s ever been done before.

But the best of them is “Crashing” (HBO, 10:30 p.m.) in which the affable, familiar-looking Pete Holmes tells somewhat of his own story growing up as a Christian, betrayed by his wife and forced to the brutal world of standup comedy out of force.

He’s aided behind the scenes by Judd Apatow, who has the skills to turn these stories into episodes. And he’s helped on screen by all manner of real life comics playing probably a nicer version of themselves in helping this innocent guy who frankly hasn’t developed the best comedy act yet. Among them in early episodes are T.J. Miller and a surprising Artie Lange.

It all makes for a perfect showcase for the star, whose previous forays into television, including his own post-“Conan” talk show, “The Pete Holmes Show” on TBS in 2013-14, failed to make him a household name.

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Also on Sunday: ‘Little Lies,’ ‘Good Fight’

biglittleliesdinnerIt used to be a nice surprise when a movie star deigned to appear in a TV series. Now there’s such a glut there may be too many of them clamoring to get in. Take for example “Big Little Lies” (HBO, 9 p.m.) a glossy new series about rival moms in ritzy Malibu would be notable if it only had Reese Witherspoon as its star, but it also has Nicole Kidman, who co-produces, Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern. Oh, there’s more: Zoe Kravitz, Alexander Skarsgard as a predatory husband, Adam Scott as a more benign one; Sarah Baker, oh, it goes on and on.

The soapy pilot, adapted from Liane Moriarty’s novel, has high class bickering and behind doors marital tensions, but also at the center of it some sort of murder that is alluded to but never much fleshed out for several episodes. Not only do we not know the culprit (it could be anybody of course); we don’t even know the victim. Woodley’s character is ostensibly the center, since she’s a newcomer introduced to the odd manners of the privileged mommy class, but also holds a memory of her own. Similarly, her more earthy acting style contrasts with the high gloss of the stars all around her.

“Little Big Lies” (like a grown up “Pretty Little Liars”) is full of its nagging annoyances, first of which is why should we care about these largely self-made problems of the rich? But its stars are trying so hard and turn in such good work that you know it’s something you’ll be watching every week despite it all.

When CBS let its one prestige show, “The Good Wife,” end last spring, the creators came up with a spin-off, concentrating on Christine Baranski’s character Diane Lockhart. But the resulting “The Good Fight” (CBS, 8 p.m.) airs on the network exactly once. Its remaining episodes will run on the subscription-only online service CBS All Access. What may bolster their internet business may hurt their original network though, by losing what looks to be a strong legal yarn. It takes place a year after last year’s finale, with Baranski shaken by financial fraud and forced to find work across town with a rival firm. Many of the stars from the former series return including Cush Jumbo. Also on board: Rose Leslie of “Game of Thrones” and Delroy Lindo.

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Saturday TV: ‘Planet Earth II,’ Slam Dunk

PlanetEarthIIRacer snakes make life tough for baby marine iguanas — not only online but in its original form, as part of “Planet Earth II” (BBC America, AMC, Sundance, 9 p.m.), with its dazzling photography once more breezily narrated by David Attenborough. The only slight complaint I’d have it that it tends to give the false impression that wildlife moves in slow motion, but otherwise it’s top rate TV, with a surprising amount of of advances in photography since the first installment in 2006. The premiere concentrates on animal life on remote islands.

NBA’s All Star Weekend continues with the Slam Dunk Contest (TNT, 8 p.m.) that also includes the three point contest and skills challenge. Earlier, even the All Star Game Practice (NBA, noon) is televised as is the D-League All-Star Game (NBA, 2:30 p.m.), which is to say, no stars at all.

The latest pop star bio film treatment comes in “Britney Ever After” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.) with Natasha Bassett playing the singer who shaves her head during a meltdown and then has another comeback.

In the other made-for-TV film, “Love Blossoms” (Hallmark, 9 p.m.) a perfumer seeking a new scent falls for a botanist. Shantel VanSanten and Victor Webster star.

Last year’s “The Legend of Tarzan” (HBO, 8 p.m.) with Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz., makes its premium cable premiere. The Steven Spielberg film “Bridge of Spies” (Showtime, 6:35 p.m.) with Tom Hanks is also on, but since it comes on the network’s free weekend, everyone can see it.

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Playlist 2-17-17

RadioCPR2Started with some Miles Davis, then some Cuban sounds from Rhythms del Mundo. Turned the clock back 50 years to the day when the Beatles were creating “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”

Songs from Chuck Prophet’s new album “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” led naturally to some Bobby Fuller Four. Also a taste of new albums from Ryan Adams, Son Volt and Alejandro Escovedo. Electronic instrumentals led to a salute to Devo on the anniversary of Bob Casale’s death. Closed out with other anthems of that era from Boston and the UK.

Here’s what I played on the radio tonight:

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Friday TV: Celebrities on the NBA Court

AllStarCelebAll-Star Weekend begins not in Charlotte, where it was originally scheduled but wisely boycotted by the NBA, but in New Orleans. Tonight’s All-Star Celebrity Game (ESPN, 7 p.m.) at the Superdome includes such unusual players as Mark Cuban, Master P and his son Romeo Miller, Anthony Mackie, Andy Grammar Tom Cavanagh, Nick Cannon, Kris Wu and Win Butler.

It’s followed by the Rising Stars Challenge (TNT, 9 p.m.) with teams led by last year’s rookie winners Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Portzingis.

On “Great Performances”  (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings), “New York City Ballet in Paris” chronicles two of the four performances New York Ballet gave by its founder George Balanchine at the Theatre du Chatelet last summer — the Walpurgisnacht Ballet and La Valse.

A third season of “Chef’s Table” (Netflix, streaming) drops online, looking at chefs such as Jeong Kwan in South Korea, Tim Raue in Berlin, Ivan Orkin in New York and Nancy Silverton in Los Angeles.

“Dateline” (NBC, 10 p.m.) updates the story of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey, convicted in a case that fascinated millions on Netflix’ “Making of a Murderer.”

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Other Things I’ve Written Lately

  • A chat with Gladys Knight, minus the Pips, for The Washington Post
  • A look at the orchid show at the Hirshhorn Museum for Smithsonian Magazine.com
  • An interview with R&B’s “Uncle” Charlie Wilson for the Washington Post.
  • A story about a troupe that mixes juggling with dancing for the Post.
  • Talking with the creators of the new comedy “The Mick” for The Hartford Courant.
  • A long Washington Post story about the 14 women who took part in Ragnar Kjartansson’s “Women in E” performance at the Hirshhorn.
  • A Q&A in the Post with David Lowery, who was bringing both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven to town.
  • Clare Bowen of “Nashville” fame talks about a local upcoming performance for the Post.
  • An interview with Ute Lemper about her “Songs for Eternity” project, conducted on Inauguration Day.
  • Talking with guitarist Sonny Landreth for the Post and talking even more with him for Songfacts.com.
  • Further talk with Darlene Love for Songfacts.
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Thursday TV: Whole Lot of Cooking

TOpCHefThe finals kick off on “Top Chef” (Bravo, 9 p.m.), and since they are in Mexico finalists John Tesar, Shirley Chung and Sheldon Simeon must cook goat and make margaritas.

Meanwhile the Top 20 chefs are revealed on “MasterChef Junior” (Fox, 8 p.m.) and they get to work on steak, lobster and cupcakes. And it’s down to the final three teams, led by Lance Bass, Andrew Dice Clay and Brandi Glanville, all cooking for a crowd of more than 100 on “My Kitchen Rules” (Fox, 9 p.m.).

“The History of Comedy” (CNN, 10 p.m.) looks at female contributions to the form.

Bryan Cranston returns as the voice of Titanium Rex, aging superhero on “SuperMansion” (Crackle, streaming), an animated show that also uses the voices of Keegan-Michael Key and Chris Pine.

On “Baskets” (FX, 10 p.m.), Chip returns to Bakersfield with his mom.

An eighth season starts for “Swamp People” (History, 9 p.m.), the bayou reality show with little connection to actual history.

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Wednesday TV: Katherine Heigl Tries Again

DoubtKatherine Heigl never quite found her TV footing after leaving “Grey’s Anatomy” but she tries again in “Doubt” (CBS, 10 p.m.), a new legal yarn made needlessly complicated by her own dalliance with her client, Steven Pasquale (who has had his own trouble keeping a network series), several side plots, and a way too big cast that includes Elliott Gould, Judith Light, Laverne Cox and Dule Hill. It’s from some writers on “Grey’s” and “Madame Secretary” and one of the first times you may wish the thing were simpler and episodic. “Doubt” is what I feel about its future.

The three part “Madiba” (BET, 10 p.m.) concludes with Laurence Fishbone’s Nelson Mandela out of jail and looking into the future of South Africa.

I’m not saying everything will make sense on the second episode of “Legion” (FX, 10 p.m.), but David looks back on his past to fill in some pieces.

There will be more than enough examples to fill an episode on political deceit on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS, 10:30 p.m.).

Origami isn’t just fun, it’s a useful way into scientific discoveries, according to a new episode of “Nova” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings.

The crazy plot to spy on animals using dummies with cameras winds up on “Nature” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings).

Peyton Manning guest stars as a coach on “Modern Family” (ABC, 9 p.m.).

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‘Tower’ Focuses on Mass Shooting Victims

TOWER_SigImage-e1481050472846-1920x830Public television presents a rather grim Valentine’s Day by documenting two notorious U.S. shootouts.

The better of them can be found in Keith Maitland’s sensitive “Tower” making its TV debut on “Independent Lens” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings). It rises above the usual way to handle one of the first cases of mass shooting in America, when a man climbed to the clock tower at the University of Texas in 1966 and opened fire, killing 16 and injuring 33 others.

Most notably, it recalls the horrific event through animation matched with re-enacted recollections, which works better than anyone could have imagined, more as a series of moving illustrations. It gains impact when it begins to show many of the eyewitnesses and victims in some case, who in some cases are reuniting 50 years after that hot afternoon to recollect the story.

The other difference is that it only tells the tale from the plaza, where the victims scrambled and fell. I asked the filmmaker about leaving out in many ways even the name of Charles Whitman from the film until the very end at the TV Critics Association press tour last month.

“We took we made a very conscious decision to focus and tell the story from the ground up and not from the top down,” Maitland says. “But it wasn’t a decision we came to lightly.

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Also on Tuesday: Martyring Ruby Ridge

ruby_ridgeNever has there been so many films about white supremacists on public television as there are this Black History Month.

Following a documentary Monday about a man who sits down with KKK members to find their humanity, here’s a followup of Barak Goodman’s film last week about the rise of the white extremists that led to “Oklahoma City” and as such, it includes many of the same interviewees.

The hour-long documentary “Ruby Ridge” on “American Experience” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) makes a martyr out of the guy who put his family in danger by refusing to show up for trial to answer charges of sawing off shotguns. Randy Weaver eventually surrendered 11 days after shots were fired but not until after three were dead including a U.S. Marshall. A surviving daughter who is interviewed (with dramatic music behind her) talks about feeling like she was being hunted. As in Waco, authorities who were patient for a time eventually stumbled into violence. Still, there was a much easier way for this to have ended.

The British comedian gets a standup special filmed in London, “Katherine Ryan: In Trouble” (Netflix, streaming).

“NCIS” (CBS, 8 p.m.) and “NCIS: New Orleans” (CBS, 10 p.m.) share a crossover episode about a homeland security breach.

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