Monday TV: Can Holocaust Humor Exist?

DayTheClownCriedIn politics, tossing off the Holocaust and Hitler for comparison is never a good idea. What about making a joke of them? The documentary “The Last Laugh” looks at where exactly one should draw the line for laughs. Or should one?

As some of the comics note in the film, making its debut on “Independent Lens” (PBS, 10 p.m., check local listings), victims in the concentration camps traded jokes to keep their sanity. Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, and Rob Reiner and Jewish scholars chime in. Most notable, perhaps, is that the documentary includes newly discovered footage from Jerry Lewis’ never seen Holocaust movie “The Day the Clown Cried.”

On a more serious note, Marcel Ophuls’ 1978 documentary “The Memory of Justice” (HBO2, 5 p.m.), newly restored, gets a Holocaust Remembrance Day screening.

“Bates Motel” (A&E, 10 p.m.) reaches its final episode and probably still won’t dovetail with “Psycho.” A special looking back at the generally successful five seasons by Carlton Cuse follows at 11:06 p.m., with stars Freddie Highmore, Vera Farming and Nestor Carbonell on hand to answer fan inquiries.

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Aimee Mann: Sad Songs in Hot Pants

IMG_3780Aimee Mann thinks her songs are sadder than they really are; that there’s so much psychosis on her latest album that she had to called it “Mental Illness.” It was as if a night of her music might result in a jump off a bridge.

“Settle in,” she warned, on the first night of her ”Mental Illness” tour at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Theatre.

But she needn’t have worried. As she was joined, song by song, by members of her backing trio, it was clear that Mann’s songs of droll observation have a lift in not just how they’re sung but by the soft punch of their assembly.

While her new album looks at different characters or situations it does so in a harmonic way that makes whatever may be melancholy sound sweet.

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Sunday TV: New ‘Mary Kills People’

MaryKillsThe Canadian import “Mary Kills People” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.) has a bit of a “Breaking Bad” feel – a darkly comic drama about a doctor who covertly assists with euthanasia at night. Things go wrong, and she’s on the verge of having her world as a single mom upended. It helps considerably that Caroline Dhavernas of “Hannibal” and, long ago, of “Wonderfalls,” is at the center of it. Certainly, it’s an interesting new premise for a series.

It follows a made-for-TV movie about the prison tailor who helped two convicted murderers escape from an upstate New York prison a couple of years back. Penelope Miller stars in “New York Prison Break: The Seduction of Joyce Mitchell” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.).

The latest Netflix production makes its premiere on broadcast TV, but it’s in Spanish. “El Chapo” (Univision, 8 p.m.) is a co-production in which Marco de la O portrays the Mexican drug kingpin. English closed captions are available; and it will premiere on Netflix sometime in the future.

“Silicon Valley” (HBO, 10 p.m.) begins its fourth season with another shift, as Richard is already tired of the video chat applications of Pied Pipers, leaves the company to work on a bigger project. They all still live in Erlich’s incubator house, though.

One of the best series so far this year, “Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX, 10 p.m.) wraps up after eight episodes, with Joan accepting a leading role in something called “Trog.” Also: the entirety of the Doors’  song “The End” plays, there is a fantasy dinner party, and the words “Mommie Dearest” are finally uttered.

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Stage Review: ‘Fun Home’ National Tour

FunHomeAlison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” first arose 15 years ago as one of those rare graphic novels that rose above all others, as Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” or Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” did before it, to further the form and broaden its acceptance beyond bound comics to something approaching literary and artistic pinnacles.

Intensely personal, occasionally dark and consistently insightful, it seemed the opposite of the kind of thing that could be turned into the usual  Broadway musical. But maybe for those reasons, the adaptation of “Fun Home” stood out, succeeded and won a Tony. The female creative team of Lisa Kron (book and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music) created something that, like the graphic novel, was specific and real and universal and moving.

The national tour of “Fun Home” that made it to the National Theatre in D.C. this week is still full of life. A few of the Broadway originators — all of them kind of singular in how unshowy and unglitzy they are, continue on the road. They touch the audience because they are normal, pale-looking people who look like they have a deeper inner life in addition to the soaring voices they use when they sing.

Like the book, the time shifts back and forth from childhood to college to the present day for the young woman at the center of the story, finding out she is gay about the same time she is learning her father has been closeted most his life as well.

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Saturday TV: Oprah in ‘Henrietta Lacks’

the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks-01-1920“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (HBO, 8 p.m.) brings light to the story of the African-American woman whose cells unwittingly were used for decades of research and breakthroughs, but does so through usual Hollywood methods: Now it’s the story of the white science writer (Rose Byrne) who has  to track down the understandably suspicious family.

Oprah Winfrey, who produced, turns in her most demanding role since “The Color Purple” as a daughter who is fighting some of her own issues in finding the story of her family. But director George C. Wolfe is letting a lot of these characters fly off the hook in scenes that are meant to inject drama but often seem just overplayed. Still, it’s about as impressive a lineup of African-American talent as you’ll see in a TV movie, with Courtney B. Vance, Reg E. Cathey and Leslie Uggams, among others. But the film’s pivot to family drama and emotion is a turn away from science, key to the story and the focus of big marches today.

The March for Science (C-SPAN, 9 a.m.), by the way, gets live commercial-free coverage through most of the day.

The Stanley Cup playoffs mean it’s Hockey Saturday Night with Montreal at Rangers (NBC, 8 p.m.). Other first round games today include St. Louis at Minnesota (NBC, 3 p.m.) and Edmonton at San Jose (NBC Sports, 10:30 p.m.).

The special “An Ocean Mystery: The Missing Catch” (Smithsonian, 8 p.m.) looks at the drop in global fish numbers due to overfishing.

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Friday TV: ‘Girlboss,’ Bill Nye and ‘Bosch’

girlboss1-master768Britt Robertson takes the role of a fictionalized Sophia Amoruso, who rose from the streets to become “Girlboss” (Netflix, streaming) in a new series produced by Charlize Theron, building the online Nasty Girl fashion empire. Initially, at least, it shows how hard it is to come up with something as good as “Girls.”

Also new online is the Mr. Science of the 21st century in “Bill Nye Saves the World” (Netflix, streaming) in which he tries to defend scientific fact over climate deniers and flat earthers. The 13-episode talk show involves some celebrity guests including Joel McHale, Tim Gunn, Alton Brown and correspondent Karlie Kloss.

Rashida Jones and her team provide a sequel of sorts to their 2015 documentary of novices finding their way into the porn industry, “Hot Girls Wanted” into a series about the fallout of porn on a six-part series with the overly-charged title “Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On” (Netflix, streaming).

One of the more incendiary documentaries on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots is “Burn Motherfucker, Burn!” (Showtime, 9 p.m.).

A third season starts for the strong adaptation of Michael Connelly detective novels, “Bosch” (Amazon, streaming). Titus Wulliver returns as the noir cop looking into the death of a homeless veteran, the suicide of a suspected serial killer and the murder trial of a Hollywood director this time around, complicated by the fact his teenage daughter (Madison Lintz) is living with him.

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Thursday TV: The Rock Spins Records

martin-luther-king-soundtracks-cnnThe comedy series was pretty good, even though it had to interrupt a newsy era of political tragicomedy. Now comes its music history documentary, “Soundtracks: Songs That Define History” (CNN, 10 p.m.). The premise is that music provided the memory of most historic events of the last half century. Executive producer for the series is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, so I’m not so sure how much credibility the thing will have. The first show concentrates on music around the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

On the new “Farmers’ Market Flip” (Cooking, 10 p.m.), chefs are charged with creating dishes from what they can find at the farmers market. Which is something some of us do every week.

The new “Mysteries of the Abandoned” (Science, 10 p.m.), looks at architectural achievements that have since been dismissed and forgotten. Among the first is the Goat Canyon Trestle of the Impossible Railroad, the Grand Goulets road in the French Alps and an antiballistic missile radar system in the Ukraine.

“The Blacklist” (NBC, 9 and 10 p.m.) is back with two new episodes.

There are also two episodes of “The Amazing Race” (CBS, 9 and 10 p.m.) travel from Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam to Norway.

Of the two episodes of “Scandal” (ABC, 8 and 9 p.m.) on tonight, the first is a rerun. On the second, there’s another death surrounding the election.

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Nat Geo Hasn’t Fired Bill O’Reilly Yet

O'reillyIt was kind of a funny day for National Geographic to release its slate of new scripted development projects, ranging from “The Birth of the Pill” to the Ebola drama “The Hot Zone” to a project about the early days of Nat Geo from the writer of “UnReal” — as well as a second season of its “Mars.”

Because as they were unveiling all their plans, they were forced to comment on the person with whom they had done the bulk of their most successful scripted work so far — Bill O’Reilly.

The Fox News bloviator and chief star had been dismissed from the network Wednesday after years of complaints of sexual harassment and reported payouts of at least $15 million to at least five different women. It wasn’t his short fuse or his raging racism — completed neatly on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” hours after the announcement. And it wasn’t even sexual harassment, which the network had heard about for years. It was the number of advertisers leaving Fox following the most recent reporting by the New York Times that obviously changed the tune of the Murdochs running the network, following another sexual abuse scandal that resulted in the ouster of Fox News chief Roger Ailes last year.

O’Reilly’s array of co-written historical potboilers — “Killing Lincoln,” “Killing Kennedy,” “Killing Reagan” and “Killing Jesus” among them — have become top rated adaptations for National Geographic, whose majority owner is Fox News parent 21st Century Fox.

A spokesman for Nat Geo Wednesday said there were no plans to sever ties with O’Reilly and plans were continuing for its next project “Killing Patton,” due in 2019,  even as circumstance was conspiring to be Killing O’Reilly’s career at Fox News.

“We’re focused on 2018 right now,” a spokesman said.


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Review: ‘Or,’ at Round House Theatre

OR 8Holly Twyford has a wonderfully blank expression she uses when taking in the madness all around her. She’s also very expressive when setting quill to paper in the rare wordless scene of “Or,” at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda.

While busy with her pen, she chuckles at a witticism, begins to weep at a sorrowful part and pumps her fist at a powerful passage. That kind of passion is what embodies the early English playwright Aphra Behn, who is at the center of Liz Duffy Adams’ clever play. It also provides a rare solace from the words that flood out from her and her two fellow cast mates in a play directed by Aaron Posner that only gets more frantic as it speeds along.

What begins as a musing on life of a rare writer at the dawn of the Restoration, where eloquent characters finish each other’s sentences in couplet rhymes, eventually crashes headlong into door-slamming farce as the two other busy cast members Gregory Linington and Erin Weaver rush on and off stage in six different roles among them.

Slam! One ex-lover played by Linington hides in a closet as the current lover, King Charles II of England, also Linington, enters in a flourish the seeming next second.

Weaver’s free-spirited actress Nell Gwynne slams her own door into a bedroom of adventure and out comes a dowdy helper woman in another door – or the comically high born benefactor of a play (in equally high platform boots).

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Season Three of ‘Fargo’ Finally Here

fargo-season-3-stussyIt may have seemed an impossible task to get the feel of the singular Cohen Brothers classic after which it is named, but Noah Hawley not only achieved that with “Fargo” (FX, 10 p.m.) in its first season, he has been able to replicate it ever since.

The third season that starts tonight may have been even trickier, since he was also writing the just completed mindblower “Legion” that just wrapped up.

The latest version of TV’s most entertaining hour is set in 2010 but still has a retro feel, owing possibly to the imaginary Minnesota in which it’s set.

As in past seasons, the basic elements are here: low level Midwestern businessmen who are tempted to do one crime that goes terribly wrong. Along the way, they inadvertently involve murderous regional syndicates and attract the attention of unusually upstanding local law enforcement. There are family entanglements on both sides, a load of eccentric characters, and, in the case of season three at least, a lot of snow.

Just as big a bonus is the involvement of a lot of top flight acting talent, often rare to television.

That comes in the form of Ewan McGregor, who plays the successful “Parking Lot King of Minnesota” who has inadvertently gotten involved with a fearsome foreign investor — David Thewlis (Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin) and his even scarier henchmen. The Parking Lot King also has a less successful brother — also played by McGregor! — a compromised, balding probation officer who lives with one of his more comely cons — Mary Elizabeth Winstead, whom you’ve loved in “Braindead” and “Mercy Street.” She’s got her own criminal ambitions and odd methods. And a great character name, Nikki Swango.

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