Wednesday TV: Cute ‘Life Sentence’

lifesentence-pilot-lCan a series succeed on cuteness alone? If so then there is a life for “Life Sentence” (The CW, 9 p.m.). Lucy Hale stars as a young woman who thought she had cancer but doesn’t any more. Which sounds great, except that people had been keeping a whole lot of bad news from her during her illness and now she has to adjust. Also she married a guy on a whim thinking she didn’t have much time left anyway, and now here he is.

The cast includes Dylan Walsh and Gillian Vikman as her parents, Brooke Lyons and Jayson Blair as her siblings, and Elliot Knight as the hubby.

New online is the stylish British apocalyptic crime series “Hard Sun” (Hulu, streaming), starring Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess as almost diabolically fighting detective partners working in impossible circumstances. Inspired by David Bowie’s song “Five Years,” the series is from Neil Cross, who was behind “Luther” and had his hand in a few “Doctor Who” episodes.

The longtime comedy team of David Mitchell and Robert Webb of “Peep Show” are paired again in the British sitcom “Back” (Sundance, 11 p.m.), about a brother who suddenly appears and upends a family business. The comedy from Simon Blackwell first showed on the network’s online platform Sundance Now last fall.

It’s paired with the third season start for “Hap and Leonard” (Sundance, 10 p.m.), the adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s novels about down on their luck pals in East Texas, played by James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams.

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Tuesday TV: Saluting ‘Mister Rogers’ at 50

Michael-KeatonMichael Keaton returns to the Pittsburgh public TV station where he was a member of the crew on one of the more beloved children’s shows of TV history as the special “Mister Rogers: It’s You That I Like” (PBS, 8 p.m., check local listings) marks the 50th anniversary of Fred Rogers’ kindly experiment communicating with kids.

Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman, John Lithgow and Yo Yo Ma are among the stars who pop up with memories of the show. And (a young) Tony Bennett sings Rogers’ signature song.

This season’s dim bachelor knelt before one girl Monday with a (network-provided) ring only to rescind it hours later. They milked the tears in a cruel three-hour display, bumping “The Bachelor: After the Final Rose” (ABC, 8 p.m.) to an excruciating two hours tonight. I’m afraid Becca might not yell at him as much as he deserves, and Lauren may actually take him back. Ug.

Christine invites Martha to a women’s business conference and they end up at a strip club on “Baskets” (FX, 10 p.m.).

Agatha Christie and D.B. Cooper are among the topics on a mystery-laden “Drunk History” (Comedy Central, 10 p.m.).

A new standup comedy special comes from the Moroccan French comic in “Gad Elmaleh: American Dream” (Netflix, streaming).

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Monday TV: Mental Health Movies

ThreeFacesA two-day, 10 film event on Turner Classic Movies, Mental Illness in the Movies, looks at how the malady has been treated in Hollywood. It begins tonight with Joanne Woodward in “The Three Faces of Eve” (8 p.m.), and four other films that were also up for Oscars, “The Snake Pit” (10 p.m.), “David and Lisa” (midnight), “The Caretakers” (2 a.m.) and “Through a Glass Darkly” (4 a.m.). The final five films are on Tuesday.

Arie Luyendyk Jr. is already being chastised for his actions on “The Bachelor” (ABC, 8 p.m.) with one contestant seething “I know what you did” last week. So the finale with Becca Kuprin and Lauren Burnham is being stretched mercilessly into a five-hour, two night ordeal.

The case that obsessed Patton Oswalt’s wife before her death is taken up by cable TV as well in “The Golden State Killer: It’s Not Over” (Investigation Discovery, 9 p.m.).

Racial tensions and hate crimes in the U.S. and abroad is the subject of the new documentary series “Divided States” (A&E, 9 p.m.), which begins with a case at a Pennsylvania high school.

The animated “Star Wars Rebels” (Disney XD, 9 p.m.) ends its run with a 90-minute finale.

The premiere of “Good Girls” (NBC, 10 p.m.) did well last week. Will audiences stay tiwh it after they stage a second robbery this week?

“Living Biblically” (CBS, 9:30 p.m.) did abysmally in its debut last week. Were people scared by the title?

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Sunday TV: Little Statues Distributed

jimmy-kimmel-oscarsPeople make too much about it, of course, but it’s one of the handful of moments everybody watches. And with Jimmy Kimmel back at the helm, The 90th Annual Academy Awards (ABC, 8 p.m.).

He’ll make it funny; Mary J. Blige, Andra Day with Common, Sufjan Stevens, Natalia Lafourcade and Gael García Bernal are among the performers, and Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway have been invited back to try and open the correct best picture envelope.

“The Shape of Water” leads with 13 nominations; “Dunkirk” has eight and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has seven. Official red carpet coverage begins at 6:30 p.m..

The E! network has an added tension to its “Live from the Red Carpet” (E!, 5 p.m.). Instead of talking about the #MeToo movement, they’re in the middle of it, with host Ryan Seacrest the center of some harassment allegations.

To follow, there’s 90 minutes of the “E! After Party” (E!, 11:30 p.m.) to analyze the Oscar results.

But there’s new network talk show perhaps meant to bedevil the White House is “Sundays with Alec Baldwin” (ABC, 11:35 p.m.). His first guests are Jerry Seinfeld and Kate McKinnon.

The second season of “The Good Fight” (CBS All Access, streaming) begins. I hear it’s very good, but I’m not willing to subscribe to find out.

The documentary “Bill Graham: An Extraordinary Journey” (Fox, 7 p.m.) looks at the influential evangelist who died Feb. 21.

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Saturday TV: Independent Spirit Awards

independent-spirit-awardsOne of the best things about Oscar weekend is the awards show for indie film the day before. Nick Kroll and John Mulaney host the Film Independent Independent Spirit Awards (IFC, 5 p.m.)  “Call Me By Your Name” leads with six nominations; “Get Out” has five.

Other best feature nominees include “Lady Bird,” “The Florida Project” and “The Rider.” For the past four years, the winner here has gone on to win best picture Oscar the next day. It’s repeated at 10 p.m.

The season is so busy there’s a competing awards show: the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards 2018 (OWN, 10 p.m.).

On “Planet Earth: Blue Planet II” (BBC America, 9 p.m.), David Attenborough examines the impact of humans on the oceans.

It’s a different set of winter games dominating prime time. One is one of those outdoor winter games on the ice from the Navy Stadium in Annapolis with Washington vs. Toronto (NBC, 8 p.m.).

NBA has Boston at Houston (ABC, 8:30 p.m.).

The 25th season kicks off for “Top Gear” (BBC America, 10:30 p.m.) with Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris and Rory Reid taking a trip across the West.

On the made-for-TV “Bad Tutor” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.) Vanessa Marcil plays a mother who makes a bad hire to help her daughter study.

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Friday TV: A Look Inside ‘Flint Town’


It’s not just the water that’s bad in Flint. There’s also a crisis on the police department, which has been cut deeply because of budgetary constraints while crime has risen. The new eight-episode documentary series “Flint Town” (Netflix, streaming) is like a more artful episode of “Live PD” (A&E, 9 p.m.) as it mostly follows the police side of community conflict.

A special night of “Frontline” (PBS, 9 p.m., check local listings) reviews the case against Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein immediately after the fifth episode of “#MeToo, Now What?” (PB, 8:30 p.m., check local listings).

The new series “Laurieann Gibson: Beyond the Spotlight” (Lifetime, 10 p.m.) follows the choreographer as she heads to New York to create a Bad Boys Records reunion for Sean “Puffy” Combs.

Forty hopeful kids begin the sixth season of “MasterChef Junior” (Fox, 8 p.m.), dividing into teams by gender. Twelve from each group will remain at the end of the two hour premiere.

The seventh and final season starts for “Once Upon a Time” (ABC, 8 p.m.) and things come to a head between Victoria and Ivy.

“Bring It!” (Lifetime, 9 p.m.) begins its fifth season with a search for a new captain.

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Thursday TV: A Trip Back to ‘Atlanta’

atlanta2At once infused with a brutal reality about the ghetto, but also fanciful and not always explained surrealism, Donald Glover’s inventive and sly “Atlanta” (FX, 10 p.m.) is back for a confident second season, in which his character Ern continues to try to manage his cousin’s hip hop career, which is sort of catching on — to the degree that people compliment his music even as they are robbing him, or white girls are doing acoustic versions of his songs on YouTube.

Money continues to be a problem on the series, and even when they have it, some places won’t accept it. Ern has to help out the police woes of his uncle Willie (a feisty Katt Williams). And there’s a whole subtitle to the season in which there is a little more desperation before the holidays: “Robbin’ Season.”

One of those slick reality shows from the makers of “The Hills” now focuses on hopefuls in Nashville on “Music City” (CMT, 10 and 10:30 p.m.).

It’s crossover night in Shondaland with Olivia on “Scandal” (ABC, 9 p.m.) getting a visit from Annalise from “How to Get Away from Murder” (ABC, 10 p.m.) and vice versa.

And the crew from the impending firefighter drama “Station 19” will be introduced in an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC, 8 p.m.).

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Wednesday: ‘Looming Tower’ Stands Tall

loomingtowerI’m such fan of Alex Gibney’s many documentaries, it’s no surprise that his adaptation of Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower” (Hulu, streaming) would have a similar, immediate impact. It tells the story of the driven FBI special investigator John O’Neill, whose strong gut feeling that Osama bin Laden was behind a string of attacks on U.S. properties and was bent to commit more was blunted at first by the CIA’s unwillingness to share information.

Jeff Daniels plays the role as a bigger than life figure who was also squiring more than one extramarital girlfriend along the way. Peter Sarsgaard is the CIA official who won’t cooperate. Michael Stuhlbarg is just right as NSA counter terrorism head Richard Clarke and Bill Camp (“The Night of”) is one of O’Neill’s agents. With scripts from Dan Futterman (“Capote,” “Foxcatcher”), the pacing is crisp and the budgets allow for convincing restating of, say, the 1988 U.S. embassy bombing in Nairobi. It’s a drama as taut as “Homeland” and bold enough to reflect actions that still effect the U.S. response.

[Here's a longer story I wrote about it for Smithsonian].

It joins two other current miniseries on true events: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX, 10 p.m.) where time moves backward to a birthday party where Andrew Cunanan gathers  three of his future victims in attendance and “Waco” (Paramount, 10 p.m.), where the standoff finally  explodes into a fireball.

“Reversing the curse” is the theme of the new season of “Survivor” (CBS, 8 p.m.), which premieres with a two hour episode. The 20 new castaways forced to confront the kind of mistakes previous players had made. The season premiere is two hours long.

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Tuesday TV: Biggie-Tupac Series Starts

unsolved-usa-networkThe latest in the spate of true crime stories turned into scripted miniseries has a hip hop beat.

“Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G.” (USA, 10 p.m.) focuses on the death’s of two of the biggest rap names based on the investigations of two detectives. Jimmy Simpson, familiar from his role in “Westworld,” “House of Cards” and “Black Mirror,” plays a later investigator; Josh Duhamel an initial one. Marcc Rose and Wavyy Jonez serve as convincing stand-ins for Tupac and Biggie. There isn’t much budget for their original hits, but some creativity in scoring the 10-part series.

It’s Thanksgiving on “Baskets” (FX, 10 p.m.) and Martha is serving tilapia.

Fred Rogers gets his most unusual salute on “Drunk History” (Comedy, 10 p.m.), featuring Colin Hanks, David Harbour and Kimiko Glenn.

Frederick runs for president on “Another Period” (Comedy Central, 10:30 p.m.).

Jefferson looks for his father’s murderer on “Black Lightning” (The CW, 9 p.m.).

It’s bachelor and bachelorette parties for Kate and Toby in Las Vegas on “This is Us” (NBC, 9 p.m.) and Jack and Rebecca celebrate their anniversary.

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Monday TV: Sudden Glut of New Shows

good-girlsWith the Winter Games over, a glut of new and returning shows suddenly appear; late night is back up to full strength, and recording star switches talent competition affiliation.

Of the new shows (both considerably promoted during the games), “Good Girls” (NBC, 10 p.m.) has a strong and familiar cast of Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman and Retta. But are they credible as housewives so desperate they all pick up guns and ski masks to rob the local grocery store (and is this a good time to normalize gun play?). The big problem for creator Jenna Bans, who has written on “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” is the tone. Is it comedy? Is it drama? Shows that this one wishes it could be, like “Breaking Bad,” made it seem so easy. Perhaps it is not.

An easier sell, surprisingly, is “Living Biblically” (CBS, 9:30 p.m.), perhaps because it was already done as an experiment by writer A.J. Jacobs — can one follow the Bible literally in the 21st Century? It may work because of the light tough of actor Jay R. Ferguson — Stan from “Mad Men” — and his philosophical approach to living straight and narrow. It helps he has a panel of advisors as he proceeds. Among CBS’ bad sitcoms, this one actually compares well.

Kelly Clarkson, the first “American Idol” winner, takes one of the spinning seats as the new judge as the 14th season begins for “The Voice” (NBC, 8 p.m.), alongside Adam Levine and Blake Shelton as well as the returning Alicia Keys.

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