The Weekend Playlist: Dead Popular, 40 Years of Great Performances
by Matt Roush
Is “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” the most appropriate sweet nothing to croon in the skin-crawling world of AMC’s The Walking Dead? No matter, because there’s not much of a lull in Sunday’s powerful episode (9/8c), ominously titled “Infected.” Which suggests the virus that felled Nerd Boy last week creates a bloody panic in the cell block, reminding us how illusory any notion of safety can be. “I haven’t seen anybody be lucky in a long time,” former Army medic Bob Stookey (new regular Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) observes as a full gamut of courage, terror and anguish is displayed during and after the latest crisis. Earning special bonus stripes this week: Melissa McBride as the awesome Carol, who takes a few distraught girls under her wing, but not to coddle them: “You want to live, you have to become strong” is her mantra. Meanwhile, the walkers keep pressing up against the prison gates and the audience can’t get enough of the riveting mayhem, as evidenced by the record numbers who turned out for last Sunday’s premiere.
The only show likely to draw a bigger crowd in prime time this weekend is NBC’s Sunday Night Football (8:30/7:30c), with the epic homecoming story of Peyton Manning returning to Indianapolis (where he was the Colts’ star quarterback for 13 years) for the first time since joining the Denver Broncos.
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SINGING AND DANCING: What better way to kick off this year’s PBS Arts Fall Festival than with a tribute to the series that best embodies PBS’s commitment to arts programming, whether in theater, dance or music of all varieties. The eclectic lineup that graces the Lincoln Center stage for Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration (Friday, check tvguide.com listings) recalls the days of Ed Sullivan, when opera and pop co-existed to attract an audience starved for culture. With Julie Andrews hosting, and David Hyde Pierce and Peter Martins introducing retrospective clip reels, the special features Audra McDonald and Josh Groban belting theater and pop/cabaret standards, Itzhak Perlman and the New York City Ballet appeasing the classicists, Don Henley delivering “Desperado,” Patti Austin and Take 6 collaborating on jazz numbers, the Met’s Elina Garanca providing a taste of Carmen and Michael Bublé swinging the show to a close. I was at this taping, and it looks and sounds just as good on TV.
There’s some lovely Jazz Age music (by Adrian Johnston), charismatic performances and a story worth telling in Starz’s evocative but languorous five-part miniseries Dancing On the Edge (Saturday, 10/9c), starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (of the new Oscar-buzz movie 12 Years a Slave) as Louie Lester, the debonair leader of an all-black jazz band (inspired by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong) that conquered England in the ’30s. Lester’s quick rise to fame, which includes hobnobbing with royals, is spurred on by a well-connected music journalist (Matthew Goode) and wealthy patrons played by John Goodman, Anthony Head and (in later chapters) Jacqueline Bisset. The juxtaposition of Lester’s band being welcomed into high-society circles while oppressed by society’s prejudicial rules makes for a glossy history lesson. But there’s not nearly enough edge to Dancing‘s narrative, and a murder subplot distracts from the fascinating social milieu. Still, terrific soundtrack.
Dancing premieres after one last round of royal intrigue in the finale of The White Queen (9/8c), whose entire season will be replayed in a daylong marathon starting at noon/11c.
HOW TIME FLIES: When you’re being fabulous, which was the underlying feel-good theme of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Hard to believe it has been 10 years since these stylish “make-better” fashionistas were the face and voice of Bravo (before the face lifts and shrieking voices of the various Real Housewives took over). In what promises to be a delicious Queer Eye Reunion: 10 Years Later (Sunday, 9/8c), the cast reunites with Andy Cohen to relive their favorite transformations while reflecting on a society that has also changed much in its attitudes toward homosexuality over the last decade.
THE FRIDAY GUIDE: Remember The O.C.‘s “Chrismukkah” mash-up? ABC’s The Neighbors (8:31/7:31c) tries for a similar vibe when Larry combines his two favorite holidays into “Challoweenukah,” which involves seven nights of candy giving. … On CBS’s Blue Bloods (10/9c), Frank (Tom Selleck) locks horns with the new Inspector General (Bebe Neuwirth). … Bob Odenkirk and Ben Stiller are executive producers of IFC’s new sketch-com The Birthday Boys (10:30/9:30c), showcasing a crew of Los Angeles absurdists.
THE SATURDAY GUIDE: A new season of BBC America’s catty The Graham Norton Show (10/9c) opens by welcoming Harrison Ford and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s followed by a repeat of one of my favorite episodes of Orphan Black (11/10c), in which Alison ties up and torments her husband (whom she suspects is a “monitor”) just in time for her clones to descend on suburbia while the neighborhood shows up for a party. Humor and suspense collide brilliantly, and Tatiana Maslany once again proves herself an astonishing chameleon. … CBS’s 48 Hours (10/9c) cracks the many-faceted shell of con-man imposter Christian Gerhartsreiter, who most famously tried to pass himself off as “Clark Rockefeller.” … The Weather Channel explores the world’s Tipping Points (9/8c) in a new series that travels to locations from the Amazon Rainforest to the Himalayas where the effects of climate change could prove most catastrophic.
THE SUNDAY GUIDE: Great news about this week’s Homeland (9/8c, Showtime): Carrie’s fight to be released from the mental ward and get her life back takes some terrific twists, with the government still considering her a security risk: “The Agency’s still weak, Saul,” warns Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). “It could die of a common cold, and she’s a full-blown contagion.” It’s time she, and we, learn who really has her best interests at heart. The not-so-great news about this week’s Homeland: The brat is back, meaning that mopey Dana hijacks the B-story, taking a joyless joy ride with her rehab-rebel boyfriend. … Family matters intrude on Showtime’s Masters of Sex (10/9c) as Virginia’s ex-husband (Zather Mickel) decides to participate in the study, and Dr. Masters is eager to hear what he has to say. He’s less enthusiastic about welcoming his widowed mother (Ann Dowd) to his home, as she dredges up sordid childhood memories while counseling his unhappy wife. … Emmy winner (for guest actress in a drama) Carrie Preston returns to CBS’s The Good Wife (9:30/8:30c) as the delightful Elsbeth Tascioni, hired to represent the firm in a sexual harassment suit. … Sarah Lancashire shines as Miss Audrey, the insecure, aging mistress of ladies’ wear in PBS’s The Paradise (check tvguide.listings). In the third chapter of this charming Masterpiece Classic, Audrey takes ill, but is even more sickened by the fear that the talented upstart Denise could take her place. … The Red John obsession continues on CBS’s The Mentalist (10:30/9:30c), — but not to worry, all will be revealed (if not resolved) soon — as Jane concocts a fake list of suspects that backfires when one of the faux Red John candidates turns up dead. Who took the bait? That’s a surprise. So’s the ending, which hints at an even larger conspiracy afoot. And someone from the show’s past appears to have been watching too much Covert Affairs lately. … Arsenio Hall discusses his latest chapter in late-night TV stardom on OWN’s Oprah’s Next Chapter (9/8c).