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SUNDAY
JULY 16
2017

BIANCULLI’S BEST BETS

 

TCM, 8:00 p.m. ET

This 1953 movie, starring Alan Ladd in the title role, is one of the most effective and emotional Westerns ever made. Ladd plays a weary drifter, a former gunslinger who opts to befriend and protect a family of homesteaders against a ruthless band of encroaching ranchers. Jean Arthur is the woman in distress, Brandon De Wilde is her idolizing son, and Jack Palance, as hired gun Jack Wilson, plays one of the most menacing bad guys in Western history – even, or especially, when he’s smiling (pictured).

 
  
 
 

CNN, 9:00 p.m. ET

Tonight’s installment of The Nineties is called “The Comeback Kid,” and is all about the volatile presidency of Bill Clinton. It begins with ABC anchor Peter Jennings issuing an incredulous turn of events: “The impossibility of impeaching the President,” he tells his viewers, “must now be addressed. What follows is a tale that, in many ways, sounds astoundingly familiar, with a protracted and divisive battle over health care reform, the surfacing of a headline-grabbing scandal, the appointment of, and investigation by, a special prosecutor, and the denials by the President of the United States of any wrongdoing. One image, with Clinton issuing his public  denial of having “sexual intercourse with that woman, Monica Lewinsky,” looks uncomfortably like the opening image of The Good Wife, with Hillary Clinton standing in support, but clearly uncomfortable, at his side. (Other moments from the Nineties and The Nineties, like the passage of a balanced budget, seem like a much more distant and disconnected memory.) In trying to contextualize today’s current events, the Seventies and Watergate would seem to be the pertinent go-to (or go-back-to) decade – but The Nineties makes a strong case that the Nineties, too, has something to tell and teach us about what’s happening now, and what might well happen next.
 
  
 
 

HBO, 9:00 p.m. ET

SEASON PREMIERE: HBO did not provide tonight’s Season 7 premiere for preview. Some TV critics are upset about that, but not I. These days, the fewer hours of TV I have to watch to do my job, the better – because right now, it’s three steps from overwhelming (and I’m not saying from which direction).  But I’ll be watching tonight, in real time, because I’m excited to see what comes next, as this mammoth fantasy series embarks on its final, two-part season, and appears to be handing all the power to all the women – including Cercei (Lena Headey), who’s now atop the Iron Throne – but for how long?

 
  
 
 

Showtime, 9:00 p.m. ET

Last week, Twin Peaks ended with, among other things, FBI Agent Tammy Preston (played by Chrysta Bell, portraying one of the few successfully intriguing new characters added to this revival), interrogating William Hastings (Matthew Lillard), who babbles and sobs about an alternate universe while swearing he had nothing to do with his wife’s grisly death. My favorite part of Twin Peaks: The Return to date came when the medical examiner recounted, at length, the mysterious events surrounding Hastings, including his wife’s murder and the mysterious spontaneous explosion of his secretary – to which the sarcastic Albert (the late, great Miguel Ferrer) dryly replies, “What happens in Season 2?” Tonight is episode 10 of this revival, and still, Dale Cooper isn’t himself. At least Albert is.

 
  
 
 

PBS, 10:00 p.m. ET

MINISERIES PREMIERE: Don’t let this one slip by amid all the hubbub over other, more attention-grabbing Sunday shows. This three-part miniseries stars Michael Palin, in his first fully dramatic role in decades, playing an elderly Yorkshire man who is admitted to a nursing home – and almost instantly becomes the sole witness to a violent death. And the more we learn about him, and probe his seemingly sketchy memory, the more mysterious, and perhaps dangerous, he becomes. I’ve loved this particular member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus in almost everything he’s done, in and out of Python, and see no reason to stop now. Check local listings.

 
  
 
 

CNN, 10:00 p.m. ET

DOCUMENTARY SERIES RETURN: Tonight’s new installment of this series is called “One Nation, Under Comedy,” and is an impressively compiled overview of ethnic humor in standup comedy. TV situation comedies are touched upon, but only briefly – mostly, this is about the development of standup comedy, including the slow but sure progression, for example, from Dick Gregory to Bill Cosby to Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy (pictured) to Chris Rock to Dave Chappelle. Other ethnicities are deconstructed and revisited, too, making this a particularly inclusive, as well as funny, hour of comedy history.
 
  
 
 

FX, 10:00 p.m. ET

SEASON PREMIERE: Season 4 begins with both a time jump and a re-imagining, after the explosive events of the Season 3 finale. The villainous monsters are now firmly in charge, and now able to travel in daylight as well – but there’s still an underground effort to defeat and unseat them. But the old Master, in a new body, is even more dangerous than before, and the body-swapping doesn’t end there. To me, The Strain ended up straining its plot lines a bit too much, but if you’re still on board, here it is, back at the station for a final circuit around the track.
 
  
 
 
 
 
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1236 Comments
 
 
Matt Alpern
David:
In watching Sterling K. Brown's acceptance speech and his tribute to Andre Braugher (the last African American to win a Best Actor Emmy), I was reminded of Pembleton's first case back after his stroke.. when he solves the cold-case murder of Bianculli.
Sep 22, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Bill Bennett
Love the website. Problem is timing. The daily best bets are often posted late in the morning and early afternoon. It would be great to wake up to the selections so we have time to set our DVR's before going to work.
Sep 22, 2017   |  Reply
 
Keith Robin
Doesn't EVERY major service provide have an app that lets you do that remotely?
Sep 22, 2017
 
 
 
Bob516
I'm curious why the words SERIES PREMIERE starts off the section on Vice Principals, since it was first on last year. Are you going British on us?

I can handle that if you are, but The Orville?
Sep 17, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
David Kirshenbaum
Sorry I didn't catch this earlier, but surprised you missed it yourself- (so unlike you!) - The director character in The Band Wagon is actually played by Jack Buchanan... primarily a British music-hall star for whom this was easily his main screen credit (and a great one at that). The always-terrific Oscar Levant is one of the writers of the show-within-the-show... he's essentially playing Adolph to Nanette Fabray's Betty Comden. But yes, what a movie, and definitely an essential.
Congratulations on the paperback, and not least of all, glad you finally came around a bit on the new Twin Peaks by the end - no TV I've watched this summer has frustrated and thrilled me more, or kept me thinking about it as much nearly 2 weeks now (& counting) since it ended.
Keep up all the great work!
Sep 17, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Unable to comment 9/12 but keep in the back of your mind a documentary TCM showed last night that is sure to repeat. Harold & Lillian:A Hollywood Love Story. I'll disclose one of the last events this couple shared:The king & queen in Shrek II were named after them-an homage after decades of behind-the scenes work on many an important post-WWII studio film,including Hitchcock and Mike Nichols(especially The Graduate). Harold was a storyboard artist and later art director,Lillian a research librarian with a self-made library of much needed background materials for Coppola and many others. Their connection to Rain Man alone will bring tears intertwining their personal lives. Much of it told in storyboard/cartoon drawing with personal artifacts as important the the shoes from the Wizard of Oz. Real love stories like this rarely make it to film. Cherish the result and the candid imperfections life gives those struggling to create art and live in the real world. Heartbreaking yet uplifting.
Sep 14, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
David Tarpley
Is there a written version of David Bianculli September 14, 2017 review of Ken Burns' Viet Nam documentary?
Sep 14, 2017   |  Reply
 
Linda Donovan
Here you go, David... http://www.npr.org/2017/09/14/550939307/new-ken-burns-series-remembers-vietnam-war-through-the-eyes-of-everyday-people
Sep 14, 2017
 
 
 
Keith Robin
No mention of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee? Her show is new tonight, at least according to my program guide.
Sep 13, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mary B.
What is with the screenwriters' savaging of the Robin character on How I Met Your Mother? It's fun to hate seemingly appealing people, I guess. Sure, she's fictional, but making her so selfish and vain to make other characters look better ... makes her too unreal
Sep 13, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Angela
Eric-re; VWW- Totally agree with you about not taking our 24 hour hurricane tracking coverage for granted. I told someone that I was weary of waiting so long for Irma to make landfall and he said, but can you imagine what it was like before we had a warning system of any kind? Good point!
Sep 12, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Angela
Wow! Top of the Lake:China sounds good. With Elizabeth Moss and Nicole Kidman plus Prime Suspect....Ya, I'm in. Sure did need this too! Just back to being able to watch a TV show rather than waiting for Irma's wrath to be done with. Thanks!
Sep 12, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
9/11 TCM night,which starts with Swiss Family Robinson, is a Disney Vault night,hosted by Leonard Maltin and at 12:15AM,stick around for one of truly great Disney short: Lonesome Ghosts,which not only may have been the inspiration for Ghostbusters,but Mickey Mouse,Donald
Duck and Goofy,as well as the ghosts,pack more jokes in seven minutes than all three Ghostbusters films combined, and throw in those horrid animated versions,both the The Real or Filmation's cheapo stuff(they had the name Ghostbusters first) as well.
Sep 11, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Ken
feel better
Sep 8, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Post-Jerry Lewis TCM tribute:
While TCM ran their quickly assembled Lewis tribute 9/4,Movies!,a sub-channel network co-owned by Wiegel Broadcasting(MeTV,H&I,Decades,etc.) & 21st Century Fox,had a similar tribute that ran all day. Included were:Don't Give Up the Ship,The Ladies' Man,Boeing-Boeing,The Family Jewels,You're Never Too Young(Martin/Lewis) and The Nutty Professor(the only movie on both channels). Movies! has commercials and often edits and speeds up times,so it is rarely a go-to place to watch movies(also incredibly cheap filler between films),but it is interesting that the two channels had Lewis fare for Labor Day.
BTW,TCM had Ben Mankiewitz and Illeana Douglas for intros. Ms. Douglas, a past romantic partner with Martin Scorese( he directed Lewis in King Of Comedy),is quite capable of hosting solo as she had done for TCM in the past. The intros were poorly edited. One would hope a bit more breathing room for her stories.
Sep 5, 2017   |  Reply
 
Mac
I led off my original TCM-Lewis tribute post with the Labor Day connection. Still,it is rare that TCM ran a Remembers spot just hours after Lewis died and they were able to assemble the tribute in such short time. Many times these take days and weeks to assemble.
BTW,Movies! is sprinkling a few more Lewis films this month:The Geisha Boy,The Delicate Delinquent and The Family Jewels show up in the next two weeks. Their website schedule only shows 14 days in advance-another negative for the network as they don't realize that movie fans plan far ahead for certain films. Case in point: last night's TCM's Werner Herzog tribute(thanks,David), featuring all TCM premieres. The only knock is that they scheduled the Fitzcarraldo documentary eight hours after the movie. Showing them back-to back would have made sense. Strange,too that the doc is available from Criterion but there are no Herzog films in their catalog.
Sep 8, 2017
 
 
Tom
"but it is interesting that the two channels had Lewis fare for Labor Day. "

Labor Day was the The Jerry Lewis MDA Day Telethon
Sep 6, 2017
 
 
 
Mac
TCM's Beach Party also includes For Those Who Think Young(2AM ET)which quite possibly is an early "placement" movie(there's a subject needing a written history). The title comes from Pepsi-Cola's then-current ad slogan. I have never seen this(and don't plan to tonight)but there seems to be numerous Pepsi vending machines throughout(a good drinking game but diabetics like me must resort to Diet Pepsi-ecch!). Unfortunately,the movie doesn't use the vocalist for the ads-Joanie Sommers-and I can't find out if there is any version of the jingle(signs point to no). Anyway,like many of these '60s B movies,look for lots of recognizable folk: Tina Louise & Bob Denver(Gilligan's Island),Paul Lynde,Nancy Sinatra(Daddy- Frank) & Claudia Martin(Daddy- Dean).Co-written by George O'Hanlon,who starred in all of the Joe McDoakes Warner one reelers on TCM(and was the voice of George Jetson:"Jane!Stop this crazy thing!"). Movie title also used for the great MadMen season 2 opener.
Sep 1, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Neil
"Today is Marion Davies day on TCM. If her name isn’t that familiar as a star in the Hollywood constellation, try this: She was the B-list actress who was the mistress of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst..."

And (for fans of symphony orchestras, or anyone who has ever lived in or visited the San Francisco Bay area) the "Davies" in Davies Symphony Hall, home to Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.
Aug 29, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Labor Day weekend meant the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon,hosted by the late
Jerry Lewis for decades. It is kinda fitting,yet bizarre,that TCM will spool five Lewis films this Labor Day,9/4. The lineup:
8PM-The Nutty Professor-The best known Lewis film.
10PM-The King of Comedy-Martin Scorsese directs Robert DeNiro as an obsessive wannbe comic kidnapping a Johnny Carson-type,played by Lewis,and mayhem happens with dark ideas. If you aren't familiar with Lewis,avoid this. But longtime fans,and fans of the classic talk-show format,should watch,no matter how strange things get.
12AM-The Stooge-Lewis with Dean Martin,at the time the hottest duo with radio,clubs,screen and TV. The film plays with the idea of the straight man and the clown. They made 16 films from 1959 to 1956.
2AM-The Bellboy-Lewis in total control:producing,writing,directing,even a cameo as himself. Lewis as the schlub bellboy is silent.
3:30AM-The Disorderly Orderly,directed by Frank Tashlin,who directed cartoons.
Aug 29, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mark Flannery
The film "Sideways" was set in Santa Barbara County's wine country, not Northern California. The two places are several hundred miles apart.
Aug 29, 2017   |  Reply
 
Linda Donovan
Thank you, Mark. Fixed.
Aug 29, 2017
 
 
 
Mac
Musical version of Blazing Saddles? Can't wait or the campfire scene. Little toots? And there has to be a Wells Fargo Wagon type of anticipation number for the arrival of the Rock Ridge Sheriff. It's Hedley,not Hedy. Gum?Spit it out! Did you bring enough for everybody! This thing writes itself!
Aug 28, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
TCM's annual Summer Under The Stars usually keeps Sat. & Sun. for superstars with deep catalog(e.g.-Jimmy Cagney last night). But today they spotlight Leslie Caron,which,while never approaching the status of Grace Kelly,Doris Day,Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor in the post-WWII era,has an interesting canon worth spending some time on the penultimate Summer Sun. And much of it is family friendly:The Glass Slipper,Gigi,Father Goose,a modern day documentary about Caron(always required TCM viewing to understanding film)and Lili-about 12 consecutive hours of a fascinating actress and how she slowly,almost quietly, made her mark in film. Still active at 86.
Aug 27, 2017   |  Reply
 
Mac
Oops. An American in Paris follows Glass Slipper,which is always worth your time.
Aug 27, 2017
 
 
 
Elise
If you pay to watch the fight tonight, make sure you watch the singer of the Irish national anthem. If you never heard of her before? You'll know her now. Imelda May. One of Ireland's national treasures.
Aug 26, 2017   |  Reply
 
Mac
Thank goodness for the internet to capture this post-fight moment so I didn't have to shell out a hundred bucks for a truly lame pseudo sporting event. But that singing was amazing!. I actually had to investigate why this part of the Las Vegas spectacle-MacGregor is Irish born. Seems he is referred as the Notorious Mystic Mac. Me,I'm neither notorious,nor mystic,but I am still a Mac.Big? Yea,I get that a lot,thanks to Tastykakes & cheesesteaks,but I usually tell folks my nickname is "Mac,like the truck." Allentown was once world headquarters for Mack trucks and their hq was just a few blocks from where I'm writing. I digress. Erin go braugh,except for pretend sports like last night. Time for some pretend football in August!
Aug 27, 2017
 
 
 
 
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David Bianculli

Founder / Editor

David Bianculli has been a TV critic since 1975, including a 14-year stint at the New York Daily News, and sees no reason to stop now. Currently, he's TV critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and is an occasional substitute host for that show. He's also an author and teaches TV and film history at New Jersey's Rowan University. His 2009 Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour', has been purchased for film rights and his latest, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to the Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific, is now available at Amazon. The paperback version will be released fall, 2017.

 
 

Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is now available in paperback for under $15. Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. Interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer are high points... Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post