According to doomsday theorists, the Mayan Apocalypse is imminent – scheduled to arrive Friday, Dec. 21. Here are five TV shows you should watch now, just in case…
1) The Day After. Next year, this ABC telemovie (top) will be 30 years old – but hey, we may not make it to next year. So seek out this 1983 Cold War drama now, which imagines a post-apocalyptic United States after the Soviet Union drops a nuclear bomb (among other places) on rural Kansas.
Jason Robards, John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams and John Cullum star, and the special effects of a nuclear detonation, which were intended to scare, do their job. End of the world nightmares? They start here. It’s available on DVD – but if you’re going to order it, you’d better pay extra for express shipping. Just in case.
2) Testament. Made in 1983, the same year as The Day After, (below) this ultra-grim movie, which premiered on the PBS series American Playhouse, stars Jane Alexander and William Devane as a couple who, like their neighbors in suburban San Francisco, suddenly must deal with trying to survive the effects of a distant nuclear blast. It’s wrenching – incredibly dramatic, relentlessly intense – and unforgettable. Supporting cast members include Kevin Costner, Rebecca De Mornay, Lukas Haas and Roxana Zal.
3) Fail Safe. You have two choices here, both of them excellent. You can watch the original 1964 movie version of Fail-Safe, which stars Henry Fonda (below) as the U.S. President presiding over a potential nuclear disaster – and has the timely added bonus of featuring the late Larry Hagman in one of his finest dramatic roles, as the President’s Russian interpreter. Or, you can watch the 2000 CBS version of Fail Safe, which dropped the hyphen, but left everything else pretty much intact.
The two-hour special was broadcast in black and white, and performed live, starring Richard Dreyfuss as the President and Noah Wyle as his Russian interpreter. Co-stars include Brian Dennehy, Harvey Keitel, Sam Elliott, James Cromwell, Don Cheadle – and George Clooney, who also was executive producer.
And if there’s time – certainly a factor here, given the circumstances – here’s a bonus tip: You might also want to procure and watch Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. George C. Scott and Peter Sellers star, and couldn’t be more brilliant.
4) Connections. This 1977 science series, imported by PBS, was hosted by James Burke, who began by positing a frightening doomsday scenario: What if all the power suddenly went off, and never came back on?
What would you do? Where would you go? How would you survive? And how would you protect yourselves from others?
It’s such a grim, frightening scenario that Hollywood has borrowed it outright several times – sometimes with attribution (1996’s The Trigger Effect, David Koepp’s movie starring Kyle MacLachlan and Elisabeth Shue), sometimes not (the current NBC series Revolution). There’s also the glum world-changing scenario of AMC’s The Walking Dead – but with both that and Revolution, why watch a serial drama if you may not live to see the ending?
5) Apocalypto. I know, this 2006 drama, directed and co-written by Mel Gibson, (below) is a movie, not a TV show. But if the end of the world is imminent, don’t you have better things to worry about than me bending the rules a little?
Anyway, this movie is about the decline of the Mayan empire, and gives a hint, at least, of what this ancient civilization believed, and why. And why, perhaps, its apocalyptic prophecy should be taken with a few grains of sea salt.
But whether or not you’re crouched in some doomsday bunker with a DVD player, these are end-of-the-world programs to ponder. What’s really going to happen? To paraphrase a Bob Dylan song title:
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mayan).