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Five TV Shows You Should Watch Before the Mayan Apocalypse
December 19, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 5 comments

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).

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Robert Schwebel
A timely mention that in the 60s Rod Serling wrote an unforgettable show broadcast under the auspices of the United Nations:
Carol for Another Christmas
One of the future visions was post-nuclear.
Wikipedia says that TBS just re-broadcast it after 48 years! Missed that one.
Dec 27, 2012   |  Reply
I would argue that the best of the bunch is missing from this list: “Threads.” a British television drama produced by the BBC in 1984 (it was a very good year for some reason). It was written by Barry Hines and directed by Mick Jackson, in that faux documentary-style that was all the rage back then, following the travails of two families in Sheffield in northern England after a nuclear war. Unrelentingly grim with an ending that will leave one weak, the show played only once on PBS to much acclaim. Totally believable, how this masterpiece (yes, “masterpiece”) has been forgotten is beyond me. I bought a PAL copy to play to family and friends on festive occasions, whenever I want them to leave. Add this to your list of holiday gift-giving ideas.
Geo. Stewart
“Crazy College”
Dec 20, 2012   |  Reply
Let the record show that Threads first played on TBS in January 1985 and was used by PBS stations during their fund drives thereafter. Instead of an umbrella or a tote bag contributers got a lead lined hat.
Dec 20, 2012
I admire your list, especially Testament, but I would drop The Day After. Never cared much for that one. I would sub an old Lucille Ball-Henry Fonda comedy, the unjustly forgotten "Yours, Mayan and Ours." Also, I am reminded of another Dylan stanza:
"Well, I got up and walked around
up and down the lonesome town.
I stood a-wondering which way to go,
I lit a cigarette on a parking meter
And walked on down the road.
It was a normal day."
Dec 20, 2012   |  Reply
The Clooney Fail Safe shows up at most Big Lots $3 bins right now,with a dark blood red cover(many a DVD cover wants to hide the fact that there is a black & white movie-horrors- lurking inside).
A night of Father Knows Best episodes followed by a Marcus Welby-Forever (Robert)Young!See what you started,David.
Maybe that Happy Days episode where the Fonz really does jump over the shark.
Or an evening of shows which got yanked after one showing.(If only there was a real TV Land.)
But,Bianculli is right; Slim Pickins wavin' that cowboy hat and Vera Lynn on the soundtrack-now that's entertainment!We'll meet again.
Dec 20, 2012   |  Reply
Ed Quigley
Thanks for the recommendations. Great to see The Connections on YouTube. Sure I could order the DVD's but there isn't time!


And if the Mayans were right, thanks for all the enjoyment you gave me these ast oh 4-5 years. It was all worth it
Dec 19, 2012   |  Reply
Ed Quigley
Last not ast... Ugh
Dec 19, 2012
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