Critic's Guide to Weekend TV: Fringe, Primeval, A British Lunch and More!
Disorientation is nothing new for the loyal viewer — we hardy few — of Fox's fantastically bizarre Fringe (9/8c). So it's hardly a surprise in this week's compelling episode when the Fringe team hastens to blame a series of time-warping anomalies on the still-unexplained return of Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) in their midst. Walter (John Noble) can barely even look at this grown-up manifestation of the son he lost, only calling him "Subject," and Olivia (Anna Torv) still doesn't know what to think or how to feel. But at the heart of this latest cosmic mystery is another cautionary tale about the effects of "shattering the laws of physics" to hold onto someone you love. Adding emotional oomph to the story is great guest work by real-life husband-wife Stephen Root (NewsRadio) and Romy Rosemont (Finn's mother on Glee) as a couple caught up in this crazy "time bubble."
ABC's long-running Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (8/7c) airs a "Veterans Day Special" reprising the most moving military stories over the many seasons and revisiting some of the families who are returning the favor by helping other veterans. Jewel performs for a military audience in a climactic celebration, and celebrities including Dancing With the Stars front-runner J.R. Martinez will appear throughout the hour, raising funds for veterans' organizations. ... In another nod to the holiday, USA Network airs a 12-hour Veterans' Day marathon of the always gung-ho NCIS starting at 11 am/10c. (This week's first-run episode on CBS, dealing with the crash of a plane transporting the bodies of fallen soldiers whom the team works overtime to honor, was especially strong and timely.)
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Heroes of a different breed get their day in Hallmark Channel's first telecast of the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, in which eight dogs and their selfless handlers are honored at a Beverly Hilton ceremony hosted by Carson Kressley. The categories include Law Enforcement and Arson Dogs, Service Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Military Dogs, Guide Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs, Hearing Dogs and Emerging Hero Dogs (described as "ordinary pets who do extraordinary things"). All have stories to tell that are bound to get any animal lover all choked up.
Dance and Music Masters: As part of the ongoing PBS Arts Fall Festival, the 25th anniversary season of the peerless American Masters series presents Bill T. Jones: A Good Man (check local listings), a look at the uncompromising creative process of the Kennedy Center Honoree choreographer over two years as he prepares an original dance piece, Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray, commissioned to mark Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial. ... A legend is the closing act at a landmark venue in The Last Play at Shea, a documentary premiering on Showtime (9:30/8:30c) about Billy Joel's sold-out July 2008 concerts at Shea Stadium, the home of the Mets and the stage that introduced the Beatles to America. Shortly after these concerts, Shea was torn down and replaced by CitiField. It just isn't the same.
So what else is on? ... Sarah Hyland, best known as the self-absorbed Haley on Modern Family, plays the object of a high school film geek's obsession in the Disney Channel rom-com movie Geek Charming (8/7c). ... On the night's top-rated network show, CBS' Blue Bloods (10/9c), Frederick Weller (In Plain Sight) guests as Erin's potential new love interest, while Danny's partner Jackie goes undercover to find a serial killer of prostitutes.
BBC America's enjoyable sci-fi monster mash Primeval (9/8c) returns for a fifth season, with the ARC team acting ever more suspicious and distrustful of each other as they chase down fearsome creatures who keep threatening London from an unpredictable variety of time-anomaly portals. Adding to the tension: young genius Connor (Andrew-Lee Potts, one of the few remaining original cast members) is recruited by corporate boss Philip Burton (Alexander Siddig) to run a top-secret operation called New Dawn, which sounds like just the sort of thing that could trigger the future apocalypse that team leader Matt (Ciaran McMenamin) has come from the future to avert. Meanwhile, there's an invasion of giant carnivorous subterranean insects to vanquish — and face it, that's why we're really watching, to take us back to the good old days of the monster movie.
Speaking of which, Syfy is back with one of its cheesefests, Rage of the Yeti (9/8c), starring genre fave Yancy Butler (Witchblade) and Baywatch vet David Chokachi as treasure hunters besieged by snow beasts in the Arctic.
Another day, another Republican Presidential Primary debate, but tonight's (8 pm ET/5 pm PT) is the first to air on a broadcast network, as CBS News and National Journal team up to host the latest gathering of GOP hopefuls, moderated by Scott Pelley and Major Garrett from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. The stated focus is on national security and foreign policy, but who knows what sound bites we'll take away from this one. One group likely to be watching is the writing staff of NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c), which will be new, with Emma Stone returning for her second guest-hosting gig, and Coldplay making its fourth appearance as musical guest.
A different sort of showdown, potentially even more bruising, is a ringside seat for the network debut of the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Fox (9/8c), the first broadcast in a multi-year deal between the UFC and Fox Sports. The main event: a heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos.
So what else is on? ... She popularized "Oops" before Rick Perry, and now premium channel EPIX presents the concert special Britney Spears Live: The Femme Fatale Tour (8/7c) from Toronto. ... From the strange-bedfellows department of holiday movie casting, former Showgirls vixen Elizabeth Berkley and former Monk fussbudget Jason Gray-Stanford star in Hallmark Channel's Lucky Christmas, about a single-mom waitress whose winning million-dollar lottery ticket gets stolen along with her car.
Like a master class in minimalist acting by two of Britain's best (who happen to be veterans of the Harry Potter franchise's character-acting academy), PBS's Masterpiece Contemporary offers a bittersweet repast in The Song of Lunch (check local listings). This intimate and endlessly droll two-character teleplay, starring the withering Alan Rickman and the delectable Emma Thompson, is adapted from a narrative poem by Christopher Reid, and we spend much of the hour drunk on words inside the head of Rickman's unnamed character, an embittered editor and failed poet who obsessively self-analyzes every detail of this awkward lunch date with a long-ago ex-lover (Thompson) who has been happily married for years and now lives in Paris. With occasional cutaways to erotic memories from the past, the camera mostly focuses on close-ups of these two remarkable actors, as the besotted Rickman slips further into an alcoholic haze while Thompson struggles to keep things civil, though she can't help observing he's "out to lunch at your own lunch." It's an awfully tasty aperitif.
Road trips provide much of the action on Showtime's powerhouse combo of Dexter (9/8c) and Homeland (10/9c). This is an especially pivotal and revealing hour of Homeland, as Carrie and her target Brody (Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, equally impressive) impulsively and recklessly spend the weekend together at her family's country cabin. What they're doing is so wrong and yet so audaciously fascinating. Meanwhile, Carrie's CIA overseer Saul (a restrained Mandy Patinkin) goes in pursuit of "runaway terrorist" Aileen (Marin Ireland), figuring he's the most likely person to be able to crack her shell as they drive back cross-country to deliver her to the feds. What they all ultimately discover makes for truly shattering drama.
The GPS is set for small-town Nebraska on Dexter, as Dex takes some time off from the Doomsday Killer investigation (to Deb's chagrin) when some apparently unfinished business from the Trinity case — a callback to the show's very best season, the one that starred John Lithgow — calls him away to look into the possibility of a second-generation serial killer. He's accompanied on this joyride by a new "passenger," the ghost of his brother, former "Ice Pick Killer" Brian Moser (Christian Camargo). In a season dominated by religious imagery, including angels, as Dexter struggles with the concept of faith, Brian is more than happy to act as the devil on Dexter's shoulder, egging him on to a path of darkness.
Also being haunted by a lost brother: The Walking Dead's resident redneck Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), who goes off on horseback to continue the search for missing little Sophia, and after a harrowing mishap, gets a delirious earful from his scary brother Merle (Michael Rooker), last seen handcuffed atop a building during a zombie attack in Atlanta. Daryl's homecoming at Hershel's farm isn't quite what he expected, and as Hershel says of these interlopers, "It's a wonder you people have survived this long." This is one of the season's quieter episodes, but you won't believe how it ends.
This week's TV history lesson on PBS' America in Primetime (check local listings) involves the evolution of "The Misfit," and as producer/entertainer Larry Wilmore notes in an interview, "They're all of us and none of us at the same time." He's talking of those wacky workers from The Office, in whom we sometimes see ourselves, even when we'd rather not. But the sentiment applies just as well to a long line of eccentric breakout characters from Taxi to Seinfeld to the narcissists of Arrested Development. (Too bad the chronology stops before the arrival of Community's class clowns.) There's a real charge of nostalgia when The Sopranos's David Chase shakes his head in wonder over the surreal kookiness of Twin Peaks. "I bow down to that," he says of the legendary dream sequences. "We never got close to it." As with the best TV, once seen, never forgot.
So what else is on? ... As CBS' The Amazing Race (8/7c) travels for the first time to Copenhagen, Denmark, a double U-turn looms. Maybe this time some of the teams will actually use it for strategic advantage. It was wasted last week, resulting in yet another forgettable episode. ... The always-electrifying Robert Carlyle takes center stage on ABC's Once Upon a Time (8/7c) in parallel storylines as Rumplestiltskin, who tangles with Cinderella in Fairy Tale World, and as Storybrooke's powerful Mr. Gold, whose interest in a pregnant woman sets off Emma's alarms. ... Master chefs Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali are guest voices on Fox's The Simpsons (8/7c), in a dream sequence after Marge, Lisa and Bart become food bloggers. ... In the "Back to the Pilot" episode of Fox's Family Guy (9/8c), Brian and Stewie time-travel back to the show's pilot episode in order to change history. This I gotta see. ... TLC hopes to erase preconceived stereotypes and ungrounded prejudices in its new series All-American Muslim (10/9c), which follows five American Muslim families as they go about their lives in Dearborn, Mich.
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