Critic's Guide to Weekend TV: Woody Allen on American Masters and More!
From the cult-TV corner: It's rare to see a ballsy action heroine like Nikita (Maggie Q) in a state of panic, but in this week's typically tense episode of The CW's Nikita (8/7c), the first of the season I've been able to screen in advance, she places an anguished call to Michael in London to utter three unlikely words: "I lost Berkoff." The tech wiz (Aaron Stanford) is a casualty in Nikita's latest attempt to corner the baddies of Oversight, most particularly Sen. Madeline Pierce (played by Alberta Watson, who spy loyalists will remember was also named Madeline in USA Network's late-'90s version of La Femme Nikita, serving in the Amanda role). When Berkoff finds himself in the sadistic clutches of his former boss, Amanda (Melinda Clarke), things get very tense very fast. While Nikita formulates a rescue plan suggested by the episode title "Fair Trade," her former protégé Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca) is busy trying to smuggle herself back into Russia the way she left — as part of a gang of sex slaves.
Elsewhere in cult land, on The CW's Supernatural (9/8c), the demon hunters are on the prowl in a New Jersey state park for a creature the locals say may be the actual Jersey Devil. (Enter Snooki joke here.) ... On NBC's Grimm (9/8c), reformed wolfie Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell, the show's not-so-secret weapon) goes undercover to sniff out a suspect in a series of female deaths and disappearances. ... And on the fall finale of Fox's Fringe (9/8c) — already? — an invisible force turns a dead man ghostly white, while Olivia (Anna Torv) suffers from migraines. Has she been trying to figure this whole Peter thing out? I know it would give me headaches. Hurry back, show.
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Better late than never, CBS' A Gifted Man (8/7c) finally gives the truly gifted Emmy winner Margo Martindale a juicy if somber storyline. Rita's finally getting some time off at Thanksgiving to reunite with her son, but when he's involved in a motorcycle accident, she has to turn to Michael (Patrick Wilson) to save him. Tom Wopat guests as Rita's husband. So she does have a life! ... Another family gets bad news at holiday time, namely the Reagans of CBS' Blue Bloods (10/9c), when patriarch Henry (Len Cariou) has a heart attack.
By the time you read this, Regis Philbin may already have signed off from Live! With Regis and Kelly after a week of memorable hoopla. We'll miss ya, Reege. ... On CBS' Late Show With David Letterman (11:35/10:35c), Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain sits in the hot seat. What are the chances the subject of Libya comes up?
Laughing Matters: Community's boyishly funny Donald Glover exercises his stand-up chops in the Comedy Central special Donald Glover: Weirdo (11/10c), filmed at New York's Union Square Theater. Somehow it's not surprising to hear that a fetish for Cocoa Puffs and a desire to go to Toys R Us are among his topics. ... How I Met Your Mother's Jason Segel makes his hosting debut on NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c), and what do you bet he'll bring a few Muppets along for the ride. Florence + the Machine are musical guests for their second time.
Saturday Night at the Movies: Oh, Dawson! James Van Der Beek, who will memorably spoof his own celebrity image in ABC's midseason sitcom Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, plays it much more straight in Lifetime's timely TV-movie of Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls (8/7c). He plays a teacher/soccer coach falsely accused of sexual misconduct and imprisoned. When he tries to start over in a small New England town, some local schoolgirls entrap him in yet another witch hunt. ... Seeking holiday respite? Hallmark Channel is almost relentlessly eager to oblige, with two new Christmas movies: A Christmas Wedding Tail (6/5c), about two smitten dogs (voiced by Jay Mohr and Nikki Cox) who play matchmaker on behalf of their owners (Jennie Garth and Brad Rowe); and The Case for Christmas (8/7c), starring Dean Cain as a lawyer representing Santa in a class-action suit. Gee, do you think he'll win?
"The only thing standing between greatness and me is me," says a wry Woody Allen in one of many self-lacerating moments in the revealing and amusing two-part American Masters profile Woody Allen: A Documentary (PBS, check local schedules; concludes Monday). This wide-ranging career profile, from Robert Weide (Curb Your Enthusiasm), bears vivid witness to the shaping and evolution of a comic personality and artistic persona through a career as writer, stand-up performer and film auteur, each step well represented by generous clips. Allen's daunting 40-year body of movie work prompts no less than Martin Scorsese to declare, "Not everybody has so much to say." Even now, his ideas for movies never stop, which we see as he sifts though scraps of notepaper on his bed.
Allen's neuroses and eccentricities are well documented here — "You must understand how to work with him, which is leave him alone," says longtime manager/producer Jack Rollins — and in Monday's second half, he insists public opinion never mattered to him in the polarizing wake of his scandalous split with former muse Mia Farrow. He saves his regrets for his art. "I'm cursed with the clown's approach," he says. "I wish I had born a gifted and great tragedian." And regardless of how some may feel about him now, what a tragedy that would have been for the world of movie comedy.
The night's other top pick, once again, is the season's most riveting new drama, Showtime's Homeland (10/9c), which picks up after last week's stunning game-changer [SPOILER ALERT for those not watching] in which it was revealed that Brody's fellow captive, Tom Walker, wasn't killed after all but is the sleeper agent/sniper everyone has been looking for. As the manhunt for Walker intensifies, Brody and Carrie reassess at home and at work after their beyond-inappropriate tryst at the cabin, which could destroy more than a few careers and lives should it become public. The episode is titled "Achilles Heel," referring to Walker's weakness: his affection for the family he left behind, which Carrie and Saul (with the FBI breathing down their necks) hope to exploit to trap the rogue Marine. Whereas Carrie and Saul's Achilles heel is work, which has cost both of them dearly in their personal lives. Meanwhile, Brody is being groomed by a Washington socialite (guest star Linda Purl) for greater things, but how will he and wife Jessica react to the news that Walker (who Brody believes he killed) is still out there? For the second week in a row, it's fair to say you are not likely to predict how this episode ends. And where the show goes from here is anyone's guess. Brilliant.
On Dexter (Showtime, 9/8c), Deb is really upset with her enigmatic brother for shutting her out of his life, including the details of his recent Nebraska road trip. "He's the one that's keeping all the secrets," she gripes to her therapist. If she only knew. She'd be even more freaked if she found out he was pursuing his own investigation into the whereabouts of Mad Professor Gellar (Edward James Olmos), using the late Brother Sam's blood-soaked Bible as inspiration. Dex also leans harder on poor Travis (Colin Hanks), Gellar's disillusioned acolyte, who has good reason to fear his persistent master of apocalyptic mayhem. This is building toward a very promising showdown.
With only one episode left before next Sunday's midseason finale — new episodes will resume in February to finish the second season — AMC's The Walking Dead (9/8c) finds the survivors, especially Glenn (Steven Yeun), cracking under the stress of keeping so many secrets, including the zombies Hershel is hoarding in the barn (but why?) and the pregnancy Laurie is continuing to hide from Rick. It's another largely contemplative hour with several explosive confrontations, but fans of action will get their fill as Andrea tests her gunmanship on an excursion to an abandoned suburban housing development with Shane.
HBO's Boardwalk Empire (9/8c) is literally all over the map this week, as Nucky and Owen travel to Belfast to strike a deal with the Opposition for (what else) some good old Irish Whiskey. Back in the States, Jimmy conspires to deal with the threat from the Jewish butcher in Philly, while Dempsey fights in Jersey before a rapt audience, including those listening in on wireless. And on the actual home front, Margaret contends with a health scare, evoking yet another moving performance from Kelly Macdonald, who remains the heart and soul of this sometimes scattershot period drama.
In one of this holiday week's niftier stunts, the Food Network presents its first Thanksgiving Live! special (noon/11c). Host Alton Brown, who knows his way around a turkey, fields viewer questions from Facebook, Twitter and Skype about preparing one of the most important meals of the year, with tips from channel experts including Ted Allen, Anne Burrell, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray.
Having scored big numbers with the recent CMA Awards, ABC turns over its final Sunday of the November sweeps to the 2011 American Music Awards (8/7c), an all-star extravaganza that's more about the performances than the awards. This year's show is especially heavy on pairings: Ludacris with Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull with Marc Anthony and Lil Jon, Gym Class Heroes with Adam Levine, will.i.am with Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj with David Guetta, and Maroon 5 with Christina Aguilera. The rest of the roster includes the ubiquitous Justin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Drake and Katy Perry.
So what else is on? ... Fox's The Simpsons (8/7c) takes on the ripe-for-satire "tween lit" fantasy fiction craze, with a guest-voice cameo by master fantasist Neil Gaiman. ... On CBS' The Good Wife (9/8c), Diane lays down the law, issuing an ultimatum that we presume has to do with Alicia and Will's not-secret-enough relationship. Guest stars include Amy Sedaris as a new rival of Eli's and the return of Anika Noni Rose as Wendy Scott-Carr, Peter's former political rival. ... The annual remembrance of John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963 invariably inspires some new twist and theory about that terrible day. This year, National Geographic Channel obliges with JFK: The Lost Bullet (9/8c), which analyzes digitally restored and remastered high-def versions of home movies of the tragedy, including the famous Zapruder film, in hopes of addressing several burning questions — most notably, the mystery of the presumed-missing third bullet that was never recovered.
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