Holiday Weekend Playlist: Garish Candelabra, Earnest Ring
No one saves face in director Steven Soderbergh's ghoulishly entertaining, opulently produced Behind the Candelabra (Sunday, 9/8c), HBO's grandest, gaudiest and most fascinating movie in quite a long while — probably since last year's Game Change, in which Julianne Moore's uncanny impersonation of Sarah Palin swept the awards the way Michael Douglas is likely to repeat with his equally astonishing transformation into the flamboyant but closeted "Mr. Showmanship" Liberace.
"People only see what they want to see," says "Lee" to his latest boy-toy companion, Scott Thorson, explaining how he can compartmentalize his voracious sexual appetites from his campy public image. The initially naïve and awed Thorson is played by an equally impressive Matt Damon as a study in slow corruption, with their ill-fated relationship the centerpiece of a cautionary docudrama that's part Sunset Boulevard, part Nip/Tuck horror story. Even before their affair is poisoned by secrecy, jealousy and the bitter price of celebrity, Lee's initial advice that "What's important is to be yourself" rings hollow when he begins making over his "protégé" with the help of a plastic surgeon played by feline-faced Rob Lowe, who's creepier than anything in Hannibal. Tune in out of morbid curiosity and you will be rewarded with a voyeuristic glimpse into a world of palatial kitsch that can't mask the pathos summed up by Liberace's mother (an unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds): "You can't do anything for loneliness."
While Candelabra often skirts the line of campy caricature, Lifetime's Ring of Fire (Monday, 9/8c) walks the line of earnest sanctification of its subject: June Carter Cash, nicely played and marvelously sung by Jewel. She conveys a winning combination of country-honed gumption and deeply abiding faith in this sketchy yet heartfelt biopic based on her son John Carter Cash's memoir. The soundtrack is incendiary, but Fire's drama is too often tepid as it depicts the emotional highs and lows of her marriage to the legendary but drug-troubled Johnny Cash (Big Love's diligent Matt Ross). It's a story more memorably told in the 2005 Oscar-winner Walk the Line, but what Fire lacks in ambition it makes up for in heart, which becomes evident each time Jewel interprets one of June's classics. The scene in which she writes the title song for and about Johnny is the film's dramatic and musical high point.
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PBS musical notes: Five-time Tony winner Audra McDonald steps away from her Live From Lincoln Center hosting duties to take center stage at Avery Fisher Hall for Friday's concert special Audra McDonald in Concert: Go Back Home (check tvguide.com listings), featuring material from her new recording of the same name, her first solo CD in seven years. If you only know her from Private Practice, prepare yourself for one of the theater world's most glorious voices. ... The annual National Memorial Day Concert (Sunday, check tvguide.com listings) from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol will open with American Idol winner Candice Glover belting the National Anthem, with performances from power tenor Alfie Boe, Voice finalist Chris Mann and classical singer/Dancing With the Stars runner-up Katherine Jenkins. A tribute to WWII's "Greatest Generation" will include a salute to the late Charles Durning, who often appeared on this broadcast. Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise are the hosts.
And one last musical highlight, as the curtain comes down with a thud on NBC's Smash, in a two-hour series finale tucked away on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend (9/8c). At least they didn't schedule it opposite the actual Tony Awards — which is the setting for the Broadway musical drama's climax, as Bombshell faces off against Hit List, with attendees including Rosie O'Donnell, Cheyenne Jackson and Bernadette Peters (as Ivy's mom). And much like the CMAs in this week's Nashville finale, the awards are a backdrop for sudsy storylines, including Ivy's unexpected pregnancy and Derek's latest scandal. Whoever wins or loses the grand prize, it's a shame that Smash never lived up to its tremendous potential — dramatically anyway; the music and lavish production numbers were almost always a treat. While much of the cast can refocus on the stage world from which they came — Tony winner Christian Borle (Tom) has already been cast in next year's Encores! production of Little Me — it would be ridiculous if some network doesn't snatch up the terrific Jack Davenport for some show next season.
CULT-DE-SAC: For many, the event of the weekend will be Netflix's long-anticipated release on Sunday of Arrested Development, 15 new episodes of cult-comedy anarchy — at least that's the expectation from those who've been pining for more Bluth family madness since Fox ended its run back in 2006. Episodes were not available for advance review, so we have to trust that this tribe of self-absorbed neurotics and delusional nitwits has lost none of its manic magic.
THE SUMMER SEASON: Memorial Day used to be a quiet time for TV, but not so much anymore. A&E is launching new seasons of its popular procedurals on the Monday holiday: the whimsical The Glades (9/8c), kicking off its fourth season with a fanciful ghost-story murder mystery inside a haunted plantation, as Jim Longworth (Matt Passmore) sweats out whether Callie (Kiele Sanchez) will accept his proposal; and the more substantial Longmire (10/9c), starring Robert Taylor as the stoic and rugged Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, of whom a prisoner observes, "You don't say much, but you have an unquiet mind." Not to mention a restless lone-wolf spirit, as he heads alone into the snowy wilderness to pursue a posse of escaped inmates, his search complicated by hallucinations and hypothermia.
Think Bring It On: The Next Generation, as VH1 graduates the cheerleading-as-entertainment genre into the competitive cat-fighting world of pro-sports dance troupes in Hit the Floor, which re-imagines the Laker Girls as L.A.'s "Devil Girls," a squad where attitude is as important as athletics. This new weekly melodrama (Monday, 9/8c) serves up weave-pulling shenanigans as a sideshow, while the main attraction is the sentimental and sappy education of wide-eyed ingénue Ahsha (Taylour Paige), who tries out for the team against the objections of her "original Devil Girl" mom Sloane (Kimberly Elise). Ahsha is accurately described by an exotic-dancer candidate as being "like a unicorn humped a Care Bear and gave birth to you." The cast also includes Charlotte Ross (looking amazing) as the squad's calculating director and Dean Cain as the basketball team's new coach, both harboring a complicated past with Ahsha's mom. If you don't see the pilot's final twist coming from at least half-court, then maybe this will be your sort of show. The rest of us will move on the way we did with The CW's Hellcats a few seasons ago.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: National Geographic Channel replays the society's very first TV special from 1965 with Americans on Everest (Friday, 8/7c), narrated by Orson Welles, marking the 50-year anniversary of the first American expedition to successfully climb Mt. Everest. ... BBC America's Doctor Who Revisited: The Fifth Doctor (Sunday, 8/7c) pays tribute to Peter Davison, who played the Doctor for three years starting in 1981. ... Discovery's D-Day in 3D special (Sunday, 10/9c) doesn't require special glasses to watch. It reveals how the Allies used 3D aerial photography to help plan for the Normandy invasion. ... In anticipation of the third season that begins June 8, TNT will replay the first season of its hit alien-invasion thriller Falling Skies with a Memorial Day marathon (Monday starting at 10 am/9c). Season 2 will be replayed a week from Saturday. ... Here we go again. Having been rejected by Bachelor Sean Lowe last time around — bet she didn't vote for him during Dancing With the Stars — Desiree Hartsock becomes the next The Bachelorette as she meets 25 suitors on Monday's season premiere (8/7c). ... TV news royalty Barbara Walters has been covering the British royals for so long she probably feels like part of the family. As part of her farewell tour, she hosts the 20/20 special Bringing Up Baby: Royal Edition (Monday, 10:01/9:01c), in which she looks back at her coverage of royal weddings and birth while the world awaits Prince William and Kate's impending blessed event. ABC News correspondent Amy Chozick enrolls in Nanny School, while Nick Watt reports on Kate's family's "commoner" roots to round out the hour.
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