The Wednesday Playlist: MTM's Cleveland Reunion, Futurama Finale, Comedies on FXX
Hot in Cleveland
At the risk of mixing one's classic-comedy metaphors ... While watching the ladies of The Mary Tyler Moore Show reunite for a chipper if undeniably poignant exercise in meta nostalgia on TV Land's Hot in Cleveland (Wednesday, 10/9c), you might find yourself wistfully recalling the old Carol Burnett Show theme: "I'm so glad we had this time together." This is especially true for the iconic buddy duo of Mary and Rhoda, with Mary Tyler Moore appearing even more frail than Valerie Harper, whose inspiring public battle with brain cancer pretty much defines the quality once attributed to Mary Richards: "spunk."
The episode recalls an era of the mid-'70s when, as Mary herself puts it, "Every Saturday night all eyes were on us [on CBS]." (That was certainly true in my household growing up.) There are numerous clever call-backs to their beloved series as Moore, Harper and Cloris Leachman (the former Phyllis) join Cleveland co-stars Betty White and Georgia Engel as members of a '60s championship bowling team who, as Engel's Mamie Sue remembers, "all became divas, which led to a very ugly breakup." As White's Elka declares, "You can't escape the ghosts of the past," it's clear that in this case, who would want to?
It's a somewhat overstuffed half-hour, with subplots pulling focus from the main event including Victoria (Wendie Malick) trying to impress a self-important movie director (a very funny Jesse Tyler Ferguson) with a most unusual condition, and Joy (Jane Leeves) set up on a date with a professor (a bewildered seeming George Hamilton) who only has eyes for Elka. Honestly, I'd have been OK with an entire half-hour of the MTM gals gabbing at their table. We're not likely to see the likes of these legends again.
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BACK TO THE FUTURAMA: We've said goodbye before to Futurama — back when this marvelous animated outer-space comedy was canceled prematurely by Fox 10 years ago, only to be resurrected years later by Comedy Central — but this time they really mean it. And while the rapid-fire jokes and oddball characters are as fresh as ever, this series finale (10/9c) is wonderfully, even romantically, satisfying. "What if you had a special moment that you wish could go on forever?" muses lovesick Fry, expressing a sentiment many fans will empathize with as they watch this too-fleeting half-hour. He finally decides to propose to Leela — "This is all so sudden — after 13 years," she snarks — and he brings along the Professor's new "time button" contraption to preserve and sustain the occasion. Typically, nothing goes according to plan, and before you can say Twilight Zone, time is very much of the comic essence: fractured, funky and fabulously entertaining to the very final frame.
X MARKS THE NETWORK: FXX looks like something you'd see on a particularly disreputable movie marquee, but it's no laughing matter to cable's FX brand, which expands its reach this week with a new network largely devoted to down-and-dirty laughs. (You'll find it on most systems where Fox Soccer used to be.) Which means if you're looking for the new seasons of long-running comedies It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League, you'll only find them if you add another X to the equation. For fans, it will likely be worth the effort, especially with Sunny (10/9c), which gets its ninth season off to a strong start with a typically perverse episode that finds an unusually depressed Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson) in "that sweet spot between suicidal and actually dead, where comedians thrive" (Charlie's words) — and she translates her self-loathing into a "the joke's on me" stand-up shtick that appears to be catching on, despite buzz-kill brother Dennis's warnings: "You think you can't go any lower? Because you can." Of course he's right, but this nasty set-up is more inspired than most.
Certainly more inspired than The League's proudly tasteless run on AIDS humor in a fifth-season opener (10:30/9:30c) that sends the fantasy-football friends to L.A. for the "destination wedding" of nerdy Andre (Paul Scheer) and Trixie (Jayma Mays), with the buds trying to sneak a secret draft into the bachelor party. Watching from the outside: a sullen Ruxin (Nick Kroll), who quit the league rather than submit to humiliating Sacko punishments. Can't blame him, but you know it won't last. Guest stars of note: The O.C.'s Adam Brody, recent Roastmaster Seth Rogen and NFL vets J.J. Watt and Blair Walsh.
Rounding out FXX's new line-up, and now airing as a nightly strip: Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell (11/10c), with Jim Gaffigan as the outspoken Bell's first guest.
BORDERLINE PSYCHO: Last week, FX's The Bridge revealed the identity of the killer working both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border — and, more importantly, the tangled personal motives that have led him to target the unsuspecting family of the flawed and forlorn Detective Marco Ruiz (Demian Bichir, still the best reason to watch this evocative but wildly uneven drama). The revenge plot kicks into high if melodramatic gear in this eventful episode (10/9c), but I'm still hoping the show will be able to justify the time spent on the subplots involving over-her-head widow Charlotte Millright (an unconvincing Annabeth Gish) and the bizarrely mannered and inscrutable (supposedly) good samaritan Steven Linder (Thomas M. Wright). As for the preternaturally intuitive Detective Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), who's only clueless when it comes to actual human interactions: Still not buying this character. At all. If there is a next season (and there probably will be), I'd be at peace if the action shifted the balance more toward lawless Juarez, splitting time between Ruiz and reporter Adriana Perez (Emily Rios), a much more original character than Matthew Lillard's cynical veteran reporter-in-shaky-recovery.
ACCENT ON CRIME: The night's most powerful lineup is on BBC America, with the second harrowing installment of Luther (9/8c) leading in to the even more riveting Broadchurch, which passes the midway point in its fifth episode (10/9c), dramatizing the poisonous effects of suspicion in this small town, when the spotlight falls on tabloid target and local shop owner Jack Marshall (David Bradley, a world removed from his loathsome Walder Frey on Game of Thrones). Things get ugly as a mob mentality infects Broadchurch, while the embattled team of Hardy and Ellie Miller continue their desperate search for clues to the boy's killer.
BIRDS, LEGOS AND MORE: For the next six weeks, PBS's Nature (check tvguide.com listings) soars with Earthflight, a visually spectacular aerial showcase that takes a literal bird's-eye-view of the planet. (If it looks familiar, a two-hour cutdown of this series aired on Discovery last year as Winged Planet.) The first hour is devoted to North America, with panoramas of the Great Plains, the Grand Canyon, Alaska and New York City among other sights you may have flown over in your lifetime, but never like this. ... Cartoon Network's clunkily titled LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles (8/7c) presents the second of three animated mini-movie prequels featuring the fabled Jedi Master Yoda, who faces off against the evil Sith, Darth Sidious, to woo a powerful new clone to fight for right. ... Emmy winner Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond) appears on the season finale of ABC Family's Melissa & Joey (8/7c) as Joey's dying grandmother, whom Joey tries to appease by introducing Melissa as his wife. What could possibly go wrong? The guest-star roster includes two Tony winners who I'd watch in just about anything (maybe even this): Faith Prince as Joey's mom, and Hairspray's Marissa Jaret Winoker as his sister.
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