Matt's Guide to Weekend TV: Fringe, Doctor Who, Dexter and More
Tonight's Top Pick: When worlds collide, Fox's cult gem Fringe (9/8c) is at the top of its game. You've never seen a murder-mystery manhunt like tonight's chilling and provocative episode, in which the Fringe team from the "other" world enlists "our" Olivia to cross over to track down a serial killer in the alt-universe — by bringing along the madman's doppelganger from our world, who happens to be a professor specializing in forensic pathology and profiling. The "what-if" vibes are fascinating as the professor — and by extension everyone in the dual-universe loop — considers the vagaries of fate and environment when confronted with "the path not taken." The story is suspenseful, poignant and wonderfully original. And in case you're wondering why Walter stays behind, surrounding himself with a cacophony of music: It may have something to do with that nagging disembodied voice he can't stop hearing. Hurry home soon, Peter Bishop!
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House's Other Calling: Renaissance man Hugh Laurie goes a little Treme, displaying his musical chops in the fabled French Quarter in the Great Performances special Hugh Laurie: Let Them Talk — A Celebration of New Orleans Blues (PBS, check local listings). Accompanied by some of the local scene's most swinging musicians, Laurie sings, plays piano and guitar, and explores this reborn city's sights but mostly sounds. There's no place quite like New Orleans, and seeing it through Laurie's eyes is a treat.
So what else is on? ... CBS' Blue Bloods (10/9c) puts the volatile detective Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) on the hot seat, after he inadvertently shoots a cop and is subjected to an Internal Affairs investigation while on modified assignment. ... On the CW's Nikita (8/7c), Devon Sawa returns as Owen, yet another hottie Division fugitive, currently seeking a doctor who developed the deadly Regimen drug he's trying to kick.
Tonight's Top Pick: It's a night of transition for BBC America's "Supernatural Saturdays," as Doctor Who (9/8c) takes a rest — but hopefully not his final rest — in the season finale, making room for the premiere of the spooky Bedlam (10/9c), which will occupy Who's slot in future weeks.
The Who finale takes us back to the beginning of the season, which foreshadowed the Doctor's death by a Utah lake. In this episode, teasingly titled "The Wedding of River Song," the Doctor returns to the lake for his final reckoning, having realized the only way to preserve the universe is to accept death. We have to imagine there's a loophole (or wormhole) somewhere to remedy the situation.
If ghosts are more your thing, then Bedlam will be quite the wallow, because there are more spirits than you can say boo to in this haunted mental asylum-turned-posh condo complex. Unhappy ghosts lurk everywhere in these corridors, waiting to pounce on anyone with a sexual peccadillo or illicit skeleton in their designer closets. Though the stories provide plenty of jolts, Bedlam becomes less scary with repetition during its six-episode duration, because we can see these persistent ghouls all too easily. So can Jed (heartthrob Theo James), the troubled empath whose past is linked to Bedlam Heights' sordid history.
Jed keeps busy in each episode trying to avert all manner of deadly spectral mischief — this week's premiere is big on creepy water effects — but by the sixth episode, when two of his sexy single roomies are playing with tarot cards in a bedroom full of candles, you figure they're just asking for it. Why don't they all just move? (The same question literally haunts FX's upcoming American Horror Story, which I'll be dealing with next week.)
So what else is on? ... Fresh from an Emmy win, success on the big screen in Bridesmaids and robust premiere ratings for Mike & Molly, Melissa McCarthy makes her first appearance as Saturday Night Live host (11:30/10:30c, NBC) Lady Antebellum is the musical guest, also making their SNL debut. ... In what sounds almost like an SNL parody, Celine Dion brings TV cameras into her home and behind the scenes as she prepares her latest Vegas extravaganza, all while coping with newborn twins, in the OWN special Celine: 3 Boys and a New Show (9/8c). ... Speaking of parody, look who has his first concert special in more than a decade: Weird Al Yankovic Live! — The Alpocalypse Tour on Comedy Central (9/8c). Considering that the selections include "Polka Face" (from Lady Gaga's "Poker Face"), I suppose it's comforting to think some things never change.
Tonight's Top Pick: It's a draw between two of the year's most edge-of-the-seat dramas, airing in the same time period. My review of Homeland (10/9c), Showtime's riveting thriller from the producers of 24, can be found here. Damian Lewis and Claire Danes are brilliant in this psychological cat-and-mouse game with a terrorism backdrop. It's off to a great start, while AMC's Breaking Bad is close to wrapping its insanely intense fourth season. This is the next-to-last episode, and the tension is excruciating as Walt (Bryan Cranston) scrambles desperately to protect his panicked family from the retribution of ruthless kingpin Gus Fring — who's none too happy when Walt's brother-in-law Hank sics his DEA buds on Gus' dirty laundry. Walt and his estranged partner-in-crime Jesse (Aaron Paul) have yet another emotionally explosive showdown before the episode reaches its nail-biting conclusion.
Drink Up: In one of the niftiest juxtapositions of the year, HBO's Boardwalk Empire (9/8c) continues its second season of Prohibition-era drama in delicious counterpoint to Ken Burns' latest social history, the spirited Prohibition (PBS, Sunday-Tuesday, check local listings).
Clocking in at five and a half hours over three nights, Prohibition is a mere aperitif in Burns and Lynn Novick's canon of supersized Americana. With deft detail, and the usual sparkling mix of vivid archival footage and jazzy period music, we're treated to an evocative portrait of a young nation wracked by alcoholism and a debauched saloon culture, taking drastic measures to ban the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Prohibition provides a lively object lesson in the law of unintended consequences, as corruption and organized crime run rampant during a long-running culture war (how timely) which, according to one influential campaigner for repeal, "divided the land, like Gaul, into three parts: wets, drys and hypocrites.:
Not many "drys" on display in Boardwalk Empire, which opens week two with Nucky Thompson and his black-bootlegger cohort Chalky White behind bars. Nucky's mistress Margaret steps up with unusual fortitude to protect Nucky's business interests, while his former protégé Jimmy takes an important meeting in New York. Joining the cast, and adding some very appealing swagger, is Charlie Cox as Owen Sleater, a raffish Irish opportunist who ingratiates himself into Nucky's household.
End of another era: Andy Rooney makes his final lovably curmudgeonly observations as a regular contributor to CBS' 60 Minutes (7/6c). But first, Morley Safer interviews Rooney about his long and varied career.
Back on the hunt: Having peaked a few seasons back in the amazing John Lithgow season, Showtime's hit Dexter (9/8c) at least seems to be enjoying itself as year six kicks off, with a clever opening twist followed by a fun detour at a high-school class reunion for TV's favorite vigilante serial killer. High school, in Dexter's memory, "combining all of the warmest elements of a federal work camp with those of a third-world poultry farm. It's a miracle I graduated to killing anyone." Otherwise, the show is forcing this season's theme of faith and belief a little too heavy-handedly, as devoted single-dad Dexter begins to wonder what legacy he's passing on to little son Harrison. This year's Big Bad is a crazed tag team of religious zealots (Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks as his tormented disciple) who stir things up with a classically gruesome crime scene foreshadowing more gruesome revelations (or is that Revelation?) to come. As usual, the weakest elements of Dexter occur in the workplace, where office politics in the police department ensnare Dexter's sis Deb in predictably labored fashion. There's a point at which Dexter's secret crime spree has become almost comically routine, but we find ourselves at the start of every season kind of like little Harrison, who next week asks for another "monster story, daddy" from his daddy the monster.
So what else is on? ... Starz salutes the late Andy Whitfield with a five-episode replay of key episodes from the bloody first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand (9/8c). ... If you thought the first episode of the new season of CBS' Emmy-winning The Amazing Race (8/7c) was anticlimactic, this week's should make up for it, with the series' first-ever double elimination. ... Eddie Izzard guests on CBS' The Good Wife (9/8c) as a British barrister who goes up against Alicia, albeit via satellite, when a libel case is retried in British court. ... Two dreary so-called comedies begin new seasons on HBO: the flaccid sex farce Hung (10/9c), which kicks off its inexplicable third season with Ray and Tanya now trying to set up a storefront "Wellness Center for Women." Expect lots of orgasm jokes. This is followed by the second season of the defiantly uninteresting hipster fable How to Make It in America (10:30/9:30c), about a couple of unremarkable New York guys trying to break into the fashion industry with a line of urban wear they call Crisp — which is the last adjective I'd apply to this flimsily constructed nonentity. Not even Tim Gunn could make this work.
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