The Weekend Playlist: Watergate Revisited, Hemlock Grove, TV Movie Deluge
Bill Skarsgard, Landon Liboiron
This was another wrenching week in our nation's history when sudden tragedy galvanizes the country's attention, and all eyes (often fueled nowadays by social media) turn to TV for the latest developments — for better or sometimes worse, given the get-it-first-and-maybe-even-right nature of the 24/7 news cycle. We'll never forget those images of horror and heroism issuing from Boston, such is the nature of the medium and the immediacy of the message.
Four decades ago, a less violent but no less memorable spectacle was unfolding in Washington, D.C., and what we remember most vividly about the whole business is how it played out on TV — especially during the summer of 1973, when the Watergate hearings knocked the soaps off the air with a riveting saga of dark political corruption, culminating a year later in the resignation (again, televised live) of President Richard Nixon. This remarkable story, which still seems incredible no matter how times it is told, gets a fresh look through the prism of the instant-classic movie that made pop-cultural icons of the journalists who broke the story. Discovery's two-hour All the President's Men Revisited (Sunday, 8/7c) reunites Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and the actors who portrayed them in the 1976 Oscar-winning film — Robert Redford (who produced and narrates this special) and Dustin Hoffman — along with other key Watergate figures, and the inevitable usual-suspects gallery of contemporary pundits (including Jon Stewart and an overly smug Rachel Maddow), to give context to this cautionary fable of institutional arrogance. Scenes from the movie, which Redford likens to a "detective story," are intercut with vintage news footage, and it's all as mesmerizing and astonishing as ever, changing journalism and politics forever.
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HORRIBLY BAD: Well, they can't all be House of Cards. Once again dumping (in this case literally, and steamingly) an entire 13-episode series online, to be sampled whenever and however the consumer wishes — or possibly never — Netflix follows up the acclaimed political melodrama that helped redefine binge viewing with Hemlock Grove (available to subscribers Friday), a laughably inept, stubbornly un-thrilling supernatural mystery from filmmaker Eli Roth that mashes up elements of Twilight, Twin Peaks, Dark Shadows, Rosemary's Baby and any number of superior scare classics. An average episode of The Vampire Diaries offers more wit, surprise and true horror than this derivative amateur night of mannered, feigned fright.
With sullen pouting substituting for acting, Hemlock opens on a teenage girl's grisly slaughter, presumably by a werewolf — the chief suspect the new half-gypsy boy in town, Peter (Landon Liboiron in the show's sole sympathetic performance), who is befriended by rich-kid rebel Roman (Bill Skarsgård). He's of the wealthy Godfrey family, which operates a sinister bio-lab and features among its members a femme fatale hot momma (Famke Janssen) and a mute hulk of a teenage giantess with bandaged hands and bangs that cover an alien-looking eye. Like most things in Hemlock Grove, she's grotesque without being scary or inspiring the type of creepy wonder one expects from this genre.
When we do witness a werewolf transformation well into the second very long hour, it's impressively and imaginatively gruesome. But it's too little too late, and one of the bystanders (a slumming Lili Taylor) looks more amused than alarmed. Binge if you will, but Hemlock Grove feels more like something that needs to be purged.
WEEKEND AT THE TV-MOVIES: Used to be that nearly every Sunday, you'd get to pick among a crop of new network TV-movies. That cottage industry migrated to cable long ago, with mostly formulaic results, but this weekend, there's an unusual number of high-profile projects. Starting with HBO, where the film division has a track record of aiming high with social purpose and marquee talent: The simple yet moving Mary and Martha (Saturday, 8/7c), by Richard Curtis and directed by Phillip Noyce, stars Hilary Swank (Mary) and Brenda Blethyn (Martha) as two super-moms who unite to channel their grief into political action after their sons contract malaria in Africa and die — Mary's boy George is just a kid on sabbatical from America with mom, while Martha's son Ben is an aimlessly charming young adult who left his family in England to teach village children in Mozambique. Mary is headstrong and abrasive, Martha matronly and warm, and the actresses' chemistry makes up for an earnest predictability in the storytelling.
There are two types of Lifetime movies: the ubiquitous, disposable woman-in-jeopardy/true crime melodramas, and on rare occasions, the prestige tear-jerker. Call Me Crazy: A Five Film (Saturday, 8/7c) is one of the latter. A follow-up to 2011's acclaimed all-star Five anthology about breast cancer, this film also interweaves five emotionally affecting stories, this time focusing on mental illness and its impact on the care-givers, including Modern Family's Sarah Hyland as the panicked daughter of bipolar Melissa Leo (riveting). With directors including Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Bonnie Hunt and Ashley Judd, most of these poignant vignettes are linked by the character of Lucy (a fine Brittany Snow), a law student battling schizophrenia who successfully earns her degree to be able to help others, including a war vet (Jennifer Hudson) suffering from post-traumatic military sexual trauma. Heartfelt and rarely schmaltzy, call this one a winner.
If it weren't for Hallmark Hall of Fame, now an occasional ABC franchise and a cloying shadow of its former self, the network TV-movie would be almost entirely extinct. If the latest installment, Remember Sunday (Sunday, 9/8c), is one of Hallmark's more enjoyable of recent vintage, that has much to do with the casting of two of TV's most adorable fan favorites: Chuck's Zachary Levi and Gilmore Girls' Alexis Bledel. C'mon, how can you not root for a couple this cute? The high-concept rom-com set-up introduces Levi as a mensch who has lost his short-term memory — each day he starts anew, using post-it notes and recordings to get him up to speed — which complicates his attraction toward the dithery, cash-poor waitress with whom it's love at first sight (for him) every time they meet. I wouldn't say Remember Sunday is unforgettable, but it sure is sweet. ... Also of note: ABC Family's Lovestruck: The Musical (8/7c), in which Jane Seymour turns 30 years younger (portrayed by fellow Dancing With the Stars alum Chelsea Kane) after drinking a magical potion. ... Hot in Cleveland's Wendie Malick stars as a wronged wife accused of her rotten ex-husband's murder in Hallmark Movie Channel's After All These Years (Saturday, 8/7c), a comedic mystery based on Susan Isaacs' best-seller.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING: For the next few weeks, PBS is offering a full Sunday night lineup of period British drama (check tvguide.com listings), starting with the splendid Call the Midwife, the less-than-masterful Masterpiece Theater miniseries Mr. Selfridge, and capped by the intriguing three-part The Bletchley Circle, which admirably avoids preciousness as it depicts the teamwork of four women who during WWII worked secretly for the government as code breakers (Bletchley Park was their HQ). The story begins nearly a decade later in the post-war '50s when gifted puzzle-solver Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), unchallenged as a housewife and mother, attempts to help the police by showing them the patterns she has detected in the methodology of a serial killer. Patronized by the authorities and her husband, Susan rallies her old colleagues to the cause — including one with a helpful photographic memory — and they set about divining clues through railway schedules and the like. If you put these ladies together with the midwives of Nonnatus House, they could probably save the world.
Devotees of British history may want to seek out the Smithsonian Channel for the two-hour docu-special The King's Skeleton: Richard III Revealed (Sunday, 9/8c), which goes inside the archeological dig that uncovered the remains of the notorious 15th-century king, found ignominiously buried under a parking lot in central England, and the forensic investigation that followed. His kingdom for a DNA test!
FOR LAUGHS: I don't often flip for Fox's animated Bob's Burgers, but an advance look at Sunday's episode (Sunday, 8:30/7:30c) reveals the 'toon in top form, as an injury sends the squeamish Bob and loyal Linda to the ER, leaving the kids to run the restaurant — possibly into the ground. "Why did we ever think a restaurant was a good idea?" shrieks Louise. "We watched Mom and Dad fail at it for years!" Solution: Open a secret underground casino, The Meat Grinder, which goes swimmingly until the wicked landlord (Kevin Kline as Mr. Fischoeder) shows up to play. ... It's not looking like a very happy birthday for Showtime's Nurse Jackie (Sunday, 9/8c), as ex-husband Kevin continues to play hardball over custody of their daughters, causing Jackie to go to extremes to change her work schedule. There are flashes of joy in this melancholy dramedy, but they don't come easily. ... The cynicism is off the charts on HBO's Veep (10/9c), but given what we've seen in the real D.C. lately, it's not really such a stretch when a presidential adviser notes, "Doing nothing is the most positive thing we can do." The veep herself is sent to "mix with the hicks" at a pig roast, an inopportune venue when an Israeli controversy erupts involving her college-age daughter. Which prompts this immortal line: "Move the veep away from the pig!"
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