Every few years, in a pattern established by his emblematic 1990 breakthrough The Civil War, documentary maestro Ken Burns upstages the fall TV season in mid-September with his latest monumental immersion in historical storytelling. He triumphs again with PBS's seven-night, 14-hour The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, which, as its subtitle suggests, never loses sight of the poignant human drama unfolding against a tide of national and world turmoil. (The series begins Sunday, Sept. 14 at 8/7c and continues nightly through Saturday, Sept. 20.)
There's no place quite like the twisted heartland of FX's Fargo (Tuesday, 10/9c), a marvelous 10-episode variation on themes established in the quirky 1996 Oscar winning film. Once again, warm and neighborly small-town decency gives way to a bitter chill that has less to do with the snowy Minnesota plains than with the dark crevasses of human depravity.
Our top moments of the week:
14. Double Trouble Award: In the first episode of Welcome to the Family, the Yoder and Hernandez families are rocked by the news that their daughter and son, respectively, are going to have a baby together. And then just as the families get a grasp on that big news, grandma-to-be Caroline learns that she too is pregnant! Aw, mother-daughter bonding.
13. Saddest Change of Heart: On The Mindy Project, Pastor Casey, Mindy's fiancé, decides what he really wants to be is...
PBS is teaming up with filmmaker Ken Burns to adapt Siddhartha Mukherjee's Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer into a documentary.
"Cancer touches nearly everyone in this country, and public media can play a vital role in educating Americans about this disease," Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of the PBS station WETA in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "We will illuminate cancer as never before, exploring in depth its history, sharing the experiences of those battling it, and offering new hope by spotlighting some of the most extraordinary research being done today.
How did any of us survive high school? Forget grades. We're talking insecurities, anxieties and social terrors, which have rarely found such vivid comic voice as in MTV's wonderful comedy Awkward, which begins a third season of emotionally harrowing hilarity with back-to-back episodes (Tuesday, 10/9c).
It's junior year (or "the beginning of the end") for the show's self-consciously angsty narrator/blogger Jenna (the terrific Ashley Rickards), who you'd think might be in a happier place having spent the summer cocooned with full-time no-longer-secret boyfriend Matty (Beau Mirchoff). No such luck. With other friends having spent their off time in Europe, hooking up and changing their looks without keeping her in the loop, Jenna worries she's being sidelined, left behind, forgotten. It doesn't help that her sadistic tyrant of a new creative-writing teacher, the heartless Mr. Hart (Anthony Michael Hall), burrows into her fragile psyche with the very first assignment: "Write about your greatest fear." Where to begin?