Nolan Sotillo, Charlie Rowe
One of the trickier balancing acts of the season is being performed by Fox's Red Band Society (Wednesday, 9/8c), which aims to be a feel-good show about kids who feel bad. As in indefinite-hospital-stay bad. Amputation bad. Eating disorder, heart disease and cancer bad.
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.)
Allison Tolman, Bob Odenkirk
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.
Ashley Rickards, Brett Davern
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?
Dust cloud approaching, Boise City, Oklahoma, April 15, 1935
The iconic photos from the southern plains states during the Great Depression say it all: the haunted eyes of weary mothers, children with their faces wrapped against the choking dust and families piling their belongings into trucks and heading to California.
In the two-part documentary The Dust Bowl, filmmaker Ken Burns (The Civil War, Baseball, Prohibition) focuses on the nearly decade-long drought that, coupled with unsustainable farming techniques, destroyed millions of acres in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico.
Nevermind the hurricane, the show must go on — and it did Monday night at the Ed Sullivan Theater, where David Letterman hosted CBS' Late Show to an audience of zero. "It was very strange for all of us to be standing there and watching the show, with all of it looking the same, except for...
It's awfully early for the summer TCA press tour — which began over the weekend, and continues through next week — to have peaked. It's even more rare for an entity like PBS to steal the bigger, richer, more hype-heavy broadcast networks' thunder.
But it's hard to imagine any single event, or show, generating a more enthusiastic, jubilant vibe during the annual gathering of the Television Critics Association than the opening night party in honor of Downton Abbey, perfectly timed to celebrate the period drama's astounding 16 Emmy nominations.
Danny Pudi, Donald Glover
Welcome to May sweeps (albeit still in April) and, more important, the countdown to the end of the official broadcast season on May 23. Meaning an end, for now, to those pesky repeats and the start-and-stop scheduling of favorite shows. Reason enough to celebrate? Wait until you see what NBC has in store for you tonight (or at least for those choosy few who gravitate toward the network's better Thursday night comedies).