Just try telling Carrie Watts that you can't go home again. This elderly Texan, determined to make her way back to a town that time and everyone but she has forgot, bristles with restless gumption, fueled by an indomitable spirit that erupts in hymns she can't stop humming — or singing, as in a memorable scene set in a deserted bus station after midnight.
On Broadway, where Cicely Tyson won a Tony Award last year for her luminous performance as Carrie in a revival of The Trip to Bountiful, audiences often joined in as she sang "Blessed Assurance" in the play's rapturous high point. And for a moment, in Lifetime's languid movie adaptation (Saturday, 8/7c), you might find your own living room transformed into a choir loft.
Tyson, a three-time Emmy winner (twice for the classic The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), could easily add a fourth for this unfussy, quietly moving character study. There's no condescending preciousness in her portrayal of Carrie's crotchety, wily desperation to escape the family prison of a cramped Houston apartment she unhappily shares with her overwhelmed son (Blair Underwood, excellent) and spoiled daughter-in-law (Vanessa Williams, also reprising her Broadway role). Carrie impulsively runs away toward the ironically named Bountiful, befriending a young military wife (a nicely understated Keke Palmer) whose wistful hopefulness shines a bleak mirror on Carrie's own disappointments. As fables go, Bountiful is fairly uneventful yet unexpectedly affecting, thanks to Tyson's unsparing honesty.
The movie is also something of a TV homecoming for the late Horton Foote's Bountiful, which was originally written for NBC in 1953 (starring Lillian Gish) before it moved to Broadway and then the big screen in 1985 (earning Geraldine Page an Oscar). Carrie Watts is one of those great, enduring roles that, with its universal humanity, transcends race, and we're lucky to have Tyson's marvelous interpretation recorded for posterity.
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THE HUGGABLE ZOMBIE: Does ABC have a death wish? Of all nights and times to schedule the provocative Resurrection, which imagines a world in which deceased loved ones suddenly reappear and reunite with their mystified and conflicted families, the network chooses the Sunday hour (9/8c) dominated by The Walking Dead.
Seems like madness, but these couldn't be more different takes on the zombie phenomenon. While The Walking Dead's gruesome wallow in splatter nihilism is all the rage, Resurrection goes for the emotional jugular in its main story of in-their-twilight couple Henry and Lucille (sensitively played by Kurtwood Smith and Frances Fisher), rocked by the return of their 8-year-old son, Jacob (Landon Ginemez), who drowned 30-odd years ago and hasn't changed a lick, not even his clothes.
Resurrection is part of a new subgenre in which the undead are much more human than monster, including such haunting imports as BBC America's In the Flesh and SundanceTV's The Returned (from France) — not to be confused with Jason Mott's 2013 novel The Returned, on which Resurrection is based. Comparisons with the French Returned are inevitable, but again, it's all about tone. Resurrection subverts expectations by sidestepping the creepy and macabre — although there are layers of mysteries and secrets in the small town of Arcadia, Missouri — and dwelling in a more bucolic and even tear-jerking manner on the spiritual and societal ramifications of this apparent miracle.
There are moments of gasp-inducing sentiment as Lucille wondrously coddles her bewildered little boy, defiantly sending him out into a suspicious community that doesn't know what to make of him. Henry can relate, because when he looks at this manifestation of his son, it's not a question of who but of what he is. Can this Norman Rockwell-meets-Rod Serling approach to such tricky material pay off with a mainstream audience? I hope so, because variety should also be the spice of death. (Warning: Those who've seen all eight episodes report that the story ends with much unresolved, and given that renewal for a show this unusual is hardly a guarantee, the end result could be more frustrating than fulfilling.)
STAR TREK: "You, me, everyone, we are all made of star stuff," declares astrophysicist (who often plays one on TV) Neil deGrasse Tyson — some of us presumably being more imbued with stardust than others. Taking the helm of a CGI "Spaceship of the Mind," Tyson revives the iconic pop-science science Cosmos for a new generation with dazzling results. How, you might wonder — given that wonder is the very purpose of this series — did something this good-for-you end up on Fox? (Premiering Sunday, 9/8c) Helps that Seth MacFarlane, a lifelong Cosmos fan and Carl Sagan groupie, is an executive producer, which is why for the next 13 weeks some prime Sunday real estate is given over to this wide ranging, visually spectacular exploration of the universe and mankind's place within.
Keeping with the global theme, Fox is simulcasting the premiere over 10 networks and, with partner National Geographic TV, to 170 countries. (National Geographic will repeat each week's episode on Mondays at 10/9c, with bonus and behind-the-scenes content. The channel will also air the entire original 1980 Cosmos, hosted by Sagan, this weekend, starting Saturday and Sunday at noon/11c.)
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is science non-fiction at its most accessible and enjoyable, including animated history lessons about pioneering visionaries who opened the world's eyes to the galaxies that lie beyond. Let's hope this revival can break through the clutter in today's ever-more-crowded TV universe.
AND KEEP IN MIND: Self-confessed Saturday Night Live super-fan Lena Dunham (Girls) will guest-host for the first time, with The National also debuting as musical guest. ... Having been off the air since mid-December, it's probably a good idea for ABC's Once Upon a Time to offer up a refresher recap special, Wicked Is Coming (Sunday, 7/6c), before resuming the season at 8/7c, which as the title suggests is building toward a battle with the Wicked Witch of the West. ... With the Super Bowl, Olympics and Oscars filling our winter Sundays, it has been nearly two months since we've seen a new episode of CBS's The Good Wife. In its long-awaited return (Sunday, 9/8c), Jack Davenport (Smash) guests as a U.S. Attorney, when the battling firms got to war to keep the notorious kingpin Lemond Bishop (Mike Colter) as a client. As the voter-fraud scandal heats up, Eric Begosian begins an arc as an agent in the Office of Public Integrity, which sounds like bad news for the governor's team. ... Train-wreck alert: OWN puts the spotlight on Lindsay (Sunday, 10/9c) in a new docu-reality series following tabloid terror Lindsay Lohan's "journey through recovery." Clips reveal that the filming, like so much in her life, didn't always go smoothly, prompting Oprah Winfrey herself to enter the picture and lay down the law. ... On a happier note, Turner Classic Movies devotes much of Sunday to the career of the late Shirley Temple Black, starting at 4:30/3:30c with her immortal Heidi and, in prime time, The Little Princess at 9:30/8:30c. Pass the animal crackers! (Although Curly Top is not in Sunday's TCM lineup, it's the thought that counts.)
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