While the Olympians continue to dominate the TV spotlight in Sochi, another gathering of championship talent takes a bow in the weekend's other gold-medal event: PBS's Great Performances presentation of National Theatre: 50 Years on Stage (Friday, 9/8c, check tvguide.com listings).
Laurence Olivier led the National Theatre upon its founding in 1963, and he and other luminaries are seen in vintage clips from past productions, interspersed throughout a dazzling evening of live re-enactments and tantalizing excerpts from landmark plays, including Angels in America, Stuff Happens, The History Boys and War Horse. Fans of Downton Abbey will delight to see the Dowager Countess Maggie Smith in her 1964 prime, vamping in ...
Is "I've Got You Under My Skin" the most appropriate sweet nothing to croon in the skin-crawling world of AMC's The Walking Dead? No matter, because there's not much of a lull in Sunday's powerful episode (9/8c), ominously titled "Infected." Which suggests the virus that felled Nerd Boy last week creates a bloody panic in the cell block, reminding us how illusory any notion of safety can be. "I haven't seen anybody be lucky in a long time," former Army medic Bob Stookey (new regular Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) observes as a full gamut of courage, terror and anguish is displayed during and after the latest crisis. Earning special bonus stripes this week: Melissa McBride as the awesome Carol, who takes a few distraught girls under her wing, but not to coddle them: "You want to live, you have to become strong" is her mantra. Meanwhile, the walkers keep pressing up against the prison gates and the audience can't get enough of the riveting mayhem, as evidenced by the record numbers who turned out for last Sunday's premiere.
It's raining zombies, quite literally, by the end of the first hour of The Walking Dead's fourth harrowing season (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC). And when it rains, it pours blood. Just how fans like it.
But it's in the pauses between the gruesome action, those eerie and unsettling silences, when we're reminded there's no rest for the living in a treacherous world where swarming walkers are constantly pressing against the prison-shelter gates, insatiable and relentless. In these quieter moments, Dead reinforces its claim as TV's greatest horror drama by making us care so desperately about the characters' humanity.
Who'll win at this year's Emmys? Who knows? It's the only major awards show where the old guard and new blood clash on an annual basis, and among the few things you can bet on in this unpredictable process are that Michael Douglas will win for his Liberace impersonation (ditto his HBO movie Behind the Candelabra) and that host Neil Patrick Harris will do his damnedest to make CBS's live Emmys telecast (8/7c, 5 Pacific) as enjoyable as the Tonys.
In the tradition of all great detectives, Swedish bundle-of-brooding Kurt Wallander can't escape crime no matter where he goes — and that includes the country home he is just moving into with his lady love as the first of three new Wallander movies kicks off a third season on Masterpiece Mystery! (Sunday, PBS, check tvguide.com listings).
The Walking Dead
So much coming and going in the volatile, fragile world of fantasy/horror TV. Once again, we're bidding adieu to Fox's freaky Fringe (Friday, 9/8c) for a month.
First, a few words about fairy tales, one of the more unexpectedly hot trends of this TV season ...
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!
This busy premiere week is far from over. Here's a night-by-night look at how the weekend is shaping up this fall, with some thoughts on the new-season pilots, several key season premieres, and other highlights.
The Night in a Nutshell: If you're not a CBS loyalist on this low-viewership night, then it's best to have a healthy appetite for cult TV. CBS is expected to rule as usual, with the new A Gifted Man grafting the popular voices-from-beyond genre of Ghost Whisperer and Medium with a medical procedural, leading in to CSI: NY (which barely got renewed this year) and Blue Bloods. Once again, Fox's mind-blowing Fringe and the CW's undying Supernatural duke it out for out-there enthusiasts, with the underrated spy thriller Nikita taking over Smallville's old time period. NBC enters the game in mid-October, launching the final 13 episodes of Chuck alongside the third supernatural offering in the 9/8c time period: the fairy-tale/mystery hybrid Grimm. Reality fans will soon be able to choose among ABC's transplanted Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Shark Tank and Fox's Kitchen Nightmares.
Most everyone remembers where they were 10 years ago on September 11, as we watched the horrific images and stories unfold. A decade later, many will gather in front of the TV again to watch, remember, reflect — and the broadcast and cable networks are offering a wide range of specials to put the tragedy in perspective.
But there's plenty else happening on TV this weekend. Here's my take on some of the more notable highlights, including the major 9/11 programming: