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:
Here's an unexpected treat from HBO. Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again (9/8c) isn't a tent revival of the strangest comedy act you never heard of. It's basically an hour of friendly, funny onstage talk between two simpatico legends: the comedy genius behind Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and other classics, and the renowned talk-show veteran, who had Brooks as a guest a number of times (ergo the "Together Again"). They share hilarious show-biz anecdotes and memories, and in a delightful aside, Brooks' old buddy Carl Reiner appears from the audience to revive their "2000-Year-Old Man" shtick. [Personal aside: When I conducted a similar conversation with Reiner this spring in Los Angeles, Brooks was in the front row, and similar magic occurred. You won't want to miss it.]
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I'd like to report that the finale of Starz' Torchwood: Miracle Day (10/9c) redeems the uneven season, but despite a number of explosive occurrences on opposite sides of the globe, it's something less than a (to coin a phrase) "blessing." One of the climactic twists — actually, more than one — had me howling: not in grief or shock, but in befuddled frustration that an admired franchise had gone so far off the rails. Still love Captain Jack and Gwen and would follow them almost anywhere, but unless they put the remnants of this chapter of their mythology behind them and forget America ever happened, they may have to go it alone for a while.
One of the themes of this weekend's 9/11 coverage is the healing power of music. Putting that thought into action is Paul McCartney, the candid and charming subject of the vérité documentary The Love We Make (9/8c), in which veteran filmmaker Albert Maysles follows the former Beatle around New York in the days after the attacks, as he spreads cheer to fans while organizing an all-star "Concert for New York City" in Madison Square Garden several weeks later. Footage from the concert (which will be aired in its six-hour entirety on VH1 Sunday afternoon, starting at 4 pm/3c) is intercut with unguarded moments backstage.
Photography is also an important part of the 9/11 legacy. A&E's Portraits From Ground Zero (10/9c) spotlights photojournalist Andrea Booher, one of the few allowed unlimited access to Ground Zero in the days after the attacks. She tracks down subjects from some of her more powerful photographs and listens to their stories.
Seeking a fantasy respite from all this harrowing reality? BBC America's Doctor Who (9/8c) is happy to oblige with a Rory-centric episode as he comes to the rescue of Amy Pond, trapped in a quarantine facility for victims of an alien plague. (In case going to Contagion this weekend doesn't satisfy your craving for such things.) ... Or you could sample Syfy's latest wacky Saturday night monster movie, Jabberwock (9/8c), starring Battlestar Galactica/Dollhouse fan fave Tahmoh Penikett, also tasked to rescue the woman he loves — in this case from a beast (its name taken from Lewis Carroll) with "the body of a dragon and the head of a gruesome insect."
Coverage of Sept. 11 ceremonies (most beginning at 8 am/7c) will be available on all major networks, with anchors and reporters covering from the Ground Zero site in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the site of the Flight 93 crash near Shanksville, Pa. In prime time, CBS' 60 Minutes (7/6c) will devote its entire hour to 9/11 coverage, and ABC presents a "special edition" of 20/20 (10/9c) titled "Remembrance and Renewal."
Other 9/11 highlights:
At exactly 8:46 am/7:46c, commemorating the moment when Flight 11 crashed into the first tower, HBO will air Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience, a stark collection of testimonials including survivors who escaped from above the impact zone of the second tower.
A similar approach is taken by Showtime's elegiac and moving documentary Rebirth (9/8c), interviewing five subjects over the last 10 years — some who lost loved ones in the attacks, another who was severely burned and underwent a number of major surgeries — as they carry on with their shattered lives. These sometimes wrenching, ultimately hopeful stories are interweaved with stunning time-lapse photography from the Ground Zero site, as it comes back to life. (For the most comprehensive survey of the reconstruction, Discovery's absorbing six-hour Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero is rebroadcast in an 18-hour loop on the Science Channel on Sunday, starting at 11 am/10c.)
CBS updates one of the most harrowing documentary accounts of the World Trade Center attack in 9/11: 10 Years Later (8/7c), a remarkable eyewitness account from documentarians who were following New York firefighters and found themselves in the middle of the action, capturing exclusive video including some of the first responders' rescue efforts before the towers' collapse. It's the ultimate "You Are There" remembrance.
USA Network goes the TV-movie route with The Space Between (9/8c), starring Melissa Leo (Oscar winner for The Fighter) as a flight attendant grounded in Texas after the attacks, who embarks on a message-laden road trip to NYC in hopes of reuniting the 10-year-old Pakistani boy in her charge with his father, who works at the World Trade Center. This is immediately followed by the Oscar-winning documentary short Twin Towers, from Dick Wolf, about two brothers, one a firefighter and one a policeman, who died when the towers collapsed. Both air commercial-free.
Also: TCM gets in the spirit, filling prime time with classics chosen by first responders, starting at 8/7c with the timeless Casablanca, followed by Mister Roberts, the racially charged war film All the Young Men and Red River. ... If your tastes run toward the classical, PBS' Great Performances (check local listings) presents A Concert for New York, taped Saturday night at a free concert at Avery Fisher Hall, in which Alan Gilbert conducts Mahler's stirringly symbolic Symphony No. 2: Resurrection.
Sunday's other big TV event is HBO's curtain call for its summer series, starting with True Blood(9/8), which I've been loving lately as it went completely and garishly bananas during the vampire-witch war. And now that crazy Marnie's spirit has possessed Lafayette — how soon before he pukes that bitch out? — expect all hell to break loose yet again on Samhain, holy day for the Wiccans of Bon Temps. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry has it out with neighbor Michael J. Fox, which ought to be a riot, and as Entourage finally reaches "The End," we'll see if things work out for Ari and the Mrs., and Eric and Sloan, and Vince and Sophia. And if you actually care, I commend you for your loyalty.
Finally, on a new Breaking Bad (10/9c, AMC), the tension continues to reach the breaking point for just about everyone, including an embattled Gus, a desperate and distrustful Walt, a flummoxed Jesse — and this week, Skyler, giving Anna Gunn a chance to flex her considerable chops as a financial crisis threatens to expose the money-laundering shenanigans at the car wash. Her resourcefulness brings some welcome comic relief (though not without an element of suspense) to another grueling hour that ends on a pivotally confrontational note.