What to Watch: 02/16/2016

In the aftermath of all of America — or was it half of your Facebook relatives — losing their collective poop over Beyonce expressing an opinion in between large men giving each other concussions, PBS’ look at the Black Panthers is a good chance for people to earn some perspective. At the very least, it’s a good source for us liberals to make sure we have our facts straight, particularly in light of bizarre comparisons to the KKK. Two out of three editors agree — actually the third editor also agrees, but since it’s a busy day, went elsewhere, and as the palest of the trio, chose the night’s zombie show.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
Independent Lens [PBS, 9p]
Tonight’s Independent Lens features last year’s incredible, underrated The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. The documentary follows the rise of the Black Panthers, beginning with Huey P. Newton in Oakland in 1966. Following Beyonce’s nod at the Super Bowl last week, it’s more than fair to say that the allure and fascination continues (as it should) today.

NAVANI’S CONCURRING OPINION:
Independent Lens [PBS, 9p]
After Beyonce’s Super Bowl show paying homage to the Black Panthers caused such a visceral response including a protest, it proves the group is still relevant as ever. Director Stanley Nelson tells the story of the Black Panther Party’s history and their pivotal role in the fight for civil  rights and American culture.

JASON’S PICK:
iZombie [CW, 9p]
Liv eats pathological liar brain, then tries to solve the crime, while taking on the characteristics of the victim (as is the underlying premise of the show).

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • ABC’s reboot of The Muppets finally got it right last week, and this week they are doubling down by focusing on Miss Piggy, while Rizzo, Pepe, and Gonzo go off on their own adventure.
  • On Fresh Off the Boat, remaining on ABC, Louis and Jessica react to a bad restaurant review, which sounds just marvelous.
  • Not sure if FOX’s New Girl‘s new temporary “new girl” Megan Fox’s Reagan works, but the Jess-less episodes leading up to it were refreshing and among the show’s most inventive.
  • On the same FOXy network, this week’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine pair-offs are Jake with Hitchcock & Scully, Amy and Gina with Rose, and Holt and Boyle.
  • It’s the getting-the-gang-together episode of American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. as each side officially puts together their lawyer teams, to face off in the last millennium’s final Crime of the Century[TM]

Deep In The Dial: The Littlest Rebel (1935)

220px-The_Littlest_Rebel_1935_film_poster

Film lovers can count on MOVIES! to show classic movies. On Sunday night MOVIES! graced us with the honor of Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra. For reasons that we may never discern, MOVIES! is airing a dark mark on Shirley Temple’s career with The Littlest Rebel.

The film will air tomorrow at 6:20 a.m. and again on Saturday, February 27, at 1:15 p.m.

Released in 1935, Temple stars as 6-year-old Virginie, the daughter of a Confederate spy jailed for treason. Virginie and her slave, Uncle Billy (Bill Robinson), dance through the streets to earn money so she can visit with President Lincoln and convince him to pardon her sack-of-crap father.

“My daddy couldn’t have done anything bad,” she promises Lincoln. Yeah, well, you own another human being, and your daddy owns a plantation, so I find your assertion hard to believe, kid. Your daddy fought for the Confederates so he could keep his Union plantation and all its slaves, so actually, your daddy doesn’t deserve the pardon a fictional Lincoln grants you at the end of this film.

In colorized clips posted on YouTube, the acting is over-the-top. Temple is disappointingly more akin to cardboard than the engaging child star she is remembered as so fondly.

If a viewing leaves you thirsty for vengeance, Django Unchained is streaming on Netflix and Nate Parker’s historical drama Birth of A Nation is likely to see an Oscars-season release at the end of the year.

Monday’s Best Reviewed: Better Call Saul

Ok, it’s zero surprise that the return of a critically acclaimed show birthed from another beloved program would win a relatively slow night. However, that Better Call Saul pretty much won by default is a bit disappointing. But, hey, Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Slippin’ Jimmy/Gene the Cinnabon Salesman and Mike Ehrmentraut are back, and everyone (including me) is glad for that. Similarly, a rather odd episode, even by The X-Files quirky standards, and a busy and hopeful, but ultimately inconsequential serving of The Magicians, weren’t particularly panned, but reviewers didn’t crow either.

Monday, February 15th’s Best: Better Call Saul (7.6/10)

0216yesbessaulReviews for the second season opener of darkly endearing Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul were far from bad, but “Switch” was received as what it was, a transitionary episode — the chameleonic con-man between identities. Terri Schwartz of IGN labels it a “solid return” while Vulture‘s Kenny Herzog sums it up thusly: “This was very much a season premiere. I look forward to things heating up.” My favorite moment from the morning recaps is when TV Fanatic*’s Miranda Wicker defends our anti-heroes moral compass to her curious mother: “He’s a man who happens to be a lawyer who just loves the rush of a good con.” Yeah, that pretty much nails it. My one cent and a ha’penny: he’s a compelling enough protagonist that watching him seal his fate with clearly enamored Kim is heartbreaking.

The Rest of the Night:

The X-Files – 7.4

Mulder & Scully awkwardly battle terrorism, and while reviewers don’t hate it, they also don’t exactly ride along. Zach Handlen at AV Club calls it a “little weird” and a “messy, conflicted episode, one full of ambition and inspired strangeness, and not all the pieces fit together neatly.” Vulture‘s Keith Uhlich concurs, opening with “here’s a weird one,” while adding “you’ll either laugh, or stare at the screen in goggle-eyed disbelief.”

The Magicians – 6.7

The Magicians takes a bit of a step back, although the low aggregate grades belie mostly decent write-ups. TV Fanatic‘s Elena Zhang speaks for many when assessing the current stature of the program: “show continues to improve, there are still major flaws that hinder this show from becoming a hallmark of fantasy.”

What to Watch: 02/15/2016

Haaaaaaaaappy Presidents’ Day to all you presidents out in PresidentLand. Tonight’s recommendations have pretty much nothing to do with the leaders of the free world, although one could argue ambulance-chasing lawyers, Lifetime movies, and celebrities receiving awards are three pillars of America.

NAVANI’S PICK: 
58th Annual Grammy Awards [CBS, 8p]
LL Cool J returns as the host on a new night with performances by Adele, Miguel, The Weeknd, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and more. Highlights include the first ever Broadway musical performance from the nominated cast of Hamilton and a special tribute to Celia Cruz.

JASON’S PICK:
Better Call Saul [AMC, 10p]
In the first season finale, all of Jimmy McGill’s good intentions turned to dust, his heroes failed him, and he took his first steps in his transition to morphing into Breaking Bad’s iconic slippery lawyer Saul Goodman. He returns tonight a changed man, and kind colleague/passing love interest Kim will assuredly not care for it. Also, there’s more Mike!

KATHERINE’S PICK:
A Date to Die For [LMN, 8p]
A woman going through a divorce wakes up the morning after a first date to find her date in bed (and fully clothed) with a knife in her chest. Framed–she thinks–for the murder, she must prove that someone else (totally her husband, obvs) did it.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • Syfy’s adaptation of beloved fantasy series The Magicians scored its most critically satisfying episode last week. Looks like there’s some hope for the supernatural show.
  • Major Crimes returns after a two-month layoff with a gang-related five-parter called “Hindsight,” tonight on TNT. We’re deep into the fourth season of the show which formed from the ruins of The Closer.
  • It’s a particularly funny art-themed episode of TBS’ Angie Tribeca — the painter whose stolen work drives the initial plot is named MacGuffin. That is all!
  • Lucifer may not be a classic show, but it’s a lark, and Tom Ellis is a devilishly appealing lead. It’s on FOX.
  • We’ve lost most of our interest in the once-promising NBC sitcom one-two punch of Superstore/Telenovela. However, both boast will-they-are-won’t-they storylines coming to a head, so maybe this is the night they turn the corner.

Weekend’s Best Reviewed: The Walking Dead

It’s not a particular surprise that the midseason return of The Walking Dead, one of cable’s titans, would bring mostly raves. In an episode that had Talking Dead host (and America’s Nerd) Chris Hardwick even giddier than usual, “No Way Out” brought the premier zombie program back with a flashbang episode featuring gore, shocks, tragedies, triumphs, Darryl Dixon with a rocket launcher, and hints of the TV debut of comic book legend Negan and all the impending doom he entails.

Around the clicker, the anticipated arrival of Scorsese’s 1970s music industry drama Vinyl, starring Bobby Cannavale, opened with about as consistent reviews as possible (every review we recorded translated to an “8” in our secret system). ABC’s Friday night fantasy-heavy line-up earned positive press this week. Two revered shows counting down the days to their series finales — The Good Wife and Downton Abbey — had solid outings. On the other side of the ledger, Shameless tailed off from last week’s hyper-dramatic home-leaving episode, while SNL suffered a similar drop-off from curmudgeonly, but acceptable Larry David to always game Melissa McCarthy.

Weekend of February 13th’s Best: The Walking Dead (8.7/10)

0215yesbeswalking

“No Way Out,” the suffocating return of AMC’s current centerpiece, The Walking Dead, certainly connected with its aura of constant terror anchored by the resonant theme of a loosely connected group coalescing around one defined goal — survival — as they herd the undead towards a cinematically spectacular lake of fire. Richard Rys of Vulture asserts that the creators of The Walking Dead knew they “had something to prove after Glenngate stalled the first half of this season.” And prove they did: “No Way Out” isn’t just a much-needed shot of adrenaline — it’s one of the most exciting episodes of the entire series.” IGN‘s Matt Fowler dubbed it “defiantly hostile. In a great way.” Sean McKenna at TV Fanatic proclaimed the episode a “major step up from [its] lackluster” predecessor. The closest thing to a pan comes from AV Club‘s Zach Handlen, who, while questioning his own expectations, faults the show’s “lack of narrative philosophy,” and hammers its consistency. “For every nicely handled character moment here (the rise of the Alexandrians, and Rick finally accepting that he can make these people into bad-ass murder machines was decent), there’s some weird plot flailing that’s so clumsy that it borders on camp.

The Rest of the Night:

Downton Abbey – 8.2

Vinyl – 8.0

Sleepy Hollow – 8.0

Grimm – 7.7

The Good Wife – 7.7

Billions – 7.0

Shameless – 6.8

Saturday Night Live – 6.5

The Vampire Diaries – 6.5

What to Watch: 02/14/2016

Haaaaappy Valentine’s Day to all you Valentines out in ValentineLand. Tonight, we suggest celebrating this loving day with the stirringly soulful voice of a youthful chanteuse, followed by the surely both rocky and triumphant return of an empowered female lawyer to her most familiar stomping ground, and perhaps ending the evening with a dose of righteous intellectual takedown of a few social wrongs by a sharp British tongue. There’s also roses, zombies, record execs, zombies, basketballs, zombies, aristocrats, zombies, Kardashians, Jimmy Fallon, and zombies.

NAVANI’S PICK:
Adele Live in London [BBC America, 10p]
Spend Valentine’s Day in with Adele serenading you and your loved one. Or just you, and your bons bons. Which on second thought might turn out to be a cryfest instead, oops.

KATHERINE’S PICK:
The Good Wife [CBS, 9p]
In The Good Wife’s seventh-to-last episode, Alicia returns to the firm, with Lucca in tow, and the partners are not particularly welcoming.

JASON’S PICK:
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver [HBO, 11:30p]
Now, more than ever, America needs the wit and wisdom of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The British comedian returns with his hilarious and eye-opening long takes on the absurdities which plague society.

ALSO ON TAP TONIGHT:

  • AMC’s (and, lo, all of cable’s) most successful show, The Walking Dead returns as the core gang, along with the oft-hapless Alexandrians face danger from outside. Whoever doesn’t make it, gets to gab with eternally giddy Chris Hardwick afterwards on Talking Dead. Points!
  • HBO’s Vinyl, the long-awaited Martin Scorsese-Mick Jagger collaboration, opens tonight, with a lot of drugs and some sex to go with the central rock’n’roll. The buzz is a-crackle like sparks flying from an old 45rpm record (i.e. about as loud as that metaphor).
  • The penultimate Downton Abbey airs tonight on PBS. Most wonder what will become of the too-opulent-for-these-changing-times Granthams, the newlywed and ever more snippy Carsons, the sulking Thomas the Evil Footman, or maybe even the bland Bateses. However, we’re more thrust to the edge of our seats by the will-they-or-won’t-they of Miss Patmore and Mr. Mason.
  • TNT carries the NBA All-Star Game. While the actual event pales in comparison to the hoopla and the skills competitions (slam-dunk, et al), it’s still fun to watch Steph Curry launch 3s in a game whose outcome is actually in doubt, right?
  • After over a quarter-century of seasons on FOX, The Simpsons offer, for the first time, a Professor Frink-centric episode, with the science and the laughing and the hovercrafts that don’t quite work with the…person. Glaven!

Your Essential Streaming Valentine’s Day Episodes

It’s cold out there, if you’re on the East Coast. People are begging Netflix to release House of Cards early. But if House of Cards isn’t for you (it’s definitely not for me!) and you want to honor the weekend’s holiday, you can’t go wrong with these themed episodes from your favorite shows. (That only one is still airing is incidental.)

I Love Lucy

Episode: “Lucy Plays Cupid” (Season 1, Episode 15)
Watch at: Hulu or CBS.com

TEAlbBEIy5TnEA_1_a

Lucy schemes to set up her older neighbor with the grocer. An awkward love triangle ensues, made worse when Ricky (oh, brother) tries to teach Lucy a lesson. Ricky’s a bad husband, but the match works out in the end.

Parks & Recreation

getImage

Episode: “Operation Ann” (Season 4, Episode 14)
Watch At: Netflix

The show that invented a pre-holiday can’t be left out. While Leslie obsesses over finding a mate for Ann, Ben, Andy, and Ron struggle to solve a series of clues. Ann rightly finds Leslie’s second-hand desperation insulting, though it’s a joy to take in Pawnee’s community-thrown couples dance (poorly DJ’d by a very sad Chris). Ron and Ben revel in Ben’s challenge, which is way more fun than the dance, as they interrupt dates at JJ’s Diner and Pawnee’s odd attractions (including the snow globe museum, which is staffed by a disgruntled Martin Starr). It’s too bad that Manentine’s Day is already a thing of its own.

The Simpsons

Episode: “I Love Lisa” (Season 4, Episode 15)
Watch At: Simpsons World via FX Now

ichoochoochooseyou

There’s more than one Valentine’s Day episodes in The Simpsons oeuvre, but Ralph Wiggum’s declaration of love for Lisa, who pitied him like we pity Charlie Brown, is easily the best of the series. Ralph’s stirring speech during the President’s Day pageant is more moving than a speech from a fictional second-grader has any right to be.

30 Rock

Episodes: “St. Valentine’s Day”/”Anna Howard Shaw Day” (Season 3, Episode 11/Season 4, Episode 13)
Watch At: Netflix (1/2)

3796185673_f95dd9194c

In “St. Valentine’s Day,” Liz is foiled on a first date with Jon Hamm’s perfect (and stupid) doctor Drew on Valentine’s Day, while Jack reconciles with Selma Hayek’s Elisa over McFlurries. (“Don’t tell me you’re one of those convenient Catholics who goes to church every Sunday.”) In “Anna Howard Shaw Day” Liz rebels against the holiday, insisting she can do anything a couple can, including getting herself home from a root canal, which she deliberately scheduled for the holiday. Jack, on a date with Avery Jessup, has to carry a very out-of-it Liz home. It’s a balm for anyone rolling their eyes at friends shaking their fist at Valentine’s Day.

Arrested Development

Episode: “Marta Complex” (Season 1, Episode 12)
Watch at: Netflix

1x12_marta_complex_04

Michael’s speech about love causes Marta, G.O.B.’s girlfriend, to fall in love with him and inspires Lindsay to seek a divorce. Good job, Michael.

Happy Endings

Episode: “The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” (Season 2, Episode 23)
Watch at: Hulu

2x13-the-st-valentine-s-day-maxssacre-happy-endings-29035062-1280-720

Penny wants to dump her boyfriend, but wants to wait until after the fancy dinner (“for him,” she swears), and convinces Dave that he’s being strung along too, and his foolishness costs him a threesome and his relationship. It’s great to see an acknowledgment of what seventh grade boys and girls have been manipulating for decades: The Break Up Window.

The Twilight Zone

Episode: “From Agnes—With Love” (Season 5, Episode 20)
Watch at: Netflix

the_twilight_zone_all_156-140-from_agnes_-_with_love

A computer programmer trying to use his work machine for offsite tasks (wooing a woman) finds himself foiled when the computer falls in love with him.