Monday, December 21, 2020

TV Picks - Week of December 21

It's the most wonderful time of the year - and I've got a holiday watch list for you. Forget about the holiday specials, here's the best TV of the year right under your tree. 

2020 has certainly been one for the ages. Nostradamus couldn't have predicted how things turned out. There were lots of changes – most for the worse, but some for the better. Writing a weekly TV column is a positive change as I only wrote a "Best Of" column at the end of the past few years.

Lockdown meant having all the time in the world to watch everything on TV, right? Well that's not exactly how things worked out. I've never been busier with my day job and appearing on a variety of sports shows. 

Now there's some time to relax at the end of the year, and here are some binge suggestions more filling than a holiday feast.

My ten favorite shows of 2020:

10. High Fidelity (HULU)

This falls into the Fargo (failed to make the list this year) category - why take a great quirky movie and make a series out of it? It's a huge challenge, and this version rose to the occasion starring the daughter of one of the featured film players.

The gender-flipped adaptation of the classic Hornby novel and subsequent Cusack-led film just works. Zoe Kravitz is excellent as the romantically torn record shop owner. The store's staff has the same elitist fun-loving attitude towards music as they laud and goof on hipster Brooklyn. 

It's a shame this version of High Fidelity is one and done. Really dug the first season.

9. Better Things (FX)

This Pamela Adlon gem is a mainstay on my annual Best Of list. Not the strongest season, but the POV of Sam Fox is one of the most unique on TV.

Sam is the one is crisis this season as her daughters start to figure things out for themselves. Better Things is never really about the plot - it's a character study on a divorced working mom and her three special daughters (not to mention her aging mother) told in poignant snapshots. 

8. How To With John Wilson (HBO)

John Wilson explains day-to-day life in his own unique way. This documentary style comedy is dark and subtle with the little things in life meaning everything.

It's not where the story begins and ends, but the path John Wilson takes to get there and the comedy he uncovers along the way. One of the most unique shows of the year is one of the most simple - and one of the most funny.

7. The Mandalorian (DISNEY+)

Mando makes its second consecutive appearance on my Best Of list with season two picking up right where season one left off. Forget the latest feature films, it is possible to tell a good modern day Star Wars tale on TV. 

Mando's quest to return the child (who just happens to be a red-hot holiday gift) to the Jedi is filled with lots of old friends and X-Wings. Jon Favreau penned most of the second season and stays true to the force. 

6. Schitt's Creek (POP TV)

The final season deservedly won every Emmy in sight, but it's the weakest of the bunch for this Canadian comedy. Maybe it was high expectations or everyone's desire of not wanting the Rose family saga to end. 

This Levy creation remains heads above most other 2020 programs. Even Moira Rose had to love that happy ending. Get ready to laugh and cry saying goodbye to the Rosebud Motel.

5. Better Call Saul (AMC)

Another perennial favorite on my year-ending list. Jimmy McGill is practically Saul Goodman at this point. The writing continues to be heads above other dramas, and Lalo officially takes his place along side Gus Fring as a memorable foe. 

Maybe Emmy voters will realize that Rhea Seahorn has become the highlight of an acting clinic. Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks doing their thing in that vast New Mexican landscape remains a pleasure to watch.

4. The Queen's Gambit (NETFLIX)

How does a drama about chess become an international sensation? Easy - it's not really about chess. It's about the life of Beth Harmon and all she overcomes with that brilliant mind. 

This is really a sports movie, but it tracks a cerebral sport. Anya Taylor-Joy is mesmerizing to watch in this beautifully shot series. Chess sets are flying off the shelves for good reason - just don't look too closely at your ceiling.

3. Normal People (HULU)

This Irish beauty is the love story of 2020. Connell and Marianne weave in and out of their lives in this coming of age tale. The contrast in backgrounds and attitudes rings true in every scene. 

There are some steamy scenes, but the more moving stuff is how this couple finds their way through relatable struggles. This story is sweet, poignant and hooks you until the very last shot. 

2. The Crown (NETFLIX)

It's the fourth season, and I still cannot get enough of the royal family. Maybe it's just masterful television filling my Downton Abbey fix. The Crown packs plenty of surprises in each episode as it chronicles British history (we know how it turns out for the Falklands).

This season, it feels like you're watching home movies of Charles and Di falling apart. Gillian Anderson embodies Margaret Thatcher and stands toe to toe with Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth. The entire cast is spot on. Truly something special to behold.

1. Ted Lasso (APPLE TV+)

This sweet comedy is my favorite show of the year, and frankly it wasn't even close. Ted is simply the right show at the right time. Jason Sudeikis' transplanted football coach feels like a one dimensional character at first, but there's so much more to him and every member of the cast as well.

Ted Lasso is funny, but also unexpectedly sweet. It feels good smiling along with AFC Richmond's quest to not get relegated. The scores don't matter - the people do. No show moved me more than this Bill Lawrence comedy did.

Ted Lasso is the perfect uplifting show for a really crappy year.


If you love or hate my list, I'd love to hear from you.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

TV Picks - Week of December 14

When I created "jump the shark" back in 1997, here's how I defined it:

"It's a moment. A defining moment when you know from now's all will never be the same."

That moment changed my life – creating a web site that would alter the course of my professional life based on a Happy Days episode I saw 20 years earlier.

These precious moments are what makes life worth living. When you think back on how you got to where you are these days, pivotal milestones clearly stand out.

My moments include hitting a home run in the all-star game when I was 9 years old, meeting my wife at Michigan freshman orientation, our subsequent wedding day and the birth of our two daughters, and countless others.

Another one of these moments happened during the summer of 1980. I was 12 years old, and my mother recommended an 823 page book by an author who was catching some heat - Stephen King. That book was The Stand

My mom shaped my pop culture instincts (dad was responsible for the sports). She sat me in front of the TV at two to watch a new kids show, Sesame Street. She had me listen to The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd. Mom has good taste. 

She realized summer TV was garbage and her oldest son needed something to occupy his time and fertile pop-culture mind. She recommended my first Stephen King book (Christine) the year before, so she knew I was a budding fan. She could not have known what reading The Stand did for me. 

The Stand is an epic revolving around survivors of a pandemic that wipes out most of the population. King was writing a Lord of the Rings for contemporary America. I couldn't get enough of it. 

I re-read The Stand every summer for the next decade, wondering who would be the right people to play Stu Redman, Mother Abigail, Tom Cullen and the Trashcan Man. I even took on the 1,152 page complete and uncut edition years later which taught me the value of having a good editor (apologies to Stephen).

The Stand is tailor made for the screen. Every attempt to translate this literary classic has failed. The 1984 ABC miniseries came up short - this tale cannot be told on network television. Warner Brothers recently spent 5 years trying to get a feature film made - no dice, and the rights reverted back to CBS TV.

This week, there will be another attempt at tackling The Stand. It's a 10-part miniseries on CBS All Access with episodes dropping weekly (that's a mistake). The casting is hit and miss - love Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abigail and Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg, iffy on James Marsden as Stu and Amber Heard as Nadine. 

This isn't the greatest time for a miniseries based on a global pandemic and Stephen King has rewritten the ending. The story is great, so this will all come down to the execution on Captain Trips. 

For me, it's a teenage summer at the end of a lousy year. I'll take it. 


Tiny Pretty Things (NETFLIX)
Monday, December 14th

The marketing department came up with this title, right? This new 10-episode drama is a cross between Black Swan and, wait for it, Pretty Little Liars.

It's the story of three young dancers at an elite ballet school who battle to be the prima ballerina and they'll do whatever it takes to get on top.

Based on the book of the same name, expect plenty of cutthroat competition in the roughest part of Chicago - the Archer School of Ballet.

The Ripper (NETFLIX)
Wednesday, December 16th

This British docuseries focuses on The Yorkshire Ripper who terrorized London in the late 1970's killing 13 women and failing to kill 7 more. 

The investigation is one for the ages. The actual killer was interviewed by the police 9 times, but the investigators let him slip away time after time. 

The serial killer was nicknamed after the legendary Jack the Ripper from 1888. Everyone was a suspect until the Yorkshire Ripper's eventual capture after an ugly killing spree. True crime is just as disturbing across the pond as it is in our own backyard.


If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

TV Picks - Week of December 7

Don't do it. Just don't do it, NBC. Not another version of The Grinch… especially not a staged production.

Any musical on network television, live or otherwise, is a tremendous challenge to pull off well. This recent trend started with Carrie Underwood making the hills come alive in 2013 with The Sound of Music. The Wiz then eased on down the road and solid ratings followed. Naturally, the networks seized upon the trend, and the novelty stated to wear off for these type of live events.

Audiences didn't find classics like Peter Pan, Hairspray or Jesus Christ SuperstarGrease was fun, but not the sensation that the networks anticipated. Viewers looked for glitches as they sang along with these live performances. People were laughing at these Broadway mainstays, not along with them.

Rent was an all-around disaster. That meant no Hair or Bye Bye Birdie even with J Lo attached. The Little Mermaid tried mixing live action and animation and was accused of pulling a bait and switch. Hamilton took us to the stage, but that was only available thanks to Disney + and COVID. The live element was gone.

I get the temptation to stage any holiday production, but A Christmas Story Live did not translate well. Now it's the most famous resident of Mount Crumpet's turn. I was not a fan of Jim Carrey's Grinch, nor any other reboot/revamp/rethinking of this Christmas classic. Just leave a good thing alone, even if it's re-aired countless times.

Matthew Morrison leads the way in this new production of Dr Seuss' The Grinch Musical, which was staged in London. This is no knock on the Glee star/Tony nominee's performing ability. It just makes me clamor for Boris Karloff and the real thing.

I know how Grinchy my attitude is towards this "network event." Any theater performance on television is a technical achievement, and people will tune in just to see how it’s pulled off. Perhaps my heart will grow three sizes on December 9th. Merry Merry.

The avalanche of specials continues as we draw closer to Santa's big day…


High School Musical: The Musical: The Holiday Special (DISNEY+)
Friday, December 11th

We're all in this together. Troy and Gabriela, who appeared long ago, are really the ones who brought the musical format back to TV. Bridging the gap between the first and second seasons, the cheeky crew behind High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is back with a new holiday-themed musical extravaganza.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (APPLE TV+, PBS)
Friday, December 11th, Sunday December 13th

My all-time favorite. Free on Apple TV+ for three days beginning Friday and also airing Sunday on PBS. Learn what the holidays (and dancing) are all about.

Talking Dead: The Walking Dead Holiday Special (AMC+)
Sunday, December 13th

The franchise’s first-ever holiday special is hosted by Chris Hardwick (of course) and premiering on AMC+. Cast members reminisce about their favorite scenes from the past, present and future. Ho ho ho!

Couples Therapy COVID Special (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, December 13th 8pm

Grab a seat on the couch as Dr. Orna Guralnik wrestles with our new COVID world. Hope Santa makes an appearance.

You can also catch Elf almost any night on AMC. Lots more mirth on the way.


The Wilds (AMAZON)
Friday, December 11th

A plane carrying a group of teenage girls crashes on a deserted island. Yup, it's the young adult version of Lost.

This ten-part series is Amazon's first foray into original this type of drama as it explores the present and past of these young women with very different backgrounds.

Survival at this age is tough enough in high school — these ladies have to do it Kate and Sun style.

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (HBO)
Saturday, December 12th 8pm

Staying Alive. How Deep Is Your Love. To Love Somebody. Massachusetts. The number of potential titles for this documentary is endless.

The Brothers Gibb are one of the most misunderstood and underrated acts in musical history. The band went through many styles and experienced all the highs and lows of the business. Everyone thinks disco kings, but they were so much more than that.

This HBO doc digs deep into their relationships over the years and the tremendous effect their music has had on all of our lives. My love for these brothers is quite deep.


If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, November 30, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 30

As we enter the final month of an abysmal year it’s time for an avalanche of holiday specials. Classics get rolled out in a sea of Hallmark and Lifetime movies all throughout December.

This week alone, there are more than two dozen different holiday shows airing on TV and dropping on streaming. The tree gets lit, countless singers grace us with their musical gifts, and Freeform goes all in.

I spend a lot of time writing about this type of TV due to its scheduling grid dominance. Don't get me wrong, many of these programs are worth watching… once. Others run the danger of not being so special due to market saturation.

I have seen the Grinch, Charlie Brown and Rudolph countless times. I love them all. But the best time to watch is the first time they appear after missing for months. It's A Wonderful Life respects the rule of the special to a degree. NBC is airing it once this year on Christmas Eve. That's it. (The 5am Thanksgiving Day airing on USA is forgiven.)

When it comes to holiday specials, look for the one-time viewing. For repeated airings, pick one live date and use your DVR as a backup. Record the classics for viewing at your leisure.

There are a plethora of presents under your TV tree. Choose wisely!


Disney Holiday Singalong (ABC)
Monday, November 30th 8pm

Sing along with your favorite (ABC) stars as they belt out holiday classics. Ryan Seacrest hosts (of course). An appropriate way to end November.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (CBS)
Tuesday, December 1st 8pm

I've seen this so many times that I look for network edits made to hit the broadcast run time. Yukon Cornelius is underrated as are the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys. Top 3 all-timer.

Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes - At Home Holiday Special (NBC)
Wednesday, December 2nd 10pm

Winner of the longest title of the season. This one is to support Radio City and the New York theater community. The "lighting" of the tree is boring anyway.

My Gift: A Christmas Special From Carrie Underwood (HBO MAX)
Thursday, December 3rd

Biggest American Idol success - Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson or Carrie Underwood? Great debate, but look who's giving the gift of a holiday special to HBO Max.

Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special (APPLE TV+)
Friday, December 4th

How many times will we hear "All I Want For Christmas Is You?" The over/under is set at 3.

Frosty The Snowman (FREEFORM)
Saturday, December 5th 8pm

Happy birthday! Jimmy Durante's finest role. I was always partial to the rabbit, Hocus Pocus.

Euphoria (HBO)
Sunday, December 6th 9pm

A surprise Christmas special for the HBO hit. Zendaya returns as an Emmy winner as her character's relapse bridges the gap to the second season.

This is week one, folks. Lots more mirth on the way.


Baby God (HBO)
Wednesday, December 2nd 9pm

This HBO documentary focuses on a Vegas fertility specialist who impregnated countless women with his own sperm without their knowledge or consent.

Dr. Quincy Fortier opened a women's hospital in Las Vegas back in the 1960's. He was Nevada's doctor of the year in the early 90's and thought of as a miracle worker.

Home DNA kits came along, and suddenly patients were finding out who the father was of their children. The impact of his genes raises many questions about who half of these offspring really are.

Big Mouth (NETFLIX)
Thursday, December 3rd Season 4 Premiere

This animated gem is about the anxiety of growing up and figuring out who you are. Big Mouth is as raw as it gets with puberty bursting through the screen.

This season's guest stars are impressive - Zach Galifianakis, Paul Giamatti, Sterling K. Brown, Seth Rogen, Lena Waithe, John Oliver...the list goes on and on.

Nick Kroll and crew take us through summer camp and 8th grade this season. Get ready for plenty of awkward moments and huge laughs.

Your Honor (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, December 6th Premiere

Bryan Cranston plays a New Orleans judge and...I don't even need to know the rest of the plot. If Bryan Cranston is there, so am I.

This 10 episode legal thriller comes from the producers of The Good Wife and The Night Of. The honorable judge's son is involved in a hit and run accident that involves the local organized crime family.

The supporting cast is impressive - Michael Stuhlbarg, Hope Davis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale… plus plenty of character actors you know and love.

Your Honor has all the makings of a good legal thriller. It's a holiday present that I can't wait to open.

If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 23

Thanksgiving will mean something different for all of us this year. As COVID cases increase throughout the country, traditional family gatherings this Thursday are much more likely to happen on Zoom than in person. If you love your family, just be safe. TV is here to help keep you grounded.

Our family Thanksgiving television routine doesn't vary much from year to year. This holiday is all about family, football and food. The TV is turned on early and remains on after the festive meal. Feel free to follow along with our schedule at home...

9am Thanksgiving Day Parade (NBC)
Remote Controller - My wife and kids

I was not a huge fan of this growing up, but my wife and daughters gave me an appreciation for this event. Debbie grew up watching the parade with her family in the morning, and Rachel and Emily have loved it since they started watching TV. 

My father-in-law and I once took my daughters and niece to see the giant balloons and floats for ourselves. I was awestruck, and I wasn't even a kid. That trip to the city will always hold a special place in my heart.

Sure the performances are cheesy and we end up judging which new pop act did the best job lip synching on a float. Once I was able to laugh at the parade, I was able to enjoy it. Quality early-morning family time.

12pm National Dog Show (NBC)
Remote Controller - My dog

This is another one I've come full circle on. Our dog Molly (@mollyheinthepup on Instagram) is a full fledged member of the family and chooses the next program to watch.

I'm thinking Best In Show as we watch the different classes of dogs get escorted around the ring by owners who often resemble their pooches. We selfishly pay close attention to the Toy Group.

The dogs are adorable, and John O'Hurley does a great job covering all the action as only J Peterman can. Another bonding moment in the Hein home.

1pm 1st NFL Game featuring Detroit (NBC)
Remote Controller - Yours Truly

Are you ready for some football? Time for Lions vs. Texans and some mini hot dogs!  As boring as the annual Detroit game always is, my wife's mini hot dogs more than make up for it. 

430pm 2nd NFL Game featuring Dallas (FOX)
Remote Controller - Still me...sort of

Dallas versus Washington a great rivalry, but these teams stink this year. That's okay because I'm busy carving up a turkey, so the channel has been known to change from time to time.

Full confession – I only eat turkey and corn bread on Thanksgiving. No interest in all the other stuff. Thankfully my daughters are more adventurous eaters. 

6pm A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving AppleTV + & PBS
Remote Controller - Family

If you've got AppleTV+ or PBS, Snoopy will show you how to get your popcorn ready. The Washington/Dallas game will be over by halftime. This Peanuts classic puts a smile on everyone's face. Plus it's time to eat.

820pm 3rd NFL Game - Steelers vs. Ravens (NBC)
Remote Controller - Me

I grew up in Mount Lebanon in the late 70's rooting for my home team - the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's no better way to work off that big meal than to plant myself on the couch for a hard hitting game against the Steelers arch rival. UPDATE: No game, thanks COVID!

Everyone gets their turn at the remote as we get the most out of our TV on Thanksgiving Day. Even during this awful pandemic, some traditions can still be carried out courtesy of your living room screen. 


Saved By The Bell (PEACOCK)
Wednesday, November 25 Premiere

The latest sitcom reboot comes from the halls of Bayside High with a sequel series set in the present day. Six new students are the main focus this time around, but rest easy, the old gang is still somewhat here.

There is lots of goofing at the expense of the original six. Zach is now Governor of California, Jessie is a guidance counselor, and A.C. is the gym teacher/football coach. Following the Full House template, their kids are all part of the high school mix. 

30 Rock vet Tracey Wingfield runs the show and the zingers come pretty quickly. The only question is whether or not the new six will generate the affection the original six still hold over fans from the 90's. 

The Flight Attendant (HBO MAX)
Thursday, November 25  Premiere

Penny leaves Leonard and Sheldon to fly the friendly skies in this new dark comedy/mystery. Kaley Cuoco plays Cassie who works international airline routes with a wise-ass crew and is always up for a good time. After a night in Thailand with a stranger, she wakes up from a blackout next to his bloody corpse and wants to know what the heck just happened.

Cuoco is the executive producer of the show and gives a solid lead performance. The show is a mystery at heart, but there are funny moments as it moves pretty quickly. Most of the focus is on her character, deservedly so.

There are lots of overseas plot twists and turns to keep things interesting and the pacing is very good. I'll stick to the end to see how this international mystery is solved. 

Virgin River (NETFLIX)
Friday, November 26  Season 2

My wife and I like watching romantic shows together, even if they're cheesy. We really enjoyed the first season of this beautifully shot Netflix hit. We are seriously thinking about traveling to British Columbia (not the fictional setting of Northern California) to see the breathtaking scenery firsthand. 

Virgin River picks up right where season one left things off. Mel is back in L.A. after leaving when she heard about Charmaine's baby. Jack is trying to do the right thing but knows who the love of his life really is. 

The challenge of season two is keeping the flame alive between Jack and Mel and not paying too much attention to the supporting characters. When they focus on Jack and Mel's relationship, I'm all in. But love stories featuring Doc, Preacher and new "troubled" teenager Lizzie are nowhere near as compelling. Even Doc and Hope's love story can wear a little thin.

We enjoyed our trip back to Virgin River, and I have a feeling we will be heading back for season three when that inevitably rolls around.


If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 16

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Wait a minute — it's not even Thanksgiving yet. That's not stopping television from rolling out the holiday specials while the weather is still warm.

If you're looking for Christmas cheer, just turn on the Hallmark Channel from now until the end of the year to see how your favorite stars from the 80's and 90's are holding up. Lifetime also gets into the holiday spirit this week with Feliz NaviDAD (Mario Lopez stars, Melissa Joan Hart directs).

It's not just the cable networks who are feeling the holiday buzz. Disney+ is all over the holidays as well, kicking things off with The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special. If you're a Star Wars fan from the Ewok era, the words "holiday special" make you cringe, but rest assured the LEGO folks have figured things out. Netflix goes traditional with Dolly Parton's Christmas On The Square, but also combines multiple genres to get your attention with the Holiday Home Makeover with Mr. Christmas and Alien Xmas where a young elf mistakes a tiny alien for a Christmas gift. I'm not joking here.

When I was growing up, I always looked forward to holiday TV as we got closer to the actual holidays. How The Grinch Stole Christmas! and A Charlie Brown Christmas were appointment viewing in the Hein house, because both only aired ONE TIME all year long. It made these holiday classics all the more special. Apple TV+ keeping the Peanuts holiday gang to itself is very Scrooge-like.

I understand the appeal of airing a modern classic like Elf every night and spreading good cheer, especially during a particularly horrible year. But having too much Roast Beast is not necessarily a good thing. The holidays are coming, and it's okay to wait until the end of the month before jingling and jangling.

I will be watching football and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving when my turkey is served. That's the start of the holiday season for me. But if you're looking to feel holly and jolly right now, the networks are more than happy to oblige.


His Dark Materials (HBO)
Monday, November 16th (Season 2 Premiere)

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened during season one. Talking polar bears. Lin-Manuel Miranda in a hot air balloon. An angry Ruth Wilson with an evil monkey. Fantasy is great, but it needs to make some sense.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first season of this literary adaptation. The effects are exceptional and it is staged as an epic, but the plot is hard to follow if you didn't read the books.

The season one climax led the characters into a different world. I'll be tuned in to see where everyone ended up and hopefully find some clarity in a show that should be great, but isn't quite there yet.

Big Sky (ABC)
Tuesday, November 17th 10pm (Series Premiere)

Big Little Lies got the David E. Kelley machine cranking out shows once again. The Undoing is doing its job on HBO, and you can't miss the hype for this adaptation of C.J. Box's 2013 novel.

The challenge for this new ABC show is that the promos make it feel like it should be on cable or a streamer. Big Sky needs edge to make it work, and not since Twin Peaks has ABC been able to pull that off.

There's only one Twin Peaks, but Big Sky promises that the most beautiful places hide the darkest secrets. Let's see where this highway journey takes us.

Belushi (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, November 22nd

This tragic story has been told multiple times, yet every time a new program about John Belushi is on, I can't help but watch.

This Belushi documentary comes from R.J. Cutler who produced The War Room and has been behind many other compelling documentaries over the years. That got my attention.

With the participation of Belushi's widow Judy, Cutler gained access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen (or heard) materials, including his personal letters, photographs and audio recordings with his friends and contemporaries like Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase.

Tears will flow as Belushi's incredible energy and comedy leads to his tragic death. He was a fabulous comedian whose demons grew right along with his fame. Belushi could not handle both and his loss continues to resonate decades later.


If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.

Monday, November 9, 2020

TV Picks - Week of November 9

What a week. And I'm not referring to Presidential ballot counting which should end around Christmas. I'm talking about what's coming up on TV this week.

This is the kind of reality television that I enjoy watching. True-crime shows and docuseries are right up my alley — void of fabricated conflicts and everyone wanting to be a star. This is the real deal, folks.

Two shows take us back to worldwide leadership when I was a teen. Everyone remembers Live Aid and the Miracle on Ice, but the administrations on both sides of the Atlantic generated plenty of headlines too. America was back on the rise as England was trying to reaffirm its power. Late this week, there's a taste of both with Season 4 of The Crown and the debut of The Reagans.

The Crown (NETFLIX)
Sunday, November 15th

The Crown is one of my perennial favorites, and Season 4 kicks off in in the late 70s when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and Prince Charles met Diana Spencer.

The casting change shock of the third season is long gone as Olivia Colman returns as Queen Elizabeth with Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip by her side and Helena Bonham Carter as the enigmatic Princess Margaret. Major kudos to the casting directors - Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin nail Charles and Diana. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher. The Emmys the show should have won this past year will be heading your way (in my opinion The Crown blows away Succession — it's not even close).

This is the first season of The Crown where I actually experienced the events covered instead of having read about them in a history book. This superb drama doesn't miss a beat. The Falkland Islands, I.R.A., and of course, THE wedding, are handled with the same precision as events from the first three seasons.

The West Wing was the first behind the scenes political show that knocked me out, but that was Aaron Sorkin's fictional White House account. The Crown is based on true events and continues to provide a somewhat realistic peek into the royal world.

It's hard to be sympathetic to the Royal Family, but The Crown makes quite the case (unless you’re Prince Charles). Savor Season 4 and gear up for Season 5 and a third Queen – Claire Foy and Olivia Colman are tough acts to follow.

The Reagans (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, November 15th 8pm

Not to be confused with the 2003 Showtime scripted series of the same name, this The Reagans is a new four-part docuseries covering Ronald Reagan's ascent from movie star to President featuring interviews with family and friends and footage from back in the day.

This country was not in a good place when Ronnie took over in 1980 and restored this nation's preeminence. The Reagans examines the quest for power and lasting effects of what happened when we were wearing Members Only jackets and Capezio shoes.

The pandemic has slowed down original programming, but the network's documentaries like Love Fraud and Outcry are getting some love.

We thought politics was crazy during the Reagans tenure. Little did we know what was to come.


A Teacher (HULU)
Tuesday, November 10th

Kate Mara plays a new teacher at a Texas high school who decides to help the All-American jock prepare for the SATs. Take a guess what happens next.

Tight quarters lead to more than a teacher/student relationship, and the married teacher doesn't see anything wrong with what's going on since she "wanted to feel free."

Unfortunately this is no longer a unique situation in today's schools. An instructor seeing nothing wrong with her abuse of power is an interesting twist, and Kate Mara is at her manipulative best in this challenging role.

Trial 4 (NETFLIX)
Wednesday, November 11

This eight-part true crime docuseries is relevant to all that's going on in today's troubled world. Sean K. Ellis spent 22 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for a murder of a Boston police detective at the age of 19.

Three trials later, Ellis faces a fourth day in court to determine whether he gets put back behind bars. Ellis has consistently maintained his innocence, and this time around there are questions about how the case was handled with evidence withheld from the defense.

This timely true-crime tale exposes police corruption and racism that started in 1993. The world hasn't changed very much almost 30 years later.

Valley of Tears (HBO MAX)
Thursday, November 12th

Israel's biggest budget TV series ever makes its way to HBO Max. This ten-parter focuses on the 1973 Yom Kippur War through the eyes of those who fought it at a young age.

Based on a true story, you can expect plenty of emotion as four soldiers, no older than 20, fight with their families in a battle for their existence.

If you enjoyed the masterful Band of BrothersValley of Tears is probably right up your alley. Israeli shows like Fauda spotlight the day-to-day fear for your life and cut right to the hell of what war can do any family.

Murder on Middle Beach (HBO)
Sunday, November 15th 10pm

HBO's latest true-crime offering is a four-part docuseries about a son who focuses on finding his mother's killer.

In early 2010, Barbara Hamburg was found violently murdered near her home in an upper-middle class Connecticut town. It was suspected as a crime of passion, but with no evidence to back that up, the case grows cold.

Eight years later her son Madison, who was 18 at the time of the killing, interviews family and others in search of evidence in hopes of solving the murder, and he ends up uncovering family secrets and long-time resentments in his hometown.

HBO has been on a roll with true-crime series like The Vow and I'll Be Gone In The Dark. Madison's quest to learn what happened to his mom and get some closure is the next chapter in a dark but compelling genre.

If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.