Hollywood’s Best Film Directors Saturday, 12.30am, Bio (133)
This series — an old favourite — features Hollywood directors talking at length about their careers, films, personal styles and philosophies. The is nothing especially fancy about the presentation: just the facts, ma’am. This week’s subject is the late Wes Craven, of Scream and A Nightmare on Elm Street fame. “Horror films don’t create fear,” he once said. “They release it.” A fitting way to remember his four-decade contribution to the screen arts.
Ferrell Takes the Field Sunday, 8.30pm, Comedy (121)
“They say there is nothing more American than grabbing a hot dog, going to the ballpark and watching nine Dominican guys make magic on the field,” says comedian Will Ferrell, addressing a baseball stadium full of fans. “They’re wrong: make that eight Dominicans and one guy from Irvine, California.” And in case you missed his meaning: “Ruth. Mantle. Will Ferrell.” What is this all about? Earlier this year, Ferrell took to the field during Major League baseball’s spring training and played 10 different positions for 10 different teams; this show is the result. (He also raised money for cancer charities by auctioning his uniforms and memorabilia.) Ferrell’s humour is sometimes, if you’ll forgive the pun, hit and miss. But it is rare to see him — a successful comic actor rather than comedian — playing himself, and I have a feeling it will be worth watching.
Show Me a Hero Monday, 7.30pm, Showcase (115)
Oscar Isaac is one of those young actors who you just know is destined to win (ahem) an Oscar. In the Coen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davis, he delivered a sublime performance as the title character, a folk musician. More recent roles in Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year have brought him to the attention of bigger audiences; and Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens seems destined to make the 36-year-old Guatemalanborn actor a big star. Wonderful, then, that he was secured as the star of this David Simon ( The Wire, Treme, Homicide: Life on the Street) miniseries. Set between 1987 and 1994, and based on a book by former New York Times writer Lisa Belkin, Show Me a Hero tells the story of a white middle-class neighbourhood in Yonkers, New York, which is resisting a federally mandated public housing development. Isaac plays Nick Wasicsko, the newly elected mayor of Yonkers, with something of the naivete of The Wire’s Tommy Carcetti — you know the system will chew him up. The outstanding cast also includes Jim Belushi, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder and Catherine Keener. Don’t miss it.
Fear the Walking Dead Monday, 8.30pm, FX (119)
Three episodes into The Walking Dead spin-off and several of my questions about the wisdom of the exercise have been answered. Are fans, who are already being treated to bifurcated seasons of the original in October and February, actually hungry for more? The answer seems to be: yes. With the original still ongoing, is it differentiated and necessary? A qualified yes. Fear precedes the original, and is set during the original zombie outbreak, while Rick Grimes is still slumbering in a coma in a hospital bed. Episodes so far have shown a hyper-real disintegration of civilisation in Los Angeles. Has it shed any light on what started the zombie apocalypse? No, but who really expected them to give the game away? Our protagonists are a blended family, including Frank Dillane (son of Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane) who plays Nick, a drug-addicted young man and young Australian actor Alycia Debnam-Carey as his sister Alicia. After a week on hiatus, episode three sees Travis (New Zealander Cliff Curtis), his ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and son Chris (Lorenzo James Henrie) seek refuge with a Latino family after the riot; meanwhile his partner Madison (Kim Dickens) defends the family home. (The Walking Dead season six premieres on October 12.)
Inside the National Trust Tuesday, 1.30pm, History (611)
Owing at least a little to people liking a stickybeak, BBC broadcaster and journalist Michael Buerk returns with a second season of this series, which goes behind the closed doors of Britain’s most stately mansions, castles, and gardens. Perhaps most interesting — if the first season is any indication — are the people who work behind the scenes to care for these homes and safeguard Britain’s heritage.
Ballers Tuesday, 7.30pm, Showcase (115)
All things being equal, I would normally gauge the local levels of interest for a series about American football as low. But with the stunning success of Jarryd Hayne, the former rugby league player who recently made the final roster for the San Francisco 49ers, the new HBO series Ballers couldn’t have premiered here at a better time. Set in Miami, Florida, it explores the over-thetop world of past and present professional football players. It stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Spencer Strasmore, a retired football star trying to establish himself as a financial manager to current players. Not really a fan of The Rock’s previous work ( Fast and Furious, Hercules, or professional wrestling), I was nonetheless intrigued by his performance in the first few episodes. His character is like a 117kg Shelley Levene ... watch it and you’ll see what I mean.
Texas Rising Wednesday, 7.30pm, FX (119)
With so many fantastic scripted dramas around, you’d think a magic formula had been discovered. But even those responsible for some of the best shows — such as the History Channel, which made Hatfields & McCoys — are capable of making a dud. Texas Rising has a great topic: the Texas revolution against Mexico and the birth of the Texas Rangers. It has a strong cast, including Bill Paxton ( Big Love) as General Sam Houston, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser and Olivier Martinez as General Santa Anna. It even looks great. But the dialogue is leaden; the music, corny; and the action, plain old dreadful. From this week’s episode for example: “Ephraim, can I call you by your Christian name?” “You can call me anything you like, just don’t call me late for supper.” (Not clear if we are supposed to laugh.) It also features an ambush with rattlesnakes being dropped from baskets hidden in trees (possibly inspired by the mythical Australian drop bear); swords that, rather than being shoved through an opponent’s chest, are merely wedged in armpits; and shortcuts, such as a cannon that supposedly destroys a convoy of Mexican soldiers — but the shot merely shows the Texans giving a whoop and hooray. This week, Houston, who has been avoiding battle, decides to make a stand.
Screen Friday, 7.30pm, Foxtel Arts (132)
If you like strongly voiced opinions about film and TV, check out Review’s Graeme Blundell and Margaret Pomeranz on Screen. This week, they speak with Shane Jacobsen about his new film, Oddball, and with Noni Hazlehurst on the imminent resurrection of A Place to Call Home on pay-TV; and they preview the new BBC First cop drama Babylon, produced by Danny Boyle ( Trainspotting) and starring James Nesbitt.