This riveting HBO feature looks behind the scenes at US president Lyndon Baines Johnson’s first year in office, when he battled the southern party leaders who brought him to power to forge an unlikely alliance with Martin Luther King Jr and The much-anticipated new Top Gear launches locally this week, without of course original hosts Jeremy Clarkson, James May or Richard Hammond. Its trajectory was stratospheric, straddling the planet with an estimated 350 million viewers. May called the show “three blokes pushing the boundaries of automotive acceptability”, and their constant barking at the establishment — the often mischievously aimed, politically incorrect commentary — seemed like the calculated wind-ups of professional stirrers. Top Gear
Eventually their over-the-top ways caught up with them and the new host is BBC presenter Chris Evans, with Matt LeBlanc ( Friends, Episodes), Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris and Eddie Jordan. British commentators are hoping for better pranks, funnier stars behind reasonably priced cars, women treated as equals, not novelties or poppets to be leered at, and less bigotry. But I always got the impression the bad behaviour so complained about was a great ingredient in the show’s appeal. Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (Thursday, 8.35pm, Fox Classics), a controversial and possibly the darkest portrayal of the Eastwood screen character, is also the most enigmatic. Clint plays a nameless character, The Stranger, similar to roles he played in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns of the 1960s. One of Eastwood’s most deliberately austere and eerie movies, it’s harsh in its light and angles, mannered in style, black in its humour and unforgiving in its view of human nature. There’s plenty of gunplay in Eastwood’s much later (2014) American Sniper (Friday, 8.30pm, Masterpiece), the controversial film based on the memoir of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Bradley Cooper stars as Kyle, credited with a staggering 160 sniper kills, though the film focuses as much on his increasing difficulty in readjusting to home life as combat in Iraq. Cooper underwent significant physical transformation for the role and ends up looking and sounding remarkably like the real Kyle, but the strength of his performance is the dignity and nuance he brings to a character that could easily have become a trigger-happy caricature.
Matt LeBlanc is a new co-host on