JOHN DOYLE’S FALL TV PREVIEW

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - The archival footage used in Ken Burns’s The Viet­nam War, set to pre­miere Sept. 17 on PBS, is of­ten stun­ning and some­times soul de­stroy­ing.

From a grip­ping Viet­nam War doc­u­men­tary to Star Trek, the sea­son’s small-screen lineup is ready to give view­ers an ideal dose of es­capism, John Doyle writes, joined by strong re­turn­ing sum­mer shows of last year and a provoca­tive slew of new ma­te­rial

The con­cept of “new fall TV” is not what it used to be. And that’s a good thing.

There’s fun to be had in the next quar­ter, but it’s not the only pe­riod that mat­ters. Long promised by net­works be­lea­guered by the boil­er­plate plan of fall, mid­sea­son and sum­mer TV sched­ules, the shift to al­lyear TV is em­phat­i­cally here, be­ing forced upon net­works by stream­ing ser­vices and, well, tech­nol­ogy that al­lows view­ers to ac­cess TV series at any old time.

This cal­en­dar year, it’s not fall that is so in­tense – net­work, ca­ble and stream­ing ser­vices launched their strong­est new ma­te­rial be­tween Jan­uary and April. And some of last year’s strong sum­mer series are re­turn­ing, not in sum­mer, but this fall. The old cal­en­dar has gone awry.

What it all means is about 20 new fall series from the U.S. net­works and some ma­jor pro­duc­tions from stream­ing ser­vices, such as Net­flix, and lo­cal Cana­dian TV, will amount to a strange ar­ray of comforts and pleasures. With a few provo­ca­tions thrown in. There is much more to TV these days than what main­stream broad­cast­ers of­fer in the Septem­ber-to-Novem­ber pe­riod and that is the in­dus­try’s curse and bless­ing – it’s a bless­ing be­cause some­times, sched­uled es­capism is just ideal for all view­ers.

In terms of themes, there is, first, the strictly business mat­ter of old shows be­ing

re­vived. The restora­tions of Will & Grace, Roseanne, Amer­i­can Idol,

Dy­nasty and oth­ers are safe bets for au­di­ence at­ten­tion and, while they of­fer an op­por­tu­nity for rel­e­vant up­dat­ing, that op­por­tu­nity will prob­a­bly be missed in some shows. The un­ease of net­works in the mat­ter of starkly new ma­te­rial is also ev­i­dent in Young Shel­don, a spinoff from The Big Bang The­ory that might well be charm­ing but is too ob­vi­ously cal­cu­lat­ing and critic-proof.

Look­ing for re­flec­tions of the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness and mood is a fool’s er­rand this year – most of the con­tent can be con­sid­ered an eva­sion of the dis­rup­tions and di­vi­sive­ness of the Trump era, with the ex­cep­tion of the baf­flingly crypto­fas­cist crime-drama Wis­dom of the

Crowd com­ing to CBS. For many view­ers, the high­light of the fall will not be the new series but the re­turn of This is Us on NBC/CTV (Sept. 26) or

Curb Your En­thu­si­asm on HBO/ HBO Canada (Oct. 1) or the sec­ond sea­son of Stranger Things (Oct. 27) on Net­flix. What’s new is a mis­cel­lany of the con­ven­tional and the con­vo­luted, all fas­ci­nat­ing in a weird and won­der­ful way.

TEN SHOWS THAT MAT­TER The Viet­nam War (PBS, Sept. 17)

The bless­edly dif­fer­ent ap­proach of Ken Burns to the doc­u­men­tary for­mat is a mat­ter of depth and breadth. The Viet­nam War is 18 hours long in 10 parts. (His mas­ter­piece, The Civil War, was 11 hours.) Such length is cer­tainly re­quired for the labyrinthine his­tory be­hind the United States’ in­volve­ment in Viet­nam and the quag­mire the war be­came. Burns is also a seeker of truth, not a mere ac­cu­mu­la­tor of im­pres­sions. What is strik­ing about this series is that it is very much a cau­tion­ary tale – the truth is very hard to find and the num­ber of peo­ple who told the truth, cer­tainly to the Amer­i­can pub­lic, is tiny. Af­ter a decade in the mak­ing, Burns and his codi­rec­tor, Lynn Novick, end up dwelling on a cen­tral ques­tion that is tricky to an­swer – why did the ac­tual war go on and on when it was so ob­vi­ously doomed? Af­ter a very strong open­ing, in which the con­text is given and in­ter­na­tional play­ers pro­filed, the series be­gins to probe at the ar­ro­gance of mil­i­tary lead­ers and politi­cians. The archival footage is of­ten stun­ning and some­times soul de­stroy­ing. Burns’s tech­nique of com­bin­ing vi­su­als with spo­ken com­men­tary is as strong as ever and here, it is the in­ter­views with veter­ans (both Amer­i­can and Viet­namese), fam­i­lies who lost chil­dren in Viet­nam and anti-war pro­test­ers, that cre­ate the raw bones of the story. The over­rid­ing emo­tion that em­anates from it is de­spair; but how that de­spair came into be­ing is the cau­tion­ary tale that is the whole point.

Star Trek: Dis­cov­ery (CBS/CBS All Ac­cess, CraveTV Canada, Sept. 24)

CBS has been very coy about the con­tent of the new it­er­a­tion of the fran­chise, not re­leas­ing it to crit­ics and largely silent on the con­tent. That is ei­ther a mar­ket­ing ploy or hes­i­ta­tion about its worth. No mat­ter – the series go­ing to soak up a lot of at­ten­tion. It stars Sonequa Martin-Green as First Of­fi­cer Michael Burn­ham, and the series is about the ad­ven­tures of a new Starfleet crew liv­ing and work­ing on board the USS Dis­cov­ery, set a decade be­fore Cap­tain Kirk and Mr. Spock were do­ing their thing. There is a war with the Klin­gons, ap­par­ently. Some good ac­tors are in­volved, in­clud­ing Ja­son Isaacs and, since it was largely made in Toronto, some Cana­di­ans might turn up, too. Much of the ad­vance spec­u­la­tion is about the treat­ment of re­li­gion and tol­er­ance in the show – no mat­ter the char­ac­ters or spe­cial ef­fects, the series must live up to the orig­i­nal’s por­trait of, you know, peace and love.

Ten Days in the Val­ley CTV, Oct. 1) (ABC,

Cre­ated by Cana­dian Tassie Cameron, the 10-episode Ten Days is on every critic’s top-five list for this con­found­ing new TV sea­son. Kyra Sedg­wick plays Jane Sadler, an over­worked tele­vi­sion pro­ducer/sin­gle mom in the mid­dle of a fraught sep­a­ra­tion, whose per­sonal life is shat­tered, and her al­ready con­tro­ver­sial po­lice series is tor­pe­doed, when her young daugh­ter dis­ap­pears. At first, the series has the air and style of a strong but con­ven­tional mys­tery but then it gets tan­gled, truly chill­ing and, in­deed, thought­ful, as the two worlds – cop-show en­ter­tain­ment and moth­er­hood – be­come hor­ri­bly en­tan­gled. Sedg­wick is truly ex­cel­lent as an an­gry, dis­traught mother and TV showrun­ner who Cameron has de­scribed as “truth-telling doc­u­men­tar­ian in over her head.” It is the L.A. TV business as a mine­field of dis­turb­ing per­sonal re­la­tion­ship and dan­ger­ous pro­fes­sional ob­sta­cles. The Sedg­wick char­ac­ter is its strong suit – this is a highly com­plex, driven woman with some ugly skele­tons hid­den away.

White Fa­mous (Show­time/ The Movie Net­work Oct. 15)

This deft, snarky and of­ten hi­lar­i­ous com­edy is about Floyd Mooney (Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah), a young African-Amer­i­can co­me­dian who is a fast-ris­ing star. Var­i­ous peo­ple have ideas about how to make him re­ally, re­ally fa­mous. That is, “white-fa­mous,” which means “like Obama or Tiger Woods.” Ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Jamie Foxx says it is based, in part, on his own ex­pe­ri­ences and he makes him­self a cen­tral char­ac­ter in the early go­ing. The show seems to man­age to be light­weight and funny while tak­ing a sharp satiric axe to a lot of show­biz clichés and lies about race.

God­less (Net­flix, Nov. 22)

Not much can be seen in ad­vance, but this is an in­trigu­ing series to an­tic­i­pate. A seven-part western, it was cre­ated by Steven Soder­bergh, who al­ways tends to poke around in dis­turb­ing sto­ry­telling places. It stars Jeff Daniels as out­law Frank Grif­fin, who, along with his posse, is seek­ing Roy Goode (Jack O’Con­nell), a man who be­trayed him. Turns out that while on the run, Roy has hid­den out with hard-nosed widow Alice Fletcher (Michelle Dock­ery, who was Lady Mary on Down­ton Abbey). Alice is her­self a cast­away of sorts ek­ing out an ex­is­tence in the near-derelict, iso­lated min­ing town of La Belle, N.M., a com­mu­nity that is al­most en­tirely fe­male. A mur­der­ous re­venge-seek­ing gang against a mostly fe­male com­mu­nity is un­likely to be or­tho­dox in Soder­bergh’s hands.

Alias Grace (CBC/Net­flix; on CBC Sept. 25)

What writer Sarah Pol­ley, di­rec­tor Mary Har­ron and star Sarah Gadon have done with Margaret At­wood’s novel is much more lit­er­ary than the ex­pan­sive adap­ta­tion of The Hand­maid’s Tale done for Hulu. A more com­pre­hen­sive re­view will come later but for now, lets just say that Gadon is the en­gine that drives it and there is a stiff­ness to the six-part adap­ta­tion of the type that tends to be­devil a good deal of Cana­dian TV drama. Grace Marks is a con­victed dou­ble mur­der­ess and the jour­ney to the source of the crime and the mat­ter of guilt or in­no­cence is fraught with male per­cep­tion of the fe­male mind and ego.

Law & Or­der True Crime: The Me­nen­dez Mur­ders (NBC, Global, Sept. 26)

This is what FX’s The Peo­ple v. O.J. Simp­son has wrought – a net­work, lim­ited-series drama about a high-pro­file mur­der trial, with a mar­quee star. Lyle and Erik Me­nen­dez were con­victed in 1994 for the 1989 mur­ders of their par­ents, Jose and Mary (Kitty) Me­nen­dez. The de­fence claimed the broth­ers’ ac­tions were a re­ac­tion to the sex­ual and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse they suf­fered at the hands of their par­ents. Thanks to sat­u­ra­tion cov­er­age by tabloid TV at the time, the case was an in-your­face drama with a colour­ful cast of char­ac­ters and what was pre­sented was an al­leged in­sight into the home-life per­ver­sity of the rich and com­fort­able. The great Edie Falco plays the Me­nen­dez broth­ers’ no­to­ri­ous de­fence lawyer, Les­lie Abram­son.

Will & Grace (NBC, Global, Sept. 28)

The cre­ators of the show, Max Mutch­nick and David Ko­han, have made it clear that the re­vived, lim­ited-run sit­com will not be “en­tirely about is­sues.” It couldn’t be, if it is to be funny. But its re­vival is both a shrewd business de­ci­sion by NBC and an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand on the per­cep­tion of all LGBTQ peo­ple, not just two white, mid­dle-class gay men. No trans­gen­der per­son in the U.S. armed forces is go­ing to have their dis­missal re­voked by a net­work sit­com, but what makes the series an en­thralling pos­si­bil­ity is its power to make the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion com­fort­able with the “other,” as the orig­i­nal did. Heck, Cana­dian car­rier Global lists it as “top­i­cal.”

Bad Blood (City-TV sta­tions, Sept. 21)

This six-part orig­i­nal series stars An­thony LaPaglia as Mon­treal mob­ster Vito Riz­zuto and, while Amer­i­can ac­tors get sev­eral lead­ing roles, this is very much a Cana­dian drama. Based on the book Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Riz­zuto’s Last War by An­to­nio Ni­caso and Peter Ed­wards, it is – based on the ev­i­dence of the first hour – a very solid, grip­ping mob drama. It be­gins with deft es­tab­lish­ment of Riz­zuto’s firm grip on all man­ner of crime in Mon­treal and then be­gins to chron­i­cle the bloody and hair-rais­ing dis­in­te­gra­tion of his mob af­ter he was in­dicted and im­pris­oned in the United States. Then, of course, it deals with the calami­tous re­venge that Riz­zuto at­tempted. At six episodes, it is likely too short to sub­tly con­vey the full depth of the story, but it cer­tainly is high-grade crime drama that gives some good Cana­dian ac­tors – in­clud­ing An­gela Asher, Maxim Roy, Tony Nappo and Brett Don­ahue – ma­te­rial to sink their teeth into.

The Gifted (Fox, CTV, Oct. 2)

A Marvel-uni­verse show, this fan­tasy-drama is in­fin­itely bet­ter than ex­pected. The gist is this – when young Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes White) and his sis­ter Lau­ren (Natalie Alyn Lind) are outed as mu­tant crea­tures with pow­ers, the kids and their par­ents go on the run from a men­ac­ing govern­ment agent and his team. Thus, they en­ter a hid­den “mu­tant net­work” and su­per­heroes old and young are part of it. Un­like most series de­rived from the Marvel comic-book uni­verse, this one has gen­uine heart and emo­tional heft and is a sharp thriller, if the pi­lot is any in­di­ca­tion. Stephen Moyer (from True Blood) is great as the dad and young Cana­dian Percy Hynes White is out­stand­ing.

Bad Blood tells the story of Mon­treal mob­ster Vito Riz­zuto in six parts, and has the po­ten­tial to be a grip­ping mob drama if its first hour is any in­di­ca­tion.

PATRICK ECCLESINE/SHOW­TIME

The deft, snarky and fre­quently hi­lar­i­ous White Fa­mous, a Jamie Foxx-pro­duced com­edy sched­uled to de­but Oct. 15, stars Jay Pharoah as a young co­me­dian whose star is quickly ris­ing.

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