Your TV GPS, Globe critic Matthew Gilbert’s guide to what’s on television, appears at the beginning of each week at BostonGlobe.com. Today’s column covers May 18-24.
THE LEGACY OF SOAPS
I didn’t watch “General Hospital,” you did.
At this point, daytime soap operas are a struggling niche phenomenon, but there was a time when they were a big deal, particularly in terms of grabbing the viewership of the 18- to 34-year-old women beloved by advertisers. Audience erosion took hold in the 1990s, a time when desperate soap writers began mixing in clones and aliens with the usual love triangles and kidnappings. They were competing with a new wave of daytime spectacles such as “The Jerry Springer Show” and Court TV, and then, when the 2000s dawned, the proliferation of reality shows. All the qualities that once made soaps unique — cat-fighting and backbiting, murder trials — had filtered into other areas of American TV culture.
The most important thing to migrate from the soaps to the mainstream in the 1990s, though, may have been serialized storytelling. You didn’t have to rely on soaps any more if you were looking for ongoing plot lines, because nighttime TV began to offer plenty of them, even on comedies. If you were watching teen series such as “Beverly Hills 90210” or “Dawson’s Creek,” or more adult shows such as “ER,” then you were getting your fix. You didn’t need to rearrange your day (I didn’t, you did) to follow a continuing narrative. Once a week, you could loyally, and easily, follow the lives of a set of characters at night. Even the likes of “Law & Order,” famous for wrapping it all up in each episode, began to give its regular characters extended story lines.
Now, of course, everything is serialized. It’s one of the key factors in the Golden Age of TV, binge TV, and reality TV. So, on Tuesday at 9 p.m., ABC is going to pay tribute to the genre, its history, and its huge influence with a special called “The Story of Soaps.” Interviewees include Carol Burnett, Alec Baldwin, Vivica A. Fox, Andy Cohen, Bryan Cranston (who was on “Loving” in the early 1980s), and the legendary Susan Lucci.
I. WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, perhaps best known for the HBO shows “Insecure” and “Silicon Valley,” respectively, costar in a new Netflix movie, premiering on Friday. “The Lovebirds” is a rom-com about a couple who witness a murder and go on the run. It’s directed by Michael Showalter, who co-created the “Wet Hot American Summer” franchise and the series “Search Party,” and directed “The Big Sick."
2. Discovery finished filming the new reality series set in and off the coast of Gloucester before the pandemic shut down production on most shows and movies. Called “All on the Line,” it premieres this Friday at 9 p.m. It’s about the quest for Atlantic bluefin tuna, quotas on overfishing, and the competition and cooperation between fishermen. It focuses on two fishing boats, the Julia Nicole, helmed by Dan Smith Sr. and his 18-year-old son Danny Jr., and the Subdivider, led by Johnny Johnson.
3. Amazon’s suspenseful “Homecoming” returns for a second season on Friday, but it’s going to look a little different this time around. Most notably, Julia Roberts is not back, and Sam Esmail is not directing. But it sounds promising. Janelle Monae stars, and Joan Cusack and Chris Cooper join returning cast members Stephan James and Hong Chau. Monae plays a woman who finds herself adrift in a rowboat with no memory of who she is or how she got there.
4. I thoroughly enjoyed “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” the Rob McElhenney office comedy that’s on Apple TV+. If you have that service, give it a try. It’s like “Silicon Valley” meets “The Office.” I mention it because this Friday, McElhenney is delivering a special single episode called “Mythic Quest: Quarantine,” which features the staff of the show’s video game creators conducting virtual meetings.
5. “AKA Jane Roe” is a portrait of Norma McCorvey, the Texas “Jane Roe” whose unwanted pregnancy led to the landmark 1973 abortion case Roe v. Wade. McCorvey, you may recall, switched sides in 1995 to crusade against her own case. She died in 2017, and the documentary features never-before-seen final interviews. Friends of McCorvey’s and figures from both sides of the abortion fight appear in the film, which premieres Friday at 9 p.m. on FX and begins streaming on Hulu on Saturday.
II. WHAT I WILL MOST DEFINITELY NOT BE WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. Fox’s “Labor of Love” follows 41-year-old Kristy Katzmann (from the 11th season of “The Bachelor”), who wants to have a child. She has yet to meet the right man, so the show will fix her up with 15 eager guys who might become her lover, the father of her child, and, possibly, her husband. Is this a bit ickier than usual, or am I being too sensitive? It’s fine if people want to form reality connections in order to get some primetime TV and People magazine attention, and possibly meet the right partner. There’s no one involved except the adults who’ve chosen to be manipulated by producers and date in packs and hot tubs with the cameras on. But it seems questionable to be gluing together a family, which includes a helpless infant, in this public sweepstakes kind of way. “Labor of Love,” which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m., is hosted by Kristin Davis from “Sex and the City.”
2. Lifetime’s “Once Upon a Quarantime” just may be our cultural 19th nervous breakdown. If things are too peaceful in your house during social distancing, perhaps you’d like to undergo the misery and drama of attention-seeking strangers? The special gives us self-shot footage of people facing major life milestones — from pregnancies and changes in birth plans to quarantine weddings and border barriers separating engaged couples. If enough people watch it, I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of this kind of patched-together reality junk. It premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m.
“Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything” A new hour of stand-up. Netflix, Tuesday
“Frontline: Inside Italy’s COVID War” Inside a hospital in Northern Italy as doctors battle the virus. WGBH 2, Tuesday, 10 p.m.
“The Voice” The 18th-season finale. NBC, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
“The Masked Singer” The third-season finale of the furry-fest. Fox, Wednesday, 8 p.m.
“Ben Platt: Live From Radio City Music Hall” A concert filmed live last fall. Netflix, Wednesday
“The Great” A sparkling period satire about Catherine the Great from Tony McNamara of "The Favourite. Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult star. Hulu
“I Know This Much Is True” An adaptation of Wally Lamb’s novel starring Mark Ruffalo as twin brothers, one of whom has schizophrenia. HBO
“Dead to Me” Like season 1, season 2 of the dark comedy is built to breeze through, letting all of its many major twists roll by despite their (often intentional) absurdity.
“Never Have I Ever” A breezy coming-of-age comedy co-created by Mindy Kaling about a 15-year-old Indian-American girl in the year after her father dies. Netflix
“The Eddy” Filled with jazz, the series from Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”) is about a struggling nightclub in Paris, with Andre Holland as one of the owners. Netflix
“Normal People” A beautifully made adaptation of Sally Rooney’s bestseller about early love, with two indelible leads. Hulu
“Upload” A clever romantic comedy from Greg Daniels in which people can live forever as digitized versions of themselves. Amazon
“Hollywood” A misty-eyed look back at the post-World War II movie biz, reframed as a diverse fairytale. Netflix