This week’s TV: A Sorkin two-fer, David Byrne’s ‘Utopia,’ and ‘Social Distance’

Martin Sheen reprises his role as President Jed Bartlet in the HBO Max special "A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote."
Martin Sheen reprises his role as President Jed Bartlet in the HBO Max special "A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote."Eddy Chen/HBO Max

Your TV GPS, Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert’s look at the week ahead in television, appears every Monday morning on BostonGlobe.com. Today’s column covers Oct. 12-18.


It’s going to be an Aaron Sorkin-y kind of week. Time to start talking really fast and wittily, and walking fast, too, while you’re at it. Also, hold fast to your political ideals and your social conscience, and give yourself a fast lesson in Latin. Sorkin, the guy behind “A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network,” “Sports Night,” “The Newsroom,” and “The West Wing,” is having a TV two-fer.

On Thursday, HBO Max is premiering “A West Wing Special to Benefit When We All Vote,” one of the year’s most anticipated cast reunions — and there have been many so far (including “30 Rock,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” and “Frasier”). The special will feature the cast performing an episode of the series from its original run called “Hartsfield’s Landing,” about a staff chess game played along with President Jed Bartlet’s figurative game of chess with the Chinese. The 2002 episode will be performed on stage at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, and it will feature Rob Lowe, Dulé Hill, Allison Janney, Janel Moloney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, and Martin Sheen. Also, Sterling K. Brown will play Leo McGarry, Bartlet’s chief of staff, since actor John Spencer died in 2005.

Other guests will show up, during breaks in “Hartsfield’s Landing,” including Michelle Obama, Sorkin, Bill Clinton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the Avett Brothers.


And then on Friday, Netflix will have the film Sorkin wrote and directed, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” about the 1968 Democratic National Convention that led to the arrest and trial of protesters including Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman. The cast sounds pretty great, including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mark Rylance, Michael Keaton, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Jeremy Strong.



1. This is the space where I was going to note the Second Presidential Debate, which was supposed to take place on Thursday at 9 p.m. In case you haven’t heard, it has been canceled, which means one night of sleep has been saved from complete ruin. The last debate between President Trump and Joe Biden, on Oct. 22, is still scheduled.

Lovie Simone in an episode of "Social Distance."
Lovie Simone in an episode of "Social Distance."Courtesy Of Netflix © 2020

2. You may not be in the mood to watch a show about the way we live now, since the way we live now stinks. But Netflix’s new anthology series, called “Social Distance” and co-created by Jenji Kohan of “Orange Is the New Black,” isn’t bad. Each of the eight episodes tells a different story, with a different cast, about staying connected while we need to stay apart. The cast includes Danielle Brooks, Oscar Nuñez, Asante Blackk (from “When They See Us” and “This Is Us”), Miguel Sandoval, and Dylan Baker. It’s available Thursday.

3. Director Garrett Bradley’s documentary feature “Time” follows the experiences of a married couple of convicted bank robbers. They’re guilty, and they admit it; the film is more about wife Fox Rich’s efforts on behalf of her husband, Rob, who was sentenced to 60 years without parole. (Fox served 3½ years for her role as getaway driver.) It’s available Friday on Amazon.

4. Spike Lee directs this filmed version of David Byrne’s “American Utopia,” recorded during its run on Broadway. Byrne is joined by musicians, singers, and dancers in performances of both his Talking Heads and solo songs. When the show opened for a tryout in Boston last fall, the Globe’s Maura Johnston called it “exuberant and generous,” noting that " it combines rock-show swagger and Broadway style." It’s on HBO on Saturday at 8 p.m.


5. Marielle Heller, director of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” filmed “What the Constitution Means to Me” during its last week on Broadway in 2019. A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the play is written by and stars Heidi Schreck, and it asks whether the Constitution protects all Americans. “She uses the nation’s founding document as a lens through which to examine centuries of unchecked violence against women,” Globe theater critic Don Aucoin wrote last year, “including a few harrowing chapters of her own family history, and asks a question that cuts to the heart of the lofty promises contained in the Constitution: ‘What does it mean that the document will not protect us from the violence of men?’ ” Heller’s filmed version premieres on Amazon on Friday.

6. The documentary “The Perfect Weapon,” based on the book by David E. Sanger, looks into the rise of cyber attacks as the primary way nations now sabotage one another. Through military, intelligence, and political officials, it also explains how cyber warfare may affect the forthcoming election, as well as our power grids and nuclear arsenal. Good times, on HBO, Friday at 8 p.m.


Sydney Lemmon and Tom Austen play siblings with superpowers in Hulu's "Helstrom."
Sydney Lemmon and Tom Austen play siblings with superpowers in Hulu's "Helstrom."Bettina Strauss/Hulu


“Finding Your Roots” Henry Louis Gates Jr. returns with a new season, beginning with Diane Von Furstenberg, Narciso Rodriguez, and RuPaul Charles. GBH 2, Tuesday, 8 p.m.

“Billboard Music Awards” Kelly Clarkson hosts, with Garth Brooks receiving the Icon Award. NBC, Wednesday, 8 p.m.

“The Amazing Race” Filmed before the pandemic, the 32nd season premieres. CBS, Wednesday, 9 p.m.

“The Con” A new true-crime series about people taken in by frauds, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. ABC, Wednesday, 10 p.m.

“The Trouble With Maggie Cole” A light British drama about gossip in a small village town. GBH, Sunday, 8 p.m.

“Helstrom” Marvel’s latest TV venture is a horror series featuring a pair of siblings with superpowers who hunt demons. Hulu, Friday


“The Good Lord Bird” Ethan Hawke’s turn as abolitionist John Brown is at the center of this comic-tragic seven-part series. Showtime

“Emily in Paris” A comedy about a plucky American from Darren Star of “Sex and the City.” Netflix

“Fargo” The extraordinary anthology series returns with a strong season led by Chris Rock. FX, Hulu

“The Comey Rule” A two-parter about the former head of the FBI told without the benefit of perspective. Showtime

“Filthy Rich” Kim Cattrall leads this weekly nighttime soap about a misbehaving televangelist family. Fox

“Ratched” Ryan Murphy’s new series, the backstory of the notorious nurse, is an attractive mess. Netflix


“The Duchess” Katherine Ryan’s six-episode comedy about a single mother in London works hard to be raunchy and transgressive. Netflix

“Coastal Elites” Five monologues steeped in rage about Donald Trump’s presidency and the COVID-19 crisis, starring Bette Midler, Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson, and Kaitlyn Dever. HBO

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.