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This week’s TV: ‘A Teacher’ toys with us, ‘The Crown’ returns with Diana, and Boston’s Sean Ellis case

Kate Mara and Nick Robinson in the FX on Hulu series "A Teacher."Chris Large/FX

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 Nov. 9-15.


I had a strange and unusual experience watching “A Teacher,” a drama set in Austin, Texas, that premieres Tuesday on FX on Hulu.

The 10-parter is about a high school English teacher and her sexual affair with a student. Kate Mara is Claire, in her early 30s, who is married and trying to get pregnant. Nick Robinson is Eric, 17 and vulnerable. She offers to tutor him for the SATs, they meet for instruction outside of school, she takes him to the University of Texas to inspire him, he kisses her, and she feigns resistance — until she doesn’t.


For the first half of the season (whose episodes are a half-hour each), I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was as if the show, created by Hannah Fidell (based on her 2013 film), was implicating the viewer by making this abuse of power into something acceptable. Aside from trigger warnings before each episode about “grooming,” the drama seemed to be sympathetic to Claire and her love for Eric. There was no clear sense that the writers were aware of the serious moral problems with their relationship. Their sexual rapport was portrayed with intensity, putting us in an almost voyeuristic position. I writhed with discomfort.

And then the balance shifted midway through, and the story jumped ahead, and “A Teacher” became a far different kind of story, one acutely aware of the damage and trauma that such an affair can cause. It became a full portrayal of an offender, all the stronger for holding back its judgments to let the story speak for itself. There’s no preachiness, just a chronicle of what happened. I went from hating the show and preparing my devastating review to deeply admiring it.


Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer in the fourth season of the Netflix series "The Crown."Des Willie/Netflix


1. Netflix’s “The Crown” returns for its fourth season, the last one featuring Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth before Imelda Staunton takes up the role. This time, the story lines revolve around Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher and Emma Corrin’s Princess Diana, who falls for Charles, who has already fallen for Camilla. It’s due on Sunday.

2. HBO’s “Industry” is an eight-episode drama about college grads competing fiercely for jobs at an investment bank in London. It’s like “How to Get Away With Murder” or some other Shonda Rhimes drama, but on HBO, with lots of nudity, and with British accents. Chilly, but also racy, it premieres Monday at 10 p.m.

3. Matt Tyrnauer has directed a few strong documentaries, including last year’s “Where’s My Roy Cohn?” Now comes his four-part look at “The Reagans,” a reexamination of Ronald and Nancy, their climb to power, and their role as progenitors of our current political dynamics. It premieres on Showtime Sunday at 8 p.m.

4. One of the best miniseries in an era of great miniseries has been “The Good Lord Bird,” the Showtime adaptation of James McBride’s novel. Ethan Hawke blows the roof off the joint as John Brown, the abolitionist who helped trigger the Civil War. Anyhow, the finale runs Sunday at 9 p.m., which means you will be able to binge the whole thing if you’re so inclined, which you should be. Aside from Brown, there is a parallel hero, a 9–year-old boy nicknamed Onion (played by the excellent Joshua Caleb Johnson) who Brown mistakes for a girl.


Sean K. Ellis (left) is interviewed by "Trial 4" director Rémy Burkel. Casey Sullivan Joseph

5. Bostonians may be familiar with the case featured in the new eight-part Netflix docu-series “Trial 4.” It tells the story of Sean K. Ellis, who spent 22-plus years in prison for the 1993 killing of Boston Police Detective John Mulligan — before being freed in 2015 when a judge ordered a new, fourth trial. Available Wednesday, the series exposes police corruption and systemic racism. Here’s the trailer, featuring the Globe’s very own Adrian Walker.

6. Right after the premiere of “Law & Order: SVU” on Thursday at 9 p.m., NBC is airing a special at 10 p.m. about the many, many actors who went on to greater glory after playing a perp or a victim on the “Law & Order” franchise. Called “The Paley Center Presents Law & Order: Before They Were Stars,” it will feature Ron Cephas Jones, Chris Sullivan, Leslie Odom Jr., Michael Imperioli, Aida Turturro, Ariel Winter, Abigail Breslin, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Clark Gregg. Also: NBC’s Chicago shows return this week, on Wednesday night.

Forest Whitaker as toymaker Jeronicus Jangle in Netflix's "Jangle Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey."NETFLIX

7. This new Christmas musical is produced by, among others, John Legend. Called “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey,” it’s a family film about a toymaker (Forest Whitaker) who is working on an invention that could change his and his granddaughter’s lives. Also in the cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, and Ricky Martin. It’s available on Netflix on Friday.



“Eater’s Guide to the World” Maya Rudolph narrates this look at unexpected places serving epic meals. Hulu, Wednesday

“A Queen Is Born” Gloria Groove and Alexia Twister help six drag artists learn to own the stage. Netflix, Wednesday

“Transhood” A documentary that follows four youths growing up transgender in America’s heartland. HBO, Thursday, 9 p.m.

“Murder on Middle Beach” A four-part docu-series about a man determined to solve the murder of his mother. HBO, Sunday, 10 p.m.


“Moonbase 8” Fred Armisen, John C. Reilly, and Tim Heidecker have great chemistry in this comedy series, but the scripts mostly fall flat. Showtime

“Roadkill” Hugh Laurie and the rest of the cast save this otherwise formulaic PBS “Masterpiece” miniseries about a corrupt British politician. GBH 2

“The Undoing” A murder-mystery miniseries starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant is entertaining and manipulative. HBO

“The Queen’s Gambit” A smart, entertaining seven-episode ride about an orphan who finds her way to the top of the mostly male realm of competitive chess. Netflix

“David Byrne’s American Utopia” Byrne’s rousing stage musical is adapted for the screen by director Spike Lee. HBO

“The Right Stuff” The series adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s book shows the Mercury astronauts struggling with the happy front NASA needs them to put on. Disney+

“The Boys in the Band” Performed by the same cast as the Broadway revival, including Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer, the movie is more than a filmed stage production. Netflix


“Flesh and Blood” A four-parter from PBS “Masterpiece” starring Francesca Annis, Stephen Rea, and Imelda Staunton. GBH 2

“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 creator Darren Star of “Sex and the City.” Netflix

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

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