The TV landscape used to be a walk in the park, with only a handful of networks and plenty of open space. But now it’s a dense urban grid, with streaming services and pay cable and basic cable and the broadcast networks all vying for your attention.
I am here to help you navigate all the series, specials, news events, and televised movies that await you every week. “TV GPS” will appear online on Mondays, with my guidance on how to proceed from Monday to Sunday.
I’ll start the column with a talking point; this week, it’s about the running times of shows in light of Matthew Weiner’s fine new Amazon series, “The Romanoffs.”
Then I’ll run down some of the TV shows I plan to watch, from new comedies to notable episodes of familiar shows to important news coverage. After that, I’ll list a few other shows you might want to catch. In “Rewind,” I’ll pull out an oldie but goodie worth revisiting. And, finally, I’ll provide links to shows I’ve reviewed recently.
Please stay in touch, and please share your suggestions about content you’d like to see here in the future. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can leave a comment below.
Let the good times roll
Amid the storm that is Peak TV, where every week four or five new series rain down on us, there’s a debate about show lengths. Some critics feel showrunners are exploiting all the newfound TV space — thanks, streamers — to run episodes long and pack ’em with filler. Matthew Weiner has been taken to task for letting each episode of his new Amazon series, “The Romanoffs,”run some 90 minutes long. That’s movie length, they complain, not TV length.
We all know filler stinks; every scene ought to be there for a reason. But I love it when shows use one of TV’s most valuable assets — time — to explore story. Sure, it’s very nice indeed to fit an entire season into a sitting or two, with the half-hour likes of Netflix’s arresting “The End of the [Expletive] World” and Amazon’s endearing “Forever.” But it’s mesmerizing when a show is able to move incrementally forward, pulling us deeper into the moment.
Who ever declared it illegal or unethical or aesthetically wrong to go long? It’s always refreshing and creative to break through unnecessary conventions — in this case that comedies absolutely must be a half-hour and dramas must absolutely be an hour.
In “The Romanoffs,” a “Black Mirror”-styled anthology series with episodes whose only link is the presence of a character descended from the Romanov dynasty, Weiner uses the extra time wisely. His follow-up series to “Mad Men” is like a collection of rich, deeply realized short stories, each with its own beginning, middle, and end. Amazon is releasing one episode a week, so viewers can savor each one. The show is kind of binge-resistant. Friday’s release is “Expectation,” and it follows a New York woman who’s confronted with every lie she ever told. The cast includes Amanda Peet, John Slattery, Jon Tenney, and Mary Kay Place.
What I’m watching this week
The cast of “A President Show Documentary: The Fall of Donald Trump” is killer, with Anthony Atamanuik as Trump, Kathy Griffin as Kellyanne Conway, Mario Cantone as Anthony Scaramucci, Adam Pally as Donald Trump Jr., Peter Grosz as Mike Pence, and Stephanie March as Ivanka. Set in 2030, this Comedy Central mockumentary looks back at the end of the Trump administration. It’s on Monday at 11 p.m.
The TV world is on edge for the biggest reality reveal of ever. On Tuesday at 8 p.m. on WGBH-2, “The Great American Read” will name the No. 1 novel, selected from the 100 chosen by polls and literary professionals. The list includes “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Great Gatsby,” so the winner could be anything. My guess: “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Our broody ex-Southie fixer returns to a world in which he has been endlessly compared to former Trump lawyer-type-dude Michael Cohen. Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” — that’s “Ray Dawnavin” to you — is back for season six Sunday at 9 p.m.
What’s this? A new political comedy show in time for the midterms? Netflix’s “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj” premieres Sunday, and the streamer will drop one episode a week. Minhaj is yet another “Daily Show” alum with his own series, as well as a former White House Correspondents’ Dinner host, and Netflix is hot to trot, giving him an unprecedented 32-episode order. Can he do better than Michelle Wolf, another “Daily Show” and WHCD grad, whose 10-episode Netflix talk series failed to draw viewers and was canceled?
A new nighttime talk show hosted by a woman is always news, since it’s a rarity. Busy Philipps, “Freaks and Geeks” alum and Michelle Williams prom date, will premiere “Busy Tonight” on Sunday at 10 p.m. on E! The half-hour series, with interviews and pop culture dainties, will run every week from Sunday to Wednesday.
At 16, Sabrina — daughter of a witch and a mortal — has to choose between a life in magic and a life as a regular old schlub like the rest of us. The “Archie” comics-derived “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” on Netflix stars Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper from “Mad Men”), and she brings an appealingly sincere touch as she mixes phrases such as “dark baptism” into her teen lexicon. Season one of this fog-filled reboot drops on Friday.
“Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram”
In 2014, 276 Nigerian girls were taken by Islamic insurgents. How are the 82 released last year faring? HBO, Monday, 8 p.m.
The premiere of this spinoff last week was nicely done, as the characters bid a respectful farewell to the Roseanne character. Let’s see if the writers can maintain the momentum going forward. ABC, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
“This Is Us”
Kevin meets a man from his father’s past, while Toby and Kate wait for news. Are you crying yet? NBC, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
In the six-part BBC hit, Richard Madden is a cop and veteran with PTSD assigned to guard Keeley Hawes’s politician — just in time for talk of Madden (Robb Stark, “Game of Thrones”) becoming the new James Bond. Netflix, Wednesday
The misguided high school comedy reboot, delayed after the Parkland shooting, then scrapped, gets a five-night binge runoff. Paramount Network, Thursday, 10 p.m.
“This Week at the Comedy Cellar”
A new weekly half-hour of timely stand-up filmed at the New York club the week it airs. Comedy Central, Friday, 11 p.m.
“Bored to Death”
Recently, watching the ever-amazing Ted Danson on the ever-amazing “The Good Place,” and savoring his turn as the kooky puppeteer Michael, I fondly recalled this droll slice of Brooklyn life, which was created by author Jonathan Ames and ran three seasons on HBO from 2009-11. Jason Schwartzman stars as a young Dustin Hoffman-like romantic hero, writer, and P.I., Zach Galifianakis is his angry pal, and Danson kills it as his sex-obsessed, drug-loving, and super pompous editor. I love Schwartzman’s wary deadpan and mop-top hair, I love the rampant literary satire led by Danson, and I love the recurring players including John Hodgman, Zoe Kazan, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Wiig, and Mary Kay Place. HBO on demand, HBO Go, HBO Now, Amazon
Reviewed and recommended
“Mr Inbetween” (FX)
A small, affecting Australian series written by its star, Scott Ryan, about a brutal thug who’s also a loyal friend and protective dad. FX just renewed it.
Directed and co-written by the visionary Cary Joji Fukunaga, this trippy 10-episode limited series follows two troubled people, played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill, who take part in a pharmaceutical drug trial.
Toni Collette stars — oh, you want me to go further? OK. She plays a therapist who explores the idea of open marriage with her husband.