Your TV GPS, Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert’s look at the week ahead in television, appears every Monday morning on BostonGlobe.com.
‘BETTER’ IS BEST
I don’t like the title “Better Things.” The FX series, which returns for season three on Thursday at 10 p.m., is a model of specificity — of character and of location. And yet the title is so generic and forgettable.
Otherwise, I adore “Better Things,” along with its star, writer, and director, Pamela Adlon (here’s a good New Yorker piece on her). It’s about Adlon’s Sam, a working actress and single mother, her three daughters, and her mother — but it’s mostly just about the small victories, ironies, and resignations of life. Stories built around dating over-40 or Hollywood’s working actors come down to universal truths about human nature.
“Better Things” is the kind of intimate show that captures the characters’ mundane expressions of love, frustration, and loneliness so accurately that you forget about the art and effort behind them — the sensitive scripting, the genuine acting, the respectful direction. It’s the opposite of most network shows, as it follows no formula whatsoever. You never know where an episode of “Better Things” will go, which is thoroughly refreshing. But you can always be certain it will show fierce respect for women.
The second season was my No. 1 show of 2017. (Here’s the preview for season three.) “Better Things” is a great tribute to single parenthood, and it brings new potential to both family comedies and family dramas. By the way, Adlon created the series with Louis C.K., but, since his scandal, the two no longer collaborate and he was not involved in this season.
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. That four-hour movie about Michael Jackson that stirred waves of controversy at the Sundance Film Festival last month is coming to TV this week. Despite a lawsuit by the Jackson estate, HBO is airing “Leaving Neverland” in two parts, on Sunday and next Monday at 8 p.m. In the film, directed by Dan Reed, Wade Robson and James Safechuck claim that, at ages 7 and 10 respectively, the pop star sexually abused them.
2. I’m a big fan of PBS’s “Victoria” on “Masterpiece,” and I was thoroughly scandalized last week when I learned — long after the rest of the world, apparently — that its two stars, Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes, are a real-life couple. I’m not sure the downstairs elements of the series always work, but, well, you know, it’s all so pretty, and the royal intrigue is irresistible. Another plus: Princess Feodora’s face. The third-season finale is Sunday at 9 p.m.
3. One of my all-time favorites is “The Larry Sanders Show,” the great behind-the-scenes-of-TV comedy that ran on HBO from 1992-98. It’s up there with “30 Rock,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and “Sports Night.” On Monday night, Jimmy Fallon is going to pay tribute to the Garry Shandling series on “The Tonight Show” — the show that Shandling and “Sanders” were goofing on. (Here’s Fallon’s previews clip.) Fallon will go behind the scenes of the episode during the episode, and the guests will include Tina Fey, Robert De Niro, and Ben Stiller.
4. John Lithgow is going to play him in an upcoming movie, and Russell Crowe is going to play him in a Showtime miniseries. But TV’s got the real thing, if you want it. On Sunday at 9 p.m., A&E is airing the documentary “Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes,” which details his creation of Fox News to further his political agenda as well as the systemic issues that enabled Ailes to flourish despite his sexual misbehavior and abuse.
5. How’s this for a reboot? CNN is hosting a town hall event for the senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, which will be moderated by Wolf Blitzer. It’s Monday at 8 p.m.
6. FBI agents make love, not war, as they try to save the world from bad stuff. Scott Foley — “Felicity” fans, all rise — stars as Will Chase, whose super-secret code name is the title of the show, “Whiskey Cavalier.” Lauren Cohan stars as his new work partner, super-secret code name Fiery Tribune, on Wednesday at 10 p.m. on ABC.
7. Her husband died, so why does she catch a glimpse of him on the news? Kate Beckinsale stars as “The Widow” in the eight -episode British drama from Harry and Jack Williams of the excellent “The Missing.” Her search for the truth takes her deep into the Congo. It’s available Friday on Amazon, with Alex Kingston and Charles Dance.
8. The Onion who? Set in an extraterrestrial newsroom, which, in a way, could be any newsroom ever, this new topical animated series, “Alien News Desk,” has aliens reporting on what’s happening on Earth. Will Forte voices Drexx Drudlarr and Heidi Gardner (from “SNL”) voices Tuva Van Void, a pair of anchors who deliver their takes on human beings, on Wednesday at 11 on Syfy. The preview won me over when Tuva called the Oscar statue an “Arrogance enhancement totem.”
9. The great news about the premiere of the generically titled network drama “The Enemy Within” is that I won’t have to see its advance commercial anymore. NBC has played that ad one too many times for me. I liked Jennifer Carpenter enough in “Dexter,” as Dexter’s sister, but as a CIA operative in jail for treason — and let out to find a dangerous spy? We shall see. It premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on NBC.
“Ministry of Evil: The Twisted Cult of Tony Alamo”
A docuseries on the shady history of a cult whose leader died in prison during a life sentence for child sexual abuse. Sundance, Wednesday, 11 p.m.
The dramedy about three women — played by Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman, and Retta — in a life of crime returns. NBC, Sunday, 10 p.m.
“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”
Chiwetel Ejiofor from “12 Years a Slave” wrote, directed, and appears in this film about a boy in Malawi who helps his village by building a wind turbine. Netflix, Friday
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”
More slaying on the runway as season 11 premieres. VH1, Thursday, 9 p.m.
“The Masked Singer”
The final mask is lifted. Fox, Wednesday, 8 p.m.
‘STRANGERS WITH CANDY’
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Hulu comedy “PEN15” lately. It’s moving, horrifying, and funny as it recaptures seventh grade — at times surprisingly so, since the two lead 13-year-olds are played by the show’s 31-year-old creators, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. The women play themselves as kids so well, with such emotional rawness and geekiness, that you quickly forget the age difference.
And that got me thinking about one of my favorite twisted shows, “Strangers With Candy.” It also toys with age incongruousness, as Amy Sedaris plays a 46-year-old woman named Jerri Blank who has returned to high school as a student after living on the streets and being in jail for most of her life. Airing from 1999-2000 on Comedy Central, “Strangers With Candy” (which, in 2005, spawned a prequel film) is extremely different from “PEN15,” in that it’s never tender, it’s consistently crude, and we are supposed to laugh at the age difference throughout. But I love it, as it satirizes high school, TV, and America.
Sedaris plays Jerri, a freak with buck teeth, to the hilt. Jerri will do anything to hang with the cool kids, including mixing up a batch of hallucinogens; yup, that trip doesn’t end well. Each episode teaches her some kind of lesson, in the manner of the old Afterschool Specials, but it’s never a particularly wise lesson. “Strangers With Candy” is the opposite of “My So-Called Life,” as it lampoons everything that that sensitive teen drama held sacred.
Added plus: Lots of guest stars, including a much-crying Stephen Colbert. Available on YouTube, CC.com, Amazon
REVIEWED AND RECOMMENDED
“The Umbrella Academy”
The beautifully shot Netflix series about a dysfunctional family of superheroes has a lot of character drama amid the action.