This week in watching: Redoing Norman Lear’s sitcoms, binge-watching ‘Dead to Me,’ mourning ‘Killing Eve’
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 20-26.
I was surprised that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to name their son after the world-famous bigot played by the great Carroll O’Connor.
But I digress.
The excellent news is that someone at ABC had a new idea: Let’s celebrate TV groundbreaker Norman Lear by doing a live re-creation of episodes of two of his best 1970s shows. And so Lear and Jimmy Kimmel will co-host the 90-minute event, called “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons,’” on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
I’m not a fan of reboots and revivals, but this one — apparently a one-time thing — has some appeal. It has the potential to reinforce Lear’s brilliance — to remind us that his half-hours of TV often played out like tight, relevant one-act plays, and to remind us of his massive influence, still very much alive in primetime (see, for instance, “Black-ish”).
Assuming the casting works (here’s a peek), I’m betting those re-created episodes will also have plenty of uncomfortably timely resonance, despite the decades that have passed since they were written. Part of Lear’s genius in the 1970s and ’80s was finding the common human truths underneath our political and social identities.
Yes, the world has changed since Archie Bunker and George Jefferson ranted and raved, notably by a two-term black president; but plenty has remained the same. Alas. That ongoing political battle between Archie and his son-in-law, Mike “Meathead” Stivic — I’m betting it will ring plenty of bells in the Trump era.
Naturally, the original cast members — many of whom are dead — won’t appear in the two re-creations, which are being directed by sitcom stalwart James Burrows. Here’s the who’s who for Wednesday night. I’ve divided the cast into the two shows, although there may be overlap since a number of characters were on both series:
“All in the Family”
Archie Bunker: Woody Harrelson
Edith Bunker: Marisa Tomei
Meathead: Ike Barinholtz
Gloria: Ellie Kemper
Frank Lorenzo: Sean Hayes
George Jefferson: Jamie Foxx
Louise Jefferson: Wanda Sykes
Florence: Justina Machado
Tom Willis: Will Ferrell
Helen Willis: Kerry Washington
Jenny Willis Jefferson: Amber Stevens West
Lionel Jefferson: Jovan Adepo
Mr. Bentley: Steve Tobolowsky
Uncle Henry: Anthony Anderson
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. Yes, “Game of Thrones” is over, but we know better than that. There will be spinoffs and remakes and all sorts of extensions of the brand. First up: HBO’s “Game of Thrones: The Last Watch,” a two-hour documentary that goes behind the scenes of the making of the series. It airs Sunday at 9 p.m.
2. Have you tried “Dead to Me,” the brisk Netflix comedy-drama created by Liz Feldman that was released a few weeks back? I’m just catching up with it, and it’s a kick — not a new major TV player by any means, but a small, twisty bit of fun. You keep wondering how the writers are going to get out of the warped situation they’ve created. I won’t spoil that situation here; all you need to know is that a newly widowed mother of two (an excellent Christina Applegate) is befriended by a bohemian stranger (Linda Cardellini, also quite good). By the way, it’s only 10 half-hour episodes long.
3. On Friday, Netflix is delivering the first season of “What/If,” a neo-noir anthology series from Mike Kelley of “Revenge” and “Swingtown.” The idea seems vague but potentially dishy: To feature a different morality tale each season. First up, Renée Zellweger as a woman who makes an indecent proposal to a newlywed couple in need of money to fund their med-tech startup. Jane Levy, Blake Jenner, Samantha Ware, Gabriel Mann, and Dave Annable also star.
4. Is Beto O’Rourke the “My So-Called Life” of Democratic presidential candidates? He started off as a media darling, but it looks like he may only last for a season. He’s currently trying to catch up with the others and undo the perception of privilege that’s been dogging him, with recent appearances on “The View” and “The Rachel Maddow Show.” On Tuesday, O’Rourke is doing a CNN town hall in Iowa at 10 p.m., with Dana Bash moderating. In other political TV programming, Senator Kamala Harris will appear on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on Wednesday.
5. Allison Williams, who was in “Get Out,” is in a new Netflix horror movie. This one is called “The Perfection,” and it’s about a once-promising music prodigy who reconnects with her former mentors, who’ve taken on . . . a . . . new . . . student bwahahaha. It’s there for you on Friday.
6. It’s time for the fifth annual “Red Nose Day” special, a Comic Relief fundraiser on NBC to combat childhood poverty. Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Julianne Hough, Chrissy Metz, Kate McKinnon, Lilly Singh, and Milo Ventimiglia will all be on hand Thursday at 8 p.m. to raise awareness for the charity. Wait, it looks like there’s another name on the list: Rob Gronkowski. He used to be someone, right?
7. The more things change, the more they stay the same. As a boy during World War II, Norman Mineta was incarcerated in Wyoming in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans — a policy that, in the 1980s, was determined by our government to be based on “racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” Anyhoo, on Monday at 9 p.m. on WGBH-2, PBS is airing “Norman Mineta and his Legacy: An American Story,” a profile of the former California congressman, now 87, who was secretary of commerce under Bill Clinton and secretary of transportation under George W. Bush.
“Wanda Sykes: Not Normal”
A stand-up special from the comic who’ll be playing Weezy. Netflix, Tuesday
“The Late Late Show Carpool Karaoke Primetime Special”
James Corden wants you to heart him, this time as he sings along with Celine Dion. CBS, Monday, 10 p.m.
Two hours of filler to find out who won. NBC, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
There’s an acid attack in the seventh — and final — season premiere of the Sherlock procedural, and I’m not talking heartburn. CBS, Thursday, 10 p.m.
In this documentary, three Puerto Rican women displaced by Hurricane Maria deal with federal housing failures in New York. Netflix, Friday
“She’s Gotta Have It”
Season two of the Spike Lee spinoff series about Nola Darling arrives. Netflix, Friday
‘EVE’ OFF THE RAILS
It has been a challenge being a “Game of Thrones” fan during this last season. But the Thronies have it a lot easier than the Eve-ies, the fans of “Killing Eve,” the BBC America and AMC series that wraps season 2 on Sunday at 8 p.m. At least “Game of Thrones” is over; “Killing Eve” has only just begun.
I can’t remember the last time I watched a good show go down the tubes so quickly — maybe “Heroes,” or “Glee,” or “Prison Break.” After a thoroughly entertaining and clever first season, “Killing Eve” has succumbed to self-parody. Maybe it’s because writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge didn’t return for the second round; maybe it’s because the cat-and-mouse concept didn’t have enough substance to hold up.
What seemed meant as an undercurrent in season 1 — Eve’s deep attraction to the danger represented by Villanelle — has become awkwardly explicit. And while I generally enjoy Sandra Oh, she doesn’t make Eve’s obsession quite believable. So Villanelle murdered her dear friend, a fellow agent, and yet there she is, in bed beside the killer because of some mysterious fascination.
The only reason I haven’t given up is Jodie Comer, who is endlessly fun to watch. Her bratty boredom and her ability to change accents and attitudes instantly are magical, so much so that at times she makes me think of Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black.”
REVIEWED AND RECOMMENDED
A strong Hulu miniseries adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic, with an emphasis on pathos.
A well-made and essential five-part cautionary tale on HBO about the culture of disinformation after the 1986 nuclear disaster.