This week in watching: The Central Park Five, the ‘Deadwood’ movie, and summer’s returning shows
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 27-June 2.
Thirty years ago, in 1989, long before his birther claims against Barack Obama, Donald Trump inserted himself into the story of five teens — four black, one Latino — accused of raping a white jogger in Central Park. Among other things, he took out full-page ads in a number of New York newspapers calling for their execution. “Bring back the death penalty,” the ads, for which he paid $85,000, declared.
“I want to hate these murderers and I always will,” Trump wrote in the ad. “I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them . . . I no longer want to understand their anger. I want them to understand our anger. I want them to be afraid.”
Known as the Central Park Five, the men were exonerated in 2002, when a man in prison confessed and DNA confirmed his guilt.
Not that the exoneration convinced Trump, who is not one for scientific proof, and who, in a 2014 New York Daily News op-ed, blasted his disgust at the $40 million settlement that New York City made with the men. “The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty,” Trump said on CNN in 2016. “The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous.”
Now director Ava DuVernay has made a four-part Netflix miniseries about the case, calling attention to our flawed and corrupt justice system and institutionalized racism. Due Friday, “When They See Us” tells the story in detail, with a large cast including Michael K. Williams, Vera Farmiga, John Leguizamo, Niecy Nash, Blair Underwood, Joshua Jackson, Adepero Oduye, Famke Janssen, Aurora Perrineau, Dascha Polanco, and Jovan Adepo, who was Lionel Jefferson in last week’s live production of “The Jeffersons” and “All in the Family” on ABC.
The miniseries joins TV’s growing genre of re-creations of true-crime stories, such as FX’s two “American Crime Story” seasons — “The People v. O.J. Simpson” and “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” — that point up the deep problems in this country, including racism and homophobia, when it comes to justice. These shows don’t offer the camp and tabloid heat of the cheesy re-creations you might find on Lifetime. They’re far more sober and sharp. Yes, documentaries can make the same points, and very often do; but the power and depth of scripted takes, which can give us intimate scenes, are great.
Two notes: Felicity Huffman is in the miniseries, but as a baddie, so maybe her real-life trials as one of the guilty parties in Operation Varsity Blues won’t distract from her performance.
And DuVernay chose not to cast a Donald Trump character in her miniseries, relying instead on news footage. “I decided I was telling the story of the men,” she recently told Essence magazine. “They knew a rich, kind of bloated, flamboyant guy who owned buildings across town had said something about them. They were much more concerned with their families and their lives than some guy in a golden tower.”
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. The time has come, all you [expletive]. HBO’s “Deadwood: The Movie” has finally arrived, nearly 13 years after the three-season series ended. Written by creator David Milch, whose Alzheimer’s diagnosis has been tied to the promotion of the movie, and directed by David Minahan, it picks up a decade after the series. Returning original cast members include Ian McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Molly Parker, Paula Malcomson, John Hawkes, Anna Gunn, Brad Dourif, Robin Weigert, William Sanderson, Kim Dickens, and Gerald McRaney. It’s on at 8 p.m. on Friday, which is the final day of eligibility for this year’s Emmys.
2. I was crazy for the first season of “Luther,” starring a broody, laconic Idris Elba, and increasingly less so for each of the three seasons that followed. The strain to keep Ruth Wilson’s fan favorite, Alice, in the storyline has been only one of the storytelling problems. So my expectations for the fifth season, which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on BBC America, are pretty low. Please, “Luther,” surprise me.
3. I want the title of this new supernatural horror series on my license pl8. That would make me feel U4ic. “NOS4A2,” pronounced Nosferatu, is about a woman with the ability to find lost things and an evil and immortal man who feeds off the souls of children — or something like that. It’s based on the novel by Joe Hill, it stars Zachary Quinto and Ashleigh Cummings, and it’s AMC’s play to hold onto the audience of the fading “The Walking Dead.” It premieres on Sunday at 10 p.m.
4. I’ve been enjoying FX’s “Fosse/Verdon,” which wraps up this week on Tuesday at 10 p.m. The acting is all-in, as Sam Rockwell goes for broke as the tortured but brilliant choreographer-director and as Michelle Williams carefully dodges impersonation as the stalwart actress-dancer. The chronicles of the making of the movie “Cabaret” and the original stage production of “Chicago” have been particularly fascinating — at times even more than the tragic love between the two giant talents.
5. CNN is dipping into comedy — I mean intentional comedy — with a filmed version of Colin Quinn’s off-Broadway show “Red State, Blue State.” His provocative take on the country’s current state of disunion, in which he calls out liberals and conservatives, airs on Monday at 9 p.m.
6. “The Weekly” marks the New York Times’ first major dip into TV news. The half-hour show, which premieres on FX on Sunday at 10 p.m., will feature a different Times journalist each week as he or she digs into a story.
7. NBC’s “Songland” is “The Voice” and “American Idol” for new songwriters, who get mentored by music producers and compete to have their songs recorded by the guest performer of the week. Just what TV needs: another music-related TV reality contest. The guest list for the season, which premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m., includes the Jonas Brothers, John Legend, Meghan Trainor, and Macklemore.
8. On Friday, Amazon is releasing “Good Omens,” an adaptation of the 1990 novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. There’s a demon played by David Tennant, an angel played by Michael Sheen, and a final battle between heaven and hell. Written by Gaiman, the six-episode season is loaded with stars (in some cases, just their voices) including Jon Hamm, Mireille Enos, Michael McKean, Miranda Richardson, Nick Offerman, Derek Jacobi, Brian Cox, Benedict Cumberbatch, and — as the voice of God — Frances McDormand.
9. Epix, which was launched in 2009, is upping its original-series game with a list of new shows set to join “Get Shorty.” First out of the gate is “Perpetual Grace, Ltd.,” a thriller about a grifter (Jimmi Simpson) preying on a pastor (Ben Kingsley) who isn’t as vulnerable as he seems. The 10-episode drama premieres on Sunday at 10 p.m.
“My Next Guest Needs No Introduction”
David Letterman’s talk show returns for five new episodes with Ellen DeGeneres, Kanye West, Tiffany Haddish, Melinda Gates, and Lewis Hamilton. Netflix, Friday
“Always Be My Maybe”
A famous chef and a local musician are reunited after 15 years in this romantic comedy, with Ali Wong and Randall Park. Neflix, Friday
A girl with special abilities helps her detective father solve crimes. NBC, Wednesday, 10 p.m.
The SoCal surfer boy-thugs return for season 4. TNT, Tuesday, 9 p.m.
“Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal”
This pairing has been a godsend for Lifetime, which delivers this sequel to last year’s Harry and Meghan movie. Lifetime, Monday, 8 p.m.
“Running With Beto”
On the campaign trail with Beto O’Rourke. HBO, Tuesday, 8 p.m.
Recently, I wrote about some of the new series coming up this summer, including “The Loudest Voice,” with Russell Crowe as Roger Ailes, and producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s drama “City on a Hill,” starring Kevin Bacon. We’re living in Peak TV, where summer can be almost as crowded as the fall.
But a mess of shows are returning this summer, too. Here are some of the highlights.
“Big Little Lies”
It was a miniseries, then it was a popular hit and Emmy winner, and now it’s just a series, as it returns for a second round. This time, Meryl Streep joins the cast as the mother of the abusive Perry. HBO, June 9
The groundbreaking series, my No. 1 show of 2018, returns for a second season. The action jumps to 1990, and the attention that Madonna’s “Vogue” brings to New York’s ballroom culture. The remarkable cast includes Mj Rodriguez, Indya Moore, and Billy Porter. FX, June 9
Here’s an eight-episode revival of the mystery series with Kristen Bell. The show ran on the CW until 2007, and it returned in movie form in 2014. This time out Veronica goes after a serial killer. Hulu, July 26
The Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi series returns for a third season, this time set in 1985. The kids are about to enter high school. Netflix, July 4
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
For season three, Elisabeth Moss’s June is still in Gilead, searching for her daughter and dealing with the cruel theocracy that enslaves women. Hulu, June 5
The short fifth season arrives, after the interactive release of “Bandersnatch” last year. The three episodes include one starring Miley Cyrus. Netflix, June 5
The second season of this bittersweet, affectionate look at a fraternal order in Southern California and the surfer dude, played by Wyatt Russell, who gets caught up in it. AMC, Aug. 12
“Baskets” FX, June 13
“Legion” FX, June 24
“Grantchester” PBS, July 14
“Orange Is the New Black” Netflix, July 26
“Succession” HBO, August
“Mindhunter” Netflix, August
“Power” Starz, Aug. 25