The week in watching: ‘Dancing With the Stars’ bad move, late night’s new face, Emmy anticipation

“Dancing With the Stars” begins its 28th season Monday with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer among its celebrity contestants.
“Dancing With the Stars” begins its 28th season Monday with former White House press secretary Sean Spicer among its celebrity contestants.Al Drago/The New York Times

Your TV GPS, Globe critic Matthew Gilbert’s guide to what’s on television, appears at the beginning of each week at BostonGlobe.com. This column covers Sept. 16-22.


“Dancing With the Stars” has always played to viewers of all political orientations, casting guests ranging from Tucker Carlson and Rick Perry to Margaret Cho. But when the ABC show returns for its 28th season with a new collection of random “celebrities,” Sean Spicer will be among the group.

It’s not a good look, “DWTS.” I know it has already been said, but it bears repeating. This is supposed to be a dance contest, not an image rehab opportunity for a very slippery dude. The guy lied to us, the American public, and admitted it — or, as he put it, he “screwed up” — and then made jokes about his lie (President Trump’s inaugural crowd size) on the 2017 Emmy Awards.

I don’t care where you sit on the political spectrum; knowingly lying to us isn’t something that deserves the kooky Jay Leno “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” treatment, is it? Casting Spicer was stunt-casting of the most thoughtless kind — that, or it’s just lame network trolling for attention and viewers.


Tom Bergeron, the show’s host, was openly unhappy about the casting. He posted a response to it on social media, saying he had hoped the show would be “a joyful respite from our exhausting political climate” and “free of inevitably divisive bookings from ANY party affiliation.” But, he wrote, “a decision was made to, as we often say in Hollywood, ‘go in a different direction.’ ”

It’s a little thing, I know, in the context of everything. But as a kind of reward for what were some serious abuses of the public trust, the casting is unappealing. Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli return as judges, Bergeron continues to host, and other guests this season include James Van Der Beek and Christie Brinkley. The new season premieres Monday night at 8.


“A Little Late Night With Lilly Singh” premieres on NBC this week in the time slot formerly occupied by Carson Daly.
“A Little Late Night With Lilly Singh” premieres on NBC this week in the time slot formerly occupied by Carson Daly.Ryan Pfluger/NBC/NBC


1. Beginning Monday night, YouTube star (with almost 15 million subscribers) Lilly Singh is going to make history as the first woman of color to host a daily late-night show on a major broadcast network. Her series “A Little Late Night With Lilly Singh” takes over the Monday-Thursday 1:35 a.m. spot previously owned by Carson Daly. Her guests this week will include Mindy Kaling (Monday), Kenan Thompson (Tuesday), Tracee Ellis Ross (Wednesday), and Chelsea Handler (Thursday). If you want to know more about the Canadian native, NBC is giving us a chance to see her at a more civilized hour — 10 p.m. — on Wednesday’s variety show “A Little Late With Lilly Singh: The Primetime Special.”

2. The hostless “71st Annual Emmy Awards” are Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox, honoring “the best” of the year. “Game of Thrones” leads the nominations with 14, including nine for acting and three for directing, and it may well win best drama for its final, flawed season. It’s followed by “When They See Us” with 11 and “Barry” with nine. By the way, the second half of the “2019 Creative Arts Emmy Awards” airs the night before, on Saturday at 8 p.m. on FXX.

3. “Between Two Ferns,” Zach Galifianakis’s Web series featuring nutty interviews with real people (including Barack Obama) is not a property I’d think of adapting into a movie. But Galifianakis and Netflix did, and “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” will be available on Friday. Color me curious. Cameos in the movie include Benedict Cumberbatch, Brie Larson, Keanu Reeves, David Letterman, Paul Rudd, and others.


4. “Criminal,” whose first 12-episode season is available Friday on Netflix, is a British police procedural anthology that takes on a different suspect in each episode. The detectives spend the hour trying to get answers from the accused, and it all takes place somewhere inside a police building — most often in the interrogation room. Think tense confrontations, unexpected turns, ticking clocks, and twisted criminals. Don’t think: car chases and gunfights. Sounds inviting to “Law & Order” types such as myself. The cast includes David Tennant and Hayley Atwell.

Phil Hartman and wife Brynn in 1992.
Phil Hartman and wife Brynn in 1992. AP

5. He was one of the “Saturday Night Live” greats, before he was killed by his wife, Brynn Hartman, who then killed herself, in 1998. ABC is looking back at him on Thursday at 9 p.m. with “The Last Days of Phil Hartman,” which includes an interview with Brynn’s brother and exclusive Hartman family home videos.

6. “Conan Without Borders,” Conan O’Brien’s series of international specials, goes to Ghana this time. The late-night host will explore the culture there accompanied by “Veep” actor Sam Richardson (he played Richard Splett), whose mother is Ghanaian. It’s on Tuesday at 10 p.m. on TBS.

7. Documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who won an Oscar for “An Inconvenient Truth,” has made a three-part docu-series on Bill Gates. “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates”will follow the career of the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist. It’s available on Netflix Friday.


8. It’s not on TV, and it didn’t really need to be made except to cash in on a lucrative franchise, but I feel an obligation to remind the “Downton Abbey” die-hards that the movie sequel — dare I say the first movie sequel? — is in theaters on Friday. At Metacritic, the advance reviews are mixed, with a Metascore of 59.


“American Horror Story: 1984”

Boo! It’s season 9. FX, Wednesday, 10 p.m.

“The First Wives Club”

The entire 10-episode first season of an adaptation of the movie, with Jill Scott, Michelle Buteau, and Ryan Michelle Bathe. BET+, Thursday

“Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter”

Yup, already, with Andrea Roth and Peter Facinelli. Lifetime, Saturday, 8 p.m.


The fall TV season begins next week, and I have spent a number of hours previewing most of the very many upcoming shows. It’s a lot of viewing, but it’s also entertaining to pick through all the material before it is unleashed on the public, looking for the handful of shows that will survive the season and get renewed — and looking for that one show that will grow to become the next “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men.” Here is my preview.


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