Betty White: First Lady of Television
(PBS, Tuesday, check local listings for time)
In this fond PBS documentary based on five years of interviews (with Betty White and the likes of Carl Reiner, Tina Fey, Gavin MacLeod and Ryan Reynolds), White, 96, hugs an 800-pound grizzly bear. But that bear casts a puny shadow compared with White’s achievements in TV: She’s the first female national TV show host and producer, a sitcom star and 21-time Emmy nominee, and the oldest host of SNL after a Facebook campaign demanded it. Her life is as entertaining as her hits, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls to Hot in Cleveland. And she's still funny: On the set of this documentary, she looked at all the men in the room and quipped, “I like my odds.”
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(Acorn TV, Aug. 20, streaming anytime thereafter, available on Xfinity on demand for Xfinity subscribers)
Judy Davis started out playing Juliet opposite Mel Gibson’s Romeo in college, then got a couple of Oscar nominations and three Emmys (with a dozen nominations), most recently for Feud: Bette and Joan. And now she’s following Helen Mirren’s footsteps as a detective in this murder mystery set in the remote, spectacular Western Australian outback. It’s less like Prime Suspect than Fargo or True Detective — it’s about the case (two young cattle hands have disappeared), but more deeply, it’s a portrait of a community’s folkways. The locals, many of them aborigines, don’t open up to outsiders like Emma James (Davis), nor even to her aborigine fellow detective Jay Swan (a brooding Aaron Pedersen, who holds his own against Davis as well as Mel reportedly did). It’s a good story that will hook you.
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
(Netflix, streaming anytime)
Can’t wait for the forthcoming Downton Abbey movie? Watch four of its actors in this equally snug romantic drama by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), adapted from a hit novel. Downton’s adorable Lily James plays a London writer who in 1946 is invited to a spectacular isle off Normandy by a gorgeous pig farmer and Shakespeare fan who runs a book group (Michiel Huisman, Game of Thrones’ Daario). Downton’s Matthew Goode plays her editor; Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley to you) is the sad widow; and Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil), the local radical. Tom Courtenay is the dozing postman. Like Downton, the tale features historical details, a mystery to uncover and a romance we urgently want to see happen. The potato peel pie of the title turns out to taste worse than Sweeney Todd’s — but this show is comfort food.
Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Better Call Saul
(AMC, Aug. 20, 9 p.m. ET)
TV’s best show for grownups (or anyone) returns, scarier and better than ever. This Breaking Bad prequel used to be mostly comic, but now lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk, 55) is turning evil — “breaking bad,” in the old Southern expression. Last season, he betrayed his big brother (Michael McKean), who betrayed him right back and then burned himself to death. So Jimmy goes to the dark side. Only his lover and law partner Kim (Rhea Seehorn, TV’s most exciting actor right now) keeps him sane — and she’s starting to lose it, too. As in the sequel (Breaking Bad), you know terrible things are coming for all, and where they’ll wind up, but you still can’t wait to see how it happens.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
(AMC, Aug. 20, 10 p.m. ET)
For a show that starts with a tragedy and is inspired by the paranoid fiction of Thomas Pynchon, Lodge 49 plays like an incredibly sweet, laid-back combination of The Big Lebowski and The X-Files. Wyatt Russell, who's as buoyantly affable as his parents, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, plays a Dude-like surfer, Dud, whose VW Thing breaks down in front of a decaying Shriner-like lodge, the Lynx. The leader, a “Luminous Knight” named Ernie (Moneyball’s excellent Brent Jennings, 67), becomes his mentor in a secret society mixed up in ancient alchemical secrets.
Short on plot and long on atmosphere, eccentric characters and philosophizing (“The inguac-ification of the avocado is one of mankind’s great leaps”), and produced by the perversely brainy Paul Giamatti, it may be too slow and weird for you — or just right. It’s a show that says: The truth is out there — but maybe if we hang out by the beach, it’ll come to us.
James Fisher/Amazon Prime Video
Agatha Christie's Ordeal by Innocence
(Now on Amazon Prime Video)
Grownups love Agatha Christie adaptations, most of which are played light, or for laughs. But this three-hour miniseries was written by Sarah Phelps, who’s never seen a previous Christie mystery, and she makes it dark and addictively marvelous. Set with rich period detail in a Downton Abbey-like English estate in 1956, it’s about the conviction of a ne’er-do-well (Harry Potter stage star Anthony Boyle) for grabbing a decanter and cracking the skull of his posh mom, philanthropist Rachel Argyll (Anna Chancellor). But he didn’t do it!
Could it be snobbish, embittered, wheelchair user Philip (Downton Abbey’s Matthew Goode)?Rachel’s widower Leo (Love Actually’s Bill Nighy, 68)? Leo’s appalling secretary-turned-fiancee Gwenda (Alice Eve)? It’s tough — and fun — to guess whodunit in a family whose closets are all rattling with skeletons. The clockwork plot satisfies, and no Anglophile should miss this one.