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What to Watch on TV This Week

'Brexit,' the Indians (like Jimi Hendrix) who made rock, Ted Bundy's confessions, Conan's new show and more

Benedict Cumberbatch,

Nick Wall/HBO

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dominic Cummings in Brexit.

Brexit

(HBO, premieres Jan. 19, 9 p.m. ET, streaming thereafter)

If you like Benedict Cumberbatch, 42, in Sherlock, check out his performance as a somewhat similarly eccentric Dominic Cummings, in Brexit, the fact-based movie about Britain’s earthshaking vote to leave the European Union. “It puts you in the room where it happens so you understand how it happened,” Cumberbatch told the Los Angeles Times. It’s a ripping true story that could threaten America’s economy, inspired by the irreverent style of Aaron Sorkin’s Moneyball. —Tim Appelo (T.A.)

Link Wray

Courtesy of Bruce Steinberg, courtesy of LinkWray.com

Guitarist Link Wray

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World

(PBS, premieres Jan. 21, 10 p.m. ET, check local listings)

Not just another rock-history rehash, this documentary opens ears and minds to a fresh topic: the Native American impact on popular music. Take Jimi Hendrix, who raided the vaudeville performer’s trunk of his part-Cherokee grandma for feathered hats and fringed coats. Or guitarist Link Wray, the inventor of the power chord in the instrumental “Rumble” — which Steven Van Zandt calls “the theme song of juvenile delinquency” — the only song without words ever banned for inciting teen gang violence, and the one that inspired the Who’s existence, and Eric Clapton. A must-see for any grownup who calls himself or herself a rock fan. —T.A.

Conan O'Brien

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

After an extended hiatus, Conan O'Brien returns with his re-tooled talk show on Jan. 22.

Conan

(TBS, premieres Jan. 22, 11 p.m. ET)

In his big comeback, Conan, 55, returns in a new kind of talk show. This time, he has no desk, no band, no suit or tie, and there’s just one guest per half-hour episode (the first, on Tuesday, is Tom Hanks, 62). It sounds risky — and like a midlife reinvention for a youngster who became an old master before our eyes. Check aarp.org/entertainment on Jan. 25 for our review of Conan by Ken Tucker, 65, the National Magazine Award winner, Pulitzer Prize finalist and critic for NPR’s Fresh Air. —T.A.

Conversations with a Killer, Ted Bundy

Courtesy Netflix

Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

(Netflix, premieres Jan. 24, then streaming anytime)

On the 30th anniversary of the execution of Ted Bundy, who killed at least 30 (and possibly over 100) women, double Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Joe Berlinger unveils the four-part Bundy documentary Conversations With a Killer on Netflix as well as the theatrical film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, starring Zac Efron as Bundy, premiering Jan. 26 at the Sundance Film Festival. Bundy sparked America’s obsession with serial killers because none better impersonated a normal person: handsome, smart, well-spoken, head of opposition research for Washington Gov. Dan Evans, who wrote letters of recommendation for him for law school. He dated eminent women in Seattle and fooled its elite establishment. It’s horribly fascinating to see and hear him “speculate” on the motives behind “the killer” he won’t admit was him: “Murder leaving a person of this type hungry, unfulfilled, would also leave him with the obviously irrational belief that, the next time he did it, he would be fulfilled.” —T.A.

The cast of

Pamela Littky/FOX

Rent: Live

(Fox, Jan. 27, 8 p.m. ET)

The producer of TV’s smash Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert presents Rent: Live, the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical about New York bohemians. Stars include Brandon Victor Dixon (Superstar’s Judas Iscariot), Vanessa Hudgens and Jordan Fisher (of the hit Grease: Live). The Greatest Showman’s bearded breakout star Keala Settle sings “Seasons of Love.” —T.A.

Catch Up With

richard dreyfuss, andie macdowell, chevy chase

Patti Perret/Netflix

RIchard Dreyfuss, Andie MacDowell and Chevy Chase hit the road together in The Last Laugh.

The Last Laugh

(Netflix, streaming anytime)

If you couldn’t get enough of The Kominsky Method, has Netflix got a movie for you. Like the streaming service’s Golden Globe-winning sitcom, The Last Laugh concerns a show-biz veteran and his handler — only instead of Kominsky’s Michael Douglas, 74, and Alan Arkin, 84, as an acting teacher and his agent, it’s Richard Dreyfuss, 71, and Chevy Chase, 75, as a former comedian and his manager.

When they meet up again in a senior-living community, the duo decide they’re not ready for retirement and hit the road. The script, by director Greg Pritikin (Dummy), can be as hackneyed as some of Dreyfuss’ stand-up material, but the movie coasts along, fueled by the Grumpy Old Men-style friction between its two leads.

Halfway through the 97-minute running time, Andie MacDowell, 60, turns up as a hippie love interest for Chase. She proves as well-suited to him as she was to his Saturday Night Live successor, Bill Murray, 68, in 1993’s Groundhog Day.

Another SNL alum, Chris Parnell, 51, contributes a surprisingly strong dramatic turn as Dreyfuss’ befuddled son. The plot takes a maudlin twist in the final half-hour, but then the movie rallies to the finish line thanks to the sardonic addition of The Daily Show’s curmudgeon Lewis Black, 70, as a stand-up guy who gives Dreyfuss a really big break.

In the end, despite the film’s flaws, you can’t help rooting for Dreyfuss and Chase. Guess they really do get the last laugh. —B.F.

Stephen Dorff, Mahershala Ali

Warrick Page/HBO

Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali star in season 3 of the crime anthology series True Detective on HBO.

True Detective, Season 3

(HBO, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, then on demand)

True Detective is on a thrilling creative comeback after last year's disappointing season. Mahershala Ali, 44, plays an Arkansas state policeman over three different time periods. In 1980, he investigates the disappearance of a young brother and sister. In 1990, new evidence suggests a miscarriage of justice. And in 2015, a documentary filmmaker interviews him on the case as he struggles with the onset of dementia. It's a remarkable performance that should earn him an Emmy to go with his Moonlight Oscar. (And he could win another Oscar for Green Book.) Stephen Dorff, 45, does career-best work as his deeply loyal partner. —B.F.

Jenna Coleman,

ITV Pic for Masterpiece

Jenna Colemand returns as the title character in the PBS Masterpiece series Victoria.

Victoria, Season 3

(PBS, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET)

In the third season of this PBS breakout hit, riots and a forbidden upstairs-downstairs royal romance break out, Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) is about to get fed up with pregnancies, and Victoria gets a surprise houseguest: her impoverished, long-lost half-sister (Kate Fleetwood), who’s fled the continent along with lots of royals — because it’s 1848, and mobs are bellowing revolution. “My people love me,” Victoria says, and it’s true. But even her loyal seamstress is a Chartist who's demanding democracy. Haughty Lord Palmerston (Laurence Fox) says to crush the upstarts; Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), shocked by slum conditions, says save them or they’ll crush the crown. And get out of town before they behead us! 

Sandra Bullock walking through woods with two children

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Sandra Bullock finds herself playing a mother and going on an unthinkable journey in "Bird Box."

Bird Box

(Netflix, streaming anytime)

In Netflix's biggest hit flick (also showing at some theaters), Sandra Bullock, 54, strives to save her kids from monsters so scary, if you look at them, you kill yourself — except for a few zombie types who try to convince others to look at the monsters and die. So normal people wear blindfolds outdoors and hide inside with random survivors, arguing about whether to open the door to the screaming people outside. A jerk (John Malkovich, 65) wants to keep them out — selfish but wise. Bullock makes a super-tense supply run in a car with blacked-out windows, using GPS and motion sensors to avoid flaming cars and corpses, and returns with groceries and caged birds, who chirp alarms when monsters approach.

Bruce Springsteen

Kevin Mazur/Netflix

Springsteen on Broadway

(Netflix, streaming anytime)

People who wangled tickets to Bruce Springsteen’s live show — the most popular one-man show in Broadway history (though his wife Patti joins in on two numbers) — put them on sale for as much as $40,000 apiece, but you get the best seat in the house if you watch it on Netflix. In fact, the closeups make it more intimate than it could be in the 947-seat Walter Kerr Theatre. It’s not just a filmed concert. He frames his immortal tunes with stories about his life, and the lives he celebrates in the songs — such as the friends killed in Vietnam who inspired “Born in the USA.” Face it: this show is born to run (at least on TV) forever.

Joaquín Cosío, Diego Luna, Horacio Garcia Rojas

Carlos Somonte/Netflix

Narcos: Mexico

(Netflix, streaming anytime, 10 episodes)

The fact-based and wildly dramatic hit series about the evolution of the Mexican drug trade in the 1980s features two parallel characters: Kiki Camarena (Michael Pena), an ambitious agent with the brand-new, underfunded, outgunned DEA, and his cold-eyed quarry, Felix Gallardo (Diego Luna), the innovative ex-cop who united Mexico’s quarrelsome regional drug smugglers and corrupt police, planted a marijuana field in the desert big enough to spot from outer space, and expanded into the cocaine business. The supporting players are terrific: Kiki’s jaded DEA colleague (Mad Men’s eye-patch guy Aaron Staton), the Eliot Ness of Mexico (Julio Cesar Cedillo), Felix’s wise older adviser Don Neto (Joaquin Cosio), and his hothead associate (Tenoch Huerto) who abducts a spoiled rich girl who decides to stay abducted. It’s fresh and original, not just another gangster show.

Julia Roberts, Stephan James in

Jessica Brooks/Amazon

Homecoming

(Amazon Prime, streaming anytime, 8 episodes)

Julia Roberts, 51, plays Heidi Bergman, who works for the ghostly Geist Group counseling returning veterans from Middle East wars. Bobby Cannavale is great as her slick MBA-like supervisor, and Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham is indefatigable as a Defense Department investigator trying to figure out what Geist was up to. But a mystery crops up when the sleuth tries to find the answer — Heidi quits her job, becomes a waitress, and seems to have no memory of her dark past. This mystery will grab you and not let go.

Danielle MacDonald, Jennifer Aniston

Bob Mahoney/Netflix

Jennifer Aniston (right) plays a pageant mom whose teenage daughter (Danielle MacDonald, left) enters the local beauty pageant in Dumplin'.

Dumplin'

(Netflix, streaming anytime)

The Netflix original film is based on the 2015 book by Julie Murphy about an overweight teenager who enters her small-town beauty pageant to prove a point to her mom (Jennifer Aniston, 49), a former pageant winner whose life still revolves around the annual contest. Dumplin’s story of mother-daughter bonding is charming, sentimental and Southern-fried, the movie’s real draw may well be the six new Dolly Parton-penned tunes featured on its soundtrack. Dumplin’ also includes new versions of Parton classics, including “Jolene” and “Here You Come Again,” reworked as Dolly duets with the likes of Sia, Mavis Staples, even Aniston. — Austin O'Connor (A.O.)

Rachel Brosnahan

Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video

Rachel Brosnahan as the sassy title character in season 2 of Amazon's Emmy-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

(Amazon, Season 2, streaming anytime, 10 episodes)

Amazon’s critical darling — Mrs. Maisel took home awards for best comedy series at the Golden Globes and the Emmys this past year — returns for its 10-episode sophomore season with its candy color palette and winningly profane humor intact and actually improving. The new season revolves around its title character (Rachel Brosnahan, reigning Emmy winner for best actress in a comedy) as she tries to climb up the New York standup-comedy-circuit ladder while still juggling her duties as a 1950s not-quite-housewife and mom. Creator and writer Amy Sherman-Palladino (also an Emmy winner for Season 1 — are you sensing a pattern here?) has a gift for rat-a-tat dialogue and dry humor, and it’s still shining through. With a stellar ensemble that includes Alex Borstein, 47, and Tony Shalhoub, 65, Mrs. Maisel remains a marvel. — A.O.

James Cromwell, J.K. Simmons

Michael Moriatis/Starz

James Cromwell (left) joins the cast alongside J.K. Simmons (right) in Starz' sci-fi thriller Counterpart.

Counterpart

(Starz, Season 2, Sundays at 9 p.m., Season 1 streaming anytime)

If you’re trying to convince someone to take a chance on this spiffy, underseen sci-fi spy series, you can whittle your argument down to one person: J.K. Simmons. It’s no secret he’s gifted: Simmons, 63, won an Oscar in 2015 for his flashy turn as a borderline berserk music teacher in Whiplash. But in Counterpart, he may have his most interesting role ever — actually, make that roles. He plays Howard Silk, a docile, long-serving, anonymous United Nations worker stationed in Berlin. He also plays Howard Silk, a snarling field agent for the murky Office of Interchange, also in Berlin. The two Silks exist in parallel universes, separated by a portal created by East German scientists during the Cold War. It’s as trippy and twisty as it sounds, but watching Simmons move seamlessly between two versions of a character with diametrically different personality types is a wonder. James Cromwell, 78, comes aboard in a guest role for Season 2 — newcomers should binge-watch the first season to get up to its sometimes-dizzying speed. — A.O.

Alan Arkin, Michael Douglas

Mike Yarish/Netflix

Alan Arkin (left) and Michael Douglas star in the new Netflix series The Kominsky Method.

The Kominsky Method

(Netflix, streaming anytime, 8 episodes)

TV’s best grownup comedy in years — a creative breakthrough for super-showrunner Chuck Lorre, 66 (The Big Bang Theory) — stars Michael Douglas, 74, as an actor whose career isn’t going as well as his former acting students' (Diane Keaton, 72, and Jessica Lange, 69) or his doctor's (Danny De Vito, 73), who says, “It’s a great time to be a urologist!” But he has a wonderfully sardonic agent and best friend (Alan Arkin, 84), and they make a team more delightful than Grumpy Old Men’s Lemmon and Matthau or Grace and Frankie’s Fonda and Tomlin. It captures the sardonic humor with which most people regard aging, and the laughs are rooted in poignant loss and grief, too. It’s terrific, Arkin’s best work since Little Miss Sunshine and as good as anything Douglas has done this century. READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL DOUGLAS

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Netflix

Tom Waits as "The Prospector" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs on Netflix.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

(Netflix, streaming anytime)

The latest western by the Coen brothers (True Grit, No Country for Old Men) won for best screenplay at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, but it’s actually six independent little movies that add up to two hours and 12 minutes of uneven — but always masterfully perverse — entertainment. The Coens' adaptation of a Jack London story features Tim Blake Nelson, 54 (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), who aces the title episode as a singing gunslinger, and singer-actor Tom Waits, 68, does the same as a grizzled gold miner. In the slightest (but still watchable) of the tall tales, James Franco plays an outlaw who escapes from one noose to another, and Liam Neeson, 66, is a Wild West impresario whose star is a legless, armless guy who recites Shakespeare and Lincoln speeches for a cowpoke audience. The last two episodes are stronger: Zoe Kazan is emotionally affecting (unlike most of the Coens’ jokey characters) as an imperiled covered-wagon pioneer on the Oregon Trail, and Tyne Daly, 72, and Brendan Gleeson, 63, are among the passengers trapped in an existential stagecoach whose occupants are not what they seem. Any full-length Coen brothers' movie beats these six shorts, but they’re all gorgeous, original and often funny.

John Cleese in Hold The Sunset

Sophie Mutevelian/BBC

John Cleese and Alison Steadman play a couple whose plans are upended when her 50-year-old son (Jason Watkins) moves in with them in Hold the Sunset.

Hold the Sunset

(BritBox, streaming anytime)

Fawlty Towers’ John Cleese, 79, returns to TV in a comedy — written by Monty Python writer-actor Charles McKeown — about a retired guy who’s about to marry and run off to Malta with his old friend and neighbor (Alison Steadman, 72, Pride and Prejudice), until her 50-year-old son moves back in with her. Not thigh-slapping funny, but pretty good, and the nonpareil stars have excellent chemistry together. READ JOHN CLEESE’S 5 FUN THOUGHTS ABOUT AGING

John Leguizamo

Courtesy Netflix

John Leguizamo brings his one-man Broadway show Latin History for Morons to Netflix.

John Leguizamo's Latin History for Morons

(Netflix, streaming anytime)

In his Tony Award-winning Broadway solo show, John Leguizamo, 54, (Moulin Rouge, Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five) is raucously funny and serious as a heart attack. Inspired by his son’s research for an eighth-grade report on Latino heroes (after a racist classmate at his ritzy school had bullied his son), the comic was horrified to discover his people’s absence from U.S. history books. Fed up, he read up, and he relates 3,000 years of history in a rollicking lecture in which he impersonates Frida Kahlo, Moctezuma, Freud, Andrew Jackson, the cross-dressing Confederate Army lieutenant Loreta Velázquez, and his own therapist (who talks like Project Runway’s Tim Gunn). Guaranteed to irritate Trump fans and the politically incorrect police alike, Leguizamo’s spiel is packed with facts made fun. He’s Hollywood’s most entertaining history teacher since Tom Hanks. FULL REVIEW

Terry O'Quinn, Debra Winger

Jessica Forde/Amazon

Terry O'Quinn (left) returns and Debra Winger (right) joins the cast for the second season of Amazon's quirky spy show Patriot.

Patriot

(Amazon, streaming anytime)

Don’t confuse this with Mel Gibson’s 2000 American Revolution flick The Patriot or Netflix’s popular news/talk/comedy show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj — it’s more like a cross between a Bourne flick and a droll, loping, self-mocking comedy like Loudermilk. In Season 2’s premiere, an undercover agent (Michael Dorman) is assigned by his spymaster dad (Terry O’Quinn, 66, Lost) and another spy boss (Kurtwood Smith, 75, That '70s Show) to steal a gun in Paris and kill a guy to thwart Iran’s nuke program with the unhelpful help of a middle-aged gang that can’t think straight, let alone shoot. It meanders maddeningly, and the indie-folk songs the agent sings about his mission are half-good, half-intentionally godawful. Still, the blend of silliness and thriller tension keeps you mostly hooked, and now triple Oscar nominee Debra Winger, 63, joins the cast as the spy’s mom, her second TV series role. It’s better than her Netflix show, The Ranch, but they should’ve given her more screen time.

Richard Madden, Keeley Hawes

Sophie Mutevelian/World Productions/Netflix

Game of Thrones vet Richard Madden (left) plays the title character of the Netflix drama Bodyguard, assigned to protect the British Home Secretary played by Keeley Hawes.

Bodyguard

(Netflix, streaming anytime, six episodes)

The best show on TV this week is Britain’s most popular show since Downton Abbey and its best crime-thriller export since Killing Eve. Brooding hunk Richard Madden (Robb Stark on Game of Thrones) plays a PTSD-afflicted Afghanistan vet guarding (and bedding) the Homeland Secretary, the top U.K. security official (Keeley Hawes, Line of Duty). She’s an utterly scary person who’s terrified as mysterious people try to assassinate her. But in a paranoid plot a bit like The Wrong Man, it’s not clear whom the bodyguard should fear most, her, the assassins, terrorists who put bomb vests on innocent citizens, or the various police and secret service officials maneuvering to outwit each other and set him up as the fall guy. This show will kill off anybody, and keeps you guessing as the tension inexorably ratchets up and the bodyguard gets more and more traumatized. The first and last episodes boast suicide-bomber scenes as nail-bitingly riveting as The Hurt Locker. It’s as gripping and gratifyingly twisty as Homeland was at its peak, and unlike way too many streaming shows, the six-hour drama is tightly plotted, as if viewers’ time were valuable.

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