“Late Show with David Letterman”: It’s really happening, folks. Dave is going off the air as of May 20 and living in denial of this sad and disturbing fact, as I have for the last few weeks, does not make it any less so. No doubt Mr. Stephen Colbert will bring his own brand of magic to the “Late Show” when he debuts in the fall, but he won’t be Dave because Dave is unique.
As is de rigueur for these things, the A-listers are showing up in droves—the president recently stopped by—but as lovely as it is to watch famous people pay homage to the last curmudgeon standing, it is even more touching to watch Letterman’s reaction. In an age when fame is the ultimate signifier of success and a 12-year-old with good fashion sense and a YouTube account can become a “star,” it is truly remarkable to see someone so long and genuinely famous remain so awkward about it.
Letterman may be one of the last television hosts living who honest to God doesn’t think the president of the United States should be clapping for him.
That ability to maintain an outsider’s mien while so thoroughly inside the entertainment industry has long been Dave’s greatest attraction, and whether it is a sincere belief, an expression of pathological insecurity or just a terrific con job, it is still a wonder to behold and we shall not see its like again. CBS, weeknights, 11:35
“Wolf Hall”: The PBS/BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels about Thomas Cromwell’s (Mark Rylance) life and influence in the court of King Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) comes to an, ahem, crashing conclusion on Sunday night. There are no spoiler alerts necessary regarding the fate of Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), but then the attraction of “Wolf Hall,” novel and miniseries, is that of interpretation rather than revelation.
Mantel reversed the psychology of much scholarship by making Cromwell an essentially warmhearted, if ruthlessly pragmatic, man attempting to maintain control in a world populated by homicidal divas. Lewis plays Henry as an overgrown adolescent, fueled by hormones, self-aggrandizement and fear while Foy's Anne is less cat's paw than proto-feminist schemer. Even Thomas More (Anton Lesser), traditionally the saint of this tale, is a tyrant. Once Henry's chancellor, More refused to acknowledge the king’s right to break with the Catholic Church to become supreme head of the Church of England, and was beheaded for treason. In "A Man For All Seasons," he is a man of prayer and honor; here he is just as tyrannical, brutal and self-serving as the king he championed and the men he opposed.
The Tudors have been done to death but the reason to watch “Wolf Hall,” besides the snob factor, is the muted but eerily powerful performances, Rylance’s in particular, but really the whole bloody lot of them. This is why they call it “Masterpiece.” PBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.
“Inside Amy Schumer”: Three episodes, three instantly viral videos—season two of “Inside Amy Schumer” has brought the graphic, scathing and increasingly overtly feminist comedian a much higher visibility. (Having A-list guest stars including Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Paul Giamatti and Dennis Quaid doesn’t hurt either.)
After years of lying low, feminist issues including rape, sexual harassment, domestic abuse and the tyranny of beauty are once again driving political action and cultural conversation. Especially online, where women are increasingly unwilling to accept the digital abuse anonymity provides. Schumer has always been fearless about calling out double standards, including her own, but this season of her show has a political pointedness that both reflects the moment and drives it.
Or it could just be a universal recognition that the woman is damn funny.
Whatever the reason, “Inside Amy Schumer” is now in the enviable position of having to live up to the standard set only by itself—we can’t wait to see what Schumer will do next. Comedy Central, Tuesdays, 10:30.