"Letters to Jackie." If you think TLC's doc about the 800,000 letters sent to Jacqueline Kennedy after her husband's assassination is going to be a weeper, you're right. Soooo right. But in tears there is catharsis, and more than a little insight.
Americans of every sort began writing to the first lady from the moment shots were reported in Dallas and well into the months that followed. They wrote of grief, admiration, love and inspiration; they shared their own stories of loss and endurance; expressed their feelings for President Kennedy and his family, and captured the echoing sense that something deep and significant had changed in the American psyche. A star-studded cast reads the letters, which are often accompanied by photos and mini-bios of their authors, who represent virtually every American demographic, suddenly and irrevocably united by sorrow.
And as important as the emotions expressed is the method of expressing them. In this modern text- and tweet-driven age, lamenting the loss of the letter has become beyond pat. Paper has gone the way of the quill and ink pot; we trust, somehow, that we will be remembered by thoughts scratched onto the digital ether. "Letters to Jackie" reminds us of how important letters -- tangible, lengthy and personal -- remain.
It's impossible to imagine words confined by a narrow space or written to a faceless multitude plumbing the depths of collective mourning, anger and gratitude the way these letters do, each of which is worth a thousand RIP tweets. TLC, Nov. 17, 9 p.m.
"The Walking Dead." Three words: The Governor's back. Zombies are at the gate, the prison is under siege from some "28 Days Later" kind of illness (just what you need in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, right?) but even so, this season's hasn't quite achieved narrative traction. Until, that is, the figure of David Morrissey's one-eyed sociopath appeared, lurking in the undergrowth in the final minutes of last Sunday's episode.
Finally, an opposing force worthy of Rick's once-again renewed leadership skills, not to mention Michone's samurai sword. Bring it on. AMC, Sundays, 9 p.m.
"Elementary." Last year's solid hit has slid a bit in ratings, and I personally must protest because the show keeps getting better and better. With each episode, the relationship between Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) moves further away from the tiresome sober-companion trope into a real partnership. And if Holmes is being forced to address his addiction with the sort of post-Freudian soul-searching that would make his literary progenitor burn down Baker Street, Watson is experiencing a similar curve toward intellectual preoccupation. All with not even the slightest hint of romance. How do they do it?
Is it as high-brow, super-sculpted and fancy as the BBC's "Sherlock"? Good heavens, no. "Elementary" isn't a limited-edition jewel box of a show, the next three installments of which will appear when Jupiter is in the third house, celestially clearing the schedules of its stars and creators. It's a good, old-fashioned, 23-episode American police procedural that can be counted on, week after week, to showcase smart writing, good acting and witty literary twist.
And those kinds of shows are much rarer than you think. ABC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.
"Call the Midwife." For reasons I cannot recall, I missed most of the second season of this very fine if highly sentimental drama about London's East End in the 1950s. Fortunately, it is available on Netflix, and if you're looking for a break from all the cops, lawyers, CIA agents and supernatural creatures cluttering up the small screen, do have a look. With a female ensemble to rival "Orange is the New Black" without all the gnarly jailhouse drama and graphic sex, "Call the Midwife" is a great character drama that also reminds us of how the simple gifts of compassion and basic medical care can raise both an individual and a people to greater things.
Also, great sets, cool costumes, a smatter of nuns and loads of cute babies. Netflix, any time.
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