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TV Picks: 'Bravest Warriors,' 'Mad Men,' D-Day recalled, Rickles honored

Television IndustryPBS (tv network)CartoonsAmy PoehlerTina FeyMad Men (tv program)Martin Scorsese
LA Times critic Robert Lloyd (@LATimesTVLloyd) shares love for Bravest Warriors, Mad Men, Rickles, D-Day docs.
Hail the return of @BravestWarriors, declares @LATimesTVLloyd.
Sight unseen, Robert Lloyd recommends the last cliffhanger and penultimate finale of @MadMen_AMC.

"Bravest Warriors" (Cartoon Hangover). Breehn Burns' splendid realization of Pen "Adventure Time" Ward's 2009 pilot about a group of Mars-based teenage somewhat-superheroes returns this week, after some months' absence, with the first of the last three episodes of its second season. Though they are their own special animals, there are many aesthetic and philosophical resonances between "Adventure Time" and "Bravest Warriors," which Breehn (who has been Ward's roommate) developed with Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi of "Pete & Pete" fame; Ward's confident hand is evident in "Warrior's" design (and the universal noselessness of its characters), but the two series also share an excited sense of infinite narrative possibility; of casually suggested complicated mechanics and mythologies; poetic language (I can't think of another show that would produce a phrase like "an octave of death"); and, above all, a trust in the power of beauty, love and melancholy. (The melancholy of innocence, the melancholy of experience, and the melancholy of innocence as it melts into experience.) Ward's original idea was for heroes who would travel the galaxy "saving cute alien worlds with their emotions" -- and cute aliens are present and accounted for, of whom the cutest is Catbug, surely the most adorable cartoon character in the whole infinity of multiversal infinities -- but in Breehn's series, the feelings mostly affect the feelers. One important question, and one the first new episode, "The Parasox Pub" concerns, is the fate of Warrior Chris, which is to say the fate of his relationship with Warrior Beth, the object of his demurring unspoken love -- a fate on which the fate of all his future selves depends. That episode is here; to start at the beginning, which is where you should begin, begin here.

"Mad Men" (AMC, Sunday). And so we come to the Season 7 half-finale, the last break before this unique quality entertainment hits the home stretch in 2015. (2015 -- it sounds so far off and futuristic.) Where previous seasons often seemed devoted to charting his ruination (luckily escaped, even converted into success), the year so far has found Don Draper in a kind of halting, capital-R, up-from-rock-bottom recovery story. Discovered essentially jobless, grown careless of his person, left sitting in his underwear on the freezing balcony that some have seen as a portent of his eventual suicide, he has been smartening up, buckling down to work, and getting at least a little bit outside his ego. "I never did anything, and ... I don't have anyone," he told Peggy Olson -- once his protegee, now effectively his superior -- almost in passing last week. (The show is often at its most breathtaking in these deceptively sidelong moments; honcho Matt Weiner makes sure you catch them, but carefully removes any hint of fanfare.) One would not describe this as a state of nonattachment, exactly, or Don as on the edge of satori, certainly, but he is no longer such a hopeless case. (If memory serves, this is the first season in which he hasn't tried to fill the hole in his soul with an affair, his sole extramarital adventure being a threesome engineered by wife Megan, and the chaste brief encounter with airplane neighbor Neve Campbell in the season opener having proved a tease, or perhaps merely lifelike in its transience. Indeed, though something unsettling is bound to happen Sunday, when last seen Don was enjoying an unusual moment of concord with sometime-adversaries Peggy and Pete Campbell -- three people not particularly good with people, making a kind of family unit as they sat down for burgers in a fast food restaurant: a tableaux presented not without irony, but also not cynically.

"D-Day 360" (PBS, Tuesday); "Nova: D-Day's Sunken Secrets" (PBS, Wednesday). The 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion is June 6, and if anything, the passing years make the accomplishment, years in the planning and rehearsal, seem more remarkable. (It would have been so much easier with cellphones and satellites, not to mention the Chunnel.) PBS has a pair of documentaries on a story much told but always worth revisiting, each of which presents a mix of voices in a number of keys -- most invaluably those of the veterans, ever-aging and fewer in number.

First up is "D-Day 360," a visually overheated heated patchwork -- though not without interest -- that seems aimed at viewers whose sense of reality has been formed inside video games: It leans heavily on computer-generated or manipulated imagery, of the two-dimensional "three-dimensional" sort, in order to add immediacy and emotion, but the product seems more fictive than factual, more plastic than actual. (Here, as in the "Nova" special and in national mind, the invasion is nearly synonymous with the Americans' bloody taking of the beach code-named Omaha, though there were five landing points and British and Canadian forces also involved.) There is also an ongoing numerical hook, in which statistics are graphically inserted into the action (appearing in the trail of a bullet, perhaps, or lining up like billboards down Omaha Beach) and which turns the film into a kind of extended math problem. (And fair, enough -- there was a lot of math involved.)

Better is the "Nova" episode; as a science series, the emphasis is on the research and the technology that went in to making the whole thing possible (the shallow-draft Higgins boat, the floating tank, the portable harbor), with an archaeological component in which the wreck-strewn sea bed at Omaha is mapped by sonar and visited by submarine. (One British nonagenarian undersea passenger served during the war in a tiny spy sub, mapping and photographing the coast prior to the invasion; another, who almost drowned in the landing, is inspired to talk about his experience after mute decades. It was, says the researcher who rides with him, "the first time that I felt that the multi-beam data had a soul.") Fun fact: French postcards, the nice not the naughty kind, were solicited from the British public to help build a picture of the terrain.

"One Night Only: An All-Star Comedy Tribute to Don Rickles" (Spike, Wednesday). From the Apollo Theater, a venue not formerly associated with the man they call "Mr. Warmth," comes this celebrity-stacked hosanna to the living god of insult comedy. Rickles, who has also lately been converted into a jokes-on-demand mobile-phone app (categories include "Ethnic Groups, Presidential Candidates, Celebrities, Cities, Body Types, Sports and Sports Personalities, Don’s Classics, Holidays and much, much more"), is, at 88, still working and something of an elder statesman, if such a polite term might be allowed. I saw him perform a few years back, and though much of the evening involved the exhumation of tired stereotypes -- which is not to say the crowd, which was not, on balance, an old one, did not love him -- there's no doubting his contribution to comedy or the quickness of his mind when fully in the moment. (He was best when heckling friends in the audience.) I haven't seen the tribute, but the clips look good (and clips don't always look good), and the lineup is formidable: David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Bob Newhart, Ray Romano, Jimmy Kimmel, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro in a double act (Scorsese: "If I'd been directing this I don't think I would have gone for the open casket") and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, teamed yet again. ("They thought that it was important for Don to be honored by at least one woman," says Poehler, "which is apparently what we count as.") Sample exchange:

Fey: "You can feel his spirit in this room tonight."

Poehler: "Tina, he is here."

Fey: "Jesus, I thought that was somebody's purse."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Television IndustryPBS (tv network)CartoonsAmy PoehlerTina FeyMad Men (tv program)Martin Scorsese
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