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TV Picks: 'Hollow Crown,' Emmys, 'Michael J. Fox,' returning faves

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"The Hollow Crown" (PBS, Fridays). Here is my man Shakespeare back again, and not a moment too soon -- the best man, to steal a line from the writer himself, "either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited."

This BBC import, arriving on our shore under the banner of PBS' "Great Performances," brings together four linked history plays: "Richard II," "Henry IV, Parts One and Two" and "Henry V," sometimes called "The Henriad." (Henry Bolingbroke, who deposed Richard II to become Henry IV, is a character in the first play as well.)

For the next month, there will be nothing on American television as good as this; just accept it, all you other programs not written by Shakespeare. You think "Breaking Bad" is heavy? It is nothing compared to the heaviness of the crown the uneasy-lying head wears, or of the "unkinged" Richard coming to terms with himself in his terminal dungeon, or the battle of Agincourt (and its prelude and aftermath), or the breaking heart of the rejected Falstaff.

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The martial "Henry V" is the best known of these because of two big movies made from it (the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh films) and that "we happy few, we band of brothers speech, but each play has its particular rewards and ways of moving you.

Four actors play the three kings -- Ben Whishaw for Richard, Rory Kinnear and Jeremy Irons for Henry IV young and old, respectively -- and Tom Hiddleston (whom American groundlings may know best as Loki in "The Avengers") as the wild-youth Hal, later the warrior Henry V. Simon Russell Beale makes an extraordinary Falstaff, Hal's substitute father figure, in whose roistering there is much melancholy. Many other faces here will be familiar not just to watchers of British television: Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, David Morrissey, Michelle Dockerey, Geoffrey Palmer, Geraldine Chaplin, James Purefoy, John Hurt and David Bradley (who would have to be here, being everywhere).

"The Michael J. Fox Show" (NBC, Thursdays). And here is Michael J. Fox back again, on the same night that Robin Williams is back again (in "The Crazy Ones," on CBS), two 20th century sitcom stars who became movie stars, who might become TV stars.

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For my money, or my time, anyway, Fox's show, which mirrors his own retirement from and return to work -- the necessity that mothered this invention being, of course, his Parkinson's disease -- is the better investment. Here Fox plays not the beloved actor he is in life but a beloved New York City newsman (and family man, which he is in life). Although this is the star's first single-camera comedy -- there are practical reasons for that, obviously -- it is, down to the title and notwithstanding the Parkinson's, comfortably old-fashioned. (The envelope-pushing is built into the star's condition, as it were.)

Fox is altered, but not diminished; the boy you fell for is still present in the man. A first-rate supporting cast includes Wendell Pierce ("Treme"), Katie Finneran ("Wonderfalls") and Betsy Brandt, who has been playing Marie Schrader on "Breaking Bad" since time immemorial and for whom this job must constitute a psychic relief. Twenty-two episodes have been ordered.

"The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards" (CBS, Sunday). It's the Emmys, back again. I have said, and will say again, that who wins or does not win one of these fancy statuettes (or any other such trophies, certificates, plaques or plates) is a thing of no consequence to me. (Which, I know, is itself a thing of no consequence to the winners and to Emmy fans everywhere.) Awards are always nice for those who get them, but statistically speaking, almost no one does; to stretch a point, such contests dishonor more good work than they honor, and I find it happier to know as little as I can about who's in, out, favored to win or mocked merely for being nominated.

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They are also, of course, an excuse for a television show, and as bad as these broadcasts can be, they do usually offer something worth seeing in the course of their many hours. I like dressy celebrities as well as the next human, and with Neil Patrick Harris as host, the first quarter-hour is bound to be entertaining. (At least once during the evening I will shake my head and wonder, "How does he do it?") A show-biz polymath whose enthusiasm outweighs his cynicism by just the right margin, he might have been engineered to just this end. (This week also begins the final season of his sitcom, "How I Met Your Mother," also on CBS, which I owe a marathon catch-up session.)

"Parks and Recreation" (NBC, Thursdays); "Castle (ABC, Mondays); "The Middle" (ABC, Wednesdays). Back again this week, like favorite classmates after a summer break, are three series you might catch me watching. But I don't want to find you lurking beneath my window.

The divine "Parks and Recreation," now the doyenne of NBC's Thursday night lineup -- do they still call it "must-see"? -- opens its sixth season, as "The Beverly Hillbillies" did its own sixth, with a trip to London. (Heidi Klum, of all people, is who they find.)

We have long since, in our house, worked out the math at the heart of a "Castle" mystery (it's the person you meet in the first five minutes that you don't see again until the last 10, more or less), and the off-and-on of the love thing between Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Beckett (Stana Katic) can get to feel a little manipulative -- last season ended with her possibly decamping to Washington, D.C., to join the FBI, and him proposing. Yet this is the bantering love-and-detection series all other love-and-detection series only dream of being. And Penny Johnson Jerald is in it.

Patricia Heaton's "The Middle," moving into its fifth season, is to my mind the best family sitcom now living. Unlike nearly every other show on television, it is about people whose house is not full of fancy furniture and who struggle to get by, and who make bad decisions when they are tired, which is nearly all the time. Eden Sher's Sue Heck, whose enthusiasm is directly proportional to her incompetence, is a goddess to me, in particular, but I love all them all, all the Hecks, big and little. (Side note: A Google search for "The Middle ABC" produced this embedded advertisement: "Like The Middle? -- Watch the Michael J Fox Show on NBC‎." Good advice, actually!)

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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