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TV Picks: 'Kid President,' Wilfred,' 'Motor City Masters,' more

TelevisionMoviesDancePBS (tv network)Wilfred (tv program)Multiple SclerosisDavid Wain
Robert Lloyd votes for 'Kid President,' jumping this week from YouTube to television
Mysterious talking-dog comedy 'Wilfred' begins its fourth and final season. Answers to come or not to come.
Coming up on PBS: docs on polio-stricken dancer Tanaquil Le Clercq & by MS-coping filmmaker Jason DaSilva.

"Kid President: Declaration of Awesome" (Hub Network, Saturdays). Young Internet phenom Robby Novak, now 10, is the star of this whole-family-friendly half-hour series, expanded from the short online "pep talks" -- at once mock-inspirational and actually inspirational -- that made his name. Created and directed by Novak's adult brother-in-law, Brad Montague, at first for family and friends and the randomly Web-surfing world, the series was taken up -- while still retaining its "Little Rascals" handmade charm -- by Rainn Wilson's positive-vibes YouTube channel SoulPancake, which is also behind the TV franchise. (Some background is here. And here is Novak with the Adult President. And with Beyoncé.) The show, which flirts at times with preciousness, is kept honest by Novak, who does not act so much as act up, and by the puckishness of its adult supervisors; in the way of the best kids' shows, it is organic and unaccountable -- something that would not have been hatched in a boardroom, or a classroom.

Each episode will have an extended theme; "Heroes," which may or may not be the first to air, is the one I've seen. "If you want to be a hero," says Novak, "you're going to have to have heroes." His own are "Corndog Jones [a super-powerful corn dog], the person who invented French fries, anyone who can fold a fitted sheet -- those things are crazy." He talks by tin-can telephone and cardboard-box TV to David Wain ("Wet Hot American Summer"), who is supposedly directing the "Kid President" movie, with mixed martial arts star Urijah Faber in the title role. ("Your souls are very related," says Wain.) Novak: "I hired you to tell my story pal." Wain: "Oh, dude, I am on it, Kid President. In fact, I was thinking of doing the lenses to evoke the look of Jean-Luc Godard." Novak: "I've got two words: lens flare."

Later, Novak sits down with Kevin Costner to discuss the week's theme ("Sometimes being a hero's just showing up when you don't want to," says the star of "Waterworld"), answers some mail, presents a short documentary about two girls selling alpaca kisses to raise money for a wheelchair-friendly playground swing, and gives one of his pep talks. The show's jump-cut style (if we want to talk Godard) only amplifies his energy -- as well as, one would guess, making it unnecessary for him to remember more than a line or two at a time. It may also accommodate, from a production standpoint, his osteogenesis imperfecta, the brittle-bone condition with which he's been afflicted since birth; but though he breaks -- easily and often, according to the press kit -- he clearly is not broken.

"Wilfred" (FXX, Wednesdays). The fourth and final season begins, shifted from FX to FXX. (I don't know whether that constitutes a demotion or what, but you can watch it as easily in one place as the other.) In this melancholy and farcical invisible-troublesome-friend comedy, Ryan (Elijah Wood) sees a man in a dog suit (Jason Gann in the title role) where the rest of the world sees merely a dog. The ongoing question of whether this is a mental illness or something "real" is also a question best deferred permanently, and it's complicated by the fact that to the viewer Wilfred is as good as actual, and his manipulative, needy, destructively nurturing and co-dependent relationship with Ryan the backbone of three years' narrative. (Wood and Gann, both excellent, are one of TV's best bad couples.) Whatever explanation may be forthcoming at the series' end -- and I am all for none -- surely it will be less interesting or indeed, less believable than the magic realism in which the action is now suspended. (There is possibly no worse ending to any story than learning it was all in a character's mind. Second worst: aliens.) So far, such solutions have been snatched away as often as they've been offered; things that seemed to be the case at the end of Season 3 are not necessarily the case at the beginning of Season 4. But we shall see what we'll see, and we'll see it now.

"Motor City Masters" (TruTV, Tuesdays). Two venerable strains of reality television collide in this new competition, which applies the template of "Project Runway" -- it is from "the producers of" -- exactly to car design. Shot in Los Angeles, which is not the Motor City but a city certainly of motors, it also functions as a long ad for Chevrolet, whose brand is ever-present and which company the winner will in some unclear way "represent." (He or she will also receive $100,000 and a Camaro.) Naturally, there will be no discussion here of faulty ignition switches, delayed recalls or multibillion-dollar lawsuits, or any trash-talking of General Motors products, period. As on "Runway," "Top Chef" and other similarly constituted series, the contestants make up the usual array of sympathetic sorts and self-admiring so-and-so's ("I'm going to guess that 90% of the people in the show have not had a $200,000 education," says one immediately annoying Art Center graduate), whose talent is not necessarily in direct proportion to their likability, and who will disappear one by one as in an Agatha Christie novel. Like on "Runway" and "Chef," whose artificially flavored over-dramatics do not disguise the fact that they are ultimately shows about excellence, the players represent a range of ages and skill sets. And though they get some tech help, and get a little longer to finish a project than do their sewing and cooking counterparts, it still seems miraculous how much they can deliver in short order.  (A car!) Porsche vet Harald Belker, who also designed the Clooney Batmobile, and automotive journalist Jean Jennings are the judges, Brooke Burns your leggy host. (And don't forget the Motor City … is Detroit.)

"American Masters: Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun" (PBS, Friday); "P.O.V: When I Walk" (PBS, Monday). Two documentary films about movement, diminishment, luck and perseverance. The first, directed by Nancy Buirski, focuses on the American ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, called Tanny, stricken with polio in 1956 while on a European tour; she went almost directly from the stage into an iron lung. (She got out of the machine, but never regained the use of her legs.) Long and lean, angular and idiosyncratic, Le Clercq was the first of her type and a muse for George Balanchine, in whose New York City Ballet she danced and whose wife she became. (It was a pattern for the much-married Balanchine.) NYCB co-founder Jerome Robbins also pursued her on and off; much of the heart of "Afternoon of a Faun," which takes its title from a dance Robbins choreographed for Le Clercq, is found in their correspondence. ("I feel like a filet of sole trying to balance on its tail," she wrote him from the hospital.) Despite the central tragedy, and without ignoring her dark times, there is a lightness to the film, a skipping rhythm; it doesn't set out to crack Le Clercq so much as to set off her considerable shine, energy, will and willfulness. Best of all, there is a lot of dancing onscreen -- Le Clercq's career coincided with a flowering of interest in ballet, which means that there are clips of her from "The Red Skelton Show" -- and many casually glamorous photographs. (She was striking, even in sickness.) Though polio ended her career, it did not end her life, or even her life in dance, and in a sense, hers was merely a more draconian version of the fate all dancers face: to do glorious things for a short time, and then not do them. It is not a sad movie.

Also not sad is "When I Walk," Jason DaSilva's film journal of his life with multiple sclerosis, from cane, to walker, to wheelchair, to scooter and some implied beyond. "Struggle with" is the customary phrase when speaking of chronic illness, but this is more a story of recalibration and acceptance. DaSilva's MS progresses so rapidly, eventually affecting not only his gait but his grasp and his sight, that he is continually surprised by it: "I'm getting worse so fast I feel time is running out," he says. "I may be walking slower, but inside I'm racing." And yet even as life deals him lemons, it makes him lemonade: There is a love story contained within (two, if you count DaSilva's relationship with his helpfully demanding mother), and, though it has its ups and downs -- some very down indeed -- it is a charming one. In the ordering of his better and worse moments, the filmmaker asks neither for your pity nor your admiration. "It's hard to know where our stories are going as they're being written," says DaSilva. "That's the mystery of fate."

Track me down on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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