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Critic's Pick

TV Picks: 'The Chair,' 'Cinderella,' 'NOVA: Vaccines,' 'Doctor Who'

'Cinderella' musical (1965) on DVD, with Lesley Anne Warren is among Robert Lloyd's TV picks this week

"The Chair" (Starz, Saturdays). Reality shows sometimes bill themselves as "experiments," to sound as if something surprising were going to happen, some new thing would be learned that the producers hadn't already accounted for in their memos and pitches. But what happens in "The Chair," a new "filmmaking experiment" from Starz, feels fresh and instructive and revealing, if not entirely original -- it is essentially a cinematic twist on "Top Chef" and "Project Runaway," in which contestants are given certain materials and certain constraints and sent forth to create.

The focus here, as two first-time feature directors are handed identical scripts and budgets and are dropped into wintry Pittsburgh to make movies, is on process -- both that of the independent film industry and the individual work of the filmmakers: Anna Martemucci, a writer and actress with some experience of indie film, and Shane Dawson, a YouTube star with millions of subscribers. The very different films they craft from screenwriter Dan Schoffer's "How Soon Is Now," a story of a kid's first Thanksgiving home after going away to college -- Martemucci's "Hollidaysburg," Dawson's "Not Cool" -- will also eventually air on Starz. (The series is like a making-of documentary in which the value-added material is the movie.) As with all reality shows, the subjects can sound superficial and self-obsessed at times -- those odds are just hard to beat -- but there's a lot to chew on here, regarding the different ways that people live and work together, and the different things they prize and how they prioritize. Zachary Quinto, a partner in this thing, drops by now and again, to wax wise.

"Cinderella" (Shout Factory). The second broadcast version of the 1957 Rodgers & Hammerstein fairy-tale musical, written originally for television and Julie Andrews, aired on CBS in 1965, with a teenage Lesley Anne Warren in the title role. As colorful as an illuminated manuscript, it's been dusted off and spruced up for a 50th anniversary DVD being released this week, and notwithstanding some oddities in the image that most viewers will find it easy to ignore, it's an engaging and, I'm not afraid to say, moving work that sails effortlessly from ashy hearth to happily ever after. (The show -- whose third broadcast iteration was a 1997 production starring Brandy and Whitney Houston -- subsequently traveled to the stage; it's currently on Broadway, with yet another rewritten book and a national tour scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles, at the Ahmanson Theater, in March.) Made in an age when variety was still a going concern and TV people staged and shot musical numbers with regularity, its assurance points up the calamity of NBC's recent stunt staging of "The Sound of Music." (To be sure, it was not staged live -- because in those days, live television was not an "event" but something that videotape had made happily unnecessary.)

Warren, with her huge eyes and dancer's neck and limbs and her fine but homely voice, is adorable and down to earth. Starry Old Hollywood talent -- Walter Pidgeon and Ginger Rogers as the King and Queen, Celeste Holm (who created the role of Ado Annie in Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma") as the Fairy Godmother -- lend support; Rogers, then in her mid-50s, does dance, if for a frustratingly brief time. Stuart Damon, who plays the Prince -- he was a Broadway import, like Warren -- would play Dr. Alan Quartermaine for 30 years on "General Hospital"; Andrews and Warren later appeared together in the film "Victor/Victoria," which somehow seems worth mentioning. For whatever reasons, original musical theater has not flourished on television, but this production reminds us that it can be done, and done well.

NOVA: "Vaccines: Calling the Shots" (PBS, Wednesday). This look at the impossible-to-kill "controversy" over the dangers and benefits of vaccination, doesn't soft-pedal its message: "Children are getting sick and dying from preventable diseases as nervous parents skip their children's shots." The film has a slightly polemical, borderline urgent tone, almost like a PSA, and it can be hard to watch -- a 7-week-old infant with whooping cough is not a pretty sight -- but the risks of injury from a vaccine are astronomically rare, while the dangers of foregoing them, both to a child and to everyone who might come in contact with anyone the child might come into contact with, are documented, demonstrated and with us now. It is something of a primer. The history of vaccination, which goes back at least to the 17th century, is briefly rehearsed; medical myths, seemingly harder to control than the diseases or conditions that inspire them -- like the supposed link between vaccines and autism -- are punctured; the way in which measles spreads is illustrated. While the concerns of ordinary parents are given voice, and the rare adverse reaction acknowledged, there is a refreshing lack of false equivalence here: That there are no anti-vaccine "experts" invited to speak some will decry as unfair ("There's no such thing as an unbiased source," says one mother). But this is a science show, and discredited theories are no theories at all.

"Doctor Who" (BBC America, Saturdays). Two episodes into the new season, I'm very happy with Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, if not with everything he's been asked to do: Even a primitive Earthling who hasn't lived a thousand years could have predicted that fixing that "good" Dalek last week would only make it bad again, and it also feels a little early in the regeneration to be wondering aloud about goodness or badness, sense or madness. Plus: Daleks -- already? I am not one for second-guessing show runners, whose job I could never do, but it seems to me that Doctor Twelve needs to have -- that we need him to have -- some straight-out adventures before we get too deep into self-doubt and psychological analysis. I'm not saying that the character can't be or shouldn't be dark or complicated -- if Matt Smith's was more of an alien than was David Tennant's, Capaldi's might be even less of a human, and that's fine. (Again, I think Capaldi is great, and like Steven Moffat's new slant on the character.) But he also has to bring the fun. Saturday's new episode promises a Robin Hood scenario (as in "of Sherwood"), which might be just what the Doctor needs ordered.

Also, a note to responsible parties: Be careful not to bury the voices under the music and effects -- my guess is that this is a function of mixing for surround sound, without regard for the stereo mix many of us still live with. There were times in that Dalek episode I couldn't hear the dialog for the bombast. But I come to pick, not to pick at. I love the show. The new threads and characters (earthy Danny Pink, unearthly Missy) feel promising. Everybody watch now.

Robert Lloyd attempts to master space, time and Tweets @LATimesTVLloyd.


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