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How the granddaddy of all reality competitions came back from its worst season ever

MTV's "The Challenge: Ride or Dies" Season 38.
(Laura Barisonzi / MTV)
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Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who knows what it’s like to stick with a long-running show through thick and thin.

In staff writer Michael Ordoña’s case, that show is the MTV reality competition “The Challenge” — which, he reports in this week’s Screen Gab, has happily returned to form in its 38th (!) season after a major misstep the last time around.

Also in this week’s edition, we open up the mailbag to hear from a reader who’s loving “Poker Face,” hear from the co-creators of a new TV series about selling timeshares on the moon, and offer streaming recommendations for your weekend. And, as always, we want to know what you’re watching! Pretend we’re at the water cooler and give us your review of a TV show or streaming movie you’ve loved and it may be included in a future edition of Screen Gab. (Submissions should be approximately 100 to 150 words and sent to screengab@latimes.com with your name and location.)

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ICYMI

Must-read stories you might have missed

Beyoncé accepts the award for best dance/electronic music album at the 65th Grammy Awards.
Beyoncé’s wins at the 2023 Grammys made history — but her album of the year loss put a damper on the night.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Review: Hip-hop and Beyoncé almost saved the show until Grammys botched the ending: The redemptive moment of Beyoncé finally winning album of the year never came, and as beloved as Harry Styles might be, the show ended on a low note, writes TV critic Lorraine Ali.

Could “The Last of Us” finale beat the Oscars in the ratings? We break down the numbers: After going toe to toe with the Grammys, the finale of HBO’s hit is scheduled for the same night as the Oscars. Which will come out on top?

These L.A. reality stars are perfectly happy to be part of Hollywood’s “middle class”: After 10 years on “Vanderpump Rules,” Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz aren’t leading the lives they planned. But they have no regrets. Well, not many.

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“It was a witch-burning”: Roseanne may forgive Hollywood, but she’ll never forget: The comedian’s new Fox Nation special is her largest platform since ABC fired her over a racist tweet in 2018. And she has no plans to hold back.

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Recommendations from the film and TV experts at The Times

A woman in tweed leaning on an old cannon looking straight into camera.
Diane Morgan as Philomena Cunk in “Cunk on Earth.”
(Jonathan Browning/Netflix)

In “Cunk on Earth” (Netflix), British actress-comedian Diane Morgan puts her character Philomena Cunk in charge of a documentary series on the history of civilization, from cave paintings to smartphones. There’s a British tradition of satirizing TV presenters and anchors, from Monty Python to Steve Coogan to Chris Morris’ acid “Brass Eye,” from which Sasha Baron Cohen lifted his punking schtick; and Morgan, as a person completely confident in her ignorance and sniffing at every sort of actual human achievement — a character made for these times — does it as well as anyone. Nearly everything she says is funny. “Cunk on Earth” perfectly (and apparently expensively) replicates the look and feel of a presented British documentary — the sort where the host, standing in for the questing viewer, travels to far-flung places and interviews experts — and gives it a vicious half-twist. (Though, unlike Cohen, Morgan doesn’t mock her interlocutors — bemused, amused and remarkably patient academics, who attempt smart answers to stupid questions, like whether the pyramids were built from the bottom up or the top down.) The show is beautifully silly but can also be savage on the subject of human hypocrisy, folly and lack of progress, as we continue to blithely saw away at the branch we sit on. —Robert Lloyd

“Succession” won’t be back on HBO until March 26, but if you need a little Tom Wambsgans energy to tide you over until then, “Stonehouse” (Britbox) is just the thing. This limited series stars Matthew Macfadyen as John Stonehouse, a member of Parliament who attempted to fake his death in 1974, inadvertently triggering a crisis for Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s Labor government and creating an even bigger mess for the two women in his life: mistress Sheila (Emer Heatley) and wife Barbara (Keeley Hawes, Macfadyen’s real-life spouse). Sporting snaggly teeth, disheveled gray hair and an array of hideous ’70s businesswear, Macfadyen is hilariously deluded as Stonehouse, an arrogant but hapless buffoon who might qualify as a sociopath if he were any good at lying. It’s yet another delicious character for the actor, who has long since shed his Mr. Darcy romantic persona and leaned into playing schlumps, schmoes and weasels. Though the series, just three episodes long, feels too rushed, the performances by Heatley, Macfadyen and Hawes — who should, frankly, be in everything — make it a thorough delight. —Meredith Blake

Catch up

Everything you need to know about the film or TV series everyone’s talking about

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Aneesa Ferreira, hanging over the city, and Jordan Wiseley compete together in "The Challenge: Ride or Dies."
Longtime cast members Aneesa Ferreira, hanging, and Jordan Wiseley compete together in a Season 38 episode of MTV’s “The Challenge.” Ferreira and Wiseley are among three pairs to make it to the final episode of “The Challenge: Ride or Dies.”
(Jonne Roriz/MTV)

MTV’s highest-rated show, the granddaddy of all reality-competition series, “The Challenge,” is about to wrap up its 38th season, The Challenge: Ride or Dies,” with the climax of its epic three-part final on Wednesday, and three teams — including heroine/villain combo Banany — are still in it for the big money. After the utter debacle of “The Challenge: USA,” with a final that will likely go down as the worst in franchise history and most difficult to explain without suspension of disbelief, “Ride or Dies” has seen the franchise return to form. The competitions have been exciting and the new cast members (especially hard-competing glamour-pusses Horacio and Nurys) have been easy to root for. The season was bumpy at times, with some contrived attempts at drama (Tori and Jordan, I’m lookin’ at you), idiotic gameplay (*cough* Jay and Michelle *cough*) and the inexcusable skating-by of seven-time champion Johnny Bananas. But the 100-hour ordeal of the final has been fun to watch, with the guarantee of at least one longtime Challenger earning their first-ever championship. If you’ve missed anything or have no idea what I’m talking about, you can binge the entire season up to now on MTV’s website. I’m rooting for Tori and Devin, how about you? —Michael Ordoña

Guest spot

A weekly chat with actors, writers, directors and more about what they’re working on — and what they’re watching

A 1950s salesman presents a poster reading "Brightside."
Billy Crudup in “Hello Tomorrow!”
(Apple TV+)

From Cold War-era science fiction (“Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) to the race for the moon and beyond (“The Right Stuff,” “For All Mankind”), the space age has inspired countless films and TV series — not to mention many a “Midcentury Modern” L.A. apartment. The fantasy becomes more literal than ever in “Hello Tomorrow!” (Apple TV+, Feb. 17), in which Jack Billings (Billy Crudup) sells lunar timeshares in a world populated by high-finned flying cars, jet packs and robots. Series co-creators Amit Bhalla and Lucas Jansen stopped by Screen Gab to talk about where the private space race of the present intersects with their fictional universe, what they’re watching and more. —Matt Brennan

What have you watched recently that you are recommending to everyone you know?

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Lucas Jansen: As a rule, I’m forever about a year behind on TV trends — so right now I’m excitedly telling everyone about the hot new releases “How to With John Wilson” [HBO Max] and “Severance” [Apple TV+]. Both, in completely different ways, impress mightily in how they grapple with the urgent theme of the solitary subjectivity fighting for its meager but vital existence in the pitiless deluge of contemporary life.

Amit Bhalla: “Severance” spoke to some deep pains of our lives these days, all the psychic contortions we endure. Unique tone, beautiful, solid acting. And not just ’cause we work for Apple.

What’s your go-to “comfort watch,” the movie or TV show you go back to again and again?

Bhalla: “Seinfeld” [Netflix] always scratches an itch somehow. I’m a child of the ’90s, and, of course, a sucker for nostalgia.

Jansen: Depending on who I’m with it’s Chaplin’s “Modern Times” [HBO Max, Criterion Channel] with my son Wally; Sturges’ “The Lady Eve” [VOD, multiple platforms] with my wife Rebecca; or alone, any Billy Wilder or any confirmed Clippers victories from the past week.

Though the world of “Hello Tomorrow!” is retro-futuristic, subjects like private space travel, the ownership of space and the need for space colonization are plenty timely. What recent developments in space travel/exploration have influenced the series, and how?

Jansen: We’ve talked moon futures with a range of people, and the fascinating thing is how dissimilar their predictions/fantasies are. An entrepreneur on the make will tell you they’ll be up there shamelessly exploiting resources any day now; a sober-minded scientist might doubt they’ll ever leave Earth’s orbit in their lifetime. What seems clear, as always, is that ordinary people will be last to know what’s really possible, and the last to benefit from its implications.

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Bhalla: There’s a lot of hype in the space space right now. Feels like we’re always five years away. Dreaming of living up there goes back awhile, though. Maybe this time it’s for real.

Mail bag

Recommendations from Screen Gab readers

Natasha Lyonne wearing sunglasses with a jacket slung over her shoulder in "Poker Face" on Peacock.
Natasha Lyonne as Charlie Cale in “Poker Face.”
(Evans Vestal Ward/Peacock)

I’m a huge Natasha Lyonne fan (“Russian Doll” and “But I’m a Cheerleader!” are favorites), so I was intrigued by “Poker Face” (Peacock). And the show is so clever — Episode 1 really set the tone for the episodes that have aired since. The first 15 or so minutes of each episode encapsulates the story/crime; the remainder, we get to accompany Lyonne’s Charlie as she unravels the mysteries. And there are fantastic guest stars!

NBC brought back “must-see TV” for me on Thursdays.

Harper Wood
Equality, Ala.

What’s next

Listings coordinator Matt Cooper highlights the TV shows and streaming movies to keep an eye on

Fri., Feb. 10

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“At Midnight” (Paramount+): A hotel manager and a Hollywood starlet meet cute in this 2023 romantic comedy. With Diego Boneta.

“Meet Me in Paris” (Roku): They’re sexy, single and ready to mingle in the City of Light in this hybrid rom-com/unscripted feature.

“Somebody I Used to Know” (Prime Video): A TV producer (“Community’s” Alison Brie) reconnects with an old beau in this 2023 comedy.

“Your Place or Mine” (Netflix): Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher play bicoastal BFFs who trade houses for a week in this 2023 romantic comedy.

“Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” (Disney, 8 p.m.): A super-smart teen and a T. rex join forces to fight crime in this new animated series.

“Spinning Out of Control” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): An online spin-class instructor is stalked by one of her clients in this new thriller.

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Sat., Feb. 11

“Masters of Illusion” (The CW, 8 p.m.): They’re also up to their old tricks in new episodes of this magic showcase.

“The Perfect 10” (Fox, 8 p.m.): This new special salutes the select group of Heisman Trophy winners who made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“A Paris Proposal” (Hallmark, 8 p.m.): An ad executive hooks up with a hunky rival in the French capital in this new TV movie.

“The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story” (Lifetime, 8 p.m.): A young woman abducted by a serial killer lives to tell the tale in this new fact-based TV movie.

“Marc Maron: From Bleak to Dark” (HBO, 10 p.m.): The comic’s comic and podcaster’s podcaster lets his pessimist flag fly in this new stand-up special.

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Sun., Feb. 12

“Puppy Bowl XIX” (Animal Planet, 2 p.m.): Super Bowl counterprogramming doesn’t come much cuter and cuddlier than in this annual canine-centric special.

Super Bowl LVII (Fox, 3:30 p.m.): The Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles face off in Phoenix, Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen call the action and Rihanna rocks the halftime show.

“Next Level Chef” (Fox, 7:30 p.m.; also 8 p.m. Thursday): Chef Gordon Ramsay presides over a second season of this culinary competition.

Mon., Feb. 13

“Roseanne Barr: Cancel This!” (Fox Nation): She’s baaack: The controversial comic and former sitcom star returns in an all-new stand-up special filmed in Houston.

“Summer House” (Bravo, 9 p.m.): The shacking up will continue until morale improves as the reality series returns with new episodes.

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“UFOs: Investigating the Unknown” (Nat Geo, 9 p.m.): More accounts of unidentified flying objects are probed in this new docuseries.

“Independent Lens” (KOCE, 10 p.m.): The new documentary “Love in the Time of Fentanyl” checks in on a program in Vancouver for people addicted to the powerful synthetic opioid.

“The Daily Show” (Comedy Central, 11 p.m.; also Tuesday-Thursday): Sarah Silverman serves as this week’s guest host.

Tue., Feb. 14

“Jim Jefferies: High n’ Dry” (Netflix): The Aussie comic riffs on koalas, vasectomies, etc., in this new stand-up special.

“Perfect Match” (Netflix): Contestants from “Love Is Blind,” “Too Hot to Handle,” etc. get a second chance at romance in this new competition hosted by Nick Lachey.

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“Planet Sex With Cara Delevingne” (Hulu): The actor, fashion model and activist lets her freak flag fly in this new series exploring human sexuality.

“Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.” (KOCE, 8 p.m.): “The X-Files’” David Duchovny and “Spin City’s” Richard Kind explore their Jewish heritage in this new episode.

“Love Trip: Paris” (Freeform, 9 p.m.): Four American gals have the unmitigated Gaul to seek romance in the City of Light in this new unscripted series.

Wed., Feb. 15

“African Queens” (Netflix): They rule in this new history series that mixes documentary elements with dramatic re-creations. Jada Pinkett Smith narrates.

“Full Swing” (Netflix): Fore! Pro golf’s finest hit the links over the course of a season in this new documentary series.

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“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” (Hulu): This docudrama charting the rise of the New York-based hip-hop collective returns for a third and final season.

“The Masked Singer” (Fox, 8 p.m.): More celebrity contestants face the music incognito in the return of this competition. Nick Cannon hosts.

“Starstruck: Gene Kelly’s Love Letter to Ballet” (KCET, 8 p.m.): Glasgow’s Scottish Ballet updates a 1960 work by the legendary actor-dancer-choreographer in this new special.

“Nova” (KOCE, 9 p.m.): Welcome to the jungle, they’ve got fun and games, ceremonial mounds and much more in the new episode “Ancient Builders of the Amazon.”

Thu., Feb. 16

“Star Trek: Picard” (Paramount+): Patrick Stewart is engaged to be engaged for a third season of this entry in the sci-fi franchise.

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“Animal Control” (Fox, 9 p.m.): “Community’s” Joel McHale wrangles creatures great and small in this new workplace sitcom.

“Post Roe America” (Vice, 10 p.m.): This new docuspecial looks at abortion access in the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial 2022 decision overturning Roe vs. Wade.

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