The five TV shows we can’t get enough of this week
Though this year’s Juneteenth has come and gone, it’s not too late to catch up on the profusion of special programming devoted to the holiday, which commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, or to dig (back) into “Watchmen,” whose depiction of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre was given new resonance this weekend by President Trump’s bust of a campaign rally. Nor is it past time to learn more about the issue of police in schools, even from the oft-controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.”
Plus, there are five more titles to seek out in this week’s edition of The Times’ TV recommendation engine, from a docuseries exploring the intersection of basketball and politics to a period thriller set in Weimar Berlin to classics of both the spy and true-crime varieties. Think of it as your office water cooler, except we bring the water cooler to you.
“Pose,” an emblem of Pride and the Black Lives Matter movement, leads this week’s TV picks from the L.A. Times.
Available on: DC Universe, HBO Max
Superheroes have turned the movies to mush, or perhaps it’s the other way around. But on TV, where storytelling matters more than action and feeling more than effects, they continue to thrive (and even, with “Watchmen,” enter the national conversation). In a situation almost appropriate to its traumatized characters, “Doom Patrol” — comic, tragic, parodic, celebratory and wonderfully offbeat even for a genre in which anything can happen — has been hiding out on the niche streamer DC Universe; its second season, which begins this week, brings it into the brighter light of HBO Max. A motley crew of ageless mutants shelter under the wing — not an actual wing, it might be necessary to point out — of sad scientist Timothy Dalton, more concerned with sorting themselves out than saving a world barely conscious of their existence. (Failure is a theme.) The comic book on which the series is based debuted in 1963 — in advance of its conceptual twin, Marvel’s “X-Men” — and though generally set in the present day, the series is much more engaged with 20th century referents (and, this season, 19th) than 21st. The first season, narrated by a villain aware of the fact that they are all in a television show, was meta to the max; the second, which starts in a dark, dreary place, as characters reckon with responsibility, forgiveness and a new threat close to home, is for the moment more straightforward, but no less original.
“Shut Up and Dribble”
Available on: Showtime, Hulu
Fox News host Laura Ingraham coined the demeaning phrase when she went after LeBron James for his comments about President Trump. But it’s James who turned her derogatory advice into the title of a powerful three-part documentary about the changing influence of NBA players on American culture and politics. The 2018 Showtime docuseries, executive produced by James, explores basketball’s collision with American issues on and off the court. It looks at racial tensions, questions of faith, commercialism, Blackness and branding through the trajectories of players such as Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isaiah Thomas. It’s a powerful and brisk chronology of the league’s impact on all aspects of American life from the merger of the American Basketball Association and the National Basketball Association to the present day, when LeBron turned a race-baiting slur into documentary gold.
Season 4 of Netflix’s ’13 Reasons Why’ features high school students protesting for the removal of school resource officers after a Latino student is assaulted.
Available on: Amazon Prime Video
Even though this British drama is coming up on its 45th anniversary, it remains as intriguing and relevant as it was when it first aired. Patrick McGoohan delivers an intense performance as a British intelligence agent who is abducted as he resigns from his agency. He winds up in an idyllic coastal village, which seems like paradise but has a sinister air. McGoohan is named No. 6 by the mysterious rulers of the community, and he spends the series trying to find out where he is, how to escape and the identity of No. 1. Giant fast-moving balloons attack those who try to get out. “The Prisoner” grabs viewers from its opening sequence and never relaxes its grip.
Available on: Hulu, IMDb TV, Amazon Prime Video
Ahead of the Netflix revival premiering next week, I’ve been rewatching episodes of the original “Unsolved Mysteries,” a show that both captivated and scared the crap out of me as a kid. I wondered whether it would hold up, especially at a time when more sophisticated true-crime storytelling is rampant on TV, and it does. While the literal reenactments and many of the special effects are extremely hokey by today’s standards — and, to be honest, I could do without all the UFO stories — this unscripted pioneer still has at least two things going for it: a legendarily creepy theme song and Robert Stack’s haunting voice. Plus, in an era of docuseries that stretch four, six or eight episodes long, the 12-minute segments on “Unsolved Mysteries” are great for a quick fix. (Some of the cases are explored elsewhere in elaborate detail, such as the mysterious death of scientist Frank Olson, the subject of the Errol Morris series “Wormwood.”) Best of all? Unlike in the dark days of the early ’90s, if you want to learn more about a case, you can just Google it.
Available on: Netflix
Inspired by my first crack at “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” Alfred Döblin’s kaleidoscopic rendering of Weimar Germany — and not yet ready for the commitment of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s epic 14-part miniseries, from 1980 — I turned to Netflix’s brisk German-language thriller, which opens in 1929. Starring the broodingly handsome Volker Bruch as Gereon Rath, a morphine-addicted detective visiting from Cologne, and Liv Lisa Fries as Charlotte Ritter, his spunky sort-of partner, “Babylon Berlin” rather ingeniously repurposes the genre’s suspense to reconsider the years preceding the Nazis’ rise to power, with terrifying echoes of our own historical moment. (One early episode devoted to Blutmai, or Bloody May — a violent attack on Communist demonstrators by the Berlin police, in which dozens were killed and thousands arrested — registered so potently I had to press pause.) The series has much the same raucousness as Döblin’s novel, if not its tricky structure, not to mention a series of emphatically ecstatic musical sequences indebted as much to EDM as to “Cabaret.” It’s a stirring slice of life from a doomed society — one uncomfortably like our own.
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