Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: Dolphins, Aziz Ansari, ‘Portlandia,’ ‘Wednesday Addams’
“Dolphins: Spy in the Pod” (Discovery Channel, Saturday). Insanely beautiful aquatic documentary from the people who brought you “Penguins: Waddle All the Way” (in which robotic cameras disguised as penguins infiltrated real penguin colonies). The focus here is on bottlenose and spinner dolphins; the spies are a turtle cam, a tuna cam, a nautilus cam, a squid cam and, yes, a dolphin cam, and they travel right into the watery heart of cetacean society. Dolphins are seen surfing, spinning, strategically scaring up food and playing a sort of dolphin soccer with an inflated puffer fish for a ball (and chilling afterward in a psychoactive cloud of diluted puffer fish venom). Pods merge into superpods, superpods into megapods, hundreds of dolphins fading in and out the blue underwater distance.
The one drag is the narration, which, while informative in parts, and generally respectful of both dolphin intelligence and mystery, is too cute in many others -- insisting on imputing agency to the robots and rife with dopey colloquialisms (“No problema,” “Enjoy the buzz,” “That’s gotta hurt”). It’s especially annoying given the profound elegance of the images, but you can turn the sound down and play music instead; you can watch it as pure dance. Except for the robotic interlopers, it’s all just pictures of marine life. (Watch it twice, if you can, once for the sensory effect, and once for the science.) The moment when a 40-foot Bryde’s whale comes into frame to join a flurry of dolphins, gannets and sharks in a huge sardine feed is as breathtaking a thing as I’ve ever seen on a television screen.
“Azis Anzari: Live at Madison Square Garden” (Netflix). The man who was Tom Haverford, of “Parks and Recreation,” Entertainment 720, Rent-a-Swag and Tommy’s Bistro, moves into his post-Pawnee future with this newly available Netflix special. Recorded last October before a delighted audience of “12,000 … predominantly white people” -- Ansari is a first-generation Indian American from South Carolina -- it shows a comic just as dapper and energetic as his TV creation, but worlds more thoughtful, enlightened, inward-looking and outward-aware; he has a bag of tricks that Tom Haverford never even thought of needing. Subjects include the grit of immigrants; the rapper Ja Rule vis-a-vis factory farming (“Guys, if you only knew how long it’s taken me to find the perfect stand-up bit to showcase my frustrations with the meat industry and my flawless Ja Rule impersonation, then, you’d know my struggle”); the creepiness of men (“If you’re a dude never yell ‘take it off’; unless a woman has placed a tarantula or a scorpion on one of your shoulders, there’s no reason for you to yell ‘take it off’”); being single, not being single; and the tyranny of the Internet. (Ansari’s new book, “Modern Romance,” is not a memoir but a “research project,” an investigation, undertaken with sociologist Eric Klinenberg into love in an age connected and isolated by technology, in which constant connection makes it impossible to commit.). He’s funny and quick and in charge, but he’s not tied down to jokes: There’s a moral core to his comedy; there’s uplift in this hour.
“Portlandia” (IFC, Thursday). The fifth-season finale of “Portlandia,” the Little Basic Cable Comedy About a Pacific Northwest City Much Bigger and Better Known Than When They Started That Could airs this week. This year has seen a new approach with episode-long arcs, deep character background and seasonal through-lines, pulling from what is now a huge community of invariably coupled characters -- there’s no Fred without Carrie, and no Carrie without Fred -- to cast their interwoven tales. Each plays six different roles in the finale, which asks the Portland-appropriate question “What is a weirdo?” and begins with a midnight raid on an artisanal taxidermy shop -- an actual Portland taxidermy shop, renamed Dead Pets for the show. (It is run, inevitably, by Lisa Eversman and Bryce Shivers, who advised you to “put a bird on it” all those years ago.) The episode evolves into a police procedural, a legal show and a premium-cable drama before it gets its business done. Guests include Paul Reubens as a defense lawyer; Seth Myers as former weirdo/former idiot Chad Koop and Olivia Wilde once again as eco-terrorist Brit, of whom much will be revealed.
“Adult Wednesday Addams” (YouTube). Melissa Hunter brings her 2013 series back from the dead for a second season. In this plausible updating of the Charles Addams character, Wednesday sets out to make her own way in the wider, sunnier world. (“I can’t sleep in my childhood coffin forever,” she tells a prospective roommate.) Hunter is a Wednesday in the Christina Ricci mold, but she makes the part her own, and owns it. Episode titles -- “Job Interview,” “Haircut,” “One-Night Stand,” “The Flea Market” “Driver’s Ed,” “Babysitting,” “Wednesday vs. Catcallers” -- give an idea of the sort of ordinary challenges Hunter has her face and which become extraordinary challenges, sometimes given extraordinary solutions, by dint of her macabre otherness. But as someone trying to fit in while trying to remain herself, she is anyone, a relatable heroine in basic black.
Robert Lloyd is tweet-enabled @LATimesTVLloyd
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