"Hawking." Long before Eddie Redmayne impressed audiences with his performance as a young and increasingly ailing Stephen Hawking, Benedict Cumberbatch was doing the same in the 2004 BBC movie "Hawking," which Discovery Channel is airing in celebration of the great scientist's 73rd birthday, which is Thursday.
Following much the same time period as current Oscar-hopeful "The Theory of Everything," "Hawking" is just as astonishing in both content — a promising young physicist diagnosed with a horrific life-threatening disease just as love and success seem assured — and performance. Apparently, there's no bad way to tell the story of one of humanity's most resilient and miraculous human beings. Certainly the many fans of Cumberbatch will swoon to his youthful dreaminess.
And, if you want to really get into the cat's cradle of British actors reprising biopics, you could watch "Breaking the Code," which features Derek Jacobi's award-winning performance as Alan Turing, who Cumberbatch is currently playing in "The Imitation Game," another Oscar contender. Originally written for the stage by Hugh Whitmore, "Breaking the Code" was adapted for television by the BBC in 1996. It spends more time with Turing's post-war life, especially the events that would lead up to his arrest for "gross indecency" (Turing was gay). Jacobi's performance is more understated than Cumberbatch's — his Turing has a stutter but is not a complete social outcast — as is the play in comparison to "The Imitation Game," but it's wonderful none the less. "Hawking," Discovery Channel, Saturday, 10 p.m. "Breaking the Code," YouTube or on DVD through Amazon.
"Golden Globe Awards." Power couple Tina Fey and Amy Poehler return for their third and final time as the hostesses with the mostest, and with comedy/satire suddenly at the center of two separate terrorist attacks, it will be interesting to see how, or if, the telecast addresses the issues of creative freedom. Embarrassing revelations made by the Sony hacking seem tempting fodder, while the horrific slayings of French satirists in Paris remind everyone that comedy may be funny but it's also vitally important to the international discourse.
The Globes are also the only awards show to honor both film and television, which gives it a broader reach and a greater possibility that someone you admire might win something. Historically more lively than any of the other shows, save, perhaps, the Grammys, the Globes have gained credibility and importance with each passing year and the wise decision to keep Fey and Poehler hosting for three years has also made it pretty good television. NBC, Sunday, 5 p.m.
"Babylon." Speaking of satire, director Danny Boyle has brought an astringent though essentially true-hearted takedown of the British police force to Sundance TV with none of the traditional trans-Atlantic softening agents.
PR genius Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) is the head of communications at Scotland Yard, brought in to help the prickly Commissioner Richard Miller (James Nesbitt) rebrand the troubled London Police Force and drag it into the digital age.
Not everyone is happy to have her there, of course, especially Communications Deputy Finn Kirkwood (Bertie Carvel, taking scheming and insufferable to new and giddy depths.) Miller too faces as many demons within as without, including his own personal flaws and the ambitions of his assistant commissioner, Charles Inglis (Paterson Joseph), who is growing tired of sitting second-chair.
Criss-crossing narratives keep "Babylon" from becoming a war of (albeit often brilliant) words and wit. Armed Response Officer Warwick (Nick Blood) struggles to regain his footing after a shooting incident; Territorial Support Group Officer Davina (Jill Halfpenny), married to Banjo (Andrew Brooke), one of Warwick's colleagues, is having an affair with one of her own, while independent documentarian Matt Coward (Daniel Kaluuya) hopes footage of aspiring Authorized Firearms Officer Robbie (Adam Deacon) will provide his big break.