TV Picks: ‘Surviving Jack,’ ‘Call the Midwife,’ ‘The Bletchley Circle’
“Surviving Jack”: Between “The Goldbergs” and “Growing Up Fisher,” you would think that the appearance of one more “Wonder Years”-like family comedy—young male narrator remembering the poignant lessons of his wacky family—would send any self-respecting critic screaming into the woods. But it turns out “third time’s a charm” has some truth to it. “Surviving Jack” may be Justin Halpern’s (“$#*! My Dad Says”) 97th attempt to tell the world how wise and wacky his father is but it’s also very smart, very funny and best of all, stars Christopher Meloni, who is way better at comedy than even the biggest fan of “Law and Order: SVU” could have imagined.
Set in the 1990s (cue Top 40 nostalgia and techno fashion), it opens as the Dunlevy family is undergoing a big change. After years of being the primary caregiver, Joanne (Rachael Harris) is going to law school, leaving Jack (Meloni), her doctor and former-military husband in charge.
So yes, it has something of a “Mr. Mom” vibe, but this is something that was actually happening to many families in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the jokes steer mercifully clear of Jack peering in confusion at the dials of the washing machine or letting the inevitable pot of spaghetti sauce boil over. Jack is more than capable of keeping the trains of family life running on time; it’s the emotional needs of his two teenagers--Frankie (Connor Buckley) and Rachel (Claudia Lee)—that confuse him. Fortunately he displays this confusion with a tendency to deliver one-liners that are often as wise as they are graphic and almost always hilarious. Fox, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m.
“Call the Midwife”: If the world is too much with you, and television, with its zombies, tortured detectives and raunchy comedies seems to offer no respite, rejoice. Season three of “Call the Midwife” begins on Sunday night.
Revolving around a group of nuns and young midwives who serve London’s East End during the early days of the national health service, “Call the Midwife” is both historically unsparing—the grim realities of poverty drive most episodes—and gorgeously hopeful. There are losses, yes, of mothers and infants, but more often than not, life triumphs over death, good triumphs over evil. A panoply of fine British actresses, including priceless comedian Miranda Hart as Chummy gives life to all sorts of women, making each and every episode a joy to behold. PBS, Sundays, 8 p.m.
“Mr. Selfridge”: Jeremy Piven returns as the creator of London’s first and still famous mega- department store, Harry Selfridge. The store is celebrating its fifth anniversary, Agatha has returned from Paris but Harry has lost the trust, and company, of his long-suffering wife and war looms in Germany. Lush and lovely, the show is strongest when it moves away from its central character, who is regrettably one-note, and dwells among the staff, from the management to the loading dock. Then, “Mr. Selfridge” becomes a pleasing display window onto another aspect of Edwardian England. PBS, Sundays, 9 p.m.
“The Bletchley Circle”: Not to get too British/PBS about it, but the second season of the very fine suspense series “The Bletchley Circle” is debuting next month, giving those who missed season one just enough time to catch up via Netflix. Seven years after the end of World War II, Susan Grey (Anna Maxwell Martin) is bored with her life as a housewife and mother, and guilty about her boredom. Isn’t peace always preferable to war? Ah, but during the war, Susan was part of the famous code crackers at Bletchley Park, where her extraordinary talent for numbers and ability to notice patterns gave her a sense of real purpose.
So when a series of murders seems to be following a sort of script, Susan rounds up a few of her old comrades and together they try to crack the code of a serial killer. A marvelous mixture of social commentary, wartime drama and good old-fashioned detecting, “The Bletchley Circle” is both cozy and captivating. Netflix, anytime.
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