Critic’s Pick: TV Picks: ‘Powerless,’ ‘Craft,’ ‘Who,’ ‘PuppyCat,’ ‘Garden Wall’

Loha Singh is an electricity thief and local hero in the documentary film “Powerless,” airing Monday on the PBS series “Independent Lens.”
(Globalistan Films)

“Powerless” (PBS, Monday). A film about power and the lack of it, and how little things are made to work when big things fail. We are in Kanpur, India, population 3 million, where there is no electricity for many and often none for any. The main characters are Loha Singh, a 28-year-old katiyabaaz, “a master electricity thief” and local hero who climbs into the city’s tangled canopy of power lines, splicing wire into wire to siphon off power for the poor, and his mutual nemesis Ritu Maheshwari, of the Kanpur Electricity Supply Co., who must deal with the theft and other power-related crises. (Loudspeaker trucks cruise the city reminding registered users to pay their bills as well.) Though the film opens and closes with big figures (1.5 billion people in the world live without electricity; two months after the events of the film, the biggest power outage in history hit North India) and has some social and political intent, its practical focus is narrower, more personal, more complicated and inconclusive; it works in close.

Singh, superficially the hero, also appears to be a little addicted to his work and reputation; we see him with his mother, upon whom he is irritably dependent, and drinking a lot with his uncle, who thinks he’s just a thief. (He also says of the dangerous work he does with not so much as a pair of gloves, “If you hold your breath the current can’t get you. The current thinks, ‘This is a dead man.’”) As a bureaucrat and corporate representative, Maheshwari would ordinarily be cast as the villain; but we see her as frustrated from above as the citizens are from below -- between them lies a swamp of inefficiencies, corruption and class mistrust. “Poor people never lie, says Singh. “She is crushing us.” Says Maheshwari, “I have to have a middle path. I have to look for those things that I can change in the first place, because if I start with the toughest things than I’ll be gone.” Directed by Fahad Mustafa (who grew up there) and Deepti Kakkar, the film has the feel of good fiction at times. Some scenes have been, if not exactly arranged, then staged at least for dramatic effect, camera placement and movement, reverse angles; the photography by Mustafa, Amith Surendran and Maria Trieb-Eliaz is extraordinarily sensitive to light and color and space and makes the air almost a palpable thing; you feel present inside the images.

“Doctor Who” (BBC America, Saturday). “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven,” the two-part Season 8 finale, the first for Doctor Twelve (or Thirteen, or whatever he is, now that head writer Steven Moffat’s tied knots in the timeline), begins this week. (Already? Yes, I know. Time is wimey.) Coming attractions betoken a return of the Cybermen -- they are down sometimes, these villains of the Whoniverse, but they are never, ever out -- and UNIT too will get a look in. As has regularly been the case in the 21st century series, some underlying dark business has been lurking through the season that will bust out in a big way at the end; that whole Missy, Mistress of the Netherworld thing is clearly going to get some kind of explanation, possibly to your satisfaction.

I must admit that this season has felt a bit of a bumpy ride to me, not just from episode to episode, but sometimes from scene to scene. I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor as much as I’ve loved any of them; if anything, he’s even more of an alien than Matt Smith was, and his age and irascibility and air of lived authority are welcome changes to the character as recently conceived -- not because there was anything wrong with his predecessors, but because a change, in this series is structurally welcome and necessary. There’s enough darkness in Capaldi’s portrayal that the writing doesn’t really need to do him any favors on that account; but it does anyway. And there’s been a tad too much psychologizing him for my taste. Additionally, the triangular relationship between the Doctor, companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) and her boyfriend Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) seems one of compositional convenience -- we are being teed up for the endgame -- than compelling attraction; some of the conflict between the Doctor and Clara has felt similarly cooked up.


Still, there have been some exciting episodes this year, when the going got going and there was a bank to rob, or a moon to kill, or a dimension to save. Meanwhile, though one thing she has done over and over again through her science-fictionally fragmented history is to die to save the Doctor, Clara’s fate is not as decided as all that. (The actress, with spoilers in mind, will neither confirm nor deny rumors that she is leaving the show.) I have my theories, though my theories are often wrong, or perhaps it is more accurate to say, sometimes they are accidentally right. Rachel Talalay (“Tank Girl”!) directs.

“Craft in America” (PBS, Sunday). This handsome series about people who make things, as a life or a living, and the things people make is not exactly prolific -- this week’s episode, “Service,” is only the 13th since the series began in 2007 -- but a bounty when it does arrive. Though the title makes no claim to art, evading the unresolvable question of what it is or isn’t and allowing for a range of work -- there is an army saddler in “Service” -- the word is used throughout the series, and the distinction, given the many beautiful things on display, finally seems meaningless. Mostly, it’s a matter of mediums -- glass and wood and fabric and ceramics and hand-worked metal, whose very nature may be part of the message -- and the potentially useful nature of some of the work. (You might drink out of it, or wear it, or put a flower in it; though much more has no practical use at all.) The episodes are arranged conceptually: “Forge,” “Community,” “Crossroads.” The latest, “Service” has a military, or post-military theme, and along with the people it profiles, it gives due praise to the GI Bill, which has sent many a soldier to art school and scans the history of arts and crafts within the American military, as pastime or therapy. The work here is all informed, explicitly, metaphorically or aesthetically by the experience of war; makers profiled include leathersmith Eugene Burks Jr., who makes horse tack for the caissons that carry caskets to Arlington National Cemetery; and papermaker Pam DeLuco, who collaborated with servicewomen to make a book of paper dolls -- on paper actually made from their uniforms (literally beaten to a pulp, someone observes); and ceramicists Ehren Tool (Gulf I) and Judas Recendez (Gulf II). Tool makes what might be called dark commemorative cups: “A cup is a little thing,” he says. “It’s not confrontational -- it’s just a cup.... A cup’s the appropriate scale to talk about issues of war and violence, and the shape is just a shape that feels good in my hand. There’s nothing I do I think is going to change the world, but there’s nothing in the world that releases me from my obligation to try.” You may want to have a handkerchief handy. Also available to see via, as of Monday.

“Over the Garden Wall” (Cartoon Network, Monday through Friday); “Bee and PuppyCat” (Cartoon Hangover, Thursday). The first miniseries from Cartoon Network,"Over the Garden Wall" was created by Patrick McHale (a key figure at “Adventure Time”), with art direction (and lovely painterly backgrounds in which the texture of the paper comes through) by Nick Cross. Two brothers, one who overthinks everything (Elijah Wood) and another (Collin Dean) who barely thinks at all, find themselves in an unfamiliar forest; they go from station to station, meeting weird new characters in each -- like in “The Wizard of Oz,” yes, whose early 20th century, heartland America setting and references it shares. It is sometimes a little too folksy and fairy story, but contemporary strangeness wins out, and it is throughout something to behold.

Other worlds are traveled to as well in Natasha Allegri’s pastel dream-show “Bee and PuppyCat,” whose Kickstarter-funded full season begins Thursday on the website Cartoon Hangover -- you can read about its previously aired pilot here. (Allegri also worked as a writer and storyboard artist on “Over the Wall.”) Bee, who reminds me a little of Abbi Jacobson in “Broad City,” is a human girl temp worker and PuppyCat is her covertly dominating pet-like partner and sometimes subcontracting employer, an alien who fell onto her head out of the sky and now lives with her; he/she/it is also a temp worker, resolving difficulties on other planets and planes. (In the new episodes, they travel to a planet shaped like a cube of jello to hel p a farmer fertilize a giant cherry -- “Twilight Zone” fans will know what that means.) Bee is drawn rounder than before, somewhat in the Japanese chibi style -- the Asian influence is fully forward -- so she looks a little less mature and a little more like PuppyCat. (But her figure also changes as needed, also in the Japanese style.) A potentially romantic B-plot has been introduced, as well. Inspirational verse: “There is no time to wash hands, we need quick cash.”


Election day in America (various platforms, channels and devices, Tuesday). This one is just really to remind you to vote. Most of the television coverage -- as nattering, speculative, self-important and scarifying as much of it is -- will only multiply whatever anxiousness you’re already feeling about the candidates and ballot measures, not to say the fate of the world, so possibly it’s best just to go out to a funny movie or a nice long dinner. (Or why not both?) It’s going to come out how it’s going to come out whether you watch the returns or not. Indeed, the best election nights I can recall, in terms of experience if not necessarily outcome, were spent with no hope of a TV: in a van heading to Naples from Barcelona (1992); barhopping in New York (2000 -- every place we landed, the news had completely changed); and seeing Tinariwen in San Francisco (2004). (Absentee ballots, people.) Anyway, don’t forget the midterms; they’re not midterm for everybody.

See you on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd, and please remember to vote.

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