TV Picks: ‘Summer Dreams,’ ‘Billy on the Street,’’ ‘Live from Space’

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“Summer Dreams” (CBS, Saturday). A vivid, elegantly made, two-hour documentary centering on the NBA Summer League, a 10-day yearly event, held in Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas, where pro-ball hopefuls and rookies run and dribble, pass and shoot before a worldwide array of coaches and executives -- a kind of last-chance marketplace for some, and a pre-season workout for contracted others. (“The ‘American Idol’ of basketball,” Dallas Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson calls it. “It’s a little stepping stool, man,” says undrafted outsider Dwayne Davis.)

It’s not necessary to know much about basketball, or that there is a thing called March Madness going on now (in the broadcasting of which CBS is also involved), or even care about sports particularly, to understand the action and get involved with the characters. (I am the proof of this, America. Indeed, the first sentence of this pick contains virtually all I know about this game.) Without sentimentalizing overly, as is often the case when TV looks at athletes -- I am not a sports fan, but I am often a sports film fan -- and in relatively brief strokes, executive producer Michael Tollin and his team have created something that feels intimate and alive, following six characters without giving any of them short shrift. In no small part, this is because it’s beautifully shot, so that whatever else is happening in the story, in home or hotel room or arena, there is a constant, enriching stream of visual detail, much of it poignant in a quotidian sort of way.

CRITICS’ PICKS: What to watch, where to go, what to eat


It is also less about the game than it is about individual desire, on the one hand, and human relations on the other -- families and friends and coaches. (It’s more than usual, I’d guess, about mothers and sons.) It is, in fact, rather sweet. Tollin -- whose other credits include not only ESPN’s “30 x 30” documentary series, the pro baseball reality show “The Franchise” and HBO’s sports-agent comedy “Arli$$,” but also “Keenan & Kel,” “What I Like About You,” “One Tree Hill” and “Smallville”-- takes as his subjects four players as well as a female referee, Lauren Holtkamp, and a jobless real-estate agent turned coach, Joel Abelson, also aiming to make the big league. (The players include two 2013 first-round draft picks, Michael Carter-Williams, whose mother is also his coach, and Shane Larkin; second-round draft pick Romero Osby; the above-mentioned Davis, who grew up homeless in Philadelphia, until being taken up by his high school coach.)

That the tone is positive and all the characters likable is conceivably not representative of the whole of the sport; at the same time, one of the films’ points is that, positivity aside, desire and talent are not always -- not usually -- present in equal measure, and that, not only is not everybody a star, not everybody even gets onstage. To be really, really good but not quite great is a dilemma reserved for those who are better at what they do than almost everybody, but a dilemma all the same.

FACES TO WATCH 2014: Television

“Billy on the Street” (Fuse, Wednesdays). Billy Eichner, whom you may know as the volatile Eagletonian Craig on “Parks and Recreation,” is the host and in some ways the subject of this insane/inane, highly inappropriate, disturbingly hilarious al fresco game show, back for a third season. (There is a related Funny or Die channel, where older clips reside.) Eichner -- I was going to say “roams,” but that’s too leisurely a word -- storms, rather, the streets of New York, running from stranger to stranger at desperate speed, accosting them at high volume with strange, strangely urgent requests and questions, some of them matters of opinion, which he will rule true or false. (Examples: “For a dollar, name a singer that doesn’t exist.” “For a dollar, name a dead person.” “For a dollar, have you yet to recover from the pleasure of watching ‘New Girl’ after the Super Bowl?” “For a dollar, put this photo of Jonathan Taylor-Thomas in your back pocket.” “For a dollar, scream this tweet by Taylor Swift.”) If you “lose,” you might be pressured to lie down on the sidewalk, or made to milk a cow. Billy -- and/or his character -- has his enthusiasms and affections, but he spends much of the time exasperated, angry or in despair, as if the job he’s created and assigned to himself is also a cross he he is forced to bear, painfully, not quietly. (He does give out money.) Guest contestants this year include Amy Poehler, Lena Dunham, Lindsay Lohan, Seth Meyers, Joel McHale, Neil Patrick Harris, Paul Rudd, Sean Hayes and Olivia Wilde, who features in a game called “Olivia Wilde Is Beautiful and You’re All Disgusting,” a kind of existential inversion of last year’s Zachary Quinto segment, “It’s Spock! Do You Care?”

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

“Live From Space” (National Geographic Channel, Friday); NASA TV (always). A real-time ride-along in the International Space Station takes you on a two-hour trip around the world, at an altitude of 250 miles at a speed of 17,500 mph. (The broadcast begins at 5 p.m. PDT, 8 p.m. EDT.) With the end of the shuttle program -- and even before it -- that there are Earthlings up there, gamboling in zero gravity, doing science, eating freeze-dried spaghetti (and tortillas, it turns out), playing chess with HAL has been taken for granted. In olden, more futuristic times, TV from beyond the stratosphere was always an event, something you would be called to the set to see; in a jaded age of superior special effects, we are less enchanted by the sight of a twirling pen or globular drops of water suspended in the air. So much the worse for us. Nat Geo promises special experiments, a guided tour by American astronaut Rick Mastracchio and Japan’s Koichi Wakata, and pretty pictures of the Earth, before we wear it out entirely. Soledad O’Brien is your host at Mission Control in Houston.


Not to make this special any less special, but NASA, who partnered in “Live From Space,” regularly broadcasts from the space station via NASA TV. (You can find it online, as a streaming channel, and on cable and satellite television.) Like the space station itself, its existence is easy to ignore, and the fact that much of its programming day consists of clips, or mostly fragments of clips, sometimes interrupted by other clips, presented without context in weirdly random rotation, is not liable to draw in the general audience the Space Administration ought to be courting. But as video wallpaper for space geeks, it is pretty cool and, literally, far out.

Twitter: @LATimesTVLloyd