TV Picks: ‘The Fall,’ Nik Wallenda, ‘Homegoings,’ legal dramedies

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Los Angeles Times Television Critic

“The Fall” (Netflix). After several years of playing peekaboo with her audience, Gillian Anderson, who first won your heart and mind as Agent Dana Scully on “The X-Files,” is back with a vengeance (in a nice way). This year saw her return to American television (the homegrown sort) in a recurring role on NBC’s “Hannibal”; next year will find her as a regular in the same network’s midseason political thriller “Crisis.” At present she may be found starring in this five-episode BBC series (miniseries? — you decide), available here only through Netflix. (Anderson, who grew up partly in England and lives there now, became for all intents a British actress post “X-Files.”) It finds her as a London police detective dispatched to Belfast to unstick a high-profile murder case, which soon enough to not call it a spoiler and despite the objections of her traditionally objecting colleagues, she identifies as the work of a serial killer (Jamie Dornan, known here as the Huntsman in the ABC series “Once Upon a Time” — and again, not a spoiler).

The series spends as much time with the killer as with the detective, and though it draws a lot of parallels between them (there is much visually resonant intercutting), it doesn’t romanticize the villain or reflexively give the heroine feet of clay. If it’s sometimes too coincidental to be true, I suppose there is no crime drama without a little too much coincidence. I could go my whole life without watching another serial killer story, but I can see why people make them — the cat-and-mouse of it, the stop-him-before-he-kills-again. The case is gripping, but it’s also to some extent irrelevant to the show’s main attraction, which is Anderson herself: smart, self-possessed, flinty and forceful — yet not unfeeling. As the feather-ruffling new woman in town and in authority, she recalls not only Helen Mirren in “Prime Suspect” — Allan Cubitt, who wrote “The Fall,” also wrote the teleplay for “Prime Suspect 2” — but also Elisabeth Moss in the recent “Top of the Lake.” She is not, however, damaged, and while her personal life becomes an issue (a one-night stand has ramifications on the plot), she remains beautifully unconflicted. A second season has been commissioned; I will just be happy to see Anderson reunited with pathologist Archie Panjabi (Kalinda on “The Good Wife”) and right hand Niamh McGrady.

VIDEO: Summer 2013 TV preview


“Skywire Live with Nik Wallenda” (Discovery, Sunday). In which Nik Wallenda of the famed Flying Wallendas circus family — celebrating something like three centuries in show business, for reals — will attempt to wire-walk across the Grand Canyon, with nothing attached or beneath him to mitigate a slip. In other words, a person might die on live television. (His great-grandfather Karl Wallenda fell from a tightrope in 1978 — he was 73, granted — and cameras were there to catch it; there was nothing, however, to catch Karl.) That is not the plan, of course; the plan is that it will all go off as hitch-free as Wallenda’s 2012 international walk across Niagara Falls (backed and carried by ABC, with the proviso that he wear a safety harness). Wallenda, who holds six Guinness world records for various difficult things, may see this stroll as a veritable walk to the corner for milk (on a sidewalk a couple of inches wide, with a 1,500-foot drop-off on either side). The unbearable tension begins at 5 p.m. PT Sunday on Discovery and and ends ... well, we’ll see.

“Homegoings” (Monday, PBS). The 26th season of the public-television documentary series “POV” opens with Christine Turner’s lyrical, life-affirming film on the African-American way of death, focusing on a family-run funeral home with branches in Harlem and small-town South Carolina. Particularly it is the story of Isiah Owens, who as a boy played “funeral parlor” the way some kids play with army men or Barbie dolls — a matchstick served for his first corpse — and grew up to follow what he considers a calling from God: “Every body that He gave me, I gave it back to Him splendid and good, and I never slighted anybody.” More generally it is a story of old-fashioned community, black history, the richness of well-lived lives and the final rites of grief and celebration that “kept us honest and sane.... Everybody knows that it’s going to be a sad good time.” Beautifully photographed by Marshall Stief.

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“Drop Dead Diva” (Lifetime, Sundays), “Franklin & Bash” (TNT, Wednesdays). Lighthearted basic-cable legal comedies, with a bit of drama — or dramas with a lot of comedy — back to fill your summer nights. Although the cases they try and the long-arc business that embroils them are interesting enough, both series depend heavily on the appeal of their cast members, and especially their stars. “Drop Dead Diva,” whose fifth season begins this week, is the more complicated of the two, its main character a self-absorbed cartoon blond whose soul, through a plot device more or less cribbed from “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” comes to rest in the body of Jane (Brooke Elliott), a (to use the common, if unlovely term) plus-size lawyer, simultaneously deceased — the mash-up improving both the inner woman and the outer. (Elliott, who has a musical comedy background, is, needless to say, attractive.) The whereabouts of the dead lawyer’s soul, now referred to as “old Jane,” and the outcome of new Jane’s cliff-hung aborted wedding (she’s still in the dress) are subjects of concern as the season begins. “Franklin & Bash,” whose third season commenced last week trades on the Mutt & Jeff chemistry of goofball leads Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, unconventional storefront lawyers who find themselves taken into a big-law firm by fellow oddball Malcolm McDowell; comic Kumail Nanjiani and Reed Diamond (late of “Homicide: Life on the Street) are there as well; Heather Locklear, whom you know, joins them this year.

“Mad Men” season finale (AMC, Sunday). Season 6, the series’ penultimate season, comes to a close this week, with who knows what great revelation or suggestive shift of perspective. (The show’s history favors the latter.) It’s been a colorful, more than usually comical season, with the exception of Jon Hamm’s downward spiraling Don Draper, whose feelings (he does have them) creator Matt Weiner has endeavored to make more visible, as the disposition of his fate draws nearer. If for a rich, well-dressed, handsome guy, Don was always something of a desperate man (it’s his inescapable past, you understand), he has gotten sloppy this year, in body and mind, sloughing off at work and alienating his daughter, arguably the most important woman in his life, however much she hates him and he mistakes her. As for no-longer-little Sally (Kiernan Shipka), she seems set for trouble of her own, as the decade slips further into chaos and beyond the grasp of our older, aging heroes and heroines, anti- and otherwise.