The Emmys, Ken Burns’ ‘Muhammad Ali,’ A Political ‘Fiasco,’ Lifetime’s ‘Imperfect High’
Look for The Crown, Ted Lasso and The Queen’s Gambit to make strong showings at Sunday’s Emmy Awards on CBS, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer. Ken Burns’ epic four-night Muhammad Ali documentary is a fully rounded biographical portrait of the legendary boxer. From the makers of Slow Burn, Epix docuseries Fiasco adapts a podcast shining new light on the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Sherri Shepherd stars with Dance Moms regular Nia Sioux in Lifetime’s cautionary drama Imperfect High.
SUNDAY: TV celebrates TV—though these days, streaming and premium cable shows tend to hog the spotlight—in the annual awards show, returning to a mostly in-person format with Cedric the Entertainer (The Neighborhood) as host. Among the highlights: a high-energy opening number and an “In Memoriam” segment with music from Leon Bridges and The Late Show’s Jon Batiste. The Emmys can be notoriously difficult to predict, but with last year’s drama and comedy winners (Succession and Schitt’s Creek) not in the running, the door seems wide open for Netflix’s The Crown and the Apple TV+ hit Ted Lasso to take top honors, with Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit favored over HBO’s Mare of Easttown in the hot limited-series category. (Go here for my takes on the nominees.) And expect a poignant moment should the late Michael K. Williams win, as he’s expected to, for his supporting performance in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
SUNDAY: Ken Burns is our greatest American documentarian, so it’s fitting that he turns his attention—collaborating with daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon as writer/co-directors—to “The Greatest,” which is how larger-than-life boxer-humanitarian Muhammad Ali became known. Airing over four nights (through Wednesday Sept. 22), the film is a knockout of sheer narrative power, capturing Ali’s defiant, charismatic personality as he polarized America with his embrace of Islam and opposition to the Vietnam War, which temporarily cost him his heavyweight title. (See the full review.)
SUNDAY: From the podcasting folks that produced last year’s riveting Slow Burn docuseries about Watergate, a new six-part series tackles one of the biggest political scandals of the 1980s: the Iran-Contra affair, a low point for the Reagan presidency. Key players and journalists lay out the facts involving the illegal “arms-for-hostages” deal with Iran, with proceeds intending to fund the Contras in Nicaragua, which Congress had prohibited. The hearings were spellbinding TV, and this ought to be as well.
SATURDAY: A sequel of sorts to 2015’s Perfect High, this is a throwback to a time when “issue-of-the-week” TV movies were a broadcasting staple. This cautionary tale of teen substance abuse stars Sherri Shepherd as the concerned mom of Hanna Brooks (Dance Moms’ Nia Sioux), whose desire to fit in as the new girl at Lakewood High is heightened by her anxiety disorder and a romantic triangle that lands her in a life-threatening situation.
SUNDAY: “Evil is organizing,” warns David (Mike Colter), the priest-in-training, in another excellent episode of the supernatural thriller that shifts focus back to the sinister doings at RSM Fertility. Kristen (Katja Herbers) is newly rattled about RSM’s involvement in the birth of her daughter Lexis (Maddy Crocco)—who’s experiencing a more bizarre than usual adolescent fixation on body image—and gets a nasty surprise when she checks on the eggs they’re storing. In the creepiest subplot, Kristen’s wayward mother Sheryl (the wonderful Christine Lahti) is introduced by the scheming Leland (Michael Emerson) to a slick “influencer” (Tim Matheson) who could have stepped out of the pages of Rosemary’s Baby.
Inside Weekend TV:
- Columbo Marathon (Saturday, starts at 8 am/7c, COZI TV): And just one more thing … Happy 50th anniversary to the rumpled detective (four-time Emmy winner Peter Falk) who could see through any criminal’s façade. To celebrate, COZI presents a daylong marathon (through 4 pm/3c) of four Columbo movies, with two more in prime time (8/7c) in its regular time period.
- Outgrown (Saturday, 8/7c, HGTV): Designer Luke Caldwell and builder Clint Robertson, with 11 children between them, know something about how a home can feel too small for a growing family. In a new renovation series, they help maximize space as they customize homes for parents in Boise, Idaho who are feeling cramped by the kids.
- Reno My Rental (streaming on discovery+): Design Star: Next Gen winner Carmeon Hamilton, having earned her own show, trains her talents for design and style on renters in her Memphis hometown. She helps them bring some color and personalized touches to impersonal spaces without compromising their temporary living quarters. (The premiere can also be seen on HGTV at 11/10c.)
- 48 Hours (Saturday, 10/9c, CBS): The long-running true-crime series opens its new season with “The Online Life & Death of Bianca Devins,” recounting the 2019 murder of a social media-savvy teenager in Utica, N.Y., and how images of her body posted online and sent to her family by the killer created further shockwaves.
- The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth (Sunday, 8/7c, Showtime): The political insiders’ show is back for an eight-episode fall run, with plenty of material to digest from the Biden administration’s recent actions on the domestic and world stage, and a Republican opposition still in thrall to the former president.
- Fantasy Island (Sunday, 8/7c, Fox): The reboot’s season finale welcomes a young artist (John Gabriel Rodriquez) onto the island, where he reconnects with his mentor (Leslie Jordan) for some mutual soul-searching.
- The Origins of COVID-19: Searching for the Source (Sunday, 8/7c, CNN): Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports a timely news special on the investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, a subject that has divided many in the scientific community. He interviews leading virology and epidemiology scientists, some of whom have never gone on camera before and have received death threats.
- On Assignment with Richard Engel—Afghanistan: Graveyard of Enemies (Sunday, 10/9c, MSNBC): NBC Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel devotes an hour to the fallout from the situation in Afghanistan, now under Taliban rule after the controversial U.S. withdrawal of troops. He interviews former soldier Louis Loftus, who served in the 82nd Airborne and now suffers from PTSD and drug abuse, and also speaks with former CIA station chief Gary Schroen about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and Inspector General John Sopko about the costs of America’s longest war.
- Teenage Euthanasia (Sunday, midnight/11c, Adult Swim): An irreverent animated coming-of-age comedy deals with the funky Florida family of teenage Euthanasia “Annie” Fantasy (Jo Firestone), raised by Uncle Pete (Tim Robinson) and immigrant grandmother Baba (Bebe Neuwirth) after her mother Trophy ran away. Now Trophy (Maria Bamford) is back to the family’s Tender Endings funeral home—as a corpse magically brought back to life, getting a second chance at motherhood.