The Protean Genius of George Carlin, Oscar Winners in ‘Night Sky,’ All-Star ‘Drag Race,’ Shakespeare in the Park, Elon Musk
HBO presents a two-part appreciation of the influential comedian George Carlin, a man of and ahead of his times. Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons are the reason to watch the offbeat sci-fi drama Night Sky. An all-star season of RuPaul’s Drag Race features a cast of former winners. Great Performances goes to Central Park for a Harlem-set twist on Shakespeare. FX’s The New York Times Presents series takes a hard look at Elon Musk’s controversial advocacy of self-driving technology.
George Carlin’s American Dream
If only George Carlin were with us today, aiming his withering gaze and his nimble wordplay at society’s extremes, from QAnon to cancel culture. The great comedian, who died in 2008, remains relevant, as directors Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfigilo reveal in a fascinating and entertaining, deeply personal two-part documentary profile with vintage performance clips and interviews. American Dream tracks Carlin’s evolution from a tie-wearing stand-up star on 1960s variety shows—his “hippy dippy weatherman” providing a clue to where he was headed—to the counterculture iconoclast whose “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” created a sensation in the 1970s. Repeatedly reinventing himself to adapt to changing times, Carlin developed his most enduring persona as a fearless sage, speaking truth to hypocrisy. With daughter Kelly providing candid memories of his battle with drugs and his brother Patrick (since deceased) shining profane light on Carlin’s childhood and career, this special (concluding Saturday) is not to be missed.
There’s such a warm natural chemistry between Oscar winners Sissy Spacek and J.K. Simmons, as an aging Midwestern couple facing their mortality, that they’ll keep you grounded even when this peculiar eight-part sci-fi drama threatens to go off the rails. They’re Irene and Franklin York, who’ve been keeping a secret for many years, that their backyard shed leads to a portal to a remote, seemingly barren planet, which they observe from a sealed chamber. “This is our riddle to solve,” Irene insists. But they’re not getting any younger, and before long, strange and sinister intruders will invade their cosmic peace. (As is often the case with streaming shows these days, I kept thinking this might have made a better movie than a laborious series.)
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars
In a first for the fabulous Emmy-winning reality competition, a gaggle of eight champions from past seasons gather to battle it out for the title of “Queen of All Queens” and a $200,000 cash prize. Among those returning to the runway: The Vivienne (from the U.K. version’s Season 1), Jaida Essence Hall, Jinkx Monsoon, Monét X Change, Raja, Shea Couleé, Trinity the Tuck and Yvie Oddley. The roster of guest judges is nearly as colorful, including Cameron Diaz, Betsey Johnson, Ben Platt, Ronan Farrow, Nikki Glaser and Hacks’ Hannah Einbinder.
Filmed last summer in Central Park for Great Performances, as live theater was returning to New York and other stages, the Public Theater’s spirited production of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is transformed by playwright Jocelyn Bioh (and director Saheem Ali) into a boisterous farce set in Harlem. This Is Us star Susan Kelechi Watson stars with Pascale Armand as the canny, revenge-minded wives who plot revenge and outwit the charlatan Falstaff (Jacob Ming-Trent) in the timeless comedy.
Elon Musk’s Crash Course
No, this isn’t about the zillionaire’s flirtation with Twitter or his adventures in space travel. The latest investigation in FX’s The New York Times Presents series takes a hard look at Elon Musk’s advocacy for Tesla’s Autopilot self-driving capacity. The documentary draws on first-hand accounts to show how Autopilot has contributed to a number of deaths and accidents, which Tesla has not publicly acknowledged, including allegations that Musk has pressured government officials to subvert investigations into the perils of self-driving technology.
Inside Friday TV:
- Shark Tank (8/7c, ABC): Kevin Hart returns to the Tank for the season finale to hear pitches, including from a Texas boxer who’s developed a new body fitness tool.
- The Blacklist (8/7c, NBC): In the first of a two-part season finale (concluding next Friday), Red (James Spader) works with the Task Force to take down the traitor in their midst.
- True Crime Watch: On Dateline NBC (9/8c), Andrea Canning updates the case of Leslie Neulander from Syracuse, N.Y., whose death in 2012, first reported as an accidental fall in the shower, led to the conviction of her doctor husband. ABC’s 20/20 (9/8c) features John Quiñones’ interview with Brandon Woodruff, convicted in 2009 for the 2005 murder of his parents in Texas. The Innocence Project of Texas is advocating for his release, and Woodruff suggests anti-gay bias may have influenced the investigation that led to his conviction.
- Gold Rush: Dave Turin’s Lost Mine (9/8c, Discovery): Miner Dave Turin and his team set up operations in Colorado in the fourth season, digging a haul of gold out of a lost mine with great untapped potential.
On the Stream:
- Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers (streaming on Disney+): John Mulaney and Andy Samberg provide the voices of the chipper cartoon chipmunks in a meta live action-CGI movie comedy. Now retired and living separate lives in L.A. after their TV show was canceled, the critters reignite their Rescue Rangers partnership when a former co-star vanishes.
- Troppo (streaming on Amazon Freevee): Thomas Jane stars in an eight-part Australian thriller as an ex-cop who hides in the Far North Queensland tropics after being falsely accused of a crime. While on the lam, he gets caught up in a case involving murder and a missing person.
- The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks (streaming on Prime Video): If the comedy troupe’s new season of out-there sketches left you wanting more, a two-part documentary relives their heyday in the 1980s and follows them on a 40-year trajectory through sold-out tours and a polarizing feature film.
- Now and Then (streaming on Apple TV+): Joining a lineup that includes the ongoing Shining Girls and The Essex Serpent, an eight-part bilingual thriller set in Miami reunites five former college friends after 20 years, when deadly secrets re-emerge.
- The Valet (streaming on Hulu): Eugenio Derbez is the title character of a rom-com (a remake of a French film) about a hard-working valet who’s enlisted in a cover-up to pose as a movie star’s (Samara Weaving) new boyfriend when he appears in the same paparazzi photo as the actress and her secret married lover (The Neighborhood’s Max Greenfield).
- Love, Death + Robots Volume 3 (streaming on Netflix): David Fincher makes his animation directing debut in one of the nine vignettes in the third season of the sci-fi/fantasy anthology.
- Alien Endgame (streaming on discovery+): With Congress now holding hearings on UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), this two-hour documentary could hardly be timelier, as government insiders and former U.S. military members explore what officials may know but aren’t telling about UFO close encounters and possible extraterrestrial threats to the planet.