Worth Watching: Finales of ‘Boat’ and ‘Speechless,’ Something ‘Special’ on Netflix, Pulitzer Profiled on ‘American Masters’
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless (8/7c, ABC): We’re not quite sure if these are season, or series, finales for two of ABC’s better family comedies, but let’s hope this isn’t the end of the line for either. Boat wraps its fifth season with Eddie (Hudson Yang) proving to be too much for Taiwan and sent back home to a bewildered family. And in the pivotal third-season finale to the underrated Speechless, it’s a celebration for JJ (Micah Fowler) as he graduates from high school, though Maya (Minnie Driver) is dealing with separation anxiety should JJ pursue his dreams on the opposite coast at NYU. JJ’s aide, Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough), is putting the pressure on for JJ to get ready for a grand finale to their working relationship. Sounds like a lot of emotional closure, which makes us even more anxious about the show’s fate.
Special (streaming on Netflix): Based on Ryan O’Connell’s memoir of life as a young gay man with a mild case of cerebral palsy, this irreverent and refreshingly (for Netflix) brisk comedy — episodes clock in at around 15 minutes — is most memorable when depicting Ryan’s endearingly awkward embrace of his sexuality. (He wears a suit to his own deflowering.) He’s not without flaws: He’s horrible to his clingy mother (Jessica Hecht) and lies to coworkers that his condition is the result of a recent car accident. His self-awakening over eight episodes leaves us hoping he’ll be rewarded with a second season. As it is, Special feels less like a binge than a snack.
Also new to Netflix: the first season of Huge in France, starring French comedy star Gad Elmaleh as a version of himself, a famous French comedian whose notoriety doesn’t follow him to Los Angeles, where he relocates to reconnect with his estranged and supremely unimpressed teenage son. Also: the rom-com The Perfect Date, starring Noah Centineo as an impoverished Ivy League hopeful who discovers a path to Yale that doesn’t include felony fraud, when he begins hiring himself out as a temporary boyfriend to rich girls seeking a hot plus-one. Inevitably, he’ll fall for one of them (Riverdale‘s Camila Mendes).
Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People (9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): No doubt you’ve heard of the prizes established in his name. Now American Masters tells the life story of the Hungarian immigrant turned media mogul who helped change the face and tone of newspapers, championing a free press and incurring the wrath of powerful people (including then-President Theodore Roosevelt) in his crusade for the truth.
Inside Friday TV: ABC’s 20/20 (9/8c) looks back 30 years to the tragic stalking case of actress Rebecca Schaeffer (My Sister Sam), who was murdered at the door of her L.A. home in July 1989 by a crazed fan, later convicted of first-degree murder. The report features interviews with her Sam co-star Pam Dawber and former prosecutor Marcia Clark, who successfully prosecuted Schaeffer’s killer years before her association with the O.J. Simpson trial… Lou Diamond Phillips returns to CBS’s Blue Bloods (10/9c) as Luis Delgado, Danny’s (Donnie Wahlberg) arch-nemesis. The enemies team up to take down whoever broke into Luis’s house to kill his wife, since the same fiend may be responsible for the death of Danny’s wife, Linda.