Worth Watching: ‘Luther,’ ‘NOS4A2,’ FX’s ‘Weekly,’ and Many Other Premieres

Luther S5_01_021
Des Willie/BBC America

A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:

This is one of those weekends that defines the notion of “peak TV,” with so many premieres piling on top of the other it’s a wonder anything is able to break out anymore. Summer hasn’t been quiet on TV for quite some time, but even by those standards, this deluge is an embarrassment of uneven riches. Some highlights:

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Luther (Sunday, 8/7c, BBC America): Charismatic and as rugged as ever, Idris Elba is back as John Luther, a London detective who keeps ticking after so many lickings you figure he must have Timex in his DNA. Little has changed as a garish fifth season commences in the first of four new episodes, with Luther quickly being kidnapped by a group of thugs, putting him at the mercy of gangster George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide). What he wants from Luther will come clear when a figure from his past eventually returns — more on that next week — but this violent interlude is a distraction from his grisly new case. Luther teams with a rising star of a new partner, DS Catherine Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) — “We’re the dinosaurs, she’s the meteor,” his boss declares) — to look into a series of horrifying mutilation murders. It’s all a bit much, but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be Luther.

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The key art teases a twist on a popular supernatural story.

NOS4A2(Sunday, 10/9c, AMC): The title of Joe Hill’s expansive horror novel, adapted into series form, refers to the license plate of a vintage Wraith Rolls-Royce — sound it out, it’s “Nosferatu,” a term often associated with vampires — and there’s never been a ghoul quite like Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto in an ever-changing parade of gruesome old-age makeups). This boogeyman lures unwitting kids into his vehicle, though it fairly screams “don’t ride with strangers,” transporting them into a realm of his imagination — here, it’s called an “inscape” — which he calls Christmasland. (The use of Christmas carols to build tension is rather inspired.) But NOS4A2 is really the story of working-class teen heroine Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings), whose discovery of her own “inscape” while riding her motorbike to escape her dead-end life leads her into direct conflict with Manx. Grounding the supernatural shenanigans in the drab realism of Vic’s world has its merits, but this might have made a better, and certainly more propulsive, movie than a draggy weekly series. After screening six episodes, I wanted to start asking “Are we there yet?” when it comes to Vic’s search for the lost children in Christmasland.

The Weekly (Sunday, 10/9c, FX): Missing your weekly 60 Minutes fix on Sundays now that TV’s pre-eminent newsmagazine is on a summer break? Consider this first-rate exercise in investigative journalism, following staff members of The New York Times as they report stories and work sources to reveal often hard truths. The opener takes education reporter Erica L. Green and Justice Department reporter Katie Benner to rural Louisiana, where they expose deceptive practices at a private and unaccredited school that boasts of being able to place its students in Ivy League universities. In an illuminating vignette, Green worries about the impact on one of her sources coming forward, as she talks over the approach of the story with her editor over the phone. That’s journalism in action.

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Perpetual Grace, LTD(Sunday, 10/9c, Epix): Offbeat to a possible fault, this weirdly intriguing crime drama from the creator of Amazon’s Patriot has the feel of Fargo transplanted to the land of Breaking Bad, though not initially as compelling as either. Set in rural New Mexico near the Mexican border, it’s the story of a drifting grifter (Westworld alum Jimmi Simpson) who’s enlisted to set up and bring down a swindling pastor (Ben Kingsley) and his wife (Jacki Weaver). Naturally, things aren’t quite as they seem, and the story takes yet another sinister turn when a Texas Ranger named Walker — not Chuck Norris, but Losts Terry O’Quinn — enters the picture.

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American Princess (Sunday, 9/8c, Lifetime): The least of the weekend’s many premieres is a peculiar new rom-com about a socialite bride (Georgia Flood) who flees her wedding and a coterie of obnoxious JAP stereotypes, finding a new home among a quirky community of Renaissance Faire employees and attendees. Spare thee this twee detour into self-amused whimsy.

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Inside Weekend TV: Following a theatrical run, Hulu presents the documentary film Ask Dr. Ruth (streaming Saturday), profiling Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 90-year-old and still irrepressible sex therapist who looks back at her life as a Holocaust survivor and contributor to the sexual revolution… The infinitely adaptable Jane Austen has now inspired Lifetime’s Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta (Saturday, 8/7c), starring Reginald VelJohnson and Jackée Harry as the Bennets, a Southern Baptist minister and his wife, desperate to marry off their five daughters. Empires Juan Antonio is the eligible Will Darcy whom they hope will take a shine to Lizzie (Tiffany Hines)… AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead (Sunday, 10/9c) returns for a fifth season with do-gooding Team Morgan (Lennie James) literally crash-landing in their latest mission of mercy gone awry. Will they never learn that their fellow humans are an even worse threat than the relentless horde of zombies?