Worth Watching: 'Designated Survivor' Survives on Netflix, New 'Tales of the City,' a Whale of a 'Whistleblower'
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
Designated Survivor (streaming on Netflix): Having been canceled by ABC, the political drama survives into a third season on Netflix, with saltier dialogue and an occasional graphic sex scene to jolt viewers from the earnest spectacle of accidental President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) aiming to prove he has a legitimate claim on the Oval Office by running for re-election — as an independent. New to the ensemble, and a very welcome addition: Tony winner Julie White (Grace Under Fire) as his feisty campaign manager, whose eyerolls whenever Kirkman takes the high road is something to behold. ER's Anthony Edwards brings more gravitas as the new and demanding chief of staff. The new Survivor is a much more focused show than in the past, akin to Madam Secretary (albeit with F-bombs) in the way it handles hot-button issues including transgender rights, immigration, fake news and the opioid crisis. Unfortunately, the series still has a distracting thriller component, with Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) now working for the CIA and tracking a bioterror plot.
Tales of the City (streaming on Netflix): Armistead Maupin's sexy comic fable of bohemian life in San Francisco returns after nearly 20 years for a sentimental (and overlong) 10-episode season. Hopelessly, perkily naïve Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) reunites with her Barbary Lane family to celebrate den mother Anna Madrigal's (regal Olympia Dukakis) 90th birthday, introducing a new generation of mopey millennials who feel like they wandered in from a Freeform soap. The highlight: a flashback in the eighth episode to transgender pioneer Anna's (Jen Richards) arrival in the city back in 1966.
More on Netflix: The service is its own worst enemy when it comes to stepping on its high-profile projects with an endless deluge of product. Besides these two major premieres, there's a new travelogue foodie series, The Chef Show, with actor/director Jon Favreau and chef Roy Choi; the sci-fi movie thriller I Am Mother, about a teenager (Clara Rugaard) who's raised by a robot (Rose Byrne) and whose world is shaken by the arrival of an injured stranger (Hilary Swank); and director Reginald Hudlin's documentary The Black Godfather, profiling music executive and mentor Clarence Avant.
Whistleblower (8/7c, CBS): It's a whale of an alarming tale when John Hargrove, a former SeaWorld trainer, exposes conditions at the marine theme park that led him to leave his job after the death of a fellow trainer. He had already become concerned about the consequences of forced captivity of these creatures of the wild, who sometimes required being medicated to cope with the stress of being kept in small enclosures, and of separating mothers from their calves in SeaWorld's breeding program.
Another more controversial whistleblower is profiled in Showtime's documentary XY Chelsea (9/8c), which follows Chelsea Manning over two years, after her 35-year sentence in a maximum security prison was commuted by President Obama and she continued her journey of exploration as a trans woman. (She was jailed again in March for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks.)
Documentary Now! (1 am/12c, IFC): The weekend's most unusual treat is a special "sing-along" rebroadcast of the mock documentary's brilliant "Original Cast Album: Co-Op" episode, an inspired parody of the recording session for Stephen Sondheim's landmark musical Company. Presented as a rebuke for the fictional Co-Op musical being snubbed at the 1970s Tonys, this is another chance to savor the choice lyrics of Seth Meyers and John Mulaney. And, of course, to sing along.
Inside Friday TV: The reigning champs of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won't play until Tuesday, but soccer fans will want to catch the start of the Women's World Cup (3 pm/2c, FS1), as hosting country France takes on Korea Republic at Parc des Princes… Those warring homemade robots are back on a new season of Discovery's BattleBots (8/7c) with two-hour episodes of remote-control mayhem. (The episodes will repeat Wednesdays at 8/7c on Science Channel.)… In the season finale of Cinemax's Warrior (10/9c), Ah Sahm (Andrew Koji) rejects his warrior destiny by slipping back into the Chinese working class. But Chao (Hoon Lee) and Ah Toy (Olivia Cheng) hope to rouse him from his funk with personal entreaties.