Worth Watching: ‘Apollo 11,’ Times Square ‘Highwire’ Walk, BET Awards, ‘Yellowstone Live’
A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:
Apollo 11 (Sunday, 9/8c, CNN): There’s a new space race on TV as multiple channels rush to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing in the weeks ahead. None are likely to have the immediacy and uncanny urgency of director/producer Todd Douglas Miller’s you-are-there film, which had a successful run in theaters (including on IMAX screens) earlier this year. Even on a home screen, this brilliantly edited and ingeniously curated documentary draws you in with its absorbing intimacy, culling from newly discovered 70mm footage and thousands of hours of audio recordings. With split screens taking us inside the space capsule with the astronauts and the control rooms where tense engineers await each step of the mission with bated breath, Apollo 11 recaptures the anxiety and the exhilaration of this epic event in world history. And that voice you occasionally hear commenting on things, as if it were a pronouncement from God? That’s Walter Cronkite, the iconic CBS News anchor and advocate of space exploration, who at the time was as close to an oracle as the medium even had.
Already in progress, Smithsonian Channel’s six-part Apollo’s Moon Shot series (Sunday, 8/7c) continues with an episode titled “Triumph and Tragedy,” following the dizzying highs and occasional lows of Project Gemini and the introduction of Project Apollo, which is tragically rocked by a fire that kills three astronauts.
Highwire Live in Times Square with Nik Wallenda (Sunday, 8/7c, ABC): If you prefer your thrills a little closer to terra firma, this live two-hour special (hosted by ABC personalities Michael Strahan and Erin Andrews) puts the spotlight on brother-sister tightrope walkers Nik and Lijana Wallenda, seventh-generation members of the renowned circus family. Their goal: to walk a 1,300-foot distance 25 stories high on one of the world’s most iconic locations: New York’s Times Square, between 1 Times Square and 2 Times Square, with each Wallenda approaching from opposite ends of the wire and crossing in the middle before reaching the other side. (No jokes about balls dropping, please.) This stunt marks Lijana’s first highwire walk since a 2017 accident in which she and four others suffered a near-tragic 30-foot fall during a rehearsal. Filling out the two-hour special are interviews, with footage of the Wallenda family history and preparation for this latest death-defying act.
2019 BET Awards (Sunday, 8/7c, BET, simulcast on BET HER, MTV, MTV 2, MTV Classic, VH1, Logo): Regina Hall hosts the 19th annual celebration, with special honors going to Tyler Perry (Ultimate Icon Award), Mary J. Blige (Lifetime Achievement) and the late Nipsey Hussle (Humanitarian Award). The long list of performers includes the irrepressible Cardi B, who leads the field with seven nominations.
Yellowstone Live (Sunday, 10/9c, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD): Yet more live TV in an immersive return to the national park for a second season, the better to experience its wildlife and landscapes in real time. The four-night event (continuing Monday through Wednesday at 9/8c) is hosted by anchor Josh Elliott, naturalist Chris Packham and FS1’s Jenna Wolfe as a roving reporter from areas including National Geographic’s base camp and the American Prairie Reserve, where a “Burrow Cam” will show prairie dogs in their underground homes and a “Bison Cam” will follow bison on the range. Cameras will also go inside a beaver den, an eagle next and other exotic places most visitors would never be able to experience.
Finales: The fifth season of BBC America’s over-the-top crime thriller Luther (Sunday, 8/7c) ends with Luther (Idris Elba) and his criminal frenemy Alice (Ruth Wilson) spiraling deeper and deeper into violent mayhem, with no apparent way out but through an escalating body count… Tragedy also rocks the world of Starz’s The Spanish Princess (Sunday, 8/7c) in its final chapter, when a death in the Tudor family throws the destiny of England into chaos, and Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) places her future in the hands of ascendant Prince Harry (Ruairi O’Connor), soon to be known as Henry VIII… In the second-season finale of Epix’s Deep State (Sunday, 9/8c), the connection between the arms trail and the deep state is finally revealed.
Inside Weekend TV: Everything is awesome in Nickelodeon’s CG-animated LEGO City Adventures (Saturday, 11:30 am/10:30c), a 10-episode series set in the bustling LEGO city, where a variety of colorful characters work together to stop a master criminal… Lifetime’s series of movies based on the books of Jane Green continues with To Have and To Hold (Saturday, 8/7c), starring Parenthood‘s Erika Christensen as a woman who marries her high-school crush (Antonio Cupo), and once he proves to be unfaithful, finds herself drawn to her best friend’s boyfriend (Andy Favreau)… FX’s The Weekly (Sunday, 10/9c) reports on the tragic collision between an idealistic American couple bicycling around the world and a group of young men radicalized by ISIS.