Worth Watching: ‘Downton Abbey Live,’ Remembering Patrick Swayze, ‘Righteous Gemstones,’ ‘Zombie Tidal Wave’
A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:
Downton Abbey Live! (Sunday, 9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): With anticipation growing for next month’s Downton Abbey feature film, stars and producers of the beloved series gather before a live audience in New York City to preview clips and reflect on six seasons of the addictive and much-missed Masterpiece phenom. Even if spoilers are scarce, composer John Lunn will be in the studio performing piano arrangements of his haunting Downton themes. Bring your own champagne.
I Am Patrick Swayze (Sunday, 9/8c, Paramount Network): Airing on what would have been the movie star’s 67th birthday, this latest biography in the “I Am” franchise pays tribute to the actor through home movies, family photos and interviews with loved ones (including widow Lisa Niemi) and co-workers from actors (Sam Elliott, Jennifer Grey, Rob Lowe, Demi Moore) to stuntman Cliff McLaughlin and bodyguard Frank Whiteley. As an extra treat for Swayze fans, two of his most beloved blockbusters, Ghost and Dirty Dancing, will air beforehand, at 3:30/2:30c and 6:30/5:30c.
The Righteous Gemstones (Sunday, 10/9c, HBO): HBO’s inexplicable allegiance to Danny McBride‘s brand of obvious, crude comedy continues with a lively but tiresome send-up of a hypocritical evangelical family. (Advice: stick with OWN’s Greenleaf.) John Goodman is characteristically terrific as the patriarch, Eli Gemstone, whose ruthless arrogance toward any holy rivals for parishioners’ cash is leavened by grief over his late wife and performing partner (Jennifer Nettles, wonderful in flashbacks). The focus, though, is mostly on his immature and sniping brood of adult offspring (McBride, Adam Devine and Edi Patterson), and when a sex-and-drug tape threatens the clan with blackmail and exposure, the outrageous twists multiply. In later episodes, Walton Goggins (soon to star in CBS’s first-rate The Unicorn) is an avaricious marvel as Eli’s pathetically needy brother-in-law, who still goes by the stage name Baby Billy.
Succession (Sunday, 9/8c, HBO): As corrupt family sagas go, this brilliant depiction of a high-stakes chess game within a media dynasty is highly recommended. In the second chapter of the second season, a humbled Kendall (Jeremy Strong) is dispatched by father Logan (Brian Cox) to assess the future of the company’s recent acquisition, the Gawker-like website Vaulter, and as sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) smartly observes of her soul-crushed brother: “You have a hard time finding a happy medium between worshiping him and wanting to kill him.” The power plays are devastating, but there’s always comic relief — including cousin Greg’s (Nicholas Braun) search for a home that can contain his gangly frame.
Zombie Tidal Wave (Saturday, 9/8c, Syfy): Like it or not, the cheesy spirit of Sharknado lives on. Ian Ziering, who’s also camping it up with a straight face in Fox’s BH90210 revival, rejoins Sharknado schlock auteur Anthony C. Ferrante for a wacky and grisly new franchise. Shark-infested twisters may feel tame compared to the threat posed by the swimming dead, and it’s up to veteran sailor Hunter Shaw (Ziering) to save his seaside community when a tsunami teeming with zombies threatens to bring the pandemic onshore. Anyone tuning in should feel responsible if there are (inevitably) sequels.
Fear the Walking Dead (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC): You may experience echoes of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead (1978 version, or the 2004 remake if you must) when Morgan’s (Lennie James) latest mission of mercy leads him and Grace (Karen David) into an abandoned mall, where things quickly go sideways… Followed by another wild episode of AMC’s irreverent Preacher (Sunday, 10/9c), in which Tulip (Ruth Negga) gets help from the actual Jesus Christ (Tyson Ritter) in her quest to rescue Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun) from the bowels of Masada. As for Jesse’s (Dominic Cooper) rocky road to Australia, the latest detour finds him lost at sea in a flimsy lifeboat, cursing a capricious and mischievous God (Mark Harelik).
Inside Weekend TV: CNN’s Special Report Woodstock at 50 (Saturday, 9/8c) looks back at the fabled folk-rock festival, with correspondent Bill Weir interviewing those who attended and organized the concert as well as performers including David Crosby, Graham Nash and John Fogerty. Weir also travels to the Bonnaroo festival to explore Woodstock’s musical legacy… Renewed for a second season, Showtime’s Boston crime drama City on a Hill (Sunday, 9/8c) wraps its first with the Ryans in custody, Jackie (Kevin Bacon) gloating and D.A. Decourcy (Aldis Hodge) mulling the proper course of justice. The story isn’t over yet… If Netflix’’s Mindhunter left you wanting more, Investigation Discovery complies with a new series of specials, Mind of a Monster (Sunday, 9/8c), probing the twisted psyches of serial killers. First subject: Ted Bundy.