Worth Watching: High Fantasy in 'Dark Crystal' and 'Carnival Row,' 'Big Family' of Bluegrass on PBS
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (streaming on Netflix): In one of the most ambitious and visually spectacular fantasy projects ever concocted for TV, the Jim Henson Company returns to the mythical world of Thra for an elaborate and enthralling 10-episode prequel to the cult 1982 movie (also available for streaming). Masterful puppetry and stunning production design immerse viewers in the story of Rian (voiced by Taron Egerton), a young Gelfling on a quest to stop the evil Skeksis from harvesting Gelfings' essence for their own immortal gain. The madly skilled voice cast includes Sigourney Weaver as the narrator, and genre faves Mark Hamill, Jason Isaacs, Alicia Vikander, Simon Pegg with Game of Thrones vets Lena Headey, Nathalie Emmanuel and Natalie Dormer.
Carnival Row (streaming on Amazon Prime Video): Owing more to Dickens in its steampunk worldbuilding, this atmospheric and very adult fantasy thriller (already renewed for a second season) stars Lord of the Rings veteran Orlando Bloom as Rycroft "Philo" Philostrate, a detective in a Victorian era where mythological creatures including airborne fairies live among humans, often on the margins of polite society. When a murder among the Carnival Row outcasts ensnares Philo, he finds himself drawn into a forbidden romance with ethereal fae Vignette Stonemoss (Cara Delevingne).
Keeping Faith (streaming on Acorn TV): If you'd rather spend your Labor Day weekend more grounded on Earth, there's a second season of a hit Welsh mystery which has been compared to Broadchurch in its emotional undercurrents. The wonderful Eve Myles (Torchwood) stars as lawyer Faith Howells, who spent the first season searching for the truth about her missing husband (Bradley Freegard, Myles' real-life mate). In the second season, the hubby's sudden reappearance is explained, while Eve takes on the case of a farmer's wife accused of killing her own husband.
Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music (9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Think of it as an opening act for Ken Burns' upcoming epic history of Country Music. In a two-hour history of the subgenre known for its harmonies and virtuoso picking, narrated by actor and banjo aficionado Ed Helms, Big Family traces bluegrass from its roots in European and African influences, featuring Bill Monroe as the "Father of Bluegrass" and Earl Scruggs (with Lester Flatt), who would popularize the music with the "Ballad of Jed Clampett" theme from The Beverly Hillbillies and the "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" used so memorably in Bonnie and Clyde. More contemporary artists including Ricky Skaggs, Del McCroury and Bela Flack offer perspective on the past, present and expansive future of bluegrass.
Inside Friday TV: Recently renewed for a second season, HBO's hilarious A Black Lady Sketch Show (11/10c) continues its successful freshman run, finding humor in a camping trip, an airplane's exit row and a fraught high-school reunion… Yet more streaming: When Hope Calls is Hallmark Movies Now's first original series, harking from the world of When Calls the Heart. It's the story of sisters Lillian (Morgan Kohan) and Grace (Jocelyn Hudon), who operate an orphanage in the Western town of Brookfield in 1916, never losing hope for romance while tending to their young flock… Netflix gets fabulous in Styling Hollywood, a reality series featuring celebrity stylist Jason Bolden and his interior-designer husband Adair Curtis as they work their magic on clients including Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union and Eve, to name-drop a few…