Worth Watching: Sacha Baron Cohen Is 'The Spy,' Joey's Acting Gigs on 'Friends,' Showtime's 'Couples Therapy'
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
The Spy (streaming on Netflix): This is no prank. Provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for pranking the world as Borat or in disguise on Who Is America?, plays it absolutely straight—and is seriously terrific—in a solid, suspenseful six-part espionage docudrama. He’s playing real-life undercover spy Eli Cohen, an Israeli émigré who in the 1960s is recruited by Mossad to infiltrate the adversarial Syrian government, which means leaving behind his family for years—including beloved wife Nadia (an excellent Hadar Ratzon Rotem)—and keeping them in the dark as he assumes a new identity that ends up fitting him all too well. As Eli rises in influence in Syria, his handler Dan (The Americans’ Noah Emmerich) worries he may be overreaching and putting his life in ever greater peril. The Spy is from Gideon Raff, who created the series (Prisoners of War) from which Homeland was based—and like that show in its early days, this is a taut, emotionally charged and intelligent thriller.
Friends (starts at 10 am/9c, TBS): In case you haven’t heard—which seems impossible—Friends is marking its 25th anniversary this month, and TBS is joining the celebration with themed marathons each weekday through September. Today’s is especially fun, looking back at the highs and frequent lows of Joey’s (Matt LeBlanc) acting career, including the one where he’s Al Pacino’s butt double, where he’s cut from a Law & Order episode, and the ones with auditions with guest star Jeff Goldblum and opposite Ben, Ross’s (David Schwimmer) son. Good times.
Couples Therapy (10/9c, Showtime): I suppose it takes a special sort of courage—or possibly a pathological ego—to allow cameras into one’s most private moments during therapy sessions. But this new docu-series dives right into painful, combative and occasionally just embarrassing moments of raw exposure as it follows four couples, married from two to 23 years, working out their issues with clinic psychologist and psychoanalyst Orna Guralnik. In scenes reminiscent of HBO’s scripted In Treatment, Dr. Guralnik is also shown consulting with her own clinical advisor, analyzing her analysis and admitting to ambivalent feelings about her profession and clients. The most immediately compelling storyline involves Lauren, a trans woman, and her wife Sarah, whose desire to have a baby is causing stress in the relationship. Can these marriages be saved? Should they be? That’s the narrative hook.
Inside Friday TV: In memory of Valerie Harper, who passed away a week ago after a long and public battle with cancer, nostalgic getTV replays the 2013 episode of Hot in Cleveland (7:30/6:30c) in which Harper reunited with her former Mary Tyler Moore Show co-stars one last time, including Moore herself, Cloris Leachman, Cleveland regular Betty White and recurring player, the late Georgia Engel. Legends one and all. … Veep’s Tony Hale indulges his inner child—or chicken—as creator/producer of Netflix’s animated Archibald’s Next Big Thing. He’s also the voice of upbeat chicken Archibald Strutter, who lives in an egg-shaped home. Guest voices include Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, RuPaul and Christine Baranski. … PBS’s renowned Live from Lincoln Center goes abroad for the first time for the special Odyssey: The Chamber Music Society in Greece (9/8c, check local listings at pbs.org), in which beautiful classical music is played in scenic, ancient Greek settings. It culminates with a visit to Delphi, the sanctuary so sacred to Apollo, the god of music among other healing virtues. … A bad-boy comic makes nice—or nicer, anyway—in Comedy Central’s late-night interview series Good Talk with Anthony Jeselnik (11/10c). Jeselnik talks comedy with peers including, in the opener, Nick Kroll, who has unusually deep thoughts on Wayne and Garth of Wayne’s World.