Worth Watching: Celebrating 'Downton Abbey' and 'Good Place,' Remembering Phil Hartman, BET Streams 'First Wives Club'
A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
Return to Downton Abbey: A Grand Event (8/7c, NBC): On the eve of the premiere of the long-awaited Downton Abbey movie, NBC looks back at the Masterpiece cultural phenom with cast members (and assorted celebrity fans) to reflect on the impact of the series and what to expect in the film, which revisits the Crawleys and staff as the then-King and Queen of England stop by the revered Abbey. The special was filmed at Highclere Castle, where the fictional estate was set, and is hosted by Derek Hough, who can probably cut a mean Charleston.
The Paley Center Salutes The Good Place (9/8c, NBC): One of the few network shows, comedy or drama, to get significant Emmy attention, the brilliantly inventive Good Place gets the recognition it deserves in an hourlong tribute under the auspices of The Paley Center for Media. Airing a week before the launch of its final (say it isn't so) season, the special features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the wonderful ensemble — Emmy-nominated Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Jameela Jamil, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto and D'Arcy Carden — and series creator Michael Schur. It's hard to imagine the places this inspired series will go in its last chapter, but we can't wait to find out.
The Last Days of Phil Hartman (9/8c, ABC): I'd rather focus on this talented comic actor's better days, but there's no question that Saturday Night Live veteran Phil Hartman's 1998 death, at 49, when he was shot and killed by third wife Brynn (who then committed suicide), was a shocking end to the brilliant career of a well-liked, versatile entertainer. The two-hour ABC News special looks back at Hartman's legacy as an essential SNL player, an iconic voice on The Simpsons (Troy McClure) and sitcom star (NewsRadio), interviewing co-stars and producers of his best-known projects. Home videos and interviews with Hartman's second wife and close friends give a more personal view, and Brynn's brother, Gregory Omdahl, speaks of her addictions and frustrations before the tragedy.
First Wives Club (streaming on BET+): Every streaming service needs a signature show to lure an audience, and BET's new venture (launching today) has found one in a loose adaptation of the hit novel and film, creating a new triumvirate of female friendship seeing each other through the best and worst of times. Having drifted apart, dissatisfied politician's wife Ari (Ryan Michelle Bathe) and Bree (Michelle Buteau), a surgeon newly separated from her cheating spouse, rally when their famous friend, R&B singer Hazel (the terrific Jill Scott), has a public falling-out with her louse of a record-exec husband (Malik Yoba). Glossy and sexy, First Wives drops all nine episodes of the first season for binge-watching.
Also on the BET+ roster: Bigger, another comedy of female empowerment. Tanisha Long stars as Layne, who carries on a constant conversation with the camera, Fleabag-style — "Excuse me while I fake us," she tells us during sex with her sweet but dull doctor boyfriend (Warren Burke). His sudden marriage proposal sends her, and her college besties, on a journey of discovery as they try to figure out what they really, really want. The first three episodes are available for streaming immediately, with the rest of the 10-episode season airing weekly.
Inside Thursday TV: The stories begin to take a more serious turn on the CBS All Access dramedy Why Women Kill in an episode written by Emmy-winning Frasier/Desperate Housewives veteran Joe Keenan. In the '60s, Beth Ann (Ginnifer Goodwin) realizes a neighbor might be the victim of domestic abuse, while '80s socialite Simone (Lucy Liu) and gay husband Karl (Jack Davenport) stop joking about their differences. In present-day Pasadena, Taylor (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) is not happy that live-in lover Jade (Alexandra Daddario) is now considered husband Eli's (Reid Scott) "muse." Wait till she finds out Jade is feeding pills to her addict husband… If NBC's Good Place salute left you wanting more of D'Arcy Carden, so fabulous as Janet, she's the scheduled guest on TBS's Conan (11/10c)… And if the Downton Abbey tribute made you want to spend more time with that sparkling cast, Hugh Bonneville stops by ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live (11:35/10:35c) and Michelle Dockery visits CBS's The Late Late Show with James Corden (12:35 am/11:35c).