Worth Watching: The Emmys, Farm Aid and ‘Country Music,’ Showtime’s ‘Circus’ Back in Town

emmys 2019

A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:

The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (Sunday, 8/7c, 5 pm/PT, Fox): With so much great TV on so many platforms, there are more toss-ups than usual in many of the top categories, as the TV industry rewards its best and brightest at L.A.’s Microsoft Theatre. No host this year, which could be a blessing, though it feels less like an event without one. Expect tributes to hit shows that closed shop this year, including HBO’s Game of Thrones — which, despite a polarizing final season, is favored in the Drama Series category with a record 32 nominations — and CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, which deserved better than a mere three nominations. Check out my predictions and analysis of the comedy, drama and limited-series categories.

Farm Aid (Saturday, 7:30/6:30c, 4:30 pm/PT, AXS TV): Willie Nelson’s annual fundraising musical festival on behalf of America’s family farmers marks its 34th year with a visit to the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. Nelson headlines a roster of musicians and activists, with performances by fellow board members John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews (performing with Tim Reynolds), plus Tanya Tucker, Brothers Osborne, Margo Price, Luke Combs and many more over five hours.

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Country Music (Sunday, 8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Should Farm Aid whet your appetite for classic country history, the second week of Ken Burns‘ marvelous documentary epic kicks off by taking viewers into the turbulent 1960s, when artists including Johnny Cash brought a social conscience into the musical mainstream. Barriers are broken with the emergence of African-American hitmaker Charlie Pride and feminist icon Loretta Lynn, dealing frankly with provocative issues in songs like “The Pill.” As she delightfully puts it, “The songs are just life … I’ve seen it or I’ve lived it, and I never would tell my husband which one it was.”

The Circus (Sunday, 8/7c, Showtime): There’s never a shortage of material for the political wonks and journalists following the events leading up to next year’s presidential election. The docu-series returns for eight new episodes in its fourth season, with John Heileman, Mark McKinnon and Alex Wagner tracking the unusually large field of Democratic candidates as they barnstorm and debate on local and national stages, while also taking stock of the chaos within the current White House administration.

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Succession (Sunday, 9/8c, HBO): Paranoia runs high, which means deliciously devious business as usual, when Logan (Brian Cox) flies his offspring Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Roman (Kieran Culkin) to England to negotiate with their formidable mother, Caroline (Harriet Walter), in the wake of shareholder skittishness. No one’s pleased to see dethroned Pierce CEO Rhea (Holly Hunter) aboard the family jet — especially Shiv (Sarah Snook), who hasn’t even been invited after her recent “dinosaur” gaffe. Back home, it’s a game of who-distrusts-who-more between Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) and Greg (Nicholas Braun) when an internal investigation into the cruise-line scandal gets serious. Succession brilliantly juggles high drama and low comedy every single week.

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Inside Weekend TV: Ripped from the headlines, the Lifetime movie Escaping the NXIVM Cult: A Mother’s Fight to Save Her Daughter (Saturday, 8/7c) stars Rescue Mes Andrea Roth as the mother of a 20-year-old daughter (Jasper Polish) who falls under the influence of a cult leader (Peter Facinelli) whose secret sorority recruits sex slaves. Followed by a news special, Beyond the Headlines: Escaping the NXIVM Cult with Gretchen Carlson (10/9c), featuring an interview with actress Catherine Oxenberg, who fought to get her own daughter out of the cult… In a one-time special, Hallmark Channel airs two episodes of its When Calls the Heart spinoff When Hope Calls (Saturday, 9/8c), which regularly airs on the Hallmark Movies Now streaming service. The series stars Jocelyn Hudon and Morgan Kohan as sisters Grace and Lillian, who operate the New Hope Orphanage in the northwest town of Brookfield… With one episode to go before the first-season finale, Epix drama Pennyworth (Sunday, 9/8c) finds Batman’s future butler Alfred (Jack Bannon) caught up in an assassination plot targeting Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng).