Worth Watching: Disney+ Launches, ABC Salutes Dolly Parton, HBO Profiles Ralph Lauren, History's 'Kings of Pain'
A selective critical checklist of notable Tuesday TV:
The Mandalorian (streaming on Disney+): Another week, another new streaming service, but Disney's is among the biggest and most highly anticipated. The platform's flagship series (not previewed for critics) is an outer-space adventure set in the Star Wars universe, about a Mandalorian bounty hunter (Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal) operating in the period following Return of the Jedi and before The Force Awakens.
Beyond a treasure trove of classic Disney movies, and much of the Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel film libraries, and 30 seasons of The Simpsons, there are quite a few original series on tap (most will drop new episodes weekly on Fridays). Among the highlights:
The very meta High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and the docu-series Encore!, which brings casts of actual high-school musicals (like Annie) back to their alma maters years later to see if they've still got it (see the full review).
For uplift, Marvel's Hero Project profiles inspiring young people who are making a difference — the premiere spotlights 13-year-old Jordan, who chose to make the most of her limb difference (she's missing a hand) and invent something as cool as a glitter-shooting arm attachment. Marvel sees her as a superhero (which she is) and makes her the star of her own comic book, making for a euphoric final reveal.
For those engrossed in Disney history, The Imagineering Story digs into the archives to tell the story of how Disneyland was created by technologically gifted "imagineers," who rose to Walt Disney's challenge to transform theme parks forever. It can feel a bit like an informercial, but is fascinating nonetheless.
For those who prefer the quirky, The World According to Jeff Goldblum indulges the "curious cat" to find the remarkable within the everyday, as in his first exploration of the mystique, and multi-billion-dollar industry, of the sneaker.
Original movies are also part of the mix, starting with a live-action version of Lady and the Tramp, with Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux providing the voices of the dogs who learn all about amore over a plate of spaghetti; and Noelle, a holiday comedy starring Anna Kendrick as Kris Kringle's daughter and Bill Hader as her brother Nick, who may not yet be ready to take over the family Santa Claus business from dear old ho-ho-ho dad.
Dolly Parton: Here She Comes Again! (10/9c, ABC): On the eve of the CMA Awards, which Parton is co-hosting with Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire, the country-music legend looks back on her remarkable career with Robin Roberts, who visits her for an interview at the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. We'll be seeing a lot of Dolly later this month, including an NBC special celebrating her 50th anniversary at the Grand Ole Opry, and a Netflix series, Heartstrings, which uses her iconic songlist (including "Jolene") as the inspiration for a series of heartwarming movies.
Very Ralph (9/8c, HBO): Having produced memorable feature-length biographical studies of Steven Spielberg and Jane Fonda for HBO, Susan Lacy (American Masters) now turns to fashion icon Ralph Lauren for his first documentary portrait. The film traces his journey from a boyhood in the Bronx to a brand name that defines a type of American style. Among the fashionable celebs singing his praises: editors Anna Wintour and Tina Brown, Diane von Furstenberg, André Leon Talley, Naomi Campbell, Jessica Chastain and Martha Stewart.
Kings of Pain (10/9c, History): Confession: I could barely make it through the excruciatingly graphic trailer for this grueling reality series, in which animal handler Rob "Caveman" Alleva and wildlife biologist Adam Thorn subject themselves to fearsome bites and stings from all manner of dangerous creatures. Why? To create an updated "pain index" that measures intensity, duration and damage on a 30-point scale, with the intention being that knowing what to expect can save lives. It's also catnip for sadists who like to see grown men torturing themselves for our horrified amusement. Obviously not for the squeamish.
Inside Tuesday TV: Every season on NBC's This Is Us (9/8c), fans live in fear of Kevin (Justin Hartley) spiraling back into addiction. It could happen again, just as Uncle Nicky (Griffin Dunne) needs his support for his court hearing. But once again, the relationship to watch, and root for, is that of Deja (Lyric Ross) and Malik (Asante Blackk)… What could possibly go wrong when the transplanted hippie family in ABC's period comedy mixed-ish (9/8c) take granddad Harrison (Gary Cole) up on his invitation to visit his country club?… OWN's soapy Ambitions (10/9c) resumes its first season in the aftermath of the murder of Senior Lancaster (Tony Vaughn), but the real fireworks are happening in Titus's (Kendrick Cross) hotel room, where Amara (Essence Atkins) has discovered her arch-rival, Stephanie (Robin Givens)… In the third-season finale of AT&T Audience Network's Mr. Mercedes (10/9c), Morris Bellamy is starting to feel the heat from private eye Bill Hodges (Brendan Gleeson) and his team. Will he finally have to face the music for killing author John Rothstein (Bruce Dern)?