Worth Watching: Taylor Swift on AMAs, a Must-See 'Watchmen,' 'Chaperone' on 'Masterpiece,' 'Walking Dead' Midseason Finale
A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:
American Music Awards (Sunday, 8/7c, ABC): Another week, another music awards show — but this year's AMA ceremony promises to make more noise than usual. It already has, courtesy of "Artist of the Decade" Taylor Swift's very public spat with Scooter Braun after he acquired her former label Big Machine Records, including masters of her first six albums. What she will perform, and what she will say when accepting the "Decade" tribute (presented by the legendary Carole King), is bound to draw a bigger audience than usual. Swift earlier claimed that Braun and Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta were blocking her from singing a medley of her early hits, which they denied — and later put out a public statement granting permission. So the show will go on, and joining Swift among the headliners are Shania Twain, making her first AMA appearance in 16 years as she prepares a Vegas residency, and Jonas Brothers, from the Boston stop of their sold-out tour.
Watchmen (Sunday, 9/8c, HBO): In one of the most stunning episodes yet of the adventurous alt-history fantasy, Angela (Regina King) discovers an unexpected side effect of swallowing a possibly lethal dose of Nostalgia: shimmering flashbacks of her grandfather Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his career as a young New York City policeman. It's a surreal and mesmerizing head trip.
The Chaperone (Sunday, 9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) returns to the Jazz Age of the 1920s for this evocative Masterpiece Films project, originally shown in theaters. The movie tells the fictionalized story of future silent-film siren Louise Brooks (Haley Lu Richardson) through the eyes of matronly chaperone Norma Carlisle (Downton's Elizabeth McGovern). She accompanies young and restless Louise to New York, escaping a seemingly loveless marriage to seek answers about her own childhood spent in an orphanage. Anyone seeking a Brooks biopic will be disappointed, but The Chaperone works as an unexpectedly progressive fable of Norma's long-overdue self-fulfillment.
The Walking Dead (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC): The opening scene in the midseason finale, depicting the immediate aftermath of heroic doctor Siddiq's (Avi Nash) murder at the hands of Whisperer mole Dante (Jean Javier Cardenes), is among the most gripping moments the zombie thriller has delivered in quite some while. As the communities grieve, there's even more impetus for vengeance-seeking Carol (Melissa McBride), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Aaron (Ross Marquand) and others to seek out the Whisperers' herd, while trying not to fall into another of Alpha's (Samantha Morton) evil traps.
Silicon Valley (Sunday, 10/9c, HBO): Only in the topsy-turvy world of this inspired tech-boom satire could the despicable Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) be seen as taking the high moral ground, casting himself as an Internet evangelist launching his own Institute of Tethics (tech ethics, get it?). Once again, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) finds himself fighting a good fight that only makes him look like a bad guy, and the reversals of fortune on this show could make your head spin.
Turkey Drop (Saturday, 9/8c, Freeform): Amid the onslaught of premature Christmas movies, here's one for Turkey Day, a romantic comedy starring Olivia Holt (Cloak & Dagger) as Lucy, who returns home from college convinced she’s about to become victim of a "turkey drop" — translation: dumped by her high-school sweetie (Tyler Perez) during the holiday break. So Lucy decides to take matters into her own hands and figure out what she really wants. Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) plays her fun-loving mom.
From Hallmark's bulging gift bag of new Christmas movies: Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays (Saturday, 8/7c), a Memphis-set romance starring Nashville's Kaitlin Doubleday as the nanny to the kids of widower Adrian Grenier (Entourage). Patrick Duffy (Dallas) co-stars… Cherished Memories: A Gift to Remember 2 (Sunday, 8/7c), revisiting the story of Darcy (Ali Liebert), who ran over Aiden (Peter Porte) on her bicycle and gave him amnesia a year ago. But all that's in the past… On Hallmark Movies & Mysteries: Holiday Hearts (Saturday, 9/8c), starring Ashley Williams as Peyton, whose pre-Christmas good deed means she has to work with her former crush (Paul Campbell); and Our Christmas Long Song (Sunday, 9/8c), with another Nashville alum, Alicia Witt, as a country-music star who returns home after being accused of plagiarism. (As if originality matters in any of these movies.)
Inside Weekend TV: A scene-stealer in film (Get Out) and TV (The Carmichael Show) gets his first HBO stand-up special in Lil Rel Howery: Live in Crenshaw (Saturday, 10/9c)… Look who's back on NBC's Saturday Night Live (Saturday, 11:30/10:30c) and joining the Five Timers Club: former cast member (1995-2002) Will Ferrell, with King Princess making her debut as musical guest… It's rare when anyone on Showtime's Ray Donovan (Sunday, 8/7c) is proclaimed a hero. But Bunchy (Dash Mihok) gets the honors when he stops a robbery in the pharmacy where he works. Wonder how that will backfire? And if you've never ever watched TV before, you may be surprised by how this episode ends… After taking time off to do a play, Barrett Foa returns to CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles (Sunday, 9/8c) as tech whiz Eric, kidnapped while on a clandestine mission for Hetty (Linda Hunt, who's back as well). Callen (Chris O'Donnell) and Sam (LL Cool J) head to San Francisco to rescue their friend… If the impeachment hearings, and the fictionalized version playing out on CBS's Madam Secretary, aren't enough for you, consider the six-episode Epix docuseries Slow Burn (Sunday, 10/9c), based on the Slate podcast which focuses on the Watergate crisis of the 1970s, finding similarities with the present-day brouhaha.