Worth Watching: Linda Ronstadt Celebrated on CNN, 'Doctor Who' Premiere, 'Messiah' on Netflix
A selective critical checklist of notable Wednesday (Happy New Year!) TV:
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (9/8c, CNN): If her recent Kennedy Center Honors tribute wasn't enough, this terrific documentary (directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman) makes an even stronger case for declaring Linda Ronstadt one of the most remarkable musical talents of the last century. While her voice has been stilled (though not at family get-togethers) by Parkinson's disease, the versatile legacy of her ever-ranging exploration of genres and styles will never diminish. Ronstadt narrates much of the film, noting with customary self-effacement early on: "People would think that I was trying to reinvent myself, but I never invented myself to start with. I just kind of popped out into the world." Excerpting vintage concert footage from venues big and small, the film captures Ronstadt's meteoric rise in the late ’60s as a pioneering solo female artist, who became disenchanted with touring in a mostly male industry. Her rock ballads made her famous, but she also triumphed by defying expectations as she delved into Broadway operetta (The Pirates of Penzance), the American songbook (collaborating with Nelson Riddle) and returning to her roots with Mexican music. Testimonials include her "Trio" partners Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, who know a legend when they sing with one.
Doctor Who (8/7c, BBC America): The first female Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), chirping "I've had an upgrade," returns for a second season of fantastic adventures, starting with a two-parter (concluding in Who's regular Sunday time period), "Spyfall," that often feels more like a James Bond caper. When Doctor No. 13 and her ragtag team — Ryan (Tosin Cole), Yasmin (Mandip Gill), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) — are recruited by MI6 (and boss man Stephen Fry) to look into possible alien attacks on agents across the globe, it doesn't take long for the adrenaline to kick in. Whittaker's upbeat, unflappably impulsive take on the Doctor is thoroughly including San Francisco's Silicon Valley and Australia's outback. As Graham helpfully notes to an observer: "Things never really happen in a straight line with the doc." The cliffhanger will have fans counting the days till Sunday.
'Messiah': Michelle Monaghan Attempts to Uncover a Spiritual Mystery in Netflix's New Series (PHOTOS)
Messiah (streaming on Netflix): Another busy year for the streaming giant wastes no time getting in gear, led by a provocative 10-episode geopolitical thriller. Imagine Homeland if Carrie were tracking a charismatic faith leader instead of a terrorist. (Or could he be both?) Michelle Monaghan stars as CIA officer Eva Geller, investigating the rise of a Middle Eastern guru, Al Masih (Mehdi Behbi), who appears to be leading his followers to the promised land. But Geller suspects there are political motivations beneath his Gandhi-like tendencies, sensing a con man rather than a "miracle man" of God. As his influence extends by mysterious means to the USA, the mystery only deepens.
Also streaming on Netflix: The Circle, a reality competition playing out over three weeks (continuing Jan. 8 and 15), in which contestants pretend to be whatever it takes to avoid being voted off a social media platform. Comedian Michelle Buteau hosts. … The 10-part sports drama Spinning Out stars Kaya Scodelario as a promising figure skater who after a bad fall turns to pair skating, with a bad-boy partner (Evan Roderick), to continue chasing her Olympic dreams. Mad Men's January Jones plays her mom, a former figure skater herself.
Evil (8/7c, CBS): As a mini-primer to one of the fall's best new series, CBS repeats three episodes in a prime-time block, starting with the pilot episode that introduced the spiritual investigation team of Kristen (Katja Herbers), a skeptical forensic psychologist, priest-in-training assessor David (Mike Colter) and pragmatic Ben (Aasif Mandvi). In the premiere, they investigate whether a serial killer (Darren Pettie) is as possessed as he seems. Then they move on to a possible miracle, when a young athlete comes back to life after being declared dead. And then it's back to a demonic enigma, when they're assigned to assess a temperamental theater producer (the great John Glover). Adding menace throughout: Michael Emerson as Leland Townsend, Kirsten's persistent nemesis.
Inside Wednesday TV: Lifetime kicks off the 10th season of Married at First Sight with a matchmaking casting special at 7/6c, followed by a two-hour opener (8/7c) introducing five new couples in Washington, D.C. who opt to walk down the aisle before getting to know each other. What could possibly go wrong? … A&E marks the 15th anniversary of true-crime staple The First 48 (8/7c) with a two-hour retrospective that also explores the double murder, of two women gunned down in broad daylight, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. … Lifetime reboots Supernanny (10/9c), with Jo Frost resuming duties as the disciplinarian whipping overwhelmed families and their unruly brood into shape. … A&E adds to the brigade of shows set in the 49th state with Alaska PD (10/9c), in which local law enforcement officers are challenged by weather conditions as much as the criminal element. (A second episode airs Thursday in the show's regular time period.) … For true-crime junkies, Investigation Discovery presents Aileen Wuoros: Mind of a Monster (10/9c), profiling the serial killer made infamous by Charlize Theron's Oscar-winning performance. … Things blow up real good in Science Channel's The Explosion Show (10/9c), hosted by Mythbusters detonation expert Tory Belleci and Nitro Circus daredevil/stuntman "Streetbike" Tommy Passemante.