Worth Watching: 'Top Chef' All-Stars, Coronavirus News Specials, HBO Tackles Disinformation
A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
Top Chef (10/9c, Bravo): They're cooking for redemption, for a second (or more) shot at that elusive title of Top Chef — and a biggest-ever $250,000 prize. A tasty new "All Stars LA" season, comprised of 15 contestants who fell short in previous cycles, kicks off with an enjoyably intense oversized episode, which wastes no time putting time pressures on the chefs as they compete in a classic mise-en-place Quickfire challenge (involving artichokes, oranges and almonds) on the grounds of the Griffith Observatory. Then it's off to the beach for the first Elimination Challenge, where teams prepare dishes over an open fire, their only heat source. And yes, things go get hot. As judge Tom Collichio happily notes, "It's like they never left."
Star Trek: Picard (streaming on CBS All Access): In the first of a two-part finale, Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the gang are greeted to an uneasy homecoming when they finally return Soji (Isa Briones) to her planet of origin, Coppelius. Even more familiar faces, a hallmark of this solid spinoff, are on hand as a new conflict brews between the approaching Romulans and a defiant alliance of synthetics. Can Picard play peacemaker?
Confronting Coronavirus: A PBS NewsHour Special (8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Judy Woodruff anchors a special hour updating the latest news of the outbreak crisis, with an emphasis on health precautions and the economic impact. A virtual town hall with curated questions will be moderated by correspondents Amna Nawaz and William Brangham.
NBC News also weighs in with a live prime-time special, NBC News Special Report: Coronavirus Epidemic (10/9c, NBC, MSNBC and streaming on NBC News NOW and Telemundo Digital). Lester Holt anchors, with reports from correspondents and the network's Coronavirus Crisis Team, including Dr. John Torres and virologist Dr. Joseph Fair.
And CNN follows up last week's town hall with another installment. Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta host a two-hour CNN Facebook Town Hall — Coronavirus: Fact and Fears (8/7c, CNN, CNN International and CNN's Digital, also on CNN mobile apps and Facebook pages), with experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci and an interview with a patient taking part in a clinical trial for a vaccine.
Better Things (10/9c, FX): Need a good, if decidedly adult, laugh? (The answer almost certainly is yes.) You can't do better than Pamela Adlon's slice-of life comedy about parenting during a midlife crisis. In an episode that piles one memorable vignette upon another, Sam (Adlon) opens by noodling at the piano, struggling to hit the right notes in a way that this lapsed player relates to all too well. (Her anxiety isn't lessened when a "miracle worker" doctor tells her, "Your hands are much older than you are.") Other incidents include wrestling her mother (Celia Imrie) for a DNA sample, wrangling a rogue owl from her bed, and facing off with eldest daughter Max (Mikie Madison) in a profane showdown that crosses the line in a way that shocks even them into horrified laughter.
After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (9/8c, HBO): Beware "alternative facts," warns this timely documentary, which examines the human cost of "fake news" stories, from "Pizzagate" to false theories about the murder of DNC worker Seth Rich, all of which further polarize a society all too willing to demonize those actually reporting the truth. The special interviews reporters, victims and perpetrators of "fake news" reports, and academics including Harvard's Yochai Benkler, who deconstructs the concept of a "propaganda pipeline."
Inside Thursday TV: Mae Martin is creator and star of the Netflix comedy Feel Good (what a great title for these times), playing stand-up comic and recovering addict Mae, who begins a romantic, and possibly obsessive, relationship with heretofore straight George (Charlotte Ritchie). Friends' Lisa Kudrow plays Mae's mom… Craig Robinson returns to NBC's Brooklyn Nine-Nine (8:30/7:30c) as "Pontiac Bandit" Doug Judy, whisking frenemy Jake (Andy Samberg) off to Miami for a personal celebration. But the real reason to rejoice back at the precinct is that Holt (Andre Braugher) is once again captain — though woe to anyone who messed with his office during the interim… It's pro bono surgery day on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c), and even the ever-capable Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) is overwhelmed.