Worth Watching: World War II Drama on PBS, AMC Goes Acoustic, ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Sharknado’ Marathons, Atlanta Child Murders & More True-Crime TV
A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:
World on Fire (Sunday, 9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Masterpiece returns to one of its thematic sweet spots — Europe during World War II — in an expansive, ambitious seven-part series set against the rising tide of Nazi aggression in 1939 and 1940, with invasions of Poland and France affecting the interconnected lives of characters in London, Warsaw and Paris. Helen Hunt stars as an American radio correspondent and eyewitness to history, but the standout is Julia Brown as working-class songbird Lois Bennett, who finds her own independent path after spurning her posh lover (matinee idol Jonah Hauer-King), an international translator who will eventually rise to the noble occasion at Dunkirk. (See the full review.)
The Windermere Children (Sunday, 10/9c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): Following the premiere of Fire, an overwhelmingly emotional 90-minute film follows a group of children and adolescents rescued from Nazi concentration camps in the summer of 1945, who are brought to a British country estate to learn what it means to be free again. Thomas Kretschmann stars as child psychologist Oscar Friedman, a German Jew, who oversees a caring staff (including Iain Glen as a gruff soccer coach) as they transition these young survivors from a world of deprivation and cruelty to one of comfort and kindness.
ACM Presents: Our Country (Sunday, 9/8c, CBS): In place of the previously scheduled Academy of Country Music Awards, currently delayed until September, the Academy presents a two-hour music special filled with performances by country stars doing acoustic versions of their hits from home, buffered with highlight clips from 55 years of ACM Awards shows. The ubiquitous Gayle King hosts, with Bobby Brown guiding viewers to the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund. The impressive lineup features a tribute to Kenny Rogers featuring Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan, plus songs from several dozen superstars including Keith Urban, Shania Twain, Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crow, Little Big Town, Miranda Lambert, Brandi Carlile, Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley, Luke Combs, Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood, who sings the very appropriate “Drinking Alone.”
Modern Family Marathon (Saturday, starts at 1 pm/12c, USA): To anticipate this week’s finale of the Emmy-winning comedy, USA replays 28 fan-favorite episodes from the last decade, including those voted on by viewers. Categories include Favorite Guest Star and Heartwarming Moment, of which there were plenty.
The Frankie Drake Mysteries (Saturday, 7/6c, Ovation): The breezy female-driven mystery series from Canada opens its third season by sending its Toronto detective Frankie (Lauren Lee Smith) to London for a WWI reunion. There, she encounters none other than fledgling mystery writer Agatha Christie (Honeysuckle Weeks of Foyle’s War), who commissions Frankie to look into the disappearance of a mutual wartime friend. The case takes some surprising turns, but what won’t shock any fan is a demonstration of Frankie Drake’s gumption. The lady has an impressive uppercut.
Sharknado Marathon (Sunday, starts at 8 am/7c, Syfy): If you’re truly desperate to take your mind off the current crisis, you could probably do worse — though it’s kind of hard to imagine how — than tapping into a 16-hour marathon of the cheeseball disaster-movie spoofs that became guilty-pleasure summer phenoms from 2013 to 2018. All six movies in the franchise will air, from the original Sharknado to The Last Sharknado: It’s About Time, with the first two replayed in prime time. Ian Ziering and Tara Reid save the world, if not their careers, each and every time.
True Crime TV: HBO revisits a controversial chapter of crime lore in the five-part documentary Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children (Sunday, 8/7c). The series was spurred by the announcement by Atlanta’s mayor and police chief that they would be reexamining evidence from the 1979-81 murders of at least 30 African-American children and young adults. Wayne Williams was sentenced to two life terms after being found guilty of murdering two adults and linked to several of the children’s murders. Most of the cases were then closed, leaving victims’ families skeptical that alternate suspects were not thoroughly investigated.
Another troubling case is dissected in the three-hour The West Memphis Three: An ID Murder Mystery (Sunday, 9/8c, Investigation Discovery), which looks back at a 1993 triple homicide in West Memphis, Arkansas, where three teenage “goths” fall under suspicion and are accused of being satanic killers. (They were convicted and later released, leaving many unanswered questions.)
And in a case of using celebrity for good, Oxygen’s two-hour special Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project (Sunday, 7/6c) depicts the celebutante’s awakening to the issue of criminal justice reform, as she works to help free Americans she believes were wrongly incarcerated by a flawed system. It opens with the story of Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother serving time as a first-time nonviolent offender, for whom Kim campaigned all the way to the White House to grant her clemency.
Homeland (Sunday, 9/8c): The gripping final season continues with a grieving Carrie (Claire Danes) “in full flight” with Soviet spy Yevgeny (Costa Ronin) as she seeks the flight recorder that could shed light on the fate of the president’s doomed helicopter — revelations that could avert war with Pakistan. Back at the White House, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is doing his best to keep the peace, not easy when the new president (Sam Trammell) keeps ignoring his own intelligence officers — where have we heard that before? — in favor of the under-informed hawk (Hugh Dancy) spinning conspiracy theories in his ear.
Inside Weekend TV: An annual holiday tradition, as ABC presents Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic The Ten Commandments (Saturday, 7/6c), with Charlton Heston as Hollywood’s most famous Moses… Or you could check out Turner Classic Movies, which is collaborating on an upcoming podcast with director Peter Bogdanovich, who joins host Ben Mankiewicz to present two of his earliest movies: 1968’s Targets (Saturday, 8/7c), featuring Boris Karloff in one of his final roles, as a horror-movie star; and his 1971 masterpiece The Last Picture Show (Saturday, 9:45/8:45c), set in a dying Texas town… ABC’s American Idol (Sunday, 8/7c) decides its Top 20 after a showcase concert in Hawaii… And in a shameless promotional crossover, judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie and host Ryan Seacrest play themselves in cameos on ABC’s The Rookie (Sunday, 10/9c).