Worth Watching: 'After Life' Returns, Apple's 'Defending Jacob,' Guy Fieri Does 'Takeout,' Celebrity 'Drag Race'
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV
After Life (streaming on Netflix): Ricky Gervais leavens his wicked sense of sarcastic humor with the sorrows of a broken heart in his emotionally overwhelming dramedy about loss and the healing power of human kindness. Reaching new depths of feeling — and hilarity — in its second season, After Life finds Tony (Gervais), a widower still wallowing in grief as he watches videos of his late wife, trying to pay forward the generosity of his caring friends who've tried to lift his through his depression. Not easy when so many of the quirky locals get under his skin. (His interviews with wacky villagers, part of his job as a human-interest feature reporter for a struggling small-town newspaper, remain comic highlights.). See the full review here.
Also new to Netflix: Extraction, an international action thriller starring Chris Hemsworth as a ruthless black-market mercenary whose latest assignment — to rescue the young son (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) of an imprisoned crime lord — becomes all too personal.
Defending Jacob (streaming on Apple TV+): A strong cast elevates this grim but sluggish legal drama, based on William Landay's novel, about a teenager (It's Jaeden Martell) who's charged with a classmate's murder. What could have been taut in two or maybe four hours drags on through eight, with dark twists in the final chapters almost making the slog worth it. Chris Evans broods masterfully as Jacob's dad, a district attorney who'll go to desperate measures to clear his son's name. But Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery, as Jacob's rattled mom, is the standout, as she slowly cracks under the psychological pressure of not knowing what her child might actually be capable of. The most intriguing subplot, suggesting a genetic disposition toward violence, is enlivened by the presence of J.K. Simmons as Evans' jailbird dad.
Also new to Apple TV+: Beastie Boys Story, a documentary from director Spike Jonez (who also directed the music video for the band's hit "Sabotage" more than 25 years ago), who collaborates with Beastie Boys members Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz to relive 40 years of music and friendship.
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Takeout (9/8c, Food Network): Reflecting the new normal for the struggling restaurant industry during the pandemic, Guy Fieri stays home for a special three-week edition of his iconic series. He checks in via video chat with past Triple D chefs to see how they've transformed their shops to keep serving loyal customers. In turn, they send Fieri a list of ingredients and recipes for their specialty dishes, which he re-creates in his own kitchen.
RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race (9:30/8:30c, VH1): What a week it has been for drag on TV: TLC's Dragnificent, HBO's We're Here, and now VH1 — whose RuPaul's Drag Race is the standard-bearer for the flamboyant genre — spins off the Emmy-winning series for a four-part "event series" in which three celebrities each week succumb to the allure of drag, competing to win money for charity. Helping in the transformations: "Queen Supremes" Alyssa Edwards, Asia O'Hara, Bob the Drag Queen (also on We're Here), Kim Chi, Monét X Change, Monique Heart, Nina West, Trinity the Tuck, Trixie Mattel and Vanessa Vanjie Mateo. And just who are these famous, soon to be infamous, contestants? That's the secret.
Inside Weekend TV: In case you missed it, or simply want to exercise your pipes again, Disney Channel replays the recent The Disney Family Singalong (8/7c), followed by the sing-along version of the channel's hit High School Musical (9/8c)… Streamer FloSports takes a hard look at the serious issue of weight cutting in the documentary Bad Cut (8/7c). The special focuses on the dangerous practice of combat athletes, including in MMA, who dehydrate themselves to qualify for a competitive weight class and risk injury or death when getting knocked around in a depleted state… Amazon Prime Video's fashion competition Making the Cut returns home to New York for its final episodes, conceptualizing a pop-up shop before the last challenge decides who wins the $1 million prize… Pro football Hall of Famer Andre Reed plays himself, and also a perp who's been impersonating the sports legend, on CBS's Magnum P.I. (9/8c)… Guests on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher (10/9c) range from the serious — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and public health specialist Dr. David Katz — to the not-so-serious, with former late-night star Jay Leno dropping by in person.