Worth Watching: 'Normal People,' a 'Mrs. America' Debate, 'Nature's Spies Are Back
A selective critical checklist of notable Wednesday TV:
Normal People (streaming on Hulu): Sensitively acted, grounded in the naturalistic detail and intimate emotional nuance that made Sally Rooney's best-selling novel such a sensation, this adaptation flies by in 12 binge-able half-hour episodes (from Rooney, with writers Alice Birch and Mark O'Rowe). Daisy Edgar-Jones (TV's War of the Worlds) and newcomer Paul Mescal, in his first TV role, are quietly and remarkably compelling as Marianne and Connell, who conduct an intensely complex relationship during their latter high-school years — where he's a popular jock and she's a brilliant but outcast loner. When they both graduate to Trinity College in Dublin, their social standings are reversed, but their deep feelings remain as turbulent as ever.
Mrs. America (streaming on FX on Hulu): The dynamics of anti-feminist crusader Phyllis Schlafly's (Cate Blanchett) marriage to lawyer husband Fred (John Slattery) — and the shaky foundations of her legal arguments — are exposed to electrifying effect when the Schlaflys agree to debate a progressive power couple on TV. (Bobby Cannavale channeling legendary late-night host Tom Snyder is as spot-on as you could hope.)
Nature: Spy in the Wild 2 (8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): With cameras hidden in more than 50 lifelike animatronic spy creatures, the popular Nature miniseries returns for a second round, with robotic "spies" embedding themselves into animal worlds we'd otherwise never get to observe. The season opener, "The Tropics," infiltrates a hippo pod, a gorilla sanctuary, a secret society of pygmy forest elephants and a nursery of red flying foxes.
What We Do in the Shadows (10/9c, FX): Computers are not a vampire's friend — especially when gullible Nandor (Kayvan Novak) goes online for the first time in ages and calls up a chain e-mail that makes him believe he and his fellow vamps have been cursed. He may be on to something, though, because when Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) goes undercover with the local vampire-hunters group (including guest star Craig Robinson) for what he thinks is another training session, he discovers to his dismay that they're planning to go out on their first hunt. It would be scary if it weren't so ridiculously funny.
Inside Wednesday TV: Netflix gets real with two powerful documentaries: A Secret Love, which examines the seven-decade relationship of Terry Donahue, a women's professional baseball player who was an inspiration for the hit movie A League of Their Own, and her life partner Pat Henschel through changing times and mores; and Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story, a true-crime account of a Nashville teenager who in 2004 was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison for murdering a man who picked her up for sex. Mercy follows her decade-long legal crusade to be granted clemency… After last week's chaotic tribal-challenge blindside on CBS's Survivor: Winners at War (8/7c), alliances are shakier than ever. Over at the Edge of Extinction, the cast-off castaways prepare for another grueling challenge… Fox's ubiquitous Gordon Ramsay sits in with the panel on The Masked Singer (8/7c) as the final six perform… CBS's S.W.A.T. (10/9c) welcomes back Angelica Scarlet Johnson, daughter of series star Kenny Johnson, as Kelly, who's being mentored by Luca (Johnson) in hopes of him being able to qualify again for fieldwork. The rest of the team stays busy chasing a Bonnie-and-Clyde styled crime duo.