Worth Watching: ‘Escape’ with Red Nose Day, Games on ABC, Legal Drama Logjam, Honoring WWII on Nat Geo
A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
Celebrity Escape Room (8/7c, NBC): Escapism is all the rage these days, including on NBC’s sixth annual Red Nose Day — an evening-long entertainment special raising money through Comic Relief US for charities addressing global childhood poverty. The three-hour lineup kicks off with an all-star version of the “escape room” craze, where Jack Black plays the exuberant Game Master as Ben Stiller, Parks and Rec‘s Adam Scott, and Friends co-stars Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox work their way through locked rooms by solving cryptic clues and puzzles. Followed by a two-hour Red Nose Day Special (9/8c), featuring music and comedy acts, plus short documentary films, to entertain and engage. Among the performers: Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Ray Romano, Jim Gaffigan, OneRepublic, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Bryan Cranston, Milo Ventimiglia and Adrienne Warren of Broadway’s Tina Turner musical.
Holey Moley II: The Sequel (9/8c, ABC): Mixing elements of supersized mini-golf and Wipeout-style slapstick, the comedic competition is back for a second season after making a literal splash last summer. Upgrades include an 18-hole (from 10) course, and new obstacles that could send the duffers sputtering into the water. Holey Moley is flanked by quiz and game shows on either side. The night begins with Dr. Phil in the hot seat of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire (8/7c), succeeded by comic actors Kaitlin Olson and Lauren Lapkus; and at 10/9c, the fifth-season premiere of To Tell the Truth welcomes sports greats Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe, joining Community alums Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs and host Anthony Anderson in figuring out just who might or might not be Oprah’s pedicurist, among other offbeat backstories.
The Good Fight (streaming on CBS All Access): With its terrific fourth season cut short by the coronavirus outbreak, the sixth and now penultimate episode of the legal drama replaces its usual bombastic theme song with Fountains of Wayne’s “Hey Julie,” as a tribute to the gifted songwriter-singer Adam Schlesinger (an Emmy winner for his work on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). In another very appreciated musical detour, the show brings back Jonathan Coulton for another animated “Good Fight Short” ditty, this time to help explain with witty lyrics the sinister government machinations behind the mysterious Memo 618, which has plagued Diane (Christine Baranski) and new judge Julius (Michael Boatman) all season. The primary legal subplot is fascinating, as Adrian (Delroy Lindo) and Liz (Audra McDonald) take on a tricky case involving an Olympic swimmer’s eligibility, leading to issues involving gender identity and transphobia.
The Split (midnight/11c, 9 PT, SundanceTV): We never go inside a courtroom in the second-season premiere of this slick, sudsy and impeccably cast British drama about a family-law firm in transition after a corporate merger. The new season begins with the Defoe sisters, and formidable matriarch Ruth (Deborah Findley), all dealing with change at work and home. Ruth, who built the firm, is being forced into a reluctant retirement, while top gun Hannah (Nicola Walker) is hiding an affair with a co-worker from her formerly unfaithful husband, Nathan (Stephen Mangan). Newlywed sister Rose (Fiona Button) and party-girl black sheep Nina (Annabel Scholey) are thrown life-changing curve balls as well. The firm, under new scrutiny by a management consultant, needs a high-profile case to make its mark, and an unhappily married TV presenter — we call them hosts — may be just the client they’re looking for.
Burden of Truth (8/7c, The CW): The most conventional of the night’s legal dramas, a Canadian import, opens its third season with Joanna (Smallville‘s Kristen Kreuk) and boyfriend Billy (Peter Mooney) struggling to get their small Crawford Chang law firm off the ground in the big city. But when a high-school reunion beckons them back to Millwood, the couple is almost immediately mired in intrigue, after the local Family Services department takes a single-mom friend’s children without warning, suggesting another conspiracy afoot.
Heroes of the Sky: The Real Mighty Eighth (9/8c, National Geographic): As a Memorial Day curtain-raiser in a month that began with a 75th-anniversary V-E Day celebration, a two-hour documentary pays tribute to the American heroes of the Eighth Air Force Regiment who helped shift the fate of the war from above. The special uses the airmen’s own words through letters, diary entries and previously filmed interviews. An hour earlier, National Geographic presents WWII in Europe: Voices from the Front (8/7c), narrated by journalist Bob Woodruff, in which interviews with some of the last surviving WWII veterans are interspersed with archival footage and photographs.
Inside Thursday TV: A new twist on the Bachelorette theme, Fox’s Labor of Love (9/8c), hosted by Sex and the City‘s Kristin Davis, introduces 41-year-old Kristy, who’d love to start a family — if only she could find the perfect potential dad. Enter 15 willing men, put through challenges (some romantic) for Kristy to choose from. Will she be handling out rattlers instead of roses?… In truTV’s Impractical Jokers: Dinner Party (10/9c), the Tenderloins roll with the times to break bread remotely for six episodes. Laughter, naturally, is on the menu… Joe Biden makes his fifth appearance, this time remotely, on CBS’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert (11:35/10:35c)… For a quick streaming binge, SundanceNow offers a three-part British psychological thriller, Penance, about a grieving mother and daughter whose lives change when they meet a handsome stranger at grief counseling. Hey, isn’t this kind of how Netflix’s Dead to Me started?