Worth Watching: Harry Belafonte’s Historic ‘Tonight Show’ Sit-In, NFL Returns, ‘Julie and the Phantoms’ Rock Netflix
A selective critical checklist of notable Thursday TV:
The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show (streaming on Peacock): Heeere’s … Harry! Over five February nights in the historically turbulent year of 1968, singer-actor-activist Harry Belafonte sat in Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show chair to guest-host episodes with a personally curated guest list, potently mixing an agenda of racial awareness with entertainment. “I wanted to bring a political dimension to the evening that was not quite the Tonight Show thing,” Belafonte, now 93, recalls in a fascinating documentary that places this revolutionary but largely forgotten TV experiment in its cultural context. His lineup emphasized Black stars, including Sidney Poitier, Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll. But it was his decision to bring on a relaxed Martin Luther King Jr. and future presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, just months before their tragic assassinations, that secures these shows’ places in TV history. (Shockingly, these are the only two episodes that were preserved by NBC, which cluelessly taped over the rest.) Anticipating an era when late-night TV would be more open to serious conversation and politically charged commentary, Belafonte reveals that he was a man of, and ahead of, his times.
Also on Peacock: Black Boys, a thoughtful documentary executive-produced by New Orleans Saints star and activist Malcolm Jenkins, which aims to show the full spectrum and possibility of young Black men’s lives through conversations and interviews about education, criminal justice and spots. Among those featured: activist/rapper Vic Mensa, sports stars Carmelo Anthony, Greg Scruggs, Cris Carter and Chris Long, sports journalist Jemele Hill and former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. John King Jr.
NFL Football (8:20/7:20c, NBC): Are we ready for some football? What do you think? The 2020 season officially begins with a rematch of January’s AFC divisional playoff, with defending Super Bowl champ Kansas City Chiefs and MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes taking on the Houston Texans, where Deshaun Watson will had to adjust without top receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The telecast starts early, at 7/6c, with NFL Kickoff 2020.
Julie and the Phantoms (streaming on Netflix): From Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) comes a musical-fantasy series about music-loving teenager Julie (Madison Reyes), who lost her groove after her mother died but finds her voice once again with the help of the ghosts of three dreamboat musicians who begin to haunt her late mom’s music studio. Before long, she’s writing and singing again, and they form the band that gives the show its title.
Also new to Netflix: the campy horror romp The Babysitter: Killer Queen, directed by McG, centered around another teenager (Judah Lewis), who vanquished a satanic cult led by his babysitter two years earlier. But when forces of evil reemerge, he’s back in business.
Raised by Wolves (streaming on HBO Max): The fascinating sci-fi drama continues with Mother (Amanda Collin) exploring her origins on Earth as a Necromancer who was designed to be “the new mother of humanity,” a psychic journey into the past that could leave an opening for the Mithraic to get closer to their goal of rescuing the children. Back at base camp, Father (Abubakar Salim) aims to be useful by teaching the kids how to survive, even if that means killing and consuming the planet’s weird and scary creatures. As Father puts it, “Goodness will not fill your stomach.”
Also new to HBO Max: the Young Adult feature-film dramedy Unpregnant, starring Haley Lu Richardson as 17-year-old Veronica, whose positive pregnancy test sends her on a 1,000-mile road trip with ex-BFF Bailey (Barbie Ferreira), which turns out to be a journey of self-discovery and adult awakening.
Inside Thursday TV: Turner Classic Movies devotes each Thursday in September to medical heroes, and a lineup honoring military medics includes 1943’s So Proudly We Hail (8/7c), about WWII nurses caught behind enemy lines in the Pacific; and Robert Altman’s 1970 classic M*A*S*H (10:15/9:15c), which inspired the long-running hit TV series… Following the season finale of ABC’s goofy golf contest Holey Moley (8/7c) comes an immediate follow-up, Holey Moley II: The Sequel: The Special: Unhinged: Part One (9/8c), which recaps some of the craziest and never-seen putts, plus behind-the-scenes moments and answers to fans’ burning questions… National Geographic Channel’s documentary Bin Laden’s Hard Drive (9/8c) sifts through some 470,000 newly declassified digital files from hard drives recovered from terrorist Osama bin Laden’s compound. CIA profilers, military experts and psychologists use this raw data to analyze what drove the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks… A second season of Investigation Discovery’s Impact of Murder (9/8c) opens with a two-hour episode examining the fallout from the 2018 death of Botham Jean, who was shot and killed by an off-duty policewoman in his Dallas apartment, thinking it was her own… In We tv’s Tamar Braxton: Get Ya Life! (9/8c), the controversial singer and reality star bares her soul as she puts her life back together… ABC News presents a tale of survival in Shark Attack: The Paige Winter Story with Robin Roberts (10/9c), which catches up with the North Carolina teen who was mauled by a shark while swimming in waist-deep water in June 2019, losing two fingers and her left leg. The special follows Winter over a year of grueling surgeries and rehabilitation therapies, all during her senior year of high school.