Worth Watching: ‘SNL’ Returns, Double Dose of ‘Walking Dead,’ ‘black-ish’ Election Special, ‘Good Lord Bird,’ PBS Premieres
A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV (including an insanely busy Sunday):
Saturday Night Live (Saturday, 11:30/10:30c, NBC): Too bad the legendary late-night comedy series picked such a ho-hum week to return. The ensemble returns to Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center for the first time since March (with a few “at-home” episodes during the quarantine), with Jim Carrey signing on to impersonate Joe Biden through the campaign in the first of five scheduled consecutive episodes. Chris Rock makes his third return appearance as guest host, with Megan Thee Stallion as musical guest. The mind reels at the satirical possibilities. Sit back and stand by for what could be historic ratings.
The Walking Dead (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC): It only took six months, but the season finale of the apocalyptic thriller finally arrives. (It’s actually more of a second midseason finale, as six more episodes of Season 10 are scheduled for early 2021.) The disgusting Whisperers, led by madman Beta (Ryan Hurst), guide a mammoth herd of zombie Walkers to the tower of last resort, where many of the survivors are preparing for battle. Though a guilt-ridden Carol (Melissa McBride) may have lost hope, her comrades-in-arms rally to the cause. And Team Eugene (Josh McDermitt), with the flamboyantly bizarre Princess (Paola Lázaro) in tow, plod onward to a rendezvous with the unseen Stephanie, unsure what or who they’ll find. In other words, dystopian business as usual.
Walking Dead: World Beyond (Sunday, 10/9c, AMC): The Walking Dead universe expands again in a spinoff focused on the younger generation, which grew up knowing only a world changed forever by the zombie apocalypse. (The real Gen-Z?) The action begins in Nebraska, part of a three-tiered alliance with the mysterious Civil Republic, where two sisters — Aliyah Royale as goody-goody Iris and Alexa Mansour as rebellious Hope — embark on a dangerous quest that takes them and two other teens out of their safety bubble. As often is the case, you may be rooting for the undead in this one.
black-ish (Sunday, 10/9c, time approximate after NBA Finals game, ABC): Before the seventh season officially begins later this month (Oct. 21), the topical sitcom takes on issues involving the election in back-to-back episodes, one of them animated. The live-action show is the better and funnier episode, in which a disillusioned Junior (Marcus Scribner) goes on a crash-course tutorial through the history of Black voter suppression and the flawed system of national elections when he learns he’s been purged from the voter rolls. In fantasy sequences, Dre (Anthony Anderson) MC’s a round of (Democracy in) Jeopardy! focusing on the electoral college, and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) appears on a variety of iconic talk shows through the years as the embattled and embittered Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the animated episode, it’s Dre’s turn to get schooled in the political process when he impulsively runs for Congress against his arrogant and deep-pocketed boss, Mr. Stevens (Peter Mackenzie). Cameos from Stacey Abrams, Desus and Mero and black-ish creator Kenya Barris pepper this jaundiced look at how money has corrupted the system. Bottom line: Vote!
The Good Lord Bird (Sunday, 9/8c, Showtime): Ethan Hawke produces and stars in a bold, bloody and bawdily entertaining seven-part adaptation of James McBride’s audacious National Book Award-winning novel about pre-Civil War abolitionist John Brown. Eyes blazing with biblical fury, quoting scripture amid slaughter, Hawke portrays Brown as a savage 19th-century Moses, who’s seen through the eyes of an orphaned slave, Henry (Joshua Caleb Johnson) — whom Brown mistakes for a girl he names Onion. (See the full review.)
Flesh and Blood (Sunday, 9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): The first of two new PBS dramas is a juicy four-part Masterpiece mystery in the vein of a Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) page-turner. Longtime PBS favorite Francesca Annis (Reckless) stars as the widowed Vivian, who startles her three grown offspring (Claudie Blakley, Russell Tovey, Lydia Leonard) when she introduces her new beau, Mark (Stephen Rae), a retired surgeon who’s also widowed. As the siblings debate whether to be pleased or appalled, Vivian’s neighbor Mary (Imelda Staunton) spies on everything — and is more than happy to spill the gossip when interrogated by police. Why? Something dire has happened to someone in Vivian’s home, and just what happened and to whom is the mystery.
Cobra (Sunday, 10/9c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): If your taste in British drama leans more toward the political and grim, this taut six-part thriller may suit. Robert Carlyle (Once Upon a Time) stars as an embattled prime minister who’s tasked to lead the U.K. through an impending crisis when a geomagnetic solar storm threatens air traffic, the power grid and economic stability. Political backstabbing and tiresome personal subplots are distractions to the unfolding disaster, as dire decisions are made in COBRA (Whitehall’s Cabinet Office Briefing Room A).
The Comedy Store (Sunday, 10/9c, Showtime): A love letter to the iconic L.A. comedy club that launched many a career is a passion project for director/producer Mike Binder, who worked his way up to headliner in the main room in the club’s earlier days. In the first of five episodes, Binder reminisces with the likes of David Letterman and Marc Maron about the Store’s rise to prominence in the 1970s once Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show to the West Coast. Mitzi Shore was the gatekeeper, nurturing stars-to-be, and among the first to emerge were Good Times‘ breakout Jimmie Walker and Freddie Prinze, whose meteoric rise ended in tragedy far too soon.
Inside Weekend TV: Court TV devotes all weekend to the 25th anniversary of the O.J. Simpson murder-trial verdict, with a marathon replay of the 25-episode OJ25 on Saturday and Sunday, and a special edition of Judgment with Ashleigh Banfield (Sunday, 8/7c) updating the kidnapping/burglary case in Las Vegas, marking the 12th anniversary of that verdict… Jerry Seinfeld continues to speak up for the resilience of New York City after some “putz on LinkedIn” declared the post-pandemic city “dead forever,” in an interview with Jon Wertheim on CBS’s 60 Minutes (Sunday, 7:30/6:30c, 7 pm/PT)… The second season of the Epix fantasy epic Britannia (9/8) jumps forward two years after the Roman invasion, with the ruthless General Aulus (David Morrissey) none too pleased when the visiting Emperor orders him back to Rome… HBO’s Lovecraft Country (Sunday, 9/8c) piggybacks on a tragic chapter of Black history, triggering disturbing visions for young Diana (Jada Harris) and leading Atticus (Jonathan Majors) to embrace magic, for better or (gorily) worse… Joining the fracas in FX’s terrific new season of Fargo (Sunday, 10/9c): a pair of quirky but deadly prison escapees, wonderfully played by Karen Aldridge and Kelsey Asbille… CNN opens a six-part series on First Ladies (10/9c) with a biographical portrait of Michelle Obama. Future subjects include Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Bird Johnson and Hillary Clinton… As seen last week on 60 Minutes, TV’s most familiar and renowned nature documentarian delivers his witness statement about the dangers facing the planet and its wildlife in the Netflix documentary David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (streaming Sunday).