Worth Watching: Sophia Loren’s Comeback, Greta’s Story, Honoring ‘Fiddler,’ ‘Alex Rider’

I Am Greta Hulu
Courtesy of Hulu
I Am Greta

A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:

The Life Ahead (streaming on Netflix): As seen on CBS Sunday Morning last weekend, film legend Sophia Loren is as luminous at 86 as ever. She returns to the screen after roughly a decade’s absence in an acclaimed performance as Madame Rosa, a tough-on-the-outside former prostitute in a seaside Italian town who harbors a street-smart 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant orphan (Ibrahima Gueye). The film, based on Romain Gary’s The Life Before Us (which also inspired 1977’s Oscar-winning Madame Rosa with Simone Signoret), is directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti.

I Am Greta (streaming on Hulu): Sometimes one person truly can make a difference. A new documentary follows Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg from the first day of her solo school strike, to raise awareness for climate action, through her rise as a global advocate for climate change. Quite an achievement for an otherwise shy teenager with Asperger’s. The film builds to her wind-powered trip across the Atlantic to speak at the U.S.’s Climate Action Summit.

Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (9/8c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): From its initial blockbuster Broadway run in 1964, through multiple revivals and an Oscar-winning 1971 movie, Fiddler on the Roof has resonated with audiences worldwide with its themes of family, community and resilience amid oppression. Not to mention its timeless score (“Sunrise, Sunset,” “If I Were a Rich Man”), all of which is celebrated in a documentary, presented by Great Performances, that sings the show’s praises with the help of its composer and lyricist (the late Jerry Bock and the still very much alive, at 96, Sheldon Harnick), Topol (the movie Teyve), Harvey Fierstein (who joined a Broadway revival in 2005) and fan-boy supreme Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Alex Rider (streaming on IMDb TV): Already renewed for a second season, the YA spy thriller stars Otto Farrant as the teen hero from the popular book series by the prolific Anthony Horowitz (Foyle’s War). Adapting the second novel, Point Blanc, the series introduces Alex as a London teenager suddenly thrust into the world of espionage after his uncle’s mysterious death is connected to high-profile assassinations. Using skills he didn’t know he had, Alex goes undercover in a French Alps boarding school, where conspiracies and mayhem ensue.

Spaced Out: On Disney+, the The Right Stuff nears the end with its penultimate episode, in which the tension between Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman) and John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams) builds as the historic flight keeps being delayed. Just getting started on Nickelodeon, the fanciful live-action The Astronauts (7/6c) launches with back-to-back episodes, where five kids sneak aboard a spacecraft that accidentally blasts off with them on board, and Mission Control can only watch as they take over the ship.

Inside Friday TV: While we savor Alex Trebek‘s final episodes of Jeopardy! through December, nostalgia hub MeTV replays two of the late host’s sitcom guest appearances: on Mama’s Family (9/8c) and Cheers (9:30/8:30c)… NBC’s The Blacklist (8/7c) opens its eighth season with Liz (Megan Boone) throwing in with her untrustworthy mother, Katarina (Laila Robins), in a plot against Red (James Spader)… Among the many streaming highlights: Disney+ goes Inside Pixar in a new series that explores the collaborative creative process within the renowned animated studio. The first episode, “Inspired,” is structured around the theme of how inspiration moves from idea to finished product… Just soak up the love as Dolly Parton joins The Oprah Conversation on Apple TV+, when Oprah Winfrey sits with the country legend to discuss her faith, career and upcoming holiday album… Olivia Colman, whose last hurrah as Queen Elizabeth on The Crown begins this weekend, narrates the Apple TV+ docuseries Becoming You, which was shot over two years across multiple nations as it tracks childhood development during children’s first 2000 days on Earth… Even more impressionistic, Apple TV+ turns to visionary filmmakers Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer for Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, which looks at how shooting stars and meteorites have stimulated our imaginations over the ages… Netflix gets in the holiday spirit with the musical movie Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, starring Forest Whitaker as toymaker Jeronicus Jangle and Keegan-Michael Key as the apprentice who steals his mentor’s prized creation. New songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence and Davy Nathan include “This Day,” performed by Usher and Kiana Ledé.