Worth Watching: ‘Animaniacs’ Is Back, Race with ‘The Pack,’ the Real ‘Right Stuff,’ Tale of Teenage Hacker
A selective critical checklist of notable Friday TV:
Animaniacs (streaming on Hulu): As dizzying in its frenetic slapstick humor and verbal wizardry as in the 1990s, the manic animated free-for-all brings those giddy Warner Brothers Yakko and Wakko — and sister Dot — into the new century for a feast of musical and madcap merriment. Let them sing it for you: “Gender-balanced, pronoun-neutral and ethnically diverse, the trolls will say we’re so passé, but we did meta first.” Did they ever, and they’re still going strong 22 years later, with an opening episode spoofing the very idea of reboots: “When we sell out, we know we’re selling out, so it’s cool.” Also cool: the return of those mismatched lab mice Pinky and the Brain, the latter using newfangled Internet memes to try to take over the world.
The Pack (streaming on Amazon Prime Video): A (hu)man’s best friend is also a great traveling companion in this Amazing Race-with-pets competition, hosted by Olympic gold-medal skier Lindsey Vonn and Lucy, her Cavalier King Charles spaniel. The Pack sends 12 contestants and their canine soulmates on a worldwide adventure, with challenges (like scent-sniffing in Switzerland) at each stop. They’re playing for a $750,000 grand prize: a half-million going to the winning duo and $250,000 more to their favorite animal charity. Sounds like a treat to me.
The Real Right Stuff (streaming on Disney+): As the docudrama miniseries The Right Stuff concludes with Alan Shepard’s (Jake McDorman) historic flight into space, National Geographic delivers a companion documentary about the Mercury 7 astronauts, their lives and times. Filmmaker Tom Jennings (Apollo: Missions to the Moon) avoids contemporary talking heads, instead relying on rare footage, radio and video recordings, interviews and research materials from The Right Stuff author Tom Wolfe, and home movies from John Glenn’s archives.
Small Axe (streaming on Amazon Prime Video): Steve McQueen, the Oscar-winning producer/director of 12 Years a Slave, is the driving force behind a series of five deeply personal films, airing weekly, which capture life among London’s West Indies community from the 1960s to 1980s. First up: Mangrove, starring Shaun Parkes as Frank, the owner of a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill, who rises up with members of his community, and the British Black Panther movement, against discrimination and police violence. When he and other activists are arrested in 1970 and charged with inciting a riot (shades of the Chicago 7), the ensuing trial could change history.
The Teenager Who Hacked Twitter (FX and FX on Hulu): The latest installment of The New York Times Presents goes deep inside the reporting on one of the more unusual Internet scandals of out time. When the Twitter accounts of such powerhouses as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Kanye West and Barack Obama are hacked, the investigation leads to a 17-year-old in Tampa.
Inside Friday TV: Lifetime’s A Taste of Christmas (8/7c) stars My Big Fat Greek Wedding‘s Nia Vardalos as a struggling restaurateur whose cousin (Anni Krueger) is determined that her Italian eatery will open on schedule on Christmas Eve. If only they can convince the handsome chef (Dancing with the Stars veteran Gilles Marini)… More holiday cheer as Jay Manuel, formerly of America’s Next Top Model, hosts HGTV’s Holiday Crafters Gone Wild (9/8c), a seasonal competition pitting those who go all out for the holiday with festive tree toppers and table settings to compete for $10,000… Pharrell Williams returns to his coastal Virginia roots in the Netflix docuseries Voices of Fire, working with his uncle, Bishop Ezekiel Williams, and other gospel leaders to discover new talent and form a choir for the ages… She was a fright as Ratched, and Sarah Paulson gives the chills again as a Mommy Fearest in Hulu’s suspense movie Run. Kiera Allen plays her daughter, Chloe, who’s been drugged and confined to a wheelchair for most of her isolated life. She shows she needs to run, but will she be able to escape?