Worth Watching: Celebrating the Bee Gees, Gay Yuletide Movies, Charlie Brown on PBS, 'Couples Therapy' During COVID
A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:
The Bee Gees: How Do You Mend a Broken Heart (Saturday, 8/7c, HBO): How deep is your love for the Bee Gees? It's likely to grow after this illuminating, moving biography of the Brothers Gibb: Robin, Maurice and Barry, the sole surviving brother. Their harmonies weren't always so sweet off stage, but the documentary vividly follows their rise through the British invasion and disco (Saturday Night Fever) craze, and celebrates them as prolific songwriters with more than 1,000 tunes, many of them hits, to their credit.
Making the Yuletide Gay: 'Tis the season for everyone, and this year even the LGBTQ community is invited to the holiday party. The annual avalanche of Christmas movies has become more inclusive in recent years, of race and different faiths (Hannukah!), but in 2020, the genre has crossed the threshold of significant same-sex relationships. Hallmark got there first with The Christmas House, and Hulu followed with Happiest Season (which I found anything but), and this weekend, Lifetime and ViacomCBS's cable networks present movies which treat the milestone as no big deal, which kind of makes it a big deal.
Lifetime's The Christmas Setup (Saturday, 8/7c) is the paint-by-numbers story of a New York lawyer who heads home to Milwaukee for the holidays and falls for his high-school crush, discovering a little secret about his hometown along the way. Fran Drescher adds some necessary campy pizzazz as the pushy mom of prodigal gay son Hugo (Ben Lewis), urging him to connect with Patrick (Blake Lee), and the fact that Lewis and Lee are a real-life couple adds to the aww factor.
Despite a terrible title, Dashing in December (Sunday, 7/6c, Paramount Network, Logo, Pop TV, TV Land) has a much more romantic setting: a Colorado ranch where New York (where else) venture capitalist Wyatt (Peter Porte) has come home after a long absence to visit his widowed mother (the luminous Andie MacDowell) and coax her to sell the struggling family business. But then he meets ranch hand Heath (Juan Pablo Di Pace), who rekindles the city boy’s appreciation for nature, horses — and, naturally, Christmas.
CHRISTMAS MOVIE PARADE: And there's more. In another first for Lifetime, A Sugar and Spice Holiday (Sunday, 8/7c) focuses on a Chinese-American family, when architect Suzie (Jacky Lai) returns to the family fold in Maine, and to honor her late grandmother, enters the local Gingerlicious Bake Off to construct, naturally, a gingerbread house. Her partner is high-school chum Billy (Tony Giroux), a former "bad noodle" who has all the right ingredients for romance.
On Hallmark Channel: The most traditional of the networks branches out with Love, Lights, Hanukkah! (Saturday, 8/7c), in which Christina (Mia Kershner) opens herself up to new traditions, and romance, when a DNA test reveals that she's Jewish… Fantasy enters the mix in Christmas Comes Twice (Sunday, 8/7c), starring Tamera Mowry-Housley as an astrophysicist whose ride on a hometown carousel transports her back five years to an earlier Christmas.
On Hallmark Mysteries & Movies: A Glenbrooke Christmas (Saturday, 10/9c) stars Autumn Reeser as an heiress who steps out of the fast lane and falls for a fireman (Antonio Cupo) in small-town Glenbrooke… In Unlocking Christmas (Sunday, 10/9c), a mysterious key and riddle sends a couple on a holiday adventure.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (Sunday, 7:30/6:30c, PBS and PBS KIDS, check local listings at pbs.org): The backlash was severe when Peanuts fans learned that their favorite annual seasonal specials had become the exclusive property of Apple TV+, which accounts for this one-time showing on PBS. Notably, commercial-free, which would even gladden the heart of Charlie Brown, whose dismay over the cheapening of the holiday is at the core of the beloved 1965 animated special that launched Charles Schulz’s gang on TV. (It's also available for free through Sunday on Apple TV+ for non-subscribers.)
Couples Therapy: The COVID Special (Sunday, 8/7c, Showtime): Most of 2020 could have used the Duke Ellington tune "Don't Get Out Much Anymore" as a theme song — but for struggling couples cooped up together through these months of lockdown and sheltering in place, it’s been a more discordant time than usual. Enter couples therapist Dr. Orna Guralnik of the celebrated docuseries, who’s willing to listen — remotely, of course — to the relationship woes of those who were stuck at home during the pandemic. While stay-at-home orders intensified personal conflict for some, others found renewed connection through forced intimacy. These are their stories.
NCIS: New Orleans (Sunday, 9/8c, CBS): Also overwhelmed by COVID-19: Coroner Doctor Loretta Wade, played by the great CCH Pounder on a procedural that has taken a harder look at the year’s social and medical turmoil than many. Dr. Wade opens up to Mayor Taylor (Amanda Warren) about the toll the pandemic is taking on her personally, while also concerned about the Black Lives Matter protests on the streets, which is affecting her family as well. Police misconduct has also been a theme on NOLA this season, with Special Agent Pride (Scott Bakula) asked to join the mayor’s task force on systemic racism while continuing to look into the murder of an officer who was about to whistle-blow on some dirty cops.
Pennyworth (Sunday, 9/8c, Epix): Years before Alfred Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) tended to Batman's every need as his trusty manservant, he was busy trying to save London in a fantastical origin story set in the swinging 1960s. With four new episodes this month, the second season of the fantasy adventure picks up amid a brutal civil war engineered by corrupt Lord Harwood (Jason Flemyng), last seen imprisoned for trying to kill the prime minister. Having escaped the Tower of London, he's now leading the neo-fascist Raven Union. But maybe not for long, if Pennyworth can rally his pals, including American CIA operative Thomas Wayne (Ben Aldridge), father of you-know-who, to help stem the tide of destruction.
Inside Weekend TV: History's History's Greatest Mysteries (Saturday, 9/8c) begins a three-part series, "Roswell: First Witness," with a new investigation of the 1947 crash that includes an attempt to decode the diary of Major Jesse Marcel, who was the first to investigate the wreckage of a rumored UFO… CBS's 48 Hours (Saturday, 10/9c) revisits "The Hunt for the Long Island Serial Killer," a still-cold case dating back a decade. Erin Moriarty's report includes the first TV interview with Lily Waterman, the teenage daughter of one of the victims… Timothée Chalomet (Call Me by Your Name, next year's Dune) makes his first guest-host appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c), with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocking the studio as a third-time musical guest… Among the honorees at The Bounce Trumpet Awards: Stand Up (Sunday, 8/7c, Bounce) is Tommie Smith, the American track star who with teammate John Carlos made world headlines in 1968 when they raised their fists against racism while on the Olympic podium in Mexico City. The awards will be followed by the broadcast premiere of With Drawn Arms (9/8c), a documentary film about Smith and the impact of that indelible moment… Zombies and Christmas are an odd mix, but The Walking Dead Holiday Special (Sunday, streaming on AMC+) brings many of the cast members together for a video chat about the first 10 years of the horror franchise, with some Christmas cheer thrown in, including Emily Kinney (Beth) singing "Up on the Rooftop" and Khary Payton's (Ezekiel) parody of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." (1200 walkers walking, anyone?)