Worth Watching: ‘Aretha’ Sings, ‘Simpsons’ Turns 700, ‘Doctor Who’ Gets Animated, HBO Goes Inside ‘Q’

Cynthia Erivo in Genius: Aretha
National Geographic/Richard DuCree
Genius: Aretha

A selective critical checklist of notable weekend TV:

Genius: Aretha (Sunday, 9/8c, National Geographic): When Aretha Franklin signs, Genius soars. The third season of the biographical anthology devotes eight hours over four nights (through Wednesday) to the life and career of the legendary Franklin, played with quiet strength and passionate musical fire by Cynthia Erivo (Broadway’s Tony-winning The Color Purple revival). Following her from her preacher father’s (Courtney B. Vance) gospel choir to the top of the charts, Genius pays Aretha R-E-S-P-E-C-T. (See the full review.)

The Simpsons (Sunday, 8/7c, Fox): It all began with a Christmas episode back in 1989, and as the animated institution hits its milestone 700th episode — with no end yet in sight — The Simpsons tells yet another yuletide story “of failing and redemption.” (“Isn’t that every Christmas story?” Lisa snarks.) The episode, titled “Manger Things,” flashes back six years to a memorable holiday office party where Homer’s behavior lands him on Marge’s naughty list. The fallout reveals a room in the Simpson home we’ve somehow never seen before. To whet your appetite, check out Bill Plympton’s latest surreal couch gag.

Doctor Who: Fury from the Deep (Sunday, 6/5c, BBC America): From the archives, another lost chapter from the Doctor’s storied past, dating back to 1968, has been animated for posterity, with all six episodes airing consecutively. The late Patrick Troughton is the voice and image of the Doctor, who with companions Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Victoria (Deborah Watling) wash up on a sinister gas refinery off the coast of England. To their horror, they discover that a rig has sucked up a parasitic seaweed with the power to control the minds of anyone it infects.

Q: Into the Storm (Sunday, 9/8c, HBO): A six-part documentary, airing over three Sundays, takes a deep dive into the murky conspiratorial world of Qanon, whose dark influence was manifested most violently in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Director Cullen Hoback interviews the father/son team that operates the 8chan website which hosts the mysterious “Q,” as well as “Q-tubers” and debunkers and journalists who’ve also tried to pierce the veil, in an attempt to understand and demystify this form of information warfare, “fake news” at its most insidious.

The Gloaming (Sunday, 9/8c, Starz): This grim import from Australia, seemingly influenced by countryman Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock) in its eerie (if overdone) sound effects and sinister depiction of nature, fuses crime drama with the supernatural. Set on the exotic island of Tasmania, the six-part mystery stars Emma Booth (Once Upon a Time) and Ewen Leslie (Top of the Lake) as detectives whose investigation of a grisly murder brings up ghosts (sometimes quite literally) of the past.

TV Movies: Hallmark Channel kicks off a “Spring Fling” series of romantic movies with Chasing Waterfalls (Saturday, 9/8c), about a photographer (Cindy Busby) who falls for the guide (Christopher Russell) who’s leading her to a famous waterfall… Lifetime revisits the work of Gothic novelist V.C. Andrews with four films, airing over two weekends, based on her Landry Family series. First up: Ruby (8/7c, Saturday), the story of Ruby Landry (Raechelle Banno), whose life in the Louisiana bayou changes forever when family skeletons emerge after the death of her beloved Grandmére (Marilu Henner). The story continues with Pearl in the Mist (Sunday, 8/7c)… Hallmark Movies & Mysteries revives its Mystery 101 franchise with Killer Timing (Sunday, 8/7c), when Detective Travis Burke (Kristoffer Polaha) survives a freak accident to pursue an escaped serial killer with the help of his professor amour Amy (Jill Wagner) and his ex (Erin Cahill), an FBI agent.

Inside Weekend TV: A CNN Special Report explores The Secret Cost of COVID (Saturday, 9/8c), with correspondent Miguel Marquez relating some of the personal stories of the millions whose lives have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic… It’s Hollywood Week on ABC’s American Idol (Sunday, 8/7c), where the judges will learn who lives up to their Golden Tickets… The third season of the Starz fantasy American Gods (Sunday, 8/7c) thunders to a close with Shadow (Ricky Whittle) finally embracing his destiny as the son of war god Odin (Ian McShane), just in time for love goddess Bilquis (Yetide Badaki) to get a revelation of her own… TV One profiles musician Morris Day as a new season of Unsung (Sunday, 9/8c) gets underway, followed by the return of Uncensored (10/9c), when New Jack Swing creator Teddy Riley opens up about his collaborations with superstars like Michael Jackson… It’s been a long wait for fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead (Sunday, 9/8c) to find out what happened to Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsura) and Princess (Paola Lázaro) after they were captured by those mysterious Storm Trooper-like soldiers… HLN’s How It Really Happened with Hill Harper (Sunday, 9/8c) looks back at the 2015 escape of two convicted murderers from New York’s Dannemora prison, which was memorably dramatized on Showtime in 2018… Nostalgia alert: MeTV digs through The Best of The Ed Sullivan Show (Sunday, 9:30/8:30c) with eclectic highlights from the legendary variety show. Highlights of the first episode include The Beatles raising the roof with “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Elvis Presley crooning “Don’t Be Cruel,” and comedy from George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Joan Rivers.