Worth Watching: Demi Lovato ‘Dancing With the Devil,’ Taraji P. Henson Brings ‘Black Joy,’ ‘Aretha’ Hits Gospel’s High Notes
A selective critical checklist of notable Tuesday TV:
Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil (streaming on YouTube): The pop star is making headlines with this soul-baring four-part documentary, in which she speaks candidly of her near-fatal overdose in 2018, her addictions and struggles with mental illness and eating disorders. Two episodes premiere today, with the remaining two released the next two Tuesdays. The story Demi Lovato tells encompasses the last three years, including footage from her 2018 “Tell Me You Love Me” World Tour, when initial production began, never knowing where it would lead.
Soul of a Nation (10/9c, ABC): Taraji P. Henson has brought much joy throughout her Oscar- and Emmy-nominated career, most recently as the tough Cookie in Empire, and she helps explore “Black Joy” as guest host for the latest installment in this illuminating docuseries about Black life and culture. Segments deal with how humor and music have helped get the Black community through tough times, including Janai Norman’s interview with Genius: Aretha star Cynthia Erivo (see more on that below) and Alex Perez debriefing comedian Michael Yo (who battled COVID-19) and DJ Derrick “D-Nice” Jones about how they found ways to address the pandemic and the social-justice movement through entertainment. ESPN’s “The Undefeated” provides a survey of Black sketch comedy on TV, from In Living Color to A Black Lady Sketch Show.
Death Is Our Business (10/9c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): While maybe not as uplifting, Frontline examines another aspect of Black life during the pandemic with filmmaker Jacqueline Olive’s documentary about two Black-owned funeral homes in New Orleans coping with the pandemic as the virus takes a disproportionate toll within the Black community. Death may be a business, but the film explores how the pandemic disrupted certain funeral rituals that are so crucial and specific to Black Americans.
Genius: Aretha (9/8c, National Geographic): In one of the strongest chapters of the biographical docudrama, Aretha Franklin (the tremendous Cynthia Erivo) goes to church — but not her father’s (Courtney B. Vance) church — to record “Amazing Grace” in 1972, which would go on to become the best-selling gospel album of all time. Aretha has to fight every step of the way, convincing executives that “All music is God’s music,” then arguing to get the producer’s credit she has been denied for too long.
This Is Us (9/8c, NBC): One of the most affecting characters introduced in recent seasons of the family drama is Jack’s (barely) surviving brother, Uncle Nicky, played as a troubled young adult by Michael Angarano and as an even more emotionally damaged older man by Griffin Dunne. It’s the latter who arrived at new parents Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Madison’s (Caitlin Thompson) door with no warning last week, flying across the country to meet his namesake grandnephew. How Nicky got there is the basis of what promises to be another memorable episode.
Inside Tuesday TV: PBS explores the still provocative writings of Southern Gothic novelist Flannery O’Connor in American Masters: Flannery (8/7c, check local listings at pbs.org), with Mary Steenburgen reading from O’Connor’s electrifying prose… Young Jack (Miles Brown) decides to go vegan on ABC’s black-ish (9/8c), which leaves a bitter taste with carnivore father Dre (Anthony Anderson), who worries this will disrupt their BBQ nights in front of the TV watching MMA fights… Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) begins to come to terms with his mother Martha’s death on The CW’s Superman & Lois (9/8c) while attending Smallville’s first Harvest Festival since her passing… Fatherly instincts kick in on NBC’s New Amsterdam (10/9c) for Dr. Max (Ryan Eggold), who heads to Connecticut to bring his daughter back to New York — but is it the right call when little Luna has bonded so closely with her grandparents during the pandemic?… Streaming opportunities for true-crime fans: Sundance Now’s three-part Secrets of a Psychopath (also streaming in its entirety on AMC+) goes to Ireland for the disturbing case of a 2012 murder linked to the discovery of a cache of sex toys which opens the window on a dark world of sadomasochistic manipulation and torture… On Discovery+, the two-hour Who Killed My Son?, produced and narrated by Soledad O’Brien, follows an Indian-American family’s years-long search for the truth, stymied by what they allege to be discriminatory systemic racism in the justice system, in the 2014 disappearance and death of 19-year-old student Pravin Varughese.