Worth Watching: Celebrating Dolly, a New ‘Kung Fu,’ ‘Home Economics,’ Back-to-Back ‘Conners’

An all-star cast gathers to sing the praises of the beloved Dolly Parton. The CW puts a new spin on a cult favorite with a YA version of Kung Fu. ABC introduces a new sitcom family of siblings whose bank accounts are unequal in Home Economics, but The Conners steals their spotlight with two bold new episodes. And PBS’s epic Hemingway biography reaches its tragic conclusion.

NETFLIX

Dolly Parton: A MusiCares Tribute

Special

Was there ever a singer for whom the song I Will Always Love You was more appropriate? Who doesn’t adore Dolly, a country-music legend and philanthropist who won hearts all over again when she donated $1 million to vaccine development? Even before that, she was the recipient of 2019’s MusiCares Person of the Year honors, the occasion for an all-star concert of Dolly’s music. Highlights include P!nk’s rendition of Jolene, Yolanda Adams soaring with the aforementioned I Will Always Love You, and performances by Miley Cyrus with Shawn Mendes and Mark Ronson, Katy Perry, Willie Nelson and Brandi Carlile, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Don Henley and Vince Gill, Jennifer Nettles and Margo Price, and more.

Kung Fu Olivia Liang
Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW -- © 2021 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Kung Fu

Series Premiere

Not so much a reboot as a reinvention, the network’s latest YA action fable at least is well timed in its depiction of an empowered Chinese-American woman during a moment when combating anti-Asian bias is all over the news. Banish all memories of the David Carradine cult show from the 1970s as the story of Nicky Shen (Olivia Liang) begins. In the first few minutes, we learn that for the past three years, the rebellious Harvard dropout has been in training at a Shaolin monastery in China with her mentor, Pei-Ling (Vanessa Kai), whose mantra is, “You make the path that you live.” After a violent attack involving an ancient, magical sword, Nicky’s life is again uprooted and she returns to San Francisco, where new dangers await.

ABC/Temma Hankin

Home Economics

Series Premiere

That ’70s Show’sTopher Grace stars and executive produces a mildly amusing and instantly forgettable family sitcom about three siblings on different rungs of the economic ladder. In the middle in more ways than one is narrator Tom (Grace), a moderately successful author who’s embarrassed to ask his wildly wealthy younger brother Connor (YouTube personality Jimmy Tatro) for a loan—especially since their sister Sarah (Caitlin McGee) is newly out of work and struggling to make it with wife Denise (Saturday Night Live veteran Sasheer Zamata) and their kids. They could probably all just move into Connor’s home, which we hear over and over that it used to be owned by Matt Damon. It’s an emptier nest, anyway, since his wife left—and for all of his manchild bravado, Connor needs his family more than ever. Whether you go “aww” or yawn at this scenario is your choice.

The Conners - Lecy Goranson, Sara Gilbert
(ABC/Eric McCandless)

The Conners

The Hayworths of Home Economics are fatally bland by comparison to this hard-luck tribe, which makes some bold moves in back-to-back episodes. Becky (Lecy Goranson) is trying to better herself, taking night classes and working double shifts, but as she admits to a baby daughter who barely knows her anymore, “Mommy just can’t run hard enough to make this all work.” While she’s at her breaking point, Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Ben (Jay R. Ferguson) have issues to work out after his bitter split with Dan (John Goodman)—who’s just brought home a foster dog that’s blind and infirm. “Finally, something I can love around here,” snarks granddaughter Harris (Emma Kenney). And just when everything looks bleak, a face from the Roseanne past (played by Danielle Harris) appears to urge Darlene to “live in the moment.” If only.

Also new to Netflix:

  • This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist: A four-part docuseries reconstructs the audacious 1990 theft over a St. Patrick’s Day weekend of irreplaceable works by masters including Rembrandt and Vermeer brom Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Director Colin Barnicle covers the investigation into the still-unsolved case from multiple angles.
  • The Wedding Coach: Laughter is the best medicine to calm pre-wedding jitters, according to comedian Jamie Lee, who brings along a “plus one” comic in each of six episodes to help advise couples about how not to overstress and enjoy their big day.

Inside Wednesday TV:

  • Hemingway (8/7c, PBS, check local listings at pbs.org): The epic Ken BurnsLynn Novick biographical documentary covers the final years of Ernest Hemingway’s life (1944-1961), which includes one last literary triumph (The Old Man and the Sea) and a Nobel Prize, but declining physical and mental health culminating in a tragic end.
  • The Goldbergs (8/7c, ABC): The ’80s family comedy pays homage to a classic music video of the era, A-Ha’sTake On Me, with a tribute parody featuring Wendi McLendon-Covey (Beverly) and Sean Giambrone (Adam).
  • Tough as Nails (8/7c, CBS): Fan favorites from the first season of the rugged competition return to lead the contestants through the final team challenge, which involves hanging sheet rock.
  • SEAL Team (9/8c, CBS): Jason’s (David Boreanaz) career is on the line as he stands trial alone, not knowing if Ray (Neil Brown Jr.) and the rest of the team has his back.
  • Exterminate All the Brutes (9/8c, HBO): Visionary filmmaker Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) uses innovative techniques including excerpts from Hollywood movies, animation and scripted scenes (featuring Josh Hartnett) to trace the dark history of European and Western racism and colonialism over four hours (concluding Thursday). With sources including Sven Lindqvist’sExterminate All the Brutes, Roxannne Dunbar-Ortiz’sAn Indigenous People’s History of the United States and Michel-Rolph Trouillot’sSilencing the Past, Peck gives voice to those often erased from the history books.
  • Queen of the South (10/9c, USA): The crime drama’s fifth and final season opens with drug lord Teresa Mendoza (Alice Braga) expanding her reach to New York City, which is a good time for love interest James Valdez (Peter Gadiot) to prove his loyalty.
  • A Million Little Things (10/9c, ABC): The soapy drama moves back to its original time period with more fallout from Eddie (David Giuntoli) confessing his addiction, and Rome (Romany Malco) and Regina (Christina Moses) reaching out to support Tyrell (Adam Swain) and his mother.