The Weekend Playlist: A Great Wife, a Simpsons Short, Downton Finale
With back-to-back Sundays devoted to the Super Bowl and the Grammys, CBS has enjoyed a spectacular February so far. This Sunday, the only week in February with no major TV event - next Sunday belongs to ABC and the Oscars - the network's ratings will no doubt come back down to earth. But two of CBS' Emmy-winning crown jewels take center stage, and in one case shouldn't be missed.
The must-see is a season-best episode of network TV's finest drama, The Good Wife (Sunday, 9/8c). The crackling and witty humdinger of a script by executive producer/creators Robert and Michelle King allows Julianna Margulies to get especially feisty. Sensing a betrayal from her law firm's leadership, Alicia and colleague Cary (Matt Czuchry) play for keeps in a mock test trial, pitting them against their bosses Will and Diane (Josh Charles and Christine Baranski) as the client watches with concern: "Are you losing this on purpose?" he asks the senior partners. Things soon get heated in every way imaginable. In other terrific news, Carrie Preston is back as the delightfully flustered but cannier-than-she-seems Elsbeth Tascioni, representing Eli in his battle with unscrupulous Justice Department snoops (well and amusingly played by Kyle MacLachlan and Hamish Linklater). The twists are so smart and well-earned, once again demonstrating that in this cynical world of high-stakes and high-profit law, it's almost impossible to win without losing a part of your soul.
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Sunday also brings the first leg of the 22nd (!) cycle of CBS' multi-Emmy-award winning reality competition The Amazing Race (8/7c). It gets off to a great and visually dazzling start - a reminder of why Race is so often top-of-genre - when the 11 teams jet to Bora Bora, contestants skydive from a helicopter over the tropical paradise. But as the network's many promos have revealed - spoiler alert - in an unpromising first for the show, a challenge that follows proves so frustrating that multiple teams decide it's better to punt and take the penalty. In the first leg! At the mat, Phil Keoghan looks as disgusted as we feel. Quitters never win, but at least we already have some early candidates to root against.
SHORT AND SWEET: A DVR alert for fans of Fox's The Simpsons (Sunday, 8/7c): Although one of this week's subplots involves Marge trying to shelter baby Maggie from the pitfalls of children's TV, you should definitely gather the kids for what follows. Immediately after the episode, spilling over five minutes into the next half-hour, there's a special screening of the adorable Oscar-nominated animated short Maggie Simpson in: The Longest Daycare, a wordless vignette - although there's plenty of clever wordplay if you look closely - in which Maggie is dropped off at the Ayn Rand School for Tots, where she's segregated in the "Nothing Special" ward and faces off against a mallet-wielding bad baby who seeks to do damage to the butterfly Maggie has nurtured from caterpillar through cocoon (in the world's shortest metamorphosis). It's so cute I've already watched it several times.
TOO SOON: Words the Downton Abbey fan will be saying for a number of reasons after Sunday's season finale on PBS' Masterpiece (check tvguide.com listings). I'm OK with shows that leave us wanting more, but seasons of Downton seem impossibly short. Hard to believe we've already reached the end, with the two-hour episode that aired on Christmas Day in the U.K. creating such a stir that spoilers instantly rang out across the pond. (My Christmas gift to myself this year: A reminder not to go on Twitter.) If you've been lucky enough to stay unspoiled, just know that the action takes place not in winter, but in summer, picking up a year after the events of last week's episode. The Crawleys, including a very pregnant Mary, are off to an annual summer pilgrimage to Scotland, leaving most of the servants behind with a caught-between-two-worlds Branson - and as you'd expect, stuffy old Carson isn't about to let the mice play (or relax) while the fat cats are away, having their own intrigues among the moors. Up to a point, it's a lovely way to finish off a terrific season.
Seizing the opportunity to muscle in on the Downton craze, CBS' 60 Minutes (Sunday, 7/6c) interviews the wonderfully outspoken Dame Maggie Smith, who has won two Emmys (so far) as Downton's equally irrepressible Dowager Countess. She tells Steve Kroft she has never actually watched the show that revived this Oscar winner's celebrity late in life. About her longevity (she's 78), she remarks, sounding an awful lot like Violet, "Old people are scary and I have to face it, I am old and I am scary and I am very sorry about it, but I don't know what you do." Maggie, whatever you're doing, it's working.
DEAD AIM: Nothing's hotter on Sundays than AMC's The Walking Dead, and while this week's episode (9/8c) gets off to a deceptively slow start, with the Governor insisting to Andrea that there will be "no retaliation" against her old crew while Woodbury and the prison folk deal with their own leadership issues - Rick being a particularly lost soul, succumbing to distracting hallucinations - action junkies will get their fill by the explosive finale.
BEHIND THE MUSIC: We are all part of the Beyoncé Nation after her show-stopping performances at the inauguration and especially during the thrilling Super Bowl halftime show. But the up-close-and-personal indulgence of HBO's home-movie/laptop confessional/concert video vanity production Beyoncé: Life Is But a Dream (Saturday, 9/8c), which Sasha Fierce herself executive produced, directed and co-wrote, may prompt you to mutter at the TV, "Shut up and sing." Still, there's no doubting this superstar is a master of self-marketing. An hour before the HBO special, Beyoncé sits with Oprah Winfrey for even more personal reflections on OWN's Oprah's Next Chapter (8/7c), to promote her self-promotional documentary.
For a more candid, warts-and-all musical biography, Showtime presents History of The Eagles over two nights (Saturday and Sunday, 8/7c), with Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney producing this chronicle of the classic rock band's rise, fall and revival.
If your taste leans more toward Broadway razzle-dazzle, PBS' Live From Lincoln Center presents the first of several specials recorded during this year's American Songbook series from the gorgeous Allen Room, with its towering wall of windows overlooking Central Park. (I'll be attending Kristen Chenoweth's concert there this weekend, to be broadcast March 24.) In Ring Them Bells! Rob Fisher Celebrates Kander & Ebb (Friday, check tvguide.com listings), the composers of Chicago, Cabaret and New York, New York are saluted by conductor Fisher and a cast including Joel Grey, Chita Rivera and husband-wife belters Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie.
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: While Daniel Day Lewis waits to accept his Oscar next weekend for Lincoln, veteran TV star Billy Campbell (The Killing) puts on the whiskers and stovepipe hat to portray the doomed president in National Geographic Channel's Killing Lincoln (8/7c), a very earnest docu-reenactment-drama based on Bill O'Reilly's best-seller. Tom Hanks is the on-camera narrator, setting up scenes depicting Lincoln's final days as John Wilkes Booth (Jesse Johnson) plots the infamous assassination. ... Bet you never saw this coming: On CBS' Blue Bloods (Friday, 10/9c), easily riled Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) ends up in anger management class. ... Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz, front runner for this year's supporting actor Oscar, hosts NBC's Saturday Night Live (11:30/10:30c) for the first time, with Alabama Shakes as musical guest. ... It's Labor Day on ABC's Revenge (Sunday, 9/8c), and with newlyweds Jack and Faux-Manda sailing away on their honeymoon while the embattled Graysons host another lavish party, maybe we'll finally find out who died on that boat from the season opener's tease. ... A guilty pleasure I can truly relate to, Food Network's Worst Cooks in America, returns for a fourth season (Sunday, 9/8c), with chefs Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay mentoring kitchen klutzes as they try to prepare basic meat dishes (pork chop and beef tenderloin) without the help of microwaves.
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