The Most Important Shows on TV: Week of February 27, 2017

Which TV series will your friends (and the entire internet) be talking about this week? Stay informed — or at least be able to fake it — with SideReel's weekly guide to The Most Important Shows on TV.

 

When We Rise: S1E1

When We Rise
(Series Premiere)

Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC

Why: This ambitious, four-part miniseries from the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk uses the stories of three activists in San Francisco to show the remarkable changes that occurred during the turbulent 40-year period between the early '70s, when being gay still was considered an illness, and 2013, when same-sex marriage was legalized (again) in California. It's an important and inspirational history lesson, but it's not a particularly great series. Especially during the first part, there's something too old fashioned, bordering on cheesy, about the production. While it makes sense that producers wanted to find a home for this project on a broadcast network, it seems like cable might have been a better fit. The performances are mostly good — and the star power is impressive — but the actors playing the main activists during their earlier and later years can seem jarringly different (particularly Emily Skeggs and Mary-Louise Parker as Roma Guy). Despite the flaws, this is worth watching. Especially now.

Prepare to talk about: How fitting it is that the show's original four-night schedule was interrupted by Tuesday's presidential address; how this would have come across as a victory lap had the election gone the other way; whether this would have worked better on HBO or FX.

 

National Treasure: S1E1

National Treasure
(Series Premiere)

Wednesday at 3 a.m. on Hulu

Why: In a plot that is sadly timely on both sides of the pond, this four-part U.K. series examines the impact of a beloved comedy star being accused of sexual misconduct earlier in his legendary career. Robbie Coltrane plays Paul Finchley, a "national treasure" and one half of a long-running comedy act whose life is turned upside down when he is arrested on suspicion of raping a woman in 1993. Coltrane, a multiple BAFTA winner in the '90s for his work in Cracker, is perhaps best known in the U.S. for playing Hagrid in the Harry Potter films. He's exceptional here, as is Julie Walters in a very challenging role. The series draws inspiration from the wide-reaching scandal involving Jimmy Savile, but clearly will remind American viewers of Bill Cosby's current legal battles, making it feel depressingly raw and familiar to all.

Prepare to talk about: Whether Paul Finchley is guilty or innocent (don't worry, it's made clear in the finale); Coltrane's superb performance in a dark role.

 

Feud: Bette and Joan

Feud: Bette and Joan
(Series Premiere)

Sunday at 10 p.m. on FX

Why: Could anything be more Ryan Murphy than an anthology series dramatizing the legendary feud between Old Hollywood icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who (sort of) set aside their differences to (barely) collaborate on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The answer is no. So it's no surprise that this works so well. Not perfectly, mind you (we'll get to that). After revitalizing her career with a four-year run on American Horror Story, which earned her two Emmys, Murphy's drafted Jessica Lange to play Crawford alongside new muse Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis. These Oscar-winning actresses devour the scenery, but they also find some space to ground things, touching upon themes like ageism and sexism in Hollywood. It wouldn't be a Murphy production if there were just two stars, so the stuffed series employs a loose documentary style to pull in commentary from Kathy Bates and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Joan Blondell and Olivia de Havilland, respectively. There also are appearances by Sarah Paulson, Stanley Tucci, and Kiernan Shipka. It's a little much, but that's Murphy.

Prepare to talk about: Judy Davis as notorious gossip columnist Hedda Hopper; the inevitable feud jokes talk that will accompany the two stars' wild award season; the real Baby Jane movie, which is insane.

 

T.J. DeGroat is the editor of SideReel. His actual most important show this week can be found here. Follow him on Twitter.

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TelevisionFanboyContributor
Feb 25, 2017 4:48AM EST

Feud is going to be absolutely brilliant. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane is one of my very favorite movies! I couldn't imagine a stronger piece for Jessica Lange to demonstrate her incredible talent.

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Feb 28, 2017 8:39AM EST

Cracker! TV's original "Fitz"! (OK, maybe not... there could have been dozens before him.) I would watch "National Treasure" for Robbie Coltrane alone. I'm somewhat interested in When We Rise, but I have my doubts. And I'll probably give "Feud" a miss, whether the series is considered "award bait" or not.

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