Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
What a week. And I'm not referring to last week's marathon Election Night. I'm talking about what's coming up on TV this week.
This is the kind of reality television that I enjoy watching. True-crime shows and docuseries are right up my alley — void of fabricated conflicts and everyone wanting to be a star. This is the real deal, folks.
Two shows take us back to worldwide leadership when I was a teen. Everyone remembers Live Aid and the Miracle on Ice, but the administrations on both sides of the Atlantic generated plenty of headlines too. America was back on the rise as England was trying to reaffirm its power. Late this week, there's a taste of both with Season 4 of The Crown and the debut of The Reagans.
The Crown (NETFLIX)
Sunday, November 15th
The Crown is one of my perennial favorites, and Season 4 kicks off in in the late 70s when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister and Prince Charles met Diana Spencer.
The casting change shock of the third season is long gone as Olivia Colman returns as Queen Elizabeth with Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip by her side and Helena Bonham Carter as the enigmatic Princess Margaret. Major kudos to the casting directors - Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin nail Charles and Diana. Gillian Anderson transforms into Margaret Thatcher. The Emmys the show should have won this past year will be heading your way (in my opinion The Crown blows away Succession — it's not even close).
This is the first season of The Crown where I actually experienced the events covered instead of having read about them in a history book. This superb drama doesn't miss a beat. The Falkland Islands, I.R.A., and of course, THE wedding, are handled with the same precision as events from the first three seasons.
The West Wing was the first behind the scenes political show that knocked me out, but that was Aaron Sorkin's fictional White House account. The Crown is based on true events and continues to provide a somewhat realistic peek into the royal world.
It's hard to be sympathetic to the Royal Family, but The Crown makes quite the case (unless you’re Prince Charles). Savor Season 4 and gear up for Season 5 and a third Queen – Claire Foy and Olivia Colman are tough acts to follow.
The Reagans (SHOWTIME)
Sunday, November 15th 8pm
Not to be confused with the 2003 Showtime scripted series of the same name, this The Reagans is a new four-part docuseries covering Ronald Reagan's ascent from movie star to President featuring interviews with family and friends and footage from back in the day.
This country was not in a good place when Ronnie took over in 1980 and restored this nation's preeminence. The Reagans examines the quest for power and lasting effects of what happened when we were wearing Members Only jackets and Capezio shoes.
The pandemic has slowed down original programming, but the network's documentaries like Love Fraud and Outcry are getting some love.
We thought politics was crazy during the Reagans tenure. Little did we know what was to come.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
A Teacher (HULU)
Tuesday, November 10th
Kate Mara plays a new teacher at a Texas high school who decides to help the All-American jock prepare for the SATs. Take a guess what happens next.
Tight quarters lead to more than a teacher/student relationship, and the married teacher doesn't see anything wrong with what's going on since she "wanted to feel free."
Unfortunately this is no longer a unique situation in today's schools. An instructor seeing nothing wrong with her abuse of power is an interesting twist, and Kate Mara is at her manipulative best in this challenging role. Watch the trailer.
Trial 4 (NETFLIX)
Wednesday, November 11
This eight-part true crime docuseries is relevant to all that's going on in today's troubled world. Sean K. Ellis spent 22 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted for a murder of a Boston police detective at the age of 19.
Three trials later, Ellis faces a fourth day in court to determine whether he gets put back behind bars. Ellis has consistently maintained his innocence, and this time around there are questions about how the case was handled with evidence withheld from the defense.
This timely true-crime tale exposes police corruption and racism that started in 1993. The world hasn't changed very much almost 30 years later.
Valley of Tears (HBO MAX)
Thursday, November 12th
Israel's biggest budget TV series ever makes its way to HBO Max. This ten-parter focuses on the 1973 Yom Kippur War through the eyes of those who fought it at a young age.
Based on a true story, you can expect plenty of emotion as four soldiers, no older than 20, fight with their families in a battle for their existence.
If you enjoyed the masterful Band of Brothers, Valley of Tears is probably right up your alley. Israeli shows like Fauda spotlight the day-to-day fear for your life and cut right to the hell of what war can do any family. Watch the trailer.
Murder on Middle Beach (HBO)
Sunday, November 15th 10pm
HBO's latest true-crime offering is a four-part docuseries about a son who focuses on finding his mother's killer.
In early 2010, Barbara Hamburg was found violently murdered near her home in an upper-middle class Connecticut town. It was suspected as a crime of passion, but with no evidence to back that up, the case grows cold.
Eight years later her son Madison, who was 18 at the time of the killing, interviews family and others in search of evidence in hopes of solving the murder, and he ends up uncovering family secrets and long-time resentments in his hometown.
HBO has been on a roll with true-crime series like The Vow and I'll Be Gone In The Dark. Madison's quest to learn what happened to his mom and get some closure is the next chapter in a dark but compelling genre.
If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.
Wear a mask. Stay healthy and safe.
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.