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.
I'm in a Presidential mood, and it has nothing to do with our nation's recent state of affairs. And I'm certainly not referring to the cable news channels which are all about entertainment instead of actual news when it comes to American politics.
The past few weeks in the world of TV have offered Mount Rushmore-esque programming for our consumption. An Abe Lincoln biography. A Ken Burns breakdown of founding father Ben Franklin. This week, we've got two more Presidential offerings that couldn't be more different.
First up is Our Great National Parks, a five-part documentary series premiering this Wednesday on Netflix that’s hosted by Barack Obama. The focus is on the greatest national parks on the planet, not just in the United States.
I've always been a sucker for the eye candy contained in this type of documentary. The creators of Blue Planet II don't disappoint with incredible shots of beautiful locations and unique animals. Obama's voice is on par with Sir David Attenborough and the perfect accompaniment to the gorgeous footage.
This week ends with The First Lady premiering on Sunday at 9pm on Showtime. The star-powered series profiles the ladies in the Oval Office who were true difference makers.
Try this acting triumvirate on for size – Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt. O-T Fagbenie, Aaron Eckhart and Kiefer Sutherland play their respective husbands and leaders of the free world.
I typically prefer a documentary to any fictionalized version, but The Crown has proven that if it's done well, the TV series can be much more entertaining while still being informative. Gillian Anderson's Emmy-winning performance as Margaret Thatcher bodes well for her take on Eleanor Roosevelt. Viola Davis and Michelle Pfeiffer always deliver, and we know what the subject material is going to be.
The challenge with any series such as this is to maintain the illusion that we are watching the real first families as the drama unfolds. The moment it feels like a History Channel reenactment, it loses its gravitas (which happens to be Kiefer's favorite word).
I double-majored in Communications and History at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), so maybe that's why this type of programming holds such great appeal for me. There's no better TV drama than the history of this planet if it's presented the right way. It's more entertaining and accurate than what's on the real "news" channels these days.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
Anatomy of a Scandal (Netflix)
Friday, April 15th
Welcome the start of David E. Kelley's anthology series on Netflix. Yes, another David E. Kelley series. There's a scandal in the British government where a scoundrel in Parliament has an affair and the tabloids can't get enough of it.
Lady Mary of Downton (Michelle Dockery) is the barrister on a mission to take down Peter Quinn of Homeland (Rupert Friend) for cheating on Sienna Miller who is trying to hang on to the life they've built. But as with all Kelley stories, things may not be as simple as they seem. Watch trailer.
Outer Range (Amazon)
Friday, April 15th
Something strange is going on out on the Wyoming prairie. And it's not Josh Brolin who's amazingly natural playing the lead in this new Amazon series. Close Encounters vibes persist throughout the Abbott ranch, and a giant hole is summoning strangers for a visit.
This is not the next Yellowstone despite a similar location, an enigmatic male movie star lead doffing a cowboy hat, and the always creepy Will Patton moseying over from Montana. The supernatural persists and mysterious trouble is certain to follow. Watch trailer.
The Garcias (HBO Max) – The next chapter for The Brothers Garcia which was the first English-language sitcom with an all-Latine cast and creative team. Thursday. Watch trailer.
THIS WEEK’S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Hard Cell (Netflix) – A mockumentary film crew shoots inside a women's prison. Tuesday.
The Kardashians (Hulu) – They're back. I won’t be watching, but lots of others will. Thursday.
Killing It (Peacock) – Craig Robinson plays a prison guard willing to do anything to buy a home of his own in this comedy. Friday.
Bill Maher #Adulting (HBO) – A new stand-up special – and you know exactly what's coming. Friday at 10pm.
Roar (Apple TV+) – 8 dark funny stories from the creators of GLOW featuring Emmy-award winning actresses. Friday.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: Episodes (Showtime/Hulu) – A happily married British couple heads to the States to remake their hit TV show for an American audience. The guy who played Joey on Friends is going to be the lead… and everything goes completely wrong. Matt LeBlanc gives his finest performance as… Matt LeBlanc in this underrated comedy.
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Amazon Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Amazon Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.