In the tradition of all great detectives, Swedish bundle-of-brooding Kurt Wallander can't escape crime no matter where he goes — and that includes the country home he is just moving into with his lady love as the first of three new Wallander movies kicks off a third season on Masterpiece Mystery! (Sunday, PBS, check tvguide.com listings). As played with explosively simmering edge by Kenneth Branagh, Wallander barks, "You think this is fate?" at his walking-on-eggshells paramour (Saskia Reeves), who shoots back, "Don't be so miserable."
But that wouldn't be Wallander, would it? And as he looks into the origin of the years-old corpse buried under his new home's bushes, the investigation dovetails into a more current mystery: the presumed suicide of a young pregnant Polish passenger on a local ferry. "There's no such thing as a coincidence," Wallander concludes along the way, but not before his impulsive snooping leads to catastrophe among his police ranks. No one delivers a self-flagellation quite like this angst-ridden Scandinavian. Will his career survive? Will his relationship? "I am who I am because of what I do," he self-analyses. We agree, and while we empathize, that's why we keep watching.
This is a fairly strong weekend for quality PBS specials, starting Friday with an evocative Great Performances hour celebrating Paul McCartney's recent recording Kisses on the Bottom, comprised mostly of standards dating back to his childhood. This charming CD is the basis of Paul McCartney's Live Kisses (again, check the listings for specific time in your area), a special filmed largely in black and white in the studios of the fabled Capitol Records, that iconic round tower smack in the heart of Hollywood. On Feb. 9 — as it turns out, the 48th anniversary of the Beatles' first Ed Sullivan Show appearance, according to PBS — Sir Paul reunited with the renowned musicians from this recording (including Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Joe Walsh, Diana Krall and John Pizzarelli) to perform a set live in concert in the studio. Between songs, these musical masters can't stop gushing about each other and how magical this experience was. The proof is in the music, which is truly transporting.
Before Masterpiece on Sunday, PBS launches the first part of what feels like a real-life Glee, in the premiere of the inspiring and entertaining three-week Broadway Or Bust. This tuneful reminder that "a life in the theater is not an easy thing" opens a window on the annual National High School Musical Theater Awards, in which 60 students are culled from a national pool of 50,000 in 30 regional competitions to come to New York City. They embark on a rigorous and illuminating five-day "boot camp" that leads to — where else — a Broadway stage, on which they perform group numbers and solos, and "Jimmy Awards" (after theatrical impresario James M. Nederlander) are presented to a male and female standout.
In the first episode, we eavesdrop on coaching sessions (observed by theatrical pros) and exhausting rehearsals, with various video diaries revealing more unguarded moments. And in the highlight, Michael Feinstein drops by to conduct an impromptu master class for one lucky lad brave enough to sing Gershwin's "You Can't Take That Away From Me" in front of his envious peers. You can't take such memories away from these rising stars (and possible future Glee Project contestants), and I don't envy the judges trying to pick just two winners from this field of talented hopefuls.
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Here's a quick look at some other weekend highlights:
In a strong episode of Starz' Boss (9/8c), Mayor Kane's (Kelsey Grammer) altruistic and increasingly public dedication to revitalizing the Lennox Gardens housing project baffles and alarms just about everyone, from his cronies to his enemies to his newly installed aide Mona (Sanaa Lathan), who if she knew what he was up to in his spare time would be truly creeped out about his more personal motives. Kane faces a more frosty reception at home, where an attempt at a family dinner — so awkward you might think you had tuned in to Breaking Bad — leads one of the participants to declare, "Some things are best left broken." ... The bullets fly fast and furious on another violent installment of Cinemax's Strike Back (10/9c), as the Section 20 heroes finally realize just what a powerful adversary they face in South African power broker Conrad Knox (Charles Dance), whose philanthropic façade masks his sinister nuclear goals. This week's mission involves rescuing the kidnapped family of a nuke scientist-in-hiding, but not before horndog Scott's wandering eye and widower Stonebridge's vengeful agenda complicate matters.
In brief: The third all-star Stand Up to Cancer TV fundraiser once again airs on all major broadcast networks (8/7c) and many cable channels, with executive producer Gwyneth Paltrow leading the always impressive talent pool, which includes Julia Roberts, Matt Damon — and in a moving tribute to her fallen Spartacus co-star Andy Whitfield, Lucy Lawless. ... Gimme a C, gimme an M, gimme a T. Yes, it's time for a seventh season of CMT's Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team, with a two-hour opener (9/8c) followed by the premiere of Cheer (11/10c; regular time period an hour earlier), a new series executive-produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, following a New Jersey high-school cheerleading squad's efforts to combat gravity and nerves and make it to world championships. The tough coach, Patty Ann Romero, isn't nearly as psycho as the blowhard on Dance Moms, which means she probably won't become as famous (or infamous). Her best scene comes when she stands up to a cheerleader's mom who wants to defy the rules by letting her daughter take a cell phone to a Texas road trip: "It attaches them to drama," insists Patty Ann. And when it comes to the black curtains keeping the moms from observing practice? "You want to tap on glass? Go to the zoo." Three cheers for Patty Ann. ... In the mood for a rant? Look no further than Lewis Black: In God We Rust (Comedy Central, midnight/11c), filmed in Minneapolis.
Coming off last week's highly rated and Dalek-infested season opener, BBC America's Doctor Who (9/8c) now finds the Time Lord (Matt Smith) in whimsical territory, pursuing "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" as he teams with a big-game hunter and an Egyptian queen (and, inevitably for now, a Pond) to stop an unmanned spacecraft from doom. ... National Geographic Channel's 9/11 — The Firemen's Story (10/9c) is an oral history from first responders, recounting the events of that tragic day in 2001 from the perspective of those who saw the worst first-hand. ... All My Children may be history, but Susan Lucci is still dishing the scandalous dirt, as host of Investigation Discovery's latest true-crime franchise Deadly Affairs (10/9c), which rehashes love stories gone murderous wrong.
CBS News' 60 Minutes (7/6c) devotes its entire hour to Scott Pelley's interview with "Mark Owen," the pseudonym of the Navy SEAL who wrote the best-seller No Easy Day, his eyewitness account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. ... The headliner on NBC's Sunday Night Football is Peyton Manning, making his regular-season debut with the Denver Broncos as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (8:15/7:15c). ... It's season finale time on Lifetime, as Jane's wedding day looms on Drop Dead Diva (9/8c), and news of a merger with an Air Force base occupies the Army Wives (10/9c). ... With only one week to go before the hour-long finale, Showtime's Weeds (10/9c) marks its 100th episode. ... TLC's Breaking Amish (10/9c) follows five members of the Amish/Mennonite community who have chosen to leave their simpler world behind to try life (in front of the cameras) in New York City. Nothing like diving into the deep end, I guess, but if TLC showed them Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, would it scare them back home? Worth a shot. ... Fed up with human nature? Go inside the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef on Animal Planet (9/8c) in a two-hour special. ... National Geographic Channel revisits the tragedy of 9/11 in 9/11: Voices From the Air (10/9c), excerpting radio transmissions from the hijacked aircrafts as well as cellphone calls from passengers to their loves ones. TV will never let us forget, nor should we.
- Kurt Wallander