For the first time in nearly six months, there isn’t a single new series premiering this week (at least, not one I’m aware of). There are a couple of season premieres, and several programs on PBS this week around the 40th anniversary of the end of US involvement in Vietnam. We’ve all seen the movies (which tend to focus on combat), but even those of us who were alive at the time may not be clear about the events that transpired during the war, or the reasons for them.
Monday, April 27
Tales of the Grim Sleeper (9-10:45 pm, HBO)
Another outstanding documentary on HBO by Nick Broomfield about Lonnie Franklin, a killer who stalked and found victims in South Central Los Angeles for nearly 20 years.
Also tonight: PBS has The Draft (8-9 pm), which examines the issue in this country going all the way back to the Revolution; and Dick Cavett’s Vietnam (10-11 pm), looking back to when Cavett’s late-night talk show was a platform for politicians and celebrities to engage in serious discussion about the war.
Tuesday, April 28
American Experience (9-11 pm, PBS)
“Last Days in Vietnam” chronicles the evacuation of Americans from Saigon in April 1975 and their efforts to rescue thousands of their South Vietnamese colleagues facing imprisonment and death at the hands of the approaching North Vietnamese army.
Also tonight: The Day the ‘60s Died (8-9 pm, PBS) recalls the strife, anger, and protests that followed President Richard Nixon’s announcement on April 30, 1970 (recently referenced on Mad Men) that American troops were invading Cambodia.
Wednesday, April 29
Ripper Street (10-11:15 pm, BBC America)
Another canceled show is revived, this time via a co-production arrangement between BBC America and Amazon. My interest in period dramas is not universal, but I watched and enjoyed the first two seasons of Ripper Street, partly because the show makes an effort to anchor its crime-procedural elements in the context of the time and place in which they occur (1890s London) and the social issues and ills that challenged society during that period. The eight-episode third season premieres tonight, with events picking up four years after the end of season two.
Also tonight: the premiere of the three-hour miniseries The Casual Vacancy, based on the J.K. Rowling novel and starring Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Rory Kinnear, and Keeley Hawes (8-10 pm, HBO; concludes tomorrow night from 8-9 pm).
Thursday, April 30
Cradle Will Rock (10 pm-12:15 am, Flix)
Tim Robbins wrote and directed this true story about Orson Welles’s attempt to produce a federally-funded leftist musical in the 1930s. The large cast includes Angus Macfadyen as Welles, Hank Azaria, Ruben Blades, Susan Sarandon, Bill Murray, Vanessa Redgrave, Joan and John Cusack, Cary Elwes, Emily Watson, John Turturro, and a bunch of other people you’ll recognize.
Friday, May 1
Citizen Kane (8-10:15 pm, Turner Classic Movies)
You’re not out seeing the new Avengers movie? Then it doesn’t get much more classic than Orson Welles’s towering achievement, the life story of a newspaper baron modeled on William Randolph Hearst and told in flashbacks.
Saturday, May 2
Cleveland Abduction (8-10:02 pm, Lifetime)
The real-life events of three women who were abducted and held captive for more than a decade get the Lifetime movie treatment.
Sunday, May 3
Penny Dreadful (10-11 pm, Showtime)
The supernatural creepfest that brought to life some of the more macabre and disturbing fictitious creations of Victorian literature found an audience last spring, and returns for its second season tonight.
Miami Vice (1984-89)
I took a swipe at this show last week, so why feature it? Mainly because, at the time it premiered, its approach to making episodic television was quite different than what viewers and the industry were accustomed to. Though created by Anthony Yerkovich, the primary creative force behind Miami Vice was Michael Mann, who had previously worked as a writer on Police Woman and Starsky and Hutch, and written and directed the movies The Jericho Mile, Thief, and The Keep. Mann believed that a TV show could and should be produced in a much more cinematic way, so Miami Vice was filmed on location in a movie-like style and used familiar pop and rock songs on its soundtrack.
The stories were still run-of-the-mill, cliché-filled cop-show stuff and the acting was, to be charitable, adequate, but in 1984 the overall look of the show (along with its characters’ outfits) was distinctive and fresh, and eventually other TV shows would merge higher-quality storytelling with the production values pioneered by Miami Vice. (Five seasons, 114 episodes total; some are treated as two-parters by Netflix but considered a single episode on IMDB and others vice versa, plus it appears two episodes are missing from Netflix.)
(Note: this information is accurate as of publication time, but programming is subject to change at the discretion of channels, providers, and networks. All times listed are Eastern time.)