'Now See This' Newsletter: W. Kamau Bell and an Arthurian Legend

11:10 AM 7/17/2020

by THR Staff

Welcome to Now See This, THR chief TV critic Daniel Fienberg’s weekly viewer guide newsletter dedicated to cutting through the daunting clutter of the broadcast, cable and streaming TV landscape! Comments and suggestions welcome at daniel.fienberg@thr.com.

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  • Welcome Back, W. Kamau Bell

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    For weeks, travel shows focusing on food were the comfort TV I wanted, but the return of The United Shades of America, W. Kamau Bell’s CNN travel show focusing on race, may be the not-so-comforting TV we need. Sunday’s fifth season premiere, set in and around Pittsburgh, examines white supremacy, a key Bell target going back to the show’s KKK-centric pilot — and it’s a knockout, covering a wide range of topics from systemic racism and resurgent anti-Semitism to COVID-19 and George Floyd. It may make you angry or sad, but it will also make you laugh.

  • Neither ‘Cursed’ Nor Blessed

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Netflix’s adaptation of Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler’s graphic novel Cursed, a revisionist prequel to the Arthurian legend, lacks both the crazed, silly highs and the leaden, amateurish lows of Witcher. In short, it’s OK. Star Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) is solid, as is Gustaf Skarsgard as Merlin, but the show is more invested in foreshadowing the story you already know than telling this new tale that you don’t.

  • Anybody Remember ‘The Alienist’?

    Jesse Giddings/TNT

    It’s been two years since TNT’s The Alienist wrapped its first season and 26 years since Caleb Carr’s novel came out. This weekend, a new season of the gory 19th-century mystery premieres with a dead babies storyline — taken from Carr’s own sequel — that’s way too close to the plot of HBO’s Perry Mason to be pleasant. The fresh episodes are still full of beautifully produced period details and Dakota Fanning is giving a great unsung performance, but it’s tough to watch. 

  • Back to ‘P-Valley’

    Courtesy of Starz

    The best current scripted shows on TV remain unchanged: If you haven’t caught up on HBO’s I May Destroy You, now is a good time! And it’s not too late to start on Starz’s P-Valley, which premiered last weekend. P-Valley showrunner and creator Katori Hall dropped words of wisdom on this week’s TV’s Top 5 podcast.

  • Honoring Naya Rivera and Grant Imahara

    Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Gabe Ginsberg/FilmMagic

    Netflix is the place to go to honor two small-screen favorites gone too soon. Imahara, who died this week at 49, starred in Netflix’s fun investigative series White Rabbit Project, with all 10 episodes available to stream. Rivera died last week at 33, and she was the too-often-unsung MVP of Glee, all available on Netflix. For several seasons, Rivera and Heather Morris kept me watching, and the season 3 coming-out arc — peaking with “I Kissed a Girl” — was a series highlight. 

  • Some Homework

    Photofest

    Vincent Bugliosi’s epic recounting of the events leading up to Charles Manson’s 1969 reign of terror and subsequent trial is one of the great non-fiction literary thrillers, but both the 2004 telefilm (featuring a great Jeremy Davies) and the 1976 telefilm (featuring a great Steve Railsback) are only available for rental. So ahead of Epix’s six-part documentary take on Helter Skelter, head over to Starz and check out Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Then you’ll be ready to see which parts of Quentin Tarantino’s Tinseltown fantasy were actually true.

  • This Week’s THR Staff Pick

    Courtesy of HBO

    Associate Editor Lexy Perez suggests an HBO catch-up. She writes: "Insecure has become my favorite quarantine binge thus far. It didn't take long to realize that Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji's Issa and Molly are the two best friends I wish I had. Watching them be a united team while dealing with an endless amount of awkward, yet comical situations — set within a pre-pandemic, vibrant Los Angeles I miss — never fails to make me laugh but also root for them from my couch."