As usual on the weekend, you’re spoiled for choice.
Among the items you can choose to watch is Sex Sent Me to the ER (Saturday, TLC, 9 p.m.) which this week features “a young couple’s trip to the grocery store to spice things up.” Good luck with that. You the viewer may decide, wisely, to never visit a supermarket again. Or you could dip into No Man’s Land (Sunday, History, 9 p.m.), one of those reality shows about hard lads doing hard work. This one purports to chronicle “the lives of those who thrive and survive in the barren landscape that marks the end of civilization: the great American desert.” On this week’s episode, a lad named Howdy is hired to train a “wild horse-donkey.”
Truth be told, most of you are probably sticking with continuing series of some merit. Orphan Black, followed by the wonderful The Returned (Saturday, Space, 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.). Or Game Of Thrones, Mad Men and The Bletchley Circle on Sunday.
That being the case, I draw your attention to repeats of two fine HBO one-off dramas you may have missed. The two are markers in the evolution of HBO’s position as the primary repository of TV drama, the most powerful storytelling genre of our time. These are both works of remarkable depth and nuance; both feature acting and writing of the highest order.
Phil Spector (Saturday, HBO Canada, 5:26 p.m.) is an example of the old, true-crime, trashy TV movie taken to the level of art. Written by playwright David Mamet and featuring Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, it is far from easy viewing. It’s a strange, demanding, heady excursion into the depths of egotism, success and the public perception of celebrity in America. Spector (Pacino, in superb form), the legendary music producer, was charged with murder in 2003. A woman, Lana Clarkson, had been found dead at his mansion, shot with one of his many guns. His lawyer, Bruce Cutler (Jeffrey Tambor, who’s excellent), thinks a suicide argument is possible, but unlikely to sway a jury looking at Spector, the strange recluse, gun lover and man of fiery temper.
He calls on lawyer Linda Kenney Baden (Mirren) to help. The meat of the movie is the tense, layered lawyer-client relationship between her and Spector, a man notorious for his animosity toward women. Mamet describes the work as “fiction,” although it is based on real events. He takes us deep into Spector’s psyche, that of a caged, dangerous animal. By the way, you’ll also find Chiwetel Ejiofor, now famous for playing Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, in a significant supporting role.
Grey Gardens (Sunday, HBO Canada, 7:10 p.m.) is that odd thing – a dramatization of a well-regarded documentary. Back in the early 1970s, filmmakers Albert and David Maysles went to the shambolic home of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale. They wanted to make a documentary about the mother and daughter, relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The result was a classic film, documenting the strange existence of two women detached from reality, in squalor, arguing about old grudges. In this outing, Drew Barrymore (also a producer) plays Little Edie, Jessica Lange plays her mother. Made in and around Toronto (and co-written by Patricia Rozema), it’s a poignant tale of thwarted lives, and a delight.
Also airing this weekend
Muscle Shoals (Sunday, Documentary Channel, 9 p.m.) is a rock-music fan’s dream. It’s a fine, long and understandably meandering doc about two recording studios: Rick Hall’s Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Located in the small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals, they share the Swampers, the studio band used on some of the best music ever recorded – by Etta James, the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers, to name just a few. Hall (whose family’s story is astonishing) founded his studio in the 1960s, and the doc is also a journey from a racially segregated Deep South to the present, using music as the vehicle. There is commentary from Bono, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin and other stars, but it’s the Swampers who matter here.