Sometimes, as recent examples such as The Undoing have shown, a story about lies and guilt is your best bet for intensity and distraction. This weekend, a first-rate guilt-opera about a powerful man put under intense pressure starts. Plus, there’s an excellent look at the role of the U.S. vice-president, a holiday treat and an intensely powerful, brace-yourself documentary on a part of the Second World War that’s been forgotten.
Your Honor (Sunday, Crave/Showtime 10 p.m.) starts superbly. That start is a little masterclass in prestige-popcorn TV. Mystery and anxiety mix in a way that’s both grave and grabby. We are in New Orleans, and a mysterious figure is out running, stopping at one point to gaze into one particular house. Next we see a young man, Adam (Hunter Doohan), set out on a drive to leave some flowers to honour the death of a woman, and the viewer thinks it’s his mom.
We’re talking New Orleans and strange vibes here, so the young man gets flustered, has an asthma attack and collides with a guy on a motorcycle. The accident scene is exquisitely, slowly enacted, not a single frame of it wasted or unnecessary. Then, Adam flees. Then he tells his dad what happened. Dad is, it turns out, that mysterious running figure and also a judge, the guy you call “your honour.” He’s a good judge, a moral man – we see his goodness – and he wants Adam to talk to the cops and confess to manslaughter. All good.
Then the dad, Judge Michael Desiato (Bryan Cranston) realizes the victim is the son of local Mafioso Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stuhlbarg) and pulls his son out of the legal wrangle. He’s aiming for coverup and evasion. This good man enters into deceit to save his son. It’s a great, tight premise (Peter Moffat adapting the Israeli series Kvodo), and there is a lot of fine acting here. Cranston is great at this stuff; Stuhlbarg is exceptional as the furious crime boss, and Hope Davis is magnificent as his wife.
The series is all shades of grey, literally in its visuals and thematically. It’s a tangled web about privilege, and there is tremendous tension. There are 10 episodes; the early going is good and recommended, but the worry is that those 10 might stretch the story too far.
Also airing this weekend
President in Waiting (Saturday, CCN 9 p.m.) is a CNN documentary study of the role of the U.S. vice-president. It’s very, very good and filled with insights and anecdotes from a long list of interviewees, including most living former VPs and presidents. It opens with a quote from Will Rogers: “The man with the best job in the country is the vice-president. All he has to do is get up every morning and say, ‘How is the president?’” Then Walter Mondale says, almost sighing, “Not a lot of thought was given to the role of the vice-president.” And that point is underlined often; it’s ill-defined in the U.S. Constitution. We hear Dick Cheney on working with George W. Bush and Bush talking about Cheney. Cheney recalls Bush saying to the cabinet, “How many people here agree with Dick?” Nobody put their hand up.
We’re told Lyndon Johnson had “a miserable time in the job” as Bobby Kennedy tried often to undermine him. We see LBJ, when president, snarling on the phone at Hubert Humphrey, “You talked when you shoulda been listening!” Mike Pence isn’t in it much but claims, “The president writes the job description.” Packed with delicious detail, it’s a must-see for anyone with more than a superficial interest in U.S. politics.
The Fence (Sunday, documentary Channel 9 p.m.) premieres to commemorate the anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Hong Kong on Dec. 8, 1941, in which Japanese forces attacked Allied soldiers defending Hong Kong. It is one of the most powerful documentaries of the year, easily. About 2,000 Canadian troops were in Hong Kong when the Japanese army came; there was one savage battle, and most were interned. One veteran says, “People didn’t know anything about us for four years, whether we were all dead or what had happened.” Survival was their battle under horrendous conditions and ceaseless ill-treatment. Canadian filmmaker Viveka Melki does an astounding job, delving deep into a painful history and explaining how a revisionist-history movement in Japan tries to erase this particular portion of the past.
It’s a lot of serious material this weekend, but note this – A Holly Dolly Christmas (Sunday, CBS, 8:30 p.m.) also airs. The iconic entertainer, and current hero, Dolly Parton, “shares the spirit of the holidays in a special filled with joy and holiday cheer.” Dolly performs both powerful hymns and light-hearted classics.
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