Margaret’s 6 TV Programs to Watch This Week
Watching is The New York Times’s TV and film recommendation newsletter and website.
Oooh, a wonderful TV week awaits. I’m particularly excited about “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but I’m also continuing to make my way through “Grand Designs,” the British home-design show I mentioned last week. I remain obsessed with Viceland’s documentary series “Jungletown,” about a group of misguided idealists trying to build a sustainable village in the Panamanian jungle. And “Riverdale.” And “Powerless.” And “Greenleaf.”
Additional delights abound here on Watching.
Mel Brooks in “The Laugh Laugh.”
‘The Last Laugh’
When to watch: 10 p.m., on PBS (check local listings).
This documentary is directly about Jewish humor about the Holocaust, but it’s also broadly about the role of humor — even humor some might consider tasteless — in society. Mel Brooks, Carl and Rob Reiner, Sarah Silverman and Judy Gold, among many others, weigh in, and what’s most interesting here, actually, is the lack of consensus on what line shouldn’t be crossed.
Instead of presenting some absurd idea of what that line is, “The Last Laugh” lays plain why different people of different generations, identities and experiences might draw different conclusions about what is and isn’t funny or acceptable.
Briga Heelan, left, and Nicole Richie in “Great News.”
‘Great News’ (series premiere)
When to watch: 9 p.m., on NBC.
“Great News” hails from Tracey Wigfield (a producer, writer and story editor for “30 Rock”), and Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are among the show’s executive producers. Briga Heelan stars as Katie, a news producer who feels she’s not getting her due, but the real star of the show is Andrea Martin as Carol, Katie’s mother, who becomes an intern at Katie’s show.
At its best moments, “Great News” does fit under a “30 Rock” / “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” umbrella — particularly the loopy one-liners and gimlet eye about the television industry. Unlike Liz Lemon or Kimmy Schmidt, though, Katie’s hard to root for, mostly because she feels vague and unoriginal. Martin is terrific, as is Nicole Richie as one of the news anchors, and there are a lot of good jokes. A solid start, but one the show needs to grow past.
Also Tuesday: “Genius,” a scripted drama about Albert Einstein, debuts on National Geographic at 9 p.m.; the series finale of “Outsiders” airs at 9 p.m. on WGN.
Elisabeth Moss in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
When to watch: Starting Wednesday, on Hulu (series premiere).
Elisabeth Moss stars as Offred in this chilling, brilliant adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel about a patriarchal dystopia. The series begins after a religious totalitarian regime has taken over what used to be the United States. Because of environmental toxicity, very few women are able to carry healthy babies to term; those who can are forced into reproductive slavery as “handmaids,” assigned to the wealthy and powerful.
This is one of the best new shows in years. The story is salient and timely, but those things alone wouldn’t make an adaptation great. Everything comes together just right: The voice-overs are not too on-the-nose, the aesthetic is just peculiar enough to be sometimes disorienting, sometimes almost romantic. Moss is wonderful, as are Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd and Samira Wiley. It’s bleak and brutal, but energizing rather than suffocating.
One need not read the book to enjoy the show, and some aspects of the show are not present in the source material. The show is somehow darker and more intense than the book because it’s even more visceral and intimate. The first three episodes will be available Wednesday, and then an additional episode each week for the next seven weeks.
Also Wednesday: Season 2 of “Gomorrah,” an Italian import, starts on SundanceTV at 10 p.m.
Douglas Henshall and Frances Grey in “Shetland.”
When to watch: Now, on Netflix.
There are two kinds of foreign crime shows: Sleek ones and … sweater ones. This is a sweater one. And it’s terrific! This Scottish series, which aired in Britain starting in 2013 and has since aired on some American PBS stations, is set mostly on the Shetland Islands, where our thoughtful, widower detective solves emotionally charged murders.
The first season is only two episodes, and Seasons 2 and 3 are only six each, so you could theoretically burn through all of them in one very morose day. I recommend watching it with the subtitles turned on, but your Scottish-accent fluency may vary.