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TV Picks: 'Breaking,' 'Eastbound,' 'Homeland,' 'Sex,' 'Ladies'

TheaterBreaking Bad (tv program)Stephen MerchantClaire DanesHomeland (tv program)

Sunday will be a busy night.

"Breaking Bad" (AMC, Sunday). After 10,000 episodes, the gold-encrusted body of "Breaking Bad" will be laid to rest Sunday night, with much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, after which we can officially begin toting up the damage and apply for federal relief. Inside sources tell me that the final installment is written entirely in anapestic heptameter and will be performed on a stage bare but for a wooden crate and a floor lamp. All the women's parts will be played by men, as is traditional, and the men's parts by sock puppets (an innovation). Sir Paul McCartney is said to have written a special song for Bryan Cranston to sing, and Aaron Paul will preview his new magic act (with poodles, apparently). An honor guard of 20,000 is expected to follow the procession across the Bridge of Tears to the Great Pyramid. Open Sundays and holidays. Discounted admission for California residents. Kids ride free. Lemonade 50 cents; real lemonade $1.

"Hello Ladies" (HBO, Sunday). Stephen Merchant, that tall drink of water known to slosh about in the company of Richard Gervais, takes the lead in a show about finding love in the big city -- this one, in fact -- and how hard that can be when you have no sense of who you are, how you're perceived, what's really of value and what doors you're not getting through anyway. Merchant plays Stuart, a socially overeager web designer; Christine Woods his tenant, a young aging actress (mostly self-employed -- she is making a web series); Nate Torrence the sad friend he stands up whenever something better comes along. This is solidly in the School of Cringe that Merchant and Gervais helped make a thing with "The Office" and "Extras," with just enough clues that the star is a person to root for and even care about to keep you from jumping through the screen and punching him lightly on the nose -- if you can reach that high.

"Eastbound & Down" (HBO, Sunday). Walter White has gotten the reputation as the hardest hard-guy and baddest dad in television, but that distinction may really belong to Kenny Powers, a foul-mouthed, hell-raising, substance-abusing, socially unenlightened, egotistical minor-league ballplayer played with foul yet charming Southern dignity by Danny McBride in this ongoing HBO comedy. The series is in a way the inverse of "Breaking Bad": fate keeps pushing Kenny toward domesticity and domestication and a life of quiet and Kenny keeps pushing back. Season 3 ended with him quitting baseball and faking his own death -- under the mistaken impression that it was somehow necessary to fake his own death to keep the press from hounding him -- in order to be with the woman he loved and their child. As the unexpected (and reportedly finally final) fourth season begins, he is the self-controlled father of two, working at a car rental agency, with a missus (Katy Mixon), a successful real estate agent. This will not last. A chance meeting with a former fellow ballplayer turned TV star (Ken Marino) sets Kenny on a quest to redeem himself from redemption. Like Stephen Merchant's character in "Hello Ladies," Kenny has an imperfect idea of how the world sees him, what it owes or wants from him, and how many feet away it would like him to stand, and we feel for him at times. But he doesn't want our pity. He's Kenny Powers.

"Masters of Sex" (Showtime, Sunday). The intertwined life and work of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who brought laboratory standards and a lot of queer gadgets to the physiological study of human sexuality -- a thing they invented -- is the subject of a new Showtime series starring Michael Sheen (he's played Hamlet, and Tony Blair thrice, and was also Wesley Snipes on "30 Rock") and Lizzie Caplan ("Party Down," "Mean Girls," "Freaks and Geeks"). Given the title, the subject and the premium-cableness of it all, there is sex, some of which is sexy sex and some of which is comically scientific sex. (Is there such a thing as scientifically comic sex? Note to self: fund study, with Kickstarter possibly.) Masters gets the titular pun, but Caplan's Johnson, a secretary who made herself a scientist, is the forward-looking, forward-living spirit of the piece, which this season takes us back to the sexual dark ages of 1956 -- busier than your parents might have told you, or your grandparents, or I suppose your great-grandparents. Listen, how old are you, anyway?

"Homeland" (Showtime, Sunday). Spydom's favorite bipolar secret agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) returns after an insanely busy, busily insane sophomore season -- is this then the junior season? -- that saw her getting domestic with nominal terrorist quarry Nick Brody (Damian Lewis), the vice-president of the United States killed by his own pacemaker and a big explosion at CIA headquarters that left a hole big enough for Mandy Patinkin to step into. Now Brody's a fugitive and Carrie's testifying before Congress, and the irony of it all is they're both (mostly) innocent. Meanwhile, there's trouble with the remaining Brodys, as there would have to be. Danes gives her usual all-in performance as a woman who knows that what makes her crazy is also part of what makes her good, but doesn't quite know what to do about it. Lewis is, for the moment, out of the picture.

"MasterChef Junior" (Fox, Friday). I have not seen this show, which opens the familiar MasterChef cook-off to kids 8 to 13, but from the premise and a smattering of clips I expect it will be the best thing ever. Until Gordon Ramsay makes one of them cry.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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