"Dancing at Jacob's Pillow: Never Stand Still" (PBS, Friday). My tears having overrun every cup in the cabinet upon the recent cancellation of "Bunheads," I turn with relief and excitement to this documentary bouquet on the famed western Massachusetts dance school, camp and venue -- a place, says (the late) Merce Cunningham, "where people could quietly or not think different and act different." Founded in 1931 by Ted Shawn on a tumbledown farm in the Berkshires, where James Taylor later found the 5th of December all covered in snow and Tanglewood tangles with music, "The Pillow" (as it's known to its intimates) is a paradise of woods and water where artistic minds and well-trained bodies, often in the same person, combine to make art out of movement -- from the Balanchine-derived ballet of Suzanne Farrell to the choreographed vaudeville of Bill Irwin. Narrated by choreographer Bill T. Jones (seen briefly dancing himself), Ron Honsa's film flits back and forth in time, telling its story with contemporary and archival performance clips that for all their individual brevity express a great collective bounty, and an impressive roster of on-site talking heads, including Paul Taylor, Judith Jamison, former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo star Frederic Franklin ("There were no ladies to be lifted around," he remembers of his early tenure there, when Shawn's own, all-male choreography set the tone) and Mark Morris, who looks with affection upon his young students, who are "still having fun and don't know that they're going to die."
"The Writers' Room" (Sundance Channel, Monday). My first excited thought on learning of this highly pleasurable new series was that cameras would travel into the natural habitat of the television writer, there discreetly to capture the species at work and play, giving birth to new ideas and raising them into fully mature TV episodes. This is more like a trip to the zoo, with the scribes imported into a set that only suggests a writers' room (white board, bulletin board, index cards, big table, coffee). And yet, one feels that is a glimpse of the real thing. Excellent host-moderator Jim Rash (the Dean on "Community," but also co-director and -writer of "The Way Way Back" and co-possessor of an adapted screenplay Oscar for Alexander Payne's "The Descendants") asks all the right questions, bringing out the funny answers and the thoughtful ones. With a few improv-game suggestions, he gets the staff of "New Girl" (including costar and idea-texter Jake Johnson) well on the way to crafting something you might well see on the show one day, involving a superhero cape, a mustache and the phrase "mouth party." Monday's premiere episode features the writers of "Breaking Bad" (creator Vince Gilligan: "I can't believe the show even made it on the air, it has all the elements of failure"), plus star Bryan Cranston. Upcoming, the "Parks & Recreation" staff discusses Jerry jokes, the incorporation of Nick Offerman into Ron Swanson, the episode that got away, and the benefits of working together at a writers' retreat -- "and if people want to experiment socially," says Amy Poehler, "it's up to them." There is a lot of laughter.
"Neurotypical" (PBS, Monday). The key to "Neurotypical," Adam Larsen's film about autism seen from the inside outward, is in the title, a word some "on the spectrum" use to describe people the world reflexively calls normal. It's a word with a little attitude built into it -- "That is so neurotypical," no one here actually says, though some of the speakers do indeed regard the non-autistic with something of the amused, bemused pity with which Spock once regarded Kirk. "I look at neurotypical life," one tells Larsen, "and I'm sorry, I really don't want to be one of you." Shot largely in North Carolina and Virginia, the film, which does not identify any of its subjects or speakers until the end, runs on the testimony of the autistic and those who live with them; there are no experts, apart from those whose expertise is their experience. Some reveal their strategies for coping in the rarely straightforward straight world, masquerading when necessary as "pseudotypical" and finding ways to put the rest of us at ease. If Larsen's subjects don't present the full range of what for good reason is called a spectrum -- only language-challenged 4-year-old Violet is incapable of characterizing her state of mind, but she is also 4 years old -- we get a sense of varied experience, of humor and of desire. "It is possible," says one young autistic woman, "to be romantically involved with other people. Just because Temple Grandin doesn't do it doesn't mean it never happens."
"Easy to Assemble: Finding North" (www.easytoassembleseries.com). Illeana Douglas' Web series, in which she plays herself as a celebrity on the run from show business, working at Ikea -- the series was sponsored by the company and set largely in its Burbank store -- is no longer in production. But, as things do nowadays -- and as all human intelligence will eventually -- it lives on in cyberspace, waiting for you to call. Although it's worth watching from start to finish, "Finding North" -- the 2011 feature-length penultimate third season, in which Douglas travels to Sweden with a cadre of fellow Ikeans to receive her Co-Worker of the Year award and winds up living a sort of Midsummer Day's Dream -- is perfectly suited to the summer, and what you don't understand will only increase the already-pervading sense of mystery. Guest stars include Justine Bateman as Justine Bateman, Craig Bierko as the not-talked-about third Bateman, Patricia Heaton, Corey Feldman, Ray Wise, the recurring Ed Begley Jr. as the ghost of a legendary Ikea designer and Fred Willard as the boss of them all; several speak in what might charitably be described as highly original Swedish accents. As her co-workers track down the legendary lost pop group Spärhusen or brainstorm a Scandinavian buddy cop film called “48 Hours of Daylight,” Douglas bicycles through an enchanted forest and experiences a symbolic death and rebirth at the hands of Nøkken, a Swedish water spirit. Despite its solid production values, there is something doggedly and appealingly homemade about the show. It’s honest and sweet and highly personal. With a lovely soundtrack, still available on iTunes and Amazon.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun