"Ray Donovan" (Showtime, Sunday). There are many things built into the bones of this new series starring Liev Schrieber -- Liev Schrieber, people! -- that would tend to raise red flags and set off warning sirens in my brain. Another tale of the bad people of Hollywood, their egos and appetites and the stunning lack of self-awareness they mistake for a stunning degree of self-awareness; another messed-up Irish American family, sporting accents that inevitably make me think of the Donaghys of "30 Rock" -- another handsome anti-hero for the ranks. Still, once you cross the mountains of exposition its overexplanatory pilot contains, this is very good. Created by Ann Biderman ("Southland"), it stars Schrieber as the eponymous Ray, a calmly efficient high-end private eye and "fixer" whose days and nights are dedicated to smoothing the lives of the feckless powerful -- to making bad things go away (a dead girl in a hotel room, say), sometimes by doing bad things. The irony is that his very own Bad Thing, in the toxic person of his father (Jon Voight), a mug lately out of the jug and determined to insinuate himself into his Ray's family, will not be gotten rid of so easily. It's as morally gray as you might expect from a premium cable series set at the corner of Hollywood and crime, and there are more than a few caricatures among the characters. But the writing and acting -- Voight is so good that any familiar superlative would demean him -- keep your sympathies in play.
"Annie: It's the Hard Knock Life, From Script to Stage" (PBS, Friday). The ongoing 2012 Broadway revival of the 1977 Broadway musical/worldwide phenomenon/venerated cult object is viewed, from open casting to opening night, through the lens of a single song (see title, above), its analysis, arrangement, choreography, rehearsal, mounting and performance. (It's the musical's best known number, apart from "Tomorrow," which is to say, the only other one I can name.) Creators Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) are here to tell what they remember and know, but the heart of the film belongs to three members of the new production team (Susan Hilferty, costumes; David Korins, sets; Andy Blankenbuehler, choreography) and a fresh crop of orphans -- eight gifted, self-possessed little girls with eyes as big as Annie's (but with pupils). Unlike NBC's late "Smash," whose fidelity to the mounting of a Broadway show I am unable to contradict or verify -- though I think it must require somewhat less drama and more self-control than what that series portrayed -- Joshua Seftel's lump-in-throat documentary pictures a cooperative effort in which things are continually corrected but all inclines toward making something good. That is my kind of excitement.
"Carson on TCM" (Mondays in July). Turner Classic Movies has taken 25 film-related interviews from the Johnny Carson years of "The Tonight Show" and packaged them into five programs to run Monday nights throughout July. Specifically, the clips date from 1972 to 1992, the year of Carson's retirement, the first decade of his shows having been almost entirely erased by NBC, because, you know, tape is expensive and can be reused and in 50 years, who'll care? Still, 20 good years remain to be mined, and the series will include conversations with Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Fonda, Doris Day, Bette Davis, Fred Astaire and Goldie Hawn for the youngsters. Carson was a jocular, jovial host, but also a thoughtful and curious man who worked within the moment; his interviews are not promotional boilerplate. This week's five-pack comprises Kirk Douglas, Mary Tyler Moore, Neil Simon, George Burns and little Drew Barrymore (from way back in '82) and will be followed by screenings of the Simon-penned "The Sunshine Boys" (starring Burns), "The Goodbye Girl" and "California Suite"; similarly linked films will follow each subsequent episode. Conan O'Brien, himself briefly the host of "The Tonight Show," will present.
"Special Flight" (PBS, Monday). Fernand Melgar's second film about Swiss immigration (after "The Fortress" in 2008) focuses on a Geneva detention center (one of 28), where two dozen men sans papiers wait, for as long as 18 months and without trial, to be deported (most of them to Africa). Some have been in Switzerland a long time (one for 20 years), some have families there; many fear what will happen on their return, all feel their situation to be unjust. The authorities, with a bureaucratic benevolence strictly limited by rules and regulations, come off as both kindly and clueless, concerned with their charges but more concerned with doing their job. Most of the time -- but not always -- this means handing them over to the police to be shipped home, on the "special flight" of the title, bound and chained. "I've heard what you said," one tells a protesting inmate, "but I can't resolve all the problems in the world." The fly-on-the-wall style of the film, and the relatively long scenes and disinclination to judge any of the individuals, the worst of whom seem only human, recall the institutional documentaries of Frederick Wiseman (and there are no finer documentaries to recall). Does it have something to say to an American audience? You bet.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun