By Mary McNamara
6:27 PM EDT, October 3, 2013
"Parks and Recreation." Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) is married! Again! What can it mean? Well, for last week's season premiere it meant a double episode including a trip to London that was among the best the show has aired. Andy (Chris Pratt) met his sweet and goofy match in a wealthy nobleman and philanthropist who hired him for a three-month gig, which means April (Aubrey Plaza) will be on her own for a while. Leslie (Amy Poehler), who went to London to accept an award in the hopes the citizens of Pawnee would stop trying to recall her, has returned with her spine and spunk back.
Despite chronic worry over viewership, the writers refuse to abandon their signature choice of wit over cheap laughs and cheek over snark. This show should be a big fat hit, because it's one of the best comedies on TV. NBC, Thursdays, 8 p.m.
"Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight." You would be forgiven for thinking that the event of the title occurred in a boxing ring, or even the media. But Stephen Frears' documentary is instead a behind-the-scenes look at Clay v. United States, in which the Supreme Court decided whether Cassius Clay, recently renamed Muhammad Ali, would go to jail for draft dodging. When he was drafted in 1967, Ali had recently become a Black Muslim, a religion, he claimed, that demanded he not participate in any war not directly ordered by Allah. Stripped of his title, kicked out of boxing and fined $10,000, he appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court. There, eight justices (Thurgood Marshall recused himself because he had already adjudicated in an early portion of the case) debated the merits of the appeal as well as, in Frears' version, the tension between law and politics, racism and patriotism, power and personality. With Frank Langella as Chief Justice Warren Berger and Christopher Plummer as key player Justice John Harlan, "Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight" is a surprisingly small and subtle film that sometimes seems to ignore its central figure (Ali appears only in film clips), but is fascinating nonetheless. HBO, Saturday, 8 p.m.
"Revolution." The lights went on (at the end of last season) and then they went out again, leaving the tattered and certainly no longer united states of America even worse off than before. Atlanta and Philadelphia were horribly destroyed, for one thing, and our scrappy band of surivors dispersed to face a slew of perils on their own. Miles (Billy Burke) has been captured by a blood-draining, pedophile/cult leader, Charlie (Tracey Spiridakos) is still trying to kill Monroe (David Lyons) (no luck so far), Aaron (Zak Orth) has been raised from the dead, Tom (Giancarlo Esposito) is trying to kill the "president" and Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) is, well, trying to not be crazy.
More important, Season 3 has been salted with humorous cultural references -- the second episode was called "There Will Be Blood" and mentioned both "Ghostbusters" and "Walker: Texas Ranger." So while "Revolution" continues to take its apocalypse seriously, it's also having a bit more fun. NBC, Wednesays, 8 p.m.
"Homeland." Things got a little crazy at the end of Season 2 of Showtime's intense spy thriller, what with Langley being blown to bits and Carrie (Claire Danes) helping Brody (Damian Lewis) to escape. Not surprisingly, things stay a little crazy, albeit in a slightly calmer way. If that makes any sense, which it should to fans of "Homeland." Instantly distancing themselves from the love story that dominated much of Season 2, the writers choose to go at least two full episodes without even a glimpse of Brody. Bad for Lewis fans, good for the story, which seems to be settling into the story of two families -- the wife and two children Brody left behind and Carrie's competing fathers, her real one and her boss.
Months have passed, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is now firmly entrenched as head of the CIA, though the CIA itself is less so; a Senate subcommittee is determined to get to the bottom of the bombing even if it means arresting every surviving member of the CIA, and possibly dissolving the agency. Needless to say, Carrie is testifying and it doesn't go well. Off her meds and struggling with Saul's new relationship with manipulative black ops genius Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham), she whipsaws between hysteria and grim resolution. Over in the Brody household, Dana (Morgan Saylor) is also coming to terms with a father's betrayal. Every character is forced to turn and turn again -- Saul appears to be throwing Carrie under the bus; Carrie is now arguing Brody's innocence; Quinn (Peter Friend), who once saw Carrie as a liability, is now her biggest supporter. "You need to really slow things down so they don't become overwhelming," a counselor tells Dana early on, and it seems the writers are taking their own advice. Early episodes revisit old territory, claim some new and reconnect "Homeland" with its own fabulous spy vs. spy roots. Showtime, Sundays, 9 p.m.
"The Good Wife." Every fall, new shows come and go but "The Good Wife" is back for its fifth season to show them how it's done. Year after year, Michelle and Robert King deftly combine character study with legal procedural and add a dollop of family drama, all while showcasing one of the best ensembles in TV, not to mention a heady list of recurring guest stars. (The judges alone are worth watching for.) Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), a woman perpetually at a crossroads, seemed to imply in last season's finale that she was ready to strike out with former competitor, now colleague Carey Argos (Matt Czuchry). What will on-again/off-again boss/lover Will (Josh Charles) have to say to that? More important, what will Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) do? (Honestly, isn't that something we should ask ourselves in any situation -- what would Kalinda do?) Can't wait, don't have to much longer. CBS, Sundays, 9 p.m.
"Masters of Sex." Combine "Mad Men" with the film adaptation of "The Kinsey Report" and you have Showtime's new series in which Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan star as iconic sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Where Kinsey and his comrades studied the difference between attitudes and actions -- what Americans said they thought about sex was often at great odds with the acts they actually committed -- Masters was more interested in the physiology of the thing. What happens to the body, male and female, before, during and after sex. Against everyone's better judgment, he began to do research, first observing and interviewing prostitutes. A bit of a cold fish, especially given his work, Masters quickly realized he would need a woman to help grow his study group; he hired Johnson, a single mother with modern views about sex, as a secretary but she quickly became his partner.
There is a lot of sex, obviously, in "Masters of Sex," though much of it is research-oriented and a bit creepy, but that is not the point. As Masters keeps arguing with those who accuse him of pornography, knowledge is the point, and slowly we see how biology can be destiny -- growing understanding of sexuality fueled the sexual and women's liberation movements. Sheen is something of a chameleon, though the repressed scientist doesn't sit quite comfortably on him -- we keep waiting for the grin we know is lurking in there somewhere. Caplan, on the other hand, is a marvel, creating a dishy, dignified and thoroughly modern woman who winds up helping millions to become something similar. Showtime, Sundays, 10 p.m.
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