What with the $7 billion big-business bailout that those of us on the lower end of the totem pole are footing, the rising cost of gas and other commodities, the realization that paychecks aren't stretching as far, the news of friends and loved ones being laid off, not to mention a highly contentious presidential election on the horizon, this is a horrible, miserable, lousy time for escapist TV to be withheld. So this ongoing battle between LIN TV-owned KXAN, the NBC affiliate that carries many of my favorite escapist series (Heroes, The Office, 30 Rock), and Time Warner Cable has left me stone cold (see "Media Watch," News). I can watch my favorite shows online. I have to wait until the next day, but I can watch them. Local news and weather? There are other options. Like the kid stuck between her divorcing parents, yanked back and forth and forced to choose a side, the answer is easy. I think it's time to run away to AT&T U-verse.
What Else Is On?
Next week, PBS' Frontline premieres a new political documentary about the candidates, and the timing, of course, couldn't be better. Co-produced and co-written by local filmmaker Paul Stekler (with veteran Frontline producer Michael Kirk), The Choice 2008 examines the "rich personal and political biographies of [Obama and McCain] and goes behind the headlines to discover how they arrived at this moment and what their very different candidacies say about America," press materials promise. A review screener was not available by press time, but with Stekler attached, I am betting the rent money it will bypass the eye-winking cheese, the muck, and the sensationalism, to provide a sober, clear-eyed assessment that I, for one, am starved for. The Choice 2008 premieres Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 8pm. The next day, it will be available free on iTunes and YouTube and will stream through the News & Public Affairs Player at www.pbs.org/frontline. Encore presentations of The Choice 2008 air on PBS Sunday, Oct. 26, and Monday, Nov. 3. Check local listings for times.
Another cable network jumps into series television with excellent results. Crash, inspired by the Academy Award-winning film, premieres on Starz next week. The series is already off to a good start, as members of the original's key production team (Paul Haggis, Bobby Moresco) are attached to the series as producers.
As with the original film, the 13-episode series looks at how disparate lives intersect and clash in the otherwise neutral Los Angeles highway system, where everyone meets, but no one has to interact until that one fateful encounter. Dennis Hopper leads a stellar cast, here playing a crazed Ben Cendars, whose days as a music industry mogul may be waning. Jocko Sims as his perpetually dumbfounded driver is an able foil to Hopper's half-cocked Cendars. Crash premieres Friday, Oct. 17, at 9pm on Starz.
David Alan Grier is screamingly funny in his new sketch comedy series, Chocolate News, which premieres Wednesday on Comedy Central. Grier stars as the pompous host of a news magazine show and also appears in a variety of guises to comment on news and pop culture from a deeply African-American perspective. No one and nothing are sacred in this acerbic comedy that will make you wince as much as it will make you howl. I almost fell off the couch when Grier offered up his impersonation of Maya Angelou, reciting a poem written to celebrate Barack Obama's nomination. He then turns his sharp wit at hip-hop, portraying Phat Man discussing his public-service announcement in the form of a music video promoting the No Child Left Behind Act. In this case, he uses the meaning of "behind" salaciously but manages to poke fun at both hip-hop and the No Child Left Behind Act at once. I have only seen one episode, but I'm curious to see what else Grier has brewing in that blazingly deranged head of his. Promises of future reports such as "Tranny Wreck," which delves into the life of a former NBA star turned cross-dressing transsexual named Candelabra who now works the transgender beauty pageant circuit, just sound too good to pass up. Chocolate News premieres Oct. 15 at 9:30pm on Comedy Central.
Independent Lens, the documentary film series, launches its new season with Brett Morgen's Chicago 10. Cleverly melding animation with archival footage, Morgen explores the Chicago Conspiracy Trial following the now infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention. Chicago 10 airs Oct. 22 at 8pm on PBS.
And lastly, yes, it's true. I've fallen under the thrall of Stylista, in which contestants vie for a junior editor position at Elle magazine. Yes, it's a reality show. I've seen two episodes, and I'm hooked beyond belief. Stylista premieres Wednesday, Oct. 22, at 8pm on the CW.
As always, stay tuned.