Worth Watching: Ken Burns on Ben Franklin, Wild About Jane Seymour as ‘Harry,’ ‘American Idol’ vs. ‘American Song’
Ken Burns, PBS’s poet laureate of American history, delivers a two-night biographical portrait of Benjamin Franklin. Jane Seymour has a ball as Harry Wild, a retired literature prof who turns to solving crimes in Dublin. Most scripted series step back as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament plays its final game in New Orleans, while ABC and NBC continue their battle of the singing contests.
What would PBS do without Ken Burns? Let’s hope we never have to find out, while we dig into his latest mini-epic of American history storytelling, a four-hour (concluding Tuesday) biographical portrait of colorful Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. A true Renaissance man and diplomat, Franklin joined the effort to establish a new country even though his son William was the royal governor of New Jersey as the revolution began. Mandy Patinkin provides the voice of Franklin, while Paul Giamatti—who won a 2008 Emmy playing John Adams in an HBO miniseries—reprises his role as the future second president.
Bawdy and frisky, Jane Seymour is the opposite of a stuffy literature professor in this light mystery series set in Dublin. She plays Harriet “Harry” Wild, who’s not the retiring sort even when she retires from teaching. She puts her literary and analytical skills to good use while she recuperates from a mugging at the home of her detective son, Charlie (Kevin Ryan), who’s a lot more uptight than she is. When a gruesome crime scene triggers memories of a bloody Elizabethan play, Harry is off and running, to the chagrin of Charlie, his family and the local police. Her partner in crime solving, oddly enough, is the cocky young chap (Rohan Nedd) who knocked her down for reasons to be discovered.
After a March Madness tournament that included a memorable Cinderella run by Saint Peter’s of New Jersey, the “road to the Final Four” has led to the championship game pitting North Carolina against No. 1 seed Kansas in New Orleans. TNT and truTV’s simulcasts are tailored to fans of the respective teams.
With Hollywood Week behind them, the singers and the judges move on to the Showstopper round, where the contestants sing with a band for the first time, all hoping to make into the Top 24. Meanwhile, on NBC’s American Song Contest (8/7c), 11 more representatives from U.S. states and territories perform original music in the qualifying round.
From Succession’s Adam McKay comes a bizarre three-part true-crime documentary (directed by Phil Lott and Ari Mark) that begins with the apparent suicide of Arkansas pilot and family man Gary Betzner, who jumped off a bridge in 1977. The search for his body and for answers unravels a tangled political caper involving drug and gun smuggling and a covert CIA war.
Inside Monday TV:
- The Good Doctor (10/9c, ABC): One of the night’s few scripted originals presents some unusual medical cases: a teenage “biohacker” whose self-experiments are causing harm, and a woman requesting a risky surgery to treat her chronic pain and depression. And while we still don’t see a happy ending for this relationship, Dr. Resnick (Fiona Gubelmann) aims to take her relationship with Park (Will Yun Lee) to the next level.
- Better Things (10/9c, FX): With one daughter chronically vaping and another keeping secrets, Sam (Pamela Adlon) decides to declare a moratorium on cellphones in the house for a week. Even if the Fox tribe isn’t always one big happy family, they’re memorably there for each other.
- Mud, Sweat and Beards (11/10c, USA): Wilderness and survival experts Donny Dust and Ray Livingston head to remote and forbidding locations including the Alaska wilderness, the Louisiana swampland, the New Mexico desert and Icelandic shores to show how to make the best of a rugged situation.
- Better Call Saul (streaming on Netflix): Here’s your chance to catch up and binge on Season 5 of the Breaking Bad spinoff before the beginning of the end, when Saul’s sixth and final season premieres later this month.
- Long Slow Exhale (Spectrum Originals): Rose Rollins (The L Word) stars in a 12-episode melodrama set in the competitive world of women’s college basketball. She’s head coach J.C. Abernathy, whose ambitions for her team could be derailed by a damaging sexual-abuse scandal. Josh Lucas co-stars as the university’s athletic director.
- Captain Blood (8/7c, Turner Classic Movies): Swashbuckling actor Errol Flynn is TCM’s “Star of the Month” with movies airing each Monday through April, starting with the popular 1935 pirate adventure, and continuing with Flynn’s most celebrated role in 1938’s glorious The Adventures of Robin Hood (10:15/9:15c), opposite Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian.