Worth Watching: Randall & Mom on ‘This Is Us,’ Hulu’s ‘Girl from Plainville,’ Timely Docs on PBS and HBO, CNN+ Launches

This Is Us explores the special bond between Randall and his adoptive mom Rebecca as the final season’s “Big Three” trilogy concludes. A Hulu docudrama stars The Great’s Elle Fanning as Michelle Carter, a teenager charged with sending texts to her boyfriend that led to his suicide. PBS’s Frontline explores the disinformation campaign surrounding the 2020 election, and an HBO documentary relives the race to deliver a vaccine for COVID-19. In other non-fiction news, CNN launches its CNN+ streaming service.

This Is Us


A highlight of the popular tearjerker’s final season has been the “Big Three” trilogy of episodes seeing things then and now from each of the Pearson siblings’ point of view. Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin, directs the climactic episode, which focuses on the relationship between adopted brother Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore), who leaned particularly hard on Randall for support after the death of Jack (Milo Ventimiglia). In the present day, mother and son go on a road trip to address a family crisis, exposing the hurts but also the closeness of their special bond.

The Girl From Plainville Elle Fanning

The Girl From Plainville

Series Premiere

The streamer has distinguished itself in recent months with ripped-from-the-headlines limited-series docudramas, with Dopesick the standout from a lineup that includes Pam & Tommy and the ongoing The Dropout. In Plainville (the first three of eight episodes drop this week), The Great’s Elle Fanning stars as Michelle Carter, a Massachusetts teenager who finds herself in an unprecedented media and legal spotlight when she is charged with complicity in the suicide of her boyfriend Conrad Roy III (Colton Ryan) after texts are discovered in which she seemingly urges him to end his life. The series explores their relationship while dramatizing the “texting-suicide” trial that made national headlines and inspired HBO’s memorable I Love You, Now Die documentary in 2019.

How to Survive a Pandemic

Documentary Premiere9/8c

A timely documentary from director David France (Welcome to Chechnya and How to Survive a Plague) goes inside the race by scientists on several continents to develop, research and eventually roll out COVID-19 vaccines. Filming began in early 2020, with France gaining access to scientists, pharmaceutical leaders, government agencies and frontline workers as he tells a story at the intersection of science and global politics.


Frontline teams with ProPublica for an investigation into the sources of disinformation about the 2020 election and lies of election fraud that continue to embroil American politics. Director Samuel Black and correspondent A.C. Thompson (Documenting Hate, American Insurrection) go beyond the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to reveal how the campaign to discredit the election has led to a movement to alter election laws and promote candidates to office who believe the election was stolen.

Abbott Elementary Quinta Brunson

Abbott Elementary


The beleaguered teachers in this hilarious sitcom have a new dilemma: Students are taking part in a disruptive online challenge called “desking,” just when Janine (series creator Quinta Brunton) thought she had gained their respect. (As if.) Called in to help identify the culprits: Jacob’s (Chris Perfetti) boyfriend Zach (Larry Owens), who most of the staff are amazed to learn isn’t imaginary.

Launch of CNN Plus:

  • The pioneering cable news network now has a streaming counterpart, with new daily programming including the early-morning 5 Things with Kate Bolduan, Big Picture with Sara Sidner (9 am/ET), Reliable Sources Daily (11 am/ET), Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace? (6 pm/ET), featuring the former Fox News host, and The Newscast with Wolf Blitzer (7:30 pm/ET). A library of original documentaries and films will be available at launch, and weekly series will include Jake Tapper’s Book Club (Sundays) and two featuring Anderson Cooper, including the twice-weekly Full Circle (Tuesdays and Saturdays) and a show all about Parental Guidance (Wednesday)

Inside Tuesday TV:

  • The FBI Watch: On the original FBI (8/7c, CBS), Brett Cullen guests as a congressman who may be an assassin’s target. On FBI: International (9/8c), Raines (Carter Redwood) goes rogue to find his missing sister, who vanished in Kosovo. FBI: Most Wanted (10/9c) continues to carry on without leader Jess, as the team heads to Vermont to track down married marijuana farmers who massacred their workers.
  • Mr. Mayor (8:30/7:30c, NBC): Fran Drescher (The Nanny) guests as a TV commercial queen who has a fling with Mayor Neil (Ted Danson) during a heat wave.
  • Naomi (9/8c, The CW): Naomi (Kaci Walfall) begins to suspect there’s another alien in her midst. Is it someone she knows?
  • Name That Tune (9/8c, Fox): The second season pairs celebrities playing for charity in the song-guessing game, starting with Kelly Osbourne vs. JoJo and a faceoff between NFL Super Bowl vets Vernon Davis and Victor Cruz.
  • Mike Epps: Indiana Mike (streaming on Netflix): The comedian returns to his Indianapolis roots for an irreverent new stand-up special.
  • Death on the Nile (streaming on HBO Max): Belfast Oscar winner Kenneth Branagh dons the mighty Hercule Poirot mustache again for an exotic Egypt-set mystery adapted from the Agatha Christie classic.