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Home » This week’s TV: An HBO tome, the story of Emmett Till’s mother, and … – The Boston Globe

This week’s TV: An HBO tome, the story of Emmett Till’s mother, and … – The Boston Globe

Your TV GPS, Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert’s look at the week ahead in television, appears every Monday morning on BostonGlobe.com. Today’s column covers Jan. 3-9.
There’s no overestimating the role of HBO in the evolution of TV in the past 30 years. The cable channel completely changed the business model of the industry, the creative approach to TV series, the perception of TV (versus movies) in Hollywood, the low estimation by TV writers of viewer intelligence, and more.
With shows like “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City,” HBO drew reluctant viewers into the then off-the-beaten path world of pay cable. With shows like “The Wire,” “Oz,” and “The Larry Sanders Show,” HBO developed the ideas of taking risks in order to gain prestige and making ratings secondary in order to focus on subscriptions. And now, with shows like “Succession,” and with the development of HBO Max, the channel is working to continue to stand out in the Peak TV era.
So I was eager to read James Andrew Miller’s “Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers,” an oral biography of the pay cable channel published by Henry Holt & Company. The book is hefty — it’s 1,000-plus pages long — and it’s crammed with little stories by many of those involved in the channel’s life so far, a group that includes actors Wendell Pierce, Edie Falco, and Lisa Kudrow; show writers and creators including David Simon, the Duplass brothers, and Larry David; and HBO execs including former CEO Michael Fuchs, former head of programming Mike Lombardo, and former documentary head Sheila Nevins.
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It’s a lot, and it’s just OK. “Tinderbox” offers little vignettes about specific shows, but those stories tend to get buried under all the chatter about the ego battles and alliances among the channel’s bigwigs. Miller, who has also written books about “Saturday Night Live” and ESPN, has clearly done a lot of work collecting quotes, and putting them into a chronology. But he seems to lose sight of what’s truly of interest to outsiders, so that at times I felt as though I was picking my way through all the tedious corporate history and palace intrigue to find the good stuff.
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The non-corporate anecdotes include details about James Gandolfini’s addiction issues and how his “Sopranos” colleagues coped with them. There’s material about the strain between Mike White and Laura Dern of “Enlightened,” as well as Garry Shandling’s intense stress while making “The Larry Sanders Show.” We learn that Tom Fontana decided to end “Oz,” and then wished he’d had another year. And we hear about the failed deal between HBO and the famously difficult producer Scott Rudin.
Inside “Tinderbox,” there’s a medium-sized book of material worth reading. You’ve just gotta poke around.
WHAT I’M WATCHING THIS WEEK
1. The first season of the new anthology series “Women of the Movement” tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley (played by Adrienne Warren). In six episodes, the ABC drama follows her quest for justice for her 14-year-old son Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. The source material for the season, which will air in two-hour chunks across the next three Thursdays beginning at 8 p.m., is Devery S. Anderson’s book, “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement.” Future seasons of the show, assuming it’s renewed, will profile other women in the movement. By the way, ABC will air a three-part documentary look at Till-Mobley’s life, called “Let the World See,” at 10 p.m. after the weekly episodes.
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2. A wee bit of pleasure, anyone? “All Creatures Great and Small” returns to GBH 2 on Sunday at 9 p.m., for those in the mood for some innocence, natural beauty, and animal love. Think of the “Masterpiece” series as a vaccine against pure cynicism and despair; it’s a restorative experience watching compassionate veterinarian James Herriot (the alabaster Nicholas Ralph) and his colleagues tend to their neighbors and flirt with love. By the way, Patricia Hodge takes over the role of Mrs. Pumphrey from the late Diana Rigg.
3. NBC’s “This Is Us” returns on Tuesday at 9 p.m. for its sixth and final season of 18 episodes. We already know one or two things about where the story is heading; in a flash-forward last season, for instance, we learned that Kate’s marriage to Toby unravels and that she’ll wind up marrying Chris Geere’s character, Phillip, her mean boss. It will be interesting to see how creator Dan Fogelman wraps up such a big story that has spanned decades. Despite all my complaining about the show’s schmaltz factor, I’m looking forward to it.
4. Three women decide to change their lives and be happier after the death of their close friend. That’s the premise of “Pivoting,” a new single-camera Fox sitcom due Sunday at 8:30 p.m. I like the cast, which includes Eliza Coupe, who always made me laugh on “Happy Endings.” Also on board: Maggie Q, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Tommy Dewey from “Casual.” The show moves to Thursdays beginning next week.
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5. Sophia Bush stars in “Good Sam” as a heart surgeon who takes over her department after her arrogant, famous boss, played by Jason Isaacs, goes into a coma. Whoops! He wakes up and awkwardness ensues, not least of all because he isn’t just her boss; he’s her father. The new network hospital drama, which premieres on CBS on Wednesday at 10 p.m., has the pair working on their troubled relationship while wielding their stethoscopes and scalpels.
CHANNEL SURFING
“Joe Montana: Cool Under Pressure” A six-part series about lesser-known moments in the quarterback’s career. Peacock, Thursday
“Euphoria” Rue continues to deal with addiction in season two. HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m.
“The Righteous Gemstones” Jason Schwartzman, Eric Andre, and Eric Roberts are among the guests for the second season. HBO, Sunday, 10 p.m.
“The Cleaning Lady” A new series about a Cambodian doctor who winds up working for the Las Vegas mob. Fox, Monday, 9 p.m.
RECENTLY REVIEWED
My Top 10 shows of 2021.
“With Love” For rom-com lovers only, from the maker of the “One Day at a Time” reboot. Amazon
“And Just Like That” The women of “Sex and the City” confront middle age in a more downbeat new series. HBO Max
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“Landscapers” Great performances by Olivia Colman and David Thewlis emerge from a thicket of stylized storytelling in this fact-based miniseries. HBO
“The Great” The second season of this historical comedy is as wonderfully satirical and witty as the first. Hulu
“The Shrink Next Door” Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell star as an exploitative therapist and his dupe of a client. Apple TV+
“Dickinson” The third and final season of this innovative series is pitch-perfect. Apple TV+
“Dexter: New Blood” The revival does not return the show to its early prestige. Showtime
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.
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