AMC, 10:49 a.m. ET

I lose many hours from my life by being sucked into watching shows and movies I recommend in Bianculli’s Best Bets, even though I’ve seen them before. Just yesterday, I procrastinated, avoiding other duties, by watching a few hours of AMC’s Breaking Bad marathon, including the killer, legendary “Face Off” episode that ended the day’s mini-marathon. Was it as excellent as I remembered it? Yes. Absolutely. And today, the weekend retrospective, honoring the 10th anniversary of Breaking Bad, continues, with the first six episodes of Season 5, starting with “Live Free or Die” (pictured), the first show of the post-Fring era, at 10:49 a.m. ET.


CBS, 3:00 p.m. ET

History is all on the side of the New England Patriots for today’s AFC Championship Game. With QB Tom Brady (pictured) and coach Bill Belichick at the helm, the Patriots have fought their way to their seventh consecutive AFC title game. When playing at home, as they are here, they’re almost unbeatable, with a 5-1 record when the Super Bowl game is within reach. But the Jacksonville Jaguars frustrated and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers to get here, and the defense and pass rush were a huge part of that. The moves and countermoves are easy to predict: The Jaguars will pull all sorts of stunts to try to pressure and sack Brady, Brady will try to defeat the blitzes by throwing lots of short passes over the middle to his tight ends and running backs over the middle, and the Jaguars, in turn, will have to delay or stop those routes and receivers. If Brady can perform his usual surgical strikes, the Pats are back in another Super Bowl. If the Jaguars defense finds a way to stop Brady somehow, then the Jaguars – one of four NFL teams never to play in the big game – will make it to their first Super Bowl. And behind much-maligned QB Blake Bortles at that.


Fox, 6:30 p.m. ET

Both teams in today’s NFC Championship Game got here by surviving, and coming up big in, the final play of their previous playoff games. The Minnesota Vikings made not only the play of the year, but one of the most stunning plays in NFL history, by scoring a 61-yard touchdown (pictured), with 10 seconds left and no time outs, to wrest victory from the still-stunned New Orleans Saints. The Philadelphia Eagles, conversely, were in the position of the Saints, trying to preserve their lead, and a victory, as the fourth-quarter clock ran down, playing goal-line defense as the Atlanta Falcons ran, and failed to connect on, a fourth-and-goal pass play. So now here they are: the Minnesota offense and Philadelphia defense, both of which buckled but refused to break, and now fight for the right to advance to the Super Bowl. Both Vikings QB Case Keenum and Eagles QB Nick Foles were backup quarterbacks before being thrust into these central roles – and after today, one of them, and their teams, will be headed to Superl Bowl LII. If it’s Minnesota, by the way, it’ll be a home game, because that’s where this year’s contest is scheduled to be played.


TBS, TNT, 8:00 p.m. ET

SPECIAL: Kristen Bell, currently co-starring on NBC’s clever The Good Place, is the host of tonight’s 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which will be simulcast on TBS and TNT. She’s the first female host in the history of the SAG Awards, but her achievement is even bigger than that. She’s the first host, period. Up until now, the SAG festivities have flown without a solo pilot.


Starz!, 8:00 p.m. ET

SERIES PREMIERE: The two best things about this rather dark, mostly restrained fantasy show are that a) it’s got lots of moody location shooting from Berlin, where it’s set, and b) it’s got two great, mostly moody performances from its star, J.K. Simmons. The sci-fi premise of Counterpart is that a government experiment accidentally created a dimensional rift some 30 years ago, spawning a parallel universe whose existence, and access point, is known only to a few. Simmons plays an accomplished spy from the other world who slips into this one, revealing a plot requiring him to impersonate his meeker low-level agency functionary in this world. Fans of Fox’s Fringe came to accept this sort of inter-world, intra-world traveling and doppelgängers rather easily, and before the first two episodes are over, we’ll meet several more characters and their doubles, including a violin virtuoso in one world who’s a ruthless assassin in another. It’s all a bit murky and less than fully credible even according to its own established rules – but the show looks impressively oppressive, or oppressively impressive – and Simmons, in both roles, is the real reason to watch. For a full review, see David Hinckley's All Along the Watchtower.

PBS, 9:00 p.m. ET

In this second episode of Season 2, Victoria (Jenna Coleman) remains weary of two things: pregnancy, and the condescension of the men around her in court. She keeps finding herself in the family way – the Royal Family way, in her case – but she also finds a way around the rules, trappings, and men keeping her from wielding the power of the throne that already is hers. Check local listings.


Showtime, 9:00 p.m. ET

The Gallaghers always have some sort of schemes going on, but the ones bubbling to the surface this season seem especially outrageous, even for them. Fiona (Emmy Rossum) keeps trying to advance as a landlady and homeowner, but her own streak of kindness appears to be backfiring on her. Meanwhile, Svetlana (Isidora Goreshter) is surfing the Internet for a sugar daddy, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) has backed into a surprise inspirational role as a local “gay Jesus,” and Frank (William H. Macy) is tapping the “gay Jesus” movement for all it’s worth… including printing out “official” tee shirts and other merch. Eight seasons in, Showtime’s Americanized Shameless still has lots of life – and lots and lots of audaciousness.


Fox, 10:00 p.m. ET

SERIES PREMIERE: St. Elsewhere and Grey’s Anatomy both began with new residents joining the staffs of hectic teaching hospitals. The Resident, a new series from Fox premiering after today’s NFC Championship game, takes the same approach. Lots of other things about this new medical drama are familiar, too, from the life-or-death operating-room twists to the behind-closed-hospital-doors sexual trysts and flirtations. But what kept me interested, as I watched the preview for this new series, were some of the leading and supporting players. Matt Czuchry,  who played Cary on The Good Wife, is the tough, no-nonsense doctor here, and Bruce Greenwood – who was on that St. Elsewhere staff as Dr. Seth Griffin back in the 1980s – plays an over-the-hill but still imposing hospital bigwig here. Also starring: Emily VanCamp from Revenge and, as the doctor on his first day at this big Atlanta hospital, Manish Dayal from The Hundred-Foot Journey. For full reviews, see Ed Bark's Uncle Barky's Bytes and David Hinckley's All Along the Watchtower.
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It's been about 2 decades so I probably have this wrong, but I think the Grey's Anatomy crew started as interns not residents.
Jan 21, 2018   |  Reply
Ah, Breaking Bad! What a masterpiece! How could I have forgotten just how amazingly real and perfect this show is! Breaking Bad is the bomb!
Jan 21, 2018   |  Reply
Re: Planet Earth:Blue Planet II-While reading the two added reviews by David Hinckley & Alex Strachan,you will find that the series will be available on five-count 'em-five AMC networks simultanously:AMC, BBC America,IFC,Sundance & WE,all @t 9PM(ET). BBC America usually repeats the first showing;this episode is indeed repeated @ 12:30AM. The other four networks apparently are not repeating the episode,at least so soon after the premiere. I cannot find if the AMC Network airings have an SAP translation and no Spanish language stations have been included.
Need more of a Planet Earth fix? The New Yorker Radio Hour,on many public radio stations and podcast,has a lengthy interview with David Attenborough.
Jan 20, 2018   |  Reply
1/15-TCM's MLK day offerings may seem repetitive eachyear,but like many a holiday schedule,there are treasures worth revisiting.
4PM-Sounder. Considered a "family film",Disney this ain't. It involves a poor black family headed by a sharecropper father who is imprisoned for stealing food during the depression. A major part of the story concerns the son,who has an unquenchable thirst for learning. Beautifully filmed,with a great soundtrack by blues great Taj Mahal(who also has a part in the film). Nothing is dumbed down,nothing is sugar coated and repeated viewings reveal hidden treasures. Whenever TCM shows this(often on Sun.PMs),there is a short featuring actress Cecily Tyson,who portrays the strong mother,telling the fascinating story of how she got the part. Don't miss it. The book is more concerned about the dog the story is named after,but it is fine reading for any age(a Newbury Award winner).
Mattel toys helped finance the film,directed by Martin Ritt.
Jan 15, 2018   |  Reply
I have a modest suggestion for the Best Bets and contributor preview pieces. On programs like the Gershwin Prize, where the program length has varied over the years, how about mentioning the running time alongside the starting time. This is obviously not necessary for half hour sitcoms or one hour network dramas, but it would be a nice addition for programs with indeterminate lengths to show what the time commitment is going to be.
Jan 12, 2018   |  Reply
NPR's Only A Game had an episode a few weeks back regurgitating the Tonya story.Fun fact:I always assumed this was a bratty poor girl with harsh looks vs. rich pretty princess. Not so.
Also,thoughts of Weird Al Yankovic's amazing video,Cable News,come to mind. A perfect storm parody from 1994. The song:Mmm,MmmMmm,Mmm-a one hit wonder for Crash Test Dummies. The idea:presenting three ripped from the '93-'94 headlines of: the Harding incident,the infamous head 'em off at the pass spousal violence with John & Lorena Bobbitt and overseas caning of a US. teen,Michael P. Fay. All presented as one-act plays,similar to the original video for CTD's hit. All presented as our appetite for 24 hour news cycles was exploding post-1991 Gulf War. The parody reeks of the mid-'90s in a good way. All under four minutes. Young folk will have to google the references.Older folk can guess the cameos. Warning:it contains an accordion solo, a possibly gay sumo wrestler and cross-dressing. Great fun!
Jan 12, 2018   |  Reply
Also worth noting that Gaslight features a teenage Angela Lansbury, in her first movie and receiving her first Oscar nomination for supporting actress
Jan 11, 2018   |  Reply
Tonight (1/9) is the series finale of “Major Crimes,” a police procedural with a very fine ensemble cast.
Jan 9, 2018   |  Reply
Satisfying end.Interesting that G.W. Bailey got top billing for the last three episodes. 214 episodes of The Closer/Major Crimes over 13 years-take a bow,George!
Jan 10, 2018
Once again,without spoilers,this last story arc gave the supporting cast moments to shine one last time. I still remember when TNT ran a marathon of the first season of The Closer against Super Bowl Sunday and I got hooked. The idea that the subordinates hated the new boss,partially for good reasons,kept that first year up in the air. TNT inserted a great promo, mid-episodes:shots of Brenda's desk in the dark,with Ring Dings in the drawer(I always want to think they were Drakes Ring Dings and not Hostess Ding Dongs. Since the show had no Philly ties, no chance for the superior Tastykake Peanut Butter Kandy Kakes-a diabetic nightmare/dream-sad.),while Bill Withers' Ain't No Sunshine(when she's gone) played as audio. Hold that Ring Ding up with pride(unwrap it as the foil will kill your fillings) for great ensemble casting.
Jan 9, 2018
I think there's a new episode of "My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" on tonight as well. Love that show. Also, I agree with your comments on "The Amazing Race." It's been less and less fun to watch with all the product placement and collaboration between teams. It's sort of a hate watch for me now. Too bad, because I used to love to watch it.
Jan 5, 2018   |  Reply
Many Fridays have new listings on VOD services. I can't afford any of them,but here is a goody: Hulu has all of the episodes of Animaniacs,Pinky & the Brain and Tiny Toon Adventures,all Warner Bros./Amblin cartoons originally shown on Fox Kids over 20 years ago. And Hulu just green lit new Animaniacs adventures,set for 2020. The Warner brothers Yakko & Wakko & Warner sister Dot escaped from the iconic WB water tower to wreck havoc on us all. Greatest bit-their take on early 'toons found nowadays in public domain DVDs-giving a backstory on a Looney Tune star,Buddy. The Animaniac episode,The Warner's 65th Anniversary Special,is pretty dark,especially for kids even in the '90s who had no memory of these 1930s 'toons. In some ways,as diabolical as Roger Rabbit. Add to the reboot of DuckTales(I love it and I'm an Uncle Scrooge fan from decades ago) and its pretty great to be a kid in 2018.
Jan 5, 2018   |  Reply
I won't say how long it's been since I watched toons as a kid but wanted to mention Hulu's running a special- get a years worth for $5.99 @ month. Must take advantage of the special rate by the 1/9. I plan to. (Normally it's twice as much.)
Jan 6, 2018
9-1-1 vs. Law & Order:SVU? SVU in a heartbeat. While not Netflix level of intensity,L&O:SVU, since Mariska Hargitay got an producer credit,has become a weekly "Me,too" exhibit on the many sides and consequences of sexual assault. One notable exception: the "lost" Trumpian p###y grabbing episode from last year. Some folks think that mega media companies lean left. Know that the power and the money go with Comcast(owner of NBC & Universal) and their ilk,getting the FCC to make things worse for the consumer,while hiding embarrassing stuff like this fictional version of Trump's crimes against women.
Jan 3, 2018   |  Reply
1/2-TCM prime time has a night of W.C. Fields. No matter how dyspeptic the 1/2/18 news brings you back to post-holiday reality,a night of Fields will either make you feel more cynical or let you forget your troubles. Lots of goodies here,so many great comedies know how long to keep things going and not wear out their welcome. TCM has seven events over ten hours,so there's many different sides of Fields. I'll highlight It's A Gift(9:15 ET). Classic bits from Field's vaudeville & silent movies grafted into a portrait of a mild-manner,henpecked man,interacting with his family,including Baby Leroy and the world. Stop for the back porch scene,stay for the rest and maybe put the close caption on to catch all of the asides. Fields' character is named Harold Bissonnette-pronounced "Biss-On-Ay". You'll never look at kumquats the same way. A 1934 film that holds a 100% fresh 80+years from Rotten Kumquats,err,Tomatoes.
Jan 2, 2018   |  Reply
I'm a comedy critic (very picky) but I'm sure I saw every W.C. Fields flick there is when I was growing up. Great stuff!
Jan 6, 2018
Susan Dannemann
Have enjoyed listening to you on NPR. I grew up in Western PA and even worked at Sycamore Pharmacy on Rt. 286 in Plum Boro while in high school. My Mom was a first grade teacher in the district and was so gifted when it came to working with children and reading, especially. I'm certain that she had a student by the name of Tim Bianculli--probably your cousin. It's been enjoyable and comforting to listen to you on the radio. Happy 2018!
Jan 2, 2018   |  Reply
Just a heads up that POV on PBS is airing some new and old documentaries starting today on their website. I originally wanted to see one about Corey Booker but am tempted by others, like one about a film-maker's struggle with an MS diagnosis. Or another one about a Vietnam vet who is having a terrible time transitioning home so he decides to go on a 750 mile walk (if I remember the miles correctly). Happy 2018 everyone!
Jan 2, 2018   |  Reply
Turns out it's POV's 30 year anniversary and they're streaming 30 films for 30 days. POV's films may not be as polished as a big production company's film might be but that's also that's what makes them a lot more personal in nature. Plus they're often filmed on someone's cell phone so I feel like I'm getting the real thing as opposed to something that might be "fake" news.
Jan 4, 2018
What a disastrous NYC 2018 ball drop. Rev. Steve Harvey performing a wedding ceremony for his co-host,a pro wrestler,marrying a producer of online content. The wrestler was the bride. ABC had Ryan Seacrest,Jenny Don't Immune My Kids & Mariah joining a tea party-ugh,3 reasons to avoid that one. CNN's Anderson Cooper was matched with Andy Cohen,who,even after Googling,I have no idea why I would pay attention to any project he puts his name on. By 12:10AM,back to The Thin Man marathon on TCM.,snuggled up with my ever-lovin'.
With so much Rose Bowl coverage,Philly's Mummers Parade is at least available online. 8 degrees when it started. Lots of music. Lot's of dancin'. Lots of gold paint for those Golden Slippers(sneakers). Lots of alkyhol,too. Goes on till dark,then indoors with the Fancy Brigades.
Lastly,those TCM caper films David highlighted include Gambit, Arabesque(Donen channeling Hitchcock again) and The Happy Thieves. Charade & Arabesque feature fine Henry Mancini scores.
Jan 1, 2018   |  Reply
Re:Almost Famous.Making the case for the Director's Cut(aka Bootleg Cut) with extended footage of Phil Hoffman as Lester Bangs. I could watch an entire movie about Bangs;sad that Hoffman is not around to make that happen. The movie evokes a time when Rolling Stone mattered and reading this new Crowe kid was required reading-and he was five years younger than me(16 vs. 21). The Tiny Dancer scene evokes exactly as it seemed when every two weeks I received a dispatch from Out There with Crowe,Jon Landau,Hunter Thompson,Ben-Fong-Torres,David Dalton,Chet Flippo,Jerry Hopkins,Timothy Crouse-how I miss this writing and how needed it is as we enter 2018. At least Vanity Fair,Politico,The Atlantic,New York,The New Yorker,the NYT & The Washington Post keep up the fight. If this is Fake News,then keep fakin' it.
Dec 30, 2017   |  Reply
Curious, I've never before seen anyone describe Janet Leigh as one of the most memorable characters in The Manchurian Candidate. I'm a huge fan of both the film and the late Janet Leigh. However, as much as I like her she is so tangential to the plot of this movie that I forget she's even in it. I know some fans have created back stories for her character and her place in the film, but most of that isn't actually supported by anything in the film. I would be interested in hearing more about what stands out about the character for you. Maybe I'm missing something (it happens).
Dec 30, 2017   |  Reply
Vince Everett
Nitpicking... but... Zero Mostel's character in "The Front" (Hecky Brown) was a comedian who Woody couldn't/ didn't front for
Dec 27, 2017   |  Reply
Zero Mostel starred in Fidler on Broadway, but (in my opinion, unfortunately) the film had Topol as Tevye. Yes, Zero is *always* Tevye, but not in the film.
Dec 27, 2017   |  Reply
I'll make the case for Topol in the big budget film. He had already played Tevye hundreds of times in the London production and makes a quality Tevye,even in close-ups. The film has aged well and shows up frequently on TCM. Topal,then in his mid-30s, was playing a man 20 years older and at least 20 lbs. heavier. Later,he portrayed Teyve on stages around the world, eventually racking,by his count,3500 performances. He literally aged into Tevye.
Other notable Tevye's include Herschel Bernardi(yes,Charlie the Tuna and Peter Gunn's cop friend),and Theodore Bikel(folksinger and the original Captain for Broadway's Sound of Music),who may hold the record of Fiddler performances.
Dec 28, 2017
Linda Donovan
You are right, of course, as is Sean. We got our Tevyes confused.
Dec 27, 2017
Re:Kennedy Center Honors. Trump would probably need his Fox & Friends to read those inscriptions.
Norman Lear could spool some of his "greatest hits",tackling many of the ideas of tolerance, true equality and needing more voices. Today.
Lionel Richie not only created pop songs for the Commodores and his solo career,but had success teaming with Kenny Rogers. Motown & country music-a mix that the masses loved.
LL Cool J has his share of music hits,as well as an acting career including police procedural NCIS:L.A.,portraying a Navy SEAL genius with a home life.
Carmen de Lavallade took her ballerina shoes to new places,new audiences,including Duke Ellington, and her acting chops on stage & screen.
Gloria Estafan,Cuban born with true American roots,has taken her gift of music and dancing to the world.
Common theme:mashing of cultures creating art for everyone. Sorry,Charlie,err,Donald,we need folk with good taste from ALL backgrounds.
Dec 26, 2017   |  Reply
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David Bianculli

Founder / Editor

David Bianculli has been a TV critic since 1975, including a 14-year stint at the New York Daily News, and sees no reason to stop now. Currently, he's TV critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, and is an occasional substitute host for that show. He's also an author and teaches TV and film history at New Jersey's Rowan University. His 2009 Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour', has been purchased for film rights. His latest, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to the Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific, is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV.

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