Anthony Mackie (“The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”) hosts the 2021 ESPYs (Saturday, 7 p.m., ABC) live from the New York City waterfront. ESPN, the network that gives the awards their name, or at least their letters, is broadcasting UFC 264 prelims instead.
These annual roundups of sports highlight reels never have risen to the level of the Oscars. But this year’s ESPYs might suffer that award ceremony’s fate. How excited can you get for a commemoration of a sports year put largely on hold because of COVID?
• Sitcoms are a whole lot more interesting than “History of the Sitcom” (8 p.m., and 9 p.m., Sunday, CNN), an eight-part docuseries about the TV genre. It’s hard to say a survey can have too many clips and too many interviews, but this “History” does. It’s more of a parade of well-worn cliches and observations than a serious consideration of a durable art form.
The first hour, a focus on “family” sitcoms, basically presents the standard version, that “I Love Lucy” was the Big Bang that created the universe, and the sitcom evolved from white-bread families (Ozzie and Harriet) to controversy (“All in the Family”) and diversity (“black-ish”), reflecting a changing society.
You could write 10 histories with the history “History” leaves out. But that’s television. “Family” never acknowledges TV comedy’s roots in radio comedies such as “The Goldbergs,” “Our Miss Brooks” and “Ozzie and Harriet” or how the two mediums coexisted for TV’s first decade.
“History” presents comedies as an upward trend of socially progressive reflections of changing society but never considers the whole swaths of society ignored by the sitcom universe. CBS became the home to sophisticated comedies in the early 1970s only after it jettisoned highly rated “rural” comedies and Westerns that appealed to viewers advertisers disdained.
We hear Fox and then the WB created racially diversified comedy, but that was largely because those fledgling networks saw such “urban” audiences (often people without cable subscriptions) as the only viewers they could get. Once Fox produced “mainstream” hits (“Beverly Hills, 90210,” “The X-Files”) that appealed to a wider and whiter audience, it dropped its Black comedies. The WB did the same after “Dawson’s Creek” became a hit.
It’s hard to discuss “Modern Family” without mentioning its docuseries structure, but “History” does. It’s interesting to note “Modern” became a hit during the Great Recession by showcasing an almost contemptuous affluence shot through with brazen product placements. At a time when an entire generation became completely estranged from “the economy,” Phil Dunphy’s greatest problem was he couldn’t buy a new iPad fast enough.
With so much talent on hand, it would have been interesting to ask Norman Lear, Candice Bergen, Tim Allen and Kelsey Grammer their thoughts on the structure of a punchline setup and the role of timing and even choreography in situation comedies. From “I Love Lucy” to “Will and Grace” and “Veep,” physical comedy has played a crucial role. It’s not mentioned in the first hour and might come up later. I never forget Mary Tyler Moore never could have become Mary Richards had she not first been trained as a dancer. Her moves and timing were more than funny. They were elegant. Viewers are smart enough to learn about the nuts and bolts of this wonderful art form. We’ve heard the “history” and pop sociology part a thousand times before.
• Welcome to “The White Lotus” (8 p.m., Sunday, HBO, TV-MA). Set at a posh resort in Hawaii, it presents a social satire of the pampered upper class at “rest.”
Rachel, a honeymooning bride (Alexandra Daddario), discovers Shane, her new husband and rich real estate heir (Jake Lacy), seems more obsessed with being booked into the wrong room than in consummating their marriage. A tech tycoon, Nicole (Connie Britton), and her husband, Mark (Steve Zahn), hope their teens enjoy paradise, but Mark is too obsessed with the swelling in his testicles to enjoy himself.
Jennifer Coolidge is typecast as Tanya, a complete mess who has come to the resort to scatter her mother’s ashes. Suffering from any number of physical ailments and emotional scars, she takes a liking to the head masseuse (Natasha Rothwell), who might not have enough time for her.
Except for the cruel asides of girls (Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O’Grady) caught up in their own teenage universe, there are precious few laughs or satirical insights in the first hour of “Lotus.” The ensemble comedy follows a familiar narrative tradition, but no one would have watched “Grand Hotel” if it was filled with boring people.
• A tradition since 1988, “Shark Week” has become the longest-running and most anticipated programming stunt in TV history. The water will turn crimson with 45 hours of new documentaries about our finned friends, beginning with “Crikey: It’s Shark Week” (7 p.m., Sunday, Discovery), “Tiffany Haddish Does Shark Week” (8 p.m.) and “Jackass Shark Week” (9 p.m.).
• Auto racing (7 p.m., CBS).
• A worried wife didn’t sign up for extortion in the 2021 shocker “Framed by My Husband” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
• Sencha’s options dwindle on “Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty” (7 p.m., BBC America).
• The 2021 biographical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah” (7 p.m., HBO) recalls the police murder of activist Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and the FBI’s extensive efforts to infiltrate radical organizations.
• Half-siblings turn Christmas decorating into a competitive mayhem in the 2021 romance “Crashing Through the Snow” (8 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Efforts to clean up the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, with specialized robots; a profile of author Colson Whitehead.
• The broadcast of the 2021 Major League Baseball draft (6 p.m., ESPN), instead of an actual baseball game, shows how important “fantasy” leagues have become.
• The Bucks host the Suns in game 3 of the NBA finals (7 p.m., ABC).
• Twenty-first century spirits track our heroes to Shakespeare’s time in “A Discovery of Witches” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-14).
• “Unforgotten” on “Masterpiece” (8 p.m., PBS) enters its fourth season.
• “Animal Kingdom” (8 p.m., TNT, TV-MA) returns for a fifth season.
• Lucy cooperates with the CIA to entrap her father on “Little Birds” (8:30 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
Obsessed with grooming, consumption, brand names and status, a yuppie (Christian Bale) becomes a serial killer in the 2000 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ violent social satire “American Psycho” (8:30 p.m., Saturday, Showcase).
“America’s Got Talent” (7 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) … “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) … “Dateline” (9 p.m., NBC).
Julie Chen hosts “Big Brother” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-14) … Ancient grudges on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) … A forgotten milestone on “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG) … Encounters with a legendary mountain man on “The Great North”(7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) … Low-hanging fruit on “Love Island” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) … Home alone on “Bob’s Burgers” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … The CW imports the New Zealand comedy “Wellington Paranormal” (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., CW, TV-14) … Brian forms new bonds on “Family Guy” (8:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).
— OK, that was weird. The least expected story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin, star of “When Calls the Heart” (7 p.m. Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery/cheating plot to get their respective daughters into elite universities.
This is obviously an ongoing case, and all sides must have their say, or day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It involves some overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if anything “lesser” were unthinkable.
Television plays no small role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every single character hails from only the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.
There was a time, not that long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about young, barely accredited lawyers from no-name institutions who took on impossible cases against massive corporations and eventually won. And got the girl, to boot.
So, our current era’s neurotic obsession with elitism and inequality is hardly hard-wired.
If anything comes of this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are always essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedic. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and pitied the millionaire and his wife.
— CNN launches the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 p.m., Sunday), profiling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned the decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.
— An anxious new mother joins a group for solidarity and support, only to discover that it has darker plans on its agenda in the 2019 shocker “Mommy Group Murder” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
— The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).
— An old kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): Embassy workers in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of overlooked American small towns and cities; a visit to Monaco.
— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
— Lex Luthor is on the loose on “Supergirl” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— After learning about her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old becomes a little tyrant in the 2019 shocker “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
— A secret room holds dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
— Hidden secrets revealed on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
— A new trial is pursued on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).
— Axe is determined to destroy Taylor on the fourth season premiere of “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
— Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— “Unsung” (8 p.m., TVONE) profiles the Jets.
— Pacific overtures on “Madam Secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
— Tensions rise on “Good Girls” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (4 p.m. Saturday, TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 p.m.). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling out the Technicolor blarney of director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG).
“Dateline” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) … “NBA Countdown” (7 p.m., ABC) … The kids are all right on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) … “48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) … A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
A visit from an old friend inspires Miles on “God Friended Me” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) … Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual realm on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) … On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s winter Olympics (8 p.m.), fighting over a dowager (8:30 p.m., r) … Aches and pains on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).