Saturday, August 1, 2015

Remote Possibilities: 'Manhunt,' 'The Americans'

A few things to watch (or feed your DVR).

Remote Possibilities: 'Manhunt,' 'The Americans'

"Manhunt" recounts the complicated hunt for Osama bin Laden
"Manhunt" recounts the complicated hunt for Osama bin Laden HBO

Two very different views of the intelligence community are on television Wednesday, as HBO presents the documentary "Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for bin Laden" at 8 p.m. and FX wraps up the first season of "The Americans," its kickass drama about Russian spies in Reagan-era Washington, D.C., at 10.

While obviously less dramatic than "Zero Dark Thirty," the HBO doc nevertheless makes the point that the success of this particular manhunt depended at least as much on the dogged work of analysts -- many of them part of a group of women known as "The Sisterhood" --  fitting together pieces of a puzzle over many years as it dd on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" for which some in "Manhunt" make no apologies.

"I was counseled once, in a performance review, that I was spending too much time working on bin Laden,” recalls Cindy Storer, a former CIA operative. "Yes, we were borderline obsessed. But I thought it was for a good reason."

Field work's much more in the forefront of "The Americans," whose May Day season finale may be one of the most satisfying I've seen in a while. (And not just because Margo Martindale finally gets to wig out, too.) If you've been following the adventures of undercover agents Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), you won't want to miss a minute.

You may also want to check out:

-- "Family Tools" (8:30 p.m., 6 ABC). When a single-camera comedy works -- "Modern Family," "Arrested Development" -- it's a thing of beauty, funny in a way that lets individual viewers decided where the laughs are, unprompted by a studio audience. When it doesn't -- well, then you get something like "Family Tools," a show that leaves its audience with nowhere to look when the laughter doesn't come naturally. If at all.

Less somehow than the sum of its parts, this late-in-the-season sitcom stars Kyle Bornheimer ("Worst Week") as Jack Shea, who returns home from his so far not very successful life to take over the family handyman business when his father, Tony (J.K. Simmons), has a heart attack. Leah Remini plays Jack's aunt, who insists on this arrangment, Edi Gathegi, Tony's sassy assistant, Darren, who apparently comes with the business. (If you didn't think men could be described as "sassy," well, it's a sitcom word for a character who probably doesn't exist outside the boundaries of a sitcom.)

I pretty much watched the clock for every minute of  the pilot, and  though a second episode made available by ABC seemed marginally better, the improvement wasn't great enough to warrant suggestions for retooling.

If "Family Tools" doesn't make you appreciate "The Neighbors," I don't know what will.

-- "The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius" (10 p.m., Discovery). Kal Penn hosts a  "reality" competition series that features out-there engineering challenges. Probably the only show on television that lists its contestants' IQs (and, no, not all of them test at genius level, though they're all smarter than the average bear).






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Daily News TV Critic
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About this blog
As the TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, I've always believed my job is less about thumbs -- up or down -- and more about the conversation. Because the more choices we have, the fewer people in our lives know what we're talking about when we say, "Did you see that?" And that's when television really starts to get interesting. Reach Ellen at

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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