Weekend cable lineup includes a new comedy, royal court and crime
A boisterous, star-festooned comedy, a sexy take on medieval court intrigue, and a shockingly dark thriller - yeah, this is shaping up as quite a weekend on cable.
In Clear History (9 p.m. Saturday on HBO), Larry David does what he is uniquely equipped to do: play Larry David.
Yes, it's that trademark everyschlub we all know and love from Curb Your Enthusiasm - the guy who is constantly affronted by life's little indignities, flying off the handle with minimal provocation. The buttinski who is constantly giving others unsolicited, usually insulting advice.
Only this time, as Nathan Flomm, he's got a backstory. Nathan's a late-night punchline, the Pete Best of modern industry, the idiot who walked away from a billion-dollar business venture over a petty quibble.
A decade later, he's living a modest life under an assumed name when the CEO (Jon Hamm) who cut him loose reenters his orbit.
Clear History begins confidently, plucking abundant hilarity from its outrageous premise. But it grows progressively thinner and more far-fetched. Even a recurring joke about pleasuring the members of the '70s pop band Chicago results in a dull payoff.
The principal entertainment becomes inventorying all the familiar faces who turn up in supporting roles. Fortunately, there are enough to keep you busy, including Danny McBride, Kate Hudson, JB Smoove, Eva Mendes, Lenny Clarke, Amy Ryan, Bill Hader, and Michael Keaton.
Despite a number of funny lines sprinkled through the script, this History isn't very memorable. It seems more like Larry David's What I Did on My Summer Vacation project.
In The White Queen, a 10-episode series on Starz (10 p.m. Saturday), history is made at night. Beginning in 1464, it tells the lusty, sumptuous tale of young Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, whom he wed even though she was a commoner and a widow with two sons.
Its success is due largely to the costumes, set dressing, and comeliness of the two leads, a smoldering Max Irons (son of Jeremy) and radiant Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson.
They are accompanied by a solid British cast, including Janet McTeer (Parade's End), James Frain (The Lone Ranger), Amanda Hale, Robert Pugh, Faye Marsay, and Aneurin Barnard.
The problem with The White Queen is its pace, slowed by ponderous exposition and arcane bloodline conspiracies. It tries to cram in far too many of the themes from Philippa Gregory's series of novels about the Plantagenet dynasty, The Cousins' War.
But royal splendor and passionate young nobles can take you pretty far. As Edward says to his new bride, "What's the point of being king if we cannot keep you naked all day long?"
What's the point, indeed?
Holding on to the crown during the turbulent era of the War of the Roses was apparently a brutal business, but nowhere near as vicious as the habitat of the corrupt Detroit cops in AMC's new series Low Winter Sun (10 p.m. Sunday).
It's set in a world peopled by raging drunks and violent sociopaths. And those are the good guys, the ones with badges.
When the police department's most depraved detective is fished out of the river, lowlifes on both sides of the law start scrambling to keep his secrets from coming out.
Veteran actor Mark Strong is absolutely riveting as the man assigned to look into his crooked colleague's death, despite being involved in the crime right up to the crown of his shaved head. (Any resemblance to Vic Mackey, Michael Chiklis' character in The Shield, is purely intentional.)
Based on a two-part British miniseries from 2006 in which Strong also starred, Low Winter Sun goes for a mood darker than noir. It's atmospheric, but the air it generates is noxious.
Lennie James (Jericho), James Ransone, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and David Constabile play some of the other rats trapped amid the Rust Belt rubble.
The series gets a big kick-start, following as it does the final installments of Breaking Bad. There are viewers who will hail the bravery of the show's moral cesspool setting, and maybe even its murky, intentionally complicated plotting.
The rest of us will be relieved when Low Winter Sun inevitably sets.