By Kevin McDonough
We all follow stories in our own way. But our reactions often boil down to basic questions about character and plot. "Who are these people?" "Why should I care?" "What the heck is going on here?"
Sadly, answers to those very simple questions are a l-o-n-g time coming in the new seven-episode Netflix Western "Godless" (TV-MA). Worse, it has one of the grimmest opening scenes in memory.
A group of lawmen, including one played by a heavily mustachioed Sam Waterston, ride wordlessly through a dusty town where nearly every citizen has been shot, burned or hanged. The scene seems to go on forever and concludes with a towering shot of a little boy who has been lynched.
Who are these people? Why should I keep watching? What the heck is going on?
Mine-robbing bad guy Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels) arrives in another town with his bleeding arm hanging from veins and tendons. We get to see and hear his amputation in real time! There's a cowardly sheriff whose sister wears the pants in the family. A feisty homesteader (Michelle Dockery, "Downton Abbey") shoots up a stranger (Jack O'Connell) who appears to be on the run from Griffin's gang. Or maybe not.
"Godless" suffers from traits new to our "peak TV" era. Let's call it Netflix-itis. Given some eight hours over seven episodes to tell a story, facts emerge at a glacial pace. It also reflects some of the shortcomings of an entertainment industry working at capacity to create some 400 new series a year. Despite marquee names in the cast, some of the supporting performances are workmanlike at best.
"Godless" strives desperately to reach the metaphorical levels of classics like "Once Upon a Time in the West." Instead, it's slow, pretentious and confusing, when it's not gratuitously violent. Want to start your Thanksgiving weekend with the sight of a child being lynched? Be my guest.
• "Nature" (8 p.m., PBS, TV-G, check local listings) puts the accent on small with profiles of tiny turtles and hummingbirds who don't let their minuscule wingspan limit their thousand-mile voyages.
• "NOVA" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) maintains the focus on critters, exploring some of the more unusual claws, horns, fangs and stingers in the animal kingdom.
• Smithsonian returns to "Polar Bear Town" (8 p.m.) for a second season. Every year, more than 10,000 tourists visit Churchill, Manitoba, in the northern latitudes of Canada to take advantage of its unique place in an annual migration involving as many as 1,000 polar bears. Interaction between the tourists and the town attraction range from comical to near-lethal.
TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• Lucious goes public on "Empire" (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).
• The gang gathers around a Ping-Pong table and later boards the Mayflower on "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" (8 p.m., ABC).
• Ryan Seacrest hosts the first night of the "iHeartRadio Music Festival" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
• "Saturday Night Live" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) presents a Thanksgiving special.
• "20/20" (10 p.m., ABC) looks at holiday movie classics.
• "Frontline" (10 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) repeats the 2012 special "Poor Kids."
• A woman worries about her brother (Jimmy Stewart) and his tales of a 6-foot invisible rabbit in the 1950 comedy "Harvey" (10:15 p.m., TCM).
A gaggle of kids (Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman and Kerri Green) braves dangers and searches for treasure in the 1985 adventure "The Goonies" (7:30 p.m., Sundance), a generational touchstone with a clear influence on "Stranger Things."
Loyalty is put to the test on "Survivor" (8 p.m., CBS) * Chris Hardwick hosts "The Wall" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) * A prisoner exchange does not sit well on "SEAL Team" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14) * Fighting for the right release date on "Star" (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) * Home for the holidays on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Galas and barbecues on "American Housewife" (9:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * Media manipulation in Miami on "Criminal Minds" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
Jordan Peele is booked on "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah" (11 p.m., Comedy Central, r) * Jake Gyllenhaal, Max Brooks and Rostam appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS, r) * Expect Gayle King and Elton John on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Denzel Washington, Allison Williams, Talib Kweli, Rick Ross and Yummy Bingham on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Tim Meadows and Kenny DeForest visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC) * Krysten Ritter and Josh Hutcherson appear on "The Late Late Show With James Corden" (12:35 a.m., CBS).
© 2017, United Feature Syndicate