By Kevin McDonough
Sometimes a really good story is not enough to find an audience. HBO premieres the 2017 period piece "Battle of the Sexes" (8 p.m. Saturday). Based on true and very publicized events, it stars Emma Stone as American tennis star …
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Sometimes a really good story is not enough to find an audience. HBO premieres the 2017 period piece "Battle of the Sexes" (8 p.m. Saturday). Based on true and very publicized events, it stars Emma Stone as American tennis star Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as the aging tennis player Bobby Riggs. Playing the media buffoon and "male chauvinist pig," Riggs challenged King to a 1973 tennis match in an effort to show that even the best female star could not beat an over-the-hill man.
Touching on many of the social and political hot buttons of the era, their tennis match transcended mere sport and attracted a huge television audience. "Battle of the Sexes" received good reviews, with some critics praising Carell for one of the best performances of his career. Despite such accolades, the film was a box office disappointment.
Way back in 2001, ABC aired a made-for-TV movie (remember them?) called "When Billie Beat Bobby." It featured Holly Hunter as King and Ron Silver as Riggs. It was a terrific, brilliantly cast movie - smart, fun and historically resonant. Nevertheless, it received record-low ratings for an ABC TV movie at the time.
These two admirable efforts show how difficult it is to interest viewers in sports history, no matter how relevant. The story may seem too over-the-top to appeal to history buffs and lacks the overt sentimentality that is the hallmark of successful sports movies.
• Benedict Cumberbatch ("Sherlock") lends his voice to "Planet Earth: South Pacific" (9 p.m. Saturday, BBC America), a six-episode series.
• Produced by Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace"), the documentary series "The History of Comedy" (10 p.m. Sunday, CNN) enters its second season. Over six hourlong episodes, "Comedy" will look at animation, comedy duos and teams, sketch comedy and family-friendly comedy. Filled with clips, "History" also includes interviews and soundbites from famous comedians, writers and producers.
This season begins with "Carnal Knowledge," a glance at sexually explicit comedy. Devoted almost exclusively to comedy from the past generation, "History" treats series like "I Love Lucy" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" as relics from the Pleistocene era, a time when you couldn't say words like "pregnant" on TV. What it doesn't discuss is how those comedies still managed to be funny, and memorably so.
After a few nods to trailblazers, including the work of Mae West and the bawdy albums of Rusty Warren and LaWanda Page, "History" pretty much runs through a clip-by-clip account of increasingly explicit stand-up routines and movie scenes from Richard Pryor to the present. This is more exhausting than informative or even entertaining. Many of these outrageous clips represent the crescendo of a stand-up routine. To air them as an onslaught diminishes their power.
Not unlike "The 2000s," also airing on CNN, "Comedy" is big on its access to talent. But once you have those celebrities, you tend to praise them, or let them praise themselves. Just as Tom Hanks appeared on last week's "The 2000s" saying swell things about his own HBO series, Judd Apatow is seen here discussing the significance of his projects, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Love" and "Girls."
For a subject as controversial as sex and comedy, "History" is entirely devoid of dissenting voices.
Comedian Jim Norton tells us that the 1981 teen comedy "Porky's" touched some kind of universal chord and ushered in an era of sexual honesty. Funny, I seem to remember many viewers finding it aggressively witless and puerile.
The HBO series "Sex and the City" and "Girls" are also presented as cultural breakthroughs. And perhaps they were. But "History" fails to reflect that both of those series were also passionately loathed by many — "Sex" for its reduction of New York City to a shopping mall for thoughtless cupcake consumers and "Girls" for depicting an entire generation as helpless and self-involved.
"The History of Comedy" demonstrates what happens when you have a conversation about culture but invite only one side.
• Not to be confused with Discovery's "Shark Week," Nat Geo Wild offers "SharkFest," starting with "When Sharks Attack: Mayhem in Mexico" (9 p.m. Sunday, TV-14).
• Regional coverage of Major League Baseball (7 p.m., Fox).
• A soon-to-be imprisoned mother must give up her baby to the sister she despises in the 2017 shocker "A Mother's Crime" (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
• Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and the songs of ABBA star in the 2008 musical "Mamma Mia!" (8:30 p.m., NBC). A sequel arrives in theaters on July 20.
• "Truth and Lies: The Family Manson" (9 p.m., ABC) features the last interview with Charles Manson.
• Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS, r): Confederate monuments, seaweed and a 12-year-old musical prodigy.
• Ghost and Tasha quarrel on "Power" (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
• American forces encircle Japan on "The Pacific War in Color" (8 p.m., Smithsonian).
• "Unsung" profiles R&B singer Michel'le (9 p.m., TVOne).
• "Shark Week's 50 Best Bites" (8 p.m., Discovery, TV-PG) features interviews with Tracy Morgan, Andy Samberg and Craig Ferguson.
• A photoshoot on an Army base ends with the death of a model on "Endeavour" on "Masterpiece" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-14, check local listings).
• "The 2000s" (9 p.m., CNN) recalls the attacks of 9/11 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
• The House of Abundance needs a new home on "Pose" (9 p.m., FX, TV-MA).
• Adora (Patricia Clarkson) recoils when Camille (Amy Adams) attends a local funeral as a reporter on "Sharp Objects" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
• Vik declares his independence on "The Affair" (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
• Harlee finds more rot in the bureau on "Shades of Blue" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
James Bond (Sean Connery) battles Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) in the 1967 adventure "You Only Live Twice" (7 p.m. Sunday, Starz Encore).
On two helpings of "Me, Myself & I" (CBS, TV-PG), a blind date (8 p.m.), investing in the future (8:30 p.m.) * Snappy banter on "Will & Grace" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14) * Halloween frights on "America's Funniest Home Videos" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) * On two helpings of "Living Biblically" (CBS, TV-PG), competition and guilt (9 p.m.), habitats for humanity (9:30 p.m.) * "48 Hours" (10 p.m., CBS).
More acts perform on "America's Got Talent" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-PG) * Bill Hader and Cecily Strong guest-voice on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) * Sherri Shepherd and Ian Ziering appear on "Celebrity Family Feud" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * A secret room is discovered on "Bob's Burgers" (8:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) * On two episodes of "NCIS: Los Angeles" (CBS, r, TV-14), national security (9 p.m.), a killer puts on a show (10 p.m.) * Amanda Seyfried guest-voices on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) * Gary Cole participates on "The $100,000 Pyramid" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) * The team wants respect on "Ghosted" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Anthony Anderson hosts "To Tell the Truth" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
© 2018, United Feature Syndicate
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