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'I Know This Much Is True' offers a harrowing tale

Posted 5/8/20

By Kevin McDonough

Mark Ruffalo stars in the limited series adaptation of Wally Lamb's novel "I Know This Much Is True" (9 p.m. Sunday, HBO, TV-MA). He's cast in two roles, that of identical twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Set in 1990 …

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'I Know This Much Is True' offers a harrowing tale

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Mark Ruffalo stars in the limited series adaptation of Wally Lamb's novel "I Know This Much Is True" (9 p.m. Sunday, HBO, TV-MA). He's cast in two roles, that of identical twin brothers Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. Set in 1990 and replete with flashbacks and insightful revelations into their mutual pasts, "True" begins as Dominick is called away from work when mentally ill Thomas has a violent psychotic episode.

Over the course of the series, we learn the impact Thomas' dysfunction has had on Dominick, as well as their shared history of a depressed mother, absent biological father, abusive stepfather and mysterious grandfather whose memoirs Dominick tries to have translated in episode one. This leads him to an encounter with a sketchy scholar (Juliette Lewis), a woman with problems of her own.

"True" offers a harrowing tale. The brief description above barely scratches the surface. There's no arguing that this is a compelling story and that Ruffalo is thoroughly compelling, particularly as the overburdened Dominick.

It is also a story with few quiet scenes or modulating moments. It seems dialed up to 11 all of the time as it careens from violent breakdowns, cruel incarcerations, deranged dates, crib deaths and funerals, police brutality, childhood traumas, bleak memories of school bus mortification and wrenching revelations on the therapist's couch. And that's just in the first two hours!

Not to make light of its intensity, but Ruffalo's twin characters almost seem (over) written as Emmy-bait. He's given the role of a mentally ill man who mutilates himself as well as the mirror-image twin brother who gets to feel and reflect upon his persistent burden. As the overcompensating Dominick, Ruffalo gets to be brainy and bookish as well as the hunky blue-collar house painter, the kind of guy his female clients drool over as he walks down the street. Scripts that trade in the most "intense" form of realism can also seem the most gimmicky.

• A visit from the royals puts the family and the staff on edge in the 2019 theatrical feature "Downton Abbey" (8 p.m. Saturday, HBO).

Essentially, this is a movie-length take on the beloved U.K. series seen here on PBS. Most of the major characters show up and go through their charming motions. The locations are pretty, and the film is nicely shot. But there's little story and little tension to interest us. Even Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) seems bored.

It's a vast understatement to say this feature adds little to the story. If anything, it subtracted from my appreciation of the series. While watching the film, I actually began to wonder why I ever watched "Downton Abbey" in the first place. It's that pointless.

Fans of the series would do better to watch "Belgravia" (9 p.m. Sunday, Epix), also written by "Downton" creator Julian Fellowes and based on his book of the same name. Set in 1840s London, it follows the "Upstairs, Downstairs" template of "Downton" and involves secret affairs, foundling children and a love that transcends class barriers. Recommended.

SATURDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• A pregnant woman's politician boyfriend vanishes in the 2017 shocker "Maternal Secrets" (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

• Rookie detectives prove crucial in the 2020 special "Hunting Ted Bundy" (8 p.m., ID, TV-14).

• A young woman finds love while auditioning to become a pastry chef for Belgium's royal family the 2019 romance "Love, Romance and Chocolate" (9 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).

• Live, from any number of living rooms, it's "Saturday Night Live" (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS

• Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): The origins of the pandemic; Amazon and worker safety; the rise of untraceable "ghost" guns.

• Laughs for a good cause on the "Feeding America Comedy Festival" (7 p.m., Weather Channel, NBC, TV-PG).

• Ryan Seacrest hosts "American Idol" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

• Tom Hanks stars in the 1994 historical fantasy "Forrest Gump" (8 p.m., CBS).

• A woman begins to suspect something odd about her new best friends in the 2020 shocker "Mommy Is a Murderer" (8 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

• Claire suffers in captivity on the fifth season finale of "Outlander" (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

• Villanelle returns to her Russian roots on "Killing Eve" (9 p.m., AMC, BBC America, TV-14).

"Saturday Night Live" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14) celebrates Mother's Day.

• Axe tries to rattle Mike Prince on "Billions" (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

• France falls but resistance continues as "World on Fire" on "Masterpiece" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-14, check local listings) concludes its first season.

• Crooner Michael Buble fashions a residence for his grandfather's caretaker on "Celebrity IOU" (9 p.m., HGTV, TV-G).

• Nolan finds his career on the line on the second season finale of "The Rookie" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

• Comedians reflect on their maternal experience on the "Call Your Mother" (10 p.m., Comedy, TV-MA) special.

• Issa plans a block party to remember on "Insecure" (10 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

• Townsend faces resistance on "Penny Dreadful: City of Angels" (10 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

CULT CHOICE

A cynical press agent (Kirk Douglas) delays the rescue of a trapped miner to milk the sob story for a few more days in director Billy Wilder's 1951 media satire "Ace in the Hole" (8 p.m. Saturday, TCM, TV-14).

SATURDAY SERIES

A fatal gas explosion on "NCIS: New Orleans" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * A bomber uses drones on "S.W.A.T." (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) * A vintage helping of "Saturday Night Live" (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

SUNDAY SERIES

Lisa joins the horsey set on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Somebody is subtracting from the Smart Set on "Batwoman" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14) * Outnumbered on Mother's Day on "Duncanville" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) * Tina touts the town on "Bob's Burgers" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Lena and Lex collaborate on "Supergirl" (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG) * During quarantine, the Griffins revise Bible stories on "Family Guy" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

© 2020, United Feature Syndicate