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'The Great' is visually pleasing, but terminally glib

Posted 5/15/20

By Kevin McDonough

Is "The Great" any good? Elle Fanning stars in this period satire, an epic look at the reign of Russia's Catherine the Great, the second, after HBO's miniseries starring Helen Mirren, in the space of a year.

Streaming in its …

This item is available in full to subscribers

'The Great' is visually pleasing, but terminally glib

Posted

By Kevin McDonough

Is "The Great" any good? Elle Fanning stars in this period satire, an epic look at the reign of Russia's Catherine the Great, the second, after HBO's miniseries starring Helen Mirren, in the space of a year.

Streaming in its entirety on Hulu beginning today, "Great" begins with Catherine on a swing in a garden setting, a scene right out of a Fragonard painting. Lovely, young and effervescently cheerful, she's being lectured by a stern, homely friend about her family's lack of money and bleak fortunes. Blissfully oblivious, she knows she's marrying an emperor.

A short carriage ride later, we arrive at a sumptuous palace to discover that her husband-to-be has married her for all of the shortcomings her friend described. He sees her as well-born but unthreatening, and treats his new ornament with gruesome disdain, consummating their marriage while continuing to chatter away with a hunting buddy.

History tells us that he underestimates her to his peril and that she would go on to have him killed, the first of many court machinations that would turn Catherine into one of the most formidable, feared and gossiped about figures in history.

"The Great" is pleasant to look at, but terminally glib. Laced with contemporary obscenities and slang, the script never rises to its subject. It's one thing to make historical figures light fun and breezy. It's another to make them trite.

• The success of Disney+ owes as much to the old as the new. Along with "The Mandalorian," it keeps the focus on classic Disney features. A key part of Disney history was its departure from animation to create hundreds of family-friendly films about animals and nature.

The new series "It's a Dog's Life With Bill Farmer" offers fluffy half-hour profiles of dogs, particularly those with interesting "jobs," like a rescue canine who helps "train" cheetahs at a zoo, and a companion animal for a boy with disabilities.

For decades, Farmer has provided the voice of Disney dog characters Pluto and Goofy, as well as for Horace Horsecollar.

• Our shared quarantine has spawned a cottage industry of do-it-yourself entertainers. CBS celebrates the trend with "The Greatest #StayAtHome Videos" (8 p.m., TV-PG).

• Amateur "show business" from an earlier era can be found in the 1992 comedy "Wayne's World" (9 p.m., Starz Encore), a movie-length adaptation of an "SNL" skit based on the low-budget world of public access cable series.

• Sandra Oh and Niall Horan appear on "The Graham Norton Show" (11 p.m., BBC America). Few hosts do a better job of feeding off the convivial energy of his couch guests and the enthusiasm of his audience. In contrast, Norton's remote "home" interviews seem decidedly decaffeinated. Like a lot of Zoom interactions, I'm not sure if these distract us from our plight or remind us of our isolation.

CULT CHOICE

TCM unspools two shockers from horror director Stuart Gordon, who died on March 24: "From Beyond" (2 a.m., TV-14) and "Dolls" (3:30 a.m.) from 1986 and 1987.

TONIGHT'S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Red, rough and sore on the season finale of "The Blacklist" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• Dean Cain hosts "Masters of Illusion" (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., CW, TV-PG). Followed by "Masters of Illusion: 21st Anniversary Special" (9 p.m., r, CW, TV-PG).

"Bering Sea Gold" (8 p.m., Discovery, TV-14) enters its 11th season.

"Bravery and Hope: 7 Days on the Front Line" (9 p.m., CBS) follows doctors and nurses at a New York hospital.

"Great Performances" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-14, check local listings) presents a performance of the Leonard Bernstein Mass, a piece commissioned to open the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1971.

• An officer's widow blames Frank on "Blue Bloods" (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

SERIES NOTES

"WWE Friday Night SmackDown" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) * Crib creations on the season finale of "Shark Tank" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) * "20/20" (9 p.m., ABC) * "Dateline" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

LATE NIGHT

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and HAIM are booked on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (11:35 p.m., CBS, r) * Jimmy Fallon welcomes Dwayne Johnson, Daveed Diggs and the Head and the Heart on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC) * Kristen Bell, Desus & Mero, Little Big Town and Chris Coleman visit "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r).

© 2020, United Feature Syndicate