Even in our overcrowded, overheated TV world, something has been missing lately.
That’s PBS. It provides things that are otherwise absent, even in a 500-channel universe.
For the first three weeks of March, the network mostly shut down during prime time, so individual stations could have their pledge drives. That’s fine if you happen to like music memories (we do) or self-improvement lectures (we don’t, but probably should), but it’s not what PBS does best.
Now comes a week ranging from Twyla Tharp’s choreography (shown here) to New Orleans funerals. For that, just look at its first week back (check local listings).
That starts (March 22) with “Antique Roadshow” and then an “Independent Lens” that views facial recognition systems. “Algorithms are really defining who gets hired, who gets healthcare, who gets undue police scrutiny,” director Shalini Kantayya told the Television Critics Association.
She titled her film “Coded Bias,” because of what some researchers have found: The “systems have not been vetted for racial bias, for gender bias and they cause unintended harm.”
And the week ends (March 28) with the AARP’s “Movies for Grownups” awards. It includes a career prize for George Clooney, plus nods to many of the films that already have Oscar nominations and Golden Glove awards.
In between, PBS has impressive “American Masters” profiles on the short life of author Flannery O’Conner (who died of lupus at 39) and the long one of Twyla Tharp, who will turn 80 on July 1, but keeps dancing and choreographing. “Everything is always an experiment,” she told the TCA. “It’s not relaxing. It’s not; it’s driving forward.”
And yes, there’s more. The first week (again, check local listings, in brief:
– Monday (March 22): “Antiques Roadshow” (looking back at a past Louisville visit) at 8 p.m. and “Independent Lens” at 10. Its “Coded Bias” goes to three continents, but focuses on Joy Buolamwini, an MIT researcher who is Black and female – two groups that facial-recognition sometimes flubs.
– Tuesday: “American Masters” at 8 p.m., viewing O’Conner, who retreated to the family farm at 27, when she received a lupus diagnosis, continuing to write much-praised Southern Gothic fiction. At 9:30 is the season-opener of “Beyond the Canvas,” a “PBS Newshour” spin-off focusing on the arts; this half-hour meets authors, including Margaret Atwood, the “Handmaid’s Tale” creator. At 10, “Frontline” has a quietly moving look at Black funderal homes in New Orleans during the pandemic.
– Wednesday: “Nature” and “Nova” reruns are followed by a new documentary at 10. “Fast-Forward” has baby-boomers and millennials view their futures through an MIT process that duplicates the feeling of physically aging 30 years.
– Thursday and Saturday: These are nights when stations are mostly on their own.
– Friday: “American Masters” (9 p.m.) focus on Tharp’s innovative world. In the midst of a pandemic, we watch her try a Zoom dance that will link four gifted dancers in different cities; she also reflects on a career that has ranged from Baryshnikov to the Beach Boys, from ballet galas to the movie “Hair.”
– Sunday: It’s “Movies for Grownups” at 8. Afterward, many stations are still rerunning “Howard’s End.” A week later, “Masterpiece Theatre” launches “Atlantic Crossing,” an eight-hour film (with some sub-titles) about the Norwegian princess, the White House and World War II. It’s ambitious, historic … and very PBS.