Black actresses found fame and frustration

This was the sort of break a young actress might covet:
Abbey Lincoln was given the same dress – red, tight, low-cut – that Marilyn Monroe had worn. She could become the new Black sex symbol.
Her reaction? She later told a friend she’d burned the dress. “I’m not wearing no white woman’s hand-me-down.”
That’s an example of the independent spirit shown by many Black women — including Lincoln, Lena Horne (shown here) and others — in Hollywood. Now we see that in “How It Feels to Be Free,” a fascinating “American Masters” film at 9 p.m. Monday (Jan. 18, Martin Luther King Day) on PBS (check local listings). Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 17: Meet Eliza and Batwoman

1) “Miss Scarlet and the Duke” debut, 8 p.m., PBS. Eliza Scarlet has always wanted to solve crimes, like her dad did. She learned his skills, but now faces a roadblock: This is Victorian London, when women aren’t taken seriously … and Eliza (Kate Phillips, shown here) is the very image of a society beauty. To succeed, she needs the reluctant support of Detective Inspector William Wellington, kmown as The Duke. The result spins some good mysteries, brightened by bits of humor and human quirks. Read more…

Week’s top-10 for Jan. 18: MLK Day and Inaugural Day

1) Presidential inauguration, Wednesday. A new era begins in two phases: At noon ET, Joe Biden is sworn in as president and gives his inaugural address. And from 8:30 to 10 p.m., Tom Hanks hosts “Celebrating America” on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, news channels and more. The evening will include music – Demi Lovato (shown here), Bruce Springsteen, Justin Timberlake, Jon Bon Jovi, Ari Clemons, John Legend, Foo Fighters and, reportedly, Jennifer Lopez – plus remarks by Biden and Kamala Harris and tributes to medical people, teachers, police and others. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 16: Heat of night, cold of day

1) Football, 4:35 p.m., Fox, and 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC. We’re two steps from the Super Bowl, with this weekend’s winners colliding next week for the conference championships. First, the Packers (shown here with Davonte Adams), who are used to the cold, host the Rams, who aren’t; the winner faces Sunday’s Bucs-Saints winner. Then the Bills (another cold-weather team) host the Ravens; the winner faces Sunday’s Browns-Chiefs winner. Read more…

“Miss Scarlet” conquers Victorian obstacles

There are good reasons for dramas to retreat to the past.
They need limits and obstacles. Romances work best amid “don’t” and “mustn’t”; crime stories are best if you can’t just call the cops or check the DNA and the video footage.
So Americans return to cowboy or pioneer days … the British visit the Victorian era … and “Miss Scarlet and the Duke” (shown here) – debuting at 8 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 17) on PBS’ “Masterpiece” – fits that era well. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 15: Great voices and triple Julia

1) “Erin Brockovich” (2000), 8 p.m., Pop. This is clearly a night to watch Julia Roberts, with three strong choices, at 8 p.m. The best is “Brockovich,” the true story of an office assistant who used brains and people-skills to confront a giant power company; Roberts (shown here with Albert Finney) won an Oscar and there were four more nominations, including best picture. In TNT’s “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), she’s the ex-wife of a heist master (George Clooney); in the Movie Channel’s “Eat Pray Love” (2010), she tries mid-life changes. Read more…

A nomadic life leads to diverse horror

Many TV shows – and many people – are rooted in one place. Some rarely leave the living room.
Not Kimani Ray Smith … or “Two Sentence Horror Stories” (show here), the odd little show (8 and 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays on CW, then streaming the next day on www.cwtv.com) he directs for.
Smith had a childhood he describes as “from the desert to the Arctic tundra.” That may make him ideal for a show that covers a broad range. Read more…

Best-bets for Jan. 14: A funny — and sometimes topical — night

1) “Superstore,” 8:30 p.m., NBC. Racial justice, it seems, can come in unlikely areas. For the store, that includes the hair-care products: Only the Black-oriented ones are locked away. That leads to what “Superstore” does best – a mass meeting, where quirks escalate. Garrett (Colton Dunn, foreground, in a previous episode) is expected to speal for an entire race; it’s a witty episode, with subjects soon range from vending machines to “reparation pizzas.” Read more…

Best-bet for Jan. 13: Kyra comedy debuts

1) “Call Your Mother” debut, 9:30 p.m., ABC. Jean (Kyra Sedgwick, shown here) is an empty-nester with an empty life. “I haven’t had sex in four years,” she confides. “And it was four years before that. It should be an Olympic sport.” Now she tries to stir up her life: She’ll to California and insert herself into the worlds of her son and daughter. This is from writer-producer Kari Lizer, a decade after her “New Adventures of Old Christine” concluded. Sherri Shepherd plays Jean’s phone friend. Read more…

Apted made fine movies, led by “Up” films

In the mainstream, show-business world – scripted movies and TV shows and such – Michael Apted’s legacy is impressive.
Apted – who died Thursday at 79 – directed a wide range of movies, from James Bond to Loretta Lynn, from a John Belushi comedy to a William Hurt mystery. He directed cable dramas, including “Masters of Sex” (which he also helped produce) and “Rome.”
But for many people, he did something far more important: He gave us “7 Up” and all its sequels, pulling us into the lives of Tony Walker (shown here) and others..
Roger Ebert called this “the noblest project in cinema history.” The New Yok Times called it “the most profound documentary series in the history of cinema.” I call it masterful. Read more…