PBS Masterpiece

Yes, PBS is fun: dramas, concerts, more

OK, we all know that PBS likes to educate. It’s the place to learn about French chefs, Russian czars and Roman aquaducts.
But it’s also a fun place.We’re reminded of that with a new batch of Sunday dramas (starting March 17) that includes Helena Bonham Carter (shown here) … a four-Friday slice of Broadway (starting May 10) … and music, from Willie Nelson to Elton John.
“Art has been at the heart of our work for more than 50 years,” Paula Kerger, the PBS president, told the Television Critics Associatiion. She means 50 years literally: Read more…

After changes and scrambles, “Sanditon” returns

Even before “Sanditon” reached America two years ago, PBS had a dilemma.
Like virtually everything on “Masterpiece Theatre,” this was a global project, with a British network paying more and getting it first. And that network had already decided not to do a second season.
“We knew that (it) had been canceled before it even aired on ‘Masterpiece,’” Susanne Simpsons, the “Masterpiece” producer, said in a Television Critics Association virtual press conference.
The new season (shown here) finally returns March 20, but she was taking a chance: If there never was a second year, characters would have been left hanging; viewers would have been bitter. Since this is based on a novel that Jane Austen had barely started before her death in 1817, they couldn’t check a book to see how it ends. Read more…

“Sanditon” returns to life … again

“Sanditon” (shown here) will rise from the dead … again.
It’s a tale that vanished with Jane Austen’s death in 1817. It returned – more than two centuries later – with a lush PBS mini-series … then was abruptly canceled after its first season. Now, more than a year later, comes the surprising news that second and third seasons will eventually be produced. Read more…

“Long Song” mingles classy drama and soapy bits

As “The Long Song” begins Sunday (Jan. 31), we’re clearly in a distant time and place.
This is Jamaica, early in the 1800s. It has blue sky, sprawling vistas … and deep, wrenching pain. Caroline Mortimer (Hayley Atwell, shown here with Tamara Lawrance)– who owns the plantation with her brother – mostly stays in the mansion while her sadistic overseer drives the slaves.
Then come all the events – love, lust, rape, revolt, betrayal – that we might find in a Harlequin novel or in a quality production. By the end of the three-week mini-series (9 p.m. Sundays on PBS), we’re left with the same question raised by Netflix’s recent “Bridgerton”mini-series: Where is the line that somehow separates tawdry soap opera from classy, period-piece drama? 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…

Splendid Sundays resume on PBS

For a decade, TV viewers knew what to expect from PBS.
A lush “Masterpiece” series would settle into Sundays each January and beyond. There were six seasons of “Downton Abbey,” three of “Victoria,” one of “Sanditon”
And now? “All Creatures Great and Small” (shown here, 9 p.m., starting Jan. 10, check local listings) has much in common with “Downton,” including the same director. But it has a crucial difference:
“We have made a lot of excellent British television stories about people who are rich,” said Samuel West, who co-stars as Dr. Siegfried Farnon. This show, by comparison, “is ground-level stuff.” Read more…

PBS walks thin line between classy and soapy

There’s a thin line between quality drama and brash, soap-style excess.
“Flesh and Blood,” the new four-part “Masterpiece” tale, keeps skidding near the line. It stays on the good side, thanks to first-rate directing, dialog and … especially, acting.
This is a mini-series filled with skilled actors – led by Francesca Annis and Imelda Staunton (shown here, center and right, with Stephen Rea) – who are PBS favorites. They bring some gravity to a story that wants to spin wildly out of control.
The opener (9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4) sets up the basics: There’s been a tragedy – maybe an accident, maybe not – that left someone dead or critically injured. Police do interviews, spurring flashbacks. Read more…

“Van der Valk”: English actors, Dutch settings, strong stories

Piet Van der Valk is sort of your standard TV (or movie) detective.
He’s handsome and brooding; he’s single and lives on a boat. Handsome detectives often brood; they also live in odd places – boats or bars or backrooms or such.
What’s unusual about him, though, is that he’s:
1) On PBS, in a smart and deeply layered show. “Masterpiece: Van der Volk” (shown here) is 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, 20 and 27). You could call it the first scripted show of the broadcast TV season; it’s a good one … and a huge jump over this summer’s disappointing “Endeavour.” Read more…

There’s love and agony in a fiery world

As Europe began crumbling in 1939, a new generation was jolted.
That’s true of the fictional characters at the core of “World on Fire,” the sweeping mini-series that starts Sunday (April 5) on PBS.
“They were all kids, … going through the kinds of things that we go through now – friendship and heartbreak and falling in love and making these terrible mistakes,” said Jonah Hauer-King (shown here with Zofia Wichlacz), who stars. “But the stakes were so high.” Read more…

“Chaperone” brings a tad of “Downton” prestige

“The Chaperone” reaches PBS Sunday, delivering a tad of “Downton Abbey” prestige. It arrives much later than expected.
Back in 2013, plans were announced for the movie. Based on a novel, it would have a script by “Downton” creator Julian Fellowes; Elizabeth McGovern (Cora in “Downton”) would star, with her husband Simon Curtis (“Cranford”) directing.
And then – like so many indie projects – it lingered. Read more…