PBS Masterpiece

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…