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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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Behind the Candelabra

HBO, May 26, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Director Steven Soderbergh’s Candelabra is one of the smartest, tartest examples I’ve ever seen of that soupy genre, the Hollywood biopic. Michael Douglas—simply great—plays Liberace, once upon a time billed as Mr. Showmanship. Wikipedians probably know him as a closeted Vegas piano act who performed under staggering amounts of fur, jewels and sequins—with his thick toupee, he looked like Bob Mackie’s idea of a snow owl—and who died of complications from AIDS in 1987. The Liberace we see here is an obligingly (and cagily) pleasant creature who lives within the confines of a sparkly little kingdom he has forged from wealth and talent. He has appetites—for bling, sex, kitsch—and he satisfies them because he can. There’s not much that connects him to existence as understood by non-celebrities: Liberace is Liberace, much as Sinatra was Sinatra. Only campier. (As to music, he expresses little interest in it.) Into this world Liberace carefully, methodically introduces a new, younger lover, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon, gamely playing brick-stupid). Liberace just as methodically excretes him after he becomes a drug addict and threatens to upset the gilded apple cart. Douglas, whose performances can suggest a reptilian cool beneath the skin, brings a touch of that here, even when flirtatiously batting his eyes. He’s Mr. Soullessness.

Save Me

NBC, May 23, 8 p.m. ET/PT |


Anne Heche is a clever, somewhat briny actress, distinctive enough to always be a welcome presence, but there’s nothing she can do with Save Me. She plays a miserable homemaker who, sodden after a night of partying, chokes to death on a sandwich. At least she thinks that’s what happened when she comes to, full of joy to be granted a second chance and able to channel glimmers of insight directly from the hand of God. Save Me is like one of those quirky comedies that Showtime develops for fortysomething actresses, except it’s all way too broad. Consider it dead on arrival.


ABC, May 20, 10:01 p.m. ET/PT |


A Canadian import, this crime drama comes with a gimmick: At the start of the hour, we learn not only who’s been killed but who killed them. Then, in steps dots-connecting Detective Angie Flynn (Kristin Lehman). The framing device doesn’t really generate any unusual tension or excitement—how often in a conventional police procedural do you throw your hands up at the end and say, “I never guessed that special guest star did it”?—but I like Lehman. She looks and sounds like Uma Thurman toughened by years stuck at the precinct, and her interaction with fellow detective Oscar Vega (Louis Ferreira) is casually believable. Motive isn’t ingenious enough to motivate imitations or spinoffs, but it’s smooth and diverting.

North America

Discovery, May 19, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Discovery’s epic wildlife documentaries barely change, wherever the cameras happen to turn: They’re just predictably awesome. This exploration of our continent is spiced with a little pop-rock and country music on the soundtrack—meh—but that doesn’t diminish the impact of the gorgeous panoramas or deadly encounters between species (never, ever underestimate the pack intelligence of killer whales). Someday Instagram will be advanced enough to capture fine strands of light-streaked mist feathering a mountaintop. Until then, there’s this.