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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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Almost Human

FOX, Nov. 17, 8 p.m. ET/PT |


As futuristic fantasies go, Almost Human is close to old-fashioned, blending elements of Robocop (1987) and Blade Runner (1982). It’s also a bruisingly efficient hour of good entertainment. In 2048 Det. John Kennex (Karl Urban) is teamed with an android named Dorian (Michael Ealy). It’s standard procedure in a violent age (the detective was already nearly blown to bits in an ambush). Kennex doesn’t like working with robots—they’re rather priggish in their nyah-nyah perfection—and he’s particularly wary of his new partner: Dorian is an older model that proved, shall we say, temperamental. He’s only retrieved from storage because of a shortage. But Dorian is not only more sensitive and alert than the other robots, but seemingly more human than gruff Kennex, who looks something like Brad Pitt, only with Vince Vaughn’s grooming. Ealy, with his expressive good looks and air of reticent politeness, is an inspired casting choice. He and Urban get their buddy rapport going right from the start. I’ve seen the word “robromance” used, and I wouldn’t go that far. But this late entry in the fall season is one of the best.

Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy

TLC, Nov. 17, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Within eight weeks of JFK’s assassination, his widow received more than 800,000 letters. In this moving special, we hear some of these eloquent, thoughtful notes of condolence read by a stellar cast (including Allison Janney and Viola Davis) and illustrated with footage of the photogenic President and his family. Letters is clumsily structured as it connects the correspondence to major themes of the Administration, from Civil Rights to the Cold War, but it captures a sense of how shock gave way to profound elegiac expression—one without equal in 20th-century America.

Penguins: Waddle All the Way

Discovery, Nov. 23, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


For all we know, penguins may stretch their little flappers and greet the dawn with no more joy than Louis C.K. “What does it all mean? What is my day? Sitting on an egg. Dodging sea lions. Getting through the winter.” But they’re so cute! This two-hour special, filmed with the assistance of cameras concealed in animatronic penguins, observes three species—the emperor, the rockhopper and the Humboldt—as they migrate, mate, fish and raise their young. They also slip and fall on ice and rock formations but bounce back up like rubber bath toys. And, of course, they waddle at full throttle. Delightful.