Picks and Pans Main: People Picks
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No. 1 Empire
Not hooked on this soap about a dysfunctional dynasty? It’s time to catch up!
Initially Empire‘s breakout success could be explained in one word: “Cookie.” Just out of prison and hell-bent on being a thorn in the side of her ex-husband, black music mogul Lucious Lyon, she’s played by Taraji P. Henson as a creature with tentacles that grasp at every chance and choke every enemy. The diva has a perfect foil in Terrence Howard as terminally ill Lucious, whose soft hiss of a voice is like whiskey sprayed through an atomizer. But the show is driven less by corporate shenanigans – the label is preparing an IPO – than by the tender yet cutthroat relationships of Lucious, Cookie and their three sons. Family bridges are burned, then rebuilt. Still, if Cookie has anything to do with it, some of those are likely to be detonated in the finale. (FOX, March 18, 8 p.m.)
BINGE ON THIS!
The animated short Frozen Fever gets the fun started with a new song.
No. 2 Cinderella
A tale as old as time and with new magic
How does director Kenneth Branagh reinvent the tired story of a girl dumped on her ash by a vile step-clan? Happily, he doesn’t – he just puts total faith in the tale. Cinderella arrives in sumptuous fashion, starring Lily James (Downton Abbey) as Ella, kind but not cloying. The same is true of Prince Charming, played by Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden. There are many lovely touches, including Ella’s mouse pals and Cate Blanchett‘s witchy but gorgeously costumed stepmommie dearest. This one’s a winner – take the family and vacuum out the cinders later. (For more on Cinderella, see page 62.)(March 13, PG)
No. 3 Nathan Sykes, ‘More Than You’ll Ever Know’
Judging by this first solo release, Sykes will be remembered as more than a boy bander or Ariana Grande’s ex. Over retro horns, jazzy guitars and innocently lovesick lyrics (“You’re the closest thing to heavenly nature”), Sykes proves he has some seriously soulful pipes. Who knew?
No. 4 Community
A sitcom so clever it tipped toward the intimidatingly insular, the intensely loved, little-watched Community has moved to Yahoo for a new season. The show, which always had the hum of a neurotically compulsive hive that might kill its queen with too much jelly, plays a bit flat without castmates Donald Glover and Yvette Nicole Brown. But that’s just the first two episodes. There are still unmissable, off-the-wall bits, including a Portuguese Gremlins rip-off, Knee-High Mischief. (Streaming March 17)
No. 5 iZombie
Bright, disciplined medical resident Liv Moore (Rose McIver) goes to a party and lives to regret it – after she dies, that is. A zombie fever sweeps through all the partiers before they seemingly self-destruct. Reborn a monster who wants to eat brains, sole surviving zombie Liv – honey, you know your name is so ironic it’s sad, don’t you? – gets a job at the coroner’s. (Free meals.) Then it dawns on her that she has real forensic talent. What is this, The Walking Veronica Mars? Yes, and it’s a lot of fun. (CW, March 17, 9 p.m.)
No. 6 Allison Moorer, Down to Believing
Breaking up but not breaking down
The autobiographical album is nothing new, but Moorer isn’t kidding around: Believing, which is more about wounds received than wounds healed, touches not only on her breakup with husband Steve Earle but on the experience of raising their autistic son – summed up by “Mama Let the Wolf In,” a song both hard-strumming and self-castigating. But Moorer, a superb singer, has too much edge, drive and energy to wallow, and her lyrics pare the throbbing pain down to a minimal plainness: “I lost my crystal ball/Found me a wrecking ball.” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” which she covers here, fits right in. (March 17)
No. 7 The Royals
Mayhem, majesty and malice at the palace
“It smells of sex in here!” So proclaims Helena, queen of E!’s madcap version of Great Britain, upon barging into her unruly daughter’s bedroom. But, because Her Highness is played by Hurley, Helena’s disapproval is delivered with a note of glimmer-eyed appreciation for all things carnal. She’d smack her lips if they weren’t glossed. Royals, E!’s first scripted series, is good trash, a monarchical soap that banishes plausibility to the Tower. In the premiere the death of the heir to the throne is treated as a terrible bother that might rank with, or below, a Corgi that needs to be let out. (E!, March 15, 10 p.m.)
No. 8 Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘I Really Like You’
The catchiest thing Jepsen has released since her bubblegum breakout single “Call Me Maybe, ” the similarly crush-inspired “Like You” sounds like an instant classic. Sustained by frothy synths and pleasurably mindless repetition – a whopping 67 “really”s in 3.5 minutes! – this is a strong if premature contender for song of the summer. Spring, for sure. We really like it.
No. 9 It Follows
Jay (Maika Monroe) is stuck with a bizarre curse passed on through intercourse: She’s followed by ghouls visible only to her. They’re easy to escape – taking human form, they walk slowly in an unnerving, unswerving line and appear to be clumsy, even inept – but they’re dogged. Once caught, you’re toast. None of this makes one lick of sense, but Follows hooks a viewer with the pure illogical dread of a nightmare. It’s some kind of classic. (March 13, R)
No. 10 Southern Charm
Sweet tea, a Senate race and fresh scandal – welcome back to life among the deceptively genteel and moneyed set of Charleston. Some of the cast have matured in season 2 (eternal frat boy Shep opened a restaurant, and Cameran is now a newlywed), but there are still enough love triangles to make a belle blush behind her fan. (Bravo, March 16, 10 p.m.)
No. 11 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Co-created by Tina Fey, this peculiar but sporadically very funny sitcom stars The Office‘s Ellie Kemper as Kimmy. Liberated from the bunker she shared with three other women – followers of a cult leader who assured them Armageddon had hit – Kimmy heads to New York City (like many more conventional, just as mindlessly upbeat sitcom heroines) and finds work with a society lady. Of course, vain, neurotic Jacqueline Vorhees (30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski) is the one who’s not free. When Kimmy tells her she looks like a million bucks, she tears up: “I know you didn’t mean that to be hurtful.” (Now streaming)
No. 12 The Best New Books
A memoir about family and forgiveness, a modern Madame Bovary and a thriller set in the Vatican
The Fifth Gospel
A quirky curator is murdered shortly before his Vatican exhibit about the Shroud of Turin is due to open. Police arrest Simon, a priest, but his brother, also a priest, is convinced Simon is innocent and starts an investigation. This smart, suspenseful thriller by the coauthor of The Rule of Four is a must for Dan Brown fans.
Jill Alexander Essbaum
Anna lives in a Swiss town with a loyal husband and sweet children – and she’s dying of boredom. So, like others before her (Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina), she turns, ever more recklessly, to lovers and lies. Sexy and insightful, this gorgeously written novel opens a window into one woman’s desperate soul.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
George Hodgman Bettyville
“At least once, everyone should see someone through,” Hodgman writes. “All the way home.” This lovely memoir is the story of his turn: the months the veteran editor spent back in Paris, Mo., caring for his 91-year- old mother. He’s a gay man and recovering addict who hides hard truths with humor; she’s from “a generation that existed before feelings were spoken of.” Slowly – convincingly – they come to terms with each other. You won’t finish their tale dry-eyed.
GREAT NEW YOUNG ADULT BOOKS
Irreverent teen Mim Malone narrates this memorable account of running away from her remarried dad in Mississippi to see her beloved, possibly dying, mother in Ohio.
The Alex Crow
There’s no way this sci-fi tale about a war refugee at an American summer camp and a doomed 19th-century Arctic exploration should work – but it’s a surreal masterpiece.
While his mother hid Jews in their Vienna attic during World War II, the author unwillingly served the Third Reich. An astonishing rediscovered memoir.