Picks and Pans Main: TV
CBS (Sun., May 8, 9 p.m. ET and Wed., May 11, 8 p.m. ET)
Asked in 1992 which Elvis Presley they wanted on a stamp, Americans said skinny, not fat—simple as that. But this workmanlike miniseries tries to be more balanced, celebrating his sensational ascent without ignoring his creative stagnation and personal decline. Too bad Elvis lacks the stomach to follow him all the way down.
Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays Elvis from 1952, when he’s bursting with energy and ambition, to 1968, as anxiety grips him moments before the taping of a comeback TV special. Though he overdoes the patented Presley sneer, Rhys Meyers sustains the seductive drawl and projects the animal magnetism that drives girls wild. He remains believable when the King turns bored, petulant and jealous of usurpers like the Beatles.
Women figure prominently in Elvis’s life, particularly his fretful mama (a convincing Camryn Manheim) and young love Priscilla (Antonia Bernath). But the key relationship here is with manager Tom Parker, portrayed as a greedy gasbag by Randy Quaid. When the story cuts off nine years before Elvis’s death, we’re left with the impression that his inability to escape Parker’s clutches made the superstar’s sad end inevitable. Maybe so, but I wonder if the filmmakers just wanted to keep Fat Elvis out of the picture.