HBO, May 25, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Larry Kramer’s angry, urgent, hectoring play – first staged in 1985 and only now arriving as a film, in an excellent production directed by Glee creator Ryan Murphy – has the strength of undiluted acid: It breaks down and eats away the insulation, built up over time, that allows us to place the onset of the AIDS crisis in history. The Normal Heart is not a period piece or a cautionary tale; it’s a bulletin from the front lines, a heart-stopping report about the terrifying progress of HIV/AIDS as it sweeps through and decimates Manhattan’s gay population. “Crisis,” in retrospect, was an oddly restrained word for this plague. It suggests policy and control – precisely the things that were absent, according to Kramer. There isn’t really much plot beyond the premise – a gay writer named Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) tries to sound the alarm, both in the gay community and among officials, over the outbreak of a so-called gay cancer – but there isn’t much plot in The Hurt Locker, either. It isn’t necessary. The Normal Heart is polemical at heart. That’s its strength. Ned and just about everyone else erupts in violent arguments, denunciations, accusations, counteraccusations, diatribes – these are searing, electrifying moments, furiously articulate and delivered with escalating passion by a cast that includes Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Denis O’Hare, Matt Bomer, Alfred Molina and (as a research doctor) Julia Roberts.


NBC, May 30, 10 p.m. ET/PT |


John Malkovich is an unlikely pirate, but Johnny Depp‘s success as Jack Sparrow would seem to encourage any actor with a light coat of squirrel fur to have a go. The notorious Blackbeard, who operates from an island staffed with roguish flunkies, has got hold of a marine chronometer by which he can rule the seas and annoy the British. You get to see the bald Malkovich crowned with acupuncture needles, but even this adventuresomely idiosyncratic actor doesn’t seem to be having much fun.


NBC, May 29, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


Chris D’Elia, who last costarred in NBC’s unsuccessful Whitney, will someday escape the corridor of problem sitcoms. He has, however, just opened a door marked Undateable and is now trapped in a small, airless, pitiless room. Undateable is an ensemble show about a group of friends who serve as dedicated wingmen to each other. And yet, for the most part, they tend to go down in flames. The show’s main problem is that the guys, straddling the line between undateable-cute and undateable-unlikable, more frequently fall into the latter camp. Some people are single for pretty good reasons.


FOX, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET/PT |


The concept is as irresistible as a corgi in tiny Wellies: Deposit 12 American women in a Downton Abbey manor and let them think (at least initially) they’re being courted by Prince Harry. (He’s lookalike Matthew Hicks.) But the premiere hour is abysmal, and the women’s cluelessness is profound. It should be instantly apparent to them that this isn’t His Gingerness, and it should occur to them soon after that the Windsors don’t perpetuate the bloodline this way. At least not yet.

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