Worth Watching: ‘Al’ and the Fall of Afghanistan, ‘Ghosts’ Scares Up Laughs, TCM Loves Lucy
Real-world events shatter the sitcom world of CBS’s The United States of Al as the title Afghan interpreter observes the fall of Afghanistan from a distance. On a lighter note, CBS’s Ghosts is a haunting comedy about silly spirits. Turner Classic Movies’ “Star of the Month” is Lucille Ball, also the subject of a new podcast. Monica Lewinsky is an executive producer of the HBO Max documentary 15 Minutes of Shame, about a subject with which she’s all too familiar: public shaming and cyber-harassment.
There are moments when a topical comedy must put humor aside to deal with tragic realities. That’s the case in the intense second-season premiere of the Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom, when former Afghan translator Al (Adhir Kalyan) and his stateside friends frantically follow the alarming headlines from August as the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan hasten the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Al’s home country. Al’s vigil becomes increasingly desperate as he tries to arrange safe passage for his sister Hassina (Sitara Attai), who’s in danger of Taliban reprisal because of her work with the United Nations. As Al, his Marine buddy Riley (Parker Young) and Riley’s family work the phones and anxiously await news, flashbacks reveal happier moments for Al and his family. The story was inspired by experiences of Afghans and military veterans on the show’s writing staff.
Premiering with back-to-back episodes, this whimsical adaptation of a British comedy is a throwback to a time when silly supernatural shenanigans were a laughing matter. The high concept introduces a gaggle of wacky ghosts from various centuries and backgrounds—a Viking explorer, a Revolutionary War-era soldier, a Native American, all the way to a hippie from the 1960s and a Wall Street creep (pantsless) from the 1990s—who jointly haunt a 300-year-old country estate in New York’s Hudson Valley. When young couple Samantha (iZombie’s Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar) inherit the house and consider transforming it into a B&B, an accident suddenly allows Sam to see the spirits in her midst. Initially spooked, she soon learns that to get along, she’ll need to set boundaries. It won’t be easy with these larger-than-afterlife characters, including scene-stealer Brandon Scott Jones as the foppish militiaman from the 1700s who’s got serious Alexander Hamilton envy.
This hasn’t been an easy week for social-media platforms. (Cue the tiniest of violins.) First came the 60 Minutes report on the Facebook whistleblower, then all of Facebook went down on Monday. Now comes a searing documentary, with Monica Lewinsky among its producers, about the industry of public shaming and cyber-bullying, with an emphasis on the people who’ve been victimized on social media and other platforms.
The season finale of B.J. Novak’s provocative anthology is an audacious twist on a revenge scenario, starring Lost’s Daniel Dae Kim as Daniel Jung, a global CEO who never got over being mercilessly bullied as one of the poor kids in high school. His then-nemesis, Eli (Eric Lange, terrific), has been humbled in adulthood, eagerly jumping at an opportunity to make something of himself. Daniel’s challenge: “Find something that everyone else sees as worthless and elevate it to something priceless.” When that “something” turns out to be a butt-plug sex toy, Eli prepares for the pitch of a lifetime.
TCM Star of the Month:
- Before she became TV’s biggest comedy star of the 1950s and beyond, Lucille Ball was a glamorous presence in movies, though never on the scale of her I Love Lucy success. Each Thursday in October, Turner Classic Movies salutes Lucy with her movies playing in prime time. (She’s also the subject of the third season of TCM’s The Plot Thickens podcast, with episodes of Lucy beginning Tuesday, Oct. 12.) The highlight of week 1, featuring films from the 1930s, is Stage Door (9:45/ET), with Lucy among a starry ensemble including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden and Ann Miller as residents of a theatrical boarding house, all waiting for their big break.
On the Stream:
- Baker’s Dozen (streaming on Hulu): In each of eight episodes of a new competition series, 13 contestants (some amateurs, some pros) bake their hearts out in hopes of winning the golden rolling pin and a cash prize. The Real’s Tamera Mowry-Housley and former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses are the hosts.
- If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (streaming on HBO Max): After a limited run in IMAX theaters, the surreal film set to the music of Halsey’s fourth studio album makes its streaming debut. Described as a “horror-tinged fairytale,” Love/Power stars Halsey as pregnant Queen Lila in a fantasia on sexuality and birth.
- House Haunters (streaming on discovery+): black-ish star Anthony Anderson and his irrepressible mom Doris Bowman (To Tell the Truth) are hosts and lead pranksters for a series that blends the hidden-camera comedy show with the real-estate/home renovation genre. From an unmarked van, mother and son lie in wait for unsuspecting house hunters, real-estate agents, contractors and even some HGTV stars to spook with haunted-house contraptions.
- One of Us Is Lying (streaming on Peacock): Like The Breakfast Club gone to the dark side, this eight-part thriller (airing over three Thursdays, with the first three episodes dropping this week) tells of five high-schoolers going into detention with only four emerging alive. Can you spot the liar?
- Sexy Beasts (streaming on Netflix): A second season of the guilty-pleasure dating show fixes up strangers on blind dates who will need to see through elaborate costumes and fanciful prosthetics to discover the potential soulmate within.
Inside Thursday TV:
- Young Sheldon (8/7c, CBS): The Cooper home is in turmoil as the fifth season of the Big Bang Theory prequel begins. Sheldon (Iain Armitage) and Missy (Raegan Revord) have each run away, and Mary (Zoe Perry) gets alarming news about George Sr. (Lance Barber).
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (9/8c, NBC); As the SVU team hunts a serial rapist targeting mothers with young children, Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Fin (Ice-T) squirm under the critical supervision of Chief McGrath (Terry Serpico).
- Bull (10/9c, CBS): The legal consultant played by Michael Weatherly has more at stake than usual as the sixth season opens with Bull and the TAC team creating a psych profile of the fiend who’s kidnapped his daughter. Could it be someone from his past who’s responsible?