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Critics' Picks

TV picks: Louis C.K., 'Veep,' Wonder Woman, woolly mammoths

April 11, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • In the spirit of giving value for money, it's Louis C.K.'s habit to burn all his material after a year.
In the spirit of giving value for money, it's Louis C.K.'s habit… (Kevin Mazur / HBO )

"Louis C.K.: Oh My God" (premieres Saturday, HBO). Funny, deep and unsparing of himself, Louis C.K. is arguably the most important comic going, both for his adventures in form -- his FX series "Louie," now on hiatus between its third and fourth seasons, grafts art film, standup and situation comedy -- and his experiments in business. He earned more than $1 million by selling unrestricted-use downloads of his 2011 "Live at the Beacon Theater" straight to fans at $5 a pop; similarly he sold tickets to the tour during which "Oh My God" was taped/filmed/recorded directly through his website, cutting out ticket agency fees and keeping prices low. (One hundred thousand tickets were sold, at $45 per, in 45 hours.) Also in the spirit of giving value for money, it's his habit to burn all his material after a year, so the jokes in this concert, from the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, are All Fresh.

"Veep" (season premiere Sunday, HBO). Returning for a second season, Armando Ianucci's profane political farce loosely transports the gestalt of the Parliamentary "The Thick of It" (and its spun-off film, "In the Loop") to the office of the VPOTUS. (And "farce" is the word: In the classic style, doors are always popping open and slamming shut.) As the titular second-in-command, trapped in the limbo of her meaningless office, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a compact whirlwind of hope and rage. (Superficial resemblance aside, she is more an elaboration of Elaine Benes than a riff on Sarah Palin.) In the way of the workplace sitcom, she is surrounded by incompetents who nevertheless keep their jobs. Cool bonus: The great Christopher Morris ("Brass Eye," "Nathan Barley," "Four Lions") directed the season opener.

"Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines" (PBS, Monday). The fortunes of the famous comic-book character and TV heroine are linked to those of her real-world sisters, from riveters to riot grrrls, in an exuberant documentary by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. A proto-feminist (and then a feminist) icon, the Amazon also known as Diana Prince had to fight not only her comic-book enemies, but cultural mores that wanted to keep women weak. (For a time she was stripped of her powers, and set up in a mod boutique). With journalist Gloria Steinem, "Bionic Woman" Lindsay Wagner (who rather resembles Steinem, it occurs to me now), comic artist Trina Robbins, Bikini Kill singer Kathleen Hanna, scholars, costumed fans and female citizens of all ages, dreaming big.

"Mammoth: Back from the Dead" (National Geographic Channel, Friday). Pleistocene Park. I've only seen the trailer for this science-as-adventure special in which scientists go spelunking in Siberia in search of mammoth DNA to clone, but as one familiar from childhood with the concrete mammoths of the La Brea Tar Pits, frozen in their permanent tableau of death and loss, I am ready for the process to be reversed.

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