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TV Picks: 'Hollow Crown,' Emmys, 'Michael J. Fox,' returning faves

September 19, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Times Television Critic
  • Jeremy Irons, left, is King Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston is Prince Hal in "Henry IV Part One," one of four Shakespeare history plays presented on PBS as "The Hollow Crown."
Jeremy Irons, left, is King Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston is Prince Hal in "Henry… (Joss Barratt )

"The Hollow Crown" (PBS, Fridays). Here is my man Shakespeare back again, and not a moment too soon -- the best man, to steal a line from the writer himself, "either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited."

This BBC import, arriving on our shore under the banner of PBS' "Great Performances," brings together four linked history plays: "Richard II," "Henry IV, Parts One and Two" and "Henry V," sometimes called "The Henriad." (Henry Bolingbroke, who deposed Richard II to become Henry IV, is a character in the first play as well.)

For the next month, there will be nothing on American television as good as this; just accept it, all you other programs not written by Shakespeare. You think "Breaking Bad" is heavy? It is nothing compared to the heaviness of the crown the uneasy-lying head wears, or of the "unkinged" Richard coming to terms with himself in his terminal dungeon, or the battle of Agincourt (and its prelude and aftermath), or the breaking heart of the rejected Falstaff.

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The martial "Henry V" is the best known of these because of two big movies made from it (the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh films) and that "we happy few, we band of brothers speech, but each play has its particular rewards and ways of moving you.

Four actors play the three kings -- Ben Whishaw for Richard, Rory Kinnear and Jeremy Irons for Henry IV young and old, respectively -- and Tom Hiddleston (whom American groundlings may know best as Loki in "The Avengers") as the wild-youth Hal, later the warrior Henry V. Simon Russell Beale makes an extraordinary Falstaff, Hal's substitute father figure, in whose roistering there is much melancholy. Many other faces here will be familiar not just to watchers of British television: Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, David Morrissey, Michelle Dockerey, Geoffrey Palmer, Geraldine Chaplin, James Purefoy, John Hurt and David Bradley (who would have to be here, being everywhere).

"The Michael J. Fox Show" (NBC, Thursdays). And here is Michael J. Fox back again, on the same night that Robin Williams is back again (in "The Crazy Ones," on CBS), two 20th century sitcom stars who became movie stars, who might become TV stars.

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For my money, or my time, anyway, Fox's show, which mirrors his own retirement from and return to work -- the necessity that mothered this invention being, of course, his Parkinson's disease -- is the better investment. Here Fox plays not the beloved actor he is in life but a beloved New York City newsman (and family man, which he is in life). Although this is the star's first single-camera comedy -- there are practical reasons for that, obviously -- it is, down to the title and notwithstanding the Parkinson's, comfortably old-fashioned. (The envelope-pushing is built into the star's condition, as it were.)

Fox is altered, but not diminished; the boy you fell for is still present in the man. A first-rate supporting cast includes Wendell Pierce ("Treme"), Katie Finneran ("Wonderfalls") and Betsy Brandt, who has been playing Marie Schrader on "Breaking Bad" since time immemorial and for whom this job must constitute a psychic relief. Twenty-two episodes have been ordered.

"The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards" (CBS, Sunday). It's the Emmys, back again. I have said, and will say again, that who wins or does not win one of these fancy statuettes (or any other such trophies, certificates, plaques or plates) is a thing of no consequence to me. (Which, I know, is itself a thing of no consequence to the winners and to Emmy fans everywhere.) Awards are always nice for those who get them, but statistically speaking, almost no one does; to stretch a point, such contests dishonor more good work than they honor, and I find it happier to know as little as I can about who's in, out, favored to win or mocked merely for being nominated.

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They are also, of course, an excuse for a television show, and as bad as these broadcasts can be, they do usually offer something worth seeing in the course of their many hours. I like dressy celebrities as well as the next human, and with Neil Patrick Harris as host, the first quarter-hour is bound to be entertaining. (At least once during the evening I will shake my head and wonder, "How does he do it?") A show-biz polymath whose enthusiasm outweighs his cynicism by just the right margin, he might have been engineered to just this end. (This week also begins the final season of his sitcom, "How I Met Your Mother," also on CBS, which I owe a marathon catch-up session.)

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