“Law & Order” premiered 30 years ago Sunday. Its now-familiar split of half cop show and half lawyer show wasn’t just a jazzy narrative gimmick. From The Times’s 1990 review: “Part of the reason that ‘Law & Order’ was constructed this way is that hourlong shows do not sell well in syndication. By dividing it in half, the producers create the possibility that the program could be marketed later as two separate half-hour dramas.” Seems like the syndication stuff worked out.
This new documentary is about the week in 1968 when Harry Belafonte hosted “The Tonight Show,” sitting in for Johnny Carson. His guests included entertainers like Aretha Franklin, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell and Buffy Sainte-Marie, and also political leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Sadly, not all of the footage has survived. But in a moment when the mutual feedback loop of TV, politics and racism continues to engulf us all, it’s worth examining instances when pop culture breaks out of its worst ruts — and why some of those instances are largely forgotten.
William Bracewell and Francesca Hayward in “Romeo and Juliet.”PBS
‘Romeo and Juliet’
When to watch: Friday at 9 p.m., on PBS. (Check local listings.)
As our pandemic isolation continues, performing arts programming has been both a vital joy and also a quiet heartbreaker. Watching a recording of a live show sometimes feels like it’s just rubbing its now-alien live qualities in your face: You know that tiny thrill of being able to tell exactly who clapped the last clap at the end of a round of applause? Well, who knows when you’ll experience that again! Enjoy this video of an opera! This dreamy, intimate and expressive adaptation of the ballet “Romeo and Juliet” — directed by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, set to Sergei Prokofiev’s score, choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, and starring William Bracewell and Francesca Hayward — is a bright relief, then. It’s a movie that was always meant to be a movie.
Season 7 of this CBS sitcom is now streaming, and even though the jokes aren’t very good, the stories are. Because this is a show about sobriety, its themes involving self-acceptance, meaningful friendship and the ability to endure and contextualize pain are often telling a grander tale than the sitcom mugging would suggest. Anna Faris recently announced that she is leaving the show, but the series has reinvented itself a few times already. As long as Allison Janney is still on board, “Mom” will be fine.
Your Friday double feature: Denis Villeneuve
Hugh Jackman with Paul Dano in “Prisoners.”Wilson Webb/Warner Brothers Pictures
‘Prisoners’ and ‘Incendies’
Since coming to Hollywood, the French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has gone on such a formidable run of dark thrillers and science-fiction films that he convinced a major studio to give him another crack at Frank Herbert’s “Dune,” due for release this December. From 2015 to 2017, Villeneuve turned out “Sicario,” “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” all dark-hued and heavy in mood, with a common emphasis on using settings and landscapes to evoke character.
Villeneuve’s first American film, “Prisoners,” now streaming on Hulu, offers a look at how he made the leap from Quebec to Tinseltown. His take on the vigilante thriller has the visceral punch of an exploitation movie, following two sets of parents (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello, and Terrence Howard and Viola Davis) as they go to extrajudicial lengths to find their abducted daughters. Yet “Prisoners” feels like a suburban “Seven,” played out against a sunless backdrop of middle-class decay that seems to consume everything, including the souls of good people in a desperate situation.
The types of shocking twists at the center of “Prisoners” reach an even more devastating effect in Villeneuve’s previous film, “Incendies,” a story about the poisonous legacy of religious intolerance and civil war. It opens in Canada as a notary hands the adult twin children (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) of a recently deceased Arab immigrant mother two envelopes she wanted delivered — one to the father they thought was dead, the other to the brother they didn’t know they had. Threading the twins’ search with flashbacks to their mother’s traumatic past in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, “Incendies” registers how violence and intolerance can leave a stain on future generations. — Scott Tobias
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