Suchet: 'What eez zees Big Four?'
Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) returns to Masterpiece Mystery! with his waxed mustache, three-piece suit and formal manner -- so formal that he even refers to himself in the third person (Sunday, 8 p.m, PBS). Poirot cuts an odd figure, but he's so good at piecing together clues that the provincial British police officers who accompany him to crime scenes can only mutter, "Blimey!"
In The Big Four, Poirot sticks his nose into international espionage in the run-up to World War II, investigating the suspicious death of a Russian chess master. Is it the work of the Big Four, a shadowy group with the charming habit of sending polite note cards to its victims? "What eez zees Big Four?" Poirot asks in his stagy accent.
Whatever eet eez, three bodies pile up in the first 30 minutes -- actually four if you count Poirot, who is buried in the opening scene. We watch, amazed, as he solves the most mysterious murder of all: his own.
The Choking Game
Saturday, 7 pm (Lifetime)
Lifetime has a genre of TV movie solely intended to freak us out. Based on Diana Lopez's young-adult novel Choke, the latest cautionary tale is about teenagers who get off on choking themselves. The story unfolds in the expected way: a baby-faced senior (Freya Tingley) is oppressed by mean girls at school and an overprotective mom (Peri Gilpin), making her easy prey for a seductive new girl (Alexa Steele) who offers liberation in the form of reduced oxygen to the brain.
The Choking Game might have been another campy variation on Reefer Madness but for the classy production values. The acting is topnotch, and the script takes plenty of time for characterization.
In other words, I'm freaked out, but pleasantly so.
Sunday, 8 pm (Showtime)
Last year I knocked this dramatic series for rubbing our noses in sick sexual encounters and bloody corpses. I found Liev Schreiber too gloomy as a fixer for the rich and famous -- a thug who solves their problems with muscle and manipulation, but not much entertainment value.
Well, either the series got more interesting or my life got more depressing, because season two strikes me as a pretty good time. Schreiber has found intriguing nuances in his character, and the supporting cast of scoundrels (Jon Voight, Elliott Gould) runs the gamut of masculinity from asinine to atrocious. The series is still gloomy, to be sure, but there's just enough tough-guy poetry to take the edge off.
Masters of Sex
Sunday, 9 pm (Showtime)
Everybody but me loves Showtime's fictionalized portrait of 1950s sex researchers William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzie Caplan), so I thought I'd give it another try in season two. The credit sequence certainly promises sexy fun and intellectual substance, but in my opinion this week's episode fails to deliver. I guess I remain the only viewer who sees the performances as leaden and the themes as heavy-handed. Is it because of a suppressed Oedipal experience I had as a child?
After he delivers a baby with "ambiguous genitalia," Masters holes up with Johnson in a hotel room, using assumed names to hide their affair. A boxing match plays on the room's TV throughout the entire episode -- a pretext for the couple to discuss the connection between ambiguous genitalia and 1950s notions of masculinity. (There's the heavy-handed part.) Sheen has precisely one facial expression -- constipated -- while Caplan is so focused on precise articulation that her character never comes to life. (There's the leaden part.)
Their conversation, which is supposed to carry you through the hour, is depressive and depressing. They try role-playing a married couple, but even they realize they can't get any sparks going. Johnson admits, "I guess neither one of us has a particularly interesting story, do we?"
She said it, not me.
You're the Worst
Thursday, 9:30 pm (FX)
This new sitcom has a curious premise: two unbearable people fall in love. Jimmy (Chris Geere) is an obnoxious British writer, Gretchen (Aya Cash) a nasty publicist. Both have abrasive voices, and they're surrounded by equally vile sidekicks. Right after a "joke" about a gruesome Iraq War death, I wondered if FX had been taken over by a rogue faction intent on getting it run off the air. But that couldn't be the case, because just last week the network premiered the hilarious and humane Married.
So I don't know what to make of You're the Worst. I'll just have to content myself with screaming the title right back at it.