The real Liberace5/22/2013
In “Behind the Candelabra” (Sunday, 8 p.m.), HBO assembles high-quality artists to tell the story of a low-quality one: the glitzy piano player Liberace. Steven Soderbergh directs, Michael Douglas camps it up as the inexplicably popular musician, and Matt Damon throws himself into the role of Scott, Liberace’s boy toy from the 1970s and ’80s.
The title promises to take us behind Liberace’s pose as a narcissistic, flamboyant heterosexual. What we find is a narcissistic, flamboyant homosexual, unappealing in every way. He uses people; he lies; he whines about his problems. His relationship with Scott follows a predictable arc from debauchery to disenchantment, with copious amounts of pills and plastic surgery along the way. The movie satisfies our voyeuristic curiosity, but there’s not much more to it than that.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy every second of “Behind the Candelabra.” It’s not often you get to see Douglas and Damon having hot sex with each other. Or Rob Lowe pushing drugs in a stunning 1970s coiffure. The movie delights in bad behavior, bad clothes and bad music. Like Liberace himself, it manages to hold your attention.
Thursday, 8 p.m. (ABC)
Most police procedurals tease you with “whodunit,” only unveiling the perp at the end. “Motive” takes a different approach, brazenly identifying the killer in the opening minutes of each episode. You can’t miss him: He’s the one with the title “The Killer” under his mug. Similarly, the soon-to-be-dead person is tagged with the title “The Victim.”
So you know exactly where the episode is headed, but you don’t know why. That’s the part “Motive” conceals until the end, and damned if you don’t keep watching to learn the answer.
It helps that the heroine, Detective Angie Flynn, is such good company. Kristin Lehman (“The Killing”) is stunning in this role. Her detective is witty, brassy, earthy and flirty. She’s believable as a working-class single mother with a knack for thinking her way through a crime scene.
In the sneak preview earlier this week, a high school band geek was “The Killer,” and a popular science teacher was “The Victim.” It was impossible to figure out why the student would kill the teacher…and that’s where a witty, brassy, earthy, flirty detective comes in handy.
We all mourn the TV masterpieces cut off in their prime — shows like “My So-Called Life” and “Freaks and Geeks,” which could have offered so much more pleasure if only low ratings hadn’t gotten in the way. For many of us, such tragic cancellations prove there is no God.
The dysfunctional-family comedy “Arrested Development” suffered such a premature death, having been axed in 2006 after only three seasons. But what’s this? The series is back with 15 new episodes, released simultaneously on Netflix? With original cast members Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Will Arnett?
I can’t wait to watch the episodes all in one sitting. But first I have to go to church and give thanks. CV
Dean Robbins is a syndicated TV columnist from Madison, Wis. He graduated from Grinnell College and went on to become an award-winning journalist, but he’s been a committed couch potato long before he figured out a way to get paid for watching TV. See more of his work at www.thedailypage.com.