The day the Martians landed10/23/2013
As an Orson Welles fanatic, I thought I knew everything about his infamous radio adaptation of “War of the Worlds” from 1938. The 23-year-old genius crafted the program as if Martians had actually invaded the U.S., with news bulletins seeming to interrupt regularly scheduled programming. Listeners believed the invasion was real, and a national panic ensued. In the aftermath, Welles faced lawsuits, a government investigation and Congressional censure.
That’s the part I knew. But the “American Experience” documentary “War of the Worlds” (Tuesday, 8 p.m., PBS) does a beautiful job of filling in the historical context. In 1938, prominent scientists still believed in life on Mars. Plus, people had gotten used to hearing the most incredible news bulletins on their radios. Was a Martian invasion more farfetched than the Hindenburg disaster? The Lindbergh baby kidnapping? Adolf Hitler?
In the documentary’s nicest touch, actors in period dress deliver comments from people who were actually fooled by “War of the Worlds.” Some of them insist that Welles be punished to the full extent of the law, but others congratulate him for pulling off such a brilliant stunt. A lot of Americans, it turns out, appreciated the joke.
Leave it to Orson Welles to make a national panic fun.
“Styled to Rock”
Friday, 7 p.m. (Bravo)
Fashion-design competitions are now a dime a dozen, but Rihanna’s new series has an intriguing concept. It combines music and couture, requiring its contestants to make designs for pop icons. “Styled to Rock” is not interested in subtlety, but in wild, sexy looks. And speaking of wild and sexy, Rihanna herself appears on set to offer words of wisdom.
The contestants rise to the occasion with far-out clothing heavy of leather, latex, and other elements appropriate for rocking out. “You’re getting zipper-happy over here!” says judge Erin Wasson during a studio visit.
That’s just how I felt after the first episode of “Styled to Rock”: zipper-happy, with an emphasis on “happy.”
Friday, 9 p.m. (NBC)
NBC puts Bram Stoker’s characters through their paces one more time, assuming we’ll thrill to the names Van Helsing, Renfield and Harker. Oh, yes, and… DRAC-u-la! Victims rasp out the word after the suave vampire sinks his fangs into their necks. I know I should be scared, but why am I snickering instead?
Maybe it’s because this new drama takes its awful script so seriously. Given the sophisticated modern vampire tales we’re used to on cable TV (“Being Human,” “True Blood”), NBC was crazy to think we’d go for this old-fashioned hokum. Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) struts through the foggy sets, proclaiming his enemies “preening little peacocks.” The pilot features seduction that’s not seductive, horror that’s not horrible. Weirdest of all, it asks us to root for Dracula in his crusade against the late-19th-century oil industry. Say what?
The series is funnier than some of the new season’s sitcoms, albeit unintentionally. Despite my reservations, I just know I’ll tune into episode two to see another preening peacock feel the wrath of… DRAC-u-la! CV