Honoring the wrong pianist12/25/2013
This year’s “Kennedy Center Honors” (Sunday, 8 p.m., CBS) celebrates jazz innovator Herbie Hancock, guitarist Carlos Santana, movie star Shirley MacLaine, opera singer Martina Arroyo and pianist Billy Joel for their contributions to American culture. I was going to maintain a discreet silence about the choice of honorees, having tired of making the case for the perennially overlooked Jerry Lewis year after year. But, dammit, the Kennedy Center has gone out of its way to provoke me by choosing Billy Joel over a much more deserving pop pianist: Jerry Lee Lewis, the outlaw genius behind “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
Sure, Joel had a string of pleasant hits, but how does that compare to helping invent rock-n-roll? To channeling country, gospel and rhythm-and-blues into a primal wail that changed our culture forever? To inspiring the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and countless other musical titans? To playing the piano so passionately that it sometimes literally caught on fire? Plus, 78-year-old Lewis still has a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on, to judge by his excellent late-period album “Last Man Standing.” When’s the last time Joel made your hair stand on end with a new release?
I suspect the Kennedy Center passed over Jerry Lee Lewis for the same reason it passes over Jerry Lewis: a hint of disrespectability. I say, God help American culture if it consisted entirely of respectable artists like Billy Joel.
“Breaking Bad Marathon”
Friday, 11 a.m.; through Monday (AMC)
AMC runs every episode of the now-classic series about Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin. The network did the same thing in September, leading up to the much-anticipated finale. Back then, though, we didn’t know how the series was going to end when we watched episodes 1-61.
Now we do, and it’s bound to transform the experience of sitting through the whole run. Episode 62 confirmed Walter as a man rather than simply a monster. It redeemed him as much as possible, given the shred of humanity he still possessed. But it didn’t skimp on just desserts, for him or for the other evildoers in godforsaken Albuquerque, N.M. In short, it was a 75-minute masterpiece, establishing “Breaking Bad” as a tragedy for the ages.
Let’s start again with episode 1 and retrace Walter’s path to what only now seems an inevitable conclusion.
“The Wrong Woman”
Saturday, 7 p.m. (Lifetime)
God bless Lifetime for premiering an original movie during a week of wall-to-wall reruns. The title is a conscious echo of Alfred Hitchcock, with the production substituting a Lifetime-appropriate “wrong woman” for Hitchcock’s “wrong man” prototype. Ellen (Danica McKellar) is a normal wife and mother who suddenly finds herself arrested for murder. The evidence appears undeniable, to the point where even her husband begins to believe it. Heck, even Ellen herself begins to believe it, wondering if her memory is playing tricks on her.
Whodunnit? In this weekful of shows we’ve already seen, it’s simply delightful not to know the answer. 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. See more of his work at www.thedailypage.com.