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On The Tube

Don’t knock the rock

5/28/2014

TV 052214You can roll your eyes over the idea of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — I have myself at times. But this year’s induction ceremony (Saturday, 7 p.m., HBO) will wipe the sneer right off your face. It’s a three-hour compendium of passionate words and soulful music that makes a case for pop as art.

I’m so used to inarticulate acceptance speeches at the Grammys that the eloquence on display here took me by surprise. Bruce Springsteen offers profound insights about the E Street Band, as do Michael Stipe about Nirvana and Tom Morello about Kiss. Wait, wait — I can feel you rolling your eyes again. But I have no doubt that Morello’s fiery defense of Kiss will go down in the history of rock and roll rhetoric.

I could spend my whole column talking about the speeches, but that would leave no room for the performers. With the exception of Hall & Oates (OK, now you can roll your eyes), they suggest that rockers need not die before they grow old. Bonnie Raitt, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and Emmylou Harris form a strong-woman sorority in their affecting tribute to Linda Ronstadt. And Nirvana rocks hard even with a series of guest vocalists filling in for the dear departed Kurt Cobain.

The most uncanny performance of the night is Nirvana’s finale, “All Apologies,” featuring Lorde. The 17-year-old establishes the song’s enduring appeal as she interprets it anew for her generation. She enters a trance state to communicate the lyrics’ mysterious agonies, and clearly has trouble coming out of it as the last note fades away. The image and the sound shook me up for the rest of the day.

If that’s not art, what is?

 

“Undateable”

Thursday, 8 p.m. (NBC)

Danny (Chris D’Elia) is renowned for his luck with women, but his playboy lifestyle is starting to feel empty as he pushes 30. Enter new roommate Justin (Brent Morin), a bar owner renowned for his bad luck with women. Danny decides to help Justin and his nerdy friends with their romantic problems, while Justin helps Danny edge his way toward maturity. Behold the new Odd Couple.

Right out of the gate, the cast members find something distinctively absurd about their characters. But the writers don’t do them any favors. The punch lines aren’t very funny — in fact, they often don’t even qualify as jokes. For example, people keep hearing the name of Justin’s bar — Black Eyes — as “Black Guys.” Laughing yet?

As the characters nurse their romantic fantasies, I have a fantasy of my own: that NBC finds better lines for this promising ensemble.

 

“Crossbones”

Friday, 9 p.m. (NBC)

Set on the high seas in the 1700s, this new series pits the bloodthirsty pirate Blackbeard (John Malkovich) against English spy Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle). This is supposed to be a battle of the titans, but viewers may have trouble taking it seriously. For one thing, Lowe has a perm, and no amount of swordfighting can make us forget that. For another thing, the prize the two men are fighting over is… a chronometer. How much passion can you work up for one of those?

Nevertheless, “Crossbones” has a certain appeal as overwrought trash. Malkovich delivers a performance of grade-A ham, complete with diabolical grins and a shaky English accent. He speaks the florid dialogue with no pauses between sentences, suggesting less a pirate than a bad Shakespearean actor. “I will string up young Master Fletch in the town square,” he says of Lowe’s sidekick, with spittle flying, “and I will visit upon him enormities as to make Christ weep!”

“Crossbones” may not make Christ weep, but it will surely make the rest of us snicker.

 

“Return to Amish”

Sunday, 8 p.m. (TLC)

For people dedicated to a simple, undramatic existence, the Amish make wonderfully nutty reality subjects. “Return to Amish” reunites the group from “Breaking Amish” and “Breaking Amish: A Brave New World,” which chronicled their journeys in and out of the religion’s strict lifestyle.

The cameras follow Mary, Abe, Rebecca, Sabrina, Kate and Jeremiah as they deal with pregnancy, careers and family tension — the normal stuff you’d see on any reality show. Somehow, though, everything is more interesting with buggies, bonnets and bushy beards as a backdrop. I’m recommending the series for summer, even at the risk of being shunned.

 

“Motive”

Wednesday, 9 p.m. (ABC)

The detective series returns with its intriguing gimmick: identifying the victim and the killer in the opening minutes of each episode. You’d think that approach would undermine the drama, but no: It simply replaces a police procedural’s conventional suspense with a more novel sort. The big reveal isn’t about who did it, but why they did it. Here, the motive is the mystery.

Aside from that high concept, “Motive” is just a good, meat-and-potatoes cop show. The detectives (Kristin Lehman, Louis Ferreira, Brendan Penny) are low-key, unglamorous and thoroughly appealing. The scripts manage a light touch even amid the heavy-duty crime-solving.  For me, that’s motive enough to watch “Motive.” 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.

Barmuda