Showtime’s current Sunday lineup is no match for the hype steamroller of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”/“Silicon Valley”/“Veep” trifecta, which makes it the perfect-ish place for a throwback midlife-crisis comedy — even if it is sandwiched between a running-out-the-clock dramedy (“Nurse Jackie”) and a steampunk creepshow (“Penny Dreadful”). “Happyish,” starring British comedy MVP Steve Coogan (taking over for the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), does what he can with a done-to-death setup: 40-something guy hates his job — advertising, of course; it’s always advertising — and the annoying younger crowd moving up to force him out, but where else can he go? He’s hit his “joy ceiling.” There are plenty of funny moments from Coogan, as well as co-stars Kathryn Hahn and Bradley Whitford, but “Happyish” feels like a circa-1999 take on “edgy.” How about just bringing back “Beggars & Choosers,” Showtime?
Sunday, May 3 (Showtime)
Season 1 of “Penny Dreadful” crammed a lot of story into a mere eight episodes — so much so that you have to wonder who/what’s left for Vanessa (Eva Green), Ethan (Josh Hartnett), Dr. Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) and the rest of the Victorian X-Filers to battle. Witches, of course; it’s always witches. They’re out to get Vanessa, and there are a handful of scenes in Season 2 opener “Fresh Hell” that are as creepy the entire “Coven” run of “American Horror Story.” But, unlike that and WGN’s visceral period horror-show “Salem,” “Penny Dreadful” relies on atmospherics that tend to meander; there’s a satisfying story here, but it requires patience. And more candles — 19th-century London is ridiculously dark.
Monday, May 4 (HBO)
Brett Morgen’s doc “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” arrives long enough after Cobain’s 1994 suicide (sorry, no cover-up conspiracy theories here) that it seems fresh — more importantly, this deconstruction of The Man, The Myth, The Grunge Superstar is fresh, like nothing that’s come before it. Besides the usual “Behind the Music” mix of childhood home movies, Nirvana concert footage and talking-head testimonials, Morgen uses stylized animation to illustrate the journal passages of a young Aberdeen, Washington, weirdo who didn’t fit in anywhere, as well as Cobain’s own artwork and appropriated pop-cultural imagery, all mashed-up into a narrative almost as dizzying as the mixtape the documentary is named after. The kitchen-sink visual technique Morgen used for 2012’s expansive Rolling Stones doc “Crossfire Hurricane,” surprisingly, works just as well in the intimate inverse, shattering the decades-fostered grunge-cartoon image of Cobain and replacing it with a real human being. Courtney Love-haters will be glad to see that she, however, doesn’t come off nearly as well — and “Montage of Heck” has her (and daughter Francis Bean Cobain’s) stamp of approval. Just as curious, present-day Dave Grohl is absent, making this the only rock-doc in recent memory minus his participation. CV
Bill Frost writes about television for Salt Lake City Weekly, talks about it on the TV Tan Podcast (Tuesdays on iTunes and Stitcher), and tweets about it at @Bill_Frost.