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Primal Screen

A teenager films himself in 'Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous'

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Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous (9:30pm Thu, MTV)
Viral-video star Bo Burnham is well cast as a would-be viral-video star as Zach Stone, a motormouth high school dork obsessed with his post-graduation plan: making a reality show about his life. With a two-man video crew in tow, he puzzles his family and friends by playing to the cameras throughout the ordinary moments of the day. At breakfast, for example, he calls for a retake when he’s dissatisfied with his reaction to the news of distant relative’s death.

“Really, Jesus, REALLY?” he cries, gesturing to heaven in his new-and-improved reaction. As his parents look on in horror, Zach says, “Annnd…scene! Nailed it!”

In one way, Zach’s project is about reshaping reality. He’s intent on making himself seem more fascinating than he really was in high school for an imagined audience. Thus, he joins a parade of American characters — Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, Holden Caulfield — who specialize in reinvention. And of course, a modern kid like Zach would accomplish such a transformation via DIY video.  

But in another way, Zach’s project is born of fear. As friends prepare to leave for college, he throws himself into his project as a way to stabilize his suddenly unstable world. Over the course of the first episode (co-written by Burnham), we perceive desperation in Zach’s bravado. And that lends this farce an unexpected depth.

Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous looks to be one the spring’s best new shows. As Zach himself would say: Nailed it!

Manhunt (7pm Wed, HBO)
This is a documentary version of Zero Dark Thirty, taking us deep inside the CIA effort to combat Osama Bin Laden. We meet the analysts and operatives who spent entire careers on the project, beginning when Al Qaeda had yet to be ID’ed in the 1990s. The analysts are largely female, and one of them insists this is no accident: “We [women] have patience and perseverance, and we’re not always looking for the sexy payoff immediately.” The analysts explain how they connected the dots as fragmentary intelligence emerged about a new kind of terrorist organization. Before 9/11, male supervisors accused them of spending too much time on Bin Laden, using stereotypes about women like “overly emotional.”

“Yes, we were borderline obsessed,” says analyst Cindy Storer. “But I thought it was for a good reason.”

There you have it, folks: the understatement of the decade.

Rihanna 777 (7pm Mon, Fox)
This documentary captures Rihanna’s “Unapologetic” tour, in which she performed seven concerts in seven days in seven cities around the world. Word has it that Fox bid for the rights to Rihanna 777 so it could develop a relationship with her, hoping to put her on the judges’ panel for one of its vocal competitions.

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