Primal Screen: American idiots
Published: January 18, 2012
Phil Ochs was a singer-guitarist at the heart of the 1960s protest-folk movement. “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune” on American Masters (10 pm Monday, PBS) explores his passionate commitment to peace and justice, as he strummed his way through endless anti-segregation and anti-war demonstrations.
The documentary is persuasive when arguing for Ochs’ unerring moral compass, less so when arguing for his artistry. He desperately wanted to be considered Bob Dylan’s equal as a songwriter but lacked genius – indeed, often lacked taste. Ochs wrote the same folk tune over and over, with corny rhymes based on the day’s headlines. After atrocious experiments with orchestral arrangements, his popularity waned in the early '70s. He became disillusioned by his movement’s lack of progress and killed himself at 35 in the midst of depression and alcoholism.
As badly as Ochs’ music has aged, the documentary makes a case for him as an historical footnote. It’s not Dylan-level stature, but it’s not nothing.
7 pm Wednesday, Fox
Some reality series remain exciting after a decade on the air — see last fall’s Survivor for an example. Now starting its 11th year, American Idol is not one of those series. We’ve been through this thing too many times to expect any surprises during the four long months between the premiere and the finale. Host Ryan Seacrest will hype every tiny development to the max. The judges will go wild over mediocre vocal performances. Celebrities will appear to plug their new albums. The contestants will try to act humble while also pandering to voters. And at the end of the grueling process, we’ll be left with a bland winner like Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, or last year’s Scotty McCreery.
There — I just saved you four months. Now go off and do something productive.
7:30 pm Thursday, CBS
Rob Schneider has never been a critical favorite, but he handles himself like a pro in his new sitcom. Schneider plays a dweeb who somehow marries a Mexican-American goddess (Claudia Bassols) way too good for him. That earns him the enmity of her tight-knit family, which includes Cheech Marin as an ill-tempered father and Eugenio Derbez as a nutty uncle.
As you’d guess, the series focuses on the culture clash, with gags referencing immigration, tequila, guacamole — anything vaguely Mexican. This would be tiresome — even offensive — if the acting wasn’t so good, the comic rhythm so snappy. Schneider based the sitcom’s premise on his own marriage to Mexican TV producer Patricia Azarcoya Arce, and maybe that’s why the indignities he heaps upon himself feel so authentic.
What can I say but: Pass the guacamole.
Untouchable: Drew Peterson
7 pm Saturday, Lifetime
Rob Lowe has spent years trying to make us forget about his creepy sex scandal and accept him as an appealing leading man. So I give him credit for owning his creepiness and taking on the role of Drew Peterson, the cop accused of murdering wives three and four. Lowe commits to the role, big time. He wears a blond mustache, speaks in a Chicago accent, and succeeds in making us loathe him.