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Primal Screen

Primal Screen: The Sinner-in-Chief

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Clearly, Billy could use a sniff from the smoker himself.

Masterpiece Classic (8pm Sunday, KLRN)

Downtown Abbey, TV’s most elegant melodrama, wraps up its second season on the eve of the 1920s. Masters and servants on the Yorkshire estate have survived World War I, more or less, and now face the further erosion of the age-old British caste system. The top-notch actors, along with the beautiful costumes and sets, compensate for a certain shallowness in the writing. They make it easy to get caught up in the characters’ romantic, legal, and financial problems: Will Bates the valet (Brendan Coyle) beat a murder rap? Will Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) wed the odious Sir Richard (Iain Glen)? Will Sir Anthony (Robert Bathurst) hook up with Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) despite his war wound?

“When I think what the last 10 years has brought,” says the Countess (Maggie Smith), “God knows what we’re in for now!”

Season three, anyone?

Ice Loves Coco (9:30pm Sunday, E!)

Keeping Up with the Kardashians presumes to entertain us by simply turning the cameras on a banal semi-celebrity family. Ice Loves Coco, which begins its second season, works a bit harder to justify its existence.

Rapper/actor Ice T and blonde-bombshell wife Coco merrily turn reality TV into unreality TV. Ice is adept at playing a part, whether it’s a menace to society (remember “Cop Killer”?) or a detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.  Here, he hams it up as a doting husband. Meanwhile, Coco drapes her Jayne Mansfield curves in outfits that make Nicki Minaj look understated. Each episode features an amiably trumped-up situation set to punchy brass on the soundtrack.

In other words, Ice Loves Coco is a cartoon — and a fun one. Bugs Bunny, eat your heart out.

Life’s Too Short (9:30pm Sunday, HBO)

Ricky Gervais can be a master at wringing comedy from uncomfortable subjects (see Extras and his hosting gig at the 2011 Golden Globes). But he can also miss the mark with this approach (see his standup specials and his hosting gig at the 2012 Golden Globes). When he fails to make you laugh at things you’re not supposed to laugh about, he comes across as pointlessly mean. That’s the case so far in Life’s Too Short, a faux-documentary series about little person/actor Warwick Davis — “the U.K.’s go-to dwarf,” as he describes himself.

Davis holds the screen as a pompous ass who won’t acknowledge how pathetic his life is. But Gervais and co-writer/director Stephen Merchant haven’t figured out how to make that scenario funny. Davis can’t reach doorbells, can’t get out of a car without stumbling, and can’t wriggle through a doggie door without getting stuck. We’re asked to laugh at him, and that’s just gross.

Dean Robbins covers television entertainment for the Current. Read his longer complete column each week, only at sacurrent.com

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