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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 60.0° F  Fair
Arts

TELEVISION

Bob Saget, bad-ass
The sitcom dad takes a walk on the wild side with Strange Days

Punchline no more.
Punchline no more.
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Bob Saget inspires a surprising amount of hostility. For years, he's been a punchline for viewers and snarky TV critics because of his stint as a goody-goody dad on the sitcom Full House. I always considered this unfair, given the comic skill with which he played the role. Saget must consider it unfair, too, since he's tried so hard to run away from his squeaky-clean image in the years since.

The latest attempt is Strange Days with Bob Saget (Tuesday, 9 p.m., A&E), a reality series that submerges him in unconventional and even dangerous subcultures. In the premiere, Saget spends a week riding with the rowdy motorcycle club Iron Order. He enters their clubhouse wearing his nerdy glasses and an ill-advised smirk, then makes nonstop wisecracks including one about his bar mitzvah that do nothing to mask the fact that he's an ironic outsider in a world of long gray beards and stringy hair.

You expect him to get beaten up and many Saget-hating viewers will relish the prospect. But against all odds, he wins over the motorcycle toughs. They laugh at his nervous jokes and consider him a good sport for riding 1,500 miles with them.

By the end of the episode, I bet, even most viewers will lose their desire to see him beaten up. For a despised figure like Saget, I'd count that as a small victory.

Shine a Light
Friday, 8 pm (VH1)

The Rolling Stones have been on everyone's mind since the release of Keith Richards' revelatory autobiography this fall. That's one reason to watch the TV screening of the Stones' 2008 concert film a chance to view the interaction between Keith and Mick Jagger, whom we now know he calls "Brenda." But there are several other reasons.

Martin Scorsese directs, bringing an unlikely sense of excitement to a show by sixty-something pop stars. Then there are the sixty-something pop stars themselves. Yes, it's old guys playing old songs, but the Stones do something profound here: They demonstrate a credible way for senior citizens to rock. The performances are explosive, gritty, sly, even sexy, and you realize the guys aren't going to give up their title of World's Greatest Rock Band without a fight.

If you don't believe me, watch the guest appearance by latter-day rock god Jack White. Jagger sings the youngster off the stage not bad for a dude named Brenda.

Bridalplasty
Sunday, 8 pm (E!)

This reality competition features brides seeking a dream body for their wedding days. Bridalplasty allows them to assemble it piece by piece, with the help of celebrity plastic surgeon Terry Dubrow. The winner of each week's competition will be granted one of the plastic surgeries off her "wish list." The winner of the entire competition gets a total plastic-surgery makeover, along with a wedding where she can reveal her new look to the man she's about to marry.

Do you, Larry, take this mannequin to be your lawfully wedded wife…?

November Christmas
Sunday, 8 pm (CBS)

Snow globes, small-town neighborliness, impossibly harmonious families yes, it's Christmastime on network TV. In November Christmas, Mom (Sarah Paulson) and Dad (John Corbett) depend on their rural neighbors (Sam Elliott, Karen Allen) when their daughter is stricken with cancer. The pianist on the soundtrack is seized by a sense of wonder as the community helps move up the holiday schedule in case the girl doesn't make it to December.

You'd think November Christmas would be too sentimental for its own good, but the movie goes down easy thanks to a stellar cast. Paulson proves she can excel in the earnestly-caring-mom role, just as she excelled in sophisticated comedies like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Allen's smile is still as disarming as it was in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Elliott's virile mustache has lost none of its power to signify stalwart American values.

I suggest tuning in to November Christmas to see if maybe, just maybe, common human decency can lick cancer.

Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood
Monday, 7 pm (TCM)

This episode covers the 1940s, which began with Hollywood studios at their peak of power. These entertainment empires had complete control over the movies' production and distribution, not to mention the talent involved. Stars were studio property, at the whim of the moguls. (We learn that the head of Warner Brothers traded Bette Davis to another studio to settle a gambling debt.) Troublemakers who dared challenge the system, like Orson Welles, were crushed. The studios even contracted with the Mob to clamp down on labor unrest.

After World War II, however, cracks appeared in the palace walls. Olivia de Havilland successfully sued her studio over the contract system, opening the door for actors to have more control over their careers. The studios also lost an antitrust suit that forced them to release their stranglehold on distribution.

By the end of the episode I thoroughly hated the studios, though I admit any system that produced 1942's Casablanca couldn't have been all bad.

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