How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., ABC) is the rare sitcom where everyone in the cast is a great comedian, down to the child actor. Polly (Sarah Chalke) is a basket case who, nevertheless, wants to be a good mom to her young daughter. It's not easy, given the fact that she herself was scarred by a wildly free-spirited mother (Elizabeth Perkins) and stepfather (Brad Garrett). And it gets even harder when Polly is forced to move back in with them following a divorce. Her ex-husband is a bleeding-heart moron who used their rent money to Adopt a Highway.
Every minute of How to Live With Your Parents is about that absurd. The jokes come thick and fast, with head-spinning cut-ins and transitions. You sense that everybody involved in the production is having a grand old time goosing the sitcom genre, from the writers to the editors to the composer.
For some, the series will be too much - too raunchy, too silly. Viewers might identify with the perpetually exasperated Polly, who tells her perpetually excessive mother, "You've got to pull it back."
Hey, not on my account.
Friday, 10 pm (PBS)
Philip Roth, the bard of Jewish American life, has long been my favorite contemporary novelist. I can relate to Nicole Krauss, who's quoted in "Philip Roth: Unmasked": "His provocations, his sense of humor, his intelligence have kept me company as a reader almost all my life."
Captured before his 80th birthday, Roth is also good company as an interviewee. He discusses his life and career as perceptively as you'd expect, offering a rare glimpse into his creative process. We learn that Portnoy's Complaint emerged from a dark period when he was unburdening himself to a psychotherapist several times a week. He hit upon a way to "release stuff like this on paper." The sexually charged masterpiece published in 1969 made him an international sensation, not to mention a target for those who didn't appreciate an uncensored perspective on the Jewish community. He recalls being yelled at on the street: "Philip Roth, the enemy of the Jews!"
Despite such pressure, Roth has never succumbed to self-censorship. "Shame isn't for writers," he insists. Hearing his insights into such startling works as Goodbye, Columbus and Sabbath's Theater, you see the value of his approach. Tune in tonight for shamelessness at its most eloquent.
Spies of Warsaw
Wednesday, 8 pm (BBC America)
I never tire of watching the British stand up to the German marauders in World War II, and the BBC never tires of making miniseries set in this period. The latest example is a bit disorienting, though, as the British actors play French people.
David Tennant speaks in his normal English accent as Jean-Francois Mercier, a French spy based in World War II-era Poland. With his stiff upper lip and stuffy manners, Tennant couldn't seem any more British, forcing you to suspend disbelief every time his character recalls the joys of Paris. Maybe English audiences are used to seeing their actors pretend to be French in this way, but American viewers can only scratch their heads.
Oh, well. I'm happy to watch any Brit take on the Nazis, even one named Jean-Francois.
Men at Work
Thursday, 9 pm (TBS)
In a TV landscape of hip, edgy sitcoms, Men at Work dares to be old school. It's a comedy about four work buddies looking for love in New York City: the wit, the goofball, the nerd and the ladies' man. The series harks back to Lucille Ball's day, from the setup/punchline rhythms to the laugh track. And the whole thing works, thanks to a strong cast and sharp writing from actor-turned-producer Breckin Meyer.
In season two, the friends continue to cook up extravagant ways to meet women. The wit, Milo (Danny Masterson), and the goofball, Tyler (Michael Cassidy), make a particularly funny pair - the one dour, the other overeager. Milo's beard is a cause of concern for Tyler: "You're a good guy," he says, "even if you do look like a hobo who left his indie band because they got too commercial."
I wish Lucille Ball had lived to hear that line.
Thursday, 9 pm (NBC)
The 1991 movie Silence of the Lambs compelled us to watch - even enjoy - the exploits of brilliant cannibal Hannibal Lecter. How could an audience possibly enjoy such sick, sadistic stuff? Chalk it up to ingenious acting from Anthony Hopkins and ingenious direction from Jonathan Demme. In the absence of such ingenuity, NBC's new TV series about Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is simply...sick, sadistic stuff. Where the movie teased you with a serial killer's pathology, Hannibal simply throws buckets of blood in your face.
In the pilot, a relentlessly grim investigator (Hugh Dancy) has a unique trick for re-creating Lecter's crimes in his mind's eye. He imagines the murders backwards, reversing the blows step-by-step until the crime scene is once again free of gore. I found myself wishing I possessed the same talent. I'd love to clear my memory of the gore that drenches every second of this abominable production.