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Friday, December 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 42.0° F  Mostly Cloudy

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How Chris Farley came out of Madison to conquer the world

In the 1980s, I lived near a tiny theater in downtown Madison called Ark Improv. A comedian named Chris Farley performed in this converted garage, and the place seemed way too small for him. >More
 Can Otis Redding songs teach a baby to love music?

In 1967, the 26-year-old rhythm-and-blues singer Otis Redding died in Madison's Lake Monona when his plane crashed en route to a concert here. Madison has not taken this piece of music history lightly. >More
 How Madison native Orson Welles cooked up a Martian invasion in War of the Worlds

I always think about Orson Welles this time of year. For me, Halloween is associated with his War of the Worlds radio broadcast, which caused a national panic on October 30, 1938. >More
 A woman gets pregnant by mistake in the wonderful telenovela satire Jane the Virgin

Jane the Virgin has fun with telenovela conventions. Jane (Gina Rodriguez) is an ordinary young woman swept up in extraordinary events when she's accidentally inseminated during a routine exam. >More
 A to Z tells the complete story of a modern romance

A voiceover sets the scene: "Andrew and Zelda dated for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship, from A to Z." The framing device makes A to Z feel like a story told after the fact, exaggerated for comic effect. >More
 A successful African American fears selling out in the daring satire Blackish

Andre (Anthony Anderson) is a self-described former "big scary black guy" who's made it in the white world. He's a successful advertising executive who lives in the suburbs with his doctor wife (Tracee Ellis Ross) and four kids. But Andre has the nagging feeling that, in achieving the American dream, he and the family have lost their black identity. >More
 Hospitalized kids pull together in Red Band Society

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Red Band Society is the first masterpiece of the fall TV season. Nevertheless, it features a premise that practically screams "don't watch this." A half-dozen very sick kids live together in a hospital. >More
 Ken Burns ruins yet another great American subject with The Roosevelts

Ken Burns, PBS's favorite documentarian, has long specialized in taking the fun out of great American subjects (jazz, baseball, Mark Twain). His latest, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, is less a tribute to President Teddy Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt than to Burns himself. >More
 In Breathless, the sexual revolution comes to a 1960s London hospital

Critics have dutifully fallen in line for Cinemax's The Knick, an arty period hospital drama that makes its points with buckets of blood. I recommend a more enjoyable period hospital drama: Breathless on Masterpiece Mystery!. >More
 The Beatles' crazy day in Wisconsin

Sept. 4 is the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' one and only appearance in Wisconsin. This was the band's first American tour, at the height of Beatlemania, and hundreds of fans showed up to greet them at Milwaukee's Mitchell Field. But the 80 police officers on hand spoiled everybody's fun by arranging for the plane to land far away from the crowd. >More
 An ambitious miniseries gets inside Houdini's head

Houdini begins with a striking image of the escape artist Harry Houdini (Adrien Brody) perched on a bridge, shackled, as he works up the nerve to jump into the icy water below. The first sound we hear is a ghostly woman's voice whispering, "Harry, can you hear me?" We have no idea where the voice is coming from or what the words mean, but it immediately establishes a dreamlike quality for this ambitious miniseries. >More
 The 2014 Emmys prove it: We're in a golden age of TV

I was going to start talking about the overrated shows nominated for this year's Emmy Awards, as I don't understand why critics have fallen for Masters of Sex, Homeland and Boardwalk Empire. But I got sidetracked by the much bigger list of nominated shows that are among the wonders of the world. >More
 An unstable undercover agent creates multiple personalities in Legends

Martin Odum (Sean Bean) is a CIA agent who transforms himself into a different person for each undercover job. For example, he goes to great lengths to style himself as a creepy outsider to infiltrate a domestic terrorist group, masking his British accent with a stutter. Legends keeps you on the edge of your seat as Martin tries not to blow his cover under tremendous pressure. >More
 A brash outsider crashes the high-society South in Jersey Belle

At first glance, Jersey Belle comes on like one of those housewife reality series everyone loves to hate. Jaime is a brash Jersey girl with an Italian/Jewish heritage who follows her husband to a high-society suburb in Alabama. You brace yourself for the usual inanities, but Jaime proves an unusually interesting subject. >More
 #RichKids of Beverly Hills gives us entrée to a luxurious lifestyle

In the reality series #RichKids of Beverly Hills, the rich kids aren't icky in that Kardashian way. They're smart and self-aware, even self-mocking at times. As a result, you don't laugh at them, but with them. >More
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