The Weekend Playlist: A Great Wife, Pacino as Phil Spector, Kristin Sings
Helen Mirren and Al Pacino | Photo Credits: Phillip V. Caruso / HBO
When a terrific series is truly on its game, some episodes can feel like absolute perfection. Happened Tuesday with a thrillingly entertaining and pivotal episode of FX's Justified, and the same feeling applies to Sunday's sensational The Good Wife (9/8c, CBS). It has everything: sex, suspense, surprise, humor, emotion — and as usual with this sophisticated standard-bearer for network drama, a dazzling array of guest performances.
Set against the elegant backdrop of a St. Patrick Day's society party where political candidates, including Alicia's husband Peter, vie for the favor of a powerful cardinal (a sly John Cullum), this episode is an especially fine showcase for Fringe's much-missed John Noble. He shines in a series of tantalizing flashbacks as Alicia's mysterious, mischievous and deeply litigious client, who's so paranoid he brings a soundtrack of Bach along with him to drown out his conversations. His sudden murder, which pulls the beautifully be-gowned Alicia from the party into a rowdy police precinct, also sets off steamy memories from the time when Alicia was still deeply involved with Will.
While Alicia frets over how much she can share with the police about the long list of potential suspects, she begins to believe this case could blow back dangerously on her own family. Not the sort of distraction hubby Peter needs as he spars with his malicious rival Mike Kresteva (Matthew Perry, having a field day). Worse yet, the Florricks have left their kids in the care of Alicia's irresponsibly flighty mother (the wonderful Stockard Channing). On St. Patrick's Day in Chicago!
The brilliantly twisty script, by show creators Robert and Michelle King, also dangles the possibility of turning points in several key personal and professional relationships. Fans won't want to miss it, and those who've wondered what all the fuss is about are encouraged to check in. It doesn't get much better than this.
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PHIL THE SPECTRE: HBO's latest shrug of a TV-movie, Phil Spector (Sunday, 9/8c), coming on the heels of last month's inert literary adaptation Parade's End, is an odd and oddly inconsequential experiment in fictional non-fiction. Writer-director David Mamet, though inspired by the legal ordeals of the fabled music producer, insists in a title card that this is "not based on a true story," but instead is a dramatic imagining of the relationship between Spector and his lawyer, Linda Kenney Baden. Whatever.
Beyond the draw of another flamboyant performance by the mannered and over-indulged Al Pacino, bedecked in a series of wacky fright wigs, and an admirably tough turn by Helen Mirren in the underwritten role of the lawyer, there's not much there here. Claustrophobic, stagey and muddled, the movie offers two memorable set pieces. First: the initial encounter of Phil and Linda, when she enters the mansion of the recluse, who's accused of murder, to hear his side of the story. As she wanders through this sprawling museum/mausoleum, he enters like a rock-star version of Norma Desmond, rambling and raving in a cocoon of megalomania. Later on, to test whether he's capable of testifying on the stand (he's not), a mock-trial rehearsal goes electrifyingly awry. It all adds up, or doesn't, to an unhinged (as opposed to "unchained") melody that's likely to fall on deaf ears.