David Bianculli

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Producer-director David Fincher is attracted to stories and characters that are dark and complex. That's certainly true of Mindhunter, his new police drama series for Netflix — though the connections that led him there are pretty straightforward.

Way back in 1995, Fincher directed Se7en, the ultraspooky serial-killer drama starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as detectives on the trail of a murderer played by Kevin Spacey.

I loved watching Larry David last year in his recurring guest role on NBC's Saturday Night Live, where he provided a perfect impersonation of outspoken politician Bernie Sanders. But I'm even more excited to watch David, beginning this Sunday, on the return of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he'll play an exaggerated version of himself in a role he last portrayed on TV six years ago.

On television, Jerry Seinfeld has not only been astoundingly successful, he's also been amazingly consistent in pursuing and presenting his particular comic vision. He doesn't do big shows or specials about grand ideas and giant themes. He does narrowly focused TV programs about specific concepts — then, within those narrow confines, he finds humor, honesty and sometimes even art.

Ken Burns became a star on PBS a generation ago by telling the story of the Civil War in a huge — and hugely popular — documentary series. Since then, he and his collaborators have done invaluable work, including a lengthy and superb examination of World War II.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The villains in comic books usually have grandiose master plans, like targeting and defeating an enemy or ruling the world. Netflix, as it's grown to become more and more of a major player in the modern TV universe, has grand plans of its own.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The original Twin Peaks series really was original — one of the most inventive, unprecedented, sometimes thrillingly unique TV series ever presented. David Lynch directed several episodes, including the very best ones: the mood-establishing pilot and the dreamy and nightmarish third episode with the Tibetan rock toss and the dancing, backwards-talking dwarf in the Red Room.

On Friday, two different streaming services present the first seasons of new drama series. Both are based on novels written by women, both have female characters squarely at their center — and both come to TV with accomplished women producers overseeing their adaptations.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

The 1996 Coen Brothers movie Fargo was so good, and so original, that when the FX cable network announced it was making a new version for television, I expected it to be awful — especially since the creator of the adaptation was Noah Hawley, a writer-producer who hadn't really done much.

You don't need to know all about Breaking Bad, and the meth-making, drug-dealing former schoolteacher Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, to enjoy Better Call Saul. This spinoff series more than stands on its own — and, as TV spinoffs go, is the best in the business since Cheers begat Frasier.

On Friday, the streaming service Netflix unveils the entire first season — all 13 episodes — of its newest children's series, called Julie's Greenroom. It stars Julie Andrews, who also is its executive producer along with her daughter, children's book author Emma Walton Hamilton.

Last week, when news surfaced about various meetings between the Russian ambassador and members of Donald Trump's campaign, Huffington Post editor Howard Fineman appeared on MSNBC and said, "If you think the Russian ambassador is just an ambassador, you haven't been watching The Americans."

As horror movies go, 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a B movie, in budget and, if I gave it one, a letter grade. It didn't deserve an A for its scares or its innovation, as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho did two years earlier, or his movie The Birds would in the following year.

Big Little Lies, which begins Sunday on HBO, is a miniseries that begins with a murder scene, and investigation, in the close-knit oceanside town of Monterey. It's a seven-episode drama, and HBO made the first six available for preview. Even after watching all of them, I still don't know the identity of the murderer — or, for that matter, the victim. But that's on purpose.

There are two things viewers should know right from the start about Legion, which premieres Wednesday night on FX. One is that it doesn't look, or feel, like a drama based on a comic book — it's more like a next-generation version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, as filtered through H.P. Lovecraft or Edgar Allan Poe.

I don't want to oversell this new version of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I don't know how not to. Everything that the movie version got wrong, this TV adaptation gets right. And not just right, but brilliantly.

The difference is as stark, and as significant, as the difference between the movie and TV versions of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- where the writer of that story, Joss Whedon, took the reins and made a television version much truer to his original vision.

TV critic David Bianculli says that 2016 wasn't a great year for broadcast TV — but that's OK, because audiences had a lot of streaming, cable and Web options to make up for it.

"The things we're getting out of Amazon and out of Netflix and out of Hulu, it's increasing our options and they're trying some pretty good stuff," Bianculli tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

The Rocky Horror Show began as a stage musical in London in the early 1970s, starring Tim Curry as the outrageously dressed outer-space alien Frank N. Furter, self-described as a "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania." Richard O'Brien, the composer of the play and its music, played Frank's hunchbacked assistant, Riff Raff — and the two of them repeated their roles in a 1975 movie, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Remember that meteorite that smashed into Russia a few years ago, with enough people filming it as it came to Earth to cause a brief Internet sensation?

The original Roots miniseries, based on the 1976 Alex Haley novel tracing his own family tree from African tribal life to American slavery and freedom, was a phenomenon.

ABC showed it over consecutive nights in January 1977, not because it was expected to earn huge ratings but because network executives were afraid it wouldn't. So they crammed the entire miniseries into an eight-day prime-time marathon, which aired, by coincidence, during a massive winter storm that snowed in much of the Northeast.

For years now, The Good Wife has been the best drama series on broadcast television, but it deserves even more praise than that. From the start, show creators Robert and Michelle King have had to deal with restrictive network standards, inconsistent scheduling, intrusive advertising breaks and a production order of 22 episodes per season — almost twice that of its cable and streaming competition.

When The X-Files appeared on TV in the 1990s, there really hadn't been anything quite like it on TV for a long time. The Twilight Zone, with its monsters and flying saucers and anything-goes mentality, was an obvious inspiration and precursor. But investigations of unusual or unearthly phenomena, dramatized in a weekly series in ways that could be scary or funny, or both? As TV shows go, that's about as rare a sighting as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

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