If you’re looking for something on television to get you through the long weekend, here are three recent shows I’m currently sampling. The first is brand new today:
1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything (AppleTV+) is an eight-episode music documentary about, well, basically the year when the music changed everything for me. I still have CHUM charts from this era. There is something about the tunes you heard on the radio when you were just starting high school that always stay with you.
This series makes the case that 1971 stood out like no other in terms of 20th century pop music. The Beatles were gone, but in their stead was an explosion of original music from so many one-of-a-kind artists and voices, including Marvin Gaye, Elton John, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Lou Reed and The Who.
As well as John Lennon solo, still in England recording “Imagine” at the time. As he pointed out in ’71, “music reflects the state that the society is in.” Taking the Kent State shootings from the year before and the instant musical response from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as a starting point, this doc shows how music in ’71 responded to the Vietnam War and fueled protests taking place across North America. As Chrissie Hynde says about the bands at the time, “this was our language.”
Richard Nixon is as much featured in Episode One as Marvin Gaye. There’s an eye-popping moment where even the New Christie Minstrels prank the president and his wife Pat at a White House reception, with members of the collegiate singers holding up anti-war signs and calling for the war to end.
Marvin Gaye summed up the mood in ’71 with his seductive Trojan horse of a song, “What’s Goin’ On?” Find out what was going on in this thoughtful, well-made and tune-filled history lesson.
Hacks (HBO Max; Crave). I met Joan Rivers on several occasions during the Television Critics Association press tours. She was funny, and tirelessly professional, and actually quite warm and friendly up close. But driven? Rivers was never going to give up her act.
Such a character is Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a legendary Las Vegas comic played by Jean Smart in Hacks. She’ll burn the Strip to the ground before she’ll knuckle under to some sleazy casino thug named Marty (Christopher McDonald in a fun recurring role). Still, it is 2021, and her gags about the Challenger explosion and Geraldo Rivera are getting a tad stale.
Enter Ava, a 25-year-old comedy writer (played by newcomer Hannah Einbinder) who needs the job of updating Vance’s act much more than Vance needs Ava. Can an entitled Millennial find true happiness working for a steely showbiz survivor? Smart makes you want to find out as she completely gets under the well-pampered skin of this formidible joke-diva. If Rivers was still alive today, could these two talk.
The Upshaws (Netflix). There’s something retro-real about this blue collar, multi-cam comedy about a Black family living in Indiana. It has a Norman Lear vibe, although there’s enough profanity and even an occasional F-bomb to blast things up to a present day, streaming service level.
Kim Fields in particular sheds her cute Facts of Life image as a busy wife who too often has a lot to be angry about, especially concerning her hopelessly flawed but loveable hubby (played by Mike Epps). Wanda Sykes adds her searing brand of sass and scorn as Field’s character’s older sis. There are kids, and an extra offspring with a secret, and a baby momma, and the screw-ups down at the car shop.
Epps is the fool in the middle, and you can’t help but root for him even if you completely get why Fields’ wife has had it up to here with the man. Refreshingly unaspirational.