Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

On this week's Hallmark-approved, prix-fixe weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World expresses bewilderment at the Sunday morning talk-show formula; Jen Sorensen wishes white people assimilated better; (Th)ink ponders the plight of whacked-out British eels; Red Meat tries to teach goldfish a disturbing lesson; and Apoca Clips weighs in on the Grammys.

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On this week's on-the-verge-of-a-constitutional-crisis weekly Independent comics page: The K Chronicles gets ideas at a spy museum; This Modern World examines how far back a Deep State conspiracy goes; Jen Sorenson examines up-and-coming cryptocurrencies; Apoca Clips listens in as Nikki Haley gets a cut; and Red Meat turns to the kid to find out why dad has so much stubble.

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Allegiance (Thursday, Feb. 5, NBC), series debut: Decades ago, KGB agent Katya (Hope Davis) was given the mission to seduce and recruit an American businessman (Scott Cohen). Instead, she fell in love with him, and the Kremlin just said, “Go ahead and move to the U.S.; we’ll be in touch.” Guess who now wants a favor from the couple and their newbie CIA-analyst son? Allegiance sounds ripped from today’s headlines about The Americans, but there are differences: It’s not the ’80s; theirs isn’t a KGB-arranged sleeper-cell marriage; and Davis can’t maintain a Russian accent. Still, it’s a solidly acted drama that somehow paints spy drama as dull as family drama, and like everything else NBC cranks out these days that isn’t The Blacklist, it will probably never be seen again after 13-ish episodes.

Helix (Fridays, Syfy), new season: So … what happened? Season 1 of Helix was a tense, claustrophobic Walking Dead/Andromeda Strain mashup set in the frozen Arctic that, while imperfect, still delivered a rush of dread and consequences. Now, I’m four episodes into Season 2, and it’s like a whole new show is taking an uneventful walkabout on the island of Dr. Moreau, with two storylines (one in the present, one in the future) competing for my indifference. Did creator/producer Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) think the jumping timelines would work here as well as on his other current series, Outlander? Maybe TV has hit the ceiling of apocalyptic dramas, and it’s time to make some cuts, starting with Helix. Sorry, Ron.

The 57th Annual Grammy Awards (Sunday, Feb. 8, CBS), special: The good news: This year’s rock nominees do, for the most part, actually rock—there’s nary a banjo-beardy in the bunch, and as a bonus, what’s left of AC/DC is going to perform. The old news: The Grammys is still an utterly useless barometer of quality music, and LL Cool J is hosting again. (Is it part of his NCIS: Los Angeles contract, or what?) Also: Does Ariana Grande have to perform on every TV special ever from now until her 2016 expiration date? She does? OK, understood.

The Walking Dead (Sunday, Feb. 8, AMC), midseason premiere: When last we left Rick’s Rollers, the traveling band of survivors had lost what hope they had for a “cure” for zombie-ism, as well as poor lil’ Beth (oh yeah, spoiler). As of press time (a folksy remainder from the good ol’ days of print—oh, we’re still doing it), AMC had only provided this synopsis for the ninth episode of The Walking Dead’s fifth season: “After all the recent trials the group has faced, a slight detour might prove to be the solution they’ve been looking for.” The Grammys?

Better Call Saul (Sunday, Feb. 8, AMC), series debut: While the early click-bait reviews touting Better Call Saul as “better than Breaking Bad” may have been premature (only two episodes were made available for preview, fergawdsakes), the BB prequel/Saul Goodman origin story does arrive with more dramatic confidence and stylistic swagger than the introduction of Walter White did all those years ago—showrunner Vince Gilligan knows he’s earned all the creative freedom in the world now, and he’s not afraid to use it. After a somber glimpse at present-day Saul (Bob Odenkirk) in deep-cover, post-Walt anonymity (Saul did at least achieve the “best-case scenario” he mentioned in Breaking Bad’s penultimate episode), we’re back in early-2000s Albuquerque with small-time attorney Jimmy McGill on the cusp of becoming medium-time local-TV “celebrity” lawyer Saul Goodman. Gilligan and Breaking Bad writer Peter Gould have cooked up an unexpectedly rich back-story for Saul’s seemingly one-note comic character; the first episode alone should convince any doubters who saw no sustainable show here. It has all of the panoramic skies, lingering silences and occasionally jarring camerawork (as well as a couple of familiar faces) that the Breaking Bad faithful have been missing, just with the drama-to-comedy ratio tweaked slightly. But really, don’t sweat the Bad comparisons: Better Call Saul is its own thing, and it’s pretty damned fantastic. Better Call Saul continues Feb. 9 on its regular night, Mondays. See a trailer below.

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American Idol (Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fox), new season: Last week, reality-competition artifact American Idol had its lowest-rated season premiere ever. Same-show-but-let’s-all-pretend-it’s-different The X Factor is not a lock to be renewed for a fourth season by Fox, also thanks to eroded viewership. The Only TV Column That Matters™ is jumping straight to the conclusion that … karaoke TV is dead! No more sob stories about the asthmatic, one-legged teen from Spittoon, Arkansas, who worked three jobs at three different local Walmarts to pay for vocal coaching so she could nail both notes on “Roar”! No more “superstar” judges collecting easy paychecks until state-fair season! No more Ryan “Antichrist Cheesedick” Seacrest! Yeah, I know, there’s still The Voice on NBC … just let me have this for a moment.

Rake (Thursday, Jan. 23, Fox), series debut: Producer Peter Tolan had a great run on FX with Rescue Me, but a soul-sucking nightmare at ABC with The Job. Rake, starring Greg Kinnear as a brilliant lawyer with an eff’dup lifestyle to rival Californication’s Hank Moody, is nearly as dark as Rescue Me, and would be better-suited on cable—there are probably already betting pools to see if Fox actually sticks with this for all 13 episodes. Keegan Deane (no, he’s not a guy named Jimmy Rake; the title’s a noun meaning “dissolute person”—it’s already too smart for broadcast TV) would take those odds, and Kinnear plays the charming gambler/womanizer role as effortlessly as you’d expect. And just like cable’s best antiheroes, he learns no Valuable Life Lessons along the way. Let’s see how long this lasts—my money’s on four weeks.

Mitt (Friday, Jan. 24, Netflix), documentary: As you know, it was our job here at The Liberal Media in 2012 to make sure that Mitt Romney was not elected president—hell, Aaron Sorkin and The Newsroom took it so seriously, they were still fighting the fight as late as last summer. But was Romney really as stiff as we oh-so-easily portrayed him? Not according to documentary filmmaker Greg Whiteley, who followed the candidate for six years leading up to the election. Mitt shows Romney with his guard down, as a real and sometimes funny dude who just happens to have the hair of a game-show host and the sons of a cult leader. (Tagg, Josh, Remulac and the rest come off no less creepy than before.) Maybe we should have let Romney win; it sure would be less exhausting than now defending Obama 24-7 and … [REDACTED].

Black Sails (Saturday, Jan. 25, Starz), series debut: After delving into sexy Los Angeles societal unrest with Crash, sexy Chicago politics with Boss, and sexy gladiator sex with Spartacus, it only makes sense that the next Starz original series would be about sexy 18th-century pirates … right? Black Sails is a Michael Bay production, and it looks like it—this is no cheapo-o cable acquisition, but the best-looking Starz series yet (in every sense; “period authenticity” here means “models with slightly-mussed hair and dirty pantaloons”). The story—written as a sorta-prequel to Treasure Island—and acting aren’t even up to Spartacus levels, but there’s so much flash and action that it hardly matters, especially on a Saturday night. I got through the whole review without saying “Black Sails is rated arrr” … damn it.

The 56th Annual Grammy Awards (Sunday, Jan. 26, CBS), special: Imagine Dragons and Alabama Shakes are not “rock” bands and therefore do not belong in the “Rock” category. Likewise, Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill is not “rock,” but “the sound of an old woman being strangled though a phase shifter.”

DVD Roundup for Jan. 28!

Argento’s Dracula

Dario Argento directs a bloody/sexy 3D version of the Drac story, starring Rutger Hauer as vampire hunter Van Helsing, and daughter Asia Argento as, just guessing, Odd-Looking Exotic Girl Who’s Usually Naked and Screaming. Ah, family. (MPI)

Ass Backwards

Two delusional NYC BFFs (June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson) road-trip it to their hometown to compete in the beauty pageant they lost as kids; public urination, crack-smoking and The True Meaning of Friendship ensue. (Gravitas)

Burton and Taylor

Forgotten Lindsay Lohan and Liz and Dick? The Brits would like you to try another Liz Taylor/Richard Burton bio-pic, this time starring Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West. After L&D, how bad could it be? (BBC; released Feb. 4)

Isle of Dogs

When a London crime boss’ (Jason Statham look-alike Andrew Howard) Russian wife (Monica Bellucci ringer Barbara Nedeljakova) is caught having an affair, expect a whole lotta gunplay and indecipherably accented yelling. (Green Apples)

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

A fake 86-year-old grandfather (Johnny Knoxville) and his grandson (Jackson Nicoll) travel across America and hidden-camera-prank unsuspecting bystanders in the greatest geezersploitation comedy since Last Vegas. (Paramount)

More New DVD Releases (Jan. 28)

Bonnie and Clyde, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Collision, Disorientation, Downton Abbey: Season 4, The Fifth Estate, I Used to Be Darker, Last Vegas, Metallica: Through the Never, A Perfect Man, Rush, Seasons of Gray, Snow Queen, Stonados, Torture Chamber.

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