March 9-15: Including Killing Lincoln and Kingdom of Plants

by Fiona Rae / 28 February, 2013
A National Geographic docudrama recreates the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the hunt for his killer, and David Attenborough spends a year at Kew Gardens.


Killing Lincoln, Sunday

CSI: New York (TV3, 9.30pm). Prepare to see Mac Taylor smile. But only in flashback. The usually stern and serious Mac (Gary Sinise) may even get some of that dreaded “closure” in the opening episode of season eight, which screened in the US a few days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Mac is put to work helping identify the remains of the more than 1000 Trade Center fatalities still unaccounted for. Not surprisingly, this causes him to think back to the day he lost his wife, Claire (Jaime Ray Newman), in the terrorist attack. She was gorgeous, he was in love, they were happy … it’s actually going to be emotional.

Saturday Night Live (Comedy Central, Sky 015, 9.30pm). SNL’s most recent season (No 38), which is without Andy Samberg and Kristen Wiig, unfortunately. Nevertheless, there are some great guest stars, including Daniel Craig, Louis CK, Anne Hathaway and Sir Paul McCartney. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but it’s fun to watch them try.


Q+A (TV1, 9.00am). As recently announced, PR hack and former TVNZ journo Susan Wood is the new face of Q+A. She joins Corin Dann, Jessica Mutch and Shane Taurima.

What If? (BBC World News, Sky 093, 1.30pm). The crystal ball-gazing What If? series imagines What If Women Ruled the World? Former White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers has something to say on the topic.

Killing ­Lincoln (National Geographic, Sky 072, 7.30pm). While a certain Oscar-winning movie about Abraham Lincoln has been grabbing headlines, another feature about the 16th ­President of the United States has been quietly screening around the globe. Killing ­Lincoln is the story of the final days of Lincoln’s life and his assassination at Ford’s Theatre in 1865. It’s not just any old re-enactment of the well-known story. The feature-length docudrama is produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and narrated by Tom Hanks. It’s also the first time that National Geographic has made this kind of scripted docudrama, although Billy Campbell, who plays Lincoln, would rather we call it a “docuthriller”.
“If you’ve seen re-enactments previously, mostly it’s historians talking and you might see boots stomping through mud, people generically having battles in the background, but this has full-fledged dramatic scenes.” Killing Lincoln begins as the American Civil War is drawing to a close, and the Confederate armies are surrendering. Lincoln has just survived a second assassination attempt by an unknown gunman, the shot having famously passed through his hat. When the exchange of prisoners of war is suspended, actor John Wilkes Booth (played by Jesse Johnson, son of Don) plots to kidnap Lincoln and deliver him to the Confederates until the prisoner exchange is resumed.
The dastardly scheme was foiled by a simple change of plans on Lincoln’s part. So Booth and a group of conspirators scheme to kill the President, along with the Secretary of State and the Vice President. The rest, as they say, is history, but the re-enactments bring Lincoln to life, especially for New Zealand viewers. The docudrama was shot in Virginia, in places where Lincoln had been, which was “enormously moving” for Campbell.
“I was walking the same streets, I was standing in the same spots, and at one point sat behind the same desk and in the same chair in which Lincoln had sat.” But perhaps even more than Lincoln, the assassin Booth is given more than one dimension.
“I think there is a misconception of Booth,” says Campbell. “He was a big star in his time and he was from a good family, a well-educated family, and he was a thoughtful man. He was also full of hubris and he did something that was perhaps equally motivated by his so-called love for the South, but also by his love of himself.”

The Secret of Crickley Hall (UKTV, Sky 006, 8.30pm). An adaptation of James Herbert’s 2006 horror novel that is a good old-fashioned fright-fest. There’s a haunted house, spooky locals, things that go bump in the night. Suranne Jones and Miranda’s Tom Ellis are parents who have lost a child, so they take their two daughters away for a new start … at a house that was once a wartime orphanage run by a sinister brother and sister. Cliché detectors may have to be put away for the night, but one UK critic owned up to being “creeped out”.

The Mindy Project, Monday

Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club (BBC Knowledge, Sky 074, 8.30pm). In the past few years, British television-makers have been going out of their way to make science popular – Brian Cox leads the way, but in his wake is comedian and former maths and theoretical physics scholar Dara Ó Briain. His lively series is filmed in front of a studio audience, and each week features a different topic with clever people to explain it. There’s also a comedian or two to ask the stupid questions.

Earthflight (Prime, 8.40pm). We are spoilt this week for stunning nature documentaries (see Kingdom of Plants, Tuesday); Earthflight follows birds across six continents, showing both what it’s like to soar on feathered wings as well as a bird’s-eye view of some of the world’s greatest natural wonders. North America, the first episode, flies with a flock of snow geese as they are preyed upon by bald eagles, zooms under the Golden Gate Bridge with pelicans, and shows us the habits of dolphins through the eyes of egrets. The other episodes are Europe, South America and Asia and Australia (no walking on the forest floor with kiwi, unfortunately). As is usual these days, the series ends with a how-they-did-it episode; given it took six years to film in more than 40 countries, fair enough.


Native Affairs (Maori, 8.30pm). New year, new host: former Campbell Live reporter Mihinga-rangi Forbes, who famously tangled with employers association chief Alasdair Thompson in 2011, will present Maori Television’s flagship current affairs show. Also new to Native Affairs are Ruwani Perera (Fair Go) and Billie-Jo Ropiha (TVNZ7), who join reporters Semiramis Holland, Iulia Leilua, Adrian Stevanon and Renee Iosefa-Kahukura

The Mindy Project (Four, 9.30pm). When Entertainment Weekly is doing a whole feature on the women who run TV, you know that change is in the air. For one thing, it means there are enough women running television in the US to fill a feature. For another, it means there are women making the television they want to make. Fans of the US version of The Office (screening on TV3, Saturdays, 4.00pm) will know Mindy Kaling as ditzy, deluded Kelly Kapoor, a persona that obscured her smarts as a writer on the series. For The Mindy Project, her character Mindy Lahiri is as self-regarding as Kelly Kapoor, but a lot smarter. Her life is a bit of mess, and the “project” is getting it in order. Trouble is, she’s too entitled to see where she’s going wrong. “Everything about The Mindy Project is so very Kaling and happily spot-on, starting with the strength of the jokes and dialogue,” said the -Washington Post.


Kingdom of Plants, Tuesday

Kingdom of Plants (TV1, 8.30pm). David Attenborough seems to be busier than ever now he’s in his eighties, and here he is again in a series that takes in a year at Kew Gardens, London, in all its glorious, wondrous, magical beauty. The series was filmed in 3D (“I was quite unprepared for how beautiful it was; the motion of these things opening. Lovely!” Attenborough told the London Evening Standard), but we’ll have to do with ordinary old HD for the time-lapse, high-speed, infrared, macro and micro photography. It’s amazing, of course: plants are every bit as aggressive as animals as they fight for space and light, and the carnivorous plants are showstoppers, from venus flytraps to a pitcher plant from Borneo that shrews use as a loo.

The Art of Russia (Arts Channel, Sky 079, 8.30pm). Andrew Graham-Dixon, whom you may have seen gadding about on The Culture Show (BBC World News), tells the story of Russian art, “until now untold on British television”, according to the BBC website, which means untold on New Zealand television as well. He starts this three-part series with the origins of the Russian icon before moving on to revolutionary art and the post-communist era.


The Big Bang Theory (TV2, 8.40pm). The Big Bang Theory doesn’t have just any old guest stars; it has proper nerd-appropriate ratings-boosters. Stephen Hawking, Leonard Nimoy, LeVar Burton, Wil Wheaton … if you didn’t know who those last two were, you are not a nerd. Tonight: the second man to walk on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin.

Prime Rocks: Pat Benatar (Prime, 9.30pm). The 1980s pop-rock queen originally trained as a coloratura, but gave up singing in 1972 after she married her high school sweetheart and went to work in a bank. If it hadn’t been for a Liza Minnelli concert, Benatar may never have been inspired to sing again, and go on to make 80s power classics Love Is a Battle-field, Hit Me with Your Best Shot and We Belong (none of which she wrote, by the way). You may or may not have an -opinion on whether this a good thing. We couldn’t -possibly comment.


Sunny Skies, Friday

Bones (TV3, 8.30pm). M*A*S*H broke new ground all those years ago when it did an episode entirely from the point of view of a wounded soldier, and Grey’s Anatomy has done the view from the patient’s bed, too, but Bones marks its 150th episode by telling a story entirely from the point of view of … the bones. The victim is a young lad whose body is found in a greenhouse, and everything is seen through his “eyes”. In addition, Cyndi Lauper makes another special appearance as the slightly nutty psychic “Avalon Harmonia”.


Sunny Skies (TV3, 8.00pm). It’s the end of the line for both Sunny Skies and The Radio (later tonight at 10.05pm); these short series, like Agent Anna, are the equivalent of running something up the flagpole to see how many viewers with a Peoplemeter salute. We would hope for renewal for Sunny Skies, which has more going for it than one-joke-wonder The Radio. Anyway, in Sunny, Oscar (Oliver Driver) finally gets a decent offer for the campground; and in The Radio, it is, appropriately, ratings day for Jeremy and Paul.
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