A welcome return to Riverdale

Skeet Ulrich, Mӓdchen Amick, Trinity Likins, Cole Sprouse, and Lili Reinhart in Riverdale

Skeet Ulrich, Mӓdchen Amick, Trinity Likins, Cole Sprouse, and Lili Reinhart in Riverdale
Photo: The CW

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Wednesday, January 27. All times are Eastern. 

Top pick

Riverdale (The CW, 8 p.m.): Riverdale returned for its fifth season last week with a premiere charmingly counterprogrammed against the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States. So maybe you tuned into Hot Archie, or maybe you watched a shivering Tom Hanks introduce Katy Perry, who then introduced literal fireworks by singing about a metaphorical firework. (The firework is you, you’re the firework. Or maybe a plastic bag. It’s unclear.) If the latter description fits, you’ve got the rest of the day to catch up with Riverdale before tonight’s episode, “Chapter Seventy-Eight: The Preppy Murders,” kicks off. According to our own Charles Bramesco, such an endeavor is well worth your time. Here he is on last week’s “Chapter Seventy-Seven: Climax”:

The series’ inimitable flavor of lurid silliness returns as a tonic this week, the pure hit of escapism we’ve been waiting for. There’s no virus in Riverdale, no need to bump elbows instead of locking lips, no social distancing. In fact, the chiefest pleasure comes from the lack of space between bodies; we’re here in part to watch these professionally good-looking people mash their faces together and share in each other’s beauty. To be close shouldn’t be so much to cherish, but simple closeness has grown scarce. “Chapter Seventy-Seven” doles out challenges to the main romantic relationships rather than basking in the heat they radiate, and still, there’s plenty of warmth to defrost the loyal viewership after making it through the frostbitten wasteland of 2020.

Sounds like just what we need. Look for Charles’ recap this evening.

Regular coverage

From Film Club

Penguin Bloom (Netflix, 3:01 a.m., premiere): “No penguins appear in Netflix’s new weepie Penguin Bloom, and a cynical person might assume that such a misleading title must have been generated by the company’s fabled algorithm (with Bloom thrown in to remind older viewers of Bloom County and its beloved penguin character, Opus). In truth, the film was adapted from an Australian memoir of the same name, though the book’s U.S. publisher initially chose to market it more straightforwardly as Penguin The Magpie: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved A Family. Written by photographer Cameron Bloom (with Bradley Trevor Greive), and itself inspired by his family’s popular Instagram account, this bestseller chronicles the harrowing-to-heartwarming period immediately after his wife, Sam, suffered a spinal-cord injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Depressed and despondent, feeling utterly useless, Sam had trouble—mentally much more than physically—just getting out of bed in the morning… until one of her three young sons found a baby magpie that had fallen out of its nest, and brought ‘Penguin’ (named for its black and white plumage) home in order to care for it.” Read the rest of Mike D’Angelo’s film review. 

Wild card

Flack (Amazon, complete first season now streaming): American audiences are a few years behind on Flack: The first season debuted in the U.K. in February 2019, with a second season airing on W in April 2020. Flack was supposed to appear in the States on Pop TV, but that plan was abandoned after network budget cuts. Amazon Prime has since picked up the series, and the first six episodes finally became available for streaming last Friday. Flack is an explosive, trashy, imminently watchable series about public relations string-pullers, like Scandal if Olivia Pope were a cokehead who only dealt with celebrities in London instead of Washington. Oscar winner Anna Paquin, so egregiously wasted in The Affair, portrays Robyn, in the fixer-who-can-tackle-everyone-else’s-problems-but-her-own role, but she does so in a winningly tragic manner. With each PR challenge more sordid than the next, Robyn also heads into a downward spiral, her constant spinning out making it difficult for her to discern truth from façade, even in her own life. It’s like a shiny, bloodless car crash; you can’t look away. Episode five of six is the standout thus far—a bottle episode with a revelatory guest star turn by Bradley Whitford. No word yet on when season two will arrive on Amazon, but we’ll be anxiously awaiting it. [Gwen Ihnat ]

Resident Alien (USA and Syfy, 10 p.m., series premiere): “At the conclusion of the first episode of Resident Alien, the new Syfy dramedy starring Alan Tudyk, viewers could be forgiven for thinking they’re essentially watching an extremely high-concept version of Monk: There’s a murder mystery, an extremely awkward lead character asked to help solve the crime, and a parade of supporting townsfolk there to interact in humorously strange ways. But the show quickly reveals itself to be nothing of the sort, simultaneously far odder and more pedestrian than Tony Shalhoub’s police procedural; for one, there’s an intergalactic alien running around trying to find missing pieces of his ship, all while disguised as a small-town doctor. But whenever those alien shenanigans get put on hold, Resident Alien quickly pivots into a lukewarm primetime soap, like Everwood without the heartwarming twists on stock character types. And while there’s promise in both concepts, the early going is an unwieldy fusion of the two.” Read the rest of Alex McLevy’s pre-air review.

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