The brainchild of producers Sam Mendes and Pippa Harris, PBS’s “The Hollow Crown” makes inspired use of Britain’s top-rung stage directors and actors to present a mostly splendid miniseries of four connected Shakespeare jewels.
“Crown” kicks off the 40th season of “Great Performances” with “Richard II,” which is chronologically accurate if dramatically unfortunate. Directed by Rupert Goold and starring Ben Whishaw as the poet-king, it’s the weakest of the four parts.
The chatty “Richard” isn’t exactly TV-friendly; jousts are planned and debated, not actually fought, pushing Goold to rouse us with camp and color.
Splendorous in flowing robes and beehive head scarves, Whishaw’s effete, arch king is a white-and-gold sunburst in a black-and-gray world.
By contrast, Richard’s rival, the ever-sincere rebel Bolingbroke (a convincing Rory Kinnear), is pure butch tedium. Squint at his pantaloons and you’ll see medieval Dockers.
Whishaw’s Richard seems barely to recognize his own wife, flirts with a loin-clothed model posing as St. Sebastian and positively lights up in the presence of handsome favored cousin John of Lancaster (Henry Faber).
Whishaw -- who has said his portrayal was partly inspired by Michael Jackson, as if the pet monkey weren’t evidence enough -- overplays the feyness. Yet the preening seems less a revisionist spin than a royal addiction to pageantry. Richard remains the ultimate drama queen to the bitter, bloody and well-posed end.
More consistently enthralling is Tom Hiddleston’s Prince Hal and, especially, Simon Russell Beale’s Falstaff in both parts of “Henry IV.”
Hal wins us over early, with his pub-pleasing mockery of his father (and Hiddleston’s spot-on imitation of Jeremy Irons, an appealingly gruff, well-meaning King Henry).
The three “Henrys” (two directed by Richard Eyre, the final by Thea Sharrock) are gorgeously filmed, and less preciously art-directed than “Richard.”
Best of all, “The Hollow Crown” offers an unmissable opportunity to see the U.K.’s deep bench of character actors go for broke, from Beale’s wild-haired Falstaff and Julie Walters’s poignant Mistress Quickly to Patrick Stewart, who, as John of Gaunt, delivers the “blessed plot” ode to England in vivid, extreme close-up.
“The Hollow Crown” airs Fridays, September 20 through October 11 on PBS at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****
So “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” his very promising police sitcom, is welcome indeed.
The Fox comedy was created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, who bring their “Parks and Recreation” approach -- single camera, flinty characters -- to the workaday Brooklyn setting.
Samberg plays detective Jake Peralta, his precinct’s resident goofball and crackerjack crime stopper, butting heads with his by-the-book captain (Andre Braugher).
Sounds familiar, right? But even as it employs these ancient tropes, “Nine-Nine” puts a contemporary spin on things. For starters, Braugher’s hard-nose, tough-guy cop is openly gay.
And when the wisecracking Jake gets temporarily reassigned to a desk job in the records room, he scoffs at the cliche plot device. “Computers have been invented, right?” he says. “I didn’t dream that?”
“Brooklyn Nine-Nine” airs Tuesdays beginning Sept. 17 on Fox at 8:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***
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