Playthings revolt as 'Westworld' returns



TUNE IN TONIGHT by Kevin McDonough


Fans of thought-provoking, visually lavish entertainment are in luck. "Westworld" (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) returns for a second season. In its first year, "Westworld" combined the widescreen beauty of a Western with the musings of a philosophy class.


What is the nature of consciousness? Memory? Identity? Do our violent urges and darkest lusts rise to the level of "sin" if confined to a fantasy theme park where no one is watching?

Not to give too much away (or pretend I fully grasp everything going on!), but season two begins as many of the animatronic playthings from the Westworld production have gained self-consciousness. Suffice it to say they're awake, aware and mad as hell.

None so more than Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), long consigned to playing the simple but beautiful "rancher's daughter" who had been raped and brutalized any number of times by park visitors. Watching her become conscious of her character and others has been a television event.

At the same time, the pace and mood of "Westworld" occasionally strays from pondering to ponderous. The second season opener, which clocks in at more than an hour, drags in parts. Scenes of mass shootings and bloodbaths take on creepy resonance in light of so many recent tragedies. At the risk of revealing too much, the rebellion of the robots breaks into splintered factions, a touch that is too close to belabored plotlines from "The Walking Dead" for my taste.

Shot on 35mm film stock, "Westworld" does a remarkable job integrating digital special effects. That's a lot to behold while trying to keep up with the series' deeper questions.

If the mass violence reminds me of the Parkland shootings, then musings about people laying bare their deepest fears and fantasies in the knowledge no one is watching resonates with contemporary misgivings about the power of everyday conveniences offered by Amazon, Facebook and Google. We think we're alone with our thoughts, searches and postings. But the machines always are listening. And keeping score.

-- On Saturday, the BritBox subscription service begins streaming the nine-episode 1996 miniseries "Our Friends in the North." The epic follows young people in North East England from 1964 to the mid 1990s, covering the tumult of the 1960s, strikes of the '70s, the rise of Margaret Thatcher's market-based economics and the decline of the country's factories, mines and culture.

"Friends" might not be well-known in the United States, but it has been acclaimed in the United Kingdom as one of the best television productions of the 20th century. Similar to the BBC's adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," also from 1995, it introduced many young actors who would become much more celebrated, including Daniel Craig ("Casino Royale"), Christopher Eccleston ("Doctor Who," "The Leftovers"), Gina McKee ("The Forsyte Saga") and Mark Strong ("Zero Dark Thirty," "Sherlock Holmes").



-- The Monster Energy Cup Series continues with the Toyota Owners 400 (5:30 p.m., Fox), live from Richmond, Va.

-- Playoff hockey continues in the NHL Conference Quarterfinal (7 p.m., NBC).

-- A spy posing as a diamond dealer vanishes on "Ransom" (7 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

-- Having found the perfect guy, Tina finds he comes with baggage -- his former mother-in-law -- in the 2017 shocker "Psycho In-Law" (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

-- Primates reach higher in the 2017 thriller "War for the Planet of the Apes" (7 p.m., HBO).

-- A woman resists the advances of a real estate developer in the 2018 romance "My Secret Valentine" (8 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).



-- Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): stories on Cambridge Analytica; 10 years with Alzheimer's; the MIT Media Lab.

-- Composers collaborate on an original Earth Day-themed composition on "Symphony for Our World" (6 p.m., Nat Geo Wild).

-- An incident in Berlin on "Killing Eve" (7 p.m., BBC America, TV-14).

-- A marriage proposal changes the dynamics on "Howards End" (7 p.m., Starz, TV-14).

-- Madison's carefully constructed world is threatened on "Fear the Walking Dead" (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

-- Saul gets a green light on "Homeland" (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

-- Elizabeth tackles gun smuggling and terrorism on "Madam Secretary" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

-- The gang meets Robert Johnson at the crossroads on "Timeless" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).


-- The Widow and Chau wage war on the third season premiere of "Into the Badlands" (9:02 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

-- Little Paul underestimates the hold his captors have on the locals on "Trust" (9 p.m., FX, TV-MA).

-- Axe and Chuck try to win over the same witness on "Billions" (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

-- Richard's lack of media savvy hurts the brand on "Silicon Valley" (9:15 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

-- A line from the Scottish play hits too close to home on "Barry" (9:45 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).


Three years after wading into the Trevi Fountain in "La Dolce Vita," Swedish bombshell Anita Ekberg starred with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in the 1963 Western comedy "4 for Texas" (3 p.m. Saturday, TCM). Ursula Andress, Charles Bronson, Arthur Godfrey and the Three Stooges also appear. Directed by Robert Aldrich, fresh from making "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"



A sailor vanishes during a storm on "NCIS" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) ... Duets on "American Idol" (7 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) ... "48 Hours" (9 p.m., CBS).


Dylan fears a killer might strike again on "Instinct" (7 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... Talented tykes on "Little Big Shots" (7 p.m., NBC, TV-G) ... Lisa reconnects with jazz on "The Simpsons" (7 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... Ryan Seacrest hosts "American Idol" (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Pimento (Jason Mantzoukas) returns on "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... A bitcoin bonanza on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... Much smarter than a fifth-grader on "Genius Junior" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-G) ... A glance at "lost" episodes on "Family Guy" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Signs of life on "The Last Man on Earth" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Larceny on the catwalk on "Deception" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

(Kevin McDonough can be reached at

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