What to watch: ‘Genius: MLK/X’ interweaves the lives of two Black civil rights pioneers

A writer’s explosive, tell-all article ostracizes him from his posh female friends to the very end. An Irishman in the Outback recovers from a wild car accident but has no idea why so many people are after him.

Those are the scenarios of two different series that are worth checking out this week, along with an animated gem that takes place in San Francisco.

Here’s our roundup.

“FEUD: Capote Vs. The Swans”: What’s astonishing about the remarkable second installment in Ryan Murphy’s “FEUD” series re-creating infamous celebrity scuffles is that it can be enjoyed on two levels. First, relish it for being a bitchy, all-claws-out catfight between a pack of gorgeous ‘60s New York high society women and the boozed-up but brilliant writer who betrayed their trust and confidence. And secondly, and more seriously, enjoy it as a critical overview of how the patriarchal culture of that time put a stranglehold on both women and gay men. That’s part of the beauty of executive producer Murphy’s exquisitely detailed (the elegant wardrobes, the majestic, Aqua Netted hairstyles and the priceless decorating choices) eight-part series detailing this nasty friends-to-enemies split between celebrated, often inebriated “In Cold Blood” author Truman Capote (Tom Hollander, whose performance is dead perfect) and his four “swans” — Babe Paley (Naomi Watts), Slim Keith (Diane Lane), C.Z. Guest (Chloë Sevigny) and Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart). Each had drunk up Capote’s cutting observations and entertaining ways then treated him like he was (gasp) costume jewelry once a thinly veiled excerpt from his upcoming (but never published) novel “Answered Prayers” exposed their unhappy lives with unfaithful men. Once they read it in “Esquire,” the boxing gloves came on, replacing the stylish hand gloves they never left home without.

The material could have resulted in pure caricature, but this classy production avoids being crass, shallow and sensational, even with its supporting characters, including Demi Moore’s tragic, rejected Ann “Bang-Bang” Woodward — who always sat outside of the circle and wasn’t invited to the table for those delicate, heavily wined lunches — as well as loyal Truman chum Joanna Carson (Molly Ringwald); Truman’s abusive hunk of a married-then-divorced boyfriend John O’Shea (Russell Tovey); Truman’s prickly, often unbearable specter of an unstable mother (Jessica Lange); and Truman’s perhaps too-loyal confidante who would peel the drunk off the floor when no one else would, Jack Dunphy (Joe Mantello). The late Treat Williams also is strong as CBS powerbroker Bill Paley.

They all deliver great performances, not merely good ones, with the award-worthy ones coming from Hollander, Watts (handling a tough part that encompasses Babe processing that she has a terminal illness), a stealthy Lane, Sevigny as the more forgiving (to a point) Guest, and Flockhart, whose bite and bark has venom to it. What a welcome return to form for Flockhart.

They’re aided by talent behind the camera. Six out of the eight episodes are directed by the Oscar-nominated Gus Van Sant, and the “Milk” director draws the best  out of his cast, including a brittle, appropriately desperate turn from Moore.

It does help that the script from screenwriter/playwright Jon Robin Baitz takes care in bringing each character to life, and gives each of the women showcase scenes. Adapted from Laurence Leamer’s “Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era,” Baitz’s screenplay is filled with put-downs and slams. But it also flings open a window to the series’ central theme –  brought home in the final episode — whether this particular dust-up could only have played out in a different era. The question remains: Could it? Series TV doesn’t get much better than this. Details: 4 stars out of 4; two episodes drop at 10 p.m. Jan. 31 on FX, and will be available Feb. 1 on Hulu, with episodes dropping every week after.

“Genius: MLK/X”: A new series that debuts this week, just in time for Black History Month, shouldn’t be missed. “Genius: MLK/X,” National Geographic’s fourth installment in he “Genius” series, interweaves the lives of two iconic Black civil rights pioneers – Martin Luther King Jr. (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and Malcolm X (Aaron Pierre).

A wise move by showrunners Raphael Jackson Jr. and Damione Macedon in depicting these accomplished leaders — both complicated and human — is to elevate the presence, influence and consul of their wives, Coretta Scott King (Weruche Opia) and Betty Shabazz (Jayme Lawson). It makes this engrossing series all the better. Harrison Jr., one of our best younger actors, taps into King Jr. ‘s vulnerability along with his political and oratory skills. But it is Pierre’s intenseness that you won’t forget. His Malcolm X is stoic and serious, a man dedicated to Islam and to a cause as he realizes shortly after a stint behind bars that the American prison system is dangerously broken and is designed to set the Black man up to fail.

By giving more weight to the personal side of the men’s lives and what Coretta and Betty contributed to the movement makes “MLK/X” one of the more well-rounded personal portraits of each. Details: Three stars; first of eight episodes debuts today on Nat Geo and streams on Hulu Disney+ beginning Feb. 2; with new episode released every week through Feb. 22.

“The Tourist”: Really, now. Who could resist a sun-backed neo noir set in the Outback that’s filled with quirky characters and features Jamie Dornan as an Irish amnesiac piecing together who the hell he really is and what led him to the mess he’s in?  I can’t, even if this six-part series (a second season drops Feb. 29) doesn’t always hit its mark. True to noir form, it’s pumped up on twists, weirdos and bloodshed. Elliot (Dornan) crosses paths with many people who could be associated with his past, but my favorite character is the hip, downright adorable probation officer Helen (Danielle Macdonald, who will steal your heart) who is stuck in a relationship with her controlling tool of a fiancé (Greg Larsen). While “The Tourist” samples from the same trough as “Fargo” and even, at times, “Pulp Fiction,” it’s still a hog-heaven meal all to its own thanks in large part to  Dornan and Macdonald. If it sounds familiar, it aired previously on BBC One and HBO Max. Now it’s on Netflix. Details: 3 stars; all six episodes drop Feb. 1 on Netflix.

“The Tiger’s Apprentice”: San Francisco-born author Laurence Yep’s 2003 fantasy novel serves as the basis for this lively animated feature set in San Francisco and centered on Chinese American 15-year-old Tony (Soo Hoo) who realizes he comes from a family with mystical powers tied to protecting the Chinese zodiac. The animation is less surefooted at the start in a prologue set in Hong Kong, but it quickly improves when the action shifts to San Francisco, gloriously re-created. The vocal cast is mighty impressive and includes the ever-busy Michelle Yeoh — wicked as a villainous character — “Crazy Rich Asians’” Henry Golding as a comedic tiger that springs to life from the zodiac, as well as Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh, Bowen Yang and Greta Lee. Originally slated for a theatrical release, this one got bounced to Paramount+. That’s great for parents, in particular Asian American parents, looking for a fun family feature that celebrates culture. But this feature would have been perfect viewing on the big screen. Details: 3 stars; drops Feb. 2 on Paramount+.

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