Now that pledge drive season is over and you can watch PBS without the threat of Big Bird or Betty White cutting you if you don’t pick up the phone (I can say it–I’m on the monthly plan), check out the fairly amazing list of stuff coming up on public television. They’re not just updating Masterpiece Theater–they’re your one-stop upper-crust holiday entertainment shop. If PBS is assuming I’m going to be sitting on the floor, weeping and trying to untangle Christmas lights or 300 yards of wrapping paper and therefore in need of some holiday cheer in the form of high art, they’d be right. As is always true with public television, you’ll want to check your local listings, but a quick nationwide spot check suggests the following are all premiering on the same date, whether you’re in Iowa or Idaho.
Wednesday, December 12—Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner is a fine documentary on the author of Angels in America. While it hits all the highlights–the controversy over both Angels and Homebody/Kabul; the difficulties of growing up gay in a Southern, Jewish family–it was the footage of Brundibar that made me cry when I saw this film at Sundance. Don’t know the story of Brundibar? I didn’t either. The entire broadcast will be worth it just for that.
Monday, December 17—The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny will cut right through any holiday treacle you might be choking on with its Brechtian satire. If you only know Audra McDonald from the mess that is Private Practice, see her in her musical-theater element–and prepare to be wowed.
Wednesday, December 19—Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir featuring Sissel broadcasts the Choir’s annual Christmas program. Dancers! Bells! The Titanic singer who isn’t Celine Dion! Plus, the choir is utterly stunning–if you haven’t heard them do “Angels from the Realm of Glory,” with which they close the concert every year, then you haven’t heard Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played. It is possible I am slightly biased, as the soloist on “The Wexford Carol” is my neighbor, but once you hear him sing and remember that he named his beagles Eowyn and Arwen, you’ll join me in my bias.