The BBC documentary series “Rise of the Nazis: Dictators at War” (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) enters its second season. In the years 1940 and 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Germany seemed all but invincible. Having conquered France in a matter of weeks, German forces seemed to be massing for an invasion of Britain.
But was this cross-channel threat a real strategy or merely a ruse to fool fellow dictator Joseph Stalin into believing Germany’s plans still involved only Western Europe? Hitler’s intentions became brutally clear in June 1941, when Hitler renounced his pact with Stalin and invaded the USSR.
“Dictators” offers a study of the mentality of absolute rulers. Stalin’s ruthless gutting of the Red Army high command in the 1930s would reap grim dividends as Hitler’s forces approached Moscow. But in the end, it was Hitler who would display a dictator’s blindness as he disregarded facts on the ground and all his military experts in his battle with Stalin, a conflict that would ultimately result in Germany’s destruction and division as well as Hitler’s death.
“Dictators” recalls the massive scale of the cataclysmic war between Germany and the USSR. While Hollywood puts American efforts at the center of World War II in Europe, the vast majority of the fighting and dying was on the Eastern Front.
The filmmakers make the case that dictators ultimately fail because they can disregard the facts and no one can tell them “no.” Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s recent Ukraine invasion and his disregard of military intelligence make this season of “Dictators” timely, to say the least.
To underscore that point, “Frontline” (9 p.m., PBS, r, check local listings) repeats “Putin’s Road to War.”
The lessons of Hitler, Stalin and now Putin certainly demonstrate how absolute power can result in absolute disasters, but strategic blindness is hardly unique to despots. It’s worth recalling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s arrogant disregard for intelligence when he advocated invading and occupying Iraq in 2003.
• A class trip to the zoo offers the setting for the season finale of “Abbott Elementary” (8 pm, ABC, TV-PG), the most charming new network comedy of the year, as well as a bona-fide hit.
• Britbox begins streaming “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?,” an adaptation of a 1934 Agatha Christie detective novel written and directed by Hugh Laurie (“House”).
Young golfer Bobby Jones (Will Poulter, “Dopesick”) is distracted from his game when he finds a body at the bottom of a cliff. He scrambles to help, only to hear the victim’s last words, which provide the story’s title. He also discovers a woman’s photograph in the dead man’s pocket.
With only these two clues to pursue, Jones teams up with witty socialite Lady Frances “Frankie” Derwent (Lucy Boynton, “Bohemian Rhapsody”) to pursue a mystery that takes them to places and encounters both squalid and refined.
As you can imagine, Laurie makes the most of Christie’s clever dialogue, but “Evans” probably would have worked better as a movie than a miniseries.
TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
• A couple returns from vacation only to find danger on “FBI” (7 pm, CBS, TV-14).
• Gambling can be murder on “FBI: International” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
• Kate and Toby go through changes on “This Is Us” (8 pm, NBC, TV-PG).
• “Creative” projects run amok and questionable personal choices result in “Unsellable Houses” (8 pm, HGTV) only expert hosts can unload.
• Three generations begin on a road trip on “blackish” (8:30 pm, ABC, TV-PG).
• Teen angst knows no borders on “FBI: Most Wanted” (9 pm, CBS, TV-14).
Haley Joel Osment stars as a sentient robot developing human emotions in the 2001 fantasy “AI Artificial Intelligence” (7:30 pm, Starz), a film begun by Stanley Kubrick, who died in 1999, and completed by director Steven Spielberg.
Dwayne needs a mentor on “Young Rock” (7 pm, NBC, TV-14) … A pharmacist overprescribes on “The Resident” (7 pm, Fox, TV-14) … Gavel-to-gavel coverage on “Judge Steve Harvey” (7 pm, ABC, TV-PG) … Turning the Inverse Society inside out on “Superman & Lois” (7 pm, CW, r, TV-PG) … Neil is keen to show off his negotiating skills on “Mr. Mayor” (7:30 pm, NBC, TV-PG) … Jennie Garth appears on “Name That Tune” (8 pm, Fox, TV-PG) … Zumbado to the rescue on “Naomi” (8 pm , CW, TV-PG) … “To Tell the Truth” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14)
Molly Shannon and Rep. Cori Bush are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 pm, CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Amy Schumer, Denis Villeneuve and Christina Tosi on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 pm, NBC, r ).
“Okay, that was weird. The least expected story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and Lori Loughlin, star of “When Calls the Heart” (7 pm Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery/cheating plot to get their respective daughters into elite universities.
This is obviously an ongoing case, and all sides must have their say, or day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It involves some overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if anything “lesser” were unthinkable.
Television plays no small role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every single character hails from only the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.
There was a time, not that long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about young, barely accredited lawyers from no-name institutions who took on impossible cases against massive corporations and eventually won. And got the girl, to boot.
So, our current era’s neurotic obsession with elitism and inequality is hardly hard-wired.
If anything comes of this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are always essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedic. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and pitied the millionaire and his wife.
— CNN launches the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 pm, Sunday), profiling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned the decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.
— An anxious new mother joins a group for solidarity and support, only to discover that it has darker plans on its agenda in the 2019 shocker “Mommy Group Murder” (7 pm, Lifetime, TV-14).
— The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).
— An old kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 pm, CBS): Embassy workers in China and Cuba complain of mysterious foods; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of overlooked American small towns and cities; has visited Monaco.
— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 pm, NBC, TV-PG).
— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 pm, ABC, TV-PG).
— Lex Luthor is on the loose on “Supergirl” (7 pm, CW, TV-PG).
— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— After learning about her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old becomes a little tyrant in the 2019 shocker “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
— A secret room holds dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
— Hidden secrets revealed on “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
— A new trial is being pursued on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 pm, HBO, TV-14).
— Ax is determined to destroy Taylor on the fourth season premiere of “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
— Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— “Unsung” (8 p.m., TVONE) profiles the Jets.
— Pacific overtures on “Madam Secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
— Tensions rise on “Good Girls” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (4 pm Saturday, TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 pm). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling out the Technicolor blarney of director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 pm Sunday, TV-PG).
“Dateline” (7 pm, NBC, TV-PG) … “NBA Countdown” (7 pm, ABC) … The kids are all right on “MasterChef” (8 pm, Fox, r, TV-PG) … “48 Hours” (9 pm, CBS) … A vintage helping of “Saturday Night Live” (9 pm, NBC, r, TV-14).
A visit from an old friend inspires Miles on “God Friended Me” (7 pm, CBS, TV-PG) … Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual realm on “The Simpsons” (7 pm, Fox, TV-14) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 pm, Fox, TV-14).
A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 pm, CBS, TV-14) … On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s winter Olympics (8 pm), fighting over a dowager (8:30 pm, r) … Aches and pains on “Shark Tank” (9 pm, ABC, TV-PG).