When it comes to horror movies, there are few things as haunting as scenes of abandoned schoolyards, playgrounds, and children’s toys. “Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes” (8 p.m., HBO) isn’t a horror movie, but it does contain such scenes, and it’s way scarier than any horror movie.
We’re told up front that most of the “Lost Tapes” footage has never been seen before. This is not a lost exposition but a sober reflection on the famous nuclear reactor meltdown and its aftermath using Soviet-era archival footage. Some of it is derived from official footage covering the disaster, but much of it comes from industrial films produced by USSR authorities to extol the modernity and promise of the Chernobyl nuclear village, a prototype for many others. which, for obvious reasons, were never built.
Prior to the disaster, Chernobyl was considered a great place to live, a pleasant planned community filled with young people and growing families. It looks like a brutalist Levittown, filled with newly built playgrounds and saplings.
The use of animation in these “promotional” clips reinforces the ironic atmosphere of the sci-fi film. It may seem like the first act of “Jurassic Park” during the “What Could Go Wrong?” phase.
The tone and the film change when we come to the grim events of April 1986. As has been well documented, it took days for authorities far away in Moscow to evacuate the population, despite numerous reports of firefighters and technicians dying quickly from radiation poisoning.
“Lost Tapes” makes it clear that Moscow’s failure to admit disaster and its aftermath was a key element in the collapse of the Soviet Union. We see Kremlin officials trying to play down radiation reports juxtaposed with footage of farmers showing off their bizarre livestock born in the wake of the collapse. Faced with thousands of cases of collapse-related cancers, birth defects, and human malformations, Soviet doctors were ordered to attribute illnesses to something other than radiation. And rather than containing dissent and unrest, these transparent cover-ups have only fueled public frustrations.
Absolutely fascinating as recent history, “Chernobyl” comes at a time when the haunted city and reactor have returned to the news. Russian forces have entered the Chernobyl dead zone as part of their invasion of Ukraine, raising fears they could poison civilians and themselves. And in a throwback to the Soviet era, Russia’s isolated government has declared war on objective reporting.
Just as the USSR banned the word “radiation,” the Putin-controlled media made it illegal to call the “special operation” a “war.” In both incidents, a centralized authority turned to Orwellian bandages to explain the massive casualties.
The war on the word ‘war’ in Moscow has come as many in that country have moved to ban textbooks, censor teachers and condemn any report that strays from their narrative as ‘fake news’. . Other media sources, including Fox News, have used their influence to sabotage Americans’ vaccination efforts even as more than a million lives have been claimed by the COVID pandemic.
A war against the truth can claim many victims. “Chernobyl” has many lessons, not just for Russians.
“Okay, that was weird. The least anticipated story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and “When Calls the Heart” star Lori Loughlin (7 p.m. Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery plot / cheating to get their respective daughters into elite universities.
This is obviously an ongoing case, and all parties must have their say, or one day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It implies an overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if something “less” was unthinkable.
Television plays a significant role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every character hails from the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.
There was a time, not too long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about barely accredited young lawyers from anonymous institutions who took on impossible cases against huge corporations and ultimately won. And I got the girl, to boot.
Thus, the neurotic obsession of our present age with elitism and inequality is hardly entrenched.
If anything stands out from this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are still essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedy. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and felt sorry for the millionaire and his wife.
— CNN debuts the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 p.m., Sunday), chronicling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.
— An anxious new mother joins a solidarity and support group, only to find he has darker plans on his agenda in shock 2019 “Mommy Group Murder” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
– The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).
— A former kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
— Program on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): embassy employees in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of neglected small towns in America; a visit to Monaco.
— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
– Lex Luthor is free on “Supergirl” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).
— After discovering her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old girl becomes a little bully in the 2019 clash “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
— A secret room harbors dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
— Hidden secrets revealed in “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
— A new trial continues on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).
– Ax is determined to destroy Taylor in 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) portrays the Jets.
— Peaceful openings on “Madame la secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).
— The tension mounts 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” (Saturday 4 p.m., TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 p.m.). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling the Technicolor blarney from director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG).
“Dateline” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG)… “NBA Countdown” (7 p.m., ABC)… The kids are fine on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG)…” 48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) … A vintage portion of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
A visit from an old friend inspires Miles in “God Friended Me” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG)… Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual kingdom in “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14 ) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14)… On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s Winter Olympics ( 8 p.m.), the fights on a dowager (8:30 p.m., r)… Aches on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
– Netflix follows 10 hopelessly spoiled youngsters as they try to fend for themselves in the desert in the reality/comedy series “Snowflake Mountain.”
— Also on Netflix, ‘The Umbrella Academy’ is entering its third season.
TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
— A pregnant woman suffers complications on “Chicago Med” (7 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
– Protecting Their Own on “Chicago Fire” (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
— “One Last Time: An Evening With Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) offers an hour of pop standards.
– Gang war on “Chicago PD” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
James and Dave Franco and Seth Rogen star in 2017 true comedy “The Disaster Artist” (8:45 p.m., Sho2) about a deceived director whose incoherent 2003 film “The Room” gained a cult following.
Two hours of “The Price Is Right at Night” (7 and 8 p.m., r, CBS, TV-PG) … “MasterChef” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Teamwork on “The Flash (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG)… “So You Think You Can Dance” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14)… On two episodes of “Wellington Paranormal” (CW): invisible monsters (8 p.m., TV -PG); Tales of the Cryptid (8:30 p.m., TV-14).
Taika Waititi and David Sedaris are booked in “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS)… Jimmy Fallon welcomes Maya Rudolph, Emma Chamberlain and Brett Eldredge in “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC) … John Mulaney, Jenny Slate, Pheelz and Ralph Alexander visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 p.m., NBC).