Ellen Gray: One-man play 'Thurgood' debuts tonight on HBO

Laurence Fishburne portrays the Supreme Court justice.
Laurence Fishburne portrays the Supreme Court justice.
Posted: February 24, 2011

SO MUCH television, so little time:

* Laurence Fishburne's competing against himself tonight, as his performance in George Stevens Jr.'s one-man play, "Thurgood" (9 p.m., HBO) premieres against CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

It'll be easy to tell the two apart, though - "Thurgood" is the one where Fishburne actually seems to be having a good time.

The play's conceit - that the late civil rights lawyer and Supreme Court justice is addressing students at Howard University, where Marshall received his law degree - doesn't work particularly well on film and it doesn't help that the performance took place at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater before an unstudent-like audience.

But as static as the staging sometimes feels, Fishburne is more animated than he's gotten to be in a while, delivering a performance that's as funny as it appears to be heartfelt.

And though his Marshall starts out old, he gets younger as he reminisces about his days at Chester County's Lincoln University before taking us through his life, one hard-fought battle or anecdote at a time. Presented in association with the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics at Penn, this is one Black History Month entry that's as much entertainment as it is education.

* By the time the Academy Awards start on Sunday, I expect to have seen all 10 nominees for best picture - perversely, I've saved "Toy Story 3" for last - and I've begun to think about matchmaking.

If you're watching FX's "Justified" (10 p.m. Wednesdays) and you haven't seen "Winter's Bone," you really should. The same goes for "The Fighter" and another excellent (but less-seen) FX drama, "Lights Out" (10 p.m. Tuesdays). Both are stories of boxer brothers whose issues with each other go deep. I'm still looking, though, for partners for the rest: It's not as if loving "Black Swan" automatically means you'll be a sucker for "So You Think You Can Dance."

* The news that the Amazon Prime membership I signed up for in December to get free shipping for a bunch of Christmas presents now entitles me to use its free video streaming service would have been a lot more exciting if I didn't already have Netflix (and a Hulu Plus subscription I'm hardly using and will probably drop soon). Not to mention the bottomless bag of TV screeners that competes for my attention with the actual TV in my house.

Still, I've paid for the membership - and who can resist free? Well, for the moment I can, having quickly discovered that Amazon's 5,000 or so freebies are so far more limited than Netflix's and that unlike Netflix and Hulu, they won't play on my iPhone or iPad, which is how I watch a lot of video these days.

My current non-work-related obsession, rewatching the entire "Veronica Mars" series, is a cinch on Netflix, which keeps my place over multiple devices so that when I have a free few minutes, I can simply hit "resume" and I'm back in Neptune.

Amazon will let me watch Kristen Bell maneuver high school and solve crimes, too - for $1.99 an episode or $34.99 for all of Season 2 - but her show, along with many of the movies currently streaming on Netflix, isn't yet considered Prime real estate.

* Starz is tacking a one-hour "sneak peek" of its new series "Camelot" onto the back of tomorrow night's finale of its popular "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" miniseries, prequel to "Spartacus: Blood and Sand."

"Camelot," which stars Joseph Fiennes ("FlashForward," "Shakespeare in Love") as Merlin and Jamie Campbell Bower as the young Arthur, will be shown at 11 p.m. The actual two-hour premiere's set for April 1.

* Every poll I've seen says that almost no one on this side of the pond really cares much about the wedding of Prince William to his college sweetheart, but Lifetime's not buying it.

A two-hour movie, "William & Kate," starring Nico Evers-Swindell as the prince and Camilla Luddington as Kate Middleton, is set for April 18, the network announced yesterday, followed by the premiere of a six-hour documentary series, "Royal Wedding of a Lifetime," which will "examine the history of William and Kate's romance and run-up to their wedding, comparisons of Kate to Princess Diana, the wedding gown and fashion surrounding the nuptials, cuisine for the high-profile event, a preview of the wedding day and a glimpse into their future together." Given how the last "royal wedding of a lifetime" turned out, couldn't we settle for a clip or two from Westminster Abbey on YouTube? *

Send e-mail to graye@phillynews.com.

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