HERE’S SOMETHING new and different. It’s rare I get to write those words. As much as television has grown and improved, the onslaught of remakes, reboots, franchised “properties” and imitations is daunting. And frankly depressing.
Streaming on Apple TV+, “Calls” is like nothing you’ve ever seen. And yet, there isn’t much to see. An anthology series of short, cosmic tales, “Calls” unfolds as simply a series of phone calls. We’re shown nothing but the caller’s name and a written transcription of his or her words, accompanied by startling graphic images, ranging from digital distortion to mind-blowing patterns of unfolding fractals.
The lack of traditional dramatic presentation focuses our attention on the tortured conversations describing events right out of “The Twilight Zone” or other ghost stories.
In one episode, an L.A.-based musician phones his girlfriend in New York to break up with her, but can’t find the nerve after she describes her fear of a faceless figure staring into her apartment window. It would be unfair to say where this story goes, but the results are quite earth-shattering.
In another tale, a boyfriend takes off for a sudden drive after his girlfriend announces her pregnancy. While he thinks he’s taking only a few hours to collect his thoughts, days, months and years transpire for other people, making his efforts to reach them increasingly desperate.
A co-production between Apple and French broadcaster Canal+, “Calls” features the voices of Nick Jonas, Pedro Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Lily Collins, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Aubrey Plaza.
These “Calls” are brief but intense, clocking in at 14 or 19 minutes or so. While I’m never fond of touting corporate tie-ins, this effort seems particularly apt for Apple TV+. Many will be watching these phone calls on their phone. While startling and certainly different, it’s unclear if “Calls” marks a revolution in mere “television” or the reinvention of radio.
• Viewers in search of hugs, predictable formula and twangs as genuine as a Cracker Barrel rocking chair might enjoy “Country Comfort,” streaming today on Netflix.
Katharine McPhee (“American Idol”) stars as a floundering country singer who stumbles into a job as a nanny for a widower (Eddie Cibrian) and his five precocious children. Look for Eric Balfour (“Six Feet Under”) as a bartender and confidant.
Whenever confronted with a plot so contrived, I think back to “Seinfeld,” when Jerry and George were trying to write a sitcom pilot and concocted a story where a judge sentences a man to become Jerry’s butler.
• Nothing underscored the severity of the 2020 pandemic like the cancellation of March Madness. Perhaps the return of the 2021 NCAA Basketball Tournament (7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., CBS; 6:15 and 9:10 p.m., TBS; 7:15 and 9:50 p.m., TNT; 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m., TRU) offers a glimpse of better times to come.
• Disney+ expands its Marvel offerings with the new series “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” spun off from the 2019 comic-book movie “Avengers: Endgame.”
• Elizabeth seeks vengeance on “The Blacklist” (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
• “WWE Friday Night SmackDown” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).
• After decades as consumers, homeowners on “Everything But the House” (HGTV) try to auction off as many possessions as possible to fund various projects, including travel (9 p.m.) and charities (9:30 p.m.).
• “Great Performances” presents “Renee Fleming in Concert” (9 p.m., PBS, TV-G, check local listings). The celebrated soprano performs works by Puccini, Massenet, Handel and Korngold.
An escaped prisoner (Robert Redford) rendezvouses with his wife (Jane Fonda) in a corrupt Texas town ruled by a dictatorial sheriff (Marlon Brando) in the 1966 noir thriller “The Chase” (9:30 p.m., TCM, TV-14), featuring a screenplay by Lillian Hellman based on a play by Horton Foote. A game supporting cast includes E.G. Marshall, Angie Dickinson, Robert Duvall and Miriam Hopkins. Disappointed with the movie, director Arthur Penn had wanted to cast Faye Dunaway in Fonda’s role. He proceeded to put her in his next movie, “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Snack food for thought on “Shark Tank” (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) ... Improvisations on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (8 p.m. CW, TV-14), followed by a repeat episode (8:30 p.m.).
“Dateline” (9 p.m., NBC, r) ... “20/20” (9 p.m., ABC, r) ... “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
Jimmy Fallon welcomes Matthew McConaughey, Megan Rapinoe, Morris Day and Trinidad Jame$ on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC) ... Eddie Murphy and Guy Fieri visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC, r) ... Liam Neeson, Annaleigh Ashford and Pillow Queens are scheduled to appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (12:37 a.m., CBS, r).