'Behind the Candelabra' is must-see; 'Arrested Development'? We'll see

Each week Times TV critic Mary McNamara offers her viewing picks for the coming week:

"Behind the Candelabra": There's been so much giggly chatter about Michael Douglas and Matt Damon playing the mink-coat-flapping, crystal-encrusted Liberace and his dutiful young lover that everyone seems to have forgotten that the first two are, you know, actors. And very good ones, as Stephen Soderbergh's purported final film makes clear almost instantly.

Once your eyes adjust to the bedazzled opulence of Liberace's life in '70s and '80s Las Vegas, "Behind the Candelabra" becomes a darkly moving and provocative look at two lonely men who briefly found something like love before the maelstrom of fame, money and drugs, all churning within the confines of the sexual closet, blew it apart.

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In a tour de force performance, Douglas captures the opposing desires of a man trapped in a gilded cage. A classically trained pianist and, for decades, the most popular performer in the world, Liberace courted his fans with an over-the-top outrageousness while remaining officially, and necessarily, straight -- he famously sued any publication that dared suggest otherwise.

His private life, however, bore the imprint of the deception; a string of young paramours were petted and pampered and eventually shown the door. Damon's lovely but grasping Tom dares to hope that he will be different, and for a while, he is.

In their mutual insecurity, the two connect and warily circle the idea of love based on trust. In the end, though, there are way too many dysfunctions -- matching plastic surgeries anyone? -- to be named, much less overcome.

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"Behind the Candelabra" is one of those films that must be viewed at least twice -- once for the performances (and the costumes) alone, then again to let the implications of the story sink in.

Though the feathers and the face lifts, the poppers and the porn may be particular to Liberace's story, the perils of fame, wealth and a life lived behind even the pink marble wall of public persona are universal. HBO, Sunday, 9 p.m.

"Arrested Development": The Bluths are back, and they're more high-profile than ever. Unfortunately, Netflix did not make any episodes from the much anticipated resurrection available prior to their full season dump, so there's no telling if the acclaimed but consistently low-rated show is better than ever.

Still, with a returning cast that includes Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Jeffrey Tambor, it's certainly worth finding out. All 15 episodes are available on Netflix on Sunday.

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"Borgen": Having got out of the PBS biz right before the debut of "Downton Abbey," KCET is playing a bit of catch-up by debuting the Danish political drama that has had critics buzzing long before the show made its way to the U.S.

Following the personal and political machinations of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the fictional first female prime minister of Denmark, "Borgen" nicely fills the gap for those who finished "House of Cards" and are still awaiting Season 2 of "The Newsroom." (Warning: subtitles) KCET, Friday, 10 p.m.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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