Those who argue there are no good roles for mature actresses just aren't watching enough television! Tonight offers a number of terrific performances.
The made-for-television movie "Burton and Taylor" (9 p.m., BBC America) revisits Richard Burton (Dominic West, "The Wire") and Elizabeth Taylor (Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech") during the tail end of the third act of their star-crossed tabloid relationship.
Already married and divorced to each other twice, Burton and Taylor agree to appear on Broadway in Noel Coward's "Private Lives" in the fall of 1982. The production quickly sells out. After all, staging a play about a divorced couple who meet while on honeymoon with their other, less sensational spouses is the perfect vehicle for the world's most scandalous twosome. Burton appears to be doing it for the money. Taylor may want more out of their gimmicky re-coupling.
The writers were smart to focus on a specific time in their subjects' private and public lives. It doesn't traipse through the couple's entire story, like Lifetime's recent Lindsay Lohan fiasco.
Bonham Carter feasts on her character. She never overtly imitates Taylor but inhabits her imperious vulnerability all the same. She does an impressive job of capturing all of
Taylor's contradictions. She's forever in charge, yet always on the verge of collapse. She's needy, yet strategically manipulative.
The writers do a clever job of having Noel Coward's lines reflect the offstage reality of the stars' dodgy relationship, even as Burton keeps quoting from "King Lear," a role he was preparing for at the time.
In spite of such a play within a play within a TV movie, "Burton and Taylor" is hardly great, or even memorable drama. And while West does his best playing an ailing lion very much in winter (Burton would die not long after this experience), his performance is really a frame for Bonham Carter's tour-de-force portrayal.
---"American Horror Story: Coven" (10 p.m., FX, TV-MA) offers another remarkable showcase for actresses.
In a cast rich with talent, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett stand out. Lange, who played a mother superior on "American Horror Story: Asylum" last year, is now Fiona Goode, the titular head of a dying breed of witches who swoops in to mentor a boarding school for budding sorceresses. Bates is Delphine LaLaurie, a monstrous 19th-century woman who tortures and mutilates slaves and is rendered immortal by a voodoo spell cast by Marie Laveau (Bassett), another ageless creature. Scenes involving these three are delicious.
That's not to slight other "Horror" regulars Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy and Lily Rabe. Emma Roberts has a blast as Madison Montgomery, a celebrity who pretends to be at rehab while attending witch academy.
After almost drowning in near-pornographic sadism and gore last season, "Horror Story" appears to have righted itself with a saner and more palatable ratio of scary scenes to repellant depravity. After all, why create a showcase for so many outstanding perform-
ances if people are just too grossed out to watch them?
---Curiouser and curiouser on "Revolution" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---The Detroit Tigers host the Boston Red Sox in game 4 of the American League Champion ship Series (7:30 p.m., Fox).
---Woody, Buzz and the gang encounter a mystery at a motel in the half-hour Pixar short "Toy Story of Terror!" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-G).
---Bronze Tiger and China White return on "Arrow" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).
---"Nature" (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG) profiles an endangered otter.
---A tech whiz becomes a suspect on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---Jay scores reservations on "Modern Family" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---"NOVA" (9 p.m., PBS, TV-PG) looks at advances in manufacturing.
---A cooking contest consumes the talent on "CSI" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---A stacked deck on "Ironside" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
---Teddy proposes on "Nash ville" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---The gang makes a video on "Duck Dynasty" (10 p.m., A&E, TV-PG).
Prior to "Burton and Taylor," check out Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 epic "Cleo patra" (5 p.m., BBC America).
---Danny takes Cannon's advice on "Back in the Game" (8:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---Meet the new boss on "Crim inal Minds" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
---Stephen upsets some on "The Tomorrow People" (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
---Halloween horrors on "Super Fun Night" (9:30 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
---Ke$ha, Jesse Bering and Fitz and the Tantrums appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
---Whitney Cummings guest hosts Brendan Schaub, Brad Wollack and Heather McDonald on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).
---Colin Quinn sits down on
"Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell" (11 p.m., FXX).
---Jackie Chan, Judy Greer and Dave Koz are booked on "The Ar senio Hall Show" (WPMT, WPHL).
---Bill O'Reilly and The Head and the Heart appear on "Late Show With David Letterman" (11:35 p.m., CBS).
---Jay Leno hosts Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "The Tonight Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC, r).
---Danny McBride, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Franti appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).
---Steve Harvey, Kanye West and the cast of "Duck Dynasty" visit "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC, r).
Kevin McDonough can be reached at email@example.com.