Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books?
Well, people of a certain age will, anyway. They were all the rage in the late ’70s and ’80s, until they stopped publication in 1998.
This book series, aimed at older kids, let you be the subject, and you chose the path that the story takes. Start reading and get involved in the story, usually a mystery of some sort, and reach a point where you’re given a choice: What do you do? Follow one path, turn to this page; select another, and turn to a different page. As the story continues, you may be faced with another choice, or your journey may end.
The trick is that there are so many story possibilities that re-reading the book could produce an entirely new tale … or you could end up in a loop, a never-ending yarn that, no matter what choice you make, sends you back into the same cycle. It was a novel idea for storytelling that caught on with readers; the actor Neil Patrick Harris decided to take the same tack with his “Choose Your Own Autobiography,” where you, the reader, decided how his memoir played out.
Now, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh introduces a similar experiment with “Mosaic,” a limited-run HBO series that has already begun, in a way, with the “Mosaic” app. The murder mystery plays out over five nights, starting Monday, but you can meet the players and explore their backstories and motivations on the app, which is set up as a series of paths to follow, just like those Choose Your Own Adventure books come to life.
Watch the first one and, upon its conclusion – which is not a conclusion but a pause in the story – and you’re given a choice of two paths to take. Keep making choices, learning bits of the story along the way, and eventually you’ll reach the end of the line. Not to worry; there’s more to explore. Just go back to the beginning and choose a different story to follow; you’ll end up with yet more information, more pieces of the puzzle.
And the puzzle is this: Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone), a famed children’s book author and artist who lives on a secluded compound in the mountains of Summit, Utah, has gone missing. Four years pass between her disappearance and the discovery of her body; the case turns from a missing person to a homicide, and suspects seem clear, at first.
The key players involved include a known con artist, Eric Neill (Frederick Weller), who befriends her under suspicious circumstances and is eventually convicted of her murder; Joel Hurley (Garrett Hedlund), a boarder on her property who is part handyman, part boy toy, part aspiring artist, and definitely someone whose past he’d rather leave behind him; Petra Neill (Jennifer Ferrin), Eric’s sister who, convinced of her brother’s innocence, has made it her mission to find the clues that will set him free; and the lead detective on the case, Nate Henry (Devin Ratray), who is determined to get to the bottom of this crime, even if it means stepping on the toes of many of the small town’s residents, including his former boss, Alan Pape (Beau Bridges), who was in charge when Olivia first went missing.
It’s not the first show to connect online content with televised programming, but the choose-your-own pathways help make it unique. It’s a tale with plenty of twists; discover them through the app, then find how they might fit together when the show airs. “Mosaic” starts at 7 p.m. Monday and continues at the same time all week, wrapping up Jan. 26 with two episodes, all on HBO.
Comedy, offbeat: Two comedies return, each for a third season, each on Tuesday, each at 9 p.m.; this is why DVRs were invented. The first, if only alphabetically, is “Baskets,” the weird and wacky family comedy about the Baskets family. Mom Christine, played with subtle goofiness by Louie Anderson, lives for her sons – all four of them, two sets of twins, no less – and Arby’s and Costco. There is Chip, the would-be clown who studied in France but could only find jobs at rodeos and birthday parties, and Dale, the failed dean of Baskets Career College (both played vastly differently by Zach Galifianakis); and Cody and Logan, successful DJs who don’t make it home that often but are clearly Mom’s favorites (they’re played by actual twins Garry and Jason Clemmons). This season focuses on the Baskets Family Rodeo, a family business venture dreamed up by Christine to give the family some togetherness and give Chip’s dream of being a clown a chance at survival (the rodeo shut down because of low attendance and several animal violations). “Baskets” returns at 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX.
Then there’s “The Detour,” a chaotic and twisted family comedy that started with a road trip that goes horribly awry, and continued with a relocation to New York for a new job and a new chance at success. Along the way, the Parker family – Nate (Jason Jones), Robin (Natalie Zea), Delilah (Ashley Gerasimovich), and Jared (Liam Carroll) – are hounded by the USPS Investigators (yep, mail cops exist; John Oliver did a segment on them last fall on “Last Week Tonight”) for suspicious activity. Continually failing at job opportunities, and continually evading the mail police (for infractions that, quite frankly, are all over the map, as is this family), this season the Parkers travel to Alaska, assuming new identities and attempting to disappear. No such luck; the dogged Postal Investigators, led by Edie (Laura Bernanti), the agent who just won’t give up, have tracked their trail and seem to be closing in. The new season of “The Detour” begins at 9 p.m. Tuesday on TBS.
A different sort of alien: In the late 19th century, when psychology was a relatively new science, practitioners were called alienists, because their subjects – those who weren’t right in the mind – were considered aliens, alienated from regular society. A new TNT drama, “The Alienist,” explores how this psychology – and forensic science, really – was put to use in 1890 by the New York Police Department to catch a serial killer. The team is led by Dr. Laszlo Kriezler (Daniel Brühl), the titular alienist; and his associates, John Moore (Luke Evans) and Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), each one with specialized skills that help him study the case at hand. Based on the book by Caleb Carr, “The Alienist” premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on TNT, with a sneak peek following “The 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards,” hosted by Kristen Bell, at 7 p.m. Sunday on both TNT and TBS.
Spinoff alert: A special episode of “The Goldbergs” introduces a possible spinoff focused on the faculty of William Penn Academy. Set in the 1990s, after all the Goldberg children have graduated, the school is now led by former teacher Mr. Glascott (Tim Meadows), who is assisted in his duties by his sister, Lucy (Nia Long), whose two precocious teenage daughters, Felicia and Gigi, are enrolled. The episode, much like “The Goldbergs,” is narrated by grown-up Felicia (Octavia Spencer). The episode airs at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Ch. 27.