Chances are good you’re familiar with the mask.
The white face, with its pronounced cheekbones and pointed chin, accentuated by a thin line of a black goatee, adorned with arched eyebrows, a devilish grin and mustache that turns up at its ends, has been synonymous with the hacktivist group Anonymous, used in the Occupy movements, and generally appropriated by protesters of oppressive entities.
It’s a Guy Fawkes mask, introduced into popular culture by the authors of the “V for Vendetta” graphic novel series in the 1980s, later brought to life on the big screen in the movie of the same name starring Natalie Portman as Evey, the young protégé to Hugo Weaving’s mask-wearing anarchist revolutionary, V.
But this Guy Fawkes fellow? He’s a real dude, with a day named after him – the fifth of November – though that day has had several names since its first commemoration in 1605. It began as a day of thanksgiving for the survival of the king, marked by bonfires and public drinking and celebrations. Later known as Gunpowder Treason Day, then Bonfire Night, it was ultimately dubbed Guy Fawkes Day (or Night) in the late 1700s, thanks in large part to the practice of burning effigies of Fawkes during the festivities.
And who was this Fawkes fellow? Well, his notoriety dates back to the early 1600s in England, when James I assumed the throne after the death of Elizabeth I. James fostered an extremely anti-Catholic reign, torturing priests and persecuting practicing Catholics and taking their property.
A plot was hatched by a fellow named Robert Catesby to blow up the House of Lords, killing the king and installing a Catholic head of state. The plan failed; an anonymous letter tipped off the authorities, and the cache of gunpowder was discovered. And Guy Fawkes? A conspirator who joined Catesby’s plot, he was the poor soul who was caught guarding the gunpowder beneath the House of Lords. That the day carries his name is really just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – or right time, in terms of historical notoriety.
So what does this little history lesson have to do with anything? Starting Monday on HBO, a three-night miniseries titled “Gunpowder” peels back the details on the Gunpowder Plot, as it came to be known, largely from the perspective of Catesby. Kit Harrington (most familiar as Jon Snow of “Game of Thrones“) plays Catesby, and the production follows his formation of the plot, assembling his collaborators, and amassing the materials. All the while, the crew is dodging the king’s spy network, led by Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss, also on “Game of Thrones”), tasked to hunt down Catholics throughout the country.
That Guy Fawkes Day is named after the guy who was caught guarding the gunpowder and not the plot master himself is only one oddity of the annual observance. Others include that it’s named after the would-be assassin, somehow making him more notable than his failure, and that celebrations involve the very thing that was central to the plot – gunpowder – in its fireworks and bonfire displays. Nevertheless, it may be a nice break from holiday fare. The three-part “Gunpowder,” which originally aired on the BBC, airs Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 9 p.m. on HBO.
“Games” night: Ellen DeGeneres wants you to play, and in a big way. She’s host of her new primetime show, “Ellen’s Game of Games,” which incorporates super-size versions of games she plays on her daytime talk show. (It’s safe to say this game bears little resemblance to Chardee MacDennis’ Game of Games from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”; there will be no eating the ingredients for a cake while locked in a dog crate here.) The series doesn’t officially start until January, but Monday’s sneak preview has players competing in the “Dizzy Dash,” “Tuba Toothpaste,” “Scary Go Round” and “Aw Snap.” Winners of each round advance to “Know or Go,” and the winner of that plays “Hot Hands” for a cash prize. It’ll keep you guessing — and laughing — as the contestants face unexpected twists along the way. “Ellen’s Game of Games” airs at 9 p.m. Monday on Ch.15.
More movie nights: Pop the corn, heat the cocoa, and enjoy a movie night or two. Friday, it’s a holiday classic double feature with “The Shop Around the Corner,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, at 7 p.m.; and “Holiday Affair,” with Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum, at 9 p.m., both on TCM. Sunday, it’s Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and the threat of Nazis in “The Sound of Music,” 6 p.m. on Ch. 27. And tune in for “Pitch Perfect,” starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, at 8 p.m. on Ch. 15. (Then go back in time and catch “Pitch Perfect 2,” 7 p.m. Monday on FX. Or just record it.)
No rest for the festive: The lesser-known Peanuts special, “I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown!,” featuring the seldom-seen ReRun, younger brother of Linus and Lucy, and Spike, brother of Snoopy, airs at 7 p.m. Saturday on Ch. 27. Fox’s performance of “A Christmas Story Live!,” starring Maya Rudolph, Matthew Broderick, Jane Krakowski and Ana Gasteyer, airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on Ch. 47. New special “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” featuring your favorite characters (and voices) from the Disney movie, airs Tuesday at 7 p.m., followed by “Prep & Landing” at 7:30 p.m., both on Ch. 27. “Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas Adventure” comes along Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on Ch. 47. And just in case you missed it the first time, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” returns Thursday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 27. Finish out the week with “A Saturday Night Live Christmas Special,” reliving your favorite holiday moments from the past 40-plus seasons, Thursday at 8 p.m. on Ch.15.