What’s on TV Wednesday: ‘Gloria: A Life’ and ‘My Spy’


GREAT PERFORMANCES — GLORIA: A LIFE Stream on PBS.org. Actors who play well-known figures have their work cut out for them: They have to create a compelling performance that also rings true for audiences who are familiar with the person they’re playing. Now, imagine doing that with the actual famous person also onstage. That was the tall order given to Christine Lahti, who plays Gloria Steinem in this biographical play. Written by Emily Mann and directed by Diane Paulus, “Gloria: A Life” follows a familiar biographical formula in its first portion, which stages many steps of Steinem’s career — including her involvement with the women’s movement and in the creation of Ms. magazine. But in the show’s second part, Steinem herself steps onstage, and moderates a discussion with audience members about what they’ve just seen. Both parts are in this recording of the play, which was shot during a live performance. In his review for The New York Times, Jesse Green wrote that the play “would make a useful introduction to the feminist trailblazer for those who know little about her remarkable overlapping careers as a journalist, activist and ‘wandering organizer’ for the revolution.” But he added that it “does not have much new to add” for audiences familiar with Steinem’s story.

DAVID FOSTER: OFF THE RECORD (2019) Stream on Netflix. “I gravitate toward schmaltz,” the composer-producer David Foster said in an interview with The Times in 2018. That schmaltz has stuck: Foster, known for his work on ubiquitous recordings like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love,” has won 16 Grammy awards over the course of his career. This documentary includes interviews with a roster of famous musicians — including Dion, Barbra Streisand, Lionel Richie, Quincy Jones and Michael Bublé — and with Foster himself.

MY SPY (2020) Stream on Amazon. Dave Bautista gets a pint-size protégée in this odd-couple comedy. He plays JJ, a burly, socially stunted C.I.A. agent who teams up with a 9-year-old girl, Sophie (Chloe Coleman), to chase a weapons dealer — who is also Sophie’s uncle. As they work through that operation, JJ shows Sophie how to be a spy; Sophie shows JJ how to crack a smile.

JOHN Q. (2002) 4:50 p.m. on HBO. At once a thriller and a call for health care reform, “John Q.” stars Denzel Washington as a father who commandeers an emergency room at gunpoint, desperate to get his son a heart transplant that his insurance won’t cover. “The people this doesn’t affect find it to be an overly fantastic melodrama,” the director Nick Cassavetes told The Times in 2002. “But play this movie in a middle class or poor area and people are angry and yelling at the screen. They get it.”