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AMERICAN MASTERS: PEARL JAM
9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9
It's hard to put into words how much a band can mean to your life. I'm not just talking about just any band. I'm talking about that special band; the first band whose music really makes you think differently about the world and your place in it, whose songs serve as the soundtrack to a significant chunk of your life. For me, born in the mid-1970s so that I wound up situated squarely in the middle of Generation X, that band is Pearl Jam. Started in 1990 in Seattle, Wash., by veteran musicians Eddie Vedder (lead vocals, guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), and Mike McCready (lead guitar), Dave Krusen (drums), and Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), Pearl Jam — along with Nirvana — formed one of the binary stars of grunge during the heyday in the 1990s. Their music taught a whole generation of young people how to feel wanted in a world that often didn't seem to want them. While the band has shuffled through a few drummers over the years, for the most part the members of Pearl Jam have managed to stay together and alive, making them something of a rock and roll oddity for bands of the grunge era. They're an intensely private lot, forgoing a lot of the publicity that other bands have resorted to and relying mostly on the strength of their music to spread the word. In this two-hour special for PBS (directed by rock supergeek Cameron Crowe), however, Pearl Jam celebrates the 20th anniversary of their debut album "Ten" by opening the vault, with Vedder and company sharing snippets of video, private stories, and family photographs that go all the way back to their formation and beyond. For music fans of a certain vintage, it's sure to be a moving experience. I know it will be for me.
WORK OF ART
9 p.m. Wednesdays
While I'm not big on reality show competitions — especially those which get talented people in a room and ask them to perform unrealistic challenges against a clock for the promise of eventual money — I'm willing to give Bravo's "Work of Art: The Search for the Next Great Artist" the benefit of the doubt. So much that is popular in the art world these days seems to be based not on talent but on hype (see the stunningly good and sometimes deliciously absurd documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop," available on Netflix Instant, for a crash course in this phenomenon), so why not pick the Next Big Thing in Art through a competition. Too, I respect the idea that the competition itself, in fact, could qualify as a kind of performance art. Now in its second season, the show has had contestants performing all sorts of tasks this fall, including revamping thrift-store paintings and sculpture to make them more artistic, using school drawings for inspiration, giving a new spin to street art, and using a piece of a Fiat 500 car as the centerpiece to a work. The winner will receive $100,000 in cash and a solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Yes, like a lot of reality competitions, it's unnecessarily complicated and unnecessarily demeaning to the contestants. No, I don't think any of these folks is going to wind up the next Banksy from their exposure on the show. That said, it's quite a bit of fun, especially for those who love art and on-the-spot creativity. Definitely worth a look.