As social dialogue about the HIV/AIDS epidemic opens up, more stories about the disease are finding their way into the media spotlight. Dallas Buyers Club, a film in the works for two decades before its 2013 premiere, gained critical and commercial success last year. Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for his performance as Ron Woodroof, a straight rodeo cowboy and electrician who was given a grim diagnosis of AIDS in 1985. Woodroof spent the last seven years of his life working for accessible treatment for people living with the disease. (The film went on to win several other awards, including Best Supporting Actor — Jared Leto — and Best Makeup.)
This Sunday, HBO offers another look at the early AIDS crisis, also based on true events. The Normal Heart (9 p.m. Sunday, HBO), adapted from Larry Kramer’s semi-autobiographical Tony Award-winning play, explores the social, medical and political responses to an unknown disease attacking the gay population in early-’80s New York City.
The Normal Heart features a stellar cast including Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina and Jim Parsons (who performed in the 2011 Broadway revival), among others. Ryan Murphy (Glee, the American Horror Story franchise, Nip/Tuck) directs.
The film follows Ned Weeks (Ruffalo) as he organizes to create national awareness of an unidentified disease spreading through the gay community. Weeks’ doctor, Emma Brookner (Roberts), desperately seeks more medical knowledge on the illness as she treats some of the earliest victims of HIV/AIDS. The disease itself, as well as Weeks’ outspoken stance on it, affect those around him — his straight attorney brother (Molina); his boyfriend, reporter Felix Turner (Bomer); and closeted investment banker-turned-AIDS activist Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch).
HBO knows how to produce a compelling biographical movie — Behind the Candelabra, the network’s 2013 film (which also featured HIV/AIDS in the storyline), garnered many accolades including Emmys and Golden Globes.
WEDNESDAY MAY 21
Modern Family (Season Finale, 9 p.m., ABC) – Nothing puts a damper on a fabulous nuptial bash quite like a natural disaster. In this fifth season closer, Mitch, Cam and their wedding guests stress while seeking a safer venue.
Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (Season Finale, 9 p.m., NBC) – Munch (Richard Belzer) returns for the 15th season finale to offer advice to an incarcerated Amaro. SVU investigates a series of robberies and rapes targeting male tourists who responded to an online escort ad. Meanwhile, Benson considers becoming a mother.
THURSDAY MAY 22
Last Comic Standing (Season Premiere, 9 p.m., NBC) – The comedian competition is back after a four-year hiatus with 100 (narrowed down to 20) of the top comics in the country battling it out for the title of funniest human. This time around, JB Smoove hosts with Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters serving as judges.
Comedy Bang! Bang! (10:30 p.m., IFC) -– Jenna “always gonna be Pam” Fischer stops by to air clips of her appearances in the British version … of Comedy Bang! Bang!? Elsewhere, there’s a death in the studio and Reggie hawks his favorite vehicle.
FRIDAY MAY 23
Hannibal (Season Finale, 10 p.m., NBC) -– Viewers got a taste of what’s to come this week in a shocking scene revealed in this season’s premiere — an epic showdown between Hannibal and Jack awaits. Where do Will’s loyalties lie?
Vice (11 p.m., HBO) – This week’s episode explores government cover-up of nuclear disaster in tsunami-stricken Fukushima and the lacking government resources for American veterans dealing with post-war disorders.
SUNDAY MAY 25
Mad Men (Mid-season Finale, 10 p.m., AMC) – Just seven episodes in and we’re done with Mad Men for 2014! As always, this week’s trailer gives us nothing, but we know Peggy considers an ambitious new path; Don gets an upsetting note; Culter and Pete clash; and Rodger receives unexpected news. Now, please take your seat, fasten your seat belt and make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position. We will approach our destination sometime in 2015.
TUESDAY MAY 27
I Wanna Marry “Harry” (8 p.m., Fox) – As if The Bachelor hadn’t done enough damage, this reality show features 12 genius American women competing for the affection of a ginger Brit they believe is Prince Harry — but isn’t, because obviously.