2019 Summer TCA - Showtime

Kirsten Dunst (right) and Theodore Pellerin discuss “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” (9 p.m., Showtime), another new show about American grift.

You needn’t care about fashion to find the documentary “Halston” (8 p.m., CNN) fascinating. Take away the colorful clothes and beautiful people, and you have the story of a business pioneer and an American original whose downfall stemmed from an effort to bridge the gap between posh and populist.

Designer Roy Halston Frowick rose to fame as the man who made the pink pillbox hat for first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. A milliner for the exclusive Bergdorf’s store, he was well attuned to the moneyed set. But when he created his own fashion empire in the 1970s, he became known for discovering models, often women of color, on subway cars and on the street. He was among the first designers to create a signature perfume.

Having dressed A-list celebrities, Halston shocked many by selling his name to a major corporation and making a deal with mid-market retailer JCPenney. In an effort to “dress America,” Halston also signed contracts to design outfits for Girl Scout leaders and uniforms for Braniff airlines, Avis Rent-a-Car, the New York City police department and the 1976 U.S. Olympics team.

Chic consumers and retailers that had associated his name with elites recoiled at his efforts at mass appeal. “Halston” mentions but does not elaborate upon the role cocaine may have played in his inability to focus on his business commitments. When his corporate partners essentially fired him, Halston was left without a company, or even the right to use his own name. He would die of an AIDs-related illness in 1990.

Well ahead of his time, Halston’s efforts to navigate the “high-low” divide predated designers like Calvin Klein, retailers including Target and broadcasters like Bravo.

‘Becoming a God’

The title is a mouthful and it’s being dumped onto the schedule in the depths of August. I don’t care. “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA) is well worth watching. Why? Kirsten Dunst stars and produces.

Here, she’s Krystal Stubbs, a beleaguered employee at a waterslide park and the wife of a confused insurance agent who fell prey to Founders American Merchandise (FAM), a cult-like pyramid sales scheme. Hip to the group’s hype and double-talk, Krystal schemes to infiltrate its ranks and subvert it from within.

“God” does a great job depicting FAM and its weird blend of personal selfishness and patriotic bombast. Look for Ted Levine (“Monk”) as Obie Garbeau II, the kind of guy who can fleece somebody while bamboozling them with a lifestyle of limos, mansions, swimming pools and personal helicopters.

Set in 1992, “God” becomes the latest tragicomedy to evoke a pre-digital age. It’s as if everybody wants to ditch their smartphones and go back to listening to motivational tapes on their car’s cassette player.

It’s also curious to see this airing at the same time as HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones.” Both shows mine awkward laughs from “inspirational” hucksters. Some may see these shows as particularly appropriate for our time. All the same, both the Gemstones and FAM engage in the kind of great American grift that novelist Mark Twain lampooned way back in the 19th century.

Other highlights

  • Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): a prison interview with an opioid prescriber; an NFL veteran faces his brain disease; the growing ransomware threat.
  • The Titans host the Steelers in preseason NFL Football action (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Tasha vows vengeance as “Power” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA) returns for a sixth season.
  • A pond yields grim evidence on the series finale of the recently canceled “Instinct” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
  • Migration season expands the menu and increases dangers on “Serengeti” (7 p.m., Discovery, TV-PG).
  • An artwork intrigues Alicia on “Fear the Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).
  • Logan announces his plans on “Succession” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
  • Helen mourns as “The Affair” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA) begins its fifth season.
  • Jesse schemes to retrieve a tape on “The Righteous Gemstones” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
  • Spencer mulls buying a franchise as “Ballers” (9:30 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) enters its fifth season.

Series notes

Julie Chen Moonves hosts “Big Brother” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Marge enters a new age on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) ... “Celebrity Family Feud” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Illusionists audition on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (7 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG) ... On two helpings of “What Just Happened??!” (Fox, TV-14), a bad reaction (7:30 p.m.), regrets (8:30 p.m.).

Gender confusion on “Family Guy” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) ... “The $100,000 Pyramid” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Dean Cain hosts “Masters of Illusion” (8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG) ... An expose proves fatal on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... “To Tell the Truth” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

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