Rupert Friend
Photo: Elizabeth Lippman (CBS All Access)

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Friday, July 12 and Saturday, July 13. All times are Eastern.


Top pick

SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout (Nickelodeon, Friday, 7 p.m.): This is going to be a total, trippy delight.

In honor of the birthday of everyone’s favorite pineapple-under-the-sea dweller—and in tribute to his creator, former marine biology teacher Stephen Hillenburg, who died in November 2018—Nickelodeon is airing this ambitious special, which sees SpongeBob and friends head to Surface Land. There, they encounter some oddly familiar figures, played with gusto by the voice actors who’ve brought these characters to life with such success for so long.

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Regular coverage

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, Friday, 8 p.m.)
Shangri-La (Showtime, Friday, 9 p.m.): pre-air review

Wild card

Strange Angel (CBS All Access): So this is a bit of a cheat, as the episode arrived on Thursday, but we wanted to give the folks already watching Strange Angel a chance to catch this eventful episode before sharing our chat with Rupert Friend, who plays the often inscrutable Ernest Donovan.

We won’t reveal any plot details in this conversation, but suffice it to say it’s a big one for Donovan, and for Friend, who is even better than usual in a role in which he’a always terrific. The episode, like many great episodes of television in 2019, begins with a party going very wrong.

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The A.V. Club: What is it about a dinner party that makes it such a great setting for disaster?

Rupert Friend: Well, it’s a boiler room scenario. Nobody can leave unless they want to be very rude. So there’s that immediate tension and pressure, because at most parties, there’s at least one or two people there on, if not false pretenses, then unwilling ones. [With this one] there are these contradicting forces meeting, which is in a way kind of a metaphor for the whole season. There’s the military—straight-laced, pretty square—literally facing off against the hedonists and believers in freedom and love and magic.

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Then you have the other theme that runs through the whole show, which is where science and magic intersect, and belief in the impossible is where that intersection happens.

AVC: Where does Ernest fit within those conflicting forces?

RF: He’s the ultimate optimist. At times, he has a childlike naïveté about certain things, but has such a belief in the beauty, the inherent beauty, of the spirit. And I think that’s one of the things that so lovable about him, for everything he gets wrong and puts himself and others through, he does have an intrinsic optimism about the human condition and about the human spirit. So I think in this, he’s a kind of puckish figure who you could see as out to make mischief, but I didn’t see it that way. I think that he’s more interested in bringing love and harmony and beauty to these disparate groups.

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AVC: There’s a sense of peacefulness about your performance in this episode, which is one of ever-mounting dread. How did you balance those things?

RF: The episode is building to something incredibly impactful and powerful and dark, but honestly, this is a journey that is coming to fruition and there is a peace to that. There is almost a joy to that.

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AVC: Ernest can be startlingly opaque, but you play him as so guileless and honest, like he’s an open book in a language no one can read. What has that experience been like?

RF: That’s a lovely way of putting it. I like that. I’ll have that.

AVC: All yours.

RF: Let’s just say we both came up with it. It’s been fascinating. It’s endlessly fascinating because [he’s] a very tortured soul but it’s this combination of nihilism and serenity. He’s definitely searching for experiences, and in any given moment, there’s not really an obvious way to go. In a way, Ernest is so confused by his quest and by life and by the way people treat him. He strikes me as someone who needs to be able to trust somebody and have the true love of somebody. And he’s never really had either.

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