Life of Crime

Some projects take a lifetime to complete. The 2021 documentary “Life of Crime 1984-2020” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) brings an end to a three-part cinema verite project four decades in the making.

Documentary filmmaker Jon Alpert (“Baghdad ER”) started this project with video cameras back in the mid-1980s, following three very low-level criminals on the streets of Newark, N.J., as they went about their daily life of shoplifting and other petty crimes, all in the effort to maintain growing drug habits and feed their sprawling families and circles of dependents.

This film includes footage from the first films, “One Year in the Life of Crime” (1989) and “Life of Crime 2” (1998).

Alpert’s insinuation into these men’s lives is disturbing in its intimacy. His cameras follow them into five-and-dimes as they boost random items such as unfashionable shirts and irregular sheets. He’s at home with them when one of the subjects starts beating his pregnant girlfriend. The camera’s presence raises all sorts of questions. Where is the line between witness/documentarian and accessory? Two of the film’s subjects don’t survive to the end of the process.

These are not terribly bright people. How much pressure did they feel to “perform” for “Life,” year after year?

On the other hand, “Life of Crime” is both a cautionary tale and a corrective. So many scripted crime dramas make petty criminals seem interesting, funny and even glamorous to keep the audience engaged. “Life” depicts a daily grind of boosting spectacularly low-hanging fruit. Don’t go looking for the wit of even the pettiest “Sopranos” characters.

There are passages in the book “Donnie Brasco” by Joseph D. Pistone when the author tries to describe the wearisome lack of education and imagination of the petty criminal. “Life of Crime” asks you to live with them for hours, representing about 40 years of going nowhere.

It’s worth noting with HBO Max’s “The Many Saints of Newark,” the HBO adaptation of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and now the conclusion of “Life,” HBO has presented three major projects set in New Jersey’s biggest city. When did HBO become the Newark network?

• A pastry chef living as “help” in a wealthy household pretends to be rich when she hosts her family for the holidays in “A Chestnut Family Christmas” (8 p.m., OWN, TV-PG). And she’s not the only one putting on a false facade.

• At some point, every conceivable “intellectual property” will be turned into a movie or a series. New installments of the Netflix kids’ show “Charlie’s Colorforms City” (TV-Y) brings the vintage vinyl to life.

• A holiday incantation makes an overscheduled businesswoman answer every invitation in the affirmative in the 2021 romance “Saying Yes to Christmas” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).

• The above is not to be confused with “Christmas CEO” (7 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G), about a toy company exec tempted to merge with a huge firm. If only she could get her estranged ex and business partner to sign on the dotted line.

• Netflix streams “The Summit of the Gods,” a feature-length animated adaptation of the Japanese manga series about a photojournalist out to explore theories and rumors involving the first men to conquer Mt. Everest. A French film presented in subtitles.

• “More the Merrier,” another Netflix import, is a feature-length sex farce from Spain about a night of assignations where nothing goes quite as planned.

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• A tycoon perishes during a protest on “FBI” (7 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

• The top seven emerge on “The Voice” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

• A patient brings bad luck to the wards on “The Resident” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• A journalist’s poisoning might cause a diplomatic incident on “FBI: International” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

• Survivors hold out hope on “La Brea” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• Teddy schemes a comeback on “Our Kind of People” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• A Washington showdown on “FBI: Most Wanted” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

• Max makes waves on “New Amsterdam” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

• “Superstar” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) profiles George Michael.

CULT CHOICE

After a cruise ship romance, passengers (Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr) promise to meet on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in the 1957 tear-jerker “An Affair to Remember” (9:15 p.m., TCM, TV-PG), which inspired the 1993 tear-jerker “Sleepless in Seattle.”

SERIES NOTES

“The Bachelorette” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) ... Barry meets Black Lightning on “The Flash” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG) ... A mysterious stranger arrives on “Riverdale” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

Peter Dinklage, Lee Jung-Jae and Aaron and Bryce Desner are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (10:35 p.m., CBS) ... Jimmy Fallon welcomes Rita Moreno and Dusty Slay on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC) ... Kristin Chenoweth and Kal Penn drop by “The Late Late Show With James Corden (11:37 p.m., CBS).

Kevin McDonough can be reached at kevin.tvguy@gmail.com.