In "Muslims" (May 9, check TV Guide listings), PBS's invaluable Frontline series travels the world from Asia to America to provide the great public service of demystifying the Islamic religion. More illuminating than Barbara Walters's recent tour of Saudi Arabia on ABC's 20/20, this two-hour documentary goes inside such nations as Turkey and Egypt, where the clash of Western culture and resurgent traditional values creates deep tensions. Of special interest: segments exploring the role of women in Islam, including the ordeal of a Malaysian wife filing for divorce in a system of dogmatic law that favors men.
Conventional TV wisdom tells us viewing habits are hard to break. But CBS has effectively shattered NBC's iron grip on Thursdays especially at 9 pm/ET, where for good reason the absorbing CSI: Crime Scene Investigation regularly outdraws the increasingly cartoonish Will & Grace.
Recently, I noticed that my collection of unwatched Will episodes had grown (I'm among the CSI converts), indicating an unconscious avoidance of a show I'd once championed as a sophisticated, groundbreaking confection.
While screening them, I found myself pining for CSI's grisly corpses. At least they're easier on the ears.
Will's cast gives new meaning to the notion of a punch line as crude innuendos are delivered with sledgehammer obviousness. And is famed director James Burrows truly encouraging the much-honored
Of TV's sophomore class, quite a few series seem to be settling in for a long run some deservedly (CSI, Gilmore Girls, Boston Public, Girlfriends), some inexplicably (Yes, Dear).
And then there's NBC's sole survivor of last season, Ed (Wednesdays, 8 pm/ET), said to be "on the bubble" when it comes to being renewed. While its ratings pale next to the powerhouses that follow it (The West Wing and Law & Order), this imperfect but perfectly likable charmer is a wonderful fit in one of prime time's most sophisticated, enjoyable lineups.
A romantic comedy-drama of good friends and good deeds in
Watching one of the final episodes of Once and Again air against the NCAA championship game, it was hard not to reflect on how badly ABC has treated this delicate drama. Bounced between time periods, put on hiatus just as one of its stories hit a shattering peak, this emotionally demanding but richly rewarding series deserved better. But ABC can barely do justice to its more commercially viable shows, airing pivotal original episodes of Alias against the Olympics and even the Golden Globes on the night its star, Jennifer Garner, won a surprise trophy. If Garner's character of Sydney Bristow can survive ABC, more power to her.
"Can't wait to see how it turns out." This simple phrase, uttered by a childlike oracle in the first new episode of Angel after a five-week hiatus, sums up my feelings about a lot of TV these days.
All season, we've been enjoying a smorgasbord of cliff-hangers on new thrillers like Fox's 24 and ABC's Alias, as well as on two supernatural cult favorites, UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel (WB, Mondays, 9 pm/ET), which has hit a darkly compelling stride lately.
It hasn't been an easy ride. First, Angel was unmoored from its companion series when UPN outbid the WB for Buffy, and then the WB paired it with squeaky-clean 7th Heaven. This is like following your Whe
How ironic that HBO's fascinating making-of-a-movie reality series Project Greenlight has resulted in the sort of movie HBO itself would never have given a green light to produce. Stolen Summer, written and directed by Greenlight honoree Pete Jones, is a sweet-natured but hopelessly hokey, tiresomely predictable tearjerker that would be more at home on CBS's Sunday movie night. If not for Aidan Quinn and Bonnie Hunt as the parents of a precocious Catholic schoolboy who wants to help his dying Jewish friend get to heaven, this movie would hardly be worth attaching as an extra if HBO ever issues a Greenlight DVD.
I can hardly wait for the third edition of CBS's Big Brother this summer so I can get back to really hating reality TV again.
Lately, I fear I've gone soft. After a long, squalid lull, CBS's Survivor: Marquesas (Thursdays, 8 pm/ET) is unexpectedly enjoyable again, almost as good as the first season, with a happy meshing of spectacular locale, entertainingly maddening personalities and wild calamities. (It's going to be hard to forget that icky but riveting moment when John, stung by urchin needles, desperately declared, "I need somebody who can pee on my hand!" And Kathy obliged.)
I remain a huge fan of CBS's other exotic competition, Amazing Race
(Wednesdays, 9 pm/ET), which emphasizes the exhilaration and adventure of world travel over contrived conflict. It may not be nasty enough to be a big hit, but I'm glad it's back.
Look what's talking on TV: corpses pretentiously driving each overstated theme home on HBO's Six Feet Under, sophomoric puppets bedeviling human co-stars on Fox's Greg the Bunny and, worst of all, an infant spouting lame punch lines to the horrified astonishment of his parents (an appropriately mortified-looking Adam Arkin and Joely Fisher) on CBS's dreadful Baby Bob. The corpses at least make symbolic sense, but with the underdeveloped characters of Greg and Bob, we have the season's two most painful examples of high-concept gimmicks in search of comedic purpose. This is not a pretty thing to see. Or hear.
Watching TV on Saturday nights an unthinkable prospect in recent years instantly became more enjoyable once Comedy Central began following new episodes of the hysterical Primetime Glick (10 pm/ET) with replays of the new season of South Park, which still has the power to shock us into convulsive laughter in its sixth year. Martin Short's brilliant spoof of poison-tongued and empty-headed celebrity chat, embodied by the blubbery Glick, is a perfect complement to Park's savage satire. (The cartoon's season-opening parody of Subway poster boy Jared was so merciless that I almost choked on my sandwich.)
A new Star Wars movie? Not that interested. (Especially after the last one.) A new Star Trek film? Not exactly losing sleep in anticipation.
But new episodes of Farscape? After a seven-month hiatus? I'm there. Only The Sopranos fans have gone without for so long.
TV's most entertaining and thrilling fantasy series is back with four new episodes (Sci Fi, Fridays, 9 pm/ET), followed by the launch of a fourth season in June. It takes a few minutes to catch up again with the interspecies intrigue, but soon enough, you're racing just to keep up with the action.
Impressive in scale, deluxe in design, generous in humor, suspense and emotion, Farscape is a rare treat and a wild ride.
What a pleasure to be reacquainted with t