She says, "Goodbye." I say, "Hel-loooo!" As in "Wake up, America! Are we going to fall for another half-baked, overhyped transplant from across the Atlantic?"
Apparently so. Weakest Link, that nasty cousin to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, appears to be an instant hit. Give credit to NBC's relentless and intrusive marketing the one thing that we all agree is even more annoying and tiresome than Anne Robinson, Link's snippy and mannered host.
Reminiscent of a severe Bond villainess who never gets her comeuppance, Robinson is something rare among quiz-show barkers: a woman, and one with real bite in her bark.
Still, she seems rather a one-note study in rehearsed dourness, as she incessantly spits out the title phrase, then humiliates the players after each round with scripted quips. One night, her gems included "Who's several shrimps short of a barbie?" and &
Surely, any respectable movie about Anne Frank will be a moving and wrenching experience and ABC's four-hour Anne Frank (May 20 and 21, 9 pm/ET, see "Beyond the Diary," page 36) is more than respectable. It's remarkable. By the end, with an extended and graphic sequence in the death camps, it's also almost unbearably sad. (Consider this a parental advisory.) Hannah Taylor Gordon is a radiant marvel in the title role, and the film's portrayal of her deep love for her father, Otto (Ben Kingsley), adds an extra layer of poignancy to the tragedy of her abbreviated but unforgettable life.
Shirley Temple sold innocence. Marilyn Monroe sold sex. We eagerly bought both packages, but only one had a happy ending. And so it is with the biographical TV-movies that, in a bizarre cosmic juxtaposition, both air on Sunday, May 13: ABC's warm and schmaltzy Child Star (7 pm/ET) and CBS's daringly downbeat Blonde (9 pm/ET, concluding May 16). In a TV season studded with remarkable impersonations Judy Davis and Tammy Blanchard as Judy Garland, Barry Pepper as Roger Maris, to name a few you can add Poppy Montgomery's intense, fragile and desperately needy Marilyn (or rather, Norma Jeane). Blonde, based on Joyce Carol Oates's feverish epic, is more of a dark psychological tragedy than another cautionary tale of the dream factory. For this troubled, lonely and fatherless girl, sex-symbol stardom is merely the most public manifestation of a lifelong identity crisis. Glitz is kept to a minimum
TV experts like to say that people watch shows, not networks. But still, how unsettling to think that come next season, we'll be seeing Buffy the Vampire Slayer on UPN, which outbid the WB for a two-year renewal and may snag its spin-off, Angel, in the bargain. Beyond all the implications of this corporate tug-of-war, at least Buffy gets to live on though at what cost? Will we now face exposure to promos for Chains of Love or guest appearances by WWF clowns (more repugnant than any demon)? Buffy adds luster to UPN's neighborhood. But will the WB ever be the same?
Nobody said it would be pretty. Why should it be?
Still, it didn't take long this season for HBO's The Sopranos (Sundays, 9 pm/ET) to see its reputation shift from ultrahip water-cooler fave to lightning rod for controversy.
Some are repulsed by the show's recent violence toward women: the rape of Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) and the fatal beating of a young, pregnant stripper by hotheaded (and hopheaded) Ralphie (Joe Pantoliano). In a more familiar complaint, Italian-American organizations object to what they see as a slur against their ethnic dignity, prompting one Chicago group to file a lawsuit. I keep wondering what the show's detractors expect. Yes, the world of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is brutal and ugly, often claiming as its victims the weak and defenseless. That's what criminals do, including the punk who assaulted Melfi in a parking garage and was freed on a technicality.
Quick: Who are more pathetic, the Gomer wannabes on Fox's excruciating and earsplitting Boot Camp or the sleazoids yoked together in futile hopes of romance on UPN's depressingly tacky Chains of Love? This is a trick question. There's no right answer because to have an answer one would have to care about the participants or the show. And while it's silly for CBS to sue Boot Camp for ripping off every aspect of Survivor as if that's never happened before on TV I understand the impulse to try to hold these latest cheesy "reality" contenders accountable for something. They're a criminal waste of time.
Much more effective than the muddled resurrection of The X-Files's Fox Mulder was the non-resurrection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Joyce Summers on April 17, the first new episode in a near-eternity. After weeks of buzz that Buffy's mom might be brought back to life, the show delivered an inspired variation on "The Monkey's Paw," the classic horror tale warning against disrupting the natural order of things. Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) used witchcraft to revive Joyce but reversed her decision in the nick of time, leading to a tearful catharsis. As usual, Buffy cast a spell as emotional as it was frightening.
A Jewish giant from the Bronx. A swaggering superstar from Oklahoma. A lad from North Dakota who never wanted to be "bigger than the game."
Halls of fame were invented for the likes of Hank Greenberg, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, whose stories are well told in two appealingly nostalgic films destined for long lives on video shelves, right next to Ken Burns's Baseball.
Director Billy Crystal's emotionally evocative 61* (HBO, April 28, 9 pm/ET) is a memorable character study told between the headlines of a media obsessed with seeing which Yankee would top Babe Ruth's home-run record: uptight upstart Maris or his more charismatic teammate, Mantle.
The petulant press dubbing MVP Maris the game's "most vacant personality" because of his ineptitude at locker-room banter concoct and promote a feud between the sluggers. The movie depicts a more complicated fri
Among traditional family comedies, few have done it better than CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond (Mondays, 9 pm/ET), which scored another classic in the April 9 episode, "The Canister." The situation couldn't have been more mundane an argument between Marie (Doris Roberts) and Debra (Patricia Heaton) about an heirloom canister Debra insists she returned, forcing an apology from the domineering Marie ("There's your Easter miracle," says Ray). But when Debra is proved wrong, it escalates into a brilliantly observed farce about family dynamics and the balance of power between the women. The men? They don't stand a chance.
There's no such thing as a normal family on Fox, from the long-running animated hits to the newer breed of live-action wackiness epitomized by Malcolm in the Middle. You probably wouldn't want to live in these homes, but visiting can be a scream.
Fox's savagely funny Titus (Tuesdays, 8:30 pm/ET), hitting its bitter stride in its second year, acknowledges its dysfunction up front. "In a normal family, a surprise means presents, cake and a party. In my family, doing something nice is seen as an attack," says star Christopher Titus in one of his signature self-lacerating monologues, shot in black and white in what looks like a prison cell.
You can't blame him for feeling primed for failure, given a womanizing, alcoholic dad (a ferocious Stacy Keach) who "has swallowed the soul of everyone he's ever loved," and a