SUNDAY

Helter Skelter
The Charles Manson killings and trial occurred when I was a little kid, so they didn't really enter my world until the first Helter Skelter aired in 1976, when the whole tale had long since entered the realm of circus and hyperbole. By then he'd become just another bogeyman to us, right up there with The Legend of Boggy Creek, Jaws or Halloween. When my friends and I weren't telling Helen Keller jokes, we were mixing Manson in with the other ghost and monster stories we told lying around the campfire in our sleeping bags.

By the time I graduated college, it was Manson who'd become the joke. After seeing his infamous Geraldo interview and hearing his rantings and songs played time and again on the Stern show, it was easy to get a laugh by lapsing into his delusional drawl.

But you can only laugh at the guy when you don't think about what he did. And though this version of the tale begins with slightly clunky TV-movie writing and pacing, by the time it's over it's relating the horror of these murders and the insanity of the family quite effectively. Not funny at all, actually.

Jeremy Davies has Manson down cold, too. My only complaint is that despite spending so much of the movie with him and the Family, we see only how he draws them in and controls them — not why. Then again, I doubt anyone's ever known that.

Nature: &quotPale Male&quot
I was living in Manhattan when these hawks started their family, and remember it well. And as far as memory goes, talk about impressive: Compare these birds to the celeb couples of the time. Anyone making documentaries on Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Jason Patric, Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, Donald Trump and Marla Maples, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid or Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford?

That '70s Show
It's the sixth season and already the cast seems to barely be able to muster enough energy to learn their lines, never mind pretend they're actually living in another decade. The writers are certainly phoning it in, too. In fact, the only people who still seem to be trying are the folks in costuming and the guy who sweetens the laughter.

Still, Happy Days only held out for, what, five, before doing the same? Way to go, guys!

State of Play
"We know from experience you don't mess with the oil industry," says George Fergus. Yeah, we hear you on this side of the pond, too, George.

Meanwhile, Della demonstrates how truly gutsy she is by hunting down Cal and Dan in the men's room, and creator Paul Abbott impresses me yet again by giving us a stop-the-presses moment that's entirely earned — not an ounce of corniness in its portrayal.

(Which reminds me: A reviewer in The Observer said this show just might be Britain's "long-awaited, home-grown 24." I'd go higher and say it's the British Wire.) "Who the hell do you think we are?" George asks Steven. He doesn't know — yet — and neither do we. But we've got another episode to find out. And I, for one, ain't gonna miss it.

The Sopranos
Alright, so every time I watch this show I see bad things foretold everywhere: Carmela seeing A.J.'s guidance counselor, Finn standing Vito up for a ball game, etc. And not all of them pan out. But what do you want from me? People get shot or beaten to death on this show every week.

But Tony B. hanging a "because I'm the boss" plaque on the wall? Gotta be a bad idea.

That said... the dream. I liked the dream at first — Annette Bening was a nice touch — but did they really need to stretch it out like that? After a while, I had the same feeling I'd get when I was a kid watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, as Snoopy spent a good third of it fighting the Red Baron with me thinking, "How did we get here and when do we get back to the Pumpkin?"

Deadwood
"Don't f-----g try doing away with yourself again," snarls Swearengen. My, my — is that our Al's sociopathic way of letting Trixie know he cares? And if the answer is yes, is he devoted to the woman, or just his property?

With the birth of a primitive government in Deadwood — and the hilarious and dire complications sure to ensue — this show only gets better by the week. And no, I don't think for a minute that Cy's really gonna let Joanie open her own place. That's about as likely as Swearengen letting Sol court Trixie, a situation sure to get uglier, unfortunately.

Nice romantic tension in the Seth-Alma situation, however. And good job burying the lead, too. I was getting worried that Seth was a cheatin' man.

Crossing Jordan
Jane walks into a precinct covered in blood and says she thinks she just killed someone. When she faints, Woody catches her and puts her on a nice, comfy couch. What do you want to bet if I tried that, they'd let me bounce and have me sleep it off in a cell until they could question me?

Meanwhile, Bug not only isn't able to respect the widow's request that her late husband's body not be cut open, but we're treated to a scene-long look at him spread open like a fillet, with a shot up into the inside of his throat and neck to boot. I know these shows thrive on their gross-out factor, but am I the only one to see the irony in that?

SATURDAY

The Preakness Stakes
Everyone else out here in L.A. is yelling about the Lakers, but in a contest between the best team money can buy and the best horse money can buy, I've gotta go with Smarty Jones. The Lakers, who are more expensive aggregate than team, anyway — their two big stars don't even like each other much, remember — are looking to get back into their championship ways after having their three-year run broken last year. Big deal. Smarty, who won by 11 1/2 lengths and broke a record held since 1873 in doing so, is looking to be just the second unbeaten Triple Crown winner in history (Seattle Slew was the first). And he doesn't even know how much money's being spent on him; he's sweatin' for oats.

And I'm supposed to care more about basketball? Neigh, say I.

Lewis Black: Black on Broadway
A little Lewis Black goes a long way — the channeling of Jack Nicholson begins to wear after a while — but these three things ring true enough to repeat:

On travel: "The most important part of travel is when you come home, because that's when you see your country with new eyes. I was amazed to realize that we are the only country that tells the rest of the world on a nearly constant basis that we are the greatest country on Earth. And that is a little f----n' obnoxious... The amazing thing is there are people who have never left this country who talk about the fact that we're the greatest country on Earth. How f----n' dumb is that?"

On homeland security: "As soon as they told us that we should protect ourselves with duct tape, immediately a group of citizens should've been sent to Washington on our behalf. And they should've taken everyone from the President on down out for an afternoon of electro-shock, just to get 'em back on track."

On missing WMDs: "If they couldn't find the weapons, which were the reason we went to war, then why didn't they make something up? Why did they stop lying? My government has always lied to me. I'm comfortable with that."

Yeah, I know I said this wasn't a political column last time it was my turn to write up the weekend. But, hey — he said it, not me.

FRIDAY

Reba
Who here didn't think Cheyenne and Van would go for a more expensive apartment than they could afford? OK, I see no hands, which I expected. Which makes me better at predicting people than Brock, who really should've seen that tossing Reba aside for Barbara Jean would leave him with a younger wife who'd eventually demand a baby from him. Which, of course, is the long way 'round to the main point: that Reba and Brock should've known as soon they locked into a hug, they were bound to be caught.

Me, I'm real good at seeing the future. In the sitcom world, anyway. Which means that, yeah, I knew they'd end on a cliffhanger, with Brock deciding he wants Reba back. And no, I won't hazard a guess as to what she'll say when next season begins. You don't really expect me to put my perfect record at risk, do you?

(And yes, I just devoted two paragraphs of serious thought to, of all things, Reba. As Box, the mad robot in Logan's Run, said: It's my job.)

Joan of Arcadia
Joan drives herself nuts over a gift for Adam? My wife and I worked that out years ago: We only do the gift thing when one of us is dead sure we've thought of something the other needs, which means an actual gift is given every few years — if that. The rest of the time we just buy each other dinner. Then again, God's not commanding either of us to come up with something.

Good episode overall, but they completely lost me when they went to the Adam-and-Joan-as-Rodin-and-Rose thing. Just plain silly, even if Rodin hadn't cheated on his wife with Camille Claudelle (whom he eventually drove insane, by the way).