At times, you might mistake Lifetime's enjoyably earnest Biblical epic The Red Tent (Sunday-Monday, 9/8c) for an Old Testament version of Call the Midwife. Adapted from Anita Diamant's novel, this saga of revisionist her-story focuses on willful Dinah (The White Queen's Rebecca Ferguson), the only daughter of Jacob (Game of Thrones' Iain Glen) — he of the many sons, including the sartorially infamous Joseph. Dinah learned much about birthing babies while being nurtured in the females-only "red tent" by her mother Leah (Minnie Driver) and fellow sister-wives (including Morena Baccarin) in early scenes of evocative female bonding. Hence: Lifetime's interest in the story.
Her skill comes in handy once she flees the tent, after a forbidden romance ends badly, thanks to her bloodthirsty brothers (excepting kindly Joseph, with whom she later reconnects in Egypt). This eventful story craftily weaves schmaltz and sin, like Scandal with sandals, in a formula that has worked for centuries. It also hews to the classic tradition of TV miniseries, with the desert dwellers speaking in British accents (save for Debra Winger in a curious cameo performance as Dinah's seer of a grandmother), which becomes most problematic when golden-haired Joseph is set upon by his envious brothers, who all look Middle-Eastern ethnic.
Providing what one hopes is more substantive context, Lifetime precedes the opening night's showing with a two-hour documentary special, The Women of the Bible (7/6c), re-examining scripture from its female characters' point of view and interviewing women leaders and scholars from the faith community. It's narrated by Roma Downey, who produces with Mark Burnett (with hits like History's The Bible to the couple's credit).
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CULTURE SHOCK: The truth may not set anyone free in Sundance's emotionally suspenseful and ultimately devastating miniseries One Child (Friday-Saturday, 9/8c), starring the lovely Katie Leung (of the Harry Potter movies) as Chinese-born Mei, adopted as an infant and raised in England (by Elizabeth Perkins and Donald Sumpter), but called back to her homeland by a crisis involving the family she never knew.
"What brother?" Mei wonders aloud when a journalist contacts her via the Internet on behalf of her birth mother, to inform her that a younger brother, Ajun, has been framed for a murder he witnessed, sentenced to be executed in three weeks. (Mei was given up for adoption because of China's "one child" rule, when her father's family refused to accept a female infant.) Lacking connections and much of an ability to speak the native tongue, Mei isn't sure how she can help. Are the dissidents who've enlisted her naïve, delusional — or maybe even cynically using her case for publicity?
But once she arrives in the sultry province of Guangzhou, with her adoptive parents' increasingly worried blessing, she commits to the cause after meeting her cowed-by-shame birth mother (the affecting Mardy Ma) and charming Ajun (Sebastian So), who hopes once freed to follow his big sis to London to be a DJ and "rock the city." The obstacles are steep in this dangerously repressive society, and Mei's sense of disorientation and hopelessness escalates as she embarks on a harrowing scheme to achieve justice within a corrupt system. This isn't an easy movie to watch, but even at its most bleak, the scenes between the long-estranged mother and daughter are beyond poignant as they find common purpose.
BRAINS AND BRAWN: Looking for TV with a lighter touch? (Can't say I blame you, especially this time of year.) TNT complies with a delightful series version of its Librarian TV-movie franchise, mixing elements of Indiana Jones, The DaVinci Code and even Warehouse 13 in jaunty and fantastical capers extolling the power and allure, and sometimes danger, of magic. Noah Wyle, who starred as the frenetically boyish Flynn Carsen in the three earlier Librarian movies, is on hand to help launch The Librarians (Sunday, 8/7c), which introduces a new team of funky recruits and a kickass "Guardian" in statuesque Rebecca Romijn. As NATO counter-terrorism Col. Eve Baird, Romijn initially (and predictably) spars with Wyle's Flynn, who insists he doesn't need the hired muscle, though he soon relents when a plot is discovered to assassinate other candidates for his super-secret job, which involves curating magical objects (like Excalibur and, in the premiere, King Arthur's mighty crown) in the subterranean expanses of The Library.
The eclectic crew of newbies is deftly, nimbly introduced: Cassandra (adorable Lindy Booth), who's prone to sensory overload thanks to a photographic memory that takes visible form (in A Beautiful Mind style); Ezekiel (John Kim), a puckish master thief who would have been at home on the network's Leverage; and Leverage co-star Christian Kane as Jacob, a rough-hewn Oklahoman with a powerfully high IQ. By the end of the first night's back-to-back episode, they're working from a satellite office of The Library, overseen by an amusing John Larroquette as cranky scholar Jenkins (subbing for the quirky authority figures previously played by Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, who appear briefly to set the plot into motion). With Matt Frewer (almost as ubiquitous a villain these days as Zeljko Ivanek) hamming it up as their chief adversary, the leader of the Serpent Brotherhood cult (with the usual ninja contingent), The Librarians has a cheery exuberance even in moments of peril, allowing us to suspend disbelief quite merrily — which is why it's hardly a shock that the Christmas episode (Dec. 21) sends the Librarians out to save Santa himself from the Brotherhood. Ho ho hokey? Why not?