The Devil Made Her Do It: TV Highlights, January 12-20

Isthmus | January 5, 2005
(Times are Central Standard.)

Cross Rosemary's Baby with "The O.C." and you get "Point Pleasant" (Wednesday, January 19, 8 p.m., Fox). In other words, the series features the devil plotting to rule mankind as well as sexy teens frolicking on the beach. Hey, if folks are going to battle evil, I suppose they might as well do it in fetching swimwear.

The devil's daughter (Elisabeth Harnois) just happens to wash up in a small seaside town chock-full of hunks and honeys. This Christina Aguilera type doesn't look much like the Child of Darkness (well, I guess her makeup a tad overstated), but she does have a strange effect on the locals. In her presence, they lose all their inhibitions and copulate at the drop of a hat.

Like me, you'll probably wonder what the big deal is. Characters on Fox series act that way with or without the devil, don't they?

Crank Yankers

Wednesday, January 12, 8 pm (Comedy Central)

Time for new episodes of the crank-phone-call series, in which puppets act out recordings of actual calls. The pranksters ring up a diaper service to request diapers; a recording studio to create an audio ransom note; and a mattress store to ask if their products hold up under, ahem, heavy use. In the finale, guest star Jeff Goldblum pretends to be a perverted professor trying to set up an inappropriate lecture with a sorority.

Yes, this kind of harassment is probably illegal. But luckily for the producers, the statutes don't apply to felt.

Battlestar Galactica

Friday, January 14, 7 pm (Sci Fi)

The producers of this new series seem embarrassed by their source material. The 1970s TV version of "Battlestar Galactica" was entertainingly campy, but the new one is determined to avoid camp at all cost. In the process, it avoids being entertaining, too.

"Battlestar Galactica" aims for seriousness, but how serious can you be when your plot concerns a race called the Cyclons intent on humanity's destruction? Edward James Olmos does his best to keep a straight face while mouthing his grim dialogue: "Twelve more cases of nervous exhaustion. That makes 61."

Hey, I sat through an entire hour of this gloom and doom. Make that 62.

Jonny Zero

Friday, January 14, 8 pm (Fox)

This new series introduces its hard-guy hero as an almost mythic figure. When we meet Jonny Calvo (Franky G), he's out on the street after four years in stir. Jonny yearns to go straight but feels pressured from both sides of the law: the mobsters who want him back in the fold and the cops who want to turn him into an undercover operative. In the meantime, he keeps busy by helping a stranger find his wayward daughter on the city's mean streets. This outlaw doesn't want any more trouble, but his concern for those in need makes Robin Hood look downright selfish.

Jonny really does seem larger than life, at least through the first couple of commercial breaks. But then, apparently struggling to fill up a whole hour with gritty drama, the producers make an ill-advised stab at comic relief as Jonny becomes a costumed character at a fast-food joint. Note to Fox: If you want to create a legendary hero, don't dress him up in an octopus suit topped by a cute li'l sailor cap.

Golden Globe Awards

Sunday, January 16, 7 pm (NBC)

The Golden Globes used to be the "fun" awards show. With the stars seated informally at tables and loosened up by champagne, the ceremony always featured its share of unpredictable moments. Until last year. The 2003 winners all behaved beautifully--i.e., boringly.

Something startling had better happen this year if the Golden Globes are to retain their reputation. Any chance James Gandolfini will come to the ceremony in character and bump off "The Sopranos"'s competitors in the Best Dramatic TV Series category?

Unforgivable Blackness

Monday, January 17, 8 pm (PBS)

Ken Burns' documentary takes us back to the early 1900s, when white supremacy was the law of the land. African Americans were expected to defer to whites and lynching was all the rage.

Then came a black giant who insisted on being free. Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight boxing champion, won his crown by doing the unthinkable: beating up white men. Not only did Johnson flatten the supposedly superior race, but he did it with a bemused smile on his face. As if that weren't brave enough, Johnson lived as he pleased outside the ring, marrying a white woman at the height of his career in 1912.

African Americans cheered, and oppressed races around the world took courage from Johnson's triumphs. And that, as Burns shows, drove white folks mad. If Johnson couldn't be beaten in the ring, he could be subjected to racist taunts in the press and sentenced to prison on trumped-up charges of "immorality." Johnson's arrest in 1912 finally gave white America the image it craved: the uppity black man led away in chains.

Johnson's real crime was insisting on his humanity in a country determined to treat him like an animal. "Just remember, whatever you write about me, that I was a man," he told a reporter shortly before his death in 1946.

For all his troubles, Johnson comes out of "Unforgivable Blackness" with his dignity intact. And that's more than you can say for his white oppressors.

The French Revolution

Monday, January 17, 8 pm (History Channel)

This lively documentary begins with a portrait of the king as a young nerd. Louis XVI was shy, pudgy and indecisive, with no social grace whatsoever. His royal family hooked him up with Marie Antoinette, one of Europe's most beautiful women, but he couldn’t even consummate the marriage. "Basically," a scholar says, "he was a schlub."

But a schlub with resources. Louis lived to eat, and he made sure his storehouses were full as the rest of France starved in 1789. This was a typical misjudgment, and the French people finally lost it. They stormed the palace and eventually imprisoned the king. Louis tried to escape, thinking his subjects would rally behind him in his desperate attempt to reclaim the throne. Instead they nabbed him, chortled, and cut off his head.

That's when Europe first learned that nothing ever works out for a nerd. (Actually, I could have told them that.)

American Idol

Tuesday, January 18, 7 pm (Fox)

I'll tune in, but only because 2004's off-key finalist Jasmine Trias is contractually barred from participating in the new season.


Tuesday, January 18, 7 pm (PBS)

"Supersonic Dream" explores the attempt to develop supersonic jets as commercial carriers in the 1970s. Would customers feel safe riding in a passenger plane that flew at the speed of sound as extreme shock waves buffeted the fuselage? "Flying in it will be like putting a granny in a missile," one of the developers said at the time.

Clearly, the marketing campaign needed a bit of fine-tuning.


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