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CRIT-O-MATIC THE HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS OF THE COMING TV WEEK.

Byline: David Kronke

``Conquest of America''(History Channel; 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday)

Think: Tales of explorers and conquistadors and their early treks through separate geographical regions - the Southwest, Southeast, Northeast and Northwest - are presented via re-enactments, historical texts and illustrations, and the insights of historians.

Don't think: The title is a bit of a misnomer, since, as tonight's first installment notes, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado's search of the Southwest for a city of riches was something of a failure and the French venture into the Southeast was an outright disaster. But who's going to watch a documentary called ``American Disappointments''?

In a nutshell: Serviceably involving depiction of intrepid (and sometimes borderline crazy) adventurers, and their triumphs and tragedies. As usual with these shows, though, some of the re-enactments are kind of cheesy.

``Grey's Anatomy''

(ABC Channel 7; 10 tonight)

Logline: Standard-issue medical show. Need more? Well, Ellen Pompeo stars as Meredith Grey, a new medical intern in the shadow of her brilliant mother, learning about life, love, etc. As the show opens, she's had a one-night stand with Derek (Patrick Dempsey), who just turns out to be - aw, no fair, you guessed it - a surgeon for whom she works, and who's still pursuing her, to boot. Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight co-star as colleagues and Grey's roomies; Sandra Oh (``Sideways'') plays the sardonic, overanxious intern.

Pros: Characterizations are agreeable if not altogether inspired. Oh's dry humor rises above the rote cliches.

Cons: Story lines are generic (creator Shonda Rhimes' credits include Britney Spears' abject flick ``Crossroads'') - newbies choke under pressure, have crises of confidence, then save a life or two. When plots aren't dull, they're weirdly dumb - a future episode features a prostate cancer victim with, um, a not terribly proud secret involving Heigl's character, who moonlit during medical school as an underwear model. Many performances aren't terribly persuasive.

In a nutshell: More estrogen-tinged than most medical shows, which tend to be testosterone-laced. It's not a good idea, however, to chart the first episode with title cards charting the day's progress - e.g., ``Hour 19,'' ``Hour 40'' - viewers might get the wrong idea. ``Scrubs'' did all this better - even its what's-it-all-mean? voice-over narration was more affecting, and it's a comedy.

Our rating: Two stars

``Wave That Shook the World''

(KCET; 8 p.m. Tuesday)

Think: ``Nova'' episode examines December's Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed the lives of a quarter-million people.

Don't think: They spend plenty of time explaining the science behind what caused this and charting the timeline of destruction, yet nothing - nothing! - on that supermodel who got rescued.

In a nutshell: Most, if not all, of this was reported and explained at the time, and many followed the tragedy raptly, so many will find this familiar material. But for those nostalgic for all that disaster footage that was ubiquitous over the recent holiday season, there's plenty of that here.

``Invasion Iowa''

(Spike TV; 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday)

Think: William Shatner goes all Ashton Kutcher, punking a small Iowa town that's part of ``Star Trek's'' iconography. He tells the inhabitants he's shooting a science-fiction film; instead, it's a prank reality show with a kooky retinue of Hollywood cliches: ditzy starlet, ditzier spiritual adviser, neurotic assistant, etc.

Don't think: That few of the locals notice how execrable the film they're helping make goes a long way in explaining why, say, ``The Pacifier'' and ``According to Jim'' are popular.

In a nutshell: Backs off the prank aspect in favor of genial interaction with the friendly townspeople. Which means it also backs off the comedy fairly significantly, though it's nice, I guess, to see that someone in Hollywood has a conscience and opted not to behave condescendingly toward heartlanders.

``Showdog Moms & Dads''

(Bravo; 10 p.m. Wednesday)

Think: Sequel to ``Showbiz Moms & Dads,'' which depicted the oft-shocking behavior of stage parents, only this time eccentric dog owners who spoil their pooches in anticipation of competitions take center stage.

Don't think: Makes the unhinged fictional characters in ``Best in Show'' seem pretty tame.

In a nutshell: Since children aren't being scarred for life, these folks aren't nearly as appalling as those in the previous series. But the human behavior (one guy eats from his sandwich after sharing it with his whippet) is often just as wackily inexplicable.

``Left of the Dial''

(HBO; 8 p.m. Thursday; also April 5, 11 and 14)

Think: Documentary about Air America, the liberal talk-radio network, as it celebrates its one-year anniversary.

Don't think: So now liberals can be as close-minded, pedantic and knob- headed as conservative talk-radio hosts, and Marc Maron and Randi Rhodes prove that lefties can be as self-obsessed and dismissive of the needs of others as any right-winger. Quite the accomplishment. (Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo apparently limited their access.)

In a nutshell: A belabored depiction of the network's fledgling days is old news, and the filmmakers are surprised by the network's financial woes (looks like it's true: Liberals shouldn't be trusted with money), which turns the film into a dull business story, pokily explicated. Last year's election-night coverage is dramatically depicted, though: Cut 20 minutes and it'd be OK.

``NOW''

(KCET; 9 p.m. Friday)

Think: Yet another disturbing story about corporations sticking it to the working man: Retirees discover that just because their former employers promised them health benefits doesn't mean they'll receive them. This, of course, translates into extremely bad news for the little guy.

Don't think: ... And, of course, people hammered by catastrophic medical fees can no longer file for bankruptcy, though of course millionaires still can.

In a nutshell: Further proof we're doomed: Medical science has found ways to keep us alive longer, only to squeeze more money out of us and for the insurance companies to profit further off of us. Ouch. Solidly reported by David Brancaccio and producer Brenda Breslauer.

``O'Grady''

(The N; 9:30 p.m. Friday)

Think: The ``weirdness'' returns for a second season of the amiably eccentric animated series about a high school whose students and faculty are bedeviled by a random series of bizarre events (for example, aging years every time one sneezes). Even the sloppy-ish visual design is funny - characters' eyes and mouths extend beyond their heads. When you see them from behind, you see the back of, presumably, the inside of their eyes and mouths.

Don't think: Fox Mulder would have a field day, but the kids themselves have become amusingly blase about the mysterious incidents - their regular life (caring for robot babies in health class) is crazy enough.

In a nutshell: Smart, silly yet delirously deadpan - though it's on the 'tween-oriented Noggin, viewers much older can easily be entertained by this fanciful series. If you liked this, you can also see a future episode at the-n.com beginning Friday.

``Battlestar Gallactica''

(Sci Fi; 10 p.m. Friday)

Think: Season finale: Humans vs. Cylons for control of a planet hospitable to human life.

Don't think: As if the humans don't have enough on their plate being outmanned against the Cylons, Adama (Edward James Olmos) is also in a piddling match with President Roslin (Mary McDonnell).

In a nutshell: At turns tense, freaky, kinky, triumphant, pretentious, goofy and shocking, as they kill off a principle character.

David Kronke, (818) 713-3638

david.kronke(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) ``SHOWDOG MOMS & DADS''

(2) ``O'GRADY''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 27, 2005
Words:1228
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