We Control the Vertical
This Friday night Biography (A&E; 10/17; 7pm) profiles actress Mia Farrow in a sympathetic but even-handed look at her rather public life, from her marriage to Frank Sinatra to the humiliating break-up of her relationship with Woody Allen. Farrow, as well as her mother, actress Maureen O'Sullivan, is also interviewed. A&E has another sumptuous profile, this one of San Francisco on The Grand Tour (10/17; 9pm). The one-hour show follows the City by the Bay's changing face as it rebuilds after the 1906 earthquake and transforms from a fishing village to one of the world's most sought-after destinations. The Emmy Award-winningChris Rock Show (HBO; 10/17; 10:30pm) has Bryant Gumbel and rapper-turned-author LL Cool J scheduled. I am still chuckling over Chris Rock's response to Marilyn Manson's performance on MTV.
Who doesn't love bad TV, especially on the weekends? Cinemax can start your weekend out with a leisurely viewed stinker, The Forbidden Dance (MAX; 10/18; 2:15pm). This is a lambada movie. (There were two of them -- the other was called Lambada and it starred Melora Hardin, who was not only in the bomb series Dirty Dancing but was the unhappy teen Jack Klugman saved from a life of certain doom in that notorious punk rock episode of Quincy.) In this lambada movie, a Brazilian princess enters a lambada contest. Have lots of popcorn and the remote control nearby.
(I probably shouldn't say such things about the lambada movies. Years ago, I made fun of a Tammy movie in front of my stepsister. "That movie really blows," I told her as she was starting to watch it. Two hours later, she came in telling me it didn't really blow, that Tammy had just been misunderstood and that the nice doctor had seen through her and fallen in love with her even though she talked funny. How do you respond to that?)
If you're a real masochist, save some popcorn for The Forbidden Dance, because Pillow Talk (AMC; 10/18; 4pm) may be for you. In this 1959 what-planet-did-these-people-come-from? romp, Rock Hudson and Doris Day share a party line and develop an antagonistic relationship until Hudson decides to woo Day. Tony Randall and the ever-wonderful Thelma Ritter co-star. The antidote for all that saccharine could be a little sugar; The Wonder Years (NICK; 10/18; 11pm) are back. Last week NICK ran The Wonder Years in blocks nightly, and you could literally watch little Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage) grow up onscreen. Maybe having this show back will put to rest those rumors that Paul Pfeiffer (Josh Saviano) grew up to be Twiggy Ramirez of Marilyn Manson's band. (How did Marilyn Manson rate this many mentions? I can barely look at much less listen to him.) Yeah, yeah... I know. The show was designed to be heart-tugging as well as funny. Almost 10 years after its debut in 1988, the show that was calculatedly about nostalgia when it came out is still as tender and funny now as it was then. (And boy, can I ever relate to Kevin's sister Karen (Olivia d'Abo); that's me sitting there at the dinner table with love beads annoying my parents. As opposed to MTV's Austin Stories. That is not me. Just because the "Austin Weekly" is on the same block as the Chronicle's original location, just because we are the only alternative weekly in Austin, just because the journalist Laura House plays is adorable and hilarious and chubby and smart, just because the producer came and shot lots of pictures of my horribly messy office, just because there's a John Cale poster on the wall of the paper, this is not me! I don't even know Laura House, who seems very nice and funny – MTV has studiously ignored any attempts on my part to get info on the show.)
Gorillas. I love gorillas. Gorillas: Tender Giants (DSC; 10/19; 7pm) runs on Sunday night when lots of other people are watching The Simpsons. I will watch anything but The Simpsons, so if analyzing the habits of western and eastern lowland gorillas doesn't cut it,Jane Eyre (A&E; 10/19; 7pm) just might. This 1997 version of Charlotte Brontë's classic is in its umpteenth incarnation (though I am very attached to the 1944 version starrring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, and a young Elizabeth Taylor as the ill-fated Helen Burns). I really adore this kind of stuff, so Persuasion (KLRU; 10/19; 9pm) will be up next. This 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's last novel is one of her lesser-known works but equally full of the sort of common sense (and sensibility) that pervades Austen's work. (This Sunday night also begins the countdown to the 1997-98 premiere of The X-Files (FOX; 11/2; 8pm). Also, look for Fran Drescher to bring her character, publicist Bobbi Fleckman, from This Is Spinal Tap to The Nanny. Lisa Loeb is supposed to play her assistant.
I love this sort of thing as much as gorillas, even if it's a bit beyond my comprehension sometimes: On Monday, the second part of the six-part series, Stephen Hawking's Universe (KLRU;10/20; 9pm) asks the burning question "Did the universe have a beginning?" in this week's episode, "The Big Bang." Yeeee. I might need just that sort of brain tickle next week after Melrose comes back. But with Monday Night Football getting all the attention on ABC, the 8pm slot in particular comes off a lot like a battle of one sex. There's the charming, likable, and witty attorney Ally McBeal (FOX); the charming, likable, and witty cartoonist in Caroline in the City (NBC); and the charming, likable, and witty Cybill (CBS) all battling for your Neilsen rating.
On Tuesday, I have become very fond of Trauma: Life in the ER (TLC;10/21; 7pm). This hour-long series is pretty much what you'd get if you put FOX's COPS on NBC's ER. It's also a reminder that much of the effect a show like ER has on me is manipulated. It is just as sad to watch a real-life doctor tell a grieving family their son would not live, but these were real people, cholesterol horrors that bore little resemblence to the careworn faces of extras cast to tweak our emotions. And all the blood – oh, my. The doctors aren't nearly as pretty as George Clooney but you won't forget the stark contrast between it and the more realistic network dramas.
The discriminating TV viewer will need something to dilute the mind after that show; may I suggest some more bad TV? 1955's Land of the Pharaohs (AMC; 10/21; 8:15pm) will ensure that no major thought processes happen during this lavish but turgid production. Until her revival as a campy bitch in Dynasty, this and Empire of the Ants were Joan Collins' best-known roles. Filmed in Egypt, William Faulkner was among those drafted to write on the stiff script that boasted thousands of extras. Whoa – out of room already? Okay, quick confession: I won't be watching any of this weekend stuff because I will be in New York seeing the Rolling Stones.