TV Eye

Court and Spark

Mario Van Peebles' Poetic License, with poet and 
political activist Amiri Baraka
Mario Van Peebles' "Poetic License," with poet and political activist Amiri Baraka

When opposites attract, the result can be hot but doomed. Yet, from an unusual union between an indie-rooted movie network and another cable network specializing in sensational courtroom dramas comes a sustained, multifaceted discussion on one of the most pressing issues of our time: free speech. The opposites in this case are the Sundance Channel and Court TV, and their unusual love child is The First Amendment Project, which airs on both networks starting Dec. 7.

Four half-hour films by directors who offer divergent, distinctive, and, thankfully, more complex views than the current diet of he said a bad word, she showed her breast fare found on most TV news make the series enlightening and necessary viewing. There is a downside to the series: Only four films are in the lineup. But with showings on two such divergent networks, perhaps viewer response will encourage the creation of more work on this very important subject. Here's the lineup:

"Fox vs. Franken" (D: Chris Hegedus and Nick Doob): The story of the Fox network's attempt to stop publication of Al Franken's satirical book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. Besides Franken's droll account (along with lawyers, his publisher, and others) comes a discussion of just what the First Amendment is and what makes it a uniquely American concept. Airs Dec. 7 at 8pm on the Sundance Channel, 9pm on Court TV.

"Poetic License" (D: Mario Van Peebles): In 2002, poet and political activist Amiri Baraka was New Jersey's third poet laureate. When his poem written in response to 9/11 caused an uproar, Baraka's title was withdrawn, and in a disturbingly far-reaching measure, the position of New Jersey poet laureate was eliminated. As Baraka reads his poem, journalists, scholars, and other artists remark on the role of artists to comment on the world around them and how free expression takes on new challenges when state funding is involved. Airs Dec. 7 at 8:30pm on Sundance, 9:30pm on Court TV.

"Some Assembly Required" (D: John Walter): This summer's Republican National Convention is the site of Walter's film, which homes in on the need for high-level security in the post-9/11 era while recognizing the First Amendment right for protesters to assemble peaceably. Airs Dec. 14 at 8pm on Sundance, 9pm on Court TV.

"No Joking" (D: Bob Balaban): Using the career of the late comedian Lenny Bruce as a springboard, Eric Bogosian and Richard Dreyfuss pursue a satirical discussion on free speech. Airs Dec. 14 at 8:30pm on Sundance, 9:30pm on Court TV.

What Else Is On?

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, the new made-for-TV film on TNT, should be better. Much better. With the likes of Kyle MacLachlan (Sex and the City), Olympia Dukakis (Steel Magnolias), Jane Curtin (3rd Rock From the Sun), and Bob Newhart (Elf) in the mix, you'd expect a lot more. Actually, the actors mentioned above deliver splendidly in this fantasy-action-adventure (and potential series, from the open-ended conclusion) that derives its premise from a mix of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spider-Man, and, to a lesser extent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's resident librarian with a bad-boy past, Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head). Unfortunately, The Librarian's weak link is its star, Noah Wyle (ER). Wyle plays Flynn Carsen, a perpetual graduate student turned weak-kneed reluctant hero when he is catapulted into a world of intrigue after being selected custodian of the world's greatest secret library. The Ark of the Covenant, Pandora's Box, and Excalibur are a few of the library's treasures. Another is a holy relic called the Spear of Destiny, which grants its bearer unfathomable power. Naturally, it is stolen by an evil cult known as the Serpent Brotherhood before Flynn's first day of work, thrusting him into his first assignment with the help of his humorless and comely bodyguard, Nicole (Sonya Walger). So many winning elements. One weak lead.

The Librarian: Quest for the Spear premieres Sunday, Nov. 5, at 9pm on TNT. Check local listings for additional airdates.

Not reviewed at press time: The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biopic of the charismatic actor based on the biography by Roger Lewis. Geoffrey Rush stars in the title. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers premieres Dec. 5 on HBO. Check local listings.

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Sundance Channel, Court TV, The First Amendment Project, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, No Joking, Poetic License, Some Assembly Required, Fox v. Franken, Bob Balaban, Mario Van Peebles, John Walter, Chris Hegedus, Nick Doob

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