With remarkable restraint, director Gordon (The Learning Tree) Parks tells the true story of a free black man who was kidnapped into slavery in 1841 and suffered for 12 years before he could be free again. Stage actor Avery Brooks as Solomon Northup relives the shame and degradation of being sold, of being whipped until he'd call a white man "master," of having his name changed so that his wife and children could not find him, of being forced to fight against his fellow slaves instead of against those who enslaved them. It is teary stuff. But because Parks and Brooks do not go overboard, they manage to make their picture of slavery seem real. Their show, based on Northup's autobiography, is extraordinarily effective and moving.
PBS (Monday, Dec. 10, 9 p.m. ET)