CBS (Fri., Jan. 29, 8 p.m. ET)


Snoopy and company end a long string of TV delights by turning their off-Broadway musical into an animated, hour-long (read: hour-too-long) special. It is as twinkie as it is sweetsie. At the end Linus asks, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if everybody believed in everybody?" The Peanuts gang breaks into song. And the critic, quoting the immortal word of Charlie Brown, cries, "Arrrrgh!"

ABC (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)


They're almost as rich as the real-life Bill Cosby, but they're nothing like he is on TV. Thank goodness. No, they're more like a high-demographic version of The Tortellis or the Bundys from Married...With Children. They're unslick and slightly sick, and that's why I think I'll love them. The Thorns stars Tony (every other Woody Allen movie) Roberts and Kelly Bishop as a noxiously well-to-do Manhattan couple who care only about appearances. If you were looking for dirt in Dallas or vice in Miami on the Friday night that The Thorns premiered, then you missed sicker sins here—a TV dad having the family dog killed so it wouldn't bark and ruin the TV mom's party. (What's most shocking about this sickcom is that it comes from Mike Nichols, a co-creator of that 1976 gushfest Family.) The Thorns could stand a little more work in the plot department, but it has a great bunch of characters. Mary Louise Wilson as the growling maid Toinette is the best French joke on the screen since Inspector Clouseau. And Roberts and Bishop are not completely unsympathetic (only 99 percent so). The Thorns is more than fresh and funny. It is a symptom of a new, healthier America. Here, at long last, is a show that takes the passion of the '80s—greed—and turns it into an object of humor and derision. Bravo.

CBS (Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET)


I haven't seen acting this animated since Dragnet. I haven't seen plots this deep since Adam 12. And I haven't seen TV this daring since Donny and Marie left the air. In other words I haven't seen such safe, stale, stupid, old-fashioned television in years. What we have here is Robert (that battery commercial) Conrad's new series and one-man nepotism festival. Conrad's daughter Joan is the show's executive producer and his sons, Christian and Shane, are his co-stars. What a close family. They even have a family grunt. In the premiere, already aired, the three Conrad men are separated in the wilderness. Then their patriarch lets out a loud, strange, preliterate noise: "UUUNGG!" "What's that?" asks a shocked actor on the other side of the mountain. "That's my dad," says a proud Conrad. Dad Conrad also speaks, giving his boys advice worth embroidering: "You know, you never know what you're gonna do in a tough situation, Son, until you're in a tough situation." Oh, yeah, I suppose I should tell you what the show is about: Conrad, Conrad, Conrad and a bunch of other actors play mountain men who rescue clumsy people who do dumb things in the forest, which is a dandy excuse for puffing out pecs and delivering lines like, "Let's move!" and "Let's do it!" and "We're goin' in!" High Mountain Rangers came to TV last April as a movie, and it did resonably well in the ratings. That is why CBS brought it back as a series. The ratings are also Conrad's answer to his show's many critics. After the series premiered, he sent out a telegram: "You might refer to last Saturday night's national Nielsens. I guess I was right to rely on the taste of the American public." So let's refer to the ratings for that particular night. Rangers did beat figure skating on ABC. But it lost to The Facts of Life on NBC. Which meant that America preferred seeing fat grow on Facts to watching macho mannequins on Rangers. Yes, bless the taste of the American public.

PBS (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)


British minis are like trains: The longer they get, the slower they go. This Masterpiece Theatre seven-parter—based on author Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant trilogies—starts with promise, in an intriguing time and an unusual place. World War II is just beginning, as an English teacher (Kenneth Branagh) and his bride (Emma Thompson) arrive at their home in Bucharest. There, with fellow expatriots—a few reporters, some twitty professors and a ne'er-do-well sponger named Prince Yakimov (Ronald Pickup)—they gossip and worry about war as the Romanian Prime Minister is shot, as Jews are arrested and as British civilians plan sabotage against the Germans. At the start it looks as if we will have an eventful ride on this TV train.

But pretty soon the scenery all starts to look alike; you get tired of staring at the same faces hour after hour; the slow klunketa-klunketa rhythm of the thing starts to lull your brain to sleep; and nothing happens. A clumsy cat kills itself. Germans go to the Brits' favorite bar and sing Nazi songs until, in retaliation, Thompson sticks a hairpin in a fascist fanny. The Nazis take over Bucharest, and everybody gets out except Branagh, the professor, who decides for no good or noble reason to stay. Then the Brits go to Greece and stay there until it is taken over. Then they go to Egypt and worry about the Germans winning there. Still, nothing happens. Only one person—Emma Thompson—brightens things up; she does a fine job playing the ideal woman—graceful, strong, patient, pretty, smart and silent in her suffering. Without her, this would be nothing but a long, long journey to nowhere.