PBS (Thurs., April 28, 9 p.m. ET)
Our favorite British bulldog, Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, is back and working the seedier side of London. In this brawny sequel, Tennison (Helen Mirren) has transferred to the vice squad in Soho. The posting brings her into an underworld of transvestite clubs and young homeless runaways—some of them with AIDS—rummaging through garbage cans for food and sniffing model-airplane glue to gain oblivion.
Tennison immediately tucks into a murder when the charred remains of a "rent boy" (male prostitute) are found in a flat. Things turn dicey when it becomes apparent that certain powerful men—some of them from Scotland Yard—do not want her looking too closely into the death. The investigation slowly uncovers a monstrous history of institutional pederasty.
In this tantalizing Mystery! feast airing over the next four weeks, Mirren is once again marvelous as a determined professional swimming against a tide of intrigue. In Prime Suspect 2 she gave up smoking; this time she gives up something considerably more precious. David Thewlis is memorable as a dissolute and dangerous chicken hawk. Tom Bell, Ciaran Hinds and Peter Capaldi costar.
Syndicated (Check local listings)
It's 2005, and Motor City is a shambles. The forces of evil run rampant. Fortunately for us, a supremely efficient law-enforcement machine patrols the streets of Detroit. Yes, as you probably guessed from the title, the B-movie cyber-action series is now a TV cyber-action series.
Richard Eden plays the former cop killed in the line of duly, then reanimated and mechanized. He fights crime while haunted by visions from his human past. Yvette Nipar and Blu Mankuma play his allies on the force.
The formula translates well to the small screen in part because the original source material was pretty cheesy to begin with and in part because the RoboDude is one potent multimedia icon.
ABC (Sun., May 1, 9 p.m. ET)
In this Hallmark Hall of Fame production, Sissy Spacek plays a committed nurse, the supervisor of a pediatric intensive-care unit. She finds herself irresistibly drawn to her most helpless and heartbreaking patient, a 9-week-old baby girl, born HIV-positive and heroin-addicted to a junkie mother who promptly abandoned her.
Unwilling to accept the sad, short life for which this child appears fated as a ward of the state, Spacek, a single mother with a teenage son, volunteers to become Annie's foster mom. For help she hires an imposing recent widow (Joan Plowright) to care for the baby while she's at work.
The following year, Annie's bitter, hard-knocked mom (Mary-Louise Parker) turns up with advanced AIDS but claiming to have given up drugs and demanding her daughter back.
In a season of powerful performances by TV leading ladies (Diana Ross, Bette Midler, the aforementioned Helen Mirren), Spacek trumps them all with a remarkably natural and subtle portrait of compassion. Parker and Plowright provide strong support. You'll need sponges to watch this simple, affecting film. Tissues just ain't going to do it.
CBS (Sun., May 1, 9 p.m. ET)
On the threshold of her 100th birthday (phone Willard!), august Lucy Marsden sits swamped with memories in a retirement home in the South. She earns the distinction of the title by virtue of having married, at the tender age of 15, a Civil War veteran (a bushy-bearded Donald sutherland) older than her parents—a man who eventually becomes a living monument. Her husband, who is a little addled with ghosts from the past himself, fathers six children with her. Diane Lane plays Lucy the younger; Anne Bancroft plays Lucy the elder.
is maddeningly languorous in pace.
For anyone who has read the intoxicating novel by Allan Gurganus on which this is based, the TV version will seem paltry and rather shrill. Cicely Tyson, Blythe Danner and E.G. Marshall costar.
>THE RUMBLE OF ROCK DINOSAURS
THE DISNEY CHANNEL PRESENTS THE Superstar Concert at Knebworth (Sun., May 1, 9 p.m. ET), a benefit show taped on a windy day in 1990 at the outdoor venue near London. The lineup pretty well simulates the core play-list at a "classic rock" radio station: Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Robert Plant (with his Led Zep mate Jimmy Page), Elton John, Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd. As they prove in this economical concert film, these tour-tested troupers still know how to keep a stadium full of people swaying.
>UP TO THEIR OLD TRICKS
TWO HOUSEHOLD NAMES REPRISE TV roles this week. On Friday, NBC has MacShayne: Final Roll of the Dice (April 29, 9 p.m. ET). Kenny Rogers returns as the rakish troubleshooter at a Vegas hotel-casino. This time he's dealt a Latin spitfire singer (Maria Conchita Alonso) accused of murder. On Monday (May 2,9 p.m. ET), ABC's Columbo: Undercover is a nifty puzzle based on an Ed McBain story. Peter Falk chucks the raincoat for a series of bad disguises, which fool no one. Columbo's superior officer, by the way, is portrayed by Hank Garrett, who has been playing cops on TV since 1961 when he was officer Ed Nicholson on Car 54, Where Are You?
Sure, you're happy. It's the beginning of May Sweeps, the TV calendar's most diverse and competitive period. But for me, May means miniseries, mini-series and more miniseries—beginning with two this week and eight hours(!) of Stephen King next week. By the end of the month, my eyes will be bleary, my remote-operating index finger one big callus and my moral sensibilities shell-shocked (and I didn't even get to see Saturday's Nancy and Tonya film, which NBC didn't have ready in time). Anyway, you may notice the grades I hand out over the next few weeks growing progressively tougher. The thing is, I don't get overtime, and if I'm going to work all these extra hours, somebody's going to pay!