The February sweeps are in full swing, so let's get right to it.

PBS (Thurs., Feb. 11, 9 p.m. ET)

B+

In a sequel to last year's outstanding Mystery! miniseries, Helen Mirren (see box on page 14) returns as Jane Tennison, a dogged detective chief inspector in London. This time she's heading up an investigation into the discovery of a decomposed body buried in the backyard of a row house in a neighborhood made up predominantly of West Indian (or what we call Caribbean) immigrants.

The sexism that bedeviled Tennison on her first TV case is less overt. But this time she must contend with departmental politics and rancorous community relations. And things are a little dicey in the squad room because Tennison has had assigned to her team, over her objections, a black detective sergeant (Colin Salmon) with whom she had a brief fling.

Because of the dense exposition and the thick accents, the plot summary prologues delivered by series host Diana Rigg are invaluable. And while this four-parter, airing on consecutive Thursdays, is atmospheric, the crime at the heart of the matter isn't quite as intriguing as the one Mirren faced first time around. But the actress is again superb as a woman tenaciously pursuing a demanding job.

NBC (Fri, Feb. 12, 9 p.m. ET)

B+

This documentary traces the rise and fall of a wild kid from Brooklyn who became heavyweight champion of the world at 20 and ended up in an Indiana prison cell five years later after he was convicted of rape.

Using a rough but illuminating mix of file and fight footage as well as interviews with trainer Kevin Rooney, promoter Butch Lewis, sportswriters and residents of the desolate Brooklyn neighborhood in which Tyson grew up, the film is a poignant profile of the boxer. Tyson's most lethal combination turned out to be the psychological fragility and the psychic fury churning inside him. Together they made him one of the most ferocious fighters in history, and also painfully vulnerable when the waves of fame, riches and opportunists began washing over him.

Director Barbara Kopple (see story, page 65) etches a provocative portrait of a man-child in a brutal sport, of a boxer who was virtually unbeatable in the ring but had few triumphs once the gloves came off.

CBS (Sun., Feb. 14, 9 p.m. ET)

D+

At the time of his death, author Alex Haley (Roots) was researching the life of his paternal grandmother, a racially mixed woman named Queen. The network, with Haley collaborator David Stevens, has turned her story into a shoddy six-hour miniseries.

The first night is a dreadfully vacuous re-creation of the antebellum South, where Queen is born to an Alabama plantation owner (Wings's Tim Daly) and one of his slaves (Jasmine Guy). Sunday's flimsy "Massapiece" Theater gives way to Tuesday's feverish vale of tears, as a grown Queen (Halle Berry), now free but spurned by both races, struggles to find her place in the world, enduring terrible deprivations and unbearable losses. Only on the final night, Thursday, does the mini come alive (and briefly at that), when Danny Glover enters the picture as Alec Haley, a widowed ferryboat skipper in Tennessee with whom Queen finds a degree of happiness.

A subhumdrum script makes for a procession of artificial performances by such people as Ossie Davis, Martin Sheen, Ann-Margret, Patricia Clarkson, Paul Winfield and George Grizzard. The project from start to finish is so remarkably superficial and unconvincing that it succeeds neither as tragedy nor as history.

>Helen Mirren

PRIME ACTRESS

HELEN MIRREN HAS A CONFESSION. "I'm the sort of person who has always viewed the police as basically the enemy.... I get sweaty palms if a police car is following me down the street," admits the husky-voiced British actress, 47, who is enjoying the greatest success of her career—as a policewoman. The blonde whom one British magazine called "the sexiest Shakespearean actress in history" and the star of such cull films as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is currently generating a different kind of heat playing a London cop on PBS's Prime Suspect 2, the sequel to last year's award-winning British miniseries.

"As an actress the thing that I like most about her is her unlikability," says Mirren of her character, Del. Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. Mirren will shoot a third installment of Prime Suspect in June and is hoping to reprise the role in a planned feature film based on the series. "She messes up, she's a very flawed character—in other words, she's a real person." On TV Mirren looks the part—chopped hair, no makeup, at times downright haggard. "People call me up now," she says, smiling, "and say, 'Helen, we've got this role for someone who looks like a dog, and we thought of you immediately."

Mirren says she has no problem finding tempting parts, glamorous and otherwise, because of her willingness to go where the work is. Most of the mealiest roles tend to be in Europe, she believes, which is why the actress spends half the year away from the six-acre Hollywood estate she shares with director Taylor Hackford, 48, and their three Louisiana Catahoula hounds. (The couple met in 1985, when she appeared in Hackford's film White Nights.)

After eight years of bicontinental living, Mirren calls herself an "amused observer" of the Los Angeles scene. Among her amusements are local drivers—"half asleep...they'd be dead in a second in New York"—many of whom she leaves in the dust of her turquoise '67 Mustang convertible. Although Mirren does some writing, she has no plans to write scripts. "The only way that women will get better roles in films and theater and television," she says with a Tennisonian edge, "is by making better roles for women in life."

  • Contributors:
  • Pam Lambert.