Show of the week
Kindly take note of that subtitle. Let's not hear a word of complaint about this documentary's six-hour length. A 60-hour survey would have trouble covering the entire African-American arts scene in the 20th century. Executive producer Henry Hampton (Eyes on the Prize), who died in November, and his filmmaking team had to impose some sort of selection process on this wildly ambitious project. Jazz fans will be happy to see the early-career profile of Dizzy Gillespie (which astutely notes the importance of his madcap-hipster image—as well as his trumpet artistry—to the rise of bebop) but incredulous that Duke Ellington rates only brief mentions. Modern dance devotees will applaud the in-depth look at Bill T. Jones while tap fanciers question why Gregory Hines, Savion Glover and Sammy Davis Jr. get only walk-ons. There's no pleasing everyone. But this program (narrated by singer-actress Vanessa L. Williams) unquestionably excels in its probing treatment of novelist-essayist James Baldwin and poet Gwendolyn Brooks, who came down from literature's ivory tower and engaged themselves in the struggle for black empowerment. Art and action—both are at the heart of African-American history.
Bottom Line: Attempts too much but largely succeeds
ABC (Mon., Feb. 1, and Thurs., Feb. 4, 9 p.m. ET)
I may be out of step with the times, but "Internet thriller" is my idea of an oxymoron. Where's the kick in watching some technowhiz tap his or her keyboard (my, how those fingers fly) and stare at the computer screen? This four-hour miniseries—formally titled Tom Clancy's Netforce (because it's based on a story by the bestseller machine who wrote The Hunt for Red October)—concerns a special FBI unit charged with protecting the Internet from criminal manipulation in 2005. After the murder of the Netforce leader (Kris Kristofferson), his successor (former Quantum Leap-er Scott Bakula) suspects that an evil entity is wreaking havoc on world communications by conducting a "selective probing of Net vulnerabilities through fiber-optic links." So Bakula issues his team dull orders like, "Run all our emergency utility programs—I want a full diagnostic." The White House chief of staff (Brian Dennehy) tries to compensate for Bakula's colorlessness by giving the Netforce rustic warnings to find the bad guys or else ("The hog is in your sty.... You damn well better deliver the bacon").
Although the miniseries climaxes with a shootout in and around the Oval Office (hey, it beats browsing the Web), the long-awaited unveiling of the true villain comes as a complete nonsurprise. The one thing that kept me logged on was Judge Reinhold's performance as a jauntily rapacious computer tycoon who "apprenticed under the great Bill Gates" but makes his mentor look like a softy. Internet satire? Now, that's perfectly logical.
Bottom Line: notsohot.com
FOX (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
This new comedy series has taken flak for its use of negative black stereotypes. Does the criticism have validity? Yes. Should the show be ridden off the air on a rail? Whoa. The PJs can be plenty funny when it isn't crude and offensive—and even when it is. Your enjoyment will depend on where you draw the line and your willingness to redraw it under the influence of laughter.
Employing the so-called foamation process (stop-motion animation with foam/latex puppets) against the backdrop of an inner-city housing project, The PJs marries cartoon whimsy and harsh reality. Apartment-building superintendent Thurgood Stubbs (voiced by Eddie Murphy, one of the show's creators) goes for a neighborhood stroll and observes, "The gunfire is coming from the west tonight." When he takes in the view from the roof, there's always one structure burning not far away. Uneasy chuckles here. But there's no time to wonder whether you should be amused because the jokes fly thick and fast. Some are silly (Thurgood favors interjections like "Jiminy Walker!" and "Bless my Soul Train!"), some are smart (a slow-as-molasses sample of an audiotape called Cooking with Maya Angelou), some are in dubious taste (the friendly dope addict who says, "Mi crack house es su crack house"), and some are in taste that's unquestionably bad (don't be ashamed if you can't bring yourself to laugh at an old woman's history of multiple strokes). You needn't howl at every gag to appreciate the show's high levels of energy, inventiveness and ethnic-cultural awareness. In the Feb. 2 episode, Thurgood finds humor near the intersection of Al Sharpton Boulevard and Alvin Ailey Alley.
Bottom Line: Audacious fun with animation
>Sunday, Jan. 31 FAMILY GUY FOX (10 p.m. ET) Talk about a running start: This new animated sitcom gets a special preview right after Super Bowl XXXIII.
Monday, Feb. 1 VANISHED WITHOUT A TRACE NBC (8 p.m. ET) Shelley Long's far from cheery when her teenage daughter disappears in this TV movie.
Tuesday, Feb. 2 FAMILY BLESSINGS CBS (9 p.m. ET) Love vaults a TV-movie age gap as Lynda Carter gets passionate with a younger man.
Wednesday, Feb. 3 LAW & ORDER NBC (10 p.m. ET) Harlem roils with anger after a community leader is beaten to death.
Thursday, Feb. 4 DIAGNOSIS MURDER CBS (8 p.m. ET) Dick Van Dyke and his fellow good guys have one hour to find a murderer loose in the hospital.
Friday, Feb. 5 MISS USA PAGEANT CBS (9 p.m. ET) Mr. Soap Hunk USA, Shemar Moore of The Young and the Restless, emcees the beauty contest.
Saturday, Feb. 6 HAPPY GILMORE ABC (8 p.m. ET) The Waterboy's Adam Sandler also played dumb in this 1996 comedy.
PBS (Mon.-Wed., Feb. 1-3, 9 p.m. ET)