One week, Arabian Nights
, and the next, Jason and the Argonauts
. Just another modest, low-budget drama from executive producers Robert Halmi Sr. and Jr.
Excuse the ho-hum attitude, but if you watch too many sweeps-month epics, the spectacular becomes almost routine. I say "almost" because this miniseries version of the Greek myth certainly has its moments. Note the scene in Part 2 where an acrobatic Argonaut tries to pole-vault past the extra-large dragon guarding the Golden Fleece. In the blink of an eye, the poor fellow becomes an in-flight snack.
Alas, not all the acting is on a par with the action. As Jason, the young hero who leads the fleece-seeking expedition to fulfill his destiny, Jason London (Dazed and Confused
) is much too bland to hold the loyalty of Hercules (Brian Thompson) or win the love of Medea (Jolene Blalock). Of the two kings tormenting the protagonist, Frank Langella's Aertes is far more majestic in his villainy. Even before he dons ram's horns as headgear, Dennis Hopper is hard to take seriously as the bloodthirsty Pelias, the sort of guy who never hugged a man he didn't stab.
As Zeus and Hera, Angus Macfadyen and Olivia Williams make a fair attempt to mix divinity and desire. But when the gods get to lusting and bickering, polytheism always looks pretty silly.
Bottom Line: Not worthless, but not golden
ABC (Sun., May 7, 7 p.m. ET)
Fans of ABC's The Drew Carey Show
know the sitcom star occasionally likes to display his song-and-dance side. (See the May 10 episode for a splashy example.) But he's the weak link in this original Wonderful World of Disney
musical, which retells the Pinocchio
tale from the viewpoint of the wooden boy's toymaker father (played by executive producer Carey). With a wig in place of his crew cut, Carey looks vaguely like Meat Loaf but sounds more like an eager amateur who does his best singing in the shower. And since Geppetto is not a particularly humorous character, the role and Carey are an uncomfortable fit.
Fortunately, the husky lead receives stout support from Brent Spiner, hilarious as the plotting puppeteer who sees Pinocchio (Seth Adkins) as a meal ticket; René Auberjonois as an ebullient manufacturer of perfect children; and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Blue Fairy. Spiner and Auberjonois make the most of their comedy numbers, which are easily the best of the eight new songs by Stephen Schwartz.
Bottom Line: When you wish for a better star
CBS (Sun., May 7, 9 p.m. ET)
Cate (Mary-Louise Parker) has a boring boyfriend who doesn't know the meaning of romance. Suddenly a perfect new suitor (Peter Gallagher) appears, but for some reason she's wary. "Harry is charming, handsome and smart—it's okay to like him," one of her three sisters advises. At which point, you're thinking: If this is Cate's biggest problem, she's one lucky woman.
Ah, wait. Illness casts a shadow over Cate and Harry's rosy relationship. Then pregnancy brings out the sun again—until Cate is forced to come to terms with her difficult, widowed dad (Philip Bosco). Cupid & Cate
has all the elements of soap opera; in fact, one of the minor characters is the Active star of a daytime serial. But the film is at least partially redeemed by a sense of restraint and a talented (not to say overqualified) cast, which also includes Bebe Neuwirth as Cate's doctor sister and Brenda Fricker as her wise older friend.
Bottom Line: Satisfactory suds
PBS (Wed., May 3 and 10, 9 p.m. ET)
It would be a stretch to describe Michael Palin as Papa's spiritual son. In this four-hour travelogue tracing the steps of Ernest Hemingway, the-Monty Python alumnus cheerfully proves he's no match for the macho writer at hunting, fishing, boxing, etc. But like Palin's witty 1995 novel Hemingway's Chair
, the TV tour combines a genuine regard for the author's work and spirit with a healthy irreverence toward his legend. Add Palin's personal charm (evidenced in previous PBS travel specials like Pole to Pole
) and you're in for a most enjoyable journey.
Among our stops on the Hemingway trail are the Oak Park, Ill., birthplace; the north Michigan woods; the homes in Key West and Cuba; the Paris and Venice haunts; the Green Hills of Africa; and the last retreat in Idaho. A few jokes fall flat and not every path has a payoff, but it's worth the trip to see Palin browse in an all-American gun shop, duck-hunt in vain with an Italian nobleman or hang out at Sloppy Joe's bar amid the annual insanity of the Papa look-alike contest. And a new tie-in book of the same title enhances the Hemingway Adventure
's literary value.
Bottom Line: Moveable feast
PBS (Mon., May 8, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Aloofness was a big part of the late Joe DiMaggio's mystique. "The more he retreated, the more our hunger for him grew," says narrator and cowriter Richard Ben Cramer (author of a forthcoming DiMaggio book) in this provocative American Experience
documentary, which is as much an essay on hero worship as a biography of a New York Yankees great. The film depicts DiMaggio as a nonpareil athlete who paid the price of fame—loss of privacy, unceasing pressure from the public and the press—but gradually learned to make himself a commodity, placing a dollar value on every smooth move. Like his second wife, Marilyn Monroe, he saw his life consumed by his image. Fans may prefer a baseball highlight reel to a portrait of their idol as lonely, guarded and mercenary. But this film isn't playing games.
Bottom Line: Extra-base hit
>Sunday, May 7 THE PRACTICE ABC (10 p.m. ET)
What's more important? Ellenor tries to save a client from execution while Bobby and Lindsay argue over nuptial plans.
Monday, May 8 CELEBRITY WEDDINGS IN STYLE ABC (8 p.m. ET)
Raquel Welch, Vanessa L. Williams and other fancy folk recall their "I do's" in this fourth annual special.
Tuesday, May 9 NOVA: THE VIKINGS PBS (8 p.m. ET)
Not the football team. It's a two-hour look at the bold Scandinavians who shook medieval Europe.
Wednesday, May 10 HERE'S TO YOU, CHARLIE BROWN CBS (8 p.m. ET)
Host Whoopi Goldberg celebrates the late Charles Schulz's creations.
Thursday, May 11 DIAGNOSIS MURDER CBS (8 p.m. ET)
The two-hour season finale finds guest star John Schneider falsely accused of murder.
Friday, May 12 MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT CBS (9 p.m. ET)
Live from Cyprus, some 80 beauties battle it out.
Saturday, May 13 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE NBC (11:30 p.m. ET)
Teen sensation Britney Spears
doubles as host and musical guest.
NBC (Sun.-Mon., May 7-8, 9 p.m. ET)