NBC (Sat., July 8, 8 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

Thank you, NBC, for generously airing three "all-new" episodes of the canceled Freaks and Geeks on one night. Better to trot them out in the dog days than toss them in the trash unseen. Now here's a revolutionary idea: Save the show!

Okay, back to reality. Diehard fans have to grab what they can of this critically lauded but ratings-starved series about Michigan high schoolers ca. 1980. But the July 8 marathon, entertaining though it is, may leave you regretful and a little angry at the thought that a show of such rare quality can't survive beyond a single less-than-full season.

The virtues of Freaks and Geeks shine through in these three hours: the naturalness of the young actors; character development that allows for growth and avoids predictability; humor that's warm one minute, pointed the next (as when McKinley High braces for a vice-presidential visit). It's not too late to meet endearingly awkward Sam (John Daley), his independent-minded sister Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and the other true-to-life teens. But you'll miss them all too soon.

Bottom Line: Let them live!

A&E (Sun., July 9, 8 p.m. ET)

Though Longitude is lengthy enough to be a miniseries, A&E is asking viewers to navigate the historical drama in one four-hour trip (including commercial breaks). This adaptation of Dava Sobel's bestseller is talky, complex, technical—will you be tempted to jump ship?

Not if you properly appreciate the work of two of Britain's best actors, Michael Gambon and Jeremy Irons. Gambon gives a powerful performance as John Harrison, an 18th-century clockmaker who strove for more than 50 years—with a huge monetary prize hanging in the balance—to convince the British scientific establishment that longitude at sea should be determined by timekeeping rather than stargazing. Harrison's struggles would surely be enough for one TV movie. But writer-director Charles Sturridge, expanding on a brief section of Sobel's book, also tells the parallel story of Rupert Gould (Irons), a former naval officer troubled by mental illness, who dedicated himself to restoring Harrison's original sea clocks in the 20th century. The film's frequent time shifts can be taxing; still, many viewers will feel that Irons's finely crafted characterization is more than adequate reward for their perseverance.

Bottom Line: Stay the course

PBS (Mon., July 10 and 17, 9 p.m. ET)

If you liked World War II, you'll love...no, that's the wrong way to put it. But those who saw Saving Private Ryan or read The Greatest Generation won't want to miss this stirring two-part documentary on the Battle of Britain. Using archival footage, personal testimony and understated dramatic re-creations, producer Phil Craig (The Vietnam War: A Descent into Hell) brings to life a parlous seven-month period in 1940 when the United Kingdom—woefully outmanned and outgunned—stood alone in blocking Nazi Germany's path to world domination. Along with the ringing words of Winston Churchill (and the worshipful recollections of his secretary), you'll hear the accounts of average Brits—a salty seaman, a modest air ace, a servicewoman in love with a fighter pilot—who did their bit when bravery was the norm.

Bottom Line: V for Victory

Showtime (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

The 1997 movie Soul Food was a messy, large-hearted comedy-drama about a multigenerational African-American family that fought about almost everything but maintained the tradition of bountiful Sunday dinners at the Chicago home of wise old Mama Joe (Irma P. Hall). By the end of the film the matriarch had passed away, but that minor fact won't stop Hall's character from making regular appearances in this new series. Like the dead mother in Providence, she's available for apparitions and advice.

Though Hall is the only cast holdover from the big screen, TV's Soul Food retains the spirit of the original along with at least one of its flaws. The narrator is still Ahmad (now played by Aaron Meeks), Mama Joe's 12-year-old grandson-despite sex scenes that clearly mark this as adult fare. The first two episodes (June 28 and July 5) had me wondering, Can Ahmad see the hot stuff? And if so, how come he's not commenting on that• But I don't question the competence of Nicole Ari Parker, who ably succeeds Vanessa L. Williams as Ahmad's Aunt Teri, a divorced lawyer with a superior attitude. Vanessa Williams (less famous than Vanessa L. but familiar from Melrose Place and Chicago Hope) also registers strongly as the unpretentious Maxine, Ahmad's mother and Teri's perennial sibling rival. Yet another Williams—first name Malinda—portrays the third sister, Bird, whose husband (Darrin Dewitt Henson) is an impulsive ex-con. Soul Food is inconsistent, but it whets the appetite.

Bottom Line: Don't just eat and run

>Sunday, July 9 TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL CBS (8 p.m. ET) A sixth grader tries to divorce his parents in this repeat, prompting Monica and Tess to fly into court.

Monday, July 10 CAUSE CELEB Court TV (10 p.m. ET) Michael Bolton, William Baldwin, Bianca Jagger and Charles Grodin talk activism in an hour special.

Tuesday, July 11 BIOGRAPHY: ROBERT GOULET A&E (8 p.m. ET) Follow the big-voiced baritone from Camelot to Vegas and back.

Wednesday, July 12 JUNKYARD WARS TLC (9 p.m. ET) Scrounging for something to watch? How 'bout two hours of British gearheads competing to build machines with junked parts?

Thursday, July 13 CITY OF ANGELS CBS (9 p.m. ET) Ossie Davis guest-stars in this rerun as a patient with regal delusions.

Friday, July 14 PROVIDENCE NBC (8 p.m. ET) Well-meaning Syd gets mixed up with an embezzler in this repeat.

Saturday, July 15 THE IRON GIANT HBO (7:30 p.m. ET) A boy and a 50-ft. alien robot become allies in an appealing animated feature from 1999.