Showtime (Mon., Aug. 28, 8 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

If you've seen either of his movies—In the Company of Men or Your Friends & Neighbors—you are aware that writer-director Neil LaBute does not have a sunny view of human nature. If not, don't say we didn't warn you that this trilogy of short plays by LaBute will leave you chilled and depressed.

Nevertheless, this is a recommendation that you watch bash (subtitled latter day plays, in an apparent reference to the Mormon background shared by the author and his characters). Performing before a live audience, Ally McBeal star Calista Flockhart, Ron Eldard and Paul Rudd brilliantly repeat their roles from last year's Off-Broadway production. The actors are so compelling that you're likely to be shocked and even sickened as their characters recount behavior that can fairly be termed depraved.

In the opener, Rudd and Flockhart portray a college couple in formal clothes telling of a big party in Manhattan. The second segment is a monologue by Flock-hart as a tense, bitter young woman who seems to be under arrest. The third and best of the plays offers Eldard as a deceptively affable middle-management type baring his secrets to an unseen hooker in a hotel room. There's a sameness to the dramas in that each moves slowly toward a gruesome revelation, but you'll be held by these people almost against your will. For the record, bash does contain a few laughs—the kind that die in your throat.

Bottom Line: Tune in, but don't get comfortable

PAX TV (Sun., Aug. 27, 9 p.m. ET)

A prophet's task is never easy, but Jeremiah had a particularly tough sale to make. According to the Bible, it was his divine mission to exhort the people of Judah to mend their ways or else face conquest by the Babylonians. When the message of repentance fell on deaf ears and Jerusalem came under siege, God ordered Jeremiah to call for surrender. Not surprisingly, the Hebrew leaders did not hail the prophet as a patriot.

Shot in Morocco two years ago, this TV movie does an acceptable job of tracing Jeremiah's progress from dutiful son to reluctant troublemaker to fiery truth-teller. Although he is a touch shrill in his speeches, Patrick Dempsey is effective in the title role. Klaus Maria Brandauer exudes arrogance in his too-brief turn as Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and the late Oliver Reed opts for low-key deviousness as Shapan, a power behind the Hebrew throne. The problem is that Dempsey's jeremiads need more context. We're told that Judah is shot through with corruption, but we're not shown enough evidence that the kingdom deserves to be brought low by one so nasty as Nebuchadnezzar.

Bottom Line: Adequate epic

E! True Hollywood Story
E! (Sun., Aug. 27, 9 p.m. ET)

Not every old show that gets the True Hollywood Story treatment truly merits a behind-the-scenes documentary. Earlier this month, for instance, E! told us everything we ever wanted to know about Eight Is Enough. But in terms of ratings dominance and groundbreaking content, All in the Family (currently in Nick at Nite reruns) was one of the most important series in TV history.

Norman Lear's audacious CBS sitcom, built around the bigoted Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), consistently topped the Nielsens between 1971 and 1976 as it took on touchy topics from race to rape. Yet its success was by no means assured. This two-hour program—featuring fresh interviews with Lear, O'Connor and costars Jean Stapleton and Rob Reiner—is particularly informative about the producer's early struggles to get his controversial creation on the air. (Former ABC programming chief Leonard Goldberg still looks pained at that network's decision to pass on the show.) But we'd have a better understanding of the constant conflict between Lear and O'Connor had E! offered specific examples of the creative points they fought over.

Bottom Line: Family album's worth a look

HBO (Sat., Aug. 26, 9 p.m.)

Jazz is unpredictable. Sometimes you put together an all-star jam session and it just doesn't swing.

Judi Dench heads the cast of this British-made comedy, portraying a sax-playing widow determined to reunite her all-girl band from the World War II years. Well, almost all-girl. The drummer (Ian Holm) was an amorous male in Some Like It Hot drag, and now he's developing warm feelings for Dench. Other musical mates include Olympia Dukakis as the tippling trumpeter, Leslie Caron as the elegant bassist and Cleo Laine singing in her unmistakable style. But all this talent can't work the necessary wonders with a thin script that muses rather ineffectually about the thrilling atmosphere of wartime London (shown in flashbacks) and reduces Dench's adult children to clichéd squares, clucking tongues at her late-life frivolity. All that's really interesting is the potential romance between Dench and Holm, and the film winds up kissing that off.

Bottom Line: Curiously flat

Lifetime (Mon., Aug. 28, 9 p.m. ET)

Lorraine Bracco plays a shrink in The Sopranos; in this TV movie she could use a crisis counselor. Resentful of her business success, Bracco's sneaky, stay-at-home husband (Martin Donovan) files for divorce, gains temporary custody of their two kids and has her ejected from the house before she knows what hit her. To add to the agony, her mother is dying. It's a manipulative drama that doesn't know when to quit, but the lead actors effectively convey the pain and guilt of marital warfare.

Bottom Line: Crowded emotional docket

>Sunday, Aug. 27 DARIA: IS IT FALL YET? MTV (7 p.m. ET) The teenage cynic of the animated series gets her first movie length outing.

Monday, Aug. 28 ULTIMATE GUIDE: EXTREME WEATHER Discovery Channel (9 p.m. ET) Celebrate hurricane season with this hour-long meteo-rologic scarefest.

Tuesday, Aug. 29 ACCESS HOLLYWOOD'S TOP 10 OF 2000 NBC (8 p.m. ET) Julia Roberts? Regis Philbin? This special lets you vote online for your favorite stars.

Wednesday, Aug. 30 VIA DOLOROSA PBS (9:30 p.m. ET) In his acclaimed one-man stage show, British playwright David Hare (The Blue Room) reflects on a trip to the Middle East.

Thursday, Aug. 31 ALI: AN AMERICAN HERO FOX (8 p.m. ET) David Ramsey plays the loquacious boxing great in a new TV biopic.

Friday, Sept. 1 PROVIDENCE NBC (8 p.m. ET) Take two aspirin, Doc. A headache has Syd hallucinating in a weird rerun.

Saturday, Sept. 2 RANDOM HEARTS HBO (9 p.m. ET) Fate connects Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas in this 1999 romantic drama.