Meriam Al-Khalifa (Marisol Nichols) remarks that she watches too many Meg Ryan movies. Jason Johnson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) quotes his mother as saying that he watches too many John Wayne movies. If this small-screen dialogue is valid evidence of their big-screen tastes, you'd think the real-life princess and her Marine might be disappointed to see their Romeo and Juliet relationship depicted in a rather ordinary TV drama.
It's 1999, and Jason is stationed in the small Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain. His forbidden romance with Meriam, a member of the Bahraini royal family, hits a snag when the secret police spot the couple's first kiss. (Meriam has told the press that the moment came in a theater. In this version they smooch in the desert, where the lighting is better.) Unwilling to give up his beloved just because they're from two different worlds, Mormon Jason concocts a scheme to disguise Muslim Meriam as a fellow Marine, fly with her to America and tie the knot. "What if they catch us?" Meriam asks. "Failure is not an option," Jason says, perhaps inspired by Apollo 13.
Though Gosselaar (Hyperion Bay) and Nichols (Resurrection Blvd.) are sweet together, the film (shot in Southern California) makes a laughably minimal effort to establish the story's setting. No wonder Meriam wants to escape Bahrain; apparently there's not much to the country besides her house and the capital city's shopping mall. Even sand seems in short supply. Luck Hari does what she can as Meriam's disapproving mother, but Bahraini society has only a bit part to play.
Bottom Line: Less than royal treatment
PBS (Mon.-Wed., Feb. 19-21, 9 p.m. ET)
History Channel (Mon., Feb. 19, 9 p.m. ET)
Shows of the week
Almost 136 years after it officially ended, the Civil War is still subject to debate—as demonstrated by the recent criticism of two Bush cabinet appointees for speaking favorably of the Confederacy. So the content of these worthwhile documentaries couldn't be timelier. The problem is the scheduling, which pits The Unfinished Civil War against Part 1 of Abraham and Mary Lincoln.
The ambitious Lincoln study, a six-hour American Experience entry, packs a lot of Civil War information into a dual biography of the 16th President and his erratic First Lady. By making us feel the weight of Abraham Lincoln's personal sorrows (two sons dead, wife on the edge of a breakdown), producer-director David Grubin gives us new appreciation for the President's strength in coping with his own depression while carrying responsibility for the nation's survival. Mary, though a chronic spendthrift, gets the credit she deserves for giving the ambitious backwoodsman a bit of polish.
The History Channel's two-hour special looks at Civil War reenactors—with their almost spooky fidelity to the past—in the light of today's controversy over displaying the Confederate flag in some southern states. It's an effective film, but the ending strains to find a sign of Blue-Gray détente.
Bottom Line: Glory, glory
PBS (Sun., Feb.18 and 25, 9 p.m. ET)
She found him disturbingly attractive when they met in Moscow. Now Anna (Helen McCrory) sees that Count Vronsky (Kevin McKidd) is following her on the trip back to St. Petersburg and her priggish husband (Stephen Dillane). "Why are you here?" Anna asks. "You know why," Vronsky replies, his gaze as frank as his words. "To be with you."
The language is straightforward, the sex scenes are surprisingly hot, and some of the camera moves suggest a contemporary thriller more than a costume drama. All good reasons for PBS to tout this well-acted Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theatre miniseries as a "stunningly modern" take on Tolstoy's 1870s masterpiece. But in faithfulness to the novel, the film divides its attention between Anna's tragic affair and the union of her innocent in-law Kitty (Paloma Baeza) and the emotional landowner Levin (Douglas Henshall). Though Levin and Kitty are rich characters on their own, you may grow impatient to return to the main event.
Bottom Line: No dust on this classic
>Sunday, Feb. 18 THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE CBS (9 p.m. ET) Glenn Close and Jena Malone share mother-daughter adventures in a TV movie set during the California Gold Rush.
Monday, Feb. 19 THE HUGHLEYS UPN (9 p.m. ET) Darryl's birth father (ever-cool Billy Dee Williams) pops back into his life.
Tuesday, Feb. 20 3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN NBC (8 p.m. ET) Mary's sharp-tongued mother (Elaine Stritch) bedevils Dick.
Wednesday, Feb. 21 GRAMMY AWARDS CBS (8 p.m. ET) Eminem (like him or not) and Madonna
head the list of multiple nominees.
Thursday, Feb. 22 WILL & GRACE NBC (8:40 p.m. ET) In a 40-minute episode, Grace catches Will's dad (filmmaker-actor Sydney Pollack) fooling around.
Friday, Feb. 23 SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH The WB (8 p.m. ET) Grab your beach blanket. Frankie Avalon puts a '60s spell on Sabrina.
Saturday, Feb. 24 THE DISTRICT CBS (10 p.m. ET) Mannion's ex (Jean Smart) realizes she still loves the big law-and-order man.
NBC (Sun., Feb. 18, 9 p.m. ET)