South Pacific, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that opened on Broadway in 1949, is beloved by many. But the 1958 movie adaptation left room for improvement: Rossano Brazzi, his songs dubbed by opera star Giorgio Tozzi, seemed out of sync as Emile de Becque, the French owner of a South Seas plantation who pursues U.S. Navy nurse Nellie Forbush during World War II. John Kerr didn't sing for himself either; worse, he was dishwater-dull as Joe Cable, the Marine involved with a Polynesian beauty.
The best thing about this TV remake is the work of Rade Sherbedgia, who proves that heart and soul—not a sonorous voice—are most important in playing Emile. A singer-songwriter as well as a film actor (Mission: Impossible 2) Sherbedgia renders "Some Enchanted Evening" not as a big number but as a deeply personal expression of unexpected love. Harry Connick Jr.'s singing background serves him well in the role of Joe, and his acting more than adequately suggests the character's intense ambivalence about interracial romance.
Glenn Close's Nellie is certainly more mature than Mitzi Gaynor's was in '58. In many ways she's a worthier object of Emile's affection. But you won't believe for a second that this Nellie is "a little hick," and she seems too grounded to turn on a dime from "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" to "[I'm in love with] A Wonderful Guy." Likewise it's hard to accept Nellie's overreaction when Emile reveals his hidden past.
Of course, there's an alternative to all this quibbling over casting: Sit back and let the music carry you away.
Bottom Line: Despite a few problems, Bali Ha'i beckons
HBO (Sat., March 24, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Since Wit centers on a woman who has the highest respect for the meaning and connotation of words, I want to be careful about labeling this adaptation of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play. It is not a "TV movie" if you understand that term to be belittling or pejorative. True, Wit was made for cable television, but it happens to be one of the finest films I've seen in recent years—on big screen or small.
Under the sensitive but unsparing direction of Mike Nichols, Emma Thompson stars as Vivian Bearing, a distinguished professor of 17th-century English poetry. Tough and exacting in her work—and her work is her life—Vivian betrays only a slight hint of fear when she receives a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer. She crisply agrees to participate in an eight-month trial of an aggressive new drug regimen that will force her to withstand pernicious side effects. After years of preoccupation with metaphysical verse, Vivian now changes her specialty to physical suffering. For the patient the process proves devastating but humanizing.
This is a role that requires an actress to simulate violent vomiting one moment and elicit a rueful laugh the next. It calls for consummate skill and unshakable commitment, and Thompson demonstrates both. But Wit also focuses on the medical professionals who treat Vivian—and, in a real sense, use her. Christopher Lloyd, reining in his usual eccentricity, is excellent as a senior physician who seems oblivious to the patient's agony, and Jonathan M. Woodward is even more effective as a smart young doctor—and former student of Vivian's—who sees cancer primarily as a career track. Balancing Woodward's character perfectly is a nurse (Audra McDonald) well-versed in something more vital than poetic profundity: common decency.
Bottom Line: Medical breakthrough
Sci Fi Channel (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)
According to Sci Fi Channel publicity, "it is never too late to join the adventure" of Farscape. I decided to test this claim by jumping straight into the first two episodes (March 16 and 23) of this thickly plotted series' third season. In minutes I was muttering, "What the frell?!" (That's the show's all-purpose expletive.) So I took a time-out for some research and learned that American astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) and a bunch of alien fugitives are taking the biomechanical spaceship Moya through the Uncharted Territories.
John is a brash flyboy type quick with the pop-culture references—except when he's being tortured by Scorpius (Wayne Pygram), a hybrid alien in S&M regalia. Scorpius is the sort of villain who really gets into your head—last season he planted a clone of himself in John's brain—and Pygram plays him with Mephistophelian relish. As if his hate-hate relationship with Scorpius weren't stressful enough, John has been doing a long sexual-tension dance with Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), a striking shipmate who looks like an earthling but is actually a Sebacean. (Sounds like a skin condition, though hers looks A-OK.) The series also features animatronic creatures—notably the sluglike ex-monarch Rygel XVI—and solid special effects. It's diverting, if you can follow it.
Bottom Line: Far-out
>Sunday, March 25 ACADEMY AWARDS ABC (8:30 p.m. ET) Steve Martin emcees a Traffic jam of celebs as Hollywood's Gladiators vie for gold, not Chocolat.
Monday, March 26 SOUTH PACIFIC ABC (8 p.m. ET) Spend "Some Enchanted Evening" with Nellie Forbush and friends (see review, opposite).
Tuesday, March 27 THE BIONIC BODY PBS (8 p.m. ET) Christopher Reeve talks about spinal-cord-injury research in this Scientific American Frontiers report.
Wednesday, March 28 JOHNNY CASH: THE MAN IN BLACK A&E (8 p.m. ET) A Biography of the hard-livin' (and now ailing) country great.
Thursday, March 29 JUST SHOOT ME NBC (9:30 p.m. ET) Suddenly Erlene? Brooke Shields
turns up as Nina's kid sister from Kansas.
Friday, March 30 SCARIEST PLACES ON EARTH Fox Family Channel (9 p.m. ET) The Exorcist's Linda Blair hosts this series probing paranormal phenomena.
Saturday, March 31 FINAL DESTINATION STARZ! (8 p.m. ET) Teens try to cheat death in this deftly plotted 2000 thriller.
ABC (Mon., March 26, 8 p.m. ET)