Show of the week
"Looks like you guys are gonna be surrounded."
"We're paratroopers, Lieutenant. We're supposed to be surrounded."
Band of Brothers
sometimes sounds like one of those old-fashioned, gung-ho World War II movies. And it couldn't be clearer that executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, veterans of the 1998 combat epic Saving Private Ryan, admire the Army unit whose accomplishments are recounted in this 10-hour adaptation of historian Stephen Ambrose's 1992 book. But for the most part, the miniseries honors the soldiers' bravery without hiding their fears or failings.
The saga begins Sept. 9 with back-to-back episodes that take the men of Easy Company from early training in 1942 to the Normandy invasion of '44. Their odyssey ends Nov. 4 with the capture of Hitler's fortress in Bavaria. The most compelling drama comes Oct. 7—the Battle of the Bulge as seen through the eyes of an exhausted medic—and Oct. 28, when the discovery of an abandoned concentration camp gives the company's efforts a profound moral dimension.
Shot in England, the $120 million production is surprisingly short on familiar faces. But British actor Damian Lewis combines quiet strength and a convincing accent in the role of the all-American unit leader.
Bottom Line: Meritorious service
PBS (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET)
The Sept. 9 premiere of this eight-week documentary series points out that Africa is more than three times the size of the United States. Wow, that's vast—almost as vast as many Americans' ignorance about the continent where humanity was born.
As a member of the uninformed majority, I learned from this coproduction of National Geographic Television and Thirteen/WNET New York. But the gorgeous photography and skillfully developed story lines give Africa considerable entertainment value as well.
Whoever said life is a journey must have had Africa in mind. The opener deals in part with the annual mass migration of wildebeest—some 2 million animals on a 2,000-mile round-trip. In the second episode, an engaging 9-year-old boy named Adam joins 15 men and 150 camels—laden with materials for trade—in a Sahara desert trek covering 1,500 miles. (The caravan may seem a grand adventure, but Adam's uncle says candidly, "If I had the money, I would get a truck. Then we wouldn't suffer so much.") The Oct. 7 program follows 16-year-old Errou and his fellow herders as they walk their grazing cattle hundreds of miles through the parched Sahel region. At home in the Niger delta waits Errou's 14-year-old girlfriend Aissa, whose smile would refresh even the weariest traveler.
Our regard for the characters in Africa grows along with our awe at the landscape they inhabit. Complementing the series' eye appeal is the well-modulated voice of actor Joe Morton, who delivers the narration with authority but no pomposity.
And here's another opportunity for education about Africa: Starting Friday, Sept. 7, at 11:35 p.m. ET, ABC's Nightline
presents a five-part report on the horrific conflict in Congo, which has taken an estimated 2.5 million lives since 1998.
Bottom Line: Widen your horizons
The WB (Fridays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
It dawned on The WB that the originally announced Maybe I'm Adopted was an unfortunate title for this sitcom about a teenager embarrassed by her eccentric family. Too bad the rethinking didn't go further.
This is a household where Grandma (Ellen Albertini Dow) hides fruit under the sofa cushion in the Sept. 14 premiere. Yet someone evidently thought the show wouldn't be quirky enough without pop-up graphics that fairly scream, "Offbeat!" So when 15-year-old Molly (Reagan Dale Neis) tries on different ensembles to catch the eye of a boy she likes, a sign points out her "15th outfit change." And a "yikes meter" appears when Mom (Saturday Night Live
alum Julia Sweeney) announces plans to have the lad over for a sure-to-be-disastrous dinner.
There are comic assets amid the clutter: Molly's faintly sinister twin sisters (Daniella and Deanna Cantermen); Patrick Levis as the brother who aspires to Christian-rock stardom; and dependable Fred Willard as Dad, who lives to coach girls' soccer. But—yikes!—cut the gimmickry.
Bottom Line: A maybe at most
Lifetime (Mon., Sept. 10, 9 p.m. ET)
Only three months after Mare Winningham played a good mother falsely accused of child pornography in Lifetime's Snap Decision
, the cable network plunges us into another legal nightmare based on a true story. In this TV movie, Brenda and Scott Kniffen (Virginia Madsen and Jeffrey Nordling) of Bakersfield, Calif., endure 12 years of wrongful imprisonment for the alleged sexual molestation of their two sons.
The script is filled with clichéd indignation, including the inevitable "I thought we were innocent until proven guilty in this country." The overzealous social worker, the publicity-hungry D.A., the hanging judge—all are without a single redeeming feature. But the case is such an outrage that you almost have to stay tuned till justice finally prevails.
Bottom Line: Involving in spite of itself
CBS (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET)
Eleven pairs of contestants race around the globe for a $1 million prize in this reality series, and the Sept. 5 premiere will keep you amused while the players hustle from New York City's Central Park to Kennedy Airport for a trip to Johannesburg. One team gets lost on the subway; another takes a taxi and apologizes for not tipping the driver. (Imagine the cabbie's colorful response if he hadn't been on-camera.)
Alas, the opener slips into a rut when the competitors start bungee-jumping across an African gorge. Player after player quakes with fear, then whoops with exhilaration. The urban adventure is more entertaining.
Bottom Line: Half-decent start
Sunday, Sept. 9 2001 GOODWILL GAMES TNT (9 p.m. ET) It's not quite Olympian, but last-day coverage from Brisbane, Australia, features figure skating.
Monday, Sept. 10 MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL ABC (9 p.m. ET) The New York Giants and Denver Broncos open the season, and Dennis Miller has his references ready.
Tuesday, Sept. 11 LOVE CRUISE FOX (9 p.m. ET) Sixteen singles sail toward romance and cash in the premiere of a Temptation Island-like reality show.
Wednesday, Sept. 12 WOLF LAKE CBS (10 p.m. ET) Don't sit there howling at the moon. Catch the debut of this series about folks who can turn into wolves.
Thursday, Sept. 13 BIOGRAPHY: CAROLE LOMBARD A & E (8 p.m. ET) Learn the too-short life story of the star who won Clark Gable's heart.
Friday, Sept. 14 CARSON DALY: TOTAL DISCLOSURE MTV (3:30 p.m. ET) The pleasant host recalls TRL
's precious moments.
Saturday, Sept. 15 SPACE COWBOYS HBO (8 p.m. ET) Aging astronauts ride again in Clint Eastwood's blast of a movie from 2000.
When Ananda Lewis was in high school, her mother once grounded her for getting C's on her report card. "My aunt came to take my car away as punishment, but I [secretly] owned a Burmese python that I kept hidden in that car," says Lewis, now 28. "My aunt had a rude awakening on the freeway."
Sounds like the makings of a daytime talk show segment—"My Daughter the Snake Charmer, next Jenny Jones!" Or, maybe, next Ananda? Best known as the host of MTV's Hot Zone
, Lewis is happily leaving behind the world of bubble-gum pop for such harder-hitting issues as divorce, school bullies and politics on her own nationally syndicated talk show, premiering Sept. 10. "Two years ago, when I was still shallow, I'd say, 'I can't leave the house today because I have a zit,' " Lewis says. "This show is about inspiring people and keeping it real."
Lewis, who is single, will tape her shows in New York City, where she lives, and still appear on the occasional MTV special. Unlike her MTV gig, The Ananda Lewis Show
will not be rehearsed. "We tape as if we're live," says Lewis. "So if I fall down the stairs, that'll be on TV. I may be embarrassed, but I'll get over it."
- Ericka Sóuter.
HBO (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)