The WB (Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week
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It's hard to resist a supergirl series that has the gumption to kick off with more back story than The Forsyte Saga. To wit, here's just part of the lengthy premise to Birds of Prey: Catwoman has been murdered and Batman has vanished from the scene, but their illicit love child has grown into a statuesque looker who tends bar and is endowed with metahuman strength. Calling herself the Huntress (Ashley Scott), she swoops through the night sky in a lacey duster that looks as if Anne Robinson, Weakest Link's former headmistress, had begun designing for Victoria's Secret. The Huntress fights crime along with the former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), who's now confined to a wheelchair—a victim of the Joker's gunfire—and concentrates on detective work from a clock-tower lair. There the two are joined by Dinah (Rachel Skarsten), a teenager with unexplained psychic powers.

Birds mixes the foxy-cuties-in-action of Charlie's Angels and the dark mutant fantasy of X-Men. It's fun, fast, no-cal: a caprice that incongruously unfolds in the heavy shadows of New Gotham. Things get a tremendous lift from Mia Sara as the Huntress's psychiatrist—the (now-jailed) Joker's lover. With spiky blonde hair and piercing eyes, Sara—unrecognizable from Ferris Bueller's Day Off—is stiletto sharp. Her relationship with the Huntress promises to be a lot more twisted than Tony Soprano and Dr. Melfi's.

Bottom Line: Watch the birdies

NBC (Mon., Nov. 4, 8 p.m. ET)

What could be worse than to be a teenage girl conceived in the mind of Stephen King? Poor Carrie! A drab, maladjusted loser with a religious-sicko mom and enough repressed telekinetic fury to pull down every decoration at the prom (along with the high school where it's held), she'd count herself lucky to land in some morbid tale by Poe. What's premature burial compared to unpopularity anyway?

Cursed ol' Carrie slogs through three long, teased-out hours in this version of King's 1974 bestseller. As Carrie, Angela Bettis (Girl, Interrupted) has a few heartbreakingly fragile minutes at the prom before she unleashes bloody vengeance on her cruel classmates. With glazed eyes and dazed smile, she's like a heavily sedated Cinderella. But even with additional special effects, this can't hold a Roman candle to Brian DePalma's 1976 film, which clocks in under 100 minutes and features a performance by Sissy Spacek that combines unvarnished American plainness with Gothic grandeur.

Bottom Line: Pointless remake

Lifetime (Mon., Nov. 4,9 p.m. ET)

This is one of those stories in which complacent suburbanites, their world turned upside down by tragedy, reexamine their lives and beat themselves up for having been emotionally dense. It could be part of an anthology series called Dr. Phil Presents.

A teenage girl dies in what may have been a suicide pact with her boyfriend, who not only survives but happens to be the son of her parents' closest friends. But then why, both sets of parents wonder, can't the kid cough up some coherent explanation for his failure to live up (so to speak) to his end of the pact? Is he a murderer? And why didn't the daughter show any signs of depression?

British actress Juliet Stevenson, as the boy's mother, delicately but confidently steers her way through a sea of tears. Will & Grace star Megan Mullally, as the girl's mom, is hobbled by her tiny, tinny voice. It's a great comic instrument, but when she lets rip for big dramatic scenes, she sounds like a hummingbird broadcast over a PA system.

Bottom Line: Very ordinary people

The History Channel: Mon.-Tues., Nov. 4-5,9 p.m. ET

Something about Simon Schama—his biting sarcasm, his disdain for cant—tells me that the Columbia University professor would be a tough grader if he gave viewers a quiz on this five-hour conclusion to his magisterial TV history of Great Britain. (The first two installments aired in 2000 and 2001.) Schama, who wrote and narrated the program, makes you pay attention, and you'll be glad you did.

Handsomely filmed in France, Ireland and India as well as the U.K., Schama's finale covers the 1780s to the 1960s. Chronology becomes a bit confused as a result of his decision to treat the reign of Queen Victoria and the decline of the British Empire in separate segments. On the whole, however, Schama's storytelling is uncommonly skillful, especially in the last segment, which compares and contrasts the lives of Winston Churchill and George Orwell.

Bottom Line: Aces history

HBO (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)

Now in its third season, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David's sitcom remains an awe-inspiring (and hilarious) exercise in comedic extremes of chaos and control. Like Seinfeld, Curb—which follows the explosively disgruntled Mr. David's daily frustrations in L.A.—is a tight farcical rigging of intersecting coincidences, subterfuges and embarrassments. But the comedy is so perversely, overwhelmingly rich in absurdities, the mind is likely to break the episodes down into one big database of gags, characters and stories. At any given moment a joke lights up the memory with a random ping, like points in a pinball game. This season's best moments have involved, in no particular order, peanut allergies, Jewish burial rites, sponge cake, Martin Short, dental caps, late wedding gifts and a child nicknamed Porn Baby. No way will I explain that last one.

Bottom Line: Undiminished Enthusiasm

>Sunday, Nov, 3 MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE FOX (9 p.m. ET) Season premiere, with Malcolm and family spending an atrocious day at the zoo.

Monday, Now, 4 DOG DAYS Animal Planet (10 p.m. ET) A series about Manhattan canines and their humans.

Tuesday, Now, 5 LESS THAN PERFECT ABC (9:30 p.m. ET) Claude is dragged to a strippercize class to boost her confidence.

Wednesday, Nov, 6 36th ANNUAL CMA AWARDS CBS (8 p.m. ET) Faith Hill, Alison Krauss, Toby Keith and Shania Twain perform.

Thursday, Nov. 7 FRIENDS NBC (8 p.m. ET) The 200th episode, with Freddie Prinze Jr. guest-starring as infant Emma's new nanny.

Friday, Nov, 08 ANOTHER PRETTY FACE PAX (8 p.m. ET) TV movie about a news anchor (Mel Harris) passing for a younger woman. Survivor casting coup: Colby Donaldson plays her son-in-law.

Saturday, Nov, 9 MTV ALBUM LAUNCH: JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE MTV(l p.m. ET) All about the 'N Sync boy's new solo album, Justified.

>The more things change...More than a decade after she ruled prime time as scheming Alexis Carrington Colby on Dynasty, Joan Collins is once again vamping it up, this time as the devious tycoon Alexandra Spaulding on CBS's long-running daytime soap Guiding Light. "I may have much smaller hair," says Collins, "but I can still play a manipulative woman who wants to take over the world."

Not that the 69-year-old London-born diva hasn't had to make some adjustments for the part. In January Collins and her fifth husband, theatrical manager Percy Gibson, 37 (they wed in February), abandoned their L.A. home for a condo in Manhattan. And Collins now works in a dressing room she cheerfully describes as "the size of a large coffee table."

But one of the toughest parts has been coping with the voluminous scripts. With no cue cards allowed on the Light set, "you have to keep 25 pages of dialogue in your head [every day]," says Collins. "We rehearse five scenes and shoot them one after another. It's like opening night at the theater." But Collins isn't complaining. "All the other actors do the same," she says, striking a very un-Alexis-like note. "Why should I rock the boat?"

  • Contributors:
  • William Keck,
  • Terry Kelleher.