MUSICAL

PBS (Sat, Nov. 22, 7 p.m. ET)

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You probably know Hugh Jackman from the X-Men movies, and you may have heard that he's drawing raves for his Broadway performance as the late entertainer Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz. Well, this Great Performances presentation captures the Aussie actor's magnetic stage presence onscreen. It's a film version of Trevor Nunn's London revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical-theater classic, starring Jackman as singing cowboy Curly.

From the moment he launches into the familiar opening number, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin', " Jackman takes ownership of the show with his clear, supple voice and easy charm. But there's a touching vulnerability to this Curly, despite his bragging and strutting. Strong as he is, we can tell he'll be crushed if he doesn't win the heart of hard-to-get Laurey (Josefina Gabrielle). When the two finally quit hiding their feelings, Curly's spontaneous proposal of marriage will give even non-romantics a joyous rush.

Shuler Hensley gives a disturbingly powerful performance as Jud, the violent hired hand who wants Laurey for himself. (He won a Tony Award when he reprised his London role on Broadway.) Maureen Lipman (Adrien Brody's mother in The Pianist) is appropriately tart and nonsense as Laurey's Aunt Eller. But directors Nunn and Chris Hunt, who filmed Oklahoma! largely at London's Shepperton Studios, err by including gratuitous shots of an applauding audience at the Royal National Theatre. And the supposedly comic triangle of Ado Annie (Vicki Simon), Will (Jimmy Johnston) and Ali the peddler (Peter Polycarpou) is scarcely good for a titter.

MUSICAL

NBC (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET)

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Now in its fifth season, this Law & Order spin off is sometimes compelling and sometimes too lurid to take. Both qualities have been on display as the series bids for ratings during November sweeps.

In an episode that was engrossing if a little preachy, Detective Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) went beyond the call of duty to pursue a case involving fetal alcohol syndrome. The following week's show, sensationalized yet potent, used a murder case to examine homophobia from several angles. But the Nov. 18 episode, the series' 100th, testifies more to its flaws than to its virtues.

Sordid even by SVU standards, the script begins with a castration in a subway station, then puts Benson and partner Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) on the trail of a wacko (Austin Pendleton) who imprisons sex slaves in a dungeon. Eventually we're treated to a series of improbable twists designed to keep us guessing whether a glamorous antiquities dealer (guest star Jacqueline Bisset) could be a killer. This episode crosses the line—into self-parody.

CRIME DRAMA

FOX (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET)

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The pundits say average Americans aren't paying much attention to presidential politics. That should change when Lisa Simpson runs for student body president at Springfield Elementary in the Nov. 16 episode of this indefatigably amusing animated series.

Elected as a populist reformer after her heartfelt song moves even the school's resident hamster to tears, well-meaning Lisa (voiced by Yeardley Smith) becomes a pawn in a scheme by Principal Skinner (Harry Shearer) to slash music, art and gym classes. There are songs spoofing Evita, but you needn't be a musical-theater maven to enjoy the jokes. Now nearing the 14-year mark, this series still revels in its irreverence.

COMEDY

History Channel
(Sun., Nov. 16, 8 p.m. ET)

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This isn't the only special marking the 40th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death, but it stands out by focusing on his administration more than his assassination.

The three-hour program emphasizes recent findings that the President was taking a staggering amount of medication for back pain and other ills while coping with an array of Cold War threats and an explosive racial situation at home. Kennedy's coolness and cogency, as revealed in White House audiotapes made during the Cuban Missile Crisis, seem all the more remarkable given his drug intake. But the documentary also takes ample note of his extramarital activities, leaving us to wonder how his physical frailty and exhausting workload could have left him enough energy for womanizing.

There are valuable contributions from Sen. Edward Kennedy, ex-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and biographers Robert Dallek and Richard Reeves in this worthwhile effort. But we don't need the shadowy re-creations, with an actor striking Oval Office poses as we hear the President's recorded words.

(Among other JFK programming in the week: new probes of the assassination on Court TV Nov. 19 and ABC Nov. 20 and specials on news coverage of the tragedy Nov. 16 on CNN and Nov. 19 on PBS.)

DOCUMENTARY

ROYAL RETURN

All of Us (UPN, Nov. l8, 8:30 p.m. ET) Ex-Fresh Prince Will Smith again graces sitcom land, guest-starring along with his kids Trey and Jaden. Did we mention that Will's an executive producer of this show?

BEST DEJA VIEW

Frasier (NBC, Nov. 18, 9 p.m. ET)

Still looking for love after all these years, Frasier gets set up on a blind date—and it turns out to be with his caustic ex-wife Lilith (guest star Bebe Neuwirth). Check, please!

THE FINAL ROSE

The Bachelor (ABC, Nov. 19, 9 p.m. ET) It's down to Estella and Kelly Jo. Sought-after single guy Bob Guiney picks one presumably lucky gal in the two-hour finale.

HOLIDAY WARMUP

Eloise at Christmastime(ABC, Nov. 22, 8 p.m. ET) That mischievous little girl in the posh hotel comes back for her second Wonderful World of Disney movie.

3 Reasons I Love

1 Because what other newscast is so right for our times? Even beyond Arnold Schwarzenegger's made-for-Comedy-Central run for governor of California, Jon Stewart slices through spin with razor-sharp parody. (He summed up the war in Iraq with the graphic, "Mess O'Potamia"). His wry commentary makes even the presidential race entertaining. His take on a techno-soundtracked "youth" ad for Joseph Lieberman: "Yes, I'm voting for rave master Lieb!"

2 Because correspondents Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert are brilliantly silly—and fearless. Chatting with Rev. Al Sharpton, who went on a hunger strike over bomb testing in Vieques, P.R., Colbert told the rotund pot, "It looks like you could use to take another principled stance."

3 Because Stewart is a thinking woman's dream: handsome, smart, self-deprecating (his ad-libs after failed jokes make up for the clunkers) and sparkling in conversation with anyone from Jack Black to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Go to bed with Jay or Dave? I don't think so.
(COMEDY CENTRAL, MON.-THURS. 11 P.M. ET)

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Samantha Miller.