HBO (Sundays, 10 p.m. ET)

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The language on NYPD Blue is as strong as broadcast television will allow, but imagine all the really dirty words David Milch wanted to put in when he was head writer of that ABC cop show.

Well, now he has an outlet for them on HBO. The March 21 debut of Deadwood, scripted by creator Milch, must set a Wild West record for obscenities. It make you miss "dirty varmint," "stinkin' polecat" and other mild epithets once common to the genre.

Once you grow accustomed to the trash talk, however, the series draws you deeper and deeper into a little world where the law holds no sway and right is trodden in the mud. It's 1876, and Deadwood is an unauthorized settlement on Indian land in the Black Hills of South Dakota. All manner of men have descended on the area to pan for gold, and town bully Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) provides them with booze and whores at his Gem Saloon. Seth Bullock (Timothy Olyphant from Dream-catcher), a former Montana marshal, and his partner Sol Star (John Hawkes) just want to open a hardware store, but Seth hasn't yet learned to ignore injustice or walk away from trouble. Famed gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (Keith Carradine), still fast on the draw but weary of life, sees in Seth a kindred spirit. "The man has an active conscience," he observes.

The series mixes fact with its fiction, so you may be aware that Wild Bill didn't get out of Deadwood alive. But appreciate the sad dignity of Carradine's performance while you can. McShane revels in his character's villainy and vile vocabulary, and Al's conversations with Seth are electric with the possibility of a future showdown. Other standouts in the large ensemble include Robin Weigert as a Calamity Jane whose bark seems worse than her bite; William Sanderson as an innkeeper who toadies to Al while wiping his chronically sweaty palms; and Brad Dourif as Deadwood's only doctor, who regularly does Al's bidding but asserts his humanity with small acts of defiance.


A&E (Sun., March 21, 8 p.m. ET)

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Bawdiness ruled in the court of England's Charles II, a 17th-century monarch with a small army of mistresses and illegitimate children. But political and religious disputes also competed for the king's time, along with a plague outbreak and a huge fire that devastated London.

It's hard to cover Charles's tumultuous, 25-year reign in a four-hour film, and I confess I'm glad that the script stresses the sexy stuff. When the king (Rufus Sewell) and his advisers discuss Protestant-Catholic hostility and Parliament's power of the purse, viewers who aren't students of this historical period will find their minds drifting to the question of which privy councillor has the curliest wig.

Sewell is effective as a man whose compassion and tolerance are less constant than his desire to retain power and satisfy his lust. The main female roles compose a well-cast study in contrasts: Diana Rigg as Charles's rigid mother; Shirley Henderson as his mousy, loyal wife; Helen McCrory as his scheming, sexually insatiable mistress-in-chief; and Emma Pierson as the saucy actress who makes the king her biggest fan.


ABC (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)

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Mr. District Attorney—man of integrity, fighter for justice.

That may be the line he's selling in his campaign commercials, but David Franks (former Wings costar Steven Weber) isn't really that kind of D.A. in this four-episode series premiering March 19. He's a political animal who sees almost everything in terms of how it will affect his reelection bid in Los Angeles and his long-term prospects for the California governorship. His top criminal prosecutor (J.K. Simmons) is trying to undermine him, a former deputy (Peter Outerbridge) is running against him, and his most trusted lieutenant (Sarah Paulson) correctly criticizes him for whining.

Weber's Franks is an interesting anti-hero, but the makers of the series evidently felt the audience needed a thorough good guy to stand up to the D.A. and prick his conscience. Enter Mark Camacho (Bruno Campos, from Jesse), an idealistic young prosecutor who—as we're often reminded—is the son of an assassinated congressman. To avoid predictability, the show wisely includes scenes where Franks surprises Camacho by actually agreeing with him. Unfortunately, Campos looks a little too stunned whenever the boss throws his character a curve.

Though the second episode features an implausible Hollywood homicide, The D.A.deserves more than four weeks to present its case.


Inside the Actors Studio (Bravo, March 21, 8 p.m. ET)

James Upton, never reluctant to point out his guests' greatness, celebrates the show's 10th season by welcoming Barbra Streisand for a two-hour praise-a-thon.

America's Next Top Model (UPN, March 23, 9 p.m. ET)

Clear the runway! Tyra Banks announces the fairest of them all in the reality show's season finale.

The West Wing (NBC, March 24, 9 p.m. ET)

Glenn Close guest-stars as a judge who may be considered too liberal to be nominated for the Supreme Court. Cruella de Vil as a bleeding heart?

Tru Calling(FOX, March 25, 8 p.m. ET)

In a morgue far from 90210, Jason Priestley begins a seven-episode run as a new attendant working with Tru (Eliza Dushku).

SPOTLINGHT ON... High School Reunion

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we learn trigonometry. And what better way to rehash the dramas of adolescence than to join old friends and foes (and a TV crew) in Hawaii for two weeks? Sure beats the high school cafeteria. A guide to some of the characters on the second season of High School Reunion, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on The WB:


The Quarterback: JOHNNY The Home-coming Queen: LOUANNA They were Mr. & Miss Perfect back at Round Rock High in Texas. Johnny still has feelings for LouAnn, but she's in a serious relationship. Will old flames reignite?


The Ex: DENISE The Jock: GABE Denise is looking to rekindle her romance and marriage with hunky Gabe. He loves her, but will former flings lead him astray?


The Drama Queen: LAURA A cheerleader like Denise and LouAnn, she only rolled with the popular crowd.


The Wallflower: JERALYN Laura once put baked marshmallows in Jeralyn's underwear. Jeez, kids can be cruel.


The Geek: LENNY Laura talked to him in theater class but ignored him in the halls.


The Vixen: HEATHER F. She's out for revenge against Denise, who she says lied to snag Gabe.


The Player: TRE Is he just trying to get lucky, or what? This guy is certainly having fun looking at all the ladies.


The Flirt: STACY This beauty says three-timing Gabe broke her heart way back when, and she vows to return the favor.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher.