Jamie Foxx is known primarily for comedy, so you can't help being impressed by his quiet strength in this earnest prison drama. Whether you completely accept his character's moral transformation is another matter.
Foxx stars as Stanley "Tookie" Williams, real-life cofounder of the Crips street gang in Los Angeles. Convicted of four murders, Williams has spent more than 20 years as a death-row inmate at San Quentin State Prison. Over the course of his time behind bars, he has turned into a crusader against violence and an author of cautionary children's books. The heart of the film is Williams's relationship with Barbara Becnel (Lynn Whitfield), a writer who initially interviews him for a book on gangs and eventually becomes his confidante and coauthor.
The early scenes between Williams and Becnel come off more as staged debates than conversations, particularly when he delivers a mini-lecture that blames the media's racial stereotyping for indirectly causing gang violence by creating" a sense of self-hatred in the black community. But there's an unshakable sincerity to Foxx's performance that will incline viewers to join Becnel in a leap of faith when Williams professes his desire to "stop this madness that I created" and spread a message of peace among urban youth.
The only thing that may keep you from believing in the reformed Williams is the movie's sketchy depiction of his criminal career. There's a need to know more about the killings that landed him in prison, especially in light of a postscript that says his ongoing appeals are based on an assertion of innocence. To find Williams fully credible, you have to conclude not only that he's doing good in the present but that he's telling the truth about his past.
Another problem with the film is its on-and-off interest in Becnel's personal life. She finds a gun in her son's drawer and seeks Williams's advice, but the plotline peters out. Luckily, Foxx's work has the power to redeem such flaws.
Bravo (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)
Debbie Tye insists that her 4-year-old girl loves competing in pageants despite her "I don't wanna" whining. Debbie Klingensmith believes her son, 13, can be a teen idol even though his singing of "Hot, Hot, Hot" is bad, bad, bad. Duncan Nutter moves with his wife and seven kids from Vermont to New York City so they all can be actors-yet any fool can see this is his dream more than theirs.
Obsessive stage parents inspire a certain fascination, but you may have your fill of them before this so-so series (premiering April 13) completes its six-week run. The Nutters' situation is unusual enough to be worth a show in itself—we even hear Duncan discuss that idea with a producer—but with the other featured families a short-term acquaintance is all you need to get the picture.
The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour
(ABC, April 11,9 p.m. ET)
Jewel, Babyface and Kenny Rogers are on the guest list as Newlyweds
stars Nick Lachey
and Jessica Simpson
host a special designed to evoke memories of Sonny and Cher.
PREPARE TO BE PUNK'D
The Bernie Mac Show
(FOX, April 12, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Bernie fancies himself the king of practical jokes until his family and a neighbor turn the tables with help from notorious prankster Ashton Kutcher
YOU'RE HIRED! (NBC, April 15, 9 p.m. ET)
What a way to celebrate Tax Day: Donald Trump finally fills the dream job on the two-hour season finale.
THAT OLD FEELING
Hope & Faith
(ABC, April 16, 9 p.m. ET)
Remind Roseanne Barr not to miss this episode. Faith (Kelly Ripa
) and her estranged husband (guest star Tom Arnold) rekindle their passion.
Here's a look at some of the stars who have spent sunny days on Sesame Street
, which begins its 35th season this month. —Amy Bonawitz
, 1991 The night before her appearance, Roberts was out at a premiere "till 2 or 3 in the morning," says Kevin Clash, the puppeteer for Elmo. Not that she was any less perky. "Boy, was it hard to keep her from giggling," says senior producer Carol-Lynn Parente.
JIM CARREY, 1993 For a segment on emotions, "Jim said, 'Wouldn't it be great if I was so happy that my feet just took off from the ground?'" says Clash. Says Parente: "[In the first few takes] his feet get a little carried away and some set pieces went flying."
, 1993 Latifah's rap skills were tested when writers gave her a mouthful of lyrics for a "Letter O" rap. "It was a rough shoot because she didn't have a lot of time," says Parente. "But she learned it on the spot and got through it piece by piece."
, 1989 His role as a Sesame Street
"grouch poet" would earn him more kudos at home than the Oscar he received the following year. "I remember his comments about his kids now finally thinking of him as a big shot," says Roscoe Orman (Gordon).
BEN STILLER, 1999 Stiller was a cutup as a piece of cheese in a sketch about friends and neighbors. "It was hard for him to keep a straight face," recalls Parente. "He had these oh-so-sexy tights on. You have to be manly to wear cheese-colored tights."
, 1996 "The girl can dance," says Clash, who remembers DeGeneres boogying all over the place in a segment about sharing. Recalls Parente: "It was one of the first times we used a remote-control Elmo, so she was able to dance around with him."
Alistair Cooke, 1908-2004
This British-born American, who died March 30, personified the term "distinguished host" on Masterpiece Theatre
from 1971 to 1992. The gentleman seemed to have read all those books; we simply enjoyed the adaptations.
- Terry Kelleher.
FX (Sun., April 11, 8 p.m. ET)