DRAMA

Showtime (Sun., May 23, 7:30 p.m. ET)

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Don't play a scene with me," Richard the Lionhearted (Andrew Howard) warns his manipulative mother, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (Glenn Close). Come now, impetuous prince. Acting is what this costume drama is all about.

The new Lion in Winter uses the same James Goldman script as the 1968 movie starring the late Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, which was based on Goldman's Broadway play. There's no compelling purpose for this remake other than to give Close a shot at the Hepburn part (for which Kate was cowinner of an Oscar with Funny Girl's Barbra Streisand) and Patrick Stewart the chance to roar like O'Toole as Eleanor's husband, England's King Henry II.

The two stars rise royally to the occasion as Eleanor and Henry wrangle in 1183 over which of their three sons will be the king's designated successor. Eleanor favors belligerent Richard, while Henry prefers sniveling John (Rafe Spall). Then there's Geoffrey (John Light), trying to advance his own interests by plotting with France's venomous King Philip II (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers).

What really matters, however, is the love-hate relationship between Eleanor and Henry, who has had his queen under house arrest since she rebelled against him 10 years ago. Though Henry flaunts his young mistress, Alais (Julia Vysotsky), Eleanor still carries a torch for the king—and she's bitter enough to burn him with it. As you watch Close play this mercurial, indomitable woman, you realize that no other actress could be a worthier inheritor of a Hepburn role. She even has the cheekbones for the job. Stewart can't quite match O'Toole in power, but he's even better at conveying Henry's cunning.

The only serious problem with the film is that after 2½ hours of scheming and shouting, these characters don't seem far from square one.

DRAMA

Bravo (Sun.-Wed., May 23-26, 9 p.m. ET)

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Revolutionary it isn't, but this five-part documentary offers some interesting observations on how TV reflects social change.

The program uses the standard clips-and-talking-heads format to study the medium's treatment of homosexuality, sex in general, women, racial minorities and violence. Because there's some overlap in these categories, the producers resort to recycling. In the hour on sex, we see a clip of demonstrators protesting against NYPD Blue. When the subject turns to violence, anti-Blue sign wavers are back onscreen.

Still, TV Revolution often succeeds in making us see old scenes in new ways. Was there Freudian symbolism in that giant loaf of bread emerging from Lucy Ricardo's oven? Did the bloodless gunplay of westerns like The Rifleman obscure the consequences of real violence? Could David Carradine have looked any phonier in his Chinese makeup on Kung Fu? Food for thought, particularly if you're glued to the tube.

DOCUMENTARY

MTV (Mondays, 10:30 p.m. ET)

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You'll enjoy this exercise in "gotcha" TV only if you buy the dubious idea that deception is entertaining in itself.

Six showbiz hopefuls are put to work as production assistants on a big music video. What the tyros don't know is that the whole shoot is a scam designed to give them maximum stress and embarrassment. The director and producer are impostors, and the performers—Nick Lachey and Michelle Branch among them—are in on the gag. Each week one P.A. is fired but given lovely parting gifts. The survivor gets a chance to work on a real video—assuming he or she would want to after this experience.

Almost nothing in the May 24 premiere is remotely funny. A flustered female P.A. has to measure the inseam of B2K's Omarion, and a male rookie is caught mildly flirting with the R&B singer's pretend girlfriend. "I wanted to laugh so bad," Omarion says. Me too—just give me a reason.

REALITY

CBS (Sun. and Tues., May 23 and 25, 9 p.m. ET)

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With a strong cast charged with bringing a Scott Turow legal thriller to life, this miniseries should be a winner. But it left me wishing for a retrial.

Part 1 establishes a film noirish atmosphere and launches the complex plot, as a lonely corporate lawyer (William H. Macy) reluctantly handles the pro bono appeal of a death-row prisoner (Glenn Plummer) who was convicted of a triple slaying in 1996 through the efforts of a police detective (Tom Selleck) and the cop's former flame, an ambitious prosecutor (Monica Potter). When the case comes back to court, James Rebhorn gives an Emmy-caliber performance as a dying inmate whose testimony puts the murders in a dramatically different light.

Unfortunately, much of Part 2 is devoted to Selleck's unquenched desire for Potter and Macy's growing love for a disgraced ex-judge (Felicity Huffman, Macy's real-life wife). Selleck and Potter don't generate enough heat, and Huffman's character—key to the plot—isn't developed convincingly. I admire Reversible Errors for eschewing a conventionally neat wrap-up, but I'd be perjuring myself if I said the ending wasn't a little frustrating.

DRAMA

Alias (ABC, May 23, 9 p.m. ET) Isabella Rossellini guest-stars in the season finale, as Sydney (Jennifer Garner) gets news that makes her wonder if she can trust anybody. Of course not, girl.

Eve (UPN, May 24, 8 p.m. ET) What a shocking way to close the season. After seeing Shelly (that's Eve) drunk and topless, her boyfriend doubts whether she's proper wife material.

24(FOX, May 25, 9 p.m. ET) Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) has an awful dilemma when he finds the last vial of virus in the season's conclusion.

The Great Domestic Showdown (ABC, May 25 and 26, 10 p.m. ET) Six contestants battle to prove who's the champ at cooking, gardening, etc. Martha Stewart is apparently otherwise engaged.

Academy of Country Music Awards (CBS, May 26, 8 p.m. ET) Alan Jackson performs and Jennifer Love Hewitt and the Rock are presenters.

Couch potatoes, rejoice! New DVDs include one of the quirkiest dramas of the '90s and a much-beloved sitcom's farewell.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE:THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

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(Universal, $59.98) The familiar bass line serenading a strolling moose heralds the return of this whimsical series (1990-95), a brightly told gefilte-fish-out-of-water tale. New York doc Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is dropped into Cicely, Alaska, and a crop of eager then-unknowns (including Janine Turner and Sex and the City's John Corbett) make his trip to the middle of nowhere a treat. Extras: One of aspiring filmmaker Ed Chigliak's movies (a western, starring the Cicely crowd) and out-takes; the sight of Fleischman's stone-faced aide Marilyn (Elaine Miles) melting into laughter is disarming. It's hard not to join her.

FRIEND: THE SERIES FINALE

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(Warner, $14.97)

Rushed into stores just five days after 52.5 million viewers watched the show's satisfying, heartwarming final episode—in which Ross and Rachel reunite while Monica and Chandler become parents of twins—the disc features an extended version of the show, with a few cute extra scenes (Monica and Chandler stumble into the wrong delivery room; Joey clowns with the twins).Extras: The 1994 Friends pilot, in which the sextet click immediately (but what's with Monica's suspenders?). Sadly, there is no behind-the-scenes footage of the cast's final Friendly moments.

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Kelleher,
  • Allison Adato,
  • Jason Lynch.