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updated 03/04/1985 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/04/1985 01:00AM

PBS (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)

One sure way to drive friends mad is to tell them that you've seen the end of The Jewel in the Crown (a fringe benefit of being a TV critic). Their eyes grow buggy with signs of addiction, greed and killing curiosity, like some dieting chocoholic in a candy store. It's cruel to taunt them this way, but it's so much fun. They ask: "Do we ever see Hari again?" and "Does Merrick get what he deserves?" and "I know it. Sarah ends up with Merrick. I can't stand it. It's not true. No, don't tell me." They're dying to know, these poor suckers. But to tell the endings to The Jewel's many stories would be crueler yet, for it would deprive viewers of the exquisite pleasure of watching and wondering, week to week. It is fair to say that in the end, The Jewel has lived up to its promise as a riveting masterpiece of entertainment. Just because it's on PBS doesn't mean you have to be a snob to love it. As this 14-part series goes on, most of the characters grow richer and richer. Ronald Merrick, played by Tim Pigott-Smith, is the most evil, despicable slime ever to come to the small screen, J.R. to the thousandth power. Geraldine James as Sarah Layton manages, with a brain more than a body, to become more attractive than a decade's worth of prime-time bimbos. Dame Peggy Ashcroft's Barbie is ever more lovable and charming. If you missed the beginnings of The Jewel, it would be hard to join up now; this isn't your average soap opera. If you are an addict, sit smugly, secure in the knowledge that you picked the best high-brow television fad in memory. And stick with it, for The Jewel in the Crown only gets better.

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