Picks and Pans Review: Australia

updated 09/04/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Beyond the Fatal Shore
PBS (Tues.-Thurs., Sept. 5-7, 9 p.m. ET)

Though most of this rewarding six-hour documentary series shows writer-host Robert Hughes hobbled by injuries from a 1999 car crash, don't think for a minute that the TIME magazine art critic has slowed down verbally. As he did in his 1997 PBS series American Visions, Hughes provides the TV reviewer with enough witty, trenchant observations to fill three notebooks.

Hughes, 62, a Sydney native who has lived in America and Europe since 1964, detailed his homeland's penal-colony past in the 1987 book The Fatal Shore. Here he combines travelogue, history and personal essay in exploring Australia from sunny beaches to tidy suburbs to untamed outback. His approach is thematic (race, class, mores) rather than chronological, so you may wish you had The Fatal Shore at hand for reference. But it's worth a little effort to keep up with a tour guide who says any mention of "multiculturalism" is "a sign that the room is about to fill with hot air" and likens the foyer of Canberra's parliament building to "a very overbudget Holiday Inn."

Bottom Line: Don't wait 'til the Olympics to head Down Under

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