Picks and Pans Review: White Teeth

updated 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/19/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Sun., May 11 and 18, 9 p.m.ET)

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Though it deals with serious issues of cultural identity, there's an infectious exuberance to this Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Zadie Smith's 2000 novel about intertwined families in multiracial north London. The spirit of the miniseries is summed up by an early shot of Clara (Naomie Harris), a lapsed Jehovah's Witness from Jamaica, joyously tossing apocalyptic leaflets from the back of her young English boyfriend's speeding motorcycle.

Clara careens into marriage with a middle-aged milquetoast, Archie (Phil Davis), whose old friend Samad (a superb Om Puri) is a Bengali Muslim tortured by his infidelity to his flinty wife (Archie Panjabi). Samad has twin sons (both well played by Christopher Simpson), one an Anglophile scholar and the other a marijuana dealer turned Islamic militant.

The complications pile up so high that White Teeth seems intoxicated with its own cleverness. But it leaves you feeling more alive.

BOTTOM LINE: Something to smile about

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