'Experience' tells story of Malcolm X

TODAY'S TV

January 26, 1994|By David Bianculli | David Bianculli,Contributing Writer

There are two must-see shows tonight, one silly, one serious. The serious one is a lengthy, spellbinding "American Experience" documentary on Malcolm X, and the silly one is the premiere of an animated series called "The Critic," starring Jon Lovitz as the voice of a New York film critic. For very different reasons, both hold up to repeated viewings and, if possible, should be taped.

* "Babylon 5" (8-9 p.m., WDCA, Channel 20; 9-10, WNUV, Channel 54) -- The good news is that this new sci-fi series, picking up where its two-hour pilot began a year ago, has replaced some of its leading players with more talented performers: Claudia Christian now plays Michael O'Hare's second-in-command, while Andrea Thompson now plays the telepath. Peter Jurasic remains aboard, and there's room for recurring roles from the likes of Mary Woronov and Stephen Furst. Best of all, good genre writers, such as Harlan Ellison and D. C. Fontana, have promised to provide scripts for future episodes -- and that's a good thing, because this present episode is way too dull.

* "The Critic" (8:30-9 p.m., WJZ, Channel 13) -- The opening credits for this new series are puzzlingly reserved and unfunny, and even the music is uninspired -- but don't give up, because once "The Critic" gets into gear, it throws caution out the window and tosses out one sight gag or one-liner after another. Yes, after all those failed tries, someone's finally done it right, and created an animated series with the sensibility and style of "The Simpsons." And guess what? It comes from some of the writer-producers responsible for "The Simpsons." I won't dilute any of the jokes by repeating them here. Just watch, and laugh, for yourself. ABC.

* "American Experience: 'Malcolm X: Make It Plain' " (8-10:30 p.m., WMPT, Channel 22 and Channel 67) -- The only documentary so far this season to rival tonight's new "Malcolm X" biography is "The Great Depression" -- and since Orlando Bagwell, who served as director of production for that series, also produced, directed and co-wrote (with Steve Fayer) "Malcolm X: Make It Plain," that's a particularly impressive pair of accomplishments. Clearer and more detailed than any previous nonfiction or dramatized treatment, "Make it Plain" is compelling, illuminating and entirely unforgettable. PBS.

CABLE

* "Dream On" (10-10:30 p.m., HBO) -- Martin (Brian Benben) is treated for temporary blindness -- and while he sees no evil, he hears something very seductive. The guest star: former "Hot Lips" nurse Sally Kellerman.

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