A night of firsts and first-rate viewing

TODAY'S TV

June 07, 1994|By David Bianculli | David Bianculli,Special to The Sun

The most ambitious offerings on TV tonight come from other than commercial network television. A&E has a documentary about the first lady, TBS has the first part of a three-part examination of women in recent history, Showtime has the start of a wonderful new children's series by Shelley Duvall -- and PBS has the best show of them all, an enthralling Ross McElwee film that opens the new season of "P.O.V."

* "NYPD Blue" (10-11 p.m., WJZ, Channel 13) -- Kelly (David Caruso) faces an ethical dilemma in this repeat, and becomes a bit less noble in the aftermath. ABC.

* "P.O.V.: 'Time Indefinite' " (10 p.m.-midnight, WMPT, channels 22 and 67) -- In 1986, Mr. McElwee released "Sherman's March," a delightfully free-form independent film that began as a documentary retracing the famous Civil War general's march to the sea, but ended up as Mr. McElwee's autobiographical study of his search for a girlfriend. One year later, Mr. McElwee attended a family reunion, still filming all the time, and announced his engagement to another filmmaker, Marilyn Levine.

That's where "Time Indefinite" starts -- and because of Mr. McElwee's willingness to follow the unpredictable script of real life, and real death, its tone changes significantly about an hour in and becomes a remarkably affecting study of family, love, fear, mortality, spirituality and individuality.

Reflective, unflinching, illuminating, poetic (at one point, Mr. McElwee looks at his family history and remarks on its "conveniently spaced doses of death") -- if Spalding Gray had a movie camera attached to his shoulder, this is the sort of film he'd make. Don't miss it. PBS.

Cable

* "Biography: 'Hillary Rodham Clinton' " (8-9 p.m., A&E) -- This seems a little premature, but consider it Chapter 1, with more biographies sure to follow.

* "A Century of Women" (8:05-10:05 p.m., TBS) -- Part 1 of 3. The dramatic segments meant to hook viewers into the documentary portions of this three-part special are almost insulting, and the individual segments overlap and sometimes overstate -- but it's very instructive anyway, and Jane Fonda's narrative is nicely delivered.

* "Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle" (9:35-10:35 p.m., SHO) -- Jean Stapleton plays the wise title character in this new Showtime series from Ms. Duvall. Two episodes are previewed tonight, the first of which guest-stars Christopher Lloyd, and is a delightful story about a kid who carries around lies that become as heavy as Jacob Marley's chains.

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