Sidney Lumet's drama starting second season

Today's TV

October 08, 2001

You can say all you want that ER and Law & Order are television's best dramas, and I won't argue. But my absolute favorite drama is Sidney Lumet's 100 Centre Street, which returns for its second season tonight at 9 on A&E.

Alan Arkin's performance as Joe Rifkind, a highly ethical and battle-tested night court judge in Manhattan, would be reason enough to sing the praises of this series. Arkin acts the way B.B. King plays guitar: not one extraneous note. It's a performance as pristine, precise and resonant as haiku.

But what truly separates 100 Centre Street from almost every other drama on television are the stories it tells: stories about the quiet, little moments of human interaction that ultimately define us as moral, immoral or amoral people. This is not the stuff of which headlines are made, but rather the stuff of decency, humanity and truth.

Lumet, a legendary figure from television drama in the 1950s and feature films since then, wrote and directed tonight's season premiere. In it, Rifkind reunites with his estranged adult daughter and starts off on a journey into Buddhism. It's a story arc that no other weekly drama would dare try with its leading character. I've seen three episodes, and I can tell you the series is in fine form. I can't wait to see where the rest of the 18-episode season goes.-- David Zurawik

At a glance

Malcolm in the Middle (8 p.m.-8:30 p.m., WBFF, Channel 45) -- In a Sliding Doors-inspired episode, Malcolm and Reese go to a bowling party. One story follows the path in which Hal takes the kids and Lois stays home with Dewey, who is grounded. The other story focuses on Lois taking Reese and Malcolm to the party, with Hal at home with Dewey. The stories are pieced together to show each scene from both perspectives. A second repeat episode finds the family discovering their new neighbors aren't as perfect as they seem. Fox.

The Merchant of Venice (9 p.m.-11:30 p.m., MPT, Channels 22 and 67) -- The setting of Shakespeare's play is moved to the cafe society of early 1930s Vienna in this superb production by London's Royal National Theatre. Director Trevor Nunn set out to test assumptions about a work some regard as "unsavory and possibly racist." PBS.

Note: The schedules to the left list some regularly scheduled programs, breaking news may result in changes.

Compiled from wire reports by Sarah Kickler Kelber

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