Satire, drama, mayhem

First-rate programs from Showtime, PBS

Television Previews

February 01, 2003|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Good Fences is good satire.

The Showtime film from executive producer Spike Lee tells the story of an upwardly mobile African-American couple played with wit and wisdom by Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg, as they move through the 1970s.

At the heart of the drama is their arrival in Greenwich, Conn., after he wins a promotion at his law firm for successfully defending a white man who set a black vagrant on fire.

One of the biggest problems in their life comes not from white racism but rather the arrival of an African-American lottery winner played by Mo'Nique (The Parkers) in their neighborhood. Good Fences is decidedly uneven and too broad for its own good at points, but it is wonderfully refreshing in the way it fearlessly approaches race and social class within black life.

`Foyle's War'

Foyle's War is Masterpiece Theatre the way it used to be when it did Brit drama like no one else. Set in 1940s wartime England, the miniseries centers on Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), a detective chief inspector who would rather be fighting the war but is deemed more important to the country doing police work along England's south coast, where an invasion is expected any day.

Foyle solves a different case each of the next four Sundays, but I think we are going to be seeing a lot more of him in months and years to come. This is the most intriguing cop to hit the PBS airwaves since Inspector Morse. The crime-solving team he assembles with his driver, Samantha "Sam" Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks), and Detective Sergeant Paul Milner (Anthony Howell) is an absolute delight.

`Brush with Fate'

Glenn Close appears only in the opening and closing portions of Brush with Fate, but she is so marvelously engaged in the role of an aging schoolteacher that she casts a spell across the entire film.

The featured role in this Hallmark Hall of Fame production on CBS is that of a "lost" painting by Vermeer as it moves through three centuries of owners and European life. It's based on the Susan Vreeland novel Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

Yes, there's enough melodrama to make you almost choke at points. But it is all done with such rich and classy brush strokes, from the screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo (Empire Falls) to the overpowering performance by Close.

`Kingpin'

Kingpin, a six-part miniseries about a Mexican drug trafficking family, is NBC trying to be HBO. It's stylish, shockingly violent and unpredictable.

There is also a fascinating husband-and-wife team (Yancey Arias and Sheryl Lee) at the heart of the saga. He's a Stanford-educated, Latino drug dealer, while she's an Anglo lawyer representing the cartel for which he works. Think Lady Macbeth.

The problem is that David Mills (The Corner) has clearly created a complicated and textured narrative that requires a full viewing before an informed opinion can be rendered.

Unlike HBO, however, which would make the full series available to critics, NBC sent out only the first two hours.

As a result, I can't make a clean call. At times, it's seems way over the top and trying too hard to shock. But I'll be back to see how it ends.

`Dragnet'

The less said about the remake of ABC's Dragnet, probably the better.

While there's nothing horribly wrong with it as a generic cop drama, it is such a disappointment to see a landmark series remade with so little feel for the original.

Ed O'Neill (Married ... with Children) is better than you'd think as Detective Joe Friday, though there is almost nothing of the character Jack Webb played with such button-down, by-the-book earnestness about him. I have no idea what Ethan Embry is trying to do with his bland performance as Friday's sidekick.

Tonight's case involves a serial killer of prostitutes. It's grisly, graphic and dull. I expected better from executive producer Dick Wolf (Law & Order).

Sunday night dramas

Good Fences: 8 p.m. on Showtime

Foyle's War: 9 p.m. on MPT (Channels 22 and 67) and WETA (Channel 26)

Brush with Fate: 9 p.m. on WJZ (Channel 13), Kingpin: 10 p.m. on WBAL (Channel 11)

Dragnet: 10 p.m. on WMAR (Channel 2)

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