Millions of Americans were sorry they missed seeing Sean (Diddy) Combs star in the recent Broadway revival of A Raisin in the Sun. It would have been fun to watch the hip-hop mogul make a fool of himself in a classic play, but New York City is just so far away. Luckily, Diddy has executive-produced a TV version of his vanity project (Monday, 7 p.m., ABC), so now all of us have a chance to laugh ourselves silly.
Diddy plays a desperate dreamer whose family is burdened by poverty and racism in 1950s Chicago. He pins all his hopes on a questionable business deal, requiring him to wheedle $10,000 in insurance money from his mother (Phylicia Rashad). From his first scene, Diddy tries hard to seem like a Very Important Actor speaking Very Important Dialogue. His delivery, however, suggests that he missed some very important diction classes. Lorraine Hansberry's lines sound much more natural in the mouths of Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan, who act circles around their moonlighting co-star.
Kenny Leon, a stage director, overuses his newfound ability to zoom in for close-ups. With a face as blank as Diddy's, that's bound to be a losing strategy.
Monday, 8 pm (WHA)
William "Buffalo Bill" Cody was a hero in late 19th and early 20th century America. He lived the quintessential frontiersman's life: scout, Indian fighter, buffalo hunter. Then he created a showbiz extravaganza to sell the Western experience to urban audiences starved for adventure. His Wild West show featured cowboys, Indians, cattle, horses and staged battles, with Buffalo Bill himself at the center of the spectacle.
Today we don't think of Cody as a hero. He represents our appalling treatment of Native Americans: killing them, scalping them and bragging about it onstage. His show was all about the triumph of white civilization over the savages.
But American Experience complicates this picture. We learn that the Native Americans in Cody's show liked him, and that he liked them back. He hung out with them and even slept in their teepees. He taught them to read and write. And he eventually purged some of the anti-Indian bits from his show.
When Cody died in 1917, the Sioux of South Dakota sent a letter expressing their admiration, calling him "a warm and lasting friend."
Buffalo Bill - hero?
Tuesday, 9 pm (NBC)
Trying to shift the paradigm, this series about the lives and loves of post-collegiate friends premiered on NBC's website. Now it moves to the prime-time schedule. Will TV's paradigm indeed shift?
In a word, no. Quarterlife tries too hard to be all MySpace Generation. But the actual members of MySpace Generation can spot a phony a mile away. This is just another beautiful-sensitive-soul series by Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz - My So-Called Life with vlogs. The Internet elements feel like contrivances, created by old geezers to hook "the kids."
Dylan (Bitsie Tulloch) is a smart, funny charming, gorgeous, perceptive writer-type surrounded by a similar group of friends. It's every young person's fantasy, but for some reason Dylan is lonely and blue. We know this because she tells us - a lot - on her video blog. "I often cry for no reason," she confides to the camera. Or: "A sad truth about my generation is...." What young person, let alone one who's supposed to be a brilliant writer, talks like this? What young person is shocked when her friends discover her too-candid comments about them on her vlog?
"I have to be honest," Dylan tells the boy she can't yet see is destined to be The One. "It's like a fetish or something."
Then she surely won't mind my being honest too. Quarterlife makes you lol for all the wrong reasons.
What Would You Do?
Tuesday, 9 pm (ABC)
This new hidden-camera series stages extreme scenarios to see how ordinary people would respond to them. If you saw a man and woman arguing, with the possibility of violence, would you intervene? If you saw someone shoplifting at your corner grocery store, would you tell the owner?
If you saw a network planning a cheesy hidden-camera series to fill empty space left by the writers' strike, would you try to stop them?