Last July, Antiques Roadshow set up its booths and blue banners in Madison's Alliant Energy Center. Local folks showed their antiques to Roadshow's appraisers, who offered insight into the objects' origin and value. Now the three episodes filmed here will finally air, and I thought they'd give Madison a chance to look cool on national TV. But all host Mark Walberg has to say is that "Wisconsin produces over 2.4 billion pounds of cheese annually!" So much for looking cool.
In the first episode (Monday, 7 p.m., PBS), appraisers assess an 1849 Prince Albert presentation horn, an 1880 Faience centerpiece and an 1893 World's Fair Exhibition Tiffany vase. I went to the Alliant myself last summer, expecting to get pulled in front of the camera with my vintage Beatles merchandise. It didn't happen, so imagine my surprise to see another guy with similar Beatles stuff featured in this week's episode. Nobody told me you had to have interesting antiques and be telegenic.
With one or two exceptions, most of the locals are puzzlingly stoic when the appraisers reveal their objects' sky-high value. "Okay," mumbles a man after hearing that his Nakashima trestle table is worth an astounding $30,000-plus. Are we Wisconsinites too bloated from all that cheese to react normally to good news?
Friday, 6:30 pm (NBC)
The United States is pinning its medal hopes on Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, figure skater Evan Lysacek and snowboarder Shaun White. After their boorish behavior in the last Winter Olympics, however, it's hard to get too excited about any of America's athletes. In 2006, star alpine ski racer Bode Miller got drunk, cavorted with a Playmate and tanked on the slopes. Other athletes feuded, got in fistfights and indulged in silly stunts during competitions.
Forget about medals. Let's just hope we come out of the 2010 games without looking like complete fools.
How to Make It in America
Sunday, 9 pm (HBO)
HBO is the home of the hip half-hour series, and sometimes it takes a failure to make you appreciate how difficult it is to get the tone just right. How to Make It in America has all the signifiers: a young urban underachiever (Bryan Greenberg); his on-the-make pal (Victor Rasuk), brimming with ideas for a big score; luxury-loft and art-gallery settings; and a passing parade of hustlers and hotties. But the pilot lacks energy and focus. The two buddies stumble from one mess to another without much sense of purpose. One of them whines, "I just wanted us to actually do something for once!"
Yeah, that would have been nice.
Monday, 8 pm (Spike)
Just when you think you never need to see another Muhammad Ali documentary, here comes one with a fresh angle: profiling Ali's opponents. Just as Othello isn't Othello without Iago, Ali wouldn't have been Ali without Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, George Chuvalo, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Leon Spinks and the other boxers who challenged him in the ring.
Ali is now essentially silenced by his Parkinson's disease, so he's not interviewed here. Instead, his opponents discuss the fights from their perspective while also describing their often troubled lives before and after. The thumbnail portraits are fascinating, as are each boxer's perceptions of Ali as a man and a fighter. Yes, there's grumbling (the refs were unfair, Ali sometimes played dirty), but for the most part these brutal heavyweights have a soft spot for their onetime nemesis.
Norton is grateful that Ali generously granted him matches at a time when he struggled to feed and clothe his son. Ron Lyle speaks to Ali's political significance: "The representation that he gave the black community will never be forgotten." Foreman offers some of the keenest insights into Ali's convictions and current disability: "Heroes, it doesn't matter if they've lost an arm or a leg. They're still beautiful because of what they've done."
It's hard not to be moved when the boxers express protectiveness toward the man who once dominated them. "He can't speak for himself," Lyle says, "but we can speak for him."
Kell on Earth
Monday, 9 pm (Bravo)
Bravo specializes in reality series about obnoxious entrepreneurs who work on the fringes of big-city glamour. They're foul-mouthed real estate agents or stylists or matchmakers who think they're important because of their tangential relationships with the rich or famous. The latest unappetizing example is Kelly Cutrone, who produces fashion shows with a team of cowering assistants. She bosses everyone around and cusses up a blue streak when the slightest thing goes wrong. And I do mean "slight." Kell on Earth can base an entire episode around a fashion-show seating chart that won't print properly.
Indeed, seating charts are the centerpiece of Kelly's business, and she's obsessed with who's on or not on the list. Even if you're on, she sneers at you if you're seated past the third row.
I'm taking Kell on Earth off my list...of shows to watch this spring.
Thursday, 7 pm (Fox)
In this new series, a blond beauty (Kelli Giddish) and a beefy hunk (Nicholas Bishop) run a past-life detective agency. Murder victims from the past, you see, have been reincarnated as modern-day people. The detectives solve long-ago crimes by leading the modern-day people through past-life therapy, in which they make contact with their previous selves. You'd be surprised at how many relevant clues can be gathered in this fashion.
You may be laughing, but the filmmakers aren't. They take this premise seriously, as you can tell from the tearful reunions between parents and their dead children, now reincarnated in the bodies of bad actors.
Myself, I hate this mix of extrasensory hokum and sentimentality. Maybe I was traumatized by an episode of Ghost Whisperer in a past life.