Beyond the Blackboard (Sunday, 8 p.m., CBS) is another entry in a disreputable movie genre: the white middle-class teacher who goes into the 'hood and, against all odds, gets through to the previously unreachable disadvantaged kids. I'm personally inclined to distrust these glorified stories, having been a teacher myself in a disadvantaged neighborhood with less than glorious results.
But I admit falling for Beyond the Blackboard, despite the cookie-cutter plot: Young teacher Stacy (played by Emily VanCamp and based on a real person) works wonders with homeless kids despite a rocky start. She brings in fruit cups, paints the room and instills a sense of purpose in her class. The acting is topnotch, and the clichés are at least put over with conviction.
The result is a poignant production, and I wish I'd seen it before my own teaching experience. I don't know why I didn't think of fruit cups.
Friday, 8 pm (Discovery)
Dave Canterbury and Cody Lundin place themselves in extreme survival situations, calling each other "bro" and showing how manly men would handle themselves. In the season premiere, Dave and Cody go to remote Tierra del Fuego and pretend to be injured hunters.
But pretending isn't really very manly, is it? So Dave decides to slice open his arm with a hunting knife, pour gunpowder into it, and light it on fire to cauterize the wound. "What we're doing should not be done at home," Dave cautions the TV audience.
To be honest, bro, I really don't think anyone is stupid enough to try this but you.
Friday, 9 pm (SyFy)
Sanctuary is yet another droll SyFy series with a fantastical setting: a compound that shelters "abnormals." This week's episode is constructed like a classical mystery, as if Agatha Christie had written a story involving aliens. Ellen (Amanda Tapping), the head of the Sanctuary, returns from a trip and finds the place a shambles. Her assistants turn up unconscious throughout the facility, with no memory of what happened to them.
They begin to piece together the evidence, turning up disturbing surveillance footage of coworkers attacking each other with no apparent motivation. "Something clearly altered our behavior and messed with our heads, right?" says one confused staffer.
Something did - and I suspect it might have been Sanctuary's clever writing staff.
Black in Latin America
Sunday, 10 pm (PBS)
The brilliant scholar Henry Louis Gates finds a fascinating place to begin his series: the island of Hispaniola, divided into its "white" side (the Dominican Republic) and its black side (Haiti). The word "white" richly deserves its quotation marks, as 90% of Dominicans are actually descended from Africans. But they don't see it that way, thanks to a history of propaganda identifying them with Spain.
In the 20th century, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo tried to demonize Haiti as black and convince the world that his country was white, including himself. Never mind the fact that he was actually a mulatto. We visit a Dominican museum that has preserved a jar of his personal face-whitening powder.
Gates attempts to brush away the last remaining specks of that powder, metaphorically speaking, and who better?
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)
An excellent documentary on the Stonewall riots benefits from interviews with participants in the celebrated gay-rights uprising of 1969. It begins with a chilling account of the subhuman treatment gay people faced pre-Stonewall, from barbaric electric shock "therapy" to harassment from every corner of the American establishment. "Notice how Albert delicately pats his hair and adjusts his collar," says the narrator of a typical anti-gay propaganda film. "His movements are not characteristic of a real boy."
After an hour's worth of these horrors, the firsthand account of the militant resistance at Greenwich Village's Stonewall Inn is thrilling. Thousands of gay people fought back against a police crackdown, going so far as to pull a parking meter out of the ground to use as a weapon. "In the civil rights movement we ran from the police," says one commentator. "In the peace movement we ran from the police. That night, the police ran from us, the lowliest of the low. And it was fantastic."
The documentary is so empowering that it makes you feel like pulling up a parking meter yourself.
Tuesday, 7 pm (Fox)
Tonight, the glee club performs Lady Gaga's new song "Born This Way." I, for one, will not be watching. "Born This Way" is a freaky masterpiece (check out the video), and having a show choir perform it would be like having a marching band perform the freaky Beatles masterpiece "A Day in the Life."
Although, now that I think of it, my marching band did perform "A Day in the Life," and it sounded pretty good, in an oom-pah kind of way. So okay, I guess I'll watch "Born This Way" on Glee.
I wonder how it would sound with a sousaphone accompaniment....