I'd never seen a TV show or movie that did justice to Charlotte BrontÃ's 1847 novel Jane Eyre. But Masterpiece Theatre's new adaptation (Sunday, 8 p.m., PBS) has changed all that.
Reader, I loved it.
The production instantly hooks us with its scary staging of Jane's childhood. Our heroine (Georgie Henley) is a sweet, mild orphan who is nevertheless branded a devil by her aunt and sent off to boarding-school hell. Anyone who's ever experienced injustice as a child (in other words, all of us) will feel her pain as the evil headmaster makes her stand all day on a stool with a sign marked 'LIAR' around her neck. Jane seems worthless to all who meet her, but we know she has hidden depths, evident in her otherworldly drawings.
The story grows even more compelling as Jane (played as a young woman by the amazingly expressive Ruth Wilson) becomes a governess at a creepy manor. This job is no bed of roses ' indeed, it's a bed of thorns, as Jane might have inferred from the manor's name, Thornfield Hall. She gets off on the wrong foot with the gloomy master, Mr. Rochester (Toby Stephens), but it turns out that he, too, has hidden depths. They develop a rare intimacy, with the audience privy to two scarred souls discovering one another.
'You have no idea what it is to love,' Rochester tells Jane. 'You have no idea what it is to feel the very beat of someone's heart within one's breast.'
After this version of Jane Eyre, I think we'll all know what that feels like.
Sunday, 7 pm (Animal Planet)
Steve 'The Crocodile Hunter' Irwin made a career of messing with nature, and it's no surprise that nature ended up messing with him. Irwin specialized in showboating around dangerous animals, and a stingray finally refused to go along with the act. It killed Irwin as he filmed a special on ocean life last September.
In a tacky move, Animal Planet airs Irwin's final footage, shamelessly exploiting his death.
Somewhere, the Crocodile Hunter must be smiling.
The Dresden Files
Sunday, 8 pm (Sci Fi)
As someone who's scared of monsters in the bedroom closet (I mean used to be scared ' USED TO BE!), I wanted to like The Dresden Files. This new series posits that the monsters are real and must be fought. Harry Dresden (Paul Blackthorne) is a private investigator specializing in weird cases ' cases he well understands since he's weird himself. He was born with a 'gift' that gives him access to a supernatural underworld. Unbeknown to normal folks, good and evil are battling it out right under our noses, and Harry feels obligated to see that the right side wins. In the series premiere, he takes on a murderous Skinwalker, a monster who has her eye on a kid with powers similar to Harry's.
So far, so good. The Dresden Files begins with a few good scenes that had me covering my eyes for 10 minutes (I mean 10 seconds ' 10 SECONDS!). But then the need for exposition kicks in, and the writers solve the problem in the laziest possible way: introducing a British actor who serves as Harry's wizard sidekick. With his gray bangs, plummy accent and contraction-free sentences, this guy immediately turns your screams into derisive chuckles. He looks and acts like a warlock from Bewitched.
After watching The Dresden Files, I walked past my bedroom closet without a second glance. I can't think of a more damning criticism.
State of the Union Address
Tuesday, 8 pm (ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.)
President George W. Bush explains that things are going wonderfully in Iraq. He also speaks warmly of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1929 stock market crash.
Wednesday, 7 pm (ABC)
I checked in with George Lopez after not having watched it for a while. Please remind me not to do that anymore.
One need look no further to see why the sitcom is dying. The world has changed, but comedies like this are sticking with the setup/punchline rhythm that was already creaky back when Mr. Ed premiered. And it doesn't help that these punchlines are lazily written and delivered with all the subtlety of vaudeville.
In the season premiere, cops arrive to arrest George's mother. 'In case she tries to run,' he tells them, 'don't bother with pepper spray. We're Mexicans. That won't do anything. That would be like me spraying you with mayonnaise!'
In the meantime, wacky neighbors and exasperating kids go in and out the kitchen door. Angie's father threatens to give her the tickle-monster treatment.
By the end of the episode, I wouldn't have minded the tickle-monster treatment myself. At least it might have made me laugh.
The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show
Wednesday, 9:30 pm (Comedy Central)
Dave (Gruber) Allen and David Koechner bring their L.A. comedy show to TV, parodying truck-stop Americana. Allen plays the stringy-haired Naked Trucker, who, true to his name, wears nothing but an acoustic guitar around his midsection. Koechner plays T-Bones, a sidekick enamored of whiskey and women.
I appreciate the fact that Allen and Koechner parody small-minded American attitudes rather than wallow in them, like some of the Blue Collar Comedians. And the two have real chemistry. What they don't have, unfortunately, is material. They lurch from lame one-liner to lame song, running their concept into the ground. In one skit, the Naked Trucker picks up a guy in a bear suit. 'I'm a bear. Grrr!' he says. And that's pretty much the extent of the joke.
It's frustrating that these promising comedians can't come up with anything better. What can you say but: Grrr!