There will be many documentaries about 9/11 over the next week as we mark the tragedy's 10th anniversary. I recommend 9/11: Day That Changed the World (Monday, 7 p.m., Smithsonian Channel), which offers a minute-by-minute account of how the people in charge dealt with the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. For the length of the program, it's possible to set aside partisanship and root for our leaders to get the country back under control.
The documentary vividly evokes a sense of confusion among the powers that be. After the first plane hit the Twin Towers, an F-15 fighter pilot defending the country's northeastern sector asked his commanders what he should do. "They weren't really sure," he admits.
As much as we've learned about 9/11 in 10 years, the documentary still offers many new details. Lynne Cheney, Vice President Cheney's wife, relates an incongruous sight in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center: "There were cookies lined up in the center of the table on doilies. That was a little surreal, to come into PEOC and have it be arranged like there's going to be a nice little party."
I half-expected to hear that Vice President Cheney, faced with an unimaginable crisis, nervously stuffed the whole plateful of cookies into his mouth. Because that's just what I would have done in his situation.
Sunday, 8 pm (Discovery)
In this special, top dinosaur illustrators show us prehistoric scenes we've never seen before, based on recent research. We witness the mating dance of the Gigantoraptor, the family life of the Tyrannosaurus rex, and the underwater birth of the Mosasaurus. We even get to see the newly discovered Beelzebufo, a fat, slimy frog so big it could eat a dinosaur.
On second thought, maybe it'd be best not to watch that scene, especially before dinner.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Sunday, 9 pm (HBO)
Here's yet another brilliant episode. Creator-star Larry David throws out several incongruous motifs - sexual dysfunction, disgraced baseball player Bill Buckner, a Mr. Softee ice cream truck - and ties them together with his usual dyspeptic brilliance.
In one scene, Larry whines to his psychiatrist about a traumatic incident in his youth - the one that supposedly led to all the hilarious neurosis we've witnessed over the past eight seasons. Young Larry was close to having his first sexual experience when an unlikely humiliation occurred, preventing the girl from getting naked. "I feel like if she had taken her top off," Larry reflects, "my whole life would have been different."
Thank God she didn't take the top off. No Curb fan would want Larry David to have led a well-adjusted life.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
Monday, 8 pm (Bravo)
The Real Housewives has been a reliable purveyor of tawdry behavior. One looks forward to the season premiere of each city's franchise for cat-fighting, self-delusion and temper tantrums among the well-heeled heroines. But whoever is in charge of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has fallen down on the job. Aside from some minor hurt feelings, the season-two premiere (reedited at the last minute after the suicide of a Housewife's husband) is a model of moderation and sensible decision-making.
In spite of enduring a messy divorce from TV star Kelsey Grammer, Camille doesn't throw a single piece of furniture. "The last few months I've been healing, working on myself," she says, displaying - gulp - sound judgment. Sisters Kyle and Kim had a nasty fight last season, but now they're maturely mending their relationship. What the...?
If these women want to act like responsible adults, what are they doing on a Bravo reality series? I want my tawdry Housewives back.
The Rachel Zoe Project
Tuesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
Fashion stylist Rachel Zoe is a charm-free narcissist puffed up with self-importance, but because she's in the fashion world and has occasional contact with celebrities, she's deemed worthy of her own Bravo show. In season four, Rachel does what she did in seasons one through three: obsesses on her looks, wears sunglasses indoors, and bitches about disloyal underlings. Though pushing 40 and pregnant, she still talks like the meanest Valley Girl cheerleader in your high school.
"I just, like, threw up in my mouth," she says.
I just, like, threw up in my mouth thinking about this woman and her equally immature husband raising a child. The poor kid.
Wait a minute - what am I talking about? The baby will probably come out of the womb wearing sunglasses and immediately get a contract for its own Bravo reality series.