Masterpiece Contemporary's "Lennon Naked" (Sunday, 9 p.m., PBS) is one of the best Beatle dramatizations ever. The need to sort through the sheer number of epochal events in John Lennon's life from 1964 to 1971 would sink most biopics, but this one handles the exposition elegantly. Beatlemania, the Maharishi debacle, the tumultuous affair with Yoko Ono, the band's breakup and other key incidents pass across the screen, but they don't interfere with the primary drama: Lennon's internal struggle as a man and an artist.
The film presents a John Lennon who is at once insanely famous and completely alone, stewing in private pain. It zeroes in on the source of that pain Lennon's abandonment by his parents in a dreamy, recurring image of 6-year-old John at the seashore as his family falls apart.
The dreaminess is true to Lennon's aesthetic, as is the script's ruthless honesty in evoking all sides of this complicated personality, from the tenderness to the cruelty. In the title role, Christopher Eccleston does a particularly good job of showing how John used humor not only as a weapon, but also as armor. At the end, the armor finally crumbles in therapy, and he lets loose a primal scream as the tortured song "Mother" fills the soundtrack.
If your hair doesn't stand up at that moment, you must be bald.
Sandra Brown's Smoke Screen
Sunday, 7 pm (Lifetime)
Jaime Pressly stars as Charleston TV reporter Britt Shelley, who wakes up with a corpse after a one-night stand. Britt has no memory of the night before, suspecting she'd been drugged. Now a murder suspect, she hooks up with the victim's friend, Raley Gannon (Currie Graham), to figure out what happened.
It's a standard TV-movie mystery, but a very watchable one thanks to Pressly. With her enormous blue eyes and expressive face, she's quite a screen subject. She pulls off cute and funny one minute, confused and scared the next. And let's not forget brave and determined.
"The question is, who and why?" Raley asks as he and Britt delve into the mystery.
I guess you could ponder that question. Alternately, you could simply stare at Pressly for a couple of hours.
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)
It's a good week for John Lennon on PBS. Just as "Lennon Naked" is one of the best Lennon dramatizations to date, so is "LENNONYC" one of the best Lennon documentaries. It examines John's epic post-Beatles journey, from his peace activism, to his fight to become a U.S. citizen, to his slide into drink and depression, to his rejuvenation as a happy father and husband before his 1980 assassination. It's a familiar story, but "LENNONYC" captures its profundity in a way I haven't before seen on film.
Part of the secret is the wealth of rare photos, film clips and audio, offering a new look at this much-looked-at man. They put John in front of your eyes and ears so you can more deeply appreciate his wit, intelligence, doubt, pain, anger, vulnerability, etc. The other part of the secret is the revealing interviews with those who knew Lennon in the 1970s, including a visibly moved Yoko Ono and Elton John. A portrait emerges of a man who fought his way to serenity in a country that tried its damnedest to give him the boot.
There's a problem with "LENNONYC" being so good: It makes you reexperience your anguish over John's murder, just when you thought you'd put it behind you. You can't help wondering what documentaries of his life in the '80s, '90s and '00s would have been like.
Tuesday, 9 pm (PBS)
"Facing Death" goes into the intensive-care unit at a New York City hospital to explore the end-of-life options now available to Americans. Decisions about when to let a loved one die are more complicated than they used to be since life can now be prolonged indefinitely through very expensive techniques. "What modern medicine is capable of today," a doctor says, "is what 20 years ago was almost science fiction."
Commentators express concern about the billions of dollars Americans spend each year on end-of-life care, and I agree that reform is necessary I mean, at some point in the vague future. Note to my loved ones: If it takes a few billion to keep me going, you have my consent.
Wednesday, 7 pm (Fox)
It's season two for the series about security dude Christopher Chance (Mark Valley), who insinuates himself into clients' lives to protect them from unusual threats. Many shows try to do what Human Target does, and almost all of them fail, most recently NBC's Undercovers. Here, all the elements fall effortlessly into place: the cool, sexy hero with pain in his past; the seedy bad guys; the droll sidekick; the near-impossible combo of humor, poignancy and exciting action.
"These things get messy," says the droll sidekick (Chi McBride) of another caper involving murder, sex, betrayal and deception.
Let's hear it for messiness.