In Step It Up & Dance (Thursday, 10 p.m., Bravo), 12 dancers face weekly challenges and eliminations, hoping to shimmy their way to a $100,000 prize. The host is Elizabeth Berkley, who became an international laughingstock for her role in Showgirls. But Berkley proves an appealing presence here, clearly relishing the chance to harshly judge others rather than be harshly judged herself.
The show is similarly appealing, though it's hard to say why. Most of the dancers are arrogant airheads who stumble through their interview segments. "I am the most exciting dancer you will ever see on the stage," says Miguel. "It's like telling DaVinci, like, 'I'm sorry you're not a good painter,' and he's like, 'Huh?'"
But the show is about bods, not brains. And the specimens on display pass the hour quite nicely. The contestants work with star choreographers, strutting their stuff in ensemble and solo spots. "Over the next 10 weeks," their mentor says, "you're going to show America what it means to be a professional dancer."
Apparently, it means weeping, backbiting, bragging and stomping off stage in the middle of a routine. As DaVinci himself might say, "It's more dramatic than, like, 'The Last Supper!'"
Sunday, 8 pm (WHA)
My wife turned me out of the house after my negative review of Sense and Sensibility last week. She's a fervent Jane Austen fan, and she tends to enjoy every movie adaptation that comes down the pike. She demanded - I mean, politely suggested - that I watch Part Two with an open mind. Or else.
This week, the impoverished Dashwood sisters wait for their suitors to arrive. And wait. To pass the time, they cast their eyes to the floor. Every once in a while, they gaze anxiously out the window.
Even Jane Austen, methinks, would commit hara-kiri with a quill pen after an hour or two of this adaptation. It reduces her novel to a lugubrious soap opera, with no trace of wit or sparkle. The actors seem to think they've done their jobs if they simply recite the lines with proper elocution. Has no one here seen Ang Lee's 1995 movie, which proved that a screen version of Sense and Sensibility can be funny and lively and romantic and surprising?
And by the way, does anybody have a spare bedroom I could crash in tonight?
Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
Sunday, 9 pm (Showtime)
British comedian Tracey Ullman has just become a U.S. citizen, but this new series may be grounds for deportation. Ullman presumes to tell us what we're like, playing a range of American types in a series of short scenes. It's supposed to be a sweeping satire of our culture, from the housewives to the farmers to the Hollywood stars.
Yes, Ullman can sound Southern or Midwestern, but she seems to think that erasing her British accent is funny in and of itself. And maybe it would be if you lived in London. Here in the States, we actually need to see some comic insight into the characters, and Ullman has none to offer. Her satiric targets are as big as a barn: vain actors, empty-headed news anchors, lying politicians.
In place of edgy wit, Ullman is just mean. Not many people are going to laugh over a Texas prisoner called "The Tastee Freeze Rapist," or a soldier who gets sent back to Iraq every three months, or a song about Anna Nicole Smith's rotting corpse.
"Your liver will have hell to pay, but if this is your goal
"Your body it will soon decay like Anna Smith Nicole."
That's right - Smith's name had to be rearranged to make the would-be rhyming joke. Something tells me that America will not be very welcoming to Ullman Tracey.
Tuesday, 8 pm (WHA)
"The Medicated Child" looks into our tendency to solve a kid's problems with drugs. There's been a dramatic increase in the number of children given behavior-modifying medication - four million and counting. The drugs can cause serious side effects, and little is known about their long-term impact.
I'd be even more upset about this if I weren't heavily sedated.
Tuesday, 9 pm (FX)
FX's stunning series gets more complicated by the week. The family of traveling con artists are increasingly tangled in their webs, unable to shake off uneasy feelings. Mom (Minnie Driver) makes a stab at living honestly. Sis (Shannon Woodward) gets comfortable with her current assumed identity and doesn't want to leave school for a new scam in a new town. And Dad (Eddie Izzard) has fallen in with a group even more dishonest than he is: normal businessmen.
He poses as a lawyer sealing the deal for a luxurious new housing development, which is supposed to set aside space for Hurricane Katrina survivors. The businessmen figure out a way to screw the survivors, thereby assuring a healthier profit for themselves. The thieving con man is the only one in the room to feel a twinge of regret, making him a hero of sorts.
Only in America.