In some ways, life is good for the Real Housewives of New Jersey in the season premiere (Monday, 8 p.m., Bravo). Teresa has gotten a great reception for a cookbook, and her sister-in-law Melissa is looking forward to her son's christening. "I can't wait to welcome my son into God's kingdom," she says.
But dark clouds gather and, hey, it wouldn't be The Real Housewives if they didn't. Hotheaded Joe, who's Melissa's husband and Teresa's brother, stews over perceived slights before the christening. "My blood has done me wrong," he insists, imagining that Teresa has disrespected him.
Joe chooses the solemn occasion of the christening to explode. He pounds on the table, calls Teresa "garbage" and orders her to leave the event. Then come the screaming, the pushing, the punching, and the death threats, as other partygoers jump into the fight. "You sons of bitches!" Joe shouts in the center of a huge melee. "You want to #@!%& with me?"
Who knew "God's kingdom" required security?
Sunday, 9 pm (PBS)
If you haven't been following "South Riding," I suggest you immediately jump in for the finale. The miniseries tells the emotional story of a young woman, Sarah Burton (Maxwell Martin), who returns to her Yorkshire town in the 1930s with dreams of changing the world as headmistress of the local girls' school. "You've got to keep your dreams alive!" Sarah tells her students, who are second-class citizens in a man's world. Sarah herself has trouble taking her own advice when narrow-minded neighbors frown on her affair with a married farmer (David Morrissey).
The finale is packed with incident, and I must warn you that it's bittersweet. I myself was stricken by a tragic plot twist and am currently having a certain amount of trouble keeping my dreams alive.
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)
The TV schedule is filled with fictional heroes performing fantastical feats of courage. "Freedom Riders" is about real-life heroes performing fantastical feats of courage heroes with no special physical powers, just a rock-solid belief in justice and equality. In 1961, a group of black and white Americans decided to ride buses through the South and violate segregation laws. Their goal was to start a national civil rights movement and get the Kennedy administration's attention and even sympathizers thought they were crazy, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Crazy" is one word for it. Another might be "fearless." In Alabama and Mississippi, the Freedom Riders were set on fire, beaten bloody, hospitalized and imprisoned, and still they insisted on continuing their quest. Says a historian, "The notion that just for the attempt to sit on the front of the bus that you could risk your life, that people could try to burn you to death, was incredible."
"Incredible" is one word for it. I can think of stronger ones.
The Looney Tunes Show
Tuesday, 7 pm (Cartoon Network)
The original Looney Tunes of the 1930s-50s represent a pinnacle of American pop culture, despite the fact that the filmmakers were saddled with crude technology, low budgets and hostile management. The Cartoon Network revives the franchise, presenting Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd et al. with the superior resources available to modern animators.
And guess what: It doesn't work, even though the filmmakers go to great lengths to mimic the series' original tone and look.
So what's missing in the new Looney Tunes? Split-second timing. Music, gag writing and voice work for the ages. Pacing that represents the Platonic ideal of "madcap." A sense of absurdity to rival the Marx Brothers. And satirical scenes so stunning you'll never forget them for the rest of your life.
I suppose you could sum up all the missing stuff in one word: "genius."
Tuesday, 8 pm (NBC)
The Voice works overtime to distinguish itself from American Idol. "This is a singing competition unlike any other because it puts vocal ability first!" crows host Carson Daly. To prove that claim, the series had contestants do a blind audition for "coaches" Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine, who sat in chairs facing away from the stage. If they liked what they heard, they pressed a button, causing their chairs to swivel to face the contestant. Each coach picked eight singers to mentor as a team, thus competing against one another.
Those are a lot of gimmicks for a show that purports to "put vocal ability first." And really, The Voice is not so different from American Idol, despite its strenuous efforts. Most of the "blindly" chosen singers turn out to be young and beautiful (surprise!), with the same showy Idol style and the same cute backstories. Green is a stand-in for Idol's Randy Jackson, and Aguilera is an inarticulate faded pop thrush in the Paula Abdul mode. Even the coaches' comments come right out of the Idol phrasebook: "At first I thought it was a little bit shaky, but you found your way as it continued."
I feel my chair swiveling away from The Voice.