Even a power ballad can’t help this

By Kevin McDonough

United Feature Syndicate

"John Oliver: Terrifying Times" (9 p.m., Sunday, Comedy Central) provides the "Daily Show" correspondent an hour to make observations, mainly about politics. He offers quips about the differences between the British empire and 21st-century America, and he explains, in a too-contrived reminiscence, how a sporting-event embarrassment inspired him to become a comedian.

Oliver explains how classic-rock power ballads can milk emotion out of any situation, particularly when it’s shown in slow motion. He demonstrates this by playing a snippet of a rather uninspired piece of oratory from President Bush and then replaying it accompanied by Bette Midler’s "The Wind Beneath My Wings."

While I can’t deny that Oliver is a clever guy, I didn’t laugh once. It’s difficult to credit political discourse, even "fake" political discourse, when it takes place before a packed house of like-minded fans. And it’s hard to find much mirth in the 4,000th observation that Bush is not a terribly good speaker.


However flippant, Oliver’s routine and accompanying Powerpoint presentation have the atmosphere of a lecture. His material and observations would probably seem more trenchant on the page.

Free of the tightly scripted and structured confines of "The Daily Show," Oliver tends to ramble on. And while he made a good point about the manipulative nature of rock ballads, his meandering chat reminded me of how much "The Daily Show" relies on its own thundering score to punctuate jokes and make matters seem zippy even when they lag.

  • Somewhere in the recesses of certain male brains, there’s a place where World War II and dinosaurs constitute some kind of sweet spot. Why not combine them? Check out the made-for-TV shocker "Warbirds" (8 p.m., Saturday, TV-14), about wartime survivors of a Pacific plane crash who discover that fighting the Japanese is a cakewalk compared to tangling with prehistoric reptiles.
  • Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin star in the made-for-TV drama "Sweet Nothing in My Ear" (8 p.m., Sunday, CBS, TV-PG). The film follows a divorce-custody battle through a series of flashbacks after Dan (Daniels) seeks an operation to restore hearing to his deaf son. The boy’s deaf mother (Matlin) believes there is nothing wrong with her son and that the surgical implant is a needless assault on what she sees as a proud culture of deaf people. Like many films of its kind, "Nothing" is more concerned with discussing issues than developing characters.

Saturday’s highlights

  • Daniel Radcliffe stars in the 2004 fantasy "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG,V).
  • On two hours of "48 Hours Mystery" (CBS): dreams of murder (8 p.m.,r), a news anchor gets too close to a story (9 p.m.).
  • A rodent embraces his inner chef in the 2007 animated comedy "Ratatouille" (8 p.m., Starz).
  • Amy Adams hosts "Saturday Night Live" (10:30 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14), featuring musical guest Vampire Weekend.

Sunday’s highlights

  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): gastric-bypass surgery; a famous Venetian mural may be hiding a gem by Michelangelo.
  • "Nature" (7 p.m., PBS) profiles a Rwandan Gorilla king.
  • A slacker and an offbeat royal find romance in the 2008 made-for-TV romance "Princess" (7 p.m., Family, TV-PG).
  • Ashlee Simpson and the Naked Brothers Band appear on "Dance On Sunset" (7:30 p.m., Nickelodeon)
  • Thomas More defies King Henry on "The Tudors" (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).
  • Screenwriter David Haig stars in the "Masterpiece Theatre" (8 p.m., PBS) adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s "My Boy Jack."
  • Beset by personal tragedy, John Adams begins a correspondence with his old rival Thomas Jefferson on the finale of the seven-part drama "John Adams" (8 p.m., HBO).
  • Star-spangled impersonations on "Tracy Ullman’s State of the Union" (9 p.m., Showtime).
  • Kitty and Robert turn a corner on a new episode of "Brothers & Sisters" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).
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