Saturday night 99-cent store of TV

By Kevin McDonough

United Feature Syndicate

Like some fearsome deity, the Internet age has been both a creator and destroyer of cultural pleasures. Sure, we’re happy that we can order books and music and movies online, but some of us miss the simple pleasure of browsing in a used-book shop, searching for records in a music store or discovering a cult classic at the video arcade. I miss such mindless meanderings and the chance to happen upon things great or terrible, but always unexpected.

Saturday-night channel surfing may be the closest thing we have to that kind of pop-culture rummage sale. And tonight is rich in odd, unfamiliar and barely commercial offerings, some featuring familiar stars.

  • Meg Ryan, Colin Hanks, Selma Blair and Antonio Banderas star in something called "My Mom’s New Boyfriend" (8 p.m., Saturday, Lifetime), about an FBI agent (Hanks) forced to spy on his mother (Ryan) when she begins dating a suspected art thief.
  • "Melrose Place" and "One Tree Hill" star Daphne Zuniga stars in "Mail Order Bride" (8 p.m., Saturday, Hallmark) as a 19th-century conwoman who flees her possessive boss (Greg Evigan) by stealing the identity of a dead friend who happens to be the expected mail-order bride of a Wyoming prospector. This is a Hallmark movie, so don’t go looking for the grim realism of "Deadwood." The film features plenty of scenes of Zuniga looking distinctly uncomfortable in the corsets and bustles of the period. In a network interview, Zuniga applauds the women of the past for rebelling against such confining finery. "I am a fan of breathing," declares Zuniga.
  • During television’s early years and so-called Golden Age, many of the best dramas seemed more influenced by theater than Hollywood. The "Masterpiece" (8 p.m., PBS, Sunday) production "God on Trial" harkens back to that Golden Age of literate television. It’s a moving and unforgettable production, the kind that announces itself as great drama and leaves you feeling better and wiser for having watched it.

Based on long-standing rumor and legend, "Trial" imagines a group of Jewish concentration-camp prisoners facing certain death who pass the time by creating a makeshift court to put God on trial for breaking his Covenant to his chosen people. Prisoners offer testimony both deeply faithful and utterly profane. Some complain that they have been abandoned by their God, and others see their fate as part of some greater plan.
Filled with extraordinary dialogue shot through with the loftiest scripture and the most harrowing tales of human degradation, this British production may remind some viewers of the works of Rod Serling. The creator of "The Twilight Zone" was a prolific writer who was never afraid to set his dramas in the most extreme settings, or to allow his characters to hash out their thoughts and feelings about the most profound subjects.


  • The fake Australian documentary series "Summer Heights High" (9:30 p.m., HBO, Sunday, TV-MA) stars series writer and creator Chris Lilley in three very different roles. He’s Jonah, a delusional bully; Ja’mie, a female exchange student from a posh private school; and Mr. G, a high-strung drama teacher very impressed with his own genius and popularity.

The Mr. G character owes much to Christopher Guest’s Corky St. Clair in the 1996 comedy "Waiting for Guffman." In fact, "Summer Heights" seems like an imported imitation of other better mock-umentaries done at least 10 years back. HBO viewers expect more originality from their network. And they pay for the privilege.
Saturday’s highlights

  • USC hosts California in college football action (7 p.m., ABC).
  • The gang goes to Japan on a movie-length episode of "iCarly" (7 p.m., Nickelodeon).
  • A burglary inspires charity on "The Office" (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
  • Scheduled on "48 Hours Mystery" (9 p.m., CBS): a Vegas dancer expires.

Sunday’s highlights

  • "Nature" (7 p.m., PBS) discusses new discoveries in ways monkeys create a culture.
  • A woman (Kyla Pratt) who can talk to animals becomes an aid to the president (Peter Coyote) in the cable sequel "Dr. Dolittle: Tail to the Chief" (7 p.m., Family, TV-PG).
  • The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles continue their rivalry on "Sunday Night Football" (8:15 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
  • New clues appear in a 40-year-old child murder on "Cold Case" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14,V).
  • Jonah’s daughter is kidnapped in Iraq on "The Unit" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14,V).
  • "Witness to Jonestown" (8 p.m., MSNBC) recalls the mass suicide of California cult members that took place in Guyana 30 years ago this month.

Cult choice
A hard-boiled detective (Harrison Ford) has to hunt down and terminate rogue androids in the recently restored director’s cut of the 1982 sci fi gem "Blade Runner" (7:55 p.m., Sunday, Sci Fi).

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