George Eads must be a very happy man to have reconciled his pay dispute with CBS and "CSI" before the arrival of "Evel Knievel" (7 p.m., TNT) on our TV screens. Otherwise, he'd be drifting helplessly into the Shelley Long night of his career.
Eads plays Knievel with an Elvis-like swagger, wearing what appear to be several bad wigs. Truth be told, he's not the worst thing about this meager biopic. For starters, there's just not that much story. Boyish juvenile delinquent Bob Knievel is first seen in 1950 accompanied by "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," a song Jerry Lee Lewis would not record until 1957. Arrested for stealing hubcaps, he spends a night in jail with a stinky old geezer (Lance Henriksen) who inspires the boy by reciting Teddy Roosevelt's "In the Arena" speech.
Flash-forward to the late 1950s and teen Evel has learned to jump motorcycles over old cars, and even caged cougars and boxes of snakes. Holy foreshadowing, Batman! By the mid-1960s, his motorcycle jumps become Vegas spectaculars. He crashes, recuperates, cheats on his wife, promises to jump Idaho's Snake River Canyon and makes it, barely, then retires in 1980 after a misty, reflective montage. Such is Evel's life in the arena.
Director John Badham pads out this tale with some hokey exposition and jarring and inaccurate use of period clothes, hair and music. When Knievel first meets his sweetheart and future bride, Linda (Jaime Pressly), it's supposed to be the 1950s. But her hair, makeup and cleavage-revealing outfit must have arrived via time machine. She looks like she could have walked off the set of "Beverly Hills 90210."
It's maddening how the film completely fails to capture Knievel's peculiar appeal at a very particular period. All it amounts to is a rather expensive hype for the upcoming jump by Knievel's son Robbie over the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid (7 p.m. Saturday, TNT). So for real action, you'll have to wait, like Macbeth, for tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow. "Evel Knievel," meanwhile, is a tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
- "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC) offers a two-hour look at the controversial decision by retiring Illinois Gov. George Ryan to grant commutation to 171 convicts, every prisoner on his state's death row.
Tonight's other highlights
- A pawn in the Almighty's plans on "Joan of Arcadia" (7 p.m., CBS).
- Mac's psychological setback on "JAG" (8 p.m., CBS).
- Andre Braugher guest stars on "The Jury" (8 p.m., Fox).
- Sharona suffers from a recurring grisly vision on "Monk" (9 p.m., USA).