Archive for Saturday, January 19, 2008

This Bell rings a little hollow

January 19, 2008

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Catherine Bell, star of "JAG," and "Army Wives," ditches her military uniforms for something slightly mysterious in the cable romance "The Good Witch" (8 p.m. today, Hallmark).

Cassie Nightingale (Bell) sets a small town on its ear when she suddenly takes possession of a legendary, dilapidated mansion known as "The Grey House" and opens a potion shop known as "Bell, Book and Candle."

She quickly casts her spell on the local sheriff when she helps his son cope with a local bully, dispels his daughter's nightmares and fills his father with pleasant thoughts of the old country.

But not every resident sees Nightingale in such a kindly light. A local booster who happens to be the mayor's wife accuses her of practicing black magic and tries to drive her out of town.

Nightingale's enemies are as benign and generic as her magical arts. It says something when a movie about witchcraft and its detractors can unfold without a mention of religion or the occult. But the real missing ingredient here is any chemistry between Nightingale and her love interest. Bell's witch may not ride a broomstick, but she straddles the line between cool understatement and complete disinterest.

¢ Best known as the beleaguered dad on "Malcolm in the Middle," Bryan Cranston stars in the seven-episode cable series "Breaking Bad" (9 p.m. Sunday, AMC) as Walter White, a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who hits a very bad patch right after turning 50.

A once-promising scientist, White appears bored with his job and overwhelmed with bills. To support his pregnant wife (Anna Gunn) and handicapped son (RJ Mitte), he moonlights as a cashier at a local car wash, where he frequently encounters the cruel taunts of his students. And if this weren't depressing enough, he's confronted with a health catastrophe that he hides from his wife.

Clearly at the end of his rope and inspired by dreams of a big payoff, Walter conspires with a former delinquent student (Aaron Paul) to run a meth lab. White's meticulous manner and wizardry in the lab enable him to whip up the finest product.

Even Walter's co-conspirator can't quite understand how such a straight arrow could "break bad" at the ripe old age of 50, so audiences can be forgiven for finding his transformation less than believable. But Cranston makes the most of his character's quiet desperation and wears a lifetime of indignities on his weathered face.

The notion of a middle-aged man coming to grips with the moral and social consequences of his evil line of work were rather well mined on "The Sopranos." And "Weeds" has long since covered the topic of drug sales in the suburbs.

Today's highlights

¢ "True Hollywood Story" (5 p.m., E!) profiles Donald Trump.

¢ John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman star in the 2003 drama "Runaway Jury" (7 p.m., CBS).

¢ Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in the 2002 romantic satire "The Terminal" (7 p.m., ABC).

Sunday's highlights

¢ "60 Minutes" has been pre-empted by "CBS News Presents: Global Warming: The Melting Ice Caps" (6 p.m., CBS).

¢ Three teams fight for the prize on the season finale of "The Amazing Race" (7 p.m., CBS).

¢ Carcetti's plans for the force are leaked to the media on "The Wire" (8 p.m., HBO).

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