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Archive for Thursday, February 12, 2009

‘Cards’: Requiem for a nightmare

February 12, 2009

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It’s all television’s fault. When mulling the current economic crisis, one essayist on PBS’s “News Hour” (6 p.m., PBS, check local listings) recently cited “Survivor” (7 p.m., CBS, season premiere). She saw it as an example of how viewers bought into obvious fakery in the name of drama. She derided self-deluded viewers for worrying about the starvation of bug-eating contestants when anyone with common sense knew that there were camera crews and caterers just out of view.

Financial catastrophe and willful self-delusion get a serious treatment on “House of Cards” (7 p.m. and 11 p.m., CNBC), an impressive two-hour special report on the origins of the current financial mess, hosted by correspondent David Faber.

“Cards” focuses on victims of foreclosure as well as some of the more colorful scoundrels of the overheated credit market, among them Daniel Sadek, a recent immigrant with a third-grade education who sold easy credit on late-night commercials on cable television. He made so much money that he produced his own movie, “Redline,” a car-crash thriller starring Eddie Griffin.

The special does a so-so job of explaining just how these horrible loans were “packaged” on Wall Street into complex financial “instruments” and sold to investors all over the world. But even former fed chairman Alan Greenspan, interviewed here, has a tough time explaining the math and logic behind characterizing very bad debt as Triple-A and investment-worthy financial “instruments.”

When Faber asks Greenspan about the obvious problems of a deregulated market, the former oracle of the fed falls back on a general defense of modern capitalism itself. He seems to be delivering a eulogy for his own era.

By focusing on shady lenders like Sadek and his cheesy late-night commercials, “Cards” creates an easy villain and gets to use some great footage. But cable TV stations had no problem running Sadek’s ads and cashing his checks. How culpable is television for selling the runaway American dream that became the mortgage nightmare?

And it’s not just the commercials. Who still buys into the fantasies of the “Millionaire Matchmaker” (9 p.m., Bravo)? This is a show in which an aggressive, foul-mouthed go-getter facilitates dates between young maidens and young, vain, wealthy men who often behave like sociopaths. It’s “The Rules” meets “The Billionaire Boys Club” in all the worst ways, and it is contemptuously out of touch with our times.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Joy and Darnell meet their new neighbors (Morgan Fairchild, Joan Van Ark and Andrea Parker) on “My Name is Earl” (7 p.m., NBC).

• Betty creates a tribute for Claire on “Ugly Betty” (7 p.m., ABC).

• The 40th Annual NAACP Image Awards (7 p.m., Fox) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the civil rights organization.

• Killers in a fast food restaurant leave greasy evidence behind on “CSI” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Michael continues his tour on “The Office” (8 p.m., NBC).

• Liz puts conditions on a first date on “30 Rock” (8:30 p.m., NBC).

• Michael and Jason are trapped on “Burn Notice” (9 p.m., USA).

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