Filmed last year during a tumultuous election and economic earthquake, the smart four-part series “The American Future: A History by Simon Schama” (7 p.m. and 8 p.m., BBC America, concludes Tuesday) looks at some of the nation’s most pressing crises and enduring dilemmas through the prism of its past.
The first hour, “American War” (7 p.m.) examines the nation’s long and contradictory attitudes toward the military, and the second hour ponders the unique place of religion in American history.
As he did in his “History of Britain” specials, Schama, a professor of art and history at Columbia University, hits the road and uses dramatic locations to illustrate his grand themes. One of the first and most memorable images in “Future’s” third hour is the all-but-calcified shoreline of Nevada’s Lake Mead, the visual residue of nine years of drought.
These stark pictures illustrate America’s attitudes toward its natural resources, the assumption of limitless wealth and the less-than-welcome attitudes toward scarcity and limitation. Roll the clips of Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise” speech.
The final hour examines the white-hot immigration issue and how today’s debate echoes sentiments and events from the 1840s and 1920s.
Combining compelling footage and challenging ideas, “Future” captures America at a tentative moment as it anticipates tomorrow’s inauguration and a new chapter in its history.
• Where were you on Nov. 18, 1998? On that night, the Cartoon Network first broadcast “The Powerpuff Girls,” a deliriously over-the-top cartoon featuring brilliant graphics, three cute bug-eyed super heroines with distinct powers and identities, a cast of insane super-villains and a thundering musical score. It had something for everyone. It was cute, it was loud, it was hip, it was sweet, it was ridiculously violent, and it was smart and knowing, touching on the best in cartoon history and popular culture. It became a licensing bonanza.
Cartoon Network commemorates the 10th anniversary of the “Girls” with the special episode “Powerpuff Girls Rule” (7 p.m., Cartoon Network). A 14-hour marathon of “Powerpuff Girls” episodes will run all day, beginning at 5 a.m.
At 5 p.m., series creator Craig McCracken (“Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”) will present his top-10 favorite episodes. I hope they include “Meet the Beat-Alls,” a Beatles-inspired tale that uses Lennon/McCartney lyrics for every line of dialogue.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin appears on the network debut of “Glenn Beck” (4 p.m., Fox News Network).
• Ricky Gervais appears on “Inside the Actors Studio” (6 p.m., Bravo).
• The competition continues on “Superstars of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC).
• A patient complains of pain without end on “House” (7 p.m., Fox).
• Host Adam Gertler explores obscure corners of the business on “Will Work for Food” (7:30 p.m., Food Network).
• Jack acts on his own initiative on “24” (8 p.m., Fox).
• On “The Story of India” (PBS, check local listings), the arrival of Islam (8 p.m.), British rule and resistance (9 p.m.).
• Danger foretold on “Kyle XY” (8 p.m., Family).
• Blood at the horse track on “CSI: Miami” (9 p.m., CBS).
• College-age ghost hunters seek spectral evidence on the third-season premiere of “Paranormal State” (9 p.m., A&E;).