Archive for Saturday, May 9, 2009

The fridge is full, but nothing to eat

May 9, 2009

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If Sunday is Mother’s Day, then why does Saturday remind me of leftover night, the unglamorous culinary salvation of the overworked homemaker? Saturday’s sports schedule and May sweeps conspire to leave early Mother’s Day observations to a couple of random movies on Oxygen and other “women’s” networks. And I’m sorry, “Rumor Has It” (5 p.m. today, Oxygen), the 2005 Jennifer Aniston comedy about a family that may have inspired the 1967 comedy “The Graduate” doesn’t quite capture the sentiment of the holiday.

Sports aside, the networks are in complete leftover mode. If you think of your TV schedule as a slightly disorganized refrigerator, there’s plenty to select from — even if none of it is anybody’s first choice.

Like an untouched container of mysterious take-out, “Harper’s Island” (8 p.m., CBS) is technically not a leftover, but the fact that nobody’s nibbled on it is hardly a ringing endorsement. Tonight’s repeat “Southland” (8 p.m., NBC) about a lost gun in gang territory is only three nights old, and it’s wrapped so tight it will stay fresh for at least that long.

Some of the old tubs of “Law & Order” and “CSI” stuck in the back of the fridge are beginning to get a little ripe but never seem to reach their expiration date.

Give NBC credit for not larding up Saturdays with “Howie Do It,” “Biggest Loser” or “Celebrity Apprentice” repeats. They’ve become the Hamburger Helper of television, a mass of empty calories that offer the passing illusion of fullness, but only disguise a certain creative starvation.

• Kenneth Branagh appears in his first recurring TV role on “Mystery” (8 p.m. Sunday, PBS, check local listings). He portrays detective Kurt Wallandar in “Wallandar,” adapting three best-selling novels by Swedish writer Henning Mankell over three weekends in May.

Mankell’s novels have become an international phenomenon, translated into 32 languages. I’ve read two of his books and can’t wait to read more. Fiftyish, miserable, divorced, brooding and utterly devoted to his job, his daughter and not a whole lot else, Wallander is a rather prickly everyman. The books are shot-through with Swedish melancholy, long winters, long nights and a gloomy foreboding that civilization is giving way to violence and chaos. Wallander takes every murder personally. They seem to him a harbinger of The End. “What kind of world are we leaving behind?” he asks. And he doesn’t want to know the answer.

With all of this as prelude, I’m unhappy but not surprised to report that this “Masterpiece” adaptation just isn’t dark enough. Like any police procedural, “Wallander” puts the emphasis on solving the crime and getting things done. In contrast, the novels often seem to take place in a waking dream. We get to watch Branagh do a credible job with grumpy taciturnity and occasional outbursts, but there isn’t room here for Wallander’s interior gloom.

Sunday’s season finales

• The final three vie for the prize on the season finale of “Amazing Race” (7 p.m., CBS).

• A 2005 murder mystery at a military academy is resolved on “Cold Case” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Three different dirty bombs offer a ticking-clock conclusion to the fourth season of “The Unit” (9 p.m., CBS).

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