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Archive for Saturday, February 13, 2010

‘Survivors’: The end of the world as we know it?

February 13, 2010

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A post-Apocalypse drama for people who think, “Survivors” (8 p.m. today, BBC) does not flinch or disappoint. At once grim and uplifting, global and intimate, terrifying and gripping, it takes the “end of the world as we know it” premise to challenging new places.

The movie-like two-hour pilot follows overlapping stories as a flu outbreak rapidly mutates from an inconvenience to a news event to a crisis and finally an epidemic that leaves 99 percent of the world’s population dead.

A government health minister struggles to stay calm on television when she knows that everything she’s saying is a lie intended to prevent panic. By the time she has to announce the death of the prime minister, her audience is long past caring.

It takes a long hour for the world to end and for our central characters to wake up alone in a twilight zone of empty highways, silent streets and houses and apartment buildings filled with fatalities.

Survivors include a young doctor, an ex-con, a mother desperate to find her son, a decadent playboy and a devout 11-year-old boy. In addition to absorbing all that they’ve lost, they must now contend with a world shorn of its technological veneer, and descend into pre-industrial existence where the search for food, water and shelter become an hourly struggle.

“Survivors” keeps us guessing about the enduring few and their fates. Were they fortunate to survive, or cursed? And in their struggle to build a society from its silent ruins, will they lose, or rediscover, their humanity?

• A potentially good show saddled with one of the weakest titles in some time, “How to Make It In America” (9 p.m., Sunday, HBO) proves the difficulty of maintaining believability when you’re trying desperately to “keep it real.”

Bryan Greenberg (“Prime”) stars as artist and would-be entrepreneur Ben Epstein. In some ways, his character here seems like an extension of his role in director Ben Younger’s 2005 comedy “Prime,” a tale of a sensitive young artist in love.

Epstein seems caught between his evidently comfortable background and his artistic leanings and desire for street credibility. His day job requires that he toil as a salesman at a posh department store, and there he meets a nerdy ex-classmate in the hedge-fund business.

Generations ago, Budd Schulberg scandalized the close-knit Hollywood community with his novel “What Makes Sammy Run?” — a tale of a ruthless go-getter who will do anything to advance from his Jewish ghetto to become a movie mogul. In contrast, this tale of downward mobility seems like “What Makes Sammy Slum?”

As a lover, an entrepreneur and an artist, Epstein remains paralyzed by his need to be hip and not end up like his Wall Street classmate. Over the course of the pilot, he remains too passive to seduce an evidently willing female and too caught up with “grown-up” respectability to plunge into his partner, Cam Calderon’s (Victor Rasuk), criminal street-vendor scam. Cam doesn’t have time for equivocations. He desperately needs cash to fend off his criminal cousin’s (Luis Guzman) arm-twisting goons.

This marks the third HBO series to plunge into the demimonde of Brooklyn hipsters. “America” takes itself far more seriously than the effervescent “Flight of the Conchords” and the naval-gazing “Bored to Death.”

It takes an ambitious series to serve up a dreamy mope as a protagonist. But eventually it must find an audience that cares. And that’s why you cop out and cast a “cute” guy in the lead, an actor like Greenberg with a “One Tree Hill” pedigree. But that’s what makes “Make It” seems more like a fancy, slightly hipper and ratings-free version of a CW show than the kind of comedy we used to expect from HBO.

Today’s highlights

• Cads (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn) make the most of romantic ceremonies in the 2005 comedy “Wedding Crashers” (7 p.m., CBS).

• Winter Olympics (7 p.m., NBC) highlights include Apolo Ohno’s quest for a skating medal. Elsewhere (7 p.m., CNBC), Canada and Slovakia meet in women’s hockey.

• Bruce Boxleitner and Jennifer Rubin star in the 2009 shocker “Transmorphers: Fall of Man” (8 p.m., SyFy).

• Lacey Chabert (“Party of Five”) stars in the 2010 romance “Elevator Girl” (8 p.m., Hallmark).

• Scheduled on “48 Hours Mystery” (9 p.m., CBS): did a killer use 9/11 to hide his deed?

• “Bill Maher: But I’m Not Wrong” (9 p.m., HBO) marks the ninth special for the politically charged comic.

Sunday’s highlights

• Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): con artists and human gullibility; Iran’s smuggling schemes.

• Winter Olympics highlights include: figure skating (6 p.m., NBC) and women’s hockey (6:30 p.m., CNBC).

• “Amazing Race” (7 p.m., CBS) kicks off its 16th season.

• Homer and Marge catch Olympics fever on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox,).

• A graffiti artist’s last tag on “Cold Case” (8 p.m., CBS).

• Ana returns with a surprise on “Big Love” (8 p.m., HBO).

• As if Valentine’s Day weren’t stressful enough “Sextistics: Your Love Life” (8 p.m., TLC) dares you to see how you measure up.

• The boss of a top-heavy chain goes incognito on “Undercover Boss” (9 p.m., CBS).

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