Archive for Wednesday, July 7, 2010

PBS train travelogue derailed by marketing

July 7, 2010

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“David Suchet on the Orient Express” (7 p.m., PBS, check local listings) promises to be a perfect exploration of the life of Agatha Christie and the lost world of luxury train travel. Unfortunately, it’s not a promise kept.

“Suchet” unfolds like a nice little home movie of Suchet’s opportunity to ride the storied train. He even gets to “drive” the massive locomotive, something he describes as “every boy’s dream” more than once.

The film does offer a nice survey history of the Orient Express, from its origins in the late Victorian era to its post-war decline and inglorious 1970s bankruptcy and auction. It has since been revived as a private line and a luxurious experience for the well-heeled traveler.

We’re reminded that it was a dining car from the Express that was used for the Germans to sign the Armistice in 1918. That same car was dragged out of a museum in 1940 when Hitler forced the French to sign a humiliating surrender agreement. When World War II started to go badly, Hitler had the car blown up so it could not become the site of another capitulation.

Despite such nuggets, this travelogue never rises above the pedestrian. After much talk about Istanbul as the train’s exotic final destination, Suchet’s trip ends abruptly in Prague. And we don’t even get to see Prague.

“Orient Express” unfolds like a blatant advertisement for the Orient Express. And, of course, for “Murder on the Orient Express,” a “Masterpiece Mystery” installment airing on Sunday.

• Gareth Malone isn’t looking for an idol or a star, or a top model. He just wants to fill “The Choir” (9 p.m., BBC America).

A critical hit in the United Kingdom, “The Choir” follows Malone as he scours the countryside and inner cities for voices. “Bringing people together for a common purpose and singing some of the most beautiful music that’s ever been written — I think everyone should have access to that,” says Malone. And as on “Glee,” this “Choir” doesn’t practice, or perform, in a vacuum. He’s readying them for a spot in the world’s toughest competition, The World Choir Games in China.

• “Locked Up Abroad” (9 p.m., National Geographic) recalls the arrest and incarceration of two oil-field contractors in Iraq in 1990 on the eve of Saddam Hussein’s ill-fated invasion of Kuwait.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The top eight perform on a two-hour helping of “So You Think You Can Dance” (7 p.m., Fox)

•l Martha Stewart visits “The Fabulous Beekman Boys” (8 p.m., Planet Green).

• A perfect family portrait loses focus on “Modern Family” (8 p.m., ABC).

• Tales of duct tape debunked on “Mythbusters” (8 p.m., Discovery).

• A bloodless victim’s chilling message on “CSI: NY” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Forensics link Benson to a biker’s murder on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (9 p.m., NBC).

• A squatter’s corpse greets returning vacationers on “Castle” (9 p.m., ABC).

• Scientists ponder life on Earth and why it might or might not exist elsewhere on “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman” (9 p.m., Science).

• “The Shift” (9 p.m., Investigation Discovery), a documentary series following the Indianapolis Homicide Squad, enters its third season.

• A missed opportunity on “Hot in Cleveland” (9 p.m., TV Land).

• Lily and Marshall consider a major step on “How I Met Your Mother” (7 p.m., CBS)

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