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Archive for Monday, June 6, 2011

’Fischer’ has a compelling hook

June 6, 2011

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Genius, fame and paranoia loom large in the thoughtful and entirely captivating documentary “Bobby Fischer Against the World” (8 p.m., HBO).

A brilliant and focused child of a single mother with a politically radical background, Brooklyn-born Bobby Fischer would seem an unlikely candidate for international fame. His single-minded dedication to the game of chess began early and by age 8, Fischer was beating much older players, sometimes challenging dozens of them at a time. The film offers a wealth of footage of the young Fischer, a curiosity for the media long before his defeat of Russian chess master Boris Spassky at the 1972 championship made him a worldwide hero.

“Fischer” does a great job of exploring the ancient game of chess and its insular society of world class champions. It also recalls the emphasis the Soviet Union put on the game as part of its propaganda efforts.

The film’s title has more than a double meaning, spending its final half documenting Fischer’s descent into paranoia; his renunciation of his U.S. citizenship, his celebration of the 9/11 attacks, and his obsessive anti-Semitism.

The mere effort of describing Fischer’s rise and fall implies some causal link between his unique gift and his pathetic self-imposed exile. But making sense of his madness, or anyone’s mental illness, remains beyond the powers of any film, even a movie as spellbinding as “Bobby Fischer Against the World.”

• HGTV used to be the place you learned to do things yourself. Now that’s why you watch DIY. HGTV is now home to shows about passive people who have things done for them by expert celebrity hosts bearing product placements by the truckload. This trend continues with a vengeance on “HGTV’d” (8 p.m., HGTV) where a network fan gets a makeover in the form of network promotion.

But no sublimation of the personal to the corporate is more complete than “My Yard Goes Disney” (7 p.m., HGTV) a six-episode series about folks turning the back garden into a fully licensed mini-theme park. Personally, I’d like to see a show dedicated to the people who live next door to these Disney dreams. That’s a ripe situation for a comedy. Or perhaps homicidal longings.

Tonight’s other highlights

• Gordon Ramsay returns to “MasterChef” (7 p.m., Fox). I wish he wouldn’t.

• Goren and Eames return on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (8 p.m., NBC).

• A bootcamp trainee falls ill on “House” (8 p.m., Fox).

• Bill Murray hosts a gathering of greats on “Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival 3” (8 p.m., PBS, check local listings).

• A housewife and veteran (Catherine Bell) tries to save her kidnapped husband in the 2011 drama “Last Man Standing” (8 p.m., Lifetime).

• The new teen series “Switched at Birth” (8 p.m., ABC Family) offers a variation on an ancient theme.

• A witness needs protection on “Hawaii Five-O” (9 p.m., CBS).

• One victim leads to another on “Law & Order: Los Angeles” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Social climbing and homicide mingle on the new true life mystery series “Behind Mansion Walls” (9 p.m., Investigation Discovery). Murder styles of the rich and famous.

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