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Archive for Friday, March 9, 2012

‘On Death Row’ genuine and insightful

March 9, 2012

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The words haunting, thoughtful, strange and compelling don’t begin to describe “On Death Row” (9 p.m., ID), a new four-part series from director Werner Herzog that airs on Fridays through March 30. “Row” dispenses with the lurid melodrama of most true-crime series and the longing for vengeance that permeates many stories about capital crimes. Instead, the filmmaker, reviewing cases in Texas and Florida, describes the nearly unimaginable horrors in calm, conversational tones and conducts carefully modulated interviews with hardened killers.

‘‘Just because I’m interviewing you doesn’t mean I like you,” Herzog cautions tonight’s subject, Florida death row inmate James Barnes. Still, Herzog’s approach builds a bridge of trust, and Barnes tells the director about more murders he has been hiding from authorities for decades.

The absence of raised voices, contrived poses and histrionics makes Barnes’ accounts even more chilling. A man who claims to have made his peace with God, or in his case, Allah, he still comes off like a sociopath. When he recounts how a SWAT team surrounded his house and discovered his strangled wife’s body in a bedroom closet, he emphasizes his own powerlessness and sense of entrapment. There’s not a hint of remorse.

German-born Herzog may be best known to viewers for his remarkable 2005 documentary feature “Grizzly Man,” shown repeatedly on Discovery and Animal Planet. The only drawback to having Herzog’s work appear on basic cable is the stark contrast between his contemplative approach and the loud, intrusive cacophony of television commercials.

• Speaking of haunting television, “Ghost Adventures” (8 p.m., Travel) returns for a new season to discover the “dark energy” trapped in some of America’s more curious destinations, including the Peabody-Whitehead Mansion in Denver, the Shanghai Tunnels in Portland, Ore., as well as the Connecticut family home of paranormal gadget inventor Gary Galka.

Tonight’s other highlights

• The CEO of the Oriental Trading Co. goes “Undercover Boss” (7 p.m., CBS).

• Retired professional football player Jerome Bettis explores his roots on “Who Do You Think You Are?” (7 p.m., NBC).

• A rent-a-grandma scheme intrigues the “Shark Tank” (7 p.m., ABC).

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