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Archive for Tuesday, November 13, 2012

History returns to History with ‘Mankind’

November 13, 2012

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Josh Brolin narrates “Mankind: The Story of All of Us” (8 p.m., History), a six-part series. This is a follow-up of sorts to “America: The Story of Us.” Gosh, I was waiting for “Belgium: The Story of Them.”

Broad survey histories are the kind of films that give history documentaries a bad name. Narratives that try to encompass “the history of mankind” are so vast as to be slightly absurd. In history, as in fiction, good storytelling requires a particular narrative angle. Take “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, a preposterously popular book. If he had merely written a fictional tome filled with arcane detours into the history of Western art, architecture and early Christianity, most readers would have passed. But because he approached it as a symbol-laden detective story shot through with bizarre conspiracy theories, readers would follow him anywhere.

Mankind” is a handsome effort filled with cinematic re-enactments, but it is literally all over the map. History marches on at a startling clip. We go several billion years from the Big Bang to the “dawn of man” (yes, it uses that hackneyed phrase) in about two minutes. Four minutes later, we’ve invented fire and cooking. Cable star Anthony Bourdain makes an appearance to tell us (very briefly) how important cooking is to culture. About 45 seconds later, newscaster Brian Williams gushes about prehistoric cave paintings. Can early agriculture be far behind? Wait half a minute and you’ll find out!

All the same, it’s nice to see history on the History Channel, instead of “Ancient Aliens” and “Pawn Stars.” For disappointed viewers, there’s always “Hardcore Pawn” (8 p.m., truTV).

Tonight’s other highlights:

• Tales of adoption on “Raising Hope” (7 p.m., Fox).

• Jess needs a job on “New Girl” (8 p.m., Fox).

• Professional help on “The Mindy Project” (8:30 p.m., Fox).

• “Frontline” (8:30 p.m., PBS) examines assisted-suicide laws in Oregon and Washington.

• Savino wants a friendly mayor on “Vegas” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Kristina barely copes on “Parenthood” (9 p.m., NBC).

• Quicksand beckons on “Covert Affairs” (9 p.m., USA).

• Jax gets busy and expects the worst on “Sons of Anarchy” (9 p.m., FX).

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