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September 01, 1985|Howard Rosenberg

GOLDEN OLDIES--Reruns are often looked upon as the scourge of television. Here are three returning series, though, that are something to look forward to.

This is the week when KCET welcomes back a quintet of Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries under the title "Murder Most English," and the week when PBS reruns "A Walk Through the 20th Century With Bill Moyers." It's also the week when cable-delivered Showtime begins showing 52 recently discovered episodes of "The Honeymooners" that have gone unaired since appearing on "The Jackie Gleason Show" in the 1952-55 seasons.

The Sayers stories first aired on "Masterpiece Theatre" in the mid-1970s and are delightful, mysterious fun, featuring Ian Carmichael as the suave and unflappable supersleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. Each of the five whodunits will be presented in four weekly episodes, beginning with "The Nine Tailors" (Thursday at 9 p.m. on Channel 28) as Wimsey confronts an 18-year-old crime that almost costs him his life. The second in the series, "Clouds of Witness," will begin Oct. 3.

The 19-part Moyers documentary series--covering numerous phenomena which have influenced mankind this century--won Emmy and Peabody awards and was his most recent hurrah on public TV before renewing a spotty relationship with CBS.

Although the execution is uneven depending on the topic, some of the episodes are extraordinary, and you just will not find a more superlative 90 minutes of TV than the opener (to be seen Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Channel 50, 9 p.m. on Channels 28, 15 and 24).

Titled "Marshall, Texas; Marshall, Texas," it records Moyers' return to his hometown--whose history, as it turns out, is a microcosm of America's own schizophrenic path to the present.

Marshall is at once gentle and foreboding, a quaint, simple town where old-timers charmingly reminisce about the past, but also a town where racial prejudice grew like an ugly cancer. The juxtaposing of these clashing moods and tones makes for the sort of rare viewing experience that Moyers is so adept at providing.

Moving from the rare to the raucous, meanwhile. . . . "The Honeymooners--The Lost Episodes" (Monday and Thursday nights on Showtime) presents a different brand of truth in TV sketches, predating the 39 episodes of "The Honeymooners" now in syndication. (There'll be a "Honeymooners" marathon Monday from 8 to 11:45 p.m., followed by episodes Thursday from 8:30 to 10 a.m. and 10 to 11 p.m.)

Set in Brooklyn, these old sketches return Gleason as blustery bus driver Ralph Kramden, supported by Audrey Meadows as Ralph's spiny wife, Alice; Art Carney as his goofy friend, Ed Norton, and Joyce Randolph as Ed's wife, Trixie.

They're a riot--an example of comic artistry overcoming crude technology. Beneath the rantings and ravings of Ralph, moreover, is simple honesty, along with a statement about the human condition. And if you don't believe it, maybe you'll believe this muscle sandwich.

Pow! Right in the kisser!

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