How's this for an unwholesome choice? The movie on CBS Sunday night is about a woman who beats her elderly mother. The one opposite it on NBC is a detective mystery that involves murder, child molesting and blackmail.
You could also choose to watch neither, of course.
Their themes notwithstanding, however, both CBS' "Circle of Violence: A Family Drama" and NBC's "When the Bough Breaks" are well crafted and non-exploitive and make for diverting, if not compelling, viewing.
The biggest problem with "Circle of Violence" (9-11 p.m., Channels 2 and 8) appears to be not of the film makers' doing. Fearful that the slow-building story might not immediately grab viewers, the network has stuck on a "coming attractions" segment at the very beginning showing what's going to happen later.
So when writer William Wood tries to build suspense midway through over the question of whether the loving daughter (Tuesday Weld) could really be hitting her infirm mother (Geraldine Fitzgerald), the effect is lost because the audience already has seen up front the scene proving that she does.
The film hangs together anyway, thanks to solid performances by the two leading ladies and the even-handed direction of David Greene, who is careful not to assign blame and instead details the elements that combined to produce the violence--including the fact, often common in such cases, that the daughter was beaten as a child.
Considering the decades of pent-up anger at work in "Circle of Violence," the movie ends far too neatly to be believable. Obviously the film makers have chosen to sacrifice dramatic realism in favor of offering a measure of hope to those caught up in this generational cycle of abuse.
"When the Bough Breaks" (9-11 p.m., Channels 4, 36 and 39) starts off with the look and the feel of a Joseph Wambaugh novel--full of diverse L.A. locations and sordid doings just beneath the city's placid surface.
Except that since this is based on a novel by Jonathan Kellerman, who is a psychologist, the hero (Ted Danson) is a psychologist, not a cop. He has a friend (Richard Masur) who's a cop, though, and through him gets involved in a grisly case that involves slice-and-dice murders, decomposing bodies, abused children, long-held secrets and people in powerful places.
The movie's initially intriguing ambiance isn't sustained, but before director Waris Hussein retreats to some heavy-handed characterizations and a rather conventional car chase and fist fight, the hooks of Phil Penningroth's script are in, assuring that you'll want to stick around to find out what happens.
Suffice it to say that the psychologist comes to a new understanding of the concept, expressed twice by other characters, that some people don't have problems, some people are the problem--evil and unredeemable.