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It's a Jampacked Sunday Night on Cable

The evening is crammed with new programming and season premieres. Not all of the offerings are great, but some are especially noteworthy.

January 05, 2002|DIANE WERTS | NEWSDAY

What is it about Jan. 6? Every TV channel seems to have high-profile shows there. Because it's the first Sunday of the year? Because the midseason series haven't started? Premiere now and avoid the rush?

From a potent truth-based movie to a dud series debut, Sunday seems to be cable's winter version of the networks' fall preview week, crammed into one night. Let's take it from the top (of the quality heap), and you'll see why cable keeps eating into network audience shares.

"Sins of the Father" (Sunday at 8 and 10 p.m. on FX). This rerun-laden channel makes only a few movies a year, but they're always worth a look. This emotional stunner essentially takes place inside its lead character's head--and heart--but it's more vividly visualized than most any movie you'll see.

Tom Sizemore ("Saving Private Ryan's" Sgt. Horvath) brings anguished depth to an inexpressive average guy around whom revolves the tangled tale of the racially charged 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls. As the son of a white truck driver long suspected in the crime, he's forced 35 years later to confront not only his father's alleged involvement but also the more personal impact of the hate that provoked it.

Much as HBO's "Shot in the Heart" explored the family dynamics behind killer Gary Gilmore, "Sins of the Father" pieces together fragments of memory to form a graphic portrait of hindsight and transformation. Sizemore's character is building a house for his estranged, aged father (the scarily coiled Richard Jenkins) when onto the scene arrives black construction worker Ving Rhames. As their 1990s friendship also builds, Sizemore reexamines whether he is indeed a "chip off the old block," wondering why the law continues its "witch hunt against a sick old man."

Past scenes woven into the present include some newsreels and reenactments. But they more strikingly resurrect the angry household that helped fuel such '60s malice. Amid Dad's rage, Mom's pain and children trapped in the maelstrom, there's soul corrosion that seems destined to be perpetuated--until Sizemore sizes it up to realize, simply, "This has just got to stop."

"The It Factor" (Sunday at 6 and 9 p.m. on Bravo). A reality show that seems real? No contrived games, no cheesy hosts? Just real-life stakes that matter. "The It Factor" tracks the career travails of 12 young New York actors of various backgrounds and accomplishment. Sunday's premiere half-hour condenses auditions for the series: Hundreds of aspirants meet casting directors in a visceral depiction of the numbers game nearly all are going to lose.

Next week is when we really start to get to know the chosen dozen and their acting lives. One practices a single line of TV guest-shot dialogue over and over, hoping for the gig so desperately that it looms like a Broadway lead. Who'd have thought actors would be the most "real" people in unscripted TV?

"The Division" (Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime). This cop hour is sometimes so good, it's all the more frustrating when it isn't. As the second season begins, the walking disaster played by Nancy McKeon returns to San Francisco detective work from involuntary rehab, itching to alienate everybody connected to a job she can barely face without alcohol. As Capt. Bonnie Bedelia is pressured by a political new superior, interagency squabbles intrude in murder cases close to the detectives' hearts.

Heart is a big thing on Lifetime, which is a good thing, emphasizing inner life over plot machinations. But its prominence so overshadows these cases that they're barely perfunctory. At least this season there's a male partner (Jon Hamm) joining the too-female squad and a shell-shocked rookie (Taraji P. Henson) to contrast with their seen-it-all expertise.

"ER" fans also get some dramatic muscle-flexing from "Division" cops Lisa Vidal (Weaver's latest attraction on NBC) and Troy Evans (irascible hospital deskman Frank).

"Oz" (Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO). More lighthearted fun--not. The prison has survived the explosion that freed Luke Perry's televangelist from the bricked-in wall but left him frightfully mangled. Harold Perrineau's inmate narrator invokes legendary prisoners Thomas Paine and Oscar Wilde to update what has previously taken place and may yet occur on TV's most brutal series. Its hard-core following can have this fifth season of eight episodes. The rest of us will at best admire the earnest work of producer Tom Fontana ("Homicide") without braving its nasty outcome.

"Conspiracy Zone" (Sunday at 9 p.m. on TNN). Just when cable seems competitive with the networks, along comes a series embarrassingly retro-cheap and maladroit. That definition would fit most anything original on the "new" TNN, but especially this dreary half-hour of comedian Kevin Nealon leading aimless chat about tabloid paranoia. First up, "Man Show" loudmouth Adam Carolla and "Batman" Adam West debate privacy threats in our surveillance society.

"Baby Blues" (Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network). Based on the family-life comic strip, this slight but amiable animation has segued from the WB (where its audience was also slight) to the apt habitat of Cartoon's Adult Swim block for grown-ups.

(Editor's note: Sunday also brings the season premiere of "Sex and the City" on HBO, which Howard Rosenberg reviewed in Friday's Calendar; "The Chris Isaak Show" on Showtime, which he reviews on F1 today; and "Queer as Folk," which is reviewed by Daryl H. Miller on F32 today.)


Diane Werts writes about television for Newsday, a Tribune company.

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