What's on TV

SHOWS FOR NOV. 23-29

By , Television critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Sunday 11/24

Toys We Grew Up With (HGTV, 9-10 p.m.): It's not just nostalgia that makes this fascinating documentary so enjoyable. Grown-ups with toy collections from Barbie to Hot Wheels seem so fundamentally decent, there must be something inherently positive about toys.

Mystery! Skinwalkers (PBS, 9-11 p.m.): The first of Tony Hillerman's suspense novels to be dramatized for the tube, "Skinwalkers" offers a window into an important culture in our own backyard (see cover story, page 13). The story revolves around Officer Chee (Adam Beach, "Windtalkers"), a Navajo policeman who is also a medicine man in training. When a strange murder is committed with mystical implications, Lt. Joe Leaphorn (Wes Studi, "Dances with Wolves") joins Chee to solve it. The film's cultural detail is fascinating and Mr. Studi's gruff presence gratifying.

Martin and Lewis (CBS, 9-11 p.m.): There are obvious pitfalls involved in making a movie about a still-living star - it's hard to get at any truth. The only reason to watch this movie are the extraordinary performances by British actor Jeremy Northam ("Gosford Park") as Dean Martin and Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") as Jerry Lewis. Hayes is riveting as he humanizes the public clowning of Lewis.

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Tuesday 11/26

Uncle Saddam (Cinemax, 7-8:15 p.m.): French filmmaker Joël Soler was allowed to film in Iraq by claiming he wanted to show the suffering of the Iraqi people under the UN embargo. And he does show that suffering - particularly of children. He also managed to get images of Saddam Hussein in his solid gold carriage, in his many palaces, and strutting before his well-equipped troops - vividly showing that the wealth the dictator has squandered could feed his people over and over again.

Friday 11/29

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (NBC, 8-10 p.m.): This charming, funny addition to the Jim Henson Co.'s collection is enough to make any fan thankful this holiday season. The ever- hilarious Joan Cusack plays a banker trying to foreclose on the Muppet Theater on Christmas Eve. Only divine intervention can save the theater. But She (Whoopi Goldberg) must be convinced that Kermie really needs Her help.

The Brady Bunch in the White House (Fox, 8-10 p.m.): Here's a story about a family who ended up in the White House by a fluke.

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