A splendid, if pedantic, look at evolutionary theory

If you enjoyed the recent three-part geological series ''The Making of a Continent,'' PBS has come up with an anthropological counterpart just as fascinatingly instructive.

The Making of Mankind (PBS, Mondays, Nov. 21, 28, Dec. 5, 12, and 19, 8-9 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats; New York's WNET, for instance, airs this series at 10-11 p.m.) traces the origins of our species from Kenya to Peru, from Israel to Japan.

Using clever animation as well as live-action digging, anthropologist Richard Leakey, in the first segment, traces human characteristics and explains how man has evolved - all without so much as a nod toward the creationist view. From there he goes on to explore the history of man's search for his own origins.

The major weakness of the earlier ''The Making of a Continent'' lay in the fact that an impersonal narrator (rather than Ron Redfern, the author of the book upon which the series was based) led viewers dryly through the complex subject matter. In the case of ''The Making of Mankind,'' I found the major weakness to be the stubborn pedantry of anthropologist Richard Leakey, the distinguished son of world-famous archaeologists-and-anthropologists Mary and Louis Leakey and director of the National Museum of Kenya.

Although he leads viewers through complex material in a very personalized style, Leakey's narration is too often ostentatiously academic. Leakey treats his audience as if it were a class of fifth-grade slow learners.

But that should not deter any of us from watching and marveling over this arrogantly superior series, which overflows with controversial paleontological and anthropological theory, most often treated as absolute fact. It's not even necessary to start at the beginning. So if you miss the first episode, don't hesitate to jump right in at Segment 2 of this co-production of BBC and the now-defunct Time-Life Television.

As long as you are willing to defer to this brilliant instructor, you cannot help but find ''The Making of Mankind'' a stimulating, thought-provoking television experience.

'Spaulding Avenue'

A unique alternative to loneliness is explored in an unusual documentary by famous writer/director Paul Mazursky about cooperative living.

The Spaulding Avenue cooperative, conceived and built with public and private funds by Janet Whitkin, founder of the Alternative Living for the Aging program in Los Angeles, is the focus of Spaulding Avenue (PBS, Monday Nov. 21, 10:30-11 p.m.; in New York, Wednesday, 10:30-11 p.m., check local listings for premieres and repeats).

Mr. Mazursky follows 10 people, ranging from 64 to 86 years old (two of them married), into a converted duplex in the Beverly-Fairfax section of Los Angeles. His friendly yet inquisitive camera observes how they cope with their first experiences with communal living. Everybody learns to share responsibilities for the upkeep of the building, takes on chores, dines in the communal dining room. Everybody is forced to make adjustments from lives of privacy to lives of shared responsibilities. And, for most of the cooperators, the system really succeeds.

The Spaulding Avenue cooperative is, perhaps, a harbinger of future alternatives to retirement homes. Its senior citizens have been encouraged to plan once again for the future. The co-op works. And Mr. Mazursky's film works, too, mainly because he is lucky to have so many admirable performers in his cast of characters.

''Spaulding Avenue'' is a quietly inspiring film about people who manage to find joy in their own daily life. It speaks not only to the aged among us, but to all of us.

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