SHOWS WORTH NOTING FOR DEC. 30 - JAN. 5
Listings are not necessarily recommended by the Monitor. All times Eastern, check local listings.
Backstory: M*A*S*H (AMC, 5:30-6 p.m.): The controversial 1970 film that lambastes war has its own story of cutthroat politics behind the scenes. This fascinating documentary tells it like it was when director Robert Altman's eccentric shooting style upset the actors - and got truly original performances from them.
History's Mysteries: Ancient City Lost and Found (History Channel, 8-9 p.m.): History buffs will find the story of the ancient city of Zeguma, Turkey, intriguing. An entire Roman Legion was headquartered there for 200 years, and the archaeological treasures are fabulous.
The American (PBS, check local listings): The best thing on TV this week is Masterpiece Theatre's graceful rendering of Henry James's somber tale. Matthew Modine stars as a rough-hewn American millionaire who goes to Paris to acquire culture. But what he finds is a cultural clash. He falls deeply in love with a forlorn widow. A descendent of French royalty, she is forbidden to marry the man she loves by a family steeped in age-old prejudice that threatens to suffocate her with it. What is considered honor in one culture is dishonor in another - and yet this is not a relativistic tale, either. Morality is not a matter merely of custom.
Behind Closed Doors with Joan Lunden (A&E, 9-10 p.m.): A fascinating weekly series that feels live half the time. Lunden trains with the elite 82nd Airborne, the Army's paratroopers. It's real and oddly beautiful.
The Directors: Joel Shumacher (Encore, 8-9 p.m.): The maker of "The Client," "A Time to Kill," "Flatliners," and "Batman Forever" discusses his work with help from actors Michael Douglas, Tommy Lee Jones, Uma Thurman, and many others. Schumacher's films are often provocative and morally astute. And sometimes they are just silly. But there's plenty here for film buffs to chomp on.
The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (Sci-Fi, Fridays 10-11 p.m.): A Victorian-era detective, Phineas Fogg, teams up with the young writer Jules Verne in this intriguing new science-fiction adventure series. The idea is that Jules Verne didn't make up anything - he wrote about what he really experienced. A lot of fun.
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