Tuning in: on TV this week

Sunday, Dec. 14

Secret Santa (NBC, 9 p.m.- 11 p.m.): Philanthropy should always be secret. But in these suspicious times, it may be hard for some people to believe in the authentic kindness of anonymous giving. It certainly is for the cynical reporter (Jennie Garth) who sets out to reveal the motives of a small-town "Secret Santa." Many of the townfolk have received gifts over the years, and none of them wants their Santa's privacy invaded. (See story, right.)

Tuesday, dec. 16

Surviving Hunger (Discovery Times Channel, 8-9 p.m.): World-famous journalist Sorious Samura is African, but he lives and works in London. This riveting documentary takes us to a remote Christian Ethiopian village where food is scarce. Samura, a large man, attempts to live on their diet and work the fields beside them. Soon, he is worn and frayed by the exercise. The most moving thing about the film is the impression we get of the strong will of the people to survive. Without characterizing them as victims, Samura demonstrates their intelligence, humor, and generosity, their grace and spirit.

Loaded Gun: Life, Death, and Dickinson (PBS, check local listings): Maybe it really is only artists who understand other artists, but this documentary is a testament to a filmmaker's attempt to understand Emily Dickinson, arguably America's greatest poet. The title is taken from one of her poems. But it best describes the documentary's ruthless style. Attacking the text, it then moves on to interviews and arguments between the filmmaker and scholars, actresses auditioning to play Dickinson, and painters and poets. The twitchy mood of the piece leaves you scratching your head and begging for more.

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