Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Henning Mankell's latest thriller, gripping 'Poldark' drama on DVD, comedy all week on CMT, and more.

Courtesy of Parallel Entertainment
'Big New Comedy Week,' which kicks off March 8, stars some of the nation’s top comics such as Larry the Cable Guy.
Crime writer Henning Mankell delivers a brooding meditation on East-West culture clashes in the guise of a contemporary thriller in 'The Man From Beijing.'
Courtesy of PBS
Director Franco Zeffirelli’s lush production of the well-loved 'Turandot,' Giacomo Puccini’s final opera, comes to PBS.

A week of laughs

CMT may be MTV's home for country music, but it wants to be a hot comedy showcase, too. Tune in for its "Big New Comedy Week," which kicks off March 8 and stars some of the nation's top comics, including Melissa Peterman, Bill Engvall, Larry the Cable Guy (at right), and Jim Gaffigan. CMT will also showcase the finalists in an ongoing online-comedy competition, the winners of which will perform at the 2010 Aspen Rooftop Comedy Festival in June.

Best of British drama

One of the most successful British television mini-series, "Poldark," arrives on DVD March 2. A 1977 "Masterpiece Theatre" hit, dubbed the British "Gone With the Wind," this four-disc, 16-episode set is the story of Ross Poldark in the wake of the American Revolution as he returns to a homestead racked by family intrigue and the political turmoil of a Britain on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution.

A new Mankell thriller

Forsaking his popular Kurt Wallander series, crime writer Henning Mankell delivers a brooding meditation on East-West culture clashes in the guise of a contemporary thriller. In "The Man From Beijing," his unlikely protagonist is Birgitta Roslin, a Swedish judge who turns amateur sleuth after a massacre in a rural village includes her mother's foster parents. Mankell uses that premise to travel back and forth across continents, and 150 years, in a story traipsing from Europe to China and on to Africa. Eventually, the murders give way to a 19th-century subplot steeped in the horrors suffered by Chinese immigrants who built the Transcontinental Railroad, told in a series of diaries and letters that brings matters to a dramatic conclusion.

Family roots

Hollywood jumps on the genealogy bandwagon in the earnest and straightforward "Who Do You Think You Are?" docu/reality series. The currently seven-part series debuts March 5 on NBC at 8 p.m. The roster of celebs who dig into their family trees and lives for nuggets of information both inspiring and saddening includes: Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, Emmitt Smith, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Lisa Kudrow.

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Zeffirelli's 'Turandot'

Director Franco Zeffirelli's lush production of the well-loved "Turandot," Giacomo Puccini's final opera, comes to PBS Feb. 28 at 1 p.m. (check local listings). Recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City last November, this presentation of the story of the vengeful Chinese princess whose heart is finally conquered appears as part of the "Great Performances" series nationwide.

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