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Two "Sweeps" Specials

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By Thursday, you will have experienced the multitude, solitude, vertigo, and trajectory of urban madness, and may be amazed that such a peculiar federation of contentious cultures hasn't already exploded -- like Grenada or Beirut or Sarajevo. In the meantime, there is the "sweeps" mini-series Aftershock: Earthquake in New York (Sunday and Tuesday, November 14 and 16; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS) to contemplate, in which all these cultures, from the black mayor to the Irish fire chief, are asked to put aside their differences in the face of catastrophe as sidewalks collapse onto subways, skyscrapers crack and kindle, the Statue of Liberty belly flops, and several of our favorite mothers and children die before our disbelieving eyes. Aftershock was dreamed up in a novel by local-news anchorman Chuck Scarborough. It requires significant exertions by Charles S. Dutton, Cicely Tyson, Tom Skerritt, Jennifer Garner, Mikael Salomon, Lisa Nicole Carson, and Ray J. It is not to be missed.

About another "sweeps" special, Mary, Mother of Jesus (Sunday, November 14; 9 to 11 p.m.; NBC), I am nonplussed. A co-executive production of Eunice Shriver and her son Bobby, it seems to suggest a proto-feminist Madonna (someone had to teach the kid) as well as the ultimate Jewish mother (my son, the Prince of Peace! A king! A god!). Besides which, when crunch comes to crucifixion, she shames the cowardly disciples. As young Mary, Melinda Kinnaman is feisty, brave, and cute. But when the always interesting Pernilla August takes over later on, we can't help remembering that last time out, in The Phantom Menace, she was the mother of Darth Vader. As Jesus, Christian Bale is a distinct improvement on Jeffrey Hunter, but, like Christopher Routh as John the Baptist, he seems simultaneously in rehearsal for a heavy-metal benefit concert. And the script when it strays from Scripture is unnervingly pedestrian -- e.g., "The Romans are coming! The Romans are coming!"


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