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John Leonard's TV Notes

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Real Justice (11/14, 10 to 11:30 p.m.; 11/21, 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) is a two-part Frontline look inside Boston's Suffolk County criminal courts, from the equally harassed points of view of an assistant district attorney and a public defender, both of whom spend more time in the corridors, making plea-bargain deals, than they do in court. We sit in on everything from trespassing and car-theft cases to assault and murder. It's as if Frederick Wiseman instead of David Kelley had been brought up on charges.

Blocked: The Novelist's Experience in Hollywood (11/18; 8:05 to 9:05 p.m.; AMC) manages in a single scintillating hour to feel bad about the dream-factory experiences of F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Dashiell Hammett; to elicit mad-dog sound bites from Sherman Alexie, Ray Bradbury, Tom McGuane, Richard Price, Budd Schulberg, and Joseph Wambaugh; and to show us snippets from movies as various as The Last Tycoon, The Way We Were, Barton Fink, The Player, and, of course, Sunset Boulevard. The same screenwriters who complain about the disdain they get from an "Eastern literary elite" also describe a condition of well-paid serfdom richly deserving such disdain. My only complaint is that Blocked should have been three times longer.

Stiff Upper Lips (11/19; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; Channel 13) is a Masterpiece Theatre send-up of itself and the E. M. Forster-Merchant-Ivory genre of well-bred English idiocy, a sort of Monty Python-esque A Passage to India. Peter Ustinov and Prunella Scales are among the major players, with Georgina Cates as the peachy dimwit heiress who must go abroad to find that she's really mad for Sean Pertwee's socialist rabbit-catcher (think D. H. Lawrence). The disgruntled butler uses the soup tureen as a pissoir.

The Lost Child (11/19; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS), based on Yvette Melanson's autobiographical Looking for Lost Bird, stars Mercedes Ruehl as the wife of Jamey Sheridan and mother of their two children, raised to think that she's Jewish. On the Internet she discovers that she was stolen as a child from the Navajos and has a whole clan in Arizona still looking for her. So it's off to Flagstaff to meet the kin and hear far too much rubbish about "blood and genes and where you belong." But the desert is spectacular and so is Ruehl.


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