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John Leonard's TV Notes

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Disappearing Acts (12/9; 9 to 11 p.m.; HBO), based on the Terry McMillan novel, stars Wesley Snipes as a Brooklyn construction worker who can't seem to hold on to either a job or Sanaa Lathan, the music teacher and songwriter he falls for and impregnates. Soap bubbles, to be sure, but also some sharp observation and class anxiety. It's refreshing to see Snipes in a romantic role, and Lathan -- directed here, as she was in Love and Basketball, by Gina Prince-Blythewood -- is a wonder to behold.

David Copperfield (12/10 and 12/11; 8 to 10 p.m.; TNT) is an agreeable mini-series version of the Dickens novel, with Hugh Dancy as the hunky hero of his own hard times, Anthony Andrews as Mr. Murdstone, Eileen Atkins as Jane Murdstone, and (in a shameless pandering to the American television audience) Michael Richards as Mr. Micawber and Sally Field as Aunt Betsey. The standard remains George Cukor's 1935 adaptation, with a cast that still amazes.

Holiday Heart (12/10; 8 to 10 p.m.; Showtime) is more proof, if anyone needs it, that Ving Rhames can do anything. Never mind Pulp Fiction, Rosewood, Out of Sight, and Mission: Impossible 2. Just on television, he has graduated from Don King: Only in America to become the generous "Heart" and soul of Cheryl West's adaptation of her own play -- by day a choir director in a black church, by night a drag queen in a Chicago glitterdome. Not quite recovered from the death of his policeman lover, he nevertheless assumes responsibility for a makeshift family that includes Alfre Woodard, a writer-junkie, and Jessika Quynn Reynolds, her worried daughter. A production that would be remarkable if only for the sight of Rhames impersonating Diana Ross in "Baby Love" may also be the best TV movie of the year. Robert Townsend directs.

Livin' for Love: The Natalie Cole Story (12/10; 9 to 11 p.m.; NBC), with Natalie playing herself from 1984 to the present and James McDaniel playing her father, Nat King Cole, follows the usual VH1 Behind the Music trajectory from a major record deal to a major-league drug habit (in her case heroin, crack cocaine, and alcohol), unto rehabilitation, an autobiography (Angel on My Shoulder), and a comeback platinum CD. But the music is friendlier on the ears, and the actors, including Diahann Carroll as her mother and Theresa Randle as the younger Natalie, easier on the eyes.


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