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John Leonard's TV Notes


Me & Isaac Newton (Wednesday, December 27; 8 to 10 p.m.; Cinemax) lets us listen in as director Michael Apted (Seven Up, Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorillas in the Mist, Gorky Park, etc.) chats with seven voluble scientists on several different continents about what they do (from studying language disorders, water purification, and gene therapy to saving rain forests and concocting "a unified theory of everything") and why they do it (difficult childhoods, intimations of religious awe). While there are grandiose moments, we are more often engrossed in the workday of cunning minds, the snap, crackle, and pop of connections being made.

Backstory: M*A*S*H (Saturday, December 30; 5:30 to 6 p.m.; AMC) goes inside the Robert Altman movie, telling us why screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. was so unhappy, how come Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland tried to get the director fired, and what the studio bosses tried to do when they found out they had an anti-Vietnam War black comedy on their hands. Everybody is interviewed, from Sally Kellerman to Tom Skerritt, and the clips, like an appetizer, make you hungry for the film to follow.

Sheena (Saturday, December 30; 2 to 3 p.m.; Fox) stars Gena Lee Nolin as the petulant blonde in the revealing loincloth who morphs into either a wild animal or a berserker, and John Allen Nelson as Cutter, the Great White Travel Guide who seems always to need saving, teaming up again to mediate between a multinational oil company that wants to build on sacred land and an African tribe, heretofore pacifistic, that's been getting some odd military advice. Ridiculous, but also insouciant, with a couple of Watergate jokes thrown in for good measure.

Adam Ferrara (Monday, January 1; 10 to 10:30 p.m.; Comedy Central) allows the comedian to warm up for his forthcoming ABC situation comedy, The Job, with some reasonably funny ethnic slurs, many war-between-the-sexes jokes, and a nice riff on his own Catholic upbringing. On Easter, for instance: Jelly beans were what he was told they ate at the Last Supper. And then there was his father, who told the misbehaving kids: "Your mother and I wanted two children. We had three because I knew the day would come when I'd have to kill one of you."


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