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Butler Did It

Yancy Butler returns for the second season of Witchblade, and how much do we love her crime-busting superhero?

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Power girl: Yancy Butler as evil-battling homicide detective Sara Pezzini in Witchblade.  

Not very many minutes into the two-hour movie that kicks off the second season of Witchblade, Yancy Butler wants something from an incredulous medical examiner. "Are you serious?" asks the medical examiner. Gray-eyed Yancy actually seems to consider this question before replying, with the ghost of a grin that never quite materializes: "Almost always."

As Sara Pezzini, the incorruptible New York City homicide detective who has come, not really by accident, into the possession of the Witchblade, a magic bracelet–armored superglove that goes back through Joan of Arc to Cleopatra in Egypt and Kali in India, Yancy has a lot to be serious about. When we last saw her, everybody she cared about was dead. But the Witchblade, besides seeking out woman warriors through the ages and enhancing their powers to battle evil, also somehow "penetrates the membrane" of chronological sequence. And so Yancy finds herself this Father's Day hurled back through time to the Joan of Arc exhibit at the local museum where her journey started. Both her old partner, the Asian-American hipster Danny Woo (Will Yun Lee), and her new one, the double-agent surfer dude Jake McCartey (David Chokachi), are still alive. So is Gabriel Bowman (John Hensley), the impossibly young and lovelorn artifacts dealer who told Yancy most of what she knows about the Witchblade before he was murdered last season.

We get to do everything all over again, before the satanic motorcycles, the killer zombies, the virtual-reality music videos, the psychotropic drug fiends, and the boa constrictor that specialized in crushing fashion models -- except that this time, Yancy has hot flashes of the future just before it repeats itself, as if the Witchblade bracelet were a car alarm.

I suppose I should tell you that Yancy's real-life father, rock musician Joe Butler of the Lovin' Spoonful, shows up in the TV movie. It may also interest you to learn that Yancy and the Witchblade will joust to the death with billionaire biotech-media tycoon Kenneth Irons (Anthony Cistaro) and a lance that goes back through Hitler to the crucifixion of Christ, while the bearded melancholiac Ian Nottingham (Eric Etebari) stands around, as usual, feeling ambivalent. But all you really need to know is that, gorgeous and slinky, the Fist of Sisterhood is back: Crouching Tiger, Rampant Yancy.

Am I serious? Almost always.

As is Anthony Michael Hall, who was doing just fine, thank you, as high-school science teacher Johnny Smith, extremely popular with the kids and also a surprising whiz at games of chance until a rainy-night head-on collision with a tractor-trailer sent him into a six-year coma. From which, in the new, superserious Dead Zone series, based on the Stephen King novel, he abruptly emerges to find that his fiancée, Sarah (Nicole deBoer), has married the local sheriff (Chris Bruno), that the dodgy evangelist (David Ogden Stiers) he thought was after his mother's money is now his legal guardian, and that every time he touches people he sees their dreadful futures and deepest secrets in psychic bursts.

Second sight seems inadequate to describe these premonitory seizures. But since his love life is already shot to hell, paranormal Johnny will just have to finish up his physical therapy, forget about the child who's probably his, work through his problems with the sheriff, and keep busy by saving 3-year-olds from gas explosions, blonde nurses from serial killers, and himself from an old woman with a kitchen knife.

Because some attention has actually been paid to production values, the series is not nearly as cheesy-looking as much of what has previously passed for Stephen King on television. (We will even visit a persuasive Saigon, both during and after the war.) And at least the first two episodes are faithful to King's premise: Being psychic is a curse.

  • Ben Shahn: Passion for Justice (June 13; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) follows the artist from Lithuania to Brooklyn to Sacco and Vanzetti to the Office of War Information to the cover of Time to the Museum of Modern Art, with new-to-me TV, film, and radio interviews of Shahn, who died in 1969; chats with his biographer and his widow; and wonderful prints.

  • Stranded (June 15 and 16; 9 to 11 p.m.; Hallmark) stars Liam Cunningham, Brana Bajic, and many youngsters in a revision of Swiss Family Robinson in which these difficult people, on their way from England to a penal colony in Australia, end up after a storm on an island off the coast of Siam, where the natives are friendly but the pirates aren't. Think Survivor, minus the money and the sex.

  • Life 360 (June 13; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) returns with another series of themed hours, the first devoted to "Monuments" like Mt. Rushmore, Grant's Tomb, the Vietnam and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials in Washington, D.C., and what to do about the World Trade Center. With Michel Martin, Ron Suskind, Boris Dramov, Robert Krulwich, and Jake Johannsen.

  • Papa (June 16; 6 to 7:30 p.m.; Cinemax) is filmmaker Jon Alpert's look at his own father, 80-year-old Bob, over a two-year period of family gatherings. Bandleader, Navy pilot, businessman who lost everything, and victim of a crippling nerve disease, he says he wants to die like his own father, a suicide.

  • Crime & Punishment (June 16; 10 to 11 p.m.; NBC) is Dick Wolf's reality series, set in San Diego instead of New York, with real assistant district attorneys instead of actors playing them. We go to a court full of hidden cameras for cases of murder, rape, and child molestation. Since the point of view is always the prosecutor's, that's who we always root for. Reasonably interesting, but those of us who hate, say, Cops will be reminded that what makes the Law & Order franchise so compelling is that, almost every week, it actually improves on reality.

  • Married in America (June 17; 9 to 11 p.m.; A&E) is a brand-new "longitudinal" documentary series from Michael (7 Up) Apted -- this time marrying off nine couples, in almost as many combinations (biracial, interfaith, same-sex, second time, etc). He will return to talk to the same people every year or two, he says. Somehow this seems more like a threat than a promise.

Witchblade
Sunday, June 16, 8 to 10 p.m.; Mondays thereafter, 9 to 10 p.m.; TNT.
The Dead Zone
Sundays, starting June 16; 10 to 11 p.m.; USA.


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