And Along Came a Spider (May 25; 7 to 8 p.m.; Cinemax) goes inside an Iranian prison to talk to an “anti-street-woman activist” who, in a single year, strangled sixteen prostitutes. See? Every nut in the Middle East talks to God!
Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire (May 26; 8 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) spends three voluptuous hours watching a warrior culture aestheticize itself, from 1543 until the arrival in 1853 of Commodore Perry’s gunboats. The mini-series shogun himself, Richard Chamberlain, explains every sword, fan, brushstroke, tea cup, and disemboweling. Educational, yes; but also balletic.
Elaine Stritch at Liberty (May 29; 8 to 9:45 p.m.; HBO) opens up the fabulous one-woman retrospective to backstage chitchat, rehearsal-time give-and-take, old photos and film snippets, and a surprising amount of time in London. If you saw Stritch all by herself at the Public Theater, you will at first miss the magical intimacy, but then succumb to sloppy nostalgia.
Something the Lord Made (May 30; 9 to 11 p.m.; HBO) is a docudramatized version of the true story we just saw last year on public television about Dr. Alfred Blalock, the white Southerner who took his black lab technician, Vivien Thomas, from Vanderbilt to Johns Hopkins, where they would pioneer in heart surgery, if not race relations. Alan Rickman overnight sounds like Tennessee Williams, Mos Def simmers all the way to his overdue honorary degree, and the supporting cast, directed by Joseph Sargent, includes Kyra Sedgwick, Charles S. Dutton, and Mary Stuart Masterson.
Line of Fire: Eminence Front, Parts 1 & 2 (May 30; 9 to 11 p.m.; ABC), sort of pretending to be a TV movie, is actually just ABC burning off a couple hours of another promising series it failed to stick with. This is the one with Leslie Hope as the agent in charge of the Richmond, Virginia, FBI office where they spend most of their time battling David Paymer’s mob. Almost simultaneously, a child on one side of this moral chasm is shot, and a woman on the other side is raped, and both sides go to frantic holy war. Paymer, in a lost cause, deserves an Emmy.
Willie Nelson & Friends: Outlaws and Angels (May 31; 9 to 11 p.m.; USA) gathers the glitzy likes of Bob Dylan, Rickie Lee Jones, Al Green, Merle Haggard, Carole King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Lee Ann Womack, and Lucinda Williams for a Memorial Day concert.