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In Brief

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A Letter From the Deep (February 18; 7 to 7:45 p.m.; Cinemax) looks at the sinking of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk in the Barents Sea—and the refusal by the Russian naval command to seek the help of nato vessels in the area that may have cost the lives of two dozen or more men running out of oxygen—through the prism of a moving letter from one of the sailors to his wife, Olga, a letter the government held back for months after the accident.

Biography: James Baldwin (February 20; 8 to 9 p.m.; A&E) treats the writer to a better-than-usual bio, narrated by Danny Glover, with snippets of the pop-eyed but mesmerizing Jimmy himself thinking about being gay as well as black, and even a sophisticated in-brief consideration of how his fiction might have been hurt by the energy he devoted to the civil-rights movement.

Da Ali G Show (February 21; 12:30 to 1 a.m.; HBO) introduces the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and his three alter egos: Ali G, the hip-hop journalist; Borat, the muddleheaded TV reporter from Kazakhstan; and Bruno, the excessively campy fashion and style commentator from swinging Austria. These egos go to real places, like Philadelphia, and interview real people, like Edwin Meese, Michael Dukakis, C. Everett Koop, and Newt Gingrich, but I’m not sure why.

1st to Die (February 23; 8 to 11 p.m.; NBC), from novelist James Patterson, who gave us Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider, asks police detectives Tracy Pollan and Gil Bellows to track down a serial killer of newlyweds, with the expert help of medical examiner Pam Grier, A.D.A. Megan Gallagher, and ambitious reporter Carly Pope in these oddly muted and often slack three hours.

The Pill (February 24; 9 to 10 p.m.; Channel 13), a superb episode of American Experience, follows Margaret Sanger and her patron Katharine McCormick to the offices of research scientist Gregory Pincus and Harvard Ob/Gyn John Rock, whose discovery will liberate women and revolutionize the sexual culture of the United States in the sixties, despite, on the one hand, a Catholic Church that refuses to change and, on the other, doctors and pharmaceutical companies that ignored dangerous side effects until dead patients and awful publicity forced them to reduce hormone levels drastically.


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