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Franchise Players

HBO enlists an all-star distaff army to dramatize the story of women’s suffrage; Trio peers into the cable-news maw and finds it bottomless.

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For whom the belle toils: Hilary Swank (center) gets out the vote, in Angels.  

The federal government recently lost a class-action suit and forked over more than $500 million because the Voice of America not only had refused for decades to hire women who applied for editorial positions but had refused even to interview them. The Voice of America! So it turns out that Iron Jawed Angels (Sunday, February 15; 9:30 to 11:30 p.m.; HBO) is more than a razzle-dazzle rendition of the suffrage movement that finally won American women the right to vote in 1920. It’s a reminder that feminism is first of all about human rights. The Woodrow Wilson who didn’t want to be bothered by Alice Paul while he was fighting the war he promised to keep us out of was also a Voice of America.

Hilary Swank plays Alice to a frazzle, from parade to picket line to solitary confinement to forced feeding. Romance is not on her agenda, not even with a Washington Post political cartoonist played by Patrick Dempsey. (“Don’t you want to get married?” “I’m busy that day.”) Nor will she, can she, compromise: “I won’t give anything away until we have it all.” Frances O’Connor plays her staunch friend Lucy Burns, a creature of moods, curls, and wisecracks, but also the soldier you need at your side when you try to teach civil disobedience to such respectables as Anjelica Huston and Lois Smith, or when you’re starting the National Woman’s Party. Julia Ormond no more accords with my idea of labor lawyer Inez Mulholland than she was my idea of a glacial morphologist and avenging private eye in Smilla’s Sense of Snow, but she is, as always, gorgeous, even as she expires of pernicious anemia.

Have I mentioned Molly Parker as the caged-bird wife of a U.S. senator, Bob Gunton as Woodrow “Anal” Wilson, or Laura Fraser, Brooke Smith, and Vera Farmiga as co-conspiring suffragettes? They are a terrific cast, pitched headlong into frantic action by the German director Katja von Garnier, who seems to see the story at the start, in 1912, as a sort of musical comedy, then an amalgam of pep rally and election campaign, and finally a parable of violence—but who has the odd habit of panning to treetops, skyscapes, and cloud formations, as if the camera were a balloon. At ground level, cops and congressmen alike are just itching to put these uppity women in their place. If today it seems unimaginable that their husbands and fathers held them for so long in such contempt, well, we need only tune in to the Voice of America.


Although Fox News chose not to participate officially in Feeding the Beast: The 24-Hour News Revolution (Monday, February 16; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; Trio), we do see clips of Bill O’Reilly and Brit Hume, and hear from Roger Ailes, and it’s not as if Dennis Miller and Ann Coulter weren’t interviewed on camera—Miller in his latest rabid incarnation as a right-wing Cookie Monster and Coulter apparently assuming that whatever she guffs will be of interest because she reminds us of the pony we always wanted and never got for Christmas. To speak for the other end of the political spectrum, not counting the Ted Turner who first gave us wall-to-wall car alarms, there are R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe and actor-comedian Janeane Garofalo. Between these bipolars are the sundry likes of Dan Rather, Katie Couric, Ted Koppel, Christiane Amanpour, Aaron Brown, and Jon Stewart, who goes out of his way to think about the “crawl” on the bottom of the TV screen, whose “intellectual juxtapositions” he celebrates as “nonjudgmental.”

Herding these cattle with spurs and whip is Linda Ellerbee, whose own remarks are often more pointed than those of her guests (of course, she got to write her script). Still, Feeding the Beast says interesting things about the branding of sad stories, the packaging of world pain, murder trials, and animal attacks. What it dances around is the flabbergasting tendency of all these cable-TV talking soreheads to be wrong about everything from primary votes to foreign wars.


Innovation (February 10, 17, and 24, March 2; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) looks at what architects have learned about skyscrapers since 9/11, at artificial eyes and robotic limbs in the cyborg future, at counterintelligence in an age of terror, and at high-tech weapons systems that don’t need people to talk to.

NYPD Blue (February 10; 10 to 11 p.m.; ABC) returns to the air with a fraught episode in which Andy’s squeeze, Detective McDowell (Charlotte Ross), will be blown up in the precinct squad room unless a Russian mafia boss is released immediately from his holding cell. Word has not yet reached this series that the Supreme Court reaffirmed Miranda.

Medici, Godfathers of the Renaissance (February 11 and 18; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) divides its time almost equally between the Uffizi in Florence and the Vatican in Rome, between art aggrandizing itself at the expense of religion and the politics of a brilliant, dysfunctional family. Great gossip, bad behavior, sumptuous sights.

It Must Be Love (February 15; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS) stars real-life husband and wife Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen as longtime marrieds about to divorce until a freak snowstorm allows them to contemplate their relationship in the absence of lawyers. Bonnie Bartlett helps some as Ted’s buttoned-up mom.

She’s Too Young (February 16; 8 to 10 p.m.; Lifetime) watches Marcia Gay Harden first get hysterical and then get smart about her 14-year-old daughter, Alexis Dziena, who has been spending her afternoons in risky group sex even as a syphilis epidemic hits the local high school.

Crown Heights (February 16; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; Showtime) stays put in Brooklyn in 1991 after Gavin Cato was run down and Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death. In this well-meaning docudrama, Mario Van Peebles as Paul Richards and Howie Mandel as Dr. David “Laz” Lazerson team up at a youth center to see if they can salvage two angry teenagers from racism and anti-Semitism.

Bad Apple (February 16; 9 to 11 p.m.; TNT) wants to be Goodfellas, The Sopranos, Elmore Leonard, and maybe even Donald Westlake, and with a cast of undercover cops and overacting mafiosi that includes Chris Noth, Colm Meaney, Mercedes Ruehl, Elliott Gould, and Robert Patrick (part Joe Pantoliano, two parts Christopher Walken), it almost lives up to its own peculiar standard.


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