John Leonard’s TV Notes

The Song of the Lark (May 2; 8 to 10 p.m.; Channel 13), not one of Willa Cather’s better novels, is nicely adapted with a first-rate cast: Alison Elliott as the ambitious young woman who leaves Colorado for Chicago to sing grand opera, Maximilian Schell as her piano teacher down on the farm, Arliss Howard as her patron, Tony Goldwyn as a millionaire who loves her, and Norman Lloyd as a voice coach who thinks he’s God. Soprano Lori Stinson does the actual singing.

Aberdeen (May 4; 9 to 11 p.m.; Sundance), Hans Petter Moland’s German Expressionist road movie, asks Lena Headey to leave her practice of law in Scotland to fetch Stellen Skarsgard, who may or may not be her biological father, from the alcoholic mists of Norway and bring him back like reindeer meat to Aberdeen and detox, before her mother dies of cancer. There is a surprising and unnecessary amount of nudity and violence. But Headey’s performance, lovelorn and coke-addled, grand and scary, is the best I’ve seen on television in many, many years.

Ancestors in the Americas (May 4; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) is Loni Ding’s lacerating look at the experience of Asians in America, from Filipinos in the seventeenth century, to the Chinese who built the transcontinental railroad, to the replacement of African slaves by Chinese and Indian “coolies” in South America and the West, up to the Japanese internment camps of World War II – a remarkable archive of folklore, songs, and secrets, like reading Maxine Hong Kingston.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (May 4 and 11; 10 to 11 p.m.; NBC) asks first Chad Lowe and then Richard Thomas to commit truly ugly sex crimes, which are later explained by Margot Kidder and Karen Allen. This is obviously a whole new against-type career opportunity for actors we thought we liked, just in time for sweeps.

Follow the Stars Home (May 6; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS), from a best-selling novel by Luanne Rice, celebrates the makeshift family that forms to support Kimberly Williams when her child is born neurologically damaged. From Blair Brown, Kimberly’s mother, we’d expect as much. Alexa Vega is hiding out from an alcoholic Roxanne Hart. And if Eric Close runs away to sea, well, there’s his pediatrician brother, Campbell Scott. Heart-lukewarming.

John Leonard’s TV Notes