First Monday (January 15 and 18; 9 to 10 p.m.; CBS), a new Supreme Court dramatic series from the executive producer of JAG, may not be quite as snap-crackle-and-pop as The West Wing, but it’s just as determined to push all the hot buttons. Imagine a brand-new associate justice, Joe Mantegna, having to decide on Tuesday whether to stay the execution of a juvenile before facing up on Friday to a parental-consent abortion case. The all-pro cast includes James Garner as the conservative chief justice, Charles Durning and Gail Strickland as opinionated colleagues. Besides wit, there is actually some wisdom in what looks like a winner.
The Good War and Those Who Refused to Fight It (January 15; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) talks to and thinks about conscientious objectors (among them the actor Lew Ayres) who chose either prison or alternative service (medics, fire jumpers, experimental guinea pigs) over combat in World War II.
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers (January 19; 9 to 11 p.m.; Sci-Fi) is more twenty-third-century space opera from Wagnerian executive producers J. Michael Straczynski and Douglas Netter. The Interstellar Alliance is saved from a menace called the Hand by a multiculti Praetorian guard led by a handsome captain whose name just happens to be Martel. You’ll recall that Charles Martel defeated the Saracen invaders at Poitiers in 732 A.D.
Vietnam’s Unseen War: Pictures From the Other Side (January 20; 8 to 9 p.m.; MSNBC) sends combat photographer Tim Page back to Indochina to talk to North Vietnamese photojournalists whose pictures of “the American war” tell the same story from a radically different perspective.
The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand (January 20; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS) sends Chuck Norris and his supersecret martial-arty buddies to Afghanistan, where they effortlessly locate, abduct, and kick-box a big-shot bin Laden-like terrorist in time to save Dallas from getting nuked. The cinematic equivalent of trash talk.
The Murder of Stephen Lawrence (January 21; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) – about the murder of a Jamaican teenage boy by neo-Nazi thugs in London in 1993, the incompetent police investigation, and the subsequent cover-up – is an interesting departure for Masterpiece Theatre.