Away We Go

NOT A BIRD, NOT A PLANE, EXACTLY: Steven Spielberg's Taken has everyone checking out the skies for alien sightings.
Photo: Alan Zenuk

In case you were wondering, they really have been busy, those little gray-skinned androgynes with the almond-shaped eyes in the oversized heads – not only saucering in whenever they want to and sucking up whomever they please but also performing abominable experiments on us in their orbiting space labs, fertilizing our eggs behind our backs, sticking implants that look like tumors into our feverish brains, and making our noses bleed. All this plus dolphins and hypnotherapy, not to mention wheat that glows in the dark and crop circles that say “howdy.”

On the other hand, it may be that aliens mean us no permanent harm. They just don’t know any better. They crossbreed to batch up a better evolutionary product, like square tomatoes. They need us to complete themselves, like an acrostic. And this fiddling consumes a lot of time, at least four generations for three different families in places like Montana, Nevada, and Texas, amounting to twenty hours over two weeks on the Sci Fi Channel. Fortunately, though I haven’t seen them all in the rough-cut version of Steven Spielberg’s Taken, there will be plenty of special effects to keep us from thinking too much. After which, except in dreams and deep regressions, we won’t remember anything anyway.

To be fair, I enjoyed these many hours even as I deplored them. Narrative is my last remaining addiction. Ten different directors and dozens of actors get to play in the twilight zone before superpsychic 9-year-old Allie (Dakota Fanning) is raptured up to the great beyond in a column of blue light. By the time we reach this teleportation, relatively familiar TV faces like Michael Moriarty, James McDaniel, Matt Frewer, and Eric Close will have come and gone. We are left with the bereft (Emily Bergl and Adam Kaufman, who don’t even know that they’ve had sex till they go into group therapy) and the evil (Heather Donahue, who has graduated from the Blair Witch bitch to a mad scientist willing to kill anybody who interferes with her career goals).

It’s not just that Taken has bought into every loony tune in the UFO canon, from the preborn-polliwog look of the alien invaders to a government cover-up at Roswell and everywhere else. (In fact, by the end of these two weeks, the American military will have abducted almost as many civilians as the E.T.’s have.) It’s that Taken apparently intends to be an anthology of those tunes, the authorized CD of late-twentieth-century mythomanias, all paranoia all the time, lacking only that sense of humor we could count on to show up once a month on The X-Files.

So put Taken into the time capsule. When the alien anthropologists actually do arrive to inspect our ruins, they should bring along a missing perspective: Each of our ages coughs up its fur ball of anxiety in a form appropriate to its imaginative resources – a phantasmagoria of faeries, goblins, trolls, gnomes, and freaks; of wild men, wolf boys, zombies, and witches; of triffids, pods, blobs, and body snatchers. Devil worship and demonic possession! Fluoridated water and socialized medicine! Our millennial lot has been alien abductors and satanic day-care teachers.

To whom we might very well add the serial killer in The Mermaids Singing, the first of three adaptations of Val McDermid mystery novels on BBC America under the umbrella title of Wire in the Blood. All three TV movies feature Robson Green, who did much the same sort of thing in Touching Evil, as Dr. Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist turned criminal profiler, and Hermione Norris (Mad Cows, Cold Feet) as Detective Inspector Carol Jordan, whose partnership with the tormented Tony verges on the personal before veering off. First up, they must figure out who in the north of England is kidnapping young men, not all of whom are gay, then torturing them with medieval instruments like the rack or strappado, and finally videotaping their death agonies (snuff films with production values). Not for the squeamish, but remarkably well done.

After which, we will probably need Young Dr. Freud, David Grubin’s two-hour documentary on the Abe Lincoln of psychoanalysis reading Cervantes and snuffling cocaine while Martha peels an apple. There is nothing new here for a reader of any of the standard biographies – not surprisingly, the day his father died was fraught – but some lively opinionizing by granddaughter Sophie Freud, historian Peter Gay, and biographer-analyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Liev Schreiber is the voice of “Sigi”; Blair Brown jollies us along. Did you know that Carl Jung believed in flying saucers?

Uncle Saddam (November 26; 7 to 8:10 p.m.; Cinemax) is a peculiar hybrid of Joël Soler, the French filmmaker who shot remarkable footage inside Iraq in 1999; Scott Thompson, who has written the sort of script we’d expect from a Kid in the Hall; and Wallace Langham, who narrates as if he were still on The Larry Sanders Show. You’d think our new war has already been rehearsed as a skit on Saturday Night Live. And I don’t mean this in a good way. Paul McCartney’s “Back in the U.S.” (November 27; 9 to 11 p.m.; ABC) follows the former Beatle to 34 American cities for fourteen weeks earlier this year. While interesting enough to look at and listen to, this program in no way helps us to understand his new wife, Heather, nor assuage our regret in the least that John left Paul for Yoko. It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (November 29; 8 to 10 p.m.; NBC) lets Kermit, Miss Piggy, David Arquette, Joan Cusack, Whoopi Goldberg, William H. Macy, Kelly Ripa, Carson Daly, and the cast of Scrubs make fun, simultaneously, of Moulin Rouge and It’s a Wonderful Life. The Brady Bunch in the White House (November 29; 8 to 10 p.m.; Fox), never mind how, lands Gary Cole as Mike, Shelley Long as Carol, and the whole rest of the Bunch in the White House as the president and the First Family. Who exactly are we laughing at? If not ourselves, we will get dumber every minute of this movie. Christmas Rush (December 1; 8 to 10 p.m.; TBS) has Dean Cain as a tough cop on unwilling holiday, Erika Eleniak as his blonde wife in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Eric Roberts as a master thief with medical bills, combining here for a sort of Die Hard Goes to a Suburban Mini-Mall. Much more in the Christmas spirit than the Muppets or the Brady Bunch. The Christmas Shoes (December 1; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS) asks music teacher Kimberly Williams not to die until workaholic lawyer Rob Lowe discovers the true meaning of the holiday season, with the help of his mother and Dorian Harewood. For this sort of role, he leaves The West Wing?

Monday through Friday, December 2 through 6 and 9 through 13; 9 to 11 p.m.; Sci Fi Channel.
Wire in the Blood
Mondays, December 2, 9, and 16; 9 to 11 p.m.; BBC America.
Young Dr. Freud
Wednesday, November 27; 9 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13.

Away We Go