Man Bites Shorts (December 30; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) lets the Independent Lens series lower its brow for six films—the longest 24 minutes and the shortest 2—that visit places like Central Park and an outdoor basketball court, to recite poetry or send up balloons.
Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives (January 3, 10, 17, and 24; 7 to 8 p.m.; History Channel) asks us to sit still while the ex–Monty Pythonite tells us in half-hour broadsides everything we didn’t want to know about knights, monks, kings, damsels, alchemists, minstrels, outlaws, and peasants, all of whom, at least in England, appear to have behaved regrettably.
Mars Dead or Alive (January 4; 8 to 9 p.m.; Channel 13) goes behind the scenes with Nova for the building and launching of two “rovers,” Spirit and Opportunity, which, if all goes well, will land near the Martian equator during the last few minutes of this program. An encore presentation on January 6 would then include the latest deep-space snapshots.
Jonathan Creek: Black Canary (January 4; 9 to 11 p.m.; BBC America) stars Alan Davies as the magician’s assistant who teams up with Rik Mayall’s detective Gideon Pryke to solve a pair of hilarious murders, a decade and a half apart, involving electric buzzsaws and Eastern psychics.
DNA (January 4, 11, 18, 25, and February 1; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13), narrated by Jeff Goldblum but celebrating Dr. James D. Watson, is a first-rate introduction not only to the double helix but to molecular biology and genetics as well—and almost as much fun as the Richard Powers novel The Gold Bug Variations. Rosalind Franklin gets overdue credit; Linus Pauling is recalled fondly; insulin and the human-genome project are discussed; and Watson, whose own memoir was in the classic tradition of Nixon’s Six Crises and Podhoretz’s Making It, gets to promote designer babies.
The Day I Will Never Forget (January 5; 6:30 to 8 p.m.; Cinemax) follows ferocious filmmaker Kim Longinotto to Kenya, where she talks to young women who have been circumcised, the families who have forced them to do so, the health-care professionals who must repair the damage, and sixteen remarkable girls who’ve sued their own patriarchal culture.