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ABC's Happy Town is almost anything but -- plausible, absorbing, spooky or entertaining (which is sad)

Sam Neill strives to be creepy again in Happy Town. ABC photo

Premiering: Wednesday, April 28th at 9 p.m. (central) on ABC
Starring: Geoff Stults, Sam Neill, Lauren German, Steven Weber, Sarah Gadon, Jay Paulson, M.C. Gainey, Frances Conroy, Abraham Benrubi, Ben Schnetzer
Produced by: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Scott Rosenberg

ABC remains the network of mondo occurrences in out-of-the-way burgs -- or on out-of-body islands.

Twin Peaks and Lost come to mind. As do this season's short-lived Eastwick and Lost's ill-fated 2005 followup act, Invasion. Add Push, Nevada and shower with a wide variety of small town intrigues in ABC miniseries based on Stephen King creepfests.

So it's no surprise that of all networks, ABC now is home to Happy Town. It's a suitably preposterous but largely laughable effort to raise goose bumps in the pall-laden, pale-faced town of Haplin, Minnesota.

Snow's still on the ground, but they're gearing up to celebrate the annual Thawfest. Unfortunately, a murder has just been committed in a fishing shack, its victim left with a spike driven through his head.

Then along comes kill-joy John Haplin (Steven Weber), descendant of the town's founding family and also owner of Our Daily bread factory. He reminds one and all that his eight-year-old daughter, Addie, is still missing after mysteriously disappearing. Other townies likewise have vanished over the years. This prompts town sheriff Griffin Conroy (M.C. Gainey) to remind everyone that "Thawfest is about corn dogs and carousels. It ain't about darkness."

By the end of Wednesday's premiere episode, though, that same sheriff is mumbling gibberish and maiming himself. His son, Tommy (Geoff Stults), soon is commanded to take the top cop job by hardened town matriarch Peggy Haplin (a recurring role played by Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under fame).

Layers of Happy Town's "mythology" are supposed to be peeled back weekly, as with all of those above-mentioned ABC series and miniseries. But after watching two episodes, I easily resisted a third hour available for preview. Not really caring what happens to any of these characters can be a powerful incentive to bail out early. Count on that happening with Happy Town, which just doesn't have much pulling power despite all those ominous references to the unseen but supposedly demonic "Magic Man."

Happy Town's three principal producers all worked on two other quickly evicted ABC series, October Road and Life On Mars. Those with exceedingly sharp TV memories will remember that both Stults and Jay Paulson (cast as a deputy named Eli "Root Beer" Rogers) logged time as regular characters on October Road, which lasted for 19 episodes.

Better known to most TV watchers is redoubtable Sam Neill, who last traipsed through NBC's Crusoe. In Happy Town he plays ridiculously mysterious movie memorabilia shop owner Merritt Grieves -- who's been told to get out of town but doesn't listen.

One of his first customers is Haplin newcomer Henley Boone (Lauren German), who winds up living in a boarding house populated by elderly widows and an alternately cheery, cranky landlady who's hiding something. Then again, so is Henley. As are pizza shop owner Big Dave Duncan (Abraham Benrubi) and babysitter/high schooler Georgia Bravin (Sarah Gadon).

Happy Town also presents the wrong-side-of-the-tracks Stiviletto brothers, a collective group of hee-hawing, drunken knuckle-draggers who make Larry, Darryl and Darryl seem like the Brothers Karamazov.

All of this and more make for a taxing attempt at a riveting yarn that by Episode 2 is already unraveling. And that's before yet another new character drops in to cheese things up even more. He's supposed to be helping acting sheriff Conroy track down the "Magic Man." But he first sends Georgia careening through what looks like a bad acid trip from a Roger Corman quickie.

Would it be giving away too much to reveal that a bird flies through a central character's car window at the end of Episode 2 to the tune of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain?" Inane hits closer to the mark.

GRADE: C-minus

HBO's You Don't Know Jack -- namely Kevorkian -- moves Pacino further up the pantheon

Al Pacino and Brenda Vaccaro as Jack and sister, Margo. HBO photos

An oddly trivializing title doesn't deter HBO's You Don't Know Jack from brilliantly recapturing his appointed rounds.

Al Pacino's portrayal of Jack "Dr. Death" Kevorkian re-cements him as his generation's foremost actor. Compatriot Robert DeNiro long had a lead on him. But while he stoops to a third Meet the Fokkers movie (currently in post-production), Pacino preps to play King Lear after first inhabiting Kevorkian to the point where it's easy to forget it's Pacino. That's the goal with any role, but quite an undertaking with this one.

The two hour, 15 minute film, directed by the amply accomplished Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag the Dog), premieres Saturday, April 24th at 8 p.m. (central) on the eve of -- can it be?! -- Pacino's 70th birthday.

It's based in part on Between the Dying and the Dead, whose co-author, Neal Nicol, was Kevorkian's assistant and is played in the film by John Goodman. That wouldn't make for a very zippy title. But You Don't Know Jack in its original incarnation was a party game that in 2001 briefly became a TV series hosted by Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens. Maybe a title such as Life and Dr. Death would have worked better? Just a thought.

You Don't Know Jack begins in 1990, with the 61-year-old Kevorkian shopping for spare parts to build his "Mercitron Machine." He's haunted by the death of his mother, who lingered in life while in constant, extreme pain. Kevorkian wants the terminally ill to have the last word on when they'll die.

His first in a long line of willing patients is Janet Adkins, an Alzheimer's sufferer who wants to cash it in before she no longer recognizes anybody or anything. Kevorkian doesn't cash in, brusquely telling a simpatico Detroit reporter, "You don't charge people for something like this."

His older sister, Margo Janus (Brenda Vaccaro), also is an ally and -- along with Neal Nicol -- an accomplice. Vaccaro is every bit Pacino's equal in this pivotal role, enduring Kevorkian's eccentricities and occasional rages with as much grace as one can muster. They finally have it out in a Big Boy restaurant, where he unforgivably lashes her in a prolonged scene that underscores Kevorkian's decidedly ignoble dark side. They reconcile after she's fired from her day job.

"What happened?" he asks.

"I'm your sister. What else?" she says.

The real-life Kevorkian with his death machine and on 60 Minutes.

The first assisted suicide, with Janet Adkins releasing the medication that quickly kills her, is carried out in the back of Jack's VW bus after Hemlock Society activist Janet Good (a solid Susan Sarandon) belatedly has to renege on an agreement to use her home as an incubator.

Volatile with friends and kin, Kevorkian is always tender with his patients. "It's not too late, my dear, you know," he tells Adkins. "We could stop right now. It wouldn't offend me."

This is a riveting, stark scene that ends with a final, heart-rending "thank you."

Kevorkian is soon on trial for the first of five times. His attorney, the cocksure Geoffrey Fieger (Danny Huston), works pro bono but doesn't at all mind the publicity. His constantly thwarted nemesis is prosecutor Dick Thompson (sturdy work by Cotter Smith), who can't withstand the emotional punch of the videos Kevorkian has recorded of patients begging him to end their pain-wracked lives.

"If we lay out the gut-wrenching emotions of it all, that's your golden ticket," Fieger assures him.

You Don't Know Jack obviously isn't a romantic comedy, although occasional light moments intervene. After fasting in his jail cell for three days, Kevorkian is bailed out by Fieger and offered a piece of pie.

"This is full of fat and sugar. You tryin' to kill me?" he retorts.

Kevorkian also becomes convinced that Barbara Walters is smitten with him after their interview. The real-life Walters is seen via archival footage, but not in the same frame with Pacino's Kevorkian. The illusion is repeated during his second and far more famous 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace, who is now infirm and off the air. The real-life Kevorkian is 81, still cantankerous and appeared earlier this month in a two-part interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Kevorkian in part was plugging the HBO movie, as well he should. Pacino's full-immersion portrayal is virtually certain to bring him another best actor Emmy to go with the one he took home for his indelible turn as Roy Cohn in HBO's super-acclaimed Angels In America miniseries.

The long-overlooked and under-appreciated Vaccaro also looks like a lock for a best supporting actress Emmy. She's phenomenal as the mercurial Kevorkian's sounding board/guff-taker.

Meanwhile, HBO continues to have one of its very finest seasons in a long list of them. This weekend also brings new chapters of two other certain Emmy contenders, the miniseries The Pacific and the drama series, Treme. Plus, the network's recent Temple Grandin movie had a surefire Emmy-winning performance by Claire Danes.

That's a lot to offer subscribers in just a few months time. Now You Don't Know Jack joins the hit parade, with its title the only . . . oh, get over it.


NBC's fourth SNL history lesson passes, yet fails

Saturday Night Live's greatest hits of "The Aughts" have included Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and Will Ferrell as George W. Bush.

NBC's fourth in a series of behind-the-scenes Saturday Night Live documentaries is the weakest link of the bunch.

Maybe it's just too soon for the two-hour Saturday Night Live in the 2000s: Time and Again, which premieres on Thursday, April 15th at 8 p.m. (central). The cast members aren't terribly revealing or reflective in their recollections of this recent history. Some are still with SNL and others only recently removed. So it just doesn't click in the manner of 2005's Live From New York: The First 5 Years of Saturday Night Live, which had a quarter century to marinate.

The two other SNL retrospectives, Saturday Night Live in the '80s: Lost and Found and Saturday Night Live in the '90s: Pop Culture Nation, also were directed and produced by Kenneth Bowser. His latest two-hour film is entertaining for the most part, but without much texture or insight. One major shortcoming: No time is spent at all on Fred Arnisen taking on the very difficult task -- comedic and otherwise -- of playing Barack Obama. But ample attention is paid to Tina Fey's sendup of Sarah Palin.

The most interesting segment of Time and Again relives the difficulties in re-mounting SNL in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The show's Sept. 29 return that year began with New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani surrounded by New York police officers and firefighters. Paul Simon's very memorable performance of "The Boxer" added to the overall somberness of the show's early minutes before Giuliani praised SNL as a national institution that both the country and New York couldn't live without. So on with the show, he said, before executive producer Lorne Michaels asked, "Can we be funny?"

"Why start now?" Giuliani deadpanned. That deftly broke the ice, although some will still cling to the hidebound view that SNL hasn't been funny since its groundbreaking early years.

That first post 9/11 show was hosted by Reese Witherspoon, who kept her commitment to the show.

"God bless Reese Witherspoon for not canceling," says former director Beth McCarthy.

Going unmentioned is the fact that the next week's long-scheduled host, New Yorker Ben Stiller, in fact did pull out abruptly and without any apology or explanation, according to the excellent 2002 oral history of the show, titled Live From New York. His publicist phoned to inform SNL of his decision.

Talent coordinator Marci Klein, who appears on Time and Again, says in the book that Stiller "never called Lorne, he never called me, he never wrote a letter to the show, nothing. Then, I turn on the (expletive) TV a couple of days later and who so I see but Ben Stiller. He's on The View, the Today show, he's on every show doing press for his movie . . . I just think it is so wrong what he did."

Why bring this up again? Because it's stuck with me ever since reading the book, and I've never looked at Stiller the same again. You definitely won't find his picture next to the words "Standup Guy."

Numerous cast members from "The Aughts" talk in snippets throughout Thursday's special. Kenan Thompson is really short-shrifted, though, both in his recollections and in clips from the shows. The rise of SNL's women cast members gets considerable attention, though, -- and rightly so. Fey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Rachel Dratch combined to wrest the show from its longtime dominance by male cast members.

Guest hosts Alex Baldwin, Christopher Walken, John McCain and Justin Timberlake also do fresh interviews for Time and Again. Timberlake's famed Christmas season "Dick in the Box" film with Andy Samberg is re-examined at length. But NBC is still bleeping the word "dick."

Some of the funnier clips are when cast members crack up and fall out of character. Will Ferrell and Rachel Dratch in a hot tub remains high-larious. Funnier yet is Dratch's complete meltdown in a Debbie Downer sketch that also included the mess-around duo of Jimmy Fallon and Horatio Sanz.

It all ends weakly, though, with various current cast members testifying to the greatness of SNL and the ongoing thrill of being a part of it.

All well and good, but not for the purposes of this latest retrospective. Time and Again doesn't really tell us anything new about SNL. That's what these films are supposed to do -- and previously have.


"You know what, a Latino and a redhead. It's worked before. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball"

George Lopez is right. It has worked before. And maybe the second time's also a charm when Conan O'Brien joins him in TBS' late night arena this November.

On Monday's Lopez Tonight, the host made a big show of welcoming O'Brien with open arms, even though he'll have to move back one hour to accommodate Coco. Guest Chris Rock was prototypically incredulous.

"Get the hell out of here!" he told Lopez. "So you're gonna move for the white man, huh? I hope he appreciates this."

"I think the white man does appreciate it very much," Lopez assured him.

Rock: "You don't gotta clean a park or nothing, right?"

Lopez: "No, and I get to go to work an hour later. That's a Latino dream come true."

Your friendly content provider couldn't get away with saying that. But they can, and did. And in truth, this just might work like gangbusters on a network that's going to lavish tons of promotion on both shows, pay O'Brien a reported $10 million a year and also give him ownership of whatever show emerges and the freedom to do it as he pleases.

O'Brien is still contractually muzzled from talking to the media. But through the miracle of a device he often used on NBC's old Late Night with Conan O'Brien, he conversed openly with Lopez Monday. Below is the video. It may not be "Very Funny," as the TBS motto never stops insisting. But at the very least it's pretty funny. And that's not bad for starters.

In a down season, Idol seems re-cast as the returning Glee's warmup act

Returning in smashing form Tuesday after a multi-month recess, Fox's Glee all of a sudden glows in comparison to the show preceding it.

It's clearly a better music competition than American Idol, whose current field of finalists is widely viewed as lackluster.

Ratings in D-FW no doubt are buoyed somewhat by the presence of North Texans Casey James and Tim Urban among the final 9 contestants. Nationally, though, both editions of Idol have trailed ABC's Monday outing of Dancing with the Stars for the past two weeks in the weekly Nielsen ratings. And that's a seismic shift during this final season with drink-stirring judge Simon Cowell.

In contrast, Glee vibrates with energy, humor and song performances that keep jumping off the screen. Airing at a special time -- 8:28 p.m. (central) -- the "Hell-o" episode will knock local newscasts back a half-hour, including Fox4's. No big loss when you can have this much fun.

The "Hell-O" theme leads to cast versions of songs by The Doors, Lionel Ritchie and The Beatles among others. There's also a spurned Rachel Berry's (Lea Michele) rendition of "Gives You Hell" by All American Rejects. This violates Glee Club maestro Will Schuester's (Matthew Morrison) "Hello" theme, but Rachel is intent on sending a message to boyfriend Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith), who's just dumped her.

"I'm sorry. I think I was just focusing on the first syllable," she explains.

The episode also brings acidic cheerleader coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) back from suspension after she blackmails the McKinley High principal.

Will wants to make nice, but she's not having it: "I won't be burying any hatchets, William, unless I happen to get a clear shot at your groin. You humiliated me."

On another relationship front, the newly separated Will is trying to deepen his knowledge of fellow teacher Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays), who's long had a crush on him. But complications of course kick in.

Fresh from a prestigious Peabody Award win and newly on the cover of Rolling Stone, Glee is flexing major league momentum that's also been pumped up by a pair of hit CDS. Its show-stopping production numbers and scene-stealing turns by Lynch are evidence that no one's missed a beat during the long layoff.

Next week's episode, "The Power of Madonna," brings some of her hits into play. Idol hasn't had a Madonna week yet, but this year's Season 9 would only suffer in comparison anyway. As Idol sags, Glee surges. And that's lately the name of that tune.

TBS coo coo for Coco, with Fox out of the picture

No joke. In a surprise development announced Monday, Conan O'Brien is going to TBS, not Fox.

He'll be paired with Lopez Tonight, tentatively beginning in November, the cable network announced. And in an ironic twist of fate, this time it will be O'Brien jumping ahead of Lopez, who has agreed to move back to 11 p.m. (central). O'Brien's 10 p.m. comedy hour will go against local newscasts around the country and Comedy Central's still dynamic duo of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

TBS says that Lopez phoned O'Brien and asked him to consider joining TBS.

"I can't think of anything better than doing my show with Conan as my lead-in," Lopez said in a statement. "it's the beginning of a new era in late-night comedy."

O'Brien also chimed in, saying in the TBS publicity release, "In three months I've gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters (his multi-city comedy tour kicks off Monday, April 12 in Eugene, Ore). And now I'm headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly."

On his Twitter page, O'Brien added, "The good news: I will be doing a show on TBS starting in November! The bad news: I'll be playing Rudy on the all new Cosby Show."

Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said Monday, "Conan has been the comedic voice for a generation. TBS already has a huge audience of young comedy lovers, and Conan's show will give these fans even more reasons to watch our network."

Koonin also noted that late-night TV "has been dominated by broadcast television. Now, with a young audience and a growing late-night lineup, TBS is set to be the choice of comedy fans for years to come."

Fox had expressed an interest in hiring O'Brien after he left The Tonight Show in January rather than move it back a half-hour to accommodate a new half-hour show starring his Tonight predecessor, Jay Leno. NBC, in one of the most bizarre ongoing soap operas in TV history, had canceled Leno's 9 p.m. prime-time show after network affiliates threatened to preempt it because of lowly audience lead-ins to their following local newscasts.

But Fox apparently couldn't make a late night O'Brien show palatable to its stations, many of which carry syndicated programming following their final newscasts of the day. In Dallas-Fort Worth, Fox4 airs TMZ after its 10 p.m. local newscast.

Whether it works or not, nabbing O'Brien is a major coup at the moment for TBS. It's the first time that a host of a major broadcast network late night show has segued directly to a weeknight equivalent on a cable network.

The only other slightly comparable turn of events came when Bill Maher turned to HBO and his ongoing Friday night Real Time show after ABC canceled his weeknightly Politically Incorrect.

Below is the promo for O'Brien that TBS says it will begin airing on Monday night.

HBO's creme de la Treme (which actually doesn't rhyme)

Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) plays his 'bone in HBO's Treme.

Premiering: Sunday, April 11th at 9 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Clarke Peters, Rob Brown, Steve Zahn, Kim Dickens, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Michiel Huisman, Lucia Micarelli
Created by: David Simon, Eric Overmyer

First of all, HBO's New Orleans-set Treme is pronounced Tre-MAY.

Second, watch as much for the music as the characters. Never more so than when Louis Prima's "Buona Sera" rings out over an alternative radio station as the soundtrack for a montage of scenes from the city.

Premiering Sunday with an extended 80-minute episode, Treme may not be one of HBO's bigger hit series. But it moves near the top of the network's very best, succeeding admirably as both a love song to a post-Katrina New Orleans and as an oozing-with-authenticity look at some of the hard-pressed people who make it throb.

Fox's 2007 series K-ville (short for Katrinaville) ended up falling far short as a shoot-'em-up cop series that just happened to be set in New Orleans. Nary a shot is fired during the first three episodes of Treme, where the principal action scene in Episode 1 is a rousing, cathartic, jazzman parade held three months after Katrina's summer 2005 arrival.

Treme is from producer/writer David Simon, whose credits include NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street and HBO's The Wire and The Corner. Four actors from one or more of those series have central roles in his latest work of decidedly urban art.

Wendell Pierce plays up-against-it trombonist Antoine Batiste, living hand-to-mouth on small-paying gigs. His ex-wife, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander), is a remarried bar owner whose husband and kids have migrated to Baton Rouge. Clarke Peters is tough-minded Albert Lambreaux, who's returned from Houston to both rebuild his home and his costumed tribe, the Guardians of the Flame. And Melissa Leo is cast as civil rights attorney Toni Bernette, who spends much of her time bailing out denizens for petty offenses and looking for LaDonna's missing younger brother.

The series' most recognizable face is John Goodman, whose Creighton Bernette is an English literature professor prone to profane outbursts about the "man-made catastrophe" that left much of his home city underwater. He's also married to Toni, and they have a suitably opinionated young daughter. When she cautions him on his language during a TV interview, Creighton soothes the kid with, "No worries, sweetheart. Cool as a cucumber up an archbishop's ass." No lightning bolts strike.

Treme's self-appointed music maestro/freedom fighter is radio deejay/musician Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), who lives in a cluttered dump and occasionally hooks up with struggling small restaurant owner Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens).

McAlary initially is the hardest character to take, a combustible, short-fused know-it-all who digs the scene and keeps digging graves for himself. But by Episode 3 he's become tolerable if not lovable, a poster boy for New Orleans whose world of hurt hasn't yet broken his spirit. Sometimes he even gets lucky.

Three other characters of import are street musicians Sonny and Annie (Michiel Huisman, Lucia Micarelli), and Albert Lambreaux's son, Delmond (Rob Brown), an up-and-coming man with a horn who's already been making far more money in New York and elsewhere than he ever did in his hometown.

"New Orleans, they hype the music, but they don't love the musicians," he tells a fellow sideman during a recording session for Dr. John, who plays himself. Elvis Costello also can be seen and briefly heard in Episodes 1 and 2.

Treme is never far away from New Orleans' singular, signature music, which acts as a siren song for viewers who have never visited but keep saying they will. The lives of the series' pivotal characters are increasingly vivid as the series moves along. But it's the jazz, the blues and its variants that make everything hum.

All in all, nothing quite like this has ever made its way to the small screen. That's always the intention with HBO. Add an uncompromising guy like David Simon, and savor the rich gumbo in the pot he's stirred.


Behold, behead: Showtime's The Tudors begins the end of Henry VIII's reign

Henry VIII and his wives, not necessarily in that order. Showtime photo

Returning: Sunday, April 11th at 8 p.m. (central) on Showime
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Tamzin Merchant, Torrance Coombs, Joss Stone, David O'Hara, Tara Breathnach, Sarah Bolger and many more
Created by: Michael Hirst

Not a lot happens -- except in the bedroom -- during the first five hours of The Tudors' fourth and final season.

That's saying quite a lot, though. After all, this is the saga of Henry VIII, who went through six wives and many more mistresses during his 1509-1547 reign as England's oft-despotic, occasionally benevolent, throughly consumptive king of kings.

The Tudors: The Final Seduction picks him up in August, 1540 at the outset of his fifth marriage. The bride is 17-year-old Katherine Howard (Tamzin Merchant), a vacuous wisp of a temptress who in contemporary times would be right at home on Gossip Girl.

Henry (played throughout The Tudors by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), is intoxicated by his new conquest, who's quickly seen naked amid red petals in the king's bunk. "Will you not come to bed, milord?" she beckons. Done and done.

Grayer and a little heavier in his late 40s, Henry has slowed a step or two. He's earlier to bed when he has a big day ahead. And his nastily ulcerated leg is ever-problematic, eventually both threatening his life and forcing him to get around with a cane.

The lithe Rhys Meyers has never fit the conventional paunchy portraits of the king. But the producers at least have aged him to the point where he no longer looks like a kid in a medieval candy store. He's never received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Henry. But this final season finds him eminently Emmy worthy in a role he's clearly grown into. He's mastered the boisterous laugh, the manic rages and the overall bearing of a ruler who's nothing if not a command presence.

As the 10-part final season unfolds, Henry has a daughter, Mary (Sarah Bolger), who's older than his latest wife, a second daughter, Elizabeth (Laoise Murray) and his only heir, Edward (Eoin Murtaugh and later Jake Hathaway). He dotes on his kids, but sees them seldom. Royals must learn to be royals, and are sent away to master the craft.

Henry, meanwhile, has no big battles with the Catholic Church and fairly minimal problems with France and Scotland. But unbeknownst to him there's plenty of palace intrigue. Wife Katherine, feeling a bit neglected, grows ever warmer to the advances of the king's groom, callow Thomas Culpepper (Torrance Coombs). She's also covering up a pre-nuptial dalliance with a latter day drunken pig who bribes her into giving him a prized job as a courtier.

None of this, of course, can end well. But five episodes will pass before everyone gets their just/unjust desserts.

Through it all, Henry at times is rendered an almost sympathetic figure. He becomes friendlier with his sweet, and deferential previous wife, Anne of Cleves (Joss Stone), whose marriage to the king was almost instantly annulled after he dubbed her a horseface. Long story -- which was told in Season 3.

Hour 3 of Season 4 also has a surprisingly touching scene in which a newly recovered and previously near-death Henry is beseeched by ill commoners to put his hands on them.

"By the grace of God, I command you to be healed," he says to one after another. All are exceedingly grateful before Henry rides off, still experiencing his own pain from that damnable leg.

Katherine is heavily into the affair with Culpepper by now. And Tamzin Merchant's portrayal of her is gradually graduating from a one-note giggle-puss into a layered conniver whose climactic scenes are a marvel.

Since Henry's story is hardly a well-kept secret, it's probably not giving away too much to say that he's back in play by the end of Hour 5. It's a medieval form of The Bachelor, with the king again positioning himself amid a bevy of supplicant beauties while Katherine will know no more rose ceremonies.

Henry's sixth and last wife, Catherine Parr, will be played by the estimable Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck) in the second half of this climactic season. That should make for some interesting, high voltage interplay.

A peek at Showtime's synopsis for the 10th and final hour reveals that Henry will encounter the ghosts of his past wives before calling it a day. That should make for some welcome curtain calls, particularly by his first spouse, Queen Katherine, who was magnificently played by Maria Doyle Kennedy.

As costume dramas go, The Tudors has been all dressed up with plenty of places to go and ample beheadings to behold. It's been a romp at times, but also a richly textured morality play in which an all-powerful king cast himself as God and greatly relished the role.

Showtime's 38-hour dramatization of his life and times certainly won't be the last we'll hear of him. But future efforts will face a formidable task in wresting its crown.

GRADE: A-minus

Just what the doctor ordered? Miami Medical continues CBS' search for a long-running hospital hit

Young guns with scalpels. Mike Vogel and Elisabeth Harnois are among the stars of CBS' Miami Medical, premiering Friday. CBS photos

Premiering: Friday, April 2nd at 9 p.m. (central) on CBS
Starring: Jeremy Northam, Mike Vogel, Lana Parrilla, Elisabeth Harnois, Omar Gooding
Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer

CBS is still after that elusive hit hospital drama. Will its latest attempt, Miami Medical, have enough punch to prosper in a relatively weak-kneed Friday night slot?

Produced by crime-meister Jerry Bruckheimer (the three CSIs, Cold Case), MM will be the only 9 p.m. (central) series on CBS that has nothing to do with whodunit and why. It supplants Numb3rs, which may well be headed to the cancellation bin if this fast-paced blend of "rock star" docs and near-death patients gives off enough sparks.

CBS hasn't had a contemporary Top 20 horsepistol series since Medical Center, which made that grade thrice in the early 1970s. Its other long distance runner of note, Chicago Hope, had the misfortune to originally air on the same night and at the same time as NBC's blockbuster ER. Hope got as high as No. 23 in the prime-time ratings while ER had a remarkable run of 10 straight seasons in the top 10 before finally leaving NBC last year.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman gave CBS a Saturday night mainstay in the 1990s. But it was set in frontier times, and never quite made the top 20 before being discharged in 1998.

Meanwhile, ABC and Fox also have needled CBS with hit medical dramas that are still prospering -- Grey's Anatomy and House. CBS' failed efforts have included L. A. Doctors, City of Angels, 3 lbs and this season's limp Three Rivers.

Miami Medical is very much in in the here and now, although it so far lacks either a snarly doc or a steamy romance. Its signature line, also used in CBS' promos, comes from lippy but dedicated charge nurse Tuck Brody (Omar Gooding), who assures the husband of an endangered pregnant woman that she's in good hands with this all state team.

"Look, I'm partial," he says. "Trauma docs, best and the brightest. The rock stars of medicine. The ones here at Miami Trauma One, they're the Rolling Stones."

Producer Bruckheimer is noted for high production values, impressive pyrotechnics and characters that walk a fine line between broadly drawn and believably textured. So he blows up an ice cream shop in the early minutes, leaving the sweets-craving pregnant woman and her husband traumatized but only slightly worse for wear until a truck rear-ends their convertible.

"I need a doctor!" he exclaims at the end of an impressive bit of staging. Need he say more?

The redoubtable and always welcome Andre Braugher, on furlough from his co-starring role in TNT's Men of a Certain Age, drops in briefly to play a trauma head who's suddenly -- traumatized. This paves the way for cocksure but likeable Dr. Matthew Proctor (Jeremy Northam), a Persian Gulf War veteran who's otherwise something of a mystery man. By Episode 2, however, viewers will learn what that big scar bisecting his chest is all about.

Miami Trauma One's other top guns are Dr. Chris "C" Deleo (Mike Vogel), also known as "Cowboy," and Dr. Eva Zambrano (Lana Parrilla), not known as timid. There's also the inevitable first-year resident, Dr. Serena Warren (Elisabeth Harnois). She's baby-faced and able to penetrate Proctor's emotional armor. Zambrano and Deleo (sounds like a circus act) seem more likely to penetrate in other ways, but so far she only musters a playful "Oh bite me, Cowboy" while the docs gang-drink shots at a trendy looking bar.

Miami Medical, originally titled Miami Trauma, is filmed in L.A., as is CSI: Miami. But there are enough requisite establishing shots to make it all seem like Miami. Printed watchwords precede each of the first two episodes. Just so you know: "The first moments after a critical injury are known as 'Golden Hour.' Your best chance of survival are the trauma surgeons who can pull you back from the brink."

It's all pretty gripping, with docs you can count on and characters that seem worth investing in. Another crisis is always around the corner, of course. Bruckheimer doesn't like to dink around. Never has, never will.


Conan the Tweeter

Conan O'Brien in official Twitter page photo and back in the day.

Coming soon to a theater near us -- sorry, the May 13th Dallas show is sold out -- defrocked Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien is still prepping for the April 12th start of his multi-city comedy tour.

He's also been tweeting, an activity he mocked during his occasional Tonight "Twitter Tracker" segments.

O'Brien started this process at 3:54 p.m. on Feb. 24th by tweeting, "Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me."

Since then, a good number of his tweets have bordered on high-larious (to me at least). So as a public service to Coco's fans, here's a chronological compilation of the best of his tweets, including pictures when necessary. I think he's mastered the form, with 763,124 followers at this very moment in time.

Feb. 25th -- This morning I watched Remington Steele while eating Sugar Smacks out of a salad bowl. I was naked.

Feb. 26th -- Today I connected all the freckles on my arm with a Sharpie. It spells out RIKSHAZ9LIRK. Clearly I am the chosen one.

Feb. 27th -- Good news! I can now spend quality time with my vintage '92 Ford Taurus. Bad news -- I left yogurt in the trunk.

March 5th -- I've decided to follow someone at random. She likes peanut butter and gummy dinosaurs. Sarah Killen, your life is about to change.

March 7th -- Hey gang! Look for me at the Oscars tonight. I'll be in the parking lot, wearing my prom tux and listening on the radio.

March 9th -- I no longer have health care. Could someone show this to a dermatologist and get back to me?

March 10th -- OMG! My pal Sarah got bumped from Larry King for something called "Breaking News." Has the whole world gone insane?!

March 11th -- Hey Internet : I'm headed to your town on a half-assed comedy & music tour. Go to http://TeamCoco.com for tix. I repeat: It's half-assed.

March 13th -- Today I began my special tour diet: waffle batter, no veggies, and massive amounts of German blood sausage.

March 15th -- I just punched what I thought was a paparazzi with a long lens. It was an old man with a wheat bread sub. Sorry.

March 16th -- Hey sports fans, here's my NCAA pick: bet it all on the Savannah College of Art & Design. Go Fighting Acrylics!

March 17th -- Behold! My traditional St. Patrick's Day feast: 7 Guinness, frozen asparagus soup, and 2 pieces of spearmint gum.

March 23rd -- I'm worried health care has pushed my Tour out of the headlines. I'm also worried my anti-delusion pills are wearing off. Need more pills.

March 24th -- This is a chord I'll play on my new tour. It's a chord only I can make. It blew Slash's mind.

March 25th -- This is down the street from where we're rehearsing. I guess nothing sells liquor like a maniacal circus clown.

March 26th -- Found out today that you're supposed to urinate on a jellyfish sting, NOT a jellyroll stain. Sorry, fat stranger.

March 27th -- sklfjslj;v999{aeaeOc (my dog's first tweet)

March 31st -- I'm confused by the new census form. There's no box for "Sickly White."