- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

Atwood on Oxygen

Canadian literary lion Margaret Atwood might seem an odd choice to provide material for estrogen-heavy cable channel Oxygen. But the network’s latest original film, “The Robber Bride,” turns out to be a fairly compelling thriller with at least some of Miss Atwood’s dark insights about the love-hate relationships among women remaining intact. The two-hour movie premieres tomorrow night at 8.

The film opens with the discovery of a car full of blood and a severed finger lying beside it. They belong to Zenia Arden, a Toronto television reporter whom somebody hated enough to torture before killing.

Cop Henry (Greg Bryk), who was Zenia’s secret source and her lover, knows he’ll soon be a suspect. He asks his ex-colleague John (Shawn Doyle, “Big Love”) to dig around and find out who really killed Zenia.

The story is told in flashbacks as John unravels what happened. When he follows Zenia’s three friends after the funeral, he finds them not drowning their sorrows in drink but celebrating her death with champagne. All three — magazine editor Roz (veteran Canadian actress Wendy Crewson), history professor Tony (Amanda Root, “Persuasion”) and gardener Charis (Susan Lynch, “Enduring Love”) — had reason to want Zenia dead. This femme fatale stole Roz’s career, Tony’s husband and Charis’ daughter.

Two things lift “The Robber Bride” above the common made-for-TV thriller. One is the source material. Screenwriter Tassie Cameron has made some major changes to Miss Atwood’s novel — the character of John is a new addition. But she’s wisely kept much of the witty tone. “White Russians don’t exist,” Tony’s husband tells her when told of Zenia’s supposed background. “They’re the Cheshire Cat of nationality.”

The other is Mary-Louise Parker (“Weeds”), who is completely mesmerizing as the devilish Zenia. A different woman to everyone who meets her, Zenia is a suitably meaty role for the accomplished actress.

“The Robber Bride” finally fizzles out during the epilogue, when Miss Parker’s character is barely seen. But director David Evans (the original British “Fever Pitch”) and his mostly Canadian cast have crafted a surprisingly good look at the often ambivalent relationships women have with one another.

‘Winner’ could be one

Seth MacFarlane is responsible for one of the cleverest shows on television; “Family Guy,” part of Fox’s Sunday night animation block. But starting this weekend, that cartoon block will be broken up with Mr. MacFarlane’s first live-action series. “The Winner” premieres Sunday with new episodes at 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., with a new episode of “Family Guy” in between.

“The Winner” stars “The Daily Show’s” Rob Corddry as Glen Abbott, who we learn in a voiceover is the richest man in Buffalo. This new series, though, follows his life in 1994, when Glen is 32 and still living with his parents. We should eventually find out how this loser became a winner.

Mr. Corddry is pretty good as the balding, socially inept Glen, a 32-year-old virgin. But just as good is Keir Gilchrist as 13-year-old Josh, a younger nerd possibly headed in Glen’s footsteps. The two, we gather, will come of age together. Josh’s single mom, Alison (Erinn Hayes), is Glen’s gorgeous childhood crush.

The episodes made so far, which are already available online, are a mixed bag. Tonight’s pilot may not grab you — it certainly didn’t have this critic in stitches. But an upcoming episode in which Glen and Josh take a trip to Albany for a spelling bee was consistently amusing. Josh goes after a girl who’s only an alternate, “which means she probably has low self-esteem,” while Glen dons a toupee to attract her mother.

The likeliest way producers could make this show a real winner? Remove the laugh track, which is simply overdone.

Dark Ages in HD

How dark were the Dark Ages? That’s the question the History Channel aims to answer this Sunday at 9 p.m. with its two-hour program, “The Dark Ages.”

The special, with striking high-definition cinematography, explores the 600 years between the fall of Rome in 410 and Pope Urban II’s First Crusade in 1095.

The Dark Ages may be seen as one of the most violent periods in human history, but events over those six centuries also laid the groundwork for modern Europe. Christianity as an organized religion, for example, took shape during those years.

Of course, few historical programs can resist mentioning a certain blockbuster book in their press notes, and “The Dark Ages” is no exception. The History Channel notes that Clovis, the king of the Franks, converted to Christianity in 496 and laid the foundation for the Merovingians, “famous today as the supposed protectors of Christ’s bloodline in ‘The Da Vinci Code.’ ”

Simon honor on PBS

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon will receive the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in a gala ceremony May 23 at the Warner Theatre, Library officials announced yesterday. The event will be broadcast nationally June 27 on PBS.

During his career, Mr. Simon has received 12 Grammy Awards, including three for album of the year: “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in 1970 (with musical partner Art Garfunkel), “Still Crazy After All These Years” in 1976 and, in 1986, “Graceland,” which was recently selected as part of the Library’s National Recording Registry.

Image Awards on Fox

LL Cool J will host tonight’s 38th annual NAACP Awards (live at 8 on Fox5-WTTG), which recognize outstanding achievement by people of color in film, television, music, and literature.

“Dreamgirls” captured eight nomimations, including nods for best film and for its stars Beyonce, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson.

The CW’s “Everybody Loves Chris” garnered the most nominations in the television category.

The evening’s other highlights: Comedian, educator and author Bill Cosby will be inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame, and U2 rocker-activist Bono will receive the NAACP Chairman’s Award.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff reports.

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