American Idol's third-season finale ended with a scene straight from its first: a young woman (this year's stupendously talented Fantasia Barrino) bawling through a ballad in front of the millions of TV viewers who had voted her to stardom. But despite the similarities, this season's déjà vu happy ending hid the fact that a bit of the shine had come off America's most popular talent show. Plagued by charges of a flawed voting system, Idol seemed to falter behind its unspoken, powerful premise: that Americans could participate in a pop-culture democracy fairly, and that their choices would be more egalitarian and merit-based than those made by the record industry.
Twenty-six grimy people in buckle shoes and corsets, four colonial cabins, six months of back-breaking labor and puritanical laws: Welcome to another slice of “experiential history” as crafted by the creators of PBS' latest reality show, Colonial House (May 17-18 and May 24-25, check local listings).
The eight-episode series is the network's latest foray into hurling modern Americans into uncomfortable historical settings. Past versions have included Manor House and Frontier House, where families squirmed under the yoke of upstairs-downstairs, master-servant relations or struggled to build homesteads in “19th-century” Montana.
Springtime in a Small Town is the latest offering from one of China's great Fifth Generation directors, those artists who mined the horrors of the Cultural Revolution to devastating cinematic effect in the mid-'90s. The screaming mobs at political purge sessions, the heaps of classical texts burning in the streets, the hollow-cheeked famine that resulted from Mao's Great Leap Forward policy -- this world on fire was the backdrop for films like Chen Kaige's Farewell, My Concubine, Zhang Yimou's To Live, and Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Blue Kite. The sense of scale was thunderous, with the characters struggling like ants against the inexorable machinery of ideology and the state, and more often than not, they barely survived.
Super Size Me smacks viewers early on with a money shot. Morgan Spurlock, the star and director of the documentary, is jawing through a Super Size meal with naughty elation. It's his first Super Size ever! Five minutes later, and the grin is fading. Some minutes more, and the director is complaining of a McStomachache. Then McGas. And then before we know it, he's got his head out the car window. Whoop, there it is. The McVomit.
With that, it becomes clear that Spurlock, 33, has made something akin to a porno flick, one that memorializes his sordid, sadomasochistic affair with McDonald's.
are indeed the tired and the poor to whom the Statue of Liberty extends her welcome. But faceless, huddled masses they are not, thanks to this series, which follows five immigrant stories over the course of four years. Debuting today, tomorrow, and wednesday on PBS (check local listings), The New Americans begins in its subjects' homelands and traces both their wrenching goodbyes and their first years in the United States. Over the course of the seven-hour program, viewers become intimately acquainted with some of the human stories that underpin ever-fiercer debates over immigration in the United States.