Critic's choice: the week ahead in TV

Mike Tyson's genuinely moving story is told in <I>Tyson</i>.
Mike Tyson's genuinely moving story is told in Tyson.


Today, 9.30pm, SBS One  ★★★★

I don't like boxing. And if I had any opinion about Mike Tyson before watching this doco it was to consider him pretty violent and kind of crazy. As it turns out, he is pretty violent and kind of crazy. But watching him tell his own story is undoubtedly compelling. Unlike most documentary makers, director James Toback simply lets Tyson talk, interspersed with a terrific collection of archival footage from the champ's earliest days to his final fight. No experts, friends, family or rivals are interviewed, or ''other side'' presented. Yet this film contains extraordinary light and shade and for folk like me (who don't like boxing and have no interest in Tyson), it's also full of insights. For instance - although, if you think about it for a minute, it makes perfect sense - I hadn't realised he was so very young. So young now (only in his mid-40s) and so young (still in his teens) when he first entered the ring professionally. That simple fact brings sense to so much about his life and travails. Likewise, the fact that Kid Tyson came from a profoundly dysfunctional fatherless family from New York's meanest streets and that he was introduced to boxing while in a juvenile detention centre. No surprise, but it helps to have it spelt out. It's genuinely thrilling to watch the young Tyson in action. The speed with which he moved almost defies belief. Add his considerable size and phenomenal power and it's no wonder he won so emphatically, and so quickly, so many times. If nothing else, those scenes and the way in which Tyson discusses his craft gives the sneerers (like me) a whole new appreciation of the sport. Boxing fans and those with an interest in the man will find plenty here to engage them. This bloke is not an intellectual giant (and you shudder to think what damage has been done to any potential brain power), but he's surprisingly reflective and there's something genuinely moving about watching him talk about his train-wreck of a life, something hypnotic about the particular cadence of his speech, and something terribly sad about not just his story but its Everyman nature, a story of supreme talent unmatched by any kind of ability to manage that talent. A good documentary tells you something you didn't already know and maybe changes your mind at least a little. A good film holds your attention effortlessly from the first moment to the last. Tyson does both.

Tuesday, 9.30pm, Channel Seven  ★★★☆

There's so much to enjoy about this ebullient, soapy song'n'dance drama, but let's start with the cast. Anjelica Huston is Anjelica Huston. Has she ever put in a bad performance? She's more than matched here by several of her colleagues. Debra Messing is well cast as the Broadway lyricist Julia: confident, sassy, and sharing a terrific rapport with her writing partner, Tom (Christian Borle, also excellent, and a character that develops wonderfully as the series progresses). The two starlets are also sensational: buxom, worldly, vulnerable Ivy (Megan Hilty); and scrawny greenhorn Karen (Katharine McPhee). So, while the plot has its occasional hiccups, the characters make us love them and the rip-roaring Broadway numbers are always an absolute delight.

Wednesday, 9.30pm, ABC2  ★★★☆

In contrast to Channel Nine's fictional House Husbands, these three no-hopers are dads in name only. In the manner of so many Brits, they are desperately clinging to the Old Ways. Which, in this case, includes notions that (a) child wrangling is easy, and (b) it's women's work. Disturbingly, some of them don't even seem to like children very much, and several have never changed a nappy, fed their babies, or read them a story. The cure? Install them in a daycare centre for a week. I think that's what you call the deep end, especially as they fail to endear themselves to the staff by making it clear they expect the stint to be a doddle. Initially, it's a little frightening to see these men in charge of 50 preschoolers. But all that, of course, just makes it so much more satisfying when these gents gradually come to grips with both the realities and joys of being a dad. Not only are the transformations genuinely moving, this will also give a lot of people renewed respect for the professionals who do this kind of thing eight hours a day, week in, week out.

Monday, 8.30pm, Channel Ten  ★★★☆

Five-O is back, as slick, handsome and drenched in colour as ever. And, typically, we leap straight into the action, much of it worthy of a Bond blockbuster. The roll call of characters is pretty standard: the geek, the kick-arse hot chick, the sturdy straight man and, of course, our odd-couple leads, McGarrett and Danno. But each inhabits their role with enthusiasm, and the rapport between Alex O'Loughlin's McGarrett and Scott Caan's Danno has always been a fine thing. Everything that happens is highly improbable, of course. Not just the international espionage, but McGarrett's Jason Bourne-like skills, many of which are called upon tonight. I almost expected to see "Blam!" and "Kapow!" explode across the screen in cartoonish graphics. Yet it still manages to create real tension as the team battles the forces of evil, accompanied by soaring strings and pounding timpanis. Great fun.


Wednesday, 8.30pm, Nat Geo  ★★★☆

Can you be gay and Christian? Can prayer make you straight? These are the questions journalist Lisa Ling pursues in tonight's instalment of this thoughtful series. Ling is very much the star here. There are lots of shots of her pretty face, and lots of ''I wondered …'' and ''I asked myself …'', but she's also both persistent and non-judgmental as she takes us from the leader of Exodus, the US's leading ''pray away the gay'' movement, to a summer camp for gay Christian teens. We meet ''ex-gay'' ministers from a variety of organisations dedicated to helping gay people give up their sinful ways. We meet members of their flocks. We also meet one of the founders of Exodus, who gave it all up as a bad joke and has been living in a happy, Christian, homosexual relationship for decades. Plus, those gay teens, who find a Lutheran minister who reminds them there's a whole lot more to the Bible than a couple of lines from Leviticus, and that God actually loves them just the way they are. Ling doesn't hammer the point but it becomes apparent that, for many former homosexuals and their disciples, a hatred of their sexuality seems to be just a manifestation of much deeper problems. There are certainly some sad stories here. What emerges most clearly is that what most of these people want is simply to get married, have kids and attend church with an open heart. And you would think there's probably a kinder and simpler way to achieve that than this fruitless fight against biology.

8.30pm, FX  ★★★☆

''The Diner'' has become a bit of a character in its own right in this series, the kind of place people travel to the US purely to experience. And if most of us wouldn't really want to meet Jared Franklin and Peter Bash while there (or worse, in a bar), watching them strut their stuff in this cheeky comedy is always enjoyable. They're annoying, but there's great chemistry between Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and they totally inhabit their wisecracking characters. Today the lads have taken on a typical case: a thug tries to exit the chop shop where he's been working and go straight by beating his erstwhile business associates to a pulp. Complicating matters, Messrs Franklin and Bash are being shadowed for the duration by a straitlaced intern. If the destination isn't exactly a surprise, the journey is certainly fun.

Wednesday, 8.35pm, Showcase  ★★★☆

Fans will be delighted to know this is being seriously fast-tracked: we're getting it just 48 hours after its US premiere. That means we don't really know what will transpire as season three gets under way, but we can tell you it's New Year's Eve, 1922, 16 months after the end of season two. Jimmy's dead (you knew that) and how Nucky deals with that remains to be seen. Margaret has ruined Nucky's latest big deal, so ditto with that. Overall, the producers are calling this ''the night before the morning after'', with everyone putting themselves in the frame for a massive hangover, literally and figuratively. We are also promised more on the progress of Al Capone, if not tonight, then soon.

Friday, 9.30pm, World Movies  ★★★☆

There are so many movies on pay TV that picking one to preview is like naming your favourite child but it's worth giving a nod to World Movies' Adult Movie month. We were tempted to flag the irresistibly named The Slut (Saturday, 9.30pm) but have instead gone for this fun Korean action-horror flick. Unlike many Asian films in the genre, this is pretty light on the gore, substituting instead some sensational martial arts and cool special effects. Imagine a kind of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is pretty heavy on the melodrama (lots of pained stares to camera) but that's all part of the fun. And wouldn't we all love some of those killer rose petals?

This story Critic's choice: the week ahead in TV first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.