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Friday, February 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 15.0° F  Fair
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The role of a lifetime
Fantasia Barrino unconvincingly portrays herself in a TV movie
Fantasia (left) learns many lessons.
Fantasia (left) learns many lessons.

I suppose Fantasia Barrino was a TV movie waiting to happen: a teenage single mother who overcame poverty and illiteracy to win fame on "American Idol." The only thing missing in The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale (Saturday, 8 p.m., Lifetime) is a life-threatening illness.

The movie is packed with incident, from family fights to romantic disasters to religious conversion. (Indeed, you spend so much time in services that you can probably skip church this Sunday.) There are many lessons along the way, such as the importance of believing in yourself. Unfortunately, the writers seem to have believed in themselves too much to delete any of the atrocious dialogue. At one point, Fantasia's mother tells her: "God gave you big lips so you could sing better."

Fantasia herself plays the title role, and your first thought is: Who better? But that squeaky, scratchy voice, so distinctive on "American Idol," is merely weird when applied to scripted dialogue. Fantasia mumbles her way through the movie, ill-equipped to convey the agonies and ecstasies of her own life. It's the worst you can say of an actress: unconvincing in the role of herself.

I suspect that The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not a Fairy Tale is only the start of an "American Idol" TV-movie franchise. I look forward to Taylor Hicks: Off-Key Imitation of a Black Singer.

Teen Choice Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (Fox)

The annual ceremony sends a strong message to teen girls by choosing Jessica Simpson as co-host. And that message is: You can make your dreams come true by wearing low-cut tops and acting dumb as a post. (Somewhere, Betty Friedan is weeping.)

Aside from Simpson thrusting out her chest, the ceremony will feature awards for music, TV and movies. The movie categories include such whimsy as Choice Liplock, Choice Hissy Fit and Choice Chemistry. If the lifeless Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth of Superman Returns win the latter award, I'll throw a Choice Hissy Fit myself.

Neanderthal: The Rebirth
Sunday, 8 pm (Science Channel)

Scientists have puzzled over Neanderthals ever since the first bones were found. "Neanderthal: The Rebirth" sets out to answer the key question: Why did we survive and they didn't? Were they an evolutionary dead end, or were they just stupid?

Tune in as the Science Channel releases shocking new evidence that Neanderthals ran with scissors.

Prison Break
Monday, 7 pm (Fox)

I made fun of this dramatic series when it premiered last August. The premise is, to put it mildly, absurd. A straight arrow named Michael (Wentworth Miller) commits a crime just so he can enter the penitentiary where his brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) is on death row. Michael thinks Lincoln has been framed, so he plans to break him out and prove his innocence. "Maybe the tooth fairy could put the jailhouse key under his pillow," I suggested.

"Prison Break" became a hit despite my derision. (That's America for you - they never listen to the Isthmus critic.) I watched it later in the season, however, and what do you know - I got hooked. The series catches you up in its somber mood, to the point where you feel the characters' pain.

With his crewcut and dour expression, Michael is especially gloomy. I plan to watch the second season premiere just to see if he cracks a smile.

Monday, 8 pm (Fox)

Fox begins the 2006-07 season with a bang. Actually, many bangs - cars crashing, guns firing, doors kicked in. "Vanished" is a gripping crime drama about an FBI agent searching for a missing person. Graham Kelton (Gale Harold) is an agent with a past - namely, a botched rescue that resulted in a child's death. Now, with his reputation tarnished, he's investigating the disappearance of a senator's wife (Joanne Kelly). The list of suspects is as long as your arm, including the senator himself, his ex-wife, his kids, a presidential aide and various hangers-on. Or did the kidnapped woman kidnap herself?

There's nothing new here, but all the old stuff (stakeouts, autopsies, romantic entanglements) are nicely arranged by feature-film director Mimi Leder. The only jarring element is a sleazy television reporter who's out to sensationalize the story. Blond and bone-thin, she's the series' villain - but hey, if Fox is so upset about sleazy reporters hyping up a tragedy, why doesn't it just fire them all from Fox News?

On Native Soil: The Documentary of the 9/11 Commission Report
Monday, 8 pm (Court TV)

We've seen many documentaries about 9/11, but this one offers something new. Narrated by Kevin Costner and Hilary Swank, it delves into the 9/11 Commission report. The 9/11 Commission is an independent, bipartisan body created in 2002 to prepare a complete account of the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

We learn that our emergency response system was fatally flawed, and that a number of those flaws still exist today. We also see footage of national security adviser Condoleeza Rice lying through her teeth in a 2002 speech. "I don't think anybody could have predicted that...these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center," she said.

In fact, as the documentary points out, a 1993 Pentagon study explored the possibility that terrorists would do just that. In 1995, the CIA learned of a plot to hijack airplanes and fly them into, among other sites, the World Trade Center. Two months before 9/11, the FBI ignored a memo warning that al-Qaeda members were learning to fly in preparation for a terrorist attack.


"On Native Soil" is a shocking indictment of government incompetence and dishonesty. And I'm sure it will spur politicians to spring into blaming the media.

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