This week's Brothers and Sisters (Sunday, 9 p.m., ABC) begins in disharmony as the Walker siblings scramble to get out of Thanksgiving at their mother's house. All of them except Sarah (Rachel Griffiths) have plans to do something on their own. "I hope you all get salmonella and die," Sarah (sort of) jokes.
Then comes bad news: Brother Tommy's daughter needs a liver transplant. As fast as they were running away from each other, the Walkers now come together. One of Tommy's brothers must donate a part of his liver for the transplant - and I'd tell you which one if it wouldn't spoil the experience for you. I'm hoping you'll be as emotionally drained by the episode as I was.
Brothers and Sisters draws you so deeply into its big, warm, witty family that you never want to leave. The series deftly manages its large group of actors (Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Rob Lowe, Balthazar Getty, et al.), who treat even the heavy moments with a light touch. I only wish I had a chance to donate part of my liver for these wonderful people.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Friday, 7 pm (ABC)
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a simple children's book about the meaning of Christmas. It's perfectly realized, and we know that a perfect adaptation is possible: Chuck Jones created one in his 1966 cartoon. But the 2000 live-action movie version, playing on ABC this week, is a crime against Dr. Seuss. Not to mention Christmas. And humanity. Loud, nasty, grotesque, overbearing, mawkish, gimmicky, grating - could this Jim Carrey vehicle possibly be any more off base?
It was the ultimate in perversity for Hollywood to turn Dr. Seuss' fable about the holiday spirit into the ultimate spiritless spectacle. It would be like the Soviet Union turning Seuss' anti-fascist fable Yertle the Turtle into Stalinist propaganda.
The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice
Sunday, 7 pm (TNT)
2004's Librarian TV movie was a fabulous surprise: a mock adventure tale about an overeducated nerd (Noah Wyle) who's tapped to work in a library's very special collection. He oversees supernatural relics like Excalibur, Noah's Ark and the Fountain of Youth, all sought after by bad guys. Wyle was a revelation as a comic hero with dozens of Ph.D.'s but no courage or social skills. The 2006 sequel was almost as good.
Here we have the second sequel, in which Wyle must find Judas' chalice before a KGB agent can use it to resurrect Dracula and lead an undead army into Russia. All the old elements are in place - the exotic locales, sexy love interest, menacing baddies and bumbling escapades - but they feel like all the old elements. The movie is mildly enjoyable but uninspired.
You don't need a Ph.D. in sequel-ology to see that this series is running out of gas.
House of Saddam
Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)
HBO's ambitious miniseries tells the Saddam Hussein story, from the moment he seized power in Iraq until he's captured by U.S. forces in 2003. It's not much to speak of as a psychological portrait. If you've seen one vain, paranoid dictator, you've seen them all. Like Hitler, Mao or Idi Amin, Saddam (Igal Naor) loves power and hates traitors; that's about all there is to him. The movie's appeal is in its competent dramatization of history, including Saddam's conflicts with Iran and the United States and his sick relationship with the Iraqi people. You notice just the slightest twitching of his subjects' facial muscles as they're made to joyously sing "Oh love! We love the leader!" Don't get too attached to any of the characters, because most of them exit pretty quickly via firing squad.
The finale features a broken, scraggly-haired Saddam pulled out of the underground rat hole where he'd been hiding. Sadly, our own ongoing troubles in Iraq don't allow us to take as much pleasure in that moment as we should.
Sunday, 9 pm (TNT)
Timothy Hutton stars as a former insurance investigator who used con-artist tactics to recover millions in stolen goods. After getting screwed by the company, he becomes a con artist of the Robin Hood variety. He bands together with hackers and thieves to take revenge on corrupt millionaires and corporations, planning elaborate stings.
If you've seen Mission: Impossible or Oceans Eleven through Thirteen, you've seen Leverage. It offers the same good-looking group of grifters, the same jams and double-crosses, the same disguises, the same crawling-through-ductwork cinematography. But I have to admit that I enjoyed this new series. It puts over the genre clichés with jaunty acting, a bouncy score and skillful editing.
Wait a minute - is Leverage truly enjoyable, or have I just been scammed?