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Thursday, August 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 67.0° F  Fog/Mist
Arts
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Tribesmen visit the U.S. in Meet the Natives
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The most appealing reality-show subjects of the season.
The most appealing reality-show subjects of the season.

Meet the Natives (Sunday, 8 p.m., Travel Channel) heads to the small South Pacific island of Tanna, where the tribesmen are naked except for grass tassels covering their penises. Five of these primitive people - including a chief, a medicine man and a translator - agree to visit the United States with a camera crew in tow. They plan to bring us a message of "peace and happiness."

You see the potential problems here. Meet the Natives could easily be offensive, condescending to the islanders as they traverse a strange new world of cars, skyscrapers and powdered coffee creamer. But the series gets the tone just right, and the islanders emerge as the most appealing reality-show subjects of the season.

In the first episode, they stay with a Montana ranch family for five days. Donning blue jeans and cowboy hats, they charm "the natives" (that's us) with their jovial response to industrial farming, chocolate cake and a local saloon.

When the islanders learn that the United States is at war, they feel very bad. To fulfill their mission of bringing peace and happiness, they explain their concerns to their Montana hosts. "This brings shame on us all as brothers," one of them says earnestly.

At that moment, the guys in the grass penis tassels seem more civilized than we do.

Creature Feature Weekend
Saturday & Sunday (SyFy)

While other networks fill the Thanksgiving weekend with heartwarming fare, SyFy unleashes two days' worth of beasties. The marathon includes movies about strange things (Basilisk: The Serpent King), big things (Anaconda 3) and big things vs. other big things (Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus).

Fun stuff, but was there no film that fit the Thanksgiving theme? Mega Turkey vs. Giant Cranberry Sauce, perhaps?

Beyond Sherwood Forest
Saturday, 8 pm (SyFy)

Here's the Robin Hood story as you've never seen it before. Robin and his men are as jaunty as ever, stealing from the rich and tweaking the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. But this time, Sherwood Forest is home to a beautiful damsel with the habit of taking off all her clothes, turning into a scary dragon and flying through a neon-blue mystical portal.

Believe it or not, the fantastical add-ons don't seem like a cheap gimmick. The film melds them seamlessly into the Robin Hood legend to give new life to an oft-told tale.

Now that I think of it, I've never known of a case where dragons and naked damsels didn't improve a given story.

The 25th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert
Sunday, 7 pm (HBO)

HBO filmed last month's two concerts in Madison Square Garden celebrating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The lineup is amazing. Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, U2, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt and many others performed in honor of the Hall's 25th anniversary. Still, they were no match for the lineup - including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, James Brown, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Ray Charles, Joey Ramone and John Lennon - simultaneously jamming in heaven.

Cowboys & Outlaws
Sunday, 8 pm (History)

An episode on Billy the Kid skillfully combines reenactments, commentary and location footage to create a portrait of the young cowboy who rebelled against the Old West's corrupt system of justice. The name didn't hurt ("Sidney the Kid" wouldn't have had the same resonance), but Billy earned his place in the American pantheon with cold-blooded murders of frontier lawmen. He felt he was doing the right thing - and maybe he was, given that the lawmen committed cold-blooded murders themselves.

Was Billy's vigilantism justified when a New Mexico sheriff killed his beloved boss and he had no valid justice system to appeal to? It's a question we're still wrestling with.

The reenactments are thrilling, though one feels sorry for all the extras who get plugged full of holes. Are these killings justified?

The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show
Tuesday, 9 pm (CBS)

Every December, Victoria's Secret hosts a primetime advertisement posing as a CBS entertainment program, in which models walk down the runway wearing the latest in underwear. As if that weren't shameless enough, the company adds a gimmick this year: a national search for the next "runway angel." Contestants competed in a boot camp for models, featuring challenges and eliminations. The woman deemed to have the best come-hither expression gets a chance to try her luck on the big stage in high heels and a bra.

Victoria's Secret probably thinks the public will be riveted by this drama. Will the new model screw up or will she shine? But I doubt if we'll be on the edge of our seats, given the fact that all she has to do is walk in a straight line, then turn around and walk back.

Sinatra at Carnegie Hall
Wednesday, 7 pm (PBS)

This 1980 performance features toupee-era Frank Sinatra, holding a drink and smoking while bellowing over bombastic arrangements. He milks applause, brags, shouts out to the "chicks," indulges in ethnic stereotypes and sneers at the rock and R&B bands that had made him irrelevant. He makes coarse jokes and then clicks into "sincere" mode for the unctuous love songs. In other words, he behaves like the ultimate lounge singer - the kind we've been laughing at for the last 40 years.

Sinatra used to be the undisputed king of the crooners, but Dean Martin looks much preferable to modern eyes. Dean had the pipes, but he could also wink at showbiz shtick, not taking himself too seriously. Sinatra always took himself seriously, and that's why I have trouble doing so.

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