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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Take the money and run
Scams are a thing of beauty in The Riches
on
Our heroes work the angles.
Our heroes work the angles.

The Riches' new season (Tuesday, 9 p.m., FX) is pure pleasure. Our heroes - if you want to call them that - are a family of "Travelers." They're con artists who move from place to place, fleecing the locals for as long as they can. Inevitably the scams go sour, but that's when this crew are at their best. They improvise, work the angles and squirm free. They're so good that we can't help but root for them and against the innocent victims.

This week, the family recovers from the latest disaster. Mom (Minnie Driver) and Dad (Eddie Izzard) had taken on the identities of dead yuppies in Eden Falls, Texas, living high on the hog. But murder and blackmail drive Mom and the kids out of town while Dad cleans up the bloody mess. The partial crew lands in another Texas town full of suckers and prepares to charm them out of their money.

I found myself falling for the family just as hard as the townsfolk did. At the end of the episode, my wallet was gone and my TV was missing four channels.

John Adams
Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)

Last week, I denounced HBO's John Adams dramatization. Part one presented the revolutionary leader as a saint, boring us with an hour's worth of righteous speeches. In this week's installment, though, Adams is not a saint, nor does he speechify, nor does he bore us. He emerges as a complicated human being with blind spots, resentments and doubts. In the title role, Paul Giamatti finally has a character to sink his teeth into, and he makes the most of it. Rarely has a man in a silly wig been so poignant.

The episode begins in 1777, as Adams shares a painful moment in bed with wife Abigail (Laura Linney). He has agreed to sacrifice his own domestic happiness by sailing to France, where he must seek aid for the struggling revolution. Adams arrives in Paris impatient and determined, only to find himself unsuited to the demands of French diplomacy. His colleague Ben Franklin (Tom Wilkinson) is content to revel in wine, women and song, but the dutiful Adams is prone to blurt out urgent requests in the midst of decadent dinner parties: "The immediate support of the French navy is required!"

Giamatti plays these scenes for comedy, but the tragic note grows ever louder. At the end of the episode, Adams is ill and defeated, with Abigail still an ocean away and the revolution crumbling.

I've never been so glad to know how a story will end.

Keeping Up with the Kardashians
Sunday, 9 pm (E!)

The competition is tough, but the Kardashians have emerged as the most repellent people on reality TV. They're a high-society L.A. family whose females all have cutesy "K" names to go with "Kardashian": Khloe, Kourtney, Kendal, Kylie, etc. Mom's touching dream for her daughters is to make them into air-headed rich-girl sex objects à la Paris Hilton. She arranges Playboy shoots and presumably instructs the E! cameras to focus on the girls' round, pampered butts.

In the new season, the daughters snipe at each other in nasal voices, cuss like sailors and jet off to Cabo when life seems too hard. Wannabe-celebrity Kim is delighted that the New York Post has named her one of America's stupidest people. "As long as they're talking about me, honey!" she exclaims.

Yes, we've gotten to the point where stupidity is cool. Or should I say "kool."

Kenny vs. Spenny
Sunday, 10:30 pm (Comedy Central)

In an earlier age, Americans watched Fred Astaire glide across a dance floor and cried, "That's entertainment!" Apparently, that's what some Americans cry nowadays when they watch Kenny vs. Spenny, back for a new season. We see two grotesque dudes spit, vomit and defecate in a series of stomach-turning competitions.

I turned off the TV halfway through the episode and was startled by the sudden serenity in the room: birds chirping outside, sunlight streaming through the windows.

Now that's entertainment.

How I Met Your Mother
Monday, 7:30 pm (CBS)

Britney Spears guest-stars as a receptionist in a dermatologist's office. It's less an acting job than a bullet point in her publicist's Britney-rehabilitation plan.

Frontline
Monday & Tuesday, 8 pm (PBS)

On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Frontline aims to present the definitive documentary analysis of "Bush's War." A two-part series surveys the wreckage, beginning with bloody battles waged by savage enemies.

I refer, of course, to the power plays within the Bush White House. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were gung-ho about attacking Iraq, while Colin Powell and George Tenet had their doubts. But Cheney and Rumsfeld weren't interested in opposing viewpoints, so they simply shut Powell and Tenet out of the decision-making process. "The battle of ideas, you generally come up with the best solution," says Powell's deputy Richard Armitage. "When somebody hijacks the system, then, just like a hijacked airplane, very often no good comes of it."

"No good comes of it" - my current choice for the understatement of 2008.

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