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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 67.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Devil's food
Hell's Kitchen makes Satan smile
Ramsay plays the Dark
Ramsay plays the Dark Lord.

Hell's Kitchen (Tuesday, 8 p.m., Fox) has always gone over the top, but the cooking show's new season finds a way over the top of the top. In the intro, mean English chef Gordon Ramsay is styled as "The Dark Lord" and the contestants as "warriors" who must battle him in the bowels of hell. Demonic music blares, and flames erupt on the TV screen. You'd never know that the series is really about seasoning veal correctly.

In the first episode, the 15 contestants have 45 minutes to cook Ramsay their signature dish. He goes from plate to plate, insulting the chef. "That tells me a lot about you: simple, plain, blond, boring." Actually, "boring" is Ramsay's version of high praise. Most of the time he spits out the food and tells the chef to "piss off." After tasting one man's dish, he makes a show of vomiting.

The contestants are an unappealing bunch. During a men vs. women challenge, a doofus named Jason says, "I'll be damned if I'm gonna lose to a team of girls. The only way I'm gonna lose to a woman is, like, in an ironing contest."

That's when I vomited myself.

The Capture of the Green River Killer
Sunday & Monday, 7 pm (Lifetime Movie Network)

Tom Cavanagh of Ed puts everything he has into the role of a real-life Washington State detective on the trail of a serial killer in the 1980s and '90s. His against-type performance surprises you, as does the movie itself.

It's not just about gruesome corpses. Cavanagh's Dave Reichert is a substantial character, and so is a teen named Helen (Amy Davidson). The movie examines the social and economic conditions that drive Helen to prostitution, making her prey for the killer. Though hard on the outside, she's a thoughtful girl whose musings on chance and responsibility are heard in voiceover.

"Maybe our mistakes are fate too, not just bad choices, and we end up hating ourselves for something we had no control over."

Helen gives The Capture of the Green River Killer a touch of poetry. When's the last time you saw that in a serial-killer TV movie?

John Adams
Sunday, 8 pm (HBO)

Part four dramatizes a series of extraordinary moments in the life of the revolutionary leader (Paul Giamatti). After a long separation, wife Abigail (Laura Linney) joins Adams in England. The scene in which they reunite does justice to one of American history's great love stories. Initial reserve gives way to passion, followed by tears of regret at the circumstances that kept them apart. Abigail's resentment seeps out, leading to abject shame on John's part. The actors make sense of these ping-ponging emotions, also treating us to the sight of a Founding Father in flagrante delicto. Wigs and breeches - kinky.

Another great scene is Adams' long-delayed homecoming after years of selfless diplomatic work abroad. He's become used to ridicule from Europeans and lack of appreciation from his own countrymen, so the hero's welcome in Boston harbor is a big surprise. The expression on Giamatti's face will move you to tears as he watches the crowd wave flags and shoot off cannons. I couldn't help but shoot off a small cannon in my own living room, catching hell from the neighbors.

Sunday, 8 pm (PBS)

Sense and Sensibility begins with very un-Jane Austen copulation: heavy breathing, lots of early-19th-century skin. Then it quickly switches to a normal adaptation of Austen's novel, with no explanation for the disconnected sex scene.

Maybe "normal" is the wrong word. The first half-hour is unbearable, featuring broad caricatures that would have made Austen gag. Mrs. Dashwood and her three daughters are kicked out of their estate following her husband's death. A weak-willed half-brother has inherited everything and allowed his evil wife to turn the womenfolk into poor relations. The music and cinematography are grotesque, as are the villains' exaggerated line readings.

Then comes another weird shift in tone. Suddenly we're in Masterpiece Theatre land, as the Dashwood girls search for suitable husbands. The pace slows and the scenes become proper and dull.

Did PBS think it was adapting a novel called Senselessness and Sensibility?

The Tudors
Sunday, 8 pm (Showtime)

King Henry VIII is a 16th-century hottie in Showtime's impressive series. As played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, he's sexy even when flying into murderous rages. Which is most of the time.

In the second-season premiere, everyone obsesses over God. The Catholic Church doesn't think He wants Henry to get a divorce and marry Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer). Henry thinks He wants England to sever its ties with the Catholics. As the characters ponder these weighty theological questions, they wallow in lust, murder, torture and vengeance. Henry attempts to poison those who disagree with him, while the Pope (Peter O'Toole) recommends a hit job on Anne.

Piety - ain't it grand?

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