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Monday, September 15, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Bush vs.Gore vs. democracy
Recount dramatizes 2000's Florida debacle
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Spacey (right) leads the fight for Gore.
Spacey (right) leads the fight for Gore.

Recount (Sunday, 8 p.m., HBO) is an absurd political fantasy about a U.S. presidential election gone wrong. It all comes down to Florida, where the voting apparatus gets weirdly screwed up. Networks call the election one way, then reverse themselves; the Democratic candidate concedes, then retracts his concession. All hell breaks loose, with mass protests, death threats and dirty tricks. The conservative members of the Supreme Court finally hand the election to their fellow Republican in a decision worthy of a banana republic.

Wait a minute - this isn't an absurd political fantasy, it's what really happened in 2000's Bush vs. Gore. Recount dramatizes the tragicomedy, and if you didn't know it was a true story you'd think the screenwriter was insane.

The movie's tone is perfect. It's cynical about politics, savoring the humor in the Florida farce. But it can also break your heart by showing how our Constitution got fed into the paper shredder.

The story's anchor is Ron Klain (Kevin Spacey), a Gore staffer who leads the recount fight. He leaps off the screen, as do a rogue's gallery of lawyers, thugs and politicians more concerned with winning than with who actually got more votes. Tom Wilkinson flashes a crocodile smile as James Baker III, who plays hardball for Bush. And Laura Dern has the time of her life impersonating vain Katherine Harris, Florida's Republican secretary of state. Dern has you guffawing over this nitwit who's suddenly thrust into a historic role, but the laughs catch in your throat as Harris cooks up slimy schemes to shut down the recount.

I urge you to drop everything and watch Recount. That is, unless Katherine Harris succeeds in shutting it down before airdate.

Shark Swarm
Sunday, 7 pm (Hallmark Channel)

This TV movie kicks off beach season with a tale of sharks mutated by toxic sludge. I can forgive the cheesy dialogue and the bad acting by Daryl Hannah, Armand Assante and John Schneider. But the fact that not a single character gets eaten in the first 20 minutes? That I can't forgive.

Meerkat Manor: The Story Begins
Sunday, 7 pm (Animal Planet)

America fell in love with Flower, the mother meerkat from the nature-documentary series Meerkat Manor. Flower died, but Animal Planet capitalizes on her popularity by producing a prequel about her early years. The nature footage is arranged into a narrative, with Whoopi Goldberg providing the charming voiceover.

We meet Flower as a newborn meerkat in South Africa. The filmmakers shamelessly anthropomorphize her and her family, to the point where we might as well be watching a reality series about human beings - albeit ones with extraordinarily long noses. They shop for food (i.e., dig for grubs), squabble with the neighbors (a fellow meerkat tribe) and look for a new piece of real estate (a safer burrow).

Young Flower has real star power, and it's easy to see why she became America's sweetheart - though rumor has it she was kind of a demanding bitch off camera.

The Andromeda Strain
Monday & Tuesday, 8 pm (A&E)

The first scene rocks. It's a starry night in small-town Utah, and a guy is seducing his girlfriend in a pickup truck. A satellite streaks through the sky and crashes; the girl screams; flames erupt. The lovers load the satellite onto the pickup and take it into town, where a mysterious space virus instantly kills almost everybody.

You can't help but be intrigued, especially given the very relevant subtext of bioterrorism. But The Andromeda Strain is all downhill from there. The miniseries, adapted from Michael Crichton's novel by executive producers Ridley and Tony Scott, slows to a crawl as a team of scientists painstakingly investigates the "Andromeda" virus in a secret underground lab. "We're basically dealing with some kind of infectious agent, whether it's viral, fungal, bacteriological or parasitic," intones lead scientist Benjamin Bratt, kicking off a round of dialogue as thrilling as a medical textbook. You begin to wonder why you're spending Memorial Day watching tedious science experiments when you could be outside playing softball.

The only good reason is to savor the often hilarious clichés. For all the cutting-edge technology on display, the characters are old-fashioned caricatures: the saintly scientists, the dogged reporter searching for the truth, the corrupt government officials. And the dialogue is often as wonderfully bad as anything on Mystery Science Theatre. Bratt tells his colleagues that the secret lab is built on a nuclear device that will detonate in 15 minutes in case of emergency. One of them earnestly responds, "I'm sure the chances of an accident in such a beautifully designed facility are too small to be significant!"

Living Lohan
Monday, 9:30 pm (E!)

Dina Lohan is the mom/manager who nurtured Lindsay Lohan from fresh-faced child star to dissolute basket case. In this new reality series, we'll watch Dina work her magic on her younger daughter, aspiring actress Ali.

Rehab facilities are rumored to be on high alert.

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