Once upon a time, the state of Mississippi used intimidation, violence and corrupt laws to keep African Americans from voting. In 1964, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had the idea of asking a thousand mostly white students from around the country to spend the summer in Mississippi, educating and registering black residents. The plan sounds reasonable enough, but the American Experience documentary Freedom Summer makes us appreciate how radical -- and dangerous -- it really was (Tuesday, 8 p.m., PBS).
State government prepared for the students' arrival by buying armor-plated tanks and machine guns. White supremacists stocked up on nooses. Mainstream Mississippi politicians thundered about "crushing the enemy," meaning outsiders who dared to question racist practices. And they meant "crushing" quite literally, evident in the murder of three activists at the start of the operation.
But the forces of good refused to back down. On the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the documentary is a moving testament to idealism in the face of evil. You'll wipe away a tear at the black-and-white footage of earnest students knocking on doors and fervent Mississippi activists like Fannie Lou Hamer rallying the troops. "We were young and foolish," says a former volunteer, explaining why they risked their lives in the cause of justice.
If that was "foolish," then God bless our American fools.
Saturday, 9 pm (BBC America)
BBC America's first original comedy series takes a Borat approach. Actors posing as British aristocrats -- Poppy (Amy Hoggart) and Georgie (Ed Gamble) -- interact with unsuspecting Americans, ad libbing in character.
With their posh accents and Buckingham Palace wardrobes, Poppy and Georgie are cartoon royals: imperturbable and a bit dim. In the pilot, they "mingle with the natives" in Los Angeles at the start of a nationwide tour, their goal to better understand this perplexing country. They manage to insult a Hollywood agent, a casting director and a pretentious plastic surgeon with their seemingly innocent questions. The plastic surgeon becomes increasingly annoyed as they inquire about his practice, wondering if he could make a patient shorter.
If Poppy and Georgie continue their tour in this fashion, they might spark another war between America and England. And this time, the English would have the advantage with their deadpan satire.
The Last Ship
Sunday, 8 pm (TNT)
When a pandemic leads to global catastrophe, it's up to a no-nonsense scientist (Rhona Mitra) and a no-nonsense captain (Eric Dane) to preserve life as we know it from aboard a Navy destroyer. The Last Ship itself is no-nonsense, to the point where you begin craving a little bit of nonsense to vary the ponderous tone.
The series is executive-produced by Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon), so it's guaranteed to provide the requisite explosions and manly posturing. The Last Ship offers no characterization to speak of, merely steely gazes and terse commands as square-jawed heroes nobly save the world.
One can't help wondering if such a tedious world is worth saving.
Sunday, 9 pm (Spike)
Spike is the cable channel for dudes, so it makes sense that its first food series would avoid the subtle and sophisticated in favor of the greasy and gooey. Frankenfood is an amateur cooking competition in search of extreme ingredient mashups -- for example, onion ring doughnuts with Nutella, halvah and brandy. Yes, the concoction sounds gross, but the food-industry judges love it. In fact, they even offer professional advice to the chef: adding a feta and roasted red pepper sauce. Somewhere, I can hear Top Chef's Tom Colicchio weeping into his pinot noir.
When the onion ring doughnut is served at a restaurant, a customer says, "It assaults the senses." I think that's supposed to be a compliment.
Thursday, 8 pm (Syfy)
This new series begins with an intriguing assertion: "Twenty-five years ago, God disappeared." If you think "that can't be good," you're right. Heaven turned against humanity, with the evil archangel Gabriel (Carl Beukes) waging apocalyptic war.
Dominion is set amid the tacky ruins of Las Vegas -- now known as Vega -- where two dynasties battle for political control and Gabriel's forces mass for another attack. If that's not enough excitement for one pilot, a lowly soldier (Christopher Egan) engages in a forbidden affair with a powerful leader's daughter (Roxanne McKee). Plus, everyone murmurs about "The Chosen One," who may or may not show up to save the day.
Dominion boasts a rich cosmology, eye-popping effects and exciting action sequences. I especially like the scene where the toxic angels descend on Vega like flying monkeys and all hell breaks loose.
Or, I guess I should say, all heaven breaks loose....