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Saturday, December 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 36.0° F  Overcast
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Love and cruelty
Nuptials take a hit on The Real Wedding Crashers
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Credit:The Real Wedding Crashers takes the fun out of humiliation.

Like any normal American, I love to see people humiliated on candid-camera shows. But The Real Wedding Crashers (Monday, 9 p.m., NBC) takes all the fun out of it. In the pilot, Jonnie and Derek agree to punk the guests at their own wedding. One guy is set up to think he's responsible for poison gas seeping into the ceremony. Another is threatened with arrest by fake cops. And an old lady is hounded by a fake guest with sick pickup lines.

It's sadistic stuff, and the victims' anxiety and annoyance don't make for a very enjoyable hour. You find yourself wondering why Jonnie and Derek would revel in cruelty on a day that's supposed to be about love. It'll be interesting to see which ends faster, this series or their marriage.

The Essentials
Saturday, 7 pm (TCM)

TCM's series screens classic movies and discusses their cultural relevance. The new season kicks off with 1953's Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn as a bored princess who goes AWOL with Gregory Peck's reporter.

I've always dreamed of being the series' resident critic, offering my perceptive comments on film history. But I'm afraid Audrey Hepburn would be my downfall. She's so dazzlingly wonderful that she reduces me to inarticulate adjectives (like 'dazzlingly wonderful').

Planet Earth
Sunday, 7 pm (Discovery Channel)

The 11-part nature series comes to an end with yet another stunning episode. It focuses on forests, training a high-definition camera on parts of the earth we've never seen before.

Near the Arctic, we watch the sparse animal population search for hard-to-find food. 'It's wise to eat all you can, when you can,' counsels narrator Sigourney Weaver.

Hey, that's exactly what I've been saying for years. Somebody train a high-definition camera on me, quick!

Sherman's March
Sunday, 8 pm (History Channel)

This documentary examines Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's controversial campaign of terror near the end of the Civil War. Sherman marched from Atlanta to Savannah, waging 'total war' on the South. He ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock and decimate the South's civilian infrastructure.

Northerners consider Sherman a hero who helped end the Civil War. Southerners consider him a villain who went way too far. But about Sherman's famous observation that 'war is hell' there is no disagreement whatsoever.

American Experience
Monday, 8 pm (WHA)

Forty years later, PBS looks at 1967's 'Summer of Love,' that iconic moment for the Vietnam-era counterculture. Thousands of kids with long hair and bare feet flocked to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, looking for the hippie experience. Along with the good vibrations, however, were plenty of bad trips. Eyewitnesses tell hair-raising tales of violence, drug abuse and rampant tie-dying.

A Life Interrupted
Monday, 8 pm (Lifetime)

I usually hate issue-oriented TV movies. The heavy-handed messages make you wonder why the producers even bothered with a dramatization; why not just issue a press release instead?

But A Life Interrupted held my attention from start to finish. It's the true story of a shy Virginia housewife named Debbie Smith (Lea Thompson), who was sexually assaulted in her own backyard. Her once idyllic life falls to pieces as the hunt for the rapist stretches out to six years. When he's finally identified through a chance DNA test, Debbie is shocked to find that he's been in jail for years. She discovers that half a million other rape kits are languishing on shelves around the country, untested due to lack of funds. This motivates her to lobby Congress on the importance of nationwide DNA testing.

A Life Interrupted follows a predictable path, but it succeeds through sheer low-key professionalism. Thompson is riveting as the victim, neither over- nor underplaying this delicate role. And the filmmakers avoid any trace of cheap exploitation. They actually seem to care about the story.

Issue-oriented TV movies, all is forgiven.

The Green
Tuesday, 8 pm (Sundance Channel)

The Sundance Channel becomes the first TV network to establish a major programming block dedicated to the environment. Each Tuesday, The Green presents original series and documentaries meant to educate us about ecological issues, emphasizing sustainable approaches to modern life. Robert Redford is the driving force, with input from Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and other organizations.

The Green is a valuable public service and a credit to TV. And if the Sundance Channel can find a way to work in Anna Nicole Smith, I'm sure it will be a ratings blockbuster.

Cheerleader U.
Wednesday, 9 pm (WE)

A reality program about University of Kentucky cheerleaders ' sounds like snarky fun, right? A chance to see the catfights behind those perfect pyramid formations?

Well, not in Cheerleader U. The program is the TV equivalent of a cheerleader cheer. It presents the squad as upright and determined in their quest for a fourth national title. 'They must show that they have the right stuff: strength, agility and enthusiasm,' chirps the narrator.

Enthusiasm will not be a problem. These kids have it seeping out of their pores. When they shout 'Go Big Blue!' you don't for a minute doubt their sincerity. But we never really learn why they want their team to win so badly. How did college basketball and football become such an obsession with them? And how did the obsession manifest itself in the need to do backflips while wearing miniskirts and tight sweaters?

Oops...my lack of enthusiasm is showing. Go Big Blue!

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