The Trials of Ted Haggard (Thursday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 4:15 p.m., HBO) begins with Rev. Haggard on top of the world. The founder of Colorado's New Life Church speaks for 30 million evangelicals and has the ear of President Bush. He packs stadiums with his oily sermons denouncing homosexuality. But then - oops - Haggard admits to consorting with a male prostitute. Church leaders force-march him into "spiritual restoration" therapy and assure weeping parishioners that he's been cured of homosexuality. Then they banish him from the church and even the state. His family moves from place to place as Haggard searches in vain for a menial job.
Director Alexandra Pelosi befriended Haggard while filming a previous documentary, and she gets extraordinary access to this pathetic man. Rather than do the sane thing - accept his homosexuality and renounce the church's homophobia - he continues to deplore his "weak," "sinning" behavior. Meanwhile, the male prostitute who outed Haggard gives inspirational speeches in support of oppressed gay folks.
What does it say about our religious institutions when the prostitute acts more nobly than the preacher?
Sunday, 5 pm (NBC)
There will be tremendous drama and poignancy as Jennifer Hudson sings the National Anthem in her first public appearance since several of her family members were murdered. Bruce Springsteen attempts to top the stunning performance he gave at Barack Obama's inaugural. Advertisers spend a fortune creating 60-second spots that will likely be among the funniest TV moments of the year.
According to the press release, some kind of football game is also apparently on the schedule.
Monday, 7 pm (Fox)
Unlike most prime-time series, House wants to make you feel bad. In the medical drama's 100th episode, Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) spews his usual dose of nastiness and cynicism. One of his fellow doctors goes blind. Another colleague tries to injure him. And a patient with a mysterious disease scratches all the way through her skull.
I hope House makes it all the way to 200 episodes. I'll certainly tune in if the series hasn't driven me to suicide by then.
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)
I knew the general outline of the polio story. Kids became paralyzed after a summer in the local swimming pool; America dropped change into cups to fund the March of Dimes campaign; Dr. Jonas Salk heroically created his vaccine in the 1950s. "The Polio Crusade" fills in that outline with fascinating details, not to mention black-and-white images that bring mid-century America to life.
I was struck by how unethical Salk's approach seems by today's standards. He tested his vaccine on institutionalized kids and disabled people without informed consent. He and the government cooked up a risky plan to experiment on thousands of school kids, a fair number of whom contracted polio as a result. One looks back in amazement at a time when the government said "stick out your arm" and trusting citizens simply said "Okay."
Thursday, 8 pm (Fox)
The new season of Hell's Kitchen claims to be better than ever, but the formula hasn't changed a bit. Contestants boast of being the best cooks who ever lived: check. Mean British chef Gordon Ramsay tastes their food and pretends to vomit: check. Ramsay turns red-faced and violent: check. Once-confident contestants cower and blubber: check.
Since Hell's Kitchen is based on Ramsay's nasty behavior, and since his behavior can't really get much nastier, the series has nowhere left to go - unless, of course, Ramsay grabs a kitchen knife and murders everyone on the set. If the food gets bad enough, it might just happen.