Animator Chuck Jones is one of my artistic heroes, right up there with Shakespeare, Kafka and Curly of the Three Stooges. Jones is responsible for some of the greatest American cartoons - fast, irreverent masterpieces featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Roadrunner. I've always wondered what it looked like inside Jones' noggin (his disappointing autobiography, Chuck Amuck, provides no clue), so I rejoice at TCM's Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood (Tuesday, 7 p.m.). It features an interview conducted before Jones' death in 2002, complemented by animated segments based on the master's own drawings.
Jones is wonderful company for this enchanted half-hour. He muses about his childhood and his beginnings as an animator, focusing (to no one's surprise) on eccentric details. As a child, Jones was attuned to the way things looked and moved. He remembers a cat savagely attacking a grapefruit and his father staring down at him from what looked like a height of 14 feet. Jones' father was a tyrant (the source of all those comically evil authority figures in the cartoons?), but at least his succession of failed businesses provided a supply of stationery for the budding artist to draw on.
Jones is a very old man in this interview, but he seems eternally young at heart, still alive to the absurdity in every situation. If I were Bugs Bunny, I'd plant a big, wet smooch right on his kisser.
Sunday, 9 pm (AMC)
The press material for Breaking Bad notes that it's critically acclaimed. And that makes sense, since it's bleak and joyless, just like most TV critics.
A terminal diagnosis propels a milquetoast chemistry teacher named Walt (Bryan Cranston) into a life of crime. Concerned about his family's financial future, and figuring he has nothing left to lose, Walt teams up with a former student to start a crystal meth empire. He becomes a drug kingpin in New Mexico while keeping his underground life a secret from his wife and son.
The premise is cool, but the execution is downright cold. In this week's episode, Walt flees his grim hospital room and ends up naked in a grim convenience store. When he's nabbed by the authorities, he winds up in a grim therapist's office. "My wife is seven months pregnant with a baby we didn't intend," he tells the shrink. "My 15-year-old son has cerebral palsy. I have watched all of my friends and colleagues pass me in every way imaginable. And within 18 months I will be dead. And you ask why I ran?"
The episode makes me feel like running, too - away from the TV set.
Better Off Ted
Wednesday, 7:30 pm (ABC)
The head of ABC must have noticed the buzz for NBC's 30 Rock and The Office and bellowed, "Get me an absurdist workplace comedy now!" The result is Better Off Ted, about a guy (Jay Harrington) who heads research and development at a morally dubious industrial firm called Veridian Dynamics. Ted's heartless boss (Portia de Rossi) requests inventions like killer pumpkins and chairs that irritate people into working harder, and he develops them with help from a wacky group of scientists.
The idea has potential, but Better Off Ted died somewhere between the drawing board and the soundstage. Ted is supposed to be like Michael from The Office, a cheerfully clueless corporate cog. But Harrington can't put over the material - and hey, how would you like to try outdoing Steve Carell? Ted goes from one awkward situation to another, all of them funny enough on paper, but not onscreen. Meanwhile, the desperate soundtrack screams "FUNNY!" with music that would seem too broad even at the circus.
The one thing Veridian Dynamics can't invent, it seems, is a way to make an audience laugh.
Wednesday, 11 pm (WHA)
"Extreme Ice" chronicles the work of fearless photographer James Balog, who ventures into frozen regions to document evidence of global warming. Balog sets up 26 time-lapse cameras around the northern hemisphere, each programmed to take one frame for every daylight hour over the course of three years. "My hope is that it will be powerful and immediate enough that people will say, 'Yeah, I get it. This is forensic evidence of the reality of what is happening.'"
The images of melting glaciers are powerful and immediate, all right; they're also stunningly beautiful. We see picturesque ice chunks ease themselves into gleaming water. We see dissolving snow slide down luscious blue chasms, every particle glistening. We can all take comfort from the fact that, if the world has to end, at least it will be gorgeously filmed.