In the rural town of Dover, Penn., teachers made the mistake of teaching science in science class. The good Christians on the Dover school board wondered why the teachers were allowed to explain Charles Darwin's theory of evolution without nodding to the book of Genesis. In 2004, the board voted to require Christianity in science class, cleverly disguised as the pseudo-science of "intelligent design." Concerned parents sprang into action, bringing a lawsuit against the board. Good Christians sprang into action too: They sent death threats to the concerned parents.
You'll hear the whole scary story in Nova's "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial" (Tuesday, 7 p.m., WHA). You'll learn about the rigorous testing that's made evolution a rock-solid theory. And you'll review the fundamentalists' long battle to keep scientific facts out of the classroom - an attempt to "re-Christianize America," as one scientist puts it.
Before Dover, the most notorious skirmish in the war between religion and science education was 1925's Scopes Trial, which quashed evolution in U.S. classrooms for the next 30 years. In 1957, the Russians beat the U.S. into space, and suddenly Americans wondered why our rivals knew more about science than we did.
Evolution made a comeback, but so did the forces convinced that the Earth was fewer than 10,000 years old. President George W. Bush is among them, and he appointed the Pennsylvania judge who would rule on the Dover case. Nova re-creates the trial, which doubled as the world's most informative science class. Scientists eloquently explained evolution and the 150 years of research supporting it. Would the judge listen to reason?
I'm sure the Russians were hanging on the outcome.
Thursday, Nov. 8, 8 pm; and Sunday, Nov. 11, 10 am (HBO)
I was excited to see another British political film from the team that created The Queen. That masterpiece humanized the royal family and prime minister Tony Blair, making the political personal with a story that anyone could relate to.
But The Deal would be hard to relate to unless you've been closely following English politics for the last 25 years, preferably in London. It's about the rise of Tony Blair (yes, him again) and Gordon Brown, friends and rivals who led the Labour Party to power after a generation in the wilderness. The film is well made, but it's about as exciting as a sonorous speech on England's balance-of-payment deficit. Indeed, The Deal includes such a speech, along with major plot points hinging on the country's 6% inflation. Brown (David Morrissey) and Blair (Michael Sheen) trade good-natured barbs, but their "I'm Scottish, you're English" humor will be lost on an American audience.
I say we retaliate by sending Britain a film detailing Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel's behind-the-scenes efforts to ensure a Democratic congressional majority in the 2006 elections.
Sunday, 8 pm (Showtime)
I've been enjoying - if that's the right word - Showtime's series about a serial killer (Michael C. Hall) who maintains a day job with the Miami Police Department. In this week's episode, Dexter plots elaborate revenge on a despised colleague. He also beds down with a freaky artist who tells him everything she wants him to do on the red satin sheets. "Come on," she says, "you must have some dark fantasies, unfulfilled urges."
Dexter responds dryly, "I'm pretty good at acting on those."
Monday, 7 pm (Nickelodeon)
SpongeBob SquarePants is the kind of cartoon that, thankfully, doesn't teach us anything about ourselves. The square yellow hero and his blobby sidekick, Patrick, are not like us in any way. They are simply absurd creations who exist to make us laugh. A lot.
The wonderful new special "Atlantis SquarePants" takes a Yellow Submarine-style trip to the fantastical kingdom of Atlantis. SpongeBob and Patrick are thrilled to see the world's oldest unpopped soap bubble, which the Atlanteans have carefully preserved in a glass case. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to make ready for tonight's dinner," says Atlantis' king, voiced by David Bowie. "So I'm just going to leave you two friendly strangers alone with our most beloved, ancient, fragile Atlantean relic."
Bad idea. SpongeBob and Patrick accidentally pop the bubble and freak out big-time. They're so consumed with fear and guilt that their bloodshot eyeballs drop out of the sockets and their skin peels off, leaving only exposed skeleton.
I don't know how many times that's happened to me. Hey, maybe SpongeBob and Patrick are a little like us after all!
Wednesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
The fashion-conscious reality series usually begins by asking its designers to create dresses with unconventional materials. Not this time. The fourth season's first challenge bestows the contestants with $50,000 worth of fine fabrics, making them (and us) drool. Hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn simply tell them, "Show us who you are."
We find out soon enough: They're conceited jerks, all of them convinced of their own genius.
"I think I've set the bar for this competition."
"There's no way I'm gonna get voted off."
"Don't these bitches know that I'm way better than them?"
No, there's not a lot of self-doubt in this group. Even the judges' scathing comments don't leave a mark. After being told that her dress is boring, poorly made and incoherent, a contestant insists, "I did create a beautiful garment." She then describes the glorious fashion career that lies ahead of her.
This season's Project Runway may well be the first reality series in which contestants refuse to leave the set after being ejected.