I don't usually buy Shakespeare plays set in the present. The productions often strain to find modern correspondences for the settings and characters. And once they do, the iambic pentameter seems absurd.
But the BBC's ShakespeaRe-Told makes a case for a 21st-century Macbeth (Sunday, 6 p.m., BBC America). Ambition and guilt are as common today as they were in medieval Scotland, and it's not hard to imagine Macbeth as a master chef in a celebrated restaurant, mad at his useless boss for hogging all the credit.
This isn't Macbeth, but Macbeth "retold," with a script of its own. That's a smart approach, sparing us the sight of a chef reciting "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" by the broiler. Befitting a tragic character, Joe Macbeth (James McAvoy) begins with a spark of nobility. He's as skillful at managing his kitchen staff as he is at braising lamb. But his wife (Keeley Hawes), the restaurant's hostess, fuels his resentment, and soon both are washing (and washing and washing) the blood off their hands.
The direction is brisk, the actors are brilliant, and the script manages a touch of wit amid the tragedy. Shakespeare himself would chuckle at the transposition of the witches to garbage men, predicting that Macbeth will fall "when pigs fly."
Friday, 7 pm (Encore)
We've all been scared out of our wits by Alfred Hitchcock's set pieces, from Janet Leigh murdered in the shower to Tippi Hedren pecked by birds. Here, contemporary directors explain why they're so powerful, focusing on Hitchcock's ability to make the audience complicit in a crime. When Leigh steals the money in Psycho, Hitchcock subtly encourages us to root for her. After she's killed, he just as subtly transfers our sympathy to Anthony Perkins, who appears to be covering up his mother's crime. When Perkins tries to submerge her car in the swamp, we want him to succeed. "Unknowingly," says director Stuart Gordon, "the audience has become the psycho."
But the best thing about "Hitchcocked" is not the commentary; it's the clips. Even watching excerpts from Hitchcock's movies makes me sweat so much I need a shower.
But I'm sure as hell not gonna take one....
The Ron Clark Story
Sunday, 7 pm (TNT)
In a troubled Harlem school, the classroom is a war zone. The sixth-graders are vandals and thieves, with the lowest test scores in the state. They've gone through six teachers in two months. Clearly, this is a job for...
God only knows why the producers cast Matthew Perry of "Friends" in the role of real-life teacher/ savior Ron Clark. As Chandler, Perry specialized in irony, not earnestness. But here he is with wire-rim spectacles and a relentlessly concerned expression, telling his roomful of miscreants to "Dream big. Take risks." You don't buy the act for a second ' partly because Perry's sincerity is so insincere, and partly because Marlon Brando himself couldn't bring this crudely dramatized message movie to life.
"The students are just testing you," a friend tells Clark. "They want to see if you really care."
He really does care. And we really don't.
The Miracle of Stairwell B
Monday, 7 pm (History Channel)
This gripping documentary plunges us back into the chaos of the World Trade Center disaster. But this time the ending is happy, at least for 14 people.
A brave crew of firefighters rushed up Stairwell B in the North Tower, realizing they might never come down. Sure enough, they heard the floors collapsing one by one above them. "I rolled to a corner, went into a fetal position and waited for the end," says one firefighter.
Soon the ground crumbled beneath them. "I was blown down six stories to the first floor," another firefighter says. "And all I can remember thinking was, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.'"
Miraculously, the entire crew survived, along with a woman they'd been helping down the stairs. A cone of metal and concrete protected them from the 100 floors that came crashing down on top of them.
Oh my God.
Gene Simmons Family Jewels
Monday, 9 pm (A&E)
Reality TV specializes in showing the family lives of freaks, from Ozzy Osbourne to Jessica Simpson. I guess it was just a matter of time before Gene Simmons of KISS got his turn. Once upon a time, Simmons just wanted to rock 'n' roll all night and party ev-e-ry day. Now he's a family man, with a loving partner of 23 years and two well-adjusted teenagers. "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" throws the audience a curveball by focusing on the demon rocker's normal side. But it also shows his mixed feelings about settling down and losing his edge.
In this week's episode, for example, he's depressed that a studio's security guards don't recognize him, barring him from the building. That's gotta hurt, especially when you're wearing demonic face paint and wagging a 10-inch-long tongue.
Miss Teen USA
Tuesday, 8 pm (NBC)
For all their talk of "being yourself," pageant contestants are the world's biggest copycats. If someone wins by supporting literacy, all of them will soon be supporting literacy. If someone wins by praising the Lord, all of them will soon be praising the Lord.
After winning last month's Miss Universe pageant, Miss Puerto Rico fainted onstage. I predict that, by the time Miss Teen USA gets to the evening-gown competition, the stage will be littered with limp bodies.