With The Mighty B (Saturday, 9:30 a.m.), Nickelodeon has created another cartoon masterpiece on the level of Jimmy Neutron, SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents. Unlike those, it's girl-oriented - man, is it ever. Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live is the co-creator and voice of 9¾-year-old Bessie, a badge-crazy member of the Honeybee scout troupe. Bessie is a ball of tweener energy and desire, with maniacal round eyes, a toothless grin and excitable pigtails. She speaks with a lisp so juicy that you can practically feel the spittle flecking your cheeks. She's relentless, as is the series itself.
Bessie is bossy and confident, scarcely noticing that she's an outcast among the more normal girls. When thwarted, however, she melts into a puddle of neediness. Her mercurial nature is mirrored in the animation, which morphs time and space with a Tex Avery-style glee. Bessie's eyebrows pop off her head; her head rolls off her neck; her whole body shrinks and stretches to match her many moods.
The Mighty B is one of the rare cartoon series that appeals to all ages. Kids will relate to Bessie's runaway id; adults will appreciate the echoes of Looney Tunes, Ren and Stimpy and The Simpsons, along with Poehler's deft voice work. She renders Bessie ridiculous while also conveying an affection for the li'l oddball.
If the Honeybees gave a badge for artistic brilliance, Poehler would deserve a dozen of them.
Friday, 8 pm (ABC)
This game show doesn't rely on gimmicks - no over-the-top set, obnoxious host or seamy concept. Two players simply square off for $500,000, answering multiple-choice questions and betting with chips. The well-written questions move beyond the usual pop-culture piffle to cover history, geography and science, so that by the end of an episode you've actually learned something.
Is Duel (a) a refreshing change of pace or (b) not tawdry enough for the American public? With trembling hand, I'm betting on (a).
Friday, 9:30 pm (WHA)
Antony Sher stars in Primo, a one-man show he adapted from Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz. In goatee and spectacles, Sher's Levi wanders a barren stage and recalls his year in the Nazi concentration camp. He describes the camp's systematic degradation of prisoners: the shearing, the tattooing, the classifying. It's a grotesque parody of bureaucracy, and Levi is alert to the absurdity. "Never ask questions," he says of the prisoners' survival strategy. "Always say 'jawohl.' Always pretend to understand."
Sher gives a stagy performance, declaiming his lines with stiff diction. But believe me, you'll be grateful for the artifice, as it offers a buffer between you and this unbearable story.
Saturday, 8 pm (BBC America)
The American entertainment industry spends billions of dollars to create thrilling popcorn entertainment and usually comes up short. But the BBC's Robin Hood gets the job done with just a few cloaks, inexpensive castle sets and bow-and-arrow props.
Oh, and excellent writing and acting - the two things American studios usually forget to add.
The second-season premiere is so exciting that I had to keep repeating "I'm not 11." Otherwise I was liable to put on a pair of tights myself, jump out the window and join the fight to save England. Robin (Jonas Armstrong) isn't conventionally handsome, with his scruffy beard and Beatle '65 haircut (Beatle 1165, that is). But he's outrageously sexy when escaping from certain death over a snake pit, or shooting the ax out of an executioner's hand. And when he waxes inspirational, he can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
"We are not just outlaws in a forest," he tells his band in a tense moment. "We are the spirit of England, and that is this country's only hope!"
I'm not 11...I'm not 11....
Sunday, 8 pm (Showtime)
In this week's episode, one searches in vain for a sympathetic character, a humane gesture. Queen Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer) has a miscarriage, and everybody blames her. "What did you do to kill the baby?" her father demands. Her husband, Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), chooses this delicate time to pluck a random woman from the street as a sexual partner. And Anne herself finds the time to banish her own sister from the kingdom.
Meanwhile, Sir Thomas More (Jeremy Northam) incurs the king's wrath by refusing to acknowledge him as the supreme head of the church. This sounds courageous, but More comes off as a narcissist rather than a hero. Not only will he be martyred (a happy prospect for his type), but his whole family will be severely punished.
England's high court decrees that More be half-hanged and disemboweled, with his entrails burned before his eyes; then beheaded and quartered. But wait! The king intervenes, commuting his sentence to a simple beheading.
That will have to serve as our humane gesture.