HBO turns the James M. Cain novel/Joan Crawford movie Mildred Pierce into a prestige project: a five-part miniseries starring Kate Winslet as a beleaguered mom-turned-businesswoman in the 1930s (Sunday, 8 p.m.). The story is your basic trashy melodrama, but director Todd Haynes treats it with misguided tastefulness. The pace is slow (I smell Emmys), the palette is muted (I smell Emmys), and Winslet plays her part with excruciating earnestness (boy, do I smell Emmys).
In part one, we watch Mildred trudge from divorce to job-hunting, trying to preserve her dignity during the Great Depression. The costume department seems to be having a grand old time, what with all the fussy period outfits, but I don't think many viewers will.
Yes, Mildred Pierce will win its Emmys. The rest of us will have to suffer for it, though.
Friday, 7 pm (ABC)
This reality series allows would-be entrepreneurs to pitch ideas to several "sharks" i.e., high-rolling business people - who decide whether they want to invest their own money in the companies. If they like what they hear, they dicker with the entrepreneurs and each other. If they don't like what they hear, they intone the series' catch phrase: "I'm out."
The season premiere exposes the flaws in the concept. With their cold eyes and flinty personalities, the sharks are the kind of people most of us would avoid like the plague in real life, so why would we want to hang out with them here? Plus, listening to them work through the financial figures what percentage royalty vs. equity, etc. is about as exciting as doing your taxes.
Scream of the Banshee
Saturday, 8 pm (SyFy)
Anybody who loves bad monster movies, like me, will thrill to the opening scenes in Scream of the Banshee. The TV movie begins amid chanting in 12th century Ireland, natch, where bearded knights capture a bloodthirsty creature in a mystical metal box.
Fast forward to the present day. Lauren Holly leads a team of researchers in cataloguing ancient relics the kind of team whose jokey bonhomie pretty much says "most of us will be dead by the second commercial break." They find the box, open it, and discover a toothy severed head with the power to scream so loudly that blood drips out of their ears.
Holly, following genre conventions, under-reacts to this extraordinarily horrible event: "There's got to be a plausible explanation."
Well, probably not. But then again, plausibility would spoil all the fun.
The Secret Life of the American Teenager
Monday, 7 pm (ABC Family)
I don't follow The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but I thought I'd tune in for the season premiere. What, I wondered, is "the secret"?
The episode begins with Adrian (Francia Raisa) walking into high school proudly pregnant. Then Amy (Shailene Woodley) tells her boyfriend Ricky (Daren Kagasoff): "I'm ready to have sex with you." Then Ricky talks to a former girlfriend who says, "You've slept with everyone, and that means you've slept with everyone everyone's slept with. And that adds up to hundreds of people." Then many other kids talk about sex they had or will have with each other.
Well, the secret is out: The American Teenager is doing it. A lot.
I guess there won't be much suspense in the season's second episode.
Body of Proof
Tuesday, 9 pm (ABC)
This new drama is built around Dana Delany rolling her eyes. Delany plays Megan Hunt, a sarcastic neurosurgeon forced into a career as a medical examiner after an accident. Dr. Hunt annoys the cops by encroaching on their turf with her incessant Sherlock Holmes-like deductions. In fact, she annoys everybody onscreen with her smart-aleck comments and smug superiority. It's refreshing to see a female character asked to carry a show with such arrogant behavior an approach usually reserved for male leads.
But wouldn't you know it, Body of Proof just has to soften her up by the end of the pilot. Dr. Hunt loses it in front of a hunky detective, confessing her insecurities as a piano tinkles.
"You're just too scared," he says sympathetically.
That's the cue for viewers to roll their eyes.