The Beatles racked up a lot of achievements in their musical career, but now we have to add one more: destroying the Soviet Union. How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin (Saturday, 12:03 a.m., PBS) convincingly argues that the Evil Empire was brought down not by the West's nuclear arsenal or its many anti-Communist institutions, but by "I Want to Hold Your Hand." A wide range of Russian interviewees insist that Beatles music smuggled into the country gave them the vision to doubt their repressive government, along with the courage to resist it.
"We listened to the music and it saved us," says one man. "It stopped us from being Soviet slaves. That's what the government was afraid of."
Indeed, the Soviet leaders did everything they could to stamp out the Beatle menace. Guards were posted at airports to intercept black-market records, and citizens could be arrested for expressing approval of "Can't Buy Me Love." Soviet tanks may have squashed resistance in Eastern Europe, but they were powerless against the spirit of freedom heard in the bootleg tapes passed from hand to hand. As an elderly Russian puts it in halting English: "First hole in Iron Curtain vas Beatles."
I hope your grandmother, who said back in 1964 that Beatles music was nothing but noise, feels suitably chastened.
Fanboy and Chum Chum
Saturday, 9:30 am (Nickelodeon)
This new cartoon series is not exactly likable - in fact, it mostly tries to be annoying. But it is undeniably awesome.
Fanboy and Chum Chum are squeaky-voiced 11-year-olds who live in a drearily ordinary world. But through their bulging white eyes, everything looks extraordinary. They wear superhero cowls and capes and bounce from one absurd adventure to another. Everything is extreme in this cartoon universe, from the sound effects to the score to the movements. The characters' huge teeth barely fit into their glistening CGI heads. The writing drips with adult irony, as when Fanboy meets a wizard: "Are you classically trained or self-taught?"
Fanboy and Chum Chum is a direct descendant of the Surrealist film masterpieces of the 1920s. Back then, the avant-gardists aimed to "smash the bourgeoisie." If they were working today, though, they'd obviously be making Saturday morning cartoons for the bourgeoisie's children.
Terror in Mumbai
Sunday, 8:55 am (HBO)
This horrifying documentary puts us right inside the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, in which 10 extremists wreaked havoc with bombs and assault rifles. Security cameras and intercepted cell phone calls allow us to experience the terrorists' point of view as they took orders from their Pakistani conrollers, who instructed them to kill in God's name.
"You are close to heaven," says a controller as the men aim for women holding their babies.
Somewhere, God is weeping (I hope).
American Music Awards
Sunday, 7 pm (ABC)
At September's MTV Video Music Awards, Kanye West stormed onto the stage to voice his objection when Taylor Swift beat Beyonce in the Best Female Video category. Beyonce and Swift are again nominees at the American Music Awards; one hopes the producers have thought to install a trap door near the podium.
Bill Engvall: Aged and Confused
Sunday, 8 pm (Comedy Central)
I like The Bill Engvall Show, the TBS sitcom in which Engvall plays an amiably put-upon dad. But the sitcom has several advantages over Engvall's new standup special on Comedy Central, including the fact that it's only a half-hour. Spending 60 minutes with Engvall's amiably put-upon act feels like way too much. He riffs on the idea that he's past his prime: no longer sexy to women, no longer able to understand the younger generation, etc. Things aren't what they used to be, he suggests; then again, neither are Engvall's punchlines.
Note to Comedy Central: When you book a comedian who is in his prime, let us know.
Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew
Sunday, 9:30 pm (VH1)
Dr. Drew Pinsky is expanded basic cable's doctor of choice. A rehabilitation specialist, he looks the part of the kindly medical professional with his silver hair, glasses and stethoscope. You'd think he was Marcus Welby, M.D., until you saw his made-for-cable clientele: wickedly good-looking ne'er-do-wells from the fringes of show business, all of whom like to parade their addictions for the TV cameras.
Dr. Drew's latest series claims to be deeply concerned about the problem of sex addiction. But it still fills the screen with pornography, S&M, strip clubs, hot girl-on-girl action - in other words, images guaranteed to push any sex addicts in the viewing audience over the edge. Gee, you'd almost think the show was intended as titillation rather than therapy.
Dr. Drew's "clients" are Playboy Playmates, hardcore porn stars and lewd rockers. And, curiously, the sex-crazed males are housed right across the hall from the sex-crazed females.
To judge from this series, sex-addiction therapy looks like the sexiest activity you could possibly engage in.
Tuesday, 7 pm (PBS)
"What Are Dreams?" wafts into a shadowy, mysterious realm and comes back with solid answers. The episode explores recent advances in brain science that have shed light on the purpose of dreams.
Researchers hook subjects up with electrodes to monitor their brain waves as they sleep. Then they wake up the subjects at various stages to ask them what they were dreaming about. The experiments have shown that dreaming exists to help improve our memory, our creativity and our ability to deal with waking life.
I'm particularly curious about what it means to have recurrent dreams about Hollywood beauty Amy Adams. If scientists are interested, I happen to have reams of data.