Homosexuals aren't allowed to serve openly in the military. So they serve covertly, and Semper Fi (Monday, 7:30 p.m., Showtime) shows us how painful that can feel. Jeff Key is a patriot, a war hero and a credit to his nation. And he's persona non grata in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The documentary is built around Key's one-man play, but it also features interviews with friends and family and footage from his stint in Iraq. Key grew up in small-town Alabama, where a gay teen was not part of God's plan. "It was horrifying to me that I might be this thing that everybody so clearly hates," he says. "I prayed to God, 'Please don't let this be. Make me into somebody who likes girls the way I'm supposed to like them.' I might as well have been a black person praying to be white."
Key moved to L.A., found a supportive gay community and learned to accept himself. When he joined the Marines, his fellow soldiers learned to accept him too, based on his courage and decency. Whenever he got hassled, they stuck up for him: "So what? He's gay and he's a Marine. Leave him alone."
Isn't it time the U.S. government said the same thing?
Stan Lee's Harpies
Saturday, 8 pm (Sci Fi)
With their solemn journeys into the unknown, Sci Fi's TV movies are often unintentionally funny. Stan Lee's Harpies tries to be intentionally funny, and yet for once we aren't laughing.
Stephen Baldwin plays a museum security guard who presses an ancient thingie against another ancient thingie and gets transported back to the Middle Ages. He's enlisted in a fight against the harpies, ferocious flying women with amazing cleavage but faces that cry out for Neutrogena.
Baldwin's supposed to be one of those macho heroes who joke in the face of danger. But these jokes were moldy even in the Middle Ages. The script has way too much faith in the humorous quality of extravagant insults:
- "You dirty pustule of a man!"
- "You larcenous pig-stealing canker blossom!"
- "You lascivious dog-hearted pig nut!"
Given their taste for insults, I'm sure the filmmakers will understand when I call Stan Lee's Harpies "a rotting horse intestine of a TV movie."
Saturday, 9 pm (PBS)
P.O.V. kicks off its 20th season of independent documentaries with Rain in a Dry Land, in which two families escape war-torn Africa to settle in the U.S.
It's heart-wrenching to see the families struggle with drought and brutality in their homeland, and then with cultural misunderstandings in ours. But the filmmakers don't do enough to shape the material. Often they just turn on the camcorder to chronicle the families watching TV or making the bed. You feel guilty for being bored.
Still, there are revealing glimpses of the two cultures trying to make sense of one another. In one scene, an African mother and her children enter a Taco Bell in the U.S. They order chicken but look horrified by the shapeless substance plopped down in front of them.
So much for getting Taco Bell as an underwriter for P.O.V.'s 21st season.
Monday, 8 pm (PBS)
In PBS's entertaining series, a team of researchers are presented with vintage objects that have baffled their owners. They pursue leads, dig up sources and finally shed light on the objects, not to mention their historical context.
The new season begins with a 3D projection screen that had been donated anonymously to the 3D Center of Art and Photography in Portland, Ore. An accompanying letter claimed that the screen was used by President Kennedy during 1962's Cuban Missile Crisis. Spy planes had taken 3D images of Soviet missiles in Cuba, close enough to strike U.S. cities. Kennedy had to decide whether to attack the Soviets and start World War III, but first he had to get a very good look at those 3D photographs. The History Detectives must determine whether the government really did borrow the screen from a 3D photo club to use in the White House crisis room.
On the brink of Armageddon, was the president sitting in the dark wearing those dorky cardboard 3D glasses?
Simon Schama's Power of Art
Monday, 9 pm (PBS)
Even if you aren't interested in painting, you'll be riveted by this week's episode just for its sheer lurid drama. Host Simon Schama journeys into the dark world of Caravaggio, the depraved criminal of 16th-century Italian art. Caravaggio was a lowlife given to assault and murder, spending a fair amount of his time in prison. He was also a painter with a gift from God. As Schama points out, the two sides merged in his art: the divine genius and the psycho.
Caravaggio undermined Renaissance ideals by focusing on squalor, sex and violence. In other words, he painted what he knew. Even his religious paintings turn saintly figures like St. Matthew and Mary into flesh - and rotten flesh at that. According to Schama, "He ends our most cherished illusions about art - that it can make us finer, more human. 'Dream on,' says Caravaggio."