TV programs worth watching
Sun May 25 — Sat May 31
The week begins and ends with ecological disasters. When the Rapa Nui people originally arrived on Easter Island, it was a forested paradise. Their introduced animals caused havoc however and poor marine resources soon forced the population into over-intensive farming. The soil quality deteriorated, the forests slowly wasted away, ultimately leading to ecological collapse. The Mysteries of Easter Island (SBS 7.30pm Sunday) follows a large multidisciplinary archaeological team of specialists in early 2000 as they seek to "finally solve the mystery of the origins and history of Rapa Nui civilisation". Cynics may be forgiven for thinking they have been assembled more for the purpose of making a television documentary than for any really scientific purpose. At the other end of the week, Richard Morecroft Goes Wild (ABC 6.30pm Saturday) presents the Tales from Belize: Paradise In Peril. Filled with natural beauty, Belize is a sanctuary for wildlife and with its coral reefs and crystal waters is also a tourist haven. Made for National Geographic by Richard and Carol Foster, Paradise In Peril recounts the struggle by conservationists to halt industry plans to build a power dam in the mountainous Raspaculo river valley. The dam would devastate and seriously endanger the wildlife and environment that is the country's chief claim to fame. In Blazing Away, the second part of Dickens (ABC 7.30pm Sundays), Peter Ackroyd examines how Charles Dickens, already, in his 20s, the most famous and best-loved novelist in the world, used his work and his reputation to improve social conditions. "Never before had the roles of author and journalist been so cleverly combined", explains Ackroyd. In Oliver Twist, Dickens conjures his own version of hell — the workhouse — as he struck out against the barbarity of the new Poor Law. In Nicholas Nickleby, he successfully crusaded against the so-called private academies in which illegitimate or unwanted children were virtually imprisoned. And in Martin Chuzzlewit, he satirised the shallowness and hypocrisy of the American dream. While programs on the paranormal abound on commercial TV (including a guy who claims to talk to your dead relatives "live on air" as well as all those shows about witches, vampires and assorted aliens), programs about the real excitement of science are few and far between. Science as it applies to human beings (let alone human society) is largely confined to public television. Even there the re-runs are late at night. Adventures In Human Evolution: First Born (ABC 11:40pm Sunday) is subtitled Ape Man and deals with how the discovery of a child's skeleton on the edge of the Kalahari desert gave rise to the theory of a species that straddled the boundary between human and ape. Lupe Velez was a Mexican actress who became a minor star in Hollywood near the end of the silent period. In sound era she became best known as the fiery wife of Johhny Weissmuller (star of the Tarzan movies) and the star of The Mexican Spitfire apparently based on her own personality. The film spawned a short series of light-weight movies about the "Mexican Spitfire", co-starring Leon Errol, intended for supporting fare in mid-week programs. The ABC is currently running them on Monday nights, but believe me, it is nothing to get excited about. This week's offering, Mexican Spitfire Sees A Ghost (ABC 11.40pm Monday) was made in 1942, so the ghosts turn out to be enemy agents. An Evil So Vile, screening on The Cutting Edge (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday), is a BBC reportage about a ghastly social side-effect of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa: cases of child rape, which are doubling annually. According to the program, by 2009 seven and a half million South Africans are expected to be dead from AIDS. In a country where many people still believe in supernatural causes and consult witch doctors and fortune tellers many people still believe that AIDS can be cured by having sex with a virgin. According to Superintendent Jan Swart from the Child Protection Unit, in South Africa today one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before reaching puberty. The enormity of the AIDS pandemic in southern Africa is such that the wealthy developed countries of the world should be moving mountains to provide medical and social assistance. Sensational reporting like this program does not really help. Here in Australia, we have our own pandemic among Indigenous people: End Stage Renal Failure, examined in Big Girls Don't Cry, screening on Skin, Kin and Country: Stories From Black Australia (SBS 8.00pm Friday). Says Filmmaker Darrin Ballangarry: "For indigenous people in remote areas, End Stage Renal Failure is likened to a war zone. Not unlike white Australians who know someone in their family who went to the Second World War, indigenous people know someone who has kidney failure." On Bathurst Island, a study found that over a 10-year period 42 percent of the islanders had kidney failure. Even conservative whites are beginning to recognise that the root of the problems that plague towns like Moree in NSW is unemployment. The Aboriginal Employment Strategy there was initiated by a wealthy white cotton farmer but is now run by the Aboriginal community. Supported by white business people and hence able to offer real jobs, the strategy is nevertheless a grass-roots movement that seems to be changing Moree's racist image for the better. How it is being done is shown in The Big Picture: Message From Moree (ABC 8.30pm Wednesday). MI5 is an outfit specifically set up to spy on the people's movement in Britain, to root out and "neutralise" any one or any organisation that might threaten the plans of capitalists or their government. It does not enjoy a good reputation or image. The new thriller series, Spooks (ABC 9.30pm Fridays), seeks to change that. With a good cast, clever writing and genuinely thrilling plots, the series endeavours to do for MI5 what the series The FBI sought to do years ago for that similar outfit: polish its image and make it a well regarded part of Britain's police structure. The first episode of Spooks accordingly has the team dealing not with trade union activists or anti-fascists, but anti-abortionist terrorists out to bomb an abortion clinic. A bit predictable, and sinister in its manipulative intentions. But exciting, so that's all right. The last of the Astaire-Rogers movies at RKO was The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (ABC 10.25pm Saturday). The story of real-life pre-WW1 husband and wife dance team the Castles, it has none of the sparkle of the made-up musicals and is largely a tedious bore.