Wednesday, August 22

Free to air

Dallas, Nine, 9pm

Even if you were too young or too uninterested to have caught on to this soap opera the first time around, chances are you're aware of a Stetson-wearing bad guy called J.R. Ewing and still want to know who shot him. Such was the reach of this most outrageous of TV melodramas, which kept fans swooning and guessing from 1978 to 1991.

While the big hair and shoulder pads have gone, the greed that epitomised this show and the decade it dominated is still very much in vogue, driving the plot of this ambitious sequel from the first dynamic scene.

Of course, nothing is implausible on the show that duped viewers into watching a dream sequence that lasted for an entire season, and so J.R. (played by the original actor, Larry Hagman) returns from the dead as the next generation of oil magnates prepare to duel in a world where trouble has a new name: renewable energy sources.
Bridget McManus

I Will Survive: Priscilla, Ten, 7.30pm

Host Hugh Sheridan (Packed to the Rafters), judges Jason Donovan and Stephen Elliott, and 12 contestants head through the outback in the silver Priscilla bus in this search for the ultimate ''triple threat'' - a guy who can sing, dance and act. Along the way most are whittled out as they perform in pubs, clubs and dusty halls, before the finalists head to Broadway.

The movie came out in 1994 and the musical has been around the traps for ages, so it's hard to work up more than a stage smile for the concept. A preview disc was unavailable, but like all reality television shows, success comes down to casting. If they're just a bunch of showy, bitchy guys sticking on false eyelashes, count me out. If they're genuinely talented, bring it on.

Puberty Blues, Ten, 8.30pm

Furtive glances, strip-jack poker, smoking, bongs, sexual experimentation - and that's just the adults. Tonight's episode teases out the myriad relationships at the core of this eight-part series based on the cult book published in 1979 and subsequent 1981 movie. Teenagers Debbie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Sue (Brenna Harding) continue to make exquisitely hesitant steps away from being dreamy girls with pictures of horses stuck to their walls to young women drawn to the mysterious world of clumsy pashes, smoking and getting accepted by the ''cool'' girls in school. In one scene, director Emma Freeman skilfully catches an intangible moment as Debbie realises her ideas about ''love'' may not be shared by the carelessly brutal boys of summer.

While the girls furtively seek their own adventures, the adults (including Claudia Karvan and Susie Porter) have their own problems that no amount of cask wine can fix.

Apart from uniformly great performances, the set-dressing on the series is brilliant. Every detail - from a battered Margaret Fulton cookbook and footage of Johnny Young on Young Talent Time to the totem tennis pole in the backyard - helps anchor the story in the era but never swamps the plot.

The Last Explorers: Thomas Blake Glover, SBS One, 8.30pm

Affable host Neil Oliver doesn't look entirely comfortable perched on the tip of a boat, bobbing into Nagasaki harbour in the opening scenes of this final episode about a group of Scottish explorers whose trailblazing ideas changed the modern world.

Tonight he takes a look at Thomas Blake Glover, a recklessly brave man who arrived in Japan in 1859 and found himself embroiled in a world governed by ''sword-wielding Samurai'' and dominated by hundreds of warring clans. He sold arms to the Satsuma rebels, slept with many Japanese women, established Japan's first brewery (Kirin beer) and developed a lucrative coalmine. He also established a small ship-building company that would later become the Mitsubishi Corporation.

Oliver is an excellent host and clearly captivated by Glover's desire to make a life in what initially must have been a staggeringly unfamiliar world. He not only follows Glover's footsteps, but actively tries to understand the explorer's motivation by interviewing experts who present a picture of a complicated man who would influence Japan in countless ways.

Frances Atkinson


Pay TV

America with Lisa Ling: Faith Healers, National Geographic, 8.30pm

It's depressing to see the timid deference with which so many journalists treat even the most odious aspects of religion. The usually intrepid Lisa Ling, who has stuck her neck out in such places as Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, pulls on the kid gloves for this report on a faith-healing festival in South Carolina. She introduces us to two of the ''healers'' and two people desperate for a miracle. One is paralysed, the other dying of cancer and unable to afford treatment (though, like everybody else, she had to stump up $600 for her shot at a miracle). When, inevitably, the miracles don't happen, Ling tries to give things a mushy, positive spin.

Location Location Location Australia, LifeStyle, 8.30pm

It's another fine episode as Veronica Morgan and Bryce Holdaway help people looking for two very different properties around Byron Bay. Sydney couple Ninian and Fiona have $1 million to spend on a big house on acres in the hinterland, while Gippsland farmer Dave has $400,000 for a small, low-maintenance house near the beach. The ever-sunny Morgan and Holdaway do a good job finding suitable properties and trying to help the buyers secure the best deal - although house prices in the area have fallen by 20 per cent, some vendors are still asking a lot.

Brad Newsome


Movies

The Secret of the Grain (2007) SBS Two, 11.05pm

Sixty-year-old Slimane Beiji, a Tunisian immigrant, has worked in the French Mediterranean shipyards of Sete for 35 years. Tired and worn out, he believes he has done nothing with his life and created nothing of any consequence that might provide a worthy legacy. When he is laid off, his argumentative family reckon he should go back to the old country and put his feet up. Divorced from his wife, Slimane lives humbly, keeping an eye on his family even though friction tends to spark vigorous argument at the drop of a hat. Despite having no money, the old guy dreams of opening a restaurant. A bank loan is out of the question and his former wife is equally unsympathetic, but his girlfriend's daughter, Rym, who adores the old man, has the energy and the expertise to promote the dream. Seven kids, grandchildren and others in the extended family add heaps of flavour to this couscous of personal politics and familial dynamics that is far more than a feel-good food flick. Not to be missed.

The Curse of the Cat People (1944) ABC1, 1.15am (Thu)

Amy, the daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed, invents an imaginary friend to bridge the zone between reality and fantasy - as do many youngsters who have difficulty relating to their peers. Trouble is, her imaginary friend is Irena, her father's late first wife. Amy also connects with Julia Farren, an elderly and reclusive actress, who is estranged from her own daughter. RKO thought a sequel to Val Lewton's original Cat People (1942) would be a goer and that Simone Simon, who appeared as Irena in the first flick, would cream it reprising that role in ghostly form. Most of the main characters also reappear, allowing fluid cross-referencing and amplifying connections between guilt, fantasy and fear. Wanting to examine the darker side of a child's imagination and the effects it can have on relationships with adults - particularly parents - Lewton selected Robert Wise, who later made The Sound of Music, to make his directing debut. The tormented soul of Irena Dubrovna, who selflessly killed herself to save others, is the conduit to the original story and positions Amy as her ''spiritual daughter''. While this is not a horror film, so to speak, it is haunting in its appreciation of the psychological torment children can suffer when inflexibilities in the adult world impact upon them. The acting is unusually naturalistic for the period.

Doug Anderson

The story Wednesday, August 22 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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