Hysterical Blindness (Sunday, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m., HBO) is set in blue-collar Bayonne, New Jersey. As the film opens, a warehouse worker named Debbie (Uma Thurman) is hospitalized for "hysterical blindness" -- a temporary malady brought on by stress. That night, after her vision returns, she slathers on makeup, teases her hair and heads to a bar with her best friend, Beth (Juliette Lewis). These two are forever looking for love, as is Debbie's mother, Virginia (Gena Rowlands), who'd long ago been abandoned by her husband.
You might say that all three of these women are suffering from "hysterical blindness." They're hysterical about finding romance and blind about the objects of their affection.
Director Mira Nair doesn't have much of a plot to work with, but she does a nice job of creating tension -- between friends, between mother and daughter, between the sexes. And Thurman dives headfirst into the role of Debbie. She sucks on cigarettes, tawks like a Joisey barfly and oozes desperation. Plus, she should get some kind of special Emmy for being believable as a woman unable to attract a man.
Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone
Saturday, Aug. 24, 2 p.m. (AMC)
This documentary surveys Leone's career as a director of spaghetti Westerns like Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, featuring Clint Eastwood's taciturn "man with no name." It's painful to see Leone's gorgeous CinemaScope images crammed into the small screen, but I guarantee that Ennio Morricone's music will haunt you for the rest of the evening.
Just a Dream
Sunday, Aug. 25, 6 p.m. (Showtime)
In this TV movie, a 12-year-old named Henry (Jeremy Sumpter) gets a summer job at a small-town Nevada bar. It's 1960, and Hollywood's coming to town to begin filming The Misfits. Henry's got problems at home, but takes comfort in his heart-to-heart talks with a kindly bar patron (Carl Lumbly).
Just a Dream features many good actors (Ally Sheedy, Robbie Benson, Amy Madigan) who struggle to overcome the awkward staging of rookie director Danny Glover.
Tuesday, Aug. 27, 9 p.m. (History Channel)
Magnetism's not the sexiest force in the universe, and this documentary seems defensive about its common associations: picking up paper clips, holding kids' drawings to the fridge, etc. "We don't see magnetism," one expert laments, "so we forget it's there."
True, magnetism might not grab headlines the way atomic power and electricity do, but did you know that it plays a role in almost every technology, from computers to telephones to stereos? That it powered the Industrial Revolution and helped the Allies beat the Nazis in World War II?
One thing I didn't know is that the earth itself forms a kind of giant magnet. Can you imagine how useful that will be if a giant paper clip ever floats into our solar system?
Miss Teen USA
Wednesday, Aug. 28, 7 p.m. (CBS)
Miss Teen Texas -- who had selected "sobriety" as her pageant platform -- was arrested last month for public intoxication. Some have criticized her for violating the pageant's ideals, but not me. As far as I'm concerned, her actions are perfectly consistent with the pageant's goal: pretending to be something you're not.
After all, this is a pageant that pretends to be about "innocence" while instructing scantily clad girls to shake their moneymakers for a national TV audience. That pretends to value "individuality" while selecting contestants who all conform to the same body type. And that pretends to be "hip" while peddling a brand of femininity that harks back to the pre-women's-liberation dark ages.
Yes, I'm all in favor of allowing Miss Texas to compete in tonight's pageant. In fact, I think she should expound on her anti-drinking platform while guzzling a malt liquor onstage. What could better epitomize the values of Miss Teen USA?