In a Central Park tunnel, a muscular man named Thoth performs for passersby. Clad in a gold loincloth and chains, he saws a violin, shakes the bells on his legs and sings -- oh, does he sing. He quickly alternates between a tragic falsetto, a fierce growl and a nasal whine, warbling in an exotic language of his own creation.
Thoth (Monday, Aug. 19, 5 p.m., Cinemax), the winner of this year's Oscar for Documentary Short Subject, begins with this extraordinary performance. After onlookers have dropped dollar bills in Thoth's hat (which doesn't seem nearly big enough to cover the foot-high dreadlocks piled on his head), they answer a documentarian's question: What is he?
"Persian," says one.
"Mayan," says another.
"One would have to say I'm from the United States," Thoth himself replies in a shockingly normal American voice.
Thoth finally provides a more complicated answer to the question. Stephen Thoth's father was a white Jewish doctor, his mother a black timpanist for the New York Philharmonic. Sensitive to racial taunts, Thoth was a withdrawn child given to dreaming up alternative worlds. He struggled to find himself, studied classical music in college, and finally became suicidal. On the brink of killing himself, he decided, "I would either die or I would let everything out."
Who knew that "everything" would be so much?
What Killed the Mega Beasts?
Sunday, Aug. 18, 6 p.m. (Discovery Channel)
We now have a pretty good idea of what killed the dinosaurs (if you don't know, you haven't been watching the Discovery Channel). But no one can agree on what killed the giant mammals that came after them. Woolly mammoths and 17-foot-tall ground sloths ruled theEarth during the Pleistocene Age, as we see in this documentary's shockingly realistic animations. Then, some 50,000 years ago, they began to die off on a mind-boggling scale.
Were they the victims of human hunters? Dramatic temperature changes? Plague? After watching a reanimated marsupial lion -- a kind of homicidal wombat whose bolt-cutter teeth could rip the arms clean off a human being -- you lose interest in what killed the mega beasts and merely thank God that something did.
P.O.V.: Senorita Extaviada
Tuesday, Aug. 20, 10 p.m. (PBS)
Since 1993, almost 300 women have been raped and murdered in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. The crimes, which seem to be connected, are so brazenly executed that you'd think police would have no trouble tracking down the perp. But they've gotten nowhere, and Senorita Extraviada helps explain why. For years, authorities wrote off the women as "bad girls" and didn't take the investigation seriously. After an international outcry, they picked up a suspect or two and stubbornly insisted they'd closed the case, even though the crimes continued.
Senorita Extraviada is a murder mystery, an elegy for the victims and an investigative report on globalism. It connects the crimes to the post-NAFTA influx of assembly plants and the subsequent cheapening of life in Juarez.
The Isaac Mizrahi Show
Wednesday, Aug. 21, 8:30 p.m. (Oxygen)
The fashion designer makes a wonderful talk-show host. He's gentle and sympathetic, putting his guests at ease. He's also wickedly droll, so the conversations never turn into therapeutic mush. Mizrahi kicks off his second season with Janeane Garofalo, who brings her two dogs to the white-on-white set to frolic with his dog Harry.
Garofalo gets peed on, but that's not the real excitement. The real excitement is their intimate chat, which touches on Janeane's heavy drinking (she quit Sept. 1), her relationship with Ben Stiller (they never went all the way) and her trenchant analysis of consumer culture and its effect on female body image. "The myth [of the perfect body] certainly keeps the consumer industry in the black," she says. "Insecurity creates consumer power. You keep young girls and women insecure about their physical appearance--that's how you movie product."
When's the last time you heard that view aired on Good Morning America?