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Primal Screen

A&E's 'Coma' delivers a hospital of horrors

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo


Coma (8pm Mon and Tue, A&E)
Ridley and the late Tony Scott have produced an effectively creepy update of Coma, originally a 1977 novel and 1978 film. Lauren Ambrose is plucky and smart as Susan Wheeler, a medical student at Peach Tree Memorial Hospital. Susan notices that an unusual number of Peach Tree’s patients are slipping into comas, after which they’re sent to a mysterious facility called Jefferson. Susan becomes alarmed when she sees a YouTube video purporting to “find out the truth about Jefferson.” (I told you it was an update.)

The production is blessed with aging character actors who work wonders with their sinister roles. Ellen Burstyn, shuffling with a brace on her leg, is Jefferson’s decrepit guardian. Geena Davis is a seductive psychiatrist who’s a bit too obsessed with money and power. Richard Dreyfuss and James Woods show up as other suspicious authority figures, adding to your sense of dread about Peach Tree. Also adding to it: doctors hanging themselves, employees disappearing, and strange men hissing “You’ll end up in Jefferson too!”

Thanks, Coma — now I’m scared of hospitals. Not to mention aging character actors.

Strike Back (9pm Fri, Cinemax)
Cinemax’s series can lull you into thinking it’s a serious look at Western counterterrorism efforts. Focusing on a top-secret British unit, it features fine acting, vivid locations, and nonstop intensity. The main characters, a Brit (Philip Winchester) and a Yank (Sullivan Stapleton), are nuanced, and individual scenes can feel like cinéma vérité.

But come on — this is Cinemax. Just when you start to think “this is what it’s really like to hunt down terrorists on their own turf,” Strike Back goes pulpy on you. In this week’s episode, the search for a fanatic with a nuclear trigger occasionally pauses for softcore sex. We get multiple fight scenes, all of them an excuse for square-jawed Anglos to strike heroic poses.

Hey, I’m not complaining. Strike Back has fun with the material, offering all the nudity, violence and profanity we feel like we deserve when we plunk down for premium cable.

“I do not want a firefight!” screams the commander after her men locate their fanatic.

Cue firefight.

Nail Files (8pm Sun, TV Guide Network)
I’m surprised to see this reality series back for a second season, detailing day-to-day life in Katie Cazorla’s Hollywood nail salon. Katie operates at such a heightened level that I imagined she’d be led away by emergency medical technicians — or police — after Season 1.
Katie is a bleached-blonde social climber convinced that the Painted Nail will be her ticket to fame and fortune. You wouldn’t expect too many fireworks in a nail salon, but things can get pretty interesting when the boss is mentally unbalanced. Katie laughs hysterically one minute and cries the next. Then she starts singing and talking in funny voices. Then she cusses out an employee who has fed soap to a customer. (Yes, she also tends to hire mentally unbalanced staffers.)

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