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Primal Screen

All hail Pearl Jam: The grunge band is immortalized in a Cameron Crowe documentary

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Pearl Jam Twenty (9pm Fri, PBS)
I prefer Nirvana to Pearl Jam, but now Pearl Jam has something its Seattle rivals don’t: a career-capping documentary by a brilliant filmmaker. American Masters’ Pearl Jam Twenty was directed by Cameron Crowe, known for Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous, the latter a memoir of his side career as a Rolling Stone music journalist. Crowe does justice to 1990s grunge with ferocity and wit, putting as much creative energy into his art as Pearl Jam does into theirs.
Compare Pearl Jam Twenty to Prohibition, the recent documentary by PBS mainstay Ken Burns. Burns’ subject has similarly juicy elements —gangsters, flappers, jazz, misbehavior on a mass scale — but he opted for his usual plodding approach. The camera pans left over a still photograph; the camera pans right over a still photograph. Anybody want to join me in a letter-writing campaign to replace Ken Burns with Cameron Crowe as PBS’s house documentarian?

Person of Interest (8pm, Thu, CBS)
This drama features two characters with mysterious pasts: a super-skilled CIA agent (Jim Caviezel) who left the agency after a personal tragedy to live on the streets; and a super-skilled rich guy (Michael Emerson) who built an all-seeing surveillance system after 9/11. The rich guy knows when anyone in the U.S. is about to get into trouble, and he enlists the CIA agent to save them, one per episode. That means we meet a new set of potential victims each week and don’t care much about any of them. Still, Person of Interest is blandly involving as it ticks off its car chases (check), fistfights (check) and gun battles (check). Maybe it should have been called Person of Mild Interest.

Once Upon a Time (7pm Sun, ABC)
This new drama begins in old-time puffy-sleeve fairytale world with the wedding of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas). The wicked witch (Lana Parrilla) bursts in to deliver (what else?) a curse: “I shall destroy your happiness if it’s the last thing I do!”
It turns out that the worst thing she can think of is sending all of them to Maine. There, Gepetto, Rumpelstiltskin and other overacting literary figures are trapped in a time warp where happy endings are impossible. Enter Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), the long-lost daughter of Snow and Prince, who’s grown up into a modern-day bail bonds collector. Can she break the curse and, presumably, post bail for the wicked witch?
Emma's lack of charm and coarse way of talking may have you in the weird position of rooting for the witch. Similarly, it’s hard to sympathize with any of the “good” fairytale characters since they’re so earnest and stupid. After the leering Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle), cackling through rotten teeth, demands the name of Snow White’s first-born child, one of the seven dwarfs asks, “Can we trust Rumpelstiltskin?”
If he doesn’t know the answer to that question, he deserves to spend eternity in Maine.

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