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Sarah Palin takes on 'America's Next Top Models'

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin in HBO's Game Change.


Game Change (8 pm Sat, HBO)

An expert dramatization of a crazy moment in American history: Sarah Palin's selection as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election. The sagging McCain (Ed Harris) needs a "game-changer" to compete with charismatic Barack Obama, and campaign strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) convinces himself that Palin (Julianne Moore) checks all the right boxes.

Schmidt wants Palin so much that he fails to vet her thoroughly, paving the way for the debacle we all remember. In a subtle performance, Harrelson evokes Schmidt's mounting despair as Palin blows interviews, distorts her past, and finally goes rogue by putting her interests ahead of McCain's. When the campaign crashes and burns, she blames everyone but herself. "How the flip did this happen?" she demands, with Moore nailing the nasty note under her chirpy Alaska-hockey-mom intonation.

From this description, you might get the idea that Game Change comes to bury Sarah Palin. In fact, it bends over backwards to humanize her — a radical gesture post-Tina Fey. We're privy to moments of vulnerability and tenderness, as Palin tries to cope with the media onslaught she clearly isn't ready for. The movie is as fair as it can be while letting the facts speak for themselves.

And those facts, it must be said, are devastating. By Election Day, even McCain adviser Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson) can't bring herself to vote for the ticket after spending three months with Palin. McCain's team can only survey the wreckage and wonder how the flip they allowed it to happen.

America's Next Top Model (8pm Wed, CW)

The new season pits British models against American models. The women are split into teams by country, and the chauvinism gets pretty gross. "We're taking these bitches out fast! Get your ass back home!" sneers one of the Americans, as if determined to prove that beauty's only skin deep. Despite such crudity, I think the show wants us home-team fans to jump up and shout "Go American models!"

As always, the judges make ludicrous pronouncements with an air of authority. "She's a blank canvas!" exclaims Kelly Osbourne, intending to compliment one of the Americans.

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time shouting "Go blank canvas!"

GCB (9pm Sun, ABC)

Amanda (Leslie Bibb), a mom coming off a disastrous marriage, moves back to her affluent neighborhood in Dallas, where she's remembered as the high school mean girl. Even though she's grown out of that, her onetime victims (Kristen Chenoweth, Miriam Shor, Jennifer Aspen, Marisol Nichols) still want revenge. They plot against her in extravagant ways, all while maintaining their public personas as proper Christians. This new series looks for laughs in the contrast between their godliness in church and their bitchiness everywhere else.

If only it had found some. GCB aims squarely for the lowest common denominator, with crude jokes about breasts, gays, and fat people. And the sexual politics set women back to the smutty Porky's era. Amanda, for example, defies all narrative logic by working in hot pants and a tight T-shirt at a restaurant called Booby-licious.

According to one of Amanda's enemies, "God hates failure." If so, he's really going to have a problem with GCB. •

Dean Robbins covers television entertainment for the Current. Read his longer complete column each week only at sacurrent.com

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