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On The Tube

Jan 19, 2012
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By Dean Robbins

1960s folkie Phil Ochs tried, and failed, to change the world with song

Phil Ochs was a singer-guitarist at the heart of the 1960s protest-folk movement. “Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune” on “American Masters” (Monday, 9 p.m., PBS) explores his passionate commitment to peace and justice, as he strummed his way through endless anti-segregation and anti-war demonstrations.

The documentary is persuasive when arguing for Ochs’ unerring moral compass, less so when arguing for his artistry. He desperately wanted to be considered Bob Dylan’s equal as a songwriter but lacked genius. Ochs wrote the same folk tune over and over, with corny rhymes based on the day’s headlines. After atrocious experiments with orchestral arrangements, his popularity waned in the early ‘70s and he killed himself at 35 in the midst of depression and alcoholism.

As badly as Ochs’ music has aged, the documentary makes a case for him as a historical footnote. It’s not Dylan-level stature, but it’s not nothing.

‘Rob!’

Thursday, 7:30 p.m. (CBS)

Rob Schneider has never been a critical favorite, but he handles himself like a pro in his new sitcom. Schneider plays a dweeb who somehow marries a Mexican American goddess (Claudia Bassols) way too good for him. That earns him the enmity of her tight-knit family, which includes Cheech Marin as an ill-tempered father and Eugenio Derbez as a nutty uncle.

As you’d guess, the series focuses on the culture clash, with gags referencing immigration, tequila, guacamole – anything vaguely Mexican. This would be tiresome — even offensive — if the acting wasn’t so good, the comic rhythm so snappy. Schneider based the sitcom’s premise on his own marriage to Mexican TV producer Patricia Azarcoya Arce, and maybe that’s why the indignities he heaps upon himself feel so authentic.

What can I say but: Pass the guacamole.

Napoleon Dynamite

Sunday, 7:30 p.m. (Fox)

The 2004 movie “Napoleon Dynamite” creates an alternate universe in small-town Idaho, populating it with nerds, weaklings and morons who are part real and part unreal. The deadpan tone is beautifully wrought, giving the film an absurdity all its own.

If anybody could translate this tone to an animated TV series, it would be the movie’s writer-directors, Jared and Jerusha Hess, along with the original cast. But the magic eludes them here. Unlike the movie, the series crudely sneers at characters who have little money or sophistication. And unlike the movie’s Napoleon, the TV version (Jon Heder) acknowledges how pathetic he is. “I couldn’t have chickened out with a better guy,” he tells his brother as they run away from a fight.

Napoleon Dynamite would never say such a thing. It feels kind of weird that we know that and the guys who created the character don’t. CV



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