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Masters and servants, unite!

10/3/2012

They fight Hitler together in the new “Upstairs Downstairs”

The new season of “Masterpiece Classic’s Upstairs Downstairs” (Sunday, 8 p.m., PBS) begins in 1938 with a British radio broadcaster saying, “It is hoped that an agreement can be reached regarding Herr Hitler’s attempt to….”                

We all know where this is heading, and we’ve headed there many times before in British drama. But “Upstairs Downstairs” does a marvelous job balancing the domestic sphere and the geopolitical sphere in the pre-war period to the point where the miniseries could easily be retitled “Inside Outside.”                

At 165 Eaton Place, the servants still scramble when the bell rings, and the masters retain their aristocratic bearing. When the world shifts beneath England’s feet, however, the social relations shift as well. Masters and servants must work together to fight the Germans, since poison gas doesn’t really respect class distinctions.                

“We come and go through different doors, and we eat our meals at different tables,” says Lady Agnes (Keeley Hawes). “But we all give 165 Eaton Place as our address. That means we are on the same side.”               

Maybe England does have a chance of beating this Herr Hitler after all.

HIV

 

‘Elementary’
Thursday, 9 p.m. (CBS)

In recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations, Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch have proven that Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective can be creatively updated. But CBS’s new drama reminds you how dull Holmes can be. “Elementary” tries to hook us with a high concept: Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) is a modern-day Brit in New York City, where he’s recovering from drug addiction. Sidekick Mr. Watson is now Ms. Watson (Lucy Liu), his rehab counselor.                

“Elementary” fails to rethink Holmes from the inside out, as the Cumberbatch version does. It also lacks the humor of the Downey version, with no sparks between Miller and Liu. No, this is your basic police procedural with a quirky hero, though here the quirks are predictable, 125-year-old ones. There’s little thrill in watching Sherlock slog through his deduction routine, duly amazing the dimwitted police.                

Miller merely plays at being an arrogant genius, rather than incarnating one. “Sometimes I hate it when I’m right,” he sniffs.                

“Elementary” makes you hate it, too.

 

‘The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium’
Saturday, 7 p.m.  (www.TheRumble2012.com)

Much like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, cable hosts Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly have been lobbing hand grenades into each other’s camps during the presidential campaign. And much like Obama and Romney, Comedy Central’s Stewart now comes face to face with Fox News’ O’Reilly in a televised debate. But there’s a difference between the two showdowns: You probably wouldn’t pay a dime to see Obama vs. Romney, but you’d happily shell out $4.95 to see Stewart vs. O’Reilly. Their debate will be fun, not just a list of predictable talking points.                

The pay-per-view, Internet-only “Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium” will be moderated by CNN news anchor E.D. Hill. Expect Stewart to be even more amazing than usual — though even if he wins, I doubt he’ll get elected president. Dammit.

 

‘Animal Practice’
Wednesday, 7 p.m. (NBC)

 Where to set your would-be kooky new sitcom? How about an animal hospital run by a doctor (Justin Kirk) who dresses his pet monkey in scrubs? And which is staffed by nut jobs whom get wrapped up in boa constrictors?               

Yes, “Animal Practice” strains pretty hard for its kookiness. You don’t find yourself laughing, nor do you find yourself drawn to the arrogant George Coleman, who spends entire episodes disparaging pet owners who don’t meet his high standards for primate behavior.                

“I’m not a fan of most people,” he says.                

I suspect most people — a.k.a. viewers — won’t be a fan of him. CV

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