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Spy vs. spy vs. spy

10/17/2012

You can’t trust anyone in the brilliant thriller ‘Hunted’

Forget the overrated “Homeland.” If you’re looking for an international spy thriller on premium cable, “Hunted” (Friday, 9 p.m., Cinemax) is the one to watch. The pilot messes with your head so skillfully that you’re woozy by the 30-minute mark. And thoroughly intrigued.                

It takes a while, but you come to see that Sam Hunter (Melissa George) is an operative for a shadowy private company specializing in espionage. In the middle of setting up a mark, she’s set up herself, possibly by the colleague she’s in love with. She’s left for dead but mysteriously returns to work a year later, not knowing who to trust. They don’t trust her anymore, either — nor should they.                

George is model-beautiful, but also believable as a bad-ass who can dispatch several beefy opponents at once. For all the thrilling action, though, “Hunted” is most notable for George’s ability to pull you into Sam’s private pain. She’s damaged goods, and the production evokes her state of mind with fragmented imagery and disorienting music. The arty filmmaking presents a wonderful paradox: It keeps you glued to the screen even as you wonder, “What is this thing?”                

What is this thing? It’s one of the best new shows of 2012-13.

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‘Ethel’

Thursday, 8 p.m. (HBO)

There are times when you want to dig into Kennedy history to examine the Democratic dynasty’s more unsavory aspects. And there are other times when you just want to wallow in their best qualities of leadership and empathy. “Ethel,” directed by Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter Rory, provides a fabulous opportunity for wallowing.                

No one can blame Rory (born after her father’s 1968 assassination) for emphasizing the best sides of RFK, including his relationship with her 10 siblings and her mother, Ethel. In interviews with Rory, this thoughtful, playful, likable clan paints a portrait of an extraordinary man, concerned with the plight of workers, poor folks, people of color and soldiers in Vietnam. Even a hardhearted journalist like me is susceptible to the documentary’s poignant footage: Bobby playing touch football with the kids, comforting a crowd after Martin Luther King’s death, communing with the most downtrodden American citizens.                

Frankly, I was a wreck as the chronology moved closer to the murder. The screen goes black, and Ethel — who had been the picture of strength and eloquence in her interviews with Rory — simply says, “Let’s talk about something else.”                

I agree. Can we just watch the touch-football scenes again? (And again?)

 

‘Made in Jersey’

Friday, 8 p.m. (CBS)

Janet Montgomery has one of those smiles that can make a TV critic temporarily forget his objections. She stars as Martina Garretti, a working-class Jersey girl who bucked expectations by becoming a lawyer. (Excuse me: a “law-yuh.”) As a rookie in a high-class firm, she’s looked down on for her big hair, flamboyant clothes and troweled-on makeup. Apparently working-class Jersey girls can’t tone it down even for important court appearances.                

But, hey, Martina shows her snooty coworkers (Kyle MacLachlan, Stephanie March) a thing or two with her superior knowledge of hairspray and tight jeans. This allows her to crack murder cases with clues involving hairspray and tight jeans more than you might think.                

Yes, “Made in Jersey” is preposterous, even though it’s supposed to be a serious drama. You don’t believe that snobs are this snobby or that slobs (including Martina’s big, loud family) are this slobby. The only thing the series has going for it is Montgomery, a Brit who remains charming even when her Jersey accent wobbles. She smiles and…                

…now what was I saying about “preposterous?” CV

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