Sex, drugs and sympathy6/26/2013
“Anna Nicole” shows surprising compassion for scandalous model Anna Nicole Smith
The TV movie “Anna Nicole” (Saturday, 7 p.m., Lifetime) imputes a soul to the late Anna Nicole Smith, the model and gold digger who flaunted her self-destruction in the media. Anyone who remembers the barely sentient Smith will have a hard time buying that proposition. And yet the movie works hard for our sympathy and finally wins it. This negligible pop-culture personality has lucked into a dream team dedicated to telling her story, including director Mary Harron (“American Psycho”), Martin Landau as her elderly sugar daddy, Virginia Madsen as her unloving mother and Adam Goldberg as her handler throughout a years-long career meltdown.
Finally there’s Agnes Bruckner as Smith herself, the small-town girl with big dreams and even bigger breasts. (Her breast implants, purchased on the eve of her Playboy breakthrough, warrant their own entrance.) Bruckner gives a physical performance worthy of Robert De Niro, taking Smith from thin to fat, healthy to haggard. She locates the starlet’s humanity, such as it was, in her love for her son. She also hints at a rationale for her behavior, which seemed completely irrational during her lifetime.
In short, Bruckner is more appealing in the role of Anna Nicole Smith than Smith ever was.
“Annie: It’s the Hard-Knock Life, From Script to Stage”
Friday, 9 p.m. (PBS)
This documentary explores the challenges of training the little girls chosen to star in Broadway’s revival of “Annie.” At the outset, you worry that these poor kids will end up in therapy due to the pressure of 10-hour rehearsals and unreasonable expectations. An 8-year-old named Emily already has an agent, along with a mother who praises her as “professional.” Should any child have to be professional at age 8?
But, to be fair, the girls seem perfectly well adjusted, even after their months-long ordeal. The adults are another matter. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler slowly falls apart trying to teach his charges the moves to the production number “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.” He finally melts down during tech rehearsals as the girls lose their concentration. “If it was a cast of adults, I would tell them, ‘You’re letting me down,’ ” he confesses to the camera. “’You’re FAILING!’ ”
Clearly it’s not the kids who will end up in therapy after “Annie.” It’s their supervisors.
Monday, 8 p.m. (National Geographic Channel)
This program gains incredible access to a company of U.S. Marines fighting the tail end of the war in Afghanistan. The camera crew puts us right in the middle of battle, as the brave soldiers meet Taliban fighters on their own turf. We trudge with them through an opium field, desperately searching for cover after snipers open fire. We follow them into a night battle with the sounds of machine guns and rockets rattling in our ears.
The Marines must come to terms with the fact that they can die at any moment. “Put it in your head that you’re already dead,” says Sgt. Bryan Barrow. “That will take away the fear.”
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that these already-dead soldiers don’t die. CV
Dean Robbins is a syndicated TV columnist from Madison, Wis. He graduated from Grinnell College and went on to become an award-winning journalist, but he’s been a committed couch potato long before he figured out a way to get paid for watching TV. See more of his work at www.thedailypage.com.