Friday, August 12, 2022

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On The Tube

Getting away with murder


TV 010213You might not think you want to watch a two-hour documentary about chemicals. But “The Poisoner’s Handbook” tells a fascinating tale about pioneers in the use of toxicology for criminal investigations and public health (Tuesday, 7 p.m., PBS). Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler began working in the New York City medical examiner’s office in the early 1900s, when the public knew little about the chemicals suddenly flooding into American life. Sinister bartenders or hotel managers could easily poison someone and avoid detection. And corporations had no limits on what they could put on grocery store shelves. Take Radium Spray, advertised as a furniture polish, disinfectant and bug killer. Ah, the convenience!

With single-minded zeal, Norris and Gettler used science to expose the dangers of such substances, leading to life-saving regulations (over the strenuous objections of industry and its political benefactors, of course). More colorfully, they used science to solve crimes involving arsenic, cyanide and other then-common tools of the murderer’s trade. The documentary reenacts a series of such cases, featuring a rogue’s gallery of evildoers. The crimes are gleefully explicated by Deborah Blum, author of the best-selling book version of “The Poisoner’s Handbook.” In the most gruesome one, a man allegedly poisoned his family by mixing thallium into their cocoa tins. Norris and Gettler’s investigations of this and other crimes were so successful that poisoning all but disappeared; murderers realized they couldn’t get away with it anymore.

“The Poisoner’s Handbook” is guaranteed to keep you glued to the TV for two hours. It is also guaranteed to put you off cocoa and furniture polish for quite a while.


“Blood, Sweat and Heels”

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Sunday, 8 p.m. (Bravo)

Bravo starts 2014 by sinking to the depths of reality TV. This new series gathers a random group of crude women in New York City (a realtor, a model, a blogger, etc.) and encourages them to snipe at each other. The activities include screaming, boozing, twerking and name-calling. “I can stop drinking whenever I want,” model Mica snarls at another woman, “but you’re gonna always look like Wesley Snipes!” This is what passes for a bon mot on “Blood, Sweat and Heels.”

The good news is that 2014 TV can only get more classy from here. I mean, it couldn’t get any less classy. (Please don’t hold me to that.)



Tuesday, 8 p.m. (CBS)

An intelligence operative named Gabriel (Josh Holloway) becomes an artificial-intelligence operative when the government implants a supercomputer microchip in his brain. He’s now connected to the global information grid, with the entire Internet hardwired into his body. Sometimes Gabriel uses this awesome power to thwart U.S. enemies; other times he uses it to view sexy photos of Riley (Meghan Ory), the Secret Service agent assigned to protect him.

For all its newfangled technology, “Intelligence” is an awfully familiar drama. Gabriel is a square-jawed rebel cowboy as old as TV itself. He punches out bad guys, tosses off macho wisecracks and generally acts like your basic Schwarzenegger/Stallone/Willis prototype. 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. See more of his work at

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