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Picks and Pans Main: Tube

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Hitler: The Rise of Evil

CBS (Sun. and Tues., May 18 and 20, 9 p.m. ET)

“He’s not human,” says a German journalist (Matthew Modine). “He’s studied people in order to appear human, but all he’s discovered is our fear and our hatred.” That may not be the clearest analysis of Adolf Hitler, but it’s the best this intermittently powerful miniseries has to offer.

Primarily covering the period from Hitler’s World War I service to his achievement of total dictatorship in 1934, the drama succeeds in giving viewers a sense of the turbulent political atmosphere in which the relentless future Führer (Robert Carlyle) seeks power through intimidation and intrigue. Carlyle (The Full Monty) gives a performance of enormous intensity, shouting so frequently and frighteningly that we can see why even men of stature tend to shrink back when the Nazi leader bulls ahead. But the script doesn’t shed enough light on how this fire-breather wins over so many Germans with his raging nationalism and virulent anti-Semitism. Julianna Margulies and Liev Schreiber would be more convincing as an influential couple drawn to Hitler if we better understood what their characters see in him.

BOTTOM LINE: Valuable but flawed history

Everybody Loves Raymond
CBS (Mondays, 9 p.m. ET)

Sweeps-month wedding episodes are hardly a novelty, but rarely are they as funny as this reliable sitcom’s 45-minute season closer, airing May 19. Robert Barone (Brad Garrett), a big guy with a size-XL inferiority complex, is about to exchange I dos with Amy (Monica Horan), though her square parents (Fred Willard and Georgia Engel) and weird brother (an orange-haired Chris Elliott) have been slow to embrace him. “Speak now or forever hold your peace,” intones the reverend, and it’s Robert’s mother, Marie (Doris Roberts), who seizes the opportunity to inflict yet another embarrassment upon him.

As usual, the laughs flow from character—Robert’s chagrin, Marie’s professed reluctance to interfere—and executive producer Phil Rosenthal’s script avoids the excess sentiment of a “very special episode.” The best-man toast by Robert’s brother Ray (series star Ray Romano) adds just enough heart to the humor.

BOTTOM LINE: Vow to watch

Our Town
Showtime (Sat, May 24, 8 p.m. ET)

Critic’s choice

Last December Paul Newman returned to Broadway for the first time since 1964 in a worthy revival of Thornton Wilder’s classic about a small New Hampshire town in the early 20th century. Newman did a sterling job as the play’s rumpled and wise narrator-commentator, and he’s even better in this television version.

Using four cameras, director James Naughton shot Our Town onstage without a live audience, retaining its theatricality while adding intimacy. The feeling of closeness will enhance your appreciation of Newman’s understated but indelible performance. Maggie Lacey and Ben Fox also stand out as the young neighbors whose growing love is at the heart of this still-affecting 1938 drama.

BOTTOM LINE: Come to Newman’s town

America’s Next Top Model

UPN (Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET)

A successful fashion model needs guts as well as looks. So I learned from the May 20 opener of this average reality show, in which 10 young women vie for a prize package that includes a lucrative modeling contract. At one point the contestants are forced to pose in skimpy swimwear in bone-chilling weather. One shivers and weeps as her nose unglamorously drips.

The series has the stock reality elements: The competitors share a penthouse and annoy one another; a panel of experts—including model Tyra Banks, the show’s creator—drops one hopeful a week. But at least the humiliation is a little different. Before Top Model, I’d never seen a torturous bikini wax on TV.

BOTTOM LINE: Pretty but pedestrian