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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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The Prisoner

AMC, Nov. 15, 8 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

Even if you’ve never seen the original Prisoner, a trippily paranoid British series that aired here in the 1960s, you’ve felt its trickle-down influence on the far nuttier Lost. And now, no doubt thanks to the success of ABC’s cult hit, we have a new, six-hour Prisoner. Jim Caviezel, as a mystery man connected to an intelligence-data conglomerate, somehow finds himself christened Six and trapped in a resort town/prison camp where everyone eats wraps. (No, that’s not a joke.) The Village is run by Two (Ian McKellen), a polite despot in a tropical suit from the Fantasy Island catalog. For all that, The Prisoner generates no real sense of enigmatic suspense. The wonderful Australian actress Rachael Blake gives the best performance as forlorn Madame Two. And she’s in a coma for most of the show–What does that tell you?

Parks and Recreation

NBC, Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT |

COMEDY

Amy Poehler’s sitcom about small-town bureaucrats had a brief and underwhelming first season, but this fall it’s grown into a low-key charmer. You wouldn’t think a show could thrive when its most significant ongoing story involves filling in a pit, but the performers have gently asserted themselves. I like every one of them, especially Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford, whose great expertise is for doing nothing that resembles work, and Aubrey Plaza as unbudgeably unenthusiastic assistant April Ludgate. Parks and Recreation is like The Office without the sometimes jarring notes of loony aggression.

Chef Academy

Bravo, Nov. 16, 11 p.m. ET/PT |

REALITY

Superstar chef Jean Christophe Novelli has what it takes to run this show, in which he willfully instills wannabe chefs with proper kitchen technique. He’s harsh enough to dump a student’s lousy egg dish into the trash in disgust, but he resists full-scale tantrums. It’s as if Gordon Ramsay were mellowed by prolonged braising in a good, ripe Burgundy. The premiere doesn’t promise the same cutthroat fun as Bravo’s Top Chef–most of these candidates aren’t remotely as experienced–but Novelli dispenses some very helpful tips. (If you need to break down a garlic into cloves, just smash it with the flat of your hand.)

WW II in HD

History, Nov. 15, 9 p.m. ET/PT |

DOCUMENTARY

Not the most dignified title, I suppose, but it gets across the major selling point of History’s five-night, 10-hour documentary series: The story is given fresh edge and excitement through newly restored color footage from the era. All sorts of scratches, blemishes and color imbalances remain, of course, but the modern eye can’t help being startled when it sees tomato-red Nazi flags instead of the familiar black-and-white of old newsreels, or gray battleships sending up spray on a blue, blue Pacific.

The history itself, at least in the first two hours sent out to critics, is presented conventionally, with personal reminiscences narrated offscreen by actors like Josh Lucas, Justin Bartha and Amy Smart. Its scope doesn’t match Ken Burns’ War for emotional detail and resonance. Frankly, I’d have been happy with nothing but the vivid rush of images. Someone should get to work immediately on WW II in HD and 3D!