May 09, 2011 12:00 PM

GREAT Adventures!

Crafting strong narratives with actual people, CBS’s Survivor and The Amazing Race have become classics of American TV.

REALITY

As The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business and Survivor: Redemption Island head toward their 18th and 22nd season finales-May 8 and 15, respectively-they can be said to have trailblazed opposite paths to the same dependably satisfying end. By now, Survivor barely dwells on the discomforts of the contestants, living in the wild in Nicaragua. The footage focuses almost exclusively on backstabbing and self-interest. It’s small-minded and cynical, but no more than the stuff in The Federalist Papers about the awfulness of human nature. The show is solidly American, as is the cynicism-free Race, which celebrates the plucky endurance of teams scrambling across the globe. Here we have the spirit and courage of the settlers, only without the time to settle. It’s CBS, after all, not Conestoga. Both:

Treme

HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

Treme, a beautifully done series set in New Orleans in the months after the 2005 hurricane, has been outpaced by events: Season 1’s finale aired in June 2010, weeks after an oil spill redefined the city’s history-again. Now season 2 is unfolding, and we’re still in 2006. It takes a while to adjust to the dissonance, but the muted naturalism of the superb cast draws us in. Khandi Alexander, as a tavern owner who suffers a second brutal reversal of fortune, is especially haunting.

Mob Wives

VH1, Sundays, 8 p.m. ET/PT

REALITY

These women are all intimately connected to crime-Renee Graziano’s pa is mobster Anthony Graziano-but none were taught to use a silencer: They brawl, scream and bawl with noisy tugboat blasts. A few pearls of calm perspective are contributed by Karen Gravano, whose father Sammy “the Bull” Gravano turned government informant. “People look at the Mob and they don’t realize there’s a downside to it,” she tells us. “Murder is definitely a horrible part of that lifestyle.” It needs to be said, people! The show is sloppy, vulgar fun, even if it’s hard to detect much likability under the layers of lacquer. It’s like The Real Housewives of New Jersey starring only Danielle Staub.

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