By Terry Kelleher
February 25, 2002 12:00 PM

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Last year’s Boycott was an exceptional HBO dramatization of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, a watershed civil rights event that grew out of Rosa Parks’s refusal to yield her seat to a white passenger on Dec. 1,1955. This TV movie focuses not so much on the movement but on the quietly resolute woman who inspired it. Though the CBS effort does not equal Boycott in power or artistry, it’s worth watching if only to admire Angela Bassett’s performance. Bassett gives the mature Parks such grace and dignity that we can forgive the 43-year-old actress for being less believable in scenes where her character is supposed to be 18.

The part of Martin Luther King Jr. is a mere cameo here, and his son Dexter Scott King plays it inexpressively. Rather than highlight the leadership of the boycott, the film examines its effect on the marriage of Rosa and Raymond Parks, ably portrayed by Peter Francis James as a disillusioned onetime activist fearful for his wife’s safety. What’s disappointing is that The Rosa Parks Story essentially ends in 1956, leaving us to wonder how the subject—now 89—went on to handle her role as the symbolic mother of racial justice.

Bottom Line: Take a seat and tune in

Strong Medicine

Lifetime (Sundays, 8 p.m. ET)

As part of a Lifetime campaign to raise public awareness of violence against women, this medical drama closes its second season with a three-episode arc (Feb. 17 and 24 and March 3) in which feisty Dr. Luisa “Lu” Delgado (Rosa Blasi) lodges a rape charge against Dr. Rand Kilner (guest star Gregory Harrison), a vain and arrogant surgeon previously on friendly terms with Lu’s colleague Dr. Dana Stowe (Janine Turner).

The writing grows preachy—it seems Lu is never too upset to spout statistics on sexual assault—but the story line is compelling nonetheless. Unfortunately, it shares space with several melodramatic subplots. On Feb. 24 one of Dana’s patients (Kathy Ireland) needs a highly risky operation that only the alleged rapist can perform. Now that’s a bit much.

Bottom Line: Strong but strained

10,000 Black Men Named George

Showtime (Sun., Feb. 24, 8 p.m. ET)

A. Philip Randolph (Andre Braugher) has tried unsuccessfully to organize black workers in other fields. Now he seems to have hit a wall in his long struggle to establish a union of railway porters. Will he accept defeat at the hands of the ruthless Pullman Company? His voice choked with emotion, Randolph vows to his wife (Carla Brothers), “This one I win, or die trying.”

Braugher is excellent here and throughout 10,000 Black Men Named George. (The title refers to white riders’ casually racist habit of calling all porters by the name of the Pullman founder.) Yet even with his performance as its driving force, this labor drama of the ’20s and ’30s never gets up a full head of steam. The characters sometimes sound as if they were reading from a history term paper, and the roles of Randolph’s chief allies (played by Mario Van Peebles and Charles S. Dutton) lack sufficient depth. Another problem is unavoidable: This true story lacks the pitched conflict of a strike.

Bottom Line: Braugher power’s not enough

Watching Ellie

NBC (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Why have a gimmick if you don’t call attention to it, right? To make it crystal clear that each episode of this new sitcom covers 22 real-time minutes in the life of L.A. cabaret singer Ellie Riggs (Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus), there’s a digital countdown in the lower-left corner of the screen. When Ellie’s toilet overflows and frantic slapstick ensues in the Feb. 26 pilot, you may pray for the seconds to tick off faster. But when she has revealing conversations with her ex-boyfriend (Steve Carell) and current lover (Darren Boyd), you may wish the clock would slow down so the characters could dig deeper. Louis-Dreyfus is going for breathless charm here, but this vehicle’s in too much of a rush.

Bottom Line: Needs time to improve

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