January 14, 1985 12:00 PM

WTBS (Sunday, Jan. 13, 8 p.m. ET)

ABC’s The Day After, PBS’ Testament and HBO’s Countdown to Looking Glass all tried to bring the nuclear apocalypse into your living room. Now Threads, aired by the BBC and imported by cable’s WTBS, does it with more graphic effectiveness and haunting horror than the other three thrown together. Through the lives of two British families, you hear news of events in the Middle East that lead to nuclear war. After the blasts you see these lives quickly end or slowly crumble over 13 years. Facts and figures roll onto the screen: 3,000 megatons exchanged; 17 to 38 million die in Britain; 10 to 20 million corpses go unburied and unburned for lack of fuel. No shock is spared. A hand sticking out of rubble catches fire in the blast’s heat; mothers buy dead rats to feed to their children. When the fallout settles, you’re told that 500 million tons of dust have risen into the atmosphere, causing the “nuclear winter” that kills crops and extends the suffering. You wait for the sun to shine again, but when it finally does, it brings excess ultraviolet light that causes cancer and cataracts. Civilization does not return. Threads is extraordinarily compelling. It is not so slickly glib as The Day After; it is more courageously gruesome than Testament; and unlike Looking Glass, it includes people to care about. There’s a danger in seeing such portrayals of nuclear war escalate. If you witness the terrifying end of humanity too often, it’s not quite so terrifying anymore. There’s little doubt that television—on the news and in prime time—has made death a too familiar sight, it could do the same even to nuclear war, so perhaps this chain of disaster shows should stop for now with Threads. It is by far the most powerful of the nuke movies to come to TV. (On Monday at 8 p.m., WTBS offers On the 8th Day, a documentary about nuclear winter, followed by a discussion moderated by University of Notre Dame President Theodore Hesburgh. Threads will air twice more on WTBS in January, then it will be syndicated to local stations in February.)

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