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The tube this week

Thursday, June 5 through Wednesday, June 11

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The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
Monday, June 9, 8 p.m., ABC

In The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, a wide-eyed innocent named Ellen (Lisa Brenner) gets engaged to a shady-looking industrialist. Many of us would think twice about accepting a proposal made at the exact moment a workman went on a murderous rampage while building our dream house. But not Ellen. She marries the industrialist, moves into the dream house and spends a long time WONDERING IF THERE'S SOMETHING A LITTLE STRANGE ABOUT THE PLACE.

Granted, she can't hear the movie's soundtrack, with its violins churning madly in a minor key. Still, viewers are apt to think she's a bit slow on the uptake. The house is brimming with briefly glimpsed apparitions, disappearing servants and ghostly murmuring. At a reception for the newlyweds, a guest refers to "some curse, ancient grounds, all that nonsense."

After an hour's worth of these clues, Ellen and her fellow dimwits still haven't caught on. "There's more to this place than meets the eye," her friend opines, at which point you expect a demon to materialize out of the woodwork and howl, "DUH!"

Life of Mammals
Thursday and Friday, June 5 and 6, 7 p.m. (Discovery Channel)

Sir David Attenborough, he of the short-sleeve shirt and tousled gray hair, takes us on another personal journey into nature. The photography is gorgeous, and the vignettes are so dramatically constructed that you could swear Attenborough has given the critters scripts.

The host's heroic British accent, coupled with the surging score, makes mammals seem like the noblest creatures on earth. One feels proud to be associated with them--at least at first. Upon closer inspection, we see a fox swallow a disgusting beetle larva and hyenas communicate with each other via stink glands in their butts. Suddenly, one wonders if reptiles think we're totally uncool.

Audrey's Rain
Sunday, June 8, 8 p.m. (Hallmark Channel)

After her sister commits suicide, an aging single woman named Audrey (Jean Smart) is forced to look after her two orphaned children. Audrey also serves as surrogate mother to her mentally challenged sister, and the addition of her niece and nephew pushes her to the breaking point.

In spite of the heavy subject matter, this TV movie tries hard to be cheeky. The orphaned kids get into mischief, most notably when they interrupt a priest's sermon with farting noises. The irreverence is welcome, but it clashes with the reverence of other scenes. Audrey remembers her first love in a misty flashback and unburdens her heart to her new love.

The proper response to such sentimentality is, of course, farting noises.

Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites
Wednesday, June 11, 8 p.m. (PBS)

This sweeping documentary explains how a small group of tribes known as the Israelites--an oft-conquered people seemingly destined to be forgotten--changed human history. Combining reenactments with scholarly commentary, Kingdom of David begins with the Israelites in a characteristic state: despair. It's the sixth century B.C., and they've just been enslaved by the Babylonians. The future looks bleak, but the Israelites fight back--not with swords, but with pens. Scribes set down ancestral stories as a way of explaining their exile and showing the way to salvation. This becomes the Bible, which offers a new vision of people's relationship to God and each other.

The Bible's concept of monotheism had revolutionary implications in the ancient world. The pagans had someone to blame when things went wrong --one of their many gods. But in a monotheistic universe people had no one to blame but themselves. Thus emerged the idea of guilt, which has had a major impact on human history and has made me, personally, a nervous wreck. (Thanks a lot, Israelites.)

-- Dean Robbins

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