The late Mary Whitehouse was an old-school Christian who spent almost 40 years trying to keep "filth" off England's BBC-TV. Now, in the TV movie Filth (Sunday, 8 p.m., PBS), the BBC has the last word on its longtime adversary. You might expect the word to be "nyah-nyah," but that wouldn't make for a very interesting production. With her censorious views of sex, racy language and liberal thinking of all kinds, Mrs. Whitehouse is easy to mock, especially from a 2008 perspective. (She even wanted to suppress the Beatles, for God's sake.) Filth, though, holds our attention by showing a bit of sympathy for those who couldn't get into the swing of Swinging London in the 1960s.
This Mrs. Whitehouse (Julie Walters) is a teacher in cat-eye glasses and headscarf who recoils from what she sees on the telly. The self-satisfied head of the BBC (Hugh Bonneville) has decided that the network should "get with it," presenting irreverent programs that offend the more reverent members of the viewing audience. Mrs. Whitehouse finds her voice as a spokeswoman, gains a following and hounds the BBC with letters and petitions. Even if we don't like what she stands for, at least we can recognize her as a fellow human being, thanks to Walters' generous portrayal.
Filth is one of the best movies of the new TV season. It's too bad Mrs. Whitehouse isn't around to try to censor it.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Friday, 6:30 pm (Cartoon Network)
Was I the only one who thought The Dark Knight a failure, with a shapeless plot, a pseudo-profound hero and a showy but ultimately empty flirtation with the dark side of human psychology? Yeah, I guess I was. So feel free to ignore my claim that Cartoon Network's new series is much preferable to the summer blockbuster. Rather than the arty pretension of The Dark Knight, it offers all the old-fashioned Batman pleasures: campy villains with indeterminate accents, colorful heroes like Blue Beetle and Red Tornado, and a Caped Crusader who wisecracks while suspended over a vat of acid. Come on, America - do we really need a sadistic Joker who impales someone's eyeball with a pencil before we can enjoy Batman in 2008?
The Two Mr. Kissels
Saturday, 8 pm (Lifetime)
This enjoyably tawdry TV movie tells the true story of two millionaire brothers who turned up dead within a few years of each other. Rob Kissel (Anson Mount) was the victim of a poisoned milkshake served to him by his unhappy wife (Robin Tunney). Andrew Kissel (John Stamos) was found stabbed in his mansion's basement, a murder that remains unsolved.
The movie wallows in the brothers' lavish lifestyle in the 1990s and early 2000s, replete with spas and limos. After the recent financial collapse, you can't help but be nostalgic for those days of wretched excess, even if they did involve the occasional poisoned milkshake.
Ricky Gervais: Out of England - The Standup Special
Saturday, 8 pm (HBO)
With his brilliant series The Office and Extras, British comedian Ricky Gervais earned a place in TV history by making himself look stupid. His standup comedy special, unfortunately, is all about making other people look stupid - generally people with some kind of affliction. Gervais seems to think we want to guffaw at the expense of teenage cancer patients, AIDS victims and autistic kids. He does end up looking stupid, but not on purpose this time.
Tuesday, 7 pm (PBS)
"The Bible's Buried Secrets" seeks the intersection of science and Scripture. It tries to square Old Testament passages with the archeological record, most of the time coming up empty-handed. Archeologists can find no evidence for such biblical events as Noah's flood or the conquest of Canaan. Indeed, scholars now think that ancient Israelites were not enslaved en masse in Egypt, only to escape and fight their way into Canaan. Most likely, a small group of Canaanite slaves escaped from Egypt and, on the way home, learned of a regional god called YHW - pronounced "Yahoo." They attributed their deliverance to Yahoo and began spreading the story to other Canaanite exiles. And, in one of civilization's greatest PR moves, they changed their god's name from Yahoo to the much more credible-sounding Yahweh.
I don't think the Judeo-Christian religion would have made many converts with the line "In Yahoo we trust."
Wednesday, 9 pm (Bravo)
Cooking competitions often leave a bad taste in your mouth. The hosts are mean, and the contestants are foulmouthed and cutthroat. The producers seem to think we'll get bored without a heaping helping of psychosis. What gets lost is - believe it or not - the cooking.
But not in the new season of Top Chef. For the most part, the contestants are gracious and likable. The competition is heated but friendly, with losers getting hugs and pats on the back. The focus is on the food, along with the insights of the eloquent judges.
For once, it's nice to see the contestants using their knives on crusted rack of lamb rather than on each other.