5 Reasons to Live

Entertainment Weekly

Ken Tucker picks pop gems to get you through the week, including Helen Mirren’s stunning final turn as Jane Tennison in ”Prime Suspect”

1. Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect: The Final Act
(PBS, Nov. 12, 9 p.m.)

Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison is back for her last case — she’s still battling sexism at the job and the bottle after hours, still making brilliant crime-scene deductions and bad decisions on the homefront. Mirren is getting a lot of acclaim for portraying royalty these days — in the movie The Queen and in HBO‘s Elizabeth I, for which she won an Emmy — but she’s never been better as the brooding Tennison.

2. Baltar gets tortured on Battlestar Gallactica
(Sci-Fi, Nov. 10, 9 p.m.)

It’s no spoiler to say that Gaius Baltar (James Callis) is brutalized by the mistress of Cylon S&M, D’Anna (Lucy Lawless), in an attempt to make him give up info about a virus that threatens the bad, bad Cylons. I know there are a lot of intelligent discussions taking place this season about Battlestar as a metaphor for current geopolitics, but I just want to yank the show back into the pop culture from whence it sprang and say what makes this show so terrific is that it never forgets its roots in pulp-sci-fi adventure and sexiness. That, and the fact that it’s immensely satisfying to see the often smug Balter, so masterfully played by the subtle Callis, get a good jolt.

3. Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu
By John Allen (Free Press, $28)

With the death last week of South African apartheid-defender P.W. Botha, this new biography of one of apartheid’s most vigorous opponents, written with the vividness of a novel, becomes all the more timely and important. Allen, a journalist who also served as director of communications for Archbishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, doesn’t tell Tutu’s story with the piousness of a press flack; just the opposite. Allen brings a figure of sometimes saintly proportions to human scale, revealing Tutu’s hard-nosed, pragmatic, and wily sides. Astonishing anecdotes abound, such as a moment in 1981 in Johannesburg when pro-Botha security police, assigned to maintain order, ”discussed stabbing Tutu with a sharpened bicycle spoke.” Soon after, Tutu remarked that Botha was ”just a pathetic little bully.” Would that more men of the clergy should be so outspoken.

4. ”I’ll Be Around” on Closet Freak: The Best of Cee-Lo Green the Soul Machine

The chrome-domed, deceptively harsh-looking half of Gnarls Barkley puts out a best-of album full of Deep South grit, grunts, and verbal dexterity. ”I’ll Be Around,” a 2003 track, is the man’s wily take on the Spinners’ song of the same name. Collaborating with Timbaland and featuring big, elephant-size beats reminiscent of George Clinton and Parliament’s ”Trombipulation,” Cee-Lo’s ”I’ll Be Around” is surprisingly sweet and affectionate while its rhythm remains vehement: You cannot keep from wiggling to its percussive punctuation.

5. Wally’s World: The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Wally Wood, the World’s 2nd-Best Comic Book Artist
By Steve Starger and J. David Spurlock (Vanguard Productions, $24)

A comic-book artist who straddled commercial and underground comics for decades, drawing valiant superheroes, gory horror scenes, and salaciously naughty scenarios, Wally Wood was a real piece of work, as this brief and thorough biography attests. He drew thousands upon thousands of strikingly distinctive comics pages, was admired by R. Crumb and contributed one of the most enduring MAD magazine parodies ever, ”Superduperman.” He also drank like a fish, doubted his talent, dug porn, and committed suicide on Halloween night with a .44 revolver. He lived in the shadow of the great mainstream superhero artist of his era, Jack Kirby, but he owed more — in mind-set and his grim end — to another comics genius, Jack Cole (Plastic Man). That the great designer Chip Kidd and artist Dan Clowes did the cover for this book speaks to the esteem in which Wood was held. Welcome to Wally’s world.

(Posted to EW Online:11/03/06)