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TV Documentaries Inspire and Inform, While Shows Like "Wipeout" Suggest TV's "Downfall"
June 22, 2010  | By David Bianculli

Tonight ABC presents two high-action, low-brain competition summer series: the returning Wipeout and the brand-new Downfall. Yet elsewhere this week, quality nonfiction offerings shine -- and deserve to be supported, applauded, and, in spirit, imitated...


I'm tempted to ridicule ABC for wasting hours of valuable broadcast prime time on such tossaway junk. And ABC, for the likes of Wipeout, deserves that ridicule, without question. But ABC also is devoting many hours this summer, beginning Thursday night, to an outstanding documentary series, Boston Med, that is a companion series to its previous, equally ambitious Hopkins 24/7.

I'll preview Boston Med in detail later in the week -- but plan for watching or recording it, Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, other outstanding documentaries are available this week, if you know where to find them... which is where TV WORTH WATCHING comes in. Here are two you might otherwise overlook:

On ESPN Tuesday night at 9 ET, the latest edition of the 30 on 30 umbrella sports documentary series is called The Two Escobars, and it's intensely impressive, and impressively intense, on many levels. It's about the Colombian soccer team that played in the 1994 World Cup, which sounds esoteric and uninteresting -- but is the exact opposite.


The two Escobars of the title are two men who are no relation, but whose fates were fatally intertwined. One is Andres Escobar, the captain of the rising-star Colombia team; the other is drug lord Pedro Escobar, whose illegal fortune funded soccer fields, and in some cases teams, all over the country.


Parts of The Two Escobars display some thrilling soccer action, including the most grandstanding, show-offy, astounding goalie saves I've ever seen. Yet that goalie was in jail by the time of the World Cup -- and replaced by a man who watched helplessly as his own teammate, Andres Escobar, accidentally deflected a ball into Colombia's goal, killing the team's chances to advance in the tournament.

Two weeks later, Andres himself was killed, too. His death, the death of the other Escobar, and the complex story of the rise and fall of Colombian soccer -- all of it is told with amazing access and honesty. One interview, with Pablo Escobar's enforcer, has him admitting to having killed "about 250 people -- but only a psychopath keeps count."



Then, Wednesday night at 8 ET, HBO2 repeats GasLand, the superb Josh Fox documentary that is likely to get you more incensed at the gas industry, and at certain regulatory agencies of the U.S. government, than any news or images from the Gulf of Mexico right now. HBO premiered this documentary Monday night, but if you missed it, make sure to catch it on this second go-round.


Parts of it are wryly comic, even when they're deadly serious -- as when one resident, complaining of suspected pollution from local natural-gas extraction activities, puts a match to the water coming out of his kitchen tap... and lights it.

But other portions of GasLand are numbingly, frighteningly serious. Fox patiently but persistently makes his case airtight -- or, in this instance, gastight -- and all but screams that something must stop, and change. It'll have you screaming, too, which is a measure of how good GasLand really is.




Katy said:

I am ashamed to admit it but I like Wipeout....can't explain why...guess I just like something that I don't have to think about occasionally. It also reminds me of when my kids were young and watched the Japanese version. They did not understand one word the announcers were saying but would laugh and giggle like they did.

Sometimes you just need something stupid to relax after watching the news lately.

Comment posted on June 22, 2010 1:43 PM
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