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Avoid the green beer: From Girls to Stompin' Tom, there’s better froth on TV

Sunday is St. Patrick's Day. It's an event now in the hands of beer companies and their clever marketing departments. "Party like the Irish" is the exhortation, which means, as I've noted previously on March 17, that marketing turns a day to commemorate a saint into an internationally recognized keg party.

Some people will roam from bar to bar, in "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" hats and various, unknown-to-nature shades of green. Not to begrudge anyone a good time, but some of these people would be better off staying home and watching some TV. I'm just saying – easy on the green beer and green-coloured shots of liquor. You'll thank me on Monday.

Now, then, remember a few weeks ago, before matters papal came to dominate all news, all the time? Yes, back at the end of February another story galvanized the world: Oscar Pistorius. When most people first heard that the South African runner had been charged with shooting his girlfriend dead on Valentine's Day, they were horrified and mystified.

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This hero, the double-amputee athlete who runs on prosthetic legs, had become a symbol, a signifier of strength and drive. In the confusion of news reports and bewildering testimony at his bail hearing, there emerged another theme – people asked if Pistorius was just another tough-guy celebrity athlete who, like Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson, illuminated a pattern of violence against women that the famous and famously tough seem to engage in.

Oscar Pistorius: What Really Happened? (Sunday, 10 p.m. CBC NN, on The Passionate Eye) is a documentary investigation into what might have happened on Feb. 14, leading up to the death of Pistorius's girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Made quickly for the BBC 3 channel (it aired in the U.K. this past week), it's more speedy reporting than it is an in-depth documentary.

"Is there a darker side to the blade runner?" That's the leading question reporter/producer Rick Edwards opens with. We don't really get an answer. We get various impression of Pistorius from those who know him and who were close to Steenkamp. There is a great deal of alarmist insinuation in the program and a lot of exaggeration. "It is arguably the biggest story to come out of South Africa since the release of Nelson Mandela more than 20 years ago," declares Edwards. Forgetting, in his excitement, that the World Cup took place in South Africa in 2010.

The basics of Pistorius's story of what happened that night are clear – he thought there was an intruder, armed himself and shot Steenkamp, not realizing it was her. A merit of this program is its detailed profile of Steenkamp, including many interviews with those who knew her and worked with her. A glamorous model about to star in a reality-TV series when she died, she was, we are told, a very decent, down-to-earth person.

Where the program fails is in its attempt to disentangle the events of the night of the shooting. Edwards fails to talk to the friend of Pistorius who got the first call from the athlete after the shooting. Instead, viewers hear a tape recording of an interview the friend gave to someone else. And then there is the missing bathroom door, through which Steenkamp was shot. The program uses 3-D graphics to illustrate the versions of events given by the defence and prosecution. But the door seems to have gone missing, into the chaotic bureaucracy of the South African police system. In the end, the question in the program's title, "what really happened," remains unanswered, of course. As does the question, "Is there a darker side to the blade runner." What we get is a lot of vague background detail and a glimpse into South Africa's media and justice systems that will, mind you, interest anyone fascinated by the case.

Also airing this weekend

Girls (Sunday, HBO Canada, 9 p.m.) reaches its season finale. Nobody involved is giving any direct hints about what will happen. Producer Jenni Konner has said, "Something big will happen that we've been building toward all season." Well, that's intriguing but, what? Somebody gets a job? It's been a second season that has been more troubling than terrific, but every episode is worth watching for Lena Dunham's laconic storytelling and occasionally shocking forays into dysfunctional, contemporary romance.

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Public Memorial for Stompin' Tom (Sunday, CPAC, 9 p.m.) is a repeat of the wonderful, moving public tribute to Stompin' Tom Connors that aired on CPAC on Wednesday. If you missed it, don't miss it this time. It is the most poignant, honest and good-humoured celebration of Canada in years. Music, song, jokes and memories. Good St. Patrick's Day viewing.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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