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Steamy Victoriana and a stolid legal drama

The Crimson Petal and the White

Saturday, HBO Canada, TMN, Movie Central, 9 p.m.

This four-part adaptation of Michel Faber's bestselling novel about Victorian England is not your Masterpiece Theatre version of period drama. It tells the story of a prostitute named Sugar (Romola Garai) and her lengthy involvement with the married William Rackham (Chris O'Dowd), an affair that plunges the viewer into the seamy elements of the sex trade that flourished in London then. As such, it is definitely a soft-core, sexed-up drama. No adaptation could be as pungent and explicit as the book, but this comes close. As one reviewer said of Sugar's charms, she is "skilled in the arts of flattery and fellatio." Rackham's missus (Amanda Hale) is going nuts and being abused by a doctor. Rackham pays to have exclusive access to Sugar, who despises them all. The tale is compellingly rife with the smell of corruption.

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Two Greedy Italians

TLN, Saturday, 9 p.m., Sunday, 8 p.m.

Glad to see that TLN has picked up this charming BBC series – old pals and renowned chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo mosey around the Italy they left decades ago to dwell on what has changed in Italian culture and how that has affected the way Italians eat. Essentially, they eat their way through regions of Italy and josh and banter as they go. Recipes and information are provided. The insights into contemporary Italy are less than striking but sometimes fascinating vignettes emerge. Apparently, at one point later in the series, "Gennaro is moved to tears by an unusual group of cheese makers." Right on. Also take note that Desperate Housewives is back tonight (ABC, CTV, 9 p.m.), and a new Pan Am airs, before the series goes on hiatus (ABC, CTV, 10 p.m.).

The Firm

Sunday, Global, NBC, 9 p.m.

Solid but uninspiring, this Canada/U.S. co-production is a TV sequel to John Grisham's 1991 novel and movie based on the book. In the two-hour premiere, we meet Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas) and his wife, Abby (Molly Parker). Through flashbacks and slow revelations, we learn that the members of the McDeere family have come out of the witness-protection program, which they entered because Mitch gave info to the FBI about organized crime. Now Mitch wants to be a do-gooder lawyer in a one-man office, where he has help from his investigator brother, Ray (Callum Keith Rennie), and office assistant, Tammy (Juliette Lewis). Thus, the show unfolds as your average legal drama but with an often-erupting backstory about the mobsters out to get revenge on Mitch. The series errs seriously on the side of caution, plodding when it should have zest, but if old-fashioned legal drama is your bag, you'll love it.


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Sunday, CBC NN, 10 p.m., on The Passionate Eye

This fine, poignant documentary by Jeffrey Blitz (who made the Oscar-nominated spelling-bee doc Spellbound) looks at how winning the lottery changes the lives of average Americans, often for the worse. An exception is a man named Quang and his wife, Mai, Vietnamese immigrants who worked in a Nebraska meat-packing plant and won $22-million (U.S.). Their generous spending on family makes them happy and relaxed. Others profiled, however, have been driven to near insanity by sudden wealth. Most startling is Buddy, a guy considered a hero after running into a burning building to save a boy's life who is then "rewarded" with a $16-million lottery win. The money evaporates. As one of Buddy's pals says, wisely, "Winning the lottery is like throwing Miracle-Gro on all your character defects." There is also James, a suicidal loner who wins $5-million on a Powerball ticket bought with his last dollar, and really struggles to adapt. There is an awful lot of sadness here.

Check local listings.

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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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