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Weekend TV: Literary royalty, and the regal Mirren as Elizabeth I

A Year in the Life of J.K. Rowling

Saturday, CBC NN, 10 p.m., Sunday, 8 p.m.

Airing on The Passionate Eye, this is a repeat, but worth seeing now in the light of Rowling's recent evidence at the Leveson Inquiry in England about press intrusion into her life. Given the intense press interest in her, one can see why she would agree to this one-off examination of her life. It would satisfy some people. The year chronicled is the year in which she wrote the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. In part, it's a light, pop-psychology doc, as Rowling is asked about virtues she admires and vices she hates. There is some material about her childhood and a glimpse of her family. Rowling obviously has strong feelings about good parenting. Viewers learn bit about a short marriage, motherhood and her poverty. But Rowling is very careful, too, about giving away real secrets – little wonder in the context of the tabloid harassment she has endured.

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Elizabeth I

Saturday, Sunday, HBO Canada, 8 p.m.

A U.K./HBO co-production made in 2005 when there was a craze for Elizabethan material, this is gloriously good. It has the advantage of Helen Mirren as Queen Bess. Mirren appears to relish the role, clearly and delightedly presenting us with Elizabeth as a middle-aged woman. The miniseries (Part 2 is on Sunday at 8 p.m.) opens with Elizabeth having been on the throne for 20 years and facing all the crises and problems that a powerful woman of middle age might face today. This is Mirren's best work since the early editions of Prime Suspect. She can play regal, vulnerable and, boy, can she play angry. This is acting of outstanding power and subtlety. The Elizabeth we are offered is a woman burdened by duty and bedevilled by schemers, but utterly self-aware. Her one weakness is her love for the Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons). "Oh, you son of a whore!" she snaps at him when angry.

Geek Love

Sunday, TLC, 9 p.m.

Yep, it's the latest thing from the people who brought us the Jon & Kate Plus 8 saga, tales of persons devoted to coupons and All-American Muslim. It's a nerd dating reality show. Unlike the CW show Beauty and the Geek, a few years ago, which merely paraded fools and buxom women they desired, this one chronicles events at a speed-dating service aimed at nerds of both sexes who congregate at events such as Comic-Con. The idea is to follow "socially awkward" pop-culture addicts brought together by their love of comic books and dressing up in costumes. There's probably an entire psychiatry conference in the material, but what we get here are two consecutive half-hour specials that might lead to a full-fledged series. By the way, also tonight there is the season finale of Dexter (TMN/Movie Central, 9 p.m.) in which our hero rushes to stop the Doomsday Killer before a lunar eclipse ignites the killer's final act.

Tough Choices with Gord Martineau

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Sunday, CITY-TV, 10 p.m.

This unusual doc is a labour of love for CITY-TV anchor Gord Martineau. It essentially asks the question, "What's right – and what's wrong – with Canada's delivery of foreign aid?" Martineau tells us about Rahul Singh, a Toronto paramedic and founder of GlobalMedic, a disaster-relief organization, whom he has known for years. He's obviously very taken with Singh, a great bear of a man, who speaks bluntly. (Last year, Singh made TIME magazine's list of 100 most influential people in the world.) Martineau has followed Singh as the man tries to help with some of the worst disasters in the world, and he's learned there are no easy answers about when and how to deliver aid, and when to stop. Here, he follows Singh to Cambodia to learn about the treacherous work of clearing land mines, and to Haiti to see the extraordinarily difficult challenges there. Watching this, your Canadian smugness about foreign aid may be diminished.

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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