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TV Junkie: 'Pillars' Premieres Tonight, 'Mad Men' Sunday; TdF Concludes

Donald Sutherland stars in "Pillars of the Earth" which premieres tonight at 10pm on Starz and is our pick of the night.
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Weekend EditionOf course most of the media focus is on Sunday's season premiere of "Mad Men" (10pm on AMC): January Jones is on Fallon tonight, NBC is rerunning Jon Hamm's "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow. All we can say is, thank god "Mad Men" is running at 10pm so as not to interfere with "True Blood" at 9pm on HBO - since "Hung" and "Entourage" repeat a few times later on Sundays, we won't be missing those either.

What we really think you ought to check out is "The Pillars of the Earth" which premieres on Starz tonight at 10pm. We found it surprisingly good as we had been prepared for a computer-enhanced cartoonish schlockfest a la "Spartacus: Blood and Sand". If you ever enjoyed any of David Macaulay's excellent books brought to life on PBS (Cathedral or Castle, Roman City, etc.), you will find yourself drawn into this great new series from Starz. The plot follows the storylines of several characters in 12th century England who converge due to war, religious strife, and mercantilism. We have Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell from "Eleventh Hour"), desperate to be allowed to build a cathedral who may or may not be granted his wish; the Machiavellian (hey, he wasn't even around yet!) manipulations of the Bishop Waleran, masterfully played by Ian McShane; the honorable Earl Bartholomew played (all too fleetingly) by Donald Sutherland tries to set several characters on a path of righteousness only to be countered by a mercurial and epileptic Lord William Hamleigh (David Oakes).

Yes, there's plenty of gory battles but nothing nearly as over-the-top as Starz' other series, "Spartacus". The battles are all part of a much more solid script based upon the 1989 book by Ken Follett. It's good stuff that's relatively accurate when it comes to technology and history and there are many good performances in the first three episodes that we've seen. It's our pick for the night!
This weekend concludes the 97th edition of the Tour de France and it's been a good one despite Lance Armstrong not being in contention after several unfortunate crashes and mechanical mishaps. Thursday's battle between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador on the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees was typically epic and probably the highlight of the last 3 weeks of racing. Saturday's time trial (5:30am on Versus) will seal the deal on the general classification - will Schleck be able to make up 8 seconds on Contador or be held off?

Versus has done a better job this year compared to most. Somehow the commercials didn't seem as obnoxiously repetitive and more of the pre-recorded segments were of better quality compared to years' past. There was none of the ridiculous "weather" problems that plagued Versus' broadcast of the Tour of California (somehow we can get live footage of climbs in the high Alps during a rainstorm but we can't in flat central California? Gimme a break).

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As usual, we found ourselves exclusively watching veteran commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin during the live morning broadcasts because, simply, they are the best of what Versus offers. We did watch streams of Eurosport broadcasts which were quite a lot of fun since commercial breaks seemed to occur only every half-hour or so and the commentators didn't feel like they had to constantly be yammering every second of the broadcast. Eurosport also seemed to have quick and easy access, either in studio or via phone, cycling legends like Magnus Backstedt to provide further (live!) insight on key stages. Thanks Versus, we hope to see more cycling from you through the end of the year.
Lots of things are happening at Comic Con, among them was Showtime unveiling the trailers to several of their shows: "Dexter Early Cuts", "Weeds", "Californication", "Nurse Jackie". See the embedded videos at the end of this post.
The TV Junkie Plan: Tonight - "Friday Night Lights", "The Neistat Brothers", "The Pillars of the Earth", Fallon (January Jones, Susie Essman). Saturday - Tour de France, "Doctor Who", "Being Human". Sunday - Tour de France, "True Blood", "Mad Men", "Russell Simmons Presents: Stand-Up at the El Rey".