Brutal competition meets soft-focus commentary

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Skating takes center stage in the Winter Olympics (8 p.m., Saturday, NBC) coverage. Look for a focus on Apolo Ohno’s attempts to add to his medal collection as well as Shani Davis’s chances in the long track.

As a casual sports fan who has spent entirely too many hours of my life watching or listening to the N.Y. Mets in one fruitless season after another, I am well acquainted with the sportscaster’s penchant for the obvious, the cliche and the banal detail. I once heard a Mets radio announcer describe, with some relish, the balletic flight of airborne plastic bags around the infield. OK, it’s hard to deliver one vocal pearl after another when you have hours to fill day after day for six long months. yet, year after year, I submit willingly to the often vapid onslaught of baseball commentary.

Despite this hard-headed devotion, or perhaps because of it, there is something in me that chafes at the maudlin miasma of emotional goo that too frequently accompanies Olympics coverage.

Can’t we hear about an athlete who simply competes because he or she is talented and hard-working and ruthlessly focused on success? why must so many stories be buttressed with tear-jerking details?

For every winner, there are countless athletes who return home anonymous and uncrowned. do we really share the heartache of the unsung Slovenian skeleton slider who never made the cut? Or just pretend that we might? do we recoil at the Darwinian savagery and naked will to win on display every time a gold medalist stands atop that pagan podium? Or do we secretly enjoy it?

Do all audiences require that this brutal aspect of competition be softened up in gauzy soft focus? Or is there something uniquely American about turning everything into a Kodak moment? All hail the gold medal winner! He stomped on the dreams of everyone who tried to beat him. Now let’s have a Happy Meal and a hug!

Two commentators stand out in crowded field. Dick Button and Dan Patrick both speak well and thoughtfully and seem to work hard at avoiding the kinds of expressions that might appear on a greeting card. Let’s hear it for them. for everybody else, keep your mute button handy.

— the general gaze toward Vancouver can inspire some interesting counter-programming. what better time to air a difficult drama about a recovering alcoholic and her damaged, embittered daughter?

“Sins of the Mother” (8 p.m., Eastern, Sunday, Lifetime Movie Network) stars singer/actress Jill Scott (“The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”) as Nona, a middle-aged woman who struggles every day to stay sober. her upbeat affirmations make her a hero to friends in the program, including her sponsor (Mimi Rogers). But when her 20-something graduate-student daughter, Shay (Nicole Beharie), returns home, both women have to confront a bleak shared history that no cheery Post-It Note can paper over.

In drama, there is a fine line between the challenging and the unbearable, and “Sins” crosses it early and often. Nona’s one-day-at-a-time jargon and Shay’s snappish know-it-all nastiness form a toxic combination. they talk past each other in ways characters often do in very important and unwatched stage dramas. We learn quickly that Shay’s repressed demons drive her to pull out clumps her own hair while she sleeps. A half-hour into “Sins” and I felt like doing the same thing.

— As readers of Carl Hiaasen’s addictive novels surely know, Florida seems filled with some of the most colorful and corrupt creatures on earth. Now we can add exotic reptiles to the collection. “Invasion of the Giant Pythons” on “Nature” (8 p.m., Sunday, PBS, check local listings) chronicles the unfortunate introduction of Burmese pythons into the Everglades.

Imported by pet owners, these snakes can go from eating mice and rabbits to devouring whole pigs on their way to weighing more than 250 pounds and measuring more than 23 feet in length. No wonder so many people regret their decision and abandon them in the wild.

Now these creatures — 18 times larger than the biggest native snake — are climbing, or rather slithering, to the top of the food chain in Florida’s precariously delicate ecosystem. F. Murray Abraham narrates this tale of Pets gone Wild, a bizarre and sobering story that happens to be true.

Add some brain-addled spring break types to the mix and the SyFy Saturday Night movie just writes itself!

SATURDAY’S HIGHLIGHTS

— A bookish youth wearing glasses looms large in the 2004 adaption of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG,V).

— C. Thomas Howell stars in the 2009 TV adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novel “The Land That Time Forgot” (9 p.m., Sy Fy, TV-14).

— Scheduled on “48 Hours Mystery” (10 p.m., CBS): Rumors abound 10 years and three trials after the murder of a doctor’s wife.

SUNDAY’S HIGHLIGHTS

— Scheduled on “60 Minutes” (7 p.m., CBS): a possible alternative to fossil fuels; the lack of progress in rebuilding at Ground Zero; new charges against Blackwater.

— Figure skating takes the spotlight on Winter Olympics coverage (7 p.m., NBC).

— Adventures in Chile on “The Amazing Race” (8 p.m., CBS).

— Jon Cryer guest stars on “Hannah Montana” (8 p.m., Disney, TV-G).

— Britain honors the best movies of 2009 at the 63rd Annual British Academy of Film Awards (8 p.m., BBC America).

— A convenience store chain executive mans the slushy machine on “Undercover Boss” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

— Bill takes a detour to Mexico on “Big Love” (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).

— the music of the Doors provides the soundtrack to a “Cold Case” (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14,V) about a circus murder from 1971.

— Publicists fight to give their clients attention while actually publicizing themselves on a reality special called “The SPINdustry” (10:30 p.m., E!).

— Kitty makes her political debut on “Brothers & Sisters” (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

— A former late-night host mans the microphone on “Sinbad: Where U been?” (10 p.m., Comedy Central).

CULT CHOICE

An obsessed man (Richard Dreyfuss) terrifies his wife (Teri Garr) with ominous landscapes sculpted out of mashed potatoes in the 1977 fantasy “Close Encounters of the third Kind” (8 p.m., Eastern, Sunday, TCM).

SATURDAY SERIES

An unreleased movie offers clues to a series of homicides on “Numb3rs” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14,V) … On back-to-back episodes of “Cops” (Fox, TV-14,D,L), drugs (8 p.m.), guns (8:30 p.m., r) … John Walsh hosts “America’s most Wanted” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).

SUNDAY SERIES

Lisa climbs the family tree on “The Simpsons” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG,D,L) … A charity music school receives a boost on “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) … Hands-on experience on “The Cleveland Show” (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … Brian and Stewie fly through in-and-outer-space on “Family Guy” (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14,D,S) … Robin (Julie Benz) meets the neighbors on “Desperate Housewives” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) … Stan admits to an Olympics-sized fib on “American Dad” (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG ,D,S).

Kevin McDonough can be reached at kmcdonough@unitedmedia.com.

Brutal competition meets soft-focus commentary

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