By HAP MANSFIELD
The week in television will be highlighted by Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th President. But if we did a little deeper, we can find much else, besides, for edification. Check your listings for channel number, depending on which television subscription you take.
Monday, January 19
The Queen, 9 p.m., Bravo — Helen Mirren’s fascinating Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in 2006’s “The Queen” is worth skipping the usual network fare. Michael Sheen does a more than respectable job as Tony Blair. If you just have to see “House” you can tune into Bravo later for a repeat.
The Story of India, 8 p.m. KLRU — India, the country that invented the decimal system with zero (which is the basis for all modern science, mathematics and economics), is a land of dazzling contrasts. Home to more than one billion people, it is a center for technology and science while it still clings to an ancient past. Host Michael Wood explores the exciting and perplexing country in this six-part series for PBS.
Tuesday, January 20
The Inauguration, 9:30 a.m., numerous networks — Every network that has a net to work will show the presidential inaugural today, with full coverage by 9:30 am on. It will most certainly be one of those historic moments you will tell your children and grandchildren about. Choose your favorite network and enjoy. Later, rather than watch yet another iteration of Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour (i.e. American Idol, which is just auditions tonight, anyway), why not watch a good film instead?
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, 7 p.m. TCM — If you can’t figure out why the inauguration is so historic, just turn to TCM at 7 p.m. and catch 1967’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Director Stanley Kramer also wrote the screenplay for this controversial film, which raised some major dust in its day. This was Spencer Tracy’s last film and he still manages to eat up the scenery with a remarkably touching performance in spite of his poor health. Note the meaningful interchanges between Tracy and Hepburn toward the end of the movie. They both knew he was going to die soon.
Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, 7 p.m. Ovation — This remarkable 1993 Francois Girard film, mirroring the thirty-two-part structure of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the piece that made Gould famous, does justice to the life of the eccentrically brilliant Canadian pianist with thirty-two extraordinary vignettes. Colm Fiore’s performance as Gould is truly memorable. The music in the film is all from Gould’s recordings, and that, alone, makes it worth the watching.
Wednesday, January 21
Make ‘Em Laugh, A History of Comedy. 7 p.m. KRLU — Host Billy Crystal is the guide through decades of comedy with film clips of everyone from Chaplin to Jim Carrey. This six-part series features interviews with more than 90 comedians, writers, producers and historians, including the Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Sid Caesar, George Carlin, Larry David, Will Ferrell, Leonard Maltin, Cheech Marin, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Mort Sahl, Dick Van Dyke, and many, many more.
Superman Returns, 7 p.m. FX — You don’t have to be a comic book fan to enjoy Kevin Spacey hamming it up and having a ball as the notorious villain Lex Luthor in this 2006 film. Frank Langella is Perry White and teen-heart-throb Brandon Routh plays the man of steel in yet another homage to Siegel and Schuster.
Thursday, January 22
30 Rock, 8:30 p.m. KXAN — This show won so many Golden Globe awards that Tina Fey had to rent a Rolls to take them all home. Tracy Morgan, who showed little sign of comic vitality on Saturday Night Live, is surprisingly great in this show. Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon seems more than a little semi-autobiographical. SNL hasn’t been the same since she left. Thirty Rock is always absurdly funny, and it features Alec Baldwin, although perhaps that’s redundant.
42nd Street/ A Star is Born, 7 p.m. TCM — An all-star double header, both of these films are from 1937. “42nd Street” is the Ruby Keeler vehicle that features the immortal and oft-parodied line, “You’re going out there a youngster but you’ve got to come back a star!” The dance numbers are Busby Berkeley extravaganzas not to be missed. The Gaynor/Frederick March “A Star is Born” is arguably the best of all the versions, chiefly because March is so believable as the ill-fated Norman Maine. May Robson, as the grandmother, steals the show whenever she’s on camera.