Apart from the matter of why something called The Mole 2 actually exists, the burning question of the moment is what Aaron Sorkin is going to do on tomorrow's special episode of The West Wing. Sorkin has always avoided direct connections between current American politics and events on The West Wing by saying that his show exists in "a parallel universe." This is one occasion on which parallel lines are destined to meet. However, given the uneven quality of The West Wing last season, this episode deliberately written to touch on the terrorist attacks could be awful or brilliant.
We all hope it isn't awful, of course. All we know about the one-off episode (Wednesday, NBC, CTV, 9 p.m.) is that the actors will begin by stepping out of character and addressing the camera. Perhaps they are going to explain why the story is not picking up where last season ended and President Bartlet was giving a press conference about his decision to run for re-election. We also know the episode's title is Isaac and Ishmael, a reference to the Old Testament. If I've got the reference correct, Isaac was Abraham's son by Sarah and Ishmael his illegitimate son by Hagar. Ishmael and his mother were eventually cast out of Abraham's house. The event is sometimes used metaphorically as an explanation for the division between the Arab and Jewish peoples. All of this would suggest that Sorkin has written an episode which deals with the basis for perceived differences between the two groups. As long as Sorkin doesn't indulge his fetish for the corniest kind of American patriotism, it will be fascinating to watch. The Nature of Things (tonight, CBC, 8 p.m.) says it's about "what it means to be human." Mainly it's about the brain and what has recently been discovered about the frontal lobes. The focus is primarily on some people who have had brain damage and give all the appearance of being unaffected but have become different people. In the case of Bob, a truck driver who suffered brain damage in a minor accident, one is reminded of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- he looks and sounds the same, but he doesn't actually feel anything emotionally. It takes someone very close to him to discover that he is not the man he once was. Neuroscientists who deal with many patients like Bob are now speculating about how human emotions work. Their speculation marks a radical shift in the understanding of how the brain deals with emotion. It's a compelling program and, for all its good cheer about new developments in understanding the brain, can be vaguely frightening in its implications. (It is followed on CBC tonight by the first part of the charming Penn & Teller's Magic Mystery Tour. The familiar magicians visit China, India and Egypt, looking for the roots of the Western magic they practise and having a whale of time. Being open to magic is also part of what it means to be human.) Undeclared (tonight, Fox, Global, 8:30 p.m.) is one of a handful of must-see shows of the new season. Created by Judd Apatow, who also had a hand in the much-missed Freaks & Geeks, it's about college life. The main character, Steve (Jay Baruchel) is a college freshman who really hasn't a clue about how to deal with or exploit his new freedom. For a start, his newly divorced dad Loudon Wainwright III) is a bigger jackass than most of Steve's new college buddies. However, Undeclared is really an ensemble show that draws great, believable performances from Monica Keena as Rachel, the college dorm's bombshell, and Carla Gallo as Lizzie, the eccentric young woman who tries to maintain a relationship with her high-school boyfriend while she's hot to experiment with everything at college. Judd Apatow didn't have much of a script for this series when it was cast and he drew the characters based on the young actors and their oddities. It works beautifully -- it sketches a whole landscape of feeling while staying funny but never needing a laughtrack. Tonight's episode, in which Steve tries to interest Lizzie in a relationship, is exquisitely sweet and rueful. Scrubs (tonight, NBC, CTV, 9:30 p.m.) is one of the other new shows worth your attention. NBC is promoting it as a hilarious sitcom, with various slogans including "the cure for the common comedy," but it's like Undeclared because it isn't a yukfest at all. Like Undeclared, it has a sensitive young man at its centre. J. D. Dorian (Zach Braff) is older than Steve -- he's a doctor on his first job as a medical intern -- but he's as nervous as any clueless kid. Canadian Sarah Chalke plays the tart-tongued love interest and the show's real comedy is provided by John C. McGinley as a lunatic doctor. Scrubs has no laughtrack and dabbles in seriousness where it might go for laughs. It's breezy and a bit funky but not at all as sophisticated as Undeclared. (By the way, the adorable What About Joan also returns tonight, ABC, CTV, 8:30 p.m., and if it's a down-to-earth, anti- Friends relationship show you are looking for, Joan Cusack provides it.) Fast Women (Wednesday, WTN, 9 p.m.) is the first part of a bunch of documentaries on WTN about women and cars. Wednesday's program is a celebration of women who race cars and motorbikes and they're a fascinating bunch. Some see their racing careers as statements about the role of women in competitive sports dominated by men. Others are just hooked on machines and the thrill of speed. One professional racer admits that her career started when her parents were away and, after she popped the hubcaps and disconnected the odometer on her dad's car, she went drag racing. It is especially interesting to see footage from the fifties and sixties that shows us gimmicky races organized for women and, in the patter of the on-air announcers, there is the idiotic, patronizing attitude of men who are startled to find that women like cars and other fast machines. The big event this week, mind you, is the return of Hockey Night in Canada (Wednesday, CBC, 7 p.m.), which begins its 50th season. The Leafs are at home to the Ottawa Senators. Maybe Canada can be divided evenly between viewers who are eagerly anticipating The West Wing and those who just want their hockey. Josiah Bartlet or Don Cherry -- it's your choice. 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