Packed weekend on TV, people. You've got Oprah Winfrey doing her giveaway thing, which always inspires a consumer-frenzy-on-steroids. There's a major music awards show and an important Ken Burns documentary on PBS.
The Phantoms (Sunday, CBC, 8 p.m.) is the production of high local interest. It's based on the true story of the remarkable victory of the Bathurst High School varsity basketball team a year after a road accident claimed the lives of eight people, including seven players.
When the production was announced, there were concerns expressed that the TV movie was coming too soon after the 2008 tragedy that struck the small New Brunswick community. Some thought that even a reminder of the crash and its impact might be exploitative. It isn't. The Phantoms (Andrew Wreggitt wrote the script and Sudz Sutherland directed) is a well-crafted family movie, one that's emphatically about triumphing over adversity. It's heartwarming without being superficial.
Mainly it's about the kids who, a year after the terrible crash, were able to unite and reignite the town's passion for the boys' basketball team. As such, it's also about the young teaching the older to recover, using the tireless determination and strength of youth. We meet Corey (Tyler Johnston), a teenager who survived the crash and is still emotionally wounded. He forms a bond with Tess (Holly Deveaux), whose boyfriend died in the crash and who is turning into a bitter recluse. She's uncomfortable at her part-time job on the cash at the local drug store: "They come to my cash in the store and they stare at me, and I know they're thinking, 'This is the girl whose boyfriend died.' "
Along comes a new kid in town, Luke (Kyle Mac), also a basketball player. Remote from the tragedy, he sees no reason why a new team can't be formed to compete in the local championship. He says to Corey, "A bad thing happened, but what good does it do if everything just stops?" What transpires follows a familiar template of a ragtag team overcoming obstacles to win and, in doing so, rescuing an entire community from grief.
As such, the movie relies heavily on a young cast, and they are very, very good. Outstanding is Deveaux as Tess, the most complex and troubled of the teenagers. Deveaux (last seen in Less Than Kind) is luminous, her pale face subtly registering every hurt, every worry and every insult that comes her way in this strange world of teenagers trying to deal with very adult issues of grief and recovery.
Also airing this weekend
The 40th Anniversary American Music Awards (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 8 p.m.) celebrates 40 years of pop music and hands out awards for this past year. A lot of nominations have gone to Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, One Direction, Maroon 5 and that Bieber guy. Performers include Taylor Swift, Christina Aguilera, and Minaj.
Oprah's Favourite Things 2012 (Sunday, OWN, 8 p.m.) has the big O-lady handing out her favourite things to a group of military spouses. Then the entire watching audience totally wants the stuff she gives away. OMG!
The Dust Bowl (Sunday, PBS, 8 p.m.) is Ken Burns's latest exploration of American history and it is very much meant to be a cautionary tale for the present. Gorgeously made, as expected from Burns, the two-parter (continuing Monday, 8 p.m.) explains the destruction of the soil of the U.S. Southern Plains in the 1930s by drought, damaging farming practices and plain greed. It was as if the land was there to be crudely manipulated and exploited without reference to weather cycles and history. Eventually, winds lifted vast areas of topsoil into the air. Farms collapsed, the sky went dark, crops and livestock simply died. People died too, and others fled during the worst economic crash ever. Burns puts a human face on every aspect of the disaster.
All times ET. Check local listings.