The Nature of Things: Hypnosis
CBC, 7 p.m. No one swings a watch fob on a long chain in this study of hypnosis. Instead, the documentary clears up silly old misconceptions to sell viewers on the science of it all. And despite David Suzuki's lulling narration, it won't put viewers to sleep. In this new Sunday night timeslot, The Nature of Things is airing a series of first-run documentaries. They will be a much-needed counterpoint to the summer of schlockly TV airing on all the other channels. In Hypnosis: A Window into the Mind, cameras sit in on hypnotism sessions - one with a Montreal woman who finds relief from chronic pain is particularly fascinating - and practitioners discuss the art of taking patients deep into their own minds and memories. You know they are onto something when in Belgium they are operating without general anesthesia. We watch a woman, hypnotized before surgery, remain awake during her facelift, even chatting with the surgeon. It's incredible and unsettling at the same time.
TLC, 10 p.m. Looks like we'll have to wait for some time before humanoids start doing housework. According to this documentary, the brightest minds in the field have taken this long to give robots the intelligence of a cockroach; by 2020 they should be as smart as mice. And how many mice can wield an iron? This documentary heads into robotics labs in the States and Japan to explain why housebots are so hard to program. It took years to figure out the problem of walking upright, and now they're trying to hardwire common sense. That's the tricky bit and so instead of writing billions of lines of code, American scientists are teaching the piles of metal and wire to learn. We're told it is like teaching an infant how to recognize and reach for objects, and it's pretty darn creepy to watch. So is the robot head that emotes like a child when you flip its on-switch. If this is the future, I'd rather iron my own shirts.
Passionate Eye: Behind the Fence
Newsworld, 10 p.m. The folly and necessity of Israel's security fence is examined in this hour. A year ago, Israel began putting up a barrier around the West Bank to keep out suicide bombers. Officials had promised it would follow the unofficial, but widely recognized border known as the Green Line. But, as reported in this BBC documentary, that's not the case. Many Palestinians find the building crews are heading straight for their property, and in one scene a family rushes to harvest their olive trees before the bulldozers tear the trees out of the ground. The film also talks with a number of worried Jews who may end up living on the wrong side of the fence since they live in illegally built West Bank settlements. The fence is defended by many but questioned by those whose lives will change as it cuts a swath through the disputed territory. Behind the Fence is a good account of the controversy.
The Next Big Thing
TVO, 10 p.m. Over the next three nights, The Next Big Thing reveals just how pain-ful it is to be a comic. The three-hour, behind-the-scenes documentary watches Shaun Majumder, Jason Rouse, Kristeen von Hagen, Nikki Payne, Dave Martin and Laurie Elliot nail their sets or crash and burn. Both scenarios make good television. Cameras follow the six around for 18 months, with the crew going backstage and into their homes. The Next Big Thing has got that car-wreck fascination as the comics find the right jokes for their crowd, sometimes going too far. Then it gets the comedian squirming in front of the camera when the filmmaker asks why the set went so badly. The series was written and cast by Andrew Clark, who has been writing about comedy for years and wrote Stand and Deliver: Inside Canadian Comedy. In tonight's opening episode, Majumder explains the economics of working in Los Angeles: A $9,000 gig ends up (after agent's fees) paying him $362.95. And Majumder, as we find out in Thursday's final episode, is the lucky one. More funny men and women turn up next week on NBC's new talent search series, Last Comic Standing. It's an eight-episode laugh off as comics compete for a development deal with NBC.
TMN, 10 p.m. The Wire is another one of those HBO dramas that everyone is talking about. It's back for a second season and follows the same blueprint for success that it used last year: A crime is unravelled over a dozen episodes through the mindsets of both the criminals and the police. This year the scene is set in the port of Baltimore, Md. This first hour takes a long time to introduce the new regulars, a group of rough and tumble longshoremen with almost impenetrable dialects, but frankly that's part of their charm. A dock patrol officer uncovers a nasty bit of business inside one of those large shipping containers and then the real fun begins. Also tonight: Six Feet Under ends its lacklustre third season at 9 p.m. Watch for the first season to start airing on Showcase on August 24.
In My Father's House
Vision, 10 p.m. "A deflowered woman is like yesterday's couscous," grumps the filmmaker's grandfather near the beginning of this very personal documentary as Fatima Jebli Ouazzani confronts the traditional role of women in Morrocan society. She herself refused to be married as a teenage girl (the young age helps ensure a girl's virginity and the family's honour) and talks with her own family about its tragic adherence to the custom. The candid interview with her elderly grandparents is alarming: This is one arranged marriage held together by tradition and little else. Also interviewed is a young Dutch woman who wants to be married in the traditional Morrocan way, so we sit in on many meetings where her bride price is bartered. When it comes to the dowry, her fiance is asked for a downpayment. He smiles, tells his bride to be that she is "worth billions," then plunks down $50. It's priceless, but In My Father's House is really a thoughtful protest of unfair patriarchial traditions.
History, 9 p.m. Hitler's secretary, Martin Bormann, didn't make it into the CBS miniseries that aired last week. That version of the Führer's rise to power skipped over Bormann altogether, but according to this documentary, Bormann was Hitler's go-to-guy. His administrative skills made him useful, but Bormann was the ultimate yes-man, which, to Hitler, was a more admirable skill. This profile of the man Hitler called his most faithful party comrade is an amazing tale, revealing just how far up the ladder a faithful sycophant can climb.
Revenge of the Celebrity Assistants
Star!, 9 p.m. With a title like Revenge of the Celebrity Assistants you'd expect some really juicy gossip but this special is mostly a rehash of old tabloid stories. Still, if you haven't been keeping up with the supermarket rags, this is your chance to hear how temperamental celebrities can be. (What? Stop the presses!) The only fresh celebrity meat in this hour is Kathy Griffin and her nice-guy assistant Josh. Josh lets the cameras follow him as he picks up her dry cleaning and Kathy shows us how Josh organized her closet. Yawn.
Showcase, 10 p.m. It's the beginning of the end. The sixth and final season of the prison drama begins with a surprise that won't be revealed here. What I can tell you (without getting angry e-mails for spoiling things) is O'Reily's mom is back and en-courages the prisoners to perform Macbeth. It's a hard sell, but an inspired solioquay from one prisoner turns them onto Shakes-peare's bloodbath. The play is a charming subplot that runs through all eight episodes, even though some roles inevitably need to be recast. The life expectancy in the Oswald State Correctional facility is often shorter than five acts.