Television -- much like the weather -- can be unremittingly bleak this time of year. The big U.S. networks hoard their A-list material for the February sweeps and the Canadian networks largely subsist on U.S. programming, so they don't get much choice in the matter. In a way, it seems as if the networks aren't even trying (which might explain why CBS is running back-to-back episodes of the geriatric gumshoe series Diagnosis: Murder tonight). Still, there are a few bright spots amid the grey skies.
Case in point: Mystery! returns tonight with the brilliant British crime drama Touching Evil (PBS, 9 p.m.). For the uninitiated, the series follows the Organized and Serial Crime Unit in London, whose collective task is to investigate particularly grisly misdeeds. In tonight's first instalment, we focus on Detective Constable Dave Creegan (Robson Green), a tightly wound chap whose first task upon returning from psychiatric leave is to help clear a killer he helped convict months before. As it happens, the killer is back at work and is once again leaving his crime-scene signature: Each victim is a married woman whose heart has been removed with surgical precision. Any further details would spoil the suspense, so let's stop there.
This is the third season of the Touching Evil series (which runs on Thursday nights for the next four weeks) and by far the most disturbing. Despite the premise, the on-screen graphic violence is kept to a minimum; instead, gloomy atmosphere abounds -- London has rarely looked so gritty and grim. It's a ripping good yarn. The most intriguing thing about the new documentary Germaine Greer: Close to the Bone (WTN, 10 p.m.), is watching how the great lady has mellowed. For the most part, this film is a fawning tribute to her brilliant career, which essentially began in 1970 with the release of her most famous work, The Female Eunuch. At the time, it was a very controversial book, so for the next few years, Greer was a talk-show gadfly, bouncing from one panel show to the next. I remember her appearance on The David Frost Show, with male audience members loudly heckling her during an interview. Greer, who was raised a Catholic schoolgirl in Australia, spoke out in favour of sexual freedom for women and dismissed the institution of marriage as "slavery." It may not sound like much now, but that kind of thinking was considered wildly radical at the time.
When the eighties began, though, the feminist movement more or less fell off the radar screen, and Greer simply moved on with her life. Her transition is handled deftly in the program by simple juxtaposition. An archival film clip of a young, fiery Greer addressing her supporters is in sharp contrast to a scene of Greer today, as she strolls the serene grounds of Newnham College in Cambridge, England, where she's been in residence for the past decade. The most enchanting bits come from Greer waxing nostalgic about the good old days in the early seventies. To her credit, she's still an unapologetic feminist. Debuting tonight, Weird Wheels (The Life Channel, 10:30 p.m.) is an odd little series. In brief, it's about people who insist on turning their vehicles into functional automotive art. As such, there are cars that look like sharks, buses covered with real, growing grass and ancient vehicles decorated with thousands of seashells. Not surprisingly, some of the people have taken things to a ridiculous extreme -- such as the man who invents a "drum-bike," which enables him to drive and play drums at the same time (and you thought drivers with cellphones were a problem). It's a silly, fluffy show that requires virtually no thought on the part of the viewer. Andrew Ryan is the editor of Globe Television. John Doyle's column returns Monday. email@example.com