Shaw made over for our times, once again
TODAY'S HIGHLIGHTS SUNDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS CRITIC'S CHOICE TODAY'S SERIES SUNDAY SERIES BY KEVIN McDONOUGH
Sometimes formulaic romances are more interesting than they first appear.
Julia Stiles returns to literary adaptation in the 2013 romantic comedy "The Makeover" (9 p.m. Sunday, ABC, TV-PG). She gained fame as a young actress in "10 Things I Hate About You," a 1990s update of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew." "The Makeover" takes a gender-bending look at George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," the basis for the musical "My Fair Lady" and the 1983 Dan Aykroyd-Eddie Murphy comedy "Trading Places."
Stiles is Hannah Higgins, a prim -- make that priggish -- education consultant who is trounced in a campaign for a congressional seat by a dim bulb weatherman who impressed the voters as the nicer candidate. Devastated by an electorate intent on choosing a dolt over herself, Higgins makes a sly bet with her colleague, Colleen Pickering (Camryn Manheim), insisting that she can turn a random idiot into a candidate for Congress.
Opportunity knocks when the weatherman dies in a tragicomic accident, and Hannah subsequently encounters beer delivery guy Elliot Doolittle (David Walton). Doolittle's harsh South Boston accent hinders his professional advancement and dating prospects. He agrees to become Hannah's student, but has no idea of her political shenanigans.
Stiles is quite good in this role, projecting a condescending brittleness reminiscent of Faye Dunaway in "Network" and even "Mommie Dearest." Her ice queen borders on camp, and that's half the fun. Walton is given a two-dimensional character, all the more easy to transform. Under a dirty hat, a bad haircut and a messy beard, he looks more like the GEICO caveman than a blue-collar guy.
He's a quick learner who takes well to elocution lessons. He's also surrounded by a cast of "Southie" stereotypes, including his brash mother (Frances Fisher) and his salt-of-the-earth tomboy sister, Allie (Georgia Lyman), who isn't shy about threatening Hannah when she thinks the snobby instructor might be playing games with her kid brother's heart.
"The Makeover" is not a great or even remarkable movie. But it sticks to Shaw's powerful premise and shows how language and speech reveal so much about gender, class, status and power.
It's a "Pygmalion" for our times, a period when a generation of women, raised to break the glass ceiling, can often contend with a dating pool of males who have put less emphasis on schooling, accomplishment and ambition. In doing so, it covers some of the same thematic territory as HBO's "Girls," a show in which young men and women are often like miserable exiles from different galaxies.
This Shaw update resonates with the mixed messages offered by programmers who have divided up the cable dial into separate rooms for different genders. "The Makeover" ponders whether in a world of Spike and We or FX and TLC, men and women will ever learn to speak the same language.
n Midwinter hibernation is upon us. While you'd think broadcasters would counterprogram against the cold with shows about tropical island adventures and bachelors in hot tubs, some have embraced the freeze. NBC offers three hours of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships (8 p.m. today), while the "Winter X Games" (9 p.m. today and 9 p.m. Sunday, ESPN) continue from Aspen, Colo.
Looking for fake snow and cheap thrills in a wintry setting? Bigfoot attacks a resort hosting a ski and snowboarding competition in the 2013 shocker "Abominable Snowman" (9 p.m. today, Syfy, TV-14), starring Adrian Paul ("Highlander") and Chuck Campbell ("Sanctuary"). If monsters weren't bad enough, an avalanche strikes in the middle of a blizzard!
n Fans of formerly boyish stars in period costumes should not miss Ricky Schroder ("NYPD Blue") and Luke Perry ("Beverly Hills 90210") in the made-for-cable Western "Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts" (8 p.m. today, Hallmark Movie Channel).
n Speaking of messages women receive from the media, "Plastic Wives" (10 p.m. Sunday, TLC, TV-14) follows four women in Beverly Hills, Calif., romantically linked to cosmetic surgeons.
n Discovery unleashes the kraken with "Monster Squid: The Giant Is Real" (8 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG). The season finale of the "Curiosity" series, this special documents attempts to capture the famously elusive sea creature on film -- something never done before.
Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith star in the critically savaged 2008 remake of "The Women" (7 p.m., E!), a film that seemed to have more big-name stars than viewers.
Scheduled on two episodes of "48 Hours" (CBS): foiling a home invasion (9 p.m.), death in the hotel business (10 p.m.).
Beverly Johnson, Charlene Tilton and Jimmy Wayne discuss their encounters with departed spirits on "Celebrity Ghost Stories" (9 p.m., Bio, TV-PG).
A street urchin faces vigilante justice after the brutal murder of a toy merchant on "Ripper Street" (9 p.m., BBC America, TV-MA).
"An Idiot Abroad" (9 p.m., Science, TV-14) ventures to India.
Experts discuss how the quest for luxury items has been a driving force in human history on "Mankind Decoded" (10 p.m., H2, TV-PG).
Denzel Washington, Nicholas Hoult and Bill Bailey appear on "The Graham Norton Show" (10 p.m., BBC America, TV-14).
Adam Levine hosts "Saturday Night Live" (11:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14), featuring musical guest Kendrick Lamar.
Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (7 p.m., CBS): U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart discusses Lance Armstrong's public statements.
The NFL's best meet in the 2013 Pro Bowl (7 p.m., NBC).
Emma and Mary Margaret seek a point of re-entry on "Once Upon a Time" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).
Samantha Brown takes fellow cable TV hosts and personalities on a tour of the Adriatic Sea on "Trip of a Lifetime" (8 p.m., Travel, TV-G).
Newcomers nervously make their way into the kitchen on "Downton Abbey" on "Masterpiece Classic" (9 p.m., PBS, channels 12 and 33, TV-PG).
Alicia mulls a big move on "The Good Wife" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).
Hannah joins a new circle of friends on "Girls" (9 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
Mixed messages from Levi on "Enlightened" (9:30 p.m., HBO, TV-MA).
Stranded on a desert island, British schoolboys descend into savagery in the harrowing 1963 drama "Lord of the Flies" (10 p.m. Saturday, TCM).
Betrayal on "NCIS: Los Angeles" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Mixed martial arts on "UFC on Fox '13" (8 p.m.) ... Home chefs and professionals compete in blind taste tests with celebrity judges on "The Taste" (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-14).
Wescott follows a terrorist on "NCIS" (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) ... Just in case on "The Simpsons" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... Middle school woes on "Bob's Burgers" (8:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).
Quagmire makes a rash decision on "Family Guy" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Secrets revealed on "American Dad" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... An old case may have a link to Red John on "The Mentalist" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).