The Guardian 16 March, 2005

TV programs worth watching
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The story of how the discovery and piecing together of the original parchments on which the docudrama series Ancient Egyptians is based is in some ways as fascinating as the series itself.

This week's final episode, The Twins (ABC 7.30pm Sunday), tells of murder, betrayal and decadence in the shadowy underworld of the great temple city of Saqqara in the last decades of the Egyptian empire.

The story originated in the discovery in the catacombs of the Serapeum in Saqqara, near Cairo, in 1820 of an earthenware jar containing over 100 papyrus texts. It was an archive of personal letters and dreams written by a dream interpreter, Ptolemaios, who had lived and practiced there 2000 years earlier.

As so often, commerce reared its head: the papyrus documents and "ostraca" (fragments of broken pots and small stone slabs used by the ancient Egyptians as notepads) were split up and sold individually to collectors.

They have ended up scattered in various museums and institutions across Europe, including the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg (Leningrad).

The extraordinary story of the sacred twins who took refuge with Ptolemaios was pieced together from his letters and dreams held in these various museums.

Agatha Christie had a penchant for creating characters whose circumstances leave them with only two alternatives: despair or murder. And when the poor sod commits the murder and is of course unmasked by Miss Christie's clever detective, we are treated to the ritual of dropping the killer through a trapdoor on the end of a rope so that his or her neck is broken.

Ghoulish entertainment, really. And most of her stories follow the formula of having a second murder about two thirds of the way along. Just to keep things interesting, I assume.

A Murder Is Announced, this week's episode of Marple (ABC 8.30pm Sundays), runs true to form, with plenty of suspects and red herrings. It also has, like others in this series, excellent period atmosphere and a notable cast as long as your arm.

Besides Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple, the cast includes Elaine Paige, Zoe Wanamaker, Keeley Hawes, Robert Pugh, Claire Skinner and Virginia McKenna.

As usual, the investigating officer, an Inspector Craddock (Alexander Armstrong), underrates Miss Marple but not for long.

The US Army awards a Purple Heart decoration to soldiers wounded in combat. It's not much compensation for a lost limb, but then, what could be?

Lose your sight in an explosion, win a Purple Heart. Get a hole the size of a baseball in your leg, win a Purple Heart.

Get returned to your wife with brain damage, slurred speech and no hope of improvement? Give that man a Purple Heart.

So far, over 1500 US soldiers have died in Iraq and more than 7000 have been severely wounded. The severely wounded are sent home to the US where they are tipped out by the military to cope as best they can.

Purple Hearts, a documentary from the Netherlands which hears from three of these severely wounded American soldiers, screens in the Cutting Edge timeslot (SBS 8.30pm Tuesday).

If you expect these wounded vets to now be loud anti-war campaigners you will be disappointed.

Private first class Salvator Ross Jr, 82nd air born division, 307th engineer battalion, was blown up by a land mine in May, 2003. Ross enlisted after seeing a "Be All You Can Be" recruitment commercial.

Three months after arriving in Iraq he was wounded. His injuries included the loss of his sight, a fractured scull, a fractured sinus and the loss of the lower half of his left leg.

Far from becoming a peacenik, Ross believes the US military should have bombed the entire country. "We should have made it the world's largest wide open desert.

"Then take a bunch of bulldozers in and level it all off and start fresh. Make a country worth building, not just a shit hole."

Corporal Tyson Johnson, Alpha Company, 302nd MI, would come closest to an anti-war position. Johnson suffered horrendous abdominal injuries in 2003. "I know we don't belong over there", he says.

"This war shouldn't happen. A lot of innocent soldiers die for no reason. And not only soldiers", he adds.

But like so many other wounded US vets, if the army would allow him he would gladly return to his unit.

Unconstitutional (SBS 10.00pm Tuesday) details the unprecedented way that the civil liberties of American citizens have been infringed upon, curtailed and rolled back since 9/11 all in the name of National Security.

It documents the introduction of the USA Patriot Act and other Bush administration policies, that are now being met with a significant grassroots groundswell opposition from across the political spectrum.

Resolutions opposing the Patriot Act have passed in approximately 340 communities in 41 US states, including four state-wide resolutions. These communities represent over 53 million people who believe that the Patriot Act goes too far.

Unconstitutional reveals how paranoia, fear and racial profiling have contributed to major infringements on freedom and democracy. The film features a diverse cross-section of people, including Aquil Abdullah, an African-American member of the US rowing team at the 2004 Olympics, who is regularly held up and searched at airports due to his name; Anne Turner, Librarian at Santa Cruz Public Library who discusses new unusual requests from the FBI; and Sam Hamoui, a Seattle resident whose parents and sister were detained by federal agents for 10 months for no reason apart from race.

This week's final episode in the current series of Blue Murder (ABC 8.30pm Friday) centres on lonely people and the modern ritual of "speed dating". Anything less romantic than speed dating would be hard to find.

Written by Jeff Povey and directed by Alex Pillai for Granada Television, this series improved with watching. Mind you, as I said last week, I could do with less of the trials and tribulations of the home life of DCI Janine Lewis (Caroline Quentin) and more police work.

But that's a bit unfair, as there is really plenty of police procedure on view. And that's what the genre of "police procedurals" is all about, after all.

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