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HBO's adaptation of 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' is magical

Why does HBO's adaptation of the hit novel The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency seem so amazing?

Here's one reason: It offers a nuanced, compelling tale about Africa that doesn't center on famine, AIDS, violent warlords, child soldiers, genocide or any other heart-tugging tragedy.

Viewers get a vision of Africa through new eyes, re-creating the sweet, quirky tale of Precious Ramotswe — a smart, good-natured woman who turns a small inheritance left her by a departed, doting dad into the only female-owned detective agency in Botswana, in southern Africa.

Along the way, the premium cable channel thwarts every accepted piece of wisdom about what works on television. Which makes me really want to see this show succeed.

First great move: casting Grammy-winning R&B singer Jill Scott as Ramotswe, a woman of, shall we say, generous proportions who has little in common with the waifs and malnourished women topping most big-time TV shows these days.

Fealty to Alexander McCall Smith's nine novels ensures there's no attempt to make the cast more acceptable to American audiences by inserting white characters. And the two-hour movie that starts this 13-episode journey tonight at 8 is most affecting when distilling the oddball nature of Ramotswe's corner of Botswana.

Eager to succeed, Scott's Ramotswe tests the fidelity of a client's husband by inadvertently picking him up in a bar; later, a car mechanic smitten with her needs help dealing with a dangerous gangster connected to the disappearance of a little boy.

Through it all, Ramotswe's cadre of helpers — eccentric secretary Mma Makutsi, mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni and self-assured hairdresser/neighbor B.K. — act as an African Scooby gang of sorts, helping Ramotswe find missing dogs, wayward crocodiles and fraudulent dentists in the bustling tangle of everyday life in southern Africa.

Filmed in Botswana, the series has a size and scope few others can match.

TiVo

My Boys, debuts at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday on TBS: The most underappreciated comedy on TV keeps chugging along, as Chicago sportswriter P.J. (Jordana Spiro) kicks off the show's third season struggling to deal with the impending wedding of the guy pal she secretly covets while having a public fling with his sexy older brother. Yeah, I know it sounds like a bad Grey's Anatomy episode, but what saves this show is P.J.'s bumbling crowd of buddies, topped by sidesplitting standup comic Jim "Hot Pockets" Gaffigan as her weary, married, overimbibing brother. Duck a cheesy episode of Law & Order: SVU and check it out.

TiVo

The Osbournes Reloaded, debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WTVT-Ch. 13: Fox only sent critics a "highlight" reel stuffed with quick flashes from this show, which takes rock's most self-promotional family and sticks them in a range of stunts ripped off from other shows. There's the segment where they are blindfolded trying to guess a celebrity's identity What's My Line? style (as a bonus, the first celebrity, Pam Anderson, loses her top walking onstage). There's the "Little Osbournes" segment where kids dress up like Ozzy and Sharon and take on a movie usher, bleeped dialogue and all. Because reporters didn't get a full review episode, I'm sure it's awful. But everybody will be talking about it at work the next day, so TiVo it and fast-forward to the interesting parts. Bet it takes you 10 minutes, tops.

the list

To hype the 11 p.m. Tuesday debut of its new series Pretty Wicked (10 women compete in challenges focused on inner and outer beauty) the female-focused Oxygen cable channel polled 2,000 women age 18 to 34. Here are some of the more interesting results:

54% consider themselves physically attractive.

22% would rather lose the ability to read than lose their figure.

41% would be okay knowing they were chosen for a job on looks alone.

80% think cybersex is cheating.

HBO's adaptation of 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' is magical 03/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 28, 2009 4:31am]
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