Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TV Review: ‘My Father, My Brother, and Me’

Compelling PBS documentary
on Parkinson’s equally
personal for creator, audience

The PBS television series Frontline presented a compelling and very personal examination of Parkinson’s disease tonight by David Iverson, covering a gamut of issues ranging from the search for causes to the pursuit of prevention and cures, and what people can do who have the degenerative and still-uncurable disease.

Titled “My Father, My Brother, and Me,” the documentary is personal for Iverson because he and his brother both have Parkinson’s, and their father died as a result of it, raising the question of underlying genetic aspects for some of the disease’s victims.

And it is personal for my family, as Parkinson’s claimed my mother-in-law more than a decade ago, and now is being fought, at age 87, by my father-in-law.

There are a million Americans with Parkinson’s, the documentary estimated, and 50,000 new cases are being diagnosed annually. So there should have been an enormous audience, if only those with the disease and their families were watching.

But one person I feel certain was not watching is George W. Bush, whose role in the documentary was his presidential veto of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research that had potential in the fight against Parkinson’s – a disease in which time is a big enemy to its victims.

Bush is shown explaining how destruction of an embryo violates the sanctity of life. And a priest is shown testifying at a Capitol Hill hearing that even if an unused embryo ultimately is destined for disposal, it is nonetheless morally wrong to use it for medical research to help the living.

Inevitably, there was also the presence of actor and Parkinson’s victim Michael J. Fox, who enlisted his celebrity into the political battle by testifying on the need for those federal dollars and was quickly ridiculed by radio commentator Rush Limbaugh – shown criticizing Fox and saying that his shaking was just an act.

Interestingly, the wrangling largely pitting conservative religious forces and politicians against scientific research took up relatively little of the documentary. It was just part of the story, the history of it all, and like the people who have the disease, politics is caught somewhere in the middle between cause and cure.

Overrall, the tone of the nearly one-hour documentary, which ought to win an Emmy award, leaned toward hope and what people can do – including a regimen of exercise and activity that seems to help slow the course of Parkinson’s for many. Afterward, a live online chat with Iverson and three Parkinson’s experts brought dozens of comments and questions from viewers they could not keep up with in answering.

But I can’t get Bush out of my head. He had the wide-eyed expression of a village idiot, talking about the sanctity of life – and went on to launch a war in Iraq that brought the slaughter of thousands of people and untold misery.

So much pain to be undone.

The documentary can be viewed online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/parkinsons/view/.

For the show's Web site, and a click-on for the producer's forum (with more than 150 comments and questions by Wednesday night), visit http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/parkinsons/.

TV’s other side

You have to wonder how much money NBC dumped into the production and marketing of its Monday night 3-D episode of the series “Chuck.”

I confess to having picked a sheet of 3-D glasses from a display at a local store, and with all the commercials hyping it during the Super Bowl, remembered to watch the show – for the first time. (I watch a lot of TV, but there’s only so much time to waste, after all.)

Let’s see if I’ve got it all: Chuck is some kind of ordinary guy cast into a secret agent job in a team that includes a hot chick and handsome dude, both of whom are far better equipped to battle bad guys. And in this episode, Chuck has to protect a rock star dude whose life is threatened by a terrorist because of a tattoo on his back that has something to do with secret nuclear plans.


Anyway, the 3-D effects were only marginally better than the plot and the acting.

And despite having watched this high-tech event on a high-def 42-inch Samsung TV, it wasn’t as good as the flying spear or the tiger I remember jumping out of the screen in the 1952 3-D version of “Bwana Devil” at Baltimore’s old Avalon Theater. (For the record, a knife thrown in “Chuck” just didn’t cut it.)

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You are broad minded and socially active.

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