Tuned In: Merriment reigns in 'The Tudors'

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"The Tudors"
When: 10 p.m. tonight on Showtime.
Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers
"The Shield"
When: 10 p.m. Tuesday on FX.
Starring: Michael Chiklis
   

It's good to be the king. And it's good to watch this king if you're a fan of lavish soap operas that masquerade as highfalutin premium cable art. "The Tudors" (10 tonight, Showtime) won't rock the TV landscape the way "The Sopranos" did, but it is a highly entertaining and addictive costume drama, an R-rated "Masterpiece Theatre." Score another creative success -- following "Weeds" and "Dexter" -- for Showtime.

Just as important, it's not a chore to follow what's happening in "The Tudors." Unlike HBO's "Rome," which almost demanded viewers have a degree in ancient Roman history, writer Michael Hirst ("Elizabeth") keeps "The Tudors" more palatable. Characters are introduced clearly and without fuss (it helps that they don't all look alike as so many of the old white guys of "Rome" did). Even if a character's exact title in the court of Henry VIII is a little unclear, by the end of tonight's premiere, viewers will know exactly where everyone stands among the assorted rivals and allies.

As for historical accuracy, casting the slim, chiseled-faced Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry quashes those old depictions of a heavily bearded, slovenly king. This Henry is a cheeky frat boy and sexual predator who slinks his way around bed posts like a leopard, eager to devour the virginity of any woman he likes.

With equal amounts of intensity and charm, Meyers epitomizes ideal casting as Henry. After deciding to go to war with France, he declares, simply, "Now, I can go play." And so he does.

But Meyers' Henry is also a prideful egomaniac who raises his voice at his wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy, above), when she suggests, "I am my father's daughter."

"You are my wife," Henry snarls.

When he throws a rock star-style hissy fit, destroying a room after signing a treaty, his petulance is masterful.

Among Henry's advisers, the scheming Cardinal Wolsey stands out because of the subtlely actor Sam Neill brings to the role. There's no overacting here. Neill underplays the part with skill and panache.

If Wolsey is the devil on Henry's one shoulder, Sir Thomas Moore (Jeremy Northam) is the "humanist" angel on the other. Henry's court also includes friends, like the rakish, over-sexed Charles Brandon (Henry Cavill), and enemies, including the plotting Duke of Buckingham (Steven Waddington), who aims to assassinate Henry.

In future episodes, Henry's sister, Margaret (Gabrielle Anwar), humorously frets over her pending marriage to an ancient monarch, while Henry falls in love with Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer), a tease whose father (Nick Dunning) prostitutes his daughters for political gain.

Smart casting, powerful performances and a riveting, easy-to-follow story make "The Tudors" a dashing TV treat.

'The Shield'

A run of 10 new episodes of FX's searing drama "The Shield" (10 p.m. Tuesday) begins this week, and the show is just as invigorating as always, with strong performances and taut writing. It picks up from the death of Lem at the hands of friend Shane (Walton Goggins), who killed Lem thinking he would rat out the Strike Team. Lem didn't, which Shane learns in Tuesday's season premiere.

Strike team leader Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) is in the dark about who killed Lem, but as Shane's guilt grows, it seems like only a matter of time before his dark secret comes out.

Internal Affairs Lt. Jon Kavanaugh (Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker) continues his obsessive pursuit of Vic, eventually taking his cues from the man he's pursuing.

"The universe will take out its trash when it's ready," Kavanagh warns Vic.

Back at the Farmington police headquarters, Claudette (CCH Pounder) is now captain and Dutch (Jay Karnes) is saddled with lazy Billings (David Marciano) as a partner, but the show's writers wisely give greater depth to Billings, a character who had previously been nothing but comic relief.

A flashback-fueled 14-minute episode of "The Shield" that depicts Lem's funeral is available online at Bud.tv , on demand for Comcast subscribers and on the season five DVD release that's now in stores. This brief episode fills in a few blanks about how the Los Angeles police department treated Lem's death.

TV REVIEWS [REviewS is CQ]

'The Tudors'

When: 10 tonight, Showtime.

Starring: Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

'The Shield'

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday, FX.

Starring: Michael Chiklis.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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