Cheesy WB epic can be entertaining

What if they turned the Iliad into a comic book and adapted it for the WB network? It might look something like "Helen of Troy" (7 p.m. Sunday, USA). And as such, it looks pretty good. Sienna Guillory stars as the Spartan cutie whose looks launched a thousand ships and plunged Greece and Troy into a 10-year war. You have to love any movie that tries to condense a story this vast, complex and weird into two two-hour installments.

The first night is really about two mixed up teens destined to fall for each other. Helen, the daughter of God, and Paris (Matthew Marsden), the abandoned son of a king, surmount incredible odds to fall into each other's arms. In part two, men take up arms to tear them apart. While it's pretty absurd to consider Guillory, or any actress, the most beautiful woman in the world, she does look good in diaphanous gowns, and exhibits a coltish whimsy that seems to drive the toga crowd crazy. While never short on cheese (feta?), "Helen" moves at a fast clip and never fails to entertain. Get that Homer fella a three-picture development deal.

l Based on a true story, the 2003 TV drama "Ice Bound" (8 p.m. Sunday, CBS) stars Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon as Dr. Jerri Nielsen. Several months into her tour at a scientific base in the South Pole, Nielsen discovered a lump in her breast, performed a biopsy on herself without pain medication, and treated her breast cancer with medicines air-dropped into the middle of the forbidding Antarctic winter.

While this story has all the material you'd need for a month of "women in peril" movies, "Ice Bound" burdens viewers with a tedious and obvious script that kicks off with Nielsen discussing her voyage of self-discovery and continues with a parade of characters dishing out endless snippets of New Age wisdom.

  • NBC celebrates Bob Hope's forthcoming 100th birthday with the two-hour clip-fest "100 Years of Hope and Humor" (6 p.m. Sunday, NBC). With host Jane Pauley, the special emphasizes the comedian's 69-year affiliation with the network. "Hope" takes a roughly chronological approach, celebrating his years as a star of vaudeville, Broadway, Hollywood, radio and television.

Writers and comics including Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien recall how they "borrowed" liberally from Hope's routines. Allen attributes his lovable loser characters to Hope's "Road Movie" roles. O'Brien admits to stealing Hope's habit of emitting a silly tiger growl whenever he is in the presence of a pretty woman.

  • "James: Brother of Jesus" (8 p.m. Sunday, Discovery) examines the discovery of an ancient ossuary (bone box) bearing the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." If proven genuine, this could be the greatest discovery in the history of biblical archaeology. But some experts interviewed here believe it is merely the latest elaborate hoax in a field rich with well-trained frauds.

Tonight's highlights

  • Alexandra Paul is host of "Winning Women" (5:30 p.m., WE), saluting female athletes.
  • Immigrant smugglers on "Hunter" (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Robin Williams and Nathan Lane star in Mike Nichols' 1996 comedy "The Birdcage" (7 p.m., ABC).
  • A religious man takes justice into his own hands on "Law & Order" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • A small-town guy (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) finds death in the big city on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (9 p.m., NBC).

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