'Ruth' makes for miserable family viewing

Nothing says domestic violence like an opening shot of a foot crushing a birdhouse. Welcome to "The Book of Ruth" (8 p.m. Sunday, CBS). This drama of family dysfunction is based on a best-selling book of the same name, a novel that was also enshrined as an Oprah Book Club selection, our contemporary pantheon of misery literature.

Christine Lahti stars as Maylene, the meanest mother of all time, a country woman who never misses a chance to say something awful or cutting about just about anybody -- except her perfect, brilliant son Mark, who skedaddles out her life the first chance he gets. Oh, by the way, Maylene is murdered in the first scene, and the whole "Book of Ruth" is one long, miserable flashback telling us why it happened and who did it.

  • When the going gets tough, the tough have "issues." That's the lesson of the miniseries "10.5" (8 p.m. Sunday and Monday, NBC). Faced with an earthquake of biblical proportions, hard-charging geologists (including Kim Delaney) bicker about their careers. The female governor of California argues with her ex-husband and bratty teenage daughter, and two busy surgeons (Dule Hill and Ivan Sergei) banter about trust. Sergei's character also has a problem trusting his father (Fred Ward), the U.S. president's right-hand man and earthquake czar.

Replete with images of falling landmarks and mass death, "10.5" may seem out of touch with post-Sept. 11 sensibilities. But with its many scenes of harried professionals shouting stilted technical dialogue over clicking keyboards and flashing screens, the film reminded me of all of those forgettable doomsday dramas that preceded Y2K.

  • What would you do if you had to identify a corpse that looked like your identical twin? Alison Eastwood stars in the 2004 drama "I'll Be Seeing You" (8 p.m. today, PAX) as the attractive ranch operator out to identify her murdered doppelganger and clear the name of her father, who mysteriously vanished just days after cashing out his insurance policy. Filled with staggeringly bad dialogue and daytime-soap level performances, this is strictly for fans of Mary Higgins Clark mysteries.

Today's highlights

  • On back-to-back episodes of "The District" (CBS): Noland is shot (8 p.m.), Debreno's girlfriend is murdered (9 p.m.). The second episode is the season finale.
  • Vampires, beware! The town of Gilroy, Calif., hosts "The Great Garlic Cook-Off" (8 p.m., Food Network).
  • Lindsay Lohan is host of "Saturday Night Live" (10:30 p.m., NBC), featuring musical guest Usher.

Sunday's highlights

  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): the abuse of antibiotics; a Muslim comedienne; a Massachusetts institution grapples with its dark history of eugenics.
  • There's a good chance tonight's episode of "The Sopranos" (8 p.m., HBO) will have little or nothing to do with last week's episode.

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