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'40 Years a Prisoner' recalls strange story

'40 Years a Prisoner' recalls strange story

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The 2020 documentary "40 Years a Prisoner" (8 p.m., HBO, TV-MA) recalls one of the stranger chapters in American history. It relates the story and cause of Mike Africa Jr., a man born behind bars to a radical mother imprisoned after a violent 1978 altercation with police. It also recalls Philadelphia's MOVE people, a heavily armed black commune of activists and back-to-nature radicals. If you can imagine the Black Panthers merging with PETA, you're getting close.

Tensions between Philadelphia police and the MOVE compound were never-ending. In 1985, the City of Philadelphia dropped a bomb on their compound, killing 11 MOVE residents, five of them children. It destroyed a neighborhood, 65 buildings in all.

-- The documentary special "The Ornament of the World" (7 p.m., PBS, TV-14) has nothing to do with Christmas trees. "World" recalls a long period of Spanish history, the 800 years from 711 to 1492 known as "La Convivencia," when the nation's culture reflected a mingling of Christian, Jewish and Moorish influences, creating one of the most advanced civilizations of the so-called "Dark Ages," and when the cities of Cordoba, Seville, Toledo and Granada were adorned with spectacular architecture and art that dazzles and attracts tourists to this day.

By the early 16th century, La Convivencia gave way to xenophobia as Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain or forced to convert to Catholicism. Despite receiving a lion's share of territory, gold and plunder from the New World, this "victory" over multiculturalism marked the beginning of Spain's long decline and centuries-long association with decadent aristocracy, despotism and religious inquisition.

-- Charles Dickens' beloved novel "David Copperfield" (8:30 p.m., TCM, TV-G) has inspired many movies and miniseries. This 1935 MGM adaptation directed by George Cukor was whittled down to just over two hours by novelist Hugh Walpole. W.C. Fields was praised for his portrayal of Micawber. It marked his only screen role confined to a fictional character. Normally, he ad-libbed while playing his usual anarchic self.

Dev Patel stars in the newest adaptation, "The Personal History of David Copperfield," a 2019 U.K. production given a limited theatrical release here last August. It can be rented on any number of video-on-demand services.

-- If following entertainment teaches you anything, it's that Christmas can be adapted to any story and that monsters, first intended to frighten, can be domesticated into cute little critters to entertain children. How many millions have watched "Casper the Friendly Ghost" while eating Count Chocula cereal?

Both trends come to mind as Netflix launches a new animated series "Super Monsters: Santa's Super Monster Helpers." Apparently the big guy just can't do it alone.

-- TV-themed DVDs available today include Season 3 of "Yellowstone."

Other highlights

-- Four performers survive the semifinals on "The Voice" (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

-- The Ravens host the Cowboys in NFL action (7 p.m., Fox).

-- Nothing can keep a jilted bride from her "Christmas Waltz" (7 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G) with her handsome teacher.

-- While chasing a scoop, rival journalists become stranded in the 2017 romance "Snowed Inn Christmas" (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-PG).

-- A cartel schemes to bust its leader out of prison on "FBI" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

-- On two episodes of "Transplant" (NBC, TV-14): An addicted mother expires (8 p.m.); medical malpractice proves almost fatal (9 p.m.). The second episode is the season finale.

-- While writing about a painting of a young woman by her grandmother, a woman feels inspired to follow her own romantic dreams in the 2020 fantasy "A Christmas for Mary" (8 p.m., OWN, TV-PG).

-- A witness's woes only begin with her husband's murder on "FBI: Most Wanted" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

-- Cassie and Jenny take the next step in "Big Sky" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

Cult choice

The new kid in town (Kevin Bacon) challenges a religious fanatic (John Lithgow) who forbids dancing in the 1984 fantasy "Footloose" (7 p.m., BBC America, TV-14).

Series notes

Treasure hunters expire on "NCIS" (7 p.m., CBS, TV-14) ... A fetid rescue mission on "Swamp Thing" (7 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Simone's guilt on "Tell Me a Story" (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

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