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Cable has Jesus and Robin Hood; Fox has a 'Winner'

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

A couple of noteworthy cable shows are coming this weekend - one's an energetic retelling of Robin Hood, and the other is TV's controversy of the moment: James Cameron's documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus." We'll get to those.

But first, one of the most charming new comedies in a long while, Fox's "The Winner," premieres with two episodes Sunday night (at 8:30 and 9:30).

It stars Rob Corddry, yet another graduate of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," as Glen Abbott, a guy narrating his own Wonder Years - those precious days when he started to grow up. The thing is, for Glen, that began at age 32.

Know what you're thinking. Fox. A guy coming of age. Lots of boorish antics, lots of junk. Not this time. This time, it's exactly the opposite. It's sweet and adorable, and witty. (And ignore the promos on Fox; they totally misrepresent the show.)

Glen is now the richest man in Buffalo, which I guess is a good thing, and he's looking back to 1994, when he was living with his parents and had only kissed a girl once, back when he was 14.

Then that girl, his lifelong crush (Erinn Hayes ), who's now divorced, moves in across the street. Glen instantly connects ... with her 14-year-old son, Josh (Keir Gilchrist ), which makes sense since they're at precisely the same maturity level. Or close. Josh may be better with girls.

Their innocent, good-hearted, nerds-on-parade friendship is at the core of the show, and it would be appealing even if they were the same age. But seeing this odd pair, and their mutual, giggly, dorky support as they both gain experience, is precious. And it makes them one of the most distinctive, likeable comic teams on TV.

This show was created by Ricky Blitt, a funny, funny guy, who says he's got too much in common with Glen - and he's also a bit like his show, dopey, endearing, peculiar and oddly clever. "The Winner" isn't groundbreaking, just a happy good time.

One warning about falling in love with this show. Fox is running it twice-a-Sunday for three weeks, then will decide whether to make more. But this is one of the best, and approachable, non-animated comedies on Fox in years, and if it gets any kind of ratings, it'll probably come back in the fall.

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And now we come to Discovery Channel's "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" on Sunday (at 9 p.m.). Before we get too far along, some ground rules:

This is a TV column. Save your theological cards and e-mails. I cover Hollywood. Just assume I'm a doomed heretic and let's move on.

Next, if a show offends you, just don't watch. With all the technology around these days, I don't want to hear that you can't change the channel.

OK, in case you missed it, here's the short version on what this is:

James Cameron - Mr. "Titanic" - in connection with "Discovery" and some big-league archeologists, produced a two-hour film looking at the possibility that scientists have found ossuaries that may have contained the remains of Jesus, and of his wife, Mary, and son, Judah.

Ossuaries were common around the years 30 BC to 70 AD. Back then, people around Jerusalem first put dead family members in tombs for a year. Then, after the body decomposed, the bones were moved to a smaller stone box called an ossuary.

In 1980, archeologists found ossuaries in what was a suburb of Jerusalem that some said contained the bones of Jesus. At the time - and, later, after a 1996 BBC documentary on the subject - religious leaders and major archeologists said the location and facts of the discovery were all wrong for it to have been Jesus (regardless of the issue of the family buried alongside.)

Cameron got involved two years ago, and he and Discovery have been masterful at getting publicity, simply by allowing all the predictable critics and scolds to do their usually shouting. Some people are screaming that it's anti-Christian, and others are saying it's an attack on non-Christians by offering proof Jesus existed. It's the same din as any other day, just more focused.

So, should you care? Totally up to you. With Cameron in charge, you know it'll be done well. Although even Cameron - who has said that, if it is true, it's one of the great archeological finds of history - says the odds are long.

But what he's also said was they couldn't thoroughly debunk the find. "We've done our homework; we've made our case," Cameron says. "Now it's time for the debate to begin."

There are plenty of archeologists and historians, not to mention religious leaders (including some in the film), who say it's all bunk. Still, if this sort of thing appeals to you, why not?

As for the claims of sacrilege? Please. Asking questions is just asking questions. If you believe something, there's no harm in letting someone ask questions, or even letting them challenge you. And if you don't want to hear it, there's all that technology to help you with your TV.

After the documentary, Ted Koppel will moderate a panel discussion on Discovery (at 11 p.m.) on the subject among archeologists, theologians and Biblical scholars.

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And now, for something totally frivolous - Saturday (at 9 p.m.), BBC America starts a 13-week series called "Robin Hood."

BBC America is not available to many viewers, and I usually hesitate to write about it. But, as with the recent "The State Within," this series stands out, and also will become available soon on DVD.

This "Robin Hood," starring a pack of British actors most of us don't know, is still set in the 12th century, but it's modernized in its occasionally ironic tone and sensibilities. Robin is back from the Crusades, and uses violence now only as a last resort. Marian is trying to change the system from within. And the Sheriff of Nottingham is sardonic and whimsical in his great evilness.

The writing is brisk and sharp, and developments are reworked enough to make for the kind of rollicking adventure that makes rare and satisfying TV. Which is what I say a lot about BBC America.

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