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The History Channel is history — actually, it's History

Rick Kushman
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

When in doubt, I say, start with the frivolous. It's way more fun. So I give you this massive move by the History Channel.

Excuse me, make that History. The cable network has dropped both "Channel" and "The" from its name. Way to go. I always thought that the "The" was killing them.

Execs from the network insisted this week that this isn't a really, really useless thing to do.

"Our brand," Nancy Dubuc, the network's executive vice president, told the Associated Press, "is synonymous with the genre of history, so I don't think it's presumptuous of us to call ourselves History."

Yes, actually it is.

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Speaking of history - or whatever is left after Dubuc and company have claimed ownership of, I guess, all time - Showtime on Sunday starts up the second season of "The Tudors" (at 9 p.m.)

I know there are lots of fans of this show, but I'm not one of them, though I've seriously tried to like it. The big reason last season was the center of the show, Jonathan Rhys Meyers playing King Henry VIII, was a step below most of the other actors in both substance and charisma. Who needs a flimsy, cranky king?

Season 2 is even worse. Now he's whiny and bratty and makes you think of every spoiled celeb clubbing in New York or Hollywood. The only thing missing is a sex tape, though Showtime is not exactly shy on that score, if you get my drift.

There's also an utter lack of chemistry between King Henry and Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer). We get why she's hanging with him - she wants to be queen - but their woodenness together makes daytime soap romances look almost believable.

Which is too bad, because the rest of the cast is terrific. Among the best are Jeremy Northam as Thomas More (Henry's adviser and the man who may have worn the worst hat in the 1530s) and Peter O'Toole as an ironic and caustic Pope Paul III.

O'Toole's Pope is a joy to watch, and he's not above playing a little dirty politics, 16th-century style. He gets increasingly irritated by the influence of Anne, who's got Henry declaring himself head of the Church of England and working for that divorce from Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy).

"Why doesn't someone just get rid of her?" O'Toole suggests casually. Patience, my good Pope, patience, and eventually Henry will take care of that himself.

There are loads of great characters and good stories in the tale of Henry VIII, who took six wives and barrels of heads. But since so much of it has been done lots of times, "The Tudors" needs more than the talky scheming in dark rooms and hallways that's taken over the second season. And while I'm griping, yes, electricity was still a few years away, but couldn't Showtime's crew have found ways to make the characters, you know, visible now and then?

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On the other hand, if you're looking for a genuinely good period drama with costumes and British accents, PBS and "Masterpiece Theatre" finish their run through Jane Austen's spirited world with an engaging two-part remake (yes, again) of "Sense and Sensibility" (at 9 p.m. Sunday.

There's no Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet or Hugh Grant in this version, but these Dashwood sisters (Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield) are just as lively and captivating as they look for love in all the wrong, and eventually right, places. Part two airs April 6 (also at 9 p.m.).

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The fourth and final season of "Battlestar Galactica" doesn't start until April 4, but Sci Fi is giving fans - and would-be fans - a chance to get caught up on the tangled doings of those crazy humans and their impish foes, the Cylons.

"Battlestar," in truth, is one of the smartest and most cleverly layered shows on TV, not just in the science fiction universe, and Sci Fi gives a valuable recap of the first three seasons Friday night that will be useful for fans and a good primer for people wanting to jump in on the story (at 10 p.m.). It's followed by a look at the making of the show (at 10:30).

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And, finally, this heads-up that HBO's surprisingly addictive "In Treatment" series about psychotherapy ends it first season Friday night (at 9:30) after nine weeks of intense airing - every weeknight - and more intense psychological prodding.

Gabriel Byrne has been subtle and brilliant as Paul, the very human and humane therapist, and if the resolutions with his patients have been less than completely satisfying, well, welcome to therapy. Baby steps are the best you get.

HBO hasn't said whether it intends to renew the show, but the sense is that if there is a second season, Paul will get new patients with a different set of problems, obsessions and fears. But no worries, there are plenty of those to go around.

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