Pop culture in the United States has traditionally played the story of Henry VIII and his six wives for camp. But British audiences clued in to their nation's history know that it was a paranoid and bloody era, and that Henry spent the final half of his reign presiding over an insane procession of torture and execution.
While not everything about The Tudors can be termed dead serious, most notably the performance of the way-too-handsome-and-thin Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the king, the series has not shied away from depicting the dark side of the era (the crowds eagerly awaiting the arrival of each new condemned man are perhaps darkest of all). Sunday's second season finale (Showtime, 9 PM) brings the story of Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn to its familiar end, while ushering Jane Seymour to center stage and apparently sidelining Anne's daughter Elizabeth for good. While unsympathetic for most of the series' run, Anne's plight has been made poignant by Natalie Dormer, who has proven to be a much better actress than the first season ever showed us.
Modern Marvels (History, tonight 8 PM): I'm not sure how an axe, which may be the one item in my garage that a man alive 10,000 years ago would recognize (even my car isn't quite that old), qualifies as a "modern" marvel, but this hour gives viewers a nice rundown of the blade's history and its use by the Vikings and American Indians.
2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee (ABC, tonight 8 PM): Geek heaven! Why else would they schedule the finals for a Friday night, when the non-spellers of the world are out partying. Good clean fun.
Sarah Jane Adventures (SciFi, 8:30 PM): Season finale: The Slitheen make another threat; Luke's new parents are investigated.
Doctor Who (SciFi, tonight 9 PM): As the Sontarans work to change the earth to suit their purposes, Doctor Who is part of the counterattack.
Dr. G: Medical Examiner (Discovery Health, tonight 9 PM): A man arrives at the ER complaining of abdominal pain and dies a few hours later; a woman faints in her car and then dies four days later despite doctors finding nothing amiss.
Man vs. Wild (Discovery, tonight 9 PM): Bear is dropped off in the unforgiving Siberian tundra, making a search for the night's shelter more vital than usual.
Meerkat Manor (Animal Planet, tonight 9:30 PM): Another special previewing the coming season, which focuses on the researchers and the techniques that they use for observing meerkats while not disturbing their environment.
Battlestar Galactica (SciFi, tonight 10 PM): The Colonials deal with the disappearance of their president at the hands, or brain, of the Hybrid; even more big changes are in store for Tigh.
Elite XC Saturday Night Fights (CBS, Saturday 9 PM): The long awaited debut of mixed martial arts on network TV is highlighted by heavyweight James Thompson facing off with Kimbo Slice, the only MMA performer whose name would also work on a porn star.
Groomer Has It (Animal Planet, Saturday 9 PM): A grooming session takes place under a time limit, after which a pet psychic is brought in to ascertain which groomer did the best job of keeping his pooch calm.
Heatstroke (SciFi, Saturday 9 PM): So global warming is caused by aliens who are trying to cook us out. All it takes to stop them is a lone commando (D.B. Sweeney) and a former model (Danica McKellar). And they said the sitcom was dead.
Robin Hood (BBC America, Saturday 9 PM): Robin realizes there's a traitor in his gang when a plot to capture the sheriff's spy goes awry. What do they say about no honor among thieves?
The D.C. Sniper's Wife (TruTV, Saturday 9 PM): Documentarian Barbara Kopple profiles Mildred Muhammad, whose husband terrorized the Washington area in 2002.
Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane (Style, Sunday 6 AM and 8 PM): Kimora hires a personal trainer as she prepares to debut her newest line.
Bridezillas (WE, Sunday 8 PM and 9 PM): A recap of last season airs at 8, followed by the fifth season premiere, which features the ultimate in wedding day drama, a bride attempting to have her future mother-in-law barred from the ceremony.
Million Dollar Password (CBS, Sunday 8 PM): Regis Philbin hosts this latest revival of the venerable game show, with Neil Patrick Harris and food maven/political activist Rachael Ray as the celebrity helpers.
2008 MTV Movie Awards (MTV, Sunday 8 PM): Mike Myers, fresh off making a complete ass of himself on the American Idol finale, hosts the annual salute to popcorn films. Such films deserve their own show, but it's always doled out in the form of virtual advertising.
Ice Road Truckers (History, Sunday 9 PM): Not quite the return of the series just yet, this special serves to review the first season of this surprise hit, and preview what's to come, including the arrival of some new truckers who aren't easily scared off.
Iron Chef America (Food Network, Sunday 9 PM): All I had to do was complain about Mario Batali being away forever, and he comes back. I get results! He's challenged by Vegas chef Paul Bartolotta.
Stonehenge Decoded (National Geographic, Sunday 9 PM): Archaeologists present new theories about the purpose of the monument and the people who built it, including a new excavation that may have been made by its builders. Donald Sutherland narrates.
Ax Men (History, Sunday 10 PM): Crews try to return to their typical routines after the storm, one of the young loggers at Stump Branch is missing; the Brownings are working without phones.
Denise Richards: It's Complicated (E!, Sunday 10 PM): Denise goes to war with the tabloids, and tries her damndest to stop swearing. If you saw the premiere, that last part is going to be quite a mountain to climb.
In Plain Sight (USA, Sunday 10 PM): Mary McCormack stars as Mary Shannon, a marshal in the U.S. witness protection program. The show sets its tone early with the death of the son of a mobster who was part of Mary's list of protected. There are more lighthearted moments as well, mostly dealing with Mary's goofball family.
Made of Honor (TLC, Sunday 10 PM): Is this any way to choose a maid of honor: throw it open to a reality competition? Hey, it's 2008. Anything can be made into a reality show.
Platinum Weddings (WE, Sunday 10 PM and 10:30 PM): Ordinarily, I would wonder if shows like this might seem over the top in tough economic times, but when the subject is weddings, people are famous for not caring about expense. The wedding at 10:00 features an elephant and 650 guests; the 10:30 nuptials climax with a five-day trip to Cabo San Lucas.
The Next Food Network Star (Food Network, Sunday 10 PM): Back for a fourth season, and it ought to keep going strong as long as the network makes the life of a foodie look so appealing. The initial challenge involves preparing a meal for a group of the network's veteran stars.
This American Life (Showtime, Sunday 10 PM): An animated story covers the breakdown of a marriage.