BEYOND SCARED STRAIGHT
9 p.m. Wednesdays
While this writer is restrained from doing bad things by our somewhat tarnished moral compass, we're a lot more restrained by the thought of going to the Academy of Ass-Poundery that is your average U.S. prison. From what I've seen from Sylvester Stallone's "Lock Up," my well-worn copy of "Prison Hoochies 12" and "The Shawshank Redemption" we have long since tossed the idea of rehabilitation of long-term prisoners out the window in favor of a system in which inmates' daily schedule goes something like this: rape, rape, shanking, breakfast, rape, shower rape, a sound beating at the hands of neo-Nazis, lunch, rape, praying for the sweet release of death before bed and then being repeatedly raped in their sleep throughout the night. Please don't write to try and educate me. That's my impression of prison, and I'm going with it. It may be a bit exaggerated, but it keeps me from bilking old ladies out of their millions. While I'm on the subject: A&E brings back their popular "Beyond Scared Straight" series for a new season this week. The reality show transports a crop of young hooligans to a maximum-security prison, where the lifers usually threaten them with (you guessed it) stories of prison rape to scare them back to the straight and narrow.
11 p.m. Fridays
When will the reality show insanity end? There are reality shows about everything these days. There's a reality show about people who build high-end fish tanks for rich folks ("Tanked" on Animal Planet). There's a reality show about people who bid on abandoned storage units so they can pilfer through the junk inside and sell it ("Storage Wars!" on A&E). There's a reality show about people who pound the dents out of old crap, paint it, and sell it ("American Restoration" on History Channel). A lot of the shows are formulaic, chock full of cooked up "fights" between the principal players and scenes of "drama" so transparently faked that they make Megan Fox look like Judi Dench. So I expected the worst out of IFC's "Whisker Wars," which is about (yep, you guessed it again) competition between dudes with really, really long beards. Turns out, "Whisker Wars" is actually kind of charming. Unlike most of the reality TV crapola, neither the show nor the players take things so seriously. There's pretty much no way to be serious, after all, when you're spending months preparing to compete on the international "beard circuit," in categories like "Full Beard, Natural," "Full Beard, Styled Mustache," "Partial Beard" and the crowd favorite, "Freestyle." After watching it for awhile, you can really get sucked in: It's competition time! Will Bryan Nelson, the president of the Austin Facial Hair Club, be able to stave off the magnificent auburn crumbcatcher of his chief rival Jack Passion — two-time "Full Beard, Natural" world champion? Put down your razor and stay tuned, facial hair fans.
NETFLIX PIX: WINTER'S BONE
I've often said that the worst thing about being a kid is that until you hit 18 or so (and usually much, much beyond that), you're at the mercy of your parents — their whims, their failures, their desires. Mom and Dad wanna move to Arizona and sell turquoise jewelry from an old RV? You're probably moving to Arizona. Mom and Dad are methheads who routinely buy crystal instead of paying the light bill? You're probably going to spend a good part of your childhood sitting in the dark watching them snort lines off the back of your See n' Say. The fabulous "Winter's Bone" — now available on Netflix Instant — is kind of about that: how children can find themselves held captive to the worst impulses of their parents. The film is the story of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a 17-year-old living a hardscrabble life in the mountains of Missouri. She is already wise beyond her years by the time we meet her, taking care of her young brother and sister like a mother, feeding them by hunting and the kindness of relatives. The one thing they have going for them is that their land and shack of a house are bought and paid for. That seems destined to change, though, when the sheriff shows up one winter morning to tell Ree that her meth-making father has put the homestead up for bail and then skipped out. If Ree can't find him in the next few days, the land will be lost, and she and the kids will be out in the cold. With the eventual help of her dangerous uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes), Ree sets out playing backwoods detective, trying to find her layabout father. Before long, she stumbles down a rat hole of twisted family relations, intrigue and murder. "Winter's Bone" is a gray and quiet powerhouse, nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Lawrence and Best Supporting Actor for Hawkes. If you haven't seen it, catch it soon. If you have, watch it again to see what you missed. It's that good.