Nearly eight years later, the dire consequences of the vote dispute in Florida are more evident than ever to many Americans. Even so, enough time has passed for us to enjoy some laughs from that comedy of errors, and to savor the story for its own dramatic value.
"Recount" lets us. An extraordinarily well-done film, it makes the most of an extraordinary chapter in U.S. history.
Spanning the monthlong battle over who had carried Florida, and therefore who had won the keys to the White House, "Recount" also manages to be a political thriller, as if the outcome of Election Day 2000 were still in the balance. It zeros in on the hanging chads on those notorious ballots, and takes us all the way to the majesty of the U.S. Supreme Court, where Bush vs. Gore was finally decided.
The all-star cast includes Kevin Spacey, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., John Hurt, Denis Leary, Bruce McGill and Tom Wilkinson, who uniformly vanish into their respective real-life characters.
But the truly remarkable performance is by Laura Dern, unrecognizable beneath the pancake makeup, big hair and honeyed accent of Katherine Harris, Florida's secretary of state. Her portrayal enhances, yet jibes with, what you remember unfolding on the news.
So does the film overall. "Recount" brings back a dizzying episode, with behind-the-scenes detail that makes it all the more dizzying (if possible) than you ever knew.
And all the more painful. And all the more painfully funny.
Premiering 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO, "Recount" is a winner by a landslide.
Other shows to look out for:
- An evil developer wants to buy the waterfront property in a picturesque California fishing village. To persuade the residents to sell, he starts pumping a toxic chemical into the bay. This poison has the desired effect, killing the fish on which the local economy depends, while positioning the developer as a savior who can bail out the town. But there's an unpleasant backlash: A large shark population, having ingested the foul sludge, turns ravenous. The sharks are eating everything " and everyone " in sight. "Shark Swarm" is a three-hour thriller starring Armand Assante as the craven developer, John Schneider as the fisherman who fights back, and Daryl Hannah as his wife. It airs 8 p.m. Sunday on Hallmark Channel.
- More natural disaster looms on A&E, with its four-hour miniseries, "The Andromeda Strain." Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, it's the saga of a deadly plague unleashed by a U.S. military satellite that crashes in a small Utah town, killing all but two people nearby. The army quarantines the area, and a team of medical specialists is mobilized to stop the spread of the pathogen, code-named Andromeda. Meanwhile, an investigative reporter suspects there's a government conspiracy afoot " and puts his own life in peril when he gets too close to the truth. Can Andromeda be stopped? Will the solution be worse than the problem? Benjamin Bratt, Eric McCormack, Rick Schroder, Andre Braugher and Daniel Dae Kim star. It airs 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
- Usually, a reality show about a celeb (no matter how dim the star's wattage may be) has the courtesy to make that celebrity available. Until now. "Living Lohan" is the pathetically threadbare reality series that's NOT about Lindsay Lohan. Except by implication. It gives viewers a window into Lohans who are NOT Lindsay, like "famous mom and manager Dina" and her other children (says the publicity release breathlessly), "to reveal that their lives are not all about the glitz, glamour and partying that's been reported in magazines." The non-Lindsay brood includes 11-year-old Cody and would-be singer-actress Ali. So why would we watch a series that consists of Mom indignantly defending the tainted image of absentee Lindsay, while promoting the interests of Ali and herself? It premieres 10:30 p.m. Monday on E! Entertainment. But who cares? Hold out for the eventual follow-up, "Living LINDSAY Lohan." That will be more fun.
- The Rev. Carroll Pickett left the pulpit in Huntsville, Texas, to become chaplain of the town's Walls prison. But shortly after he began work at the infamous facility, Texas resumed executions. Pickett was named "death house chaplain," with his duties described by the warden as winning the trust of the condemned prisoners in those last few hours, so "they won't try to fight at midnight." From 1982 to 1995, Pickett ministered to 95 doomed inmates, including Ignacio Cuevas, the lone surviving inmate from the 1974 prison siege that claimed the lives of two of Pickett's own church parishioners. The documentary "At the Death House Door" profiles Pickett and the burdens of this job, including his shifting position on capital punishment. A story of doubts that torment a man of faith, this film is by Steve James and Peter Gilbert, who also made the much-acclaimed "Hoop Dreams." IFC airs "At the Death House Door" at 9 p.m. Thursday.