New ''Survivor'': Ken Tucker's cautious but curious about the racially divided ''Cook Islands.'' Plus: a new ''American Splendor,'' another reason to love ''The Wire,'' and more

By Ken Tucker
December 03, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
Survivor: Cook Island: Monty Brinton

New ”Survivor”: Ken Tucker’s cautious… but curious

1. Survivor: Cook Islands
(Premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, on CBS)
Mind you, I have the gravest of doubts about this racially divided season — I suspect it’s going to amount to, at best, a lot of talk about ”representing,” and at worst, stereotyping of the most contemptible sort. But since television’s dealings with race have long proven to provoke the most unexpected results, there’s no way I’m not tuning in to see what this so-crass-it-may-be-revelatory stunt looks like.

2. Wendell Pierce as ”Bunk” Moreland in The Wire
(Sundays at 10 p.m., HBO)
Watch this week the way the dapper, serene police detective visits a home to ask questions of a family about a homicide he’s investigating. He treats the couple with the utmost respect, but he also refuses to collapse in the face of their stonewalling contempt. In the space of a few seconds, he conveys the message that he doesn’t care that their boy is selling drugs, but he is worried that the youth may be involved in that murder. And when Pierce’s Bunk gets worried, he shakes off his usual cop’s cynicism and cuts to the heart of the matter. Pierce could give acting lessons to 99 percent of the stars in big-budget theatrical films.

3. Bradley Walker, Highway of Dreams
A 27-year-old singer with a bluegrass wail and a honky-tonker’s fine sense of how despair can turn into elation if it finds the right verse (check out his cover of Lefty Frizzell’s ”I Never Go Around Mirrors”), Walker is a powerhouse. The Alabama native was born with nondegenerative muscular dystrophy, which he neither hides nor uses as a publicity angle — what he’s more interested in is getting just the right shift from his warm middle-range to his high-lonesome tenor when he’s trying to achieve primal pathos. And he gets it right, every time.

4. American Splendor
(DC/Vertigo #1)
The first issue of writer Harvey Pekar’s long-running independent comic to be distributed by a huge company turns out to be, thank goodness, a typical issue of American Splendor, which means it’s terrific: a moving remembrance of his parents toward the end of their lives; a joltingly authentic showdown between Harvey and his willful teenage foster daughter. As always, Pekar makes mundane reality seem like the highest drama.

5. Pigeon John… and the Summertime Pool Party
(Quannum CD)
The L.A. hip-hop/funk/pop maestro takes you on a tour of his (rough) life and (smooth) musical influences, making witty jokes and vehement comments about everything from dating to drugs. Older readers may hear the influence of Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band; younger readers… just go buy this, trust me: It’s its own high.