'Emmett Till' a tale of tragedy and courage

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With its tight focus on events, "The Murder of Emmett Till" (9 p.m. Monday, WTTW-Ch. 11) vividly tells the story of a death described by narrator Andre Braugher as "a touchstone for a generation."

This powerful edition of PBS' "American Experience" offers the well-told story of how a 14-year-old Chicago teen's 1955 death in Mississippi inspired the civil rights movement. But it is much more.

It is an analysis of harsh race relations in the South, where "if a white person did something to you," one person says, "you had no recourse at all. People disappeared."

The episode is also a stirring true-life crime story. Till was whisked away in the night after supposedly whistling at a white woman earlier that day. His bloated, beaten body was found in a river three days later. Even though there was sufficient evidence, including eyewitness testimony, two half-brothers were found innocent … freeing them to later tell in a magazine story how they killed Till.

"The Murder of Emmett Till" works as a story of courage on the part of Till's mother, Mamie, who wasn't afraid to seek justice in a region widely regarded as dangerous for any black person, but especially for a black woman daring to challenge the white establishment.

Actual footage shows how Till's funeral, where the battered body was put on view at Mamie Till's orders, shocked the world and awakened a people.

"I think everybody needed to know what had happened to Emmett Till," Mamie Till says on the program.

Above all else, "The Murder of Emmett Till" is the affecting drama of a mother's love for her son, even more moving considering Mamie Till passed away two weeks ago at the age of 81.

She speaks plainly of the last time she saw Emmett alive, kidding him before he got on his train to visit relatives in Mississippi with: "How do I know I'll ever see you again?"

Does the subject good: What lifts a biography of 26th president Theodore Roosevelt is that it feels more like a feature and not a collection of facts and anecdotes. It does justice to one of the country's most flamboyant chief executives.

"TR: An American Lion" (8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, the History Channel) has some strong writing, fine narration by Edward Herrmann, re-creations that enhance rather than distract, plenty of archival film and photos, better-than-average pacing and helpful guidance from grand- and great-grandchildren and experts.

The premiere even works despite vocal characterization of Roosevelt's writings by Richard Dreyfuss that at times feels a little above boisterous.

Quick flips: What happens when people who already think they're funny are encouraged to be funnier is a show like "My Life Is a Sitcom" (7 p.m. Monday, ABC Family). The new series, the premiere of which had many of those trying-to-be-funnier-than-you-are elements, will sort through eight families to find the one most suited to tape an episode of their own show before a studio audience.

Although the Hollywood talk over food and drinks on Jon Favreau's "Dinner for Five" (7 p.m. Monday, IFC) is mostly fascinating, it shows an imperfection: Favreau is a participant and not a host who gets everyone involved. So director Kevin Smith dominates, while "Alias'" Jennifer Garner doesn't say much, supposedly content to suck in the cigarette and cigar smoke of Smith, Ben Affleck and "Minority Report's" Colin Farrell.

The potential is there for "The Dream Team with Annabelle and Michael" (10 p.m. weeknights, Sci-Fi Channel) to do some good with dream interpretation. But the show feels a little like current relationship/sex radio show — and former MTV series — "Loveline." Analyst Michael Lennox seems as adept in his field as Dr. Drew Pinsky is in his, but former "Dinner & a Movie" host Annabelle Gurwitch, with her occasional sarcastic asides and slight reflections and musings, is no Adam Carolla.

Channel surfing redux: NBC's reality dating series "Meet My Folks" returns with a three-episode arc that begins at 9 p.m. Monday, continues Tuesday at the same time, and concludes on the series' new day and time, 9 p.m. Saturday, on WMAQ-Ch. 5.

News you can use: Fox has renewed "The Simpsons" for two more years (which will allow it to pass "The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet" to become the longest-running comedy in TV history) and "King of the Hill" for another season.

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