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Tuned In: Cinemax series probes Amish teens' dilemma

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Cinemax's "Reel Life" documentary series offers a fascinating look at an Amish rite of passage in "Devil's Playground" (8:30 tonight).

Directed by Lucy Walker, the film looks at rumspringa (literally: "running around"), a time in the lives of Amish teens when they're allowed to experience life outside their cloistered world.

At the end of "Devil's Playground," viewers learn that 90 percent of Amish teens ultimately choose to commit themselves to the Amish community and church, but the bulk of the film is spent chronicling the lives of teens who make the opposite choice.

Faron Yoder, 18, is the film's poster boy for Amish teens who choose another way of life. He smokes cigarettes, gets drunk and deals in, and gets addicted to, crystal methamphetamine.

"It all comes down to whether you want to be Amish or not," the Indiana teen says. "To be or not to be, that is the question."

It's a revealing 73-minute film that again proves the maxim, "You can't judge a book by its cover." It may appear the Amish have simple lives, but "Devil's Playground" makes it clear they face as many challenges as the rest of us.

Superb 'Shield'

The FX police drama "The Shield" (10 p.m. Tuesday) has been the brunt of a negative campaign by the folks at the Parents Television Council who object to the show's profanity and violence, which is extreme by basic cable standards.

Though I've appreciated the group's efforts to restore the 8 p.m. "family hour" and get networks to take responsibility for the material they air early in the evening, there's no way I can get behind their "Shield"-bashing efforts. The show is simply too good to be endangered by a campaign designed to intimidate sponsors.

Besides, it's on at 10 p.m., well after young children should be in bed, and by and large the show's objectionable elements don't come off as gratuitous, but integral to the plot. Sure, producers could use more discretion every now and again, but this is a crime drama.

Next week's season finale, written by series creator Shawn Ryan, continues the story begun this week about a cop more corrupt than the show's anti-hero, Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis).

It's an hour of surprises and plot twists that addresses one of my biggest concerns about the show: Vic may be a skilled manipulator, but even a puppet master will get the strings of his marionettes tangled from time to time. In the finale, one of the balls Vic juggles comes crashing to the ground.

Though Chiklis is the show's revelation, it's also been a wonderful showcase for talented veteran actors (especially CCH Pounder) and those with less familiar faces (Jay Karnes, Catherine Dent and Benito Martinez). "The Shield" has been renewed for a second season, set to begin in early 2003, and I'll welcome it back with open arms.

My goof

Since I managed to get the date wrong for Discovery's "Thrills, Chills and Spills" block of programming in Sunday's TV Week (the shows aired Monday night, not Sunday), it's only fair to let you know when they'll be repeated.

"Ultimate Guide: Roller Coasters" will air at 3 p.m. July 14. "Top 10 Coasters 2002" and "Extreme Rides 2002" will air from 9 to 11 p.m. July 21.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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